One of the least glamorous jobs in baseball is that of the pinch-hitter/bench player/spare part/25th man. But every club has one of these guys, and on occasion they can rise to the level of star performer, if only for a game or two.
Jim Beauchamp (pronounced “Bee-chum”) was one of these players, and after kicking around the league with the Cardinals, the Astros (including some games as a Colt 45), the Braves, the Reds, the Astros again, and the Cardinals again, he wound up his career with the Mets, seeing a little action in the ’72 and ’73 seasons. A right handed hitter, he fulfilled the role of OF/1B, usually getting into between 35-50 games a year, primarily as a bat off the bench. He wore uniform No. 24 at the start of his Met career but swapped it for No. 5 when future Hall of Famer Willie Mays joined the team following a trade during the ’72 season.
He was a country boy, a French Okie, as he called himself, from the tiny town of Vinita, Oklahoma, a town that today boasts a population of around 6,000, parked in the northeast corner of the state about 30 miles from the Missouri border. As a ballplayer, he pretty much embodied the term “journeyman,” as his peripatetic resume demonstrated. As a Met in 1972, he started 29 games, mostly at first base and chipped in with five home runs for the season. Two of those homers came on a special night.
August 21, 1972 was Beauchamp’s 33rd birthday, and with the Mets facing lefty Jerry Reuss of the Astros that night, Jim was given one of his rare starts, playing first base and batting seventh. The Astros were featuring a hot shot young center fielder in those days by the name of Cesar Cedeno, a 21 year old revelation with speed, power, and a great glove-sort of a right-handed Bryce Harper of his day.
Jon Matlack started for the Mets, looking for his 11th victory. Matlack would end the season with 15 wins that year, and become the second Met to be named Rookie of the Year, joining Tom Seaver. On this night he pitched well, hurling a complete game with 8 strikeouts, but along the way had somewhat less success holding off Cedeno who homered in the 6th to tie the game at one-all, then doubled in the 8th after the Mets had taken the lead to knot the score again.
The 7th inning go-ahead run for the Mets had come via a long ball off the bat of Jim Beauchamp. Now, heading into the bottom of the 9th tied at 2 apiece, the Mets would face Jim “Sting” Ray, a right hander who was starting his second inning of relief. When Ray retired the first two batters, it looked as if the game would be heading to extra innings. But after John Milner coaxed a walk, Beauchamp swatted his second homerun of the night, deep into the left field bullpen.
Afterwards, on Kiner’s Korner, I remember him telling Ralph that he thought it would be nice if “just once, I could be the hero.” To my ears, his Oklahoma twang made the last word sound like “hee-row.” In my eyes he was. Happy Birthday, Jim.