Saturday, November 29, 2008

Where Are They Now? Jon Matlack

Jon Matlack, the left handed starter for the Mets during the 1970's, is enjoying life as a minor league pitching coordinator for the Detroit Tigers.

Matlack, now 58, was a large part of the Mets pitching dominance of the 1970's. Matlack, along with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, helped form one of the strongest pitching staffs of the National League.

In the article penned by Anthony McCarron - NY Daily News, Matlack recounts a story of a young pitcher under Matlack's tutelage, came up to him a few years after being traded: "I looked you up. Heck, if I'd have known you did that stuff, I would've listened more."

When speaking of making an impact on a young player, Matlack says, "The light goes on in their mind or eyes and they've got it. There's a little piece of me that's going to wander around with them for eternity and that's pretty cool."

Matlack now makes his home in the Adirondacks. He last pitched for the Mets in 1977, when he was traded to Texas in December of that year. The trade was complicated, involving four teams:Braves, Pirates, Rangers, and Mets. The Mets received Willie Montanez, the Pirates received John Milner, and Bert Blyleven and the Rangers received Matlack.

In his first year in Texas, Matlack was 15-13 with a respectable 2.27 ERA. In 1979 he had surgery to repair his left elbow. Matlack was part of the negotiating committee during baseball's strike in 1981. After that, he found his role reduced. He has always wondered if it was a backlash for being part of the committee. The Rangers released him in 1983. His career record is a surprising 125 – 126. His pitching career ended at the young age of 33.

Early in his retirement, Matlack tried commercial real estate and then raising horses in Texas. He quickly got bored, and felt the urge to resume his life in baseball. He sent out resume's in 1988, and was hired by the Padres as a pitching coach for the rookie league team. He has been in baseball ever since.

An interesting story from Matlack recollecting the 'tense moments' of the final days of Spring Training for the NY Mets in 1972: “when he counted the lockers that still had uniforms in them to see if he had made the 25-man roster. 'I finished counting and gave a little fist pump and Gil Hodges had walked through the door and caught me,' Matlack says. "He said, ‘That's right, kid, you made it.' He died a few days later."

Matlack went on to win the 1972 Rookie of the Year award, and was All Star Co-MVP in 1975.

Matlack was the pitcher that served up Roberto Clemente's final hit...#3,000. Says Matlack, "I had no idea he was sitting on 2,999. I was just trying to win a game. When I gave up the double - I think it short-hopped the center-field wall - there was all this hoopla. The ump presents him the ball at second and I'm glowering and thinking, ‘Hey, we have a ballgame here.' I was just an oblivious rookie. Then I saw it on the scoreboard, that it was his 3,000th hit."

I was quite surprised to see that Matlack finished his career one game under .500. My memories were always that he was a winner. The rotation of those years, Seaver, Koosman, Matlack...what a great staff, and in all honesty, the only staff other than those three that would come close to them in dominance, might have been Gooden, Darling, and Fernandez, but I'm sure there would be quite a debate.


Spiff said...

Thanks for the great article. I am a big fan of Matlack even though I only saw him pitch once and I was about 5 years old at the time.

Pete said...

I was sitting behind home plate (next to Malack's wife) in 1973 when the Braves Marty Perez hit a line drive off of Matlack's head. The ball hit him so hard that it landed in the stands behind fist base. Matlack's wife fainted. I was 13 years old and will never forget that.