I’ve always taken pride in my birthplace of Brooklyn, N.Y., especially when it came to MLB players who were born and bred there. It had me pulling harder when I learned of players from my own backyard.
In fact, there are several former MLB players who’ve played high school ball in Brooklyn, and for which I cheered on a kid. Here are five I remember in particular.
When it comes to great baseball players from Brooklyn, pitcher Sandy Koufax is arguably the best ever to come out of the Borough of Kings.
Koufax played baseball and basketball for Lafayette High School, with hoops being his best sport. But he then emerged as a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher at the University of Cincinnati and left after one year to sign with his hometown Brooklyn Dodgers.
Koufax made his MLB debut in 1955 and recorded a 167-87 career record. The lefty won the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1963. He also earned three Cy Young Awards in 1963, 1965, and 1966, by unanimous votes.
In 1972, at the age of 36, Koufax became the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He had one of the best curves balls I’ve ever seen, albeit on film.
Baseball fans most likely remember Joe Torre for his historic managerial run with the New York Yankees, winning four World Series with the team.
But he was the quiet the ball player in his day, playing high school ball for St. Francis Preparatory School, back on its old Brooklyn campus.
Torre playing career lasted 18 seasons, as the Marine Park native slugged 252 home runs and 1185 RBI during that span. Torre’s best campaign came in 1971 with the St. Louis Cardinals, rapping 24 homers with 137 RBI with a .363 average. He also launched 36 longballs and 101 RBI with a .315 average.
Torre finished up his playing career as a player-manager with the Mets in 1977.
John Franco is another left-handed pitcher who played baseball for Lafayette High School. The 59-year-old enjoyed a solid 21-year career with the Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, and Houston Astros, picking up 424 saves while posting 90-87 mark.
One of my favorite all-time Mets, Franco led the team to World Series appearance against their cross-town rivals, the New York Yankees, in 2000.
Lee Mazzilli, a good competitive speedskater as a youth, was one of the baseball heroes of my youth, playing on some thin Met teams back in the 1970s. But that didn’t stop me from rooting for him in a big way. “Maz” personified the 1970s cool Brooklyn Italian-American, with the olive complexion and swag style in which he played the field; how can you forget his basket catches?
An all-star in 1976 and in ’79, Mazzilli, who played high school ball at Lincoln, totaled 93 dingers and 460 RBI in a 14-year career that made stops with the Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, and Pittsburg Pirates.
Shawon Dunston played high school ball at Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York, Brooklyn.
A Chicago Cubs first-round pick of the 1982 MLB June Amateur Draft, Dunston played a total of 18 years of major league baseball.
A reliable, steady player, Dunston, who manned the shortstop and the outfield positions, amassed 150 home runs and 668 RBI while batting .269 average.
Dunston played a season with the Mets in 1999.
— Jerry Del Priore