Ron Hunt and Skip Lockwood were guests of the Mets at Saturday’s game against the Washington Nationals, and for both it was a homecoming of a baseball sort.
As he has been doing on a regular basis this season, the team’s VP of Alumni PR and Team Historian, Jay Horwitz, has been bringing back former Mets – two at a time – for weekend visits to reminisce with the media and current team, and to interact with the fans for autographs and photo ops.
Hunt, 78, who is battling Parkinsons, was nonetheless still quick with a smile and a quip to all who stopped to say hello to the Met who was in the first Mets game at Shea Stadium on April 17, 1964, banged out the club’s first double, scored the team’s first run, and nearly a week later, hit the team’s first home run at Shea.
“Yeah, good to be back, good ballpark,” said Hunt, who also was the club’s first player to start in an All-Star Game, appropriately in Shea, in 1964.
Keith Hernandez greeted his old roomie warmly. Turns out, Hunt and Hernandez were roommates in Mex’s first spring training with the Cardinals in 1975, which soon turned out to be Hunt’s last spring training with any club, released at the end of camp.
But not before Hunt taught his roommate a valuable lesson that would serve the future Met quite well throughout his career. The infielder that set records for being hit by a pitch (an astounding 243 times in his 12-year career) knew what it took to recover after being banged and welted – icing.
Hernandez remembered a time early on when he was hit on the elbow and it swelled up miserably. Hunt gave him the procedures for icing, said he would wake up in the middle of the night in pain and would have to ice again, but he’d be able to play the next day. The game plan worked.
The longtime first baseman told the longtime second baseman a story he’d heard from Hall of Famer Steve Carlton after their careers were over. There was a game when Hunt came up to face Carlton, and the future Hall of Famer thought to himself, “I’m not going to waste eight pitches on this so-and-so,” so he plunked him with the first pitch to save the time.
Hunt, who is still in the club’s Top Ten in several rookie batting marks from his major league debut in 1963, including: games (143), at-bats (533), batting average (.272), hits (145), runs (64), doubles (28), extra-base hits (42), walks (40), on-base percentage (.334), and OPS (.730), played four years in New York, from 1963 to ‘66, but was traded that winter to Los Angeles in a four-player deal that netted batting champ Tommy Davis and infielder Derrell Griffith.
Hunt, who wore #33, the same number on the back of the only other Met to start an All-Star game in their home ballpark – Matt Harvey in 2013 – recalled then-GM George Weiss told him at the time, “You were the only player we had that the Dodgers wanted.”
Davis was sent by the Mets one year later to the White Sox for Tommie Agee and Al Weis, so all Mets fans know how that worked out, but at the time, it was difficult seeing the club deal one of their best and most popular players, along with another good player, Jim Hickman.
Hunt eventually played with the Giants, and Expos after his brief Dodgers tenure, and closed out his career with a few games in St. Louis at the end of 1974.
The lifelong Missouri resident batted .282 in his four campaigns as a Met. He raked 474 hits in 459 games, 78 doubles, 20 home runs, 127 RBIs, and likely deserves a plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame. A lot of firsts, and forever in the hearts of Mets fans from those early years.
How ‘bout it, guys?
Claude “Skip” Lockwood was an important piece in the bullpen for the Mets during his five-year tenure in New York.
He was 57-97 (3.55 ERA) in his 12-year career (1969-80), but most of those losses was a starter with the expansion Seattle Pilots, which became the Milwaukee Brewers, and later with the California Angels and Oakland Athletics.
At one point, Lockwood was traded by California to the Yankees for Bill Sudakis in the offseason between 1974 and ‘75, but he never made the club, and was released by the Steinbrenners during spring training.
In the summer of ‘75, Lockwood was purchased by the Mets off the A’s roster, and as he recalls, his first real experience in New York was quite memorable.
“Yogi (Berra) was still here,” Lockwood noted of the colorful Mets manager. “Middle of the season, I flew in. We had a doubleheader, and as I flew over the stadium, I look down, they were already playing, and 45 minutes later, I was in the game.
“I did a bad thing. I told the cab driver to get me to Shea as fast as he could. You should never say that to a cab driver. It was a wild ride.
“I got to Shea in minutes, went in and got dressed, and I go to the bullpen, and (bullpen coach) Joe Pignatano had a phone in his hand. He says, ‘Yeah he just got here.’ He wanted me to warm up, so I go to warm up and I almost step on one of Joe’s zucchinis. Who else has a garden in the middle of the bullpen? There’s all kinds of stuff – tomatoes, zucchinis, whatnot.
“So I’m trying to warm up and trying to dodge the zucchinis.
“I got loose, and I got in the game and I didn’t know a soul in the ballpark, on either team. They were playing Montreal and I didn’t even know Yogi.
“So they call me in and he’s got the ball on the mound waiting for me to get out there, and I’d never met him, so I didn’t know if we should shake hands or what, but I figured that wouldn’t be a good look for the fans, to shake hands out on the mound.
“So he says, ‘Kid, what’s your name?’ I said, Skip.
“He said, ‘Okay, Chip, just throw strikes.’
“He ran all the way back to the dugout saying, ‘Throw strikes, Chip.’
I could hear him all the way back to the dugout.
“I ended up pitching in both ends of that doubleheader.”
Unfortunately, the Mets lost both ends of that twin-bill to the Expos, both games by the score of 7-0, with Lockwood yielding a home run in the first, but got four strikeouts in his 1.2 stint in the second – but the Big Apple left quite an impression on the righthander.
“Coming to New York was a blessing,” Lockwood stated. “I had pitched in the American League for six years before, where I pitched with 25 individuals, but we didn’t have a team.
“When I got here, we had a team, they played together as a team. And it certainly wasn’t just Tom Seaver, but he was very influential to my career.
“Tom expected something out of you that I probably didn’t expect of myself. I worked hard. I’m not saying I didn’t work hard, always prepared, but I wasn’t as prepared as Tom Seaver.
“Tom expected you to be as ready as he was when he played.
When you went into the game you would have had to do all your laps, all your mental conditioning, you would have had to look at the book, I didn’t have a book on hitters, he kept the book.
“I only had one pitch anyway, a four-seam fastball, old school,
but Tom expected us to be ready, and he wanted me to pitch.
That made all the difference to me to be on a team, with (Ed) Kranepool, and (Jerry) Grote, and (Jerry) Koosman, and (Jon) Matlack and (Bud) Harrelson, they accepted me and wanted me on the team. Felt like home. Always felt like home.”
As a Met, Lockwood went 24-36, 2.80 ERA, 1.114 WHIP, 368 strikeouts in 379.2 innings. He finished 164 games and earned 65 saves for teams that didn’t exactly contend for the pennant consistently. Matter of fact, Lockwood’s five years in New York ran through four managers – Berra, Roy McMillan (in an interim capacity), Joe Frazier, and Joe Torre.
But it always felt like home.