Powerful lefthander Grover Powell, a standout pitcher for the Penn Quakers, became an overnight star for the New York Mets in 1963, when he shut out the Phillies 4-0 in his first major league game.
The Wyalusing, Pa. native brought hope to the young Mets team, nearly two years old at the time. At just 22, Powell started out as a relief pitcher for the team. But manager Casey Stengel needed a starting pitcher on Aug. 20, 1963, for the Phillies doubleheader, so he put in Powell. The Mets victory broke an eight-game winning streak for the Phillies.
Powell became an instant media darling because of his pitching and his antics with his teammates and the media off the field. He was quoted in The Sporting News saying, “Besides baseball, comedy is my life.”
But Powell’s quirky ways didn’t always go over well, especially in college, when he was kicked off the team for not taking baseball seriously. He once left a game because he felt cold.
Another time, he overslept and missed the bus to a game at West Point. Powell was quoted in his hometown newspaper saying: “I’m not a very serious person. As a student, I would have made a good set of bookends.”
Powell dropped out of Penn and signed with the Mets in February of 1962. But he was only with the Mets for three months, winning one game and losing one. During his second Mets game, a line drive bounced off Powell’s cheek, injuring him. After the injury, he never pitched the same again.
Then, in 1964, while playing winter baseball in Venezuela, he was diagnosed with tendinitis in his pitching arm. Powell returned to Penn and completed his degree in economics in 1966, but continued to play baseball in the minor leagues until he retired in 1970 at the age of 30. He was 44 when he died in 1985 of acute leukemia.
For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on May 5, 2011