There are few players in the history of professional baseball who have made as strong an impact in their debut season as did Pat Zachry. Through the 2012 campaign, Zachry remains one of only three pitchers to secure Rookie of the Year honors while helping lead his team to a World Championship. Establishing other remarkable precedents during that same 1976 season, Zachry soon became the last-minute component in a trade involving one of the greatest pitchers of all time. A once-promising career marred by a series of injuries – one of which was self-induced – resulted in a pedestrian win-loss record slightly over .500, but for a period of time, this tall, lanky right-handed hurler was among the National League’s top performers.
Born April 24, 1952, approximately 30 miles southwest of Houston, Patrick Paul Zachry was the third and last child of Wallace Barton Zachry and wife Cora Mae (nee Schulze). A family tree traceable to the birth of John Zachry in Philadelphia in 1704, John’s heirs would eventually migrate south to Virginia and Georgia. These descendants included veterans of some of the nation’s early conflicts – both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 – and when the country split apart in 1861, many of John Zachry’s descendants took up arms on behalf of the Confederate States of America. Pat’s paternal grandfather, William Dawson Zachry, eventually moved from Georgia to Texas at the beginning of the 20th century. William’s son Wallace, who carved a successful career in sales, settled in Waco, Texas, where his youngest son attended Richfield High School – the same prep school that also would produce future major league players Tim Spehr and Todd Haney.
Zachry was fortunate to even be around to attend high school. Early teenage antics resulted in Pat taking a bullet in the abdomen at 14, and he thereafter sought safer pursuits in sports. A natural draw – a number of relatives from both parents’ extended families received athletic scholarships through the years – Pat drew serious attention from professional scouts after twirling three no-hitters in summer league competition. Zachry was selected in the 19th round of the 1970 amateur draft by Cincinnati (the 454th overall selection, 47 picks ahead of future Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Sutter), and the Reds’ renowned scout Tony Robello quickly inked Pat to a $3,500 cash bonus plus incentives.
Assigned to the Reds’ Gulf Coast League affiliate, the 18-year-old produced a 1-4 record that was hardly indicative of his abilities, as a fine 2.50 earned run average spoke to the anemic offense of the Rookie League Reds – last in runs scored during the abbreviated season. Shuffled more than 1,600 miles away, Zachry concluded his 1970 campaign with the Sioux Falls Packers in the Short Season (Class-A) Northern League. There his meager two-win total in three appearances placed him among the team leaders in victories. That didn’t say much: his team lost nearly twice as many games as it won (24-46). On the strength of this combined success, Pat was assigned to the Florida League’s Tampa Tarpins in 1971, where a more-respectable 12 victories (and an accompanying 3.21 ERA) again placed the young righty among the team leaders.
Before Zachry was assigned to Tampa, he received notice of his military draft eligibility – a very low number, which qualified him as a likely candidate for immediate deployment in the nation’s on-going engagement in Vietnam. Due to a severe injury sustained to his right ankle and lower leg region as a youngster, Zachry actually flunked the army’s physical examination, which allowed him to continue his baseball pursuits uninterrupted.
Zachry’s rapid ascent continued through the Reds’ minor league system, and these many years later Pat still credits his minor league instructors and mentors, Ron Plaza and Scott Breeden, for his steady rise. Pat spent the next campaign in the Class-AA Eastern League with the Trois-Rivieres (Quebec, Canada) Aigles. There his fine 2.64 ERA contributed nicely to the team’s equally fine 2.81 ERA. The result: a first place finish in the National Division. A strong showing in the Florida Instructional League that winter soon had Zachry plying his trade in front of the Cincinnati brass during spring training.
The 1973 Reds were a very tough team to break into. National League champions in two of the last three campaigns, the club already had a corps of solid starters going into the new season. As a result, Zachry was sent back to the Aigles. He was used both as a starter and from the pen, to test his versatility purposes in case of recall by the parent club. Over the next two seasons, which included a promotion to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, Zachry was used in equal part starter and reliever, and it was in the early stages of the 1974 campaign that Zachry nearly got the nod to join the parent club.
One of the very few weaknesses on a Reds’ team destined for 98 wins was the bullpen, where four pitchers would combine for an ERA one-and one-half runs greater than the team mark (4.95 to 3.41). “With the Reds in obvious need of pitching help, Director of Player Personnel Sheldon (Chief) Bender flew to Indianapolis…to take a look at two prospects, right-hander Pat Zachry and left-hander Will McEnaney.”i Eventually McEnaney got the call to the majors, but this visit by Bendfer indicated that Zachry was someone the Reds considered important.
