Jelic’s place in baseball history endures as the answer to two trivia questions: He was the other guy the Mets got when they traded for David Cone, and he remains the only player whose lone hit was a home run in his final major-league at-bat.
Jelic’s big-league career spanned four games in the last week of the 1990 season; the home run was his only hit in 11 appearances at the plate.
He would like to set the record straight, though – he could’ve easily had two more (and then not be included in this book). Two days before, he had hit a “bullet down the first base line”1 in the fifth inning that was ruled an error when Sid Bream couldn’t handle it.
“Everybody else in the game said it should’ve been a hit,” Jelic said.2 The next day, “I had another ball that I hit in the hole between third and short that Jay Bell couldn’t make the play on, but they never would’ve had me anyway, and they made [it] an error. So I had a few guys on the team saying, ‘You got at least two other at-bats you should’ve had a hit.’”
He doesn’t dwell on what could have been, though – his life has been pretty good. Ever the optimist, he just adapts to whatever comes next. If you can’t be the star quarterback, become a punter. If you can’t be a pro football player, focus on baseball. If you can’t be a catcher, be a supersub. And if you can’t play anymore, be ready to move on.
A former two-sport athlete at the University of Pittsburgh, Jelic grew up in the Steel City suburb of Mt. Lebanon in a family and a community that was sports-mad.
“Western Pennsylvania at the time (it has really changed) was full of people that valued toughness and looked down on whiners,” wrote Jeff Jelic, Chris’s older brother. “Most of us were first or second-generation immigrants and working hard for anything you got was admired and expected.
“As a result, and we did not know it or fully appreciate it at the time, Western Pennsylvania in the 70’s and 80’s was an unbelievably competitive area. Just the number of HOF athletes coming out of W.PA at that time was quite remarkable.
“We grew up with it so it seemed normal, but once we started competing nationally, we realized how special the area was. If you could compete in W.PA athletically, you could play at a high level anywhere.”3
According to Jeff Jelic, Chris’s graduating high-school class at Mt. Lebanon featured 11 Division I scholarship athletes on the football team alone. Two years ahead of Chris in school was John Frank, who won two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers. A few years behind Chris were tennis player Don Johnson, who won a Wimbledon doubles title, and professional wrestlers Eric and Kurt Angle, the latter also an Olympic gold medalist.4
“Our neighborhood pickup games were better than a lot of varsity high school teams in other states,” mused Jeff Jelic.5
Chris’s father, Ralph Jelic, was a good enough running back at the University of Pittsburgh to be selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 10th round of the 1957 NFL draft. He signed a contract for $6,500, but never played a game, and went on to coach several colleges and scout for the Raiders, Chiefs, and Buccaneers, before a decades-long career in marketing and sales in construction and geotextiles. Chris’s mother, Cynthia (Agnew) Jelic, an elementary-school teacher, was the top female athlete at Pitt 1959, as a basketball player in the pre-Title IX era.
“I don’t think I could beat her in a race until I was a freshman in college,” said Jeff Jelic, a former all-American college wrestler, in his father’s 2018 obituary. “I still don’t know if I could beat her in tennis that well.”6
The Agnews were of Scots-Irish and German ancestry and were natives of Western Pennsylvania. But Ralph’s father (Chris’s grandfather), Frank Jelic, immigrated from Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia), at age 7. He dropped out of school in third grade and worked at a slaughterhouse on the North Side. The work ethic was passed down to Ralph Jelic.
“Most people idolize athletes,” Jeff Jelic said. “For him, it was his dad, who got up every day, went to work, didn’t fuss, would eat whatever you put in front of him. If you want to be proud of somebody, that’s who you be proud of. That’s how my brother and I were raised.”7
Ralph and Cynthia Jelic married in 1959. Ralph was coaching at Lehigh and had moved the family to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, when Jeff came along three years later. A second son, Christopher John, was born on December 16, 1963.
When Chris was still a baby, the Jelics relocated to Natick, Massachusetts, where Ralph took assistant coaching jobs at Boston University – earning a master’s degree in education there – then, in 1968, at Harvard. In 1971 the family returned home to Pittsburgh, where Ralph served as the university football team’s defensive coordinator for the next two seasons. The South Hills seemed as good a place as any to raise kids.
