He was 23 years old and he threw hard. So hard, as described on the back of the baseball card (No. 414 from the 1981 Topps set) shown above. “John has the unique habit of losing his cap after each pitch.” That was okay, because he threw hard.
The card above is a perfect in-action shot of the young fireballer the Mets had developed. There wasn’t much to cheer for during the 1980 season as the team finished 67-95 that year, 24 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. Mark Bomback led the team with 10 wins and Lee Mazzilli led the team in home runs with 16.
But that was all going to change. Before the 1980 season, a bright new General Manager named Frank Cashen had been hired and he was already working on a plan that would bring the Mets back to the promised land of playoff baseball. But I digress…
Besides throwing faster than anyone the Mets had at the time, John Pacella was also a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn and with a big head of hair that reminded everyone of that famous sweathog Vinny Barbarino, played by John Travolta at the time. Pacella was drafted by the Mets in the fourth round of the 1974 draft, after going 21-4 for Connetquot High School in Bohemia where he flaunted his bell bottomed jeans when he wasn’t on the mound wearing his cleats.
I was at Shea in 1980 when on June 27th against the Phillies, I watched as Pacella struck out seven including Mike Schmidt twice in 6.0 innings of work, out-pitching Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. The Mets would defeat the Phillies 3-2 and young John Pacella would earn his first major league win.
Three weeks later, Pacella combined with Jeff Reardon, another young fireballer who was just brought up from Tidewater (man this Cashen dude had the formula) to shut out the Braves 6-0. The win made John Pacella 3-0 for a bad Mets team and he was briefly the toast of the town. All over New York, little leaguers were adjusting their caps to be three sizes too big so they could likewise distract the batter as their cap flew off their heads.
Unfortunately, the Braves game was the high water mark for Pacella and he would go on to lose his next four decisions. He would finish his rookie campaign with a 5.14 ERA and little leaguers quickly re-adjusted their cap sizes after the season. Pacella was traded to the Padres along with 22-year old Jose Moreno (who had hit .194 in 1980) to the Padres for an aging Randy Jones. Jones went 1-8 with a 4.85 ERA for the Mets in 1981.
John Pacella finished his major league baseball career in 1986 with the Tigers. His career record was 4-10 with a 5.73 ERA. Never able to harness his good fastball, John walked 133 vs. 116 strikeouts in 191 2/3 innings. In 1987 he was sold to the Tokyo Giants in Japan, where he pitched for five seasons.
John Pacella is now a coach, providing private lessons, with the Big League Baseball School in Worthington, Ohio. Hopefully he teaches a new generation how to wear their caps.