Sunday, November 13, 2011

#275 - Ron Hunt

Now this guy was a pisser when I was growing up. First of all, he was the first Mets starting All-Star ever which totally lionized him in my very young eyes. Then, when I was playing ball a few years later I had a coach who would more than occasionally tell me to "go Ron Hunt on them." I knew what that meant - go get plunked by a pitch. I used to hate it when he asked - really insisted - to do it cause it was always against a pitcher he knew I'd have trouble with, which meant a kid that threw serious heat, which meant I was probably gonna get hurt. Ah, those warm and fuzzy childhood memories. But I never forgot old Ron here because of that. Here he is back at Shea years after his days as a Met showing his hugely choked-up grip. Ron wasn't just a one-trick pony. He could actually hit, didn't strike out too much, and played pretty good D. But, boy, those HBP's.

Ron Hunt grew up in and around St. Louis and was signed by the Braves in '59 out of high school, where he was a shortstop and quarterback. After a good start that year in the low minors (he hit .284 in developmental ball), he only hit .191 the next year in B ball though all his walks pulled his OBA above .330. He stayed at that level in '61 and improved markedly across the board, dropping his error totals at second and raising his average over 100 points. In '62 he moved up to Double A and hit .309. Although he was cementing his reputation as a hustler, the Braves generally didn't consider him Major League material and so sold him to the Mets at the end of the season on a conditional basis - the Mets could return him 30 days into the next season - for $30,000.

Hunt's first position in New York was bullpen catcher which got old fast. He told Casey Stengel he could do a better job than the early season second base incumbent Larry Burright and Casey gave "Number 33" the job. On top of his .272 average Ron led the Mets in doubles and total bases and finished second in NL ROY voting. Ironically he didn't make the Topps team because the first place guy - Pete Rose - played the same position. Then came the All-Star year of '64. In '65 he got into a nasty collision at second with Phil Gagliano that resulted in a separated shoulder and a whole lot of missed games. That was followed by another All-Star year in '66. That November the Mets, who were rather flush with young infielders, traded Ron and Jim Hickman to the Dodgers for Tommy Davis and Derrell Griffith.

Hunt didn't like LA too much and the Dodgers took a serious tumble in '67 after their Series year. He was not crazy happy about the trade in the first place and after a middling year that included DL time he was sent to the Giants with Nate Oliver for Tom Haller. In San Francisco, despite an initial drop in average, he had a much better time, racking up higher walk totals and for the first time getting over 20 HBP's in a season. In '68 he had 25 to lead the league which he would also do for the following six seasons. In '69 he got some MVP votes and in '70 he was on his way to his best offensive season since his All-Star years when he lost more time to injuries. By then Tito Fuentes was ready to re-claim second and Ron was traded to the Expos for Dave McDonald, a deal that was a steal for Montreal.

Back in the east Hunt would really ramp up his OBA totals, averaging over .380 during his time with the Expos, including two seasons above .400. Around then he was also being challenged as to whether or not some of his HBP's were intentional which technically wouldn't allow him to go to first. In one incident catcher Bob Barton of the Padres argued so furiously that Ron pulled off his mask and popped him, setting off a fight. He was also putting the ball in play at a good clip and as he got up there in age would keep moving his hands up the bat resulting in about the six inch choke seen on his card front. In '73 he recorded the highest average of his career, had only 19 strikeouts, and got some more MVP votes. In '74 he recorded another good season but at 33 was being pressed by an Expos youth movement and that September was claimed by the Cards off waivers. He finished up in St. Louis and was released the following spring training. Ron finished with a .273 average and a .368 OBA. He struck out only 383 times in over 5,000 at bats and is in the top 80 for all-time assists and putouts at second base.

Hunt had a pretty interesting life off the field while playing. For a while he drove a delivery truck for his father-in-law's business. While he would live locally during the season - in NJ and Queens while with the Mets and in LA while with the Dodgers - by his time with the Giants he had purchased a 120-acre farm near where he grew up outside St. Louis. It was a working farm on which he grew alfalfa or whatever crop the government paid him to grow there. He also owned a sporting goods store in town. When he finished playing he continued to work the farm for awhile and then turned part of it into a baseball school which he continues to run. It has a website that I have linked to here.

Obviously there is lots of HBP stuff on the card back. Ron retired with 243 for his career, a record until broken by Don Baylor and then Craig Biggio. He is currently sixth on the list all-time. He is also part Cherokee which helps explain his dark complexion.

I'm adding this one in a bit late but here goes:

1. Ron Hunt and Ron Woods '71 to '74 Expos;
2. Woods and Roy White '69 to '70 Yankees;
2. White and Fred Beene '72 to '74 Yankees.


  1. Where's his connection to Fred Beene?

  2. Thanks for the reminder MJ. I didn't know anyone noticed these things.