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September 15, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1987-89: The End of an Era

The 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.  

The 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 team. 

The 1987 season was all about injuries and one suspension. As well illustrated in the SNY Documentary (not to be confused with the Ellisian Dockumentary, which saw a splendid Bergino Baseball Clubhouse presentation 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.

The 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.

The 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 Day doubleheader.

The 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 sales.)

By 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.

Nightcap: John Delcos Is Back

The 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. Read his site and send along any good wishes. And thanks to Adam 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 1977-83). 

Let’s go John and let’s go Mets.

September 8, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1986: Upcoming Book on Greatest of Years

Say “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. 

The 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. 

I’m 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, Awesome! Totally awesome!

Nightcap: The ’86 Twinbills, Of Course

I 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? 

With 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 National League.  

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.  In 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. 

The 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 108 wins? 

The 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 this time. 

The 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, and Cardinals.

Yes, 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 ½ games.  

What 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 Met-idor

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.  

And like we used to say in the papers: Keep those cards and letters coming.

Big O to Big E to Tampa Trample

Dear Met,

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.

Regards,
Rick Silverman
Possible distant cousin
Tampa, Florida

--------------- 

Rick,
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, Id have him manage the Mets in a minute—as if I am in charge of the managerial hires.

I
ve 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.

I
ll see you at the family reunion! Maybe the Rays president—the more obscure Matt Silverman—will be there as well.

Best,
Matt

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. Huzzah!


Kripplebush Shoutout

Dear Met,

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.

Take care,

Scott

--------------

Scott,
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 writing.

Best,
Matt

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 more.  

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!
J

---------------

J,
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.

Best,
Matt

July 25, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1984-85: Back in the Land of the Living

Being 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.” 

That is what 1984 was like for a diehard Mets fan.

As 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 everyone. 

But 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. 

The 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 Orwell’s 1984 manifesting themselves? 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.

But 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. 

Nightcap: 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. 

Dan Epstein’s 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! 

Dan Epstein, author of a previous baseball-themed hit, Big Hair and Plastic Grass, has left no Rolling Stone unturned (a publication he also writes for). Having recently written a book covering a 1970s season myself, I appreciate the writing, research, and countless segues—not to mention never-ending promotion—needed for such an endeavor. I got to meet Dan a few weeks ago at his Hall of Fame book signing, and it was great establishing a friendship not just online, but face to face. That’s how we did it in the 1970s. Unless we used a CB.  

The 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

Six-Man Rotation + Starters in Relief = Money’s Worth

It’s 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 Dirk Hayhurst. 

The 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. 

But 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.

Matt 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 five times. 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 crazier. 

If 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. 

I am 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 money.

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

Daniel Murphy    A-        Way 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’!

Eric Campbell      B+      Hitting .340 (.328 vs. RHP), plays 5 positions. TC, why does kid ride pine on nowhere team?

David Wright      B        Captain not All-Star caliber this year. That Duda and Tejada each have 10 more walks seems odd.

Bartolo Colon      B        Still not sure why he is here and think he’ll be traded, but Bartolo is entertaining and effective.

Jeurys Familia     B        May end up being most important part of pen; downside may be how handles frequency of use.

Vic Black            B        Or Black may be most vital cog in pen. Ridiculous he wasn’t recalled when Parnell hurt on day one.

Jeurys Mejia       B        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-       Should play alongside Lagares in OF. Speed, power, defense and is on team with nothing to lose!

Jacob deGrom     B-       Arrived from minors and has pitched far better than expected. Bad luck but good armand bat.

Josh Edgin           B-      Lost job to Scott Rice in ’13; replaced Rice with 1.76 ERA while enduring endless TC warmups.

Curtis Granderson     B-      Big name, big comeback after lousy start. Really likes being here and is good influence.

Lucas Duda         C+     Still don’t think he’s the answer at 1B, but Mets made right call on Duda over Davis in NY.

Zack Wheeler       C+     Both brilliant and brutal so far in ’14 makes for mediocre grade. Hope he is the slow starter type.

Bobby Abreu        C+     Like Colon, adds fun and expertise. Shouldn’t have more PA then Nieuwy and Wilmer combined.

Daisuke Matsuzaka   C+     Glad Mets re-signed. He’s pitched well in pen and rotation. Done everything he’s been asked.   

Travis d’Arnaud     C       Bold move to demote, but he’s new man now. Catching needs work, but he is framing master.

Ruben Tejada       C-      Got F for 1H of 2013; only 4 Mets have more PA in 1H. Playing better, but Ruben’s not answer.

Wilmer Flores        C-      Blame this on management, not player. No reason he shouldn’t be playing in New York.

Eric Young            C-      Biggest speed threat on team (22 SB), but he just doesn’t get on base enough (.314 OBP).

Anthony Recker     C-      Knows his role and does it well. Very good arm and big as a house. Either whiffs or hits ball hard.

Rafael Montero      D+    Hate to give bad grade to ballyhooed kid debuting in NY, but 5.40 ERA and Mets lost all 4 starts.

Gonzalez Germen   D+    Bounces from front to back of bullpen. Never know what you’ll get when he comes in.

Chris Young          D+    Most questionable new Met of ’14. Not good enough to start; doesn’t justify roster spot or PT.

Andrew Brown       D      More was expected after solid ’13. May be bypassed as Mets accrue more viable OF options.

Matt den Dekker    D-       Not sure if he is going to be worth anything more than pinch hitter and defensive replacement.

Kyle Farnsworth     F        A 3.18 ERA and 3 saves gets an F? 3 relief losses plus bad attitude equals good riddance.

Jose Valverde        F        Even his 2 saves were frightening. Felt like Papa Grande allowed 40 HRs not 4 in 20.2 IP.

                                                     Manager/GM 

Terry Collins          D         Team’s ugly record in one-run games (13-20) is on him. Stop batting the pitcher eighth!!!

Sandy Alderson      D+       Lousy decision to stick team with no backup infielder. Change manager, get big grade bump.

July 10, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 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 championas 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 bummed out. 

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 different story. 

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. 

Nightcap: Managing to Lose

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 here. 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

Frank 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. 

In my 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. Bowtie.

From the Desk of metsilverman.com 

July 11, 1983 (Backdated)

Dear Mr. Cashen,

I write 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.

This 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 pain now.

But 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 years ago.

I 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.

Best,

Matt

June 28, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1980: Uh-Oh, It’s Magic

The end of the 1970s also meant the end of the signature blue and orange panels on the outside of Shea Stadium. The pope got to see them—newly-installed Pope John Paul II came to Shea to say Mass shortly after the 1979 season ended (thank God he didn’t have to see the ’79 Mets play). So the stadium’s distinct panels were gone, but the magic was back.  

I was 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. 

Frank 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 fourth place! 

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.  

It 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.   

The 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.  

Joe 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 club.

At 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 Desert. 

Nightcap: MOOOOOOOOOOK the BOOOOOOOOOOK!

By 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. 

The 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.  

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.  

While 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

It 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 year. 

Tim 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

When 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. 

There 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.) 

Tony 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. 

A .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.  

Today I just wish the great Tony Gwynn peace. And I wish I hadn’t been such a dolt. RIP, Mr. Padre.

June 16, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1977-79: Sucking in the Seventies

I 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. 

1979: 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. 

Nightcap: We Are Not Alone

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 paying attention.

June 6, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1975-76: Lured into the Trap 

This 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. 

The 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.

We 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.

A 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…

Ninth 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, only 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 any team. 

No 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.  

I 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!”  

I was a Mets fan. For the long haul. For freaking ever. 

Nightcap: The 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” was fragile. 

Juan 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.  

“The 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.

When 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.  

The 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 Kid about the 1973 season. We ’73 authors stick together.  

June 2, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 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 Mets—as 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. 

Days 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. 

Yogi 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.

But 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 George Stone. 

Yet 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. 

After 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 counted.

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.) 

And 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.   

The 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. 

The 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). 

The 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 Why

If 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.

Maybe 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)

Since 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. 

I may 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. 

I’d 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

Doubleheader Dip 1970-71: 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 brown acid. 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 Rabbits at Woodstock.  

The 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 ’69.  

The 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 over. 

The 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.

Yet 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.

Gil 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 bummer please.

Nightcap: Miracle Mets, the Record

The 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.

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 was like 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 someone else. 

I found CDs of both Miracle Mets and Ya Gotta Believe available 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

Doubleheader Dip 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 10: 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 September 22. 

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. 

Doubleheader            Opponent       Result

*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: L, W

Wednesday, July 30     HOU   Lost

Tuesday, August 5      @CIN Split: L, W

*Friday, August 8        @ATL Split: W, L

Saturday, August 16     SD       Sweep

*Sunday, August 17     SD       Sweep

*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      Lost

*Sunday, Sept. 21        PIT      Sweep

Nightcap: 501 Pounds of Fun

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.  

501 Baseball Fans Must Read Before They Die has a titular ring reminiscent of 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, except it does not include that book among the 501. That’s OK because I am glad to be included in his book for Cubs by the Numbers, which I wrote with Al Yellon and Kasey Ignarski in 2009. And thanks to Bergino’s Baseball Clubhouse proprietor Jay Goldberg for providing me with a signed copy of 501 Baseball Books after I erred in not picking up one while I was at his New York shop. 

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 betters. 

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

Doubleheader Dip 1968: Plenty o Pitching

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. 

In my 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 Hodges. 

The 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 20-game winner. 

That 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.   

Of 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.  

The 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.)  

It 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 an Era

The 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.  

The ’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 Card). 

I am 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.

But 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

Doubleheader Dip 1965-67: Something Westrum This Way Comes

In 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. 

The 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.  

Casey 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, broke down.

It 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 was 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. 

It’s 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 sweep (0-10-15).  

In 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.

The 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 baseball. 

The 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.” 

With 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. 

You 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 in Anaheim. 

The 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!) 

Coach 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.  

The 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 cant 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. 

Just when you think these Mets will never get better…

Nightcap: Mad 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.

A 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 “we-finished-last-with-you-we-can-finish-last-without-you” department, 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 years later.

April 27, 2014

Greg Spira Award Winners

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 Danny Frisella for 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 Biographical Encyclopedia.

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 here.

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

Doubleheader Dip 1964: Fair to Shea

Tuesday night at Citi Field the Mets did not do much offensively, but they 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. 

When 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 club. 

Shea 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.

Yes, 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.

The 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 Hey Shortstop. 

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.

The 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. 

Nightcap: Mr. 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 Dan Reilly. 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. But 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 there.

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’ pockets. 

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 and doubleheader.

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 the 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 Baseball

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 edition one. 

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.

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This is not a tripleheader, but a thank you to Rising Apple for having me on the podcast this week. I alternatively chastise and praise the Mets of the past, present, and future. Cheers to Sam Maxwell (Converted Mets Fan), Mike Hurst (aka Brooklyn Trolley Blogger), and guest Rich Sparago (Mets Fan Rich). To listen in, go here and break out the popcorn.