“He wanted us to have ‘roots’ instead of wandering around the country every few years,” said Jeff Jelic, who has a medical and a dental degree and specializes in maxillofacial surgery.8
Chris also has a sister, Jane, four years younger. She lettered twice in volleyball at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and now teaches special-education students.
Their talents notwithstanding, Ralph and Cynthia Jelic never forced their kids to follow in their footsteps, nor did they coach them. They just played the role of supportive parents, stressing commitment.
“Whatever you went into,” Chris said, “whether it was a sport, classwork, if you were going to go into the band, whatever you were going to do, you need to give 100 percent. You need to give your best effort.”
Jeff was the more studious of the two boys; an article in the Pittsburgh Press said he averaged B’s to Chris’s C’s. Chris was the gregarious one.
“Everyone in Mt. Lebanon knows Chris,” Ralph Jelic said in 1983. “He’s in the middle of everything. He’s always been a leader. He just seems to have that extra drive.”9
Chris excelled at football and baseball. Despite being 5-feet-11 and 180 pounds, he played quarterback and punter on what longtime Mt. Lebanon high-school assistant athletic director Russ Jones dubbed the best teams the school ever had.10 In 1980 and 1981, Mt. Lebanon lost a total of one regular-season game (undefeated in the latter year) en route to back-to-back championships in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (Class AAAA). In baseball, he was in the top three in the league in home runs and RBIs his junior and senior years.
“My dad never pushed us into anything,” Chris Jelic said. “In fact, one of the benefits of growing up with him having played and coached in college – he also scouted in NFL for a number of years as well – he would always say, ‘Look, you have some ability in both sports, as long as you’re enjoying them, play them as long as you can, or as long as you want and the decision will make itself,’ which it did. It just didn’t happen until after my junior year in college.”
Major Division I schools came calling with full scholarship offers – Indiana, Boston College, Michigan, North Carolina State.11 But when the University of Pittsburgh made him an offer, “it was kinda like a no-brainer.” His parents had both been Panthers, and Jeff was already there on a wrestling scholarship. And the football program was only five years removed from an NCAA national championship. “I had been to a lot of Pitt’s football camps in the summer,” Jelic said. “So I knew some of the coaches and got to know the vibe. It was close to home.” Foge Fazio’s eleven it was.
Still, Jelic made clear when he was recruited for football that he be allowed to play baseball in the spring. (But for the commitment to play football – “because I kind of always figured baseball was gonna be my sport just based on my size” – Jelic speculated that he might have been taken in the amateur baseball draft out of high school.12) He made an exception his freshman year for spring football, because the quarterback position would be a free-for-all, due to the departure of graduating senior and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino.
Jelic said he had positive memories of Marino, who “was a pretty good baseball player in high school at Central Catholic” in Pittsburgh. Marino’s future sister-in-law was a high-school classmate of Chris’s at Mt. Lebanon; his wife, Claire Veazey, was in Jeff’s grade.
“Danny always had the reputation of being a cocky guy, but if you look at a lot of the good athletes, a lot of the good football players, they always have a little cockiness to them, that kind of confidence thing,” Jelic said. “I had a pretty good relationship with Dan. Although I respected him, one of the things that happened with me, growing up with my dad being a college coach, I really wasn’t impressed with it. There really wasn’t any of that idol worship, no matter what sport I was in.”
With Marino starting and the backup quarterback also about to graduate, Chris knew his playing time as a freshman would be limited. So he would catch punts “to keep myself busy during practice.” Then the free safety, Tom Flynn (who had a short career in the NFL), injured himself, and Tony “Dino” Fellino, the defensive backfield coach, suddenly found himself without a reliable receiver who would not drop punts. Jelic got the call, returned five punts, and played two games at free safety. Pitt made the Cotton Bowl, losing, 7-3, to Southern Methodist.
