The Almost Official Site of
Author Matthew Silverman
April 11, 2014
The Last Time We
Remember when the
Mets were last in Anaheim in June of 2008?
Tuscany tile ring a bell? Yes, Anaheim is where Willie Randolph got
fired. At the time,
Willie got rooked. As I went through the 2008 season in minute
a book with Keith Hernandez, I came to believe that the Mets would
not have stood a prayer in 2008 if not for the managerial change in the
waning days of Shea. The team really responded to the Gangsta, but the
horrible bullpen—the main culprit in Randolph’s firing—undid the good
work by Jerry and friends when it counted in the end. Whatever Manuel
magic there was did not transfer to a new stadium, or even to the
closing of the old one. Something to ponder as you try to stay awake for
the late games from the coast. Funny how Mike Scioscia’s still there,
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Just letting you know I’ll be talking Mets
on Spadora on Sports around 10:20 a.m. on Saturday, April 12, calling in
from Shawangunk Mountains. The syndicated show can be heard from Rome to
Geneva (both New York), as well as several other locales including
Brattleboro, VT, Keene, NH, and a little burg of Boston, MA. Or you can
tune in rye
April 8, 2014
Home Is Where
the Heart Is (Not!)
the first Mets homestand of the season is over and now comes the good
part: the road games. So much for “root, root, root for the home team.”
If you haven’t noticed, there is a verifiable fact about these Mets—they
stink at home.
has nothing to do with the opening 2-4 homestand, though that sorry
display—with a dicey one-run win and a walkoff grand slam keeping it
from being a complete disaster—only adds weight to the argument about
the sorry state of the Mets at Citi Field. But even if we throw out that
first homestand—and don’t we wish we could—Terry Collins’s .424 home
winning percentage is the worst of any Mets manager in the last 46
counting interim skippers and fill-ins, you have to go all the way back
real cliff-dweller,” Wes Westrum, with a .404 winning percentage
between 1965 and 1967, to locate a skipper with a lower percentage in
his Mets career. T.C. also beats out Casey Stengel, who had a .372 home
winning percentage as the team’s first manager and patriarch. Those
early Mets clubs defined mediocrity for New Yorkers and baseball fans
for generations to come. Any time “winning” percentage from those years
comes into a Mets conversation, it is not a good sign. And of the 16
managers who have lasted longer than a year with the Mets, Casey and Wes
are the only ones who gave the home folks such lousy fare. And the
prices were a lot lower and the entertainment options a lot more limited
in the 1960s.
Art Howe (.447) and pre-genius Joe Torre (.428) did a better job at home
than the current Mets manager. The best, you may ask? Davey Johnson
(.635), Bobby Valentine (.576), and Willie Randolph (.574!). Bud
Harrelson (.562) and Jerry Manuel (.555), neither of whom would be
confused with Gil Hodges (.528), ran circles around Collins. And other
than a select season or two, none of them had a murderer’s row lineup.
straight years with a lower winning percentage on the road than at home
is a new franchise record. You could call it a fluke, bad managing, bad
ownership, or bad luck, but the fact that it has only gotten worse since
moving the fences in at Citi Field provides food for thought.
was not always this way. The Mets put together winning home records
their first two years at Citi Field, including a smart 47-34 mark in
2010, which marked the only time the Mets have hit more homers at Citi
Field than the opposition. The 2010 campaign also included a three-game
sweep of the Phillies in which their NL East tormentor (or one of them,
at least) did not score a single run in 27 innings. I recall Phillie
after Phillie stomping back to the dugout that week, pounding bats into
the ground as they failed over and over to reach the vast dimensions of
Citi Field. Then came 2011.
two of the three years under manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy
Alderson, the Mets have had a winning record on the road, which you will
find no complaints about here. At the same time, however, the Mets have
become one of the worst home teams in baseball. In 2011 and 2012 they
were 14th of 16 teams in the NL. After the Astros were swapped over to
the American League—in a move you can ponder while you stay up late to
watch the Mets-Angeles interleague series this weekend—the Mets moved up
to second-to-last in the NL at home in 2013 with a 33-48 mark. That was
the worst home mark not just in Citi Field’s existence, but you have to
go back to the God-awful 1978 season to find the last Mets team to be
more putrid at home over a full season. Nobody wants to go back there.
It has been only two years with the
new Citi Field dimensions, which brought in the fences by about a
dozen feet in the alleys and lowered wall height as well. It may be too
early to assign the fences as the main culprit, especially since the
Mets have the same brand of dreadful offense we’ve been watching since
they moved out of Shea. It is not a great hitter’s park, and probably
never will be, but the problem is since they moved in the fences, the
road teams have looked a lot more at home. Last year, for example, while
going 7-3 against the Mets at Citi Field, the Nationals hit 22 home runs
in 10 games. That is almost half as many homers as the Mets hit in 81
home games. And this was in an off-year by the Nats. The 2013 Mets hit
even fewer longballs at home than during their inaugural year at the
park. (Thanks to
Newsday for the data.)
Mets HR Opp HR Home Rec
2009 49 81 41-40
2010 62 46 47-34
2011 50 59 34-47
65 86 36-45
45 79 33-48
does it all mean? It’s all part of the answer to the everlasting
question: Why don’t the Mets win?
Terry Collins responsible? He doesn’t help. Given the constant financial
crunch in Metsland, he is managing with one hand behind his back, but
when terrible Torborg (.480) and bumbling Bamberger (.478) run circles
around you at home, it’s hard to blame the talent—because those 1980s
and 1990s teams had plenty of players indifferent to winning. On a good
like to blame moving in the fences, but the Mets were getting outclassed
in that department before the walls were touched. (Though I will say the
Giants kept their cavernous dimensions, built around young pitching, and
have won world championships twice since 2010.) Is this Sandy Alderson’s
fault? He has picked up top prospects Zack Wheeler, Noah Snydergaard,
and Travis d’Arnaud in exchange for the team’s best outfielder and
pitcher. The players he has picked up, haven’t made it yet. And the Mets
have no real minor league hitting prospects close to ready for the
majors. While he has shown the ability to trade established stars for
ballyhooed prospects, it may be time to ship some prospects for some
proven players if this situation is ever going to reverse itself.
I look to the past for answers when it
comes to the Mets. And the past tells me that the rough road continues
ahead. How long? I
can only pray it’s not much longer.
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I have you here, next week will start the metsilverman.com doubleheader
special. I will dissect the 450-plus twinbills in Mets history, and
unearth some facts, fun, and as always, hidden heartbreak. Ernie Banks
had a famous motto: “Let’s play two.” When it comes to the Mets and
twinbills, it’s more like, “Lets try not to lose both.” But some Amazin’
things have happened, too, when the doors open for two-for-one fun.
is the sorbet course, the palate cleanser. It comes in following the
first game of the year and April Fool’s Day, to wipe away the
exciting—and in this case, rather bitter—Opening Day flavor. The taste
buds start over as we embark on the often bland period of baseball that
exists between game two and Memorial Day. Titles can be won and lost
during this period, though the winning part would seem to hold true for
the ’86 Mets, not the ’14 Mets. This club will spend most days trying to
shut the barn door after the horse has run out. And then Terry Collins
will open the door again and call in another reliever.
enjoy the sorbet and we’ll be back later with a more substantial course.
Though I have a feeling Bartolo Colon is going to be hungry for more
than a cup of sorbet.
After a long, tough day schlepping to
Flushing to watch the Mets bullpen flush another win away. I came back
home and did something different. I watched the final episode of How I
Met Your Mother. Now I’ve watched the show on many occasions, but only
as a re-run and rarely as a complete show, but after seeing 10 promos
for the final episode during Sunday college basketball, I felt compelled
to watch the last show like I’ve been watching all along. There must be
sniglet for missing the whole series yet catching the finale.
liked the episode and how all the characters ended up. (Others
were not as pleased.) Maybe I should have been watching these past
208 Mondays since 2005. Oh, well, that’s what re-runs are for. Then I
fell asleep and a new show came on.
started with the recurring dream of ball four after ball four, of
borderline calls missed, of unnecessary moves by Terry Collins and a
soundtrack of Jeurys Familia’s downer entrance music. Then it was washed
over by all the happy openers I’ve witnessed since 1983, netting a
record of 16-6. Well, 16-7 now. No shock, the biggest Opening Day
buzz-stomping club with me in attendance is the Washington Nationals, a
team—in case you missed the post below—I really don’t like. Even the one
win I’ve seen the Mets get in a lid lifter against the Nats in 2006
occurred because the umps blew key calls at second and home in the last
two innings, both of which would surely be overturned today through the
time-wasting miracle of replay. But this isn’t about me, it’s about my
Since my dinner was
a microwave burrito washed down with a PBR, the dream got funky
quickly. Like the TV show, it seemingly took me all the way to the end
of the story. I didn’t know where I was at first, but I soon realized I
was on a packed Manhattan street corner. There were floats and cars and
people clad in blue and orange lined up everywhere. I looked around me
and snow was hitting me in the face. Only it wasn’t cold. It was
confetti! I looked next to me and saw a 12-year-old version of myself.
are you doing here?” I say. “When I was your age the Mets not only
finished last, they traded Tom Seaver.”
laughs. “I’m not you…”
can’t hear the rest of what he says because some kid blows a vuvuzela
(image only) right next to my ear. And then the whole crowd breaks
into a chorus of “Wooooooooo!” I even join in. My throat aches as if
I’ve been yelling a lot in recent days. Like all dreams it’s kind of
messed up—I can’t tell how old I am or who the players are, or if this
kid is my son or grandson.
Another blue and orange float comes by and
raised arms appear through streams of confetti. I make out a face clear
as a bell. It’s, it’s… it’s Phil Jackson. The parade is for the Knicks.
I hate the Knicks.
I’ll always love your mother.
Back in Montreal... for a Meaningless Weekend
are certain subjects I have a hard time controlling myself over. One is
celebrating Mets greats and their great teams (but I’ve got medication
to take care of that now). Another is micro-fretting over each Mets move
at the end of the year when every game is crucial (going on memory
here). And the third is the fate of the Montreal Expos.
With the Mets playing two exhibition games
against the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend in their first visit to
Montreal in a decade, plus the release of Jonah Keri’s
new book on the Expos, this Expo-phile is set to burst his Youppi
suit. I’ll manage to keep this shorter than my Expos contemplation in
one this site’s
posts. But I can’t keep it simple.
You see, to me, the Expos do not play in
Washington as the Nationals. The Expos are dead to me. I don’t mean
“dead to me” in a
vindictive way regarding someone who sold me out.
It was the Expos were sold out. Killed, if you want to be dramatic, but
the patient had been sick for a long time. It’s the way the drawn-out,
sorry mess was handled by the commissioner and the other owners who
collectively “owned” the Expos after they let Jeff Loria skate his
responsibilities and handed him the Marlins to ruin. Meanwhile, MLB
treated the Expos like a poor relation whose existence in a tiny
upstairs room in their sprawling mansion sickened them for what it cost
to keep Cinderella alive. And this is a Cinderella version of the story
if she’d bippity-boppity-boo squashed that fairy godmother bug flying
around in the garden. The “Cinderalla
went to Washington: a transformation of
an old hat into a new franchise, a quick (song and) dance, then a
tall stranger swoops in with a glass slipper (in an American
taxpayer-bought stadium), and it is like Montreal never happened, which
the new franchise did by handing out uniform numbers retired by the
Expos and treating the Montreal portion of their history like forgotten
know the answer to any franchise problem has long been the same: “Build
me a new stadium or I’ll go somewhere that will.” But Montreal was not a
Before they moved to Washington after the
2004 season, no major league team had relocated since, well, Washington.
After the 1971 season ended—and
a ninth-inning riot forfeited the RFK Stadium finale to the
Yankees—Texas became the new home of the Senators (the new Senators,
mind you, since the old Senators had moved to Minnesota in 1961). Major
League Baseball then enjoyed a 33-season run without a franchise
relocation. That’s pretty impressive for any sport. The NFL, which saw
unprecedented growth—and greed—in that same span, had six relocations
(including my beloved football Cardinals to the dry heat). The NHL saw
10 teams move between 1971 and 2004. The NBA had 11 relos.
franchise shift is ugly, like the divorce of a family on your childhood
street. You know the kids, the parents, even the pets, and you sit on
the corner helplessly watching the moving van come and take away
everything but the empty shell of a house that remains. I still remember
when P.J. Cotunio moved from White Plains to New Mexico; it must have
been when I was four, in 1969, and I ran down the street crying as the
family pulled out. I never saw him again. I have no memory of the
Miracle Mets—or the inaugural Expos—from that year, but I can still see
P.J.’s car disappearing in a blur of salty tears.
held it together the day I chased the Expos bullpen car for the last
time. I was at Shea Stadium for the Expos game, with my buddy Paul, on
the final day of the 2004 season. It would have been fitting for
Montreal to win, since they defeated those ’69 Mets at Shea in their
first ever game, but I have never rooted for the Mets to lose in a real
game—not even to send me home after freezing (or sweltering) at the
ballpark for far too long, to keep the team from having to destroy their
rotation in order to use someone in an extra-inning emergency, or even
punish the team for making a stupid trade (and there have been many). I
did not root for the Mets to lose that day, even in what was the last
game of the lost Art Howe regime. The Mets managed an 8-1 triumph to
avoid being swept by last-place Montreal.
the ninth inning of that franchise snuffer on October 3, 2004, Paul and
I had inched to the front row in the field level. On the hill was Mets
reliever Bartolome Fortunato. (Remember him? He was sent by Tampa Bay to
“even out” that brilliant
Kazmir-Zambrano deal that was initially applauded by the clueless front
office but soon got the GM and the manager fired.) Fortunato was
pitching to none other than Endy Chavez, pre-Mets folk hero days, and
Endy grounded out to second in the last day of Art Howe, Todd Zeile, and
five other Mets who played that afternoon, not knowing the end of the
game had come for them at the end of the game. It waits for all of us.
guess that brings us to this weekend’s Mets-Blue Jays exhibition series
at Stade Olympique in Montreal. Seems strange that two teams that train
a coupla-three hours away in Florida have to travel 1,500 miles to
another country to play two meaningless games. And the meaningless part
is what gets me.
the Dodgers and Diamondbacks still getting over their jet lag by going
to Sydney, Australia to open the season, why does Montreal get
“exhibition game” status? Clearly, the Blue Jays are not selling so many
tickets where a weekend series against the likes of Tampa Bay (now
Fortunato- and Zambrano-free for a decade) might drum up crowds similar
to the 40,000-plus seats sold for the Mets and Jays.
Evenko, a Montreal company, pushed by
former Expo Warren Cromartie, lobbied MLB to get this series.
According to the
New York Times, there is actually some nostalgia from people
other than me. Quebec kids too young to have seen the Expos are wearing
the tri-color hats around town. The Hall of Fame elections of Gary
Carter and Andre Dawson—both wearing Expos hats on their plaques despite
protests in New York and Chicago, respectively—have led people to
remember the team fondly. A team that 20 years ago won 74 times—in 114
games—before the strike sent the game hurtling into a nuclear winter and
forever marred Montreal’s feelings for the game. I think we can blame
the owners for that, too.
What’s done is done. Let the dead bury the dead, but maybe these
exhibition games will lead to a slow-growing movement and in another 23
years when there is a franchise shift, maybe Montreal makes the short
list of sites to evacuate to. I went to Olympic Stadium once and it does
lack some appeal, though it was any more unpleasant to my taste than
Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium of that era. And with an Olympic
Stadium Metro stop—and Molson on tap—Montreal was (and is) a hell of a
lot more appealing than Pittsburgh.
Washington got a second chance to have a
franchise, and—thanks to the Expos situation, a third chance. Maybe
Montreal will one day get another shot at les ligues majeures. An
international, continental, and as Keith Hernandez purred today on SNY
"a very classy" city, which speaks two languages and hosts
one of the greatest franchises
in sports—plus ex-Expo mascot
Youppi. It’s a better place for a big-league team
than, say, Tampa. And Montreal has certainly paid its dues.
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Thanks again to Taryn Cooper and her new
the Mets Lounge, for having me on in between Maggie Wiggin and Greg
Prince—and by inclusion called me cool for the first time since, well, I
guess that depends a lot on
what you consider cool. It was good fun and I’m officially
ready for baseball 2014.
Each year around this time, I attach a player to
my current age based on uniform number. It started with number 43 and
sidewinding ’80s Mets pitcher Terry Leach in the
first-ever metsilverman.com post on my 43rd birthday in 2008. We
keep on keeping on with year number six… but let’s not get confusing,
it’s Jon Niese’s Year, number 49. If only his health holds up.
Without Niese, the list of 49s in Mets
lore leads to a frightening alternative: Armando Benitez,
the team’s right-handed saves leader. But if I could leave Armando
out of the top 50 Mets in
Best Mets, I would have gone to a Walt Terrell, Kevin Kobel,
Dyar Miller, or even Don Aase Year before I ever went with Armando. But
thanks for being there and sparing us, Jon Niese.