April 11, 2014

The Last Time We Saw Anaheim…

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, I thought Willie got rooked. As I went through the 2008 season in minute detail for 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, though.

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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 cheer.

April 8, 2014

Home Is Where the Heart Is (Not!)

Well, 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. 

It 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 years. 

Not counting interim skippers and fill-ins, you have to go all the way back to “a 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.  

Even 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. 

Three 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. 

It 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. 

In 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. Trust me. 

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.)

Year    Mets HR      Opp HR        Home Rec

2009        49                81              41-40  

2010        62                46              47-34

2011        50                59              34-47

2012        65                86              36-45

2013        45                79              33-48

What does it all mean? It’s all part of the answer to the everlasting question: Why don’t the Mets win?  

Is 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 day.

I’d 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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While 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.

April 2, 2014

Sorbet

This 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. 

So 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.

April 1, 2014 

How I Met Your Destiny

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 a sniglet for missing the whole series yet catching the finale. Showagon, perhaps? 

I 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. 

It 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 dream. 

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. 

“What are you doing here?” I say. “When I was your age the Mets not only finished last, they traded Tom Seaver.”

He laughs. “I’m not you…” 

I 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. But kids, I’ll always love your mother.

March 27, 2014 

Bienvenue! Mets Back in Montreal... for a Meaningless Weekend

There 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 earliest 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 Godfather II 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 story 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 stepsister.

I 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 one-size-fits-all situation. 

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. 

Every 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. 

I 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. 

By 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 ’04 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. 

So I 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. 

With 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. 

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Thanks again to Taryn Cooper and her new podcast, 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.

March 24, 2014

My Jon Niese Year

Thank heaven for Jon J. Niese… no this is not a tribute to Maurice Chevalier and his catchy, if not creepy by today’s standards, ode to the young female. Rather, this melody marks the beginning of my Jon Niese Year.  

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 50.  

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 Under.   

So that’s the Niese story. What can you expect from metsilverman.com this year? 

  • Plenty of the posting, Tweeting, and 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…

March 1, 2014

Obligatory Spring Training Opening Post

For 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.

I am 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 incomparable Ultimate 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, sleeping.

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 medal bronze 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 was wonderful. 

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: 

 “If you 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 Miracle came out, with its jubilant crowd scenes recreated on Lake Placids 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.

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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 networksand American hockey playersarent 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 Spira Award.  

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.

I 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

Ralph Kiner (1922-2014) 

When 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. 

Ralph 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. 

He 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. 

Ralph 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 another book that 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 greatness. 

Ralph 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.   

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Ralph Kiner, Q & A (The Miracle Has Landed, 2009)

Ralph 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.

He 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 booth.

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 1969?

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.

Their 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.

I 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.

The 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 off?

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 radio alone.

I 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 Kiner’s Korner.

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 broom closet.

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 Kiner’s Korner.

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.

One 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 days.

MSP: And what about the graphics?

RK: They were done in production. They did the graphics ahead of time.

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?

We 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 Fame.

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 realizes it’s 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 another day. 

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. Hit 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 got 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 the hell!

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.

February 3, 2014

One Fan’s Citi Tally from 2013

Now that the bothersome (and one-sided) football game is over, we can get back to the business of preparing for baseball. And what better way to start than to rehash what happened last year. If you followed the site in 2013—God bless you—all my time was pretty much taken up by my “40 Years Ago Today” retrospective that coincided with Swinging ’73. The book is still available and occasionally hyped, but the 40-year anniversaries are past. And the ’74 season is worth forgetting unless you were Hank Aaron, Lou Brock, Mike Marshall, or Catfish Hunter.

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. Whatever. 

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 Hudson Valley Renegades.

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.

Captain’s Log 2013 Citi Field

Date

Foe, Result

Mets Rec, Pos

MS Rec

Win

Loss

Save

HRs /by NYM

Who hit the HRs

Note

1-Ap

SD, 11-2 W

1-0, 1st

1-0

Niese

Volquez

 

1 Cowgill Everything went right. Cowgill slam and every starter got on base (except for Ike, with 4 Ks).

4-Ap

SD, 2-1 L

2-1, 2nd

1-1

Stolts

Gee

Street

1 Buck  Took 6 Padres to hold Mets to 1 run on 5 hits (plus 5 walks). Buck ripped HR off LF facade.

24-Ap

LA, 7-3 W

10-9, 2nd

2-1

Parnell Wall

 

2/1

Kemp, Valdespin

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.

22-May

Cin, 7-4 L

17-27, 4th

2-2

Simon

Parnell

Chapman 

1 Votto  Harvey not great, but surprise! Ankiel was: 2 2Bs and a 3B but then was pinch-hit for by TC.
23-Jul Atl, 4-1 W 44-52, 4th 3-2 Torres Medlen Parnell 1 Simmons  Ike got a big hit! And Lagares!! And Torres!!!
25-Jul Atl, 7-4 W 45-53, 4th 4-2 Wheeler Loe Parnell  2 Uggla, Freeman My first time seeing Zack in the flesh and I catch a foul ball! Nice afternoon plus 14 hits.
15-Sep Mia, 1-0 W  67-82, 4th 5-2 Black Phillips       Teams sleepwalk after doubleheader night before. D'Arnaud 1B in 12th for Black's 1st W.
19-Sep SF, 2-1 L  68-84, 4th 5-3 Bumgarner Niese Lopez     Enough Giants fans at this matinee to make you puke. Mets offense looked sickly, too.
27-Sep  Mil, 4-2 L 73-87, 3rd 5-4 Gallardo Torres Henderson 3 Maldanado, Aoki, Davis Second of 3 straight 4-2 losses to Brew Crew. Kickass Mets beer boot made trip worthwhile.
29-Sep Mil, 3-2 W 74-88, 3rd 6-4 Black Kinzler Francisco     Mets get 3 hits, no walks yet still win on Piazza Day to finish 3rd. Eric Young wins SB crown.
2013

 

      Black 2   Parnell 2 11/3   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 191-214 35-31 Dickey & Santana 4 Pelfrey 3 K-Rod 7 92/50 Wright 6 How long until Citi (or I) see meaningful game?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 29, 2014

Super Trivia for a Copy of Swinging '73

UPDATED: 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 here.

- - - -

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, lets get to this football-oriented Mets question. The winner gets a copy of Swinging ’73.

Who 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 Facebook or Twitter accounts, or by emailing me at matt@metsilverman.com. 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 far more. 

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 Research Award

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 www.SpiraAward.org. 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 author.

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 day.

January 13, 2014

Stop Rewarding 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. 

So 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 take steroids. 

I 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.

A-Rod 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. 

The 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 $189 million.

At 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. 

Don’t 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.

January 3, 2014

Swinging ’73 Up for SLA Readers’ Choice Award

The first post of 2014 brings the best news of the year. My book, Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season, has been named a finalist for the Readers’ Choice Award by the Baseball Caucus of the Special Libraries Association. I am honored to even be in the same lineup with these heavy hitters for the SLA Baseball Caucus Readers’ Choice Award:

  • Color Blind: The Forgotten Team that Broke Baseball’s Color Line by Tom Dunkel  (Atlantic Monthly Press)
  • Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes by John Rosengren (NAL)
  • Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age by Allen Barra (Crown)
  • The 34-Ton Bat: The Story of Baseball as Told Through Bobbleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jockstraps, Eye Black, and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects by Steve Rushin ( Little, Brown)
  • Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season by Matthew Silverman (Lyons Press)
  • The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Race Made Baseball America’s Game by Edward Achorn  (PublicAffairs)
  • The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age by Robert Weintraub (Little, Brown)

I am liking this year already! The winner will be announced on January 28.

December 18, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 fancy 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. 

In 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 demanding. 

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. 

What 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.

It 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 following July.

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.

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This 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.

As for what happened in the final two weeks of 1973, The Sting, Magnum Force, and everyone’s favorite holiday film, The Exorcist all opened in theaters. President Richard Nixon signed the 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 in Houston.

As we 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...” 

December 16, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 season. 

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 the 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

You 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. 

I 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 yearmaybe 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 printed.) 

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: “Is it me for a moment?”

Yes, 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.

Order 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 bookGod bless you, every oneI also recently came across boxes in the attic for Mets by the Numbers and Baseball Miscellany ($10 apiece). 

Send payment via Pay Pal at payments@metsilverman, email your order to matt@metsilverman.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 expedited shipping).

I am 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 ring.

December: The Granderson Canyon

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. FINALLY!!

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. 

April: So 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 it on...

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 baseballs first Wild Card in the 1990s, I will get excited about the new playoff format when it affects me, Al Franken.   

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? 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 things....? 

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 resolved shortly.” 

Man the lifeboats.

December 8, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 12/8/73... Something for Joey

Forty 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 from leukemia.   

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 to 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 Lou Grant  fame) plays the sister-in-law narrator, and TV character actor Paul Picerni plays Joe Paterno.

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 McCutcheon than carrying the ball. Every time I opened a pack of football cards and got a Cappelletti, 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 close together. 

On 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.

December 6, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 12/6/73... Short-Term D.C. Appointments

On 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.  

On 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. 

The 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.  

Ray 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 Krocs initials as they played in their first World Series.

Back 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.

Ford 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 screamed “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 book, 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. 

So 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.

December 3, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 CBGBs proprietor. Kristal died of lung cancer a year after the demise of his beloved club.

November 30, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 innovation. 

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 book, 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.

November 27, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/27/1973... Give Thanks, Charlie Brown

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 uniforms would 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 here.)   

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.

November 22, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/22/1973... Devastated Ten Years After

Forty 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 the 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 times. Eventually.  

“The 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.

November 20, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/20/1973... Bleeding Quadrophenic!

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, 1973. From Swinging ’73:

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 one of a kind.

November 15, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 his name 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 a 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 the episode “An 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.

November 8, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 look at 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 here) and 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 perm.) 

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 the 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. 

Well, when it’s time to change…

November 6, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/6/1973... Beame Up Citys New Mayor 

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” as The Atlantic called de Blasio. Beame was, however, a London native.  

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 billion. 

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 to fiction. 

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?

October 31, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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.  on 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. 

Wins were 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 Cy Young. 

In stats 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. 

The 1973 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 Year. 

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. 

Like Reggie, 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 fan minded.

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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 burning.

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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 Award

Last 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. 

While 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. 

I got 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. 

That 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 Mets is...

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. 

The 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

It is 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.

In 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.

Given 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 sloooooooooow progress.

Due 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         Notes

David Wright        A   B+   A-     Not the same team when he’s out; high mark for captain pushing to return for final week.

Matt Harvey         A   B+  A-      Like Wright, leads by example. Well see mettle soon; 2.03 ERA, 3 BB in last 7 GS.

