The Almost Official Site of
Author Matthew Silverman
October 16, 2014
A View from the
Another season is in the books. Every
year, to keep my head straight for my Mets attendance, I do this
procedural chart. I also want to go on record that I completely disagree
with the concept of not going to Mets games as a way of punishing the
Wilpons. Perhaps reallocating the few hundred dollars I spend on
tickets, food, and souvenirs will hurt them, but I know that not going
to games will hurt me more. And the only way to get the next generation
immersed in Metdom is to bring them out and force it on them. Because no
one in their right mind would willingly take up this orange and blue
cross. And it will hopefully pay dividends that I will not have
grandkids buzzing around me one day in Yankees replicas.
I went to eight Mets games this year, most
of them in September. Every year I suddenly realize that summertime done
come and gone (my,
oh, my) and I start going a bunch in September. The games could not
mean less, but two of the games were free, including the second straight
year utilizing the
free birthday ticket offer. The other two games were through the Boy
Scouts: one was for lousy seats to a lousy game but a good deal with a
bus ride thrown in, and the other Scout seats were at deep discount for
a silent auction. And it was money well spent to sit 13 rows from the
field with a cache of hard-core fans to see Jacob deGrom fan the first
I only paid for tickets to half the games
I went to in 2014. Thank you to those who took me out to the ballgame
this year. The Mets fell short of 80 wins (again), but there was some
progress made and good times had.
I will leave you with my in-house log for
2014, and I will dig up something I recall saying, or at least thinking,
the last time the Royals were in the World Series. I was in the second
floor TV lounge at Bowman Hall at Roanoke College in the 1985 World
Series against the Cardinals (back
when Bowman still stood and networks still showed postseason
is not a real network, and Fox Sport One sure as hell is not). I
said/thought: “If the Royals can do this, so can the Mets.” I said and
thought a lot of things in 1985; one of them happened to be prescient.
hope someone is listening once more.
Log 2014 Citi Field
Mets Rec, Pos
Who hit the HRs
Was, 9-7 L
Brown, Lagares. Wright
A surreal nightmare; most disheartening Opening
attended. Wound up seeing both Familia disasters in his superb 2014.
StL, 2-0 W
Mejia goes 3-0 as starter, Farnsworth save, Mets
sounds very strange.
StL, 3-0 L
Much more like it the next night: No offense,
mediocre start, ineffective relief. Too typical.
Phi, 7-1 W
86 games went by between stops in Flushing.
Bartolo toyed with them; game over in first.
Col, 2-0 W
first MLB win. Sweep was nice payback for May embarrassment in
Was, 10-3 L
Harper, Span, Flores
Arrived one night after Mets won only
game of year vs. Nats in NY. Spanking of Mets in the rain on
Fireworks Night. Talk about a damper.
deGrom fans first eight of game to tie MLB mark.
Then the bullpen blows lead.
Hou, 8-3 L
Duda hits 30 HR, notches 92 RBI. Colon wins
15th. Abreu goes out in style. So do Mets.
Since '09 opening
Wash hit only HRs I saw by visitors. If move in
fences (again!) how many more for Nats? NL?
October 3, 2014
FNP Met 2014: Set
Phasers to Stun
year I pick a Met I like, sometimes irrationally, and hope he will get
more playing time. At year’s end, when the manager does not heed my
telepathic messages (again!), that pine-riding Met earns the coveted
Favorite Nonplaying Met (FNP) Award. Usually it’s a pretty easy call and
often it is an obscure ballplayer. The roll call over the last quarter
century includes everyone from Chris Donnels to Todd Pratt to Heath Bell
to two-time winner Nick Evans. There are others I have trouble
remembering because, you know, they never played much.
generally make my pick before the season ends because there is one guy,
maybe two, who qualify as a true nonplaying Met. Ah, but Terry Collins
keeps going back and forth between letting a guy rot on the bench and
playing him so much he becomes ineffective. Ruben Tejada, who is neither
a favorite nor nonplaying, played shortstop every inning of almost every
Mets game for three months. The Mets had such faith that they didn’t
even have a backup shortstop for Ruben Ripken, so rookie corner
infielder/outfielder Eric Campbell—an early favorite for the award until
he got too much playing time and lost his FNP edge—wound up manning
shortstop after Tejada got hurt while Bartolo Colon went deep into the
seventh inning with a perfect game in Seattle. And then late in the year
Tejada didn’t play at all while Wilmer Flores manned short each night.
And then when David Wright ended the year on the DL and Daniel Murphy
shifted to third base, shortstop of the future Wilmer played nothing but
second base. Ruben manned short and zoomed past the 400 (wasted) plate
appearance mark, about twice the standard cutoff to be FNP in a given
Then there is last year’s FNP Met, Anthony
Recker. Collins played Travis d’Arnaud six days a week for most of the
summer until he hurt his elbow (maybe that’s why he never threw anyone
out?). I did consider back-to-back FNPs for A.R.—not Arnold Rothstein
(it hurts how he just disappeared from
Boardwalk Empire; I mean just because the historical character
was dead by 1931...). Recker caught just 10 games in July and August
combined, but he finished the season catching most of the last two weeks
to improve to 7 HRs, 27 RBI, .201 average, and .620 OPS in 187 plate
appearances—essentially the same stats Chris Young had in 100 more plate
appearances. (You know, the Chris Young who couldn’t hit on this side of
C.Y.—who was never in the running for FNP Met—comes E.Y. Eric Young
swiped the National League stolen base crown in the final game at Citi
Field in 2013. In the final game at Citi Field in 2014, he lost his grip
on the .300 on-base percentage plateau, which looks ugly if your
offensive skills are as limited as E.Y.’s.
Eric Young played a lot last year and gave the Mets a spark. He rode the
bench for a ridiculous amount of time this summer, becoming essentially
a pinch runner and occasional starter against lefties. Good job swiping
30 percent of the team’s 101 bases in 2014. (You do the math.) But E.Y.
had way too many PA’s (316) to be in the running. Bobby Abreu had a
nice tribute from the fans on the final day. I was there and clapped
for him, too, but I did wonder why a 41-year-old outfielder got 155
plate apps on this team.
Picking a pitcher for FNP Met this year was out since Terry Collins
brings in pitchers like he’s paid by the move and everyone was either
overworked, ineffective, or injured. That left one true candidate for
FNP, an outfielder I’ve always liked: Captain
Kirk Nieuwenhuis. (From here on in, for my own spelling sanity, I’m
calling him Kirk, Nieuwy, or addressing him by rank.)
The best thing about Nieuwy is that at 27
he became a valuable member of the team despite just 130 plate
appearances. He excelled as a pinch hitter: both Nieuwy and Eric
Campbell went 8 for 28 off the bench (.286) to tie for the team lead.
Yes, Nieuwy still strikes out as ton (39 K’s), but he had his best slash
line by far in his three-year career: .259/.346/.482. At the end of the
year the Mets gave Matt den Dekker the shot at left field instead of
Kirk, which made sense because the Mets know what they have in Kirk and
they have no idea about dD. Despite den Dekker having 44 more plate
appearances than Kirk, Nieuwy outpaced him in doubles (14-11), triples
(1-0), and home runs (3-0) while having a .160 higher slugging
percentage. den Dekker stole three more bases than Kirk (7-4), but
Nieuwy wasn’t caught and den Dekker was nabbed four times. When Juan
Lagares was hurt at the end of the year, Nieuwy did not get the chance
to play much because he had kidney stones and a subsequent infection
that ended his season in the hospital.
He’s resting comfortably at home now.
So here is
get well trophy
to the big man on campus from
Asuza Pacific. Let’s hope Nieuwy will still be rocking
the Mets bench when the team is good, though with this manager (and
owner), we all may be retired by the time that happens. In the meantime
Captain Kirk, set course for contention.
September 29, 2014
Final Grades Are
in for 2014 Mets
time for metsilverman.com final grades for the 2014 season. For a team
grade, take the number of wins and put that on the grade scale, so 79
equals C+. The Mets won five more games than in 2013 and finished tied
for second with the Braves, but that is cosmetic. The Mets were 17 games
behind the Nationals. And to qualify for the watered-down Wild Card
required 88 wins this year. Next year needs to be .500 or bust.
There was a lot of turnover from last
year. Matt Harvey did not throw a pitch in 2014—it
wasn’t for lack of talking about it—but
he will be back next year, we hope. So should Bobby Parnell, who threw
all of one inning (and got a blown save for his trouble). I am not sure
of Jeremy Hefner’s future after his second elbow surgery in a year, but
good luck to him. I went through last year’s final report card and found
19 missing Mets from 2013: Dave Aardsma, Rick Ankiel, Scott Atchison,
Mike Baxter, John Buck, Greg Burke, Marlon Byrd, Tim Byrdak, Robert
Carson, Collin Cowgill, Pedro Feliciano, Frank Francisco, Aaron Harang,
LaTroy Hawkins, Zach Lutz, Brandon Lyon, Shawn Marcum, Justin Turner,
and the great Jordany Valdespin. Remember them? And that does not
include guys who spent significant time in 2013 in New York and most of
2014 in Las Vegas: Andrew Brown, Zach Lutz, Omar Quintanilla, Scott
Rice, and Josh Satin.
In last year’s report card, I said, “Misters Davis and Duda, stop wasting everyone else’s time!”
Duda knocked 30 out of the park in 2014, and unlike when Davis reached
that mark in 2012, Lucas did not spend half the year below the Mendoza
Line. Duda gets most improved, certainly. And congrats to all the
members of the bullpen, where the kid gloves come off: Carlos Torres and
Jeurys Familia each pitched over 70 times. Jenrry Mejia would have
appeared a lot more than 62 times if he hadn’t
begun the year as a starter. Meanwhile the Collins China Doll rotation
completed one game.
B A- B+
Oldest student is best in class. Reached 15 Ws, 200 IP, fanned 150. Big
man, big year.
yet know if he’ll
be Rookie of Year, but best Mets rookie in many a year. deGroovy!
A- B B+ Murph’s
skid came after Sept. injury. Gets extra credit for taking Wright’s
spot at 3B.
work vs. lefties, but I was wrong about Duda. Impressive to reach 30 HR,
B+ Missed most
of last year yet came back to pitch in 76 games as team’s
B+ B+ B+
Went 8-6, top 10 in games, just missed 100 IP. TC somehow didn’t
pitch his arm off.
Jenrry Mejia B B+
B+ Credit for
staying healthy (and enduring hernia); 3 wins as starter, just 3 blown
0.75 ERA in 2H before constant warmups by TC took toll. Responded to
Juan Lagares B B
B No question
he should win Gold Glove. Showed he could be leadoff hitter, SB threat.
C+ B+ B
Has gotten better in 2H both years; 187 Ks in 185.1 IP. Needs to pitch
better at home.
B+ C B Same
final grade as ’13,
but last year finished well. In ’14
poor 2H ends with heart issue.
Travis d’Arnaud C-
rookie year. Power in Aug. (5 HR), average in Sept. (.313). Ended too
Curtis Granderson B- B-
Two months batting under .150, two months over .300; 20 HRs good for
been on team all year or healthy all year, Mets would have been .500.
Wright B C-
have to look up past grades to know this is his worst. Get better soon,
Wilmer Flores C-
he can play SS-2B. Has pop, makes contact, and improving in field.
B+ D+ C+
ERA twice as high in 2H, grade twice as low. Not sure if homegrown vet
back in 2015.
Fell off table in 2H, which coincided with Duda playing vs. lefties.
Versatile but limited.
Kirk Niewenhuis B- C
Bench stud should’ve
made more than 10 August-Sept. starts. Has speed, power, glove.
Matt den Dekker D- B+
.290/.392/.374 in 2H, but 174 PAs without HR is troubling. Better
version of Jason Tyner.
C+ D+ C Last
seen singling into sunset Sunday. Did not K after recall. Good career,
Daisuke Matsuzaka C+ D+ C Only
pitched 8 times in relief in 2H. Served any role asked. Sayonara,
D+ C C Montero,
not deGrom, was supposed to be breakout rook. Showed flashes of promise.
Anthony Recker C-
Nudged over Mendoza Line, but rarely played until end of 2H. Either
whiffs or homers.
Ruben Tejada C- C-
400 ABs for this guys seems like colossal waste. Should be backup—somewhere
C- D D+
Had 30 SBs while nailed to bench, yet doesn’t
get on base enough to justify roster spot.
D+ F D Hit
.196, 1 RBI after All-Star break before Mets finally cut him. Became
Only Appeared in One Half as Met
1H 2H Notes
Pulled off scrapheap at age 36. Put together 1.45 ERA in 27 games. Good
Opened a lot of eyes and created a lot of questions about 2B during
short time in NY.
Lefty with 2.63 ERA will get a lot of work with TC in charge.
Practically a LH baby at 30.
Gonzalez Germen D+
Rightfully banished to minors until brief September callup for mopup.
Opening Day LF, then forgotten. Seemed cruel not to recall member of
40-man in Sept.
Funny, he wasn’t in Astros pen for season finale. Like Mets, they too
His presence, and Farnsworth’s,
in first two months show how far bullpen came in 2014.
Not Enough Time Served for Grade
Among biggest questions heading into 2015: Can he come back? Will it be
as a Met?
Eric Goeddel Inc
get to see him enough for opinion. May see more of righty in 2015.
Saw too much of lefty in 32 games in 1H. May recover from 2013 Collins
Wilfredo Tovar Inc
debut until final week. May still have future in NY given SS options.
catchers are always nice. Hit .200 in 30 ABs. Emergency recall option.
Lefty only threw 1.1 inning in 4 games, but showed little beyond
Taylor Teagarden Inc His presence meant
getting his mind right in Vegas.
Hit grand slam.
Omar Quintanilla IncQ
always somewhere near; glad he spent most of season in Vegas. Classic
Andrew Brown deserved recall over Josh; lucky he lacked ABs for grade
Whoever said he was going to be valuable should not be trusted for
Inc Too few NY ABs for
grade, but 1/3 as many HRs & 1/2 as many RBI as Duda.
D C+ C
think he’ll lead them out of darkness; baffling strategist, but team
Sandy Alderson D+ C
made big trade, but hasn’t
made big blunder. Please leave Citi dimensions be!
1990-98: 100 Losses, Five Managers, One Strike
end of Banner Day as a doubleheader endeavor in 1988 was the setting of
the sun on the Mets twinbill. Where people once sought out doubleheaders
on the schedule as one of the great bargains in sports, during the 28
twinbills at Shea in the 1990s (7-4-17), you often saw people leaving
wholesale after the first game, or the place suddenly got more crowded
around 7:30, when a game would normally begin. (Start times did not
settle at 7:10 for every night game until 2000.)
doubleheader was dead, and so were the Mets. By the time the Mets fired
Davey Johnson in May 1990, the heart of the 1986 world champions had
been gutted. Rather than talk about who departed, it is easier to say
who was left by 1990: Ron Darling, Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez, Howard
Johnson, Bob Ojeda, Darryl Strawberry, and Tim Teufel. Seven out of the
24 men on the 1986 postseason roster. And Straw and Ojeda were on the
The Mets opted not to bring Strawberry
back in 1991. I have to admit, I never was a fan of Strawberry’s—beyond
standing up and high-fiving anyone around me after one of his mammoth
home runs. He was a complainer and a malingerer, as well as divisive,
abusive, and a pain in the butt. Yet he was also the only consistent
power source the 1990 Mets had. (HoJo was great but only, for whatever
in odd-numbered years.) Though they got swept in a key doubleheader
in Pittsburgh on September 5, the Mets still stayed within striking
distance of the suddenly unbeatable Pirates. Due to injuries, New York
featured a makeshift lineup that included unMets-like names such as
Tommy Herr, Pat Tabler, and Tom O’Malley. It was Straw who stayed in the
lineup and put up 37 home runs and 108 RBI on a team starved for
offense. The Mets had solid pitching. Frank Viola, acquired a year
earlier from the Twins in a far-too-costly 5-for-1 deal, won 20 games,
while Dwight Gooden just missed that number as well. David Cone was in
his prime though both Darling and Fernandez were under .500.
Bobby O., relegated to spot starter and
long relief, would be traded in the offseason for old fan favorite—and
now just old—Hubie Brooks. Dave Magadan had taken over for Keith
Hernandez at first base—though only after Mags took over for injured
Mike Marshall—and wound up third in the 1990 batting race at .328. John
Franco was the closer, acquired for Randy Myers. It was like buying
stock that went down a lot initially—like when Myers was on the mound as
the Reds won the 1990 World Series—but the dividends kept accruing,
unspectacularly, from the Franco fund for years to come.
hung around until the final weekend, finishing ’90 at 91 wins. Then it
was over. The Mets’ run as contenders, that is.
team played good baseball for much of the first half half of 1991. They
reeled off 10 straight wins in July—including a four-game sweep in
Montreal, during which I saw my only baseball game at Stade Olympic.
Just after the All-Star break, the Mets were 15 games over .500. After
that they fell to earth like a chunk of the Stade Olympic roof. That
really happened in 1991—not while I was there, fortunately—and it sent
the Expos on the road for the rest of the season. A two-game series
scheduled in Montreal was played at Shea. The
New York Times sent a reporter who did not spare the grisly
details of the vast emptiness of a stadium that no longer rocked, and
would not rock until Mike Piazza arrived at the end of the decade.
Mets split that doubleheader with Montreal, as well as the other two
twinbills they played in 1991. Bud Harrelson was sent packing in the
final week of the season and Frank Cashen chose the right time to
retire. It was a time when winning 77 games was cause for clearing the
deck, not handing out new contracts.
1992 the Mets reloaded and shot themselves in the foot. Burdened with
Vince Coleman’s contract, and Jeff Torborg’s genius, the Mets let Frank
Viola leave but agreed to heavy contracts for Bobby Bonilla and Eddie
Murray, who turned the locker room toxic. New GM Al Harazin traded
tainted wonderboy Gregg Jefferies and laconic slugger Kevin McRenolds
(plus personal favorite Kevin Miller) for two-time Cy Young winner Bret
Saberhagen and infielder Bill Pecota, whose greatest achievement as a
Met was becoming the first Mets position player to pitch. The Mets added
Willie Randolph, too, but he was small potatoes and a class act compared
to the rest. Duck and I stood applauding the entirety of Willie’s final
career at bat—a walk—in the last game of the 1992 season. You may have
heard of that year:
“The Worst Team Money Could Buy.” I always thought that was a funny
title for a book, because that ’92 team was great compared to the ’93
1993 Mets lost 103 times, the most defeats since the year I was born. It
was pathetic and frustrating, but I had free tickets from Duck,
attending law school in another state, so I went all the time with my
new girlfriend. She showed so much tolerance for the Mets—and me—that we
became engaged during what would have been the 1994 World Series.
the strike finally ended, I was credentialed to do locker room reports
for a small radio station, so I kind of fell for the 1995 team a little.
I’d probably have hated Dallas Green if not for that, but he was
interesting to observe up close—where I stood inches away with the
microphone—and he was big and ornery enough I tried not to wince when
someone in the back of the room asked a question that set him off. I
worked the first weekend of the truncated ’95 season and was in the
locker room for the season finale when a walk-off walk ended a scoreless
game against the Braves in the 11th inning.
1996 highlight wasn’t the last game of the year, it was the first. The
Mets came back from 6-0 down in the rain to beat the Cardinals, but
Generation K turned out to be a bust. The pitching was terrible, but
Lance Johnson, Todd Hundley, and Bernard Gilkey had three of the best
offensive years the Mets had seen to that point—Lance Johnson’s 227 hits
and 21 triples survived the Reyes reign, so they may be on the books for
a long time. The Mets played as many doubleheaders as they had the three
previous years combined, going 1-1-3 in ’96, as well as a day-night loss
late August 1996, the Mets replaced Dallas Green with Bobby Valentine. I
wasn’t impressed at first, but that changed in 1997. The only major
addition was John Olerud, plus a bunch of first mates Bobby V. dug up,
plugged in, and used to turn the Mets into a contender. Yet the 1.7
million they drew was as many as came out for “The Worst Team Money
Could Buy” in 1992. That ’97 team, however, was something special,
forging lifelong man crushes on Rick Reed and Johnny O.
Mets looked like a playoff team the next year, until they lost the last
five games of 1998. It seemed like the end of the world, but we’d see
worse. The ’98 club played more doubleheaders than any Mets team of the
decade. They went going 4-1-3, including splits on successive nights
against the Cardinals as the world went ga-ga over the Mark McGwire. The
Mets swept the Cubs in a doubleheader from the other side of the home
run freak show: Sammy Sosa. They even played doubleheaders in Houston
and San Diego, where twinbills seemed outlawed and unnecessary due to
the elements. Nine years that went by in a blink. I was alone and in
Massachusetts to start and by the end of 1998 had a wife, a child, and a
team I could love.
with Doubleheaders Charlie Bevis
Charlie Bevis, an adjunct in English at
Rivier College in Massachusetts, is author of the book,
Doubleheaders: A Major League History. It is the last word on
the twinbill, so we asked Charlie for a few words.
I have been talking about doubleheaders played each year of the Mets
existence on my site this year. It’s
been pretty fun, but I have a technical question since it has occurred
several times in my records for the Mets, especially in the 1960s: Is it
considered a doubleheader if the first game is completed and the second
ends in a tie, due to weather, darkness (Wrigley), or curfew?
If there were two
games played on the same day, it is considered to be a doubleheader
whether or not the second game had a winner. Many doubleheaders in Major
League Baseball history have seen the second game shortened due to
darkness (before the advent of artificial lights for night baseball in
the 1930s), train travel (especially during World War II), or Sunday
curfew (particularly in Philadelphia in the 1950s).
Q: Were the 1980s the last gasp for doubleheaders?
By 1980 less than
10 percent of Major League Baseball games were part of a doubleheader,
which decreased to less than 5 percent by 1989 (when there were only
three scheduled doubleheaders). So, yes, the 1980s were the last gasp.
The 1960s were the last glory days for doubleheaders, when teams still
scheduled doubleheaders on Sundays and holidays. During that decade, 20%
to 25% of Major League Baseball games were part of a doubleheader. The
first Basic Agreement negotiated by the Players Association in 1968 set
in motion the ultimate demise of the doubleheader.
Were the Mets the last team to regularly schedule doubleheaders? They
held Banner Day in between games of a scheduled summer doubleheader,
allowing fans onto the field from 1963 until the last scheduled DH in
1988. This year they were actually lame enough to schedule the Banner
Day parade HOURS BEFORE the first game of a makeup doubleheader (and
they wonder why so few people came toting banners).
In large-market cities, the Mets were one of the last teams to embrace
the traditional two-games-for-the-price-of-one doubleheader. The Mets
were also part of a novel split-park doubleheader in 2000 to play a
home-and-home twinbill with the Yankees, with the day game at Shea
Stadium and the night game at Yankee Stadium, to make up a rainout of
their interleague match.
Q: The last scheduled
doubleheader the Mets had that I recall was 9/15/98 at the Astrodome,
the middle day of a midweek series. Houston had no NFL team at the time,
so I can only guess it was some other scheduling conflict. Do you know
of any doubleheaders since then that were placed on the schedule before
the season began? Or a DH at a domed stadium?
Between 1996 and 2008, there were only two scheduled doubleheaders in
Major League Baseball, in 1996 and 2001, both hosted by the Minnesota
Twins at the Metrodome. So the 1998 doubleheader in Houston you mention
must have been arranged to make up a rainout. At the time my book on the
history of the doubleheader was written in 2009, I thought the scheduled
doubleheader was extinct. However, Major League Baseball brought it back
in 2011 with one in Oakland and again in 2013 at Arizona, to more easily
resolve scheduling logistics.
Q: What are your feelings of the
day-night doubleheader? For my money, nothing cheeses me off more than
the inconvenience of a split doubleheader when the number of fans
combined for the two games would not have come close to filling the park
separate-admission day-night doubleheader is the future of the
doubleheader in Major League Baseball, since even the makeup
doubleheader is on life support. The Basic Agreement with the Players
Association permits the Red Sox and Cubs to have unlimited day-night
doubleheaders to make up postponed games, due to their small-sized
ballparks, and there are various rules applicable to the other teams,
which are often employed. It doesn’t seem to impact fans in Boston. The
Red Sox fill Fenway Park for both ends of a day-night twinbill and both
games are televised for at-home fans. Even though I’m a traditionalist
when it comes to baseball, I have no problem with the day-night
Q: But as much as I wax nostalgic
about doubleheaders, the last couple I have been to have only had the
smallest remains of the hardcores, whereas in an earlier time, you would
actually have larger crowds for doubleheaders BECAUSE of the promise of
free baseball. My first foul ball caught was in a doubleheader at Shea
in 2008 because there were few people to battle for a well-placed foul.
Do you think people are weary of doubleheaders, despite their rarity, as
being TOO MUCH baseball?
The average fan doesn’t have the time, or the inclination, to sit
through a 7-to-8-hour marathon that is today’s traditional doubleheader,
whether at the ballpark or watching on TV at home (or a favorite
tavern). More importantly, the ballplayers dislike it (hence all the
doubleheader restrictions in the Basic Agreement), managers loathe it
(upsets the pitching rotation and depletes the bullpen), TV networks
hate it (for a variety of reasons), and ownership despises it (teams
need TV and ballpark revenue from all 81 home games to support those
astronomical multi-million-dollar, multi-year contracts they dole out to
ballplayers). In my book, I cite a comment from ownership that they had
concerns about crowd control in a traditional doubleheader—not all the
people coming in, but rather all the people leaving after the first
game. Even the three-hour average length of one Red Sox game tests my
attention span these days; I can’t imagine too many people volunteering
to sit through two consecutive games. If a team needs to increase
ballpark attendance, it’s more effective to give away bobble-dolls or do
some other kind of promotion than to offer a second free game.
Q: When was the last doubleheader
you saw in the flesh? Do you make a point of following them when they
I saw a doubleheader this spring—two
college baseball teams playing at the local minor-league ballpark. It
was a great take and only a four-and-a-half-hour time commitment.
end of the 1980s marked the end of the Mets as a dominating club. After
losing out to the Cardinals in 1987 and losing in a bitter NLCS against
the Dodgers in 1988, their half-hearted run at the Cubs in 1989 pretty
much spelled doom for Davey Johnson. He survived the axe after the ’89
season, but when the team did not get off to a good start in 1990, the
most successful manager in franchise history was fired that May. Never
as much a company man as the front office wanted, the Mets hired the
ultimate company man in Bud Harrelson. They got overachieving results
that first year followed by so much underachieving in 1991 they went in
an entirely new direction and remade the team in the image of a horse’s
ass. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Mets have had three periods of winning records for at least four
straight years: 1969-73, 1997-2001, 2005-08, and the championship era of
1984-90. Seven straight winning seasons is hard to imagine with this
The 1987 season was all about injuries and
one suspension. As well illustrated in the
SNY Documentary (not
to be confused with the
Dockumentary, which saw a splendid
Clubhousepresentation a few days back), Dwight
Gooden fell into the abyss following the ’86 season. The lingering
question following his Triple Crown season of 1985 had been, “What’s
wrong with Doc?” The answer came as the team was just about to break
camp in 1987. The answer was cocaine.
unflappable kid succumbed. He was still an All-Star caliber pitcher for
several years, accruing enough numbers to bump Jerry Koosman out of the
second spot in wins (157-140). Even Tom Seaver (number one in most
categories) was not as dominant or as electric in his his first two
years as Gooden. Kooz in his prime, though, was better and more
consistent than Doc post-1985. You could make the same case for Jon
Matlack, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Al Leiter, and Bobby Jones. Maybe
Craig Swan could be on that list if he had the run support in the 1970s
that Gooden got in the 1980s. Doc and the disappointment of the 1987
season—the Mets finished three games behind the Cardinals but were
eliminated before they finished the season with a three-game series in
St. Louis—set the stage for the dissatisfaction to come.
The 1988 Mets rolled through the final
month and a half of the season, obliterating the NL East and piling up
100 wins. The Mets won 28 of their last 36 games, starting with a sweep
at Dodger Stadium (the opener of which
I was on hand for in Los Angeles). One start after losing to the
Mets, 2-1, Orel Hershiser allowed his final run of the regular season in
his final August start. He then embarked on a record 59-inning scoreless
streak. The Mets scored off Hershiser in the NLCS, but he started three
times and also notched a save to shock New York. Not just the Mets, New
York. Two years after their miraculous October, the biggest question
bandied about by overconfident fans on this new all-sports station, WFAN,
was whether the upcoming World Series would be a repeat of 1986 (Mets
vs. Boston) or
1973 (Mets vs. A’s). It turned out to be a repeat of 1974, with the
A’s taking on the Dodgers—only this time L.A. won in five games.
Mets have won only one division title since 1988, though they have won
the Wild Card twice—a route to the postseason that did not exist in the
1980s. If it had, the Mets would have piled up five more postseason
appearances, and might have won another world championship. Who knows?
But 1988 also marked the end of a Mets tradition: the end of the Banner
1988 schedule had two dots on August 14, with the odd start time of
noon. The Mets would add noon starts times in the decades to follow for
the sake of camps coming to Mets games in the summer months, but never
again would a Mets schedule be printed with the two dots signifying a
scheduled doubleheader. Banner Day became a single-game performance in
1989, with the Mets diplomatically starting the game at 3 p.m., so both
the parade walkers and the parade watchers could gather, along with all
the people showing up around the normal start time of 1:30 and providing
them with entertainment, too. (Today, one needs to get to Citi Field
well before the time any sane person would show up for a ballgame for
the reconstituted Banner Day, which explains the low turnout and the low
interest beyond the hardcores. Maybe if they started the game later or
showed the parade on TV, as they used to, there would be more interest.
But the Mets already know all about drumming up interest in ticket
the end of the 1980s, the doubleheader was on life support. Between 1987
and 1989 the Mets played nine total twinbills (2-0-1 in both 1987 and
’88, and 2-1-0 in ’89), which was as many doubleheaders as the team
played in 1986 (4-1-4). Next time we’ll discuss why the doubleheader
died out with one of the few experts on the subject of doubleheaders.
Delcos Is Back
doubleheaders can wait for now. I want to say a hearty blogosphere
welcome back to John Delcos, the former Journal News beat man for
the Mets, a voter for the Hall of Fame, and a really nice person. Health
issues have laid him low and confined him to a wheelchair much of the
time. We talked on Sunday for the first time in a while and he said he’s
working hard every day to get back to walking into the Mets clubhouse
under his own power.
site and send along any good wishes. And thanks to
Rubin on ESPN NY for letting people know about John—that’s how I
found out. So now we’ve got another comeback to root for in 2015 on top
of David Wright, Matt Harvey, and the Mets, who are a year away from
matching their longest periods without a winning season (1962-68 and
go John and let’s go Mets.
September 8, 2014
1986: Upcoming Book on
Greatest of Years
“1986” to a Mets fan and their ears will prick up. For those who were
there to appreciate it, even the most frustrated among us, 1986
generates a good feeling. For the young’uns who missed what has become
the touchstone franchise moment for a generation two generations,
there can be the feeling that they missed something. Yes, you did, but
at least your team won something, and did so in the most dramatic way
possible. And that knowledge is worth a lot; just ask any fan of the
Rangers, Mariners, Astros, Rays, Padres, Rockies, Brewers, and
Nationals, who have never won a title. And with the 1969 Mets title, our
gang’s two world championships are also more than the Royals, Angels,
and Diamondbacks. Cubs fans have a couple of world championships, but
their drought is at 106 years now, and to the many hardcore Cubs fans
out there, it is painful to say their great-great grandfather wasn’t
even alive when the Cubs last won a title. Look at that, I’ve already
made you feel better than fans of 13 different franchises.
1986 Mets were the envy of everyone else in baseball. They were hated
for their team’s attitude, for their fans’ attitude, and for their
city’s attitude. It was the Mets against the world, representing New
York against the world. And New York of that time was a dirtier,
grittier place. Times Square was not aglow with neon, cops, and
barricades. The Times Square I visited daily during my mid-1980s summers
was awash in strip joints, hookers, and pickpockets. But it was still
the Big Apple, the envy of other safer, smaller, and more boring cities,
the place where many of the smartest and most determined people in other
places flocked to see if they could hack it. New York had a buzz and
wasn’t afraid to catch one, and that was the world where the ’86 Mets
came of age.
going to stop there because that sounds like a passage from a book. I’ve
been in a holding pattern here on the site until I could get together
with my editor at Lyons Press for an as-yet untitled book on the ’86
Mets, due out in 2016, for the 30th anniversary. A new baby, an ’86 Mets
book, will be my seventh Mets book. We can add two halves together to
make eight, if you will, since
Swinging ’73 is about more than just the Mets and
The Miracle Has Landed was an effort I edited with Ken Samelson
with contributions from many writers about the 1969 Mets.
I am proud to have written so much about
the team that has been so heavily on my mind for 39 years. (I wish I was
39—I could call Bartolo Colon my big brother—but truth be told, I came
to the Mets at the relatively advanced age of 10.) I put in my time in
the doleful late 1970s and early 1980s, when the team just plain sucked,
but it was like a penance. All past sins were washed away when I was in
the house for the team’s two walkoff wins against the Astros in the
NLCS—we didn’t call them walkoff wins then, we just called them,
Nightcap: The ’86
Twinbills, Of Course
don’t like regurgitating material if I can help it, so I’m going to lay
down some info I don’t plan on using for the upcoming 1986 book. It’s
about ’86 doubleheaders! You saw that coming, right?
a 108-54 record, the ’86 Mets obviously kicked butt. They had a .667
winning percentage for the season and had the same percentage in
doubleheaders as well, racking up a 4-1-4 mark en route to devouring the
Just to keep you from getting a big head,
we’ll start with the one double loss, on July 26 in Atlanta. It was a
makeup against the same fifth-place Braves team
the Mets had literally beaten up at Shea the previous weekend.
front of 44,000 in the Saturday night rematch in Atlanta, the Braves won
the opener on a walkoff sac fly by Ted Simmons off Roger McDowell. These
things happen, even to the ’86 Mets. In the nightcap, though, Sid
Fernandez, with a 12-2 record and ERA of 2.83 entering the night,
uncharacteristically blew a 3-0 lead. That was followed by an ugly
relief outing by Doug Sisk, who Mets fans continued to get on despite
all the good things the team was doing. The doubleheader loss dropped
the Mets lead to a scant 14 ½ games.
Mets split their first doubleheader of the year, in Pittsburgh on June
6. The Pirates won the opener—the only game the Mets lost to the Pirates
all season. The Mets won the other 17 games between the teams in
’86—including doubleheader sweeps of the Buccos at Shea on June 15 and
October 4, the last Saturday of the season. How do you think you roll up
Mets and Cubs played nine times in 11 days, including two doubleheaders.
The first twinbill—at Shea on July 26—began with Ron Darling throwing a
shutout. In the nightcap, a rookie named Jamie Moyer beat the Mets, 2-1;
just the sixth game of what would be a 696-game career spanning four
decades. The teams split the doubleheader and the series in New York,
but the Cubs won the first two games of the five-game series at Wrigley
the following week. In the Wednesday afternoon twinbill, Dwight Gooden
took a 5-3 lead into the ninth in the opener, but Cubs catcher Jody
Davis hit a two-run homer. Mookie Wilson snapped the tie with a two-run
single in the 12th, and Roger McDowell allowed a run in the bottom of
the inning before finishing off the win. The Mets won by the same 7-6
score in the nightcap when Keith Hernandez bailed out Sisk by starting a
double play on a bunt after the first three Cubs got hits in the ninth.
With Jesse Orosco pitching for the second time that day—with the lefty
coming in to face a right-handed slugger—Jody Davis stayed in the park
Mets took care of the Padres on September 7, with Sisk getting the win
in the nightcap. The Sunday sweep gave the Mets a 10-2 mark for the year
against San Diego, one of five teams the Mets had double-digit wins
against in ’86—the aforementioned Pirates as well as the Cubs, Expos,
the Cardinals, the nemesis of Flushing in the 1980s and the defending NL
champions, lost 12 of 18 games against the ’86 Mets. And that was with
the Mets losing a six-game series to St. Louis at Shea in August.
Earlier rainouts forced the teams to piggyback doubleheaders on Thursday
and Sunday. The first and the last games of the series were the only
games the Mets won. The Mets didn’t need to sweat it. They’d swept the
Cardinals four straight in St. Louis in April and the Cardinals all but
gave up after that. The Mets wound up winning the NL East by 21
a year! I can’t wait to live it once more. I hope you feel that way
about the touchstone year for Mets fans of all ages.
August 9, 2014
Letters to the
I am waiting on word about a matter before
I Doubleheader Dip into 1986. If you have no idea what that previous
sentence means, don’t worry. We are spicing up the dog days of August
with Letters to the Met-idor, our old school way of taking
correspondence from weeks and months ago, from a time where the season
mattered (I know how you feel, I kind of smiled writing that, too), and
presenting it in our editorial page. For your consideration, we trimmed
the tenth edition of this gimmick to three entries.
For a little while
now, I have become a fan of your posts. Maybe because I have been a Mets
fan for nearly 45 years, or perhaps my belief that I might be related to
you (I was born in Hempstead, Long Island, and lived in Oceanside, LI,
until I was 10). From one Silverman to another, I found your writing
quite refreshing as opposed to other Mets blogfare. This particular
piece was especially nice since Montreal was a unique city for Major
League Baseball. My one trip up to the “Big O” gave me a new perspective
on the Expos. However, back in 2001, it just seemed a fait accompli that
this franchise was on life support.
Perhaps Montreal does need a second chance, but I have to take exception
to your post. At the end you commented about Tampa not being a worthy
baseball town. I should know, I live there and have taken the Rays in as
a “second team.” The Rays play across the bay in St. Petersburg.
Possible distant cousin
Thanks for the kind words about the blog. You made my day! Sorry I
stomped on yours with my throwaway line about Tampa. I do think Montreal
is more of a major league city than Tampa, but if Tampa-St. Pete was
good enough for the Mets as home for their spring trainings of 1969,
1973, 1986, and other cool years, I should give it its due as a big
league town. (That time I stopped myself before anything derogatory was
said about St. Lucie—see,
I am learning.)
I think Tampa Bay has a superb
organization—their ability to nurture young talent reminds me of a
latter day Expos—and the Rays are way better than the Expos were at
turning that talent into more talent when it comes trading time. (Carl
Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. for Pedro Martinez. Really, Montreal?)
Joe Maddon reminds me of a new age Felipe Alou,
and I am very glad Maddon does not manage in the NL East. If the Rays
ever let him go, I’d
have him manage the Mets in a minute—as if I am in charge of the
actually only been to Tampa a couple of times, but my last time there
was my once-in-a-lifetime shot of seeing my Arizona Cardinals play in a
Super Bowl, only to have two terrible moments at the end of each half
spoil the fulfillment of my football destiny. But I shouldn’t take that
out on the city when it’s the Steelers fans I should hold a lasting
grudge against. If
this is the moment where you reveal you are also a Steelers fan, I'll
have to get busy at composing another apology note.
P.S.: In case there is some familial bond
with you or some other lurking Silverman, my provenance: I am from White
Plains, NY. The Silverman side of my family came downstate from the
Syracuse more than a century ago. Of all the people I’ve run into named
Silverman—it is a surprisingly popular name—I’ve never run into any
relations from my clan beyond the ones I already knew. But you are the
first Silverman to write in to the site in the six years since it began.
I just got done reading your bio and it stated you were from High Falls,
New York. Small world, my family owned a cabin in Kripplebush off of
Route 209. I can remember cutting through New Paltz on Route 32 and
taking Route 213 through the town of Rosendale, to 209. My good friend
was Nippy Lasher, who was the Chief of Police in Rosendale in the early
1990s. He has since passed away. High Falls brings back a lot of
memories. Nice job you have done with the Mets archives.
I have lived here since 2000. I drove back and forth for all the Mets
postseason games that year, and 2006. It is a long, arduous drive home
that can be exhausting, especially after a loss, but I wish I could do
it again someday for games that matter. Just about now it seems unlikely
to ever happen again, but time does turn things back around. When the
Mets are good, it is like nothing else.
Ulster County is so pro-Yankee it is
annoying at times, but it is not what I would call hardcore. People seem
more likely to wear a Yankees jacket or hat because it is next to the
door rather than because they are showing their colors. Most people here
don’t pay close attention to baseball. It can be spirit cleansing to
know that when the Mets blow a ninth-inning lead, no one around me cares
one bit. Life goes on. Hope it goes well for you, Scott. Thanks for
P.S.: That was written before the Cub
Scouts pack that serves High Falls chartered—and filled—a bus to take 64
of us Ulster Met-iacs to Citi Field in September against the Marlins.
That’s a lot of Met-itude hurtling Flushing-bound from these parts. I
don’t know if the worm has turned, but September games resume some
meaning when it turns into a chance to brainwash impressionable minds.
Scout shout: Heck, yeah!
Taking The Complete Illustrated History
to New Heights
(Note: This is a condensed version of
an ongoing correspondence.)
I brought your
New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History to the pre-All
Star Fan Fest last year and brought as my item to get signed. Figured
why not consolidate. It’s a stunning book, anyway. Since that time your
book has impressed, been held by, appreciated, flipped through, and of
course signed by over 30 Mets (players and managers), who are pictured
in the book, including Gooden, Jones, Stawberry, Piazza, Kingman,
Mazzilli, Cone, Kranepool, Staub, Berra, Torre, and of course many, many
I’ve become sort of obsessed... in a healthy way?
I don't know. I actually brought it to the Mets Welcome Home Dinner
after the excruciating Opening Day loss against Washington) hoping to
get a bunch more, but no former Mets were there that I didn’t already
have. I also missed Darling, Gary Cohen, and David Wright... just
because I didn’t game plan well enough... another story for another day.
The only one I got was Ike Davis on the last page by the pie in his
face. His sad comment, “They really
f#@*ed up putting
me in here, huh?” I felt for him.
The Welcome Home
Dinner was quite somber. Just sort of tepid applause for everything.
Maybe because these people are a certain breed of fan. Like, why no
standing ovation, thunderous applause for David Wright? Was the same
reception for nearly everyone. I don’t know... not the brightest of
starts, but we could go on and on.
I’m not a memorabilia
collector. This is my only thing. I'm not a seller or eBay vendor or
anything like that. I’m a Mets fan (G-d, have mercy on us), and I would
like this book to exist for as long as possible as a record... whatever
that means. I enjoy it. I flip through it. I read it. It makes me feel
connected to the team although I only picked them up in 2002 or so.
Let's Go Mets. Please win tonight!
You got 30 Mets to sign New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated
History? And you went to the Welcome Home Dinner after the Opening
Day debacle? Walking out of the place that day, I said to my buddy, “At
least I don’t have to go to that dinner. Must be some down faces.” More
power to you.
Your signature project is very cool and
flattering. Makes me really glad I decided to do a 50 Greatest Mets in
the Complete Illustrated History. I used to be a newspaper and
book page designer as well as a writer, so I am kind of picky when it
comes to people laying out my stuff. That book, however, came out better
graphically than anything I’ve been involved in. And the publisher
designed those “cards” from scratch. You are definitely making the most
of that design feature.
July 25, 2014
1984-85: Back in the Land of the Living
a diehard Mets fan in 1984 was like getting a call from a friend to come
over to his house with a couple of other people. When you get there, the
place is already raging. It turns into the party of the summer and it’s
an absolute blast. You get a ride home with a few others in the car of
the girl you always liked. You are the last to be dropped off and she
starts making out with you. She says, “Talk to you later,” and drives
off. You stand in your driveway a little drunk, a little dazed,
wondering, “What the hell just happened.”
is what 1984 was like for a diehard Mets fan.
a college freshman, I contemplated long and hard roadtripping from
Virginia to Cincinnati for the 1984 Mets opener. But after finishing
last five times in seven years, no one else I knew considered going with
me or lending me their car. And I lived in a dorm filled with New
Yorkers. A year later we would have needed three cars to carry
as I returned to my dorm after dinner on Opening Day, I was glad I
hadn’t gone. Opening Day starter Mike Torrez—Tom Seaver had been lost to
the White Sox in a free-agent compensation snafu—had been pummeled by
the Reds, 8-1. That was the last time for six years that missing a Mets
game turned out to be a good idea.
Mets won their next six games and kept on rolling. Overnight, Shea
Stadium transformed from the loneliest place on earth into the place to
be, especially when Dwight Gooden pitched. The rookie sensation was like
having Tom Seaver back. Not the 38-year-old great near the end of his
career. It was like having Seaver circa 1969. And like Seaver circa ’69,
the rest of the league no longer looked forward to facing the Mets.
I am not the only one whose mind keeps turning back to 1984.
Luckily, I got to see the Mets play a lot that summer. I even saw all
four games of the big Cubs series at the end of July. It was the first
time I’d watched every game in a series in person—and I wasn’t alone in
my enthusiasm. Shea attracted 139,000 for the three dates (don’t forget
the Banner Day doubleheader). The Mets won the series opener, a Gooden
gem, in which Ron Cey launched a foul ball straight back at me in the
mezzanine. My head was turned and I spied the ball an instant before it
smacked my shoulder, only to bound 10 rows away. I should have been
incapacitated, but I was immediately needed to clap for Doc to fan the
Penguin. “Heeeee struck him out,” to quote Bob Murphy.
It was the Mets’ seventh straight win,
giving them a 4½-game lead on the Cubs. A year earlier, these
teams had been battling for last place. The Mets won that race
(finishing last, that is). Now the division—no, the world—was upside
down. Were all the literary premonitions of upheaval related to George
That might have explained the month that followed. The Mets embarked on
a seven-game losing streak, won three from the Pirates, and then lost
four straight at raucous Wrigley, including
a doubleheader from hell.
Twelve days saw the Mets drop nine games in the standings.
these weren’t the same Mets I’d grown up being embarrassed by. They
bounced back and remained in contention against a Cubs team with the
league’s best player that year, Ryne Sandberg, and a pitcher even better
than Gooden: Mid-season acquisition Rick “The Red Baron” Sutcliffe, 16-1
as a Cub. Ryno and Rick won the MVP and Cy Young, with Keith and Doc
placing second. The Cubs would meet their Waterloo in San Diego that
fall, but after all those bottom finishes, 90 wins and second place was
good enough in 1984.
Second place in 1985 was not good enough, though. Gooden was even better
in year two. He was unhitable for an entire summer, going 24-4. From May
30 to August 31, Doc won 14 straight decisions. In September, he gave up
two runs—in six starts, all but one of which lasted nine innings. The
Mets lost out to the Cardinals in the final week of the season, dropping
a must-win game by a run in St. Louis in their final roadtrip. The
Cardinals met their Waterloo in Kansas City, dropping the last three
games of the World Series as the Royals stole the world championship. At
least it was close by.
In both 1984 and 1985, I went to Fireworks
Night as well as Banner Day. Plus I sat in the rowdy upper deck for a
twi-night doubleheader both years. Doubleheaders were mostly good to the
Mets, who went 4-3-2 in ’84 and 2-1-2 in ’85. What I take from these
games—besides memories of bedsheet after bedsheet stating that such and
such Long Island burg loves the Mets—is how friendships forged in high
school at Shea Stadium were cemented in college summers by trip after
trip to Shea. Much of our summer job money was deposited directly to
Harry M. Stevens. I am still friends with a few of those guys who
were with me when the team was terrible and then became the toast of the
city in a New York minute. By the fall of ’85, the 98-win Mets were
sitting home, but all dues had been paid.
Stars and Strikes
The 1984 season was the first winning Mets
season since 1976. The Bicentennial Year proved that my 1975 Mets
infatuation was no fluke, fad, or phase. The next season my seven-year
jail sentence began. Before I was thrown in stir, I enjoyed the hell out
of ’76. It was tall ships, Bicentennial minutes, presidential elections,
muttonchops, Elton John, and
Happy Days. It was the last call before disco fever and free agency.
The Oakland A’s didn’t see October for the first time in six years while
the Big Red Machine looked like it would never stop running.
Stars and Strikes
brings it all back with plenty of flourishes
worthy of the age. And he dug deep, riffing on
“Phillies Fever,” a song as annoying as sitting through an
extra-inning loss on a balk. And the only thing more painful than a Ron
Cey foul ball to your shoulder is the
Penguin’s country western crooning in ’76. I also love how each
chapter is named for a ’76 song, even “Baby, I Love Your Way” for the
Acknowledgments. Dig it!
1976 Mets, the last decent Mets team for eight years, is covered
extensively, with enough Dave Kingman coverage to keep us Kong-ophiles
squealing like teenaged girls in the front row of a Peter Frampton
concert. Plenty of other baseball luminaries from ’76 also keep popping
up, like Dock Ellis, George “The Boomer” Scott, Oscar Gamble, and Billy
Martin, with co-starring roles going to Reggie Jackson, Charlie Finley,
Bowie Kuhn, and the man who made ’76 so fun in the first place: Mark
“The Bird” Fidrych. Great year. Great read.
July 23, 2014
+ Starters in Relief = Money’s Worth
weird what happens when you stay up late watching baseball from the far
coast. I love baseball, but my mind wanders easily, especially late at
night. As the Mets-Mariners game progressed, I found myself flipping
channels and watching Keith Olbermann’s program and his interview with
pitcher turned writer/commentator and Olbermann talked about pitching,
quickly getting to the nub of the issue: Pitchers are ridiculously
fragile. Pitching is the key to winning in baseball, as was the case 100
years ago and may be the case 100 years hence. Hayhurst made the point
about Masahiro Tanaka, a pitcher who was perfect last year (24-0) on
five days’ rest in Japan. So he signs an enormous contract with the
Yankees and the routine that helped him be a success is immediately
changed. As Olbermann put it, Tanaka essentially pitched on short rest
every time out this year. So in less than half a year, the
indestructible pitcher is destroyed. See you next year. Maybe.
every time someone brings up the six-man rotation, it is dismissed as
heresy. As Hayhurst noted later in the segment, why not take the one
pitcher who can benefit most from the extra rest and have him pitch
every six days? The Mets did the opposite with Tom Seaver when they
developed the five-man rotation in 1969. He pitched every third day and
everyone else slotted in—Nolan Ryan notably took exception. Because of
the success of the Mets staff, more teams began shifting to Rube
Walker’s miracle rotation cure.
Decades later, pitchers continue to do things the human arm was not
meant to do. And today, more than ever, pitchers have to throw as hard
as they can at younger and younger ages or risk not getting drafted,
signed, or promoted. By the time they get to the majors, their arms are
already taxed. Why not work the system to make their careers last
longer? Right now teams may even be catching a break when young studs
blow out their arms in their second or third year in the majors… because
they are not yet paying the studs the big bucks. If pitchers are going
to be hurt, let them not pitch at a reasonable salary.
Harvey could pen a pamphlet for the thrift-conscious pro athlete: How to
convalesce in Manhattan on $1,661 per day. His daily stipend on a
$660,000 salary sounds good to me, but if he’d pitched another year or
two and then gotten hurt, you’d be adding a zero and more to those
numbers. The idea of having a second Tommy John surgery is becoming all
too common. And there have been pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery
more than twice, including Jason Isringhausen three times and Jose Rijo
The surgeries will likely continue as long as people try to throw
balls through walls.
Because that is why we are here, let’s look at the Mets. With more
pitchers than spots in the rotation once they start promoting the kids
(and can we free Noah Syndergaard from the Pacific Coast League before
he gets hurt in Las Vegas?) why not throw a six-man rotation in New
York? Bobby Valentine tried it. And it does not have to be iron clad for
sall year, but maybe use it during summer when there are fewer days off.
Once you get your head around that, I have a kicker that sounds even
you are going to pay these pitchers so much money and give them extra
rest as starters, why not let them pitch an inning in relief between
starts. I hate to go old school, but this is what the likes of Dizzy
Dean, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove and others did back when they three
days between starts was deemed a luxury. But back to today, let us say
that a starter throws one inning in relief every other start, or even
every other month. Not only would this keep teams from needing more than
12 pitchers per staff, but it would provide some rest to the most
overused members of the pitching staff: the successful setup man. It
also trains a team’s best pitchers to get big outs late in a
game—something that rarely happens now since pitch counts generally have
aces biting their nails on the bench, watching a failed starter turned
reliever get the final outs for them. Several relief outings per year
might prepare pitchers for the do-what-it-takes-to-win games in October.
The kind of games where you don’t care what the pitcher’s salary is—or
role is—just get the damned out. Though Mets fans can be forgiven if
they have forgotten that such games exist.
not a doctor. I did not run numbers until I was blue in the face. But I
do think a team willing to take a chance—like the Mets 45 years ago—may
get a leg up on the competition by bucking the trend, utilizing an
organizational strength, and training young pitchers to make fewer
starts but impact more games for their club. That’s why they get the big
July 17, 2014
First Half Grades Are In
I don’t know what is harder to believe: That the Mets went 8-2 on their
last homestand or that I spent the All-Star break at a Boy Scout camp,
missing the All-Star Game but catching a lot of rain at Camp Wakpominee. I did,
however, see a good chunk of the
first half of the 2014 season. While the last week before the break was
welcome indeed, the rest of the season often left me indifferent to
the team I have followed for almost 40 years. But enough of that. Let us
think about the last 10 days and get to the report card for the first half of 2014.
But first, know this: The parts are better
than the whole, and I could live with different management. To be
included, players must
accrue 50 at bats or 15 innings. This prevents Josh Satin,
Omar Quintanilla, Taylor Teagarden, Juan Centeno, or Ike Davis (remember him?!) from making me
decide between F or D-.
Andrew Brown, who started and homered on Opening Day, and Matt den
Dekker are included even
though they are one plate appearance shy of 50. Now line up!
First-half 2014 Report Card
to go, All-Star! Pull that average to .310, .360 OBP, don’t get traded,
and maybe get an A.
Jonathon Niese B+
On DL but he was best Mets starter in 1H: 5-4, 2.96 ERA and great
control. Nice, Niece!
Dillon Gee B+
Same grade as first half of last year. Shame that he missed two
months. Mets missed him.
Carlos Torres B+
Done everything asked. Surviving extreme overuse by TC. No starts but 60
IP in 1H is Amazin’!
Hitting .340 (.328 vs. RHP), plays 5 positions. TC, why does kid ride
pine on nowhere team?
not All-Star caliber this year. That Duda and Tejada each have 10 more walks seems odd.
Still not sure why he is here and think he’ll be traded, but Bartolo is
entertaining and effective.
May end up being most important part of pen; downside may be how handles
frequency of use.
Or Black may be most vital
cog in pen. Ridiculous he wasn’t recalled when Parnell hurt on day one.
Stepped in to become decent closer. Made 7 starts, but pen is future.
Fingers crossed on injuries.
Juan Lagares B
Has been injury-prone, but his defense and occasional pop is game
changer with young staff.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis B-
alongside Lagares in OF. Speed, power, defense and is on team with
nothing to lose!
Arrived from minors and has pitched far better than expected. Bad luck
but good arm—and
Lost job to Scott Rice in
’13; replaced Rice with 1.76 ERA while enduring endless TC warmups.
B- Big name, big
comeback after lousy start. Really likes being here and is good
Still don’t think he’s the answer at 1B, but Mets made right call on
Duda over Davis in NY.
Both brilliant and brutal so far in ’14 makes for mediocre grade. Hope
he is the slow starter type.
Like Colon, adds fun and expertise. Shouldn’t have more PA then Nieuwy
and Wilmer combined.
Glad Mets re-signed.
He’s pitched well in pen and rotation. Done everything he’s been asked.
Bold move to demote, but he’s new man now. Catching needs work, but he
is framing master.
Got F for 1H of 2013; only 4 Mets have more PA in 1H. Playing better,
but Ruben’s not answer.
Blame this on management, not player. No reason he shouldn’t be playing
in New York.
Biggest speed threat on team (22 SB), but he just doesn’t get on base
enough (.314 OBP).
Knows his role and does it well. Very good arm and big as a house.
Either whiffs or hits ball hard.
Hate to give bad
grade to ballyhooed kid debuting in NY, but 5.40 ERA and Mets lost all 4
Bounces from front to back
of bullpen. Never know what you’ll get when he comes in.
questionable new Met of ’14. Not good enough to start; doesn’t justify
roster spot or PT.
More was expected after solid ’13. May be bypassed as Mets accrue more
viable OF options.
Matt den Dekker
Not sure if he is going to be worth anything more than pinch hitter and
A 3.18 ERA and 3 saves
gets an F? 3 relief losses plus bad attitude equals good riddance.
