Jerry Koosman interview

Meet the Kooz

Native Minnesotan Jerry Koosman – Twins pitcher 1979 – 1981 (courtesy of Twinscards.com)

Jerome Martin Koosman was born December 23, 1942 in Appleton, Minnesota.  Jerry was 6’ 2” tall and weighed about 210. An imposing lefty, Koosman was known as a control pitcher but at the same time he managed to strike out 2,556 major league hitters and he currently ranks 28thon the all-time strikeout list. Koosman had a great 19 year major league career with the Mets (1967-1978), Minnesota Twins (1979-1981), Chicago White Sox (1981-1983) and the Philadelphia Phillies (1984-1985). In 1968 Koosman was National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year and he finished second in the overall Rookie of the Year voting to Johnny Bench.  Koosman was the first rookie pitcher in 55 years to collect as many as 5 shutouts in his rookie season. Koosman and Tom Seaver became known as the “Tom and Jerry Show” and arguably became the premier lefty/righty combo in the National league and maybe in all of baseball. Koosman apparently liked the World Series spotlight and in the two World Series (1969 and 1973) that he pitched in, he started 4 games, winning 3 of them with a 2.39 ERA. Koosman also made the All-Star team in 1968 and again in 1969 and pitched in both games and earned a save in the 1968 game by striking out Carl Yastrzemski for the final out.

In his 19 year career, Kooz had a 222-209 record with 17 saves and he threw 3839+ innings. Jerry was a real work horse, in the 12 seasons that he started 25 games or more, he always threw for more than 212 innings. Koosman had a career ERA of 3.36 and a WHIP of 1.259. Koosman pitched in 612 games, starting 527 of them and he had 140 complete games, 33 of them were shutouts. Hitting was not one of Jerry’s strengths as evidenced by his 62 strikeouts in 92 at bats in 1968. To be fair though, Koosman’s hitting improved over the years and he did have 2 career home runs and he also has a stolen base on his resume. In 1976 the Kooz finished second in the NL Cy Young voting losing out to San Diego’s Randy Jones despite the fact that Jones stats seemed inferior. Koosman gave up Pete Rose’s 4,000 hit on April 13, 1984 when he pitched for the Phillies.

Jerry Koosman’s rookie baseball card is worth noting as it was released by Topps in 1968 (#177) and he shares a “1968 Rookie Stars” card with Nolan Ryan. The card sells for anywhere between several hundred and thousands of dollars depending on the condition and is a great addition to anyone’s card collection.

Koosman and Ryan Rookie card (courtesy of Twinscards.com)

What a card, between Koosman and Ryan, they combined to pitch for 46 years, win 546 games and strike out 8,270 major league batters. Today Koosman lives in Osceola, Wisconsin and owns an engineering company. In his spare time, Jerry likes to play golf and do some fishing.

John – I understand you are a native Minnesotan as I believe you were born in Appleton, did you grow up in Minnesota?

Jerry – I was born on the farm 11 miles north of Appleton & lived with my parents until I got married Feb. 11, 1967.

John – You were signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent on August 27, 1964. Were there other teams that were scouting you? How about the Twins?

Jerry – I was playing 5th Army baseball for Fort Bliss, Texas in El Paso when I signed.  All the posts in 5th Army had baseball teams and we were heavily scouted by all of the big league teams.  The Twins offered me a $10,000 bonus if I signed with them, but they had a great team and the Mets were on the bottom, so I figured that if I was good enough to make the Majors, I could make it a couple of years earlier with the Mets and the difference in the signing bonus.

John – Did you have a baseball hero growing up?

Jerry – I didn’t get to watch baseball on TV growing up but later on loved to watch and imitate Willie Mays.

John – What do you remember most about the time you spent in the minor leagues in Greenville (A), Williamsport (AA), Auburn (A), and Jacksonville (AAA)?

Jerry – Like a poor kid growing up without the frills of life is about the same as playing in the minors.  No frills, poor buses, barely enough pay and meal money to get by and a lot of hard work.  But through all of it, you make some lifetime friends that are experiencing the same thing as you.

John – Was there ever a question in your mind about you making it to the big leagues?

Jerry – There was during my first year as I was in transition from playing baseball for the fun of it to playing baseball for a living, it got a whole lot more serious.

John – What pitches did you throw and what was your best pitch?

Jerry – I threw a fastball and curveball.  They taught me to throw the slider and changeup in the minors and instructional league.

