Mazzilli Still Loves the Game
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Monday, September 17, 2007

Way before players the likes of David Wright and Derek Jeter became baseball icons in New York City, Lee Mazzilli was the great-looking, shaggy haired ballplayer with a world of talent who managed to captivate the city.

However, unlike Mazzilli, who was on the struggling Mets steams of the late ‘70s, Wright and Jeter are on teams usually in first place that are flooded with talent. Mazzilli himself even downplays his contributions to New York baseball to this day, believing his All-Star career was bittersweet compared to those of Wright and Jeter.

“I wouldn’t say I was a matinee idol, I think that’s the wrong phrase, but I did have a lot of fun when I played here,” said Mazzilli, who went 2-for-5 in the ’86 World Series for the Mets. “Comparing what I did to Jeter, though, is no contest. That guy is something really special.” Born and raised in Bensonhurst, where he attended Abraham Lincoln High School and played his little league on nearby McDonald Ave., Mazzilli believes that the biggest thrill of his career was playing in New York for both the Mets and the Yankees after years of vigorously rooting for both teams as a youngster.

“It was really special because I grew up here,” said Mazzilli, who made the All-Star team in 1979 and hit a home run in his only at-bat. “Not many people get a chance to play in their hometown and I did, so that means a lot to me. I was really lucky. Growing up, I wasn’t a huge Mets or Yankees fan. Instead, I rooted for both teams.”

What also makes Mazzilli an important character in New York baseball history is his relationship with Yankee skipper Joe Torre. Playing with him on the Mets in 1976, Mazzilli was also coached by Torre from 1977-81 and served as Torre’s first base coach with the Yankees from 2000-2003 and came back in 2006 as the team’s bench coach, giving him a front row seat to some of baseball’s greatest moments of the last 20 years.

“He’s always been the same person,” said Mazzilli. “He’s always done things the same way. He just had better players with the Yankees than he did with the Mets. That’s the bottom line”

Now an analyst for SNY, Mazzilli’s career has come full circle, from fan as a youngster and a player to a manager, and now a full-fledged member of the media. Given all of his experience in the bonfires of New York baseball, he seems like a perfect fit. However, if you ask him, the happy-go-lucky and still sharp-dressing Mazzilli is just happy to be around the game.

“I love the game so much,” he said. “When I was young, I used to go to both stadiums and watch both teams play, so I consider myself really lucky to be where I am today.”