Jelic positioned himself in the top two for the starting quarterback job that spring. Then he went off to play summer-league baseball to make up for lost time. Meanwhile, Pitt hired a new quarterbacks coach, Ron Turner, who took umbrage at Jelic’s splitting time between two sports. No one serious about football would have other priorities.
“Going into my sophomore year, there was a little bit of a contentious relationship, so to speak, because they wanted me to quit baseball, and I didn’t do it,” Jelic said.
Jelic lost the starting quarterback job twice that year – first to John Cummings; then, when Cummings fractured his clavicle in the season opener, to John Congemi. Jelic would generally be a late-game replacement – notably, he engineered what proved to be the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 21-16 victory over Notre Dame. The Panthers made the Fiesta Bowl that year, losing to Ohio State, 28-23. Jelic subbed in for the final two plays (seven seconds), but Pitt’s hopes died on Ohio State’s 24-yard line.
Having played baseball that spring, Jelic was third on the depth chart at quarterback going into his junior year, and he volunteered to play the defensive backfield, at safety and as a punter. He also backed up at quarterback, even starting two games. The reduced role didn’t bother him; he was just looking for playing time. And that summer, he had caught a glimpse of his future in Cape Cod.
Pitt was not known as a baseball school – in fact, in Jelic’s sophomore year, 1984, it was not even in an athletic conference. And scouts were not devoting much attention to a school where weather prevented year-round practice.
“My dad would say to me, ‘You know, you’re one of the best players around here, probably one of the best players in the state, but that really doesn’t tell us where you fit,’” Jelic said. His cousin knew Mickey White, the scouting supervisor for the Cincinnati Reds in New England at the time. “So Mickey made some phone calls and pulled some strings to get me into the Cape.”
For an aspiring professional ballplayer, playing in the Cape Cod Baseball League was the equivalent of sending a self-proclaimed wine connoisseur to the South of France. Think you have real talent? Now is the time to test it against other college players who think the same.
Jelic, assigned to the Hyannis Mets, competed against dozens of would-be big leaguers, including future All-Stars Joey Cora [Chatham], Joe Girardi [Cotuit], Greg Vaughn [Cotuit], and Walt Weiss [Harwich].13 Not to mention the entire 1984 Olympic team, which practiced on the Cape that summer.
The difference was not so much running or hitting, Jelic said, but in the pitching. “In the Northeast, you might play a team that would have one real good pitcher,” he said. “And what would one real good pitcher mean? Would it mean one of the best pitchers in the country? Maybe not, but it may be a guy that was noticeably a good pitcher on that particular team. Whereas you go up there, every guy on the staff was probably the ace at whatever their college was – the ace at Stanford, the ace at USC, at Oklahoma State – and you saw them every night.”
Jelic hit .320 for Hyannis, and scouts noticed. “That’s where the reality set in I’m probably going to end up getting drafted at some point for baseball,” he said.
Jelic had pitched in high school, and his sophomore year Pitt coach Bobby Lewis used him occasionally as “kind of our closer,” Jelic said, coming in from right field to pitch out of a jam, then going back to right when a new pitcher was summoned the next inning, “so that my bat stayed in” the lineup.
However, his speed was not quite the same level as a typical outfielder. Scouts suggested that with his “quick release” and “extremely strong arm” (honed at quarterback), he would increase his draft value if he learned to be a catcher.
“He adapted like a duck to water,” Lewis said.14
“But the other good thing was, I could play infield, I could play outfield, I could do a bunch of different things,” Jelic said. “I’m sure a lot of that had to do with athletic ability, but later in pro ball that ended up helping me.”
The strategy worked – in the spring of 1985, Jelic hit .371 with 6 home runs and 27 RBIs; made all-Big East, in Pitt’s first year in the conference; and was ranked among Baseball America’s top 50 amateur prospects – a likely second-rounder.
Laurels notwithstanding, Jelic remained clueless about how the draft would actually go. “I can remember from that day, my dad said, ‘Are you gonna wait around?’ I’m like, ‘Wait around for what? Whatever!’” Jelic said. He drove to Pitt’s campus – about 11 miles from his house – to play basketball.
He returned home later to find his teenage sister, Jane, standing in the front door.