Even his 2 saves were
frightening. Felt like Papa Grande allowed 40 HRs not 4 in 20.2 IP.
Team’s ugly record in one-run games (13-20) is on him. Stop
batting the pitcher eighth!!!
Lousy decision to stick team with no backup infielder. Change manager,
get big grade bump.
July 10, 2014
1981-83: Same Crap, Different Decade
You may see the years listed above and
dismiss them as not being relevant, or before your time, but it is all
too relevant—too much like now. This is where the Mets almost lost me. I
was in high school, getting into other things, as kids aged 16-18 have
long done. But I still was on the high school baseball team and the
game—and the Mets—seemed important every spring, at least until they
faded away when summer came along.
It was so much like now it is scary. The
early 1980s Mets were going nowhere, they weren’t interesting, we heard
nothing from ownership, and it did not seem like they would be any good.
Ever. But the Mets were held together by general manager Frank
Cashen—see the post before this one for a tribute to the best Mets GM in
history. The 1980s Mets had players on the farm, and they all stayed on
the farm. All except one.
Tim Leary was the Noah Syndergaard of his
day. Joe Torre was the Terry Collins of his day, the “how has this guy
not yet been fired?” Mets skipper. Somehow Torre talked Cashen into
entrusting the top pitching prospect (the second overall pick two years
earlier) to a team that hadn’t competed since the bicentennial. And
Leary started the third game of the year at frigid Wrigley Field. Leary
mowed down the Cubs for two innings. He even batted in the top of the
third, but after he threw a handful of pitches in the bottom of the
inning, there was a sudden mound conference and he was replaced by Pete
Falcone. The Mets got their rubber game win against a horrid Cubs team,
but they lost Tim Leary. And they lost a lot of games.
I had the chance to go to Mets games and
sit in the same seat each time for the first time in 1981. The tickets
were $5 (including Diamond Club and parking pass) and even that amount
($13.50 in today’s dollars) was a stretch for the product on the field.
I was on hand to see the Mets get shelled by Pittsburgh during a
seven-game losing streak in April, I witnessed a win over the Dodgers
the day after Fernando-mania came to Shea—the last win before embarking
on a nine-game losing streak in May—and I saw Pat Zachry lose to the man
he was traded for, Tom Seaver, in what was the last major league game
for two months.
The 1981 baseball strike was stupid, pointless,
and turned a lot of people off—including me. I had my first job and
followed other pursuits, paying so little attention when baseball came
back that I didn’t realize how close the Mets came to first place in the
convoluted second half until years later while researching
New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History. You have to
retroactively scan the tea leaves and the boxscores to unearth the split
season race in a thoroughly mediocre NL East, especially since the
Phillies had no reason to play hard after being crowned first half
if it was Class A baseball.
I went to a couple of Mets games late in the year,
but I was really more interested in my brother buying me beer than any
half-assed and soon-to-fade playoff hopes. I’m surprised it wasn’t one
of the dopey sayings on the outside of the stadium: “Underage Drinkers
Welcome.” That might have attracted a crowd. The 1981 Mets didn’t
attract anybody. Shea actually saw the fewest fans in its history in
1981 with 704,244. (The 1979 team, with a few thousand more patrons,
still holds the distinction for fewest patrons for a full season.) So
what if the Mets were 2½-games out on September 21? I would have been a
hell of a lot more impressed if the second half featured a doubleheader
every day to make up for all the games lost by the stupid strike. That
might have given fans their money’s worth.
I believe I’ve done a good job here of
conveying the bitterness of 1981. But 1982 didn’t require a strike to
make me bitter. The Mets disappeared from the standings in June, instead
of the standings disappearing as they had a year earlier. The “By
George, We've Got It”was a
double pratfall as George² failed
miserably. Foster and Bamberger brought nothing to Shea, but Shea did
see its highest attendance (1.3 million) since 1976. Still, I had
trouble scrounging up anyone to go see the Mets, missing a 13-4
trouncing of LA when my friend backed out at the last minute. I am still
I did get to a doubleheader in ’82, though
it is the least favorite doubleheader I ever attended. It was a makeup
from the previous night, when a sudden storm cancelled Fireworks Night
but not my plans to paint the town red with my buddy. My furious father
turned the next day into a punitive twinbill, making the family dress in
nice clothes in the sweltering heat to go to the Diamond Club (you used
to have to dress up to go there, though I never understood why). The
games were like a punish assignment, writing 200 times: “THE METS WILL
NEVER WIN A GAME AGAINST THE PHILLIES.”
Of course, the Mets were swept that day.
They were swept an awful lot during that period. The Mets did not sweep
a doubleheader in either ’81 (0-2-3) or ’82 (0-5-6), but ’83 was a
Sure, the Mets still finished last in
1983, but Cashen threw the fans a bone. After bringing back Dave Kingman
and Rusty Staub two years earlier, 1983 saw the return of the Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn of Mets exiles. Tom Seaver was on the mound for the Mets on
Opening Day. He wasn’t the same Seaver they’d traded away in 1977, but
he made us feel better. If the ’83 Mets played nothing but
doubleheaders, they would have been all right.
The Mets went 4-2-5 in doubleheaders in
1983, the most sweeps by the club since 1971. In one of my favorite
meaningless Mets doubleheaders ever, Jesse Orosco won both ends of the
July 31 twinbill against Pittsburgh. Orosco was the NL’s best reliever
that summer, going 13-7 with a 1.37 ERA and 17 saves in 110 innings. He
made Neil Allen expendable—resulting in the sudden appearance of Keith
Hernandez at Shea.
In that July twinbill against the Pirates,
the first game ended on a walkoff single by Bob Bailor. The second game
saw Jose DeLeon hold the Mets hitless until the ninth inning, and the
game remained scoreless into the 12th. With runners on first and second,
it looked like George Foster had killed another rally by grounding into
a double play, but Jogging George beat the throw to first. Mookie Wilson
never stopped running and crossed home with the game’s only run. It was
the second time in a week Mook had ended a game in such fashion.
The team still finished last (67-94), but
the games were fun for the first time in what felt like forever. And on
the final day of that season, Rusty Staub tied the major league record
for most RBI as a pinch hitter (25) with a two-run double in the bottom
of the ninth that completed a sweep of the Expos. Who won his first
major league game that day? Tim Leary. Sometimes the wait is worth it.
One of my favorite moments at Shea was skipping
school to go see Tom Seaver’s return on Opening Day 1983. If you want to
read one of my earliest posts on this transformative afternoon, go
But the reality is that by 1983 the 38-year-old Seaver was not much
better—and it hurts to say this—than Mike Torrez. Torrez, two years
younger, had more wins—and losses in 1983. Both pitchers were on the
down end of their careers, which helps explain why the Mets finished
last. Plus, even with Rookie of the Year Darryl Strawberry, in-his-prime
Keith Hernandez, the moxie twins Hubie Brooks and Mookie Wilson, and the
best home run (28) and RBI (90) output by George Foster as a Met, the
team still finished at the bottom of most offensive categories.
They also had problems in the manager’s
office. George Bamberger had done a fine job managing in Milwaukee
(1977-80), lifting the Brewers to American League East contenders.
Before that he’d served another AL East team as pitching coach. Working
with Earl Weaver in Baltimore from 1968 to 1977, Bamberger’s pitchers
had 18 seasons with at least 20 wins, including four in 1971—the last
such quartet in baseball history. (Because comparisons by era are fun if
irrelevant, only once since 2008 has there even been a season with four
20-game winners in all of major league baseball.)
But with the Mets, Bambi fell flat on his
face. And when the going got rough, he fell right on his sword. Frank
Cashen’s old friend considered quitting after 1982, but he was convinced
to stay on. So he quit on the team during a rough patch on the West
Coast a week after Memorial Day, 1983. Frank Howard took over and showed
a little more enthusiasm, but Cashen knew the Mets needed someone to
nurture and push the young talent coming up through the farm system. He
chose his organization’s Triple-A manager, someone else from his
Baltimore past, someone who never quit and instilled the same in his
players: Davey Johnson.
July 1, 2014
Farewell Frank Cashen
Cashen, who just died at age 88, was a Mets general manager without peer
and without fear. During his dozen seasons at the helm (1980-91), Cashen
made some bad trades. He also got a little crazy about cleaning up the
clubhouse in the wake of the Dwight Gooden cocaine admission in 1987.
But Cashen rebuilt the worst team in the National League in four
seasons. We are four seasons into the Sandy Alderson era and I just
don’t have the feeling that the wait has been worth it. Of course,
Cashen’s 1983 team looked awful, but that club ended the season with
several players who hadn’t been there when the year began: Darryl
Strawberry, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez. Then Frank Cashen hired
Davey Johnson as manager and brought up a whole bushel of new faces.
Reflections of a Mets Life: 1983, written in 2010, I penned a long
overdue thank you note to Frank Cashen that I composed in my head during
1983 following that deal for Keith. I have often been wrong about Mets
trades, either lamenting the exiled who turn out to be expendable, or
overvaluing the guy coming back as a franchise-changing messiah. See:
second basemen, Cleveland, from, Baegra (Carlos), Alomar (Roberto). But
I knew the trade in the summer of ’83 for Hernandez was different. Good
thing Frank Cashen was around to seize it. Thank you again. RIP, Mr.
Desk of metsilverman.com
to express my pleasure and thanks for the acquisition earlier this
summer of first baseman Keith Hernandez. I have been a Mets fan since
1975, getting on board after the good ship Miracle had already returned
from its epic journey, its crew soon scattered or run off the docks by
the Captain Bly, aka M. Donald Grant.
comes from the heart, from Mets fans like myself who couldn’t quit,
wouldn’t quit despite having our noses shoved right in it year after
year by Yankees front runners who have no idea of the meaning of
suffering for the game. Or the joy of the underdog’s cause. Of bleeding
just for a .500 season. I know now the good times are on the way. Not
this year—barring another Miracle. I can actually feel the worm turning.
Ever so slowly, out of view, underground. The minor leaguers are slowly
moving up, getting in their work, making their progress. I can feel it.
You’re really onto something with Mookie in center, Darryl in right,
Keith and Hubie on the corners, Terrell and Lynch in the rotation, and
Sisk and Orosco in the pen. I almost forgot George Foster, who’s showing
a little more life in year two. I remember his 51 home runs in
Cincinnati the year Seaver finished with 20 wins all told with the Mets
and Reds. Oh, ’77. I wish you were here then because you wouldn’t have,
couldn’t have, traded The Franchise and stood for what Joe McDonald
settled for. If you’d been there we’d be on the other side of all that
that’s all right, Mr. Cashen. The Mets are moving forward. I can finally
feel it. Anyone who can get Keith Hernandez, the 1979 co-MVP, last
year’s All-Star Game 7 hero, and the best defensive infielder in the
game besides Ozzie Smith, in exchange for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey has
to have more magic left up his sleeve. I take back what I yelled out at
Shea in the wake of the Jeff Reardon-Ellis Valentine deal a couple of
graduated from high school a few days before the trade. Thanks for the
gift! I hope you keep Keith around longer than I hung on to the money
clip I got from my family for graduation. And not to sound crass, but I
hope there’s enough in your money clip to keep Keith here. I’m going to
go to Shea as often as I can before I head to school. College means a
new place, a new identity for me, but for once I won’t be ashamed to
admit I’m a Mets fan. I think—I hope—those days are gone. And getting
Seaver back was a wonderful touch. Now we’ll never lose him again.
stunned when I first went to Shea in 1980 and did not see the panels or
hear Jane Jarvis on the organ. Still, it was a relief that the ragged
remains of the once-proud Payson legacy had sold to deep-pocketed Nelson
Doubleday and that energetic developer Fred Wilpon—he played high school
ball with Sandy Koufax, you know.
Cashen, who’d built the Orioles into one of baseball’s best
organizations, was the new GM and the owners blissfully stayed out of
the way. The press did, too—or perhaps they were simply ignoring the
irrelevant Mets. Cashen received little guff for making no major
personnel moves and keeping Joe Torre as manager despite ample evidence
to the contrary. In fact, the press even helped. Rather than dissect the
team’s high-priced marketing campaign with the pessimism it would garner
today, some in the media bought into the hype. I remember sportscaster
Warner Wolf admonishing fans for not coming out to Shea when mid-June
came around and the Mets were not buried in last place. They were in
June 1980 started with four straight
losses, but the Mets then won four in a row—including three straight
against the defending world champion Pirates.
I was at one of those games and saw Frank Taveras try to steal home.
He was out, of course, but the effort floored me. The Mets came from
three runs down to tie the Bucs in the eighth. When Pittsburgh took the
lead in the 11th, three Mets catcher put together the decisive rally
against Bert Blyleven in one of the Hall of Famer’s seven career relief
outings. Back when most teams carried three catchers, we three C’s
started the rally (Alex Trevino), knocked in the game winner (Ron
Hodges), and touched home plate (John Stearns) to send all 13,509 of us
home happy (no one really paid attention to Warner Wolf’s pleas to come
to Shea). As much euphoria as that Saturday win touched off in the
uncrowded expanses of Metsland, the following Saturday’s contest against
the Giants became a touchstone event in the team’s proverbial 40 years
in the desert.
Trailing San Francisco 6-0 in the sixth inning, the Mets came all the
way back, climaxed by a two-out, three-run, opposite-field, walkoff home
run by Steve Henderson. It was the first homer of the year for Hendu—the
cleanup hitter on a team that was lucky to match Roger Maris’s 61 in ’61
(oh, forget about the helpful press; all season the Daily News
ran a graphic comparing the 1980 Mets HR output to Maris’s record
mark—they tied at 61). The Mets hovered around .500 through July—their
43-43 mark on July 17 was the latest the Mets touched .500 between 1977
and 1983. I missed this high-water mark because I was at baseball camp
in Massachusetts, but I did see a good old-fashioned July 4 doubleheader
before I took off.
Shea was hopping as the Mets played the
first-place Expos in a scheduled Friday twin-nighter. The Mets fell
behind 3-0 in the opener, but they rallied and pulled away late. The
Mets hit just one home run, but they stole four bases against Cary
Carter. The ’80 Mets weren’t great fielders, making three
errors—including third baseman(!) Joel Youngblood drilling someone in
the second row with a throw—yet les Expos committed five miscues. Part
of the Mets marketing scheme was special nights and July 4, for whatever
reason, was Twinkie Night. I wish I still had the ring doled out (disclaimer:
not lifesize image), but I sure remember that doubleheader.
Though Montreal took a 2-0 lead in the
first inning of the nightcap, the Mets scored four runs in the bottom of
the frame. After Youngblood’s homer, Bill Gullickson threw at the head
of Mike Jorgensen. A beanball the previous year with Texas resulted in a
blood clot in Jorgensen’s brain and an apparent seizure. It was a
life-threatening situation and his former club handled it the way any
sensitive club would have back in the day—the Rangers traded him to the
Mets. John Stearns, who wasn’t even playing the second game, came
steaming out of the dugout like he was going after a kick returner at
Colorado. He slammed into Gullickson, touching off a wild brawl with
unexpected fireworks on the Fourth. Montreal was on its third pitcher
with none out in the second inning, but Mark Bomback wasn’t great at
protecting Mets leads.
Down 6-5 in the ninth, the Mets loaded the
bases with one out as the 25,000 at Shea—hopped up on Twinkies, no
doubt—made noise like it was
1973. An explosive hurled from the stands landed near Jerry
Morales in the on-deck circle, scaring the hit out of him: He grounded
into a force play at home. Lee Mazzilli was the final chance. Maz took a
good swing at an Elias Sosa fastball and… visions of a doubleheader
sweep, three games out of first on July 4, crowd going wild… and it was
caught by Rowland Office in right field for the final out.
was just another doubleheader split in a 2-4-6 season of twinbills, but
it was the most exciting night I’d spent to that point at Shea. I felt
camp would deprive me of the Shea summer of my life. The magic left
shortly after I did.
Mets’ brief success was unsustainable. In that doubleheader the Mets
scored 14 runs on 30 hits—25 of which were singles. The team with the
fewest homers in baseball couldn’t expect to remain productive with
Elliot Maddox at third base while carrying the lifeless bats of Frank
Taveras and Doug Flynn. Flynn did win a Gold Glove Award that
year, the closest a Met came to any hardware between Tom Seaver’s 1975
Cy Young and Darryl Strawberry’s 1983 Rookie of the Year—new Met Keith
Hernandez won the Gold Glove in ’83 as well.
Torre’s proclivity toward abusing the bullpen hurt the Mets in the
second half of 1980, reaching the 95-loss mark for the fourth straight
year. New York stayed out of the basement thanks to a terrible Cubs
one point the Mets had six walkoff wins in as many weeks, but after
Hendu’s home run the Mets had just one more walkoff win all year and
losing nine such games while making crowds happy in other cities. Though
the Mets hit the million mark in attendance, the last homestand saw them
draw less than 6,000—for a three-game series. Turns out the magic was a
mirage, but those few weeks of
contention in the summer of 1980 were like a cool drink in the Flushing
MOOOOOOOOOOK the BOOOOOOOOOOK!
September of 1980 there was only one reason to watch: The kids. When the
Peter Gammonses of the world say it’s not fair for teams to stock up on
young players in September, it is obvious these experts have not spent
enough time at the bottom of a division.
lineup on September 2, 1980 featured the debuts of Mookie Wilson and
Wally Backman. Two days later Hubie Brooks played his first game. I’m
not going to say I knew immediately that these guys were keepers, but
you could sure smell the potential after the stink of force-fed,
talked-up prospects like Dan Norman, Sergio Ferrer, Butch Benton, and
Jose Moreno (though Jose’s home-drawn card came through quite a few
times in my summer of Strat-O-Matic; I always questioned Hall-of-Famer-to-be
Torre’s in-game managing skills after I Stratted those ’80 Mets to a
.600 winning percentage, on paper).
Though Hubie and Wally were a breath of
fresh air, Mookie was the best of the bunch. He didn’t take pitches, he
just hit the ball hard and ran as fast as any Met until Jose Reyes. Mook
can write, too. He and Erik Sherman have teamed up in the entertaining
and aptly-named book,
Mookie’s book taught me a few things, many of which dealt with his
unhappiness with Mets management in both the past and the present.
Despite being the team’s catalyst and one of the few reasons to go to
the ballpark in the early 1980s, the Mets perpetually sought to limit
his time, often playing him only against lefties—even though the
switch-hitting Mook was a better left-handed hitter (.279-.266). He
didn’t even learn to bat left-handed until 1980, getting the OK from Joe
Torre after Mets brass had told him no. Mookie served as a Maitre’D at a
restaurant near his house during the 1981 strike. And he saw the arrival
of Keith Hernandez in 1983 as crucial for many reasons, not the least of
which the way the world champion and former MVP pumped up his teammates
while telling them what they should do. On a team that had been down for
years, that was huge.
Davey Johnson sought time for guys he’d managed in the minors, it was
Mookie who had the biggest at bat of any Met in history. It couldn’t
have happened to a better guy. Still, Mookie has had several ugly
divorces from the Mets: the stupid trade that sent him to Toronto in
1989; getting fired as first-base coach when Bobby Valentine was let go
(also stupid); and getting canned in another coaching stint as a coach
with the Mets in 2011 after Terry Collins’s first year (stupidest of
all—who needs a homegrown Met and World Series hero teaching your
players how to run and track down flies?). Mook’s unfiltered and
unexpected views may leave you even more frustrated with this team, but
it’s still a fun read from a fun player. Everybody now: MOOOOOOOOOK!
June 17, 2014
My Awkward Date
with Tony Gwynn
was my first time on a major league field. I pitched a story about
Connecticut kid Tim Teufel to one of the newspapers in the chain where I
worked. At the time he was a Padre—one of the last ’86 Mets purged from
the team. The year was 1993, the Mets were supposed to contend, the
Padres were not. Both teams lost 100 games, but in mid-April they were
both around .500 as the Mets kicked off the second homestand of the
Teufel was just about the nicest player I’ve ever come across. When we
met at the batting cage, he was tickled that a paper in the town where
he’d grown up, Greenwich, would send someone to interview him. Having
played in New York for six seasons, he surely had done several stories
from the Connecticut angle. Yet he happily answered each question I
stuttered out. My Westport News buddy Dieter Stanko, who was not
a photographer, but came with me for the momentous occasion to snap a
few photos for the Greenwich News.
I got to the press box, though, I realized there was no story. The tape
recorder had malfunctioned. So much for my first foray into the pro
ranks, and my whopping $50 or so for the freelance piece. Dieter and I
conferred and it was obvious I had to go to the locker room after the
game and interview Teufel again. Oh, God.
The Mets won. That was in itself a miracle given that they would
lose 103 times in 1993. But it complicated my end of the deal because my
first locker room foray would be a losing locker room. It did not seem
like a huge deal as I ran through the rationalizations: “These guys are
pros. They play 162 games a year. It’s only April. They stink. How bad
can one loss be?”
I walked into the visiting
locker room and it was a funeral.
was no other press there because California papers had a late deadline.
I was the only one present who was not the best player on his high
school team. Each second seemed to last an hour. Teufel required
treatment after each game and was in the trainer’s room. So I stood at
his locker, which was next to Tony Gwynn’s. So here I am as nervous as
if I’m about to ask out the prettiest girl in school—the same small
school where I was the ninth-best player. (I am basing this on my spot
in the batting order, though maybe I batted last because our coach had
some Terry Collins genius plan.)
Gwynn had already won four of the eight batting titles he would earn in
his legendary career. He would hit .358 in 1993 yet finish second to the
mile-high air and Andres Galarraga with the brand-new Rockies. So here’s
Tony Gwynn, perennial All-Star, peering at me. Squinting. Ruffling his
lip. Just totally screwing with me without saying a word. And for my
part I can’t even look at him or come up with a thing to say. Even a
puffball line like “I’m doing a piece on Tim Teufel. How is he as a
teammate?” That would have been professional and even made the story
better. Instead I bolted for the back of the clubhouse, past Mike
Scioscia—who, like Tim Teufel, was finishing his career as a Padre—and I
stumbled into the trainer’s room, where even I knew I was totally not
allowed to be. But there was Teufel, finishing his treatment. He had no
problem answering the same stupid questions I’d already asked him.
Though I did get to ask about his two hits against crafty Frank Tanana.
By the time I got to the locker with Teufel, Gwynn was showering. I only
saw the great Gwynn after that from afar, screwing the Mets.
.338 career hitter in a time when strikeouts were acceptable and the
home run was all anyone paid attention to, that is exceptional. And
everyone in baseball I ever mentioned this story to always said he was a
great guy just trying to get me to take the bait. I guess I should have
asked out the prettiest girl in school, too.
I just wish the great Tony Gwynn peace. And I wish I hadn’t been such a
RIP, Mr. Padre.
don’t know if the ages 12 to 14 were supposed to be the best years of my
life, but I can assure you that they weren’t. They did, however, feel
like the longest years of my life, courtesy of the New York Mets. Having
served the time, I will do you the favor of making these entries brief
while also providing an inkling of what the years 1977, 1978, and 1979
were like to endure as a Mets fan. The only positive thing I can say is
at least the Mets didn’t play the Yankees during the season. Playing
them in spring training was bad enough—back when major league teams
traveled coast to coast in Florida without hardship leave. Back in the
1970s I wanted spring training to last forever… I dreaded that the
season had to start at all.
1977: Let’s start
with “This Day In.” On this day in 1977,
I awoke to the headline
telling me my days as a Mets fan had just entered the martyrdom phase. I
can still see my dad eying me as I sat catatonic in front of the
Daily News. I knew the trades could happen, sure, but I never
thought it would happen. And it never should have happened. My two
favorite players—Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman—gone quicker than you can
say “Midnight Massacre.” Talk about doubleheader losses! And while on
that subject, those twinbills sure piled up. The ’77 Mets went 1-6-9 in
doubleheaders, including a sweep at the hands of the Expos in May in
what turned out to be last night of the Joe Frazier managerial regime
(similar to a doubleheader sweep by Montreal in 1975 marking the end of
the Yogi Berra regime). Joe Torre took over the ’77 club and the Mets
played better initially, even getting their lone twinbill sweep—Torre
figuring in the rally in his last appearance as a player-manager. Then
the Mets traded their two best players and it all went to crap. Seaver
and Kingman would return to the Mets in the early 1980s, but by then
they were older and weaker and hope was only a rumor.
1978: By the summer
of ’78 I was getting into music, listening to what my Dad called
“bubblegum music” on WABC or
WNNNNNNNNNNBC (“The Next One”) as soon as the Mets had put a bow on
yet another loss in a 66-96 campaign. The Cardinals spent most of the
year in the basement, but the Mets hit their stride come August and
snagged the basement going away. At the same time the Yankees were
putting together an epic comeback from a 14-game deficit to reach their
third consecutive World Series—and second straight world championship.
Oh, joy. Willie Montanez came to Shea in the four-team dump of Jon
Matlack and John Milner, which was at least more than the Mets got for
tossing Bud Harrelson and Jerry Grote to the curb. The flashy Montanez
made life slightly less dull, and his 17 home runs were the most by a
Met until Kingman came back in 1981. Montanez somehow knocked in 96 runs
for a dead-ass team, Craig Swan led the NL in ERA yet somehow didn’t win
10 games, and Nino Espinosa’s 11 wins led the team for the second
straight year following a decade in which either Tom Seaver or Jerry
Koosman had led the Mets in that department each year. No matter,
Espinosa would be traded the following year. So would Willie Montanez.
Too bad they couldn’t trade them all.
Jerry Koosman threatened to retire if the Mets didn’t trade him. After
going 11-35 in the two years following his 20-win 1976 season, the Mets
couldn’t help but take Kooz’s threat seriously. The final remnant of the
team’s long-gone glory days, Ed Kranepool, called it quits after the
1979 season following 18 seasons as a Met. There were new faces in
Flushing in ’79, but for every scrappy story like Jesse Orosco (acquired
for Kooz) or Ed Glynn (Shea hot dog vendor turned major league
reliever), there was a Frank Taveras (acquired for Tim Foli ) or a
Richie Hebner (the body they got from Philly for Nino Espinosa). Frankie
and the Hacker had both come up through the success-based Pirates
organization and played at Shea with all the passion of a couple of
convicts serving sentences of hard labor. Mets fans saw things the same
way, as just 788,905 came to Shea, the franchise’s fewest patrons in
history (don’t count the ’81 strike year). The ’79 season ended in a
daze of doubleheaders, with the Mets losing four twinbills in five days
in September. The Mets went 2-8-9 in doubleheaders, the first time the
team swept more than one doubleheader since 1974, and it was their
Wrigley rally in the second game of a twinbill the final week of the
year—followed by a doubleheader sweep in St. Louis—that led to winning
their last six games and avoiding losing 100 games. Still, that 63-win
total was the fewest by any Mets team over a full season between 1968
and 1992. Those were the days. Not.
That paltry smattering of Mets fans who
joined me at Shea Stadium in the late 1970s are my muse. I write for
them. I don’t know how many of them are reading, but when I start to
slack off, or do a half ass job on something Mets related, I think about
those diehards suffering alongside me as the Mets got pounded yet again
by the Phillies in their powder blues. And I think about my dad, who
took me to those games, though he was not a fan and had much better
things to do on his day off. When I think about Father’s Day, this is
what I aspire to: Doing what your kid wants, smiling, and sucking it up.
Sort of like the Mets used to suck it up in the seventies. Suck is the
kindest descriptive word I can think of, but don’t ever think no one was
June 6, 2014
1975-76: Lured into the Trap
is where I come in. Where I was asked if I wanted to see the Mets or
Yankees opener in the final hour of school on April 8, 1975, I broke the
fourth-grade class tie by saying Mets, though I had no idea what such an
identification could mean. Next thing I knew I was playing Little
League… and striking out in all but one at bat. But things got worse. I
was scoring Mets games on the street, watching past midnight on our
black-and-white TV, and sneaking into my parents room to watch on the
color set to see how red Rusty Staub’s hair really was. I soon learned
about doubleheaders, too, anticipating their arrival on Sundays—or maybe
Friday—or Tuesday—or whatever day they felt like having them. I soon
learned that sweeps could be great or terrible and splits were your best
bet, but even those could lead to lasting damage.
Mets were at Candlestick Park on a Sunday afternoon, August 24, 1975.
Dave Kingman—oh, how I loved Dave Kingman—had just crushed a home run
with the bases loaded off Jim Barr. I was such a baseball newbie I
thought that “grand slam” referred to the majestic flight of his clout.
The Giants put together a late rally in game one against Jon Matlack—oh,
how I loved Jon Matlack—but Bob Apodaca came out of the pen and finished
the 9-5 win. His seven-out save was not seen as anything stupendous or
heroic, like they’d go on about today. I am not sure Dac even had a
defined role, he just came in when the signal was made by Roy McMillan—I
figured the Mets knew what they were doing when they fired Yogi Berra a
few weeks back. That was quite a leap of faith on my part.
had dinner around the time the second game began. On the mound for the
Mets was Craig Swan, whose last start had come a week earlier at the
first Mets game I’d ever attended. He, I, we won. On that memorable,
overcast afternoon, my Dad let me hold his good Cross pen and showed me
how to keep score. It still feels like I can reach through the clouds of
Flushing (and time), tap that boy on the shoulder, smile, and tell him
he’ll always remember this moment. He turns around, nods, and says, “I
know,” before going back to his scorecard. I can smell my Dad’s cigar,
although he hasn’t smoked since 1980, or been to a Mets game since 1984.
But all that tinted, glossy memory is invaded by a more menacing
baseball reality when I came back from dinner on August 24, 1975: The
Mets are down, 4-0, and they still haven’t gotten a hit.
no-hitter? I’ve heard about these. Nolan Ryan, that guy the Mets traded
for a fistful of Fregosi, threw one for the Angels in ’75. The Mets
never had a no-hitter. (Remember, this is 1975, and Johan Santana is not
yet born.) So, I guess I’m against no-hitters. And I tried everything I
could from 3,000 miles away to will the Mets to hit a little bleeder, or
blooper, or Baltimore Chop, or…
inning, down 6-0, pinch hitter due up. Forget the win, let’s just get a
single. Jesus, Alou! A popup, come on wind, take it. Damn! One out. Del
Unser—oh, how I loved Del Unser—works out a walk. Felix Millan—come on,
Felix!—strikes out. He never strikes out! (Really. He fanned just 28
times all year even while becoming the first Met to play all 162 games
and set the team hits record with 191 hits. No hit here, though.) It’s
up to Wayne Garrett.
“Edward Lewis Halicki, 24 years old out of Kearney, New Jersey. Went to
Monmouth University before being selected by the Giants in 1972. He was
just 1-8 as a rookie last year. Trying to improve to 8-10 this season.”
My mind recreates what Lindsey Nelson or Bob Murphy or Ralph Kiner or
what I might have said into my cupped hand, recapturing the moment later
on my bike through the neighborhood. “Garrett hits a ground ball to
first. It’s grabbed by Willie Montanez. He takes it to the bag. And it’s
a no-hitter. Ed Halicki has thrown a no-hitter against the New York Mets
in his 30th major league start!”
In the 39 years since then,
one other pitcher has thrown a no-hitter against the Mets. But I’m
still pissed off about Ed Halicki. So was Daily News columnist
Dick Young, who took issue on a ball Rusty Staub hit that caromed off
Halicki’s leg that went to second baseman Derrell Thomas, who mishandled
it and was charged with an error. I’d like to say this is the only time
I ever agreed with Dick Young, but I was having dinner when the play was
made/not made. But in a vindictive move Young might have appreciated, I
willed Halicki to have a mediocre career, which he did. Except against
the Mets, whom he went 7-3 against—his best winning percentage against
matter that the Mets embarked on a five-game winning streak, or that,
no-hitter and all, they did split the doubleheader and the series with
the Giants. Or that this was a hell of a lot better than the
doubleheader at Shea where Tug McGraw—the Mets had this guy last
year?!?—won both games in relief for the Phillies. Or that the ’75 Mets
would finish with a winning record, that I would attend my second-ever
Mets game on the final home date of the season, that Dave Kingman—who
played third base (!) in that game—would set a Mets record with 36 home
runs, or that Tom Seaver would strike out 200 batters for a
record-setting eighth straight year, and that Tom Terrific would become
the first righty pitcher to win three Cy Young Awards.
By 1976 I learned more. That just because
Tom Seaver wasn’t winning a lot of games, it didn’t mean that he was
suddenly a bad pitcher. That Jerry Koosman, who won 21—and was jobbed of
the Cy Young—was using up all his Mets luck at once. Speaking of jobbed,
Dave Kingman went from challenging Roger Maris—I thought Hank Aaron had
the home run record?—to not even winning the NL home run crown because
he dove for a flyball and hurt his thumb. Or that the Mets were pretty
lousy at doubleheaders (2-9-12 in my first two years following the
team.) Rest assured,
there is a lot more to 1976 than meets the Mets.
would dwell on 1975 and 1976—winning records and third place both
years—as the Mets sank into suckitude and we shifted from mid- to
late-1970s. Was Ed Halicki’s no-hitter really so bad? Was the Staub for
Lolich trade that disastrous? Was Joe Frazier that lousy a manager? Was
Dave Kingman really worth so much of my affection? The answer to these
and all such questions swirling through my confused teenaged mind was
the same: “Yes. You bet your ass!”
a Mets fan. For the long haul. For freaking ever.
Fight of Their Lives
Since I made my little plug for Dan
Epstein’s treatise on 1976—more on that another time, but there is also
room for a plug
on the thrilling year that was ’73—but I want to stay in 1975. Among
many things going on that year, it was Juan Marichal’s last year.
The high-kicking San Francisco Giant great was as good as any pitcher of
his day. Sandy Koufax burned hot and bright, but his career was short.
Koufax pitched just 12 years—three of those years as a Brooklyn bonus
baby stuck on the Dodgers bench while starting only 17 times. Sandy had
a 165-87 career mark, with just three 20-win seasons, back when wins
were deemed a pitcher’s most important number. Koufax’s top three years,
however, are considered three of the best seasons since the Deadball
Era: 25-5, 1.88 ERA, 306 strikeouts in 311 innings pitched in 1963;
25-5, 1.88, 382 K’s in 335.2 IP in 1965; and 27-9, 1.73, 317 K’s in
1966. He won the Cy Young and a pennant each of those seasons before
retiring abruptly at 30 due to an arthritic elbow. “The Left Arm of God”
Marichal had six 20-win seasons, tying Koufax for the league lead in
1963—one of three years Marichal won 25 or more games. He had a WHIP
under 1.00 four times. But the most amazing fact about Marichal is that
in his legendary 234-win career, he received exactly one Cy Young vote.
Not one Cy Young Award, one Cy Young vote.
Dominican Dandy” also pitched at a time when Latin players were a
serious major league minority; not just in numbers but in the public
attitude. In the minors especially they had to deal with bigoted fans
outraged by their skin color. John Roseboro, an African American catcher
from Ohio, knew this all too well, but even he was surprised by
attitudes in minor league Southern cities. An All-Star catcher who’d
grown up in the Dodgers system, Roseboro was steeped in the
Giants-Dodgers rivalry that had replanted itself in California and grown
even sharper thorns. Every game between them was war.
Roseboro took retaliation into his hands to keep Koufax from being
ejected, he threw the ball back to the mound right behind Marichal’s ear
during an at bat. “The hot-blooded Latin” as the press invariably called
anyone from south of Tijuana, hit Roseboro in the head with the bat. The
blow, opening a cut on the catcher’s head, started a melee and
repercussions that lasted decades.
Author John Rosengren has created a dual
biography of the two men and the incident that linked them in
The Fight of Their Lives. It deals with the players, their
backgrounds, their families, the mid-1960s hostility, and the prejudices
that separated and later united them. It is a powerful and provocative
look at two enemies who became friends after baseball. Curmudgeon
sportswriters, the same ones who had quoted Latin players in pigeon
English while stating stereotypes as facts, did not vote Marichal into
the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1981. Two-time Cy
Young winner Bob Gibson, who retired the same year as Marichal and got
into Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility, said Marichal was as
good as anyone he faced.
Leonard Koppett, who covered the Mets in
the New York Times for much of Marichal’s career, wrote, “How
anyone who did vote for Gibson could find a way not to vote for Marichal
is hard to understand…. They were contemporaries and they were
equivalent by any set of standards you want to choose.”
There were 10 other future Hall of Famers who also got shut out in
1981, including no doubter Harmon Killebrew. Gil Hodges finished eight
votes ahead of Marichal in ’81. The
next year Marichal
finished seven votes shy of Cooperstown.
great pitcher invited Roseboro to a charity golf event in the Dominican
and their families spent time together at his home. Roseboro endorsed
Marichal as a friend. Any grudges held by voters now seemed even
sillier. If the guy who got hit in the head in a moment of rage has
forgiven him, why not everyone else?
There. I’ve gone and written a sixth-grade
book report, giving you everything except the ending. But I fully
recommend buying the book for yourself or as a gift for Father’s Day
because there is far more to The Fight of Their Lives than my
wordy spew can disclose. And if anyone judging awards for baseball
writing happens to be out there, I think this book stacks up against
anything I’ve read in recent years, including Rosengren’s
Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes and Hammering
Hank, George Almighty, and the Say Hey Kidabout the 1973
season. We ’73 authors stick together.
June 2, 2014
1972-74: From Funeral to Resurrection to Wake
The years 1972 , 1973, and 1974 are so
different, together they form an arc from low to high to low. The 1973
has been well documented—went from last place to first in the space
of six weeks, but that came in the wake of sudden and tragic loss of the
most important presence in team history.
before the 1972 season was supposed to begin, manager Gil Hodges dropped
dead of a heart attack in a parking lot in St. Petersburg. Watching in
horror were loyal coaches Rube Walker, Joe Pignatano, and Eddie Yost,
all of whom had been with Hodges since he managed the Washington
Senators. He had endured a close call after his first season with the
Mets and had quit his four pack a day smoking habit. He had picked up
smoking again the past two years as he watched the Mets flounder in the
aftermath of the 1969 Miracle. In a moment, Gil was gone.
Berra had not been in that fatal foursome on Easter Sunday. When Yogi
received word a few hours later, he was invited to a meeting where he
would be offered the manager’s job. During this first week of April
1972, the players were on strike, so there were no games. Now there was
also a funeral to plan. And the organization screwed up in every way.
First, the team said it would play Opening Day as scheduled, even though
it was the same days as the Hodges funeral. The strike cancelled the
game, but the organization’s callousness annoyed the players, many of
whom thought of Hodges like a father. Then, while people were leaving
the church after the funeral Mass, Mets officials called reporters to a
press conference where they announced that Berra was the new manager and
that Rusty Staub had been acquired from Montreal for the team’s three
best hitting prospects: Ken Singleton, Tim Foli, and Mike Jorgensen. The
timing of the announcements could not have been worse, and their choice
of Berra as manager instead of farm director Whitey Herzog—who left the
team later that year to embark on a Hall of Fame managing career—can be
second-guessed for four more decades.
the way these things sometimes happen, the team of course excelled out
of the gate under Yogi—for six weeks. The team’s 25-7 start, still as
good a beginning as any Mets team besides the ’86 club, put New York
ahead by six games by May 21. By then, Willie Mays was a Met, finally
pried away from the Giants a decade after the Mets had starting asking
about bringing the Say Hey Kid back where he started as a New York
Giant. The Willie the Mets got was broken down and 41 years not so
young. But rookies Jon Matlack and John Milner were sensational; third
baseman Jim Fregosi was not.
Acquired from the Angels over the winter—at the mere cost of a ready to
blossom Nolan Ryan—the Mets tried to turn the All-Star shortstop into a
third baseman. Fregosi was a flop in New York. And Wayne Garrett, the
third baseman the Mets were so desperate to replace, hit .232 for the
Mets in ’72, the exact same average as Fregosi. Garrett would play in a
World Series the following year. By then Fregosi would be a Texas
Ranger, playing for Whitey Herzog, who had warned the Mets not to make
the trade. Luckily, the Mets made a better trade in the winter of 1973,
dealing Gary Gentry and Danny Frisella to Atlanta for Felix Millan and
it did not look like the Mets had any better chance of making the World
Series in 1973 than the woeful Texas Rangers. After a dive in the
standings around the time Rusty was hurt in 1972, the Mets continued
sputtering for most of 1973. From late May 1972 until late August 1973,
the Mets played .456 ball over a 239-game span. That’s a long enough
period to indicate that a team just isn’t that good. And the ’73 Mets
weren’t… until the end of August. Then all the breaks that had gone
against them since 1969, all the injuries, all the ill fortune,
everything was turned on its head. Again.
spending three years analyzing all things 1973 while writing Swinging
’73, one of the few aspects I have not looked at is their
doubleheaders down the stretch. It is kind of interesting that the ’72
Mets played fewer twinbills but won more (3-1-6) than the ’73 bunch
(2-3-8). What is more important is how the ’73 Mets fared when it
September 3: DH vs. Philly, split, 5½ games out
September 7: DH at Montreal, sweep, 4 games out
September 15: DH vs. Cubs, split, 3½ games out
September 30: DH at Cubs, split, 1 game ahead
October 1 was supposed to be a doubleheader, on the Monday after the
season was to have ended. Rain pushed the Mets and Cubs to play a
twinbill at deserted Wrigley Field. When Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw
teamed up to hold on for a 6-4 win, the Mets’ 24-9 finish pushing the
Mets to the unlikeliest of division titles. Or as unlikely as any
division winner could be after 1969. The second game of that
season-ending doubleheader at Wrigley in 1973 was called due to wet
grounds and a locker room soaked with champagne.
The ’73 Mets pushed the Reds and the A’s,
two 1970s dynasties, to the deciding game in the postseason. How’d it
turn out? Well,
here comes plug number two. (Ya Gotta Believe that with Father’s Day
coming up, you can’t hint enough about a good present for dear old Dad.)
then came 1974. In short, the Mets front office stood pat, acting like
Miracles would just keep falling in their lap. At the end of August
1974, the Mets were in almost the same position they had been in in
1973: fifth place, a 56-71 record, not completely buried at 11 games
out. Then they ran off seven straight wins! Miracle coming? Um, no.
other NL East teams, after watching the Mets vault over them all a year
earlier, pounded the Mets in September of ’74. The Mets lost 20 of their
last 28 games, including a tripleheader disguised as a single game. In
the longest National League game ever played to a conclusion, the
Cardinals beat the Mets on a throwing error by pitcher Hank Webb in the
25th inning. The game featured 25 Mets left on base, Duffy Dyer catching
23 innings, Dave Schneck batting 11 times—making nine outs—reliever
Jerry Cram tossing eight innings, and a dashing young St. Louis sub
named Keith Hernandez going 0-for-1. And you thought this past weekend
in Philadelphia felt long.
Mets’ 2-11-5 record in doubleheaders marked the most times they’d been
swept since 1965 and the first time ever the Mets did not sweep a single
doubleheader at home in a season—and they had 10 chances (0-6-4). Even
Tom Seaver failed to have a winning record (11-11) or an ERA starting
with a 2 for the first time ever (3.20).
91 losses in 1974 were just 12 more than the pennant-winning season of
’73, but it might as well have been 120 more losses. The magic was gone.
And it wouldn’t come back until Mets fans had endured the longest,
bleakest decade of their existence.
Nightcap: The Super
you’ve been reading along in the series so far you really love your Mets
history, don’t you? Well, if you’ve gotten to the bottom of the 25th of
this tale, let me tell you why I’m doing this.
Besides doing something different every year on the site to keep myself
interested and sane, I have to admit I have always had a love-hate
relationship with doubleheaders. I used to dread the idea of losing
them, accepted a split any way it came, and was beyond joy for the rare
Mets doubleheader sweep, even if meant nothing in the standings.
Doubleheaders were a part of Mets life when I grew up, a Sunday ritual.
That’s gone now, brushed aside in favor of more night games and
four-hour games instead of five-hour doubleheaders. Reflecting on these
twinbills brings me some comfort, a reason to keep watching as we slog
through another dark period in Metsdom.
this should be a disclaimer at the front of the piece. There is always
another doubleheader to make that up.
May 26, 2014
Mets Blow Banner
Day (And Not Just Game One)
I’ve been writing about doubleheaders from a historical point of view
this year, I could not resist commenting on the first doubleheader of
2014. And how, from a historical point of view, the Mets screwed it up.
And not just on the field.
not have all the facts because I was away over the weekend—as is often
the case on Memorial Day weekend—so I have yet to see the newly
reconstituted Banner Day in person. And I don’t recall any of the parade
being shown live on SNY. Oh, I know why that is: Because SNY doesn’t
cover Mets game at 11 in the morning! I do not understand how, with a
doubleheader actually occurring on Banner Day, the Mets could not manage
to allow banners to parade on the field between games of the twinbill,
as the team did every year between 1963 and 1988. From what I have seen,
the show-up-at-10-a.m.-on-the-Sunday-of-a-holiday-weekend Banner Day has
attracted about 500 participants—total—since 2012. For the 100 people
who showed up with banners on Sunday, I think the Mets could have
handled this on the fly. But I will give them credit for not sticking
fans with an annoying and unecessary day-night doubleheader against the
worst team in the National League—though that particular distinction
gets more difficult each day.
Even the fan who brought back Banner Day thinks the situation should
be changed, or at least moved to a non-holiday weekend. You can almost
see the people in the meeting about promotion days dealing with Banner
Day in five minutes, figuring, “That’s just the hard core fans. They’ll
come anyway.” I wouldn’t bet on that. Watching this time is no fun.
love to blame that ridiculous decision on Terry Collins, but that
actually be out of TC’s purview. Though I think it would be great if
they put Collins in charge of that department and allow someone
else—anyone else—to make personnel moves after the fifth inning.
May 22, 2014
Miracle Begets Mirage
The Mets began life with four straight
100-loss seasons. So when the Mets won the NL East in 1969, swept the
first NLCS, and beat the Orioles in the World Series, who’s to say it
wasn’t the start of four years of 100 wins? Even the most optimistic
Mets fan, hopped up on
mystic heated wine—or something stronger—didn’t believe that. So
far, we are still at three 100-win seasons since 1962.
To quote a memorable reference from the
film Woodstock, the legendary documentary and triple album that arrived
in theaters and record stores in 1970, the blue and orange had taken the
Coming down after an Amazin’ high, 1969 ended with one of the team’s
most infamous trades: the December ’69 swap with the Royals that cost
them Amos Otis, a soon to be perennial All-Star center fielder, in
exchange for Joe Foy, a third baseman who liked to party more than most
of the 500,000
White Rabbitsat Woodstock.
year 1970 began with the death of the man who made the Otis trade,
general manager Johnny Murphy. Bob Scheffing, a longtime baseball man
who by that point probably enjoyed playing golf more than building a
ballclub, took over as GM. Many of the role players on the Miracle Mets
were dispatched: Ed Charles, Jim Gosger, Bob Heise, Bobby Pfeil, J.C.
Martin, Cal Koonce, Don Cardwell, and Rod Gaspar. Granted, none were
lamentable losses or are much remembered besides the Glider, Ed Charles,
but they were not replaced with the kind of players who could cobble
together career years in unison, like these aforementioned Mets had in
1970 season was unique in that for the first time ever the Mets weren’t
insanely bad, and they weren’t insanely good, they were just mediocre.
It was the first of three straight 83-win seasons, but the ’70 Mets did
have a fighting chance to defend their title. Two doubleheaders in three
days at Shea—sweeping the Expos and splitting with the Phillies—put the
Mets into a first place tie with the Pirates on September 9. They were
still tied with the Bucs—with the Cubs just a game back—when the Mets
won at Jarry Park on September 14. The Mets dropped their next four
games, but a Sunday doubleheader sweep at packed Shea against the Bucs
would have put the Mets back in the thick of the race. Jerry Koosman won
the opener and the Mets rallied from 5-2 down in the nightcap to head to
extra innings. But a home run by Mets nemesis Willie Stargell off Tug
McGraw secured a Pirates split that propelled Pittsburgh to the first of
five division titles in six years. The brief reign of Miracles was
1971 campaign saw the end of the line for bonafide 1969 Mets heroes Ron
Swoboda, Al Weis, and Donn Clendenon. Swoboda’s bad boy attitude and
lack of production had grown tiresome and he was sent to Montreal during
spring training of 1971; Weis, never much of a hitter outside of the ’69
World Series, was just plain done by midseason ’71; and one year after
Clendenon had set a club record with 97 RBI, the 1969 World Series MVP
drove in just 37 runs in ’71. He was released after the season.
the Mets were the team to see, not just in New York, but in the major
leagues. The Mets had the game’s highest attendance for three years
running: 2.1 million in 1969, 2.7 million in 1970, and 2.2 mil in 1971.
This was at a time when National League attendance only counted fannies
in seats, and the Mets had fewer dates because of all the
doubleheaders—though there weren’t as many twinbills as there had been.
The Mets averaged almost 24 doubleheaders per year in the ‘60s, going
36-73-77. The Mets played roughly half as many twinbills as they had a
decade earlier, but they were faring better: 3-2-8 in 1970
doubleheaders, and 4-2-5 in 1971.
Hodges was as respected as any man in the city. Bud Harrelson was an
All-Star in both 1970 and ’71. Tom Seaver was a god. Though the rest of
the rotation had its ups and downs due to injuries and inconsistency
from Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, and Nolan Ryan, the Mets had one of
baseball’s best young bullpens with Tug McGraw and Danny Frisella. But
bad things would keep happening in a decade that would turn into a
Mets, the Record
triple album soundtrack that went along with the film Woodstock
was the foundation of many a record collection upon hitting stores in
1970. Another 1970 record is still the most cherished possession among
my attic-bound LPs: Miracle Mets.
should not be confused with The Amazing Mets, which featured the
Mets players signing their no-royalty fee favorites. That album came out
in the fall of 1969, just as the Mets were crowned champions. Though
that record should not be confused with Ya Gotta Believe,
narrated by Curt Gowdy, about the shocking development that resulted in
the Mets winning the 1973 pennant.
Miracle Mets featured the radio calls—real and recreated—by the
triumphant triumvirate of Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, and Bob Murphy.
It not only features the events of 1969, but for someone who was too
young for the ’69 hoopla to leave an impression, the rainy afternoon in
1978 when I found Miracle Mets in my brother’s record collection
stumbling across a wardrobe that leads to an enchanted land. Time
travel device and history lesson all in one, Miracle Mets also
included a brief history of their predecessors, the Brooklyn Dodgers and
New York Giants, and provided my first hearing of the fabled Russ Hodges
home run call confirming that the Giants did indeed win the pennant.
Anything that got me away from 1978 and thinking about how Craig Swan
was going to pitch a gem that night, and the Mets were still going to
lose. Thirty-six springs later, I find myself longing for a Swannie gem
and spending an afternoon in that room in that house that now belongs to
I found CDs of both
Ya Gotta Believeavailable on CD from Fleetwood Media. Just
frigging now! Both are now speeding their way to me. It is too late for
me to use either to help with the books I’ve
already written on the subject, but they will reside in my car as
anti-drowsiness medication for those late-night drives back from
Flushing. Come down from the attic, boys. Wake the echoes!
May 18, 2014
1969: Miracles Happen
Five years ago, Ken Samelson and I edited the work
of two dozen writers to produce the book
The Miracle Has Landed: The Amazin’ Story of How the ’69 Mets Shocked
the World. I finagled images, read every piece, and wrote
several, including most of the sidebars on everything from the champion
Knicks to the champion Jets to the moon landing to the ridiculous amount
of third basemen churned through by the Mets (41 through 1969). Not
surprisingly, I did a piece on ’69 Mets doubleheaders. I found that a
good part of the Mets’ success—or at least their mojo—came from the
doubleheaders that built up late in the season and helped push the Mets
to the division. They went 6-1-2 in twinbills down the stretch, and, as
a matter of fact, the first time the Mets were ever in first place was
between games of a doubleheader against the expansion Expos on September
Look Who’s Number One! The Mets had been 10 full games behind
the Cubs less a month earlier—and they kept their foot to the floor
until they hit 100… wins.
Having already penned the ultimate 1969
doubleheaders piece, here is a greatest hits package from The Miracle
Has Landed. And the hits don’t come much greater than 1969.
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The doubleheader was a major part of
baseball life four and a half decades ago. No Mets club since
1969 has matched the 22 twinbills the team played that year. The 1962
Mets endured a club-record 30 doubleheaders…and lost 17. The ’69 Mets
went 11‑3‑8 in doubleheaders, more than twice as many sweeps as any Mets
club before or since. The ’69 club earned six sweeps in their last nine
doubleheaders starting on August 16—the day the Mets began the 38‑11
finish that finished off the Cubs and captured in the NL East title.
When the schedule came out before the season, the Mets were on tap
for 13 doubleheaders, including five during the week. Due to rainouts,
the Mets wound up adding nine twinbills to the schedule—a single game
was also moved from St. Louis to New York and played on an off day on
On the subject of days off, the Mets were
slated to have 25 days without a game. This takes into account the four
in-season exhibition games on the schedule: a pair of day trips to play
minor league clubs in Memphis and Tidewater (the franchise’s new Class
AAA team in Norfolk), plus an annual exhibition at West Point and the
Mayor’s Trophy Game (an annual charity contest against the Yankees). The
2014 Mets, by contrast, were rationed 20 off days on the original
schedule—with nary a doubleheader scheduled. Rain has always been the
great equalizer between off days and reality.
Unlike modern day‑night doubleheaders with
separate admissions and several hours between contests, 1960s twinbills
were played one after the other, with a half hour in between. An
exception on the Mets calendar was Banner Day on August 17, as players
cooled their heels for a while longer as fans paraded around the field
with homemade signs declaring their love for the Mets. As happened the
previous day, the Mets swept the Padres when the twinbill resumed.
Here’s how the ’69 Mets fared in double
duty. Results for splits list individual wins and losses in the order
occurred. Sweep means the Mets won both; Lost means the opposite; @
designates a road twinbill—otherwise it took place at Shea Stadium. An
asterisk means the doubleheader was on the original schedule.
*Sunday, April 27
CHI Split: L, W
*Sunday, May 4 @CHI Sweep
Sunday, May 11 HOU Split: L, W
*Tuesday, June 17 @PHI Split: W, L
*Sunday, June 22 STL Sweep
*Tuesday, June 24 PHI Sweep
Tuesday, July 1 @STL Lost
*Friday, July 4 @PIT Sweep
*Sunday, July 13 MON Sweep
*Sunday, July 20 @MON Split:
Wednesday, July 30 HOU Lost
Tuesday, August 5 @CIN Split: L, W
*Friday, August 8 @ATL Split:
Saturday, August 16 SD
*Sunday, August 17 SD
*Tuesday, August 26 @SD Sweep
*Sunday, August 31 @SF
Split: W, L
Friday, September 5
PHI Split: W, L
Wednesday, Sep. 10 MON Sweep
Friday, September 12 @PIT Sweep
Friday, September 19 PIT
*Sunday, Sept. 21 PIT Sweep
Nightcap: 501 Pounds
The Nightcap is an all-new piece, though I
will admit it is long overdue. The book in question, fittingly, was
written by a contributor to the aforementioned book on the ’69 Mets,
The Miracle Has Landed.
As proprietor of the always entertaining
Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf, Ron knows baseball books as well as
anyone, which makes it even more gratifying in the way 501 Baseball
Books feels like a homecoming. Several people who worked with me at
Total Sports Publishing are included herein, including John Thorn, Pete
Palmer, Mike Gershman, Gary Gillette, and Dave Pietrusza, all of whom
took care of me, employed me, and provided the occasional tough love
needed for a rookie who’d spent most of his “career” covering high
school and college sports. By the time I was 30, I thought I would never
go pro, much less publish a book under my name. Turns out that honor is
not what it once was—Ron can probably vouch for that after this venture
onto the other side of the page—but I love doing it.
Besides coming across old home week in the
501 Baseball Books’ index, I also found gems aplenty beyond the
usual suspects among the 501; unique efforts like Josh Wilker’s
Cardboard Gods, Marty Appel’s Now Pitching for the Yankees
(another Total Sports book), Peter Richmond’s Ballpark: Camden Yards
and the Building of the American Dream, Jonathon Fraser Light’s
Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, Mark Winegarden’s Prophet of
the Sandlots: Journeys with a Major League Scout, Jonathon Mahler’s
Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx Is Burning, and Josh Leventhal’s
Take Me Out to the Ballpark, as well as many, many others. And as
much as I love books on baseball history, I have a weakness for baseball
novels, which have a far better rate of return than movies on baseball.