Dillon Gee             B+ B+  B+     From Memorial Day on, he was best Mets pitcher. Shame he got stuck at 199 IP.

Daniel Murphy       B   A-    B+     Murphs a good soldier; finally he was the healthy one and leader in most categories.

Zach Wheeler        B   A-    B+    Still a lot to learn, but first 100 IP in majors showed stuff, makeup, and leadership.

LaTroy Hawkins     B   A-    B+    Same as Wheeler, only on other end of age scale. Set great example for young pen.

Scott Rice             B-   A-   B+    32-year-old rook great control in 2H (3 BB); pitched & pitched until he got a hernia.

Bobby Parnell        B+ B+   B+    Thought of an incomplete for neck injury, but 1.29 ERA, 5 saves in 2H gets grade.

Marlon Byrd          A   B     B+     Even after trade to Pirates, reflected pride on Mets. Hope young Mets took notes.

Carlos Torres        B+ B     B       Teacher gives credit for Carlos filling need in rotation, though hes best as long man.

Eric Young            A-  B-    B       Hit only .228 in 2H, but stole 30 bases to claim SB crown. Brings life to top of order.

Josh Satin             A-  C     B       Slid a lot in second half, but I still think he could be good low-cost bench bat.

Jon Niese             C-   B+   B      A 2H record of 5-2, 3.00 ERA, and CG SHO after arm injury far better than expected.

Justin Turner         C   B     B-      Didnt seem like Burner had good 2H, but his .292/.330/.434 is great for this team.

Juan Lagares         C-  B     C+     Hitting needs work, but made strides in 2H. Already one of best defensive CF in NL.

Jeremy Hefner       A-  D     C+     Tempted to give incomplete for 2H, but 5 poor starts. Did especially well on road.

Anthony Recker      C-  B-    C       Hit 100 points higher in 2H; 6 HR, 19 RBI in 150 PA in 13. Should have backup role.   

Andrew Brown        C   C     C       Maybe late bloomer? Hit .250 as PH, but .385 Aug then .111 Sept shows hes up in air.

Omar Quintanilla      B   D     C      Could not wait for Sept. to expand roster and finally play someone else at short!

Dave Aardsma       B-  D     C       Fell off a cliff in 2H; ERA doubled from 1H. One of few Mets better at Citi than road.

Scott Atchison        C-  C+   C       Appeared a lot in 2H after a few pitchers gone down; good control, so-so results.

Ike Davis              F    B     C       A better player after recall; .286/.449/.505 in 2H before injury ended year. Jury out.

John Buck             C+ C-     C       Power disappeared in 2H; wife helped with long pregnancy that kept dArnaud at AAA.

Lucas Duda           C   D      C-      Played better as 1B, but still hit .196 in 2H; some people are just C students.

Greg Burke            C-  F      D       Can see why he went three years between MLB stints. Had 15.19 ERA in 2H.

Mike Baxter           D+ F      D       2 walkoff hits in 3 days dont offset 153 PA with 0 HR, 2 RBI, .189 AVG. Now a Dodger.

 

                                                    Only Appeared in One Half as Met

                     1H   2H         Notes

Travis dArnaud             C+         Hit just .202, 1 HR in 112 PA, but showed grit, good arm, and solid skills behind dish.

Wilmer Flores                C+         Not same player after hot start, injury. Needs positionmaybe 1B if Ike, Duda fail.

Daisuke Matsuzaka         C+         Failed first 3 starts; brilliant in last 4 starts. Hope I didnt learn to spell name for nothing.

Gonzalez Germen           C+         Throws hard. Dont know if he is set-up or mop up. Beats hell out of Manny Acosta.

Matt den Dekker             C           Not as good CF as Lagares; has succeed in second try at each level2014 in NY?

Pedro Feliciano                C           Somehow got in 25 games, had ERA under 4.00. Of course threw just 11.1 innings.

Josh Edgin            C                    Second year in a row he appeared in 34 games, was just pitching well when he got hurt.

Kirk Niewenhuis      C-                   No worry about learning to spell Niewenhuis; a lot has to happen to come back.

Jordany Valdespin   D-                   Key HRs early in year kept from failing. Steroid suspension, tantrum? Expendable.

Ruben Tejada        F                    Lost year for Ruben. Got hurt twice on same spot at Citi. Was lucky to bat .200.

Robert Carson        F                    Already waived to Angels; only reason picked up is hes lefty: 8.24 ERA, 9 HRs in 20 IP!

Brandon Lyon         F                    Spate of extra-inning games around July 4 gave excuse to cut him for fresh meat.

Shawn Marcum       F                    Not as bad as record (1-10, 5.29), but close. Waived after he had surgery in July.

Collin Cowgill            F                    That he was Opening Day CF is question Alderson should answer for. A waste.

Rick Ankiel              F                    Cowgill was so bad Ankiel seemed like improvement, for a moment: 25 Ks in 20 games.

 

                                          Not Enough Time Served for Grade

Victor Black                     Inc          Didnt debut until after Sept. trade with Pitt. Setup guy/closer looked like a B+.    

Jenrry Mejia                    Inc           Expected nothing and then he had 2.30 ERA in 5 starts before getting hurt. Again.

Zach Lutz                       Inc           Bench guy hit .300 in 26 PA. Has no position. Did keep from getting no-hit by Nats.

Aaron Harang                  Inc           Made 4 starts, kept Mets in most of them; had 3.52 ERA, 26 Ks in 23 IP.

Frank Francisco                Inc           Whole year Mets said he was goldbrick; came up in Sept., retired 18 of 26 batters. 

Tim Byrdak                     Inc           Did not know why he came back, then heard he wanted golden pass. Good for Tim.  

Wilfredo Tovar                 Inc           Didnt debut until final week. Good range, speed, and may not suck with bat.

Juan Centeno                   Inc           Bats lefty, late debut. Hit .300 in 10 PAs, but remember him gunning down Hamilton.

Jeuyrs Familia         Inc                     If he is not perpetually injured, he shows he can throw hard and get guys out.

 

                                             Manager 

Terry Collins            C     C+   C+      Mets respond to him, but team is not talented and he is not good in-game manager.

October 21, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 turd, 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!” 

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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.

October 20, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/20/73... Game 6: The Second Guess

I 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:   

“What if Gil Hodges had lived?” (Even the Mets World Series program offered a cover that pondered this very question.)

Or, taking it out of God’s hands, “What if the Mets had hired Whitey Herzog instead of Yogi Berra to replace Gil?” 

“What if the Mets had kept Nolan Ryan?”

“What if George Stone had pitched Game 6 in the 1973 World Series and Tom Seaver pitched Game 7?” 

No 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.

The 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 speculation.

October 18, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/18/73... Game 5: Kooz Can’t Lose

Jerry 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. 

I’ve 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. 

That 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 again.

On 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 frenzy.    

It 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?

October 17, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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. 

Jon 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. 

There 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.

October 16, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/16/1973... Game 3: How They Blew It

Most 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 five games: 

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 here (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 today’s game. 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 making, but 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 McAndrew). 

So 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.  

And 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 more.  

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.

October 14, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/14/73... Game 2: Flub, Flop, Fire

The 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.) 

With 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. 

And 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. 

The 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. 

The 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. 

After 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 loose. 

But 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.

October 13, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/13/73... Game 1: Designated Holtzman

The first game of the 1973 World Series was a dose of reality for the Mets. Like the ’73 NLCS opener, the Mets got a great-pitched game by a starter, only to lose by a 2-1 score. The Mets outplayed the A’s, who had just four hits in the game—including one that was the result of this move by Bert Campaneris to elude John Milner that made the cover of Sports Illustrated. The big hit, though, came from a man without an official at bat all season. 

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. 

Bert 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.  

You’d 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. 

Lefty 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.

October 11, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/11/73... The A’s Last Game Five Clincher

In 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 Gehrig’s disease. 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. 

There 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.   

But 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. 

When 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.  

October 10, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/10/73... Mets Win Pennant, US Loses VP

No 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. 

On 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. 

The 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 help. 

After 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.  

The 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 6-2 game. 

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.

October 8, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/8/1973... “And a Fight Breaks Out!”

When 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. 

The 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.

After 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. 

So as 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! 

Joe 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!

It 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, Our World, 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.

If 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 of 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. 

The book title plays off the Oakland A’s trademark style, plus the lifestyle swap of Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich. It was October 8, 1973, however, when the Mets really got in their swings in Swinging ’73.   

October 7, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 Swinging ’73

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

Cruising and Schmoozing Right Here on the FAN

For 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.

October 1, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/1/1973... Believe It: NL East Champs!

It is 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. 

The 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 swept. 

In a 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. 

Berra 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.  

With 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.

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Want to find out what happened to the second game scheduled that day or about M. Donald Grant’s locker room lunacy after the game? Read Swinging ’73. Or listen in to WFAN tonight in the 10 o’clock hour when I will have an audience with Steve Somers, schmoozing about these ’73 Mets.

September 30, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/30/1973... Of Splits and Boos

On 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. 

Given 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. 

Jerry 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. 

It 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. 

The 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 darling Mets. 

And 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.  

But 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. 

Houk, 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.  

Houk 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.

September 29, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/29/1973... Stuck on 713 & 383

While Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw, Rusty Staub, and the first-place Mets watched it rain at Wrigley Field for the second straight day, history continued.  

With 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 rubdown, Gumby.

September 25, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/25/1973... “Say Goodbye to America”

After 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 innings. 

The 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 Montreal rally. 

Tug 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 check out Al 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 crying today.

September 23, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/23/1973... Flushing Up, Bronx Out

The 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.

With 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 it:  Ya Gotta Believe! 

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. 

While 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 Bowl VII—no thanks to Gary Yepremian. The Dolphins had begun 1973 with a win over a 49ers team coming off an NFC West title.

Miami 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, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/21/1973... Tom Terrific & Broadway Joe

On 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 Friday night.  

Of 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. 

And I 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. 

September 20, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/20/1973... The Ball on the Wall Says It All

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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In 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 MLB Home Plate Channel on Sirius/XM Channel 175 Saturday at 8:30 a.m. The second part of my morning-afternoon doubleheader picks up later on 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.    

September 16, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/16/1973... Johnny Unitas, Charger

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.

The 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 right here.

September 13, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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.

I would awaken at 6:30 to watch re-runs of The Famous Adventures of Mister Magoo, a far-too short-lived mid-1960s show that took literary tomes like Moby Dick, The Count of Monte Cristo, Cyrano de Bergerac, and other classics, then whittle them down to 20 minutes with the beloved pint-sized, near-sighted inebriate as the star of each. Even Shakespeare could be sliced into an enticing portion for an eight-year-old kid. That was an appetizer for the three networks to come out with both barrels blazing with classics like The Super Friends, The Pink Panther, and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids scattered between a plethora of sugary cereal commercials. 

