Mets of Distinction: Jesse Gonder, Lenny Harris, Masato Yoshi, Craig Swann, etc.


GonderA while back I was reading “This Day in Mets Infamy with Rusty” over at Real Dirty Mets and listed first that day was the fact that it was Jesse Gonders birthday.

Well, there are certain players who are so distinctive in one area of the game that it never leaves you. Eventually, they become part of your language; they become living, breathing examples.  In a singular way, iconic. Someone doesn’t just throw well, they throw like Clemente.  Or run like Reyes. You see a player you associate so much with one thing that he becomes the benchmark you use to judge all others. The first player who became a benchmark player for me, a living simile — Jesse Gonder.

There was a nice article written by Barry Duchan on Metsmerized Online, and I learned a lot about Gonder that I did not know. Gonder played for the early terrible Mets of my childhood; he was a catcher on the 1963, 1964, and 1965 squads. When you look up his statistics, they were not too bad for back then, especially when you consider the teams he played for. But for me, Gonder became forever associated with one thing. Jesse Gonder was slow. How slow? If Gonder was racing the hare, he could have slept as long as Rip Van Winkle and still have won the race. Gonder didn’t so much run as he lurched forward. It was painful to watch. And so, Jimmy, I had my first benchmark player.  To this day I never call a player slow. Instead, “Jason Phillips runs like Jesse Gonder.”


I recently read a funny line about a slow player. A scout said, “He runs like he’s waiting for his blockers.”

Yeah, I understand what you are getting at. In our own private language — something that only you would instantly understand — I might comment that Justin Turner is “Our Towel Guy.”


Lenny Harris.


Lenny  HarrisYes, Lenny Harris. He was, to me, the iconic bench player who was supposedly beloved in the clubhouse, essential for team morale. The pinch-hitting specialist who couldn’t hit; the player who couldn’t run, or field. We always asked, Why is that guy still on the team? What can he actually do? And the answer was always, “He’s a great clubhouse guy!” Waving those towels, slapping those backs.

Another guy I give you credit for making larger than life is none other than Masato Yoshi! In 1999, pitching adequately, he won 12 important games for the Mets. You loved him. The lesson was that a team’s #5 pitcher is never going to be great, but he can be immensely valuable if he’s better than the other team’s #5. The back end of the rotation may not get the headlines, but it can make a huge difference in a team’s won-loss record. In 2013, I think Dillon Gee could be our Yoshi.


For me another singularly iconic player is Craig Swan. Poor Craig had it bad in two ways. An excellent pitcher, the NL E.R.A. champ in 1978, Swan was stuck playing on our miserable mid-to-late 1970’s teams. Worse, he could never stay on the field.

Will Carroll has oftentimes remarked that staying healthy is a skill. Well, it is a skill Craig Swan did not possess. Now, to be clear, Swan didn’t have one major recurring injury. Swan’s problems were everything. The guy just didn’t seem to have the correct body to be a major league baseball player. The following is a list of injuries that landed Swan on the disabled list in the years he played for the Mets:

  • Appendectomy followed by peritonitis,
  • Stress fracture of elbow,
  • Muscle strain behind shoulder,
  • Torn rotator cuff,
  • Fractured rib (when Ron Hodges hit him with a throw to second!),
  • Discomfort in right shoulder.

Craig  Swan (10)Watching all this unfold from Shea, I coined a phrase I use to this day, Craig Swan’s Disease, which means, frankly, you are not built for a lifetime in sports. A recent example of usage — “Fernando Martinez will never make it. He has Craig Swan’s Disease. “

I could go on, there are so many skills and talents to appreciate or denigrate by association. Another beautiful thing about the game of baseball.

I’m sure everyone has their own standard bearers.

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  1. Speaking of Craig Swan, I, along with my younger brother, was at the Great Fog-Out Game of May 25, 1979, a game that Swan started. You may remember that the game ended in a 3-3 tie after a weird fog engulfed the outfield at Shea. We were in the mezzanine, I believe, and we watched this fog roll in from out beyond the walls, beginning in about the sixth inning. Swan faced off against the Pirates Jim Rooker, and both pitched beautifully. The Mets were down, 3-1, going into the bottom of the 9th, so we were expecting yet another Mets loss. But Mazzilli doubled and Joel Youngblood hit a triple, and suddenly, the game was all tied up. Then, I think it was John Stearns who hit a fly-ball into the outfield that dropped in. The Pirates outfielders were furious because they had no chance to see the ball. So the umpires ended up calling the game, which ended in a tie.
    On the way home, we were listening to the radio in the car, trying to see what they had to say about the game. We heard a bulletin that out in Chicago, lightning apparently hit a passenger plane, and all 260 people on board were killed when the plane crashed. American Airlines flight 191.
    It was a strange and memorable night, to say the least.

  2. Brian Joura says:

    Forget his pitching – the best thing about Yoshii was his sense of humor. When asked what he was going to do if he was left off the post-season roster, Yoshii said, “I’ll be in the stands, eating a hot dog, drinking a beer, and yelling ‘Put in Yoshii!!'”

  3. Alan K. says:

    Swan was interviewed for Peter Golenbock’s history of the Mets and he had a great quote about the DeRoulet daughters. I didn’t recall the exact quote which I found on the Mets Police site: “The deRoulet daughters were kind of fun. They were in their twenties, and they were dating some of the players. Mrs. deRoulet’s daughters had the pick of the litter. If you own the stable, you should be able to ride the horses. The boys who did that got rewarded.” Good to know someone was having fun in those days.

  4. I’m afraid that Reese Havens has Craig Swan’s Disease.

  5. Michael Geus says:

    Is there a Dr. in the house for a full diagnosis? Where is Don P. when you need him?

  6. Don P says:

    No medical reason. Nolan Ryan, still pissed that he was traded and annoyed that, in the future, he wouldn’t be considered for the 2 guys tough guy team, purchased a Craig Swan voodoo doll.

  7. […] Brown hit a squibbler down the third base line and get thrown out the other night. I’m sure you knew who I thought of – Jesse […]

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