Back in 1962, the New York Mets were having their inaugural season while a 20-year old from Appleton, Minnesota was drafted into military service. Being drafted into the military would forever change the future for Jerry Koosman and the New York Mets.
While Koosman was stationed at Pere Marquette State National Park, he had taken and passed the officer’s test. While awaiting his orders, fate would intervene. Koosman’s dentist, who was a commanding major general of the Minnesota National Guard, helped arrange a transfer where the talented left-hander could play baseball for the military. With that, Koosman was transferred to Fort Bliss.
The dentist intervening changed everything. As Koosman said, “Most of those guys didn’t come back. I was two weeks from having my destiny changed.” (Irv Goldfarb, SABR.org).
At Fort Bliss, Koosman’s catcher was a Queens native named John Luchese. As luck would have it, Luchese’s father was an usher at newly built Shea Stadium. Luchese would write to his father about the talented left-hander he was catching in the military, and Luchese’s father would pass along the information to Mets executive Joe McDonald.
Upon receiving the tip, the Mets dispatched a scout to the base to see Koosman pitch. Eventually, the Mets would sign Koosman, and upon his discharge, he would officially become a member of the New York Mets.
Koosman would have a strange odyssey through the minor leagues before making the debut in 1967. The next season in 1968 he would have a terrific year including finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Johnny Bench. This was the beginning of a great Mets career for Koosman. The highlight of which was Koosman recording the final out of the 1969 World Series.
In Koosman’s 12 year Mets career, he was 140-137 with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.219 WHIP. He was a member of the 1969 World Series champions, and he was a member of the Ya Gotta Believe! 1973 pennant winning Mets. He’s the franchise leader in wins, games started, innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games, and shutouts by a Mets left-handed pitcher. In 1989, he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.
This all began because Koosman was ready to sacrifice his life in service to this country. Like many veterans, we owe him a debt of gratitude for his service.
On a personal note, Koosman was always a favorite of my father, who served in Vietnam. During my father’s tour of duty, he was awarded the Purple Heart. He is now a DAV, and in retirement, he volunteers at his local VA. On this day, I thank all veterans, especially my father, for their service to this country.