But in September of 1973, while watching a show on what I only knew as Channel 7 (ABC), came a between-shows snippet called Schoolhouse Rock. Complex history, 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. 

Schoolhouse Rock simply worked. Elementary, My Dear. I started watching ABC for most of Saturday morning from 1973 on, getting up and turning the knob only to trade in something lame like Goober and the Ghost Chasers for NBC’s Star Trek: The Animated Series, or Mission: Magic! for Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space on CBS. The Tiffany Network had its own between-shows filler thriller, In the News.  

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.”  

September 9, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/9/1973... Say Hey’s Final Day

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, though his 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 in ’73.  

September 5, 2013

Kong Sung Blue (and Orange)

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 the Trojans.

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 smitten.

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 here

CHARLIE: Hi Matt, I’ve been enjoying your 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die. I’m not sure if we met at the Hofstra conference last year. I presented on your favorite player, Dave Kingman. 

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 book Best Mets.  

CHARLIE: Thanks Matt, I’d like to share it with you if you would be interested in reading it. [Editor’s Note: This is where you read the piece if you have yet to do so. Go ahead, we’ll wait. We can all listen to Iron Butterfly to pass the time.] 

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.] 

CHARLIE: Thanks, 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 history.

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 Swinging ’73.]

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 base.

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!

September 4, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/4/1973... “Loves Me Like a Rock”

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 momma did.

September 2, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/2/1973... Watching, 73 Style

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, and accounts 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 M. Nixon—an 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 ballgame. 

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 seasons. 

And all we could do was watch. Some things havent changed.

August 30, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 catcher. 

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 beginning. 

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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, Swinging 73. 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 Tug McGraw Foundation and is the embodiment of the Tugger attitude.  

August 28, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 8/28/1973… Marvin Says, “Let’s Get It On”

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. After all—“We’re all sensitive people.”

August 19, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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.

August 9, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 Buckeyefollowed by four Masters, three U.S. Opens, two British Opens, and two PGAs to that pointhe 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. 

The 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, Jacks 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 wayjust 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 hasnt even won a game yet.

August 8, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 8/8/1973… Burt, No Shirt, Driving Fast

White 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 Walking 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

Another Opening, Another Show

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 the play 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 nonsense. 

But 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 a tour of Salem before heading off. Ollie headed out of town on a broom to beat me to Baltimore. 

After 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 caught 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 ESPN.com writer 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 him after he broke Babe’s mark in 1974.

The 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. 

July 30, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 7/30/1973… Jackal Bibby

This 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. Jackal Bibby, however, refers to two distinct—if overlooked—events of July 30 of that year. 

Jim 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 Rangers. 

On 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 Bibby’s.  

Bibby 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 cancer.   

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.

July 28, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 7/28/1973… Music Up Around the Glen

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 Sha 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.

July 24, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 7/24/1973… An All-Star Headache

The 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. Literally. 

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. 

Jim 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 forgotten.  

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, or gone green shirt, green pants. Finley liked to keep everyone guessing.  

Nolan 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.

The 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

All-Star Edition (49 Years and Counting)

I’ll 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. 

If 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?)

I 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. 

In 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?

The 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 Gamea mere 49 years after the first onewe 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.

Minimum 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 Valdespin.

                                          First-half 2013 Report Card

David Wright      A         Back where he belongs as starting All-Star 3B. Shown true leadership since captaincy.

Matt Harvey      A         Starting the All-Star Game well deserved, as was resting on Saturday. Keep it up, kid

Marlon Byrd       A         Biggest surprise of first half. Whether he stays or is traded, I’ll take over Scott Hairston.

Eric Young         A-        Cant expect this to continue, but Mets lineup has been better since the day EY arrived.

Josh Satin          A-        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.

Bobby Parnell      B+       Has finally grown into closer role. Two of three blown saves result of bad defense.

Carlos Torres      B+       Has only thrown 22 innings, but he’s been great. Has saved team in extra-inning games.

Omar Quintanilla  B         Up less than two months and hit .238, but has played almost every inning. Welcome back, Q.

Daniel Murphy     B         Still too streaky and one of best Mets trade chips. Love to see more of that old Murph eye.

LaTroy Hawkins   B         Gets high marks as 40-year-old vet teaching by example. Hope old man not overtaxed.

Zack Wheeler      B         I know it’s only been five starts and he’s been spotty, but last start counted for half his grade.

Scott Rice           B-         Every Minute Rice not great, but rookie has handled lefties, righties, and massive workload.

David Aardsma    B-         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.

Lucas Duda        C          Like many Mets in this grade bracket, I don’t know if he’s part of future or killing time.

Justin Turner       C         Like Duda, he’s hurt, and may not be long for team. Beard and pie tossing key contributions.

Andrew Brown     C          Has some of Turners offensive skills, more pop. If up earlier hed have gotten a lot of OF starts.

Josh Edgin          C          Has been much better since recall from minors. Looking more like the guy from last year.

Greg Burke         C-         Jekyll and Hyde sidewinder has team's worst WHIP (1.709), but 25% inherited runners score.

Jonathon Niese    C-         Inconsistent most of his career, but blame 1.610 WHIP on shoulder problem. Hope he’s OK.

Scott Atchinson    C-        Despite overwork injury, just 20 appearances. If Collins acts responsible, Atch may be useful.

Anthony Recker    C-        Numbers aren’t pretty and he is 29, but good catcher with power. Should start more.

Juan Lagares       C-        Should also start more. If not in New York than in Vegas. Needs to chase fewer balls.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis   C-       Clutch character who has gotten a lot of starts lately. Not sure of future role.

Mike Baxter         D+      Don’t know why he was sent to minors. Had two walkoff hits in three days for team that can't hit.

Jordany Valdespin D-       One day we may say, Why couldn't the Mets find a place for this guy? Looks done under Collins.

Rick Ankiel                  Had 71 plate appearances in a month and hit .182. There have been worse CFers. See below.

Collin Cowgill         F         Remember this name whenever someone says how much energy a player brings.        

Ruben Tejada      F         Same player got a B+ for the first half in 2012. But he is not same player. Will he be back?

Ike Davis            F         If Ike does not have another great second half in him, his future is in serious doubt.

Robert Carson     F          Sorry, Rob, but if Ruben and Ike fail, then 8 HR + 18 IP = F.

Brandon Lyon      F          Started out all right, couldn't get anyone out, then DFAed. Blew a three-run lead for Harvey.

Shawn Marcum    F          His futureif he has oneis in long relief; 1-10, 5.29 ERA is his epitaph as starter.

                                                    Manager 

Terry Collins         C         Better politician than he is a manager. Old school guy lets youngsters know they’re in bigs.

July 11, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 7/8/1973… The Duke Rides Again

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 Long, er, 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.

The 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 carrier.

When 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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And 10 years ago today, Tyler came into the world. You are the man, son.

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A 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.

July 8, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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, Ya Gotta Believei! 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 about here.

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.

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Anyone in Cooperstown Tuesday (July 8) stop on by and see me at 1 p.m. in the National Baseball Hall of Fames Bullpen Theater to discuss 1973 and all topics baseball.

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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.

July 3, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 7/3/1973… Brother Against 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 friends at 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 105-loss 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 for the 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.

July 1, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 7/1/1973… Ask Any DEA Man

With the 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.

And in honor of the Mets pulling one out in Denver, here is a song that was taking the airwaves back in Swinging ’73 : Rocky Mountain Way from the album The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get by Joe Walsh. Couldn’t get much higher.

June 27, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 pension (author 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 Bergino Baseball 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 Metropolitan Museum 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. 

(Parentheses 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 owe my Met museum trip to fellow Mets fan Paul Lukas at Uni Watch, whose piece on the museum’s revolving baseball card display made me look into going there on Wednesday. The Civil War display—including numerous photos by Mathew Brady and paintings by Winslow Homer—will remain up until fall. With the Battle of Gettysburg set for its 150th anniversary next week, it is as good a time as any to stop and reflect on our most costly conflict.

Send the Beer Guy… Bring Two Trays

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 Uni Watch, 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 parched.

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.

June 21, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 6/21/1973… “And Now, Fight Like Apes!”

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 installment. The Go Ape 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 well.  

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.

June 19, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 6/19/1973… 2,000 Hits & What Do Ya Get

Tuesday was a 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 Atlantas 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 Trumbull 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.

June 17, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 6/17/1973… Miller Time at ’73 Open

On 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.  

After 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 victory. 

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.

“It 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.

June 10, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 peaklike jockey Ron Turcotte did because he could not believe track announcer Chic Anderson’s iconic callfor 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 machine indeed.

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An entertaining three-minute You Tube video of a more recent vintage was filmed and, more impressively, uploaded by my daughter after some technical difficulties. Here’s the pitch. You want the one sentence version? Swinging ’73 makes the ideal gift for Fathers Day, or any old occasion.

June 5, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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.

Two major 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 Mets and 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 matt@metsilverman.com.

June 4, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 6/4/1973… A Bud Break

The 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 appreciated.

May 31, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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, ya dig?

May 28, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 5/28/1973… Tubular Bells

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, who 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 digital doesn’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 here.

May 24, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 Presidents museum in his native Yorba Linda, California. Then, as now, it was a rare moment when Dick Nixons 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.

May 21, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 5/21/1973… Oh, Yes

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 later! Geez.” 

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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!’”

May 17, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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, on 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 hope. 

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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.

May 15, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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.

May 14, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 5/14/1973… Skylab, Ho!

Skylab was launched on this day in 1973. This anniversary is also being marked by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration—we 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 solar system.

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 Venezuela, Maritza Sayalero, was the 1979 winner—and because we can’t leave you hanging, Miss Phillippines, Margarita Moran, won the 1973 Miss Universe crown.)    

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.

May 12, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 5/12/1973… One Uneasy Mother

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 sign, 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 aficionadoat 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 thoroughly 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.

May 10, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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.

From Swinging ’73:

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.

May 9, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 5/8/1973… Soylent Green: It’s—Y’Know

The 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 Lionel Hutz and B-movie actor Troy McClure—did a great Charlton Heston. Love that scarf.

May 8, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 leaders continued.  

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 games 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. 

From Swinging ’73

“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.

May 6, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 5/6/1973… The WHA’s Missing Cup

On 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.

The 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.

May 5, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 5/5/1973… “Dancing Days Are Here Again”

On 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 at 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. The stadium rock and roll era was on!

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Good Sunday reading with media reporter Ed Sherman, formerly of the Chicago Tribune. His interview with me is here.

May 4, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 5/4/1973… The Deron Johnson Story

On 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. 

The 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.  

From Swinging ’73

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 season.

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, eight-team career.

May 2, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 5/2/1973… Seaver’s Harvey-esque Start

What 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 up.” 

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. 

He 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.  

On 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. 

And 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.