On the strength of Zachry’s minor league success, a weaker team might arguably have promoted the young righty long before the start of the 1976 season. But the accomplished “Big Red Machine” was well-staffed in 1975 as it raced to a 108-win campaign and an eventual World Championship. So Zachry continued his mastery of the American Association. Zachry and teammate Santo Alcala ranked one-two in the league’s earned run average category during the 1975 campaign, and the Reds risked losing both young prospects when their options expired.
Reds’ “President Bob Howsam [wasn’t] a man…[with] a reputation for dealing away young talent with potential,”ii and on December 12, in two separate transactions, Cincinnati traded veterans Clay Carroll and Clay Kirby to make room for the youngsters. The Reds may have had another motive in executing the trades. While shipping two key components from the championship squad, they were also trading “a couple of high-salaried pitchers” whose accomplishments could be matched by Zachry and Alcala “for a lot less money.”iii Whatever the motive, the path was now clear for the two young hurlers to join the parent club. The Reds were now poised to defend their championship crown with a mound staff that included four youngsters – Zachry, Alcala, McEnaney, and Rawly Eastwick – each under the age of 25. Each had less than two years of major league experience (a fifth such hurler, Manny Sarmiento, would join the club midway through the season).
Zachry proved a capable pitcher. In seven April relief appearance of 14-plus innings, Zachry did not give up a single earned run. On May 9, Pat was inserted into the starting rotation when, for the second straight season, injuries limited staff anchor Don Gullett to less than 23 starts. Zachry promptly earned four victories in four straight starting assignments, and entered June with an outstanding 1.17 ERA. Thereafter, Pat remained an integral part of the rotation, seemingly owning the Los Angeles Dodgers (five straight victories before a loss on September 26, the first such streak the Dodgers had encountered in 10 years), while also hurling a two-hit gem against the Atlanta Braves in route to his 12th victory. Admittedly, there were other, less frequent outings where the high-octane offense of the Red Machine spared Zachry a possible loss (such as a mid-June outing against St. Louis when the Cardinals jumped on him for five runs in two innings, but the Reds would later retaliate to gain the victory). Unfortunately, this luxury of offensive support would be something Pat would soon learn to live without. On September 21, Zachry hurled a complete-game victory against the San Diego Padres that clinched the West Division title.
The effectiveness of the five youngsters is evidenced by a combined 1976 record that included 43 wins, 33 saves, and a fine 3.30 ERA. Zachry’s individual efforts secured 14 wins, a 2.74 ERA, and a team-leading 143 strikeouts, all of which garnered considerable praise from his manager, Sparky Anderson. He called Zachry the most complete young pitcher who had joined the Reds since he’d taken over the team in 1970, adding that Pat “has three pitches – slider, fast ball and change-up – and he can throw them all for strikes.”iv
Shortly before the start of the League Championship Series, Zachry received some good news on a more personal front. An assault charge was leveled against the hurler in August when a fan alleged that Zachry struck him in a dispute surrounding an autograph he refused to sign. The Hamilton County Municipal Court dismissed the charge, and Pat was able to proceed to the post-season with a clear conscience.
Zachry pitched Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, on Sunday, October 10, in Philadelphia, and quickly fell behind the Phillies, 2-0, after five innings. “Against the Phillies I was scared to death,” Zachry said later. “I had an 0-2 pitch on Greg Luzinski in the fifth, and I tried to come up and in, and I didn’t get it there, got it out over the middle of the plate, and he almost hit it out of Veterans’ Stadium. He hit it into the upper deck. In fact, If you see those chairs with the bull’s eyes on them, I have three of them up there, one in right and two in left. One from Mike Schmidt, one from Luzinski, one from Jay Johnstone.”v
Zachry came out in the top of the sixth for a pinch-hitter, and Philly pitcher Jim Lonborg opened that inning by walking Dave Concepcion. Pete Rose and Ken Griffey, Sr. lashed singles, and the Reds scored a run. In came Gene Garber to pitch for the Phillies, and he loaded the bases with an intentional walk to Joe Morgan. Next up was Tony Perez, who smacked a line drive that Philly first baseman Dick Allen misplayed, allowing two runs to score, and the Reds went ahead for a 6-2 lead, making Zachry the winner. Pedro Borbon pitched the final four innings to earn the save, and the Reds were up in the playoff, 2-0, and headed for the World Series.