Previous Years have belonged to the
aforementioned Terry Leach (43), Ron Darling (44), Tug McGraw (45), Neil
Allen (46), Jesse Orosco (47), and last year, the year I couldn’t choose
the lefty with the strong arm and attraction for guns or the southpaw
who’d been a Shea hot dog vendor: My Randy Myers/Ed Glynn Year (48). If
this seems tiresome, the count won’t go on forever. Number 50 in 2015
will be the last year of the exercise of naming my year. The site will
go on past 50—and I surely hope to follow.
This is my first foray into a Year with a
current player. I have liked Niese since he provided much-needed
reinforcements in the ill-fated attempt to end Shea’s run on a less than
agonizing note in September 2008. He made three starts: in two he got
roughed up, but the other was a gem against the Braves in the second
game of a doubleheader after the Bullpen of Death had blown yet another
Johan Santana lead in the opener. The pen would implode again the
following afternoon, but we won’t dwell on that because life is too
short, as these ever increasing uniform number Years keep proving.
Niese has now been around long enough to
become a veteran. If Niese if ever healthy for an extended period, the
Mets might even consider trading him for someone who can hit. Advocating
a trade for my Year-mate is definitely new, but I think his balky elbow,
shoulder, and neck will keep him a Met through my 49th year—or at least
the baseball-playing portion of it. I like Niesey, obviously, but I like
the Mets more, and I will part with anyone if it will help bring about
the end goal: winning a World Series in whatever time I—or any of us—has
left. Not to be macabre, but with the Mets make you feel your mortality,
no matter how many seasons you are on this side, or the other side, of
Considering how many kids my daughter’s age have
four world championships on their pinstriped watch, I think hoping for
one more title in this lifetime isn’t pushing it. But when you think
about the 86 years between champagne drafts for Red Sox fans until 2004,
the 53 years Rangers fans have waited, or the 52 years Astros fans have
endured without a title, you learn to not to assume anything is your
due. As Felix Unger once told an
Odd Couple courtroom, never assume.
We also can’t assume Jon Niese will be
healthy—he’s already missing this year’s Opening Day nod after two
spring training shutdowns. And chit-chat between Gary Cohen and Keith
Hernandez today on SNY did not make it a slam dunk he would pitch the
first time through the rotation in 2014. Only twice has Niese made 30
starts in a season—in 2010 and 2012, so maybe he’s got a Howard Johnson
every other year thing going, and ’14 will come up roses for big, bad
Jon. Despite missing time with a shoulder problem last year, he still
finished .500 (8-8) with a 3.71 ERA for a very mediocre team. After
coming off the DL, he notched his second career shutout—and just his
third career complete game—in his final August start. He allowed more
than three earned runs in only one of his last six starts. And for a
team starved for offense, it’s worth noting that he’s one of the
better-hitting Mets pitchers. He hit over .200 for the second straight
year and knocked in as many runs (four) in ’13 as Mike Baxter, while
batting 15 points higher than
Bax, who already has five hitless Dodgers at bats this season Down
So that’s the Niese story. What can you
expect from metsilverman.com this year?
Plenty of the posting,
Facebooking that is the author’s lot in the modern age—be an
introvert on your own time, they say. Oh, and this Wednesday night,
March 26, I
will be on the
new Taryn Cooper podcast
at 9:20 p.m. with Greg Prince and Maggie Wiggin.
This year promises more delving into the
Metsian past, which I think we all can agree has been far more
interesting than its present during the six-year run of this site.
Though there is no new book from me this
year—the first time that’s happened since 2007—don’t worry, there’ll
still be the
odd book plug to keep you warm and fuzzy on a chilly Citi night.
Last year, my persistent 40 Years Ago
Today posts actually achieved the site’s long-sought goal of more
posts of shorter length. It will be hard to duplicate that in 2014,
but I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve… and two is the buzzword on
the site in ’14.
We will take a fun look at Mets
doubleheaders. Right now, the idea is to look at a few years’ worth of
twinbills per week, with the hard data as one part of the entry,
followed by a nightcap with more story than nuts and bolts. Or I might
swap this order. Or I might do something completely different once I get
going. Like a twinbill, you never know how it will end.
Why doubleheaders? A couple of years ago,
while in the midst of researching a book, I got a note from a reader
asking a simple question: “How many times have the Mets won the first
game of a doubleheader?”
I couldn’t just pick up the media guide and look
up that specific query. I could find out how many wins, losses, and
splits there have been, but that little question sent me digging into
every doubleheader in Mets history. It took up way more than my usual
procrastination time, so I set the project aside. I still need to finish
the research, but it’s ready to be shared with the public. Twinbills
aren’t for everybody, but I’ll keep it lively and interesting. As usual,
the final form of a metsilverman.com seasonal mission will look far
different at the end than it does the beginning. Sort of like the way
the Opening Day Metsies (34-18
and counting) usually looks like an entirely different animal than
the one we see struggling the rest of the year.
But I am glad to be 49, and glad to be
Niese. Now if only I were lefthanded and could throw 90 mph…
Spring Training Opening Post
everyone who has an active baseball website, there is a requirement
announcing the start of spring training games. To be honest, I could
probably live in perpetual winter with the Mets a vague notion as
something past. Then I could move on to other pursuits. Watching the
Mets makes me annoyed far more than it makes me happy—as anyone who has
ever lived with me through a summer will plainly tell you. Even at bats
given away during a blowout win can disturb me. If I wanted perfection
there are many other teams I could have picked. But I am stuck with the
Mets like the dog I picked out because our eyes met for a second and
then we were stuck together for life. The scab from where my dog bit my
hand just healed.
not a fan of the Mets manager; the general manager I truly hope knows
what he is doing; and the owner I wish was as reclusive and as wealthy
as Howard Hughes. The players come and go, come and go. According to the
Mets Database, there have been 968 Mets who have suited up in the
regular season during their 53 seasons. That puts it at sometime perhaps
in 2015 when they will put the uniform on the 1,000th player in
franchise history. Will number 1,000 be a star, a scrub, a journeyman
talent, or a player who will one day jump atop a dog pile of delirious
Mets in a World Series–clinching game? I watch to find out. Something
has to keep me turned on. I could have stopped being a fan 1,000 times,
but why stop now? I might miss something. Or somebody. My dog is curled
up comfortably at my feet,
February 21, 2014
Live and Let Live
February 24, 1980.
My 15th birthday. So long ago that that night Pink Floyd staged one of
their very few performances of
The Wall tour at Nassau Coliseum. (The Wall was performed
just a dozen times in the U.S. after it came out: seven times at the Los
Angeles Forum and five times in Uniondale, starting February 24.) When I
heard a friend from school was going to the show, I was jealous and
envious, thinking that if I had tried using birthday privilege—and using
full-court press guilt on my parents, who were out of town for my actual
birthday—maybe I could have been speeding to the Uniondale for the best
birthday present since my mom made
the best $10 purchase in history and got me both the German and
Japanese G.I. Joes when I turned seven. But I dismissed my
going-to-Floyd fantasy when I realized that it meant I probably would
have missed the gold medal game.
The winter of 1980 was the only time I played ice
hockey. I had to quit partway through the season because my grades
tanked. And besides, I really was a suck-ass hockey player. But I loved
the game. I tried to love the National Hockey League, but it just didn’t
take. The regular season was interesting but meaningless—16 of 21 teams
made the NHL playoffs in 1980—and the postseason went too deep into
baseball season to maintain my interest. But Olympic hockey I love. To
this day I would still rate the 1980 Olympic run at Lake Placid as the
greatest sporting event I have followed other than the 1986 postseason.
I have seen a lot of great postseason baseball, watched all but three of
the last 38 Super Bowls (and even attended one), have followed the NCAA
basketball tournament religiously, and was extremely fortunate to be at
the 2002 Games in Salt Lake and see team U.S.A. win in the flesh. But
1980 grabbed some piece of me that only comes out every four years.
It is obviously great when the Americans have a
gold medalbronze medal consolation
prize-worthy squad, but I still watch the tournament nonetheless. And I
watch despite believing that the Games are a lot better when they don’t
feature NHL players, which is normally the type of stipulation that I
use as an excuse not to watch—such as the Summer Games with NBA
players. But this month I have hung on every play of Olympic hockey (men
and women) regardless of who is wearing what jersey. (It probably helps
that my son plays hockey and I already spend a coupla-three nights a
week at the rink.)
Just the like 1986 postseason, it gnaws on me a
little that I wasn’t there to witness a miracle first hand. Or in the
case of the 1980 Games, see it live on TV. Yes, the most important
Olympic event this side of Jesse Owens vs. Adolf Hitler was not shown
live, even though it was played in the Eastern Time Zone. For reasons I
still cannot comprehend, a game of this magnitude between super power
rivals with the weapon capabilities to annihilate each other 50 times
over, that featured a team of seasoned full-time players against our
amateurs, that was the embodiment of the American underdog story… was
not shown live by ABC. I recall closing my ears and singing a song when
the score came on the news earlier that night.
I actually got through two periods of watching the
game on delay until my aunt called. She said, “Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Isn’t what wonderful?” I responded, knowing full
well what she meant. But my Aunt Gee, who would have turned 100
tomorrow, was the nicest person I’ve ever known, and it was her birthday
that night, so I told her the U.S. beating the Soviets was a great
present and hung up the phone. It made the moment slightly less special,
but I blame TV executives who still pull this same crap three dozen
years later. (Really, NBC? Soap operas instead of USA-Canada hockey?) I
never blamed my aunt for spilling the beans because, ya know, it really
That was the last Friday in February of 1980. On
Sunday, the Americans took on Finland for the gold medal. The team full
of college kids again turned on the drama, falling behind the Fins, 2-1,
after two periods. The result was U.S.A. coach Herb Brooks making the
shortest and most effective locker room speech in Olympic hockey
history. Pardon Herb’s French:
lose this game you will take it with you to your fucking graves." He started to leave
the locker room, but he stopped, turned around, and repeated,
"Your fucking graves.”
The Americans won that day, 4-2, live on ABC from a town 277 miles north
of where I grew up. The host city for the 1932 as well as the 1980
Games, it seems inconceivable that little Lake Placid could twice host
the Olympics—until you spend a little time there, and you realize that
that town is capable of anything. When the movie
came out, with its jubilant crowd scenes recreated on Lake Placid’s
own Main Street, I waited until we were in the town to see it—of course
it was still playing at the Palace Theater
six weeks after it opened—and that sort of made up for the 1980 tape
delay, even though I certainly knew the ending before sitting down for
the movie. Beating the Soviets, and then, with a chance to blow it all,
knocking off the Fins, too, is something I think all of those players,
coaches, and those who followed them, will happily remember to their
dying day. Whether they saw it live or just wished they did.
<> <> <>
As for the timing of
this, here is a piece about tape delayed broadcasting that was written
and then held onto by the author. Proof that networks—and
American hockey players—aren’t
the only ones who can screw these things up.
February 13, 2014
Last Call for
Greg Spira Award Nominees
There are only a couple of days left to
nominate yourself or a deserving young writer for the second annual Greg
Spira Award. Greg, who died of kidney disease at age 44 in December
2011, was a longtime friend, colleague, and co-editor with me for the
defunct but always funky Maple Street Press Mets Annual. Sadly,
the last installment of that preview magazine in February of 2011 was
the last of many projects we worked on together.
There are specifics for eligibility. First and foremost, the nominated
baseball piece needs to have been published online, in print, or
presented between January 16, 2013, and January 15, 2014. The writer
must be under 30 at the time of publication. Nominations must be in by
Saturday, February 15, before midnight. Nominations received before or
after this period will not be considered.
The winner of the 2014 Greg Spira Award will receive a cash prize of
$1,000. The committee will also recognize two additional writers with
awards of $200 for second place and $100 for third place.
The nomination form for the Greg Spira Award can be found at
www.SpiraAward.org. Anyone can nominate a qualifying piece for the
Award, and self-nominations by authors are definitely welcome. Note,
however, that only one entry per author will be considered for the Greg
In order to be eligible for nomination, a piece or book must be about
baseball and must contain original analysis or research. Articles,
papers, and books eligible for consideration include those published in
print or in e-books, those published or posted on the World Wide Web,
academic papers or dissertations, and papers presented at professional
or public conferences.
am honored to be one of the judges. There has already been more
submissions than last year. I look forward to reading the pieces and
helping find a deserving winner. The inaugural Spira Award was presented
to Trent McCotter of Washington, D.C., last year. Dan Farnsworth and
Caleb Hardwick were second- and third-place winners, respectively.
February 6, 2014
speaking about Ralph Kiner, one is tempted to start by saying, “Mets
fans of a certain age”… but with Ralph Kiner, it was Mets fans of any
age. And all of us will miss him.
Kiner was the link to the Polo Grounds to Casey Stengel to Nolan Ryan as
a Met to the Amazin’ Mets to the first dowsing of champagne in the Shea
Stadium locker room. He was on the job when Tom Seaver fanned 10 batters
in a row, he was there when the Mets clinched the unlikeliest of
division titles in 1973, and when they came up just a little short in
Oakland that October. He called Dave Kingman’s mammoth home runs and
declared that he could hit them out of anyplace, “including
Yellowstone.” He might have borrowed that line, as he borrowed the line
that said, “Singles hitters drive Fords, home run hitters drove
Cadillacs.” And he knew plenty about that, having clubbed 369 in just
over 10 years, leading the National League in home runs an unprecedented
seven straight years.
taught me plenty, starting with what the Hall of Fame was. He was
enshrined in Cooperstown the same year I started following the game,
1975. He showed me that baseball was about patience, as the eight years
that followed proved. While waiting for contention, he related stories
about when the team was really bad, in the early days. And Kiner, along
with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, the longest running trio in baseball
broadcasting history, guided me through the abyss of Mets baseball.
While Lindsey left after the 1977 season, Ralph and Murph stayed. When
Murph moved to radio, Kiner seamlessly took the hand of many new TV
partners. Tim McCarver brought out the true pro in Kiner, and Ralph, in
turn, made Tim McCarver less of a know-it-all and a more human
broadcaster. For a while, at least.
was there when the Mets got good again. His “going, going, it is gone
goodbye” tied once again to home runs with meaning in the National
League East. When the Mets went back to mediocrity, Kiner stayed sharp,
a reminder of the good old days, and he stayed on as the team turned 40
and even 50. The World War II veteran who’d come up with the terrible
Pirates of the 1940s, always let you know that he’d seen worse—and he’d
seen better, too. He knew how to switch gears like a race car driver in
a race that’s run every day, or every couple of weeks as his workload
slowly diminished, by choice.
Kiner’s Korner, the best postgame show of its kind, lasted for
his first three decades of Mets baseball with players fighting over
going on the show—and grabbing the $50 fee. It was hosted by a homer
champ, but it was never a “homer” show—if you just tuned in and didn’t
know the score, you’d immediately know if it was a Mets win if Jerry
Koosman, Ed Kranepool, or Lee Mazzilli were sitting there, or another
“L” if the guest was Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench, or Lou Brock. No
matter who was on the show, they sat in front of a set that though long
gone, but it even made the cut in a 1973 movie filmed at Shea,
Bang the Drum Slowly. Ralph penned
a book that I still have two copies of, and he later authored
bookthat I included in a 2005 Best Baseball
Writing anthology I put together with the late Greg Spira for
Sports Weekly. Yeah, this is where I put my brush with Kiner
wrote the foreword for my first book,
Mets Essential. Even better than that was the book signing that
was set up with him at the Barnes & Noble on Union Turnpike. His driver
got lost and Ralph wound up half an hour or so late. There were tons of
people lined up, and some were getting angry—especially those who
resented that I was there and the Hall of Famer was not. Suddenly Ralph
showed up and everyone applauded. The 300 people were all smiles as they
all got autographs—some of them even wanted mine (after
they secured Ralph Kiner’s signature). I have met a few ballplayers, and
I will say honestly that only Ralph Branca, whom I have known since I
was a child, I would put ahead of Kiner on the good guy chart. Ralph
Kiner and I later did a phone interview for the book,
The Miracle Has Landed, which I am including below.
Before I get to that, though, I want to say that Ralph Kiner taught me
baseball. He and Murph and Lindsey were the ones who filled my mind with
the game and taught me all its intricacies—and in record time. I was 10
when I watched my first game and by 11 there was nothing I didn’t know,
or didn’t want to learn. Channel 9 still gives me a warm glow whenever I
stop on it on TV roulette. The great trio of Murphy-Kiner-Nelson belongs
to the ages now, but they belong to Mets fans first, foremost, and
forever. Ralph Kiner was a great ambassador for baseball, but also a
teacher, mentor, companion, and for a few hours on Union Turnpike, a
friend. But he was that from that first day I tuned him in back in 1975.
And I am sure you feel the same way.
