By Jim Dolan
Editor’s Note: Jim Dolan, a Bay Ridge resident and sports writer for this newspaper, recently traveled to beautiful Port St. Lucie, Fla., for an insider’s view of New York Mets’ training camp. The following is part one of his coverage.
In 1962, Major League Baseball decided to fill the void that had been left in the National League by the departure of both the Dodgers and Giants at the end of the 1957 season. In order to fill the rosters of the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45’s (now the Astros), National League teams had to expose a number of players from their 40-man roster to supply players to these two new clubs in the 1961 expansion draft.
Two of the players that were selected by the Mets to staff their starting pitching rotation were lefty Al Jackson from the Pittsburgh Pirates and right-hander Jay Hook from the Cincinnati Reds.
The two reunited at the Mets’ spring training home at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie on March 6, before a game against the Washington Nationals that featured the return of Johan Santana to the mound.
“Do you believe that we are here after 50 years?” Jackson asked his former teammate Hook during pre-game ceremonies.
As part of the Mets’ rotation in 1962, Jackson compiled a record of 8-20, while Hook finished with a record of 8-19. The Mets only won 40 games that season in total.
Jackson, who is still a special spring training pitching instructor, came to the Mets as a young, promising southpaw, and became known for recording the Mets’ first shutout in 1962, an 8-0 win over Philadelphia at the Polo Grounds. In 1966, Jackson left the team to pitch for the Cardinals, but returned in 1968 to be a part of the Mets’ first World Series championship in 1969.
“I was glad to be chosen to come to the Mets,” Hook recounted after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Jackson.
After a successful 1960 season, Hook contracted the mumps during a subpar 1961 and was even left off the postseason roster when the Reds lost to the powerhouse Yankees of that year.
“After the World Series, while driving my car, I learned that the Mets had picked me on the radio,” Hook said. “I looked at it as a new start and was excited to play in New York. Besides, there were a lot of players that I looked forward to playing with like Richie Ashburn, Frank Thomas and Roger Craig.”
Hook recounted that following nine straight losses to open the season, he was glad that he could contribute to the Mets’ first win in Pittsburgh on April 23, 1962.
“I threw a complete, nine-inning, five-hit game for that 9-1 win over the Pirates. I even got a hit and scored twice,” Hook recounted. “I was one of those pitchers who could hit and bunt to contribute to my team’s win.”
After that first win, Hook remembers Mets’ Manager Casey Stengel telling him to take his time with the media, since he had so many questions to answer.
“Casey said, ‘Take your time, kid; we’ll hold the plane for you,’” Hook recalled.
The pitcher entertained the young traveling New York press corps known as the “Chipmunks,” who exclusively covered the Mets.
“I remember that I took so long with the press that they ran out of hot water in the Forbes Field clubhouse and I had to shower off in the whirlpool,” he mused.
Jokingly, Hook stated that his record of 8-19 wasn’t really that bad for the Mets’ first season, since 12 of the 19 games were lost by just one run. Hook pitched for the Mets until his retirement after the 1964 season, when he put his degree in thermodynamics from Northwestern to good use for a successful career with the Chrysler Corporation.
Hook referred to his days with the Mets as “some of the best times ever.”