Mackey Sasser’s time as Mets infielder T.J. Rivera’s former college coach might be how fans remember him instead of his infamous, orthodox throwing issues as a catcher.
“I never had arm problems,” the 54-year-old Sasser said. “I had that problem.”
That problem was the ex-Met’s throwing yips, often uncontrollably rearing back multiple times before returning throws to the pitcher. That was triggered by a 1990 plate collision with the Braves’ Jim Presley, injuring Sasser’s ankles and limiting his rock back mobility.
Starting during that career-best season (.307 average), Sasser’s false throwing starts made him a target, from base stealers to fans. Only post-retirement psychotherapy revealed the root problem: childhood trauma, like seeing his father unable to throw overhand due to physical limitations.
Sasser was fine throwing spontaneously to bases, but thinking about tossing back to the mound was uncomfortable.
“It’s the craziest thing in the world,” said Sasser from Alabama, where he’s served as head coach at alma mater Wallace Community College for 19 years. “Sometimes you feel robbed, but you understand you were very fortunate to be able to play in the big leagues for as long as you did.”
Rivera, a Bronx native, played two years for Sasser. The former recently reached the majors earlier this month after hitting .323 over six minor league seasons.
The 27-year-old, on his second stint with the Mets this season after his Monday recall with Neil Walker on the paternity list, entered Tuesday 11-for-31 (.355) in the majors this season, including a four-hit game Aug. 16 against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
“I’ve only seen one other guy that worked like him as far as being around [them], and that was Tony Gwynn,” Sasser said. “I’m proud of him. I think he’s worked his butt off. He’s a very hard worker. And it’s paid off for him finally.”
Like Rivera, Sasser’s strength was hitting and, eventually, playing multiple positions. Another plate collision with the Mariners hurt his shoulder and offense. After nine big league seasons, Sasser retired as a .267 career hitter.
A father of seven, Sasser says he thinks about what could’ve been, yips aside. He hunts, fishes and teaches his players to overcome adversity.