Hobie Landrith, the First New York Met, Dies at 93

Hobie Landrith caught for seven teams in his 14 major league seasons. He was mostly a backup, good enough at handling pitchers but a light hitter. He was never an All-Star. But he did possess a modest claim to fame.

When Landrith died on Thursday at 93 in Sunnyvale, Calif., he was remembered as the original Met.

His death was announced on Saturday by Jay Horwitz, the Mets’ vice president of alumni public relations.

The Mets and the Houston Colt .45s (now the Astros), founded as 1962 National League expansion teams, began stocking their rosters in an October 1961 draft. They alternated in selecting players whom the eight N.L. teams viewed as too young, too old or too ordinary to keep.

Houston chose Eddie Bressoud, a shortstop with the San Francisco Giants, as the first pick of the draft. The Mets chose Landrith, also a Giant, as their first selection.

When reporters asked Mets Manager Casey Stengel why Landrith, 31 years old, was anointed as the first Met, he replied: “You gotta have a catcher or you’d have a lot of passed balls.”

The Mets played their first game on the night of April 11, 1962, facing the Cardinals in St. Louis. Landrith was catching Roger Craig, who was selected from the Los Angeles Dodgers as the Mets’ sixth draft pick. Batting No. 8, Landrith went 0 for 4 and committed one of the Mets’ three errors, an errant throw to second base on a steal attempt by Julian Javier, who eventually scored. The Cards stole three bases in their 11-4 victory.

Joe Ginsberg replaced Landrith for the Mets’ second game and Chris Cannizzaro was behind the plate for their third game, both losses to the Pirates. The Mets went 0-9 before Jay Hook stopped Pittsburgh in a 9-1 complete-game victory.

Landrith, a left-handed batter, listed at 5 feet 10 inches and 170 pounds, played in 23 games for the Mets. His shining moment came on May 12 when he hit a ninth-inning, two-out, pinch-hit homer into the upper deck at the Polo Grounds off the Milwaukee Braves’ future Hall of Fame left-hander Warren Spahn to give the Mets a 3-2 victory.

The Mets used seven catchers in their inaugural season. After Landrith, Ginsberg and Cannizzaro, they trotted out Choo Choo Coleman, Sammy Taylor, Joe Pignatano and Harry Chiti, whom they obtained from the Cleveland Indians in April for cash and a player to be named. That player turned out to be Chiti, whom the Mets returned to the Indians in June.

Landrith was traded to the Baltimore Orioles on June 7 although he was batting .289 with three doubles and his home run and had driven in seven runs. His departure completed a deal in May in which the Mets received first baseman Marv Throneberry, better known as Marvelous Marv for his stumbles in the field.

The Orioles sent Landrith to the Washington Senators in May 1963. They released him after that season and then hired him as a coach in 1964, his last year in baseball.

Landrith had a career batting average of .233 with 34 home runs and 203 runs driven in.

“I was in the major leagues more because I was a good defensive catcher, and the fact that I was good at handling pitchers,” he once told the baseball history website This Great Game. “I always thought I was a fairly decent hitter, but I realized that I wasn’t in the big leagues for my bat.”

Hobart Neal Landrith was born on March 16, 1930, in Decatur, Ill., one of nine children of Charles and Edna (Spalding) Landrith. When he was a child, the family moved to the Detroit area, where his father owned a meat refrigeration business. He was catching in sandlot baseball in the summer of 1945 when a Detroit Tigers scout invited him to catch batting practice for the team.

Landrith was an outstanding catcher at Northwestern High School in Detroit and with Michigan State. The Cincinnati Reds’ organization signed him out of college before the 1949 season. He played for the Reds from 1950 to 1955 and then had stints with the Chicago Cubs, the Cardinals and the Giants before joining the Mets.

After leaving baseball, he was a public relations executive with Volkswagen for many years.

Landrith is survived by his wife, Peggy; their sons David, Gary, and Randy; their daughters Carol Landrith, Beth Smith and Linda Warner; his brother Dale; 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Although Casey Stengel, 71 when the Mets played their first game, was reputed to have fallen asleep in the Mets’ dugout at times, Landrith recalled how “Casey had an immense knowledge of baseball.”

In a 2003 interview with the Society for American Baseball Research, Landrith remembered how Stengel greeted the 1962 Mets players on the first day of spring training with “one pant leg up, one down, his shirttail hanging out and his hat cocked.”

“He looked like a character out of Norman Rockwell,” Landrith said.

He noted that Stengel led the players on a tour of the bases, tutoring them on what they should be alert for at each stop if various situations arose and finally asking, “What do you do when you get to third base?”

Stengel answered that one himself: “You score, score, score, and that’s what we’re gonna do and that’s why we’re gonna win some ball games.”

The 1962 Mets did win 40 games. But they lost 120.

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