The expansion draft for baseball’s two newest franchises, the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s, was held the day after the 1961 World Series ended. Picking first, the Mets selected Hobie Landrith, a back-up catcher for the San Francisco Giants. As Mets manager Casey Stengel jokingly explained, “You have to have a catcher or you’ll have a lot of passed balls.”
Born on March 16, 1930, Landrith was signed by the Cincinnati Reds before the 1949 season. A back-up catcher with the Reds/Redlegs through 1955, Landrith was traded to the Cubs after the 1955 season for Hal Jeffcoat, a poor hitting outfielder who had converted to a pitcher and would go 8-6 with a 2.95 ERA with the Cubs in 1956.
Hobie Landrith was the starting catcher for the Cubs in 1956, but hit a poor .221 with only four home runs and 32 RBIs before being included in a large eight-player trade to the Cardinals before the 1957 season. Landrith remained a backup catcher with the Cardinals in 1957 and 1958 before being traded again with Billy Muffett and Benny Valenzuela to the Giants for minor league pitcher Ernie Broglio and Marv Grissom after the ’58 season. Ernie Broglio would make the majors in 1959, win 21 games in 1960 and is best remembered for being the main pitcher the Cubs would receive in exchange for a young outfielder named Lou Brock.
As a 32-year old light-hitting back up catcher, Landrith was left exposed by the Giants in the draft, and was selected by Mets’ GM George Weiss. Proof that Mets management have a history of not being overly generous with players, GM Weiss sent Hobie Landrith a salary offer of $7,500, which was the required minimum for all first round picks in the draft.
When Landrith was sent the contract offer, he turned it down, saying it was at least a $3,000 pay cut. Weiss sent exactly the same contract three times, eventually leading to Landrith giving up and signing the deal on February 11, 1962. Landrith was slated to be the first-string catcher, with Choo-Choo Coleman as the team’s backup catcher. Incidentally, Coleman passed away last season.
Landrith waas behind the plate when the New York Mets played their very first regular season game on April 11, 1962 against the St. Louis Cardinals, batting 8th for the Amazins. It was an inauspicious start for both the Mets and Landrith as the team lost 11-4 to the Cards and Hobie went 0 for 4, allowed three stolen bases (two to center fielder Curt Flood), and he made an error as well. In a word, yikes.
Never a slugger, Landrith hit only one home run with the Mets, and even that was almost a disaster. As reported in the New York Times, on May 12, Landrith pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs and the Mets down 2-1 against the Milwaukee Braves.
Pitching for the Braves was future Hall of Famer and future Met Warren Spahn. Landrith hit Spahn’s first pitch for a game-winning two-run home run. However, Rod Kanehl, who was pinch running for Gil Hodges, failed to touch third base after the home run.
Third base coach Solly Hemus gave Landrith a sign to slow down, then escorted Kanehl back to third base. If Landrith touched third base before Kanehl, Rod would have been called out and the Mets would have been the first team to ever lose a game while hitting a walk-off home run.
After losing their 16th and 17th straight game, on June 7, 1962, the Mets included Hobie Landrith in the trade to the Baltimore Orioles as the player to be named later, in exchange for Mets legend Marvelous Marv Throneberry. He ended his brief career with the Mets with a rather robust .289/.389/.422 in 23 games.
Now 86, Hobie Landrith, the Mets’ first ever draft choice and opening day catcher, is still with us unlike many members of the 1962 team.