2 DUPACR: Mackey Sasser

With only 2 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, we honor the day with former #2 Mackey Sasser.

Why Mackey Sasser, as opposed to some other former Met who wore #2? I have to admit that this post almost honored a player I never saw, but read volumes of stories about: Marvelous Marv E. Throneberry — the player who once lost a ground ball in the sun and missed first base on a triple twice in the same inning (among other dramatics). I could have also chosen Jim Fregosi, who was traded for Nolan Ryan, but I was only one year old when that happened and therefore don’t remember much about it. Sticking to my policy of picking players I’ve seen and for some reason or another stick in my memory, the number 2s from the past weren’t particularly memorable — except for Mackey.

Unfortunately, most people remember Mackey Sasser for his interminable throwing condition that is now referred to as “Sasser Syndrome”. His inability to throw the ball back to the pitcher made him the butt of cruel jokes, endless taunting, and a synchronized crowd chant of “one! two! three!” as he pumped his arm back three times (sometimes four) before weakly lofting the ball back to the pitcher. It was painful to watch, and was not unlike viewing an adventure movie or murder mystery, in that you didn’t know a) when he was going to throw the ball; b) IF he was going to throw the ball; c) what the arc of the ball would be like; and, d) whether he was going to fall back on his butt after the throw.

It was a shame, really, because other than an inability to perform the simplest duty, Mackey Sasser was a promising catcher. Defensively, he had good skills — he moved well behind the plate, was a roadblock for opposing runners, possessed leadership ability, and had a strong, accurate arm with a quick release that was capable of throwing out runners at an average to above-average rate (the throwing issue allowed runners to delay steal, skewing the stats). I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’d have won Gold Gloves, but Sasser was a decent backstop — certainly good enough to be an everyday catcher.

And “good enough” was all he needed to be, because Mackey could rake. An overly aggressive, line-drive hitter with extra-base power, he slashed balls into the gaps and pounded wicked grounders down the lines, chasing home runners at good rates — he had 41 RBI in only 270 ABs in 1990, for example. A free swinger, he didn’t take many walks and often swung at — but made solid contact with — balls out of the strike zone, and was a particularly fond of low pitches. His quick hands allowed him to catch up to triple-digit heat, but his sweet lefty swing looked effortless.

Though his throwing problem was intermittent before, it became more pronounced and frequent after a collision at home plate in early July of 1990 resulted in injuries to his ankle and achilles tendon. He missed about a week but played with the injury for the rest of the season. At the time, Sasser was on a hot streak — he was 6 for his last 9 before the collision — and when he came back he continued on a tear at the plate. As of early August he was hitting around .350 but the throwing issue became progressively worse, to the point where he simply could not be used behind the plate. Had it not been for that, there’s no doubt that Sasser would have been the Mets’ starting catcher in ’90 and likely ’91. Instead, he was limited to a pinch-hitting role (in which he performed very well) and was used sparingly in the outfield (his natural position) and first base — where his lack of home run power made him less interesting as a ballplayer.

There is an enlightening and fascinating psychological study on Mackey Sasser and the issues in his life that contributed to the mental block, which I recommend you read if you have 10-15 minutes.

Other Mets who wore #2 include legends such as Jimmy Piersall, Phil “Harmonica” Linz, Chuck Hiller, Roy Staiger, Phil Mankowski, Larry Bowa, Billy Almon, Jose Oquendo, and Damon Buford, among others.

Which #2 do you remember best and why? Share your memories in the comments.

The countdown thus far:

#2 Mackey Sasser
#3 Bud Harrelson
#4 Ron Swoboda
#5 John Olerud
#6 Wally Backman
#7 Hubie Brooks
#8 Gary Carter
#9 Gregg Jefferies
#10 Rusty Staub
#11 Lenny Randle
#12 John Stearns
#13 Edgardo Alfonzo
#14 Gil Hodges
#15 Jerry Grote
#16 Dwight Gooden
#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Jeff K February 13, 2011 at 9:02 pm
    I like this pick. Mackey Sasser was one of my favorite players. Impossible NOT to root hard for.
    • Joe Janish February 13, 2011 at 10:51 pm
      Glad you agree. I felt the same way when Mackey was playing — I pulled hard for him and it upset me to no end when the fans booed and taunted him. I do understand that NY fans demand excellence but in this case, it was akin to playing through an injury — Sasser had an issue in his brain that was difficult to overcome, and one has to wonder if the fans had been supportive, rather than vile, maybe the issue wouldn’t have gone out of control and ruined his career.

      Even if the outside influence would not have made any difference at all, it would have been nice to see more support and compassion from the fans (there was some, just not enough). Mackey was a tough SOB who played hard, played through pain, and never backed down from a challenge — he just had that one mental block.

  2. Stan O. February 13, 2011 at 9:15 pm
    I was a huge Mackey Sasser fan in the day. I even have a newspaper picture of him playing in the outfield after he had his issues behind the plate.
  3. Ed February 14, 2011 at 8:57 am
    It’s got to be Bobby Pfiel as #1.
  4. Metstheory22 February 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm
    You also could have had
    Bobby Valentine as #2