“Kansas City Royals, second round!” she said. A telegram revealed Jelic was the 45th overall pick, as a catcher.
Ralph Jelic spoke to family friends who were lawyers and agents to gauge the amount of money they should ask for. But Chris was eager to sign – he knew that if he returned to Pitt for his senior year, he probably would not go much higher the next year that would make returning worth it.
“It’s like, you know what, you’re going to haggle over a couple of bucks, you’re good enough to make it, let’s get on with it,” he said. Though sometimes for fun these days, he will ask a friend who is a baseball executive, “‘Hey, out of curiosity, what did the 45th pick get this year?’ And he’d tell me, and I’d go, ‘Oh my gosh, you gotta be kidding me! I could’ve retired.’ It’s insane.”
One thing they did agree to: In addition to his $65,000 signing bonus, the Royals would pay for Jelic to finish the three semesters of college he had left, whenever he chose to go back.
“He’s born to be a catcher, in our opinion,” Royals director of scouting Art Stewart said, observing that Jelic “catches like he’s a five-year veteran,” and that he was “the type that can see the big leagues quick.”15
Two weeks later, Jelic was catching for the Eugene Emeralds in short-season A-ball. He hit .313 as the Emeralds were crowned Oregon division champions in the Northwest League. On August 22 he inadvertently instigated one of the most brutal brawls in league history against the Salem Angels, who then were within striking distance of first. Jelic was behind the plate when a retaliatory pitch sailed over Angels batter Bill Geivett’s head. Geivett and Jelic exchanged words.16
“The next pitch was right down the middle, but Bill threw his bat at our pitcher,” Jelic said. “So when he threw the bat at the pitcher, I actually picked him up and slammed him on the ground and landed on top of him. And I remember, we were throwing punches, and I can remember I landed facing their dugout, and their whole dugout just charged us. And it just opened up the floodgates.”
The bench-clearing melee stopped play for 15 minutes, as inebriated Emerald fans threw debris on the field – appropriately, it was quarter-beer night. Four were ejected, though Jelic – who at the time said he tackled Geivett “to keep him from going anywhere and doing anything”17 – was not among them. A few days later, Geivett and Jelic apologized to each other “and we ended up kinda being buddies.”18
Jelic spent the offseason in the instructional league honing his catching skills, then reported to Class-A Fort Myers in 1986, then back to the instructional league that fall. He had an “above average year” (his words) in the Florida State League – batting .256 with 50 RBIs in 108 games, including a .403 on-base percentage – but admitted not having a break “wore me out a little bit.”
In 1987, the Royals invited Jelic to big-league camp for the first time, though predictably, he was sent to their minor-league facility in Sarasota before the month was out. On March 27, with about a week left in spring training, he was kicking back with his teammates in the complex’s common room when his name came over the intercom to report to the minor-league director’s office. The Royals needed a catcher to replace an aging Jim Sundberg,19 so they had traded promising pitching prospect David Cone to the Mets for Ed Hearn, fresh off an auspicious rookie season behind the plate. To balance out the transaction, the Mets also sent over Mauro Gozzo and Rick Anderson, two hurlers with middling expectations – and the Royals threw in Jelic.20
After Jelic broke the news to his disbelieving teammates, he loaded up his car and drove to the Mets’ minor-league camp in St. Petersburg.
He wasn’t too concerned about integrating himself into the wild bunch of World Series champions. He had also played alongside George Brett and Bret Saberhagen and some formidable Royals teams in big-league camp, after all, and was not easily star-struck.
Growing up, “I was never one of those guys that was like this diehard follow all these baseball teams,” he said. “So I got traded, it was like, ‘OK, pack it up, here we go, here’s my next team.’”
At Class-A Lynchburg in the Carolina League, Jelic was among the league leaders in hitting (.330, 8 home runs, 48 RBIs) at the all-star break when he was promoted to Double-A Jackson. He didn’t fare as well the second half, but the Mets put him on their 40-man roster in the offseason and he spent most of spring training in big-league camp before returning to the Texas League.
