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The Wax Pack: Finding Lee Mazzilli

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“The Wax Pack” author Brad Balukjian with Lee Mazzilli, 2015
Brad Balukjian/AP

Full disclaimer: I received an advance copy of The Wax Pack for review. Thanks to Adam Refenberick of Press Box Publicity for setting me up with the author.

“Wait, Lee Mazzilli was on the Pirates?!”

Each chapter of Brad Balukjian’s The Wax Pack, about his journey to track down players in a 1986 pack of baseball cards, is preceded by a photograph of a player’s card. And there Mazzilli was, resplendent in white and black and gold, going against my memories of him in the blue and orange of the Mets. I checked Baseball Reference, and sure enough he’d been traded to Pittsburgh in late 1982, after brief stops at Texas and the Yankees.

“I remember you crying when the Mets traded him,” teased My Brother the Mets Fan via email. “Then you were happy when he came to the Yankees. When he went to Pittsburgh, you just blocked it out because it was too traumatic for you.”

I was a fairly overdramatic teenage girl in the early eighties, so there may be some truth to this.

I got into baseball courtesy of my dad and brother. My two older sisters had no interest in baseball unless there was a hot player involved, and Lee Mazzilli was very hot back in the day. Had they existed in the late seventies, pink jerseys with his name and number would have been flying off the shelves. As it was, Mazzilli’s poster was on the wall of our bedroom, right next to the other New York baseball heartthrob, Bucky Dent of the Yankees—ironically, when Mazzilli was traded from the Rangers to the Yankees he was traded for Dent. The sister next up from me took both posters to college, never to be seen again.

Although he did make it to the All-Star Game in 1979, during his fourteen seasons in the majors Mazzilli was never anything more than a serviceable utility outfielder with occasional stints at first base. In his three years on the Bucs, he had a 2.3 offensive WAR and a -1 defensive WAR. Unfortunately, he may be best remembered in the ‘burgh for his grand jury testimony in the Pittsburgh drug trials. Balukjian was kind enough to provide Bucs Dugout with some quotes from Mazzilli and other information not included in the book.

“Pittsburgh was a working man’s town. I liked Pittsburgh. I liked playing there. We should have won in ‘83. We had a veteran team, Dave Parker and some good young players.” Maz told me that John Candelaria was his closest friend on that team. He also said that Chuck Tanner was responsible for his transition to a utility player. I asked him why Tanner turned him into an utility player, and he said “I don’t know why I didn’t play. I was playing every day when I went there. When we got near the trading deadline [in ‘83] I was hitting .280 or .290, leading the team in on-base percentage and tied in home runs. I was having a pretty good year and then one day he just said I wasn’t playing anymore.” Marvell Wynne replaced him, and Maz says he and Tanner stopped talking.

As I wrote in Tuesday’s article, The Wax Pack is more baseball-adjacent rather than a recitation of stats. Richie Hebner might not have talked, but many of the former players get very honest about what brought them to the Show and how they’ve handled the aftershow, and it’s an absorbing and often moving read. It deserves all the accolades it’s getting, so if you’re looking for a book to add to your pandemic reading list, you won’t do much better.

Trivia Tuesday returns next week!