This Day in Baseball History: May 23rd, 1965

The Catch.

On May 23, 1965:

Ron Swoboda takes the field with a batting helmet … on his foot.

Born on June 30, 1944, Ronald Alan Swoboda was a young outfielder for the Mets. He made his debut in 1965, but he wasn’t particularly good. His .228/.291/.424 line was somehow good enough for a 102 OPS+, and he did hit 19 home runs. But he struck out 102 times and wasn’t a good outfielder. In fact, he received the nickname “Rocky” because of his poor fielding. Regardless of the results, manager Casey Stengel still saw something in the young man, and Swoboda was in awe of the manager and tried to learn everything he could. On this particular day, Stengel would give the young man a lesson he wouldn’t forget.

Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals were losing 7-2, but they weren’t giving up. After tallying two runs, they were down to their last out with the bases loaded. Dal Maxvill lofted a flyball to right, but Swoboda lost it in the sun. The ball dropped and all three runners scored, tying the game. Batting in the top of the 10th, Swoboda lined out to right field to start the inning, and frustrated as he left the dugout, he stomped on a batting helmet. Unfortunately, instead of crushing it as intended, the helmet stuck in his spikes. While continuing to trot out to right field, he tried to fling the helmet off, but Stengel called for him to come back. Stengel roared, “When you missed that fly ball, I didn’t go looking for your watch to break it. So quit busting up the team’s equipment. You’re done for today.” Swoboda, crushed and humiliated, went to the clubhouse and wept.

Swoboda’s career never really got off the ground. His 1966 campaign was even worse than his rookie season, but he rebounded with his best season in 1967 when he .281. That would be mainly a mirage (I wonder what his BABIP was … .332 — his best but actually not by much) as he never beat .260 again. Swoboda’s finest moment was actually, believe it or not, in the field during the 1969 World Series. Brooks Robinson stroked one his way, and he dove to catch it, ending a rally in Game 4. A silhouette in remembrance of this catch is stationed at the right field entrance of Citi Field.

Trivia Time
In a notable 1965 off-season trade involving the Mets and Cardinals, what player took Swoboda’s number 14, eventually causing Swoboda to wear number 4?

Yesterday’s Answer –> May 1, 2004 against the Florida Marlins. He would do it three other times (April 23, June 12 and September 22), but only one of those (September 22) was a nine-inning game.

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One Response to “This Day in Baseball History: May 23rd, 1965”

  1. Ian Says:

    I know Ken Boyer wore #14 with the Cardinals and that he joined the Mets sometime in the mid-60’s, so I’m going to guess him.

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