Wednesday, October 28, 2009

40 Years Later: The 1969 NY Mets - Jack DiLauro

40 years. Has it been that long? It seems like yesterday. Just ask Jack DiLauro. In 1969 DiLauro was a 26 year old rookie with the World Champion NY Mets, which was old.

Although DiLauro will always be part of that “fraternity”, he realizes he has lost some connection to the game.

Says DiLauro, ''The game isn't so different, but the players certainly are. How can I relate to guys today who make more playing one inning than the $10,000 I made playing my entire first year in the big leagues?''

DiLauro was a three sport athlete at North High School in Akron, Ohio. He flourished as a starting pitcher for six years in the minor leagues for the Detroit Tigers. DiLauro was going to take a scholarship to play football for the University of Akron, but was convinced to join the Tigers by agreeing to a $15,000 bonus in 1963.

In his first three years, DiLauro won 14 games each season. He was then promoted to AAA, and started the 1968 season 6-0 for the Toledo Mud Hens.

According to DiLauro, ''The Tigers were loaded with pitchers at that time, especially young left-handers like John Hiller, Fred Sherman, Jon Warden and myself. There were something like 10 guys from the 1967 and 1968 Toledo teams who made it to the majors.

''But at that point, I wasn't one of them and I thought I probably never would be. We won the International League championship. But the Tigers won the World Series so I figured I was going to be stuck in the minors again in 1969.

''I had told myself before the season that 1968 was going to be it if I didn't make it to the majors.

''I was ready to quit because the Tigers had already told me they didn't think I threw hard enough to pitch in the majors.

''I figured I had to get a life, get a job. My attitude wasn't real good.''
Then came the trade. Whitey Herzog, then a scouting director for the Mets, believed that DiLauro could pitch, and the Mets traded catcher Hector Valle to Detroit for DiLauro.

DiLauro got the opportunity to pitch when Nolan Ryan went down with a groin injury. His win loss record wasn’t earth shattering, going 1-4, but his ERA was a respectable 2.40.

Some notable quotes from DiLauro on the 1969 Mets:

'When we hit .500 in June, we suddenly thought we had a chance. Then I got a start against the Dodgers against Bill Singer. It all came together.''

''One of the New York writers wrote that Jack DiLauro's first start in the big leagues turned the Mets' whole season around.''

On not being used in the post season: ''I was there, in uniform, in the bullpen ready to pitch. Thank God the other pitchers were so good they didn't need me.''

On appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show after defeating the Orioles in the World Series: 'Nobody in New York cared if we could sing or not. They just wanted to see the Mets.''

DiLauro also did an impersonation of Ed Sullivan: ''I almost fell down getting onto the stage, but I got it done.

'My wife got a VHS tape of that show about 15 years ago and that's something I'll always treasure.''

DiLauro only pitched that one year for the Mets. He was left unprotected after the 1969 season, and was acquired by the Houston Astros, who needed a lefty. He got off to a rough start, and finished the season, in which he didn’t pitch much in the second half, 1-3 with 4.28 ERA.

He was out of baseball at 28.

Now 66, he prefers hitting golf balls to watching baseball...until October.

Although his career is but a blip on the baseball historical radar, Jack DiLauro is still touched by that one magical season in 1969…stuff dreams are made of.

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