But in Jackson in 1988, his shoulder started to fall apart. Perhaps it was from all those years throwing harder than ever, year-round every day, first as a quarterback, then as a catcher. Pitchers have pitch counts, but no one keeps track of what catchers and quarterbacks throw.21
“My mindset was always, football, you’re always playing hurt, so if you’re not feeling good or something’s bothering you or whatever, if I could put up with the pain, I’m just gonna keep playing,” Jelic said.
That included catching every pitch of a 26-inning game against San Antonio that began the evening of July 14, was suspended in the 25th inning at 2:28 A.M., and ended in a 1-0 loss two days later. It was the longest game in Texas League history, both by innings and time (7 hours 23 minutes), and the longest game to remain scoreless in Organized Baseball history.22
But the janky shoulder, along with a torn rib-cage muscle, limited him to 88 games, and a .209 batting average.
It also prompted a visit with Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama.
Aggressive rehab from surgery on a loosened shoulder socket occupied Jelic that winter. The doctors advised him he might need a full year to recover from the procedure completely. He reported to Mets camp in Port St. Lucie the spring of 1989 as a nonroster invitee and was optioned back to Jackson.
Initially, he was used as pinch-hitter and DH, but the dearth of playing opportunities23 suppressed his batting average to .206 by late July.24 As the shoulder healed, he started working out at first base, third base, and the outfield. The additional work helped raise his average to .257 by season’s end.
Coming back from an injury, especially in the minors, can be “tedious,” Jelic said, but “my thing was, I could always hit, so I figured having some versatility and doing some other things, even when I couldn’t really catch, I always felt pretty comfortable in what I could do.”
Jelic attributed this “versatility” as a reason for why he ultimately was called to the big leagues.
But that was a year away. There was still Triple-A ball to conquer, and in 1990 Jelic headed to Tidewater. Although Jelic enjoyed the “camaraderie” of the minor leagues, he admitted “the bus rides can be brutal.”25 He welcomed the use of airplanes at the farm system’s highest level.26
“But even here we only get $14 in meal money on the road,” he mused at the time. “And $10 of that has to go to clubhouse dues. That leaves you with four bucks a day. That’s not even enough for McDonald’s unless you bring your own money.”27
Jelic’s arm still was preventing him from catching much, so he played first and third instead.28 He hit .306 – with a .406 on-base percentage – with 49 RBIs in 92 games. His roommates in Tidewater, Darren Reed and Rocky Childress, both had some major-league experience; it seemed only a matter of time.
The call came in early September,29 with the Mets and the Pirates separated by a half-game atop the National League East. Jelic said he had been “limping around” for a couple of days with a bruised hip, having run into a concrete barrier down the third-base line at Tidewater’s Met Park.
He thought manager Steve Swisher was checking on his injury when he delivered the news. He couldn’t believe it.
“And we were joking,” Jelic said, “he said, ‘You know, you idiot, I saw you run into that wall, I knew you were getting called up a couple days ago. I saw you run into that wall, all I could think about was, “Oh No!”’ That’s how I found out.”
Jelic met the team in St. Louis, but his role was limited to that of a spectator over the next four weeks, watching the Mets’ postseason hopes slowly wither.
“By the time I got into a game, I hadn’t seen live pitching for probably close to a month,” Jelic said.
“They’re like, ‘Hey, you look pretty good in the outfield,’” Jelic said, “and I told them, ‘I played outfield most of my life, so this is nothing new.’”
As Harrelson pondered who should take his place, Edwards had the bright idea: “Put Jelic in!”30
Boston was on deck in the bottom of the inning, so Jelic was barely able to grab his helmet and bat before Cubs pitcher Steve Wilson finished his warmups.
“I didn’t even have time to think about it,” he said.
Jelic had faced Wilson in the minors, so he knew exactly what he threw, but struck out on a 3-and-2 count.
“I almost fell over, I was swinging so hard,” he said.
Jelic went to left field in the top of the sixth and was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning.
The Mets then headed to Pittsburgh for the season’s final series. Jelic started all three games in left field, a section of which was packed with his hometown faithful. Although the Pirates had already clinched the division, the fans still booed the Mets lineup mercilessly.