John – You made your major league debut on April 14, 1967 in Philadelphia against the Phillies when you relieved your starter Jack Fisher in the bottom of the third inning trailing 4-0. What was it like to take a major league mound for the first time?

Jerry – It all happened at Connie Mack Stadium in Philly.  I was very nervous and throwing very hard.  The ump had to come down to the bullpen and get me as I was throwing repeatedly fast and didn’t realize my bullpen coach was trying to motion me into the game.  Anyway, I pitched 2 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball for my debut.

John – The following year, 1968, you made the Mets starting rotation and you pitched 263+ innings and led the team with 19 wins and you completed 17 of the 34 games you started. Two future hall of famers, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan were in the pitching rotation with you, what was it like to pitch with two super stars like that?

Jerry – We were all young and leaning what it was like to play and compete in the Majors.  None of us had any idea what we would accomplish or how long our careers would last.  Our goal was to get enough time in to qualify for the pension plan & to win 20 games.

John – How about sharing a Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan story with us?

Jerry –  Tom & I came up together in ’67 but he stayed with the big club all year.  By ’68 he had established himself as the top starter and I was put into the rotation behind him and therefore kept the pitching chart of all his pitches and games.  In ’69 I was charting his game in NY against the San Diego Padres and watched him strikeout the last 10 guys that walked to the plate.

John – 1969 was all about “The Miracle Mets”, what do you remember most about that season outside the fact that you won the World Series?

Jerry – We basically played .500 baseball until we got a little bit of cooler weather around the middle of August and Tom & I got our second winds so to speak.  Tom & I won 18 out of our last 19 starts.

John – During your time with the Mets you played for some interesting managers, you played for Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, Roy McMillan, Joe Frazier, and Joe Torre. Who was your favorite Mets manager and why?

Jerry – They were all great guys and good baseball people but Gil Hodges was un-matched with talent.  Gil was always three steps ahead of the opposing manager and knew to the inth degree what his players were capable of doing.  He never had a player in a position trying to do something he wasn’t capable of doing.  We all knew our job no matter what the situation was.

John – What was it like to play for Yogi Berra or maybe I should ask what was it like just to be around Yogi?

Jerry – Yogi was the most laid back type of manager, never got overly excited and if things went wrong, he always said, “well, we’ll get em next time”.  Yogi was an unorthodox type player and pretty much expected his players to play the same way.  For instance, if you saw the pitch well, swing at it, no matter where it was.  If you think you could advance to the next base, do it, only you know if you can make it.  He never told any jokes but the way he thought, gave people many laughs.  Yogi would never lie to you and if you asked him a question about a possible trade you heard about, he wouldn’t answer you if it was true and deny it if it wasn’t.

John – After the 1978 season and 12 seasons as a Met, I believe you asked to be traded. The story I heard Jerry was that you asked to be moved to Minnesota, can you tell us how that came to be?

Jerry – The Mets were in a re-building process at that time and I was the only established player still there.  I didn’t want to be part of the process as it takes a few years to re-build and during that time you can lose a lot of ball games as we couldn’t score any runs.  When I lost 20 games, I only had 26 runs scored for me all year.  So I told the Mets to trade me as they had to option of trading me to 10 clubs.  When the time finally came where they hadn’t taken me serious, I told them that the only club I would go to was the Twins or I would retire.  They didn’t call my bluff and I was traded.  I have to admit, that Sid Hartman was working with me on this bluff on this end with the Twins.

John – In your first season with the Twins you again pitched 263+ inning and won 20 games for a team that finished one game over .500. What are your memories of that team?

Jerry – After playing in NY for so long, it seemed like I was now pitching for a minor league team because of the lack of press that followed us.  In NY there could be about 30 press people interviewing you after a game and with the Twins, there would be 4 to 6.  I had a lot of fun with the guys and playing at the old Met.  It was great being back home and living in your own home.

John – During your stay in Minnesota you played for Gene Mauch, John Goryl, and Billy Gardner, any special memories you would like to share there?

Jerry – Again, there were very good baseball people; each with their own styles of what it took to win a game. In ’79, Gene left me out there to pitch even if it looked like trouble was all around me, but I would work my way out of it and win for him.  It was the same way with any manager I had that left me out there.  Some managers jump the gun and take you out before you get the chance of working out of a jam you or your teammates create.  I never wanted to come out of a game, and because of that, in ’80, Gene and I bumped heads a couple of times about his managing style.  Johnny Goryl and Gardner always left me out there.

