Obituary: Rick Baldwin (1953-2020)

RIP to Rick Baldwin, who was a reliever for three seasons with the Mets in the 1970s. He died on October 30 due to complications of COVID-19. He was 67 years old. Baldwin played for the New York Mets from 1975-1977.

Baldwin and his wife, Sherry, were pastors at the One Church St. John’s Campus in Modesto, Calif. He battled the Coronavirus for more than two weeks before being admitted to the ICU at Memorial Medical Center in late October, according to the One Church Modesto Facebook page. His family was able to visit, talk and pray with him, and he told them that his life was in the Lord’s hands and that he was ready to be with Jesus. He passed away at 3:45pm on the 30th.

Pastors Rick and Sherry Baldwin. Source: One Church Modesto Facebook page

Rickey Alan Baldwin was born on June 1, 1953, in Fresno, Calif. He came from a religious family, telling the New York press that he was “raised in church.” He was an active Little League ballplayer, and his talent carried over to Thomas Downey High School in Modesto. Baldwin played basketball in high school as well, but baseball was his best sport. He was a two-way talent and was named to the All-Central California Conference second team as an outfielder in 1970. He made the first team in 1971 and was named the Conference’s MVP — he hit .302 as a hitter and was 7-1 with a 0.35 ERA as a pitcher. The New York Mets selected him in the 9th Round of the 1971 June Amateur Draft. The Mets decided to focus on his pitching abilities in the minor leagues. Still, he helped himself to a few wins in the minors with timely hitting.

Baldwin joined the Rookie League Marion (Va.) Mets in 1972 and appeared in 10 games, including 7 starts. He had a 4-4 record and a 2.94 ERA, while walking just 8 batters in 52 innings. He moved up the ranks to the Class-A Visalia Mets of the California League, and his control was not as fine. He won 12 games but lost 8 and had a 4.94 ERA. He struck out 105 batters in 164 innings — career-high numbers in both categories — but he had 79 walks. He also hit .286 with 11 RBIs, as well.

The Mets started moving Baldwin to the bullpen around 1973, when he was pitching with the Memphis Blues of the Texas League. He made 17 starts and relieved 12 times, ending the season with a 9-8 record and 3.94 ERA. He later explained that he was having elbow problems, and some struggles as a starter led to his move to the pen. He was tried as a starter briefly with the Victoria Toros of the Texas League in 1974, but after three starts, he had allowed 14 earned runs for a brutal 7.88 ERA. Baldwin was moved back into the pen and sparkled as a closer, picking up five straight saves. He had 9 saves that year to go with 9 wins in relief.

Source: The Daily News, August 31, 1975.

Thanks to a trade that sent mainstay reliever Tug McGraw to Philadelphia, the 1975 Mets had a hole in their bullpen, and 21-year-old Baldwin was one of the relievers who auditioned for it. He had never played higher than the AA level, so the experience of spending spring training with the big-league club was a novelty. “They even wash your uniforms for you here,” he marveled.

He never forgot that winning a job was his primary purpose for being there, and he impressed manager Yogi Berra. “He could be just the pitcher we need,” Berra said. “Baldwin’s got a natural sinker.”

“My first year at Marion, Chuck Estrada told me my fastball trails down and in,” Baldwin explained. “I knew I couldn’t throw a fastball straight, but I never thought about it. I’m a fastball pitcher and I’ll go with my best pitch, even though every player in the big leagues is a fastball hitter.”

Berra and the Mets decided to add the rookie to the Mets’ bullpen, and before long, he was being used in clutch situations. He threw a scoreless inning against the Phillies on April 10 in his first MLB appearance and took the loss the next day when he allowed a run in 1/3 of an inning to the Pirates. Then on April 17, Baldwin entered in relief in the fourth inning against the Cardinals. He allowed three runs to score (including a solo homer to Ted Simmons) to tie the game at 7, but then he settled down and threw more 4 scoreless innings. He also singled off Elias Sosa and reached twice more on errors, and the Mets roared back to win the game 14-7. Baldwin picked up his first major-league hit, won his first game and scored his first run, all in one day.

