Thursday, April 27, 2006

Every signature tells a story: Jay Hook, the mumps and the first win

There’s a lot of fear out here in the Midwest about mumps, with more than 1,000 case diagnosed — more than 600 in Iowa alone.

But how many people know that the disease played a role in the Mets’ first-ever win?

Pitcher Jay Hook was a bonus baby signed by the Cincinnati Reds out of Northwestern University, making his big league debut in 1957.

He became a starter in 1960, showing some promise with an 11-18 record and 4.50 ERA, hurling a two-hitter against the Braves.

Then the next year, Hook came down with the mumps.

Mumps is caused by a virus that spreads like the flu. Symptoms include a sore throat, body aches, fever and a swelling of glands in the jaw. Most people recover in a week, but rare cases can result in deafness and meningitis, a dangerous swelling in the brain and covering of the spinal cord. Pretty nasty stuff, and it wasn’t until 1967 that a vaccine became available.

Hook apparently had a pretty bad case, because it complete threw him off his game, going just 1-3 with a nasty 7.76 ERA.

The Reds apparently thought Hook was done, because they exposed him in the 1961 expansion draft. The Mets picked him to join Roger Craig, Al Jackson and one of the Bob Millers — we had two — in the rotation.

The Mets had lost their first nine games when Hook took the hill at Forbes Field on April 23, pitching a five-hit, 9-1 victory over the Pirates to claim the milestone win.

Hook finished the year with an 8-19 record and 4.84 ERA, leading the team in complete games, starts, and hit batsmen.

He took a step back in 1963, going 4-14 with a 5.48 ERA and played in just two games the following year.

But Hook was no dummy. Remember he was signed out of Northwestern. He earned a master’s degree thermodynamics and retired at age 28 to take a job with Chrysler Corporation.

I ran into Hook at a Mets spring training game. I didn’t know who he was on sight. But I saw an gentleman standing behind the dugout during batting practice. I noticed that several coaches and team execs would come to the dugout, shake hands and chat with the guy.

I suspected he might be someone important, and slinked over with my Mets history book. I slipped a peek at the credential hanging around his neck, and saw this name.

"Are you Jay Hook, as in first-Mets-win Jay Hook?" I asked.

His face lit up, seemingly pleased that someone recognized him. He said he’d be happy to sign my book.

We found a spot, and I remembered that I met a bunch of the 1962 Mets at a card show in Manhattan in the late 1980s, and wondered if he was there.

Hook said he didn’t recall such a show, and together we turned to the page — I had everyone there sign the same page in the book — and he went down the list, reading the names and talking about his former teammates.

When he realized for sure that his name wasn’t on that page, he said, "Well, we’d better take care of that!" and signed that one, too.


Bob said...

Do you have George Theodore's autograph?

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

No, but itsure would be sweet to add "the Stork" to the book!