I was delighted to see the 501 included Tom Dyja’s Play for a Kingdom
and Eric Rolfe Greenberg’s The Celebrant—the only two novels to
win the prestigious Casey Magazine Spitball Award. Another great novel I
read last year—actually listened to on CD (but that counts, just like
listening to a game on radio counts for having closely followed the
action)—that was likewise more than a book on baseball was Chad
Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. I must admit to jealousy after I
read Kaplan’s disclaimer that the author received a $650,000 advance.
Authors can be a petty lot, but we begrudgingly acknowledge our
I can also acknowledge better days that made the
501. I helped choose and assign essays for editions six and seven of
Total Baseball. Ted Williams: My Life in Pictures was
designed, discussed, and plotted over several days spent at the home of
Todd Radom. And I
worked on Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia all day, every
day, for more than a year.
It can be good to relive the glory days, whether
it’s 1969 or my own baseball book miracle. If you want to relive the
Mets’ glory days, the best book in Kaplan’s book that you’ve probably
never heard of is
The Complete Year-by-Year N.Y. Mets Fan’s Almanac, by Duncan
Bock and John Jordan, and put together by Total Sports alum and neighbor
F-Stop Fitzgerald. Kaplan calls it a “must have” even if it is 20 years
out of date. I fully agree. Anytime I put together a list of best Mets
books, this is always in the top 10. And when people ask me the best
compilation of essential baseball books, I will simply say Ron Kaplan
knocked his pitch out of the park.
May 9, 2014
1968: Plenty o’
I’ll start by admitting that my only real
memories of 1968 are splitting my head open in a full-speed collision
with our dining room table, watching
Underdog re-runs on TV, and getting a real dog, Topper. So 1968
is kind of fuzzy in a first-person sense. But you could feel the world
was different with Gil Hodges was in the Mets dugout, even if you didn’t
know what any of that meant.
mind, Gil Hodges is the best manager in Mets history. In four years,
almost as long as Terry Collins has been in charge, Hodges changed the
locker room, became a guiding influence to his players, made these
underdogs believe in themselves, and won a World Series with a team that
wasn’t any more adept at hitting than this current bunch. But you
weren’t supposed to hit in 1968. You were lucky to survive. So was Gil
Year of the Pitcher saw a full-fledged return to the dark ages of the
Deadball Era: Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA, Denny McLain won 31 games,
Catfish Hunter threw the first perfect game in an AL regular-season game
since 1922, Don Drysdale tossed 58.2 consecutive shutout innings, the
National League hit .243, the American League batted .230, and Carl
Yastrzemski was the only AL .300 hitter—and he made it by one point.
Pitching was so dominant, even the perennial doormat Mets almost had a
was Jerry Koosman. On a staff with future Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and
Nolan Ryan, Kooz won 19 games and would have won the NL Rookie of the
Year Award if not for Johnny Bench, a revolutionary catcher who captured
a Gold Glove as a rook, but more importantly at the time, the Cincinnati
catcher could really hit—no matter who was pitching. The Mets, on the
other hand, couldn’t hit at all.
The best example of this lack of offense
for this club, which finished last in the NL with a .228 average,
occurred during Gil’s first week on the job. On April 15, 1968, having
already partaken in four shutouts in the first five games, the Mets took
the field at the Astrodome with a chance to go over .500 at the earliest
time in team history. Instead, they broke their own record for the
longest game ever completed, playing a 24-inning game and, of course,
losing. By a score of 1-0. There were 87 shutouts by that score in 1968;
the majority (47) taking place in the National League, which is fitting
since the NL beat the AL in the 1968 All-Star Game… by a 1-0 score. It
was like never-ending soccer matches all by a score of 1-nil—except that
America in 1968 was far more familiar with
Vanilla Fudge than with soccer.
Thirteen times the Mets played 1-0 games in ’68, winning seven. That
meant the Mets were involved in 15 percent of all 1-0 games that year.
Even in the Year of the Pitcher, the Mets had a stellar young pitching
staff. And that’s with Tug McGraw, a veteran of the Casey Stengel and
Wes Westrum regimes in New York, spending the whole season in the minors
(as a starter). The 1968 Mets allowed the fewest hits (1,250), in the
National League, placed second in strikeouts (1,014), and third in WHIP
(1.133). Only the two-time league champion Cardinals exceeded the Mets’
total of 27 shutouts, meaning that the other team did not score in 37
percent of their wins.
course, 22 times the Mets did not score a run. Besides the 24-inning
game in Houston in April—lost on a bad hop—the Mets dropped a 1-0,
17-inning game to San Francisco in August. The Mets were only 2-13 in
extra-inning games in 1968, and just 2-9-11 in twinbills. Twice—yes,
twice—in 10 days the Mets split doubleheaders in which the teams
combined for just three runs in two games: in St. Louis with Bob Gibson
winning the first game, 2-0, and Kooz taking the nightcap by that
popular score of 1-0; and one against the Cubs with Dick Selma winning
the opener, 1-0, and Bill Hands taking the nightcap for Chicago, 2-0.
The Mets also lost a twinbill to the Cubs when they only allowed four
runs in two games and were swept by both the Giants and Braves while
surrendering just five tallies over two games.
Mets lost a lot of close games, but they won many of them as well. Their
63 one-run games—and 26 such wins—proved the most to that point in team
history. For the first time ever, the Mets did not lose 90 games and
they finished ahead of the Astros, their brothers in expansion. (The
1966 Mets also avoided the basement, but the Cubs earned the ignominious
honor of being the first to finish below the Metropolitans.)
should have been a year that ended with pats on the back for a team
finally making real strides. Instead the season ended with Gil Hodges
nearly dying of a heart attack in the Atlanta visiting clubhouse on the
final road trip. Hodges’s health was so tenuous the Mets did not even
know until winter if he’d be able to manage the team in 1969. But of
course he came back. Oh, he managed.
Nightcap: The End of
1968 season was the last of its kind in many ways. Disgusted by a decade
in which pitching became more and more dominant—though it’s funny how
everyone is still in love with Sandy Koufax’s 1960s success all these
years later—the major leagues actually did something about the lack of
offense. They lowered the mound and the strike zone, contemplated other
rules changes that might help offense (a result was the 1973 designated
hitter rule), and added the save rule (which changed game strategy in
several ways, though this took some time). But what had the biggest
effect on offense was letting four expansion teams into the league in
1969, providing jobs to three dozen or so pitchers who otherwise would
be in the minors.
’69 season would also be the first to feature divisional play, so that
made ’68 the last time that the best teams in each league automatically
moved on to the World Series. Though the Series itself was
dramatic—Detroit rallying from a three-games-to-one deficit to beat the
Cardinals—the pennant races were mostly nonexistent (and it was the last
time you could use “pennant race” in its original context, because every
race thereafter would be for the division or, starting in 1995, the Wild
sure if I hadn’t spent so much time sitting on my floor with my dog
watching Underdog (and it was while chasing Topper that I slammed
my head in the dining room table to earn five stitches), I would have
been outraged at this radical change to the game, since, for the record
I have initially been annoyed at the Wild Card, the Wild Card game,
moving teams to other leagues, and adding interleague play to the
everyday baseball schedule. But divisional play created another layer of
postseason baseball that has been remarkably good for the game and ended
the unwieldy 10-teams-for-one-spot setup that baseball had for most of
the 1960s. Though the Mets have benefited from the Wild Card, it’s still
not my favorite.
mostly 1968 meant the Mets could no longer finish 10th, or ninth in a
bumper crop season like ’66 or ’68. Sixth would be the lowest a National
League team could finish from 1969 to 1992, which the Mets managed five
times in one seven-year span known as my adolescence. And the one season
that seventh play was in play in the NL in 1993? By gum, if the Mets
didn’t achieve that.
May 2, 2014
Dip 1965-67: Something
Westrum This Way Comes
the summer of 1965, the World’s Fair was starting to get old… and so was
the Mets’ losing act. In their fourth season in the majors and second
season at Shea Stadium, the Mets were somehow getting worse.
other three teams that came into existence in the early 1960s had seen
improvement. Houston, renamed the Astros in 1965 after moving into their
palatial, groundbreaking dome, lost 97 times but still finished 15 games
ahead of the Mets. The new Washington Senators, led by manager Gil
Hodges, moved up to eighth in a 10-team American League. The Angels won
at least 70 games for the fifth time in as many years of existence—and
given that 1965 was the first year of the amateur draft, California’s
progress was more an accomplishment than it sounds today. Particularly
when compared to the Mets.
Stengel could still get laughs, but losing was starting to grow
tiresome. There were even hints that Casey may have even been on the way
out as ’65 wore down, but Casey wore down instead. Or more precisely,
was on the eve of a doubleheader, of course, with Casey Stengel holding
court with his old pals in town for Oldtimers Day. (Remember when that
a schedule staple, Mets fans?) In the days of highballs and high
living, things get a little hazy about the 1965 reverie, but late on
July 25, a Saturday night (this may be why they played day games on
weekends), Casey broke his hip. He was on the eve of turning 75 and his
doctor told him to hang it up. The decision allowed Casey to enjoy what
would be the last 10 years of his life without the day-to-day travel
that makes big-league baseball the great challenge that it is. And with
Casey moved on, the Mets could move on. At least on paper.
General manager George Weiss, Casey’s boss in the Bronx, Manhattan, and
Flushing, let Stengel name his replacement, no big deal since it was at
first believed that the Ol’ Perfessor might come back. It could have
been Yogi Berra, who’d come to the Mets after being fired as Yankees
manager, and became a Mets coach—but not before nine final at bats (with
two hits). Catcher turned bullpen coach Wes Westrum, who had met Stengel
for the first time two years before at a bar during the All-Star Game,
had recently taken over as pitching coach when player-coach Warren Spahn
ditched the 1965 Mets when he realized he would add little to his lofty
career win totals at Shea Stadium. So just like that, Westrum became the
second Mets manager.
Coming off a .302 “winning percentage” since 1962 with Casey, it is
almost stupefying to report that Westrum was worse. The Mets went 19-49
after he took over, a .283 percentage that was 43 points lower than
Casey’s 31-64 start to ’65.
funny how when you’re bad, those doubleheaders just pile up. Stengel’s
Mets had a 14-41-28 mark in doubleheaders, and doubling up was quite
popular in 1965. On May 24, at Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium, the
Mets finally won a doubleheader on the road, ending a skid dating back
almost exactly four seasons: 25 consecutive road doubleheaders without a
double-dips for the year, the 112-loss Mets went 5-12-7, and that
doesn’t even count two doubleheaders in which the second game ended in a
tie—and had to be replayed… spawning yet more doubleheaders. The last
one was an 18-inning scoreless tie on the last Saturday of the year,
with Chris Short of the Phils and Rob Gardner each throwing 15 shutouts
innings before giving way to the bullpen and the game being called by
Saturday night curfew.
last weekend in May saw a scheduled doubleheader at Shea, with another
twinbill the following afternoon in Chicago, 23 years before Wrigley
Field had the lights that would have allowed for a later start. Imagine
the howl the Players’ Association would make today about that—but the
Players’ Association in 1965 was little more than a trained seal
performing at the owners’ command and eating whatever fish the brass
deigned to toss in the pool. The 1960s was management’s last heyday in
manager of the Mets was an old school type. Wes Westrum, as quiet as
Casey Stengel was outspoken, felt threatened by his 1966 third-base
coach, Whitey Herzog. A Stengel protégé, Herzog came up in the Yankees
system in the 1950s. Herzog was traded so he could play, as opposed to
riding the pinstriped pine. Always great with the press, Whitey gave the
writers far more good stories than Westrum—though I’ve always been
impressed by the comment attributed to Wes: “Baseball is like church.
Many attend, few understand.”
a few more hits falling in and Herzog waving in more runners from the
coaching box, the 1966 Mets scored 95 more runs than in 1965. Though
they again finished last in hitting, the Mets only lost 95 games
and placed next to last in the standings, far and away their best
season to that point. The ’66 Mets were also 5-6-12 in doubleheaders,
the lone time in their first seven seasons that the Mets came that close
to breaking even in twinbills. With Herzog moved up to farm director for
1967, Westrum wouldn’t have to worry so much about losing his chair to
the White Rat. And then things fell apart.
would think that with the dawn of the Seaver Age, the Mets were on their
way, but they took a step backward in 1967. Imagine how bad the team
would have been if not for Seaver? Tom was terrific, going 16-13,
tossing 251 innings, becoming the first Met to win any hardware (NL
Rookie of the Year), and saving the All-Star Game with a scoreless 15th
Mets may or may not have considered dismissing Casey Stengel before he
broke his hip in 1965, but there was no doubt they didn’t want his
successor back for 1968. With the Mets at 94 losses with 11 games to
play in the 1967 season, Westrum quit during the final homestand. That’s
fitting, since no Mets manager since has had a home winning percentage
close to Westrum’s paltry .404… at least until Terry Collins took over.
(But wait, there’s an update on that: Because the Mets improved to .500
at home through 16 games in 2014, Collins’s .428 winning percentage at
home now surpasses Joe Torre’s by half a percentage point. Hooray!)
Salty Parker finished 1967 as manager. As if he were appointed for our
purposes, his first assignment was a doubleheader. The Mets split with
the Astros, thanks to Jerry Buchek having the game of his life with
three-run homers in his final two at bats, including a walkoff blast in
the 10th. The Mets lost their 100th game of the season a few days later
and finished 61-101.
Mets went 4-8-13 in doubleheaders in 1967, including their first
recorded day-night doubleheader—in Atlanta, where two admissions
resulted in a park that wasn’t a third full for either game—and three
straight doubleheaders in as many days at Wrigley Field on Labor Day
weekend; the Cubs won that best-of-seven, 5-2, but Labor Day itself
meant a trip to Cincinnati for a one-game series. (One game can’t
be a series, can it? No matter, they lost.)
For the final week of the ’67 season,
Johnny Murphy came down from the front office, put on a Mets warmup
jacket, and observed the ballclub from the dugout. Mets numerologist
Jon Springer doubts
whether undercover Murphy wore any specific uniform number. When the
next season began, there were fewer players who accepted losing as
easily as they accepted their paychecks. Murphy earned his pay that
fall, staying in Washington D.C. until he worked out a deal to bring
Senators manager Gil Hodges back to New York. GM Bing Devine, who set a
still-standing franchise record by moving 54 players (27 position
players, 27 pitchers) through Shea Stadium in 1967, would go home to St.
Louis about the same time Hodges arrived. Devine took over a world
champion Cardinals club and added another pennant his first year back. A
Fordham product, Murphy had a successful career pitching for the Yankees
and then working for both the Red Sox and Mets front offices. Now he was
a general manager. And Murphy would win a pennant the year after Devine.
when you think these Mets will never get better…
Met About Town
Getting in three seasons of doubleheaders
took a little something out of me. So allow me to slip into a skinny
tie, a fresh suit, and hit the jazz clubs with Tommy Davis.
Tommy D. was cool.
two-time batting champion, Davis came over from the Dodgers after the
1966 season in exchange for fan favorites Jim Hickman and Ron Hunt.
Davis provided offense for a team that was last in runs and was the last
Mets team for 26 years to lose 100 games. Davis finished 10th in the NL
with a .302 average in ’67, but in the
Murphy and Hodges finalized a deal to send Davis, Jack Fisher, Buddy
Booker, and Billy Wynne to the White Sox for Tommie Agee and Al Weis,
both heroes to be at Shea.
It was too bad for Davis. A Brooklyn kid,
he loved living at his mom’s apartment and taking in the jazz scene in
the Summer of Love in Manhattan. He was beginning the itinerant phase of
his career. After eight years as a Dodger, Davis moved on to
nine different teams the rest of his career. He never called New
York home again during a season, and watched from a distance as the Mets
he helped babysit in 1967 became the unlikeliest of champions just two
April 27, 2014
Greg Spira Award
I am proud to
have served as a judge for the second annual Greg Spira Award. The award
is given in recognition of the best published article, paper, or book
containing original baseball research by a person 30 years old or
younger. Winners were announced today, April 27, which would have been
Greg Spira’s 47th birthday.
Greg was a very
good friend and colleague, serving as co-editor with me for all four
editions of the Maple Street Press Mets Annual , plus he was my
neighbor, confidant, and sometime dog sitter. Greg was the one who
pushed Maple Street to include the Mets with the other teams for a
preview magazine back in 2007. And for a while, the Mets had the
top-selling magazine of all the major league teams Maple Street
featured. Greg worked on countless projects with me, and, I just
remembered, he wrote the biography of
The Miracle Has Landed, the most detailed book ever written
about the 1969 Mets. Frisella, like Greg Spira, died far too young. Greg
died of kidney disease in 2011.
A longtime member
of the Society of Baseball Research, Greg was the founder of the annual
Internet Baseball Awards in 1991. He was also an early adopter and a
pioneer in using the Internet to advance baseball analysis, particularly
via Usenet’s groundbreaking rec.sport.baseball group and via
BaseballProspectus.com. Spira later
contributed to many sports books as a researcher, writer, and editor,
including the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, the ESPN Pro
Football Encyclopedia, Total Baseball, and Baseball: The
The winner of the
$1,000 first-place prize is Ben Lindbergh, for his
brilliant piece of pitch framing. The article has changed the way I
look at catchers and has made me an even bigger fan of—and forgiver of
the lack of offense so far from—Travis d’Arnaud. Lindbergh is
editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus and is so accomplished at such a
young age, I had to double check his age to make sure he was under 30.
He is way under the eligibility limit, as are college students James
Santelli, who wrote about defensive shifts, and Noah Woodward, whose
piece on diminishing pitch movement as games wear on provides validation
for many an early hook for pitchers—it’s not just for pitch counts
anymore. For the full Spira Award press release, and all the links, go
And if you know
any really talented writers who are churning out baseball pieces with
critical analysis and creative thinking, wel open up nominations for the
2015 Award next January.
April 25, 2014
Dip 1964: Fair to Shea
Tuesday night at Citi Field the Mets did not do much offensively, but
hit 1964 extremely hard. In case you weren’t at that game—and there
sure weren’t many in the house—the Mets were taking note of the opening
of Shea Stadium, which was christened 50 Aprils ago. Unlike 1973, which
passed its 40th anniversary with barely a team-sanctioned whisper from
the club the stole the ’73 pennant, 1964 is getting the full treatment.
Never mind that we can’t bring back Shea, which is in stadium heaven
with Forbes Field, Shibe Park, Crosley Field, and all the old gang.
the Mets came into the National League in 1962, baseball was dominated
by old ballparks, many of which had been around since the Deadball Era.
The ballpark the Mets called home their first two years, the Polo
Grounds, belonged to that elder stadium class. When spanking-new Shea
Stadium opened up on April 17, 1964, it was the start of the Mets
establishing a brand of their own, a personality beyond the cuddly team
that New York National League fans liked seeing lose more than they
liked not having a team at all. The Mets would grow up at Shea, even if
it took several years for them to actually start playing like a real
opened the same time as the neighboring World’s Fair, so going to
Flushing was its own doubleheader. You could take in the fair, see the
World of Tomorrow, and then stroll over to Shea Stadium and see the
horrors of today. The Mets went just 33-48 at home their first year at
Shea—ironically, the same brutal record they had in 2013 at Citi Field.
But people were coming to Shea more for ambiance than for baseball in
1964. Yes, I used “ambiance” and “Shea” in the same sentence. Flushing’s
own was state of the art in 1964, the ballpark that others copied—and
screwed up, with half-ass Astroturf replacements for Forbes, Shibe, and
Crosley in the early 1970s.
Shea was named after a lawyer, which sounds like the setup to a joke,
but you needed a powerful attorney on your side to bluff the National
League into thinking New York would rather start a new rival league than
live any longer without a National League team, even if had to call the
threatened enterprise the Continental League. Sure, 1964 could be
confusing. It was, after all, the last year without me on the planet,
so, to paraphrase many a young pup then and now, it couldn’t have been
that important. Never mind that 1964 also saw the American arrival of
the Beatles, the escalation of Vietnam, the election of LBJ, and MLK won
the Nobel Peace Prize.
That is a lot to fathom. Relax. Have an
Old Fashioned, get the smoke out of your eyes, and take a thinking man’s
nap on the couch,
Mr. Draper; we’re playing two.
first doubleheader at Shea Stadium was played on May 10, 1964, a split
with St. Louis that left the 10th-place Mets with a forgettable 6-18
mark. The second doubleheader staged at Shea would be much harder to
forget—or even finish. May 31, 1964 was a Sunday afternoon double-dip
against the Giants. Good weather and the Giants’ return to town brought
out the biggest crowd to date in Shea’s short history: 57,037. That was
the highest attendance that first year at Shea—and remains the largest
New York crowd to ever see the Mets and Giants—an especially big draw in
those days when memories of the New York baseball Giants were still
vivid, and Willie Mays was still as big a star as the game offered. Fans
got to see plenty of Willie Mays that day, even three innings of the Say
The Giants rallied from a three-run
deficit in the opener as Juan Marichal beat Al Jackson, 5-3, in a tidy
2:29. The nightcap would be far from tidy, and it might have also been
over in under 150 minutes if not for those meddling Mets. Instead it
took five hours longer.
Ed Kranepool, who’d played in a minor
league doubleheader the previous day, prior to his recall to New York,
tripled in a run in the sixth to start the comeback from a five-run
deficit. The Mets had trimmed the San Francisco lead to 6-3 in the
seventh when Joe Christopher cracked a three-run homer to tie the game.
And 6-6 it remained for the next 15 innings. By the time Del Crandall
finally broke the tie in the top of the 23rd, Mays had already been to
the infield and back to center field, Kranepool had manned first base
for 32 innings and made 36 putouts, the Mets had turned their
second-ever triple play (to escape a 14th-inning jam), Galen Cisco had
pitched nine innings in relief—only to get the loss, while 25-year-old
swingman Gaylord Perry had tossed 10 innings for the win and discovered
a new pitch: the spitball. (Perhaps that day Shea had run out of
pine tar as well as food.) After that impromptu experiment with
Sunday night baseball, at least the Mets had Monday off.
But if you thought that the 23-inning
nightcap—a major league record for the longest completed game, which the
Mets would later break (twice)—was the only historic twinbill played by
the ’64 Mets, you’d be wrong.
On June 21, 1964, Jim Bunning threw the
National League’s first perfect game since 1880. Bunning, the father of
seven, fittingly tossed his perfecto on Father’s Day. Take a look at the
bottom of the ninth as called by Bob Murphy on WOR-TV. It’s
exhilarating and at the same time a little sad that Murph never got to
try his talents at calling a no-hitter for the home club at Shea.
Mets finally got a hit in the third inning of game two, facing Rick Wise
in his first career start. The Phillies would famously cough up a big
lead in the final week of the ’64 season, but that third week of June
saw them sweep three twinbills from the Mets. Philadelphia handed the
Mets four of the dozen doubleheader downers they endured in ’64. The
Mets did win four twinbills, their best effort yet in double duty. All
the doubleheader wins came at Shea, where the Mets had the
second-highest attendance in baseball at 1.7 million. Not bad for a
109-loss team, though those 53 wins were their best effort yet. Mets
fans would not remain so easy to please.
Met Tells All
The same day the Mets took 23 innings to
lose the second game of one long-ass doubleheader with the Giants, there
was an overlooked debut at Shea: Mr. Met. The papier-mâché head was
donned by Mets ticket department employee
He wore the head from 1964 to 1967, three to four
years being about the length most mascots seem able to endure life under
the mask for bosses who think anyone can entertain the masses. AJ Mass
spent the same number of years as Reilly, donning the “new” Mr. Met
costume three decades later. And he lived to tell the tale in
Yes, It’s Hot in Here.
Mass was hired during the Nickelodeon
theme park period in Mets history in 1994, when the Mets were coming off
a 103-loss season that would have fit right in during Reilly’s early
days with the club. Eventually, Mass ended up in the costume of the
resurrected Mr. Met, who had remained a symbol for the team in the 1970s
and 1980s, but whose personage was not seen in the ballpark from the
1960s to the 1990s. It’s a shame, too, because Mr. Met quickly became
baseball’s favorite mascot, even if the
area around Citi Field has twice the number of Yankees fans as Mets fans.
don’t blame Mr. Met. He was willing to take a bullet for craft and
country, or at least the threat of one during the
last presidential visit to Shea Stadium. Mass had a
good run as Mr. Met until the Mets moved on without him, an occupational
hazard for mascots, it turns out.
In his book just out from Rodale, the
fantasy character turned fantasy writer for ESPN explores mascot life
from the point of view of the man (or woman) in the costume. He talks to
numerous people behind the mask and profiles many birds of a feather,
from the San Diego Chicken to the Pirate Parrot—talk about your costumed
divas! There are lots of minor mascots, and some stories are much better
than others. My favorite is how the Phoenix Suns Gorilla got started as
a singing telegram deliveryman who was sent to a Suns game dressed in a
General Urko suit from Planet of the Apes. He edged out on
the court and started dancing. A ref tossed him a ball and he sank the
shot. Next thing you know he was an NBA institution.
Like the players the mascots help cheer,
most performers don’t get to go out on their own terms. They are
generally treated the way ballplayers would be treated if they hadn’t
formed the strongest union in the land. Because if mascots had a union,
you can bet it would be standard that all costumes come with
cool suits to wear underneath. Then it might not get so hot in
April 18, 2014
Doubleheader Dip 1962-63:
Splitting That First Pair
It was a Sunday, the last Sunday in April
1962, and the Mets took the field at the Polo Grounds against the
Philadelphia Phillies. On that Sunday in Harlem, April 29, 1962, the
Mets were officially baptized into baseball religion: the Church of the
Double-header. The inaugural Mets twinbill brought almost 20,000 people
to the Polo Grounds, the biggest crowd yet to see the expansion
club—home or away. For a team that had lost the first nine games of its
existence and stood 10 games under .500 on the third Sunday of the
season, the underlying feeling seemed to be that with a ballclub this
bad, you’d best get your money’s worth: Two games for the price of one.
There were a lot more offdays in the
1960s, made possible by the doubleheader. Remember, 1962 was the first
year the National League had a 162-schedule—incredibly, the leagues had
so many differences back then that in 1961 the already expanded AL
played 162 games and the NL scheduled 154 for its eight teams. The NL
joined the 10-team route and 162-game schedule in 1962, doing so without
starting the season earlier or ending it later. How did they fit the
extra games in? Doubleheader to the rescue.
Instead of scheduling more Monday and
Thursday games, pushing the limits of 1960s air travel and pushing the
interest of fans to attend additional weeknight games, teams scheduled
twinbills on Sundays. Or Saturdays. Or Fridays. Or Tuesdays. And, of
course, there was the doubleheader that still exists today: the makeup.
Though mercifully, the annoying day-night doubleheader was still decades
away from disrupting players’ and fans’ rhythms for the sake of owners’
At $3.50, the price of box seats at the Polo
Grounds in 1962, baseball was a bargain. As long as you weren’t
expecting much from the Mets. Future generations would maintain these
low expectations, and treat championship teams as benchmarks upon which
life was centered. If you had your ticket for that first Mets twinbill,
you were in for a treat.
The Mets had a record of 2-12, but they
were on a high. The previous afternoon New York’s newest—and
only—National League team had rallied from five runs down in the sixth
inning to knock off the Phillies, 8-6. Frank Thomas, Charlie Neal, and
Gil Hodges homered in succession to make it a one-run game before the
tying and go-ahead runs crossed the plate on the same Chris Short wild
pitch. Suddenly emboldened with the lead, manager Casey Stengel brought
in Opening Day starter Roger Craig, who blanked the Phils for the final
three frames and was awarded his first win as a Met and the first ever
Mets win at home. In a year where Craig would go 10-24 and the team
40-120, it was a good day to be a Met. The next day had the promise of
being even better as the Mets attempted both their first winning streak
Al Jackson, who along with Roger Craig would be a
20-game loser in 1962, took the hill in the opener of the doubleheader.
When the Mets grabbed the lead in the second inning on another Frank
Thomas home run—he would launch 34 in ’62 and hold the club record until
coming of Kong in 1975—the Phillies had to be a little worried. That
worry was well founded as the Mets put together the biggest outburst in
their brief history, a seven-run fourth that broke the previous day’s
record six-run sixth. The Phillies were as responsible as the Mets for
the outburst. Three straight Mets reached on Philadelphia errors, plus
there were two wild pitches, a walk (to the pitcher), a stolen base (by
Elio Chacon), and a home run (by Jim Hickman).
Al Jackson, in his first year of six decades of Mets employment, did
not let the output go to waste. He tossed the inaugural shutout in Mets
history in game one. His 8-0 gem assured Casey Stengel’s
Mets of at least their first split of a series—and a doubleheader. The
Phillies felt far from assured.
Expansion was making its first go round in
70 years in the National League. The Phillies, losers of 107 games in
1961, were no gimmee to finish ahead of the Mets in ’62, or the new
Houston Colt .45s. In reality, the Phillies never had real reason to
worry, they were on an upswing that would see them put together an
unprecedented six straight winning seasons (helped, no doubt, by heaping
helpings of games against a pretty bad Mets team). The 1962 Phillies had
a winning record, finishing 40½ games ahead of the Mets—and the Phils
were a seventh-place team!
No club wanted to finish 10th, but the
Mets obligingly clinched the basement by 18 games. Unlike today, fans
adored them without complaint. Filling the aching void left when the
Giants and Dodgers absconded to the coast, the Mets had jumped through
plenty of political and procedural hoops to get National League baseball
back in New York. And they finished dead last with panache, thanks to
Casey, Choo Choo, Marvelous Marv, and Hot Rod Kanehl, plus a host of
washed-up veterans and exquisitely awful scrubs.
Two early Mets leads disappeared in the
nightcap and Philadelphia cruised to a 10-2 victory. Sherman “Roadblock”
Jones, scratched from the Opening Day start when a lit match-head landed
in his eye, was scratched from the starting rotation after getting
pummeled to fall to 0-4. Even the ’62 Mets had standards.
The Mets played a staggering 30 doubleheaders in
1962, the most in club history. They won two of them before they lost
one! Then they went 1-17-9 in twinbills the rest of the way, being
outscored by 120 runs in those doubleheaders, a distinct brand of
vaudevillian baseball for the
Mad Men age. And they kept New York lively with 17 of these double
features at the venerable, if crumbling, Polo Grounds.
The Mets played 19 doubleheaders in 1963…
and again won three. They once more split 10. Their last doubleheader of
1963, in the final week of the Polo Grounds, was the first-ever Banner
Day. That tradition would last a third of a century, die from lack of
commitment by ownership in the mid-1990s, and revive in the 2010s. Pared
from the doubleheader, however, Banner Day is sort of an orphan without
its built-in audience watching the parade of bedsheets while awaiting
the nightcap of a twinbill. (There were no cell phones then to keep us
so occupied with nothing.)
But we held out hope that Banner Day would
come back and it came true. Now we only have to hope that the Mets will
one day serve banners as the meat of a sumptuous doubleheader sandwich.
Now that would get your money’s worth.
Nightcap: It Only Works in
So this your Doubleheader Dip, a yearlong
look into Mets doubleheaders since the team began. Rest assured, like
most things on this site, I am making it up as I go along—the form, that
is; the doubleheaders are real. Each feature will include two parts,
like any self-respecting twinbill. Welcome to the Nightcap portion of
It starts with me. I remember how a
doubleheader seemed natural from the get-go. Two games in one day? Sure,
why not? So when I was a sports newbie at age 10, I just assumed all
sports included doubleheaders. The Jets game: “It’s Sunday, so why don’t
the Jets and Patriots play another game after this?” It would save on
travel, though they might have to expand rosters.
“Why don’t they have doubleheaders in the
World Series?” My Dad just smiled at that one. Little did I realize that
I’d soon just settle for a World Series game that started before 8 p.m.
Remember when the
Mets were last in Anaheim in June of 2008?
Tuscany tile ring a bell? Yes, Anaheim is where Willie Randolph got
fired. At the time,
Willie got rooked. As I went through the 2008 season in minute
a book with Keith Hernandez, I came to believe that the Mets would
not have stood a prayer in 2008 if not for the managerial change in the
waning days of Shea. The team really responded to the Gangsta, but the
horrible bullpen—the main culprit in Randolph’s firing—undid the good
work by Jerry and friends when it counted in the end. Whatever Manuel
magic there was did not transfer to a new stadium, or even to the
closing of the old one. Something to ponder as you try to stay awake for
the late games from the coast. Funny how Mike Scioscia’s still there,
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Just letting you know I’ll be talking Mets
on Spadora on Sports around 10:20 a.m. on Saturday, April 12, calling in
from Shawangunk Mountains. The syndicated show can be heard from Rome to
Geneva (both New York), as well as several other locales including
Brattleboro, VT, Keene, NH, and a little burg of Boston, MA. Or you can
tune in rye
April 8, 2014
Home Is Where
the Heart Is (Not!)
the first Mets homestand of the season is over and now comes the good
part: the road games. So much for “root, root, root for the home team.”
If you haven’t noticed, there is a verifiable fact about these Mets—they
stink at home.
has nothing to do with the opening 2-4 homestand, though that sorry
display—with a dicey one-run win and a walkoff grand slam keeping it
from being a complete disaster—only adds weight to the argument about
the sorry state of the Mets at Citi Field. But even if we throw out that
first homestand—and don’t we wish we could—Terry Collins’s .424 home
winning percentage is the worst of any Mets manager in the last 46
counting interim skippers and fill-ins, you have to go all the way back
real cliff-dweller,” Wes Westrum, with a .404 winning percentage
between 1965 and 1967, to locate a skipper with a lower percentage in
his Mets career. T.C. also beats out Casey Stengel, who had a .372 home
winning percentage as the team’s first manager and patriarch. Those
early Mets clubs defined mediocrity for New Yorkers and baseball fans
for generations to come. Any time “winning” percentage from those years
comes into a Mets conversation, it is not a good sign. And of the 16
managers who have lasted longer than a year with the Mets, Casey and Wes
are the only ones who gave the home folks such lousy fare. And the
prices were a lot lower and the entertainment options a lot more limited
in the 1960s.
Art Howe (.447) and pre-genius Joe Torre (.428) did a better job at home
than the current Mets manager. The best, you may ask? Davey Johnson
(.635), Bobby Valentine (.576), and Willie Randolph (.574!). Bud
Harrelson (.562) and Jerry Manuel (.555), neither of whom would be
confused with Gil Hodges (.528), ran circles around Collins. And other
than a select season or two, none of them had a murderer’s row lineup.
straight years with a lower winning percentage on the road than at home
is a new franchise record. You could call it a fluke, bad managing, bad
ownership, or bad luck, but the fact that it has only gotten worse since
moving the fences in at Citi Field provides food for thought.
was not always this way. The Mets put together winning home records
their first two years at Citi Field, including a smart 47-34 mark in
2010, which marked the only time the Mets have hit more homers at Citi
Field than the opposition. The 2010 campaign also included a three-game
sweep of the Phillies in which their NL East tormentor (or one of them,
at least) did not score a single run in 27 innings. I recall Phillie
after Phillie stomping back to the dugout that week, pounding bats into
the ground as they failed over and over to reach the vast dimensions of
Citi Field. Then came 2011.
two of the three years under manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy
Alderson, the Mets have had a winning record on the road, which you will
find no complaints about here. At the same time, however, the Mets have
become one of the worst home teams in baseball. In 2011 and 2012 they
were 14th of 16 teams in the NL. After the Astros were swapped over to
the American League—in a move you can ponder while you stay up late to
watch the Mets-Angeles interleague series this weekend—the Mets moved up
to second-to-last in the NL at home in 2013 with a 33-48 mark. That was
the worst home mark not just in Citi Field’s existence, but you have to
go back to the God-awful 1978 season to find the last Mets team to be
more putrid at home over a full season. Nobody wants to go back there.
It has been only two years with the
new Citi Field dimensions, which brought in the fences by about a
dozen feet in the alleys and lowered wall height as well. It may be too
early to assign the fences as the main culprit, especially since the
Mets have the same brand of dreadful offense we’ve been watching since
they moved out of Shea. It is not a great hitter’s park, and probably
never will be, but the problem is since they moved in the fences, the
road teams have looked a lot more at home. Last year, for example, while
going 7-3 against the Mets at Citi Field, the Nationals hit 22 home runs
in 10 games. That is almost half as many homers as the Mets hit in 81
home games. And this was in an off-year by the Nats. The 2013 Mets hit
even fewer longballs at home than during their inaugural year at the
park. (Thanks to
Newsday for the data.)
Mets HR Opp HR Home Rec
2009 49 81 41-40
2010 62 46 47-34
2011 50 59 34-47
65 86 36-45
45 79 33-48
does it all mean? It’s all part of the answer to the everlasting
question: Why don’t the Mets win?
Terry Collins responsible? He doesn’t help. Given the constant financial
crunch in Metsland, he is managing with one hand behind his back, but
when terrible Torborg (.480) and bumbling Bamberger (.478) run circles
around you at home, it’s hard to blame the talent—because those 1980s
and 1990s teams had plenty of players indifferent to winning. On a good
like to blame moving in the fences, but the Mets were getting outclassed
in that department before the walls were touched. (Though I will say the
Giants kept their cavernous dimensions, built around young pitching, and
have won world championships twice since 2010.) Is this Sandy Alderson’s
fault? He has picked up top prospects Zack Wheeler, Noah Snydergaard,
and Travis d’Arnaud in exchange for the team’s best outfielder and
pitcher. The players he has picked up, haven’t made it yet. And the Mets
have no real minor league hitting prospects close to ready for the
majors. While he has shown the ability to trade established stars for
ballyhooed prospects, it may be time to ship some prospects for some
proven players if this situation is ever going to reverse itself.
I look to the past for answers when it
comes to the Mets. And the past tells me that the rough road continues
ahead. How long? I
can only pray it’s not much longer.
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I have you here, next week will start the metsilverman.com doubleheader
special. I will dissect the 450-plus twinbills in Mets history, and
unearth some facts, fun, and as always, hidden heartbreak. Ernie Banks
had a famous motto: “Let’s play two.” When it comes to the Mets and
twinbills, it’s more like, “Lets try not to lose both.” But some Amazin’
things have happened, too, when the doors open for two-for-one fun.
is the sorbet course, the palate cleanser. It comes in following the
first game of the year and April Fool’s Day, to wipe away the
exciting—and in this case, rather bitter—Opening Day flavor. The taste
buds start over as we embark on the often bland period of baseball that
exists between game two and Memorial Day. Titles can be won and lost
during this period, though the winning part would seem to hold true for
the ’86 Mets, not the ’14 Mets. This club will spend most days trying to
shut the barn door after the horse has run out. And then Terry Collins
will open the door again and call in another reliever.
enjoy the sorbet and we’ll be back later with a more substantial course.
Though I have a feeling Bartolo Colon is going to be hungry for more
than a cup of sorbet.
After a long, tough day schlepping to
Flushing to watch the Mets bullpen flush another win away. I came back
home and did something different. I watched the final episode of How I
Met Your Mother. Now I’ve watched the show on many occasions, but only
as a re-run and rarely as a complete show, but after seeing 10 promos
for the final episode during Sunday college basketball, I felt compelled
to watch the last show like I’ve been watching all along. There must be
sniglet for missing the whole series yet catching the finale.
liked the episode and how all the characters ended up. (Others
were not as pleased.) Maybe I should have been watching these past
208 Mondays since 2005. Oh, well, that’s what re-runs are for. Then I
fell asleep and a new show came on.
started with the recurring dream of ball four after ball four, of
borderline calls missed, of unnecessary moves by Terry Collins and a
soundtrack of Jeurys Familia’s downer entrance music. Then it was washed
over by all the happy openers I’ve witnessed since 1983, netting a
record of 16-6. Well, 16-7 now. No shock, the biggest Opening Day
buzz-stomping club with me in attendance is the Washington Nationals, a
team—in case you missed the post below—I really don’t like. Even the one
win I’ve seen the Mets get in a lid lifter against the Nats in 2006
occurred because the umps blew key calls at second and home in the last
two innings, both of which would surely be overturned today through the
time-wasting miracle of replay. But this isn’t about me, it’s about my
Since my dinner was
a microwave burrito washed down with a PBR, the dream got funky
quickly. Like the TV show, it seemingly took me all the way to the end
of the story. I didn’t know where I was at first, but I soon realized I
was on a packed Manhattan street corner. There were floats and cars and
people clad in blue and orange lined up everywhere. I looked around me
and snow was hitting me in the face. Only it wasn’t cold. It was
confetti! I looked next to me and saw a 12-year-old version of myself.
are you doing here?” I say. “When I was your age the Mets not only
finished last, they traded Tom Seaver.”
laughs. “I’m not you…”
can’t hear the rest of what he says because some kid blows a vuvuzela
(image only) right next to my ear. And then the whole crowd breaks
into a chorus of “Wooooooooo!” I even join in. My throat aches as if
I’ve been yelling a lot in recent days. Like all dreams it’s kind of
messed up—I can’t tell how old I am or who the players are, or if this
kid is my son or grandson.
Another blue and orange float comes by and
raised arms appear through streams of confetti. I make out a face clear
as a bell. It’s, it’s… it’s Phil Jackson. The parade is for the Knicks.
I hate the Knicks.
I’ll always love your mother.
Back in Montreal... for a Meaningless Weekend
are certain subjects I have a hard time controlling myself over. One is
celebrating Mets greats and their great teams (but I’ve got medication
to take care of that now). Another is micro-fretting over each Mets move
at the end of the year when every game is crucial (going on memory
here). And the third is the fate of the Montreal Expos.
With the Mets playing two exhibition games
against the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend in their first visit to
Montreal in a decade, plus the release of Jonah Keri’s
new book on the Expos, this Expo-phile is set to burst his Youppi
suit. I’ll manage to keep this shorter than my Expos contemplation in
one this site’s
posts. But I can’t keep it simple.
You see, to me, the Expos do not play in
Washington as the Nationals. The Expos are dead to me. I don’t mean
“dead to me” in a
vindictive way regarding someone who sold me out.
It was the Expos were sold out. Killed, if you want to be dramatic, but
the patient had been sick for a long time. It’s the way the drawn-out,
sorry mess was handled by the commissioner and the other owners who
collectively “owned” the Expos after they let Jeff Loria skate his
responsibilities and handed him the Marlins to ruin. Meanwhile, MLB
treated the Expos like a poor relation whose existence in a tiny
upstairs room in their sprawling mansion sickened them for what it cost
to keep Cinderella alive. And this is a Cinderella version of the story
if she’d bippity-boppity-boo squashed that fairy godmother bug flying
around in the garden. The “Cinderalla
went to Washington: a transformation of
an old hat into a new franchise, a quick (song and) dance, then a
tall stranger swoops in with a glass slipper (in an American
taxpayer-bought stadium), and it is like Montreal never happened, which
the new franchise did by handing out uniform numbers retired by the
Expos and treating the Montreal portion of their history like forgotten
know the answer to any franchise problem has long been the same: “Build
me a new stadium or I’ll go somewhere that will.” But Montreal was not a
Before they moved to Washington after the
2004 season, no major league team had relocated since, well, Washington.
After the 1971 season ended—and
a ninth-inning riot forfeited the RFK Stadium finale to the
Yankees—Texas became the new home of the Senators (the new Senators,
mind you, since the old Senators had moved to Minnesota in 1961). Major
League Baseball then enjoyed a 33-season run without a franchise
relocation. That’s pretty impressive for any sport. The NFL, which saw
unprecedented growth—and greed—in that same span, had six relocations
(including my beloved football Cardinals to the dry heat). The NHL saw
10 teams move between 1971 and 2004. The NBA had 11 relos.
franchise shift is ugly, like the divorce of a family on your childhood
street. You know the kids, the parents, even the pets, and you sit on
the corner helplessly watching the moving van come and take away
everything but the empty shell of a house that remains. I still remember
when P.J. Cotunio moved from White Plains to New Mexico; it must have
been when I was four, in 1969, and I ran down the street crying as the
family pulled out. I never saw him again. I have no memory of the
Miracle Mets—or the inaugural Expos—from that year, but I can still see
P.J.’s car disappearing in a blur of salty tears.
held it together the day I chased the Expos bullpen car for the last
time. I was at Shea Stadium for the Expos game, with my buddy Paul, on
the final day of the 2004 season. It would have been fitting for
Montreal to win, since they defeated those ’69 Mets at Shea in their
first ever game, but I have never rooted for the Mets to lose in a real
game—not even to send me home after freezing (or sweltering) at the
ballpark for far too long, to keep the team from having to destroy their
rotation in order to use someone in an extra-inning emergency, or even
punish the team for making a stupid trade (and there have been many). I
did not root for the Mets to lose that day, even in what was the last
game of the lost Art Howe regime. The Mets managed an 8-1 triumph to
avoid being swept by last-place Montreal.
the ninth inning of that franchise snuffer on October 3, 2004, Paul and
I had inched to the front row in the field level. On the hill was Mets
reliever Bartolome Fortunato. (Remember him? He was sent by Tampa Bay to
“even out” that brilliant
Kazmir-Zambrano deal that was initially applauded by the clueless front
office but soon got the GM and the manager fired.) Fortunato was
pitching to none other than Endy Chavez, pre-Mets folk hero days, and
Endy grounded out to second in the last day of Art Howe, Todd Zeile, and
five other Mets who played that afternoon, not knowing the end of the
game had come for them at the end of the game. It waits for all of us.
guess that brings us to this weekend’s Mets-Blue Jays exhibition series
at Stade Olympique in Montreal. Seems strange that two teams that train
a coupla-three hours away in Florida have to travel 1,500 miles to
another country to play two meaningless games. And the meaningless part
is what gets me.
the Dodgers and Diamondbacks still getting over their jet lag by going
to Sydney, Australia to open the season, why does Montreal get
“exhibition game” status? Clearly, the Blue Jays are not selling so many
tickets where a weekend series against the likes of Tampa Bay (now
Fortunato- and Zambrano-free for a decade) might drum up crowds similar
to the 40,000-plus seats sold for the Mets and Jays.
Evenko, a Montreal company, pushed by
former Expo Warren Cromartie, lobbied MLB to get this series.
According to the
New York Times, there is actually some nostalgia from people
other than me. Quebec kids too young to have seen the Expos are wearing
the tri-color hats around town. The Hall of Fame elections of Gary
Carter and Andre Dawson—both wearing Expos hats on their plaques despite
protests in New York and Chicago, respectively—have led people to
remember the team fondly. A team that 20 years ago won 74 times—in 114
games—before the strike sent the game hurtling into a nuclear winter and
forever marred Montreal’s feelings for the game. I think we can blame
the owners for that, too.
What’s done is done. Let the dead bury the dead, but maybe these
exhibition games will lead to a slow-growing movement and in another 23
years when there is a franchise shift, maybe Montreal makes the short
list of sites to evacuate to. I went to Olympic Stadium once and it does
lack some appeal, though it was any more unpleasant to my taste than
Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium of that era. And with an Olympic
Stadium Metro stop—and Molson on tap—Montreal was (and is) a hell of a
lot more appealing than Pittsburgh.
Washington got a second chance to have a
franchise, and—thanks to the Expos situation, a third chance. Maybe
Montreal will one day get another shot at les ligues majeures. An
international, continental, and as Keith Hernandez purred today on SNY
"a very classy" city, which speaks two languages and hosts
one of the greatest franchises
in sports—plus ex-Expo mascot
Youppi. It’s a better place for a big-league team
than, say, Tampa. And Montreal has certainly paid its dues.
<> <> <>
Thanks again to Taryn Cooper and her new
the Mets Lounge, for having me on in between Maggie Wiggin and Greg
Prince—and by inclusion called me cool for the first time since, well, I
guess that depends a lot on
what you consider cool. It was good fun and I’m officially
ready for baseball 2014.
Each year around this time, I attach a player to
my current age based on uniform number. It started with number 43 and
sidewinding ’80s Mets pitcher Terry Leach in the
first-ever metsilverman.com post on my 43rd birthday in 2008. We
keep on keeping on with year number six… but let’s not get confusing,
it’s Jon Niese’s Year, number 49. If only his health holds up.
Without Niese, the list of 49s in Mets
lore leads to a frightening alternative: Armando Benitez,
the team’s right-handed saves leader. But if I could leave Armando
out of the top 50 Mets in
Best Mets, I would have gone to a Walt Terrell, Kevin Kobel,
Dyar Miller, or even Don Aase Year before I ever went with Armando. But
thanks for being there and sparing us, Jon Niese.
Previous Years have belonged to the
aforementioned Terry Leach (43), Ron Darling (44), Tug McGraw (45), Neil
Allen (46), Jesse Orosco (47), and last year, the year I couldn’t choose
the lefty with the strong arm and attraction for guns or the southpaw
who’d been a Shea hot dog vendor: My Randy Myers/Ed Glynn Year (48). If
this seems tiresome, the count won’t go on forever. Number 50 in 2015
will be the last year of the exercise of naming my year. The site will
go on past 50—and I surely hope to follow.
This is my first foray into a Year with a
current player. I have liked Niese since he provided much-needed
reinforcements in the ill-fated attempt to end Shea’s run on a less than
agonizing note in September 2008. He made three starts: in two he got
roughed up, but the other was a gem against the Braves in the second
game of a doubleheader after the Bullpen of Death had blown yet another
Johan Santana lead in the opener. The pen would implode again the
following afternoon, but we won’t dwell on that because life is too
short, as these ever increasing uniform number Years keep proving.
Niese has now been around long enough to
become a veteran. If Niese if ever healthy for an extended period, the
Mets might even consider trading him for someone who can hit. Advocating
a trade for my Year-mate is definitely new, but I think his balky elbow,
shoulder, and neck will keep him a Met through my 49th year—or at least
the baseball-playing portion of it. I like Niesey, obviously, but I like
the Mets more, and I will part with anyone if it will help bring about
the end goal: winning a World Series in whatever time I—or any of us—has
left. Not to be macabre, but with the Mets make you feel your mortality,
no matter how many seasons you are on this side, or the other side, of
Considering how many kids my daughter’s age have
four world championships on their pinstriped watch, I think hoping for
one more title in this lifetime isn’t pushing it. But when you think
about the 86 years between champagne drafts for Red Sox fans until 2004,
the 53 years Rangers fans have waited, or the 52 years Astros fans have
endured without a title, you learn to not to assume anything is your
due. As Felix Unger once told an
Odd Couple courtroom, never assume.
We also can’t assume Jon Niese will be
healthy—he’s already missing this year’s Opening Day nod after two
spring training shutdowns. And chit-chat between Gary Cohen and Keith
Hernandez today on SNY did not make it a slam dunk he would pitch the
first time through the rotation in 2014. Only twice has Niese made 30
starts in a season—in 2010 and 2012, so maybe he’s got a Howard Johnson
every other year thing going, and ’14 will come up roses for big, bad
Jon. Despite missing time with a shoulder problem last year, he still
finished .500 (8-8) with a 3.71 ERA for a very mediocre team. After
coming off the DL, he notched his second career shutout—and just his
third career complete game—in his final August start. He allowed more
than three earned runs in only one of his last six starts. And for a
team starved for offense, it’s worth noting that he’s one of the
better-hitting Mets pitchers. He hit over .200 for the second straight
year and knocked in as many runs (four) in ’13 as Mike Baxter, while
batting 15 points higher than
Bax, who already has five hitless Dodgers at bats this season Down
So that’s the Niese story. What can you
expect from metsilverman.com this year?
Plenty of the posting,
Facebooking that is the author’s lot in the modern age—be an
introvert on your own time, they say. Oh, and this Wednesday night,
March 26, I
will be on the
new Taryn Cooper podcast
at 9:20 p.m. with Greg Prince and Maggie Wiggin.
This year promises more delving into the
Metsian past, which I think we all can agree has been far more
interesting than its present during the six-year run of this site.
Though there is no new book from me this
year—the first time that’s happened since 2007—don’t worry, there’ll
still be the
odd book plug to keep you warm and fuzzy on a chilly Citi night.
Last year, my persistent 40 Years Ago
Today posts actually achieved the site’s long-sought goal of more
posts of shorter length. It will be hard to duplicate that in 2014,
but I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve… and two is the buzzword on
the site in ’14.
We will take a fun look at Mets
doubleheaders. Right now, the idea is to look at a few years’ worth of
twinbills per week, with the hard data as one part of the entry,
followed by a nightcap with more story than nuts and bolts. Or I might
swap this order. Or I might do something completely different once I get
going. Like a twinbill, you never know how it will end.
Why doubleheaders? A couple of years ago,
while in the midst of researching a book, I got a note from a reader
asking a simple question: “How many times have the Mets won the first
game of a doubleheader?”
I couldn’t just pick up the media guide and look
up that specific query. I could find out how many wins, losses, and
splits there have been, but that little question sent me digging into
every doubleheader in Mets history. It took up way more than my usual
procrastination time, so I set the project aside. I still need to finish
the research, but it’s ready to be shared with the public. Twinbills
aren’t for everybody, but I’ll keep it lively and interesting. As usual,
the final form of a metsilverman.com seasonal mission will look far
different at the end than it does the beginning. Sort of like the way
the Opening Day Metsies (34-18
and counting) usually looks like an entirely different animal than
the one we see struggling the rest of the year.
But I am glad to be 49, and glad to be
Niese. Now if only I were lefthanded and could throw 90 mph…
Spring Training Opening Post
everyone who has an active baseball website, there is a requirement
announcing the start of spring training games. To be honest, I could
probably live in perpetual winter with the Mets a vague notion as
something past. Then I could move on to other pursuits. Watching the
Mets makes me annoyed far more than it makes me happy—as anyone who has
ever lived with me through a summer will plainly tell you. Even at bats
given away during a blowout win can disturb me. If I wanted perfection
there are many other teams I could have picked. But I am stuck with the
Mets like the dog I picked out because our eyes met for a second and
then we were stuck together for life. The scab from where my dog bit my
hand just healed.
not a fan of the Mets manager; the general manager I truly hope knows
what he is doing; and the owner I wish was as reclusive and as wealthy
as Howard Hughes. The players come and go, come and go. According to the
Mets Database, there have been 968 Mets who have suited up in the
regular season during their 53 seasons. That puts it at sometime perhaps
in 2015 when they will put the uniform on the 1,000th player in
franchise history. Will number 1,000 be a star, a scrub, a journeyman
talent, or a player who will one day jump atop a dog pile of delirious
Mets in a World Series–clinching game? I watch to find out. Something
has to keep me turned on. I could have stopped being a fan 1,000 times,
but why stop now? I might miss something. Or somebody. My dog is curled
up comfortably at my feet,
February 21, 2014
Live and Let Live
February 24, 1980.
My 15th birthday. So long ago that that night Pink Floyd staged one of
their very few performances of
The Wall tour at Nassau Coliseum. (The Wall was performed
just a dozen times in the U.S. after it came out: seven times at the Los
Angeles Forum and five times in Uniondale, starting February 24.) When I
heard a friend from school was going to the show, I was jealous and
envious, thinking that if I had tried using birthday privilege—and using
full-court press guilt on my parents, who were out of town for my actual
birthday—maybe I could have been speeding to the Uniondale for the best
birthday present since my mom made
the best $10 purchase in history and got me both the German and
Japanese G.I. Joes when I turned seven. But I dismissed my
going-to-Floyd fantasy when I realized that it meant I probably would
have missed the gold medal game.
The winter of 1980 was the only time I played ice
hockey. I had to quit partway through the season because my grades
tanked. And besides, I really was a suck-ass hockey player. But I loved
the game. I tried to love the National Hockey League, but it just didn’t
take. The regular season was interesting but meaningless—16 of 21 teams
made the NHL playoffs in 1980—and the postseason went too deep into
baseball season to maintain my interest. But Olympic hockey I love. To
this day I would still rate the 1980 Olympic run at Lake Placid as the
greatest sporting event I have followed other than the 1986 postseason.
I have seen a lot of great postseason baseball, watched all but three of
the last 38 Super Bowls (and even attended one), have followed the NCAA
basketball tournament religiously, and was extremely fortunate to be at
the 2002 Games in Salt Lake and see team U.S.A. win in the flesh. But
1980 grabbed some piece of me that only comes out every four years.
