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Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #488, Lee Mazzilli (Article 93)

by Paul Semendinger

(Continuing a series…)

***



I always thought it was fun that Bucky Dent (a Yankees heart-throb) was traded for Lee Mazzilli (a Mets heart-throb), even if the Yankees traded Dent and got Mazzilli from the Rangers. Still, the point stood.

***

I don’t know where I was when I heard that the Yankees traded Bucky Dent for Lee Mazzilli. I only know that it was far from New Jersey where I lived. That summer my family took a road trip, for over a month, to California. We saw everything. It was an amazing experience.

I remember hearing the news (did I see it in a newspaper?) of the trade.

By then Bucky dent was no longer a great Yankee. Mazzilli wasn’t even a Met.

I liked the trade. I had high hopes for Lee Mazzilli in pinstripes.

***

Here’s a little known fact about my baseball fandom, a story I rarely (if ever) tell.

My baseball fandom, in its infancy, began with the Mets. It was a short-lived affair. I really didn’t know what I was doing.

***

I remember being eight-years-old. It was the spring of 1977. I’d turn nine over the summer, and by then I was 100% a Yankees fan, but this was early.

I was getting more and more interested in this game they called baseball. I recalled hearing about the Red Sox and the Reds a few years earlier in a “World Series” and a Yankee, Chris Chambliss, who hit a ball out of the Stadium (as I understood it), and the song. “We Are The Champions” playing everywhere. I was curious though I didn’t know much.

I started getting baseball cards, the 1977 set I’m discussing with these essays.

I don’t recall if the cards came before the Mets or the Mets came before the cards, but all of these things, the Mets, the cards, baseball, the Yankees, Lee Mazzilli, Joel Youngblood, Reggie Jackson,. and the rest all assaulted my brain at roughly the same time.

I didn’t stand a chance.

***

It was a Saturday afternoon. Or a Sunday. It was warm enough for us to be able to use our porch. This “room” had a heater that was used infrequently. I wouldn’t have been allowed to turn it on so the weather must have been warm. I remember Grandma and Grandpa were visiting. I remember that we had their old television set on the porch. I remember turning it on and seeing a baseball game. I decided to watch it.

That’s when it happened. That was the true initial spark.

I sat on the floor in front of the TV. I must have been watching Channel 9. It was a Mets game. I watched it. I didn’t understand everything. I probably didn’t understand much. I remember the announcer saying, “At the end of five innings (or whatever it was), “…and the Mets one.” I heard this as, “The Mets won.” I thought the game was over. I didn’t understand why they continued to play.

I remember rooting for Lee Mazzilli in that game. And Joel Youngblood. For whatever reason, they became my favorite players.

I watched the entire game. Again, even if I didn’t understand much.

When it was over my mom said, “I can’t believe you watched a whole baseball game.”

I don’t remember much else.

I don’t think I ever watched another Mets game on TV, except if they were in the World Series or playing the Yankees.

But for one day, at least, or maybe a few, I thought of myself as a Mets fan.

“Let’s Go Mets!”

***

Somewhere as all of the things assaulted my brain in that time, my allegiance shifted to the Yankees. I know that by July, when my birthday came, my Yankees bonafides were firmly established.

Still, I had a soft spot in my heart for the Mets. Always, or at least until 1984 or 1985 when they were a true threat to my Yankees and all of the fair weathered Mets fans came out. By then that soft spot had disappeared.

***

For a day, or a week, or maybe even a month, I was a Mets fan.

No, it couldn’t have been a month.

*** Lee Mazzilli had such promise. Much of it was unfulfilled.

Mazzili was a Met from 1976 to 1981. In 1979, he was a National League All-Star. He hit .303 that year. He might have hit a home run or stolen a base in that one game I watched because I remember thinking that Mazzilli was a home run hitter and a speedster.

He did steal 20 or more bases four times, but he never hit more than 16 homers in a season.

In 1981, the Mets traded Mazzilli to the Rangers. It ended up being a great deal for the Mets. They got Walt Terrell and Ron Darling for Mazzilli.

In 1982, Mazzilli became a Yankee in the aforementioned trade for Bucky Dent.

As a Yankee, Mazzilli played in 37 games. He hit .266 with 6 homers and 17 runs batted in.

After the season, the Yankees traded Mazzilli to the Pirates for four players who didn’t ever play for the big club. (Well, one did, Tim Burke, but that was only after he was traded away and reacquired years later and was a Yankee for a moment in 1992.)

Mazzilli then played for the Pirates, he went back to the Mets, and finished his career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989. It was a substantial career:

14 years

1,475 games

He hit 93 homers and stole 197 bases.

Mazzilli’s lifetime batting average was .259.

***

Lee Mazzilli coached for the Yankees from 2000 to 2003. He also coached in 2006.

He also managed the Baltimore Orioles.

***

When he was a New York Met, Lee Mazzilli was a darling in New York.

When he was a Yankee, Bucky Dent was as well.

They were once traded for each other, through the Rangers.

I always thought that was fun.

#1977ToppsBiographies

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