Ralph Kiner, Q &
A (The Miracle Has Landed, 2009)
Kiner was in his eighth season as a Mets announcer in 1969. Kiner, along
with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, broadcast the Mets their first day
as a franchise in 1962. The broadcasters remained together for 17
seasons—a record for a trio with one team—until Nelson moved on to the
San Francisco Giants after the 1978 season. Murphy remained with the
club, switching to radio full-time in 1982, until he retired following
the 2003 season. Kiner still broadcasts a few selected Mets games per
season in his late 80s (he was born on October 27, 1922, in Santa Rita,
New Mexico—the only man elected to Cooperstown to be a native of that
state). Though Kiner never played for the Mets—he retired at age 32 in
1955 because of a chronic bad back—he is one of the most beloved men in
franchise history. His beloved postgame show was a staple among Mets
fans for two generations. It was dubbed Kiner’s Korner for the
porch in left field at Forbes Field, where he won an unprecedented seven
consecutive National League home run titles (including ties in 1947 and
1952). He hit 369 home runs in just a 10-season career with the Pirates,
Cubs, and Indians. He was elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame in
1975 and to the Mets Hall of Fame in 1984.
took time in September 2007, two months after Ralph Kiner Night at Shea
Stadium, to talk about the 1969 Mets and how things were handled in the
Maple Street Press: In 1968 did you feel there was something
changing about the team, or was it something you didn’t really see until
Ralph Kiner: They had acquired both Koosman and Seaver by then.
Ironically, they got them by happenstance. Seaver was originally signed
by the Atlanta Braves and he was signed through a technicality. [It was
done] illegally and they would not honor the signing. They put his name
in a hat and there were three teams trying to get Seaver [in the special
lottery set up by commissioner William Eckert in 1966]. One was
Philadelphia, the other was Cleveland, and the Mets. And the Mets drew
his name out of the hat.
Koosman was also going to be released by the Mets [in the minor
leagues], but he owed them some money for a used car and Joe McDonald,
who was running the farm system, said let’s keep him around for another
month and get our money and then let him go. He ended up having a good
month in the minors, so they didn’t let him go and so he stayed with the
Mets and of course he was part of that real good pitching staff they had
and at that time.
idea was that pitching was the way to build a club and that’s basically
how they came to have such good pitching. In ’68 they had quite a few
shutouts [25, second-most in the major leagues]. It was an abnormal
amount of shutouts for a team that wasn’t winning, but they pitched very
well. Then in ’69, they had never been at .500, and in the early part of
the year they gotten to .500 for the first time in their history and
they, the writers, celebrated it, but Seaver was quoted as saying we’re
only .500. They were 10 back on August 13 and the Cubs were dominating
the league at the time, but all the things were going right for the
Mets. The Mets wound up beating the Cubs and winning 100 games. They
were getting all the breaks you need to get to be a winner. Everything
has to go right all the way around for a team to win.
MSP: The double shutout, when both pitchers drove in the only runs
in 1<\->0 games, was that the strangest doubleheader you’ve ever seen,
at least the strangest that didn’t go 30-plus innings?
RK: Cardwell [had one of the RBI- hits] and the other was Koosman.
Koosman was a hell of a pitcher. He certainly was one of the best
competitors the Mets have ever had. He was really an outstanding pitcher
along with Tom Seaver. That team also had some really good pitching
along with Ron Taylor. Those guys had a real solid ballclub and all
those guys had their career years in that year that they won. They beat
a really good team in Baltimore. Frank Cashen was GM of Baltimore.
MSP: Do you think that the five-man rotation the Mets developed in
1969 was good for the game or was that something that has led to team
like the 2007 Mets, who haven’t had a pitcher throw a complete game all
year that wasn’t shortened by rain?
RK: That became the rule of baseball and I don’t really understand
it. I don’t know why you have to go to five-man rotation and not pitch
complete games. And Seaver feels the same way. Seaver and Koosman that
year, they didn’t take them out automatically when they got to a certain
number of pitches.
MSP: Between August 13 and the end of 1969 the Mets had 25 complete
games in that span.
RK: Over the years, the Atlanta Braves with Glavine and Smoltz, they
pitched all through the game. And Seaver, his pitch count would be up
around 150 or whatever. To me, that theory that you don’t throw more
than 110 or 120 pitches, I don’t understand that myself. I think the
more you use your arm the stronger it gets. Of course that was the way
they all pitched at one time in major league baseball. The starters
would relieve in between starts on top of that.
MSP: The platoon system, is there something about the way the Mets
used that? Gil Hodges used it religiously. Donn Clendenon was the team’s
best slugger and he didn’t play at all in the Championship Series in his
very strict platoon. Do you think that helped keep the players rested,
as opposed to the Cubs, who played the same guys every game?
RK: Credit Stengel with the platoon system. He used it a lot when he
managed the Yankees and he himself was platooned a lot when he played
for John McGraw [for the 1920s New York Giants]. That system was not
brought in by Hodges. He just continued using it when he took over.
Might have been passed over from Stengel to him.
think the platoon system that they use now with the middle relief and
the closer is a cop out for the manager. That way at the end of the
ballgame if they lose it they can say, “I did it like everyone else and
I went to my middleman and he didn’t do the job.” Or it might have been
the closer. I don’t really understand the advantage. When I played, we
were so happy to get the starting pitcher out of the ballgame because
every club had maybe three outstanding pitchers and when you had to go
to the bullpen for a pitcher who didn’t have that kind of stuff. The
closer does have the ability to throw hard for one or possibly two
innings. That could be an advantage, but other than that I know whenever
we were hitting against someone like [Warren] Spahn, who had so many
complete games it was unbelievable, or good pitchers like that, we were
happy to see them get out of the lineup.
MSP: Getting back to 1969, when Agee hit that home run in the upper
deck. The only one hit there, you probably had the best view of anyone
of that ball.
RK: Agee hit that ball up there. He had outstanding power. He wasn’t
that consistent, but he could hit the ball well.
key to that ’69 team was getting Donn Clendenon on that team. It gave
them the right-handed bat that they really needed to score enough runs
for that real good pitching staff. All those guys had really good years.
You get down to Al Weis, Grote, and all those background guys—they had
career years that year.
MSP: In the World Series, especially. Al Weis, who had never hit a
home run at Shea Stadium, hits a game-tying home run. Swoboda, under the
Hodges platoon, would have normally come out for Shamsky, who actually
hit more home runs in fewer at bats than Swoboda. But in that particular
spot with Eddie Watt on the mound in Game 5, Hodges let Swoboda bat in
the eighth inning and he ended up getting the winning hit. That was
obviously a huge moment there.
RK: They had one of those years that was unreal. They had everything
go their way the second half of that season.
MSP: So during the postseason did you do the broadcast on the radio?
RK: I did the radio broadcast for the network [NBC]. That’s how they
did it then. They had the local guys do it for the network. Lindsey did
the TV and I did the radio.
MSP: Now the way they would do it, the team’s station broadcasts on
the radio with their regular announcers and then there’s a separate
national broadcast. But instead of doing that, you guys would just do
one to go all across the country.
RK: Yes, uh-huh.
MSP: Did you, Lindsey, and Bob Murphy have a set rotation during the
season where one would do TV, the other do radio, and the third would be
RK: We would alternate. All three of us would do TV and radio every
single game. I don’t remember how it would break down, but it was
something close to that. I would do TV with Bob or Lindsey, then I’d do
know when we originally started, George Weiss said no one is going to be
the number one announcer. We were going to be a team of three
announcers. There were only three of us and we did all the games on
radio and almost all of them on TV.
MSP: That was one thing he told you early on and that was something
that really was the case, because you guys really were really quite the
team. Now when Lindsey would go do football and he wouldn’t come back on
Sundays, what would you guys do?
RK: I’d do half TV and half radio and Bob would do half TV and half
radio. We both worked alone. There was no other announcer involved.
MSP: Did they have it arranged in general so that you’d be available
at the end of the game for Kiner’s Korner or would you go right
from the booth to the studio?
RK: At the end of the game I’d go right down to the studio and do
MSP: There was one story of one of the 20-inning games where you had
gone down to the studio to get ready for Kiner’s Korner because
it looked like the game was going to end, and then it didn’t, so you
wound up sitting down in the studio for something like 10 innings.
RK: That was in 1964 when we had the doubleheader that went seven
hours, and 23 minutes. I went down for the second game of the
doubleheader that went 23 innings. I went down in the eighth inning and
it looked like it was going to be over after nine and it was tied. I
started to come back up relieve either Bob or Lindsey and I never really
got back up. There was a triple play in that game and things like that,
so I never got back up. I was down there for all the extra innings of
the second game of that doubleheader that went 23 innings.
MSP: Was the Kiner’s Kiner set big? Sometimes those sets on
TV look huge and then when you’re there they’re not much bigger than a
RK: It wasn’t bad. It was done for Kiner’s Korner. And we had
two cameras that we used for the interviews and everything and also the
working part of the thing was the producer’s room right next to it. But
they didn’t use the Kiner’s Korner room for anything but
MSP: Is it still there? Is it used for anything else now?
RK: It’s still there. We use it for doing games. Before Sports Net
New York got involved, we used it for the interviews when the players
would come inside. And we’d use if for Kiner’s Korners. We didn’t
do a lot of those [in the 1990s] we only did certain ones. Now they use
a truck. It’s much easier for them to do it from there and they do the
interviews on the field.
of the things you might want to note is the replays. Originally, and
this goes back to 1962, the replays were done in the downtown studios.
Those were new to television and the tape machines that they used to do
the replays came from downtown. I would indicate what I wanted to be
replayed and downtown they would play it back through. Quite a few times
they would get the wrong replay up and then we had to ad lib and make
the excuses or whatever it was. It was very Mickey Mouse in the very
early days of our broadcasts. They really didn’t do replays in those
MSP: And what about the graphics?
RK: They were done in production. They did the graphics ahead of
MSP: When they do occasionally have a game from a while back on SNY
or something like that, one of the first things you notice is how spare
the graphics are. They’re not giving you a lot of information. They’re
giving you home runs, runs batted in, batting average, and it’s up to
the people to pay attention to find out how many outs there are or what
the score is. Was that something you noticed over time that changed?
RK: The equipment got much better. They added a lot more cameras. We
only used about five cameras, and now they use about 10 or 11. They can
set up their graphics on a camera that would not be in use. Because of a
lack of cameras, we weren’t able to set up the items you see now that
are done and well done.
MSP: One of the things you don’t see so much is the behind the
catcher view. That used to be one of the predominant views.
RK: That’s really the director. He might say, “Let’s use the center
field camera.” That’s determined by the director and the producer.
MSP: Did you have the same producers throughout?
had about five different producers. Maybe more. But we had the guy that
did the Dodgers games, I think his name was Griffin. The producer was a
studio guy. It was too long ago. Bill Webb came out as an assistant and
he went on to great fame. He’s still doing the games for us. We had real
good production, there’s no question about that.
MSP: Going back to 1969 is there a game you remember the most, or
one where you said at the time, “Oh, my Gosh, this is a whole different
ballgame from what I’ve been watching”?
RK: We had eight years, really, of tough times with the game. One
game I really remember was the game where Seaver pitched the one-hitter
where Jimmy Qualls had the only hit of the game. Of course, no one has
ever pitched a no-hit game for the Mets.
MSP: One last thing, when you were doing the interviews on
Kiner’s Korner, going back to 1969, was there anyone who was
especially good interview or especially tough. How about Gil Hodges?
RK: He never gave you a lot of information. But he was a terrific
guy, a great guy to be around. I had a good relationship, but he was not
a gregarious type guy.
MSP: You got to call the home run that broke your record for home
runs by a right-handed batter in the National League when he was with
the Mets. You had 369 and his last home run was 370. That had to be
interesting because you played against him so long.
RK: I played against him his whole career. I probably kept him out
of the Hall of Fame because he never led the league in home runs. And if
he’d have done that maybe two or three times, he might be in the Hall of
MSP: Do you think he’ll get in the Hall of Fame?
RK: It’s going to be real tough for him to get in now with the
Veteran’s Committee, I’m talking about, the Old-Timers.
MSP: You have a vote on that, do you not?
RK: I vote for him. No question about it. I vote for him for the
Hall of Fame.
February 5, 2014
Reflections of a
Mets Life: 2013
So what if I’m off by a year, technically?
So are the Mets! The 2013 season was the year that the Mets front office
hit the reset button on the reboot of the Mets as a competitive
enterprise. As Michael Corleone said in The Godfather when he
Tessio who is selling him out, “It’s the smart move.” Because we
could tell from a mile away that 2013 was not going to lead into a 2014
of fulfilled promise. The only way to do that was to cross one’s fingers
about 2014 and then when the Mets won 70-something games—again!—we’d
come to realize that the Mets really are fakes. Some people believe that
already, but more would have seen it sooner if the team had stayed with
the company line. And the Matt Harvey injury late in ’13 made the
concession about ’14 even more prudent.
So how do you like my reflections so far?
I just killed two seasons with one paragraph.
Unlike the first 40-plus years in
Reflections of a Mets Life (for further examples, scroll down and write
in “Reflections” under the “find” button on my high tech site), there is
no hindsight factor with the present day. I’d love to say 2013 is the
new 1983, and suddenly the Mets minor leagues will blossom where one can
say that Harvey is the new Gooden, Syndergaard—Darling,
Wheeler—Fernandez, Mejia—Aguilera, and on and on as such dreams may take
us. I have no idea how they will turn out. All I know is the present.
And for all I know these guys might be Pulsipher, Wilson, Isringhausen,
and Dave Mlicki—it says a lot about that quartet from 1995-96 that
Mlicki had the best Mets career. I hope one day I will think of 2013 the
way I do about 1983, the best last-place Mets team in a long run of such
finishes because everything came up roses the following year and for the
rest of the decade, frustrating as it sometimes was. Metsland never saw
a better seven years.
Who knows what we really have now? Will
the team’s hitting deficiencies continually recur? Or will they be
solved in ways we cannot yet imagine? That is another reflection. For
I realize that the Mets will never be the Yankees,
or even the Red Sox, or the Cardinals. The Mets do, however, have the
money to be a better version of a team like the Rays, if they are smart.
I admit that using the words “money,” “smart,” and “Mets” in the same
sentence sounds ludicrous. “Lucky,” though, is a word that the Mets have
enjoyed at key moments in their half century of existence—just not many
doses of it lately. Triskaidekaphobia aside, I got lucky with the
Mets in ’13, even if the team did not.
it Jo Boxer!
I went from having no tickets for
Opening Day to having four gratis box seats at the last minute because
others had less flexible schedules. And I saw the most lopsided
Opening Day win in the annals of a team that has historically kicked
butt on Opening Day (and played indifferently the rest of the time).
I got a press pass—rare for me—at the
last minute to see Matt Harvey start against LA when he was the
hottest pitcher in the game. Harvey didn’t win, but the Mets did after
Wright collected a two-out single in the ninth to tie it, followed by
bad boy Jordany Valdespin’s grand slam to end the game in the 10th.
I watched more games on TV than I had in
years and saw Matt Harvey pitch one of the best games in Mets history
only to get a no decision, but the Mets still won when Mike Baxter got
the first of two game-ending pinch hits that week. It seemed the
better Harvey pitched, the worse support he got.
The best week of the year? The five-game
winning streak that started with a late rally to beat the Braves on
Sunday Night Baseball that fed into a staggering, two-stadium,
four-game sweep of the Yankees. The first time the Mets have skunked
the Yankees in one season in interleague play. The Mets followed that
up by getting swept by the Marlins.
The Mets remained more or less dead
until June 16. I got back into WFAN range (we will not even bring up
that 2013 was the last year of the FAN-Mets marriage) just in time to
hear a walk-off home run by forgotten Kirk
Nieuwenhuis. The next time the Mets hit the field was their best day
of the year: the June
18 day-night doubleheader in Atlanta, with Harvey winning the opener
and Wheeler victorious in his debut in the nightcap. From mid June
until the end of the year the Mets played .500 ball (49-49). You could
not ask much more from this team in 2013.
Back to me... I caught a foul ball! My
second ever at a major league game, bookended with a ball caught—also
on the rebound—in the final year of Shea. Thank you, Josh Satin!
I won a second-chance lottery for tickets to the
All-Star Game. Then I got lucky again. By the time I realized that the
email was not the week’s 12th reminder about some useless Mets.com
“deal,” the only tickets left were standing room only tickets. At $100
apiece these were not even close to the most expensive tickets I’ve
seen in five years of Citi Field. Then on the day of the first Mets
All-Star Game since 1964, I got lucky a third time. We claimed an SRO
perch in front of the handicapped seating area in left field and from
there watched Matt Harvey toss shutout ball as the NL starter. The
very pleasant man in front of us, who happened to be in a wheelchair,
departed midway through the game to escape the heat. He invited us to
use his seats. We’d been to the sweltering the Home Run Derby the
night before, and spent the afternoon at the fun All-Star Fan Fest in
the city, so by game time the kids were starting to sag. We sat, we
watched, we checked off a long-time wish list to attend an All-Star
Game. Perhaps the luckiest part of all, the usher forgot where he was
working. He smiled at us and gave us a thumbs up for us to use the
seats rather than have them sit idle for the last five innings. Lucky
thing I decided to bring the kiddies and the wife, but I was just
following the advice given in
the best baseball song ever written.