It is obviously great when the Americans have a
gold medalbronze medal consolation
prize-worthy squad, but I still watch the tournament nonetheless. And I
watch despite believing that the Games are a lot better when they don’t
feature NHL players, which is normally the type of stipulation that I
use as an excuse not to watch—such as the Summer Games with NBA
players. But this month I have hung on every play of Olympic hockey (men
and women) regardless of who is wearing what jersey. (It probably helps
that my son plays hockey and I already spend a coupla-three nights a
week at the rink.)
Just the like 1986 postseason, it gnaws on me a
little that I wasn’t there to witness a miracle first hand. Or in the
case of the 1980 Games, see it live on TV. Yes, the most important
Olympic event this side of Jesse Owens vs. Adolf Hitler was not shown
live, even though it was played in the Eastern Time Zone. For reasons I
still cannot comprehend, a game of this magnitude between super power
rivals with the weapon capabilities to annihilate each other 50 times
over, that featured a team of seasoned full-time players against our
amateurs, that was the embodiment of the American underdog story… was
not shown live by ABC. I recall closing my ears and singing a song when
the score came on the news earlier that night.
I actually got through two periods of watching the
game on delay until my aunt called. She said, “Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Isn’t what wonderful?” I responded, knowing full
well what she meant. But my Aunt Gee, who would have turned 100
tomorrow, was the nicest person I’ve ever known, and it was her birthday
that night, so I told her the U.S. beating the Soviets was a great
present and hung up the phone. It made the moment slightly less special,
but I blame TV executives who still pull this same crap three dozen
years later. (Really, NBC? Soap operas instead of USA-Canada hockey?) I
never blamed my aunt for spilling the beans because, ya know, it really
That was the last Friday in February of 1980. On
Sunday, the Americans took on Finland for the gold medal. The team full
of college kids again turned on the drama, falling behind the Fins, 2-1,
after two periods. The result was U.S.A. coach Herb Brooks making the
shortest and most effective locker room speech in Olympic hockey
history. Pardon Herb’s French:
lose this game you will take it with you to your fucking graves." He started to leave
the locker room, but he stopped, turned around, and repeated,
"Your fucking graves.”
The Americans won that day, 4-2, live on ABC from a town 277 miles north
of where I grew up. The host city for the 1932 as well as the 1980
Games, it seems inconceivable that little Lake Placid could twice host
the Olympics—until you spend a little time there, and you realize that
that town is capable of anything. When the movie
came out, with its jubilant crowd scenes recreated on Lake Placid’s
own Main Street, I waited until we were in the town to see it—of course
it was still playing at the Palace Theater
six weeks after it opened—and that sort of made up for the 1980 tape
delay, even though I certainly knew the ending before sitting down for
the movie. Beating the Soviets, and then, with a chance to blow it all,
knocking off the Fins, too, is something I think all of those players,
coaches, and those who followed them, will happily remember to their
dying day. Whether they saw it live or just wished they did.
<> <> <>
As for the timing of
this, here is a piece about tape delayed broadcasting that was written
and then held onto by the author. Proof that networks—and
American hockey players—aren’t
the only ones who can screw these things up.
February 13, 2014
Last Call for
Greg Spira Award Nominees
There are only a couple of days left to
nominate yourself or a deserving young writer for the second annual Greg
Spira Award. Greg, who died of kidney disease at age 44 in December
2011, was a longtime friend, colleague, and co-editor with me for the
defunct but always funky Maple Street Press Mets Annual. Sadly,
the last installment of that preview magazine in February of 2011 was
the last of many projects we worked on together.
There are specifics for eligibility. First and foremost, the nominated
baseball piece needs to have been published online, in print, or
presented between January 16, 2013, and January 15, 2014. The writer
must be under 30 at the time of publication. Nominations must be in by
Saturday, February 15, before midnight. Nominations received before or
after this period will not be considered.
The winner of the 2014 Greg Spira Award will receive a cash prize of
$1,000. The committee will also recognize two additional writers with
awards of $200 for second place and $100 for third place.
The nomination form for the Greg Spira Award can be found at
www.SpiraAward.org. Anyone can nominate a qualifying piece for the
Award, and self-nominations by authors are definitely welcome. Note,
however, that only one entry per author will be considered for the Greg
In order to be eligible for nomination, a piece or book must be about
baseball and must contain original analysis or research. Articles,
papers, and books eligible for consideration include those published in
print or in e-books, those published or posted on the World Wide Web,
academic papers or dissertations, and papers presented at professional
or public conferences.
am honored to be one of the judges. There has already been more
submissions than last year. I look forward to reading the pieces and
helping find a deserving winner. The inaugural Spira Award was presented
to Trent McCotter of Washington, D.C., last year. Dan Farnsworth and
Caleb Hardwick were second- and third-place winners, respectively.
February 6, 2014
speaking about Ralph Kiner, one is tempted to start by saying, “Mets
fans of a certain age”… but with Ralph Kiner, it was Mets fans of any
age. And all of us will miss him.
Kiner was the link to the Polo Grounds to Casey Stengel to Nolan Ryan as
a Met to the Amazin’ Mets to the first dowsing of champagne in the Shea
Stadium locker room. He was on the job when Tom Seaver fanned 10 batters
in a row, he was there when the Mets clinched the unlikeliest of
division titles in 1973, and when they came up just a little short in
Oakland that October. He called Dave Kingman’s mammoth home runs and
declared that he could hit them out of anyplace, “including
Yellowstone.” He might have borrowed that line, as he borrowed the line
that said, “Singles hitters drive Fords, home run hitters drove
Cadillacs.” And he knew plenty about that, having clubbed 369 in just
over 10 years, leading the National League in home runs an unprecedented
seven straight years.
taught me plenty, starting with what the Hall of Fame was. He was
enshrined in Cooperstown the same year I started following the game,
1975. He showed me that baseball was about patience, as the eight years
that followed proved. While waiting for contention, he related stories
about when the team was really bad, in the early days. And Kiner, along
with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, the longest running trio in baseball
broadcasting history, guided me through the abyss of Mets baseball.
While Lindsey left after the 1977 season, Ralph and Murph stayed. When
Murph moved to radio, Kiner seamlessly took the hand of many new TV
partners. Tim McCarver brought out the true pro in Kiner, and Ralph, in
turn, made Tim McCarver less of a know-it-all and a more human
broadcaster. For a while, at least.
was there when the Mets got good again. His “going, going, it is gone
goodbye” tied once again to home runs with meaning in the National
League East. When the Mets went back to mediocrity, Kiner stayed sharp,
a reminder of the good old days, and he stayed on as the team turned 40
and even 50. The World War II veteran who’d come up with the terrible
Pirates of the 1940s, always let you know that he’d seen worse—and he’d
seen better, too. He knew how to switch gears like a race car driver in
a race that’s run every day, or every couple of weeks as his workload
slowly diminished, by choice.
Kiner’s Korner, the best postgame show of its kind, lasted for
his first three decades of Mets baseball with players fighting over
going on the show—and grabbing the $50 fee. It was hosted by a homer
champ, but it was never a “homer” show—if you just tuned in and didn’t
know the score, you’d immediately know if it was a Mets win if Jerry
Koosman, Ed Kranepool, or Lee Mazzilli were sitting there, or another
“L” if the guest was Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench, or Lou Brock. No
matter who was on the show, they sat in front of a set that though long
gone, but it even made the cut in a 1973 movie filmed at Shea,
Bang the Drum Slowly. Ralph penned
a book that I still have two copies of, and he later authored
bookthat I included in a 2005 Best Baseball
Writing anthology I put together with the late Greg Spira for
Sports Weekly. Yeah, this is where I put my brush with Kiner
wrote the foreword for my first book,
Mets Essential. Even better than that was the book signing that
was set up with him at the Barnes & Noble on Union Turnpike. His driver
got lost and Ralph wound up half an hour or so late. There were tons of
people lined up, and some were getting angry—especially those who
resented that I was there and the Hall of Famer was not. Suddenly Ralph
showed up and everyone applauded. The 300 people were all smiles as they
all got autographs—some of them even wanted mine (after
they secured Ralph Kiner’s signature). I have met a few ballplayers, and
I will say honestly that only Ralph Branca, whom I have known since I
was a child, I would put ahead of Kiner on the good guy chart. Ralph
Kiner and I later did a phone interview for the book,
The Miracle Has Landed, which I am including below.
Before I get to that, though, I want to say that Ralph Kiner taught me
baseball. He and Murph and Lindsey were the ones who filled my mind with
the game and taught me all its intricacies—and in record time. I was 10
when I watched my first game and by 11 there was nothing I didn’t know,
or didn’t want to learn. Channel 9 still gives me a warm glow whenever I
stop on it on TV roulette. The great trio of Murphy-Kiner-Nelson belongs
to the ages now, but they belong to Mets fans first, foremost, and
forever. Ralph Kiner was a great ambassador for baseball, but also a
teacher, mentor, companion, and for a few hours on Union Turnpike, a
friend. But he was that from that first day I tuned him in back in 1975.
And I am sure you feel the same way.
Ralph Kiner, Q &
A (The Miracle Has Landed, 2009)
Kiner was in his eighth season as a Mets announcer in 1969. Kiner, along
with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, broadcast the Mets their first day
as a franchise in 1962. The broadcasters remained together for 17
seasons—a record for a trio with one team—until Nelson moved on to the
San Francisco Giants after the 1978 season. Murphy remained with the
club, switching to radio full-time in 1982, until he retired following
the 2003 season. Kiner still broadcasts a few selected Mets games per
season in his late 80s (he was born on October 27, 1922, in Santa Rita,
New Mexico—the only man elected to Cooperstown to be a native of that
state). Though Kiner never played for the Mets—he retired at age 32 in
1955 because of a chronic bad back—he is one of the most beloved men in
franchise history. His beloved postgame show was a staple among Mets
fans for two generations. It was dubbed Kiner’s Korner for the
porch in left field at Forbes Field, where he won an unprecedented seven
consecutive National League home run titles (including ties in 1947 and
1952). He hit 369 home runs in just a 10-season career with the Pirates,
Cubs, and Indians. He was elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame in
1975 and to the Mets Hall of Fame in 1984.
took time in September 2007, two months after Ralph Kiner Night at Shea
Stadium, to talk about the 1969 Mets and how things were handled in the
Maple Street Press: In 1968 did you feel there was something
changing about the team, or was it something you didn’t really see until
Ralph Kiner: They had acquired both Koosman and Seaver by then.
Ironically, they got them by happenstance. Seaver was originally signed
by the Atlanta Braves and he was signed through a technicality. [It was
done] illegally and they would not honor the signing. They put his name
in a hat and there were three teams trying to get Seaver [in the special
lottery set up by commissioner William Eckert in 1966]. One was
Philadelphia, the other was Cleveland, and the Mets. And the Mets drew
his name out of the hat.
Koosman was also going to be released by the Mets [in the minor
leagues], but he owed them some money for a used car and Joe McDonald,
who was running the farm system, said let’s keep him around for another
month and get our money and then let him go. He ended up having a good
month in the minors, so they didn’t let him go and so he stayed with the
Mets and of course he was part of that real good pitching staff they had
and at that time.
idea was that pitching was the way to build a club and that’s basically
how they came to have such good pitching. In ’68 they had quite a few
shutouts [25, second-most in the major leagues]. It was an abnormal
amount of shutouts for a team that wasn’t winning, but they pitched very
well. Then in ’69, they had never been at .500, and in the early part of
the year they gotten to .500 for the first time in their history and
they, the writers, celebrated it, but Seaver was quoted as saying we’re
only .500. They were 10 back on August 13 and the Cubs were dominating
the league at the time, but all the things were going right for the
Mets. The Mets wound up beating the Cubs and winning 100 games. They
were getting all the breaks you need to get to be a winner. Everything
has to go right all the way around for a team to win.
MSP: The double shutout, when both pitchers drove in the only runs
in 1<\->0 games, was that the strangest doubleheader you’ve ever seen,
at least the strangest that didn’t go 30-plus innings?
RK: Cardwell [had one of the RBI- hits] and the other was Koosman.
Koosman was a hell of a pitcher. He certainly was one of the best
competitors the Mets have ever had. He was really an outstanding pitcher
along with Tom Seaver. That team also had some really good pitching
along with Ron Taylor. Those guys had a real solid ballclub and all
those guys had their career years in that year that they won. They beat
a really good team in Baltimore. Frank Cashen was GM of Baltimore.
MSP: Do you think that the five-man rotation the Mets developed in
1969 was good for the game or was that something that has led to team
like the 2007 Mets, who haven’t had a pitcher throw a complete game all
year that wasn’t shortened by rain?
RK: That became the rule of baseball and I don’t really understand
it. I don’t know why you have to go to five-man rotation and not pitch
complete games. And Seaver feels the same way. Seaver and Koosman that
year, they didn’t take them out automatically when they got to a certain
number of pitches.
MSP: Between August 13 and the end of 1969 the Mets had 25 complete
games in that span.
RK: Over the years, the Atlanta Braves with Glavine and Smoltz, they
pitched all through the game. And Seaver, his pitch count would be up
around 150 or whatever. To me, that theory that you don’t throw more
than 110 or 120 pitches, I don’t understand that myself. I think the
more you use your arm the stronger it gets. Of course that was the way
they all pitched at one time in major league baseball. The starters
would relieve in between starts on top of that.
MSP: The platoon system, is there something about the way the Mets
used that? Gil Hodges used it religiously. Donn Clendenon was the team’s
best slugger and he didn’t play at all in the Championship Series in his
very strict platoon. Do you think that helped keep the players rested,
as opposed to the Cubs, who played the same guys every game?
RK: Credit Stengel with the platoon system. He used it a lot when he
managed the Yankees and he himself was platooned a lot when he played
for John McGraw [for the 1920s New York Giants]. That system was not
brought in by Hodges. He just continued using it when he took over.
Might have been passed over from Stengel to him.
think the platoon system that they use now with the middle relief and
the closer is a cop out for the manager. That way at the end of the
ballgame if they lose it they can say, “I did it like everyone else and
I went to my middleman and he didn’t do the job.” Or it might have been
the closer. I don’t really understand the advantage. When I played, we
were so happy to get the starting pitcher out of the ballgame because
every club had maybe three outstanding pitchers and when you had to go
to the bullpen for a pitcher who didn’t have that kind of stuff. The
closer does have the ability to throw hard for one or possibly two
innings. That could be an advantage, but other than that I know whenever
we were hitting against someone like [Warren] Spahn, who had so many
complete games it was unbelievable, or good pitchers like that, we were
happy to see them get out of the lineup.
MSP: Getting back to 1969, when Agee hit that home run in the upper
deck. The only one hit there, you probably had the best view of anyone
of that ball.
RK: Agee hit that ball up there. He had outstanding power. He wasn’t
that consistent, but he could hit the ball well.
key to that ’69 team was getting Donn Clendenon on that team. It gave
them the right-handed bat that they really needed to score enough runs
for that real good pitching staff. All those guys had really good years.
You get down to Al Weis, Grote, and all those background guys—they had
career years that year.
MSP: In the World Series, especially. Al Weis, who had never hit a
home run at Shea Stadium, hits a game-tying home run. Swoboda, under the
Hodges platoon, would have normally come out for Shamsky, who actually
hit more home runs in fewer at bats than Swoboda. But in that particular
spot with Eddie Watt on the mound in Game 5, Hodges let Swoboda bat in
the eighth inning and he ended up getting the winning hit. That was
obviously a huge moment there.
RK: They had one of those years that was unreal. They had everything
go their way the second half of that season.
MSP: So during the postseason did you do the broadcast on the radio?
RK: I did the radio broadcast for the network [NBC]. That’s how they
did it then. They had the local guys do it for the network. Lindsey did
the TV and I did the radio.
MSP: Now the way they would do it, the team’s station broadcasts on
the radio with their regular announcers and then there’s a separate
national broadcast. But instead of doing that, you guys would just do
one to go all across the country.
RK: Yes, uh-huh.
MSP: Did you, Lindsey, and Bob Murphy have a set rotation during the
season where one would do TV, the other do radio, and the third would be
RK: We would alternate. All three of us would do TV and radio every
single game. I don’t remember how it would break down, but it was
something close to that. I would do TV with Bob or Lindsey, then I’d do
know when we originally started, George Weiss said no one is going to be
the number one announcer. We were going to be a team of three
announcers. There were only three of us and we did all the games on
radio and almost all of them on TV.
MSP: That was one thing he told you early on and that was something
that really was the case, because you guys really were really quite the
team. Now when Lindsey would go do football and he wouldn’t come back on
Sundays, what would you guys do?
RK: I’d do half TV and half radio and Bob would do half TV and half
radio. We both worked alone. There was no other announcer involved.
MSP: Did they have it arranged in general so that you’d be available
at the end of the game for Kiner’s Korner or would you go right
from the booth to the studio?
RK: At the end of the game I’d go right down to the studio and do
MSP: There was one story of one of the 20-inning games where you had
gone down to the studio to get ready for Kiner’s Korner because
it looked like the game was going to end, and then it didn’t, so you
wound up sitting down in the studio for something like 10 innings.
RK: That was in 1964 when we had the doubleheader that went seven
hours, and 23 minutes. I went down for the second game of the
doubleheader that went 23 innings. I went down in the eighth inning and
it looked like it was going to be over after nine and it was tied. I
started to come back up relieve either Bob or Lindsey and I never really
got back up. There was a triple play in that game and things like that,
so I never got back up. I was down there for all the extra innings of
the second game of that doubleheader that went 23 innings.
MSP: Was the Kiner’s Kiner set big? Sometimes those sets on
TV look huge and then when you’re there they’re not much bigger than a
RK: It wasn’t bad. It was done for Kiner’s Korner. And we had
two cameras that we used for the interviews and everything and also the
working part of the thing was the producer’s room right next to it. But
they didn’t use the Kiner’s Korner room for anything but
MSP: Is it still there? Is it used for anything else now?
RK: It’s still there. We use it for doing games. Before Sports Net
New York got involved, we used it for the interviews when the players
would come inside. And we’d use if for Kiner’s Korners. We didn’t
do a lot of those [in the 1990s] we only did certain ones. Now they use
a truck. It’s much easier for them to do it from there and they do the
interviews on the field.
of the things you might want to note is the replays. Originally, and
this goes back to 1962, the replays were done in the downtown studios.
Those were new to television and the tape machines that they used to do
the replays came from downtown. I would indicate what I wanted to be
replayed and downtown they would play it back through. Quite a few times
they would get the wrong replay up and then we had to ad lib and make
the excuses or whatever it was. It was very Mickey Mouse in the very
early days of our broadcasts. They really didn’t do replays in those
MSP: And what about the graphics?
RK: They were done in production. They did the graphics ahead of
MSP: When they do occasionally have a game from a while back on SNY
or something like that, one of the first things you notice is how spare
the graphics are. They’re not giving you a lot of information. They’re
giving you home runs, runs batted in, batting average, and it’s up to
the people to pay attention to find out how many outs there are or what
the score is. Was that something you noticed over time that changed?
RK: The equipment got much better. They added a lot more cameras. We
only used about five cameras, and now they use about 10 or 11. They can
set up their graphics on a camera that would not be in use. Because of a
lack of cameras, we weren’t able to set up the items you see now that
are done and well done.
MSP: One of the things you don’t see so much is the behind the
catcher view. That used to be one of the predominant views.
RK: That’s really the director. He might say, “Let’s use the center
field camera.” That’s determined by the director and the producer.
MSP: Did you have the same producers throughout?
had about five different producers. Maybe more. But we had the guy that
did the Dodgers games, I think his name was Griffin. The producer was a
studio guy. It was too long ago. Bill Webb came out as an assistant and
he went on to great fame. He’s still doing the games for us. We had real
good production, there’s no question about that.
MSP: Going back to 1969 is there a game you remember the most, or
one where you said at the time, “Oh, my Gosh, this is a whole different
ballgame from what I’ve been watching”?
RK: We had eight years, really, of tough times with the game. One
game I really remember was the game where Seaver pitched the one-hitter
where Jimmy Qualls had the only hit of the game. Of course, no one has
ever pitched a no-hit game for the Mets.
MSP: One last thing, when you were doing the interviews on
Kiner’s Korner, going back to 1969, was there anyone who was
especially good interview or especially tough. How about Gil Hodges?
RK: He never gave you a lot of information. But he was a terrific
guy, a great guy to be around. I had a good relationship, but he was not
a gregarious type guy.
MSP: You got to call the home run that broke your record for home
runs by a right-handed batter in the National League when he was with
the Mets. You had 369 and his last home run was 370. That had to be
interesting because you played against him so long.
RK: I played against him his whole career. I probably kept him out
of the Hall of Fame because he never led the league in home runs. And if
he’d have done that maybe two or three times, he might be in the Hall of
MSP: Do you think he’ll get in the Hall of Fame?
RK: It’s going to be real tough for him to get in now with the
Veteran’s Committee, I’m talking about, the Old-Timers.
MSP: You have a vote on that, do you not?
RK: I vote for him. No question about it. I vote for him for the
Hall of Fame.
February 5, 2014
Reflections of a
Mets Life: 2013
So what if I’m off by a year, technically?
So are the Mets! The 2013 season was the year that the Mets front office
hit the reset button on the reboot of the Mets as a competitive
enterprise. As Michael Corleone said in The Godfather when he
Tessio who is selling him out, “It’s the smart move.” Because we
could tell from a mile away that 2013 was not going to lead into a 2014
of fulfilled promise. The only way to do that was to cross one’s fingers
about 2014 and then when the Mets won 70-something games—again!—we’d
come to realize that the Mets really are fakes. Some people believe that
already, but more would have seen it sooner if the team had stayed with
the company line. And the Matt Harvey injury late in ’13 made the
concession about ’14 even more prudent.
So how do you like my reflections so far?
I just killed two seasons with one paragraph.
Unlike the first 40-plus years in
Reflections of a Mets Life (for further examples, scroll down and write
in “Reflections” under the “find” button on my high tech site), there is
no hindsight factor with the present day. I’d love to say 2013 is the
new 1983, and suddenly the Mets minor leagues will blossom where one can
say that Harvey is the new Gooden, Syndergaard—Darling,
Wheeler—Fernandez, Mejia—Aguilera, and on and on as such dreams may take
us. I have no idea how they will turn out. All I know is the present.
And for all I know these guys might be Pulsipher, Wilson, Isringhausen,
and Dave Mlicki—it says a lot about that quartet from 1995-96 that
Mlicki had the best Mets career. I hope one day I will think of 2013 the
way I do about 1983, the best last-place Mets team in a long run of such
finishes because everything came up roses the following year and for the
rest of the decade, frustrating as it sometimes was. Metsland never saw
a better seven years.
Who knows what we really have now? Will
the team’s hitting deficiencies continually recur? Or will they be
solved in ways we cannot yet imagine? That is another reflection. For
I realize that the Mets will never be the Yankees,
or even the Red Sox, or the Cardinals. The Mets do, however, have the
money to be a better version of a team like the Rays, if they are smart.
I admit that using the words “money,” “smart,” and “Mets” in the same
sentence sounds ludicrous. “Lucky,” though, is a word that the Mets have
enjoyed at key moments in their half century of existence—just not many
doses of it lately. Triskaidekaphobia aside, I got lucky with the
Mets in ’13, even if the team did not.
it Jo Boxer!
I went from having no tickets for
Opening Day to having four gratis box seats at the last minute because
others had less flexible schedules. And I saw the most lopsided
Opening Day win in the annals of a team that has historically kicked
butt on Opening Day (and played indifferently the rest of the time).
I got a press pass—rare for me—at the
last minute to see Matt Harvey start against LA when he was the
hottest pitcher in the game. Harvey didn’t win, but the Mets did after
Wright collected a two-out single in the ninth to tie it, followed by
bad boy Jordany Valdespin’s grand slam to end the game in the 10th.
I watched more games on TV than I had in
years and saw Matt Harvey pitch one of the best games in Mets history
only to get a no decision, but the Mets still won when Mike Baxter got
the first of two game-ending pinch hits that week. It seemed the
better Harvey pitched, the worse support he got.
The best week of the year? The five-game
winning streak that started with a late rally to beat the Braves on
Sunday Night Baseball that fed into a staggering, two-stadium,
four-game sweep of the Yankees. The first time the Mets have skunked
the Yankees in one season in interleague play. The Mets followed that
up by getting swept by the Marlins.
The Mets remained more or less dead
until June 16. I got back into WFAN range (we will not even bring up
that 2013 was the last year of the FAN-Mets marriage) just in time to
hear a walk-off home run by forgotten Kirk
Nieuwenhuis. The next time the Mets hit the field was their best day
of the year: the June
18 day-night doubleheader in Atlanta, with Harvey winning the opener
and Wheeler victorious in his debut in the nightcap. From mid June
until the end of the year the Mets played .500 ball (49-49). You could
not ask much more from this team in 2013.
Back to me... I caught a foul ball! My
second ever at a major league game, bookended with a ball caught—also
on the rebound—in the final year of Shea. Thank you, Josh Satin!
I won a second-chance lottery for tickets to the
All-Star Game. Then I got lucky again. By the time I realized that the
email was not the week’s 12th reminder about some useless Mets.com
“deal,” the only tickets left were standing room only tickets. At $100
apiece these were not even close to the most expensive tickets I’ve
seen in five years of Citi Field. Then on the day of the first Mets
All-Star Game since 1964, I got lucky a third time. We claimed an SRO
perch in front of the handicapped seating area in left field and from
there watched Matt Harvey toss shutout ball as the NL starter. The
very pleasant man in front of us, who happened to be in a wheelchair,
departed midway through the game to escape the heat. He invited us to
use his seats. We’d been to the sweltering the Home Run Derby the
night before, and spent the afternoon at the fun All-Star Fan Fest in
the city, so by game time the kids were starting to sag. We sat, we
watched, we checked off a long-time wish list to attend an All-Star
Game. Perhaps the luckiest part of all, the usher forgot where he was
working. He smiled at us and gave us a thumbs up for us to use the
seats rather than have them sit idle for the last five innings. Lucky
thing I decided to bring the kiddies and the wife, but I was just
following the advice given in
the best baseball song ever written.
In September, just when I was starting
to wonder if I should scram Citi Field because I had kept my kid, a
friend, and his dad too long at a meaningless, scoreless, Sunday game
against the Marlins, Travis d’Arnaud contributed his lone key
offensive moment of 2013: a game-winning single. The new number 15’s
a little Grote in him.
I actually found someone willing to go to a
Mets-Brewers game the last Friday of the season for
Metoberfest and got
a special boot that I made good use of throughout the fall. The
game, as advertised, sucked.
The last day of the year I was guest of
the Chapmans, ending 2013 as I started it, at a wonderful Citi Field
tailgate. I watched Mike Piazza get inducted in the Mets Hall of Fame,
saw Eric Young become the first Met not named Reyes to win a league
stolen base crown, and though the Mets hit one ball out of the infield
all day, they somehow won—with Frank Francisco getting the save. What
What the hell, indeed. All my good fortune added
up to another 74-88 season, but it did get Terry Collins another
contract. The good luck did not carry over to meaningful games for the
Mets or meaningful projects for me following the publication of
Swinging ’73, but that can happen if you start getting picky
about the projects you sign on to do. I hope my luck changes in that
regard this year, just as I hope there is a departure from the perpetual
70-win season. With the Mets, though, let me put in a disclaimer that I
don’t mean I am looking for fewer wins in the future. I just hope to get
one year closer to turning the corner because I’ve been running down
this same block so long I feel like George Jetson on a treadmill.
“Jane, stop this crazy thing!” And I don’t mean Jane Jarvis.
Though she can
play me out any time.
The 40-year anniversary countdown for
Swinging ’73 was good fun, but it made annual
housekeeping on the site tricky. I did manage to get out the final 2013
player grades (a lot of C’s), my Favorite Non Playing Met (Anthony
Recker), and I even got off a shortened version of Letters to the
Met-idor (a lot of player movement in December led to that). But there
are still things to keep up with from 2013, including the ’13 edition of
Reflections of a Mets Life, which will come later this week.
Right now you are blessed with my
attendance record at Citi Field over the past year. When the new park
opened, I vowed to catalog each season in the Citi as it came along, so
as not to strain my memory as I did a while back to recreate a list of
my 365 games at Shea (give or take a dozen). My Citi mark is far more
precise: 66 games in five seasons (35-31 record). One of those games
came last September, when a Travis d’Arnaud single in the 12th inning
mercifully plated the lone run of an otherwise scoreless and tedious
game. Months later while tallying, I realized that it was the fifth win
I’d witnessed against the frigging Marlins at Citi, one more than I’ve
seen against the Dodgers. That deserves the kind of coverage a
meaningless Mets September win garners in week two of football season.
For all the hubbub about bringing in the
fences, I saw the Mets hit exactly three home runs in 10 games at Citi
Field; visitors hit eight. For the year opponents belted 90 homers at
Citi, while the home boys hit all of 59. The Mets are just abysmal at
home—since giving away home-field advantage, the Mets have a home record
of 69-93 in 2012-13. Attendance declined for the fifth straight year as
well. But I digress.
Pitching continues to be the best thing
about this franchise. I witnessed young arms aplenty in 2013: two Matt
Harvey starts, two Jon Niese nods, a Zack Wheeler win, plus a cat named
Dillon Gee, who allowed one run in two solid starts on my watch, only to
go 0-1—such are the hazards of employment in Flushing. I was pleasantly
surprised in the two starts I saw Carlos Torres make—including a win
against runaway division champion Atlanta. I witnessed two of the three
wins by Vic Black, who wasn’t even a Met until Labor Day. Four straight
games I saw Bobby Parnell have a direct role in an outcome: a win, a
loss, and two saves. On the slugging front, Jordany Valdespin’s
extra-inning, walkoff grand slam marked the only time I recall ever
seeing that in the flesh, because apparently the one I saw Robin Ventura
hit didn’t count.
I took my son to his first Opening Day and
attended my first All-Star Game in 2013. You won’t find the latter event
on the list because it—like the Mets-Yankees exhibition games I saw in
1989, and 2013 Home Run Derby—is not an actual game. Also not included
below: ’13 visits to ballparks in Philly, Boston, and Baltimore, along
with minor journeys to Salem, Virginia; Frederick, Maryland; and
Dutchess Stadium for my 10-year-old’s birthday with the
And that’s it. The Citi details are below.
Ten games felt like a good number. Maybe the Mets will give me reason to
try to get out there more in ’14.
Log 2013 Citi Field
Mets Rec, Pos
Who hit the HRs
SD, 11-2 W
Everything went right. Cowgill slam and every
starter got on base (except for Ike, with 4 Ks).
SD, 2-1 L
Took 6 Padres to hold Mets to 1 run on 5 hits
(plus 5 walks). Buck ripped HR off LF facade.
LA, 7-3 W
Harvey start, Wright ties it with 2
outs in 9th (with 1B open), win in 10th on Jordany slam.
Controversial scrub hits last Mets HR I see.
Cin, 7-4 L
Harvey not great, but surprise! Ankiel was: 2
2Bs and a 3B but then was pinch-hit for by TC.
Atl, 4-1 W
Ike got a big hit! And Lagares!! And Torres!!!
Atl, 7-4 W
My first time seeing Zack in the flesh and I
catch a foul ball! Nice afternoon plus 14 hits.
Mia, 1-0 W
Teams sleepwalk after doubleheader night before.
D'Arnaud 1B in 12th for Black's 1st W.
SF, 2-1 L
Enough Giants fans at this matinee to make you
puke. Mets offense looked sickly, too.
Mil, 4-2 L
Maldanado, Aoki, Davis
Second of 3 straight 4-2 losses to Brew Crew.
Mets beer boot made trip worthwhile.
Mil, 3-2 W
Mets get 3 hits, no walks yet still win on
Piazza Day to finish 3rd. Eric Young wins SB crown.
Not a success for Mets, but I saw All-Star Game
and got in 10 games despite missing all of June and August. Went 4
times with my son!
Since '09 opening
How long until Citi (or I) see meaningful game?
January 29, 2014
Super Trivia for a
Copy of Swinging '73
It took all of five minutes for James Diceman Lynch to come up with the
answer to the trivia question. I have had past trivia contests that in
five days did not come up with the right answer, so kudos to the
Facebook group True Metsfans, where there were more mentions of D.J.
Dozier than in 1987 NFL draft rooms, when he was the 14th overall pick
out of Penn State. Five unproductive years later with the Vikings and
Lions, he was in the major leagues as a Met, where he was perfect in
steals (4-for-4) but not much else (.191 average) for the all too
imperfect 1992 Mets (lest we forget,
The Worst Team Money Could Buy). He was traded with Wally
Whitehurst to the Blue Jays that winter for Tony Fernandez, the Richie
Hebner of the 1990s when it comes to people not wanting to be in
Flushing. D.J. never played again in either the NFL or MLB, but his
promise lives again
- - - -
Since this is Super
Bowl week in New York, this once in a lifetime occurrence (we can only
hope) should offer something to those not willing to dole out the big
bucks for tickets, even after they have been slashed on the secondary
market because out of towners are tired of New York or snow. Whatever
the reason, let’s
get to this football-oriented Mets question. The winner gets a copy of
is the only Mets player to have played in the NFL?
The winner is the
first person to send in the correct answer to my
accounts, or by emailing me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Swinging ’73
not only deals with baseball and the general strife of the year
Watergate flooded everything, but it also has a bit about football,
including the undefeated Dolphins, the last Giants game at Yankee
Stadium, Joe Willie Namath on
Monday Night Football, and baseball being played in football
stadiums. Good luck and good reading.
January 17, 2014
Nominations Open for
Greg Spira Award
This is an
announcement that makes me happy and sad: Happy that a promising writer
will get encouragement—and more important, money—for high quality
research and writing, but I am also sad since the award exists due to
the death of a good friend. Greg Spira and I put together numerous
projects over a dozen years before his death at age 44 in 2011 from
kidney disease. He was among the most knowledgeable Mets fans I have
known, and he co-edited all four editions of the Maple Street Mets
Annual with me from 2008-11. I miss that magazine, but I miss Greg
I am proud to be
one of the judges for the annual award in his name, given by his
brother, Jonathan, to help nurture young writers.
The award is eligible to writers aged 30
or younger who have published or presented an original, researched piece
on the game Greg loved so much. Greg always pushed for the Mets annual,
which paid for content, to include articles by young writers, many of
them still in college or fresh out.
It is fitting that
the announcement came out the same day as the
Oscar nominees, because that list annually led to an hour-plus
telephone debate with Greg on who should and shouldn’t have gotten
nominations. (I am still hoping to see 12 Years a Slave after
listening on CD to the riveting 1850s memoir, I really enjoyed
Gravity, I thought All Is Lost deserved more than a sound
editing nomination, and I felt Blue Jasmine was overrated—what no
Oscar love for Andrew Dice Clay?) That my post on Greg’s award is coming
out a day late is also fitting because many of our hours-long phone
chats—he lived 10 miles from me for 10 years—began with me calling to
remind him to get the work done on time.
Here is the
official announcement of the award. You can find out more by going to
the Spira Award
site. Good luck, and I look forward to reading this year’s entries.
Greg Spira Baseball
Rules and Procedures
for Nominations for the 2014 Award
The Greg Spira
Baseball Research Award Committee (www.SpiraAward.org)
has announced the rules and procedures for nominations for the second
annual Greg Spira Baseball Research Award. The winner of the 2014 Greg
Spira Award will receive a cash prize of $1,000. The committee will also
recognize two additional writers with awards of $200 for second place
and $100 for third place.
The inaugural Spira
Award was presented to Trent McCotter of Washington, D.C., last
year. Dan Farnsworth and Caleb Hardwick were honored as
second- and third-place winners, respectively.
The Nomination Period
will open at 12:01 a.m. EST on January 16, 2014, and remain open through
11:59 p.m. EST on February 15, 2014. Nominations received before or
after the Nomination Period will not be considered.
The Nomination Form
for the Greg Spira Award can be found at
Anyone can nominate a qualifying piece for the Award, and
self-nominations by authors are welcome. Note, however, that only one
entry per author will be considered for the Greg Spira Award.
In order to be
eligible for nomination, a piece or book must be about baseball and must
contain original analysis or research. Nominated pieces or books must
have been published between January 16, 2013, and January 15, 2014.
Articles, papers, and books eligible for consideration include those
published in print or in e-books, those published or posted on the World
Wide Web, academic papers or dissertations, and papers presented at
professional or public conferences.
In the event of
multiple nominations, a self-nomination by the author takes priority
over any piece nominated by a third party. If multiple pieces by one
author are nominated by third parties, the judges will attempt to
contact the author to ascertain which piece he/she wants to be
considered. If the author fails to respond, the judges will evaluate the
first piece submitted and ignore any other nominated pieces by that
The Publication Period
dates have been chosen so that pieces published about the annual January
Hall of Fame election are eligible for consideration without having to
wait a full year. This also ensures that pieces about Spink Award, Frick
Award, and Hall of Fame inductees who will be honored in Cooperstown on
the same July weekend will not be split between two Greg Spira Awards.
(The Spink, Frick and Veterans Committee selections are announced in
December, while the Baseball Writers Association of America selections
are announced in early January.)
The Greg Spira Baseball Research
Award winners will be announced on April 27, 2014, the 47th
anniversary of Greg’s birth. Winning entries must display innovative
analysis or reasoning
by an author who was 30 years old or younger at
the time of the entry’s publication.
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Something I am sure
Greg and I would have carpooled for if it had been around during our
days with the Mets annual is the inaugural
Queens Baseball Convention. I will head down Saturday afternoon to
McFadden’s next to Citi Field after I watch my son’s hockey team take on
my hometown White Plainsmen in the morning. Saugerties Mustangs on the
ice and the New York Mets hot stove burning bright, should be quite a
January 13, 2014
Cheating Players and Teams That Employ Them
Slowly I turned, step by step… Three or four times I have considered
writing an entry for my mood on the winter state of baseball, but I have
held off. The
Queens Baseball Conference? It’s been plugged often elsewhere but I
will probably be among the audience. The Hall of Fame ballot? I am a
“hard marker” as someone once said and my version of the Hall of Fame
does not include anyone who is not an automatic. Greg Maddux? Yes. Frank
Thomas? No. Craig Biggio? No. Tom Glavine? 300-game winners are rare
these days, and I don’t know how you could hold him back; unless you
said the Mets—not the Braves—needed to win a game badly, and then he’d
fold like a cheap suit. If he’d pitched worth a damn in one of his final
three starts as a Met, I think a lot of New Yorkers would rejoice at
this news, and they surely would have slept better in the last two weeks
of September 2007 if he hadn’t had a 14.81 ERA and batters didn’t get a
hit every other time they hit the ball (.500 batting average on balls in
play). Abysmal fortnight aside, Glavine is deservedly in the Hall. When
it comes to the hat he wears on the plaque, it’s obviously an Atlanta
“A,” but he did spend as many years as a Met as Gary Carter, who will
never be confused with Glavine when it comes to Mets who came through
when it really, really mattered.
what’s the topic already? It’s Alex Rodriguez. Ugh! I can hear kids
throwing down their gloves like in Little League when the worst kid on
the team made an error at the worst time. Yes, Alex Rodriguez. The guy
the Mets ignored in 2000, a move that took a while to feel like the
right move. But it has felt so, so right for a while now. People here
hated Jason Bay and he just sucked as a hitter, though not as a person.
Over time, we’ve come to embrace Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden,
who left a lot on the table as players and initially left Flushing in
disgrace due to their too human traits. A-Rod has no redeeming
qualities. He had all Roger Clemens’s and Barry Bonds’s talent and was
just as rock headed. A-Rod, like Clemens and Bonds, was already among
the best in talent and remuneration at his position when he decided to
applaud the 162-game suspension and I can only hope it remains in place.
I can also hope that this becomes the penalty for a first offense and
maybe we’ll actually see fewer players tempted as a result. The whole
thing is a little sickening, even watching smarmy Tony Bosch in the
60 Minutes piece online, interspersed with Viagra ads.
is a loathsome jerk who has already admitted to cheating once—during
that same period he would have been a Met had they signed him as a free
agent—but MLB did it right this time by including the postseason (or
play-in games) in the ban. Last year this loophole allowed Nelson Cruz
to play for the Rangers in a one-game, pre-Wild Card playoff between
Texas and Tampa Bay. Nelson and the Rangers lost. Detroit’s Jhonny
Peralta, on the other hand, played in two postseason rounds after
serving his suspension through the regular season in the Biogenesis
case. Peralta hit .417 in helping the Tigers beat Oakland. If the A’s
hadn’t had employed so many players involved in PEDs through the
years—including newest Met Bartolo Colon—they’d have a right to be
furious. Peralta hit .286 against Boston, higher than Miguel Cabrera,
Torii Hunter, or Prince Fielder in a losing cause.
loophole allowed a pair of free-agents to be to showcase themselves
while telling those watching at home—and impressionable kids with 11:30
bedtimes—that it’s OK to miss eight weeks of the season; let the
cheaters back for the games that really count. What if either player was
a starting pitcher who would have had all that rest and might be in
midseason form come October? Peralta got a $53 million contract for four
years from St. Louis. That number helped set the market for the free
agents, presumably clean, that followed. The team benefiting from all
this is the Yankees, who, if the suspension stands, have $25 million
they do not have to pay A-Rod, which they can spend on another player
and not have that sum count toward the revenue sharing payroll limit of
least I’m not the only one pissed. Dave Aardsma, middling Mets reliever
in 2013, said it for a lot of players trying to stay in the big leagues
on God-given talent, not Bosch-induced chemistry. “I had two major
surgeries in five years and made it back clean,” Aardsma said the day of
the Peralta signing. “Nothing pisses me off more than guys that cheat
and get raises for doing so.” At last look Aardsma was still trying to
latch onto a team for the major league minimum.
know where this is going, don’t know where this game is going, but I do
know that I turned on the MLB Channel this morning and all they were
talking about was A-Rod. The NFL Channel was all about Brady-Manning XV.
One day maybe baseball will get back to the big news being a big game.
But a first step might be to not reward people for cheating. Close the
loopholes in suspensions. Keep them out of the Hall of Fame. But as long
as they keep rewarding people who cheat with lavish contracts, we’re not
really going anywhere.
Forty Years Ago Today: 12/18/73... Yanks Hire Dick Williams. Not
It was like a dream. Except it was real.
There was dollar shrimp for the press at a
restaurant overlooking Flushing Meadows, the new—if temporary—home
of the New York Yankees. Queens wasn’t what the Bronx Bombers were used
to, but now they could relax. The disaster that 1973 had turned into for
the Yankees was at an end. The New York media was lapping up the shrimp
and everything the new manager said—new manager Dick Williams.
six years as a major league manager, Dick Williams had gone to the
postseason four times, three pennants, and two world championships. It
was a golden age of managing. Three future Hall of Famers were employed
in 1973: Walter Alston in Los Angeles, Sparky Anderson in Cincinnati,
and Earl Weaver in Baltimore. One future Cooperstown enshrinee was just
starting in the dugout, Whitey Herzog, fired late in the year in a
Texas-sized disaster with the Rangers. Another Hall of Fame skipper was
saying goodbye on the other side of the Lone Star state as 67-year-old
Leo Durocher managed his last game in Houston’s season finale. There
were other superb ’73 skippers who did not wind up in Cooperstown: Billy
Martin (Texas), Chuck Tanner (White Sox), Jack McKeon (Royals), Danny
Murtaugh (Pirates), Danny Ozark (Phillies), and Gene Mauch (Expos).
Managers Red Schoendienst ( Cardinals) and Eddie Mathews later made it
into the Hall of Fame as players, while Mets skipper Yogi Berra was
already in Cooperstown as players. And though the Hall of Fame forgot
about Ralph Houk, we will not. He’d resigned after the last game at old
Yankee Stadium following three decades in pinstripes, had his
resignation accepted, and then took the job in Detroit. In Williams, the
Yankees had hired arguably the best manager of them all, for an owner
who would give Charlie Finley a run for his money when it came to
Williams knew from dealing with onerous owners. He had won his second
straight world championship just two months ago, beating the Mets in
seven games, and topped it off by quitting. In the World Series-winning
locker room, Williams told Charlie Finley he was not taking it any more.
It was something people in every walk of life wanted to do to that
boss, the one who has you talking to yourself, questioning yourself,
wondering how to get him off your back. Sportswriters, most of whom
could sympathize with such bosses, made Williams a folk hero. As if a
man who won two straight World Series needed extra PR.
Williams really needed, though, was someone who could write a happy
ending to his story. Because even though Williams was announced as
Yankees manager 40 years ago today, he never managed a game in
pinstripes. He still had a two-year contract with Finley, and the
Oakland owner would not let him leave... for New York.
should have worked out, but the year from hell for George Steinbrenner
would not end any other way but badly. New general manager Gabe Paul
tried to work out a deal with Finley, but he would take nothing less
than the crown jewels of the Yankees farm system: Scott McGregor and
Otto Velez. Neither ever played in Oakland and Dick Williams never
managed in New York.
Though 1973 began with his purchasing the Yankees for a song—a tune to
the sound of $10 million, or $8.8 million if you count parking garages
sold back in the deal—Steinbrenner’s year quickly unraveled. Two of his
pitchers swapped wives as spring training began—talk about the need for
good PR. His team went from first place to fourth just as the crosstown
Mets were making a reverse climb through the standings. Behind the
scenes, illegal campaign contributions the previous year were coming
home to roost, eventually leading to his (first) suspension from
baseball. And in the final move by Joe Cronin in a career that went from
player to manager to general manager to league president, the longtime
Red Sox employee would side with Charlie Finley—not that he wanted to.
Finley held the cards, he had a signed contract. And just to show it
was all about New York, he would let Williams out of his contract to
manage the Angels in time for him to manage the All-Star game the
Yankees hired Bill Virdon—not mentioned earlier among the game’s great
managers. Though he would win the 1974 AL Manager of the Year Award, he
would be fired before the Yankees were even out of Shea Stadium in 1975.
And in came Billy Martin. But that is a story for another year.
<> <> <>
concludes Swinging ’73 Presents: 40 Years Ago Today... sort of
like a surprise ending when you have been listening to a book on CD for
a long time and then it suddenly ends. I was going to extend this series
over Christmas, but since the Dick Williams saga is the Epilogue of
Swinging ’73, I think we are done here. Of course, the book includes
a detailed account about what happened to the main characters from 1973,
and there is plenty of other stuff not included in the accounts,
pictures, and descriptions online. And that leads into the final pitch.
There’s just enough time to order
Swinging ’73 online or via this site. But hurry, supplies of
books and dignity are limited.
for what happened in the final two weeks of 1973,
Magnum Force, and everyone’s favorite holiday film,
The Exorcist all opened in theaters. President Richard Nixon
Endangered Species Act, ironic in that his own presidency was far
more in danger than most of the species he was protecting. Notre Dame
beat Alabama by a point in a shootout Sugar Bowl of unbeatens. Miami and
Minnesota punched their tickets for a Super Dud—though Super Bowl VIII
would likely have been far more interesting if conference runners-up
Oakland and Dallas had made for a Madden-Landry matchup at Rice Stadium
fade out, it is tempting to play Jim Croce’s
“Time in a Bottle,” which sadly reached number one at the end of
1973, three months after his death in a plane crash at age 30. That is
too sad a note to go out on, so I am going with the title song, and the
final song, from a great ’73 album not included in the online
retrospective—though mentioned in the book—Goodbye
Yellow Brick Road. “I should have stayed on the farm, I should have
listened to my old man...”
Forty Years Ago Today: 12/16/73... O.J. Breaks 2,000 at Shea
On this day in 1973 the Juice was loose. Before he
was a presumed killer, mediocre actor, or even rental car spokesman, O.J.
Simpson was the most prolific running back in pro football history… in a
14-game season. Orenthal James Simpson came into the final game of the
’73 NFL season needing 61 yards to break Jim Brown’s 10-year-old mark of
1,863 yards. Simpson did that easily enough and kept on
running all over the Jets at snowy Shea.
The Jets were lucky to have four wins and they
were not up to the task of stopping the Juice. The Bills ran the
football a staggering 62 times—talk about ball control! Simpson ran for
an even 200 yards on 34 carries, and fullback Jim Braxton rushed for 98
more on 24 carries. Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson tossed all of five
passes in the game. Joe Namath threw for 206 yards on those rare
occasions when the Jets had the ball, but Buffalo stampeded to a 34-14
win. The victory wasn’t enough as 9-5 Buffalo missed out on the playoffs
by a game. The Dolphins, who’d win the Super Bowl again, went 12-2 to
wrap up the AFC East. In the one Wild Card team era, the Bills were SOL
because the Bengals, who had the same 10-4 record as the Steelers,
claimed the Wild Card. The Bills could only blame themselves due to a
16-13 home less to the Bengals—who had
the most low-key NFL helmets this side of the Browns (I still hate
those frigging striped Cincy helmets).
The ’73 Bills had pretty cool helmets, too.
O.J. remains the only player to ever rush
for 2,000 yards in a 14-game season. The other six players to achieve
the feat have all done so since the NFL increased the season to 16 games
in 1978. Though O.J. retired after the ’79 season more than 1,000 yards
shy of Jim Brown in career rushing yards (12,312), no one has ever
matched Simpson’s average of 143 rushing yards per game over a full
Simpson, who had been acting in TV as a guest star
since before he won the 1968 Heisman Trophy at USC, began his big screen
career in 1974 with a small part in a big movie,
The Towering Inferno, and acting with Lee Marvin and Richard
Burton in The Klansman (what
it sounds like). He would be better known in the 1970s as
Hertz pitch man, leaping luggage in a single bound. Simpson would be
brought low in the years to come—not low enough, many still
contend—but in a league where running backs still ruled, O.J. was on top
of the world in 1973. Or at least running over it.
December 11, 2013
Mets Holiday Present of the Year: You’re in Luck
know that point where it gets close enough to December 25 where you
think, “Well, if I don’t do this now, it’s never going to happen?” Well,
we’re almost there.
guess it gets to that point when you are trying kind of hard to come up
with gift ideas for others. The last three years I have done the service
of recommending gifts for Mets fans. As someone who has gotten Mets
gifts at just about every gift-giving occasion for, oh, 38 years or so,
I have experience in this area. Other than
the 7-Line, the
greatest entrepreneur of paraphernalia that doesn’t actually use the
word Mets, I rarely buy Mets apparel stuff to wear. I think I have
already proven I am a pretty hard-core Mets fan and I don’t need to be a
Wilponian billboard on my off time. Not that I don't have a drawer-full
of such stuff, including the snappy All-Star golf shirt I bought at half
price during garbage time last year—maybe
I should specify: September.
In the past I have recommended
clubs for the kiddies,
e-guides to help navigate a park that still makes me feel like a
stranger at times, and
books from impeccable sources to get us up to date on our Mets. This
year I am not going as far to do what I can to help for the holiday
present of the year. (I used to say Christmas present, but when I saw
the new hate-mongering Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, and other bullies
were making about it, I dropped all previous objections and only wish
I’d done so before the family Christmas holiday cards had been
Anyway, the Mets Holiday Present of the
Year should still come as no surprise if you’ve been following here this
year. To quote the quintessential double album of 1973, Quadrophenia:
it me for a moment?”
the Mets present for 2013 is
Swinging ’73. While this may fail the modesty test, I will at
least make this selection easy for those last-minute shoppers.
through the site and you’ll get it signed anyway you want, plus normal
shipping for $20. For more expedited shipping (or if you don’t get
around to this until December 17), contact me and we will figure it out.
If you already have the book—God
bless you, every one—I also
recently came across boxes in the attic for
Mets by the Numbers and
Baseball Miscellany ($10 apiece).
payment via Pay Pal at payments@metsilverman, email your order to
email@example.com, or send an email to the same address if you want
to send by check (and don’t need it before the holiday, or want to use
trying to keep my dignity through this all this, but the truth is I
won’t be coming out with any new books for 2014 (except as a
contributor), so get ’em while you can. Of course, if you order books
through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local book shoppe, that is
equally swell. Keep reading (something besides your phone) all the year
long. Merry Chri… no, holiday greetings to all.
December 10, 2013
Letters to the
Met-idor: Winter Meetings Edition
Twice a year I run Letters to the
Met-idor, gleaning the best of the correspondence we get at
metsilverman.com. I have a stack of it the size of a college freshman’s
laundry pile, but with
Swinging ’73 Presents: 40 Years Ago Today, I have been
holding letters until we get through the final few weeks of this 40th
anniversary season. Today, though, we take a few minutes off and delve
into my ongoing discussion with reader Frank Dirig about the current
Mets. The dialogue starts with most recent events—and me flipping the
tables to ask Frank what he thought of the most recent Mets moves. Yet
the conversation goes back to the beginning of the 2013 season, when he
asked me about both Ike Davis, coming off a 30-homer year in 2012, and
everyone’s favorite baseball-owning family. The months may fly by, but
the topic of conversation never seems to change.
And on the subject of the present,
tomorrow we have Mets Holiday Present of the Year, which has a familiar
Me: So what think
you now that the Mets have signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year,
$60-million deal? You may have to wait five minutes to respond. The
Yankees were so angry that the Mets—and Mariners—signings of Yankees
produce came right in the middle of the feel-good Brian McCann
introductory love in, that they signed Carlos Beltran just for spite.
Frank: I like this
Granderson move... don’t love it. It shows they will spend, well,
something. My fear is when Wright is up vs. a lefty, he will still be
walked to face a guy who may strike out. But I do like it. Most of all,
they need to do more. Maybe one more big move. I understand Rome wasn't
built in a day.
And with the Harvey situation maybe
2015 is the year. I applaud Sandy & the Wilpons (can’t believe I said
that) for realizing Mets fans have had it! However I do think there are
bats to be had without giving up the young arms. Finally I’d say I don't
know if Sandy Alderson (someone I truly respect) is the aggressive
go-getter they will need once they are competitive. Or perhaps his hands
are tied by the Wilpons. All in all a good day and positive news.
Me: I agree.
Granderson might not have been the biggest, or cheapest, fish out there,
but money has been flying at a ridiculous rate all around baseball for
more than a month. I mean $240 million for Robinson Cano? A 10-year
contract? I had hoped we would see no more of these decade-long
contracts—all of which have failed since the first one was handed out by
Cleveland in 1977 to
Wayne Garland, a guy no one has heard of outside of bitter Indians
fans of a certain age.
Back to Granderson, the Mets had to
sign him. Not because he’s great but because many fans seemed desperate
and frustrated enough to finally give up on this team. And once the
frigging Marlins signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a multi-year deal,
Aldersonian reasoning about fiscal responsibility had to be tabled.
Granderson can add some protection for David Wright, however minimally,
in a lineup with the depth of a character from Two Broke Girls;
make that Two Broke Guys and it could be a new sitcom about the
Wilpons—now there’s a new revenue stream no one has thought of.
Opti-Metstic It Hurts
Frank: Your thoughts on the
Mets? Is it worth it to make an effort to compete this year?? I don’t
even know what that would mean... trades?? Living five minutes from
Binghamton, I think Montero may be every bit as good as Wheeler...
finally do you think Ike Davis has been overhyped? Just curious from one
long time fan to another....
P.S. The pessimism among Mets fans
(myself included) is a drag... but years of disappointment have brought
Me: Oh, talking about the
current Mets without pessimism. You have challenged me here, Frank. On
the one hand, they have Matt Harvey, who has looked so good early it is
scary, and you have Jon Niese. When the Mets are to the point where
Niese is a fourth starter, with the likes of Montero and Wheeler lining
in behind Harvey, then the Mets will be a deep enough team we can
actually use the “C” word: “contend,” not “collapse”—the very dirty “C”
word in the Mets vocabulary.
I don’t think the Mets have what it
takes to play .500 ball this year, and that is the very basis of
contending, even in the double-Wild Card era. I also think it a travesty
to consider a second Wild Card as being a playoff team. I think you
should have to actually play a postseason series (not game) to be
considered a postseason club, but these players are of the generation
that all get participation trophies in Little League, maybe that’s the
trend. As was the case with the adoption of baseball’s
first Wild Card in the 1990s, I will get excited about the new playoff
format when it
I guess that would affect you, too.
