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How Sweet It Was

Brooklyn's Lee Mazzilli Enjoyed Three Stints in His Own Backyard To be able to play in one's hometown is an honor and a privilege. To become the superstar and main attraction of the team is ...

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Brooklyn's Lee Mazzilli Enjoyed Three Stints in His Own Backyard

To be able to play in one's hometown is an honor and a privilege. To become the superstar and main attraction of the team is an entirely different accomplishment. Lee Mazzilli, who was born in the borough of Brooklyn 53 years ago, was drafted by the New York Mets with the 14th overall pick in the 1973 draft and three years later found himself patrolling centerfield at Shea Stadium.

The Mets of the mid-to-late 1970s were an abysmal team, one that their fans called it a successful season if they avoided 100 losses. The glory days were long gone and the stars of yesterday were either long gone or growing a little long in the tooth.

The team needed someone to be the fan favorite, the centerpiece, if you will. The switch-hitting, basket-catching outfielder with the matinee idol looks was exactly what the doctor ordered. 'Lee Mazzilii Poster Day' was a big promotional giveaway at Shea, and surely many an adolescent girl's room was adorned with them.

Perhaps Mazilli's biggest moment came during the 1979 All-Star Game at the Kingdome in Seattle. Mets fans - including the writer of this article - to this day contest that 'Maz' was robbed of winning the game's MVP award, which went to the Pirates' Dave Parker. Mazzilli merely tied the game with an 8th inning home run and then drove in the winning run with a bases loaded walk off none other than Ron Guidry of the Yankees. (At least for one night, Mets fans stood proud up to their counterparts.) He enjoyed his best season that year, hitting .303 with 15 home runs and 79 RBI.

Two years later, Mazzilli had his worst statistical season, hitting only .228 while suffering through back and elbow injuries. During spring training of 1982, he was shipped to Texas in exchange for two young pitchers that would become integral parts of the team. Ron Darling and Walt Terrell (later traded to Detroit for Howard Johnson) came over from the Rangers' farm system, while Mazzilli's tenure with his new team lasted only 58 games.

His next stop would be a familiar one as the Yankees acquired one idol for another, sending Bucky Dent to Texas. After hitting a mediocre .266 in 128 games in the Bronx, he was shipped to Pittsburgh, where he spent three and a half seasons.

Partly through their incredible 1986 campaign, the Mets brought Maz back, signing him to a minor league contract after he was released by Pittsburgh. When George Foster's skills began to erode at a faster pace, the slugger was released and Mazzilli was brought up to take his place . Apparently looking to rock the boat on his way out of town, Foster claimed that the moves were racially motivated. Perhaps his attitude changed when Mazzilli batted .400 in the World Series and was a catalyst in the Game 6 comeback win, one for the ages.

After a short stint north of the border in Toronto, Mazzilli called it a day and retired after 14 seasons with a .259 lifetime batting average. He briefly took up acting and starred in 'Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding' on stage.

By 2000, Mazzilli was back in uniform and occupied the first base coaches box for the Yankees for three seasons before being named manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 2004, finishing in third place with a 78-84 mark. After 107 games the following season, the team's record stood at a very respectable 51-56, but team owner Peter Angelos felt that a change was necessary.

Pitching coach Sam Perlozzo took over and the team went 23-32 the rest of the way. The Orioles have lost 92, 93 and 73 games in each of the following seasons, while Mazzilli has yet to get another shot in a major league dugout.

These days, Maz is part of the SNY studio team and brings his expertise to the viewers on a nightly basis. With a quarter century of baseball experience behind him, it will hopefully be a temporary stop en route to another managerial position.

To kind of put the whole former matinee idol thing in perspective, Mazzilli once told reporters, "Girls used to come up to me and say, 'My sister loves you.' Now, girls come up to me and say, 'My mother loves you.'"

Better to be a former one than none at all, sort of like an All-Star, World Champion and big league field boss.