Friday, August 15, 2014

Cups of Coffee: John Paciorek

This is the second in a series of posts about Astros players in franchise history who played in one career Major League game. The first post was the sad tale of Jay Dahl

John Paciorek - September 29, 1963

Born on February 11, 1945, John Paciorek was a three-sport star St. Ladislaus High School in Hamtramck, Michigan. He had football scholarship offers from Alabama and Michigan. Paciorek told Sports Illustrated that being a baseball player was all he had ever wanted to do. "I thought I was as good as anybody I'd ever seen, and I wanted to prove it."

SI wrote that Colt .45s GM Paul Richards went to Michigan in 1962 to persuade Paciorek to sign with Houston, taking the family out to dinner. Younger brother, and future Major Leaguer, Tom Paciorek said, "They took us to this fancy restaurant in Detroit. We ate steaks, and when they asked John if he wanted anything else, he said, 'Yeah, I'll take another one of those steaks.'" Richards signed Paciorek for $45,000 - "an enormous amount of money for the son of a Plymouth factory worker." $15,000 went to his family, and John's father insisted the Colt .45s include a scholarship fund to pay for Paciorek's future college education.

In his pro debut in 1967 for Modesto in the California League, Paciorek hit .219 with 28 extra-base hits in 78 games.

The Colts and Mets faced off against each other in the final series of the 1963 season (one game of which was the All-Rookie Game, which was highlighted in the Jay Dahl episode). On Sunday, September 29, in front of 3,899 fans at Colts Stadium, 18-year old John Paciorek - who had been dealing with back problems all season - got the start in right field, hitting 7th in a lineup that included Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn, and Rusty Staub. "They asked me if I wanted to play," Paciorek told the LA Times in 1991, "And I said 'yeah.'"

The game didn't mean much of anything - the Colts came into the game 65-96, 34 games back in the National League; the Mets were 51-110, 48 games back. But the Mets and Colts had split the first two games of the series and the season finale was the rubber match.

Larry Bearnarth got the start for the Mets. He was 3-7 coming into that game with a 3.06 ERA in 123.1IP in his rookie season, but with 56 of his 57 appearances to that point in the season coming in relief. That Sunday game was just the second ML start of his career. Meanwhile, rookie Chris Zachary got the start for the .45s. Zachary was coming off a September 24 start in which he held the Pirates to 3H/1ER in 6.1IP.

With two outs, Bob Aspromonte on 1st base, and a scoreless tie in the bottom of the 2nd, Paciorek stepped in for his first career Major League plate appearance, and drew a walk. He and Aspromonte scored one batter later when John Bateman cracked a 2-run triple to open the scoring.

By the time Paciorek's turn came up again in the bottom of the 4th, the Mets had taken a 4-2 lead. Rusty Staub, Aspromonte, and Ivan Murrell opened the inning with three consecutive singles, loading the bases for Paciorek. Paciorek tied the game with a single to left. He was 1x1 with a walk and 2RBI, and would score when Pete Runnels hit a sac fly to right.

Now up 7-4 on the Mets in the bottom of the 5th, Aspromonte led off the inning with a triple. Murrell fouled out on a popup to first base, and Paciorek came up to bat for a third time. Once again he singled to left, scoring Aspromonte. Paciorek was 2x2 with a walk, three runs scored, and 3RBI.

Paciorek faced his 3rd pitcher of the night in Grover Powell in the bottom of the 6th, with the Colts up 11-4. Ivan Murrell struck out to lead off the inning and Paciorek drew a one out walk. He would - once again - score on a Bob Lillis single, and by the end of the 6th was 2x2 with two walks, four runs scored, and 3RBI.

Up 13-4 in the bottom of the 8th, the fans remaining in the stadium gave Paciorek a standing ovation. He singled to left field. His line? 3x3, two walks, four runs scored, and three RBI. The .45s won, 13-4.

The Houston Post gave Paciorek "the unofficial major league batting title...The rest of (Paciorek's) career may be an anticlimax. The New York Times wrote in their game recap that Paciorek "found nothing difficult about the majors," and "he doesn't yet know what it's like to make an out in the big leagues."

"I don't remember any interviews after the game," Pacriorek later said, but the next day my name was plastered all over the news. They said, 'This guy's here to stay."

After Paciorek hit a bases-loaded triple in the 5th inning of a 1964 Spring Training game against the Mets, Murray Chass - yes, that Murray Chass - wrote that the Mets "may file an unfair child labor charge against the Houston Colts if young John Paciorek continues harrassing them."

Despite that outing, Paciorek opened the 1964 season in the minors between Durham and Statesville, of the Low-A Carolina League and Western Carolinas League, respectively. In 39 games for Durham, Paciorek hit .155 (18x116) and .063 (2x32, 21K) with Statesville, and underwent back surgery that season, spent 10 months in a back brace, and missed the entire 1965 season. He came back for 1966 where he hit a combined .193 in 77 games for Batavia and Salisbury. The Astros gave Paciorek one more shot in 1967 - he played in 32 games, hit .104 for Asheville and Cocoa, and was released. But Paciorek didn't hold a grudge against Houston, "They gave me every opportunity to make the team...they bent over backward for me."

Cleveland invited him to Spring Training in 1968, and made it back to Double-A for only 29 games in 1969.

Paciorek retired after the 1969 season, a 24-year old with chronic back problems. He enrolled at the University of Houston and graduated with a degree in physical education. Paciorek, who has been a P.E. teacher for 38 years for the Clairbourn School in Southern California, told, "I'd have to say I've had it pretty good; I'm very happy."

As it is, Paciorek is one of 80 Major League players to have a career 1.000 batting average - but 79 of those players were 1x1 or 2x2. Paciorek stands alone as the only player with at least five plate appearances to have a career 1.000/1.000/1.000 slash line.