Flashback: Mazzilli Stars For Amazins!
Climb aboard Petey’s Mets Time Machine. As we travel back in time to the year 1976. The day was the 7th of September, when a 21-year-old center fielder made his MLB debut for the New York Mets.
When the Mets drafted a high school player by the name of Lee Mazzilli with the 14th overall pick in the 1973 amateur draft, he was an instant sensation.
For one thing he was one of the top prep players in the country that year. An excellent athlete and the son of a welterweight boxer, young Mazzilli had already made a name for himself as a high school speed skating champion. He was a local kid who came from Brooklyn, and the girls thought he was hot.
He was also truly ambidextrous from birth and was a natural switch-hitter from a very early age. As a matter of fact he not only hit from both sides, but he threw from both sides as well. He used to alternate between throwing left-handed and throwing right-handed in games from his post in center field, sometimes switching from inning to inning.
The Mets brought in a mentor to work with Mazzilli while he was in the minors with the idea of polishing his outfield skills. The temporary outfield coach was a guy by the name of Willie Mays who immediately told Mazzilli to ditch one of the gloves and concentrate on throwing right-handed only.
On June 8th, 1975, Mazz set a California League record (believed to be a professional record) when he stole seven bases in a single game against San Jose while playing for the Mets’ Visalia farm club.
He broke into the bigs for a cup-of-coffee in September 1976 for the Mets getting 93 plate appearances in 24 games, and hitting .195 with two homers, seven RBI’s and five stolen bases.
Assuming the starting job in center for the 1977 season, Mazzilli began to garnish over 600 plate appearances for each of the next four seasons for the Mets. He showed steady development in his on-the-job training hitting .250 in 1977, and then .273 in 1978.
His breakout season came in 1979 when he put up a slash-line of .303/.395/.449 in 693 plate appearances with 15 home runs, 79 RBI’s and 34 stolen bases.
He was naturally the Mets representative at the All-Star Game that year, actually he was the only decent major league player the Mets had on their roster that season, unless of course you want to count the unforgettable Craig Swan. Hmmmm, does this sound vaguely familiar?
The 1979 MLB All-Star Game was a come-from-behind thriller for the National League squad and fans of the Amazins would experience the kind of pride rarely felt after a mid-season classic. It began when the Mets’ lone player on the NL roster, Lee Mazzilli, stepped into the batter’s box as a pinch hitter in the 8th inning with the National Leaguers trailing 6-5. He proceeded to belt a game-tying opposite field home run knotting the score at six apiece, but he wasn’t finished yet.
Batting for the second time, in the ninth inning with the bases loaded, he drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in the winning run in a 7-6 victory. Inexplicably he was denied the MVP honor for the game which went to right-fielder Dave Parker of the Pirates who nailed two would-be runs at the plate with the score tied, in what was quite an impressive display of his rocket launcher throwing-arm. But Mazzilli being snubbed for the award despite his contribution was definitely a sucker punch to Mets Nation. Hmmm, does that sound vaguely familiar?
The following season, 1980 was perhaps Mazzilli’s best year as a Met. In 668 plate appearances he slashed .280/.370/.431, with 82 runs, 16 homers, 76 RBI’s and 41 stolen bases. The 1981 season however was ruined by a labor conflict that wiped out around a third of the season and really screwed up everything baseball-related big time.
Mazzilli had a poor season in ’81 as well hitting only .228 in 376 plate appearances that year and Mets GM Frank Cashen decided to take a chance by trading Mazzilli while his value was still up to the Texas Rangers on the eve of the 1982 season. It was probably a deal Cashen couldn’t refuse as the Rangers were dangling two young pitchers from the upper levels of their minor league system as trade bait, two youngsters named Ron Darling and Walt Terrell (who was later traded for Howard Johnson). Cashen realized that he had to trade his best commodity in order to fill multiple needs for the rebuilding process. Does this sound vaguely familiar?
