Expansion teams typically take a few years to get off the ground before they become established with enough developed talent to contend. One of the first teams that proved this was the New York Mets, who struggled mightily in the years following their inaugural season of 1962. As the franchise got their major league bearings about them, a steady flow of players made their way through New York, filling roster spots and also auditioning for a longer term role with the Mets. The majority of these players failed to stick, but at least got to experience major league action. Bill Hepler was one of the players given a long look, and while he didn’t have a lengthy career, for the summer of 1966 he was able to call himself a major league baseball player.
Hepler was a left-handed pitcher signed by the Washington Senators in 1965. He threw hard but was wild, giving up 124 walks during his first minor league season. His lack of control led to him being left unprotected during the 1965 Rule 5 draft and he was taken by the Mets, who were looking for as much pitching help as possible. Wanting to see what they had, the Mets had Hepler on their roster for the entire 1966 season.
Hepler’s major league experience was a mixed bag. He was 3-3 in 37 games (3 starts) with a 3.52 ERA. On the downside he struck out just 25 batters in 69 innings, while giving up 51 walks and 9 wild pitches. His wildness was maddening, as he gave up only 1 run in his first 11 innings of the year, but walked 10 and hit a batter in that time. The best evidence that the Mets didn’t trust the inconsistent pitcher was that the team was 4-33 in the games he pitched; indicating they typically used him only when he couldn’t hurt them.
In 1967 Hepler was sent to the minors to work out his issues. Although his control improved significantly over the next few seasons, he never made it back to the majors. Following the 1970 season, which he spent in the Washington Senators system, he retired from baseball. More information on his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/heplebi01.shtml.
Bill Hepler Questionnaire:
If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: I would have stayed straight overhand pitching. The coaches in pro ball wanted more movement of my fastball, but it took away from my great over-handed curveball that got me to the major leagues. My first year in the pros, 1965, I struck out 218 in 208 innings because of the overhand curveball.
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Harvey Haddix.
What current player reminds you the most of players from your era?: James Shields (Rays). Complete games and innings pitched.
You can follow me on Facebook by going to http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Baseball-Historian/138174109591660 or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew