Jon Matlack Should be in Mets Hall of Fame
During a telecast on the Mets’ most recent homestand, Gary Cohen conducted a live, in-game interview via phone with Jon Matlack.
Matlack spent seven seasons with the Mets from 1971-1977, but has been conspicuous by his absence from subsequent events commemorating the Mets’ past. Matlack was not there in September 2008 for the “Shea Goodbye” ceremony that brought former players as obscure as George Theodore out of the woodwork.
And there has never been any mention of Matlack’s candidacy for the franchise’s Hall of Fame–which, to our knowledge, is not even going to be inducting any new members in 2014.
Jon Matlack should be in the Mets’ Hall of Fame. And, before exerting energy to refute this assertion, please look beyond the former left-handed pitcher’s career won-lost record of 82-81 with the Mets. Matlack was, by all accounts, one of the best starting pitchers in franchise history. Really.
The National League Rookie of the Year in 1972, Matlack posted a 15-10 record with a 2.32 ERA that year. The next season, in one of the most frightening moments in the history of Shea Stadium, Marty Perez of the Atlanta Braves hit a line drive off Matlack’s forehead. Matlack suffered a hairline fracture of his skull. In this age of extreme concussion precautions, the following may be hard to believe, but Matlack, after that incident, missed one start. When he returned to the rotation 10 days later, he faced the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium and struck out the side in the first inning.
But, it was later in 1973 that Matlack really started racking up serious credentials en route to his candidacy for the team’s Hall of Fame.
In his last two starts of the regular season, during the Mets’ furious charge from last place to first in the National League East over a month’s time, Matlack pitched a four-hit shutout over the Cardinals, then allowed a run on five hits over eight innings to defeat the Cubs at Wrigley Field on the second-to-last-day of the regular season.
In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the heavily favored Reds, who had won Game 1 of the best-of-five series, Matlack turned in one of the greatest post-season pitching performances in club history. He pitched a two-hit shutout with nine strikeouts and three walks in a 5-0 Mets’ victory at Riverfront Stadium. In three starts in the 1973 World Series against Oakland, Matlack was 1-2, but had a 2.16 ERA.
The next season, he led the National League with seven complete game shutouts but, receiving just 3.21 runs of support per start, he was 13-15 despite a 2.41 ERA. The co-MVP of the 1975 All-Star Game, Matlack also led the league in shutouts in 1976, when he turned in six while going 17-10 with a 2.95 ERA for the Mets.
As the Mets started purging any veterans with ties to the team’s success earlier in the decade, Matlack landed in Texas for the 1978 season and, with the Rangers, he went 15-13 with a 2.27 ERA–again receiving meager run support (3.0 runs per game) that kept his won-lost record from more closely matching up with a great earned-run average.
Matlack retired after the 1983 season in Texas, finishing his career with 125 victories and a 3.18 ERA.
While a Met, he was always regarded as the third starter in a rotation that featured Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, both of whom are enshrined in the Mets’ Hall of Fame. In much the same way that Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez were superb, but overlooked members of outstanding starting rotations in the mid-to-late 1980s, and Rick Reed was likewise overlooked on very good Mets teams in the late 1990s, Matlack was never the ace, never the opening day starter, but always a vital cog on Mets teams that depended disproportionately on their starting pitching to mask perpetual offensive deficiencies.
If the Mets ever decide to begin honoring their past again with further franchise Hall of Fame inductions, Jon Matlack should be next on the list to go in.
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