“Except that when they announced my name, they would cheer,” Jelic said. Pittsburgh may be a big city, but everybody knew the Jelics.
In the opener at Three Rivers Stadium, Jelic went 0-for-4, but reached base on the aforementioned Sid Bream error. He scored his first big-league run on a single by – of all people – David Cone. In the second game, he would have had his first RBI had the grounder to Jay Bell been ruled a hit instead of an error, as it scored Pat Tabler.
Going into the season finale, October 3, Jelic was a career 0-for-7. After two groundouts and a fly ball, he was 0-for-10. In the top of the eighth, the Pirates brought in 41-year-old Doug Bair, a 15-year veteran making his final major-league appearance.31 The Mets were ahead by one, and Jelic led off the inning.
The count was 3-and-1, and Jelic, thinking fastball, pounced on one down the middle that sailed out into the left-center-field seats.
“It was kind of like a line drive, so I took off running,” Jelic said. “I’m thinking, this is going off the wall, and I’m running full speed as I hit first base, when I looked up and saw the ball go out of the park.”
Jelic slowed to a trot amid scattered cheers.32 The Pirates saved him the ball, which Bair signed.
“Tell him I said thanks,” Jelic said that day.33
The Mets ultimately won, 6-3.34
“The last game, my last at-bat and in my hometown,” Jelic told the Associated Press. “You couldn’t write a better script.”35
He was referring to the season, of course, but shortly after it ended, he was in Birmingham again for a second shoulder operation. He also had another procedure that offseason to repair a perforated eardrum (and two follow-up surgeries the next two years when that one didn’t take).
The Mets front office figured that Jelic would be of little value to the organization if he could not catch – and coming off a second surgery, with so much uncertainty, Jelic knew, “I’d be wasting my time.” The Mets released him on November 13.
Luckily, he had somewhere to go, as Joe McIlvaine, who had been the Mets’ assistant general manager in 1990, had just become the Padres GM.
“He said, ‘Look, if you can catch, great; if not, we know you can hit, and we know you can play other positions. So catching will be a bonus,’” Jelic said. “That sold me there.”
Jelic signed with the Padres organization and was sent to Triple-A Las Vegas. Doctors recommended he take his time with recovery, as the aggressive approach he took after the first surgery might have necessitated the second one. But the road back still proved challenging, as he found out when he and a buddy tried to play catch a month after the operation.
“I couldn’t even throw it like 10 feet,” Jelic said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, this isn’t good! This is not good. I may need to go back to school earlier than I think.’”
It got better, but he didn’t catch at all in 1991, limited to 49 games at first base, third base, the outfield, and designated hitter. But still had a .436 on-base percentage and 23 RBIs.
The Padres knew Jelic needed more playing time, so they sent him to Double-A Wichita to start 1992, then brought him back up to Las Vegas in midseason. He continued to play first, third, and the outfield.
“But I tried to come back a little too quickly, and I ended up hurting my elbow,” he said. “So I had my elbow scoped twice in ’92, once in the middle of the season, and about six weeks later, like an idiot, I was playing, even though I was hurt. So in the offseason, ’92, I had it scoped a second time.”
But for timing that season, he might have had another brush with “The Show.” Jim Riggleman, his manager in Las Vegas, had been promoted to manage San Diego. Riggleman favored having “that kind of utility guy that could hit and play multiple positions” on the roster, Jelic said. And there was an opening right around the time Jelic had his first shoulder surgery.
Four or five weeks later, Tony Torchia, the Las Vegas hitting coach, pulled Jelic aside. “He goes, ‘I don’t wanna tell you this to make you feel bad. I’m telling you this because you’re being recognized: you were gonna fill that spot. And now you’re hurt,’” Jelic said. “So it’s one of those, I appreciate that he told me that, but it was kinda like, aw, you gotta be kidding me.”
Jelic still showed up at camp in 1993 and earned the starting first baseman’s job and the cleanup spot in Las Vegas. Then, on April 7, Las Vegas picked up Mike Simms, who had a few stints with the Houston Astros and was three years younger than Jelic.
“He was playing first base every day, and I was pretty much DH’ing and playing a couple days a week,” Jelic said, “and I’m like, ‘OK, I can see where this is going.’” He was 29, and he didn’t want to be “bouncing around the minor leagues until I’m in my 30s. It’s time to move on.”
So in June, he asked for his release, and he and Organized Baseball parted ways at the All-Star break.
As planned eight years earlier, he returned to Pitt to finish his degree, attending nights and weekends to graduate with a BA in communications in 1994. He began working in sales in 1995.
No stranger to travel from his playing days, he spent the next decade traversing the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, pitching to steel mills and automotive plants in Baltimore, Chicago, and along the Rust Belt.
Then in 2015 he moved into management, at Quaker Houghton, an industrial chemical company based in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Jelic is the regional sales manager for the Great Lakes, dispatching representatives and supervising budgets on accounts between Western New York and Michigan, as well as a small portion of Canada.
A lifelong bachelor, his home life has been somewhat nomadic, as well – he spent time living in Pittsburgh, Cleveland (twice), and parts of Michigan. As of 2020, he lived in Wyandotte, Michigan, about a half-hour south of Detroit along the Canadian border. He is an avid fisherman and golfer.
Although he does not coach any Little League teams, he has a niece and several nephews to throw the ball around with, including Jeff’s teenage son, Jason, in whom he sees prospect potential.
“When I go home and visit my mother, my nephews will come in and sometimes they’ll want to go to the batting cage, or they’ll call me, and tell me what’s going on, ask me questions,” Jelic said. “I like to play catch, and then for three days I can’t lift my arm above my head.”
He added, “I always make a joke, I say, ‘I have one good throw in me.’ So if you need, like, one good throw, I got one good throw, and then I’m on the DL for about three weeks. But it’s not like I’m going out throwing every day, either.”
He has several friends still working in sports – in front offices, as coaches, or in media – and sometimes he will drop by when they are in town facing the Tigers, or when he is in Pittsburgh.
“The evaluation of players are a lot different nowadays,” he said. Though, he added, “That sabermetrics stuff drives me nuts.” He doesn’t necessarily mean it negatively – just that maybe he is of an older-school mentality. As he tells his nephew when he starts questioning him about what he thinks about his exit velocity, “You know what? See the ball, hit the ball! You’re worrying about all these numbers. You don’t have to.”
He remains a bit of a local celebrity in the Pittsburgh area, where many of the residents enjoy hearing about his brushes with greatness in football and baseball.
“I don’t look back and regret anything,” Jelic said. “Had I never made it to the big leagues, maybe I could say, ‘Well, was I ever good enough to get there?’ Well, you know what, I got there. It’s not a ‘what if?’”
Professional baseball statistics, unless otherwise indicated, are from baseball-reference.com; college football statistics are courtesy of Pitt media guides from 1982-1984; college baseball statistics are gathered from articles within the Associated Press, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pitt News, and Pittsburgh Press. All quotes from Chris Jelic, unless otherwise noted, are from an interview with the author on October 11, 2020. Special thanks to John Fredland for helping make the connection, and to Jeff Jelic for his additional information and insight.
1 Interview with author, October 11, 2020. All quotations from Chris Jelic, unless otherwise noted, are taken from this conversation.
2 Jelic postulated in his interview with the author that the scorers made the call because Zane Smith had a no-hitter at that point; actually, he’d already allowed two hits. Jelic came around to score that inning what was ultimately the go-ahead run in the Mets’ 4-1 victory.
3 Jeff Jelic email to author, October 5, 2020.
4 Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban also attended Mt. Lebanon High School in the 1970s – and was cut from the basketball team.
5 Jeff Jelic email to author, October 5, 2020.
6 Jerry DiPaola, “Ex-Pitt Standout Ralph Jelic Remembered for Impact as Father, Community Contributor,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 25, 2018, archive.triblive.com/sports/college/pitt/ex-pitt-standout-ralph-jelic-remembered-for-impact-as-father-community-contributor/.