When the Mets are good—see, I didn’t
say “if,” I said “when”—I’d like to see Ike Davis in the middle of that
lineup, but most really good Mets team has had an imported first baseman
with talent: Donn Clendenon, Keith Hernandez, John Olerud. But when the
Mets went to the 1973 World Series, you may have heard this from me
already, homegrown John Milner was the first sacker. And the 2000
pennant-winning club had a first baseman named Todd Zeile, a Hyundai of
an import (serviceable, affordable, and able to get you where you want
to go, but meh). So I think the Ike Davis conundrum will depend on two
things: whether he continues to hit 30 homers per year and how much it
will cost for him to do that.
Because Ike came up in earlier in the
2010 season than the Mets wanted him to—due to a GM desperate to save
his job, and frankly, the right move for that team as well—Davis is now
paid at a much higher rate than he would have otherwise at this point.
Was he overhyped? Any superhero movie you can name is overhyped. Ike
Davis was not. For a team with a notorious reputation for producing
players without power, I think the Mets were right to promote Ikey when
they did and for the PR and media to hype him as they did. I even accept
my small part in the Ike hype by putting him
on the cover of the 2011 Maple Street Press Mets Annual (and
I take no responsibility for Ike’s getting hurt or the MSP Annuals going
the way of the dinosaur). If Ikey is a classic bad first half player who
finishes with 30 homers a year, I think he is a success by Mets
standards; once that translates into eight-figure salary, however,
expect him to play elsewhere.
That is as optimistic as I can muster
right now. Win, lose, or draw, we’ll put this out with the Letters after
the season [“See?
said December me] and find out if I am right, or blissfully wrong.
Frank: One more thing: are they
financially secure? (ownership) are they even honest about these
Me: Financially secure? I think
the Wilpons can scrape together enough cash for a
Citi Field steak sandwich (worth every bite of $15), but they may
need to sleep in their office to afford it. Not that they’d ever say
that. The Wilpons’ public statements are like a ship’s steward on the
Titanic saying, “There’s a small problem below decks. It should be
years ago today John Cappelletti gave one of the most heart-felt
speeches of the last half century in sports. Having just won the 1973
Heisman Trophy, the Penn State running back told the awards banquet
crowd, which included new Vice President Gerald Ford, that he was giving
the award to his little brother, Joey Cappelletti, who was suffering
Though the story and the speech got
tremendous publicity—as well it should have—the 1973 story of John and
Joey Cappelletti was brought home to many with the made-for-TV movie
Something for Joey. Based on the book by Richard E. Peck, the movie
first aired in 1977, a year after Joey died at age 13. Like Brian’s
Song, about the tragically short life of Brian Piccolo, Gale
Sayers’s best friend and Bears roommate, Something for Joey is a
sports movie that almost defies the viewer
not shed a tear.
Marc Singer ( later known as
Beastmaster ) plays John, Jeff Lynas plays Joey, Geraldine Page
and Gerald O’Loughlin play the parents, ’80s stud-to-be Steve Guttenberg
plays Mike Cappelletti, Linda Kelsey (of
the sister-in-law narrator, and TV character actor Paul Picerni plays
A first-round pick in 1974, John
Cappelletti was the starting fullback for a very good Los Angeles Rams
team, though he spent more time
blocking for the likes of Lawrence McCutcheonthan carrying the
ball. Every time I opened a pack of football cards and got
I couldn’t help but think of his little brother and what it must have
been like to have greatness and sadness come in such large doses so
September 7, 2013, the undefeated 1973 team was honored at Penn State.
Cappelletti, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame since 1993,
had his number 22 retired in State College.
Forty Years Ago Today: 12/6/73...
Short-Term D.C. Appointments
this day in 1973, Washington got a new vice president and a new baseball
team. Neither stayed in place very long. Gerald Ford, a Michigan
Congressman who served as minority leader of the House of
Representatives, was tabbed to serve as VP following the disgraceful
resignation of Spiro Agnew that interrupted both the Watergate scandal
and the decisive Mets-Reds playoff game in October.
the baseball front, moving the San Diego Padres to Washington made way
more sense than most bills in Congress. D.C. had been without baseball
for two seasons—its longest period without a major league team since
1890. The Washington Senators, an original American League club dating
to 1901, moved to Minnesota to become the Twins in 1961, the same year
an expansion team dubbed the Senators joined the AL. A decade later, the
new Senators absconded to Texas to become the Rangers.
San Diego Padres, in the meantime, had been a dud since joining the
National League in 1969. Attendance had not surpassed 644,000 in their
first five seasons. Their 611,826 draw for 1973 was less than half the
National League average at the time (when the NL still counted actual
bodies in seats, not tickets sold). The team was lucky to have even that
few fans. The Pads finished dead last in each of their first five years,
losing 110, 99, 100, 95, and 102 games. Don Zimmer, in his first
managerial assignment, was canned after a 60-102 season in 1973.
So there was little holding the Padres in
Southern Cal. Prospective owners were ready to move the ho-hum club to
the Beltway, and on this day in 1973, major league owners said go for
it. They weren’t yet sure what they would call the team in 1974, as
evidenced by these
baseball cards thrown together by Topps and put into production just
in time to be totally wrong.
Kroc, the man who jumpstarted fast food nation with the franchising of
McDonald’s, threw boatloads of cash to keep the inept Padres in San
Diego in 1974 and beyond. Kroc already knew about voluntary suffering,
having lied about his age to train as a 15-year-old ambulance driver in
World War I. Kroc was no Ernest Hemingway, but he got his point across.
“I am not buying the Padres to make money,” the recently-retired
McDonald’s CEO said in February 1974. “I’m buying the Padres because I
love baseball. The Padres will be my hobby.”
And like most other people, his hobby
could prove frustrating. Yet unlike getting airplane glue and lead-based
paint on your shirt while building model tanks in the basement—my hobby
of choice circa 1973-74—I did not have access to a microphone and 39,000
people when I put on the tank wheels wrong. During his first game as
owner, the 72-year-old Kroc took the P.A. microphone and woke up the
1974 Opening Day crowd during a throttling by the Astros. “I have never
seen such stupid playing in my life.” He was fined by buttinsky
commissioner Bowie Kuhn, but Kroc had won the crowd in a city unused to
winning. He died just before the Padres made the rest of the National
League look stupid in 1984. The Padres rallied to take the pennant over
the Cubs, the franchise the kid from Oak Park, Illinois (Hemingway’s
hometown) followed from his youth and had been unable to buy from the
Wrigleys. The sleeves on San Diego’s
McDonaldland uniforms read Kroc’s
initials as they played in their first
in Washington, Ford didn’t stay VP for long—not with Richard Nixon as
president. Nixon, behaving more like Shakespeare’s Richard III than the
leader of the greatest free country on earth, finally succumbed to the
inevitable and resigned in August 1974 rather than face impeachment.
Ford became the only president not elected on a national ticket. The
country had been knocked off its pegs economically and was shaken by
Watergate as Ford became the 38th president. Many still believe Ford
lost any realistic chance of being elected in 1976 by pardoning Nixon
shortly after taking office.
was perhaps the greatest athlete to sit in the White House. He was
center for Michigan while working his way through school during the
Depression, and he turned down offers from the Lions and Packers to go
to Yale Law School, also serving as assistant football coach and boxing
coach. His political career was like that of most lineman: His mistakes
were far better publicized than his successes.
The iconic Daily News headline
“Ford to City: Drop Dead” when he denied Mayor Abe Beam’s
pleas for aid to financially beleaguered New York in 1975, but it is
less well known that Ford soon reversed course and authorized $2.3
billion to New York state earmarked for NYC loans that helped start the
city on the long road back to the top. I admit I didn’t vote for Ford in
our school election in sixth grade in 1976, but I was more concerned
about the Yankees taking over than détente with the Soviets.
Ford was a World War II Navy veteran,
a father of five,
a 13-term Congressman from Grand Rapids, a diehard
Republican who put country before party, a man who actually put new
taxes on oil companies (then, as now, an idea that cheesed off the GOP),
survived two assassination attempts in 1975, and was a husband who
encouraged his First Lady to speak her own liberal mind and stood by her
through breast cancer, alcoholism, and pill addition (Betty Ford’s
battles showed a generation of women who often hid such problems that
there was help and hope). Gerald Ford, who fell down more than once with
the cameras rolling, could laugh at himself while
others laughed at his expense. His off-the-record comments told to
longtime Washington correspondent Thomas DeFrank became the engaging
Write It When I’m Gone, which I listened to on CD as
additional background for
Swinging ’73. (Books, by the way, make great holiday gifts.)
DeFrank’s book taught me a lot about an imperfect but honorable man with
the integrity so sorely missing in politics today.
here is a parting comment from someone who belongs to neither party yet
always votes, and has gone many elections between sips of GOP Kool-Aid:
The old Michigan center was willing to let someone bigger run over his
head if that’s what was needed to get the first down. We could use more
leaders like that.
Forty Years Ago Today: 12/3/1973... CBGB
Opens Its Doors Wide
CBGC opened in New York on this date in
1973. The legendary nightclub became a launching pad for new acts, but
it originally was a haven from noise complaints from the owner’s club in
the West Village, a better neighborhood. So Hilly Kristal relocated to a
property already under contract on 315 Bowery, an area at the time
renowned for its “bums” and a common sense song about the Bowery Savings
Bank, hawked by Joe DiMaggio in 1973: “The Bowery, the Bowery, the
Bowery saves a lot.”
The awning outside the club read CBGB
&OMFUG, which stood for Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music for
Uplifting Gormandizers. Inside, the acts were often new and far from
country or bluegrass. Some had a hard time getting gigs without playing
covers of other bands; Kristal insisted they not play any covers
so he wouldn’t have to worry about royalty fees. Bands, many of whom
would be labeled New Wave, lined up to play at CBGB, including Blondie,
the Ramones, the Police, Patti Smith, and Talking Heads, who included a
line about the club in their show-stopping song, “Life During Wartime.”
CBGB closed in 2006, the result of an ugly
rent dispute because the Bowery had become high end. Joe D. lied, the
Bowery wasn’t saving anybody, not even CBGB’s
Kristal died of lung cancer a year after the demise of his beloved
Forty Years Ago Today: 11/30/1973... The Squiring of the ABA
On this day in 1973 the American
Basketball League’s Virginia Squires scored 139 points. And lost. The
next night they scored 127. And lost again. No matter that one game was
in San Diego, against the Conquistadors, a 145-139 defeat, and the next
night was across the country in Norfolk, a double overtime loss, no
less—128-127 to the New York Nets, the team that the Squires sold the
most dynamic player in ABA history, Julius Erving, because they were in
constant perpetual trouble. What do you expect from a team, and a
league, that once called the Roanoke Civic Center home?
If only the points put up by the ABA had
been money in its pocket. In head to head competition in several
hard-fought exhibition games against the NBA, the ABA regularly came out
on top. Yet the NBA haughtily looked down upon the renegade league’s
red, white, and blue ball, not to mention the ABA’s most lasting
innovation: the three-point stripe. The ABA was obsessed with merging
with the NBA. The leagues played footsie for three more years until
finally merging in 1976, bringing in the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers,
San Antonio Spurs, and Nets, who had to sell Dr. J to the 76ers to get
the money to enter the NBA and pay the territorial fee to the Knicks.
The Squires went bankrupt at the end of
’76, thus losing out by a month on the payday for those not invited to
the merger party. The successful Kentucky Colonels opted for a $3
million buyout while the Spirits of St. Louis took less up front and
held out for a piece of the NBA TV contract that still earns $15 million
annually for a team that hasn’t played a game since the Ford
administration. Wait, actually that’s the ABA’s most lasting
And there you have the extent of my pro basketball
knowledge. But Eric Brach of Bleacher Report knows plenty about hoops.
He is a friend of the site, a good guy, and a talented writer. If you
are interested in learning about pro basketball history, check out his
Billy the Hill and the Jump Hook. I’ve ordered mine. It’ll give
me something to read while waiting on, or wading through, Black Friday,
Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. What, on Sunday retail
rested? A likely story.
Forty years ago, Charlie Brown and
Peanuts celebrated their first Thanksgiving together on television.
It seems such a natural that it is surprising it took 10 TV specials
before they finally got around to Thanksgiving. It is definitely one of
the best Peanuts specials. While the dinner of pretzels, popcorn,
toast, and jelly beans is not what anybody would think the Pilgrims ate
once upon a time, like any good Thanksgiving tradition, cartoonist
Charles M. Schulz incorporates football into the day. Lucy convinces
Charlie Brown to
kick the ball she is holding—I don’t think it rates a spoiler alert
to say that the kid with the round head and the outfit
uglier than the Steelers’ throwback uniformswould have been
better off to kick off a tee,
as was the rule in scholastic football through the 1970s and ’80s.
I remember watching the inaugural A
Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and doing so every year thereafter
through the decade. (If you miss it this Thanksgiving at 8 p.m. on ABC,
you can always watch it
What I remember most about Thanksgiving,
1973, though, was taking what was for us a rare family vacation. We
drove to Washington, D.C., Nixon and energy crisis be damned. All six of
us crammed in Mom’s
Impala: my two brothers and sister in back and dad, me, and mom—in
that order—in the front. It being the ’70s, there were no seatbelts, of
course, and the windows were up so the smoke from my parents could
engulf us all. In turn, I made my dad insane by singing “Tie a Yellow
Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” over and over as it played repeatedly on
the AM radio as we were stuck in traffic for hours on the way home.
Sounds like hell, huh? It was just about
the best Thanksgiving ever.
Forty Years Ago Today: 11/22/1973...
Devastated Ten Years After
years ago today marked 10 years since the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy in Dallas on this day in 1963. That is a day that people
older than me used to say, “You can’t imagine what it was like for the
nation if you weren’t alive.” Then came September 11, 2011. And we all
got a pretty good idea of the feeling.
November 22, 1973 was also Thanksgiving.
People could sit around the table that Thursday and count their
blessings, eat turkey, and watch football (Washington beat Detroit, and
Dallas, fittingly, lost to the Dolphins). There is enough today about
JFK’s assassination to sort through: who else might have pulled the
trigger, purported coverups, the legacy, and hearing from the now old
men and women who were there. But the feeling of America in 1973 seemed
to be how everything went from Camelot to crap in 10 years: the country
locked in the throes of the Nixon mess, the energy crisis, inflation,
and the frigging Osmonds (the squeaky-clean and too-popular pop group
even bombarded Saturday morning with
their own cartoon, like the not as squeaky Jacksons).
The mood of the nation on Thanksgiving 1973 is perhaps best summed up by
New York Times editorial that day. What you see is an
America not so different than the problems facing us today. Pushing
petty concerns aside and moving forward helped get us through the bad
nation’s mood now calls for a more limited goal—a return to basic
principles,” the Times said. Whether it’s 40 years ago, 50 years
ago, and 90 years from now, we can only hope that the direction will
invariably be forward.
On this date in 1973, The Who kicked off
the U.S. tour for the album Quadrophenia near San Francisco.
Quadrophenia focused on a fictional
fan of the group from a decade earlier, when “Mods” were all the rage
and longtime friends Roger Daltrey, John Entwhistle, and Pete Townshend
were just starting out as a band in England. Keith Moon, at the time
only 16, was a few months away from joining The Who.
Like most of The Who’s music, Townshend wrote
almost everything on Quadrophenia. He even collected background
sounds heard throughout the album on a portable recorder near his home.
The finished product is phenomenal. So is Townshend’s
short story that appears on the inside of the album, written from
the perspective of the outcast protagonist—Dr. Jimmy, or Mr. Jim,
depending on how many pills he’d taken or slugs of Gilbey’s gin he’d
swigged. (In tribute to the album’s lasting influence, at least on me,
was my dog Gilbey, named 15 years after the album came out. Best dog
ever. If not for 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, I’d
say the same about Quadrophenia.)
Though at the time the other members of
the band weren’t as fond of playing a rock opera straight through—they
were been there, done that with
Tommy, The Who’s 1969 breakout album and the first rock opera of
its kind. Though not as well received as previous Who efforts initially,
Quadrophenia gained traction with time, with surviving members of
The Who playing the album on multiple tours that came long after the
band’s official “last concert” in 1982. (Daltrey and Townshend just
completed a world tour of Quadrophenia in 2012-13.)
The Who and director Franc Roddam made a film of
Quadrophenia in 1979, starring
Phil Daniels and featuring a young, chic, young
Sting. “The Real Me,” “5:15” and “Love Reign O’er Me” have always
received steady airplay from rock stations, while hidden tracks like
“Cut My Hair,” “The Punk Meets the Godfather,” “I’m One,” “Sea and
Sand,” “Drowned,” and the Keith Moon masterpiece “Bell Boy” were
listened to in bedrooms on rainy afternoons and evenings by future rock
stars, burnouts, and music aficionados alike. Listening to the album
from start to finish still leaves me both elated and drained.
But on November 20, 1973, the first U.S.
tour of Quadrophenia was just beginning. It was only an 11-stop
tour, but it was a challenge from that first night.
Keith Moon was as famous for his wild
style of drumming as he was for his wilder lifestyle and proclivity for
trashing hotel rooms. He’d earned a lifetime ban from Holiday Inn for
his devastation of their hotel in Flint, Michigan on the occasion of his
21st birthday in 1967. Six years older, and crazier in 1973, he got
a little too curious before the show at the Cow Palace on November 20,
Transformed from a hard-working if underappreciated British band into
megastars with the 1969 release of the album Tommy, The Who hit
the States in 1973 to tour in support of Quadrophenia, another
conceptual double LP, this one more autobiographical, focusing on the
band’s early roots in Mod-mad Brighton of the early 1960s. On the first
night of the American leg of the Quadrophenia tour, Moon drank
brandy spiked with animal tranquilizers just as the warm-up band, Lynyrd
Skynyrd, finished their set at the Cow Palace in San Francisco—or so the
story goes. Whatever was in his system and however it got there, Moon
lasted barely an hour onstage before collapsing midway through “Won’t
Get Fooled Again.” Roadies carried him backstage.
“He’s out cold,” guitarist Pete Townshend confessed to the crowd, adding
that the band would try to revive him by punching him in the stomach and
giving him an enema. After a 15-minute break, roadies dragged Moon back
on stage, where he took up the drumsticks to start “Magic Bus.” But he
passed out a minute later, prompting Townshend to address the audience
in search of a replacement.
“Can anybody play the drums?—I mean somebody good.”
Nineteen-year-old Scot Halpin of Muscatine, Iowa, who had recently moved
to Monterey, California, stepped out of the audience and into history.
He played three numbers—all simulcast on the radio in San Jose, San
Francisco, and Sacramento. The three still upright members of the band
ditched the Cow Palace shortly after the impromptu jam session ended.
Halpin was left with a tour jacket, which was promptly stolen, and all
the post-gig buffet food he could eat. Moon lay passed out for 10 hours
straight at his suite at the St. Francis Hotel—the establishment safe,
for a night, from the untamed drummer.
Keith Moon would not live to see
Quadrophenia the movie come out. He died shortly after his 32nd
birthday in 1978 after taking medication designed to decrease his need
for alcohol. The Who was never the same. Keith truly was
of a kind.
Forty Years Ago Today: 11/15/1973... See Kung Fu, Grasshopper
In second and third grade, a favorite
playground game we used to play began with the words,
“Snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper.” That was the
introductory line—in one of the longest opening credit sequences I have
ever come across—from master to pupil in the most laid-back action show
of all-time: Kung Fu.
The legendary martial arts expert and
actor Bruce Lee had spoken in an interview about pitching a show similar
to Kung Fu before returning to Asia and having his greatest
success in films until his untimely death from an allergic reaction to
medicine at age 33 in 1973. But the show that aired on ABC, from scripts
that had been bouncing around Hollywood for several years before going
into production, was an American effort by Ed Spielman. Kung Fu
featured David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin priest of mixed
birth on the run in America for killing a magistrate who murdered his
master in China. The star’s younger brother, Keith Carradine, played
Caine as a teenager; while Radames Pera played Caine as a child, earning
from the insect a blind man told him was at his feet. That these
guys were all bald on a 1970s show, a time when Americans had more hair
than at any period since the show’s setting in the 1870s, made Kung
Fu groovier still.
Caine’s life in China was told in a
neverending series of flashbacks speaking both riddles and wisdom that
carried through space and time, carrying me almost 15 years into the
future when my buddy Crum and I ended every weekend in college by
watching Kung Fu re-runs at midnight on Sundays, getting up to
ring the chimes in the room whenever
special pearl of wisdom was dropped. And there were many pearls
dropped during the show’s run.
Three episodes, one of them a TV film,
aired over several months in 1972, but the show did not begin its weekly
run until 1973. The show’s use of slowed down action sequence preceded
their use, or overuse, in the more testosterone-filled Six
Million Dollar Man
that started on ABC in late 1973. On Kung Fu,
Caine was always running from the law, yet also running toward truth and
enlightenment. The show would win its lone two Emmy Awards in ’73 for
Eye for an Eye.”
Kung Fu continued running until 1975, though its spinoffs and
reboots would continue into a new millennium, dispensing more pearls of
wisdom along the way. Even after the pebble was snatched from the hand,
no one wished to leave.
Forty Years Ago Today: 11/8/1973... The Brady Bowl
It was the 1970s, a time when relics of the past
fought waves of the future to bring us… a real slapdash present. Just
the clothes! I still can’t look at bellbottom pants today without
doubling over in pain, a la Alex in
A Clockwork Orange, you know, the ’71 film of the ’62 book in
dystopian England where poor droog Alex is caught oobivating a starry
soomka (Anthony Burgess nadsat dictionary
winds up getting brainwashed and then re-brainwashed using the
Ludivico Technique. But that’s a bit much. To me, no touchstone
quite symbolizes 1970s life quite like The
Brady Bunch (you can tell its the fifth season because Dad has a
And then there’s the bowling. Bowling was still a
“thing” in the ’70s—when pre-Mets fanatic me was told to do a punish
assignment (not the Ludivico Treatment, but I was eight) by
writing the long form rules of my favorite sport circa 1973, the
hardened criminal me chose bowling. It really was the only sport I knew
how to do in ’73. And I sucked at it. But now I feel better… because
Bradys weren’t any better!
A show called Celebrity Bowling ran
through the 1970s and has even been brought back a couple of times
since. Host Jed Allan teamed with a Pro Bowlers Association champion,
usually nervous all all get out, and then they both proceeded to talk
through every players’ turn before wondering aloud why no one could nail
a spare. In this ’70s TV gold, we have comely Brady girls Jan and Marcia
(we’ll call them Eve and Maureen) team with Peter and Greg (Chris and
Barry) to win prizes for themselves and random studio audience members
who obviously have nothing better to do than watch bowling live! Little
did we know in 1973, but these would be some of the last moments we
would have of the Bradys all together as disharmony between cast and
producer would result in The Brady Bunch coming off the air after
the 1973-74 season.
Forty Years Ago Today: 11/6/1973... Beame Up City’s
New York has a new mayor:
Abe Beame. Well, that was the news 40 years ago today. At the time,
most New Yorkers seemed relieved to have new leadership after eight
years of the up-and-down John Lindsay roller coaster. Like the 1969
Mets, whose coattails he rode, Lindsay stunned many when he swept to
victory for a second term in November of ’69, but he lacked support
either in the city or the statehouse. From Swinging ’73:
Lindsay’s career had sputtered and
crashed amid ineffectual leadership and divisive scenes such as the 1970
Hard Hat Riot involving World Trade Center construction workers,
students, police, and even bankers in a demonstration following the
shooting of protesting students at Kent State University in Ohio. With
no support from either major party in the city council, with an
acrimonious relationship with the state legislature in Albany, and a
recurring diatribe between the mayor and Governor Nelson Rockefeller,
Lindsay’s second term was doomed. His goals, not to mention his legacy,
grew tarnished from the severe social and economic problems the city
encountered during, in Rockefeller’s words, Lindsay’s “inept and
extravagant administration.” Like a pitcher who can’t get anyone out yet
retains his spot in the rotation…
Abe Beame was a new start. Sort of.
In ’73 there was a 73 percent turnout of
registered voters, and the 67-year-old Beame collected votes at a 4-to-1
rate over Republican John Marchi. Liberal Party candidate Albert
Blumenthal got nearly as many votes as Marchi and Conservative Party
candidate Mario Biaggi siphoned off some 178,000 votes. Abe Beame was
the last Brookynite to become mayor, at least until Bill de Blasio
claimed the position yesterday. But Beame was no “Brooklyn yuppie dad”
The Atlantic called de Blasio. Beame was, however, a London
Beame was born in England in 1906 after
his Polish-Jewish parents fled Warsaw, then part of Czarist Russia. His
mother stopped in England to have baby Abe and then joined her husband
in New York three months later. Beame grew up on the Lower East Side and
the small but hardworking Abe, who measured just 5-foot-2, rollerskated
to school as a boy to save the subway fare. He earned an accounting
degree at City College before marrying and moving to Brooklyn, where he
lived for the next 45 years. He was a teacher as well as a C.P.A. before
being named the city’s assistant budget director shortly after World War
II. Moving up the ladder, he negotiated city contracts without strike
and saved the city $40 million, but by the time he was elected in 1973,
the city was awash in debt of $1 billion that would balloon to over $3
Beame, who had lost the 1965 election to Lindsay,
won a 10-person primary for the Democratic spot on the 1973 ticket.
After his landslide win, the down-to-earth Beame brought some of his
family’s old furniture to Gracie Mansion and also replaced some of
Lindsay’s modern art. His wife, Mary, hired a cook who knew how to make
blintzes. But Beame’s four years in office could give anyone heartburn.
The city nearly went bankrupt halfway through his
term and his pleas to the President Gerald Ford went nowhere—the famous
Daily News headline
“Ford to City: Drop Dead” remains iconic and dire, but the federal
government did eventually secure loans for the ailing city. Then there
was the blackout, the Bronx burning on national TV, the dangerous
subways, sleazy Times Square, the 65,000 layoffs of city workers, the
Son of Sam murders, and an array of seemingly endless nightmares that
made the 1974 film
Death Wish, set in New York, seem like a documentary as opposed
All this, plus a scandal about misleading
investors regarding New York’s perilous finances, doomed him to being
one-term mayor, replaced by old political rival, Ed Koch.
Beame lived to be 94, dying in 2001 in New York, where else?
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/31/1973...
Seaver and Cy
What? You thought I
was done with this because the World Series ended? This is going all the
way to New Year’s, there’s inventory to move, and there’s more chances
to talk about Tom Seaver. On Halloween in 1973 became the first pitcher
to ever win the Cy Young Award without winning 20 games.
Halloween in 1973 became the first pitcher to ever win the Cy Young
Award without winning 20 games. The Mets right-hander went 19-10 in 36
starts, pitched 290 innings, and led the National League with a 2.08
ERA, 18 complete games, and 251 strikeouts. Not bad for a pitcher with a
sore shoulder down the stretch.
the counting stat of the day and only Ron Bryant won more, going 24-12
with a 3.43 ERA for the Giants. Bryant, who would win just three more
games in his career, placed third in the NL Cy Young voting. Runner-up
was reliever Mike Marshall, a huge part of Montreal’s turnaround with a
Herculean 172 innings in relief. Marshall appeared in a then-record 92
games and won 14 with 31 saves. The combative and unorthodox Marshall
was promptly traded to the Dodgers, where in 1974 he set the
still-standing major league record with 106 appearances and an
untouchable 208.1 relief innings to become the first reliever to win the
looked at closer in more recent time, Seaver’s 11 wins above replacement
(or WAR, comparing his effectiveness against the average
replacement-level player) was the highest of any season in his
remarkable 20-year career. His 0.976 wins and hits per nine innings
(WHIP) and 3.92 strikeout to walk ratio marked the last season he was
that dominant. At 28 years old, the 1,147 batters he faced were the most
in his career. Sore shoulder and all, Seaver’s domination continued into
October 1973: winning the game that clinched the NL East and not
allowing more than two runs in any of his four postseason starts. Alas,
the Mets won just one of those games… my kingdom for a timely hit by
someone not named Rusty Staub.
awards not only brought Seaver his second Cy Young (he also won it in
1969 and would win again in 1975), but the American League award went to
Baltimore’s Jim Palmer for the first time, beating out Angel Nolan Ryan
in the legend’s one legit shot at a Cy Young. Palmer, who won the vote
by 26 points in a crowded field, later became the first AL pitcher to
claim the Cy Young three times. Orioles teammate Al Bumbry, an Army
officer in Vietnam turned outfielder in Baltimore, was named AL Rookie
of the Year. San Francisco’s Gary Matthews, later known as “Sarge” but a
relative “private” in 1973, was named National League Rookie of the
The MVP for
the AL went to Oakland’s Reggie Jackson, whose “Mr. October” resume
commenced by claiming the World Series MVP (though teammate Bert
Campaneris deserved the award). Jackson was the second A’s player to win
AL MVP in three years, as Vida Blue captured the trophy—along with the
Cy Young—in 1971.
another celebrated star won his lone MVP award in 1973: Pete Rose.
Cincinnati’s Charlie Hustle captured his third—and last—batting title
and had a career-high 230 hits. He almost incited a near riot at Shea,
but he was about the only member of the Big Red Machine to show any life
against the Mets in the NLCS. Rose batted .381 for a team that hit just
.147 when Rose wasn’t up in the Championship Series. Not that any Mets
<> <> <>
Can’t say much more about
Swinging ’73 or the Mets than what Greg Prince said here on
Faith and Fear in Flushing.
Thanks, Greg Prince. And I don’t say it enough,
but thanks to all the people who lived the book and keep the candle
<> <> <>
And thank you, world champion Red Sox, for
continuing to not be the Yankees, and to annoy their fans more than we
ever could. Take it in, Sox Nation. You never know when it’ll end.
October 29, 2013
The 2013 FNP Met
week we completed the 2013 Mets Report Card, and every year
metsilverman.com honors a mediocre Mets student as Favorite Non-Playing
Met. The FNP Met Award annually goes to a Met whose continued presence
on the bench irritates the skipper inside me who knows if this guy got a
chance he’d have changed the team’s fate. Or not.
cleaning out a closet today, I came across a box containing a folder
with my report card from my Ted Williams Camp experience in 1980. Like a
lot of this year’s Mets, the ballplaying me of 33 summers ago also got
mostly C’s (scroll down to see how this year’s Mets did). My Ted
Williams Report Card rated categories on a scale of 1-4, like batting
averages if you multiply by 100: 1—If you weren’t paying, you wouldn’t
be allowed to clean out the camp’s bug juice dispenser; 2—You are
officially a mediocre ballplayer; 3—Y’know, you surprised us by not
being lame; 4—You just might have the chance of getting paid to play
ball, instead of the other way around.
pretty much all 2’s, with a couple of 3’s thrown in and 1’s in every
bunting category. (You’d think it was Terry Collins Baseball Camp
instead of Ted Williams!) In case my camp coach is interested, I worked
on my bunting and, in my last at bat in high school, squared around to
bunt against the hardest thrower in the league. The bunt was a rocket
that forced the pitcher to jump for it, lest it go into center field. He
caught the bullet and then threw to first for a double play. I may be a
1 bunter, but I left the baseball playing field for the last time
responsible for 2 outs. I got to laugh about it this weekend at my 30th
high school reunion with my buddy Biddy, the person doubled off to end
his baseball career in 1983. Thanks to me.
long and, some might say, painful story is continued proof of how I
admire the mediocre in something that I obviously never got high marks
in, except for effort. So ever since my first season as a fan, I always
had a favorite player, like a Tom Seaver, and then a guy who either
played sparingly or had no luck, the kind of person I could imagine
sitting next to on the bench to lament about how we should play more or
bat higher in the order. My first year in Little League I did not hit
the ball once, and my midseason decision to swing less in order to
strike out less frequently didn’t pay off until I finally, mercifully,
walked in my last at bat. That same year, 1975, Randy Tate, an Alabaman
living in New York, just like my mom’s family, went the entire season
without getting a hit. Like me, he also only walked once, though his 41
at bats remain the
most in history for a hitless player.
Sure, Randy Tate was a pitcher—he once
took a no-hit bid at Shea into the eighth, only to lose —but like me
he was a first-year player—albeit at a vastly different level of the
game. He never came back to New York, yet I was back in Little League
the next year getting my infield hit to break my hitless schneid. But I
never forgot Randy Tate or players of his ilk who never got a second
chance. Hence the Favorite Non-Playing Met.
Past FNP Mets have included players who
had great moments, like Todd Pratt or Heath Bell. Most FNP Mets, though,
serve as proof indeed that as bad as Mets management has generally been
over the last 38 seasons, they leave me looking as clueless if the bunt
sign is on. To keep proving the point, many FNP Mets rarely return to
Flushing to receive their
plaque, even as visiting players. Though 2012 honoree Justin Turner
is still, as we speak, on the roster, Nick Evans, the 2009 and 2010
winner, hasn’t been out of the minors since his back-to-back FNP Met
victories. Jason Pridie has been to Citi Field once since being named
FNP Met of 2011, collecting a hit his only time up at Citi Field. Way to
rub it in on Randy Tate, Jason.
And now, without further ado, the 2013 FNP
A.R. It’s not the infamous A.R.,
Arnold Rothstein, the 1919 World Series fixer and New York gangster
of Boardwalk Empire fame. It’s just little old Anthony Recker. Or
as “little old” as a 6-foot-2, 240-pound
linebacker of a backstop can be. Recker didn’t play much at all the
first month of the season, which made sense while regular catcher John
Buck hit nine homers in April to tie that month’s franchise record
shared by Carlos Delgado in 2006 and Dave Kingman, another 1970s Mets
favorite (the kind of favorite who played a lot). By May, though, Buck
was whiffing like Kong and Recker was still sitting. A.R. got more
playing time and had his highlight of the year: not only catching Zack
Wheeler’s June major league debut, but hitting a home run to put the kid
in line for the win. Recker hit six homers for the year, not as many as
Buck in April, but five more than Travis d’Arnaud in two months in only
39 fewer plate appearances.
clinching moment for his FNPhood was when Buck’s wife went into
labor—later than expected—and d’Arnaud came up in mid-August. With Daddy
Buck back, Recker dutifully went to the minors for two weeks, even as he
was on the verge of cracking the Mendoza line despite starting the year
on life support at .083 at the end of April while getting precious few
at bats to improve. Buck was traded at the end of August and Recker came
back to New York. He actually saw lots of action in September, even with
d’Arnaud and then third-stringer Juan Centeno getting P.T. But A.R. hit
.295 in the final month to blast past the Mendoza line at .215 and
impress the judges.
We all know, or at least hope, that
d’Arnaud is the future behind the plate for the Mets. Whether Recker is
around to collect the FNP next year, I don’t know, but having played for
the A’s and Cubs previously, showing good game-calling skills, a solid
arm (caught 14 of 55 base stealers, about league average at 26 percent),
showing pop, and even pitching once (allowing a walk and a home run vs.
the Nats), the 29-year-old Recker seems to have gotten his backup
catcher’s union card stamped. That’s carried many a backstop to years of
steady six-figure employment. And that ain’t so FNPing bad for an
Anthony Vito Recker, native of Allentown, PA.
It’s hard to keep a good man down.
October 21, 2013
Final Grades Are
in for 2013 Mets
time for metsilverman.com 2013 final grades for the 2013 season. If this
were junior year of high school, these grades would not be getting any
of these students into Brown, or even
Brownsville Station. But 74 wins and finally getting out of
fourth-place rut, while also assuring they do not have to surrender a
draft pick for a free agent signing, translates into an overall grade of
C for your 2013 Mets.
order to format this final 2013 report card, I went back to last year’s
grades. There has been a lot of turnover. Those missing from 2012
include (listed by grade, from highest down): R.A. Dickey, Scott
Hairston, Ronny Cedeno, Chris Young, Jon Rauch, Andres Torres, Josh
Thole, Ramon Ramirez, Miguel Batista, Mike Nickeas, Jason Bay, Manny
Acosta, Justin Hampson (Las Vegas in 2013), Elvin Ramirez, Kelly
Shoppach, Rob Johnson, and Mike Pelfrey, who received an incomplete. All
I can say is... that team competed? Even if it was only for a few weeks
in the first half of 2012, a team comprising that flotsam actually
competed? Wow! I can only hope that there are 17 of the players below
missing when I format the 2014 final grades. (Two that I know of, Mike
Baxter and Robert Carson, have already been taken by other teams.) Maybe
the 2014 Mets will be an improvement. Maybe they even move up from the
74-88 record on these last two final report cards. I do not know if any
of us can take them falling a letter grade.
the team’s grim second halves since, well, 2006, I said before the
season that I would be content with a team that simply played better in
the second half than the first half. This year in the second half they
hit five points better, had an on-base percentage six points higher, and
stole 12 more bases than before the Citi Field Alll-Star Game (wonderful
presentation that mid-July event, though it did not count toward these
grades). The ERA was .18 better in the second half, they had their only
two shutouts, and the staff had three more saves while at the same time
tossing two more complete games (though one of those was
rain-shortened). Most importantly, they had a winning percentage that
was 18 points better in the second half. So what if the overall winning
percentage was still just .457? Progress is progress. Even if it is
to 1973 business—and really, shouldn’t you be ordering your copy of
Swinging ’73?—this year’s report card is later than I would
like. So without any further ado, here are your 2013 New York Mets. Like
it or not. And Misters Davis and Duda stop wasting everyone else’s time!
See me after class.
Final 2013 Grades
1H 2H Final
Wright A B+
Not the same team when he’s out; high mark for captain pushing to return
for final week.
A B+ A-
Like Wright, leads by example. We’ll
see mettle soon; 2.03 ERA, 3 BB in last 7 GS.
B+ B+ B+
From Memorial Day on, he was best Mets pitcher. Shame he got stuck at
B A- B+
a good soldier; finally he was the healthy one and leader in most
B A- B+
Still a lot to learn, but first 100 IP in majors showed stuff, makeup,
LaTroy Hawkins B
Same as Wheeler, only on other end of
age scale. Set great example for young pen.
B- A- B+
32-year-old rook great control in 2H (3 BB); pitched & pitched until he
got a hernia.
B+ B+ B+
Thought of an incomplete for neck injury, but 1.29 ERA, 5 saves in 2H
A B B+
Even after trade to Pirates, reflected pride on Mets. Hope young Mets
B+ B B
Teacher gives credit for Carlos filling need in rotation, though he’s
best as long man.
A- B- B
Hit only .228 in
2H, but stole 30 bases to claim SB crown. Brings life to top of order.
A- C B
Slid a lot in
second half, but I still think he could be good low-cost bench bat.
C- B+ B
A 2H record of 5-2, 3.00 ERA, and CG SHO after arm injury far better
C B B-
seem like Burner had good 2H, but his .292/.330/.434 is great for this
C- B C+
Hitting needs work, but made strides in 2H. Already one of best
defensive CF in NL.
A- D C+
Tempted to give incomplete for 2H, but 5 poor starts. Did especially
well on road.
Anthony Recker C-
Hit 100 points higher in 2H; 6 HR, 19 RBI in 150 PA in
have backup role.
C C C
bloomer? Hit .250 as PH, but .385 Aug then .111 Sept shows he’s
up in air.
B D C
Could not wait for Sept. to expand roster and finally play someone else
B- D C
Fell off a cliff in 2H; ERA doubled from 1H. One of few Mets better at
Citi than road.
C- C+ C
Appeared a lot in
2H after a few pitchers gone down; good control, so-so results.
A better player after recall; .286/.449/.505 in 2H before injury ended
year. Jury out.
C+ C- C
in 2H; wife helped with long pregnancy that kept d’Arnaud
Played better as 1B, but still hit .196 in 2H; some people are just C
C- F D
Can see why he went three years between MLB stints. Had 15.19 ERA in 2H.
D+ F D
2 walkoff hits in 3 days don’t
offset 153 PA with 0 HR, 2 RBI, .189 AVG. Now a Dodger.
Only Appeared in One Half as Met
1H 2H Notes
Hit just .202, 1 HR in 112 PA, but showed grit, good arm, and solid
skills behind dish.
Not same player after hot start, injury. Needs position—maybe
1B if Ike, Duda fail.
Failed first 3 starts; brilliant in last 4 starts. Hope I didn’t
learn to spell name for nothing.
Throws hard. Don’t
know if he is set-up or mop up. Beats hell out of Manny Acosta.
Matt den Dekker
Not as good CF as Lagares; has succeed in second try at each level—2014
Somehow got in 25 games, had ERA under 4.00. Of course threw just 11.1
Second year in a row he appeared in 34 games, was just pitching well
when he got hurt.
No worry about learning to spell Niewenhuis; a lot has to happen to come
Key HRs early in year kept from failing. Steroid suspension, tantrum?
Lost year for Ruben. Got hurt twice on same spot at Citi. Was lucky to
Already waived to Angels; only reason picked up is he’s
lefty: 8.24 ERA, 9 HRs in 20 IP!
Spate of extra-inning games around July 4 gave excuse to cut him for
Not as bad as record (1-10, 5.29), but close. Waived after he had
surgery in July.
That he was Opening Day CF is question Alderson should answer for. A
Cowgill was so bad Ankiel seemed like improvement, for a moment: 25 Ks
in 20 games.
Not Enough Time Served for Grade
debut until after Sept. trade with Pitt. Setup guy/closer looked like a
Expected nothing and then he had 2.30 ERA in 5 starts before getting
Bench guy hit .300 in 26 PA. Has no position. Did keep from getting
no-hit by Nats.
Made 4 starts, kept Mets in most of them; had 3.52 ERA, 26 Ks in 23 IP.
Whole year Mets said he was goldbrick; came up in Sept., retired 18 of
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/21/73... The End of the Line
Forty years ago today, a team’s dream died
in Oakland. It was a great dream. A dream of a team seemingly playing
out the string, turning on a dime, and suddenly becoming the hottest
team in baseball. There is no doubt Oakland was the better team, on
paper. But so were the Reds, not to mention the Pirates, the Cardinals,
and even the previously downtrodden Expos. The Mets pushed them all
aside and four decades later people still speculate what might have
happened against the A’s if the Mets pitching rotation was tweaked just
a tiny bit. Ya gotta rationalize!
With Tom Seaver having pitched (and lost)
the previous day, it fell to Jon Matlack to start Game 7 in Oakland.
Current Mets announcer Ron Darling is the only other Mets to start three
times in one postseason series as a Met (1986 World Series). Matlack had
not allowed an earned run in his last 25.1 innings, but just as in Game
1, his luck turned bad after allowing a double to opposing pitcher Ken
Holtzman. Knocked out in Game 4 after retiring just one batter, Holtzman
was fresh in Game 7. And after not getting a hit all year in the
inaugural year of the designated hitter, he laced his second double of
the Series. And like Game 1, Holtzman came around to score on a hit by
Bert Campaneris. Although this time he could jog.
The A’s had not homered in 61.1 innings of play
against the Mets, a stretch of 218 plate appearances. Campy ended that
drought with a high fly that carried over the fence in right. Three
batters later, Reggie Jackson launched a two-run homer that made it 4-0
and let Mets fan know that the dream of stealing a world championship
from the best team in baseball was not going to happen. As subtle as a
Reggie stomped on the dream at home plate.
The Mets trailed 5-1—and just to add grist
to the second-guess mill for the decades to come, George Stone struck
out Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, and Reggie Jackson in order and tossed two
shutout innings in relief in Game 7. With two men on in the ninth, Ed
Kranepool hit a grounder to first base that should have ended the
Series, but Gene Tenace’s error made it a 5-2 game and suddenly the Mets
had the tying run at the plate. Dick Williams came out to the mound to
make his final strategic decision as the A’s manager—he resigned
immediately after the game, despite two years left on his contract,
because he could no longer endure owner Charlie Finley.
Lefty Darold Knowles came into the game, becoming
the only pitcher in history to appear in all seven games of a World
Series. People speculated then, and some still make the case, that the
Mets should have sent up Willie Mays to pinch-hit for lefty-swinging
Wayne Garrett. But Garrett had two of the team’s four home runs in the
Series, plus the fumes Mays had been running on were long spent. As he’d
done to open the Series, and to end Game 1, Garrett popped up and
Oakland had its second of three straight world championships.
The A’s jumped up and down. The Mets walked away.
The 1973 season closed a chapter on the
Mets as championship contender. In August of 1974 they nearly had the
same record at the same point as in 1973, got hot for a couple of weeks,
and went nowhere in the standings because the NL East was far superior
to what it had been in ’73. Though the Mets finished third in both 1975
and 1976, they did not challenge for the division crown either year. A
decade after ’73, the Mets endured their eighth straight losing year,
the most depressing period in club history. The franchise would be
revived, winning the 1986 World Series with the same sort of
disbelieving comeback in Game 6 that they had displayed during September
of ’73. There is still a germ of this indomitable spirit of Tug McGraw
hidden deep in every Mets team, and every Mets fan. Ya gotta remember,
“Ya Gotta Believe!”
<> <> <>
Thus ends the saga of the 1973 baseball season.
After taking care of usual awards and reflections on the season just
past, we’ll be back with more reflections of “This Date in ’73” to
finish 2013. And if you’ve enjoyed this wild ride of reflection, pick up
a copy of
Swinging ’73 in either paperback or e-book format. It not
only makes a great gift, it is a helluva story that has a lot more to it
than you’ve read on the site. Thanks for the feedback and fun.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/20/73... Game 6: The Second Guess
suppose it is second nature to second guess. And I think one of the
things that people can second guess without earth-shattering
consequences is sports. Baseball especially lends itself to these “what
might have been” scenarios. And the star-crossed Mets have more than
their share, from “What if they’d picked Reggie Jackson instead of Steve
Chilcott in the 1966 draft?” to “Why didn’t Beltran swing?” But when it
comes to the 1970s, there are questions that could have made the Mets a
dynasty, or at least multiple world champions of the Shag Carpet Era
(1969-79) like the A’s, Pirates, Reds, and Yankees:
taking it out of God’s hands, “What if the Mets had hired Whitey Herzog
instead of Yogi Berra to replace Gil?”
if the Mets had kept Nolan Ryan?”
if George Stone had pitched Game 6 in the 1973 World Series and Tom
Seaver pitched Game 7?”
one can ever really know the answer to any of these questions, but as
someone who studied the last question for years, talked to people who
were there, and thought about it as much as anybody, I urge you to read
Swinging ’73 to trace how the question originated with Queens
College student Howie Rose in the Shea upper deck after Game 5, and how
the press handled it (or ignored it) during the off day, and what both
managers later said about the choice. But my opinion, is this:
Whether Yogi Berra started George Stone or Tom Seaver 40 years ago
today, neither was beating Catfish Hunter in Game 6, Oakland wins. I
find it hard to believe that Stone, 12-3 during the year and used just
once in relief in the Series to that point, could have pitched a shutout
against the Swinging A’s, and that’s what he would have had to do to
beat them. The Mets scored just once off Hunter while Reggie Jackson
(not career minor leaguer Steve Chilcott) knocked in two for Oakland.
bigger question may actually be: Could the Mets have pulled off the
Series-clinching win if they’d tied Game 6 in the eighth inning? After
three straight singles to chase Catfish and cut the A’s lead to 2-1,
Darold Knowles fanned Rusty Staub with the tying run on third, and then
Rollie Fingers came in to get Cleon Jones to fly out. Oakland scored an
unearned run off Tug McGraw in the bottom of the eighth. Fingers then
completed the four-out save for the 3-1 win that tied the Series.
Having spent Seaver, the best chance for the Mets to win was, in theory,
gone. But remember that anything beyond what actually happened is
hindsight. It being 1973, the bigger question of Saturday into Sunday
was “How could Richard Nixon fire the special prosecutor in charge of
putting together the case against the president and the Watergate
tapes?” That came to the fore shortly after the very tidy 2-hour,
7-minute Game 6. That night became
“The Saturday Night Massacre,” the latest devastating act of
presidential overreach. The news took over the airwaves and the minds of
Americans that October night in 1973. Yet by Sunday afternoon, the world
championship would still have to be decided. The baseball facts that
mattered would be rendered on the field of play, not the field of
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/18/73...
Game 5: Kooz Can’t Lose
Koosman never lost a postseason game for the Mets. Oh, he had stinkers
in the 1969 NLCS and in Game 2 of the 1973 World Series—both of which
the Mets won after his early departure. That’s luck. The kind of stuff
that makes people dismiss wins as a useless stat. But when you are
charged with starting a postseason game, the only thing that matters is
winning, and in his four postseason victories he had a 1.64 ERA and
averaged better than eight innings per start, going all the way in Game
5 of the 1969 World Series to clinch perhaps the most unlikely world
championship in baseball history. And his effort in Game 5 in 1973
should have started another raucous celebration.
already gone into how the Mets should have won Game 3 in the 1973
Series, which would have made Game 5 the clincher, and there will be
more “what might have been” talk for Game 6. So let us just say that
Game 5 was just Koosman mowing down the Oakland A’s. Like Seaver in Game
3, the Mets took a 2-0 lead, but this time Yogi Berra got his starter
out early and let Tug McGraw do the heavy lifting with men on base.
Kooz got to the seventh inning with a shutout was no surprise—though Don
Hahn knocking in an insurance run with an RBI-triple in the home sixth
was quite the shocker. Koosman set a club record with 32.2 consecutive
scoreless innings in August and September, a mark that lasted until R.A.
Dickey topped it in 2012. But in the seventh inning of Game 5, a walk
and a one-out double by Ray Fosse put the tying runs in scoring
position. On came Tug. After one night off—he had pitched a staggering
10 innings of relief in the first three games—McGraw was good to go
another freezing night in Flushing, McGraw came into face pinch hitter
Deron Johnson, one of the top designated hitters in the first year of
the rule. Tug had gotten him out on Opening Day, when Johnson was still
a Phillie. This time he walked Johnson, unintentionally, but with Dick
Williams having already used his best pinch hitter and the pitcher’s
spot due up, the A’s manager had to go with the weaker-hitting Angel
Mangual. Tug got him to pop up, and then caught Series hero Bert
Campaneris looking. It sent Tug into
mitt-bouncing convulsions and put Shea Stadium in a frigid
being the ’70s, of course Tug pitched the last two innings of relief as
well. He pitched out of two-on, two-out jam in the eighth, and put the
A’s down in order in the ninth, catching Billy Conigliaro looking as Tug
bounced off the mound once more. The Mets were one game from a
championship. What could go wrong?
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/17/1973...Game 4: Rusty and Frigid
Unlike Game 3, where the Mets got the first three runners on and never
came through again the rest of the long, cold night, the Mets had three
runs after three batters in Game 4 of the 1973 World Series. Due to a
separated shoulder, Rusty Staub had modified his swing to be more of a
singles hitter and did that especially well, hitting .423 in what would
be his only career World Series action. But in the first inning,
Staub took a Ken Holtzman pitch “oppo” over the left-center field
wall to give the Mets the big hit they sorely lacked the previous night.
After two more Mets reached base, Holtzman was yanked.
Matlack, who’d endured a hard-luck loss in Game 1, gave up his third
unearned run of the Series in the fourth inning. In the bottom of the
frame, Staub singled home two more runs and an A’s error added another
run. “Sign Man” Karl Ehrhardt carried a “You’re Fired” sign, a dig at
A’s owner Charlie Finley. Finley had lost his battle with the
commissioner—and his team—over “firing” Mike Andrews after the worst
game of his life in Game 2. Reinstated to the roster, Andrews pinch-hit
in the eighth inning. Dick Williams, who had managed him as a rookie in
the 1967 World Series for Boston, owed it to his player, his team, and
himself. Andrews got a standing ovation both coming to the plate and
walking back to the dugout. Even Finley waved his A’s pennant in
recognition of the beleaguered infielder.
Matlack went eight innings—Ray Sadecki pitched the ninth—and Staub not
only knocked in five runs, but played the entire game in right field
despite not being able to throw overhand. Yogi Berra would not use
Willie Mays again for defense—Willie’s final at bat had come as a pinch
hitter in the 10th inning the night before. Spare outfielder George “The
Stork” Theodore was used to spell left fielder Cleon Jones, who was ill
and caught on camera throwing up in the outfield.
were a few people in the stands coming down with colds this October. It
was freezing. Night World Series games were still a new thing, and this
marked the first time for night postseason games in New York. It made
for lousy weather but good ratings—so the night games continued. Future
generations would be breaking out the ski apparel for October baseball.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/16/1973...
Game 3: How They
people who still ponder the ’73 World Series say the Mets’ fatal mistake
was not pitching George Stone in Game 6 and saving Tom Seaver to pitch
on full rest in Game 7 (if needed). More on that later, but I will tell
you here and now that there should not have been a Game 6 because the
Series should never have gone back to Oakland. Like the 1969 World
Series, the Mets should have won in five. Here’s three reasons why the
Mets should have won Game 3 and gone on to win the 1973 World Series in
First, the A’s had only a 23-man roster for Game 3. Because Charlie
Finley, as owner and GM, foolishly sold Jose Morales to Montreal in
September, Oakland was unable to replace Morales, who later
set a record for pinch hitters, on the postseason roster. Yet
Finley, never adverse to circumventing rules that did not suit him,
tried to do so twice with young infielder Manny Trillo. The Mets said no
before the Series (as was their right), and the second time Bowie Kuhn
said no (the commissioner invalidated the move since Finley had made
infielder Mike Andrews sign a form stating he was injured following his
two errors in Game 2). Mike Andrews would return, but he was not with
the team and could not physically make it to New York until Game 4, so
the A’s played Tuesday with 23 men. And playing an extra-inning game on
the road with a short bench put the A’s at a distinct disadvantage,
though it was nothing they couldn’t overcome.
Second, Tom Seaver was incredible. I have
a “bootleg” video of Game 3 of the ’73 World Series, the first inning of
which you can see
(with the added treat Mets broadcaster Lindsey Nelson, as was the
custom, working as “home” announcer in the NBC booth with Curt Gowdy).
But just look at Seaver… he is throwing harder and better than I ever
saw him. He is at the tail end of what
some number-crunchers have called the best season of his brilliant
career, and he was a gamer the likes of which, due to pitch counts
and contracts defying comprehension, are no longer allowed full reign in
Another extinct gamer, Catfish Hunter, was on the hill for the A’s. He
allowed two runs, threw a wild pitch, and committed an error just five
batters into the game on a frigid night. It looked like a rout in the
Catfish wriggled off the hook.
Third, the Mets were playing at home in front of 54,000 fans. Some of
these same crazed fans had, just six days earlier, torn Shea Stadium
limb from limb after the ballclub won the unlikely pennant. At this
point in Mets history, the team owned a 6-1 postseason mark at Shea and
had 11 veterans of the ’69 triumph on the roster: catcher (Jerry Grote),
shortstop (Bud Harrelson), third baseman (Wayne Garrett), left fielder
(Cleon Jones), a strong bench (Ken Boswell, Ed Kranepool, Duffy Dyer),
and a deep pitching staff (Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw, Jim
why didn’t the Mets win Game 3, and, more to the point, the 1973 World
Series, in an easy-peasy five games? Here’s the hard truth:
First, Dick Williams was a better manager than Yogi Berra. Though he was
down two players that night, Oakland’s Hall of Fame skipper deftly
utilized his bench. Even as the game went extras—using pitcher Paul
Linblad to bat for himself in the decisive 11th—Williams still had two
starting pitchers, two relievers, and a reserve outfielder in case the
game continued forever. When the A’s were down a run in the seventh,
Williams sent up three pinch hitters in a row. After the A’s tied it an
inning later, he played it close to the vest. One of his replacements,
Ted Kubiak, scored the winning run. Oakland pitchers did not allow a run
over the last 10.2 innings of Game 3. Once Seaver and McGraw were used,
the Mets were vulnerable. Bert Campaneris singled, stole second, and
scored the tying run in the eighth against Seaver; in the 11th his hit
knocked home Kubiak, who’d walked and taken second on a passed ball by
Grote. Williams had the American League’s best reliever, Rollie Fingers,
come in and notch the save.
Second, as good as he was, Seaver was not infallible. Tim McCarver was
just saying yesterday how he recently spent seven hours talking with Tom
about pitching and how GTS hates the concept of pitch count. But
throwing so many pitches in Game 3 in ’73—he fanned five in the first
two innings, had 10 by the fifth, and whiffed 12 overall—took a lot out
of a shoulder that had troubled him down the stretch. Oakland’s
determined plate approach got to him, but it was nothing that a couple
more runs by the Mets wouldn’t have solved. Hunter, Knowles, Linblad,
and Fingers combined to strand 14 Mets.