In September, just when I was starting
to wonder if I should scram Citi Field because I had kept my kid, a
friend, and his dad too long at a meaningless, scoreless, Sunday game
against the Marlins, Travis d’Arnaud contributed his lone key
offensive moment of 2013: a game-winning single. The new number 15’s
a little Grote in him.
I actually found someone willing to go to a
Mets-Brewers game the last Friday of the season for
Metoberfest and got
a special boot that I made good use of throughout the fall. The
game, as advertised, sucked.
The last day of the year I was guest of
the Chapmans, ending 2013 as I started it, at a wonderful Citi Field
tailgate. I watched Mike Piazza get inducted in the Mets Hall of Fame,
saw Eric Young become the first Met not named Reyes to win a league
stolen base crown, and though the Mets hit one ball out of the infield
all day, they somehow won—with Frank Francisco getting the save. What
What the hell, indeed. All my good fortune added
up to another 74-88 season, but it did get Terry Collins another
contract. The good luck did not carry over to meaningful games for the
Mets or meaningful projects for me following the publication of
Swinging ’73, but that can happen if you start getting picky
about the projects you sign on to do. I hope my luck changes in that
regard this year, just as I hope there is a departure from the perpetual
70-win season. With the Mets, though, let me put in a disclaimer that I
don’t mean I am looking for fewer wins in the future. I just hope to get
one year closer to turning the corner because I’ve been running down
this same block so long I feel like George Jetson on a treadmill.
“Jane, stop this crazy thing!” And I don’t mean Jane Jarvis.
Though she can
play me out any time.
The 40-year anniversary countdown for
Swinging ’73 was good fun, but it made annual
housekeeping on the site tricky. I did manage to get out the final 2013
player grades (a lot of C’s), my Favorite Non Playing Met (Anthony
Recker), and I even got off a shortened version of Letters to the
Met-idor (a lot of player movement in December led to that). But there
are still things to keep up with from 2013, including the ’13 edition of
Reflections of a Mets Life, which will come later this week.
Right now you are blessed with my
attendance record at Citi Field over the past year. When the new park
opened, I vowed to catalog each season in the Citi as it came along, so
as not to strain my memory as I did a while back to recreate a list of
my 365 games at Shea (give or take a dozen). My Citi mark is far more
precise: 66 games in five seasons (35-31 record). One of those games
came last September, when a Travis d’Arnaud single in the 12th inning
mercifully plated the lone run of an otherwise scoreless and tedious
game. Months later while tallying, I realized that it was the fifth win
I’d witnessed against the frigging Marlins at Citi, one more than I’ve
seen against the Dodgers. That deserves the kind of coverage a
meaningless Mets September win garners in week two of football season.
For all the hubbub about bringing in the
fences, I saw the Mets hit exactly three home runs in 10 games at Citi
Field; visitors hit eight. For the year opponents belted 90 homers at
Citi, while the home boys hit all of 59. The Mets are just abysmal at
home—since giving away home-field advantage, the Mets have a home record
of 69-93 in 2012-13. Attendance declined for the fifth straight year as
well. But I digress.
Pitching continues to be the best thing
about this franchise. I witnessed young arms aplenty in 2013: two Matt
Harvey starts, two Jon Niese nods, a Zack Wheeler win, plus a cat named
Dillon Gee, who allowed one run in two solid starts on my watch, only to
go 0-1—such are the hazards of employment in Flushing. I was pleasantly
surprised in the two starts I saw Carlos Torres make—including a win
against runaway division champion Atlanta. I witnessed two of the three
wins by Vic Black, who wasn’t even a Met until Labor Day. Four straight
games I saw Bobby Parnell have a direct role in an outcome: a win, a
loss, and two saves. On the slugging front, Jordany Valdespin’s
extra-inning, walkoff grand slam marked the only time I recall ever
seeing that in the flesh, because apparently the one I saw Robin Ventura
hit didn’t count.
I took my son to his first Opening Day and
attended my first All-Star Game in 2013. You won’t find the latter event
on the list because it—like the Mets-Yankees exhibition games I saw in
1989, and 2013 Home Run Derby—is not an actual game. Also not included
below: ’13 visits to ballparks in Philly, Boston, and Baltimore, along
with minor journeys to Salem, Virginia; Frederick, Maryland; and
Dutchess Stadium for my 10-year-old’s birthday with the
And that’s it. The Citi details are below.
Ten games felt like a good number. Maybe the Mets will give me reason to
try to get out there more in ’14.
Log 2013 Citi Field
Mets Rec, Pos
Who hit the HRs
SD, 11-2 W
Everything went right. Cowgill slam and every
starter got on base (except for Ike, with 4 Ks).
SD, 2-1 L
Took 6 Padres to hold Mets to 1 run on 5 hits
(plus 5 walks). Buck ripped HR off LF facade.
LA, 7-3 W
Harvey start, Wright ties it with 2
outs in 9th (with 1B open), win in 10th on Jordany slam.
Controversial scrub hits last Mets HR I see.
Cin, 7-4 L
Harvey not great, but surprise! Ankiel was: 2
2Bs and a 3B but then was pinch-hit for by TC.
Atl, 4-1 W
Ike got a big hit! And Lagares!! And Torres!!!
Atl, 7-4 W
My first time seeing Zack in the flesh and I
catch a foul ball! Nice afternoon plus 14 hits.
Mia, 1-0 W
Teams sleepwalk after doubleheader night before.
D'Arnaud 1B in 12th for Black's 1st W.
SF, 2-1 L
Enough Giants fans at this matinee to make you
puke. Mets offense looked sickly, too.
Mil, 4-2 L
Maldanado, Aoki, Davis
Second of 3 straight 4-2 losses to Brew Crew.
Mets beer boot made trip worthwhile.
Mil, 3-2 W
Mets get 3 hits, no walks yet still win on
Piazza Day to finish 3rd. Eric Young wins SB crown.
Not a success for Mets, but I saw All-Star Game
and got in 10 games despite missing all of June and August. Went 4
times with my son!
Since '09 opening
How long until Citi (or I) see meaningful game?
January 29, 2014
Super Trivia for a
Copy of Swinging '73
It took all of five minutes for James Diceman Lynch to come up with the
answer to the trivia question. I have had past trivia contests that in
five days did not come up with the right answer, so kudos to the
Facebook group True Metsfans, where there were more mentions of D.J.
Dozier than in 1987 NFL draft rooms, when he was the 14th overall pick
out of Penn State. Five unproductive years later with the Vikings and
Lions, he was in the major leagues as a Met, where he was perfect in
steals (4-for-4) but not much else (.191 average) for the all too
imperfect 1992 Mets (lest we forget,
The Worst Team Money Could Buy). He was traded with Wally
Whitehurst to the Blue Jays that winter for Tony Fernandez, the Richie
Hebner of the 1990s when it comes to people not wanting to be in
Flushing. D.J. never played again in either the NFL or MLB, but his
promise lives again
- - - -
Since this is Super
Bowl week in New York, this once in a lifetime occurrence (we can only
hope) should offer something to those not willing to dole out the big
bucks for tickets, even after they have been slashed on the secondary
market because out of towners are tired of New York or snow. Whatever
the reason, let’s
get to this football-oriented Mets question. The winner gets a copy of
is the only Mets player to have played in the NFL?
The winner is the
first person to send in the correct answer to my
accounts, or by emailing me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Swinging ’73
not only deals with baseball and the general strife of the year
Watergate flooded everything, but it also has a bit about football,
including the undefeated Dolphins, the last Giants game at Yankee
Stadium, Joe Willie Namath on
Monday Night Football, and baseball being played in football
stadiums. Good luck and good reading.
January 17, 2014
Nominations Open for
Greg Spira Award
This is an
announcement that makes me happy and sad: Happy that a promising writer
will get encouragement—and more important, money—for high quality
research and writing, but I am also sad since the award exists due to
the death of a good friend. Greg Spira and I put together numerous
projects over a dozen years before his death at age 44 in 2011 from
kidney disease. He was among the most knowledgeable Mets fans I have
known, and he co-edited all four editions of the Maple Street Mets
Annual with me from 2008-11. I miss that magazine, but I miss Greg
I am proud to be
one of the judges for the annual award in his name, given by his
brother, Jonathan, to help nurture young writers.
The award is eligible to writers aged 30
or younger who have published or presented an original, researched piece
on the game Greg loved so much. Greg always pushed for the Mets annual,
which paid for content, to include articles by young writers, many of
them still in college or fresh out.
It is fitting that
the announcement came out the same day as the
Oscar nominees, because that list annually led to an hour-plus
telephone debate with Greg on who should and shouldn’t have gotten
nominations. (I am still hoping to see 12 Years a Slave after
listening on CD to the riveting 1850s memoir, I really enjoyed
Gravity, I thought All Is Lost deserved more than a sound
editing nomination, and I felt Blue Jasmine was overrated—what no
Oscar love for Andrew Dice Clay?) That my post on Greg’s award is coming
out a day late is also fitting because many of our hours-long phone
chats—he lived 10 miles from me for 10 years—began with me calling to
remind him to get the work done on time.
Here is the
official announcement of the award. You can find out more by going to
the Spira Award
site. Good luck, and I look forward to reading this year’s entries.
Greg Spira Baseball
Rules and Procedures
for Nominations for the 2014 Award
The Greg Spira
Baseball Research Award Committee (www.SpiraAward.org)
has announced the rules and procedures for nominations for the second
annual Greg Spira Baseball Research Award. The winner of the 2014 Greg
Spira Award will receive a cash prize of $1,000. The committee will also
recognize two additional writers with awards of $200 for second place
and $100 for third place.
The inaugural Spira
Award was presented to Trent McCotter of Washington, D.C., last
year. Dan Farnsworth and Caleb Hardwick were honored as
second- and third-place winners, respectively.
The Nomination Period
will open at 12:01 a.m. EST on January 16, 2014, and remain open through
11:59 p.m. EST on February 15, 2014. Nominations received before or
after the Nomination Period will not be considered.
The Nomination Form
for the Greg Spira Award can be found at
Anyone can nominate a qualifying piece for the Award, and
self-nominations by authors are welcome. Note, however, that only one
entry per author will be considered for the Greg Spira Award.
In order to be
eligible for nomination, a piece or book must be about baseball and must
contain original analysis or research. Nominated pieces or books must
have been published between January 16, 2013, and January 15, 2014.
Articles, papers, and books eligible for consideration include those
published in print or in e-books, those published or posted on the World
Wide Web, academic papers or dissertations, and papers presented at
professional or public conferences.
In the event of
multiple nominations, a self-nomination by the author takes priority
over any piece nominated by a third party. If multiple pieces by one
author are nominated by third parties, the judges will attempt to
contact the author to ascertain which piece he/she wants to be
considered. If the author fails to respond, the judges will evaluate the
first piece submitted and ignore any other nominated pieces by that
The Publication Period
dates have been chosen so that pieces published about the annual January
Hall of Fame election are eligible for consideration without having to
wait a full year. This also ensures that pieces about Spink Award, Frick
Award, and Hall of Fame inductees who will be honored in Cooperstown on
the same July weekend will not be split between two Greg Spira Awards.
(The Spink, Frick and Veterans Committee selections are announced in
December, while the Baseball Writers Association of America selections
are announced in early January.)
The Greg Spira Baseball Research
Award winners will be announced on April 27, 2014, the 47th
anniversary of Greg’s birth. Winning entries must display innovative
analysis or reasoning
by an author who was 30 years old or younger at
the time of the entry’s publication.
<> <> <>
Something I am sure
Greg and I would have carpooled for if it had been around during our
days with the Mets annual is the inaugural
Queens Baseball Convention. I will head down Saturday afternoon to
McFadden’s next to Citi Field after I watch my son’s hockey team take on
my hometown White Plainsmen in the morning. Saugerties Mustangs on the
ice and the New York Mets hot stove burning bright, should be quite a
January 13, 2014
Cheating Players and Teams That Employ Them
Slowly I turned, step by step… Three or four times I have considered
writing an entry for my mood on the winter state of baseball, but I have
held off. The
Queens Baseball Conference? It’s been plugged often elsewhere but I
will probably be among the audience. The Hall of Fame ballot? I am a
“hard marker” as someone once said and my version of the Hall of Fame
does not include anyone who is not an automatic. Greg Maddux? Yes. Frank
Thomas? No. Craig Biggio? No. Tom Glavine? 300-game winners are rare
these days, and I don’t know how you could hold him back; unless you
said the Mets—not the Braves—needed to win a game badly, and then he’d
fold like a cheap suit. If he’d pitched worth a damn in one of his final
three starts as a Met, I think a lot of New Yorkers would rejoice at
this news, and they surely would have slept better in the last two weeks
of September 2007 if he hadn’t had a 14.81 ERA and batters didn’t get a
hit every other time they hit the ball (.500 batting average on balls in
play). Abysmal fortnight aside, Glavine is deservedly in the Hall. When
it comes to the hat he wears on the plaque, it’s obviously an Atlanta
“A,” but he did spend as many years as a Met as Gary Carter, who will
never be confused with Glavine when it comes to Mets who came through
when it really, really mattered.
what’s the topic already? It’s Alex Rodriguez. Ugh! I can hear kids
throwing down their gloves like in Little League when the worst kid on
the team made an error at the worst time. Yes, Alex Rodriguez. The guy
the Mets ignored in 2000, a move that took a while to feel like the
right move. But it has felt so, so right for a while now. People here
hated Jason Bay and he just sucked as a hitter, though not as a person.
Over time, we’ve come to embrace Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden,
who left a lot on the table as players and initially left Flushing in
disgrace due to their too human traits. A-Rod has no redeeming
qualities. He had all Roger Clemens’s and Barry Bonds’s talent and was
just as rock headed. A-Rod, like Clemens and Bonds, was already among
the best in talent and remuneration at his position when he decided to
applaud the 162-game suspension and I can only hope it remains in place.
I can also hope that this becomes the penalty for a first offense and
maybe we’ll actually see fewer players tempted as a result. The whole
thing is a little sickening, even watching smarmy Tony Bosch in the
60 Minutes piece online, interspersed with Viagra ads.
is a loathsome jerk who has already admitted to cheating once—during
that same period he would have been a Met had they signed him as a free
agent—but MLB did it right this time by including the postseason (or
play-in games) in the ban. Last year this loophole allowed Nelson Cruz
to play for the Rangers in a one-game, pre-Wild Card playoff between
Texas and Tampa Bay. Nelson and the Rangers lost. Detroit’s Jhonny
Peralta, on the other hand, played in two postseason rounds after
serving his suspension through the regular season in the Biogenesis
case. Peralta hit .417 in helping the Tigers beat Oakland. If the A’s
hadn’t had employed so many players involved in PEDs through the
years—including newest Met Bartolo Colon—they’d have a right to be
furious. Peralta hit .286 against Boston, higher than Miguel Cabrera,
Torii Hunter, or Prince Fielder in a losing cause.
loophole allowed a pair of free-agents to be to showcase themselves
while telling those watching at home—and impressionable kids with 11:30
bedtimes—that it’s OK to miss eight weeks of the season; let the
cheaters back for the games that really count. What if either player was
a starting pitcher who would have had all that rest and might be in
midseason form come October? Peralta got a $53 million contract for four
years from St. Louis. That number helped set the market for the free
agents, presumably clean, that followed. The team benefiting from all
this is the Yankees, who, if the suspension stands, have $25 million
they do not have to pay A-Rod, which they can spend on another player
and not have that sum count toward the revenue sharing payroll limit of
least I’m not the only one pissed. Dave Aardsma, middling Mets reliever
in 2013, said it for a lot of players trying to stay in the big leagues
on God-given talent, not Bosch-induced chemistry. “I had two major
surgeries in five years and made it back clean,” Aardsma said the day of
the Peralta signing. “Nothing pisses me off more than guys that cheat
and get raises for doing so.” At last look Aardsma was still trying to
latch onto a team for the major league minimum.
know where this is going, don’t know where this game is going, but I do
know that I turned on the MLB Channel this morning and all they were
talking about was A-Rod. The NFL Channel was all about Brady-Manning XV.
One day maybe baseball will get back to the big news being a big game.
But a first step might be to not reward people for cheating. Close the
loopholes in suspensions. Keep them out of the Hall of Fame. But as long
as they keep rewarding people who cheat with lavish contracts, we’re not
really going anywhere.
Forty Years Ago Today: 12/18/73... Yanks Hire Dick Williams. Not
It was like a dream. Except it was real.