“It’s every bit the thrill I thought it would be,” said the wide-eyed rookie. “I told you he could pitch,” added Berra.

After that game, Baldwin was put into a variety of situations. He picked up two saves immediately after that win and emerged as a pretty dependable long reliever. He picked up his third win of the season on September 16 by throwing 4 scoreless innings in an 18-inning marathon against the Montreal Expos. He allowed a hit and 2 walks while fanning 3 Expos. For the year, Baldwin had a 3-5 record in 54 games, with a 3.33 ERA. He picked up 6 saves with 7 blown saves, and he struck out 54 batters while walking 34 more.

Rick Baldwin helps his daughter, Stephanie, during a player-child game. Source: The Press Democrat, August 8, 1977.

Despite a fine rookie campaign, Baldwin had a terrible spring training in 1976 and started the season with the AAA Tidewater Mets. While he was in Tidewater, Baldwin reworked his delivery, and it resulted in an 8-4 mark and 14 saves, with a 2.31 ERA in 46 games. He appeared briefly with the Mets in the summer and was brought back in September. Baldwin pitched pretty well in 6 games over May and June, but he was the victim of a roster crunch at the time. When he came back in September, he allowed just 2 hits and 1 run in 7-2/3 innings, giving him a 2.38 ERA in 11 games.

Baldwin was a late roster cut in spring training in 1977 and once again started the season in Tidewater. He was brought back to the majors on May 22 and appeared in 40 games. Batters weren’t as fooled by his stuff as they had in past seasons, though. He game up 62 hits and 31 earned runs in 62-2/3 innings for a 4.45 ERA, and he also walked 31 batters against just 23 strikeouts.

He was on the mound for one odd moment. The Mets faced the Phillies on September 8, 1977, and Phillies reliever Tug McGraw decided, for whatever reason, to bat left-handed for the first time in his career. Baldwin was so flustered by the new switch-hitter that he walked McGraw on four pitches. “I never saw Tug try hitting left-handed before, not even in batting practice,” said the Phillies’ Tom Hutton. “It’s a good thing he didn’t hit the ball, he might have run to third base.”

At the end of the season, the Mets released him back to Tidewater, and he did not return to the major leagues. Baldwin appeared in a total of 105 games over three seasons, with a 4-7 record, 7 saves and a 3.60 ERA. He had 86 strikeouts and 75 walks in 182-2/3 innings. The former outfielder also had 6 hits in 22 at-bats for a .273 batting average.

Baldwin was drafted by the expansion Seattle Mariners in December of 1977. It was a blow to the Mets, as they lost their Franchise. Not Tom Seaver. Sherry Baldwin was the ace pitcher of the “Mets Mrs.” softball team. “They let Rick Baldwin get away, and they didn’t even consult with us. Can you believe it?” fumed manager Dani Torre. “When they make a trade, they don’t even stop to think if the new guy’s wife can hit. I don’t think they even cared that they deprived us of our Franchise.”

Baldwin — Rick, that is — spent the first half of ’78 with Seattle’s AAA San Jose Missions. He was converted back to a starter, and he wasn’t as effective in that role, with an ERA over 5. He finished the season with the Columbus Clippers, the AAA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Between the two teams, he had a 4.86 ERA and a 6-8 record. It was his final season of professional baseball. He won 52 games over seven minor-league seasons, with 27 saves and a 3.89 ERA.

Baldwin, along with his family, became active in church leadership, but he still found time to take part in baseball clinics in the Modesto area. In this Facebook video from April, he gave a short sermon about Coronavirus and offered some scripture readings for those who felt isolated because of the COVID shutdown in the spring.

In 1976, when Baldwin was bouncing between the majors and minors, he demonstrated a remarkably mature attitude for a 23-year-old pitcher who wasn’t getting a fair chance to stick in the big leagues. “I believe that whatever happens will be for the best,” he said back then. “If something bad happens, I believe there is a reason for it.”

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