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Roger the Codger

News item: Last weekend, the Atlanta Braves named Roger McDowell to replace Leo Mazzone as pitching coach

I am curious to see what kind of big-league pitching coach Roger McDowell is, because his personality as a ballplayer didn't suggest coaching was in his future.

Apparently McDowell was smarter than he looked, and often as a player, he looked very silly. He had a reputation, not only as a prankster (master of the hotfoot), but as a jokester. McDowell once walked around the field wearing his pants as a shirt and his shirt as his pants. He didn't exactly exude maturity. I thought he was cool because he blew big pink bubbles with his gum on the pitching mound. I also think he's cool because he was part of a lot of walk-off wins.

No relief pitcher since 1986 has had more decisions than Roger McDowell had that season, when he went 14-9 in the regular campaign and added a postseason triumph in only the most important game of the season, Game 7 of the World Series (albeit a cheap win...he gave up two runs). McDowell's greatest contribution that season though was his five shutout innings of relief, keeping Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS tied through extra innings.

Not all McDowell Mets memories are good ones. He gave up the crushing, two-run, two-out, game-tying home run to Cardinals third basemanTerry Pendleton on September 11, 1987, preventing the Mets from moving to within 1/2 game of first place (Pendleton, a candidate for a couple of managerial jobs, is amazingly for now a colleague of McDowell's as the Braves hitting coach), and the go-ahead home run to Dodgers outfielder Kirk Gibson in Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS (better remembered as the Mike Scioscia game). He once nearly blew a game when he got frustrated, and instead of flipping a ball into his mitt, tossed it towards third base, where an alert teammate rescued him.

McDowell was both riddler and wriggler. Other than John Franco, the Mets have not had a pitcher in the last 25 years who made more people fingernail biters than McDowell. The sinker was McDowell's best and worst pitch. It was good enough to get him the first two outs most innings, but then it was bad enough to allow a dink single here and a little dribbler there to create a nervewracking situation (not a walk-off, but Game 3 of the 1988 NLCS comes to mind). Most of the time, McDowell worked his magic and got through his jams. Sometimes he didn't. Sometimes he needed a little help from his teammates, either fellow moundsmen or batsmen, which accounted for a good number of his victories.

McDowell was the only pitcher on those mid-to-late 80s Mets who could get away with having this kind of line.

2 innings
6 hits
2 walks
14 batters faced
0 runs
(May 24, 1986 at Padres)

McDowell was basically a rich man's Doug Sisk, not quite as wild, but occasionally as exasperating. To take one walk-off, let's look at May 12, 1986, a game in which Sid Fernandez pitched brilliant shutout baseball for seven innings, striking out 10. So what does McDowell do against the leadoff man upon entering this scoreless game in the top of the eighth?

He walks the opposing pitcher. The opposing relief pitcher.

Fortunately, Paul Assenmacher's time on base was uneventful as he was forced out on Billy Sample's ground ball and Sample was subsequently forced out on Rafael Ramirez's ground ball. Dale Murphy prolonged the suspense by walking, but with two men on base, McDowell bore down and struck out Bob Horner.

The Mets wound up winning in the bottom of the 9th against Assenmacher when Ray Knight doubled and Tim Teufel, after failing to sacrifice, drove him home with the game's only run with a single to center.

The newspaper accounts of this game included a funny anecdote. McDowell got so excited when the Mets won, that he rushed to home plate to greet Knight, and in their victory hug, McDowell got cut on the face by Knight's helmet.

"I'll trade the blood for a win any day," McDowell told reporters afterwards.

If the Braves pitchers share that mentality, McDowell should do just fine.

True Metdowells know...Of Roger McDowell's 20 regular-season wins as a Met at Shea Stadium, 14 came in games the Mets won via walk-off.

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bonsai said…
Roger McDowell earned a special spot in my heart about three years ago. At the time, I was a sports reporter covering a minor league baseball team in Lancaster, Calif., the JetHawks. On this particular day, the JetHawks had a road game at the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes - a team managed by former Dodger Tim Wallach - an old McDowell teammate.

At Wallach's invitation, McDowell came to the game and threw out the first pitch. Then he came up to the press box to spend a few innings on the air with the local radio broadcaster. When he first got up to the press box, I introduced myself to Roger and told him I grew up a die-hard Mets fan, and I just wanted to think him for being a part of some of my best childhood memories. It was a brief exchange b/c he had to get on the air, but he was very nice and gracious.

Minor league press boxes are not big league boxes. There are no separate radio booths. So while he was on the air, he was standing right in front of me. During the first batter of the inning, he turns around and - get this - hands me his 1986 World Series Championship ring!!!!!

I was speechless. I slid it on my finger. I kept it there for the entire half-inning, staring at it. It was beautiful.

So there it was - more than 15 years after being a part of my greatest childhood memories, Roger McDowell gave me one of my greatest adult memories. Pretty amazing...
metswalkoffs said…

are you a still a journalist? am curious what you cover now...

email me at metswalkoffs at if you don't want to post that

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