There was dollar shrimp for the press at a
restaurant overlooking Flushing Meadows, the new—if temporary—home
of the New York Yankees. Queens wasn’t what the Bronx Bombers were used
to, but now they could relax. The disaster that 1973 had turned into for
the Yankees was at an end. The New York media was lapping up the shrimp
and everything the new manager said—new manager Dick Williams.
six years as a major league manager, Dick Williams had gone to the
postseason four times, three pennants, and two world championships. It
was a golden age of managing. Three future Hall of Famers were employed
in 1973: Walter Alston in Los Angeles, Sparky Anderson in Cincinnati,
and Earl Weaver in Baltimore. One future Cooperstown enshrinee was just
starting in the dugout, Whitey Herzog, fired late in the year in a
Texas-sized disaster with the Rangers. Another Hall of Fame skipper was
saying goodbye on the other side of the Lone Star state as 67-year-old
Leo Durocher managed his last game in Houston’s season finale. There
were other superb ’73 skippers who did not wind up in Cooperstown: Billy
Martin (Texas), Chuck Tanner (White Sox), Jack McKeon (Royals), Danny
Murtaugh (Pirates), Danny Ozark (Phillies), and Gene Mauch (Expos).
Managers Red Schoendienst ( Cardinals) and Eddie Mathews later made it
into the Hall of Fame as players, while Mets skipper Yogi Berra was
already in Cooperstown as players. And though the Hall of Fame forgot
about Ralph Houk, we will not. He’d resigned after the last game at old
Yankee Stadium following three decades in pinstripes, had his
resignation accepted, and then took the job in Detroit. In Williams, the
Yankees had hired arguably the best manager of them all, for an owner
who would give Charlie Finley a run for his money when it came to
Williams knew from dealing with onerous owners. He had won his second
straight world championship just two months ago, beating the Mets in
seven games, and topped it off by quitting. In the World Series-winning
locker room, Williams told Charlie Finley he was not taking it any more.
It was something people in every walk of life wanted to do to that
boss, the one who has you talking to yourself, questioning yourself,
wondering how to get him off your back. Sportswriters, most of whom
could sympathize with such bosses, made Williams a folk hero. As if a
man who won two straight World Series needed extra PR.
Williams really needed, though, was someone who could write a happy
ending to his story. Because even though Williams was announced as
Yankees manager 40 years ago today, he never managed a game in
pinstripes. He still had a two-year contract with Finley, and the
Oakland owner would not let him leave... for New York.
should have worked out, but the year from hell for George Steinbrenner
would not end any other way but badly. New general manager Gabe Paul
tried to work out a deal with Finley, but he would take nothing less
than the crown jewels of the Yankees farm system: Scott McGregor and
Otto Velez. Neither ever played in Oakland and Dick Williams never
managed in New York.
Though 1973 began with his purchasing the Yankees for a song—a tune to
the sound of $10 million, or $8.8 million if you count parking garages
sold back in the deal—Steinbrenner’s year quickly unraveled. Two of his
pitchers swapped wives as spring training began—talk about the need for
good PR. His team went from first place to fourth just as the crosstown
Mets were making a reverse climb through the standings. Behind the
scenes, illegal campaign contributions the previous year were coming
home to roost, eventually leading to his (first) suspension from
baseball. And in the final move by Joe Cronin in a career that went from
player to manager to general manager to league president, the longtime
Red Sox employee would side with Charlie Finley—not that he wanted to.
Finley held the cards, he had a signed contract. And just to show it
was all about New York, he would let Williams out of his contract to
manage the Angels in time for him to manage the All-Star game the
Yankees hired Bill Virdon—not mentioned earlier among the game’s great
managers. Though he would win the 1974 AL Manager of the Year Award, he
would be fired before the Yankees were even out of Shea Stadium in 1975.
And in came Billy Martin. But that is a story for another year.
<> <> <>
concludes Swinging ’73 Presents: 40 Years Ago Today... sort of
like a surprise ending when you have been listening to a book on CD for
a long time and then it suddenly ends. I was going to extend this series
over Christmas, but since the Dick Williams saga is the Epilogue of
Swinging ’73, I think we are done here. Of course, the book includes
a detailed account about what happened to the main characters from 1973,
and there is plenty of other stuff not included in the accounts,
pictures, and descriptions online. And that leads into the final pitch.
There’s just enough time to order
Swinging ’73 online or via this site. But hurry, supplies of
books and dignity are limited.
for what happened in the final two weeks of 1973,
Magnum Force, and everyone’s favorite holiday film,
The Exorcist all opened in theaters. President Richard Nixon
Endangered Species Act, ironic in that his own presidency was far
more in danger than most of the species he was protecting. Notre Dame
beat Alabama by a point in a shootout Sugar Bowl of unbeatens. Miami and
Minnesota punched their tickets for a Super Dud—though Super Bowl VIII
would likely have been far more interesting if conference runners-up
Oakland and Dallas had made for a Madden-Landry matchup at Rice Stadium
fade out, it is tempting to play Jim Croce’s
“Time in a Bottle,” which sadly reached number one at the end of
1973, three months after his death in a plane crash at age 30. That is
too sad a note to go out on, so I am going with the title song, and the
final song, from a great ’73 album not included in the online
retrospective—though mentioned in the book—Goodbye
Yellow Brick Road. “I should have stayed on the farm, I should have
listened to my old man...”
Forty Years Ago Today: 12/16/73... O.J. Breaks 2,000 at Shea
On this day in 1973 the Juice was loose. Before he
was a presumed killer, mediocre actor, or even rental car spokesman, O.J.
Simpson was the most prolific running back in pro football history… in a
14-game season. Orenthal James Simpson came into the final game of the
’73 NFL season needing 61 yards to break Jim Brown’s 10-year-old mark of
1,863 yards. Simpson did that easily enough and kept on
running all over the Jets at snowy Shea.
The Jets were lucky to have four wins and they
were not up to the task of stopping the Juice. The Bills ran the
football a staggering 62 times—talk about ball control! Simpson ran for
an even 200 yards on 34 carries, and fullback Jim Braxton rushed for 98
more on 24 carries. Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson tossed all of five
passes in the game. Joe Namath threw for 206 yards on those rare
occasions when the Jets had the ball, but Buffalo stampeded to a 34-14
win. The victory wasn’t enough as 9-5 Buffalo missed out on the playoffs
by a game. The Dolphins, who’d win the Super Bowl again, went 12-2 to
wrap up the AFC East. In the one Wild Card team era, the Bills were SOL
because the Bengals, who had the same 10-4 record as the Steelers,
claimed the Wild Card. The Bills could only blame themselves due to a
16-13 home less to the Bengals—who had
the most low-key NFL helmets this side of the Browns (I still hate
those frigging striped Cincy helmets).
The ’73 Bills had pretty cool helmets, too.
O.J. remains the only player to ever rush
for 2,000 yards in a 14-game season. The other six players to achieve
the feat have all done so since the NFL increased the season to 16 games
in 1978. Though O.J. retired after the ’79 season more than 1,000 yards
shy of Jim Brown in career rushing yards (12,312), no one has ever
matched Simpson’s average of 143 rushing yards per game over a full
Simpson, who had been acting in TV as a guest star
since before he won the 1968 Heisman Trophy at USC, began his big screen
career in 1974 with a small part in a big movie,
The Towering Inferno, and acting with Lee Marvin and Richard
Burton in The Klansman (what
it sounds like). He would be better known in the 1970s as
Hertz pitch man, leaping luggage in a single bound. Simpson would be
brought low in the years to come—not low enough, many still
contend—but in a league where running backs still ruled, O.J. was on top
of the world in 1973. Or at least running over it.
December 11, 2013
Mets Holiday Present of the Year: You’re in Luck
know that point where it gets close enough to December 25 where you
think, “Well, if I don’t do this now, it’s never going to happen?” Well,
we’re almost there.
guess it gets to that point when you are trying kind of hard to come up
with gift ideas for others. The last three years I have done the service
of recommending gifts for Mets fans. As someone who has gotten Mets
gifts at just about every gift-giving occasion for, oh, 38 years or so,
I have experience in this area. Other than
the 7-Line, the
greatest entrepreneur of paraphernalia that doesn’t actually use the
word Mets, I rarely buy Mets apparel stuff to wear. I think I have
already proven I am a pretty hard-core Mets fan and I don’t need to be a
Wilponian billboard on my off time. Not that I don't have a drawer-full
of such stuff, including the snappy All-Star golf shirt I bought at half
price during garbage time last year—maybe
I should specify: September.
In the past I have recommended
clubs for the kiddies,
e-guides to help navigate a park that still makes me feel like a
stranger at times, and
books from impeccable sources to get us up to date on our Mets. This
year I am not going as far to do what I can to help for the holiday
present of the year. (I used to say Christmas present, but when I saw
the new hate-mongering Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, and other bullies
were making about it, I dropped all previous objections and only wish
I’d done so before the family Christmas holiday cards had been
Anyway, the Mets Holiday Present of the
Year should still come as no surprise if you’ve been following here this
year. To quote the quintessential double album of 1973, Quadrophenia:
it me for a moment?”
the Mets present for 2013 is
Swinging ’73. While this may fail the modesty test, I will at
least make this selection easy for those last-minute shoppers.
through the site and you’ll get it signed anyway you want, plus normal
shipping for $20. For more expedited shipping (or if you don’t get
around to this until December 17), contact me and we will figure it out.
If you already have the book—God
bless you, every one—I also
recently came across boxes in the attic for
Mets by the Numbers and
Baseball Miscellany ($10 apiece).
payment via Pay Pal at payments@metsilverman, email your order to
email@example.com, or send an email to the same address if you want
to send by check (and don’t need it before the holiday, or want to use
trying to keep my dignity through this all this, but the truth is I
won’t be coming out with any new books for 2014 (except as a
contributor), so get ’em while you can. Of course, if you order books
through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local book shoppe, that is
equally swell. Keep reading (something besides your phone) all the year
long. Merry Chri… no, holiday greetings to all.
December 10, 2013
Letters to the
Met-idor: Winter Meetings Edition
Twice a year I run Letters to the
Met-idor, gleaning the best of the correspondence we get at
metsilverman.com. I have a stack of it the size of a college freshman’s
laundry pile, but with
Swinging ’73 Presents: 40 Years Ago Today, I have been
holding letters until we get through the final few weeks of this 40th
anniversary season. Today, though, we take a few minutes off and delve
into my ongoing discussion with reader Frank Dirig about the current
Mets. The dialogue starts with most recent events—and me flipping the
tables to ask Frank what he thought of the most recent Mets moves. Yet
the conversation goes back to the beginning of the 2013 season, when he
asked me about both Ike Davis, coming off a 30-homer year in 2012, and
everyone’s favorite baseball-owning family. The months may fly by, but
the topic of conversation never seems to change.
And on the subject of the present,
tomorrow we have Mets Holiday Present of the Year, which has a familiar
Me: So what think
you now that the Mets have signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year,
$60-million deal? You may have to wait five minutes to respond. The
Yankees were so angry that the Mets—and Mariners—signings of Yankees
produce came right in the middle of the feel-good Brian McCann
introductory love in, that they signed Carlos Beltran just for spite.
Frank: I like this
Granderson move... don’t love it. It shows they will spend, well,
something. My fear is when Wright is up vs. a lefty, he will still be
walked to face a guy who may strike out. But I do like it. Most of all,
they need to do more. Maybe one more big move. I understand Rome wasn't
built in a day.
And with the Harvey situation maybe
2015 is the year. I applaud Sandy & the Wilpons (can’t believe I said
that) for realizing Mets fans have had it! However I do think there are
bats to be had without giving up the young arms. Finally I’d say I don't
know if Sandy Alderson (someone I truly respect) is the aggressive
go-getter they will need once they are competitive. Or perhaps his hands
are tied by the Wilpons. All in all a good day and positive news.
Me: I agree.
Granderson might not have been the biggest, or cheapest, fish out there,
but money has been flying at a ridiculous rate all around baseball for
more than a month. I mean $240 million for Robinson Cano? A 10-year
contract? I had hoped we would see no more of these decade-long
contracts—all of which have failed since the first one was handed out by
Cleveland in 1977 to
Wayne Garland, a guy no one has heard of outside of bitter Indians
fans of a certain age.
Back to Granderson, the Mets had to
sign him. Not because he’s great but because many fans seemed desperate
and frustrated enough to finally give up on this team. And once the
frigging Marlins signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a multi-year deal,
Aldersonian reasoning about fiscal responsibility had to be tabled.
Granderson can add some protection for David Wright, however minimally,
in a lineup with the depth of a character from Two Broke Girls;
make that Two Broke Guys and it could be a new sitcom about the
Wilpons—now there’s a new revenue stream no one has thought of.
Opti-Metstic It Hurts
Frank: Your thoughts on the
Mets? Is it worth it to make an effort to compete this year?? I don’t
even know what that would mean... trades?? Living five minutes from
Binghamton, I think Montero may be every bit as good as Wheeler...
finally do you think Ike Davis has been overhyped? Just curious from one
long time fan to another....
P.S. The pessimism among Mets fans
(myself included) is a drag... but years of disappointment have brought
Me: Oh, talking about the
current Mets without pessimism. You have challenged me here, Frank. On
the one hand, they have Matt Harvey, who has looked so good early it is
scary, and you have Jon Niese. When the Mets are to the point where
Niese is a fourth starter, with the likes of Montero and Wheeler lining
in behind Harvey, then the Mets will be a deep enough team we can
actually use the “C” word: “contend,” not “collapse”—the very dirty “C”
word in the Mets vocabulary.
I don’t think the Mets have what it
takes to play .500 ball this year, and that is the very basis of
contending, even in the double-Wild Card era. I also think it a travesty
to consider a second Wild Card as being a playoff team. I think you
should have to actually play a postseason series (not game) to be
considered a postseason club, but these players are of the generation
that all get participation trophies in Little League, maybe that’s the
trend. As was the case with the adoption of baseball’s
first Wild Card in the 1990s, I will get excited about the new playoff
format when it
I guess that would affect you, too.
When the Mets are good—see, I didn’t
say “if,” I said “when”—I’d like to see Ike Davis in the middle of that
lineup, but most really good Mets team has had an imported first baseman
with talent: Donn Clendenon, Keith Hernandez, John Olerud. But when the
Mets went to the 1973 World Series, you may have heard this from me
already, homegrown John Milner was the first sacker. And the 2000
pennant-winning club had a first baseman named Todd Zeile, a Hyundai of
an import (serviceable, affordable, and able to get you where you want
to go, but meh). So I think the Ike Davis conundrum will depend on two
things: whether he continues to hit 30 homers per year and how much it
will cost for him to do that.
Because Ike came up in earlier in the
2010 season than the Mets wanted him to—due to a GM desperate to save
his job, and frankly, the right move for that team as well—Davis is now
paid at a much higher rate than he would have otherwise at this point.
Was he overhyped? Any superhero movie you can name is overhyped. Ike
Davis was not. For a team with a notorious reputation for producing
players without power, I think the Mets were right to promote Ikey when
they did and for the PR and media to hype him as they did. I even accept
my small part in the Ike hype by putting him
on the cover of the 2011 Maple Street Press Mets Annual (and
I take no responsibility for Ike’s getting hurt or the MSP Annuals going
the way of the dinosaur). If Ikey is a classic bad first half player who
finishes with 30 homers a year, I think he is a success by Mets
standards; once that translates into eight-figure salary, however,
expect him to play elsewhere.
That is as optimistic as I can muster
right now. Win, lose, or draw, we’ll put this out with the Letters after
the season [“See?
said December me] and find out if I am right, or blissfully wrong.
Frank: One more thing: are they
financially secure? (ownership) are they even honest about these
Me: Financially secure? I think
the Wilpons can scrape together enough cash for a
Citi Field steak sandwich (worth every bite of $15), but they may
need to sleep in their office to afford it. Not that they’d ever say
that. The Wilpons’ public statements are like a ship’s steward on the
Titanic saying, “There’s a small problem below decks. It should be
years ago today John Cappelletti gave one of the most heart-felt
speeches of the last half century in sports. Having just won the 1973
Heisman Trophy, the Penn State running back told the awards banquet
crowd, which included new Vice President Gerald Ford, that he was giving
the award to his little brother, Joey Cappelletti, who was suffering
Though the story and the speech got
tremendous publicity—as well it should have—the 1973 story of John and
Joey Cappelletti was brought home to many with the made-for-TV movie
Something for Joey. Based on the book by Richard E. Peck, the movie
first aired in 1977, a year after Joey died at age 13. Like Brian’s
Song, about the tragically short life of Brian Piccolo, Gale
Sayers’s best friend and Bears roommate, Something for Joey is a
sports movie that almost defies the viewer
not shed a tear.
Marc Singer ( later known as
Beastmaster ) plays John, Jeff Lynas plays Joey, Geraldine Page
and Gerald O’Loughlin play the parents, ’80s stud-to-be Steve Guttenberg
plays Mike Cappelletti, Linda Kelsey (of
the sister-in-law narrator, and TV character actor Paul Picerni plays
A first-round pick in 1974, John
Cappelletti was the starting fullback for a very good Los Angeles Rams
team, though he spent more time
blocking for the likes of Lawrence McCutcheonthan carrying the
ball. Every time I opened a pack of football cards and got
I couldn’t help but think of his little brother and what it must have
been like to have greatness and sadness come in such large doses so
September 7, 2013, the undefeated 1973 team was honored at Penn State.
