Number Ten

The number ten has been on the back of players as diverse as Duffy Dyer, Ken Henderson, Kelvin Chapman, Butch Huskey, David Segui, Jeff Duncan, Joe Hietpas, Rey Sanchez, and Shingo Takatsu — among others. Today, of course, it’s worn by “Legendary” Endy Chavez.

Mets Hot Rod Kanehl baseball cardBut our “magic” posts honor only Mets heroes from the past, so Endy isn’t eligible. I had to give at least some consideration to (shudder) Rey Ordonez, but decided that a.) his bad times outweighed the good times; and b.) his inability to decide between #10 and #0 throughout his career had to be held against him (who would ever WANT to be a zero?). That said, it came down to “Hot” Rod Kanehl and Rusty Staub. Rusty would have won in a landslide, but his most memorable Mets years came while wearing #4 — specifically, in 1973. And hopefully we’ll get down to that number and honor Rusty at that time.

Long before there was “A-Rod” or “K-Rod”, there was “Hot Rod”.

Roderick Edwin Kanehl was an original Met, and one of the first fan favorites adorning the orange and blue. He scored the winning run in the Mets’ first home victory at the Polo Grounds, and hit the first grand-slam in Mets history (also at the Polo Grounds) on July 6, 1962. But he wasn’t known for his power — he hit a grand total of 6 homers in 796 career MLB at-bats. Kanehl was a career minor leaguer, a journeyman who didn’t have any one particular skill that could be graded as “Major League”. However, his all-out hustle and lack of fear when it came to outfield walls endeared him to the hometown fans — and won him a job on the Mets’ bench. In his three-year career with the Mets, Kanehl played every position on the field other than pitcher and catcher for manager Casey Stengel, and never left a game without dirt on his uniform. Stengel loved Kanehl’s enthusiasm, team-first attitude, and determination, and had to fight with GM George Weiss to keep the light-hitting utilityman on the roster.

As told by Leonard Shecter in “Once Upon the Polo Grounds,” Stengel had related the following debate concerning Kanehl: “Weiss says, ‘I ain’t seen him do anything in the field.’ So I said, ‘You’re full of baloney, he can run the bases.’ ”

Kanehl paid back the loyalty in 1975, when he was the only former Met to attend Stengel’s funeral.

After his playing career, Kanehl couldn’t find a job in baseball, which miffed him. As he told Sports Illustrated: “I thought there would always be room for a guy who knows the game and has some intelligence. I know the game from underneath. I know what goes on in the mind of a mediocre ballplayer. I know what it’s like to be a bad hitter. I know what it’s like to have to battle every time you go up to the plate.”

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.