Mazzilli struggled in Texas and was moved at the trade deadline to the Yankees in exchange for Bucky Dent. At the end of the season he was traded again, this time to the Pittsburgh Pirates where he played for three plus seasons as a part-time outfielder before being released in July of 1986.
Less than two weeks later he was brought back to Flushing by Cashen to give the team a veteran pinch-hitter down the stretch and in the post-season. Mazzilli would fill an important reserve role for the Mets, and fill it so well, that he remained with the club until the trade deadline during the 1989 season when he was claimed by Toronto off waivers. That would signal the end of his Mets career after two very productive stints.
And now it’s time to hop back into the time machine Mets fans as we leave our place in the distant past behind and launch ourselves forward to the following year! That’s right, we now shoot ahead to another day in early September, the 6th to be precise, but now the year is 1990.
On that day the Mazzilli’s welcomed a new baby boy into the world and named him Lee Jr. He would come to be known as LJ, and like his dad he became a fine ball player. Does this sound familiar?
Okay everybody back into the time machine! Now we jump ahead about 19 years. LJ took his skills to the University of Connecticut where the right-handed hitter played second base for three years. There he matured physically and now stands 6’1″ and weighs in at 190 lbs.
Now here we are once again traveling through time to June of 2013 when the Mets, like they did with LJ’s father, tabbed him in the MLB Amateur Player Draft, this time in the 4th round. A few seconds in the time machine bring us to Coney Island.
That’s where L.J. Mazzilli started his professional career as a 2013 Brooklyn Cyclone and got his feet wet with 273 plate appearances in 70 games. He slashed a modest .278/.329/.381 with four homers, 34 RBI’s and three stolen bases. We skip to the spring of 2014 when Mazzilli impressed the Mets during spring training with his level of development and polish, so he was challenged with the assignment of manning the keystone for the Savannah Sand Gnats at the start of this season.
Although the expectation was more than likely for him to remain at that level for an entire season, Mazzilli had other ideas. In the first half of the 2014 season Mazzilli had 250 plate appearances in the South Atlantic League and slashed his way to a .292/.363/.428 line with seven homers, 45 RBI’s, and 11 stolen bases.
This outstanding performance forced the Mets to promote Mazzilli to high-A St. Lucie of the Florida State League last month. Although much more advanced than the South Atlantic League, Mazzilli met the challenge of the FSL and hit the ground running.
In his first 50 something at-bats over 13 games, young Mazz is slashing a respectable .288/.339/.500. He’s got eight runs scored, five doubles, two dingers, nine RBI’s and a stolen base. Does this sound vaguely familiar?
The younger Mazzilli is a good contact hitter with gap power. He has a rather complete skill-set, but the only tool that plays above average is his very good speed, which will enable him to remain at second base as he advances.
So far we have only used my Time Machine to go back in time, now it’s time to go forward into the future. Strap in folks as our first stop will be another day in September, the 10th, in the year 2015. A Mets prospect will make his Major League debut on that day. He will be batting seventh in the order and playing second base for the home team at Citi Field. In the stands his proud father, a former big leaguer in his own right beams with pride.
Now back into the time machine one last time everyone, before we head home. This time it’s not September. This time it’s a Tuesday night in the middle of July. July in the year 2023.
It’s the MLB All-Star game being played in the brand new state-of-the-art ballpark in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The fans around the world have been treated to a tense back-and-forth struggle between the Senior and Junior circuits. With the score tied at four apiece, the National League comes to bat in the bottom of the 14th inning. First up is a pinch hitter from the New York Mets by the name of LJ Mazzilli.
Like his father who played for the very same team, his father who was drafted by the Mets five decades earlier, his father who launched a game-tying home run in an All-Star Game some 44 years before and then won it an inning later with a walk-off walk. Like his father who is watching tensely from the stands, LJ Mazzilli sends an All-Star winning, game ending drive deep into the tropical summer night. National League 5, American League 4. And miracle of miracles, he even wins the game’s MVP Award! Is this sounding even vaguely familiar?