December 7, 2013
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Saturday, July 21, 2012
One of the pleasures of Hall of Fame Weekend is simply walking up and down Main Street and watching people. Sometimes you run into a man like Paul Marshall of Portland, Maine, who has been coming to Cooperstown every year since 1972. He just wants to talk about baseball, and talk about this wonderful village.
At other times, you might see someone famous. Hey, there’s Fergie Jenkins, sitting on a bench talking on his cell phone. Look, Denny McLain is signing copies of his book. Hey, it’s Roland Hemond, just walking down the street. Or, over there, that’s the former Met, Art Shamsky.
Shamsky played for both the Reds and the Cubs, the teams that once featured Barry Larkin and Ron Santo, but that coincidence has nothing to do with his visit to Cooperstown this weekend. Shamsky has become a regular at Hall of Fame Weekend, spending much of his time on Main Street, where he signs autographs in front of T.J.’s Place.
Shamsky is best remembered for his days with the 1969 Miracle Mets, where he was part of a terrific right field platoon with Ron Swoboda, but he actually spent the first three seasons of his career in Cincinnati. Shamsky debuted for the Reds in 1965, hitting .260 in a reserve role.
Yet, he didn’t really enter the public consciousness until 1966; he gained instant fame during a weekend series with the Pirates in mid-August. On Aug. 12, Shamsky entered a game in the eighth inning as part of a double switch. By the time the game ended in the 13th inning, Shamsky had ripped three home runs. He became the first and only player in major league history to hit three home runs in a game in which he did not start.
Still, Shamsky wasn’t done. Two days later, he was called upon as a pinch-hitter. Facing Vern Law, Shamsky blasted his fourth home run in his fourth consecutive at-bat. The Hall of Fame then came calling. Shamsky donated the bat he used to hit the four home runs to the Hall, which continues to display the bat in the records room on the third floor.
He was more than a two-day wonder. Playing a key role as a platoon outfielder for the 1966 Reds, he hit 21 home runs in only 234 at-bats. He compiled a .521 slugging percentage, making him a dangerous weapon against right-handed pitching.
After a poor 1967 season, the Reds traded Shamsky to the Mets for journeyman infielder Bob Johnson. At first intimidated by New York, Shamsky adapted well and became a fan favorite, particularly with New York’s Jewish population. After compiling an even .300 average during the 1969 regular season, he roasted Braves pitching to the tune of a .538 mark, as the Mets gained a sweep in the first ever National League Championship Series.
Shamsky remained a productive player through 1971, but muddled through an injury-riddled, slump-ridden season in 1972, which prompted a trade to the Cardinals. But Shamsky never played a game for St. Louis. In a surprising move, the Cardinals released him before Opening Day. So although his 1972 Topps card shows him as a member of the Cardinals, he never did actually play a game for St. Louis.
Shamsky did not remain out of work for long. Five days after being released by the Cardinals, he signed on with the Cubs. Used mostly as a pinch-hitter and bothered by back trouble, Shamsky didn’t hit much with the Cubs, but did briefly become a teammate of Santo.
Shortly after the June 15 trading deadline, the Cubs sold Shamsky to the A’s. He made eight pinch-hitting appearances, failed to collect a hit, and drew his release on July 18. With his back problems persisting, Shamsky’s big league career came to an end.
Since his playing days, Shamsky has been active as a broadcaster, putting in stints with the Mets as a color announcer and hosting a show on WFAN Radio. He has also been ensnared in controversy; in 2007, his ex-wife Kim accused him of cheating on him, with both men and women, and transmitting HPV (human papilloma virus) to her. Shamsky denied the allegations made by his wife.
Five years later, the controversy has quieted down, with some observers questioning the legitimacy of some of Kim’s more sordid claims. So Art Shamsky is back to doing what he’d rather be doing, making public appearances, talking to fans, and continuing to represent the ultimate underdog in baseball history, the Miracle Mets of ’69.