GUILFORD, CONNECTICUT – If not for former 20 game winner Johnny Antonelli retiring, instead of reporting to the New York Mets for the team’s initial season in Major League Baseball, Ken MacKenzie, originally of Gore Bay, may have never made it to the big leagues.
“I was playing in Puerto Rico that winter (1961-1962),” Mr. MacKenzie told Jamie Campbell, host of Blue Jays Central on Sportsnet on Sunday, July 23. He was interviewed for the program prior to the Toronto Blue Jays game against the New York Mets. “I scoured the (expansion) draft list to find my name but it wasn’t there. I wasn’t taken in the draft which was disappointing.”
“But two weeks later I heard from Johnny Murphy, who told me I had been purchased by the Mets (from the Milwaukee Braves), along with Johnny Antonelli, who was a good pitcher and who had won 20 games one year in the major leagues,” said Mr. MacKenzie. “He was a left-hander as well. I didn’t realize it at the time, but if he (Mr. Antonelli) had shown up no one would ever heard of me again in the big leagues or with the Mets. I caught a big break when he didn’t report and I was able to make the Metropolitan Club of New York.”
Mr. MacKenzie was the only pitcher for the Mets, in their initial season of 1962, that sported a winning record, with five wins and four losses. The Mets lost 120 of 162 games that season, the third worst winning percentage in the majors since 1900.
Mr. MacKenzie told Mr. Campbell about how precarious his position was on the Mets team at the start, recalling a story about being hit in the back by an errant batting practice line drive. “I was late getting on the field for batting practice and when I got there I got hit in the back by the ball. I didn’t know if my back was broke or what.” Although he was injured and probably shouldn’t have kept playing, “I was in a situation that I couldn’t take a chance on getting hurt and being out of action for any length of time, ” said Mr. MacKenzie.
As for how much fun it was being on a team that lost 120 games Mr. MacKenzie said, “the trip to the ballpark was not as exciting as the trip home on the train. Most of the people on the train going home were kids, they had been Brooklyn Dodger fans (until the team moved to Los Angeles) and were just happy to have the Mets team playing there.”
Kenneth Purvis MacKenzie was born on March 10, 1934, in Gore Bay. His father, John McKenzie (last name spelled differently), owned and managed a hardware store. His mother, Evelyn Purvis, was a homemaker for six children, Sandy, Jack, Ken, Doris, Wilda and Sally.
Mr. MacKenzie was also raised in Gore Bay and played baseball and hockey locally. He went to high school in Gore Bay. Instead of enrolling in a Canadian university, Mr. MacKenzie ventured south to Connecticut and Yale University. His uncle, a resident of Hartford and a fan of the Yale hockey team, thought his nephew might be able to help Yale’s efforts on the ice. Acting as a self-appointed recruiter, he encouraged his nephew to apply. The young man did not arrive in New Haven with an established hockey or baseball profile, but he eventually played both sports successfully in that Ivy league setting. As a graduating senior in 1956, Mr. MacKenzie won second-team All-Ivy honours for hockey and served as captain of the baseball team. As a pitcher he won 19 games and lost six in his three collegiate seasons, setting the school standard with his 6-0 record against Harvard. In each of those years, his teams won the Big Three Championship, the competitive series involving Yale, Princeton and Harvard.
However, he did not sign a professional contract immediately after finishing Yale. A representative from the Milwaukee Braves organization, Jeff Jones, encouraged Mr. MacKenzie to play summer ball, after which he would offer the southpaw a professional contract. An opportunity to pitch in Halifax and District league in Truro, Nova Scotia paved the way for that transition.
Mr. MacKenzie signed with the Braves in 1957 and began working his way through the club’s farm system, becoming a relief specialist in 1959, his third professional baseball season. After working in 14 games for the Milwaukee in brief trials in 1960 and 1961, his contract was sold to the expansion Mets on October 11, 1961, one day after that year’s expansion draft
An original Met, Mr. MacKenzie posted a 5-4 record and was the only man among 17 pitchers on the 1962 Mets to win more games than he lost on a team which suffered 120 defeats. Legendary manager Casey Stengel said of him, “he’s a splendid young fella with a great education from Yale University. His signing with us makes him the lowest paid member of the class of Yale ’56.”
In 1963, Mr. Mackenzie again was the Mets’ lone over .500 pitcher, winning three of four decisions for a team which would lose 111 games. However, he was traded to the pennant-contending St. Louis Cardinals on August 5, 1963. His Mets totals included eight wins, five losses, and four saves, with a 4.96 earned run average over 76 games pitched.
Mr. MacKenzie bounded from the Cardinals to the Giants to the Astros through the 1965 campaign, spending time in Triple-A in the process.
All told, Mr. MacKenzie won eight of 18 MLB decisions in 129 games pitched, all but one as a reliever, with five career saves. In 208 and one-third innings pitched, he allowed 231 hits and 63 bases on balls, with 142 strikeouts.