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Jon Matlack was a fine Major League Baseball pitcher.

Much better than fine, really, as he won the 1972 National League Rookie of the Year award, finished sixth in the 1976 NL Cy Young Award balloting, and made three All-Star teams. He finished with nearly 40 WAR, which makes him something like the 163rd best starting pitcher ever.

Not too shabby, but … somehow, it’s not quite what we thought it might be.

I mean, Matlack was part of the ballyhooed group of young New York Mets hurlers that led the team to the 1969 World Series title and included the likes of Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and Jerry Koosman.

Unfortunately for Matlack, he was still making his way through the Mets minor league system the summer, a season that would culminate in the first of three stops at Triple-A Tidewater.

By the time Matlack made it to the Majors for good in 1972, those Amazin’ Mets were no longer so Amazin’.

There was some consolation as the team rode a weak 82-79 record in 1973 all the way to the World Series (where they lost to the Oakland A’s), but Matlack went 14-16 in his sophomore season despite a 3.20 ERA.

And it was the same story throughout his Mets career — strong ERAs, stingy with the baserunners, good strikeout numbers — but blah win-loss records.

Then, after the 1977 season, the Mets traded Matlack to the Texas Rangers in a deal that involved four teams and required advanced knowledge of differential equations of any fan hoping to understand it.

It was another case of Matlack’s just missing a team’s peak, as the Rangers fell from 94-68 in 1977 to 87-75 in 1978, Jon’s first year with his new team. It was pretty much downhill for Texas from there, and more of the same for Matlack … solid pitching derailed by poor run support.

Is it any wonder that, when the Rangers released him after the 1983 season, Matlack just hung up the spikes rather than trying to catch on with this next albatross even though he was just 33 years old?

Along the way of his frustrating career, you might imagine that Matlack became, well, frustrated at times. And maybe bored.

 

1982 Topps Jon Matlack

 

And if you squint your eyes just a little, you can see some of those emotions seeping out of his 1982 Topps baseball card.

Listen in, and you just might hear what he’s trying to say …

1. OK, OK … enough already! I will do my limboing Bob Costas impression if you’ll just stick a sock in it.

2. Yo, Adrian (Devine)! Nice glasses.

3. Come at me, bro. I don’t even need a baseball to strike you out.

4. That’s right … my middle name is Trumpbour! At least I don’t … um … look funny. You know … um … like you.

5. No, no, this is great! Bump Wills taught it to me … first, you get your uniform wet. Then, you stand here like this to create as much surface area as possible. Then, have Maury Wills run back and  forth in front of you a few times … you’ll be dry in no time. Dude is like the wind.

6. I’m just practicing Billy’s new acapella song. It’s called, “For the Longest Time.”

7. Then, just before you start to blow the bubble, you lean back a little, like this, to provide counterbalance. You’re going down, Bevacqua!

8. It’s M-A-T-L-A-C-K … Madlock is the other 1975 All-Star Game MVP.

9. It’s M-A-T-L-A-C-K … Matlock is from Mayberry.

10. I am one wild and crazy guy! (winks) Nah, my walk rate is actually quite reasonable.

11. I do NOT show up the year after teams peak. Say, do you think the Cardinals or Brewers will have an open rotation slot next season?

12. And I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your bunt foul.

13. Sure, coach, I’ll play catch with the rook. What … I can’t use my hands? Say, what do you mean, “X marks the spot”?

14. You wanna piece of me? Ha ha, just kidding … hey! You’re not laughing at me, are you? You wanna piece of me, dude?

15. So what did you think? Be brutally honest … was that good enough to make it into Damn Yankees? I’m going to audition next time we’re in New York.

16. It flapped its wings and made a sound like this. It was huge, I tell you. Think it could have been a pterodactyl?

17. I’m the Bruce Lee of baseball — I call my pitching style the “Whistling Whip.”

18. So, now that I’m about done pitching, I was wondering … is there any room on the team for a goalie?

19. I just stood there in front of the Big Red Machine, like this, and said, “Hit me if you can boys!”.  They couldn’t.

20. That was really Roberto Clemente‘s 3000th hit? I had no idea. If I’d known, I would have enjoyed giving it up more.

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