John – There is a quote floating around the Internet that goes like this: “You’re (Jerry Koosman) the only pitcher I know who needs touchdowns instead of runs.” – Roy Smalley. Do you remember what caused Smalley to say that?

Jerry – I have never heard that quote before and I think it may be taken out of context.  In my first year with the Twins, I received 26 runs in my first two games, not that I needed that many, but I think that is when Smalley made that statement but in a joking manner.

John – The Twins traded you to the White Sox on August 30, 1981 for 3 minor leaguers. What brought that trade about and what were your thoughts about leaving Minnesota?

Jerry – This all happened after the strike in ’81 when Billy Gardner brought us starting pitchers back to pitch in relief a lot so we could pitch in more outings and fewer innings so we could get our arms back in shape.  In one week, he brought me in 5 times and I saved 5 games.  The last game I pitched in was in Milwaukee in relief, although I don’t think I got the save, but I got out of a bases loaded no-out jam.  It was then that the White Sox wanted me to pitch in relief for them as they were fighting for the division title.  Negotiations between me and Howard Fox (GM) went on for about two weeks as I didn’t want to be traded.  I made my demands high as to discourage them from trading me.  I was at my niece’s wedding when the call came that I was traded…..I cried.

John – After a couple of years in Chicago you were traded back to the National League and the Phillies where you pitched for 2 seasons before leaving MLB. Was it time to call it a career or did an injury end your wonderful 19 year run?

Jerry – I was very displeased to hear I was traded from the Sox as we had a wonderful club with great strength but then I also looked at the positive side and was looking forward to playing with my old friend Steve Carlton and working under Kung Fu expert and strength coach Gus Hoefling.  I also enjoyed my time in Philly but hurt my knee in ’85 and had to have an operation.  I came back to quick and re-injured it. I didn’t pitch anymore that year.  In the off season, the Sox and Cardinals wanted me to sign with them and I weighted my options and the health of my knee and decided to retire and spend more time with my family.  In 2006 I had a steel knee put in.

John – You had a great major league career that lasted 19 years. You finished with a 222-209 record and an ERA of 3.36 while striking out 2,556 batters in 3,839+ innings. You also had 33 shutouts and you finished what you started 25% of the time. If you are a baseball analyst today looking at Jerry Koosman’s career, how would you describe it?

Jerry – I usually concentrated on my losses and what I did wrong, even on my wins.  I think I lost a lot of games my first 6 to 8 years because of a lack experience and relying on my catcher too much.  The Mets never scored many runs, so if you got 3 runs; it was a must that you had to win.  Although I was considered a strikeout pitcher, I never went after strikeouts.  I tried to make the hitter hit one of my first two pitches and if I had two strikes on a guy, unless the situation called for a strikeout, I never went after the strike out as over a career, you would have to throw many more pitches and therefore, the possibility of shortening your career, as I was always told, there are only so many throws in that arm.  If I had gone after strikeouts like for example Tom Seaver did, I probably would have had more shutouts and wins.  I always tried to make the hitter hit MY pitch and let my defense take it from there.  That is what gave me the most pleasure.  I also wish I would have enjoyed my wins more rather than spend so much time analyzing the mistakes.  I also wish I would have made the decision to play a couple of more years rather than retire.

John – You played all your games as a Twin at Met stadium; you played in the Metrodome as a White Sox, what are your thoughts on these two stadiums?

Jerry – The old Met was a much better place to play when the weather was nice and certainly the dome was better in the spring and to prevent rain outs.  They will never be able to replace a natural surface with an artificial surface and get the same results.  There is something about playing outdoors and adjusting to the elements….wind, sun, temperature etc.

John – Who was the best player you ever had as a teammate?

Jerry – Willie Mays.  I had the great opportunity to not only pitch against him but had him as a teammate for three years.  He could do it all and was still the best player on our club when he retired!!

John – Do you follow the MLB today?

Jerry – I don’t watch very much baseball today, I get perturbed watching the pitching and catching and all the time it takes hitters to get into the box and hit.  But every so often, I get to watch a great game and love it!!!!

John – Do you get out to the Metrodome to watch some games and what are your thoughts on the Twins new Target Field that they will play in starting in 2010?