Cappelletti, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame since 1993,
had his number 22 retired in State College.
Forty Years Ago Today: 12/6/73...
Short-Term D.C. Appointments
this day in 1973, Washington got a new vice president and a new baseball
team. Neither stayed in place very long. Gerald Ford, a Michigan
Congressman who served as minority leader of the House of
Representatives, was tabbed to serve as VP following the disgraceful
resignation of Spiro Agnew that interrupted both the Watergate scandal
and the decisive Mets-Reds playoff game in October.
the baseball front, moving the San Diego Padres to Washington made way
more sense than most bills in Congress. D.C. had been without baseball
for two seasons—its longest period without a major league team since
1890. The Washington Senators, an original American League club dating
to 1901, moved to Minnesota to become the Twins in 1961, the same year
an expansion team dubbed the Senators joined the AL. A decade later, the
new Senators absconded to Texas to become the Rangers.
San Diego Padres, in the meantime, had been a dud since joining the
National League in 1969. Attendance had not surpassed 644,000 in their
first five seasons. Their 611,826 draw for 1973 was less than half the
National League average at the time (when the NL still counted actual
bodies in seats, not tickets sold). The team was lucky to have even that
few fans. The Pads finished dead last in each of their first five years,
losing 110, 99, 100, 95, and 102 games. Don Zimmer, in his first
managerial assignment, was canned after a 60-102 season in 1973.
So there was little holding the Padres in
Southern Cal. Prospective owners were ready to move the ho-hum club to
the Beltway, and on this day in 1973, major league owners said go for
it. They weren’t yet sure what they would call the team in 1974, as
evidenced by these
baseball cards thrown together by Topps and put into production just
in time to be totally wrong.
Kroc, the man who jumpstarted fast food nation with the franchising of
McDonald’s, threw boatloads of cash to keep the inept Padres in San
Diego in 1974 and beyond. Kroc already knew about voluntary suffering,
having lied about his age to train as a 15-year-old ambulance driver in
World War I. Kroc was no Ernest Hemingway, but he got his point across.
“I am not buying the Padres to make money,” the recently-retired
McDonald’s CEO said in February 1974. “I’m buying the Padres because I
love baseball. The Padres will be my hobby.”
And like most other people, his hobby
could prove frustrating. Yet unlike getting airplane glue and lead-based
paint on your shirt while building model tanks in the basement—my hobby
of choice circa 1973-74—I did not have access to a microphone and 39,000
people when I put on the tank wheels wrong. During his first game as
owner, the 72-year-old Kroc took the P.A. microphone and woke up the
1974 Opening Day crowd during a throttling by the Astros. “I have never
seen such stupid playing in my life.” He was fined by buttinsky
commissioner Bowie Kuhn, but Kroc had won the crowd in a city unused to
winning. He died just before the Padres made the rest of the National
League look stupid in 1984. The Padres rallied to take the pennant over
the Cubs, the franchise the kid from Oak Park, Illinois (Hemingway’s
hometown) followed from his youth and had been unable to buy from the
Wrigleys. The sleeves on San Diego’s
McDonaldland uniforms read Kroc’s
initials as they played in their first
in Washington, Ford didn’t stay VP for long—not with Richard Nixon as
president. Nixon, behaving more like Shakespeare’s Richard III than the
leader of the greatest free country on earth, finally succumbed to the
inevitable and resigned in August 1974 rather than face impeachment.
Ford became the only president not elected on a national ticket. The
country had been knocked off its pegs economically and was shaken by
Watergate as Ford became the 38th president. Many still believe Ford
lost any realistic chance of being elected in 1976 by pardoning Nixon
shortly after taking office.
was perhaps the greatest athlete to sit in the White House. He was
center for Michigan while working his way through school during the
Depression, and he turned down offers from the Lions and Packers to go
to Yale Law School, also serving as assistant football coach and boxing
coach. His political career was like that of most lineman: His mistakes
were far better publicized than his successes.
The iconic Daily News headline
“Ford to City: Drop Dead” when he denied Mayor Abe Beam’s
pleas for aid to financially beleaguered New York in 1975, but it is
less well known that Ford soon reversed course and authorized $2.3
billion to New York state earmarked for NYC loans that helped start the
city on the long road back to the top. I admit I didn’t vote for Ford in
our school election in sixth grade in 1976, but I was more concerned
about the Yankees taking over than détente with the Soviets.
Ford was a World War II Navy veteran,
a father of five,
a 13-term Congressman from Grand Rapids, a diehard
Republican who put country before party, a man who actually put new
taxes on oil companies (then, as now, an idea that cheesed off the GOP),
survived two assassination attempts in 1975, and was a husband who
encouraged his First Lady to speak her own liberal mind and stood by her
through breast cancer, alcoholism, and pill addition (Betty Ford’s
battles showed a generation of women who often hid such problems that
there was help and hope). Gerald Ford, who fell down more than once with
the cameras rolling, could laugh at himself while
others laughed at his expense. His off-the-record comments told to
longtime Washington correspondent Thomas DeFrank became the engaging
Write It When I’m Gone, which I listened to on CD as
additional background for
Swinging ’73. (Books, by the way, make great holiday gifts.)
DeFrank’s book taught me a lot about an imperfect but honorable man with
the integrity so sorely missing in politics today.
here is a parting comment from someone who belongs to neither party yet
always votes, and has gone many elections between sips of GOP Kool-Aid:
The old Michigan center was willing to let someone bigger run over his
head if that’s what was needed to get the first down. We could use more
leaders like that.
Forty Years Ago Today: 12/3/1973... CBGB
Opens Its Doors Wide
CBGC opened in New York on this date in
1973. The legendary nightclub became a launching pad for new acts, but
it originally was a haven from noise complaints from the owner’s club in
the West Village, a better neighborhood. So Hilly Kristal relocated to a
property already under contract on 315 Bowery, an area at the time
renowned for its “bums” and a common sense song about the Bowery Savings
Bank, hawked by Joe DiMaggio in 1973: “The Bowery, the Bowery, the
Bowery saves a lot.”
The awning outside the club read CBGB
&OMFUG, which stood for Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music for
Uplifting Gormandizers. Inside, the acts were often new and far from
country or bluegrass. Some had a hard time getting gigs without playing
covers of other bands; Kristal insisted they not play any covers
so he wouldn’t have to worry about royalty fees. Bands, many of whom
would be labeled New Wave, lined up to play at CBGB, including Blondie,
the Ramones, the Police, Patti Smith, and Talking Heads, who included a
line about the club in their show-stopping song, “Life During Wartime.”
CBGB closed in 2006, the result of an ugly
rent dispute because the Bowery had become high end. Joe D. lied, the
Bowery wasn’t saving anybody, not even CBGB’s
Kristal died of lung cancer a year after the demise of his beloved
Forty Years Ago Today: 11/30/1973... The Squiring of the ABA
On this day in 1973 the American
Basketball League’s Virginia Squires scored 139 points. And lost. The
next night they scored 127. And lost again. No matter that one game was
in San Diego, against the Conquistadors, a 145-139 defeat, and the next
night was across the country in Norfolk, a double overtime loss, no
less—128-127 to the New York Nets, the team that the Squires sold the
most dynamic player in ABA history, Julius Erving, because they were in
constant perpetual trouble. What do you expect from a team, and a
league, that once called the Roanoke Civic Center home?
If only the points put up by the ABA had
been money in its pocket. In head to head competition in several
hard-fought exhibition games against the NBA, the ABA regularly came out
on top. Yet the NBA haughtily looked down upon the renegade league’s
red, white, and blue ball, not to mention the ABA’s most lasting
innovation: the three-point stripe. The ABA was obsessed with merging
with the NBA. The leagues played footsie for three more years until
finally merging in 1976, bringing in the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers,
San Antonio Spurs, and Nets, who had to sell Dr. J to the 76ers to get
the money to enter the NBA and pay the territorial fee to the Knicks.
The Squires went bankrupt at the end of
’76, thus losing out by a month on the payday for those not invited to
the merger party. The successful Kentucky Colonels opted for a $3
million buyout while the Spirits of St. Louis took less up front and
held out for a piece of the NBA TV contract that still earns $15 million
annually for a team that hasn’t played a game since the Ford
administration. Wait, actually that’s the ABA’s most lasting
And there you have the extent of my pro basketball
knowledge. But Eric Brach of Bleacher Report knows plenty about hoops.
He is a friend of the site, a good guy, and a talented writer. If you
are interested in learning about pro basketball history, check out his
Billy the Hill and the Jump Hook. I’ve ordered mine. It’ll give
me something to read while waiting on, or wading through, Black Friday,
Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. What, on Sunday retail
rested? A likely story.
Forty years ago, Charlie Brown and
Peanuts celebrated their first Thanksgiving together on television.
It seems such a natural that it is surprising it took 10 TV specials
before they finally got around to Thanksgiving. It is definitely one of
the best Peanuts specials. While the dinner of pretzels, popcorn,
toast, and jelly beans is not what anybody would think the Pilgrims ate
once upon a time, like any good Thanksgiving tradition, cartoonist
Charles M. Schulz incorporates football into the day. Lucy convinces
Charlie Brown to
kick the ball she is holding—I don’t think it rates a spoiler alert
to say that the kid with the round head and the outfit
uglier than the Steelers’ throwback uniformswould have been
better off to kick off a tee,
as was the rule in scholastic football through the 1970s and ’80s.
I remember watching the inaugural A
Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and doing so every year thereafter
through the decade. (If you miss it this Thanksgiving at 8 p.m. on ABC,
you can always watch it
What I remember most about Thanksgiving,
1973, though, was taking what was for us a rare family vacation. We
drove to Washington, D.C., Nixon and energy crisis be damned. All six of
us crammed in Mom’s
Impala: my two brothers and sister in back and dad, me, and mom—in
that order—in the front. It being the ’70s, there were no seatbelts, of
course, and the windows were up so the smoke from my parents could
engulf us all. In turn, I made my dad insane by singing “Tie a Yellow
Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” over and over as it played repeatedly on
the AM radio as we were stuck in traffic for hours on the way home.
Sounds like hell, huh? It was just about
the best Thanksgiving ever.
Forty Years Ago Today: 11/22/1973...
Devastated Ten Years After
years ago today marked 10 years since the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy in Dallas on this day in 1963. That is a day that people
older than me used to say, “You can’t imagine what it was like for the
nation if you weren’t alive.” Then came September 11, 2011. And we all
got a pretty good idea of the feeling.
November 22, 1973 was also Thanksgiving.
People could sit around the table that Thursday and count their
blessings, eat turkey, and watch football (Washington beat Detroit, and
Dallas, fittingly, lost to the Dolphins). There is enough today about
JFK’s assassination to sort through: who else might have pulled the
trigger, purported coverups, the legacy, and hearing from the now old
men and women who were there. But the feeling of America in 1973 seemed
to be how everything went from Camelot to crap in 10 years: the country
locked in the throes of the Nixon mess, the energy crisis, inflation,
and the frigging Osmonds (the squeaky-clean and too-popular pop group
even bombarded Saturday morning with
their own cartoon, like the not as squeaky Jacksons).
The mood of the nation on Thanksgiving 1973 is perhaps best summed up by
New York Times editorial that day. What you see is an
America not so different than the problems facing us today. Pushing
petty concerns aside and moving forward helped get us through the bad
nation’s mood now calls for a more limited goal—a return to basic
principles,” the Times said. Whether it’s 40 years ago, 50 years
ago, and 90 years from now, we can only hope that the direction will
invariably be forward.
On this date in 1973, The Who kicked off
the U.S. tour for the album Quadrophenia near San Francisco.
Quadrophenia focused on a fictional
fan of the group from a decade earlier, when “Mods” were all the rage
and longtime friends Roger Daltrey, John Entwhistle, and Pete Townshend
were just starting out as a band in England. Keith Moon, at the time
only 16, was a few months away from joining The Who.
Like most of The Who’s music, Townshend wrote
almost everything on Quadrophenia. He even collected background
sounds heard throughout the album on a portable recorder near his home.
The finished product is phenomenal. So is Townshend’s
short story that appears on the inside of the album, written from
the perspective of the outcast protagonist—Dr. Jimmy, or Mr. Jim,
depending on how many pills he’d taken or slugs of Gilbey’s gin he’d
swigged. (In tribute to the album’s lasting influence, at least on me,
was my dog Gilbey, named 15 years after the album came out. Best dog
ever. If not for 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, I’d
say the same about Quadrophenia.)
Though at the time the other members of
the band weren’t as fond of playing a rock opera straight through—they
were been there, done that with
Tommy, The Who’s 1969 breakout album and the first rock opera of
its kind. Though not as well received as previous Who efforts initially,
Quadrophenia gained traction with time, with surviving members of
The Who playing the album on multiple tours that came long after the
band’s official “last concert” in 1982. (Daltrey and Townshend just
completed a world tour of Quadrophenia in 2012-13.)
The Who and director Franc Roddam made a film of
Quadrophenia in 1979, starring
Phil Daniels and featuring a young, chic, young
Sting. “The Real Me,” “5:15” and “Love Reign O’er Me” have always
received steady airplay from rock stations, while hidden tracks like
“Cut My Hair,” “The Punk Meets the Godfather,” “I’m One,” “Sea and
Sand,” “Drowned,” and the Keith Moon masterpiece “Bell Boy” were
listened to in bedrooms on rainy afternoons and evenings by future rock
stars, burnouts, and music aficionados alike. Listening to the album
from start to finish still leaves me both elated and drained.
But on November 20, 1973, the first U.S.
tour of Quadrophenia was just beginning. It was only an 11-stop
tour, but it was a challenge from that first night.
Keith Moon was as famous for his wild
style of drumming as he was for his wilder lifestyle and proclivity for
trashing hotel rooms. He’d earned a lifetime ban from Holiday Inn for
his devastation of their hotel in Flint, Michigan on the occasion of his
21st birthday in 1967. Six years older, and crazier in 1973, he got
a little too curious before the show at the Cow Palace on November 20,
Transformed from a hard-working if underappreciated British band into
megastars with the 1969 release of the album Tommy, The Who hit
the States in 1973 to tour in support of Quadrophenia, another
conceptual double LP, this one more autobiographical, focusing on the
band’s early roots in Mod-mad Brighton of the early 1960s. On the first
night of the American leg of the Quadrophenia tour, Moon drank
brandy spiked with animal tranquilizers just as the warm-up band, Lynyrd
Skynyrd, finished their set at the Cow Palace in San Francisco—or so the
story goes. Whatever was in his system and however it got there, Moon
lasted barely an hour onstage before collapsing midway through “Won’t
Get Fooled Again.” Roadies carried him backstage.
“He’s out cold,” guitarist Pete Townshend confessed to the crowd, adding
that the band would try to revive him by punching him in the stomach and
giving him an enema. After a 15-minute break, roadies dragged Moon back
on stage, where he took up the drumsticks to start “Magic Bus.” But he
passed out a minute later, prompting Townshend to address the audience
in search of a replacement.
“Can anybody play the drums?—I mean somebody good.”
Nineteen-year-old Scot Halpin of Muscatine, Iowa, who had recently moved
to Monterey, California, stepped out of the audience and into history.
He played three numbers—all simulcast on the radio in San Jose, San
Francisco, and Sacramento. The three still upright members of the band
ditched the Cow Palace shortly after the impromptu jam session ended.
Halpin was left with a tour jacket, which was promptly stolen, and all
the post-gig buffet food he could eat. Moon lay passed out for 10 hours
straight at his suite at the St. Francis Hotel—the establishment safe,
for a night, from the untamed drummer.
Keith Moon would not live to see
Quadrophenia the movie come out. He died shortly after his 32nd
birthday in 1978 after taking medication designed to decrease his need
for alcohol. The Who was never the same. Keith truly was
of a kind.
Forty Years Ago Today: 11/15/1973... See Kung Fu, Grasshopper
In second and third grade, a favorite
playground game we used to play began with the words,
“Snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper.” That was the
introductory line—in one of the longest opening credit sequences I have
ever come across—from master to pupil in the most laid-back action show
of all-time: Kung Fu.
The legendary martial arts expert and
actor Bruce Lee had spoken in an interview about pitching a show similar
to Kung Fu before returning to Asia and having his greatest
success in films until his untimely death from an allergic reaction to
medicine at age 33 in 1973. But the show that aired on ABC, from scripts
that had been bouncing around Hollywood for several years before going
into production, was an American effort by Ed Spielman. Kung Fu
featured David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin priest of mixed
birth on the run in America for killing a magistrate who murdered his
master in China. The star’s younger brother, Keith Carradine, played
Caine as a teenager; while Radames Pera played Caine as a child, earning
from the insect a blind man told him was at his feet. That these
guys were all bald on a 1970s show, a time when Americans had more hair
than at any period since the show’s setting in the 1870s, made Kung
Fu groovier still.