World Series Game 3 was the first held in Yankee Stadium in 12 years, played on Tuesday, October 19, and proved a one-sided affair. The Reds scored three quick runs off of Yankee starter Dock Ellis in the second inning, on four hits and a pair of stolen bases. In the fifth inning, the Reds led 4-1 when Mickey Rivers led off with a single off Zachry, and Roy White walked. Thurman Munson whacked a bulletlike drive to the right side but right at first baseman Tony Perez, who gloved the ball, pivoted, and threw to shortstop Dave Concepcion, covering second, doubling Rivers off the bag. Zachry pitched six-and-two-thirds innings, scattering six hits and two runs for the 6-2 win. “A good ball club,” Zachry told interviewer Peter Golenbock later. “Beat the Yankees in four straight. It didn’t matter who the Yankees put out there. Everyone on our club had that same feeling – could have been guys in steel helmets carrying five-foot-long swords, we would have kicked their ass. It was something that seemed destined to be that that ballclub was going to beat the crap out of anyone on that field.”vi
Through the 2012 campaign, the Reds remain the only team to ever sweep the post-season playoff format, as they dispatched the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees in three and four games respectively. Zachry had contributed a win in each series to help vault the Reds into consecutive World Championships, the first N.L. team to do so since the New York Giants in 1921-22, and the last. Zachry surrendered a total of four runs in 11-plus innings, and his World Series victory was the first by a rookie starter in seven years. Ironically these wins turned out to be the only ones he would amass in postseason play throughout his major league career.
Zachry went on to capture a share of Rookie of the Year Award honors with San Diego Padres’ closer Butch Metzger. The vote marked the first time in the then-25 year history that the honor was shared, occurring only one other time since – 1979 in the American League. In garnering this distinction, Zachry established a number of precedents that hold through 2012:
- He remains the latest round draftee to receive the honor as a pitcher – his closest competition being Mark Fidrych, a 10th round pick. Only four other award recipients were drafted later than Zachry, and all were position players:
- Jason Bay, 2004, OF, 22nd round
- Mike Piazza, 1993, C, 62nd round
- Bake McBride, 1974, OF, 37th round
- Mike Hargrove, 1974, 1B, 25th round
- Of the 19 pitchers who have won ROY honors while starting more than 25 games, Zachry’s 2.74 ERA ranks seventh best among this grouping (barely edging out the 2.76 posted by Tom Seaver, for whom Zachry would soon be traded).
- Zachry is the first of only three pitchers who have won the honor while helping lead his team to a World Championship – the other two being Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and Dontrelle Willis (2003). Of this small sub-set, only Zachry and Valenzuela started and won a World Series game during their inaugural campaigns.
These were and still remain remarkable thresholds in closing out a debut season, and a nice springboard from which to enter a sophomore campaign.
Unfortunately, that same sophomore campaign was soon marred by elbow problems brought on by an abbreviated spring training. A hernia operation over the winter caused Zachry to sit out a portion of early toss. When the bell rang to initiate the new season, Pat was not fully prepared. The early results were indicative of a sore-armed hurler, and by the end of May, Zachry’s record stood at a dismal 2-6 with a 5.76 ERA. In fact, the entire Reds’ pitching staff seemed to have imploded (the team ERA ultimately settled into the league’s third worst), and the team was falling ever further behind the Western Division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. The club began looking elsewhere for solutions.
At this same time, more than 600 miles away, a long-playing drama was reaching its climax. A simmering dispute between the New York Mets and their ace righty and franchise symbol, Tom Seaver, finally boiled over – lack of run support and salary issues were the primary differences in this bitter divorce. Fueling the split were bitter personal and acrimonious attack columns against Seaver by Daily News columnist Dick Young, who was acting as a hatchet man for parsimonious Met General Manager M. Donald Grant. Furious over the Mets’ cheapskate behavior and Young’s inflammatory columns, Seaver demanded a trade. He got it. On June 15 the Mets would engage in four separate transactions involving 11 different players – a day infamously known among Mets’ fans as the “Midnight Massacre.” Among the casualties of the trades was their top slugger, Dave Kingman, who was packed off to San Diego for infielder Bobby Valentine and Paul Siebert, which stifled the Mets’ power. In the most shocking of these trades, Seaver was shipped to Cincinnati for a four-player package that included Pat Zachry. It was later revealed that the pitcher originally intended to be sent to New York was Rawly Eastwick, but Grant balked “when Eastwick, unsigned for 1977, said he did not want to talk contract until the end of the season,”vii thereby paving the way for his exploration of the free agent market that fall. Eastwick would ultimately sign with the Yankees in 1978, see little use, and get shipped to Philadelphia. Thus, it became Zachry who ended up departing from the Reds. At the time Zachry’s 3-7 record was the best on the Reds.