April 29, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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. Burkes 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. Death Wish, based on the bestseller and filmed on location in 1973 in “the most violent town in the world,” along with Mean Streets—Martin 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 getting cut.

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.

April 28, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 4/28/1973… Starters Fast and Slow

The 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 Waste Land of quickly fading clubs that whither before the air is warm.  

To 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. 

On 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. 

The 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 remains a 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.  

With 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 Way. 

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A little more PR for Swinging ’73 while we’re back in time. Thanks to “The Maven” Stan Fischler (and assistant Mike Rappaport) for the column on me in the Kingston Daily Freeman. There is also a book excerpt in the John Delcos New York Mets Report and had a nice chat with Anthony Wayne and the Mets Public Record (I start nine minutes into the link).  

April 27, 2013

First Winners of Greg Spira Award

The first winners of the Greg Spira Baseball Research Award were announced this morning, which would have been Gregs 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—Trent McCotter has been selected as winner of the first annual Greg Spira Baseball Research Award. McCotter’s 2012 essay, Cal 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 decades ago.

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 Baseball Research Journal (Volume 41, No. 2). It was this type of research and presentation that the Greg Spira Research Award was created to honor.

Greg 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 Baseball 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 ESPN 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 York City.

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, Jonathan Spira.

One 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 Frangraphs.com.

The $100 third prize went to Caleb Hardwick’s detailed Web site and database about baseball in the 25th state: Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia. Hardwick, 19, 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 site.

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

Late 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 John Delcos, 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 Rich 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?) 

I 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, the 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. 

Here 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. 

The 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.  

I was 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

Movie Review: 42

Man, 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

There 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. 

I 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.)

42 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 Stadium moments after the Mets clinched the 1969 World Series. Writer Ed Hoyt made 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.   

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Now that I have suggested what to watch, now I will suggest what to listen to and read. I was on Spadora on Sports on April 20. I was on the show about one-third of the way through, talking about Swinging ’73 as well as the latest Matt Harvey start. There were also positive writeups on the book: American Profile, Alive East Bay Magazine, and The Writer's Journey

April 21, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 4/21/1973… Tie a Yellow Ribbon

“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.

April 19, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 4/17/1973… Waltons Mountain Miracle

In 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.

In 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 service. 

So 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.

April 17, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

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 nominations. 

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 David Wrightthat is a mistake I can deal with), to fellow Mets sufferer Steve Keane at The Eddie Kranepool Society, and to WLIE Sports Talk NY for a meeting of the Mets minds with Greg Prince and me along with their knowledgeable panel. And though I do not have a link for the interview, thanks to Rob Barr at Sports Byline USA for having me on the radio last week.

April 11, 2013

Letters to the Met-idor

A new book means promo time. Swinging ’73 is the theme in the latest Letters to the Met-idor, your twice annual mailbag o’ fun with plenty of clip show tricks learned from a lifetime of sitcom viewing. Explore, procrastinate, drift off to sleep in your cubicle, it’s all good. I won’t tell… wake up, the boss is coming! 

We begin with the first metsilverman.com three-way. Get your mind out of the gutter, I mean communication three-way—um, let’s call it “around the horn.” It includes two responders and myself through a Facebook link last week about the 40th anniversary of Ron Blomberg becoming the first designated hitter in history. Let’s get it on….

Designated Hater

Dear Met,

Forty years ago today the first DHs batted. Ron Blomberg was the first—Tony Oliva hit the first DH home run that day.

Kevin Tabor

 

Dear Met, 

'73 was certainly an interesting year and UNFORTUNATELY, in my opinion, the DH has changed baseball forever! I've stated previously, I think the NL will eventually adopt the DH which will, at least, mean that major league baseball will be playing by the same rule in BOTH leagues!

George W. Case III

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One comment fits all for George and Kevin...

I note in Swinging ‘73 that Tony Oliva of the Twins hit the first DH homer—a perfect segue since he hit it in the opening game that year in Oakland, one of the teams I follow through 1973 in the new book. With his great bat and bad legs, Oliva was the kind of player the DH was made for. Rico Carty, too. I think it came along too late to protect their battered knees. Same goes for Orlando Cepeda, who was the first man crowned with the low profile Outstanding DH Award (now known as the Edgar Martinez Award for the man who won the award more times than anyone—until David Ortiz passed him with his sixth “Edgar” in 2011). 

As for George’s point on the DH. I think the DH will become a part of the major leagues across the board in the next few years—or sooner if a pitcher batting incident creates an outcry. But I have never been one to feel the need for uniformity across the leagues. I grew up when the AL was the league of the “pillow” chest protector, burgundy coats, and the high strike for AL umpires, not to mention the league with two extra teams, more complete games (because the DH eliminated late-game pinch hitting for pitchers), and a balanced schedule (which I like far less than the DH).

I can live with the game not being uniform. I’d rather not have the DH in either league, but I am also realistic (occasionally) and know it will never go back to the way it was pre-’73. The Players Association would never stand for its elimination, and many fans of the AL would also never stand for it. It is all they know.

It is inevitable that the DH will be the rule throughout baseball. Whatever year is the last without the DH across baseball may be a project for a book someday.

Best,

Matt

 

G-POP, Pop, Pop Music to My Ears

Dear Met,

I am co-owner of an e-zine known as G-POP.net. At G-POP.net, we strive to bring our readers all things entertainment. To that end, we have posted a review of your book, Best Mets. Thanks for such an entertaining read... one Mets fan to another. From Cy Young to Pantheon.

Melissa Minners

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Melissa,
To paraphrase something I often hear: I didn’t know your site existed before, but I love it. Thanks so much for not only reading the books but posting reviews. I am glad we had a disagreement about one or two things in Best Mets because it is a book about arguments. I even had a few with myself—especially over the order of the top 50 Mets.

A book you may want to think about, or put on your list for gifts, is one that is just out now, Swinging '73. I think you’ll enjoy it even if you don’t remember that year—I don’t, but it was a thrill recreating 1973 by talking to participants, watching videos, and reading everything I could find on the year. It takes a broader view than my past books—including New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History (now available on Kindle; I couldn't help notice the book was not on your review list on G-POP.net
authorship in the 2000s is about self-PR).

I think Swinging '73 enables people who don’t know much about 1973 will come away with a better understanding of what it was like to live then. There’s something to be said about a time when the country was a bit down and progress was made by slogging through the mess. We did not have the world at our fingertips with phone in hand to answer everything, but in some ways I think it’s more fun to be looking up instead of down while walking around town. You never know what you might miss in front of you.

Again, thanks! (And I don't give out exclamation points easily, unless the sentence in question is
Lets Go Mets!)
Best,
Matt
 

Ranking Authenticity

Dear Met,

Great piece, Matt. Where do you think R.A. ranks in the pantheon of sports underdog stories? Lake Placid... I don’t even know what else... Kurt Warner? Rocky... Wait, that was make-believe.

Keith Thomson

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Keith,

In terms of great sports underdog stories, the Cy Young Award raises R.A. Dickey above the guy off the street who makes the unlikely jump to the big leagues—like countless ballplayers, such as the dude nicknamed “Rocky” after the fictional boxer, or the character played by Marky Mark in the movie Invincible, about the guy who went from 1970s bartender to Eagles wide receiver (Vince Papale); or the 1970s bartender who made the Falcons in midseason and kicked five field goals on Monday Night Football in his second NFL game (Tim Mazzetti)—was there something about the ’70s and bartenders who could play special teams? And there was Rudy Ruetteger at Notre Dame, the subject of an inspirational film made about his ascent from janitor to tackling dummy to garbage time tackler.

R.A. falls below legends like the 1980 Miracle on Ice, which many thought was Americas greatest sports moment of the 20th century, or the 1969 Miracle Mets, or any number of other great underdog team tales—’60 Pirates, ’73 Mets, ’91 Twins (and Braves), ’04 Red Sox, ’07 NY Giants football, ’08 Rays, ’12 SF Giants or any number of other stories that I’m probably forgetting. But R.A. is up there among the best stories in sports today—and best authors among athletes—and he certainly stacks up with any individual story in Mets history. For sports star comparison, I think you hit it on the head with Kurt Warner.

As a number one draft pick, R.A. started higher than Warner, though Dickey was quickly swatted down due to a missing arm ligament that turned him into roster filler instead of budding star in the eyes of the team that drafted him and then lowballed him, the Texas Rangers. Unless he pitches for another decade, wins a few more Cy Youngs, and leads his team to a World Series victory to push himself to Hall of Fame caliber, I think Kurt has him beat. Maybe I’m biased, but any star who leads both the Rams and Cardinals to Super Bowls has more impressive Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials than most any Packer, Steeler, 49er, or Giant. Go, Kurt! Go, R.A.! Wherever you call home.

Best,

Matt

 

Sammy I Ammy

Dear Met,
My dad has been a Mets fan since they were a team and
Mets Essential and 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die were great gifts for him. I also got Mets by the Numbers for his b-day and he was very happy. Thanks.

Sammy

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Sammy,

Thanks for picking up the books for your dad. A book that has been out for almost a year is Best Mets. It ranks some of the bestand worstaspects of the Mets experience. As is my wont, and maybe Dad’s wish, Swinging '73 is now out. It is about the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Mets, entwining their thrilling story with that of the team they competed with in the New York market, as well as the club they were destined to face in a thrilling World Series in a memorable year in America. 

Thanks for taking the time to read the site and write in.

Best,

Matt

 

Booked

Dear Met,

Hey, I saw your Swinging 73 listed on Amazon, I look forward to reading it. What’s next? Thoughts on HOF votes and Dickey on Jays? I just picked up The Happiest Recap as you suggested on your blog. Also saw that there is now yet another '86 Mets book, but this is about the entire season in general.

Eric

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Hey Eric,

Thanks for checking in. Your question of whats next really got me thinking. I do not have a next; I was sort of letting it come to me. I have some ideas, but I want to see what level of interest people have about 1973 before diving into another year. We will see. Though, be sure, there will definitely be a follow up. 

I assume the 1986 book you are talking about is Season of Ghosts by Howard Burman. I sort of feel that after The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman and One Pitch Away by Mike Sowell (it is a publishing sin that this book is not available at least electronically), plus the numerous columns, blogs, and suicide notes from Red Sox Nation about their side of 1986, the year has been done pretty well.

Glad you picked up The Happiest Recap by Greg Prince (volume two of the series is coming soon—OK, scratch what I said above; this is a book that includes 1986 that I am looking forward to). Having a book like this, from a source I trust more than any other, is a wonderful thing. And the best thing about that book is the Mets can’t lose!

