A UC Buffaloes defensive back, Stearns set a team record with 16 interceptions. As catcher for its baseball team, he'd led the NCAA with 15 home runs as a senior. The Bills, understanding he was leaning toward baseball, made him a 17th-round pick. The Phillies selected him second in the nation and that was that.
|Stearns, still in his Phillies uni, from the 1980 Who's Who in Baseball|
There, within two years, he succeeded veteran Jerry Grote as the Mets number one catcher, a slot he'd solidly hold for just three years before a succession of injuries gradually wrecked his career.
|The night in question|
The Mets backstop had a particular intolerance for fans running on the field and Shea Stadium security's inability to catch them.
Early in the 1982 season, as the Mets were trying to lockdown a victory over the defending World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, two fans ran onto the the field in the 9th inning. One was caught as he tried to climb over Shea's outfield wall. The other led security on a chase across the infield, where an impatient Stearns slammed him to the turf.
|My May 15 1982 scorecard with the notation:|
"Penalty 12 Stearns, holding. 15 Yards
1st Down, LA."
Earlier this year, the Centerfield Maz blog reported a similar event on June, 12 1980, also in a game against the Dodgers. But that's not the end of it.
The fan site UltimateMets.com lists every man who ever played for the Mets. Each of those entries includes a page where fans can log their own memories of that player. Stearns' propensity for open field fan tackles is mentioned there a lot, but no two fans seem to agree on the details.
Some say he was catching that day, others say he was manning third base. Some, including me, say it was an infield takedown, others say the outfield. At least two of the entrants corroborate the Centerfield Maz date, saying they were there too.
So here's my question, fellow Mets fans of a certain age: Just how many times did Bad Dude Stearns take down a runaway fan?
Bonus question: Was one of them you?
Belated thought: John Stearns would know for sure. Anyone know where to find him?
Most importantly, thanks for reading.
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