Being traded from a contending club to the last place Mets was not the only “inconvenience” Zachry would soon encounter – personal challenges were in the offing as well. Wedding plans were already in place for the young righty, and Zachry was now forced to fly back to Cincinnati shortly after the trade was completed to fulfill his vows. He had met an elementary school teacher, Houstonian Sharron McKethan, on a blind date, and the young couple-to-be had reasonably assumed that Cincinnati would be the logical place in which to conduct the ceremonies. Fortunately, the wedding took place without a hitch, but the couple now faced additional, personal challenges – “the idea of living in New York...frightened both me and Sharron,”viii Zachry said, as both were accustomed to a much smaller city. Moreover, the Mets had conducted several trades on June 15, shaking up the entire team. The Mets’ players seemingly would require name tags just to know who their new teammates were.
Deservedly, the 1962 expansion New York Mets are held up as one of the most inept teams in the history of the game, but they can claim at least one positive distinction: a slightly greater offensive output than their 1977 counterparts:
|Category||1962 Mets||1977 Mets|
It was in the midst of this incredible offensive malaise that Pat Zachry took the mound 19 times for the soon-to-be perennial last place club (The offensive malaise would continue through 1984 – long after Zachry had departed from the team – as evidenced by below-N.L. team averages in each of the above-cited categories over seven straight seasons).
Arguably, the only means by which the Mets could extract a win was on the collective backs of a still-strong pitching corps, anchored by the likes of Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, and the newly acquired Zachry. The Mets would only manage a mere 38 victories in the remaining 101 games following the flurry of trades, and a team ERA of 3.77 (slightly better than the league average of 3.91) was the only redeeming factor in helping to secure this meager win total. Zachry would contribute seven victories and a 3.76 ERA to this effort. Had it not been for three dreadful outings over a five-week period that summer (wherein he yielded 19 runs in less than 13 innings), Pat’s ERA would have settled on a very respectable 2.61. Meanwhile, he also sustained a loss and two no decisions. In one 19-inning stretch, he gave up an accumulated two earned runs – once again, evidence of the poor run support both he and his mound mates were forced to endure.
“[T]he Mets can expect big things from Pat Zachry,”ix said then-Kansas City pitching coach – and longtime Mets’ associate – Galen Cisco before the start of the 1978 season, and he was not alone in this assessment. On the strength of a successful winter campaign in Puerto Rico, and a very impressive month of April (3-0, 1.85 ERA in 34 innings), Met manager Joe Torre stated that “Zachry is pitching better now than I have ever seen him.”x On July 4, one week before the All-Star Game, Pat threw his second two-hit shutout of the campaign before packing for host-city San Diego as the Mets’ sole representative in the Mid-Summer Classic. He did not appear in the game.
Zachry appeared well on his way to those “expect[ed] big things” when his season was abruptly terminated on July 24 by a self-inflicted injury.
That day, Zachry faced his old team, the Cincinnati Reds, and pitcher Paul Moskau. In the seventh inning, with the score tied at 2-2, Zachry induced leadoff hitter Moskau to ground out to short. Then Pete Rose and Mike Lum lashed two singles, putting runners on first and third with one out. The base hit for Rose was historic: it was in his 44th straight game, tying the National League record.
Zachry then loaded the bases with a walk to Joe Morgan, who was replaced by pinch-runner Junior Kennedy. Next up was George Foster, and Zachry yielded a run-scoring single that put the Reds up, 3-2. Torre summoned reliever Kevin Kobel from the bullpen, and a disgusted Zachry left the mound. When Zachry reached the Mets’ dugout, he kicked a batting helmet angrily, and missed, catching a spike in the wooden steps, and causing a hairline fracture in his foot. Zachry was out for the season. He later said the Mets wanted to fine him $20,000.
A season that could arguably have resulted in 20 victories (Zachry stood with 10 wins at the exact mid-point of the campaign) was lost in a cast that would not be removed until September, and his next major league delivery would not occur until the following spring.
