With the exception of elite sluggers and starting pitchers, perhaps no breed of Major Leaguer has a longer shelf life than the left-handed reliever. Given the dearth of southpaw hurlers and the LaRussian match-game that's taken over in the past twenty years, we've seen several lefties hang on interminably.
So why then did the career of former Braves prospect and lefty pitcher Jung Bong - ahem - burn out at age 24 after parts of just three seasons in the Majors? Bong plays a central role in one of my favorite all time baseball anecdotes.
As the Mets' disastrous 2002 crashed and burned its way to the finish line, a September tabloid scandal broke, alleging widespread use of marijuana within the Mets organization, complete with a Newsday photo of Mets reliever Grant Roberts hitting a (non-Jung) bong. The Mets characteristically botched their public relations response. At the subsequent press conference manager Bobby Valentine, on his way out of a job, hilariously pantomimed a stoned baseball player trying to take an at bat. Lamentably, I can't find the video anywhere online.
A week later the Mets hosted their principal rivals, the Atlanta Braves, in a season ending series at Shea. In the season's final game, long after the Braves had clinched the NL East and with the Mets already having locked up last place, Bobby Cox managed a game that belied his curmudgeonly reputation.
Cox emptied his bench over the course of the game, using twenty four different players. In the top of the fifth, trailing just 2-1, the Braves pitcher Mike Remlinger was due to come to the plate. Cox decided to use a pinch hitter. With the rosters expanded for September, Cox had no shortage of options at his disposal, including star catcher Javy Lopez.
So who did Cox send up to pinch hit? Not a position player at all, but a relief pitcher who hadn't appeared in a Major League game in five months. To the snickers of many, pinch hitter Jung Bong was announced over the Shea Stadium public address system. Bong went down swinging to end the frame, and just to rub salt in the wound, Cox didn't even leave him in the game to pitch.
So in honor of Bobby V's acting, Bobby Cox' managing, Jung Bong's name, and the 2002 New York Mets' recreational practices, we'll play this one: