Brooklyn native Mazzilli was heavily promoted by the star-hungry Mets in the late
1970s, not only as a prospect but also as a sex symbol. The ambidextrous son of pro
welterweight boxer Libero Mazzilli was an all-around athlete, winning eight national
speed-skating championships. The Mets' first-round draft selection in June 1973,
he set what is believed to be a professional record when he stole seven bases in
a seven-inning game for Visalia against San Jose on
June 8, 1975.
He broke into
the majors with a splash in a September 1976 call-up, pinch hitting a three-run homer
off the Cubs' Darold Knowles in his second plate appearance and hitting a game-winning
two-run off Kent Tekulve with two out in the ninth inning twelve days later to knock
the Pirates out of contention. In 1978 he became the first Met to hit home runs from
both sides of the plate in one game. But after being compared by the Mets public
relations department to the earlier New York centerfield trio of Mays, Mantle, and
Snider, Mazzilli was bound to disappoint.
With speed and a good batting eye, Mazzilli
might have been an ideal leadoff batter, but the Mets needed him to drive in runs
from the middle of the lineup. Surrounded by a weak offense in his first stint in
New York, he had more walks than RBI every season. His best season came in 1979,
when he had a 19-game hitting streak and hit .303 with 16 HR, 34 doubles, 79 RBI,
78 runs, and 34 steals. He tied a Mets record with five runs scored in a game against
the Braves on August 18, and was the hero of the All-Star Game, tying the score in
the eighth inning with a two-run pinch homer and then walking with the bases loaded
in the ninth to drive in the winning run. Mazzilli was moved to first base in 1980,
but the simultaneous arrival of Dave Kingman and Mookie Wilson in 1981 forced him
back to left field. He hit only .228 while experiencing back and elbow problems.
Mets traded Mazzilli to Texas for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell just before the start
of the 1982 season. He disappointed Texas too, suffering shoulder and wrist injuries
and spending six weeks on the disabled list. Texas traded him to the Yankees for
Bucky Dent that August, and he was passed on to the Pirates in the off-season. Only
a part-time player in Pittsburgh, he led NL pinch hitters in plate appearances (72)
in 1985 and hit .286 with an on-base percentage of .437 in that role. When the Pirates
released him in 1986, the Mets reacquired him for their pennant drive and he hit
.276 for the eventual World Champions. Mazzilli's five pinch-hit at-bats set an LCS
record. In the World Series, he led off the eighth inning of Game Six with a pinch
single off Cal Schiraldi and scored the tying run, permitting the Mets to win in
extra innings. In Game Seven he again started a tying rally with a sixth-inning pinch
single off Bruce Hurst.
In 1987 Mazzilli continued his pinch-hit success, tying
for the NL lead with 17 pinch hits, but in subsequent years he declined. When he
joined the Blue Jays in mid-1989 after being released by New York, he ranked in the
top ten in most Mets career offensive categories.
FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»June 11, 1927:
Fred Werber of the Augusta Tigers (South Atlantic) sets a minor league record by stealing seven bases. The record will be equaled by Lee Mazzilli and Rickey Henderson.
»June 4, 1975:
Lee Mazzilli of the Visalia Oaks (California) ties the minor league record when he steals seven bases. He will end the year with 49.
»September 3, 1978: Lee Mazzilli homers from both sides of the plate as the Mets down the Dodgers 8–5.
»July 17, 1979: The National League wins its 8th straight All-Star Game 7–6 at Seattle. Lee Mazzilli homers to tie the game in the 8th, and walks in the 9th to bring in the winning run. Dave Parker, with two outstanding throws, is named the game's MVP, and Pete Rose plays a record 5th All-Star position. The Red Sox provide the starting OF for the American League in Rice, Yaz, and Lynn, though Yaz has played 1B most of the season.
»September 14, 1980:
In a 10–7 win over the Cubs, Lee Mazzilli homers to break a drought for Mets (as noted by Tom Ruane). It is the 1st homer in 175.2 innings going back to August 26 when Claudell Washington homered. This will be the longest drought for the rest of the century. The Mets also had droughts of 134.1 inning (4/15-5/3) and 117.1 inning (5/6- 5/24).