Injuries would continue to haunt the Texas native. The former arm problems reappeared in spring training in 1979, and a thorough diagnosis revealed a strained ulnar nerve in the right elbow. Sent to the Instructional League for a rehab assignment, Zachry tried to run, and nearly “exploded my Achilles tendon. I could hardly walk for a week. And it got to where it was okay, and maybe I changed my motion unconsciously, and for whatever reasons I came up with elbow problems the next year with the ulnar nerve and had to have surgery.”xi
Intermittent starts sandwiched around an extended stay on the disabled list saw Zachry win his first five decisions in 1979, and a 2.36 ERA in those five victories spoke volumes to his potential when he wasn’t in excruciating pain. Eventually the elbow proved unresponsive “to extensive rest, medication, immobilization or physical therapy,”xii so on August 7 – more than two months after his last appearance in the 1979 campaign – Zachry underwent surgery on his right arm to repair the damaged nerve.
When healthy, Zachry endured the unpleasant environment of a Mets team that was hitting bottom in attendance and working conditions. The 1979 Mets drew 788,905 fans, losing 99 games. The de Roulet family, which owned the team, sought to save money any way possible. “When I first got to New York, they were trying to cut back on everything,” Zachry recalled. “They would have put us on a wooden airplane with a rubber band for a propeller if they could have.”xiii
The team flew on Allegheny Airlines, calling it “Agony Airlines,” and Met owner Lorinda de Roulet and her daughters Bebe and Whitney would join the team on occasion. Zachry and other players would loudly complain about the repetitious and poorly-cooked airline meals: cold fillets with twice-baked potatoes, green beans, and cake.
On another occasion, the Mets climbed onto their bus after a long game in St. Louis, finding no air-conditioning and diesel fumes flying inside. “We went to the airport. We had a charter flight. The Allegheny gate was locked,” Zachry recalled. “We sat there for 20 or 30 minutes, waiting for someone to come and unlock the damn thing. We’re all in suits and ties. We got on the airplane and had to wait another half-hour for them to get it ready. And by the time we started back to New York, everybody had icicles hanging all over them from all the sweat drying on them from the air-conditioning of the airplane. You could have hung meat on that thing.”
Zachry was not happy with the Mets, saying, “I never enjoyed playing for the Mets. Here I was, 25 years old, traded from the penthouse to the outhouse, from first to last.”xiv
A slow, methodical post-surgery rehabilitation prevented Zachry from joining his teammates when they broke camp and started north to commence the 1980 season. Pat made his first appearance on May 5 – and his first starting assignment nearly two weeks thereafter – but by this point the Mets were back in last place (a couple of strong runs in June and July actually lifted the Mets out of the cellar, and they avoided a last place finish for the first time in four years). Once unleashed, Zachry endured a roller coaster campaign: four consecutive wins in July, including two straight shutouts, helped him earn the N.L. Player of the Month award, but this success was countered against a winless stretch in both August and September.
Zachry’s 6-10 record does not reveal the whole story, as Pat’s 3.01 ERA – more than a half run lower than the league average of 3.60 – again speaks to the lackluster offense of the 1980 Mets. During the season, the New York Daily News displayed the Mets’ lack of power by running a comparison column: the entire Met team home run output against that of Roger Maris in 1961. The 1980 Mets finished the season in a dead heat with Maris in his great year. The 1980 Mets’ home run leader was Lee Mazzilli with a mere 16.
To make matters worse, Zachry had six starts wherein he yielded a collective nine runs in over 44 innings (1.81 ERA), but in each instance he came away with either a loss or no decision. In the six wins he did garner, Zachry posted a remarkable 0.72 ERA!
The 1981 season saw Zachry limited to 24 starts, but for the first time since his sophomore campaign, this low total had nothing to do with injuries. For Pat, the strike-interrupted season was in some ways statistically similar to the preceding year, for although his ERA ballooned to 4.14 – far greater than the league average of 3.49 – he continued to be on the wrong side of some heartbreaking losses.
Perhaps the prototypical game of Zachry’s Met career took place on August 21, 1981, in Cincinnati. Facing Mario Soto, Zachry hurled seven innings of three-hit ball, without yielding a single earned run. But Soto went the distance, scattering four hits and eight strikeouts for a 2-0 shutout win. The Reds got their two unearned runs in the bottom of the fourth. Ken Griffey, Sr., led off with a single. Dave Concepcion flied out for the first out. Then George Foster reached first on a one-out error by shortstop Frank Taveras, putting Griffey on second. Dan Driessen walked to load the bases. Ray Knight hit a tapper back to Zachry, who fired it to catcher John Stearns to nail Griffey at the plate for the second out. With the bases still loaded, Reds catcher Joe Nolan rifled a single to center that scored Foster and Driessen for the game’s only runs, making Zachry the loser.
