In this ongoing series -- inspired by Stereogum’s “The No. 1s” -- we’ll look back on some of the more interesting, notable, and unexpected players of the week in MLB history, an award that has been given out since 1974. While many players of the week have been written about extensively and are entrenched in baseball lore, that is not always the case.
The week: June 22, 1997
AL: Manny Ramirez, OF, CLE
NL: Dave Mlicki, RHP, NYM
When it comes to discussing Manny Ramirez, it is hard to know where to begin. So for that reason, let’s start with right-hander Dave Mlicki, a man who won player of the week on the strength of throwing a shutout in the first regular-season Interleague game between the Mets and Yankees.
A 17th-round Draft pick of the Indians in 1990 out of Oklahoma State, Mlicki was basically the dictionary definition of a journeyman. Over the course of 10 seasons, he pitched for the Indians, Mets, Dodgers, Tigers and Astros, compiling a 66-80 record with a 4.72 ERA.
Other than the shutout against the Yankees (more on that below), perhaps the most notable thing about Mlicki is the sheer number of other journeymen and “oh, that guy!” he was traded for (and with). An overview:
On Nov. 18, 1994, while the player strike was still ongoing, Mlicki was traded from the Indians to the Mets along with a player to be named later, Paul Byrd and Jerry Dipoto, for Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Roa. The Cleveland Indians sent Jesus Azuaje to complete the trade.
On June 4, 1998, he was traded by the Mets to the Dodgers with Greg McMichael for Hideo Nomo and Brad Clontz. (Yes, Hideo Nomo briefly pitched for the Mets.)
On April 16, 1999, Mlicki was traded by the Dodgers to the Tigers along with Mel Rojas for Apostol Garcia, Richard Roberts and Robinson Checo.
And lastly, on June 23, 2001, Mlicki went straight-up from Detroit to Houston for José Lima.
José Lima. Mel Rojas. Hideo Nomo. Jeromy Burnittz. Paul Byrd. Jerry Dipoto. You get the idea.
It’s easy to forget now, but the introduction of Interleague Play prior to the 1997 season was a big deal. For critics, this was a breach of baseball tradition.
But while the Subway Series had been a common occurrence in the 1950s, that changed when the Dodgers and Giants bolted for the West Coast at the end of the decade, and no one had seen two teams from the same city play each other in a game that mattered in decades. That opportunity to create new, regional rivalries, as much as anything, was the impetus for Interleague Play. (Amusingly, the first Interleague game was between two teams with absolutely no history or any sort of natural rivalry, as the Giants beat the Rangers by a score of 4-3, on Thursday, June 12.)
But when it came to the matchups with some juice, the players were into it. As David Cone (a one-time Met then playing for the Yankees) put it in the NY Times before the first Mets-Yankees game: “[Players will give] all the cliches about how it's only three games, we just want to win games, whatever happens happens.'' Don't believe it for a second, he added. ''This is exciting.''
Of course, when league officials circled the date for the first regular-season game between the Mets and Yankees (Monday, June 16, as it were), they probably had visions of a bigger name than Mlicki as one half of the pitching matchup. But the 1997 Mets, who were only starting to coalesce behind a core of Edgardo Alfonzo and the recently signed John Olerud, didn’t have much more to offer in terms of starting pitching that year. The nominal ace was Rick Reed and the rotation also featured the likes of Bobby J. Jones (not to be confused with future Met Bobby M. Jones), Mark Clark and Brian Bohanon.
And so that is how we ended up with Mlicki taking the ball against Andy Pettitte on a historic night in the Bronx.
Believe it or not, the defending champion Yankees entered the game with virtually the same record as the upstart Mets, and the kids from Queens put up three runs on Pettitte in the top of the first, capped off by a “steal of home” from catcher Todd Hundley. Here’s how Murray Chass described the play in the New York Times:
With Carl Everett at bat with two strikes, Pettitte, who has one of the best pickoff moves in baseball, trapped [Butch] Huskey off first. Martinez threw to Derek Jeter, and just as Jeter released the ball back toward Pettitte at first, Hundley, who had inched down the line, broke for the plate.