Third, Mets fans can share some of the blame. Because of the ravaging of
the field after the NLCS, Mets groundskeeper Pete Flynn had to work
magic to get the infield into shape for the World Series. His solution
was to replace the missing infield with grass from the outfield near the
warning track. An ingenious solution, but Don Hahn didn’t know. As the
Mets center fielder raced toward the wall after Sal Bando’s drive in the
sixth inning, he came up short, thinking that he was about to hit the
wall—based on reaching the warning track. Though he still had room,
Hahn, who’d been involved in a horrific collision with George Theodore
in July, slowed up just enough for Bando’s ball to land for a double.
Bando scored on Gene Tenace’s two-out double for Oakland’s first run.
Shea’s ground rules also did them no favors. John Milner hit a drive in
the fifth inning that landed against the brick facing in right field. At
the end of the 1970s, under a ground rule change, that would have been a
home run. In 1973 it was just a long single, a longing for just a little
Milner also provided the team’s best shot at sudden victory. The Hammer,
who reached base his first four times up, scalded a drive with two on in
the ninth off Paul Linblad. Despite very well knowing how the game
ended, I stood up while watching the tape as if the Mets were going to
win… until Reggie snagged the ball. Even in predetermined outcomes,
there is yet still hope. On some distant alternate universe, fans at
Shea rip up the field once more in 1973.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/14/73... Game 2: Flub, Flop, Fire
second game of the 1973 World Series has been called one of the greatest
Series games by some, and called one of the sloppiest by others. At the
end of the day the A’s made five errors, plus several other flubs that
were not charged as errors, and one of Oakland’s players was crucified
over a game that should have never lasted so long.
Thanks to three hits, two walks, a hit batter, and a bases-loaded error,
the Mets scored four times in the sixth inning to take a 6-3 lead in
Oakland. As was a manager’s wont back then, Yogi Berra brought in his
top reliever in the sixth inning to close out the A’s and even the
Series at a game apiece. Tug should have gotten the save, too. But
42-year-old Willie Mays, playing center field, lost a ball in the tough
California sun to give the A’s life in the ninth. (Hard as it may be to
comprehend today, this Sunday game was played in the afternoon sunshine,
starting at 1 p.m. Pacific time, 4 p.m. eastern—the network choosing to
forego late NFL games for baseball.)
two outs in the ninth, Tug had Sal Bando struck out, but umpire Augie
Donatelli, who had a difficult career-ending game of his own, called
ball three and ball four. Bando would score the game-tying run a base
hit by Gene Tenace.
McGraw remained on the hill. In fact, he retired seven in a row after
allowing the game-tying single. The Mets scored four times in the top of
the 12th—helped by consecutive errors by A’s second baseman Mike
Andrews—but Willie Mays lost another ball in the sun to start the bottom
of the 12th. After a walk to Tenace, Berra decided that McGraw, who came
up to bat three times in his six innings—yes, six innings!—had pitched
long enough. George Stone came on and pitched out of a bases-loaded jam
to pick up the save for McGraw, who more than earned the 10-7 win.
Mays muffs were tough to take. Announcer Monte Moore, working the NBC
booth, said it for everyone: “This is the thing all sports fans in all
areas hate to see, a great one playing in his last years having this
kind of trouble standing up and falling down.” Rusty Staub had gritted
his teeth and played right field despite a separated throwing shoulder.
There was no DH in the World Series then, so Staub had to play the field
despite not being able to throw overhand. Mays thus entered as a
defensive replacement for Staub. That’s another “in hindsight
moment” a manager from this game would have liked to have back. The most
memorable gaffe, however, was Dick Williams’s decision to play Mike
Andrews in the field in extra innings. Neither Mays nor Andrews ever
played in the field again in the majors.
forever image of the Mays as a Met, and the cover image of
Swinging ’73, is the great Willie pleading his case to umpire
Augie Donatelli after the ump said Ray Fosse had tagged Bud Harrelson at
the plate in the 10th. (Harrelson
was so safe!) For all his short-comings in the game, Mays did hit a
hundred-hopper to center to break the tie in the 12th, before the
Andrews errors gave the Mets three more runs.
the game, Andrews was “fired” by irate A’s owner Charlie Finley, who had
the team doctor write—and the crushed Andrews confirm—that the veteran
infielder’s shoulder was too injured to continue playing in the Series.
The brouhaha would go coast to coast and lead to another classic
confrontation between the A’s owner and commissioner Bowie Kuhn. It
would also lead manager Dick Williams to abandon ship. And it all could
have been avoided if a center fielder had caught a flyball, or an umpire
had made the right call in the innings prior to all hell breaking
this was baseball as opera. A sloppy, beautiful opera of a World Series
that was just starting. And as Yogi Berra so wistfully observed long
ago, “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” And everyone was just
getting warmed up.
Oakland starter Ken Holtzman came up with a man on first and one out in
the third inning of a scoreless game. Having batted just once all year
due to the first year of the designated hitter rule, the plan was for
him to bunt until a pitch hit the dirt and Dick Green took off for
second, only to be gunned out by Mets catcher Jerry Grote. With two outs
and no one on, Holtzman swung away, pulled a ball down the line in left
field, and slid into second with a double.
Campaneris followed by hitting a grounder to second that sure-handed
Felix Millan let go through his legs for an error to give Oakland a
1-0 lead. Matlack then picked off the speedy Campaneris, but he simply
took off for second and beat John Milner’s throw. Campy then scored on
Joe Rudi’s single and it was 2-0, A’s.
think that with both Willie Mays and Reggie Jackson playing center
field, the Mets would have the advantage, but you’d be wrong. Reggie,
playing center in place of injured Bill North, made a game-saving play
on a liner by Grote to quell one rally, and he made four catches overall
and got to balls quickly before he moved to right field in the late
innings with Vic Davalillo taking over center field.
Willie Mays was lauded when he was introduced before the game. (Check
out the very cool Game One introductions and NBC pregame show
here.) Mays was playing center field because of Rusty Staub’s
injured shoulder, and Willie had no business playing the field. He
stumbled and then fumbled Sal Bando’s hit in the third, allowing the A’s
to take an extra base and earning an error. Matlack got out of the jam,
but two runs was a lot on this day.
Showing how things have changed in terms of managing, Holtzman, who
banged up his knee sliding, left after the fifth, and Rollie Fingers
took the mound. That’s Rollie Fingers as in Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers
in his prime, coming in to start the sixth inning. He stayed on the hill
until the ninth—he even came up as a batter and struck out—and Fingers
only came out when the Mets put the tying run on base. This 2-1 game
took 2:26 to play, some 90 fewer minutes than the opening game of the
ALCS last night. I watched both games and you know what the difference
is? Pitcher and batter fidgeting between pitches. Pitchers got the ball
and the sign, then pitched; batters stayed in the box. Remarkable.
Darold Knowles got the ball when pinch hitter Rusty Staub was announced
(as a decoy, he couldn’t swing just then), and then righty Jim Beauchamp
batted in his place, hitting a soft liner that was caught on the run.
Wayne Garrett came up with a chance to be a hero and popped up to end
the game. And not for the last time.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/11/73...
The A’s Last
Game Five Clincher
2013, it’s a tough day for the Oakland A’s, who have lost each of the
five Game Fives they have played in the American League Division Series
since 2000. The last time the A’s won a decisive Game Five in the
playoffs was, in fact, 1973. And the source of that win came from the
arm of a Hall of Famer and one of the great money pitchers:
Jim “Catfish” Hunter.
Unfortunately, Catfish has been gone for a long time, a victim of
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou
But from all I’ve read and gleaned from talking to his teammates, Hunter
was the glue to those dominant A’s teams. Though in 1973 he was still
only 27, Catfish was among the longest tenured members of his club. As a
championship high school pitcher in rural North Carolina, he was pursued
by the then-Kansas City A’s in 1964. Hunter signed with Charlie Finley
for $75,000—a huge bonus in the last year before the amateur draft. And
this was after Hunter’s brother had accidentally shot him in the foot
and scared off other clubs. I’ll let you read up in
Swinging ’73 about the rest of his colorful background and his
intriguing relationship with the A's owner and general manager, who were
one in the same.
was a Game Five in the 1973 ALCS only because the A’s had blown Game
Four. With the A’s leading that game, 4-0, and Vida Blue cruising, the
Orioles quickly rallied for a run in the seventh and then tied Game Four
the Earl Weaver way: by hitting a three-run homer. That it came from the
most unlikely of sources—part-time catcher Andy Etchebarren—made it all
the more stunning. Rollie Fingers allowed a home run the next inning and
the O’s had evened the series.
like the Mets, chance had given Oakland home-field advantage and the
extra game. Catfish had won Game Two after the ’73 Cy Young winner Jim
Palmer had stymied the A’s in the opener. Palmer had been knocked out
early in Game Four and he was summoned early in Game Five after Weaver’s
decision to start Doyle Alexander backfired. Run-scoring hits by Joe
Rudi, Vic Davalillo, and Jesus Alou gave Oakland a 3-0 lead by the time
Palmer came on in the fourth inning. He allowed only two hits and a walk
the rest of the way, but it didn’t matter. This 3-0 lead wasn’t getting
away from Catfish.
Bobby Grich grounded out to end the game—Hunter fanned just one in a
breezy 2-hour, 11-minute shutout—the A’s barely had time to shake hands
before getting the hell out of the way. Despite what remains the
smallest crowd in League Championship Series history (24,265), the
Oakland Coliseum mob took part in a little Thursday afternoon
insurrection. The team’s past clinchers—including the division, pennant,
and World Series—had all been on the road. The Oakland fans took the
field and A’s took it to the clubhouse. Next stop: the ’73 World Series,
and the New York Mets.
matter how much some people held onto the 1960s concept of “turn on,
tune in, drop out,” you could not get away from politics in 1973. Forty
years later, it isn’t any easier to escape.
this day in 1973, just as the Mets and Reds were getting ready for their
afternoon game to decide the National League pennant, Vice President
Spiro Agnew resigned. It was due to allegations of accepting bribes
while Agnew was governor of Maryland. He stunned reporters by
unexpectedly arriving at the Federal Courthouse in Baltimore and, as
part of a plea deal, Agnew abruptly announced his resignation.
network news quickly cut to the story, even NBC, which was carrying the
Mets-Reds game from Shea Stadium. Though Agnew was the first VP to
resign under duress in American history (John Calhoun had resigned in
1828 to join the Senate), the two-minute report ended with an almost
cheery, “and now back to the ballgame.”
The Mets were winning, thanks to a two-run
single by Ed Kranepool, filling in after Rusty Staub severely hurt his
shoulder crashing into the wall in extra innings the day before. (The
Reds won Game Four in 12 innings, 2-1, on a home run by Bud Harrelson
abuser Pete Rose,
fist raised and booed lustily at Shea.) The Reds rallied in Game
Five, but once more in this series, the Big Red Machine struggled
to keep up with the Punch-and-Judy Mets lineup. Facing Tom Seaver didn’t
Cincinnati tied the game in the top of the fifth, the Mets went for the
jugular. Wayne Garrett led off the home fifth with a double. Reds
starter Jack Billingham fielded Felix Millan’s bunt and went for the out
at third, but Dan Driessen did not make the tag. Cleon Jones followed
with a double to give the Mets the lead. Billingham’s replacement, Don
Gullett, walked John Milner, and when Berra replaced Kranepool with
Willie Mays, the managerial wheels spun once more and Sparky Anderson’s
best reliever, Clay Carroll, emerged from the bullpen cart with the
bases loaded and two out.
pitching change gave the fans at Shea a longer chance to salute the
great Mays, who had been feted but had not batted in more than a month.
Some force, perhaps God watching from his Flushing apartment (as the
papers had credited as the source of this ’73 autumn miracle in New
York), allowed broken-down Willie Mays—and the fortuitous Mets—one more
great hop. Mays clubbed a ball off the plate, bounding high enough to
score a run and put Mays on first with an RBI single. Don Hahn’s
groundout and Bud Harrelson’s hit—take that, Charlie Hustle!—made it a
With Seaver mowing down the Reds—and even
scoring in the sixth for a 7-2 lead—the natives grew restless. In the
stands behind first base, the Reds contingent was jostled, pushed, and
abused so much that they were led out of the stands early. Anyone could
see there was a riot brewing, and the 340 policemen in the stands would
be unable to quell it. Fans pushed down to the lower deck, preparing to
attack the field when the game ended. Fans had behaved similarly in
1969, but that was seen as “joyous looting.” Witnesses who experienced
both “celebrations” say that the clinchings four years apart were
completely different animals, with animal being the right word.
Expecting the worst, Mets security had already secured the bullpen
carts, and Tug McGraw had to walk in from the pen when Seaver lost his
concentration in the ninth following the collapse of part of the railing
down the right-field line from the crush of fans. McGraw retired the
last two Reds, fielding a throw from Milner at first base to end the
game and commence
a sea of grabbing, clutching, frenzied fans. Even Willie Mays,
stranded in no man’s land in center field, was not immune. As a fan
aggressively grabbed at his cap, members of the Mets bullpen fought off
the man and the mob to get Willie to safety.
Champagne flowed in the locker room and the Mets talked about the World
Series—they did not yet know if they would play Baltimore or Oakland. It
had been quite a climb from last place to the pennant in six weeks. And
it had been quite a day.
people think back to the 1973 Mets, the first memory is usually not the
Amazin’ comeback from last to first, it’s not Tug McGraw and his “Ya
Gotta Believe” mantra, it’s not even winning the pennant and taking the
A’s dynasty to a seventh game in the World Series—the first recollection
someone usually brings up is the fight between Bud Harrelson and Pete
Rose. Forty years ago today, the fight was on.
Reds were the best team in the National League in the first half of the
1970s. They won division titles in 1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1976. The
only one of those times they did not reach the World Series was in ’73.
And they couldn’t believe who beat them.
the Mets defeated the Reds to even the 1973 NLCS at a game apiece, the
Mets had home-field advantage. It’s only in the last 20 years that
home-field advantage has been decided by better record; before that
home-field alternated each year. In the NLCS it was two games in one
city followed by three in another. And in 1973 it was not only a
best-of-five, the series was played with no off days.
the Reds and Mets took the field for batting practice before Game Three
on Columbus Day morning, the Reds were still boiling from the previous
day’s loss to a team they felt was inferior to the Big Red Machine. Bud
Harrelson, barely 150 pounds and the lightest of the light-hitting
shortstops in the NL, made a joke in the press about the Reds looking
like him at the plate on Sunday in Jon Matlack’s shutout. In two games
the Reds had two runs, six hits, and fanned 22 times against Matlack and
Tom Seaver. It wasn’t the underdog Mets who were lucky to be tied in the
series—it was the Reds!
Morgan, who hailed from the same part of the Bay Area as Harrelson, told
Bud before Game Three that the Reds did not appreciate his postgame
comments, especially Pete Rose. Cincinnati only got Red-hotter under the
collar as the Mets smacked them around at Shea Stadium on Monday. Rusty
Staub, who’d homered off a lefty a day earlier, homered twice in the
first two innings of Game Three against southpaws Ross Grimsley and Tom
Hall, respectively. Though the Reds scored twice to make it 6-2, the
Mets continued to batter every lefty sent in by Sparky Anderson. Jerry
Koosman singled in a run off Dave Tomlin to support his own cause in the
third. Then Cleon Jones and John Milner drove in runs before Tomlin was
finally knocked out in the fourth. But the real knockout came in the
fifth when, with Rose on first and one out in a 9-2 game, Morgan, who
started the whole Big Red brooding brouhaha, hit a groundball that
started a 3-6-3 double play. As always, Bob Murphy was the eyes for
those not packed into Shea Stadium.
And a fight breaks out! A fight breaks
out! Pete Rose and Buddy Harrelson. Both clubs spill out of the dugouts,
and a wild fight is going on! Jerry Koosman’s in the middle of the
fight. Everybody is out there. Buddy Harrelson and Pete Rose got into
it. Rose apparently thought that Harrelson had done something in making
the double play. Rose outweighs Harrelson about 35 pounds. And now Buzzy
Capra is in a fight! Capra is in a fight out in center field. Another
fight breaks out!
was a full-on donnybrook, the doozy of all Mets fights. SNY has trimmed
the postseason part off 1973 Mets Yearbook—I was told that it was
because that is an extra fee to air—so take a look at this
excellent “lost” footage of the fight.
There is a great
overview about that week from the excellent 1980s program,
that begins with the fight and leads into the Yom Kippur War, which
began this week in the Middle East in 1973, resulting in the oil Embargo
that changed the American consumer and the car industry. And
in case you missed it (or I let anyone forget), one more time we have
Steve Somers and I last week talking up the fight on WFAN.
you want to hear blow-by-blow recounts of the Shea Stadium main event
from Jerry Koosman, Buzz Capra, Rusty Staub, Wayne Garrett, George
Theodore, Ron Hodges, Jon Matlack, and Harrelson himself, pick up a copy
Swinging ’73. The FAN’s own Bob Heussler, then a college
freshman, describes the scene sitting directly above Pete Rose in the
left field loge section when the garbage and the whiskey bottle started
flying from the stands. Groundskeeper Pete Flynn, charged with cleaning
up the debris after Sparky Anderson pulled the Reds off the field, will
even tell you the brand of whiskey it was.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/7/1973... Matlack, Mets Lick Reds
If you stayed up for the A’s-Tigers finish
Saturday night, and watched some of the postgame (what can I say, I like
Keith Olberman and Dirk Hayhurst and their standing up to
David Price’s bellyaching tweeting),
there was a graphic about Detroit’s pitching dominance in the first two
games. It said that the 29 strikeouts by the Tigers were the third-most
in the first two postseason games of a series since the 1973 Mets. Keep
in mind that the 1970s were a time when more batters choked up on the
bat, had pride in making contact, and fewer strikeouts in general, so
the Mets fanning the Big Red Machine that many times—on the road, no
less—was that much more impressive. Though it should be noted that the 4
p.m. start times of the best-of-five ’73 NLCS games in Cincinnati
allowed the late-day sun to make two hard-throwing Mets moundsmen even
harder to see, much less hit.
Tom Seaver struck out a then-LCS record 13
Reds in the opener, only to lose on homers after the sun went away in
the eighth and ninth by Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, respectively. Jon
Matlack kept the pitching log that day in preparation for his Game 2
start. He told me for
I’m looking at this
chart after the game, thinking, ‘How in the world do you do better than
this?’ You can’t give them anything, or they are liable to beat you. It
was that sort of a mindset that went into the next day.
Matlack’s mindset paid off. He faced Don
Gullett, at age 22 a year Matlack’s
junior and one of the few lefties in the National League who threw
harder than the Mets southpaw. Rusty Staub noticed something in
Gullett’s delivery, and he took the Reds lefty deep. The Reds were lucky
to get any baserunners off Matlack. If not for
Andy Kosco, the journeyman right- handed outfielder who’d just
turned 32 and got a start instead of rookie lefty-swinger Ken Griffey
Sr., Cincinnati might not have gotten any hits at all. Kosco had the
only two hits against Matlack, but entering the ninth it was still a 1-0
game, which looked somewhat tenuous given Seaver’s superb effort and 2-1
loss the previous day. One little mistake and…
Matlack never made one. And he felt much
better after Mets Cleon Jones, Jerry Grote, and Bud Harrelson all
collected RBI hits in the top of the ninth against the Reds bullpen. The
5-0 win evened the series as the second-year southpaw went the distance
with as dominant and critical an outing as another second-year lefty,
Jerry Koosman, had in Game Two of the 1969 World Series after Tom Seaver
had been defeated in the opener. Now New York was coming home. And the
old saying that
great pitching beats great hitting wasn’t looking like just a
postseason adage. It looked like the gospel truth.
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For anyone who is in Providence on Tuesday
(October 8), I will be at the
New England Independent Book Association Conference at the Rhode
Island Convention Center in Providence. I will be signing at table B-2
at 11 a.m. Tell me you read about the gig here and you’ll get a stunned
look, a free book, a bookmark, and a slap on the back from this baseball
nerd—take that David Price, who despite a later apology, should be
strong and silent, like Jon Matlack was in his Game Two.
October 3, 2013
Schmoozing Right Here on the FAN
those who missed it or are out of market, listen
here to my long-awaited interview with “The Schmoozer” Steve Somers
on WFAN a couple of days ago. I can’t believe all the people who didn’t
even know I was on who heard it and sent me notes. Even without the Mets
that FAN has some range.
Thanks to WFAN’s “Mr. Met” Bob Huessler for setting it up and staying on
point, along with producer Casey Keefe and Mr. Somers himself, who, I
forgot to mention on air, is quoted a couple of times in
Swinging ’73 during his days on TV out in “Sacratamato” and
points west. And thanks to all who retweeted and spread the word about
my appearance, which was set up just as I was getting ready to fly to
Florida to be with family. My dad probably would not have heard the
interview if I had not visited that day, so that was a treat unto itself
for both of us.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/1/1973... Believe It: NL East Champs!
now in the collective fan’s mantra that the Mets always blow it on the
final day of the season (1998, 2007, and 2008 come to mind). The Mets
claimed the 1999 Wild Card with a one-game playoff victory, but never
has a Mets team won a game on the last day of the season to clinch a
division title... with the marvelous exception of October 1, 1973.
NL East was extremely mediocre, but the Mets were Amazin’ with a capital
A, going 34-19 over the final two months with a 24-9 charge to the
finish line that saw them go from last place to first in just over three
weeks. Rain at Wrigley caused the Mets and Cubs to play a pair of
doubleheaders to end the season. The Mets split Sunday’s doubleheader,
and another twinbill was scheduled for Monday—with a three-way tie
between the Mets, Cardinals, and Pirates still possible if the Mets got
decision that would come up again, manager Yogi Berra opted for Tom
Seaver and his sore shoulder over well-rested George Stone. Berra could
have started the first game with Stone and his 12-3 record, 2.80 ERA,
and eight-game winning streak. If the Mets lost the opener, Seaver could
start the second game. If the Mets won the first game, Berra could start
someone else—from the forgotten Jim McAndrew to a random September
callup—in the nightcap. But Yogi chose Seaver, as he would fatefully do
in Oakland three weeks later. This time it worked.
Seaver gave the Mets all he had, and the Mets provided plenty of
offense. New York went up 5-0 against Burt Hooton, but the Cubs scored
twice in the home fifth to cut it to 5-2. Ron Santo, playing his final
game as a Cub before a controversial trade sent the beloved third
baseman across town, committed a run-scoring error for the second
straight game to make it a four-run lead. But Rick Monday came up with a
man on and drilled a home run off Seaver in the seventh to make it 6-4.
came to get Seaver and went to his best man, his fireman: Tug McGraw.
Tug had coined “Ya Gotta Believe” as the mantra for downtrodden teams
still hoping for a miracle. McGraw pitched the final three innings,
climaxing an Amazin’ run that saw him earn four wins, 12 saves, and an
0.88 ERA over his last 41 innings. Yet there was a tenuous moment.
Ken Rudolph on first and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Cubs
manager Whitey Lockman turned to “the book.” With a southpaw on the
mound and the tying run at the plate, Lockman removed his leading home
run hitter, lefty-swinging Rick Monday (with 26 homers on the year,
including one his last time up against the eventual Cy Young winner) in
favor of Glenn Beckert, even though Beckert had just 22 homers in his
long career, and he hadn’t homered at all in ‘73. But he was a
right-handed hitter. Sheer genius—and one of the reasons the Cubs
dropped from first to fifth over the summer of ’73, and all of 1,913
people were interested enough in the conclusion of the NL East race to
come to soggy Wrigley on Monday.
Beckert did not hit the ball out of the
park. He hit a soft liner that John Milner caught while stepping on
first base in the same motion to double off Rudolph and end the game,
not to mention the most convoluted race in history. When Milner came
over to give Tug
a well-earned soul shake, the celebration was on.
Forty Years Ago Today: 9/30/1973... Of Splits and Boos
this day in 1973 the Mets finally played. A day off plus two rainouts at
Wrigley had done them a world of good, however. Three days of idleness
had gained them a full game in the standings. The chance of a five-way
tie for first place dissipated, as did the Pittsburgh Pirates. When the
Mets finally took the soggy field at Wrigley on Sunday for a
doubleheader, the Pirates stood in third place, two games back, with the
Cardinals now in second place, 1 ½ games behind.
the way that this race was going and given that we’re talking about,
well, the Mets, a doubleheader loss was not out of the question. And the
question grew larger when Jon Matlack lost a hard-luck 1-0 game to the
Cubs in the opener. The Cards and Pirates were also winning that day.
St. Louis ended its season at 81-81 and could still win the division; so
could the Bucs, who had a makeup game on Monday. The Mets could turn
their feel-good comeback into a full-blown nightmare by dropping all
four games to the Cubs. But it was Kooz to the rescue.
Koosman, who’d beaten the Orioles twice in the 1969 World Series,
started the nightcap (though that is a misnomer since Wrigley had no
lights). Fergie Jenkins, a future Hall of Famer, was pitching his last
game before a surprising trade to Texas that winter. Following six
straight 20-win seasons, Jenkins was just 14-15, which is what Kooz’s
record ended up being after he beat Jenkins. The Mets handed Koosman a
3-0 lead before he even took the mound thanks to two grounders to Ron
Santo—one of which the Cubs third baseman threw away for two runs. So
much for worries about the Cubs coming back to sabotage the Mets as
payback for 1969. The Mets won, 9-2, splitting the twinbill and
clinching at least a tie for the NL East title. All they had to do was
split Monday’s makeup doubleheader at Wrigley.
was exciting news from Chicago, along with all the NFL games on the last
Sunday in September—the Mets outscored the Jets and almost matched the
Giants (both of whom lost despite not allowing a touchdown). The only
team playing in New York that day was an afterthought.
Yankees had held first place into early August, but an 18-36 freefall
eliminated them from the race and left the Yanks at 81 losses with four
games on the schedule. But the Yankees won three straight and still had
a chance to finish with a .500 record. How ironic that the also-ran
Yankees could finish with almost the same record as the sudden media
lost on many was the final day of Yankee Stadium. Yes, four decades
later baseball is still played at Yankee Stadium, but it is essentially
two stadiums removed from the House That Ruth Built. After the ’73
season, the 50-yearold edifice would be almost completely leveled,
forcing the Yankees to play at Shea Stadium for two years while the
rebuilding project cost New Yorkers in excess of $100 million. Other
than the address, the second incarnation of Yankee Stadium would have
more in common with other 1970s stadiums like Riverfront, Three Rivers,
or the Vet than it did with its Bronx predecessor.
in the 1970s newer was better. People weren’t hung up on nostalgia. The
last game at a stadium then was more likely to touch off a riot than a
postgame stadium-closing ceremony. Throughout the Yankees’ last game,
the sound of wooden seats being pried from concrete could be heard
echoing through the stadium—until the noise was drowned out by boos. The
Yankees fell apart during Detroit’s six-run seventh and manager Ralph
Houk was forced to make not one but two trips to the mound. Booed every
step of the way.
a World War II hero and a Yankee since the 1940s, had served in every
capacity in the organization. And he had already resigned, only nobody
outside of management knew it. The fans couldn’t wait. “It was the worst
thing I ever saw,” says Fritz Peterson, the first pitcher relieved by
Houk that inning. Lindy McDaniel took the defeat, but the whole stadium
felt the loss.
officially resigned at the conclusion of the game and his team’s 80-82
season, leaving him with a 944-806 mark (.539 win percentage), plus
three pennants and two world championships in 11 years. His players were
stunned by the news. The boobirds were happy. And the original Yankee
Stadium was history.
Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw, Rusty Staub, and the first-place
Mets watched it rain at Wrigley Field for the second straight day,
a swing in the third inning on September 29, Atlanta’s Hank Aaron
created the first trio of 40-homer hitters on one team in history. That
was nice. Nice for Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson, the other members of
this troika. For Hank Aaron it was another in a long list of
accomplishments, but career home run 713 still left him one behind Babe
Ruth’s all-time record. He still had a shot of breaking the record on
the final day of the year. Atlanta, lukewarm at best and hostile at
worst about its hometown hero taking on the biggest record in sports,
came out in droves for the final day of the year to see Aaron try to
break the mark. In front of the first crowd even close to 40,000 all
year in the finale, Aaron had three singles to go over .300 for the
year, but no home runs. The record chase would have to wait until April
of 1974. The pressure increased, as did the volumes of mail—much of it
encouraging, but some of it racially pointed and threatening enough to
make for a very long winter for Hank Aaron.
The final appearance of the year by Angel
Nolan Ryan, on the other hand, had been ideal. No, it wasn’t a
no-hitter, which he had two of in 1973, but his team’s inability to
score kept him on the mound long enough to go 11 innings and strike out
16 Twins. The last batter, Rich Rollins, was his 383rd strikeout victim
of the year, breaking Sandy Koufax’s 20th century record of 382, set in
1965. Richie Scheinblum then put an end to the night with a pinch-hit
double to win the game. Ryan’s
21 victories lined up with his staggering figures of 326 innings, 26
complete games, and 1,335 batters faced. None of these led the
league—though his 162 walks were the most in baseball. In the year of
the designated hitter, American League managers did not need to
pinch-hit for pitchers in game situations, and those starters got plenty
of extra work. It was not the Year of the Pitcher but the Year of Ben
Gay: Seven pitchers threw at least 300 and 12 stayed in games long
enough to win 20. And afterward they need the soothing relief of Ben
Gay. Thanks for the
22 years, 383 steals, 1,903 RBI, 2,063 runs, 3,283 hits, 6,066 total
bases, and 660 home runs, Willie Mays officially called it a career.
Though a rib injury in Montreal on September 9 had kept him from
playing, there was one more big night to go. Willie Mays Night drew
43,805—plus 10,000 more freebies not counted in the gate—for a Tuesday
night at Shea Stadium. Gifts rained down on Willie for 45 minutes before
he finally said, “Willie, say goodbye to America.”
Canada’s team was in the other dugout. An overachieving Expos team under
the legendary strategist Gene Mauch had been having a far better season
than the Mets until a seven-game losing streak dropped Montreal (76-81)
to a tie for fourth place behind the now first-place Mets (79-77). Such
was the flighty NL East in September of ’73.
Rookie Steve Rogers had beaten the Mets in both his starts in ’73,
defeating Tom Seaver and Jon Matlack, but now he faced a different
pitcher—and a different team, for that matter. Jerry Koosman, who’d
earlier established a club record with 31.2 consecutive scoreless
innings during the Mets run, blanked Montreal for the first five
Mets, getting all kind of fortunate bounces this month, got a big one
when a Wayne Garrett grounder hopped off Tim Foli’s glove for an infield
hit that moved Bud Harrelson to third in the home fifth. An out there
would have rendered Felix Millan’s subsequent flyball pointless, but
with one out, it was sufficient to plate the first run of the game.
After Garrett’s error let Montreal tie it the next inning, Cleon Jones,
with 11 RBI in the first six games of the final homestand of ’73,
launched a Steve Rogers pitch to left for just his ninth home run of the
year but fourth of the homestand. Jones showed off his glove work the
next inning with a backhanded snag of a Felipe Alou liner to thwart a
McGraw—a middle reliever, setup man, and closer rolled into one—got the
final seven outs to give Kooz and the Mets a 2-1 win and, after a 2-1
Pirates loss to the Phillies, a 1.5-game lead. For the complete wrapup
Albert’s postgame show—I sure wish this had been unearthed a couple
of years ago! But I digress. Here is one player’s perspective from
Swinging ’73 on the special night for Willie:
“Absolutely, it was special. I mean, how
could it not be special?” says Jon Matlack now, 23 at the time. “The guy
was and is a phenomenon in the game and still at his age brought such
instinct and life to playing the game. He was great to be around. He was
a phenomenal influence.”
Though the ceremony was long and the Mets
had an important game to play, watching Mays’s tearful goodbye wasn’t
easy for a ballplayer who understood that the glory years for even the
greatest of players had their limit, the accolades fleeting. Explains
Matlack, “It was something that I watched some of . . . I don’t think I
watched it all because it was something you don’t want to end. You don’t
want to see the end for somebody else, and you certainly don’t want to
think about that it could end for you. It was a wonderful tribute and
all that kind of stuff, but it was like looking at what’s coming for me
at some point. I don’t know there’s ever going to be a day for me. But
it meant the end for his existence and for baseball, and I didn’t want
to look at that.”
The fans couldn’t get enough of the
ceremony or of Mays. Karl Ehrhardt, Shea Stadium’s “sign man,” a fan who
carried dozens of signs suitable for numerous points in a ballgame,
summed up the feelings of the crowd:
We Who Are About to Cry Salute
You. Joan Payson joined the throng in crying as Willie came over
to her seat near the Mets dugout. Mays, who a week earlier had told the
press during his retirement announcement, “Maybe I’ll cry tomorrow,” was
Forty Years Ago Today: 9/23/1973... Flushing Up, Bronx Out
1973 NL East race was a battle of mediocrity, but it was without doubt
the most exciting race in baseball. With a week to go in the season, the
other races were pretty much wrapped up, but the NL East was so much in
play that the managers were over-managing like hell. Some 51,000 at Fan
Appreciation Day at Shea Stadium reveled in their first-place team.
the third-place Cardinals up 2-0 in the first inning at Shea Stadium,
St. Louis skipper Red Schoendienst yanked starter Mike Thompson after
the first two Mets got on base; neither runner scored. In the second
inning, with two outs, none on, and the Mets still down by two runs,
Yogi Berra pinch-hit for George Stone, who had not lost a start since
July. Though pinch hitter Lute Barnes fanned, Yogi’s charmed September
continued as the Mets bullpen threw seven scoreless innings with—try to
get your 2013 heads around this—their top two relievers tossing all
seven frames. Harry Parker went four innings and Tug McGraw the last
three. The Cards’ bullpen was not up to its task of eight relief
innings. Wayne Garrett, who scored the first two runs, drove in the next
two with a tiebreaking triple off Al Hrabosky, making the Hungarian mad.
Red hot Cleon Jones later homered to make it 5-2, their sixth straight
win to sweep this unconventional two-game weekend series. But nothing
the Mets did in September of ’73 could be called conventional—or even
believable. But Tug would tell you, as many times as you wanted to hear
Across town, it was merely a football Sunday. The Giants played for the
final time at Yankee Stadium, marking the last time an NFL
regular-season game was ever played in the Bronx. It came down to the
final seconds, with Pete Gogolak kicking a field goal on the last play
to assure a 23-all tie with the Eagles. Back in ’73 the uprights were
still on the goal lines, most kickers (other than
the soccer-style Gogolaks) kicked straight ahead, and overtime only
existed in the playoffs. The Giants would take their 1-0-1 start north
to the Yale Bowl in New Haven—and win just once more all year.
the Oakland A’s were clinching their third straight AL West title in
front of absentee owner Charlie O. Finley in his home base of
Chicago—with Vida Blue joining teammates Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman
in the 20-win column (the
last 20-win troika of teammates in baseball history)—the Oakland
Coliseum was celebrating the end of a different era. The Raiders ended
the Dolphins’ 18-game win streak, 12-7. John Madden’s team became the
first club to beat Miami since Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl
VI, some 20 months earlier. In the meantime, Don Shula’s Dolphins had
won all 14 regular-season games of 1972, two playoff games, and Super
thanks to Gary Yepremian. The Dolphins had begun 1973 with a win
over a 49ers team coming off an NFC West title.
shook off the loss to Oakland to win 10 more games in a row—giving them
a mind-blowing 28 wins in 29 games—before inexplicably losing to a bad
Colts team on December 9, 1973. Miami avenged the loss in Oakland by
trouncing the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game. The Dolphins then
rolled the Vikings in Super Bowl VIII for their second straight title.
Nouveau dynasties were all the rage in ’73.
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For anyone who missed it Saturday,
listen to me on Ed Randall’s “Talking Baseball” on WFAN. Since you
are here, enjoy the exclusive back story: When the interview started I
was in a dead zone in a West Point parking lot after the Army vs. Wake
Forest game. I was able to quickly locate—this means run to—a far off
building to shield the whistling wind from marring the interview. Many
thanks to Ed Randall, who had me on both that morning and afternoon. I
was on the MLB Home Plate Channel on Sirius/XM with Ed and Rico
Petrocelli, whom I had watched in awe when he hit .308 for the Red Sox
during the unforgettable 1975 World Series. Saturday won’t be forgotten
around my house anytime soon, either.
September 21, 1973, the New York Mets, in last place on August 30, took
over first place. On Tuesday they’d been in fourth place and nearly
counted out; on Wednesday they reached third; on Thursday they took over
second; and the Mets capped a busy work week by going top of the heap
course it was Tom Seaver, doing the honors. Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass,
who’d gone from 1971 World Series hero to unable to throw the ball over
the plate, was knocked out in the first inning as the Mets beat the
Pirates, 10-2. Seaver lost the first game of this unique five-game
series, but notched his 18th win and the biggest game of the year in the
finale in front of a packed house at Shea.
was watching… The Brady Bunch on ABC. At eight, my tastes still
had sports as a foreign entity, if you can believe it. But I was
watching a New York sports star. That same night the Mets took over
first place, Joe Namath beamed into my house and living rooms across the
country, stepping onto the Astro Turf in The Brady Bunch backyard
to throw a pass to littlest Brady boy, Bobby. The Bradys’ fifth TV
season began with Broadway Joe and ended with
Frigging Oliver (like there weren’t enough kids on the show
already). The last original Brady Bunch episode aired in March of
1974 due to enmity between actors and producers. The show’s 116 episodes
would be repeated for decades. The Mets’ 1973 ending, on the other hand,
would be repeated only once, in 1999.
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It’s a busy Saturday and I’ll be at West Point for
Army-Wake Forest, but I am also supposed to be on both MLB Home Plate
Channel on Sirius/XM Channel 175 Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and
Ed Randall’s “Talking Baseball” on Saturday on WFAN, which starts at
4 p.m. and goes until Mets Extra at 6:30 p.m. Fingers crossed.
Rising Apple has been doing a Forty Years Ago Today all year to mark
the 1973 season. A couple of others jumping on board the ’73 Express in
the last week are SNY and
Faith and Fear in Flushing (Greg Prince and I personally traded ’73
stories with “Ya Gotta Believe” he was there fan Bob Heussler of FAN
fame at the Mets-Giants matinee). And on this day four decades ago the
dream became real, though it certainly was surreal.
The Mets and Pirates began the week with one of
the oddest five-game scheduled series I have ever come across: five
night games, Monday through Friday, two games at Three Rivers Stadium,
and then three at Shea. September 20, 1973 was a Thursday. The day began
with Willie Mays on NBC’s Today Show talking about his just
announced—but long overdue—retirement from baseball. Football season had
just started—the Giants were 1-0 and Joe Namath’s Jets had lost to Green
Bay in Milwaukee on Monday Night Football. That Thursday night, though,
both baseball and football took a back seat to tennis. Billie Jean
King’s “Battle of the Sexes” against Bobby Riggs dominated the media.
Riggs—rhymes with pigs—had beaten top-ranked woman Margaret Court on
Mother’s Day and used the victory to put down not just the women’s game
but the women’s movement, which had made significant strides in the
early 1970s. King took the baton for her sex and shut up Riggs for good
by beating him in straight sets
at the Astrodome. Then she beat Riggs again in Ping Pong in a
memorable Odd Couple episode a few weeks later.
While the spectacle of the “Battle of the
Sexes” was waged on an ABC special, WOR-TV had its own special
broadcast. The Mets-Pirates game was only scheduled for radio, but with
the Mets suddenly making a run, Channel 9 threw it on the air at the
last minute. There had been heady drama already that week. Tom Seaver
was blown out Monday in Pittsburgh. And Tuesday night the Mets were
three runs down and three outs away from being 4½ games back with only
12 games left, perhaps beyond resuscitation. But the Mets rallied for
five runs in the ninth with a two-run triple by Felix Millan followed by
key RBI hits from unlikely suspects Ron Hodges and Don Hahn, who’d both
begun the season in the minors. With fireman Tug McGraw already used,
manager Yogi Berra made the questionable decision to have Bob Apodaca
make his major league debut in a save situation against “The Pittsburgh
Lumber Company.” Dack didn’t have it and Buzz Capra came in and saved
the day—barely—in what turned out to be his last appearance as a Met.
With the series moving to New York,
another late rally put away Pittsburgh, 7-3, behind George Stone and Tug
McGraw. Now 1½ games behind the first-place Pirates, 5,000 fewer people
came to Shea—24,855 to be exact. Two lefties who threw hard but were
thought of as crafty, Jerry Koosman and Jim Rooker, started that night.
Every time the Bucs went on top, the Mets came right back. It was 3-2 in
the ninth with Ramon Hernandez on the mound, two outs, a man on second,
and Duffy Dyer up as a pinch hitter. Dyer, with a .180 average that
would fit nicely on the Mets of 40 years later, turned into the latest
hero of the moment with a double that tied the game.
Ray Sadecki came in to pitch and retired
10 straight Bucs as the game moved to the 13th inning. Rookie Richie
Zisk singled with one out and Manny Sanguillen followed with a fly out.
Up stepped September call-up Dave Augustine.
What came next was a bounce that is only surpassed
in Mets annals by the throw off J.C. Martin’s wrist that won Game 4 of
the 1969 World Series and the grounder to Bill Buckner lm 1986.
Augustine’s drive, seemingly destined for the bullpen for a home run,
hit the top of the wall, came to Cleon Jones, who relayed to Wayne
Garrett, who threw to Ron Hodges, who slapped the tag on Zisk.
Yes, Murph, they may get him.
In the bottom of the 13th came Pirates
palmball specialist Dave Giusti, roughed up by the Mets the past two
nights. Make that three straight nights. Giusti relieved Luke Walker,
who’d walked the first two Mets. Don Hahn could not move up the runners,
but no matter. Ron Hodges, drafted out of Appalachian State only a year
earlier, was a New York hero once more. He singled home John Milner to
put the Mets just a half game out of first. And there was still plenty
of Amazin’ to go.
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100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, I
ranked this as number 23 in Mets history, just behind “The Black Cat” in
1969, the first time the Mets crept within a game of a seemingly
superior rival in September. You can read far more detail about “The
Ball on the Wall” game in
Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season, including the memories
of a couple of the players involved in the play, plus the great Howie
Rose, a college student sitting in the stands at Shea that night, and
Newsday reporter Steve Jacobson, perched in the press box. And Buzz
Capra’s version of the ninth inning of that second game Pittsburgh is
one of my favorite stories.
I’ll be talking ’bout ’73 with Ed Randall on
Home Plate Channel on Sirius/XM Channel 175 Saturday at 8:30 a.m. The
second part of my morning-afternoon doubleheader picks up lateron
Ed Randall’s “Talking Baseball” on Saturday on WFAN. Check back
later for the approximate time I’ll be on. Ed’s show starts at 4 p.m.
and goes until Mets Extra at 6:30 p.m.
The NFL season opened on this date in
1973. There were a few week one storylines: The Dolphins knocked off the
49ers for their 18th consecutive win in the follow-up to their perfect
’72 season (the streak would end the next week in Oakland); despite
being blanked in the first quarter, the Falcons still put up 62 points
at Tulane Stadium to dismantle the Saints and third-year QB Archie
Manning; the closest game of the game saw Dallas kicker Toni Fritsch
snap a fourth-quarter tie at Soldier Field with an 11-yard field goal
(the goalposts were still located on the goal line); and O.J. Simpson
ran for 250 yards in Buffalo’s rout of the Patriots to commence his
quest as football’s first 2,000-yard rusher.
The strangest site of the day, though, had
to be Johnny Unitas… in a San Diego Chargers uniform. The Baltimore
Colts legend had helped build the NFL on the strength of his arm. He
threw lightning bolts, he didn’t wear them on his helmet.
In an era when the NFL was run-first,
run-second, and then throw if necessary, Johnny U. led the league in
pass attempts, yards, and touchdowns four times each. He threw a
touchdown pass in 47 straight games, a streak finally broken by Drew
Brees in 2012. Brandishing high-top cleats, number 19, and a crew-cut
that Grampa Simpson said “you could set your watch to,” Unitas was the
first to surpass 40,000 passing yards, averaging 215.8 yards per game in
his first dozen seasons.
And in a sport often measured by how many
championship you’ve won, Unitas won two NFL titles—including “The
Greatest Game Ever Played” in 1958—plus Super Bowl V, which some still
call “The Worst Super Bowl Ever Played”; but a win is a win. Unitas was
a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, a six-time All-Pro, and a three-time MVP.
One more item of note should be added after each of these
achievements—“All with Colts.”
Unitas played under coaching legends Weeb
Ewbank and then Don Shula in Baltimore, but Johnny U. made the calls in
the huddle. A year after claiming his third MVP, an arm injury kept him
on the bench for most of the 1968 season, as Earl Morral led the Colts
to a 13-1 record. Even Unitas coming off the bench couldn’t rescue the
Colts against the upstart Jets in Super Bowl III. He came back the next
year to throw for 2,342 yards to guide the Colts to the first AFC
title—the year the merger went official. He got the Colts back to the
AFC Championship Game in 1971, but they were shut out by the No-Name
Defense of Shula, who’d taken over Miami.
1972 season was bad for Unitas and the Colts. He suffered his first
losing season as a starter since his rookie season of 1956. Benched by
interim coach John Sandusky, Unitas was inserted late in Baltimore’s
final home game as the large crowd chanted his name. A short pass to
Eddie Hinton turned into a 63-yard touchdown as Memorial Stadium went
insane one last time for the original “Johnny Football.”
Traded to the Chargers in ’73, the
40-year-old Unitas began the season at RFK, not from his hallowed
stomping grounds, but it might as well have been a world away. The
defending NFC champion Redskins chewed up the Chargers, 38-0, as Unitas
threw three interceptions and San Diego turned the ball over seven
times. He won one of his four starts and tutored rookie QB Dan Fouts,
who’d one day join Johnny in the Hall of Fame. The ’73 Chargers went
2-11-1, the same record as the moribund New York Giants. With Bert Jones
under center instead of Unitas, Howard Schnellenberger’s Colts finished
4-10, tied with the Jets for last place in the AFC East.
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I am on the air with Dan Reinhard at WKNY
1490 AM on Monday at 6 p.m. If you cannot in on your radio, try
Forty Years Ago Today: 9/13/1973... Schoolhouse Rock
For a kid in 1973, Saturday was the day.
Parents slept late, I woke early, and I propped myself in front of the
black-and-white TV in our family room. Cartoons existed for only a few
hours on weekdays—mostly re-runs of Bugs Bunny, Gigantor,
or Speed Racer that had entertained people now too old to bother
with such simple fare. On Saturday mornings, though, network TV aimed
right at me—firing out so much new programming it was almost unfair that
I was denied so much content the rest of the week. The VCR or even Beta
Max was still a few years away, so you had to catch it as it was
happening or miss it. And in the land of seven channels, you (or at
least I) could not stand missing anything good.
But in September of 1973, while watching a show on
what I only knew as Channel 7 (ABC), came a between-shows snippet called
confusing grammar, or
confounding multiplication tables suddenly became simpler and, well,
fun because of a song. I learned more from these three-minute snippets,
which would now be called micro-series, than I did from my awful
third-grade teacher, who was as mean as she was ugly.
The bits, concocted by New York adman
David McCall—you could call him a Mad Man—who came up with the concept
for a kid who was struggling with his multiplication tables. Bob Dorough
wrote and sang many of the three dozen such animated shorts through
1980. I can still recite a few of these by rote—and not just because I
later bought the DVD for my kids.
I remember Schoolhouse Rock better than any
individual Saturday morning TV show. I was not alone. Twenty-five years
after the first bit debuted, when my wife and I had our first child, I
left a message on the answering machine of Linc, a great friend from
high school. I started my astounding news with the snippet from the
original Schoolhouse Rock ditty, the
three multiplication song: “A man and a woman had a little baby.” He
instantly knew the song and my news that followed—everyone our age would
have known. And however you remember or decipher Schoolhouse Rock,
“It’s a magic number.”
On this day in 1973, Willie
Mays played his final major league game—though no one knew it at the
time. Willie would actually take a final bow in the postseason, where
fortunate bounces found his bat and unfortunate bounces found his glove.
The glove he was wearing on
September 9 was a first baseman’s mitt. The Mets were at Jarry Park on a
Sunday afternoon against the Montreal Expos before 20,743, not far from
a capacity crowd at the small Canadian outpost. Gene Mauch’s Montreal
club, the division doormat its first three seasons in the National
League East, held second place at 69-72. The Mets (68-74) had won 16 of
their last 25 games after having the second-worst mark in the National
League until mid-August. They now stood tied for fourth with the Cubs,
four games behind St. Louis. Montreal was in third place, 2 ½ back.
Expos rookie Steve Rogers had outdueled Tom Seaver the previous day,
halting New York’s four-game winning streak. Both the Mets and Expos
needed this game.
Leading 2-0, Mays chased
after a foul pop near the first-base dugout. He slammed into the
chest-high railing and winced in pain. The 42-year-old veteran, seven
weeks removed from his 660th—and final—major league home run, stayed in
the game. He batted third in the order in spite of his .213 average
coming into the game; being Willie Mays has its advantages. He batted
once more after the collision and struck out against righty reliever
Chuck Taylor, not the Chuck Taylor of basketball fame whose
iconic sneakers were in their fifth decade of coolness in ’73.
Mays finished the game—a 3-0
combined shutout by George Stone and Tug McGraw—but afterward he
complained of soreness in his chest. He returned to New York during the
team’s off day and was to meet up with the Mets for the Tuesday game in
Philadelphia. With the Mets now just three games out, Mays was listed as
the first baseman that night at Veterans Stadium, but there was no Mays.
He was still in his Riverdale apartment waiting for a return call from
the doctor. When you’re Willie Mays, you can make news by not even being
around—as he had done in spring training when he went across the country
to see his wife in California and missed a team workout. Manager Yogi
Berra was again displeased, though he continued to ask Mays if he could
play as the team made its epic September run. The man couldn’t go,
a-Maysing regular season stats could forever be etched in stone.
And neither the Say Hey Kid
nor his teammates on the final stop in a Giant career would go quietly
September 5, 2013
Kong Sung Blue (and
We interrupt the 1973 September
countdown—it’s a slow week in that regard—to bring you an update on a
player who was 3,000 miles from New York that year. Giants third baseman
Dave Kingman—yes, third baseman; he started a career-high 60 times there
in ’73, no wonder the Giants finished 11 back in the NL West, though
they did win six more games than the NL East champion Mets; this
sentence is all messed up, let’s start over. Giants third baseman Dave
Kingman, 24, had a poor year in 1973. Besides his 18 errors at third
base, and four more miscues at first base, Kong barely crept over the
Mendoza line at .203, even though the line’s namesake, Mario Mendoza,
was still a year from his major league debut at the time. Kingman hit 24
homers, whiffed 122 times (seventh in the NL), and reached base at a
.300 clip. He even pitched twice, tossing four innings and allowing as
many runs, but San Francisco had drafted him out of USC with the first
overall pick in 1970 to hit, not pitch—though he’d done both well for
All that ballast aside, the moment Kong
donned Mets togs in 1975 he became my hero. As a first-year fan that
season, I admit I liked him as much as Tom Seaver, maybe even more
because he was on WOR every night. Charlie Vascellaro was likewise
Charlie is a longtime Mets fan and writer,
who lives in Baltimore (look at this
clip about the 2010
Orioles, a team that, by the way, defied critics and finished with a
robust 96 losses). In 2007 Charlie conducted what may be the last
interview with Karl Ehrhardt before “The Sign Man” moved on to the big
banner day in the sky. He tracked me down to send me a note and we
quickly got talking Kong and all other things Mets related.
We’re a few weeks away from the
semi-annual publishing of Letters to the Met-idor, and this
correspondence would have dominated the piece anyway, so we’ll let it
stand as is. And make sure to read his piece on Kong that he presented
at the Mets 50th Anniversary Symposium at Hofstra in 2012 and he
graciously allowed me to post
ME: I think your
Kingman presentation was on the Thursday afternoon at the conference
when I played hooky to see the
Mets rally in the ninth at Citi Field. I have been a fan of your
work, especially the piece on Karl Ehrhardt. I used it—and said as much
(you are also in the index) for a short piece on the Sign Man in the
ME: Loved the piece.
Loved Kingman. Saw a moonshot that went into the parking lot and hit a
bus in 1976. Nearly cried—oh who am I kidding, did cry—when he came out
on the last day at Shea in 2008 with Craig Swan, who started my first
game at Shea at age 10 in ’75. We must go to a game some time and trade
notes over a beer and rat burger. By the way, on the Mark Harris note in
your story—Bang the Drum Slowly is an amazing book and I have the
movie poster framed to bring to Cooperstown for a presentation on
1973. [Editor’s Note: Brought it to Cooperstown and I loved it, though
some in the audience may have been confused by its presence. But
everybody loves a young Bobby DeNiro.]
Matt. My relationship with Kingman is complicated. I loved him like you
did as a kid but, as you just read in the story, our personal
interactions have been frustrating. I guess I loved him as a player but
I’m not so sure how I feel about him as a person.
I got to know Mark Harris quite well and became a good friend of his. I
was with his family a few years back to scatter his ashes around his Mt.
Vernon, New York boyhood home.
I’d love to see your chapter on Karl Ehrhardt. I have Mets Essential
and the 100 Things books but do not have Best Mets.
[Editor’s Plug: Well, here’s your chance to get
your copy and read not just about Ehrhardt, but also on
groundskeeper Pete Flynn, legendary organist Jane Jarvis, Jerry
Seinfeld, Cowbell Man, and more.]
Yes let’s definitely get together for a game either here in Baltimore or
at Citi Field some time. You sure have been busy chronicling the team’s
What is your 1973 presentation? Do you have a new book? [Editor’s Plug
II: We’ll let the other entries on the site display the obvious, but you
can click to pick up your copy of
Here are my top 10 games attended at Shea:
10. Roy White Steals Home and I have my first knish, September 21, 1974.
While renovations were being made to Yankee Stadium the Mets and Yankees
shared Shea in 1974-75. From a great box seat along the first base line,
I’m surprised to see Yankees outfielder Roy White make a mad dash for
the plate. I also eat my first knish at Shea that day.
9. Keith Hernandez Day at Shea, September 14, 1997. Luis Lopez
celebrates Keith Hernandez’s induction to the Mets Hall of Fame by
hitting his only home run of the season and provides the only run of the
game in the Mets' 1-0 victory over the Expos. Lopez, fittingly, wears
Hernandez’s old number 17 on his jersey.
8. Hendu Can-Do, June 14, 1980. We’re exchanging high-fives all the way
down the ramps on the way out of the ballpark after Steve Henderson’s
three-run blast caps a five-run rally in the Mets come from behind
victory over San Francisco.
7. Piazza Rocks Roger, July 9, 1999. Mike Piazza’s three-run homer off
Roger Clemens provides the margin of difference for the Mets in a 5-2
over the Yankees and sets the tone for future Piazza/Clemens
confrontations. Piazza will eventually rack up 8 hits in 19 career
at-bats (.421) against Clemens including four home runs with 10 RBI.
6. Game Five NLCS, October 16, 2000. Mike Hampton pitches a three-hit,
complete game shutout as the Mets advance to the World Series for the
first time in 15 years.
5. Game Three NLDS, October 7, 2000. Benny Agbayani’s 13th-inning blast
is his shining moment as a Met.
4. Game Four 2000 NLDS, October 8, 2000. Bobby Jones throws a one-hitter
in the best pitched game I’ve ever seen in person as the Mets defeat the
San Francisco Giants and move on to the NLCS versus St. Louis.
3. Robin Ventura’s grand slam single, National League Championship
Series, October 17, 1999. I keep score through 15 innings, the last six
of them in a driving rain. The Mets and Braves deplete their entire
rosters (minus Rick Reed and Al Leiter) in this all-time epic for the
ages which ends on a bases loaded blast by Ventura, who is mobbed by
teammates and fails to reach second base, resulting in a game-winning
single instead of a grand slam.
2. Dave Kingman hits three home runs for the Cubs against the Mets, July
28, 1979. I catch one of them and have it signed after the game.
1. Game Three National League Championship Series, October 8, 1973. I’m
a star struck nine-year-old sitting way up high in right field with my
Uncle Tony at one of my earliest games at Shea, made extremely memorable
when Pete Rose and Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson slug it out at second
ME: I was at six of
those games [numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 9]. I was in awe of you for
being at the Hendu-Can-Do Game, and then I saw you were at the
Harrelson-Rose brawl. I’m not worthy!
