Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jesse Gonder (#301)

Jesse Gonder was one of 3 Pirates catchers featured in the 1967 set. (Because his was the first one of the three that I got, and because I knew next-to-nothing about major-league baseball prior to 1967, for a while I assumed Gonder was the team's starting catcher.)

Jesse was signed by the Reds before the 1955 season, and spent 5 years in their system as a catcher and sometimes-outfielder. Before the 1960 season, Gonder was dealt to the Yankees, and spent two seasons with their triple-A Richmond, VA club, although he did appear in some games for the Yankees in late 1960 and early 1961. After 1961, Jesse was traded back to the Reds, but spent all season with the Reds' AAA team in San Diego, plus a few September games with Cincinnati.

From 1963 to 1966, Gonder managed to stay out of the minor leagues. He split the 1963 season between the Reds and the Mets. Used mostly as a pinch-hitter by the Reds, he was traded to the Mets in early July, and started 23 of the next 29 games, before settling into the 3rd-string catcher's role.

In 1964 he was the Mets' #1 catcher, starting half the games behind the plate, while Chris Cannizzaro and Hawk Taylor split the remaining games. This was the high point of Jesse's career, as he bat .270, and collected 11 doubles and 35 RBI.

1965 saw Cannizzaro take over the starting job, and with John Stephenson as the backup, Gonder was traded to the Braves in July for Gary Kolb. Jesse settled back into a pinch-hitting role with Milwaukee. After the season, he was selected by the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft.

Gonder started 40 games in 1966 as Jim Pagiaroni's backup, while rookie Jerry May filled the 3rd-string role. 1967 was Gonder's last in the big leagues. Although he started 3 of the Pirates' 1st 5 games, he soon was displaced by Jerry May, and spent most of the season in the minors. His final game was on June 17th.

Gonder spent 1968 and 1969 playing for the triple-A teams in the Braves', Angels', and Giants' organizations. He didn't have a card in the 1968 set, and although he appeared in the 1969 set (as a member of the expansion Padres) he never played for that organization.

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