8 Jeff Jelic email to author, October 5, 2020.
9 Bob Smizik, “The Jelic Boys are Chips Off the Old Block,” Pittsburgh Press, January 17, 1983. Ralph Jelic influenced Jeff’s decision to become a wrestler in high school, because he was too small for football.
10 “Mt. Lebanon’s Jones Retires after 36 years,” The Almanac (South Hills Community News), June 23, 2015, thealmanac.net/news/mt-lebanon-s-jones-retires-after-years/article_83554966-272f-5dfa-b29a-300d2ccf1e28.html.
11 Jelic notes that NC State offered him a baseball scholarship.
12 Jelic said that he went to some baseball tryouts his senior year and had some discussions with area scouts, but they shied away from “if we draft you” hypotheticals, because “back then, there wasn’t anyone who was going to waste a draft pick on me for baseball knowing I was going to play football at Pitt.” But the experience was the first time it “started creeping in” to Jelic’s mind that he might be more than just a top local talent.
14 Associated Press, “Jelic May Switch to Baseball,” Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Times, May 30, 1985.
15 “Pitt’s Jelic Drafted by Kansas City in the Second Round,” Pittsbugh Post-Gazette, June 4, 1985. Ironically, Jelic told the author that because his last year of college was his first year catching, at that point, “I probably only caught 20 games in my entire life.”
16 Jelic said the Angels had hit Eugene’s Rafael DeLeon, one of the smallest guys on the team, twice. He recalled that the “words” he exchanged consisted of Geivett turning around and saying, “Hey, you guys better –” and Jelic responding, “Well, your guy is the one who is gonna get you hurt! Your pitcher did it.”
17 Stan Pusieski, “Ems Win the Fight for First, 12-4,” Eugene Register-Guard, August 23, 1985.
18 Interview with author, October 11, 2020. Injuries prevented Geivett from making the majors, but he bounced around baseball front offices in the decades following. He self-published a book about his experiences in 2017. mlb.com/news/former-rockies-exec-bill-geivett-writes-book-c212930158.
19 Sundberg, nearing 36, had batted .212 in 1986, and was himself traded to the Cubs a week later.
20 The rest of Cone’s career would include two 20-win seasons, a Cy Young Award (with the Royals, after he returned as a free agent), a perfect game, and five All-Star team selections, not to mention five World Series championships. The rest of Hearn’s career would include 13 games.
21 Email between Jeff Jelic and John Fredland, October 4, 2020. Chris Jelic confirmed that the year-round throwing might have messed up his shoulder, in an email with the author on November 15, 2020.
22 For a detailed retrospective on all 26 innings that cites to these records, see John Whistler, “The Game That Wouldn’t End,” San Antonio Express–News, July 13, 2013.
23 Jackson, as a National League franchise, did not use the designated hitter at home, and only three of its Texas League opponents were American League farm clubs – meaning DH opportunities were not plentiful.
24 David Assad, “Mets Farmhand Chris Jelic on a Hitting Tear,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 24, 1989.
25 Interview with author, October 11, 2020.
26 Scott Campbell, “Former Pitt Baseball Player Now Major League Prospect,” The Pitt News, June 6, 1990.
28 The Mets exhausted seven catchers in 1990, including Dave Liddell, whose major-league career also consisted of one hit; it’s possible that had Jelic been at full strength, he would have been called up earlier as one of them.
29 Several newspapers ran the item on September 5, 1990. Jelic could not confirm the exact date, but he said the Mets were in St. Louis, and they played two games there September 3 and 4.
30 Chris Jelic interview with author, October 11, 2020.
32 One person remembered Jelic getting a “standing ovation” from Pirates fans after the home run, see “Gravybill” (October 23, 2002), The Ultimate Mets Database, Ultimatemets.Com/Profile.Php?Playercode=0439&Tabno=7. Archive video footage of the crowd at that moment was too blurry for the author to verify this.
33 Paul Meyer, “It’s NL Playoff Time for Bucs,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 4, 1990.
35 Associated Press, “Viola Gets No. 20 as Mets Beat Pirates,” Spokane (Washington) Spokesman Review, October 4, 1990.