This is one from the heart. On this day in
1973, Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock” reached number one on the
charts. Since it first came out, that song has—not surprisingly—always
reminded me of my mother and the love still felt long after she left us.
Here in 2013, my daughter, named after my mother—the name
Swinging ’73 is dedicated to—begins a big adventure on her own
today. Time to be a rock. The girl doesn’t know from Paul Simon, but my
Forty Years Ago Today: 9/2/1973... Watching, ’73
Regular season baseball broadcasts that still exist from 40 years ago
are very rare. Getting a couple of DVDs of complete World Series
broadcasts required getting “bootlegs”—a very 1970s term—from various
sources to aid in the preparation of Swinging ’73. But for a moment, for
a day, let’s try to imagine what it was like to be watching live as
announcers bring you the pictures, descriptions,
of the game.
The 1973 schedule listed the Mets as
broadcasting 119 games, a high number for a major league team at the
time. The idea that TV—and radio—would hinder attendance had persisted
in some corners. Some teams, including the 1970s Los Angeles Dodgers,
rarely broadcast home games at all. No televised home games for local
teams—in the regular season or playoffs—had been the rule in
football for more than two decades. In September 1973, President Richard
ardent football fan, among other things—signed legislation lifting
the blackout of all home games in local markets, provided the games were
sold out 72 hours in advance. This rule, however arcane, largely remains
in effect today, though it is being challenged. The blackout rule rarely
affects New York, but TV viewers in some cities hardly ever see their
teams wear the home uniforms.
In baseball, it has always been up to the team and its
TV outlet to decide how many games to show. That being said, the Mets
1973 TV schedule petered out as summer became fall. When the Mets
suddenly, miraculously, got involved in the ’73 NL East race, Channel
9—the team’s only television outlet for its first two decades of
existence—added games to the TV schedule at the last minute. Just four
of the team’s last 10 games were originally slated to be televised, but
that quickly changed—and with little advanced warning. (Despite this
late-season revelation, the original 1974 Mets schedule ended with just
two of the team’s last nine games slated for TV—there would be nothing
worth watching at Shea that September.)
Forty years later, talking about teams and TV stations
adding content at a time when CBS is shut out of New York homes while
carriers and networks argue over fees, makes the 1970s feel like a
golden age for TV; except that there were only seven channels available
in New York at the time. Though I’d still take the ’73 CBS Saturday
lineup of All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore,
Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett over any combination of
televised all-star fare of current shows that could be assembled.
Back to baseball… it wasn’t just the
games, it was the team that made watching memorable. And by team I mean
the trio of Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson, and Bob Murphy,
with jackets that sparkled and words that stayed true. While there
were many more years to appreciate Ralph and Murph doing Mets games,
Lindsey Nelson was actually nearing his final quarter of his 17-season
run with the Mets. He’d been the easy hire for the team in 1962, a
national broadcaster with a distinctive style and Southern voice so
distinct that even simple statements roll off the tongue that still
tingle 40 years later: “Thank you very much Ralph Kiner and hello…”
Hello, indeed. When the Mets reached the
’73 World Series, it was NBC’s practice at the time to pick the home
team’s announcer to work with Curt Gowdy in the TV booth. Lindsey was
chosen for the Mets.
Monte Moore got the nod for the A’s. Ironically, Moore, who’d been
hired by A’s owner Charlie Finley when the team was still in Kansas
City, had been doing A’s games for as long as the Mets trio had been
broadcasting in New York.
For regular-season games, the practice for
the Mets was to have one announcer on TV, one on radio, and the other
off. During autumn weekends, there would be no time off since they’d be
working a man short with Nelson broadcasting college football on
Saturdays and the NFL on Sundays. By the early 1980s, most teams had
segmented announcers into working solely on radio, TV, or cable—doubling
and sometimes tripling the number of people needed to broadcast one
In 1973, though, New York had Nelson,
Murphy, and Kiner—plus
Bill White, Frank Messer, and Phil Rizzuto across town. While
Rizzuto was too much of a joker for me, I admit to really enjoying White
and Messer and the Yankees broadcasts. Back when baseball wasn’t
necessarily on TV every night—and as mentioned above, there were few
other TV choices—I, like a lot of Mets fans, watched the Yankees trio
work, even while rooting for their job to be that much harder. Come
1974, either of these trios would be at Shea Stadium every night because
the rebuilding of Yankee Stadium brought the Yanks to Shea for two
And all we could do was watch. Some things haven’t
Forty Years Ago Today: 8/30/1973... Happy Birthday to Tug
The late great Frank Edwin “Tug” McGraw
would have been 69 today. A hero of the ’69 Mets—and, of course, the ’73
pennant winners—McGraw died a decade ago from brain cancer in the cabin
of his son, famed country singer Tim McGraw. Tug McGraw’s last
appearance before the Mets faithful was at a 30th anniversary
celebration of the 1973 team at Shea Stadium. Those were the days.
A practical joker, extrovert, and
screwball specialist in both the baseball and real-life application of
the word, this 1970s bullpen fireman was the son an actual fireman in
Valejo, California. His brother, Hank, a year older than Tug, was
considered a far better prospect when he was signed by the Mets before
they’d even played a game. Even more stubborn and outspoken than his
brother, Hank was famously suspended for not cutting his hair in the
1960s. He never played a major league game in a dozen pro seasons as a
Tug, so named because of the way he pulled
on his mother while nursing, made the Mets at the tender age of 20 as a
starting pitcher for Casey Stengel. He was the first Met to beat Sandy
Koufax—the only other loss by “The Left Arm of God” in 19 career
decisions against the Mets came against Bob Friend in Koufax’s final
career start against New York in 1966. Even for a team as bad as the
1960s Mets, McGraw still spent enough time in Class AAA Jacksonville to
have a child out of wedlock: Tim McGraw, who took his father’s last name
though Tug long refused to acknowledge him.
In 1969 Tug’s career changed when Gil
Hodges made him a reliever. Back then such a move was deemed a demotion,
but Tug ran with it and teamed with Ron Taylor to help pitch the Miracle
Mets to their improbable ’69 NL East title. McGraw went 9-3 with 12
saves and pitched in the first NLCS, a sweep of the Braves. The ’69 Mets
starting pitching was so dominant that Tug did not appear in the World
Series victory over the Orioles. The southpaw was dominant over the next
three years, with a matching 1.70 ERA for both 1971 and 1972. By ’73 he
was the highest-paid reliever in the National League at $75,000, but he
was pitching batting practice to opposing hitters. He began the year at
0-6 with a 5.45 ERA—his ERA reached a high of 6.20 in July. Tug finally
won his first game on August 22, an unlikely victory with the Mets
rapping out three straight two-out hits in the ninth to come back from a
run down against the Dodgers.
On his 29th birthday on August 30, 1973,
Tug could only watch as Tom Seaver pitched 9.1 scoreless innings and
lost on a single in the 10th inning in St. Louis. On Labor Day weekend,
the Mets stood in last place, 61-71, and seemingly beyond all reasonable
hope of contention. Though the distance between the cellar-dwelling Mets
and the first-place Cards (68-65) was just 6 ½ games, only 30 games
remained on the schedule. “Ya Gotta Believe” the season was just
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This is just a small part in a celebration of the
great Tugger. I wrote an extensive bio on him for the book
The Miracle Has Landed. That
story is available online via the
Society for American Baseball Research. Tug’s numbers speak volumes
and I am proud to have sponsored Tug for several year at
Baseball-Reference.com. Of course, Tug is one of the main characters
in my latest effort,
His baseball card is even
my Avatar on
Twitter. I guess you could call me a big fan. And if you want to
have a part in Tug still making a difference, may I recommend you
support the Tug McGraw Foundation. Big Mets fan and friend Sharon
Chapman runs for the
McGraw Foundation and is the embodiment of the Tugger attitude.
On this day in 1973, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It
On” is released, unleashing a million men to whisper to 10 million young
ladies: “Let me put some mood music, baby.” And there go the lights.
all sensitive people.”
Forty Years Ago Today: 8/19/1973… Kooz
Throws Goose Eggs
With the Mets winning in Minnesota today,
why not shine the spotlight on the best Met to come from the Land of
10,000 Lakes; a guy who was also the best lefty in Mets history: Jerry
Koosman. It was 40 years ago today that Kooz started a scoreless
consecutive inning streak that lasted nearly four decades and helped
start the Mets on their way to one of the most unlikely pennants since
the Miracle Mets of 1969.
As Kooz took the hill against the red-hot
Reds at Shea Stadium on August 19, 1973, he was stuck on a last-place
team with an 8-14 record and 3.47 ERA. He allowed an unearned run in the
fifth inning but did not allow another run to score until September 7,
covering five starts—three complete games, with two route-going
shutouts. He went the distance against the Reds on August 19, tossed a
10-inning shutout against Juan Marichal on August 24, combined with Buzz
Capra to blank the Padres on August 29, went the distance in the first
game of a Labor Day doubleheader to shut out Philly, and threw six
innings of four-hit ball against Montreal on September 7. He allowed a
fourth-inning RBI single to Expo Bob Bailey to end the streak at 31 2/3
innings, a number R.A. Dickey would surpass in 2012. Yogi Berra
pinch-hit for Koosman in the seventh inning on September 7 and it
worked. Pinch-hitter Ken Boswell’s single tied the game and the Mets won
in 15. Who knows how long Kooz would have gone if they’d inaugurated the
DH in the NL in 1973.
Most importantly, the Mets won nine of his
last 10 starts in '73 as they climbed the ladder from last to first.
They won all three of his postseason starts as well. Too bad his turn
didn’t come up for Game 7 in Oakland.
Forty Years Ago Today: 8/9/1973… Nicklaus
Tops Bobby Jones
Thirteen was not lucky for Jack Nicklaus. That is how many major titles
he had won in his 12-year pro career as he headed into 1973’s final
major, the PGA Championship. Thirteen was also how many majors that
belonged to Bobby Jones, who died in 1971. Jones had won seven Opens
(four U.S. and three British) plus six Amateurs (five American, one
British). Jones retired in 1930, at the age of 28, after becoming the
first—and still only—man to win four majors in one year. Since Jones
never turned professional, he never played in a PGA Championship.
The second weekend of August 1973,
Nicklaus was in his 11th year as a professional after a superb career at
Ohio State. By virtue of his two U.S. Amateur titles as a Buckeye—followed
by four Masters, three U.S. Opens, two British Opens, and two PGAs to
was deemed to have as many major titles as Jones. (Though the sporting
press today does not consider the Amateur to be a major, scribes of the
day still held it in high enough regard to count it among Nicklaus’s
majors in the 1970s.) Nicklaus even jokingly suggested to put an
asterisk next to his name for number 14 because he had more majors
to shoot for than Jones. That comment came after it was all over. In the
heat of the battle, the Golden Bear was sheer determination.
Nicklaus had not won a major since his U.S. Open victory in June of 1972
at Pebble Beach. If he did not win the 1973 PGA Championship at
Canterbury Golf Club, the tie with Jones would continue until the
Masters in April 1974. And no matter how good a player is, there is no
guarantee that the next major is coming—just ask Arnold Palmer. Fan
favorite Arnie Palmer, Nicklaus’s chief rival, had won his last major in
1964, at age 35—seemingly at the top of his game.
33-year-old Nicklaus did not light the world on fire to open the ’73 PGA,
shooting a pedestrian 72 the first day—one over par at Canterbury,
located outside Cleveland. The next two days, however, he shot 68,
putting himself one stroke ahead of the field. He fired three birdies on
Sunday and finished with a 69, taking the PGA by four strokes over Bruce
Crampton, at the time the largest margin since the PGA went from match
play to stroke play in 1958. He also claimed the $45,000 first prize.
But the money wasn’t as important as winning—just ask Bobby Jones.
After taking the 54-hole lead, Jack’s
four-year-old son Gary hopped on his dad, who went on to win 18
major championships (20 if you consider his two Amateur titles). That
record once seemed as likely to fall as the Bobby Jones mark in the
1970s, but golf is funny that way—just
ask Tiger Woods.
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Came across a very nice review of
Swinging ’73 from
English Plus Language Blog. If there are any reviews that I may have
failed to mention on the site, please bring them to my attention. And if
you haven’t penned a review, all I can say is that the 40 Years Ago
Todays get more exciting as August rolls on. Tug McGraw hasn’t
even won a game yet.
Lightning, a movie about running moonshine and driving a General Lee
prototype (sans Confederate flag) slammed into theaters 40 years ago.
Burt Reynolds, with his shirt off, graced the movie poster as Gator
McCluskey and the Deep South continued to bedevil Ned Beatty (a year
after a performance in
Deliverance that no one who has seen it can forget). In 1973, a
year that included movie badasses like Joe Don Baker in
Tall, and great car
chases, such as the one in The
7-Ups (featuring ’70s gas guzzlers zooming from Manhattan to an
abrupt halt in Briarcliff Manor), White Lightning
wasn’t a classic by any stretch. It was, however, more evidence that the
establishment of the ratings system in the late 1960s had led to movie
car chases and violence hitting their pedal to the metal stride. And
audiences wanted more.
August 6, 2013
As a very unfashionable fifth grader in
glee club—and an all-boys glee club at that—the first song I recall
learning was “Another Opening, Another Show.” I thought it was cool
because it incorporated the names of three cities I was coming to know
as baseball cities. The songs referred to in Cole Porter’s lyrics for
Kiss Me Kate were Philly, Boston, and Baltimore. Never in my wildest
fifth-grade dreams did I ever think I’d see games in all three cities in
the same week. Even when I was in fifth grade and my own major league
playing dreams seemed possible, I would have dismissed being in these
three cities in one week because two were American League cities and the
other was in the National Leagues. Interleague play seemed all stuff and
there I was over the last five days driving up and down the East Coast
making contact with eight states in all and planting my flag in nine
burgs: Beverly, Salem, and Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, PA;
Claymont, Delaware; Owings Mills, Ellicott City, Baltimore, and
Frederick, Maryland. I had a presentation to make in Philadelphia at the
annual Society of American Baseball Research convention, and I built in
a day before and after the trip to see some old friends I don’t get to
see much anymore. As was the case of Paul and Paul, Glenn, Guy, and
Crum, we did what we often did back when we spent a lot of time
together: We took in a ballgame.
Though I bought lousy seats that faced
away from the field at Fenway, it did afford a great view of everyone’s
old buddy: Oliver Perez, who helped blow the lead for Seattle. Paul,
Paul, and I used to attend a Mets game every year, but since they each
wound up in New England, we hadn’t hit a game as a trio in six years. I
admit we only stayed for half of the 15 innings at Fenway—Paul had a
long ride to New Hampshire and if we’d stayed to its inevitable
conclusion, we would have gotten home after 2 a.m. The next day I had a
seven-hour drive that became nine hours, but I still managed to get in
tour of Salem before heading off. Ollie headed out of town on a
broom to beat me to Baltimore.
catching up with old colleagues and new friends at the convention on
Friday (plus a walk to Independence Hall), SABR night at the ballpark
saw the Braves beat the Phillies. Crum and Glenn picked me up and we
tailgated… before the game, after the game, and in the hotel parking
lot. Not surprisingly, I got a bit of a late start Saturday, but I
Sean Lahman’s presentation about baseball in the age of big data,
ESPN correspondent Steve Wulf’s piece
on the late Johnny Callison (the Phillie who won the ’64 All-Star
Game at Shea with a walkoff homer while wearing a Mets helmet), and
Mark Simon helped fill me in on the breaking developments of Wright,
Baxter, Feliciano and more. I answered questions and talked to people
for 90 minutes or so during my poster presentation on—what else?—Swinging
’73. Then it was back to the car.
After a fun Saturday night with Glenn in
Ellicott City, Crum and Guy joined us for the most pleasant summer
afternoon that I have ever experienced south of the Mason-Dixon line.
When Camden Yards was new and we were younger, I used to go to Baltimore
every summer to see Orioles games and visit Crum. Things happen over
time, and those long trips dried up. My last Orioles game was in 2002,
but the O’s have resurged and so have I. Crum provided great seats and
even greater hospitality. Heck, 1970 MVP and barbeque connoisseur Boog
Powell even signed my glove and listened when I told him—not for the
first time—that he hit the first home run I ever witnessed at Shea (as a
red-clad 1975 Indian). Boog’s response:
“I hated those uniforms.”
Loved the trip, though. Even if the O’s
lost to the M’s on a Henry Blanco home run, it was fun to see Baltimore
back on the baseball map, and back on my radar as well. We continued the
great time with Cuban food and mojitos down by the water. Even the drive
back Monday morning was fun, counting down the car hitting 100,000
miles. The only thing I do regret was missing the Saturday Mets-Royals
game with the Mets giving away
1973 playing cards, which may be the closest we get to a 40th
anniversary tribute to one of the franchise’s most exciting teams. But
in any event, you’re already at the place for the best coverage of all
things 1973. At
least I still have a framed drawing given by the Mets to mark the time
20 years ago.
It was 40 years ago this week that
Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk got into a
donnybrook at Fenway,
Phil Niekro tossed a
no-hitter in Atlanta, and Hank Aaron was appreciated by Brewers fans
like he’d never been by Braves fans. Now within slugging distance of
Babe Ruth’s all-time career mark of 714 home runs, Braves fans seemed to
exude ambivalence at best and hostility at worst. At an August 6
exhibition game in Milwaukee, where Aaron had played for 12 years before
the Braves moved South, Hammerin’ Hank was lauded. The umpires even
waved the NL’s designated hitter prohibition for interleague contests of
any kind, and let Aaron DH so he could have some rest for his
39-year-old bones. He homered, sending the Milwaukee crowd into ecstasy
and leading to the
Brew Crew trading for himafter he broke Babe’s mark in 1974.
33,000 at County Stadium for an exhibition game was far larger than any
crowd that had come see Aaron play at home through the season’s first
four months. (Only 8,748 had been in Atlanta the previous day for
Niekro’s no-no.) But then the Braves were mired in the bottom of the
standings behind the first-place Dodgers; just like the Mets stood in
sixth place, 12 games under .500, and nearly as many games behind St.
Louis (11½). Summer still had a long way to go.
title sounds like it should have been the B-Side to Grand Funk’s bad ass
“We’re an American Band,” which hit number one during the scorching
July of ’73.
however, refers to two distinct—if overlooked—events of July 30 of that
Bibby pitched a no-hitter on this day in 1973. Though a rookie in 1973,
Bibby had been around. He had served in the Army in Vietnam, driving
trucks when booby traps and sabotage of anything American was de
rigueur. Back in the States and back playing ball, the pitching-rich
Mets sent him to the Cardinals in an eight-player trade that was Art
Shamsky going to St. Louis for Jim Beauchamp, with a lot of bodies
thrown at the wall. About the only names that stuck were Bibby and Harry
Parker, a valuable—if inconsistent—reliever for the 1973 Mets. The
28-year-old Bibby was traded again just a month before his no-no. At
this point, Texas had teen sensation David Clyde and little else to be
excited about, so Whitey Herzog, remembering Bibby from his days as
player development director of the Mets, put the big man right to work.
He started twice and pitched twice in relief in his first two weeks as a
Ranger. In his first start in Arlington on June 29, he got his first
career shutout, allowing just one Kansas City hit (to everyone’s
favorite future announcer, Fran Healy). Bibby won three times over the
next month and tossed four more complete games for the moribund
the evening of July 30, Bibby faced the defending world champion Oakland
A’s for the first time. Oakland was in first place, but was still a
little down after losing Catfish Hunter to a broken thumb in the
All-Star Game a week earlier. Vida was mighty Blue when the punchless
Rangers tagged him for five runs in the first inning. Jeff Burroughs hit
a grand slam and the next batter Mike Sudakis also went deep. A’s
manager Dick Williams, strapped for pitching without Hunter, left Blue
in and he went the distance. The manager figured the A’s chances of
winning were somewhat slim, but the 39-63 Rangers were bad enough that
the 58-47 A’s might ambush the young pitcher. The Rangers would win just
18 of their last 60 games, but this was their night. Or at least
fanned 13 A’s—including Bill North, Sal Bando, and Reggie Jackson in a
row in the fourth. He walked six, including Bando to start the ninth in
a 6-0 game. Bando stole second (defensive indifference not being a thing
back then). Bibby fanned Reggie and got Deron Johnson to ground out.
Gene Tenace popped up to second base and Bibby had the no-no.
Bibby would be traded again—to the Indians
in 1975. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent in 1978 and the next
year was a key cog in Willie Stargell’s “Fam-i-lee.” He pitched seven
strong innings in Game 2 of the NLCS, one of two Pirates extra-inning
wins on the road in their sweep of Cincinnati. He pitched twice in the
World Series win over the Orioles. After getting a late start, he ended
late as well, being one of the game’s oldest players when he threw his
last pitch for the ’84 Rangers. Bibby graduated later than most, but got
it done at Lynchburg College while a player, then remaining in town as
pitching coach for the Lynchburg Mets. I loved that because I always sat
near the visiting dugout when the L-burg Mets came to Salem when I was
in college. Mike Cubbage was not that impressive looking as manager, but
I would marvel at the massiveness of Jim Bibby (Joe
Posnaski was also taken with the size of 6-foot-5, 230-pound Bibby,
whose brother and nephew both played in the NBA). Jim Bibby stayed on as
pitching coach in Lynchburg even after the Mets moved out.
Unfortunately, he died young, passing at age 65 in 2010 due to bone
That is a lot of Bibby, baby. What about
the Jackal? Frederick Fosyth’s book The Day of the Jackal was
turned into a movie that came out on this day in 1973; it should not be
confused with the December 1973 George C. Scott film,
Day of the Dolphin, about smarter than your average mammals.
Both movies dealt with fictional attempts on a president’s life.
Dolphins, jackals, apes… what was it about animals lusting for power in
the 1970s? Actually Jackal was the code name of the fictional assassin
looking to take the life of Charles de Gaulle, the closest thing the
French Army came to a “hero” in World War II, and who served as France’s
president in the 1960s. Day of the Jackal was emblematic of the
British fictional spy genre so bloody popular in the 1970s and resulted
in some jolly good films as well. Carry on.
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Anybody coming to the
Society of American
Baseball Research convention in Philadelphia this weekend, be sure
to stop by and say hi on Saturday at the poster presentation from
3:30-4:30 p.m. Or say hi if you see me Thursday or Friday as well. I
will be at SABR night at the ballpark Friday for Braves-Phillies, giving
myself a headache as to which I should hate more.
On this day in 1973, some 600,000 people
descended on the race track in Watkins Glen, New York (near Ithaca) to
see three of the top North American bands of the day—or of any day: The
Grateful Dead, The Band, and The Allman Brothers Band. I say North
American because The Dead were from San Francisco, The Allman Brothers
from Jacksonville, and four members of The Band were Canadian while the
late, great Levon Helm hailed from Arkansas. Billed as Summer Jam, the
Watkins Glen concert was larger—but not bigger—than Woodstock (if you
get my meaning, man).
The Allman Brothers, one of the biggest draws in
the country, had top billing and went on last at Watkins Glen. Two years
removed from the death of Duane Allman (killed in a motorcycle
accident), every song they played in concert seemed to last 20
minutes—20 minutes of bliss. That was perfect because ’73 was the time
of the jam. And all three bands specialized in improvisation. Even the
sound check was epic. The Dead and Allmans
jammed together for a bit at the Glen, while The Band’s organ
virtuoso Garth Hudson entertained the crowd during a massive rainstorm.
The mud, muck, mire, bad parking, hundreds of thousands of people
showing up without tickets, and great rock n’ roll—it was sort of like
Woodstock all over again. Maybe the peace, love, and understanding part
was on the wane, but the music never stopped.
Watkins Glen also provided some redemption for the
performers. While the Allmans, who’d just released their first album in
1969, had not gotten a Woodstock invite, The Dead and The Band had
endured lackluster performances at Woodstock. They were both left out of
the landmark film of the event that lasted 330 minutes and included
Na Na, among others without much staying power. There was no big
film of Watkins Glen, but the
home movies were pretty cool. One of the themes of 1973 was second
chances and The Dead and The Band more than made up for an off night in
one rural New York venue in 1969 with memorable performances in 1973.
To bring it back to baseball, I believe the Mets
did pretty well both ’69 and ’73. And to give you an idea of how many
people 600,000 is: The Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres each
drew as many people in an entire year as these bands did in one day.
One hell of a day.
Forty Years Ago Today: 7/24/1973…
An All-Star Headache
All-Star Game was a political event for baseball in 1973. By virtue of
winning the 1972 World Series, Dick Williams got to manage the American
League the following July. It was as big a pain as it was an honor.
Williams didn’t like Nolan Ryan. Sounds
crazy now, but a lot of people were turned off by his wildness back then
and Williams looked past the two no-hitters—and nearly a third—he threw
before the All-Star Game, not to mention striking out 233 batters in 200
innings before the All-Star break. Those numbers are quite good
for a pitcher for a whole season—even more remarkable was that Ryan
would fan another 150 batters to break Sandy Koufax’s record of 382—but
Williams looked at his 11-12 record, and probably his 100 walks to that
point, and declared him not All-Star worthy. If you
look at the box score, however, you’ll note that Ryan threw two
innings and—not to his All-Star manager’s surprise—allowed two runs,
including a home run to Willie Davis. Johnny Bench and All-Star MVP
Bobby Bonds each homered against Ryan’s Angels teammate Bill Singer—Dick
Williams preferring the Singer Throwing Machine over the Ryan Express.
Williams, who picked three A’s pitchers, left the eventual Cy Young
winner off as well.
Palmer would win the first of his three Cy Youngs in 1973, going 11-6
with a 2.86 ERA at the break—he would go 11-3 with a 1.78 ERA in the
second half as the O’s reached the postseason for the fifth time in
eight years. But forgive Williams for being cranky. The Thursday before
the All-Star Game he was rushed to the hospital for an emergency
appendectomy. Dick missed Oakland’s sweep of Cleveland heading into the
break, and pushed himself out of the hospital bed to board a plane to
Kansas City—only to be booed out of brand-new Royals Stadium at the
All-Star Game. There had been so much going on—besides the operation,
don’t forget that Charlie Finley was his very hands-on,
always-questioning boss—that Williams plum forgot that the A’s had
ditched Kansas City five years earlier. No one in Kansas or Missouri had
When Williams was introduced as AL manager
he was booed out of the building, along with his yellow-clad Oakland
All-Star starters (Bet Campaneris, Reggie Jackson, and Catfish Hunter)
and green-clad reserves (Ken Holtzman, Sal Bando, and Rollie Fingers).
You can see them
lined up in this picture,
the two A’s uniforms—including the yellow by A’s coach Wes Stock (No.
42)—clashing mightily with the white worn by every other AL counterpart.
The A’s could have opted for their wedding-gown white Sunday uniforms,
green shirt, green pants. Finley liked to keep everyone guessing.
Ryan got on the All-Star bill because commissioner Bowie Kuhn added an
extra spot on each roster to accommodate Willie Mays. The last time Mays
was eligible and did not appear in an All-Star Game was during the
Truman Administration (in 1952, five presidents earlier). In July 1973
Mays was hitting .214 and had yet to officially announce this would be
indeed be his last season, but Kuhn allowed him to take part in a game
that included Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Rollie
Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Joe Morgan,
Brooks Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Ron Santo, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Don
Sutton, and Billy Williams—Hall of Famers all, not to mention they were
managed by two future Cooperstown enshrinees in Sparky Anderson and Dick
Williams. And many would call Mays the best of the bunch.
1973 All-Star Game is also remembered for future Hall of Famers injuring
one another. Billy Williams hit a shot through the middle that Catfish
instinctively tried to stop with his pitching hand. Hunter, who came
into the game with a record of 15-3, would miss a month with a broken
thumb. For his manager, this hurt like another appendectomy. Ace
removal. This time it counts.
July 17, 2013
(49 Years and Counting)
regale you with tales from the 1973 All-Star Game for the 40th
anniversary of that last Willie Mays Midsummer Classic on July 24. In
the meantime, I am taking my own All-Star break that has been a long
time coming. In 1973, it had been nine years since the All-Stars had
come to Flushing. A dozen years later, in that wonderful summer of 1985,
I recall thinking for the first time how cool an All-Star Game might be
to see in person. “Hell,” I thought, “the Mets haven’t hosted one in
more than 20 years, they’ll have to have another real soon.” Right.
the next All-Star Game in Flushing is 49 years away, I figured it best
to marshal the whole family for this one. Through the second-chance
lottery that I didn’t even realize I’d been entered in, I got standing
room tickets. It came as a package, so I got the Futures Game (which I
passed on to another family), the Home Run Derby, the ASG itself, and a
bunch of tickets for Fan Fest. The face value of my All-Star Game ticket
was $100, the same sum I have seen on tickets I have used for
Mets-Pirates meaningless September baseball. (Is there another kind?)
live in an area that is generally tepid about big league baseball, but
neighbors, friends, and others have chimed in about the game. The
Mariano Rivera tribute was both surprising and cool, but my favorite
moment personally came when Matt Harvey got into trouble on the first
three pitches—he even drilled some batter—and then pitched himself out
of the jam on the way to two shutout innings. Then, like most Harvey
starts, his team couldn’t score and he got a no decision.
what has been about three decades of waiting turned into a pretty good
week, especially so when we got picked out by Richie Wheels to sit in
the handicapped area in front of where we camped out for our All-Star
stand. (My 10-year-old son was worn out from Fan Fest that day and from
the first round of home run derby the night before—after 90 minutes of
batting practice, I could stand no more.) Richie, whom I had never met,
asked my son to sit down in a folding chair; then he asked his friend to
stand so my 15-year-old daughter could sit; then when his group was
leaving to retire to an air-conditioned club, he bequeathed their seats
to me and the Mrs. Even more shocking was the usher literally giving us
a thumbs up sign. I take back all I’ve ever said about Citi Field
ushers. They came through for me when it counted... the
All-Star Game counts, right?
whole three days was a lot of effort, a lot of driving, a lot of cash
forked over for parking, and not one but two visits to the Javits Center
for Fan Fest (including my part in an MLB TV New York panel last Sunday
that I have yet to see). I even bent my personal rule about lemming up
for Shake Shack and stood for 40 minutes pre-game because my daughter
wanted to go. Those shakes are from heaven. And for a night, a
little class and clout came to Citi Field. Not like anyone had been
waiting or anything.
July 15, 2013
First Half Grades Are In
As we arrive at the long-awaited second Mets All-Star Game—a
mere 49 years after the first one—we
also have the not-so-long-awaited Mets midseason report card from
metsilverman.com. On the plus side, at least the 2013 Mets have not had
the kind of tremendous first half they can foul up immediately when the
second half starts, as had happened the last three years. Second-half
improvement would be nice after this year’s 41-50 start, but
expectations are so low I think quite a few Mets fans would sign on for
nine games under .500 for the second half, which would result in a 72-90
record for the year. But those 72 wins would have to include a kernel of
hope, young players debuting, and people getting playing time based on
potential rather than past performance (see John Buck and Ike Davis
clapping erasers in the hallway). The first half last year produced no
F’s, this time there are seven. Whether it is all the 15-, 16-, and
20-inning games, the schizophrenic offense, the savior/sabotage bullpen,
and the regression of players once deemed the future core, these first
three months have been different.
for inclusion is 50 at bats or 15 innings. Last year I used 20 innings,
but this year that would leave off four relievers who have been
important members in the bullpen. And while game-winning RBIs went out
of fashion about the same time as stretch pants, walkoff hits carry
weight here, which aided the grades of Baxter, Brown, Nieuwenhuis, and
First-half 2013 Report Card
Back where he belongs as starting All-Star 3B. Shown true leadership
Starting the All-Star Game well deserved, as was resting on Saturday.
Keep it up, kid
Biggest surprise of first half. Whether he stays or is traded, I’ll take
over Scott Hairston.
expect this to continue, but Mets lineup has been better since the day
Only been up 76 times and shows no power,
but line of .361/.487/.557 spells trouble for Ike.
Jeremy Hefner A-
A 4-6 record and 3.33 does
not begin to sum up how Hef has thrived.
Dillon Gee B+
After really struggling early, health and wins are up, ERA is down.
finally grown into closer role. Two of three blown saves result of bad
Carlos Torres B+
Has only thrown 22 innings, but he’s been great. Has saved team in
Up less than two months and hit .238, but has played almost every
inning. Welcome back, Q.
Still too streaky and one of best Mets trade chips. Love to see more of
that old Murph eye.
Gets high marks as 40-year-old vet teaching by example. Hope old man not
I know it’s only been five starts and he’s been spotty, but last start
counted for half his grade.
Rice not great, but rookie has handled lefties, righties, and massive
Veteran same age as rookie Rice, but brings experience. Becomes closer
if Parnell dealt.
John Buck C+
First half numbers (14 HR, 48 RBI) cancel periods of utter uselessness.
Plays less, plays better.
many Mets in this grade bracket, I don’t know if he’s part of future or
Like Duda, he’s hurt, and may not be long for team. Beard and pie
tossing key contributions.
Has some of Turner’s
offensive skills, more pop. If up earlier he’d
have gotten a lot of OF starts.
Has been much better
since recall from minors. Looking more like the guy from last year.
Jekyll and Hyde sidewinder has team's worst WHIP (1.709), but 25%
inherited runners score.
Inconsistent most of his career, but blame 1.610 WHIP on shoulder
problem. Hope he’s OK.
Despite overwork injury, just 20 appearances. If Collins acts
responsible, Atch may be useful.
aren’t pretty and he is 29, but good catcher with power. Should start
Should also start more. If not in New York than in Vegas. Needs to chase
Clutch character who has gotten a lot of starts lately. Not sure of
know why he was sent to minors. Had two walkoff hits in three days for
team that can't hit.
One day we may say,
couldn't the Mets find a place for this guy?”
Looks done under Collins.
Had 71 plate appearances in a month and hit .182. There have been worse
CFers. See below.
Remember this name
whenever someone says how much
a player brings.
Same player got a B+ for the first half in 2012. But he is not same
player. Will he be back?
If Ike does not have another great second half in him, his future is in
Sorry, Rob, but if Ruben and Ike fail, then 8 HR + 18 IP = F.
Started out all right, couldn't get anyone out, then DFAed. Blew a
three-run lead for Harvey.
he has one—is
in long relief; 1-10, 5.29 ERA is his epitaph as starter.
Better politician than he is a manager. Old school guy lets youngsters
know they’re in bigs.
Forty Years Ago Today: 7/8/1973… The Duke
Well, the latest Lone Ranger has already
been declared D.O.A. Has there ever been a kid from the 1930s to now,
who has ever heard the name of the character and not first thought, “The
Long Ranger”? This flick may not be long for theaters, and the character
always makes me hearken back to the thrilling days of yesteryear and the
Lone Ranger cartoon re-runs I used to watch
circa 1973, with one of the
longest, darkest cartoon openings I can ever recall. And back in 1973,
Westerns were still sure-fire entertainment and sure-fire box office
success, especially if it starred one of the most famous
cowboys/marshals/cavalrymen in cinematic history: John Wayne.
Duke, who turned 66 in ’73, was getting near the end of a remarkable
career that had started in the 1930s. The J.D. Cahill was new, but we’d
seen John Wayne play this role many times before. And we never stopped
loving it, no matter how hokey, or repetitive, the scripts got. After
Cahill United States Marshall, the Duke would have just two cowboy
pictures left in him: Rooster Cogburn (1975) and The Shootist
(1976). Cahill was his second Western of ’73, having already done
The Train Robbers with Ann-Margaret. The Duke still had it,
earning National Lampoon’s “Brass Balls Award” for 1973, and
pulling into Harvard Square for the ceremony in an armored personnel
John Wayne died of stomach cancer in 1979, the nation was stunned that a
man who had been killed so many times in so many films, was not going to
get up and take on another role. Even those who didn’t like John Wayne’s
heavy right-wing politics couldn’t argue that no man was ever more
believable on the screen when he strapped on his holster and pushed back
his wide-brimmed hat. Westerns haven’t been the same since.
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10 years ago today, Tyler came into the world. You are the man, son.
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reminder to all that I will be
part of a
New York baseball panel at
Fan Fest at the MLB.com booth at the Jacob Javits Center on Sunday
(July 14) at 3:40 p.m. MLB’s official historian, the great John Thorn,
moderates an esteemed group.
Forty Years Ago Today: 7/8/1973… Mets Set
Stage for Greatness
This day in 1973 was
the low-water mark for the Mets. The last-place Mets (34-46) dropped a
season-worst 12½ games out of first place in the National League East.
One day after the gruesome collision between Mets outfielders Don Hahn
and George Theodore, the Mets lost to the Braves, 4-2, to give Atlanta a
three-game sweep at Shea Stadium. Phil Niekro beat former teammate
George Stone. The southpaw Stone, acquired from the Braves over the
winter with Felix Millan for pitchers Gary Gentry and Dan Frisella, fell
to 4-3 on the year. Stone would not lose again, winning his last eight
decisions to finish ’73 at 12-3. His .800 winning percentage would have
been best in the NL and his 2.80 ERA would have joined teammates Tom
Seaver—the league leader at 2.08—and Jerry Koosman (2.84) in the top 10,
but in the back end of Yogi Berra’s rotation, Stone made just 20 starts
(plus seven relief outings). His 148 innings fell short of the 161
innings needed to qualify among the leaders. Though he pitched well in
his lone NLCS start, Berra’s decision to skip Stone in Game 6 of the
1973 World Series created one of the great “what ifs” in Mets lore.
But during this week
in July 1973, things were going so badly that board chairman M. Donald
Grant bored the Mets with a pep talk. It was a snoozer until he told the
team that he believed in them. That was all it took for Tug McGraw to
stop the speech in its tracks, yelling over and over,
Grant stormed out of the locker room. Was Tug making fun of Grant? There
are several theories, from Tug and his teammates, that you can read more
The top of the other
divisions in the major league on July 8, 1973 looked far different than
it would wind up three months later. The Yankees held first place with
the American League’s best record at 48-39. Like the Yankees, the 48-38
A’s held first place in their division by one game. The Dodgers, with
baseball’s best record at 54-33, seemed to have the NL West salted away
with a 5½ –game lead over the Reds. The Cubs (50-37) were five games
better than the rival Cardinals. The Orioles-A’s ALCS and Mets-Reds NLCS
in October went a long way toward relieving the complacency of July.
I will be a part of a
New York baseball panel at
Fan Fest at the MLB.com booth at the Jacob Javits Center on Sunday
(July 14) at 3:40 p.m. MLB’s official historian, the great John Thorn,
moderates. Come one, come all.
Forty Years Ago Today: 7/3/1973… Brother
I am not talking about the Battle of Gettysburg,
which ended on this day 150 years ago. On this day in 1973 on the banks
of the Ohio River, brothers Jim and Gaylord Perry faced each other for
the only time in their careers. Careers, by the way, that accounted for
529 wins and three Cy Young Awards. On July 3, 1973, Jim’s Tigers beat
Cleveland, 5-4, with Gaylord taking the defeat (Ed Farmer got the win
for Detroit). With the loss, the Tribe fell 18½ games behind the Yankees
in the AL East. The Yankees beat the Red Sox, 3-1, but the Yanks’
high-water mark for 1973 dipped from a 4-game lead to 3½ because the
Orioles swept the Brewers in a doubleheader. From July 4, 1973 on, our
Baseball-Reference tell me, the Orioles put together the best record
in the league (58-31) while the Yankees endured the AL’s worst finish
(34-48). Unless you count the Rangers, who were in the midst of a
season in hell.
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Recently I did an interview with
Muneesh Jain, a former ESPN writer and Detroit publisher I met at my
signing at Bergino
Baseball Clubhouse. Muneesh is in the midst of a dream trip to all
30 major league stadiums. I spaced getting this up on the site earlier,
but we had a great talk on an historic night—the evening the Mets
completed their first four-game sweep of the Yankees. Hope you’re
reveling in a great ballpark, Muneesh, wherever you are!
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Speaking of roadtrips, I will be in Cooperstown
Hall of Fame author series next Tuesday (July 9) at 1 p.m. If you’ve
been looking to get to the Hall of Fame and want to go on a day that’s
less crowded, this could be your ticket. The “birth” of baseball in this
wonderful, sleepy town may be the best-serving fib in sports history. No
other Hall of Fame can even touch Cooperstown. Free baseball cards,
bookmarks, and baseball knowledge for those who make the journey.
start of the new fiscal year came the start of a new federal bureau by
President Richard Nixon in July of 1973: The Drug Enforcement Agency.
Forty years later some would say the results have been mixed since
Tricky Dick’s time, but given how we have gone from bugging the Oval
Office to everybody’s email, I will simply mark the anniversary (you saw
what happened to Glenn Frey and his accomplice in the 1980s). The New
Riders of the Purple Sage, who found gold in ’73 with
Panama Red, may sing a different tune.
June 28, 2013
Appearing Friday on 92.9
the Ticket in Maine
I am on
the air today (Friday) with Rich Kimball at 5:15 on The Ticket 92.9 FM
in Maine. Tune in
here to get the lowdown from Bangor.
honor of the Mets pulling one out in Denver, here is a song that was
taking the airwaves back in Swinging ’73
from the album The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get by Joe
Walsh. Couldn’t get much higher.
Forty Years Ago Today: 6/27/1973… Live
and Let Clyde
This was a
day with a few interesting occurrences in 1973. On the baseball diamond,
David Clyde made his major league debut for the Texas Rangers. It was a
PR move. Clyde was just 18 years old and had only recently graduated
Westchester High School in Houston. Owner Bob Short doled out a (then)
whopping $65,000 for the number one pick in the 1973 draft and then
announced he would make his first two starts at Arlington Stadium. He
pitched five innings and won his debut. The start time had to be delayed
because 35,000 people showed up on Friday night, the biggest crowd since
the relocation of the Rangers from Washington a year earlier.
The people must have thought it was a high school football game. When
33,000 appeared for his next start (the Rangers bullpen blew the win for
him), Short decided to keep Clyde in the rotation, much to the dismay of
rookie manager Whitey Herzog. At least Whitey liked the kid. Billy
Martin replaced Herzog late in the team’s dismal 105-loss season, and
Martin sat Clyde for an entire month in 1974 after he’d started the year
3-0. The Rangers had a stunning—yet temporary—turnaround in ’74,
finishing second behind the powerhouse Oakland A’s, but the damage to
the teenager was permanent. Arm trouble followed and he was out of the
game by 26, not even logging enough service time to earn a major league
Doug Gladstone has worked to right this kind of inequity from the
rulers of an $8 billion industry).
Two movies of note came out
on this day in 1973.
Live and Let Die, with new James Bond Roger Moore, was a big
hit—as was the theme song by Paul McCartney.
That Bond flick featured the Louisiana bayou,
Yaphet Kotto, plenty of voodoo, and far more actors of color than your
average Hollywood film, then or now. But that was nothing compared to
another June 27 release—Scream,
Blackula, Scream, the sequel to the “Blaxploitation” film of the
previous year starring William Marshall, as the trailer puts it—as
“Dracula’s soul brother” on the prowl for young Pam Grier.
Cleopatra Jones—released in July of ’73—starring Tamara Dobson,
Shelly Winters, and Huggy Bear, also looked to take advantage of the
African American movie market. The movies weren’t great, but they were
enjoyable and addressed, rather than ignored, a large segment of the
population in search of entertainment. “Ride on, sweet sister.”
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Back in this century,
I saw Greg Prince at Jay Goldberg’s
Clubhouse on Wednesday. You can pick up a copy of the first edition
of The Happiest Recap there or
here. There are three more editions of the greatest Mets wins (I
already pre-ordered for book the second). Great talk and great art at
Jay’s place. It was sort of an art overload as I earlier snuck uptown to
my first ever trip to the Met. Not the Mets, but the
of Art. They had a Civil War photo and painting exhibit that I had
just enough time for in two hours, but I would need two days (or two
weeks) to begin to take in all the art on display in the museum.
paragraph: I have been to many other museums, but our school usually
went to the Museum of Natural History or other stops—often Radio
City—while my dad, a Mad Men era commuter, did not believe going back
into the city as a “tourista” on his days off. (Here is a
picture of what our family might have looked like in 1965, with dad,
mom, and me as baby Gene—I do not know who the bum is Dad is trying to
get away from.) Given all the revelations about life among these
seemingly mundane 1960s commuter types I’ve seen in six years of superb
viewing of Mad Men on AMC, I’ll live with a man’s reluctance to
stand around looking at paintings. He spent many an off day with me
staring at inactive forms of another Met kind in Flushing.)
I usually don’t talk about books by other
authors until after Father’s Day has passed. In the sports book
business, Father’s Day is Christmas in June—which makes Christmas into
Father’s Day in December for sports book buying. You can color me
selfish, or perhaps authors with more success may find that book sales
go up all the time. Well, that is like a Yankees fan declaring the
regular season “boring” or spouting about how they longed for the kind
of daily excitement fans from other teams from winning hard-fought
meaningful games with players who may never make the All-Star team. Put
a sock in it. Or better yet, send me a beer.
Send the Beer Guy: Mets Fan, Mets Vendor, Mets Police is the
tale of blogger Shannon Shark of
Mets Police. He has
been a big supporter of mine, and his propensity for covering all things
uniform and ballpark related puts him in the same camp as
Mets by the Numbers and
fellow good fellows (not to be confused with
Goodfellas). I met Shannon fleetingly at the Mets 50th Anniversary
Conference at Hofstra last year, but after reading Send the Beer Guy,
I feel like I’ve known him forever. He started going to ballgames in the
late 1970s, like I did, when the team was pitiful and the seats
plentiful. He went with his dad and a friend who had season tickets, and
at times has been turned off by the Mets, as can happen to someone who
has had repeated exposure to anything, especially something as
potentially toxic as Mets baseball. But a funny thing happened, he
became a vendor along the way, carrying trays at Shea through several
summers. Shannon was not a beer guy, but as a vendor, “Send the Beer
Guy” was a phrase he heard excruciatingly often. His father was a
bartender as well, so “beer guy” serves a dual purpose. The book serves
several roles as well. It is informative about the Mets, but also on the
opinions of someone who spends a lot of time thinking Mets. I suggest
getting the book. And while you’re at it, “send the beer guy.” I’m
It is Amazin’ that Shannon is as well
grounded in Metsology as he is today, getting the ear of a few front
office types and helping spearhead efforts that resulted in both
abandoning the black uniforms (a grass roots effort begun by Paul Lukas
at Uni Watch) and the return of Banner Day. It’s good to have the beer
guy, or at least the hot dog vendor, on our side.
The book is short, cheap, Kindleable, and
enjoyable. There are few other Mets books on the shelf I need to get
to—people are always saying this about my books, so it’s a little
delicious to say it back. And as I have said for several years now, it’s
a lot more fun writing—and reading—about the Mets than it is watching
them. Most of the time.
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I hope to be in the audience on Wednesday, June
26, at 7 p.m., at
Bergino’s Baseball Clubhouse to see Greg Prince, author of the
Metsilverman.com Gift of 2012, The Happiest Recap. There may be
more people crammed into Jay Goldberg’s shop in the village than at the
Mets-Rockies makeup game on Thursday in Denver.
Oh, baby! All the crappy movies I had to sit
through in the 1970s: the plodding documentaries, the endless double
features we came late to, the movies that were supposed to be good but
weren’t, it was all made up for during this week in 1973. Battle for
the Planet of the Apes, the bittersweet ending to the Planet of
the Apes saga was released. Directed by Brit J. Lee Thompson, who
had directed The Guns of Navarone and the original Cape Fear,
the final Ape film starred
Roddy McDowall, my favorite actor then, who donned the money mask
one last time. And he was joined in ape makeup by
Claude Akins, Twilight Zone vet and the future Sheriff Lobo,
who played the gun-happy gorilla general; four-foot-tall singer
Paul Williams as the orangutan assistant, and
John Huston, yes, the legendary director, was somehow talked into
playing the orangutan lawgiver and narrator of the tale. The film ended
with the classic chant, “Ape has killed ape.” It killed me, too.
It looks a little campy now, but in 1973
this was the bitch! Real makeup, real explosions, army jeeps, mortars,
school buses … school buses? Well, they threw in the works. The fifth
and final Planet of the Apes movie—for that millennium, at
least—paved the way for a TV show on Friday nights and a cartoon on
Saturday mornings. Have you ever read the original Planet of the Apes
novel by Pierre Boulle (author of Bridge on the River Kwai)?
There is enough material for about 45 minutes of one film, and 20th
Century Fox turned it into five while creating one of my favorite
franchises ever—though the budget got smaller and smaller for each
marathon in 1974 (showing all five Ape movies in one mind-bending
quintuple feature) inspired me to write a school play based on Planet
of the Apes that never saw production due to makeup problems. I’m
sure there would have been copyright and union issues going forward as
When people ask what I was into before
baseball, this is the answer. I made everyone in my family so crazy with
the Apes that they gladly welcomed my new baseball obsession a
couple of years later. Until that made them go ape, too.
Forty Years Ago Today: 6/19/1973… 2,000
Hits & What Do Ya Get
landmark day in Metland—Zack Wheeler winning his ballyhooed major
league debut, David Wright collecting his 1,500th career hit (while
being a .300 career hitter), and Matt Harvey hurling the opener and
winning for the first time in a month despite pitching like someone who
should be 10-0—but I am going back to a milestone Tuesday in 1973. On
June 19 that year, both Pete Rose and Willie Davis collected the 2,000th
hits of their careers, both in shutout victories. Rose did it for the
Reds in a 4-0 win in San Francisco and Davis clubbed a two-run homer off
Phil Niekro in a 3-0 Dodgers win.
While Rose would be
1973 National League MVP and more than double that career hit total,
Davis quietly went about his noteworthy career. A fellow NL All-Star in
1973, the smooth southpaw centerfielder also claimed his third straight
Gold Glove. Yet that season would be his last as a Dodger. After 14
years in Los Angeles, he was traded that winter to Montreal for Mike
Marshall, the best NL reliever not named Tug McGraw at the time. In
1974, Marshall would pitch in a record 106 games, amass a staggering
208.1 innings out of the bullpen, and become the first reliever to
capture the Cy Young Award, all while helping the Dodgers take the
pennant. Davis would make single-season stops in Montreal, Texas, St.
Louis, and San Diego through 1976. He made a comeback in 1979, joining
the Angels as a fill-in outfielder and finishing his career with 398
steals and 2,561 hits—plus 10 more safeties in postseason play. His
final at bat produced a double in the ’79 ALCS. Davis died in 2010 at
age 69 in Burbank.
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Attention all Nutmeggers… I will make my lone
Connecticut book appearance this Thursday, June 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the
Library on 33 Quality Street. I will be talking baseball, signing
books, and making arcane
FCIAC references upon request from my years as a sports editor in
the area in the 1990s.
Forty Years Ago Today: 6/17/1973… Miller
June 16, 2013, Justin Rose won the U.S. Open at the classic course
Merion outside Philadelphia. On June 17, 1973, Johnny Miller claimed his
U.S. Open title at a classic course on the other side of Pennsylvania,
at Oakmont in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Like this year’s Open, rain played
a part in the tournament, only in 1973 the rain came the night before
the final round—and some say Oakmont’s sprinkler system also
malfunctioned, making it even softer. The softened up greens were like
putty in the hands of Miller, who carded a U.S. Open record 63. He
needed every shot.
shooting a seemingly unrecoverable 76 on Saturday to fall to 13th place,
the 26-year-old San Franciscan didn’t seem to have a prayer, especially
with Arnold Palmer, from nearby Latrobe, tied for the lead and a heavy
favorite among the bettors and the partisan crowd. With Palmer still on
the practice range, Miller opened Sunday with four straight birdies. He
carded a stunning 32 on the front nine, and did it one stroke better on
the back nine. He missed only one fairway, hit every green in
regulation, and putted just 29 times to card his 63. It was later dubbed
the greatest round of the 20th century. Though 63 has twice been matched
in Open, no one else has done it in the final round—or used it to claim
Steve Elling described Miller’s pure ’70s ensemble that was as
memorable as his round. “Miller was wearing
polyester pants with a houndstooth pattern,
along with red-and-blue wingtip spikes. His hair, always
fashionably long in his swashbuckling prime, looked like the untamed
fescue rough.” His play was even louder than his threads, completely
rattling the leaders, who were stunned to see the hand-operated
leaderboard ripped up before their eyes with Miller’s name hastily put
up along with his score in a blistering stream of red. Third-round
co-leader John Schlee finished one stroke back. Palmer was two back,
much to the dismay of Arnie’s Army.
made my career what it is,” said Miller, who went on to a Hall of Fame
career. As analyst for NBC he called the final day action yesterday at
Merion. He will always be remembered for that Sunday 63 in ’73. The
champion turned analyst put it simply: “It was unreal, a magical round.”
The same can be said of that year.
Forty Years Ago Today: 6/10/1973…
“Like a Tremendous Machine”
I’m four decades and a day off, but given
a rainout, a campout, NJ Books (thanks to Dave Singer and all who came
out), and getting swept by the Marlins—again (fewer games, more
innings), the weekend zipped by without even learning who
won the 2013 Belmont.
But 40 years ago, June 9, 1973, there was an all-time moment in the
sport of kings at Belmont. I recreated Secretariat’s Triple Crown
performance in Swinging ’73 and you owe it to yourself to sneak a
peak—like jockey Ron Turcotte did because he could not believe track
Chic Anderson’s iconic call—for
the greatest horse of my lifetime, or most any other. As Anderson called
the horse’s time, “an unbelievable 2:24,” a 1½-mile record “that may
stand forever.” That time has yet to be approached. Horse racing now is
crowded out by slot machines and racinos, which says more about people
than animals, but there was a day Secretariat put the world on its ear.
Simultaneously appearing on the covers of Time, Newsweek,
and Sports Illustrated prior to the Belmont, Secretariat not only
lived up top the hype, he blew away all expectations. A tremendous
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entertaining three-minute You Tube video of a more recent vintage was
filmed and, more impressively, uploaded by my daughter after some
Here’s the pitch. You want the one sentence version?
makes the ideal gift for Father’s
Day, or any old occasion.
Forty Years Ago Today: 6/5/1973…
Caught in the Draft
With the amateur baseball draft on tap
this week, it’s nice to see that the draft still has the same timing,
but things have changed a bit in 40 years. Three of the first four
players taken in the 1973 draft went directly to the majors. Two were
Hall of Famers: Robin Yount (Brewers, second overall pick) and Dave
Winfield (Padres, fourth selection). The first overall pick, David
Clyde, went directly to the Texas Rangers and debuted June 27. Like
Yount, Clyde was fresh out of high school and selected by a recently
relocated godawful team that no one cared a lick about. Clyde, a Houston
native, drew 35,000 to Arlington Stadium in his debut. He won that start
as well as his next and owner Bob Short—as in Short-sided—announced
Clyde would stay with the team the rest of the year. He went 4-8 with a
5.01 ERA for a 105-loss monstrosity. He had a 7-18 mark and 4.63 ERA
before (wait for it) his arm gave out in 1975 at age 20. He wound up in
Cleveland and was done by 24, just about the same time Winfield, a
college stud drafted by four teams in three sports, and Yount were
hitting their prime.
While the Yankees
were one of five teams in 1973 to
draft a player in the first round who never made the majors, only
the first pick by the Mets made an impact among 36 rounds of selections;
the Mets’ draft still had a silver lining—kind of. Lee Mazzilli,
Brooklyn’s own, was taken in the first round (14th pick) before the Mets
went 0-for-35 the rest of the draft in terms of players who lasted at
Shea Stadium longer than a few months. They did wind up with the second
overall pick in ’73. Like Winfield, he was a multi-sport star in the
other big conference back then: the Big Eight’s Bad Dude, safety/catcher
John Stearns. The Colorado stud, however, was taken with by the Phillies
with the second pick. Getting him to New York cost Tug McGraw in a
December 1974 multi-player deal that is still pretty questionable.
