'Professor' Jay Hook has lasting effect on 'The Old Perfessor' Casey Stengel

  • COURTESY OF JAY HOOK Former Mets pitcher Jay Hook at his Michigan farm. Hook grew up in Grayslake.

    COURTESY OF JAY HOOK Former Mets pitcher Jay Hook at his Michigan farm. Hook grew up in Grayslake.

  • Mets pitcher Jay Hook in action at New York's Polo Grounds on June 2, 1962.

    Mets pitcher Jay Hook in action at New York's Polo Grounds on June 2, 1962. Associated Press

 
Updated 4/23/2022 8:07 PM

Second of 2 parts

When Jay Hook glanced at the 1962 New York Mets roster, he didn't see a team destined to lose 120 games.

 

"I looked at the lineup of the people they had signed. And I thought, 'This can't be that bad.' I mean, there was Richie Ashburn and Gil Hodges and Charlie Neal and a lot of Brooklyn guys. And some of the New York Giants guys. There were some big names that were going to be on the first Mets team."

Even more encouraging, Casey Stengel, the former manager of the Yankees team that dominated baseball in the 1950s, would be piloting the fledgling team.

Being selected in the 1962 expansion draft had taken Hook -- who had pitched for the pennant-winning Cincinnati Reds the year before -- by surprise.

"I'd never even heard that I was on the list," he said.

When Hook -- who grew up in Grayslake -- joined his teammates during spring training, it was a feather in his cap he was a graduate student at Northwestern. They elected him player representative.

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"Casey used to call me Professor," he said, an interesting fact considering Stengel was called "The Old Perfessor."

Stengel was impressed by the exercises Hook learned from Northwestern's football coach, Ara Parseghian, and other coaches with whom he played handball.

"After practice I would go in center field and do these exercises myself," he said.

After watching him, Stengel said, "Hook, I want you to be our physical conditioner instructor when the rest of the guys come." Only pitchers and catchers reported at that time.

After about three days of stretching exercises, the guys, who came to camp out of shape, were complaining about being stiff, and Stengel said, "Professor, you can quit doing all those exercises."

The Mets lost their first nine games before Hook took the mound April 23 against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field. Hook earned the win for the Mets in their first franchise victory, beating the Bucs 9-1.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He pitched all nine innings, yielding only five hits, one walk and striking out Dick Groat and Roberto Clemente. In the top of the second, Hook, a right-handed pitcher but left-handed batter who prided himself on his hitting, drove in Jim Hickman and Neal with a single.

Compared to Cincinnati, pitching in New York was a whole different ballgame.

The newspaper coverage was intense, with more than 10 writers following the team.

"And Casey was terrific with them," he said. "He knew the fans were his customers, and knew the vehicle to get to those fans were those sportswriters. After every game, win, lose or draw -- and we were the worst team ever in baseball record-wise -- he would call the writers into his office and would get them a beer or a Coke or whatever and he would sit and just tell them stories. And they would leave his office that day with 12 or 13 (column) inches filled."

Pitching in the Mets' home park, the Polo Grounds, with its spacious center field but short left and right field fences, proved something of an adventure.

In one game against the Braves, with Hank Aaron at the plate and the bases loaded, Stengel "came out to the mound and he said, 'Professor, pitch him outside. Make him hit it to center field.'

"Next pitch, I threw an outside fastball. He hit it about 510 feet to center field for a grand slam." With his blast on June 18, measured at 465 feet, Aaron became only the second man to reach the left center field stands in the modern history of the park, the other being teammate Joe Adcock.

Hook was 8-19, but as one letter writer pointed out to him, several were lost by one run. He also pitched 13 complete games.

In 2003, the year the Detroit Tigers lost 119 games, Hook was asked to write an opinion piece for the L.A. Times.

"And I wrote it on the basis that a loss is not a defeat. And I took a number of the players and I said, 'We were the worst losers ever in baseball, but a number of these people on that team went on to successful careers beyond baseball.'

"Hobie Landrith, the catcher, went on to be a vice president of marketing with Volkswagen. And a guy by the name of Roadblock Jones, one of the pitchers, went on to become a state senator in Kansas. A loss is not a defeat unless you give up in life."

Hook himself went on to manage businesses for Rockwell International and Masco Corp., before becoming a professor at Northwestern, where he had received a bachelor's in engineering and a master's in thermodynamics, and ultimately retiring to his Michigan farm with his wife Joan.

With the Mets' 60th anniversary, Hook said he has received a lot of calls from sportswriters.

There is an old-timers game Aug. 27 at Citi Field. He told someone from the Mets, "I don't know if I can participate. I have two artificial hips. I've got an artificial knee.

"She said, 'I've got you down as a starting pitcher.' And I said, 'I'll work this summer on being able to throw a pitch. But you better have a relief pitcher there after the first pitch.'"

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