When he got the ball, Pettitte spun and fired to Joe Girardi, but Hundley neatly slid around the catcher and evaded his tag.
[Yankees manager Joe] Torre called the Yankees' play on the rundown embarrassing. ''We're a better ball club than that,'' he said. ''You can't be worried about the man at third base. We were too conscious of the man at third base.''
It turned out those would be all the runs that Mlicki would need, as he proceeded to “scatter” nine hits while putting up a box score line that is unheard of today.
9 IP, 9 H, 0 R, 8 K, 2 BB, 119 pitches
''Mlicki pretty much pitched perfect,'' said Jeter, who went 1-for-5 and struck out looking twice. ''Every time we had a runner in scoring position, he pitched well.''
Olerud went 2-for-5 with 2 RBIs, and the Mets cruised to a 6-0 win. (Of course, it should be noted that the Yankees are 80-59 against the Mets since that date, including a 4-1 series victory in the 2000 World Series, but the Mets will always have that victory.)
To be fair to Mlicki, his POTW award was not just about the win against the Yankees. Five days later against the Pirates at Shea Stadium, he allowed two runs over eight innings while earning another win. For the week, he went 2-0 with 2 runs allowed over 17 innings, including the historic win in the Bronx.
You’ll often hear athletes say, “I don’t want to end up as the answer to a trivia question,” because that often means they ended up on the wrong end of a famous moment, and didn’t do enough in the rest of their career to make people forget that. For example, Ralph Branca, who is remembered mostly for surrendering The Shot Heard Round The World, despite a fine 12-year career.
But for Mlicki, his Subway Series performance is both a glorious memory and a great piece of trivia. “Who was the winning pitcher in the first regular-season game between the Mets and Yankees?” Every faithful fan of the team from Flushing knows the answer.
As for Manny Ramirez, the AL POTW winner, this was when he was still with Cleveland, the team he was drafted by and debuted with. He hit .545/.615/1.000 that week, with two homers, four doubles, and eight RBIs. He walked three times and struck out just twice. This was in the midst of his third of 12 straight seasons in which he posted an OPS+ of at least 140. (Manny Ramirez, for those who might have forgotten, was quite good.)
The Indians ended up beating the Yankees in the ALDS that year, a series that is most known for Sandy Alomar’s clutch homer off of Mariano Rivera in Game 4.
Around the world
This was a big week for “first” in the sports world. On Saturday, June 21 (the same day Mlicki was mowing down the Pirates), the Los Angeles Sparks beat the New York Liberty 67-57, at the Great Western Forum in the first game in WNBA history.
The No. 1 song
I’ll Be Missing You: Puff Daddy (f. Faith Evans and 112)
The Notorious B.I.G. was tragically murdered on March 9 of that year, and anything associated with Biggie was everywhere. On June 22, “I’ll Be Missing You,” a tribute song from Faith Evans (Biggie’s widow) and Puff Daddy (Biggie’s former producer) was in the midst of a 12-week run atop the charts. This was a big summer for anything related to Puffy’s Bad Boy Records.
To wit ... Here’s a list of No. 1 songs from that period right after Biggie’s death.
March 22-April 26: Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down (Puff Daddy, featuring Mase)
May 3-May 17: Hypnotize (The Notorious B.I.G.)
May 24-June 7: MMMBop (Hanson)
June 14-Aug. 23: I’ll Be Missing You
Aug. 30-Sept. 6: Mo Money, Mo Problems (Biggie, featuring Puff Daddy and Mase)
Yup, Hanson definitely just kind of snuck in there.
At the movies
Later that summer, Men In Black, which featured a cameo from Mets outfielder Bernard Gilkey (he went 2-for-3 with a walk in that Mlicki game), would top the box office for two weeks. But for the week of June 22, the top film in the U.S. was Batman and Robin, which has an approval rating of 12% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been called one of the worst superhero movies of all time.
Matt Meyers is a national editor at MLB.com and co-hosts the Ballpark Dimensions podcast.