Caine’s life in China was told in a
neverending series of flashbacks speaking both riddles and wisdom that
carried through space and time, carrying me almost 15 years into the
future when my buddy Crum and I ended every weekend in college by
watching Kung Fu re-runs at midnight on Sundays, getting up to
ring the chimes in the room whenever
special pearl of wisdom was dropped. And there were many pearls
dropped during the show’s run.
Three episodes, one of them a TV film,
aired over several months in 1972, but the show did not begin its weekly
run until 1973. The show’s use of slowed down action sequence preceded
their use, or overuse, in the more testosterone-filled Six
Million Dollar Man
that started on ABC in late 1973. On Kung Fu,
Caine was always running from the law, yet also running toward truth and
enlightenment. The show would win its lone two Emmy Awards in ’73 for
Eye for an Eye.”
Kung Fu continued running until 1975, though its spinoffs and
reboots would continue into a new millennium, dispensing more pearls of
wisdom along the way. Even after the pebble was snatched from the hand,
no one wished to leave.
Forty Years Ago Today: 11/8/1973... The Brady Bowl
It was the 1970s, a time when relics of the past
fought waves of the future to bring us… a real slapdash present. Just
the clothes! I still can’t look at bellbottom pants today without
doubling over in pain, a la Alex in
A Clockwork Orange, you know, the ’71 film of the ’62 book in
dystopian England where poor droog Alex is caught oobivating a starry
soomka (Anthony Burgess nadsat dictionary
winds up getting brainwashed and then re-brainwashed using the
Ludivico Technique. But that’s a bit much. To me, no touchstone
quite symbolizes 1970s life quite like The
Brady Bunch (you can tell its the fifth season because Dad has a
And then there’s the bowling. Bowling was still a
“thing” in the ’70s—when pre-Mets fanatic me was told to do a punish
assignment (not the Ludivico Treatment, but I was eight) by
writing the long form rules of my favorite sport circa 1973, the
hardened criminal me chose bowling. It really was the only sport I knew
how to do in ’73. And I sucked at it. But now I feel better… because
Bradys weren’t any better!
A show called Celebrity Bowling ran
through the 1970s and has even been brought back a couple of times
since. Host Jed Allan teamed with a Pro Bowlers Association champion,
usually nervous all all get out, and then they both proceeded to talk
through every players’ turn before wondering aloud why no one could nail
a spare. In this ’70s TV gold, we have comely Brady girls Jan and Marcia
(we’ll call them Eve and Maureen) team with Peter and Greg (Chris and
Barry) to win prizes for themselves and random studio audience members
who obviously have nothing better to do than watch bowling live! Little
did we know in 1973, but these would be some of the last moments we
would have of the Bradys all together as disharmony between cast and
producer would result in The Brady Bunch coming off the air after
the 1973-74 season.
Forty Years Ago Today: 11/6/1973... Beame Up City’s
New York has a new mayor:
Abe Beame. Well, that was the news 40 years ago today. At the time,
most New Yorkers seemed relieved to have new leadership after eight
years of the up-and-down John Lindsay roller coaster. Like the 1969
Mets, whose coattails he rode, Lindsay stunned many when he swept to
victory for a second term in November of ’69, but he lacked support
either in the city or the statehouse. From Swinging ’73:
Lindsay’s career had sputtered and
crashed amid ineffectual leadership and divisive scenes such as the 1970
Hard Hat Riot involving World Trade Center construction workers,
students, police, and even bankers in a demonstration following the
shooting of protesting students at Kent State University in Ohio. With
no support from either major party in the city council, with an
acrimonious relationship with the state legislature in Albany, and a
recurring diatribe between the mayor and Governor Nelson Rockefeller,
Lindsay’s second term was doomed. His goals, not to mention his legacy,
grew tarnished from the severe social and economic problems the city
encountered during, in Rockefeller’s words, Lindsay’s “inept and
extravagant administration.” Like a pitcher who can’t get anyone out yet
retains his spot in the rotation…
Abe Beame was a new start. Sort of.
In ’73 there was a 73 percent turnout of
registered voters, and the 67-year-old Beame collected votes at a 4-to-1
rate over Republican John Marchi. Liberal Party candidate Albert
Blumenthal got nearly as many votes as Marchi and Conservative Party
candidate Mario Biaggi siphoned off some 178,000 votes. Abe Beame was
the last Brookynite to become mayor, at least until Bill de Blasio
claimed the position yesterday. But Beame was no “Brooklyn yuppie dad”
The Atlantic called de Blasio. Beame was, however, a London
Beame was born in England in 1906 after
his Polish-Jewish parents fled Warsaw, then part of Czarist Russia. His
mother stopped in England to have baby Abe and then joined her husband
in New York three months later. Beame grew up on the Lower East Side and
the small but hardworking Abe, who measured just 5-foot-2, rollerskated
to school as a boy to save the subway fare. He earned an accounting
degree at City College before marrying and moving to Brooklyn, where he
lived for the next 45 years. He was a teacher as well as a C.P.A. before
being named the city’s assistant budget director shortly after World War
II. Moving up the ladder, he negotiated city contracts without strike
and saved the city $40 million, but by the time he was elected in 1973,
the city was awash in debt of $1 billion that would balloon to over $3
Beame, who had lost the 1965 election to Lindsay,
won a 10-person primary for the Democratic spot on the 1973 ticket.
After his landslide win, the down-to-earth Beame brought some of his
family’s old furniture to Gracie Mansion and also replaced some of
Lindsay’s modern art. His wife, Mary, hired a cook who knew how to make
blintzes. But Beame’s four years in office could give anyone heartburn.
The city nearly went bankrupt halfway through his
term and his pleas to the President Gerald Ford went nowhere—the famous
Daily News headline
“Ford to City: Drop Dead” remains iconic and dire, but the federal
government did eventually secure loans for the ailing city. Then there
was the blackout, the Bronx burning on national TV, the dangerous
subways, sleazy Times Square, the 65,000 layoffs of city workers, the
Son of Sam murders, and an array of seemingly endless nightmares that
made the 1974 film
Death Wish, set in New York, seem like a documentary as opposed
All this, plus a scandal about misleading
investors regarding New York’s perilous finances, doomed him to being
one-term mayor, replaced by old political rival, Ed Koch.
Beame lived to be 94, dying in 2001 in New York, where else?
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/31/1973...
Seaver and Cy
What? You thought I
was done with this because the World Series ended? This is going all the
way to New Year’s, there’s inventory to move, and there’s more chances
to talk about Tom Seaver. On Halloween in 1973 became the first pitcher
to ever win the Cy Young Award without winning 20 games.
Halloween in 1973 became the first pitcher to ever win the Cy Young
Award without winning 20 games. The Mets right-hander went 19-10 in 36
starts, pitched 290 innings, and led the National League with a 2.08
ERA, 18 complete games, and 251 strikeouts. Not bad for a pitcher with a
sore shoulder down the stretch.
the counting stat of the day and only Ron Bryant won more, going 24-12
with a 3.43 ERA for the Giants. Bryant, who would win just three more
games in his career, placed third in the NL Cy Young voting. Runner-up
was reliever Mike Marshall, a huge part of Montreal’s turnaround with a
Herculean 172 innings in relief. Marshall appeared in a then-record 92
games and won 14 with 31 saves. The combative and unorthodox Marshall
was promptly traded to the Dodgers, where in 1974 he set the
still-standing major league record with 106 appearances and an
untouchable 208.1 relief innings to become the first reliever to win the
looked at closer in more recent time, Seaver’s 11 wins above replacement
(or WAR, comparing his effectiveness against the average
replacement-level player) was the highest of any season in his
remarkable 20-year career. His 0.976 wins and hits per nine innings
(WHIP) and 3.92 strikeout to walk ratio marked the last season he was
that dominant. At 28 years old, the 1,147 batters he faced were the most
in his career. Sore shoulder and all, Seaver’s domination continued into
October 1973: winning the game that clinched the NL East and not
allowing more than two runs in any of his four postseason starts. Alas,
the Mets won just one of those games… my kingdom for a timely hit by
someone not named Rusty Staub.
awards not only brought Seaver his second Cy Young (he also won it in
1969 and would win again in 1975), but the American League award went to
Baltimore’s Jim Palmer for the first time, beating out Angel Nolan Ryan
in the legend’s one legit shot at a Cy Young. Palmer, who won the vote
by 26 points in a crowded field, later became the first AL pitcher to
claim the Cy Young three times. Orioles teammate Al Bumbry, an Army
officer in Vietnam turned outfielder in Baltimore, was named AL Rookie
of the Year. San Francisco’s Gary Matthews, later known as “Sarge” but a
relative “private” in 1973, was named National League Rookie of the
The MVP for
the AL went to Oakland’s Reggie Jackson, whose “Mr. October” resume
commenced by claiming the World Series MVP (though teammate Bert
Campaneris deserved the award). Jackson was the second A’s player to win
AL MVP in three years, as Vida Blue captured the trophy—along with the
Cy Young—in 1971.
another celebrated star won his lone MVP award in 1973: Pete Rose.
Cincinnati’s Charlie Hustle captured his third—and last—batting title
and had a career-high 230 hits. He almost incited a near riot at Shea,
but he was about the only member of the Big Red Machine to show any life
against the Mets in the NLCS. Rose batted .381 for a team that hit just
.147 when Rose wasn’t up in the Championship Series. Not that any Mets
<> <> <>
Can’t say much more about
Swinging ’73 or the Mets than what Greg Prince said here on
Faith and Fear in Flushing.
Thanks, Greg Prince. And I don’t say it enough,
but thanks to all the people who lived the book and keep the candle
<> <> <>
And thank you, world champion Red Sox, for
continuing to not be the Yankees, and to annoy their fans more than we
ever could. Take it in, Sox Nation. You never know when it’ll end.
October 29, 2013
The 2013 FNP Met
week we completed the 2013 Mets Report Card, and every year
metsilverman.com honors a mediocre Mets student as Favorite Non-Playing
Met. The FNP Met Award annually goes to a Met whose continued presence
on the bench irritates the skipper inside me who knows if this guy got a
chance he’d have changed the team’s fate. Or not.
cleaning out a closet today, I came across a box containing a folder
with my report card from my Ted Williams Camp experience in 1980. Like a
lot of this year’s Mets, the ballplaying me of 33 summers ago also got
mostly C’s (scroll down to see how this year’s Mets did). My Ted
Williams Report Card rated categories on a scale of 1-4, like batting
averages if you multiply by 100: 1—If you weren’t paying, you wouldn’t
be allowed to clean out the camp’s bug juice dispenser; 2—You are
officially a mediocre ballplayer; 3—Y’know, you surprised us by not
being lame; 4—You just might have the chance of getting paid to play
ball, instead of the other way around.
pretty much all 2’s, with a couple of 3’s thrown in and 1’s in every
bunting category. (You’d think it was Terry Collins Baseball Camp
instead of Ted Williams!) In case my camp coach is interested, I worked
on my bunting and, in my last at bat in high school, squared around to
bunt against the hardest thrower in the league. The bunt was a rocket
that forced the pitcher to jump for it, lest it go into center field. He
caught the bullet and then threw to first for a double play. I may be a
1 bunter, but I left the baseball playing field for the last time
responsible for 2 outs. I got to laugh about it this weekend at my 30th
high school reunion with my buddy Biddy, the person doubled off to end
his baseball career in 1983. Thanks to me.
long and, some might say, painful story is continued proof of how I
admire the mediocre in something that I obviously never got high marks
in, except for effort. So ever since my first season as a fan, I always
had a favorite player, like a Tom Seaver, and then a guy who either
played sparingly or had no luck, the kind of person I could imagine
sitting next to on the bench to lament about how we should play more or
bat higher in the order. My first year in Little League I did not hit
the ball once, and my midseason decision to swing less in order to
strike out less frequently didn’t pay off until I finally, mercifully,
walked in my last at bat. That same year, 1975, Randy Tate, an Alabaman
living in New York, just like my mom’s family, went the entire season
without getting a hit. Like me, he also only walked once, though his 41
at bats remain the
most in history for a hitless player.
Sure, Randy Tate was a pitcher—he once
took a no-hit bid at Shea into the eighth, only to lose —but like me
he was a first-year player—albeit at a vastly different level of the
game. He never came back to New York, yet I was back in Little League
the next year getting my infield hit to break my hitless schneid. But I
never forgot Randy Tate or players of his ilk who never got a second
chance. Hence the Favorite Non-Playing Met.
Past FNP Mets have included players who
had great moments, like Todd Pratt or Heath Bell. Most FNP Mets, though,
serve as proof indeed that as bad as Mets management has generally been
over the last 38 seasons, they leave me looking as clueless if the bunt
sign is on. To keep proving the point, many FNP Mets rarely return to
Flushing to receive their
plaque, even as visiting players. Though 2012 honoree Justin Turner
is still, as we speak, on the roster, Nick Evans, the 2009 and 2010
winner, hasn’t been out of the minors since his back-to-back FNP Met
victories. Jason Pridie has been to Citi Field once since being named
FNP Met of 2011, collecting a hit his only time up at Citi Field. Way to
rub it in on Randy Tate, Jason.
And now, without further ado, the 2013 FNP
A.R. It’s not the infamous A.R.,
Arnold Rothstein, the 1919 World Series fixer and New York gangster
of Boardwalk Empire fame. It’s just little old Anthony Recker. Or
as “little old” as a 6-foot-2, 240-pound
linebacker of a backstop can be. Recker didn’t play much at all the
first month of the season, which made sense while regular catcher John
Buck hit nine homers in April to tie that month’s franchise record
shared by Carlos Delgado in 2006 and Dave Kingman, another 1970s Mets
favorite (the kind of favorite who played a lot). By May, though, Buck
was whiffing like Kong and Recker was still sitting. A.R. got more
playing time and had his highlight of the year: not only catching Zack
Wheeler’s June major league debut, but hitting a home run to put the kid
in line for the win. Recker hit six homers for the year, not as many as
Buck in April, but five more than Travis d’Arnaud in two months in only
39 fewer plate appearances.
clinching moment for his FNPhood was when Buck’s wife went into
labor—later than expected—and d’Arnaud came up in mid-August. With Daddy
Buck back, Recker dutifully went to the minors for two weeks, even as he
was on the verge of cracking the Mendoza line despite starting the year
on life support at .083 at the end of April while getting precious few
at bats to improve. Buck was traded at the end of August and Recker came
back to New York. He actually saw lots of action in September, even with
d’Arnaud and then third-stringer Juan Centeno getting P.T. But A.R. hit
.295 in the final month to blast past the Mendoza line at .215 and
impress the judges.
We all know, or at least hope, that
d’Arnaud is the future behind the plate for the Mets. Whether Recker is
around to collect the FNP next year, I don’t know, but having played for
the A’s and Cubs previously, showing good game-calling skills, a solid
arm (caught 14 of 55 base stealers, about league average at 26 percent),
showing pop, and even pitching once (allowing a walk and a home run vs.
the Nats), the 29-year-old Recker seems to have gotten his backup
catcher’s union card stamped. That’s carried many a backstop to years of
steady six-figure employment. And that ain’t so FNPing bad for an
Anthony Vito Recker, native of Allentown, PA.
It’s hard to keep a good man down.
October 21, 2013
Final Grades Are
in for 2013 Mets
time for metsilverman.com 2013 final grades for the 2013 season. If this
were junior year of high school, these grades would not be getting any
of these students into Brown, or even
Brownsville Station. But 74 wins and finally getting out of
fourth-place rut, while also assuring they do not have to surrender a
draft pick for a free agent signing, translates into an overall grade of
C for your 2013 Mets.
order to format this final 2013 report card, I went back to last year’s
grades. There has been a lot of turnover. Those missing from 2012
include (listed by grade, from highest down): R.A. Dickey, Scott
Hairston, Ronny Cedeno, Chris Young, Jon Rauch, Andres Torres, Josh
Thole, Ramon Ramirez, Miguel Batista, Mike Nickeas, Jason Bay, Manny
Acosta, Justin Hampson (Las Vegas in 2013), Elvin Ramirez, Kelly
Shoppach, Rob Johnson, and Mike Pelfrey, who received an incomplete. All
I can say is... that team competed? Even if it was only for a few weeks
in the first half of 2012, a team comprising that flotsam actually
competed? Wow! I can only hope that there are 17 of the players below
missing when I format the 2014 final grades. (Two that I know of, Mike
Baxter and Robert Carson, have already been taken by other teams.) Maybe
the 2014 Mets will be an improvement. Maybe they even move up from the
74-88 record on these last two final report cards. I do not know if any
of us can take them falling a letter grade.
the team’s grim second halves since, well, 2006, I said before the
season that I would be content with a team that simply played better in
the second half than the first half. This year in the second half they
hit five points better, had an on-base percentage six points higher, and
stole 12 more bases than before the Citi Field Alll-Star Game (wonderful
presentation that mid-July event, though it did not count toward these
grades). The ERA was .18 better in the second half, they had their only
two shutouts, and the staff had three more saves while at the same time
tossing two more complete games (though one of those was
rain-shortened). Most importantly, they had a winning percentage that
was 18 points better in the second half. So what if the overall winning
percentage was still just .457? Progress is progress. Even if it is
to 1973 business—and really, shouldn’t you be ordering your copy of
Swinging ’73?—this year’s report card is later than I would
like. So without any further ado, here are your 2013 New York Mets. Like
it or not. And Misters Davis and Duda stop wasting everyone else’s time!