The game was just one of five similar such outings for Zachry. Taken altogether, Zachry yielded a total of 13 runs in the six outings combined (2.88 ERA in 40-plus innings) and still ended up with a loss in each of these games! A 7-14 mark was by no means representative of his contributions to the team, as he led the squad in games both started and completed, innings pitched, and strikeouts.
Incidentally, during the 1981 campaign, Zachry set single season highs in both batting and on base percentage (.158 and .214, respectively). During this same campaign, he also drove in two runs, which represented one-third of his entire career output. In 318 career at-bats, Zachry struck out more than 40 percent of the time. There were certainly a number of things that the righty was capable of doing on a baseball field – unfortunately batting was not one of those.
The Mets were actually able to avoid the cellar during the 1980-81 seasons, but they took up their customary last-place finish in the standings in 1982 (five wins in the month of August was a large contributor to this dubious effort). Pitching had served as one of the few redeeming graces for the now listless franchise, but a team ERA of 3.88 resulted in the highest posting since the woeful early days of the franchise (4.17 in 1966). New manager George Bamberger used 14 different starting pitchers (not one of whom garnered as many as 25 starts) in his effort to find a winning combination. Zachry was not immune to this turnstile, and for the first time in his major league career, he saw more work out of the bullpen than in a starting role.
Zachry had been scheduled to take the 1982 Opening Day honors (for the second year in a row), but a snowstorm in Chicago resulted in his being pushed back two games. When his assignment finally rolled around, Zachry appeared in strong mid-season form, coming within four outs of a no-hitter to initiate his 1982 campaign. Unfortunately, this initial success was not sustained, and by early May Zachry found himself used in relief roles. Weaved in and out of the rotation throughout the remainder of the campaign, Zachry’s 137-plus innings were, at the time, a major league career low (excluding the injury-shortened 1979 season). This meager figure was also the result of another right elbow diagnosis – tendinitis – which caused Zachry to be sidelined for extended periods of time.
This same 1982 campaign was played against a backdrop of great angst between both player and team that eventually led to a permanent severing. Prior to the 1981 season, the Mets had signed Zachry to a large five-year contract. “I had been part of the problem, and I wanted to be part of the solution,”xv Zachry said.
Now that contract didn’t seem to be paying the expected dividends for such a sizable investment. The Mets made no secret of their desire to trade the righty at the earliest opportunity. Meanwhile, Zachry had finally reached his own breaking point over the continuous losing campaigns, when he said: “[I]t’s boring as hell to be out of the race by August every year…I’m sick of it, it’s getting old.”xvi
After the season, both parties got their wish, with Zachry moving on to the Los Angeles Dodgers on December 28, 1982, in exchange for veteran second baseman Jorge Orta (who was subsequently traded to Toronto 38 days later). Ironically, 12 days prior to moving Pat, the Mets had reacquired Tom Seaver in trade, thereby uniting (albeit briefly) two of the five components from the Midnight Massacre trade of more than five years earlier – the other three players having long since departed New York.
Zachry took his failure with the Mets philosophically. “I’m sure everybody who was there at that time and who have since gone to different organizations, like Hubie Brooks, Neil Allen, Jeff Reardon, Steve Henderson, Jon Matlack, they had a degree of success in New York, a pretty good degree of success. Myself, Joel Youngblood, some of us, we didn’t. I always felt there was unfinished business there, maybe I didn’t do enough,” he said.
“I don’t like to go back to Shea Stadium for that reason. I just don’t feel comfortable going back to that stadium. Hopefully, the people’s hearts have softened a bit.”xvii
Over the next two seasons the Dodgers used Zachry almost exclusively from the pen, where he accumulated a nice 11-7 record and 3.25 ERA in nearly 100 appearances. In the first of those two campaigns, Zachry participated in postseason play for the first time since his rookie season.
He pitched the last two innings of the fourth and final game of the National League Championship Series, against the Philadelphia Phillies, on October 8, 1983, in Veterans’ Stadium. While Zachry did well in the appearance – no hits or runs in the two innings, he was mopping up in a lost cause. The Phillies had battered Dodger starter Jerry Reuss for five runs by the time Zachry came on, and coasted home with a 7-2 victory that handed the Phils the National League pennant.
