Monday, May 2, 2011

#153 - Jon Matlack

Now this is a great card. For a number of reasons. First, it shows a pitcher throwing his signature pitch. For Mr. Matlack here, that would be his curveball. Jon had a big overhand curve and, like Bart Johnson a few posts back, incorporated a big kick into it. While the kick is not shown here, the long stride does give an indication of how big it was. Also, Jon is into this pitch: he's got the Michael Jordan thing going with his tongue. Next, Matlack looks like he's the only Met on the field. The first and second basemen must be hugging the bases which would indicate there's at least a runner on first. In fact, if you look closely at the right side of the photo, you can make out a corner of a mitt and a head with what appears to be a blue batting helmet. It could be John Milner or maybe even Willie Mays. The odd thing is that it looks like whoever it is is still holding the runner on, but Jon is already mid-pitch. Lastly, look at that crowd! There's not an empty seat, definitely a nice change from some of the other cards. It is therefore interesting to speculate as to whether this is a post-season shot. Matlack's only game in the playoffs was at Cincinnati, so it ain't against the Reds. During the Series, two of his starts were at Oakland, so if this is a Series game, it is Game 4. I think I've about worked this card to death.

Jon Matlack was a star high school pitcher from West Chester, PA. When he was scouted by a lot of teams, he was ultimately selected by the Mets. But since he was 16 at the time, he wasn't allowed to sign which was an invocation of something called the American Legion rule. The rule basically stated that any player selected before his 17th birthday had to wait six months until signing, which was a pretty absurd way of keeping American Legion teams from being raided, I guess, but put the poor players in limbo. I cannot believe the rule came up too much, but who knows. On top of everything else, at the time of his selection, Jon's dad was undergoing treatment for cancer. The poor kid must have been torn to pieces. At any rate, later in '67 he did sign, but too late to get into more than a couple games in Double A ball that year. He had a very nice year in '68 at Single A (13-6 with a 2.76 ERA) and then spent the next three seasons at Tidewater where the ERA was a tad high but he put up winning seasons each year, averaging 12 wins per. In '71 Jon got a few starts at the top, going 0-3 but with a respectable ERA.

Matlack came zooming out of the gate in '72, winning his first six games and having a four game streak in which he allowed one earned run in each game. He would finish 15-10 with an ERA of 2.32 on the way to winning Rookie of the Year. '73 would be a year of highs and lows for Jon, the high probably being his two-hit shutout of the Reds during the playoffs. The low occurred during a game against the Braves at Shea. Jon was pitching to Marty Perez, who hit a come-backer that popped Matlack right in the temple. He was rushed to the hospital and it turned out his skull was fractured. Pretty scary stuff but '73 was sort of a year of destiny for the Mets and Jon ended up missing only two starts. His Series was awfully good, except in the won-loss column in which he was 1-2, but with a 2.16 ERA. Jon would then go on a three year run in which he was an All-Star each season (in '75 he was co-mvp) and lead the league in shutouts twice but fell prey to weak-hitting support and went a combined 46-37, even though his ERA was well under 3.00. In '77 the Mets turned truly awful and Jon's record fell to 7-15 as his ERA bloated. Following the season, he was another featured player in the huge three-team trade that had him go to Texas, John Milner to Pittsburgh, and Willie Montanez (from Atlanta) and Tom Grieve and Ken Henderson (from the Rangers), come to the Mets.

In Texas, Matlack went back to posting a superb ERA - 2.27 - while winning 15 games. In '79 his season got interrupted by elbow surgery and he only won five games in 13 starts. He returned in '80 with better than a league average ERA winning ten games. '81 was the strike year and Jon's numbers were not great as he missed some time and only got 16 starts. He had also developed shoulder issues at this point. In '82 he had a decent season but he was now working out of the pen as much as he was starting. Some speculated that was due to his being player rep during the strike year. Another sub-par year in the bullpen followed in '83 and then Jon was done at only 33 years old. He went 125-126 for his career with an ERA of 3.18 with 30 shutouts, 97 complete games, and over 1,500 strikeouts. When done playing he gave both real estate and horse raising a shot, but by '87 was back in baseball as a pitching instructor, first for the Padres, and then for Detroit which he was still doing as recently as last year.

That's a great middle name. It must have been a family one. Matlack was a big deal in high school. Along with the 22-1 record he threw five no-hitters including a perfect game. For the ROY voting, Jon got 19 out of 24 votes. Four went to Dave Rader of the Giants and one to Jon's teammate, John Milner. '72 was a great season for Matlack; I'm pretty sure the high was speaking at my Little League dinner in Morristown, NJ that fall.

This one's easy:

1. Matlack and Oscar Gamble '79 Rangers.


  1. He's wearing a Mets home uni, so this was probably taken at Shea during the regular season.

  2. D'oh! On re-reading your post, I see I misread what you were saying regarding his post-season appearances. Never mind.