Grayslake's Jay Hook leaves his mark with expansion N.Y. Mets
Part 1 of 2
Two new Major League teams took the field 60 years ago.
One of them, the Mets, achieved legendary status. They didn't win many games -- they went 40-120-1 -- but won the hearts of New York fans, filling a gaping void left by the exodus of the Brooklyn Dodgers and N.Y. Giants.
With 8 victories, pitcher Jay Hook won nearly a quarter of the games, 2 wins shy of Roger Craig's team lead.
Hook also earned the franchise's very first win.
Reached at his farm in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, west of Traverse City, Hook shared his major league memories, and his first baseball experiences growing up in Grayslake.
"There were some really terrific teachers and coaches and people that have had an influence on me from a long time ago," he said. A major influence was Paul Subject, his math teacher and baseball coach at Grayslake High.
He remembered, "The guys back then that were teachers had been in World War II. And so they were straightforward guys. But he was terrific, just a wonderful guy."
Hook's father Cecil had a drugstore and soda fountain in Grayslake. Coaches gathered there Saturday mornings to discuss area sports.
He said he sees a lot of his hometown in Maple City, close to where he now lives.
"There's a little restaurant in that town. And there's a group of guys that get together, oh, maybe four or five mornings a week for breakfast. And it's people who have kids that are on teams or are going to school locally."
As a senior, Hook pitched all of Grayslake's 14 games, winning 10, as the Rams tied Antioch for the Northwest Suburban Conference 1954 crown. In 93 innings, he struck out 188.
During the summer, he would play baseball in places like Lake Forest or Zion.
After graduating from Grayslake, he attended Northwestern University, where he studied engineering and, in 1957, played on a Big 10 champion coached by former major leaguer Freddie Lindstrom, whose son Chuck was a catcher on the team.
During his freshman and sophomore years he played for the Oconomowoc Wingers in the Central Wisconsin baseball league, while holding down a summer drafting job with a lithographic company.
He played for "a guy that could have been a second father to me, Clarence Schallert."
Schallert had a liquor distributorship around North Milwaukee, and served as an informal agent for Hook, contacting scouts.
In August 1957, the Cincinnati Redlegs announced the signing of the 20-year-old right-hander to "one of the largest bonuses ever paid a pitcher in the major leagues," reported at $65,000.
Signing as a bonus baby meant an instant ticket to the majors.
Off the field 1957 was a big year as well. He married Joan Hoos, a Northwestern football homecoming queen.
He played three games in 1957 for the Redlegs, as the Reds were called then. He threw a combined 7⅓ scoreless innings in two games, but was rocked by the Cubs for five earned runs in 2⅔ innings on Sept. 25 in Cincinnati.
He said, "They had a wonderful team then," in Cincinnati, with Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Ted Kluszewski.
He remembers sitting in the locker room signing baseballs.
"We were signing 12 dozen baseballs. And the guy next to me was Gus Bell. My name was seven letters. Jay Hook. And Gus Bell was seven letters. And next to Wally Post was Ted Kluszewski. All the balls were stacked up in front of Ted Kluszewski. It took him so much longer."
Hook split time between Nashville and Cincinnati in 1958 and was with Seattle in 1959, when Seattle manager Fred Hutchinson replaced Mayo Smith as Reds manager.
"A week later he called me up from Seattle," he said.
In 1960 and 1961, Hook started 38 games for the Reds.
The Reds won the pennant in 1961. But Hook did not pitch much with the team during the last part of the season, because of the mumps.
Hook said when the Reds were in Los Angeles, he was visiting a good friend who had been the principal of a Grayslake grade school and had moved to Brea, Calif.
"He asked me if I would come and speak at his school. And I guess I don't even know if he knew this, but they had an epidemic of mumps going on at that school. And we were flying to Philadelphia, I think, and man my jaw just started to just swell up. And I got the mumps and it went through all the glands in my body. And it really just shut me down. And I couldn't even be close to people because it was too contagious, I guess."
After the season, he and his wife were driving in their Austin-Healey back to Northwestern, where he was doing graduate work in engineering and she was finishing her studies, when they heard the news over the radio he had been picked by the Mets in the expansion draft.
Part 2: Casey Stengel and the Amazin' Mets