Despite the Division championship, Zachry was frustrated with his 1983 season. “They were concerned with guys who threw the ball 90 miles an hour and I was past that,” he said. “It was hard to sit around at the All-Star break and only have pitched 15 or 20 innings.”xviii
After an indifferent 5-6 1984 season with the Dodgers, in which he posted a 3.81 ERA, the Dodgers were willing to trade the underused pitcher to the Phillies for first baseman Al Oliver, doing so on February 4, 1985. Asked about the trade at the time, Zachry took it laconically. “I’m just happy to be going to a club that has a chance to win,” he said. “I’d like to be a starter but heck, it’s all just pitching. And if they put me in the bullpen, I’ll just try to be the best reliever I can for the Phillies. But y’all have to excuse me right now because I got to take care of one of the smelliest diapers in history. My little girl here just won’t quit,” he said.xix
Pat hoped to get some consideration as a starter again. Instead, the Phillies looked elsewhere for starters – including aged veterans Steve Carlton and Jerry Koosman – and they would soon look elsewhere for bullpen help as well. Zachry posted a 4.26 ERA in a bare 10 games, with no decisions in 1985, as the Phillies tumbled to a mediocre 75-87 record and fifth place. Zachry was released on June 8, just before the threatened players’ strike.
Zachry sought new employment, but found no takers, not even for a Triple-A assignment, because teams didn’t want to hire high-paid veterans. “They would rather take a young kid making the minimum and teach him,” Zachry said. He was one of the victims of the collusion case that year. “Everybody said, ‘You want a lot of money.’ I said, ‘No. Just let me come to spring training. I’ll pay my own way.’”xx
Zachry dabbled in a number of ventures thereafter. He slid over into coaching for a few years, serving as the pitching coach for the Dodgers’ Florida State League affiliate at Vero Beach, followed by a stint closer to home with the San Antonio Missions in the Texas League, where he helped to usher the careers of Ramon Martinez and John Wetteland. Zachry returned to the mound during the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association in Florida (1989-90) where he was drafted by the St. Petersburg affiliate and reunited with former teammates Jon Matlack, George Foster, and Steve Henderson (Steve being one of the players traded with Zachry to the Mets in 1977).
Zachry pitched for the St. Petersburg Pelicans, managed by former Cincinnati Red and Philadelphia Phillie Bobby Tolan. Zachry replaced former Oriole reliever Sammy Stewart, who was exiled from the league for running up debts. Zachry began his career as a Pelican by striking out Bill Madlock, Tom Paciorek, and Larvell Blanks, all solid hitters in their day.
To his teammates and the public, Zachry came over as a salty and growling Texan. One morning in Orlando, he crossed the street from the Holiday Inn and ordered bacon and eggs and grits for breakfast. When the food landed, Zachry gruffly snapped at the waitress, “I wouldn’t feed this to my dog,” and walked out.xxi
Yet to his friends, Zachry was a different person, caring and sensitive, proud of his family, missing his wife and kids back in Waco, Texas, reading books on bus trips, discussing authors and their craft. Some days he would have his golden retriever jump in the back of his pickup truck, and when he got to the park, they would roughhouse a little, and the dog would wait for Zachry to finish the game.
Again Zachry was hammered by injuries. In a game against Fort Myers that the Pelicans lost, a line drive smacked the pitcher square in the foot, breaking it. Zachry returned on December 31 to nail down a victory in the ninth inning against Orlando. With the Pelicans up by two, Zachry faced U.L. Washington, a former slap hitter with the Kansas City Royals. Zachry threw Washington one pitch, a fastball up, and Washington hammered it to right, over the fence, five feet to the fair side of the foul pole, for a game-winning home run. The 668 fans in attendance whooped up the victory.
Zachry took the disaster calmly, crinkling his nose, making a face, and shaking his head. “He’ll never do that again,” Zachry said. Everyone knew the next time Washington stood in against Zachry, the former Royal would go down in the dust on his back.xxii
Zachry continued to pitch and he and the Pelicans continued to struggle. The pitcher battled a sore arm and the team battled varied injuries, extremely low attendance, and the fortunes of baseball. In a game against the Bradenton Explorers, Zachry came out of the game after five innings with a 5-2 lead, but four relievers let the Explorers come back and win the game in the 11th inning. Yet the Pelicans clinched first place in the four-team Northern Division, and defeated the Bradenton Explorers in the semi-final game, 7-1. Next up were the West Palm Beach Tropics for the championship, and the Pelicans took the game handily, 12-4, making Pat Zachry a champion again.
But the league had lost money, attendance was low, and management poor – the Orlando Juice owner abandoned his team, and the league had to chip in to keep the squad going. The following year, the league folded up. Pat Zachry’s baseball career was over.
