No discussion of John Stearns ever gets too far without mentioning he’s the Mets catcher who took out Chief Noc-A-Homa with an open-field tackle. He was a four-time Mets All-Star and famously to me at least set a stolen-base-by-catchers mark in 1978 that got him hios own record-breakers card but his propensity to run down mascots–and rogue fans–are one of those things that will be mentioned in his obituary.
At the same time, while all Mets fans seem to know of these encounters with the Braves’ mascot, there’s a remarkable lack of specificity as to when this event actually happened. After all, tackles aren’t an official stat in the same way the uniform number is not really a stat: We associate with them, we tend to remember them, but only us geeks bother to commit it to the record. This guy mentions the very same phenomenon when it comes to Stearns’ fan encounters: I happened across that today while looking up the Noc-A-Homa situation.
A lot of online accounts say the Noc-A-Homa-Stearns brewhaha took place in 1977. Longtime Mets PR maven Jay Horwitz said it happened in 1984–which is highly unlikely given the catcher’s fragile physical condition then. I couldn’t substantiate either of those dates but I did find something interesting: There wasn’t one encounter but two:
The first took place in 1975, this poorly written and laid out Daily News piece shows (the lines are reversed at one point, a cut-and-paste back when they actually cut-and-pasted newspapers.
Then in 1981, Stearns gets his man a second time:
Today is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, and also, the anniversary of Tom Seaver’s dominant outing at Shea Stadium where he whiffed 19 batters including the final 10 Padres in a row. Tom Terrific had the benefit of a sizzling fastball but also, effects of a bright sunny afternoon which enveloped the San Diego hitters in shadow by the late innings. The Padres managed just 2 hits and 2 walks off Seaver that day. Al Ferrera hit a second-inning solo home run to left field; and Dave Campbell bounced a single off Joe Foy’s glove at third base for a single in the fourth inning. The Mets won 2-1.
Though some 30 years before “pitch counts” became a thing, an account in the Daily News indicated Seaver threw 136 pitches that day–91 for strikes, and 81 fastballs. It notes that two change-ups were thrown for strikes. The 19 whiffs broke a club record of 15 strikeouts that had been set just four days before by Nolan Ryan, triggering a round of ribbing by teammates that the droll Texan took in stride. “That’s what they’re there for,” he said. Catcher Jerry Grote also set a record that day with 20 putouts.
Seaver himself hadn’t realized the roll he was on until the scoreboard informed of the team record–the News account indicated neither had manager Gil Hodges. Tom confessed afterward the game was “exciting, but not quite as exciting” as the near no-hitter he’d pitched vs. the Cubs a year before.
Ed Kranepool, who played first base that afternoon, had the best take. “He was like a machine out there: Whomp, whomp, whomp.”
WFAN will be rebroadcasting the game this evening beginning at 6:30. Happy Earth Day.