Thursday, November 06, 2008

#423 Jesse Gonder

Jesse Gonder by brotz13.

Let's bring a close to this round of cards from Max with Mets catcher Jesse Gonder, who appears to be wearing his cap in the "flat breezy" style that has recently come back into vogue with the likes of George Sherrill, Chad Cordero, and others.

Jesse first made his mark at McClymonds High in California, as a teammate of future major league stars (and fellow Reds) such as Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, and Curt Flood. He was a 1955 signee of the Cincinnati Redlegs (yes, they modified their name during the Communist scare), a hellacious hitter who topped .300 with six different minor league clubs but couldn't break through at the major league level. His lack of defensive prowess (along with a notorious dearth of speed) was a likely culprit: in 250 career major league games behind the plate, he allowed 46 passed balls - nearly one every five games! In 1960 he joined the Yankees organization, which certainly didn't help; he was blocked at the major league level by a couple of guys named Elston Howard and Yogi Berra. After 19 at-bats in two trials in the Bronx, Jesse was traded back to Cincinnati. After tearing up the Pacific Coast League in 1962 (.342, 116 RBI), the then-27-year-old catcher finally got to spend an entire season in the majors. He hit .313 in limited at-bats with the Reds, who dealt him to the lowly Mets in July. Receiving more extensive playing time in New York, Jesse hit .302 and was selected as a Topps All-Star Rookie.

In 1964, the Mets gave Gonder the lion's share of work at catcher. In 131 games, he hit .270 with 7 home runs and 35 RBI. On a team that hit a collective .246 and had only two players exceed 11 homers, his bat was an asset. But his suspect glove became too much to ignore, and he lost the starting job to Chris Cannizzaro the following year. A midsummer trade sent Jesse to the Braves, and he slumped badly afterward, finishing at .209. Claimed by Pittsburgh in 1966, the journeyman provided pop off of the bench, clubbing seven home runs in 160 at-bats. He couldn't maintain his production the next year, though; a .139 mark in 36 at-bats brought an end to Jesse's big-league career at the age of 31.

Post-baseball, Jesse spent over two decades driving buses for Golden Gate Transit in the Bay Area before retiring in the mid-1990s. He passed away in 2004, at the age of 68. You can find some insightful quotes from him here.

Fun fact: Jesse hit 26 home runs in his MLB career. Nine of them (34.6% of his total) were off of Hall of Fame pitchers: three each off of Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson, a pair against Gaylord Perry, and another versus Juan Marichal!
Jesse Gonder (back) by brotz13.

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