Eventually, Zachry settled back in Waco, Texas, where he entered the teaching profession, the same field that his wife, Sharron, had long excelled in. Baseball, though, has never strayed too far from his life – Pat opened a batting cage enterprise, and remains a constant participant in the popular fantasy camps conducted in Florida each winter. In 2011, in recognition of his baseball prowess, Zachry was inducted into the Waco Independent School District’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, Sharron rose from the instruction to the administrative side of the ledger, serving as principal in a number of schools in the Waco locale. They raised both a son and a daughter – Josh and Meredith – and it appears that the genes inherited from athletically prone uncles and cousins were passed along to the children. Josh served as quarterback for the Baylor University football squad in 2000-01, whereas Meredith enjoyed considerable success in equestrian pursuits which mapped over to a career in the veterinary sciences. Meanwhile, her brother has carved out a successful career in the computer field. In January 2013, Pat and Sharron enjoy the presence of one grandson, with two more grandchildren on the way.
Throughout his playing career, there was one prevailing constant – the respect and camaraderie Zachry garnered from teammates and friends alike, including fantasy camp participants. Equipped with a dry sense of humor and an uncanny ability of mimic, Pat could lighten up any setting in a matter of moments, endearing him to all. But comedic-shtick aside, Zachry was truly an accomplished athlete!
This once late-round draft pick that rose steadily through the Cincinnati’s minor league system, Zachry had a large impact on a Reds’ 1976 championship club. He earned a Rookie of the Year award recipient and those achievements have, to this day, set him apart from other such honorees. Sadly, Zachry was soon beset by arm problems at the tender age of 25. Had it not been for the continued arm problems he sustained, the casual fan is left to wonder what achievements might otherwise have been attained by this talent-laden righty.
The author wishes to thank Pat and Sharron Zachry for the hours spent on January 5, 2013, to ensure the accuracy of the narrative. Further thanks are extended to David H. Lippman.
“The Zachry Family Tree ‘Southern Branch’” by Clare H. Zachry
i “N.L. Flashes,” The Sporting News, May 18, 1974, 30.
ii “Rivals Singing the Blues Over Fred the Red,” The Sporting News, October 11, 1975, 6.
iii “Three at $200,000 for Reds?,” The Sporting News, February 14, 1976, 46.
iv “Alcala, Zachry Plug Hole in Reds’ Hill Staff,” The Sporting News, June 12, 1976, 11.
v “Amazin’: The Miraculous Story of New York’s most beloved baseball team,” by Peter Golenbock, St. Martin’s, New York, 2002, page 338.
vi Ibid. Page 338.
vii “Tom Terrific Caps Impossible Dream of Reds,” The Sporting News, July 2, 1977, 5.
viii “Mets Look for the ‘Real’ Zachry,” The Sporting News, March 11, 1978, 50.
ix “Good Guys in the Game,” The Sporting News, September 3, 1977, 14.
x Zachry Forgets Seaver, Gets Met Act Down Pat,” July 1, 1978, 22.
xi Amazin’: The Miraculous Story of New York’s most beloved baseball team,” by Peter Golenbock, St. Martin’s, New York, 2002, page 341.
xii “Zachry to Undergo Surgery,” August 11, 1979, 38.
xiii Amazin’: The Miraculous Story of New York’s most beloved baseball team,” by Peter Golenbock, St. Martin’s, New York, 2002, page 341.
xiv “The Forever Boys,” by Peter Golenbock, Birch Lane Press, 1991, Page 80.
xv Amazin’: The Miraculous Story of New York’s most beloved baseball team,” by Peter Golenbock, St. Martin’s, New York, 2002, page 342.
xvi “Mookie Top Choice As MVP of Mets,” September 27, 1982, 53.
xvii Amazin’: The Miraculous Story of New York’s most beloved baseball team,” by Peter Golenbock, St. Martin’s, New York, 2002, page 341-2.
xviii “The Forever Boys,” by Peter Golenbock, Birch Lane Press, 1991, Page 80.
xix “A Baseball Winter,” edited by Terry Pluto and Jeffrey Neumann, MacMillan, 1986, page 194.
xx “The Forever Boys,” by Peter Golenbock, Birch Lane Press, 1991, Page 80.
xxi “The Forever Boys,” by Peter Golenbock, Birch Lane Press, 1991, Page 58.
xxii “The Forever Boys,” by Peter Golenbock, Birch Lane Press, 1991, Page 235.