Jerry – I don’t get to many games at the Dome but am looking forward to the new ballpark.  Outdoor baseball is great but not when it is cold.  I wish they would have put a removable roof on the new park.

John – If you could have played baseball in any era, when would you have played and why?

Jerry – I was lucky to have played in one of the greatest eras of baseball, from the middle sixties to ’85.  How many guys reared on a farm in western MN got the opportunity to pitch against guys like Mays, Stargell, Mantle, Maris, Yaz, Aaron, Banks, Killebrew, Rose, Drysdale, Gibson, Marichal, Billy Williams, Brock, Richie Allen, Clemente, Maury Wills, McCovey and many more?  I would have liked to pitch against DiMaggio, Ott, Cy Young, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Babe Ruth, Koufax, Quilici, Hodges, Yogi and many more.  I loved the competition and pitching against the best.

John – I grew up in Taylors Falls, not too far from where you live today. What have you been doing since you retired from baseball and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Jerry – My first couple of years out of baseball, I set up a national league for kids between 16 and 19 years old, 102 teams of the best amateur players in the country, professional umps also but the big leagues wouldn’t endorse it and therefore couldn’t get a sponsor, so we folded it.  They would have played during the summer when school was out.  I also have a small engineering company.  I like to fish and play golf.

John – Any thoughts of getting back into the game of baseball?

Jerry – In ’91 & ’92 I was asked by the Mets to be a pitching coach in their minor league system, we did very well and I loved it.  The 10 hour bus rides weren’t number one on my list though.

John – You don’t participate in too many Twins events such as their annual FanFest where past and present players meet the fans and sign some autographs, any reason why? I am sure a lot of Twins fans would love to say “Hello”.

Jerry – I have to admit I am lacking there.  I do enjoy getting together with the guys and saying hi to the fans, but am still a country boy that gets stressed in the big city fighting the traffic and looking for parking spots.  Also, many of those times, I am in Canada or Alaska fishing or down south playing golf.  Sorry all.

John – Is there anything Jerry that you would like to say to the Twins fans of today and the fans that followed you when you pitched for the Twins?

Jerry – I hear from many of them via fan mail but would like to tell all of them that playing at the old Met and just having them there rooting for you gave me as much pleasure in life as any man would want.  I tried never to embarrass them or myself, but sometimes that is out of your control.  Like the time I was pitching against Reggie Jackson and the Yankees at the old Met.  I threw him two sidearm fastballs down and away that he took and the count was 0 & 2.  The next two sidearm fastball pitches were at his neck and the count was 2 & 2.  The next sidearm curve ball was hung out over the middle of the plate and he hit it 500 feet over the center field wall……I could have crawled under the turf to the dugout to disappear after that at bat!!!!!!!

John – Thanks so much for doing this Jerry, I REALLY appreciate it.

 

The SABR Baseball Biography Project write-up on Jerry can be found here.

2 Responses to Jerry Koosman interview

  1. Ian Koosman says:

    Hey I thought this article was AWESOME! I really enjoy looking up information on my great uncle! Its really interesting to know that he is a very popular ex pro baseball player! Thanks for the great article!

    Ian Koosman Nephew of Jerry Koosman!

    • Paul Svoboda says:

      I want to apologize to Jerry Koosman for running out on the field at Shea Stadium on Sept 24th 1969. The Mets had just clinched the division and I was to small to grab a base and everyone else was ripping up grass as a souvenier. I had just read 2 weeks earlier that when Jerry wasn’t pitching he would tend to his tomatoes that he had growing in the bullpen. I had my unique souvenier that no one else had. Jerry Koosman’s tomatoes. I put them in a yellow envelope where within 2 years they had disintegrated into dirt. Nevertheless, they were still Jerry Koosman’s tomatoes. Growing up on a farm I could imagine Jerry walking to the bullpen the next day to check on his tomatoes, kind of like a farmer checking on his crops after a major storm.. Maybe a little anger, and maybe a little dissapointment that his tomatoes were gone. Yet 43 years later I want to confess and apologize for taking them. Jerry, if your ever in the Clearwater, Florida area, please contact me. I would like to buy you breakfast, lunch or dinner. God Bless you.
      By the way, Jerry, I always enjoyed watching you pitch. You carried yourself professionally in every sense of the word. You brought joy to many baseball fans including me.

      By the way, I don’t really like tomatoes. 🙂 God Bless you again, Paul Svoboda

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