Stearns made the All-Star team more times than McGraw (4-2), but I think
most of us would still take Tug. We’d all still like to have
another shot at the 1973 draft.
leaguers of note were taken from Los Angeles: American League Rookie of
the Year and MVP—the same season!—Fred Lynn out of USC (Red Sox, second
round), and future Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray of L.A.’s
Locke High School, as in pick-a-Locke when talking to the press
(Orioles, third round). Others you may—or may not—have heard of:
perfect-game pitcher Len Barker (Rangers, third round), Floyd Bannister
(A’s, third), Mitchell Page (Pirates, third), Ruppert Jones (Royals,
third), 1983 AL Cy Young winner LaMarr Hoyt (Yankees, fifth), 1979 AL Cy
Young Award winner Mike Flanagan (Orioles, seventh), Mike Krukow (Cubs,
eighth), friend of the site Billy Sample from Salem, VA (Rangers, 10th),
and Jack Clark, who hit 340 home runs (Giants, 13th). Jeff Reardon was a
23rd-round pick by the Expos, but the pride of Dalton instead attended
nearby University of Massachusetts at Amherst—only to not get drafted at
all after his senior year. He signed with the Mets as an amateur free
agent and was pretty good until he was traded to Montreal for Ellis
Valentine in a 1981 deal that makes the Stearns-McGraw deal look like
Keith Hernandez for Neil Allen.
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A reminder that I will be on hand to talk
Swinging ’73 and at
BooksNJ at the
Paramus Library this Sunday, June 9. The fest, which goes from 1-5 p.m.
at 116 E Century Rd, Paramus,
NJ, features dozens of authors and hundreds of books. I will be part of
a Mets-Yankees panel at 3:20. Also, thanks to WKNY in Kingston for
having me on the morning show today. This is the big rush pre-Fathers
Day, so sites, stations, and podcasts feel free to contact me at
Reds blanked the Mets on this day in 1973. The 5-0 loss was the third
time in four days the stumbling Mets had been shut out; the game also
marked the first inkling of conflict between the two teams. With a
runner on first in a scoreless game in the fifth inning, Jack
Billingham’s poor bunt was fielded by Jon Matlack. He fired to shortstop
Bud Harrelson at second, who relayed to Felix Millan covering at first
for a double play. In the process, however, Reds catcher Bill Plummer,
Johnny Bench’s backup, took out the pocket-sized Bud. The Mets
shortstop, who was born on D-Day, June 6, 1944, would spend his 29th
birthday in a cast. Harrelson missed more than a month, thanks to
Plummer. (Bud would miss nearly three more weeks in August with a
fractured sternum.) Though not much of a hitter—he hit .258 for the year
with just 15 extra-base hits in 408 plate appearances—his defense,
leadership, and peskiness helped fuel the Mets comeback in September.
And come the unlikely Reds-Mets rematch in October, Harrelson’s
ill-fated swipe at Bill Plummer’s teammate, a guy named Pete Rose,
transformed Shea Stadium into a three-ring circus.
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Calling all Kingstonians… tomorrow, June 5, I will be on the air at 7:35
a.m. on the morning show on my local station, WKNY 1490 AM Kingston.
We’ll be talking
Swinging ’73 and other matters.
Calling all New Jerseyites… I will be at
BooksNJ at the
Paramus Library this Sunday, June 9. The fest features dozens of authors
and hundreds of books. I will be part of a Mets-Yankees panel at 3:20.
Any support—from both Mets fans and metsilverman.com fans—is much
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/31/1973…
Yanks Skunked Once More
Not to kick the Yankees while they’re
down, but… on this day in 1973 the Yankees were nearly no-hit by
Oakland. A’s southpaw
Ken Holtzman allowed only a seventh-inning single to Matty Alou in a
6-0 trouncing at Yankee Stadium in a rapid fire 1 hour, 42 minutes.
Holtzman, who had already pitched two no-hitters in his career as a Cub,
improved to 10-2 on the year, halfway to being one of three A’s to reach
20 wins in ’73 (along with Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue). The
fifth-place A’s stood at .500, while the Yankees were just a half-game
better but they stood second to Detroit.
The most interesting thing about the game is that
Holtzman didn’t finish it. The score was never close, there wasn’t a
health issue, and if you told Dick Williams about pitch counts he would
have laughed you out of his office. The reason seems to be that Williams
wanted to get Rollie Fingers some work. Two months into the season,
Fingers had made just 11 relief appearances—he did make two starts,
remarkable since he was considered the best reliever in the AL. But in
the first year of the designated hitter era, there was nothing to force
a manager to remove a starter and relievers could get a little rusty.
The American League would see an 18 percent increase in complete games,
up 112 CGs to 614, the most in either league since 1928. Fingers
finished off the Yankees, retiring five of six batters to drop his ERA
to 1.51. He would get his work in all right, pitching in 62 games and
tossing more than one inning 43 times. It wasn’t just that
handlebar mustache that got Rollie in the Hallie—as in Hall of Fame,
It is hard to imagine a world where the
Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells existed and was not part of the
soundtrack for the film, The Exorcist. Both the album and film
came out the same year, but Oldfield’s music came out in May of 1973 and
The Exorcist was the feel-good Christmas hit of the year.
(Kidding. Big time.) To this day I have never seen the movie or even a
part of it or its sequels. I recall just thinking about the commercial
or hearing this song putting my third-grade self into terror mode. Being
in Catholic school at the time, the devil taking over your body was not
something you wanted to screw around with or even think about. Forty
years later I’m still not taking any chances. But bravo to Mike Oldfield,
performed this with an orchestra but made all the sounds on the
album himself. He had just turned 20 when the Tubular Bells was
released, launching not only his successful career but Richard Branson’s
Virgin record label as well. It’s one hell of a tune.
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I stayed away from The Exorcist,
but three days of cold and rain in the Adirondacks over the weekend had
me attending three movies in two days at the Palace Theatre in Lake
Placid. I saw The Hangover III (laughed frequently), Epic
(twas epic, what else can I say?), and The Great Gatsby. I
expected to dislike the latter movie—especially since I saw it in mere
2-D. Yet as far as adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterwork go,
Baz Luhrmann’s version is the best I’ve seen, hip hop and all. Though it
is my favorite book and still the title I mention when people ask what
made me want to become a writer, I was surprised to learn the middling
reputation of The Great Gatsby until after Fitzgerald’s death and
the issuing of the book to soldiers during World War II. That
jumpstarted its popularity and it still regularly sells more copies
annually than it did during Fitzgerald’s short lifetime. It was also
cool seeing it at a movie theater that may well have shown the first
Great Gatsby silent movie in 1926, the year the Palace Theatre
opened. Here’s to hoping the
forced conversion to digitaldoesn’t force the
great old place—and others like it—to shut down. What would we do then
when it rains for three straight days? Wasn’t pleased with the weather
over the weekend, but hours after we left, a surprise blizzard
dropped three feet of snow and closed the roads to nearby Whiteface
Mountain. And you thought it was a little chilly
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/24/1973…
Nixon Tea Party Honors POWs
On this day in 1973, more
than 600 people crowded the White House for a party for returning POWs.
Wives of the recently released prisoners also had tea with Pat Nixon,
but all hail President Nixon in a rare escape from domestic problems.
The Nixon Library this weekend marks the
40th anniversary with a reunion of the POWs at the late President’s
museum in his native Yorba Linda, California. Then, as now, it was a
rare moment when Dick Nixon’s
image could be pushed aside to let the spotlight show on these men, and
their families, who gave so much for their country. Memorial Day is set
aside for the dead, but it is celebrated by the living. It is not
something that should ever be forgotten.
By the spring of 1973, it had already been
a fertile year for rock, especially in England. The landmark Dark
Side of the Moon was released by Pink Floyd, along with new material
by British bands Led Zeppelin, Traffic, King Crimson, and David Bowie.
Yes climbed aboard that British sailing ship with its live triple-album
opus, Yessongs. A progressive rock band of the highest order, Yes
did plenty of musical exploration on the live album, which featured
Roger Dean art on the album cover and interior that kept many a
spaced-out youth staring for hours on end. “Yes, mom… I’ll clean my room
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There is a great review from
Spitball magazine that I cannot help but share: “Swinging ’73
is entertaining, irreverent, and fun. The book takes nothing serious,
yet is serious as hell. It is only a game but it is our game, our
memories, our lives… ‘Ya Gotta Believe!’”
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/17/1973…
Watergate Hearings Begin
Entire books have been written on the subject of Watergate; Swinging
’73 is not one of them. Yet the hearings, which started on this day
in 1973, were an undercurrent of much that went on in that time. It was
a drag on the nation’s attention, patience, and credulity, which
resulted—in one way or another—to everything from the 1973 resignation
of Vice President to the 1975 suspension of Yankees owner George
Steinbrenner for illegal campaign contributions. Of course, the scandal
eventually led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon and the
elevation of Gerald Ford, who replaced Agnew as vice president. Ford
became president despite never being elected to an office higher than
the House of Representatives.
But that was all in the future on
Thursday, May 17, 1973. Newsmen Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer,
the air together for the first time, set the stage far better than
I—or most anyone else—ever could. Their continuing daily coverage
launched what became known as The MacNeil-Lehrer Report and the
show that is still a household favorite today: The PBS New Hour.
Watergate, no matter how much time passes, remains with us, too. Even if
the lessons are too often overlooked amid party pandering and finger
pointing. One of the few things that keeps me somewhat positive in
today’s never-ending cycle of inaction in Washington, is that if the
U.S. could eventually recover from Watergate, it can survive anything. I
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May 17, 1973 was also the day Bobby
Valentine’s career changed during a game in a game between the
California Angels and Oakland A’s. Valentine was a shortstop, not a
center fielder, but he played out of position to help his team and
appease his superstitious rookie manager, Bobby Winkles. It cost
Valentine dearly. The event is documented in
Swinging ’73, and it is also explained today by Chris Jaffe in
The Hardball Times.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/15/1973… The
First Nolan No-No
On this day in 1973, Mets fans died a
little over something that happened far away and in another league.
Nolan Ryan, all but given away by the Mets to the California Angels a
year earlier, pitched the first no-hitter of his career. His first no-no
was against a good-hitting Kansas City club, 2-0. Ryan threw another
no-hitter later in the year and nearly had a third in 1973. In all, Ryan
would throw seven no-hitters, along with 300 wins, 5,000 strikeouts, and
joining the Hall of Fame after a 27-year career. Though he never won a
Cy Young Award, he received more votes than Cy Young for the All-Century
Team—a 1999 national popularity contest that excluded Tom Seaver in its
final tally, and thus should be taken with a grain of salt.
Back in ’73, Ryan had detractors despite
his astounding success. Though he ripped through American League
lineups—even with the designated hitter—he still had the same bouts of
wildness that had plagued him with the Mets. As a pitcher who had
more no-hitters than complete games in which he did not walk a batter,
Ryan could thank his lucky stars he did not play in the era of pitch
counts. A’s manager Dick Williams wouldn’t pick him for the 1973
All-Star team, but then again Williams didn’t pick eventual Cy Young
winner Jim Palmer of the Orioles, either. Buttinsky commissioner Bowie
Kuhn added an extra spot on the All-Star team—ostensibly so Met Willie
Mays could be on the National League roster—and that’s how Ryan (11-12,
2.84 ERA, 233 K’s, 100 BBs in 199.1 innings at the break) got on
the AL team. Palmer, with an 11-6 mark and 2.86 ERA, did not.
Skylab was launched on this day in 1973. This
anniversary is also being marked by the National Aeronautics and Space
call it maize, I mean NASA. Their release this week states:
NASA launched Skylab
on May 14, 1973. It was the nation’s first foray into significant
scientific research in microgravity. The three Skylab crews proved
humans could live and work effectively for long durations in space. The
knowledge gathered during Skylab helped inform development and
construction of the International Space Station, just as the research
and technology demonstrations being conducted aboard the ISS will help
shape a new set of missions that will take Americans farther into the
Not mentioned in
the release was Skylab’s re-entry to earth six years after it left.
Bulls-eye T-shirts were printed up and two San Francisco newspapers
offered six-figure prizes for people affected by the debris. The
calculations for Skylab’s 1979 fall back to earth were off slightly and
large pieces came down near Perth, Australia. A big chunk of debris was
even displayed on stage at the Miss Universe pageant that year, which
happened to be held in Perth. (Miss
was the 1979 winner—and because we can’t leave you hanging,
Miss Phillippines, Margarita Moran, won the 1973 Miss Universe
The bad PR from Skylab’s
descent—and the inevitable scientific process of trial, error, and
improvement—led to the reusable Spacelab module sent skyward in the
1990s, which could be returned to earth without the histrionics, bulleye
T-shirts, and mortal peril for Miss Universe.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/12/1973… One
Charlie Daniels was 36 years old when he
had his first hit in 1973 with
“Uneasy Rider” from the album, Honey in the Rock. It’s a
spoken-word tale about a long-haired, pot-smoking dude making his way
cross country when his car with a “peace
mag wheels, and
four on the floor”
breaks down in Jackson, Mississippi. He runs into a problem with some
locals at a bar. The narrator goes on the offensive before his
adversaries can. He gets away but has a little fun first—and is scared
enough to reroute his trip to head to “LA via Omaha,” which, if you know
any geography, is not exactly a direct line. It may—on paper—take you
farther away from people with green teeth and members of the
über-conservative John Birch Society. But don’t get
Penny started about folks in her native Omaha.
Though “Uneasy Rider” reached number nine
in ’73, Charlie Daniels would be in his 40s before he hit it big with
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” in ’79, which won him a Grammy and a
spot in the film,
Urban Cowboy. Somewhere along
the way, Charlie hopped the center line over to the far right lane and
even remade his first hit, releasing “Uneasy Rider ’88.” The 1988
“updated” version featured a couple of buddies on a car trip who get in
a bit of mischief at what turns out to be a gay bar in Houston. In his
70s, Charlie still plays that fiddle and does spoken and sung word with
the best of them—country, rock, or both. I saw him perform at Belleauyre
Mountain summer before last, and me and the Mrs. snuck up front to see
that fiddle jam at the end. He just may be
“the best that’s ever been.”
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Something that reminds me a little of “Uneasy Rider” is a short e-book I
just read called
Honky Tonk Tourist: The Night Buck Owens Almost Got Me Killed.
It’s by Dan Epstein, author of a great book on baseball in the 1970s
that I’ve recommended here before,
Big Hair and Plastic Grass. Those of you with a copy of
Swinging ’73 handy—I’ll wait while you turn over your copy—will
see Dan had some nice words (namely “informative, amusing, and highly
readable”) to say about my latest. That aside, Honky Tonk Tourist
is a fun, quick, and cheap ($2.46) read that taught me that there was a
lot more to Bakersfield Sound creator Buck Owens than Hee
Haw and being mentioned in a
Creedence song. Dan is a noted rock critic as well as baseball
aficionado and the e-book and opened my eyes to music influences I had
eschewed previously. Though using words like “eschewed” and
at a bar in
Bakersfield, Jackson, or Houston might get me in the kind of trouble
that only Charlie Daniels could talk his way out of.
Speaking of talking, for those in the area of Kingston, New York, I’ll
be on the air Monday (May 13) with old pal Dan Reinhard at WKNY 1490 AM
at 6 p.m. I took a satellite ride on Mad Dog Radio on Friday with Dino
Costa and spent 40-plus minutes talking ’73 baseball with the
knowledgeable and entertaining host.
Missed Banner Day again, but my son and daughter both had games
Saturday. As long as they keep having this in May (back in the day, the
Banner Day doubleheader was held during the summer, after school—and
Little League—were over), we may never get to Banner Day, but the boy
did score his first goal Saturday—yes, he’s playing lacrosse; and I’m
being a big boy about it. Just like in hockey when he lit the lamp the
first time, lucky mom was with him and I was at my daughter’s sporting
event—but her softball team won. Consider this win-win a Mother’s Day
present we can’t wrap.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/10/1973… The
Knicks Win It All!
Yes, we are in the wayback machine if that
is the headline. But that was the big news in New York on this date in
1973. The Knicks knocked off the Lakers at the Los Angeles Forum, and
they did it in dominating fashion. After losing the first game of the
finals in LA, the Knicks won four straight. They pulled away in the
fifth game, 102-93, to claim their second title in three years. Then
they hurried off to the locker room for the champagne that their fans
would savor as the decades rolled by without another championship.
The 1973 Knicks had the best defense in
the league (98.2 points per game in an offensive era) and drew an
NBA-best 790,031 to Madison Square Garden—more people than came to see
the MLB Indians, Padres, and Texas in twice as many games, and almost as
many as the Braves drew with Hank Aaron bearing down on Babe Ruth’s
all-time home run mark. But in an exciting year in New York sports, the
Knicks ruled the city with a team chock full of Hall of Famers.
The Knicks were the toast of New York,
and plenty of teams were vying for that title. As of 1973, New York had
two teams in every sport for the first time—including two tenants at the
new Nassau Veterans Coliseum: the expansion Islanders, who won just 12
of 78 games (plus 6 ties) to earn Sports Illustrated’s
designation as “one of the sorriest NHL teams ever,” and the 30‑54 New
York Nets of the American Basketball Association, whose coach, Lou
Carneseca, left the team in the summer of ’73 to return to his alma
mater, St. John’s University in Queens.
The Knickerbockers—a name that harkened
back to the city’s 17th-century Dutch roots—followed the world
championship trail blazed by the Jets and Mets in 1969. The Knicks beat
the Lakers for the NBA title in May 1970 with a limping Willis Reed
providing the spark in the deciding seventh game. Reed was still at
Madison Square Garden three Mays later, and all five Knicks starters in
1973 ended up in the Hall of Fame: ’70 championship holdovers Bill
Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, and Reed, plus
superstar acquisition Earl “the Pearl” Monroe. The team also had Hall of
Fame coach Red Holzman, team president Ned Irish, and sixth man Jerry
Lucas, who became the first player in history to win a championship in
high school, college, the pros, and the Olympics. The ninth Hall of
Famer in the group was thinking man’s forward Phil Jackson, who averaged
17 minutes per game for the 1973 Knicks after watching from the
sidelines in 1970 due to back surgery; when his playing career ended,
Jackson sharpened his focus to become a Zen master coach in Chicago and
Los Angeles. At the LA Forum, New York claimed the ’73 title by
dispatching the Lakers in five games, with the
Knicks flashing the “number one” sign in the visiting locker room
and leaving no doubt as to the authenticity of their claim.
May 10, 1973 was also the night the
Montreal Canadiens captured the Stanley Cup in five games. The Habs
defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, who had knocked off the Rangers in the
semifinals after New York beat the defending Stanley Cup champion
Bruins. Forty years ago, there were 16 NHL teams and three rounds of
playoffs. In 2013, with 16 NHL teams making the playoffs, the
hockey playoffs are still in the first round on May 10.
Another one for the wayback sports
machine: While the Knicks and Canadiens were dousing themselves with
champagne, the Mets and Yankees were slogging through an exhibition game
in Queens. The Mets won the 11th annual Mayor’s Trophy Game, 8-4, behind
southpaw George Stone. The win at Shea Stadium gave the Mets a 6-5 lead
in the series.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/8/1973…
Soylent Green: It’s—Y’Know
film Soylent Green was released on this day 40 years ago. I don’t
know which is more frightening, this
lousy trailer, or that the dystopian tale is set nine years from
now, in 2022. Soylent Green was the final credit of
Edward G. Robinson’s impressive career, as he died at age 79 in
January of ’73. You could say he won an Oscar for Soylent Green
since it was his last film, but it is more accurate to say he
posthumously received the 1973 Lifetime Achievement Award from the
Academy. He probably got it for the other 100 films he was in. And
despite the way the Soylent Green trailer makes it appear,
Robinson did not euthanize himself to avoid being around for this movie
premiere. Yet the irony is delicious.
The coda of Soylent Green came more
than two decades following its release, and after it had made the rounds
of the late-night movie showcases that were the rage in the 1970s and
1980s before cable provided a never-ending supply of tasty late-night
fodder. A Saturday Night Live skit spoofed the film’s climatic
scene that revealed the answer to the question: “What! Is! The! Secret!
Of! Soylent! Green!” Spoiler alert,
don’t click if you you are afraid of dining finding out (I
really did type “dining” originally) the secret ending of this 40-year
old schlock—I mean ’70s classic. But the late Phil Hartman—you may also
remember him from such Simpsons roles as attorney
and B-movie actor
a great Charlton Heston.
Love that scarf.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/8/1973… Wounded
Knee, Fractured Skull
On this day in 1973,
the standoff ended between federal marshals and members of the American
Indian Movement on the land where the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred in
1892. The standoff had lasted three months and would continue long
afterward on the reservation as hostilities between residents and tribal
Racial progress was
slow. Even on the baseball diamond. Shortly before his death in 1972,
Jackie Robinson had challenged baseball to hire a black manager. And in
1973, it happened—if only for a couple of hours. Cubs coach Ernie Banks
filled in as manager for ejected Whitey Lockman in San Diego. Rick
Monday tied the game in the seventh with a two-run home run and
blow-drying pioneer Joe Pepitone made Banks a winner with an
RBI-double in the 12th inning after Padres manager Don Zimmer elected to
pitch to him with a runner on third and one out. A full-time
African American manager in the big leagues would have to wait
until the Cleveland Indians hired Frank Robinson as player-manager in 1975. Four decades later, there are
exactly two black managers.
One is Dusty Baker,
who was in center field at Shea Stadium on the night of May 8, 1973 with Hammerin’ Hank
Aaron and the last-place Atlanta Braves. General Dusty—actually at this
point in time, he was more like a sergeant—was one of four Braves who
would hit at least 20 home runs; three of them Aaron, Davey Johnson, and
Darrel Evans became the game’s
first trio of 40-homer sluggers on one team in ’73. The light-hitting Marty Perez batted
in front of this formidable group, and with the bases loaded and a light
rain falling in the seventh inning, Mets lefty Jon Matlack held a two-run lead and was one
pitch away from escaping the jam.
“I’m trying to nail down this game,”
Matlack recalls. “I overthrew the next pitch. It was a fastball, and I
landed really hard when I threw it. I lost sight of the ball to the
plate. I could see him swing and hear the bat crack, but I don’t pick up
the baseball until it’s right on top of me. I barely got the fingers of
my left hand in front of my face. It hit my fingers [on the mitt], hit
my cap, and it hit me just over the left eye. They tell me—I don’t know
because I couldn’t see it—but it went from my forehead into the dugout.
It cost me two runs and ultimately cost me the ballgame.”
The sudden tie fell to secondary
importance during this frightening moment at Shea Stadium. Right fielder
Rusty Staub, shaking his head at the memory of it years later, summed up
his teammates’ reaction: “We were just all thrilled that he wasn’t
dead.” Dee Matlack wasn’t even sure of that as the trainer came out and
pulled a tarp over her prone husband’s body as the rain fell.
“They’re messing with me, and it’s
raining,” he thought as catcher Jerry Grote and his teammates gathered
around him. “My wife thinks I’m dead because they cover me up with a
tarp.” Still conscious and bleeding from his head, the dazed pitcher
thought he’d been struck in the mouth until things came into sharp,
painful focus. “I can see my forehead at this point. I can see it
literally swollen up to where I can see it. I had a whale of a
headache and felt very weak.”
Matlack was taken to
the hospital and told he had a fractured skull... and a 10-6 defeat as
the Braves rallied to win—the Braves scored seven times in the inning
starting with Perez’s liner off Matlack’s skull that went for a two-run
double. It was eerily similar to an event that took place
almost exactly 40 years later, when a line drive hit Blue Jays lefty
JA Happ in the head and went for a two-run double. But Matlack did not go on
the disabled list. He started again just two weeks later and was
actually more effective.
On July 10, just two months after he was thwacked in head with a line
drive that fractured his skull, Matlack tossed a one-hitter while facing
just one batter over the minimum. And you were impressed that Matt Harvey
started his one-hitter by overcoming a bloody nose.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/6/1973…
The WHA’s Missing Cup
this day in 1973, the first
World Hockey Association title was captured by the
New England Whalers. The Whale beat the Winnipeg Jets in five games
for the inaugural Avco Cup (a defense contractor was the sponsor). Since
the cup was not yet ready, the triumphant Whalers had to skate around
the ice holding their division trophy aloft. The
rings were sweet, though.
conclusion of the inaugural season was a triumph for a league that
played its first game in October 1972. The National Hockey League, which
had been expanding at a furious rate after a quarter-century as a
six-team league, got its garters in a bunch at the thought of a rival
league, hastily adding the New York Islanders as an expansion team to
keep the WHA New York Raiders from playing at the Nassau Coliseum. The
Raiders got the scraps of the Madison Square Garden schedule, eventually
pushing the team to New Jersey, where they failed. But the league
prospered even without a significant presence in New York.
Many future Hall of Famers wound up in the
WHA, including Gerry Cheevers, Rod Langway, Mark Messier, Bernie Parent,
Jacques Plante, Derek Sanderson, Glenn Sather, and Bobby Hull, who was
pushed out of the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets because he’d
defected to the new league. Legend Gordie Howe went to the Houston
Aeros, where he became the first person to play professional hockey with
his sons, Mark (another Hall of Famer) and Marty (a defenseman who made
one WHA All-Star team). The WHA was also way ahead of the NHL in
bringing European talent to North America.
After seven seasons inflicting wounds upon
each other, the NHL reached a deal, just as the NFL and AFL, and NBA and
ABA had done before them. In 1979 the NHL added three WHA teams that
have since relocated: the Hartford Whalers (to Carolina), Quebec
Nordiques (to Denver), and Winnipeg Jets (to Phoenix; the current
Winnipeg club moved from Atlanta). The WHA provided the best thing to
happen to hockey since the Zamboni. The fourth absorbed WHA team became
an NHL dynasty: the Edmonton Oilers, thanks to securing a teenaged star
named Wayne Gretzky.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/5/1973…“Dancing Days Are Here Again”
May 5, 1973 a crowd of 56,800 came out in Tampa to see Led Zepplin, to
date largest single artist concert in history. Billed as
“The Supershow of the Year,” the hype proved true
the old Sombrero. Promoting their 1973 album Houses of the Holy,
Led Zep pulled out all the stops. They zipped from city to city aboard
their own jet, “Starship,” playing large venues like Atlanta Fulton
County Stadium, San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium, and Three Rivers Stadium
in Pittsburgh before wrapping the whirlwind tour with three nights at
Madison Square Garden, which turned into the film and soundtrack album,
The Song Remains the Same.
stadium rock and roll era was on!
<> <> <>
Good Sunday reading with media reporter Ed
Sherman, formerly of the Chicago Tribune. His interview with me
the first of May, 1973, the defending world champion A’s were
next-to-last in the American League West. They stood at 9-12, and
in those 21 games had used six different players in the new designated
hitter spot. Most AL teams made DHs from veteran sluggers whose body or
glove prevented them from taking the field regularly. Orlando Cepeda was
enjoying a career rebirth in Boston after the A’s did not offer the
gimpy-kneed future Hall of Famer a contract just as the DH became the
new law of the land in the AL.
A’s tried a novel—and rather unsuccessful—approach to the DH by using
speedy ballplayers, or, worse idea, guys who couldn’t hit well. Then on
May 2, Oakland owner Charlie Finley, who also served as the team’s
general manager, worked a deal with Philadelphia that not only beefed up
this newfangled DH spot, but the middle of the A’s order as well. Two
days later he was in the lineup for the first time against Cleveland.
Oakland embarked on an 8-2 run and went 84-56 from that point forward en
route to their third straight AL West title.
While Oakland discard Orlando Cepeda was
hitting .347 with six home runs and 17 knocked in during his first month
as Boston’s DH, six different A’s combined to bat just .231 with two
home runs and six RBI in the newly-created position over the same span.
So Finley found the best available ballplayer to fill that void.
Deron Johnson, who had spent parts of two
years with the Kansas City A’s before being sold to Cincinnati in 1963,
returned to the fold a decade later at the expense of low-level minor
leaguer Jack Barnstable. Johnson, in a slump since faltering for the
Phils as a pinch hitter on Opening Day at Shea Stadium, fit perfectly in
Oakland. The A’s stopped using speedsters like Bill North and Angel
Mangual as DH and followed the path of other AL teams by going with a
slow-footed slugger. “We changed our thinking on the DH,” Dick Williams
said. “Deron Johnson is the DH we’ve been looking for.” Johnson, 34, who
had never played in a postseason game in a major league career that
stretched back to 1960, had three hits and knocked home four in his
Oakland debut and barely missed a game until the last week of the
Though an unsung name on an A’s roll that includes Hall of Famers Reggie
Jackson, Catfish Hunter, and Rollie Fingers, plus All-Stars Sal Bando,
Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, and Ken Holtzman, among others, it should be noted
that when Dick Williams shifted Gene Tenace back to catcher and put
Deron Johnson at first base for the last two games of the World Series,
the A’s came back to win. As important as he was in ’73, Finley liked to
keep his machine running by changing parts often. Traded to Milwaukee
the following year, Johnson wound up a member of the 1975 Red Sox,
though he was acquired by Boston in late September and was ineligible
for postseason play. So 1973 was his only postseason in a 14-year,
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/2/1973…Seaver’s Harvey-esque Start
would Seaver do? You wonder 40 years later how Tom Seaver would have
fared if he had to pitch with the anemic offense of the current Mets. I
think he might laugh: “You’ve got a catcher who hits home runs? Sign me
Seaver, undoubtedly the best Met of all time since he first stepped on a
major league mound in 1967, was also challenged when it came to
offensive support. A month into the 1973 season the Mets scored all of
six runs in his first five starts. Half of those runs came on Opening
Day, when he beat reigning Cy Young winner Steve Carlton of the
Phillies,3-0. In his next start he faced another Hall of Famer, Bob
Gibson, whose first-inning error was the difference in Seaver’s 2-1 win
over the Cardinals. After that, it was Seaver’s turn to suffer through
no fault of his own.
went the distance in his third outing, allowing just one run to the
Cubs, but Fergie Jenkins won 1-0 behind Rick Monday’s home run. Finally
facing a non-Hall of Fame opponent, the immortal John Strohmayer of
Montreal shut out the Mets into the ninth before Ken Boswell singled
home Jim Fregosi, of all people, to tie the game at 1-1. Since Boswell
was up to bat for Seaver, Tom’s day was done. The Mets lost the
following inning when Phil Hennigan allowed a single to Tim Foli to
score Boots Day.
April 27, Seaver finally had a bad inning. Hank Aaron and Darrell Evans,
who along with Davey Johnson would become the first 40-homer trio on a
major league club in ’73, homered back-to-back at the Launching Pad.
Seaver allowed just one other hit—a single to Johnson—but the damage was
done. Pat Dobson tossed his own three-hitter and blanked the Mets, 2-0.
Mark Simon at ESPN NY pointed out this week that the April that Matt
Harvey enjoyed in 2013 was comparable to the opening month of Seaver’s
superb 1971 season. But Seaver’s ’73 is as good, and can be considered
superior to both. In five starts in April of ’73, Seaver pitched 40.1
innings, allowed 21 hits, 11 walks, and fanned 30. The five runs he
allowed came on five solo shots, but even that indicates how much he
bore down when men were on base. His ERA of 1.12 along with a walks and
hits per inning ratio of 0.798 were both better than Harvey’s 2013
(1.56, 0.82) and Seaver’s 1971 (1.37, 0.84). Unlike those two Aprils, in
which both pitchers finished 4-0, Seaver finished April of ’73 at 2-2.
he fell to 2-3 on May 2, 40 years ago today (talk about a roundabout way
to get here). The Big Red Machine became the first team to score on
anything besides a home run over Seaver in 1973. Dave Concepcion’s
two-out double scored Tony Perez from first base in the fourth inning to
break a scoreless tie. Johnny Bench and Pete Rose took him deep later in
a game in which Seaver fanned 13; these same two culprits came through
with homers in the opening game of the 1973 NLCS, when Seaver again
fanned 13—and lost. By then, however, Seaver would have won 20, be the
eventual Cy Young winner, and his Mets wound up having more punch in
October than in April.
Forty Years Ago Today: 4/19/1973…George’s First Victim
Barely four months
after heading the syndicate that bought the Yankees, chairman George
Steinbrenner got what he wanted. On this day in 1973, Michael Burke,
team president since 1966, resigned in disgust. Steinbrenner’s choice,
Gabe Paul, took over the role. Burke’s
abrupt departure marked the first domino in a line that would see GM Lee
MacPhail, manager Ralph Houk, and PR head Bob Fishel all quit by year’s
end. The old days in the Bronx were over.
Mike Burke was a
renaissance man, a success at everything he’d tried before baseball.
He’d been a star halfback at the University of Pennsylvania when Ivy
League football really mattered, a spy behind German lines during World
War II, part of the early CIA, head of the world’s most famous circus,
and the man who set in motion the sale of the greatest sports team of
the day—the New York Yankees—to the top network of the era: CBS. Under
Burke, however, the Yankees endured their most fallow period since the
pre-Ruth period of the 1910s. Yet even before Burke took the helm, the
team had let its guard down and the talent pipeline stopped—the wins
quickly stopped, too. After years of teams like the Yankees signing the
best young talent because of their prestige, the creation of the amateur
player draft in 1965 allowed teams previously pushed aside to get first
crack at the best young players. It took the Yankees years to get the
hang of the draft.
Since he was running the team for the Tiffany
Network, Burke gets the blame for the decline of the Yankees—but he
rarely receives credit for keeping the Yanks in the Bronx. In Nixon’s
America, New York was no gleaming city on the hill; many saw it as
dingy, dirty, and dangerous.
based on the bestseller and filmed on location in 1973 in “the most
violent town in the world,” along with
Scorcese’s first major film, released in ’73—did little to improve the
city’s image in terms of crime and violence. Many corporations, not to
mention families, had already fled New York by the 1970s. More would
follow—including the Giants. The Maras, whose football team had been
born at the Polo Grounds before moving to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s,
opted for New Jersey. The Meadowlands also pushed to reel in the
Yankees. So did New Orleans, in search of a baseball tenant for its
under-construction Superdome. Burke worked with beleaguered New York
mayor John Lindsay to rebuild Yankee Stadium where it stood. When
Steinbrenner bought the team—arranged by Burke with the understanding
that he would stay on as president—the Yankees came with a ready-made
agreement for an essentially brand-new stadium. And then Steinbrenner
pushed the deal’s architect out the door.
It is easy now to look
at the win-loss record over these past four decades and dismiss Burke,
MacPhail, Houk, as well as the players whose “crime” was being Yankees
during the period when the rest of baseball finally caught up to—and
passed—the vaunted Bronx Bombers. CBS wanted out badly enough to sell
the team for $10 million (or closer to $8 mil, if you count a couple of
garages included in the deal) after paying $13 million in1964. Yet the
transition of ownership was not what you would call graceful. It was one
thing when Steinbrenner issued a list of the uniform numbers of players
he felt needed haircuts. It was another thing when personnel started
From Swinging ’73:
“It made no sense for us
to try work together,” Burke later wrote of Steinbrenner. “We came at
the world from two different poles, and Yankee Stadium was too confined
a space to contain us. . . . He [Steinbrenner] shouted and blustered for
lack of fundamental self-assurance, terrible tempered for reasons
perhaps as unclear to himself as to others.” Burke’s letter of
resignation was even more succinct:
The scope of responsibilities and
authority proposed to be assigned to me are so limited as to be
incompatible with even the narrowest definition of “chief operating
officer” and I must conclude that you do not want me to operate the
Yankees. Slowly and sadly, I have come to this conclusion. It represents
a stunning, personal setback.
When the players heard
of the resignation on April 29, Graig Nettles quipped, “Was his hair too
long?” For the Yankees, it was the beginning of the “Bronx Zoo” period.
Those who had options started to weigh them.
A change of the guard
is rarely smooth, and treating people badly never looks classy. By 1976,
with Burke running Madison Square Garden, the Yankees would have a new
ballpark and a new ballclub, for the most part. But under Steinbrenner,
the bodies would pile up higher than in a Scorcese picture.
Forty Years Ago
Today: 4/28/1973… Starters Fast and Slow
present has a way of getting in the way of the past. It’s been a week
since I had a chance to update what was happening at this time of year
in 1973. To recap, in the almost two months since I’ve started this
feature, we’ve seen the Dark Side of the Moon released, sung
along with Charlotte’s Web and Tom Sawyer, and looked at
everything from comets to comics and POWs to G.I. Joe. What we haven’t
done so much is look at the baseball season. That changes now.
April may be the cruelest month, as T.S.
Elliot said, but in terms of baseball, April is a veritable
of quickly fading clubs that whither before the air is warm.
wit, on this day 40 years ago, the San Francisco Giants had the best
record in baseball at 18-5. The Giants would barely play .500 ball the
rest of the way and finish a distant third behind the Reds, who at this
point in the season had the National League’s second-best record at
12-8. The NL West was vastly superior to their Eastern counterparts in
1973. The top three clubs all would have run away with the NL East, plus
a fourth club, the Astros, were just a half game worse than the Eastern
champion Mets when the season ended.
April 28, 1973, the Cubs and Mets were tied for first in the East at
11-8. The Cubs would surge ahead as the Mets fizzled until their alarm
clock went off four months later. The Cardinals began the year with the
game’s worst record at 2-15; they would surge past the Cubs into first
place in July and then hit the same wall most NL East teams ran into—an
inability for the top clubs to beat up on the bottom clubs, and vice
versa. The Cardinals would finish second in the NL East at 81-81.
Kansas City Royals had the American League’s best record at 13-7 on
April 28, 1973. The Royals also had their first career no-hitter, tossed
a day earlier in Detroit by Steve Busby. The April 27 game was not only
the first no-no of the year, it was the first ever pitched by a pitcher
who did not bat—thanks to the new designated hitter rule. Busby was a
Royal wunderkind making just his 10th major league start. The kid from
Burbank, drafted in the second round out of USC in 1971, became the
first pitcher to throw no-hitters in each of his first two full seasons
when he tossed another no-hitter in 1974. Busby pitched in two All-Star
Games and racked up 56 wins in his first three seasons… then his rotator
cuff gave out in 1976. With Busby in the Kansas City rotation, those
three straight losses to the Yankees in the playoffs from ’76 to ’78 may
well have been different. A longtime play-by-play man for Texas, Busby
student and ambassador of the game. As it was then, though, he could
not pitch the Royals past the Oakland A’s at his—and their—peak. Oakland
began ’73 sluggishly and after their 2-1 loss in a duel between Jim
Palmer and Ken Holtzman on April 28, stood at 8-11, 4 ½ games out.
a 10-8 record, the Orioles led a tight AL East that saw all six teams
within two wins of each other. Baltimore would be the only ’73 team that
held first place on April 28 as well as September 28. That’s the Oriole
The first winners
of the Greg Spira Baseball Research Award were announced this morning,
which would have been Greg’s
46th birthday. I miss my friend, colleague, collaborator, and sometimes
dog sitter. I was honored to be one of the judges. I also put together
the press release, so I will just run the release here. It says it all.
For release at noon,
Eastern Time, 4/27/13
Trent McCotter Wins Inaugural Greg
Spira Baseball Research Award
April 27, 2013—
McCotter has been selected as winner of the first annual Greg Spira
Baseball Research Award. McCotter’s 2012 essay,
Ripken’s Record for Consecutive Innings,”
compiled for the first time the correct total of consecutive innings
(8,264) played by the Orioles’ great shortstop between 1982 and 1987.
McCotter’s extensive research also created a list of every player who
ever played at least 2,500 consecutive innings, information previously
unknown despite the fact that the players involved had all retired many
The article by McCotter,
an attorney living in Washington D.C., first appeared in the Fall 2012
edition of the Society of American Baseball Research’s
was one of the top baseball researchers of our time and probably the
person most responsible for bringing baseball discussion to the Internet
in its early days,”
said McCotter. “But
more importantly, he was an all-around nice guy, someone whose
innumerable research credits show his willingness to share his work with
others. I know his friends and family have put a lot of effort into
preserving his memory, which is why it is such an honor to be chosen for
the first Greg Spira Award. I hope it will encourage other young writers
to focus their efforts on baseball research and analysis.”
Given in recognition of
the best published article, paper, or book containing original baseball
research by a person 30 years old or younger, the winners were announced
today, April 27, which would have been Greg Spira’s 46th birthday. Spira
was the founder of the annual Internet Baseball Awards (IBA) in 1991,
now maintained by
Prospectus. Spira was also an early adopter and a pioneer in using
the Internet to advance baseball analysis, particularly via Usenet’s
groundbreaking rec.sport.baseball and via BaseballProspectus.com.
Spira later contributed
to many sports books as a researcher, writer, and editor, including the
Baseball Encyclopedia, the ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia, Total
Baseball, and annual periodicals about the Mets.
A lifelong and
passionate Mets fan, Spira died on December 28, 2011 in his native New
Pieces eligible for
consideration for the Spira Award included those published on the World
Wide Web, in e-books, and in print, as well as academic dissertations
and presentations at conferences. Entries needed to display innovative
analysis or reasoning to be considered.
The dozen judges who
evaluated the submissions for the first annual Spira Award were a mix of
baseball writers and researchers who knew and respected Greg Spira and
his work. The panel consisted of Sean Lahman, Gary Gillette, Sean
Forman, Matthew Silverman, Dave Pease, Joe Hamrahi, Claudia Perry,
Stuart Shea, Rod Nelson, Carl Rosin, Dvd Avins, and Greg’s brother,
of the submissions that I read in my first round of judging was
‘Ripken’s Record for Consecutive Innings Played,’”
said Jonathan Spira. “This
was not only an article Greg would have liked, but it sounded like the
type of article he would have written as well, both in tone and subject
matter. I was pleased that my fellow judges agreed with my assessment
and that Mr. McCotter is being awarded the first ever Greg Spira
Baseball Research Award.”
McCotter received $1,000
as the top prize for his article on Ripken’s consecutive innings streak.
The $200 second prize went to Dan Farnsworth’s article on the economics
of team restructuring, “Is
Rebuilding Worth It?”
A 2008 graduate of Franklin & Marshall, Farnsworth serves as director of
baseball operations and player development at Carmen Fusco’s Pro
Baseball & Softball Academy in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. His article
was originally published on
a student at the College of the Ouachitas in Malvern, Arkansas, has
spent four years on the project and continues to add features to the
All three 2013 winners
will be invited to serve as judges for the 2014 Spira Award.
April 25, 2013
Come for the
Harvey, Stay for the Jordany
developments set up quite an evening Wednesday at Citi Field. Billed as
Harvey Night, I got a last-minute call to the press box, my first time
so treated at the Citi. I sat next to
member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and possessor of
Hall of Fame voting rights. John and I discussed a periodic
Swinging ’73 giveaway during his 1973 weekly articles on his
site, plus another site with whom we are negotiating. I also talked to a
couple of people interviewed in Swinging ’73: Steady Eddie
Kranepool and Steve Jacobson, original New Breed writer and “Chipmunk,”
who came out to see this Harvey in the flesh. He agreed that the best
pitchers have a little swagger, a confidence necessary to compete
against the game’s best. All at our dining room table, including
Coutinho, concurred that the Mets needed more people like that.
The press box was warm and three-quarters
full—not bad for April in Flushing. Thanks to the
wonderful and courageous Shannon Forde for setting me up, but as the
game entered the sixth inning, I felt the need to go out and get a feel
for whatever buzz the ballpark held on yet another chilly night. The
packed bar/lounge adjoining the press box had no shortage of buzz, a
phenomenon I recall seeing as well during the early Ike Davis days in a
frosty doubleheader against the Dodgers in April of 2010. Unlike then,
however, the stands emanated a buzz as well. Without a seat to call my
own, I stood along the first base line as the Dodgers took a two-run
lead on a “home run,” thanks to the unwanted miracle of instant replay.
(After a century and a half of half-assed umpiring, does baseball
suddenly need to be this precise?)
chowed on popcorn and nursed a can of beer as the Mets made it 3-2 on a
sacrifice fly by Justin Turner. Alas, Burner was batting for the
pitcher, ending Matt Harvey’s night. There were still quite a few
new orange shirts pulled over sweatshirts and coats, as well as more
energy in the park—24,170 closer to the actual number of people in the
house than usual. I ran into Greg and Jason,
Faith and Fear fellas, who’d told me earlier they were sitting down
the first-base line, and we chatted and warmed up for an inning. After a
frustrating end to the eighth when, with the tying run at third and two
outs, pinch hitter Jordany Valdespin grounded out on the first pitch as
a pinch hitter, I decided to move closer to the egress in right field.
It was in section 101, a beginner seating area apparently, since I had
to stand, that I saw the Mets stamp their claim on this night. Beyond
Matt Harvey, who later told the working media (as opposed to vagabond
interlopers like myself) that he was disappointed in his outing, and
beyond the machinations of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who
double-switched like he was being paid by the move, the game would
belong to the late-comers.
Mike Baxter, Flushing boy, hit a sinking
liner botched by Carl Crawford, who played but three innings and screwed
up all he came in contact with. Bax beat the throw to second for what
Howie Rose called “a hustle double.” Bax went to third on a sacrifice by
Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy worked the count in his favor against
closer Brandon League before his soft pop was grabbed out of the stands
by third baseman Jerry Hairston. The Mets were now 1-for-12 with runners
in scoring position. “The
Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day”…
verse that we Mets fans—and indeed baseball fans in general, all subject
to the laws of probability—are all too familiar with.
came the David Wright, the big hope, the big kahunah. Just like Mike
Piazza, you hoped he’d come through, but were rationalizing the numbers
in your head, knowing they probably wouldn’t. Players like Mike and
Wright are lucky to see one decent pitch in an at bat like this with a
base open and the game on the line. But Brandon League got a ball over
the plate and Wright went with it, dropping it on the grass below Citi
101 where I was now sitting (the green-jacketed mafia looked the other
way long enough for me to set up camp in the back row—very glad I packed
that extra jacket). David must have heard me telling him to steal, and
the Dodgers must have heard as well, because he was out by a mile. But
Harvey was off the hook and yet more free baseball was at hand.
ending of the game in the 10th was strange in that Donnie Baseball did
not come to take out pitcher Josh Wall with runners on second and third
and one out; the Dodgers manager took out his left fielder, Crawford,
replacing him with Luis Cruz and putting him at third base while going
with a five-infielder, two-outfielder configuration that I once saw work
against my daughter’s Little League softball team. Too bad Jordany
Valdespin wasn’t on her team.
Jordany worked the count and then crushed
a ball that kept coming closer and closer to me as it became more and
more obvious the game was over. It landed in the dopey net they have
above the groundling seats in right field—can’t they just put a sign
that says “Beware of Walkoff Grand Slams” instead of the net? But I
guess that since the last such instance was by Kevin McReynolds in 1991—Robin
Ventura’s basepath dance with Todd Pratt in October 1999 doesn’t
technically count —they figured no one would much take notice of a sign.
Is this a sign of greatness to come in
2013? Well, Kevin Mac’s ’91 walkoff slam portended a season that ended
the most successful era in Mets history in ’91, so we won’t etch
anything in stone. We’ll remember this one for a while, though. Even
last year when things went wrong in the second half, I could take out
and polish the April
ninth-inning comeback I saw against the Marlins. As this was my
first night-game triumph I had witnessed at Citi Field since 2011,
before the reign of Jordany, I will tuck this away for polishing some
day when the breeze is too hot and the team is not.
so happy that on the way home I made my first-ever call to WFAN and
Steve Somers. The Schmoozer is another person I interviewed for
Swinging ’73, and someone I have listened to late at night since I
worked the midnight journalism shift (not in a major league press
box). We spoke for a few minutes before the 12:40 a.m. update. “Me here,
you there,” only with Schmooze pitching the book and me reminiscing how
Jordany’s wicked hacks reminded me of a speedier version of John Milner,
misunderstood and without a position for much of his Mets time, but
still “The Hammer.” A ’73 Met gone too soon, forgotten perhaps, but
taken out and shined up through memory on a cold, contented April nights
such as these.
April 22, 2013
I got some grief for the latest 40 Years Ago Today that featured Tony
Orlando and Dawn. I can understand that. What I can’t understand is how
anyone would give any grief to the new film, 42.
have been a lot of baseball films through the years. Most of them,
frankly, have sucked. Games, seasons, and even careers are jumbled
together to fit the story, or the film’s budget. Or the characters come
across as one dimensional, or two dimensional, at best. And few of them
have anything important to say. No matter what you might say about 42,
you can’t say that the subject matter isn’t important.
write about the past a lot—some would use the word “exclusively”—but I
still live here in the present. And with two kids, I sometimes even find
myself thinking about the future. My son, who is nine, asked to see
42. As I was taught about Lou Gehrig when I was in fourth grade, he
learned about Jackie Robinson in fourth grade. Some day we will get
around to seeing
Pride of the Yankees, which even an avowed Yankee hater cannot
watch without getting a lump in the throat. And we didn't stop at 42, we
made a weekend of it, showing the whole family
Mighty Macs, the 2012 movie about Immaculata College, the tiny
school that gave women’s sports a face just as Title IX was coming into
being; this all-women’s college, like the all-mustached Oakland A’s,
claimed championships in 1972, ’73, and ’74. We borrowed that film from
the library. (And the Macs borrowed their “Let’s go Macs” chant from
another cheer I know.)
is in theaters, and I am glad to hear, is doing well. This event from 66
years back, two-thirds of a century ago, is hard to tell kids about in a
way they can even begin to understand how harsh it was. In 42 the
veil is lifted off. Robinson deals with a lot just getting on a major
league roster. Then the Phillies come to town.
Phillies manager Ben Chapman steps on the
field and spews some of the harshest racial invective that I have heard
in a film in some time. I looked over at my son wiping his eyes and I
put my hand on his shoulder. (Lucas Black, as Pee Wee Reese, later does
the same thing in the film.) You can explain all day what it was like,
but 42 puts you there. Alan Tudyk, best known previously for
playing a Pirate,
plays the harsh Phillies manager. What made it even harder for me was
knowing that he was my late beloved uncle’s favorite player and that
Chapman, like my mother’s family, was from Birmingham, Alabama. Chapman
was fired the next year—probably more because the Phillies had only one
winning season between 1918 and 1948 than because of his harsh managing
style. According to
writer Allan Barra, Chapman did turn a new leaf in his later
years, but we are often judged how we perform in the heat of the day not
the cool of the evening.
Before the movie began, I said I was ready
to signal the historical inaccuracies as they came up. The only one I
noticed was the number 13 worn by pitcher Kirby Higbe, the leader of the
group of Southern Dodgers pushing for the petition against Robinson.
Higbe wore number 13 and I said to myself, “That’s Ralph Branca’s
number.” Afterward I checked and found that Branca took the number after
the malcontent Higbe was traded—to Pittsburgh. So they even got that
middling detail right, as they did in casting Hamish Linklater as
Branca, who shows that barriers can start to come down a bit simply by
putting out your hand and
saying hello to someone new. Chadwick Boseman was fully believable
in the lead role and Harrison Ford, who had to push the producers to
play Branch Rickey, really caught the essence of the Mahatma, who not
only had a hand in the installation of the farm system and, of course,
the integration of the game, but as front of man of the would-be
Continental League, Rickey helped break the National League’s
seven-decade ban on expansion that resulted in the birth of our own New
York Mets. You could almost smell the cigar Ford was constantly chewing
on as Rickey. And Ford, who stands 6-foot-1, was filmed either alone or
sitting for most scenes so he looked smaller. Rickey, who was a catcher
in the majors in the 1900s before his considerable organizational and
business talents landed him in management, stood just 5-foot-9. Another
casting nod goes to John G. McGinley, who was marvelous as Red Barber.
But it was young Dusan Brown, all of 11
when the film was made, who got the first tear rolling down my cheek.
Sitting in the segregated section of the stands with his mother in
spring training, he prays for Jackie Robinson. Maybe he is praying for
his own future, too. After Jackie made the Montreal Royals—breaking the
minor league color barrier a year before he would do the same in the
major leagues—Robinson flips a baseball to a trio of black boys seeing
him off on the train. Watching the train leave, the boys take off after
it. They run until the train is out of sight and then Brown places his
ear to the track to listen to the train still running and carrying
Robinson into a future now opened to him. That child was Ed Charles,
whose last game in the major leagues culminated with his
dancing on the mound at Shea Stadiummoments after the
Mets clinched the 1969 World Series. Writer
Hoytmade that story live in The Miracle Has
Landed, director Brian Helgeland made it live on the screen in 42,
and Mets announcer Howie Rose gave it even greater relevance last week
saying, while the Mets wore the number 42 uniforms in honor of Robinson,
that the team should have Charles tell the younger generation of
fans—and players—how Robinson literally changed the world they live in.
I hope I haven’t given away too much, but
if you are a baseball fan who knows the story, let me tell you, the
important pieces are all there. I have long held
Eight Men Out by John Sayles to be the best
historical baseball movie. 42 is a different film, but it is even
more important. Those who complain about the content of 42 should
be forced to watch a 24-hour loop with
John Goodman as Babe Ruth.
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon
Round the Old Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn reaches number one. It
will be Billboard’s No. 1 song for 1973.
To illustrate the
song’s popularity, let me tell you about the Silverman family’s road
trip in November of 1973. We drove to Washington D.C. in our big brown
Impala: three people in the front, three in the back. My brothers and
sister jostled in the back, while my eight-year-old self was up front
between my parents. (Child booster seats? We didn’t even have
functioning seat belts!) The entire way home through numbing traffic on
the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we listened to the radio—AM only,
naturally. “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” played so many times I learned the song
backwards and forwards. I can still see my dad clenching his pipe in the
mouth as the song came on yet again as the car idled on unmovable roads
and I sang loud and proud. I can only remember taking one interstate
family car trip after that.
Forty Years Ago
Waltons Mountain Miracle
1973, this day was Holy Thursday, the start of Easter weekend. CBS,
already the top network, packed in the heavy holiday artillery with a
special two-hour, season-ending Waltons episode called “The
Easter Story.” The story focused not just on Easter, but on Olivia,
mother of the brood on Waltons Mountain, Virginia, contracting polio.
This crippling disease had been contained in the U.S. by vaccinations by
the 1970s, but anyone who had grown up 40 years before knew of its
devastating effects that took many lives and changed many others.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president when the The Waltons was set
(the show began in his first year in office, 1933), had lost the ability
to walk because of the disease, though this handicap was kept from the
public during his record four terms in office.
the Waltons episode, Miss Michael Learned’s character, Olivia—or
Liv, as she was called by John Sr. (not to be confused with
John-Boy)—tries several remedies, but she seems resigned to life in a
wheelchair. In the hours before Easter morning, she thinks she hears
Elizabeth, the youngest of her seven children, call out to her in
distress in the night. Liv gets out of bed and walks to her and
discovers she is healed. The whole family attends Easter Sunday sunrise
much for TV having little to offer the American family in the cynical
1970s. The first-year Waltons remained on the air
until it finally said goodnight in 1981. The show kept getting up
for sporadic TV specials through 1997.
Forty Years Ago
Today: 4/17/1973… The Birth of Star Wars
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far
away…” On this day in 1973, George Lucas began writing the screenplay
for what became Star Wars. After its 1977 release, the film’s
name would transform into “A New Hope” and by Lucas decree be called
Episode IV, even as the original spawned one of the most lucrative
franchises in history.
At age 30 in 1973, Lucas had completed directing
the story of his growing up in Modesto, California: American Graffiti.
It was a low-budget film still months from release, destined to become
the year’s surprise hit (and introduce film audiences to a TV actor
named Harrison Ford). Yet even before that, Lucas’s star burned bright.
He had helped form Zoetrope Studios with Francis Ford Coppola, whom he
had worked with in his first major effort, a bizarre film about bald
people in a dystopian future: THX
1138. Coppola, who had challenged Lucas to write about his youth
in Modesto, was enjoying a good run of luck as well in 1973. His
Godfather won Best Picture and garnered 10 other Academy Award
Lucas had a contract for a space film to follow
American Graffiti. The result would take four years to get on the
screen, but when it appeared in—or rather, took over—theaters in 1977,
Star Wars would transform not only films about space, but also
the concepts of special effects and blockbusters. Because of Star
Wars’ extended production, Lucas was unable to direct Apocalypse
Now, leading to the end of his partnership with Coppola, who
fatefully took over as that film’s director. By then, Star Wars—starting
with a story
scrawl that had to be filmed manually (and translated for foreign
language versions)—had become the stuff of legend. And it started with a
man with a
Flash Gordon fixation dreaming about space adventures.
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The appearances and reviews keep coming
for Swinging ’73.
It does a body good. Thanks to my 1973 classmate as well as baseball
aficionado Bruce Markusen at
The Hardball Times, new pal Eric Brach for our interview on
Bleacher Report (and to whatever machine misidentified my image as
is a mistake I can deal with), to fellow Mets sufferer Steve Keane at