The above shown card was a favorite of mine growing up.
The picture was obviously taken in the Mets locker room at Shea Stadium. Notice the home uniform. Notice the player behind Pete. One can see that player with his uniform shirt off, and thanks to the mirror in that player’s locker, we can see his face, slightly above and to the left of Falcone’s cap. I don’t recognize the player on the 1981 team, (Alex Trevino perhaps?) but if you do, please include in the comments section below. I’m sure that Murray Chass, if he had the card, would note that the other player’s back is free of acne.
Besides the inside look at the locker room, the other thing of special note is the card that Pete Falcone is holding in his hand, probably form having just pulled it from the pack shown on the stool just in front of himself. Who is on that card? You guessed it, it’s Pete Falcone, as shown on his 1981 Fleer baseball card, shown here:
Pete Falcone was born October 1, 1953, in Brooklyn, New York. The left-hander graduated from Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, which was a major source of baseball players, including another lefty pitcher by the name of Sandy Koufax. Other prominent baseball names from the school include Bob & Ken Aspromonte, Kevin Baez, Al Ferrara, Luis Lopez & current Mets owner Fred Wilpon. Long time Mets closer John Franco is also a graduate of the school, although when this card was printed, he had yet to make his major league debut.
Falcone was very much wanted by major league clubs, as shown by the fact that he was drafted by the Twins in the 1972 draft, and after failing to sign was also drafted in the January 1973 Secondary draft by the Braves in the second round, and still failed to sign. The Giants made Falcone a first round, fourth overall selection in the June 1973 Secondary Draft, just ahead of Warren Cromartie who was selected by the Expos.
Falcone was a fast riser in the minors. In 1973, he went was 8-1 in the Pioneer Rookie league posting a 1.50 ERA. In 1974, he jumped through all three levels of the minor leagues going 12-8, and averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings, an extraordinary high number in the 1970s.
As a rookie in 1975, the 21 year old lefty went 12-11 finishing up third on the third place Giants team in staff in wins. He lost out to his young, Giants teammate John Montefusco in the Rookie Pitcher of the Year voting. Falcone struck out 131 batters in 190 innings, while posting a 4.17 ERA. Warning signs were there however, as he walked 111, averaging an unacceptable 5.9 walks per nine innings. Taking the warning, and needing a third baseman, after the season, the Giants traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for infielder Ken Reitz.
In 1976, for the fifth place Cardinals, Falcone was a young ace, going 12-16 with a much improved 3.23 ERA, which was 10% better than league average, and striking out 138 batters while leading the team in innings with 212. Falcone was toughest with runners on base, holding opposing batters to a sub .200 when pitching out of the stretch.
However, after throwing over 400 innings before the age of 23, Falcone developed a sore arm, lost a yard on his fastball and dropped to 4-8 in 1977 with a 5.44 ERA and an even worse 2-7 record with a 5.76 ERA in 1978. That was the Pete Falcone the Mets traded for after 1978 in exchange for Tom Grieve & minor leaguer Kim Seamen.
In 1979, Falcone led the (68-94) team in losses with 14, going 6-14 posting a 4.16 ERA. He gave up 24 long balls (6th most in the league) and still had control problems, leading the team in walks (76) & wild pitches (10) fourth most in the league. Falcone would finish in the top ten wild pitches three times in the next four seasons. With a little more life in his fastball, Falcone struck out 113 batters in 184 innings pitched, good enough to average 5.5 K’s per nine innings, which was 10th best in the league.
The author recalls from several scorecards from Shea Stadium, Sandy Koufax was always referenced in articles about Falcone as the Mets were hoping the young wild lefty would find his control aka “lefties develop later” as Koufax had done.
Also frequently mentioned in those same articles was is also second cousin to long time Mets coach Joe Pignatano who was Falcone’s coach but also his cousin.
In 1980, Falcone went 7-10 with a 4.52 ERA, leading the team in strikeouts with 109, but also walks with 58 and runs allowed, with 89. In 1981, Falcone had the best season of his career, going 5-3 with three complete games, a shutout and a save, while posting a career low 2.55 ERA, 38% better than league average.
In 1982, Falcone had a good start to the year with a 3-0 record and two holds with a 3.39 ERA on June 1st. A summer swoon set in however, and Falcone finished the season with a 8-10 with two saves and a 3.63 ERA.
To the positive, in 1979 he held hitters to a .210 average with runners in scoring position. In 1980 and 1981 the league hit just .220 and .211 respectively against him with runners in scoring position.
Rather than Sandy Koufax, Pete Falcone reminds the author of Oliver Perez, another wild Mets starting pitcher who pitched better from the stretch than a wind up. One can only wonder what would his career be had he pitched in the current environment. Would he be used exclusively in relief, brought in to extinguish the flames when an opposing team had runners on base? Would he stay in the rotation, but ditch the wind up and pitch only out of the stretch?
After the 1982 season the Braves, who had drafted Falcone years before, signed him as a free agent. Working as a swing man, for the 1983 Braves, Falcone went 9-4 with a 3.64 ERA striking out 59 batters pitching in 106 innings while holding batters to a .235 average with runners in scoring position. Falcone had the same role in 1984, and would finish 5-7 with a 4.12 ERA.
That September he told an Atlanta paper he planned to retire after the season at age 30; “I’m just tired of baseball, I’m tired of the life style, and I can’t see any reason to go on doing it.”
Falcone left the game after a ten year career, going 70-90 with 865 strikeouts, 671 walks, and a 4.07 ERA in 1,435 innings pitched in 325 appearances. His career totaled 8.9 bWAR, and as shown here, a very memorable baseball card.