Best,

Matt

April 10, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 4/10/1973… Royalty in Kansas City

The Royals were just in their fifth season of existence, but there was something different about them—and their stadium, which opened on this day in 1973. While it has now literally been decades since the Royals were competitive on a consistent basis, the Royals were building it right in 1973. They had stolen Amos Otis from the Mets, Fred Patek from the Pirates, Hal McRae from the Reds, Tom Burgmeir from the Angels, and Lou Piniella from the Seattle Pilots. They also had a brilliant farm system that developed pitchers Paul Splittorff and Steve Busby, along with Frank White, a product of the innovative Royals Academy that uncovered athletes in other sports and turned them into ballplayers. In August 1973 the Royals would debut a young third baseman named George Brett.  

But the ’73 home opener for the Royals revealed a different star: Royals Stadium. Still a gorgeous stadium even by today’s standards, resplendent Royals Stadium and its signature fountains—not all of which were working Opening Day—stood in stark relief to the nearly identical “concrete doughnuts” that had recently gone up in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. Astroturf be damned, Royals Stadium was a beaut—and it was a baseball only park in a time when the vast majority of cities had dual purpose facilities. (The Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium had opened for football only a few months earlier across the parking lot.) 

The stadium opened on a Tuesday in front of a full house of 39,464—the Royals also took the innovative step of having a smaller capacity, thus increasing demand and improving the experience for the baseball fan. Paul Splittorff set down Rangers Dave Nelson, Toby Harrah, and Mike Epstein in the top of the first inning. The Royals turned on the offense immediately. Fred Patek led off for the Royals with the first walk, stole the first base, and scored the first run on John Mayberry’s two-run single. Mayberry also had the first home run. (Amos Otis’s bunt single was the first hit.) Splittorff took a shutout into the ninth before it was broken up by a Jeff Burroughs home run. Still, a 12-1 win was a pretty nice way to start the best season to date by an AL expansion team. (The 1969 Mets still had the gold standard with 100 wins for an expansion club.) 

Only the Oakland A’s dynasty kept Jack McKeon’s 88-win Royals from grabbing the 1973 AL West title, something Kansas City would claim seven times in a 10-year span before going into a dormant phase after their 1985 world championship. Even after a recent renovation, the stadium remains a gem, but the franchise still slumbers.  

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The radio appearances have been coming fast and furious. Here is a recap of places you can go to get the word on Swinging ’73 and me. Thanks to Converted Mets Fan, Rising Apple, and Eric Brach at Bleacher Report. I have taped other interviews that have not yet gone on the air. If I have not included your spot, my apologies. Let me know the missing link.

April 6, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 3/31/1973… The DH Debuts

This is one of the biggest days on 40 Years Ago Today calendar, April 6, 1973 was Opening Day. Yankee Ron Blomberg became the first designated hitter against Luis Tiant at Fenway Park. For detail of how this came to pass, go here.  

Looking forward from 40 years back, I am glad that Ron Blomberg was the first DH. He is a thoroughly delightful man that I played phone tag with for two months last summer. He never tired of my persistent messages, and sincerely tried to get in touch, but the fame of being the first DH and the responsibilities he has for children at his camps, his family, and his game, keep him crisscrossing the country. Finally, an hour’s break in his relentless schedule near the book’s deadline afforded me one of the best interviews in the book. He is quick to say, “I ruined the game.” Ron is a jokester, but his initial at bat—actually it wasn’t even an official at bat, it was a walk—changed a fundamental rule that all nine men in the lineup must both bat and play the field, or be removed from the lineup. It was the biggest rule change in the game since the pitching mound went from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches eight decades earlier. You think the 1973 AL underwent an offensive explosion? Check out the NL numbers for 1893, when the mound moved back 10 ½ feet: an increase of 35 points in batting average and 92 points in on-base plus slugging. The first year of the DH, the American League, which had been in an offensive and attendance decline, saw batting average go up 14 points (to .259) and OPS increase by 66 points (to .710). 

But the DH argument, now in its 40th year of debate, is not about numbers. It’s not even about the pitcher batting. It is about the game the way it was meant to be played. It is about using the whole bench instead of having to dust off the cobwebs from your backup infielder every two weeks. It’s about baseball.

I don’t mind the DH in the AL, as long as it doesn’t mess with my game. But they have already messed with it. Bud’s Folly (21st edition) of putting 15 teams in each league—for reasons that are laughable, at best—will one day soon bring the DH to every game, in every league. Though the word “league” will also be outlawed and the World Series will be determined by randomly-chosen brackets, like the NCAA basketball tournament. (I shouldn’t joke because it may give them more ideas.)

All it will take is an incident of a prominent AL pitcher breaking a limb on the bases, or someone like former NL manager Terry Francona not allowing any pitcher of his to swing at all in 30 interleague plate appearances, or the Players Association insisting on the DH for all games in the next collective bargaining contract—because the role of DH pays its members a lot better than PH. And that will be that for pitchers batting in professional baseball. I would rather see the game return to artificial turf  in cookie cutter stadiums. That at least kept teams on their toes. The DH for all is all about more swinging from the heels. To me, that is a little boring.

But whenever the DH becomes the rule throughout the land, don’t blame Ron Blomberg. He didn’t ruin the game. The people who are supposed to keep an eye on baseball are doing that.  

April 5, 2013

Bergino Thanks; Isaacs Tribute

Thanks to all who came out to Bergino Baseball Clubhouse Thursday night for my talk about Swinging ’73. I’ll forward the podcast when that is up. Special thanks to Greg Prince, my companion for this long day’s journey into night between Flushing and Greenwich Village. (And Greg will take to the air with me for a Mets fest with host Mark Rosenman on WLIE 540 AM Sunday at 7:15 p.m.) Converted Mets Fan Sam Maxwell, one of many Mets aficionados we met on Shea Bridge, showed for both ends of my Thursday day-night doubleheader.

Bergino proprietor Jay Goldberg is a swell host and promoter of baseball. He also has a few copies of the book to sell for those who missed my talk but want to make the pleasant sojourn to his shop on 11th Street in Greenwich Village. The people who come to his shoppronunciation-wise, I learned that it is a hard g in Berginoare the kind of folks I can only hope to find around me in the grandstand.

A person I wish I could have found near me in the press box was Stan Isaacs, the longtime Newsday columnist who passed this week at 83. A leading sportswriter in the early 1960s, he quit covering the championship Yankees for the fledgling Mets. He saw them as an escape from what had become, to him, a stifling beat in the Bronx. From the first day of the franchise, he cast off the old and predictable to embrace the new and the lively. You never knew what the Mets would do next—you still don’t. After their first game—a loss, naturally—his lede in Newsday for the April 11, 1962 game read, “There is no Santa Claus, the meek shall not inherit the earth and the Mets will not win all their games.”

I interviewed Isaacs last summer for Swinging ’73. It was a brief phone interview—he was not having as good a day as he had enjoyed at the Mets Conference at Hofstra University last April. The details were not at his fingertips as they’d been when he was a leading member of the Chipmunks, a nickname for the New Breed writers coined by sportswriting legend Billy Cannon and turned into a badge of honor by Isaacs and contemporaries like Steve Jacobson.

Isaacs gave me a good quote about Willie Mays and left me with an appreciation that two in the bush can beat a bird in the hand, if you can see the angles most others miss.

April 3, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 4/3/1973… The First Cell Phone Distraction

Martin Cooper, general manager for Motorola, makes the first cellular phone callto rival AT&T. The cutting edge phone is the size of a brick. People stopped in their tracks to see a person making a phone call without wires, a booth, or rotary dial. It was Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone come to life from Get Smart. “Hello, Chief. Would you believe I am calling from a wireless phone in front of the New York Hilton? Would you believe from a car phone outside of Macy’s? Would you believe from two tin cans in front of the Y?”

In a recent New York Times Magazine piece about this device that turned more humans into drones than television, Cooper said that they handed the phone around to the press for them to try it out and confirm it wasnt a hoax or delayed April Fools joke. One of the reporters at the 1973 demonstration called Australia and called his mother. “Gooday, Mum. Would you believe...” 

April 2, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 4/2/1973… News from Around the Dial

On this day in 1973, CBS-AM 880 in New York went all news 24 hours a day. After WINS 1010 AM made the switch in 1965, WCBS moved in that direction, but still had a few hours of regular programming daily until this Monday in ’73.  

There was a big story I knew about that did not make the news on CBS that day—but it was the first day with the new format. So CBS missed the scoop of my sister turning 18. Because of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution two years earlier, this meant Marie was now old enough to vote. I won’t ask for whom. Happy birthday, sis.

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Back in 2013, today is the official publication day of Swinging ’73. I have been in publishing for a while and I cannot even tell you exactly what this means, but I have seen some nice mentions in emails and the Twitter-verse, so I say thank you. I also say today is as good a day as any to recommend that you buy Swinging ’73. And if you don’t believe me…

New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro calls Swinging ’73 “a fantastic ode to a year that began with the Yankees wife-swap and ended with the Mets’ second miracle.”

Sports Book Review Center says, among other things: “Silverman does good work on the three teams that serve as the center of the book. He interviewed some of the principals from those seasons, and they provide some good stories. The story about the A’s allocating playoff tickets with a skeleton staff by hand, for example, is a classic.”

And the Special Libraries Association did me the honor of publishing their in-depth interview with me on Opening Day.

If you want share any of your own insights, please join me at the fabulous Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in the Village on 67 East 11th Street this Thursday, April 4, at 7 p.m. The new bookmarks are here—a level of excitement in these parts on par with the arrival of the new phonebooks—and everyone who buys a book will get a genuine 1974 baseball card featuring the exploits of ’73, swinging and otherwise.

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I knew there was something I forgot—Opening Day. Some old friends gave me tickets to the opener and afforded me the opportunity to take my son to his first Lid Lifter. He also got to his first Lid Lifter tailgate, courtesy of Randy Medina at the Apple. It was great seeing the whole gang, including Sharon Chapman, who took the nice photo on the back of Swinging ’73. Her husband Kevin, is a serious lawyer and Mets fan and writer. I also got to see Taryn Cooper and Ed Leyro, who witnessed a doubleheader sweep, with the Rangers knocking off the Jets in the nightcap (that’s New York vs. Winnipeg, not Texas vs. New York, for those mixing their teams with multi-sports names). Also got to talk to Ted Berg, who is doing a swell job away from SNY with USA Today. Met up with Greg Prince, accosted Kerel Cooper in the beer line, and tracked down cousin and metsilverman.com designer Blair Rafuse in the Promenade. Anyone I forgot to mention is welcome to remind me at Bergino’s on Thursday night and collect their bookmark and baseball card. Let the swinging begin.

