Brooklyn native Mazzilli was heavily promoted by the star-hungry Mets in the late 1970s, not only as a prospect but also as a sex symbol. The ambidextrous son of pro welterweight boxer Libero Mazzilli was an all-around athlete, winning eight national speed-skating championships. The Mets’ first-round draft selection in June 1973, he set what is believed to be a professional record when he stole seven bases in a seven-inning game for Visalia against San Jose on June 8, 1975.
He broke into the majors with a splash in a September 1976 call-up, pinch hitting a three-run homer off the Cubs’ Darold Knowles in his second plate appearance and hitting a game-winning two-run off Kent Tekulve with two out in the ninth inning twelve days later to knock the Pirates out of contention. In 1978 he became the first Met to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in one game. But after being compared by the Mets public relations department to the earlier New York centerfield trio of Mays, Mantle, and Snider, Mazzilli was bound to disappoint.
With speed and a good batting eye, Mazzilli might have been an ideal leadoff batter, but the Mets needed him to drive in runs from the middle of the lineup. Surrounded by a weak offense in his first stint in New York, he had more walks than RBI every season. His best season came in 1979, when he had a 19-game hitting streak and hit .303 with 16 HR, 34 doubles, 79 RBI, 78 runs, and 34 steals. He tied a Mets record with five runs scored in a game against the Braves on August 18, and was the hero of the All-Star Game, tying the score in the eighth inning with a two-run pinch homer and then walking with the bases loaded in the ninth to drive in the winning run. Mazzilli was moved to first base in 1980, but the simultaneous arrival of Dave Kingman and Mookie Wilson in 1981 forced him back to left field. He hit only .228 while experiencing back and elbow problems.
The Mets traded Mazzilli to Texas for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell just before the start of the 1982 season. He disappointed Texas too, suffering shoulder and wrist injuries and spending six weeks on the disabled list. Texas traded him to the Yankees for Bucky Dent that August, and he was passed on to the Pirates in the off-season. Only a part-time player in Pittsburgh, he led NL pinch hitters in plate appearances (72) in 1985 and hit .286 with an on-base percentage of .437 in that role. When the Pirates released him in 1986, the Mets reacquired him for their pennant drive and he hit .276 for the eventual World Champions. Mazzilli’s five pinch-hit at-bats set an LCS record. In the World Series, he led off the eighth inning of Game Six with a pinch single off Cal Schiraldi and scored the tying run, permitting the Mets to win in extra innings. In Game Seven he again started a tying rally with a sixth-inning pinch single off Bruce Hurst.
In 1987 Mazzilli continued his pinch-hit success, tying for the NL lead with 17 pinch hits, but in subsequent years he declined. When he joined the Blue Jays in mid-1989 after being released by New York, he ranked in the top ten in most Mets career offensive categories.