Former Mets catcher John Stearns died at the age of 71 on Thursday.
A four-time All-Star, Stearns played 10 MLB seasons, coming to the Mets in a 1975 in a six-player trade that send Tug McGraw to the Phillies.
No cause of death was immediately available, though he was battling prostate cancer.
“If the word is out that I’ve got cancer, and that people are concerned about me passing away right away, it’s incredibly amazing that they would reach out to me,” Stearns told The Denver Post in July. “And it gives me the incentive to fight even harder.”
Despite his condition, Stearns made an appearance at the Mets Old Timers’ Day in May.
“No one played the game with more spirit or determination than John Stearns,” Mets team president Sandy Alderson said in a statement. “He literally willed himself to attend Old Timers’ Day last month so he could visit friends and old teammates. Despite his illness, he even managed to step into the batting cage to take a few swings.
“His nickname, ‘Bad Dude’ couldn’t have been more appropriate. A four-time All Star, John was one of the most complete catchers in Mets history. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family.”
Stearns famously tackled a fan who had run onto the field during a 1980 game. Less than a month later, he came out of the dugout and got into a physical altercation with Expos pitcher Bill Gullickson despite not being in the lineup for the game.
“I am heartbroken,” former Mets teammate Lee Mazzilli said. John was just a joy to be around. He loved the game so much. I was amazed when he went to the batting cage on Old Timers’ Day. That just showed you how much of a competitor he was.”
Stearns retired in 1986, and transitioned to a scouting and coaching role, eventually returning to New York as the Yankees’ bullpen coach. In 1999, he was back with the Mets as an advance scout before spending time as bench coach and third-base coach.
The No. 2-overall pick in the 1973 draft, Stearns was also a football standout at Colorado and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 17th round of the 1973 NFL Draft. In both, he was selected ahead of Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.