April 1, 2013

New Citi Field Postgame Song for 2013: “Dream On”

I thought I was just lucky that tickets fell in my lap for the opener due to the overwhelming popularity of the Mets, but then this scoop clunks me right in the head, too. Metsliverman.com has learned exclusively that the days of playing “Taking Care of Business” after wins and “New York State of Mind” after losses is out at Citi Field. Sources have confirmed that the new postgame song will be Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” 

The email message left on metsilverman.com stated, “We just wanted to streamline the process. Sandy [ed note: the GM, not the hurricane] says this year doesn’t matter. This way fans can pine for 2014, and then the song will have even more poignancy because there’s no way that team will be competitive, either. LOL.” My inside source also confirms that a band has been booked to perform the new theme live after a loss, er, game against the Phillies in July. The band isn’t Areosmith. (Rumor has it they are expensive.) It’s not even Aerosmith Rocks, the Aerosmith tribute band. The Mets thought they could get them cheap because their website said they are performing in Flatbush the same weekend—Mets offices are always on high alert for any site containing Brooklyn or Dodger code words. The Mets subsequently found out it was Flatbush, Alberta. So they instead booked the new band, Dude Looks Like a Lady, which is practicing in a garage on Jericho Turnpike—as soon as they clean out all the old newspapers and finish their geometry homework. The band has agreed to do the gig for tickets to two games vs. the Marlins, hot dogs, and three cases of Budweiser a year past the Born on Date. (Just don’t tell the drummer’s mom.) 

Win or lose, the Mets have one message for 2013: “Dream On.” Just think how that will look on the side of the stadium! 

They’re pretty pumped about it on Jericho Turnpike. I got a tweet from Dude Looks Like a Lady: “Holy crap, a gig at Citi Field. I mean, we did a penny social last week at the middle school that had like 30 people. But this might be bigger.” One thing about baseball, you never know. Keep dreaming.

March 31, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 3/31/1973… Islanders Marooned in Philly

It was like an April Fool’s joke, only a day early. The New York Islanders, enduring the final weekend of their inaugural season, absorbed a 10-2 beating by the Philadelphia Flyers. Coming into the game with 59 losses in 76 games, not much was expected against the West Division champion Flyers, who were enjoying their first winning season since helping usher in the NHL expansion boom in 1967. In the second period, everything went boom for the Islanders at the Spectrum.

Already leading, 2-0, the Flyers scored eight times in the period on just 14 shots. Rick MacLeish scored twice in the period, numbers 48 and 49 for the year (he’d hit 50 goals and 100 points in the season finale the next night). His second goal made it 8-0 and chased goalie Gerry Desjardins midway through the second. Rookie Billy Smith entered the net and allowed two more goals to the Broad Street Bullies to make it 10-0. The Islanders posted two garbage-time goals against a fight-happy Flyers team that won its 50th game of the year that night. Philly would go on to win its first postseason series in 1973, and then intimidate its way to Stanley Cup titles in both 1974 and ’75.

The Philly onslaught was the Islanders’ 60th loss of the season, making them the first NHL team in NHL history to suffer that many defeats. The Islanders were established by lawyer Bill Shea, who’d helped plant the Mets on Queens soil a decade earlier and had Shea Stadium named in his honor. New York Nets owner Roy Boe also put together the group to bring in the  Isles, keeping the rival World Hockey Association out of the new Nassau Coliseum. Boe, who’d brought Julius Irving to the American Basketball Association, hired Bill Torrey to run the Islanders. Torrey brought in Al Arbour to coach the team for the 1973-74 season—he would last exactly 1,500 games for the Isles. A decade after their 12-60-6 debut, the Islanders won a record 19 consecutive playoff series, plus four Stanley Cups in a row—starting with the Flyers in the 1980 Cup finals.

March 27, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 3/27/1973… Don Corleone in Dispose

Though Cabaret won eight Oscars, The Godfather captured Best Picture and had the most memorable moment at the 45th Academy Awards when Sacheen Littlefeather made a speech instead of Best Actor winner Marlon Brando. Brando, who won for his legendary turn as Vito Corleone, gave over his second career Best Actor trophy and his moment in support of the American Indian Movement. For three months in the spring of 1973, AIM was locked in a standoff with federal authorities on reservation land in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, near the site of the infamous Wounded Knee Massacre that marked the end of the Indian Wars in 1890.

From Swinging ’73:

The bizarre appearance of Sacheen Littlefeather in traditional Apache clothing at the Academy Awards ceremony in April 1973, refusing the Best Actor Oscar for sympathizer Marlon Brando, star of the year’s top picture, The Godfather, created popular support for the movement. The Academy never again allowed proxies and also watched its presenters more closely. The Hollywood ending to the tale is that Roger Moore, who took over the James Bond franchise in 1973 with Live and Let Die, took home the statuette that he was supposed to present to Littlefeather and kept it until a representative sent by the Academy removed it from his home.

March 26, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 3/26/1973… Something Bruin, Again

UCLA wins its seventh consecutive NCAA men’s basketball championship, rolling past Memphis, 87-66, in St. Louis in the first NCAA Monday night championship game. There is nothing new about UCLA’s dominance, however. It is the school’s ninth title in 10 years. Guided by the legendary John Wooden and fueled by Most Outsanding Player Bill Walton, who scores 44 points with a record 21-of-22 shooting, UCLA is like nothing seen in the sports world before or since. Even the Yankees and Canadiens at their dominating best can’t touch the Bruins; UCLA simply never loses a game. In addition to seven straight titles, the Bruins have an undefeated streak that hits 75 with the win over Memphis. UCLA’s last loss was in 1971. They won’t lose again until 1974, when Notre Dame ends the streak at 88 in January.

March 25, 2013

Coming Soon to a Store, Library, and Radio Station Near You

Yours truly is making the rounds for Swinging ’73 this spring. Dates will be added, but this is a good start. 

April 3, Wednesday, 7 p.m.: Kiner’s Korner and the Mets Kult of Personality Podcast. Hosted by Taryn Cooper and more Mets flavor than a Mex Burger. 

April 4, Thursday, 7 p.m.: Bergino’s Baseball Clubhouse at 67 East 11th Street, New York, NY. More than a year in the planning—I was the first to talk to Jay Goldberg about a 2013 guest spot at his unique shop in the landmark Cast Iron Building in the Village. The Swinging A’s shirt I bought at my 2011 Bergino appearance was worn frequently while channeling the Mustache Gang during the writing of Swinging ’73 (though not for the 1973 World Series chapter). 

April 7, Sunday, 7:15 p.m.: WLIE Sportstalk. Mark Rosenman and A.J. Carter will have me on their weekly sports show.   

April 9, Tuesday, 3 p.m.: 660 AM WORL in Orlando. I will be on to talk sports with host and former Orlando Magic general manager Pat Williams. 

April 17, Wednesday: The Eddie Kranepool Society’s Steve Keane will have me on to talk. Steve is probably as annoyed about Yogi Berra’s 1973 Game 6 George Stone decision as Kranepool is in the book. 

June 20, Thursday, 6:30 p.m.: Trumbull (Connecticut) Library. I’m excited to be invited to the home of the 1989 Little League World Series champions. I used to live a few towns from there and covered countless FCIAC high school games. Should be fun. 

July 9, Tuesday: Summer Author Series at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Still pinching myself over getting the call to the Hall.

Please contact me at matt@metsilverman.com to set up an interview. 

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And thanks to Rising Apple for the platform to talk about the 1973 Mets and the 40th anniversary of one of the most unlikely pennant runs in major league history. Tom Seaver, whom I saw pitch many times in my early seasons of fandom, never looked more dominant than he was on the big stage of Game 3 of the World Series (I found a bootleg video of the game). John Milner crushed two balls that stayed in Shea on the frigid night and the A’s scratched out the win in 11 innings. Despite long knowing the outcome, I rose out of my seat on the couch watching the video of the Hammer’s second blast, which Reggie Jackson tracked down in the corner to send the game to fateful extras. Just a little wind blowing out and...    

March 24, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 3/24/1973… Immaculata Reception

When Immaculata College won its second straight NCAA women’s basketball title in 1973 on NBC, it was the first women’s championship game broadcast nationally. The Mighty Macs—there is a movie of the same name—would win three straight titles and play in six consecutive semifinals, making this all-female Catholic school with 400 students, taught by nuns and offering no scholarships, as the women’s answer to the UCLA men’s basketball dynasty in the 1970s.  

The Bruins won 10 NCAA titles in 12 years between 1964 and 1975, the year John Wooden retired at UCLA. Immaculata coach Cathy Rush left at the end of her seven-year reign of dominance in 1977, retiring with a .909 winning percentage (Wooden’s was .808). At the time, women’s basketball was only a few years removed from the six-player game for women in which players could play offense or defense, but not both (because the powers that be believed full-court would be too much exertion for delicate ladies). In the wake of the emancipating 1972 Title IX Supreme Court decision, which would forever change sports for women, Immaculata proved it could beat the big boys, er, girls. (Check out the video of the 1973 title game at Queens College between the Macs and Knightees—yes that was the former name for QC women’s teams—with a student announcer who sounds like Suzyn Waldman; just kidding, Waldman went to Simmons College.) 

The 1973 tournament—the AIWA (the NCAA wouldn’t take over until 1982)—was played over four days in Flushing, whittling down from 16 hopefuls to one champion. The Macs knocked off the home team, 59-52, to finish at 20-0 and become the first undefeated women’s championship collegiate team. The Macs were mighty indeed.

March 21, 2013

My Randall K. Glynn Year

It is hard to believe that metsilverman.com is now in its fifth year. The aim of the site is to look back, though we subtly have an eye on the future. While I’ve been writing this blog, I have been fortunate to write nine books—about half of those featuring the Mets. Swinging ’73 is roughly about half Mets, but there will be time to discuss what’s inside that tome another day. Most days, actually, if you’ve been paying attention here. 

If you’ve been reading the site, following me on Facebook , or eagerly anticipating my every tweet @metsilverman, you may have come across Swinging ’73 Presents: This Day in 1973. I started this on March 1, which marked the 40th anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, one my favorite—and one of the most popular—albums of all time. The calendar has been fun but not simple, given my lack of computer savvy and having daily deadlines for the first time since my last newspaper job in the 1990s (though these current deadlines are self-imposed, plus I know the boss). Originally, I had another idea as a theme for the year with this as a sidelight, but anything else I did this year would have suffered as a result, so we’re going ’73 or bust in ’13. Maybe that should be the underachieving Mets theme this year as well. It beats “Underdog.”

Besides a theme, every year so far I have come up with a former Met to serve as guide for that year, a player who somehow corresponds with my current age. This year I am 48.

The only Met to ever play until age 48 was Julio Franco.

The ageless Julio and his ever-slowing swing do not do it for me, no matter how age-appropriate it may be. Choosing among the Mets who have donned uniform number 48 is more fun. So fun, in fact, that I couldn’t decide who in the Greater 48 should represent me this year. This conceit will only go on until I reach 50—there will (God willing) still be a site but, alas, no Rick White Year for 51 (standards must be upheld). This year I am setting a precedent for what was going to be one hard choice for the big 5-0 between Hawaiian Mets demigods. So we’ll head that off now with our first tie: Number 48s Randy Myers and Ed Glynn.

You say, “Randy Myers? OK, but what is an Ed Glynn?” And if you do know Ed Glynn, you say, “What is he doing here?” After all, there are standards to uphold. Let’s look at the roll call of Metsilverman.com Annual Representatives:

2008: Age 43—My Terry Leach Year, #43 (number worn, 1981-82)

2009: Age 44—My Ron Darling Year, #44 (number worn, 1983-84)

2010: Age 45—My Tug McGraw Year, #45 (number worn, 1965-67, 1969-74)

2011: Age 46—My Neil Allen Year, #46 (number worn, 1979-80)

2012: Age 47—My Jesse Orosco Year, #47 (number worn, 1979, 1981-87)

Yes, only pitchers have reached this numerical stratosphere. If the Mets had employed R.A. Dickey in 2007-08—a wish I can make for a lot more reasons than just my own age appropriate glorification—we would have kicked this off at 43 with a pitcher who was successful with ball and pen in hand (though Terry Leach’s prowess as an author should not be discounted, nor should his 11-1 ’87 season).

There were a lot of pitchers to choose from at number 48, and one position player. That was Joe Nolan, a lefty-hitting backstop with more pop than Ron Hodges, who was traded to Atlanta for Leo Foster and eventually took over for ailing Johnny Bench behind the dish in Cincinnati. Nolan wore 48 as a ’73 Met—which makes him a tempting tie-in for Swinging ’73—but Nolan didn’t bat or take the field in the majors that year. Though his lack of action as a ’73 Met allows me to say, “I could have just sat in the dugout, too,” and declare Joe as a kindred spirit, it’s no fun to have a year named after someone who literally did nothing in 48. And they asked Joe Nolan, not me, to sit in the bullpen with the warmup jacket on—though I was only eight years old at the time. But I digress.

I could have chosen Nino Espinosa, the first Met to wear the number in a game. He debuted in the number in 1974. (Ray Kress was the first person to wear 48 as a coach for the original Mets, but he was also the first uniformed Met to, um, die—passing in November 1962.) Nino switched to number 39 and had as much success as a pitcher tied to the anemic Mets offense of the late 1970s could have. Traded to Philadelphia for loathsome Richie Hebner in 1979, Nino had his only winning season in the majors that year at 14-12. He died prematurely at age 34 on Christmas Day, 1987. I decided not to tap the Nino Mojo. (Or Ray Kress’s, for that matter.)

Then there is Randy Tate, who was my first 48, and the first 48 to actually win a game, though it did not happen often. He held a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Montreal in his lone year with the team, but part and parcel with his bad luck, Tate lost both the no-no and the game. Like my mother, Tate was from Alabama, so I liked him off the bat. Speaking of bats, the man simply could not hit: 0-for-41—I too went my first year of baseball in 1975 without getting a hit in Little League, so I sympathized. I got a second chance the next year in Little League; Tate and his 5-13 mark and 4.45 ERA did not get another shot at Shea, or any other big-league city.

Juan Berenguer, Señor Smoke, went on to be a decent reliever for the Tigers and Twins, but not for the Mets. Next.  

That would be Ed Glynn. He was a lefty reliever who came to the Mets from Detroit for “The Chief,” Mardie Cornejo, a righty reliever of so-so talent who proved that even a century after Little Bighorn, Native American ballplayers still got stuck with the same tired nickname. Glynn came to Shea when the Mets were desperate for relievers, or any human activity.

The 1979 season was bottom of the barrel. The Payson family would sell that winter after the team lost 99 games and most of their fans—788,905 fans showed up for the entire season. A few of those visitors were members of the Glynn household. Ed Glynn grew up in Flushing, and in fact had worked at Shea as a vendor. That was just about the only thing cool about the brutal ’79 season that brought Richie Hebner, the carcass of Dock Ellis, and Mettle the Mule to the big, empty Shea. And with Mets Police chief Shannon Shark’s memoir of his life as a Mets maniac and Shea vendor—Send the Beer Guy—I had to summon Ed Glynn and the fun memories he brought along in his tray. (I have Shannon’s book and will have something to say about it when I get a chance to finish it.) 

I also could not ignore Randy Myers, the next player to don 48. (Mel Stottlemyre wore the uniform in his first year as pitching coach in 1984.) Myers was also a lefty reliever, but he wasn’t a filler, or a vendor; he was the guy whose presence allowed the Mets to trade Jesse Orosco (who would pitch into the next century). A hard thrower and even harder to intimidate, Myers dressed in camouflage, read scores of gun magazines, and had a demeanorr reminiscent of Francis “Psycho” Sawyer from Stripes. But Randy Myers could get those last precious outs in a game with the best of them. 

I still contend that if Randy Myers pitches to Mike Scioscia in Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS—I watched him warm up in the pen from my upper deck seat—the Mets not only win the pennant but the World Series as well. Consider that after Scioscia’s hope-crushing HR off Dwight Gooden, the Dodgers still sent Rick Dempsey to pinch-hit for Scioscia against Myers in extras, so I think we can say Dempsey would have been kept in the park and Game 4 would have been closed out by Randall K. Myers (announcer Tim McCarver liked to accentuate the “K,” as if it stood for the abbreviation for strikeout and not “Kirk”). And if the Mets went up three games to one on the Dodgers, they probably win the NLCS, and given how flat Oakland looked in the 1988 World Series… aw, let’s go back to number 48. 

Glynn and Myers both left New York too soon. After 84 games in two years as a Met, Glynn was shipped to Cleveland in 1981 for a minor leaguer who never did diddley. Myers was traded after the 1989 season for John Franco. Franco stayed around forever and set records in many categories for longevity, proved he’s a good New Yorker, served as team captain, and even earned a spot in the Mets Hall of Fame, but in the ninth inning I want a Nasty Boy on the hill. The Reds had their Nasty Boy standing on the mound in 1990 when theyi won the pennant and World Series. During an itinerant but successful career, Myers racked up 347 saves (56 as a Met). At one point Myers had the National League record for saves in a season (53), which did not even include punching out a fan who ran on the field in a fury after Randall K. allowed a ninth-inning home run at Wrigley.  

Back to our theme for 2013. I will not be updating Today in 1973 every day because A.) there are days in 1973 when not much of note occurred; B.) there are days in 2013 when I won’t feel like posting it; and C.) there are days, like today, when I will have other things to say and I’m not in the habit of posting more than once daily (though we may double up, now and again anyway, just to see if anyone reads this far down in this entry and calls me on it). 

Just like I wouldn’t stick myself all year with 48s like Ricardo Jordan, Pat Misch, or Lord help us, Frank Francisco, I’m not going to promise things I don’t plan on doing. For now I will say that writing about ’73—the year the Mets went from last to first in the final month, fought Pete Rose and Reds (literally) for the pennant, and nearly beat the big, bad A’s in the World Series—was something I really enjoyed and worked on harder than any other book I’ve written. It is also something you can read about in paperback or Kindle, and coming soon to Nook I brought in different ballclubs and storylines, so it is not just a Mets book, but it is my best book. So far. At 48 I need to keep looking forward even as I look back. Ya Gotta Believe is no mere motto, it’s mojo, baby.

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I included a link above to Mets by the Numbers, and there is big knews on what I think of as a big brother site (it’s sort of like a coaching tree, only without berating reporters at press conferences). Mets by the Numbers has donated its numbers data to Ultimate Mets Database. May the two longest-tenured sites in Metdom thrive and survive the down times in Flushing that keep all Mets fans honest, humble, and human.

March 20, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 3/20/1973… The Great One Voted to HOF

Roberto Clemente became the first Latin American player inducted in into the Baseball Hall of Fame on this day in 1973. The announcement brought fresh tears anew. “The Great One” had been killed in a plane crash 11 weeks earlier during a humanitarian mission to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua. The normal five-year waiting period for election was dropped, the first time that had happened since Lou Gehrig died tragically in 1940. Clemente was voted into the Hall with contemporaries Monte Irvin and Warren Spahn, with the induction held in August. 

The Pirates wore number 21 on their sleeves all year for Clemente. Replacing him was an impossible task. All-Star catcher Manny Sanguillen, Clemente’s closest friend on the team, was tapped as the right fielder. It was admirable but misguided. Sanguillen, who had started once in the outfield in his five-year career before 1973, struggled to cover the ground Clemente handled so effortlessly. Yet manager Bill Virdon kept Sanguillen in right field through mid-June, even as the move weakened the Pirates at two positions. Rookie Richie Zisk finally got the starting assignment in the second half and batted .324. Another rookie, future MVP Dave Parker, saw time in right field for the Pittsburgh Lumber Company as well in ’73.

Clemente was more than a right fielder. He was a true hero and the beacon of a Latin American community that was not nearly as entrenched in baseball as it is today. Clemente was also the senior member of the Pirates and part of the exclusive 3,000-hit club after securing his final hit in the last week of 1972 against Mets lefty Jon Matlack. The Pirates, winners of three straight NL East titles—and the 1971 World Series—struggled down the stretch without their leader, even changing managers in the final month of the season. The Great One would very much be missed in Pittsburgh in the last week of 1973. And every other week, and day, and hour.

March 19, 2013

Do Players Care More About WBC Than MLB?

[We interrupt our 1973 obsession with a topical item. Our oarsmen resume bearing us ceaselessly into the past tomorrow.]

In less than two weeks, ballplayers all over America—and don’t forget Toronto—will take the field for the annual right of passage known as Opening Day. The crowd will be exuberant and the games a tonic after a long winter for fans. This Opening Day—on April Fool’s Day, no less—it is the fans of major league teams who might feel a bit the fool. The World Baseball Classic has shown that many players are more concerned about playing for their country than their professional team.

After the U.S. was eliminated, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips lamented having to go back  to spring camp in Arizona instead of to the WBC semifinals in California. “I didn’t want to go back to Goodyear,” he said. “I wanted to go to San Francisco so bad. It stinks, man.” It does stink.

David Wright may sit out Opening Day with an intercostal muscle strain, an injury he withheld from U.S. team officials and the Mets, a cash-strapped club that nonetheless showered him with an eight-year, $138 million contract. Who knows if Wright would have sustained the injury playing in sleepy Port St. Lucie instead of in front of big, loud crowds in Miami (that second part of the sentence will sound strange after the MLB season commences). Come Opening Day at Citi Field, fans may be watching Justin Turner run out to third instead of the team’s most marketable—and right now, only—star player.

How about Wright’s former teammate, Jose Reyes? His demonstrative celebration after knocking home an insurance run in the ninth inning to help the Dominican beat the U.S.  reached a new level of exuberance even with his history of cheesing off old-school types like Jimmy Rollins. Phillies announcer—and former pitcher—Larry Andersen said during an animated 2008 Reyes home run trot, “Somebody ought to put one in his neck.”

When Puerto Rico knocked off the U.S., the celebration by Angel Pagan mirrored his triple-first pump that signaled San Francisco’s World Series triumph last