See me after class.
Final 2013 Grades
1H 2H Final
Wright A B+
Not the same team when he’s out; high mark for captain pushing to return
for final week.
A B+ A-
Like Wright, leads by example. We’ll
see mettle soon; 2.03 ERA, 3 BB in last 7 GS.
B+ B+ B+
From Memorial Day on, he was best Mets pitcher. Shame he got stuck at
B A- B+
a good soldier; finally he was the healthy one and leader in most
B A- B+
Still a lot to learn, but first 100 IP in majors showed stuff, makeup,
LaTroy Hawkins B
Same as Wheeler, only on other end of
age scale. Set great example for young pen.
B- A- B+
32-year-old rook great control in 2H (3 BB); pitched & pitched until he
got a hernia.
B+ B+ B+
Thought of an incomplete for neck injury, but 1.29 ERA, 5 saves in 2H
A B B+
Even after trade to Pirates, reflected pride on Mets. Hope young Mets
B+ B B
Teacher gives credit for Carlos filling need in rotation, though he’s
best as long man.
A- B- B
Hit only .228 in
2H, but stole 30 bases to claim SB crown. Brings life to top of order.
A- C B
Slid a lot in
second half, but I still think he could be good low-cost bench bat.
C- B+ B
A 2H record of 5-2, 3.00 ERA, and CG SHO after arm injury far better
C B B-
seem like Burner had good 2H, but his .292/.330/.434 is great for this
C- B C+
Hitting needs work, but made strides in 2H. Already one of best
defensive CF in NL.
A- D C+
Tempted to give incomplete for 2H, but 5 poor starts. Did especially
well on road.
Anthony Recker C-
Hit 100 points higher in 2H; 6 HR, 19 RBI in 150 PA in
have backup role.
C C C
bloomer? Hit .250 as PH, but .385 Aug then .111 Sept shows he’s
up in air.
B D C
Could not wait for Sept. to expand roster and finally play someone else
B- D C
Fell off a cliff in 2H; ERA doubled from 1H. One of few Mets better at
Citi than road.
C- C+ C
Appeared a lot in
2H after a few pitchers gone down; good control, so-so results.
A better player after recall; .286/.449/.505 in 2H before injury ended
year. Jury out.
C+ C- C
in 2H; wife helped with long pregnancy that kept d’Arnaud
Played better as 1B, but still hit .196 in 2H; some people are just C
C- F D
Can see why he went three years between MLB stints. Had 15.19 ERA in 2H.
D+ F D
2 walkoff hits in 3 days don’t
offset 153 PA with 0 HR, 2 RBI, .189 AVG. Now a Dodger.
Only Appeared in One Half as Met
1H 2H Notes
Hit just .202, 1 HR in 112 PA, but showed grit, good arm, and solid
skills behind dish.
Not same player after hot start, injury. Needs position—maybe
1B if Ike, Duda fail.
Failed first 3 starts; brilliant in last 4 starts. Hope I didn’t
learn to spell name for nothing.
Throws hard. Don’t
know if he is set-up or mop up. Beats hell out of Manny Acosta.
Matt den Dekker
Not as good CF as Lagares; has succeed in second try at each level—2014
Somehow got in 25 games, had ERA under 4.00. Of course threw just 11.1
Second year in a row he appeared in 34 games, was just pitching well
when he got hurt.
No worry about learning to spell Niewenhuis; a lot has to happen to come
Key HRs early in year kept from failing. Steroid suspension, tantrum?
Lost year for Ruben. Got hurt twice on same spot at Citi. Was lucky to
Already waived to Angels; only reason picked up is he’s
lefty: 8.24 ERA, 9 HRs in 20 IP!
Spate of extra-inning games around July 4 gave excuse to cut him for
Not as bad as record (1-10, 5.29), but close. Waived after he had
surgery in July.
That he was Opening Day CF is question Alderson should answer for. A
Cowgill was so bad Ankiel seemed like improvement, for a moment: 25 Ks
in 20 games.
Not Enough Time Served for Grade
debut until after Sept. trade with Pitt. Setup guy/closer looked like a
Expected nothing and then he had 2.30 ERA in 5 starts before getting
Bench guy hit .300 in 26 PA. Has no position. Did keep from getting
no-hit by Nats.
Made 4 starts, kept Mets in most of them; had 3.52 ERA, 26 Ks in 23 IP.
Whole year Mets said he was goldbrick; came up in Sept., retired 18 of
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/21/73... The End of the Line
Forty years ago today, a team’s dream died
in Oakland. It was a great dream. A dream of a team seemingly playing
out the string, turning on a dime, and suddenly becoming the hottest
team in baseball. There is no doubt Oakland was the better team, on
paper. But so were the Reds, not to mention the Pirates, the Cardinals,
and even the previously downtrodden Expos. The Mets pushed them all
aside and four decades later people still speculate what might have
happened against the A’s if the Mets pitching rotation was tweaked just
a tiny bit. Ya gotta rationalize!
With Tom Seaver having pitched (and lost)
the previous day, it fell to Jon Matlack to start Game 7 in Oakland.
Current Mets announcer Ron Darling is the only other Mets to start three
times in one postseason series as a Met (1986 World Series). Matlack had
not allowed an earned run in his last 25.1 innings, but just as in Game
1, his luck turned bad after allowing a double to opposing pitcher Ken
Holtzman. Knocked out in Game 4 after retiring just one batter, Holtzman
was fresh in Game 7. And after not getting a hit all year in the
inaugural year of the designated hitter, he laced his second double of
the Series. And like Game 1, Holtzman came around to score on a hit by
Bert Campaneris. Although this time he could jog.
The A’s had not homered in 61.1 innings of play
against the Mets, a stretch of 218 plate appearances. Campy ended that
drought with a high fly that carried over the fence in right. Three
batters later, Reggie Jackson launched a two-run homer that made it 4-0
and let Mets fan know that the dream of stealing a world championship
from the best team in baseball was not going to happen. As subtle as a
Reggie stomped on the dream at home plate.
The Mets trailed 5-1—and just to add grist
to the second-guess mill for the decades to come, George Stone struck
out Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, and Reggie Jackson in order and tossed two
shutout innings in relief in Game 7. With two men on in the ninth, Ed
Kranepool hit a grounder to first base that should have ended the
Series, but Gene Tenace’s error made it a 5-2 game and suddenly the Mets
had the tying run at the plate. Dick Williams came out to the mound to
make his final strategic decision as the A’s manager—he resigned
immediately after the game, despite two years left on his contract,
because he could no longer endure owner Charlie Finley.
Lefty Darold Knowles came into the game, becoming
the only pitcher in history to appear in all seven games of a World
Series. People speculated then, and some still make the case, that the
Mets should have sent up Willie Mays to pinch-hit for lefty-swinging
Wayne Garrett. But Garrett had two of the team’s four home runs in the
Series, plus the fumes Mays had been running on were long spent. As he’d
done to open the Series, and to end Game 1, Garrett popped up and
Oakland had its second of three straight world championships.
The A’s jumped up and down. The Mets walked away.
The 1973 season closed a chapter on the
Mets as championship contender. In August of 1974 they nearly had the
same record at the same point as in 1973, got hot for a couple of weeks,
and went nowhere in the standings because the NL East was far superior
to what it had been in ’73. Though the Mets finished third in both 1975
and 1976, they did not challenge for the division crown either year. A
decade after ’73, the Mets endured their eighth straight losing year,
the most depressing period in club history. The franchise would be
revived, winning the 1986 World Series with the same sort of
disbelieving comeback in Game 6 that they had displayed during September
of ’73. There is still a germ of this indomitable spirit of Tug McGraw
hidden deep in every Mets team, and every Mets fan. Ya gotta remember,
“Ya Gotta Believe!”
<> <> <>
Thus ends the saga of the 1973 baseball season.
After taking care of usual awards and reflections on the season just
past, we’ll be back with more reflections of “This Date in ’73” to
finish 2013. And if you’ve enjoyed this wild ride of reflection, pick up
a copy of
Swinging ’73 in either paperback or e-book format. It not
only makes a great gift, it is a helluva story that has a lot more to it
than you’ve read on the site. Thanks for the feedback and fun.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/20/73... Game 6: The Second Guess
suppose it is second nature to second guess. And I think one of the
things that people can second guess without earth-shattering
consequences is sports. Baseball especially lends itself to these “what
might have been” scenarios. And the star-crossed Mets have more than
their share, from “What if they’d picked Reggie Jackson instead of Steve
Chilcott in the 1966 draft?” to “Why didn’t Beltran swing?” But when it
comes to the 1970s, there are questions that could have made the Mets a
dynasty, or at least multiple world champions of the Shag Carpet Era
(1969-79) like the A’s, Pirates, Reds, and Yankees:
taking it out of God’s hands, “What if the Mets had hired Whitey Herzog
instead of Yogi Berra to replace Gil?”
if the Mets had kept Nolan Ryan?”
if George Stone had pitched Game 6 in the 1973 World Series and Tom
Seaver pitched Game 7?”
one can ever really know the answer to any of these questions, but as
someone who studied the last question for years, talked to people who
were there, and thought about it as much as anybody, I urge you to read
Swinging ’73 to trace how the question originated with Queens
College student Howie Rose in the Shea upper deck after Game 5, and how
the press handled it (or ignored it) during the off day, and what both
managers later said about the choice. But my opinion, is this:
Whether Yogi Berra started George Stone or Tom Seaver 40 years ago
today, neither was beating Catfish Hunter in Game 6, Oakland wins. I
find it hard to believe that Stone, 12-3 during the year and used just
once in relief in the Series to that point, could have pitched a shutout
against the Swinging A’s, and that’s what he would have had to do to
beat them. The Mets scored just once off Hunter while Reggie Jackson
(not career minor leaguer Steve Chilcott) knocked in two for Oakland.
bigger question may actually be: Could the Mets have pulled off the
Series-clinching win if they’d tied Game 6 in the eighth inning? After
three straight singles to chase Catfish and cut the A’s lead to 2-1,
Darold Knowles fanned Rusty Staub with the tying run on third, and then
Rollie Fingers came in to get Cleon Jones to fly out. Oakland scored an
unearned run off Tug McGraw in the bottom of the eighth. Fingers then
completed the four-out save for the 3-1 win that tied the Series.
Having spent Seaver, the best chance for the Mets to win was, in theory,
gone. But remember that anything beyond what actually happened is
hindsight. It being 1973, the bigger question of Saturday into Sunday
was “How could Richard Nixon fire the special prosecutor in charge of
putting together the case against the president and the Watergate
tapes?” That came to the fore shortly after the very tidy 2-hour,
7-minute Game 6. That night became
“The Saturday Night Massacre,” the latest devastating act of
presidential overreach. The news took over the airwaves and the minds of
Americans that October night in 1973. Yet by Sunday afternoon, the world
championship would still have to be decided. The baseball facts that
mattered would be rendered on the field of play, not the field of
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/18/73...
Game 5: Kooz Can’t Lose
Koosman never lost a postseason game for the Mets. Oh, he had stinkers
in the 1969 NLCS and in Game 2 of the 1973 World Series—both of which
the Mets won after his early departure. That’s luck. The kind of stuff
that makes people dismiss wins as a useless stat. But when you are
charged with starting a postseason game, the only thing that matters is
winning, and in his four postseason victories he had a 1.64 ERA and
averaged better than eight innings per start, going all the way in Game
5 of the 1969 World Series to clinch perhaps the most unlikely world
championship in baseball history. And his effort in Game 5 in 1973
should have started another raucous celebration.
already gone into how the Mets should have won Game 3 in the 1973
Series, which would have made Game 5 the clincher, and there will be
more “what might have been” talk for Game 6. So let us just say that
Game 5 was just Koosman mowing down the Oakland A’s. Like Seaver in Game
3, the Mets took a 2-0 lead, but this time Yogi Berra got his starter
out early and let Tug McGraw do the heavy lifting with men on base.
Kooz got to the seventh inning with a shutout was no surprise—though Don
Hahn knocking in an insurance run with an RBI-triple in the home sixth
was quite the shocker. Koosman set a club record with 32.2 consecutive
scoreless innings in August and September, a mark that lasted until R.A.
Dickey topped it in 2012. But in the seventh inning of Game 5, a walk
and a one-out double by Ray Fosse put the tying runs in scoring
position. On came Tug. After one night off—he had pitched a staggering
10 innings of relief in the first three games—McGraw was good to go
another freezing night in Flushing, McGraw came into face pinch hitter
Deron Johnson, one of the top designated hitters in the first year of
the rule. Tug had gotten him out on Opening Day, when Johnson was still
a Phillie. This time he walked Johnson, unintentionally, but with Dick
Williams having already used his best pinch hitter and the pitcher’s
spot due up, the A’s manager had to go with the weaker-hitting Angel
Mangual. Tug got him to pop up, and then caught Series hero Bert
Campaneris looking. It sent Tug into
mitt-bouncing convulsions and put Shea Stadium in a frigid
being the ’70s, of course Tug pitched the last two innings of relief as
well. He pitched out of two-on, two-out jam in the eighth, and put the
A’s down in order in the ninth, catching Billy Conigliaro looking as Tug
bounced off the mound once more. The Mets were one game from a
championship. What could go wrong?
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/17/1973...Game 4: Rusty and Frigid
Unlike Game 3, where the Mets got the first three runners on and never
came through again the rest of the long, cold night, the Mets had three
runs after three batters in Game 4 of the 1973 World Series. Due to a
separated shoulder, Rusty Staub had modified his swing to be more of a
singles hitter and did that especially well, hitting .423 in what would
be his only career World Series action. But in the first inning,
Staub took a Ken Holtzman pitch “oppo” over the left-center field
wall to give the Mets the big hit they sorely lacked the previous night.
After two more Mets reached base, Holtzman was yanked.
Matlack, who’d endured a hard-luck loss in Game 1, gave up his third
unearned run of the Series in the fourth inning. In the bottom of the
frame, Staub singled home two more runs and an A’s error added another
run. “Sign Man” Karl Ehrhardt carried a “You’re Fired” sign, a dig at
A’s owner Charlie Finley. Finley had lost his battle with the
commissioner—and his team—over “firing” Mike Andrews after the worst
game of his life in Game 2. Reinstated to the roster, Andrews pinch-hit
in the eighth inning. Dick Williams, who had managed him as a rookie in
the 1967 World Series for Boston, owed it to his player, his team, and
himself. Andrews got a standing ovation both coming to the plate and
walking back to the dugout. Even Finley waved his A’s pennant in
recognition of the beleaguered infielder.
Matlack went eight innings—Ray Sadecki pitched the ninth—and Staub not
only knocked in five runs, but played the entire game in right field
despite not being able to throw overhand. Yogi Berra would not use
Willie Mays again for defense—Willie’s final at bat had come as a pinch
hitter in the 10th inning the night before. Spare outfielder George “The
Stork” Theodore was used to spell left fielder Cleon Jones, who was ill
and caught on camera throwing up in the outfield.
were a few people in the stands coming down with colds this October. It
was freezing. Night World Series games were still a new thing, and this
marked the first time for night postseason games in New York. It made
for lousy weather but good ratings—so the night games continued. Future
generations would be breaking out the ski apparel for October baseball.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/16/1973...
Game 3: How They
people who still ponder the ’73 World Series say the Mets’ fatal mistake
was not pitching George Stone in Game 6 and saving Tom Seaver to pitch
on full rest in Game 7 (if needed). More on that later, but I will tell
you here and now that there should not have been a Game 6 because the
Series should never have gone back to Oakland. Like the 1969 World
Series, the Mets should have won in five. Here’s three reasons why the
Mets should have won Game 3 and gone on to win the 1973 World Series in
First, the A’s had only a 23-man roster for Game 3. Because Charlie
Finley, as owner and GM, foolishly sold Jose Morales to Montreal in
September, Oakland was unable to replace Morales, who later
set a record for pinch hitters, on the postseason roster. Yet
Finley, never adverse to circumventing rules that did not suit him,
tried to do so twice with young infielder Manny Trillo. The Mets said no
before the Series (as was their right), and the second time Bowie Kuhn
said no (the commissioner invalidated the move since Finley had made
infielder Mike Andrews sign a form stating he was injured following his
two errors in Game 2). Mike Andrews would return, but he was not with
the team and could not physically make it to New York until Game 4, so
the A’s played Tuesday with 23 men. And playing an extra-inning game on
the road with a short bench put the A’s at a distinct disadvantage,
though it was nothing they couldn’t overcome.
Second, Tom Seaver was incredible. I have
a “bootleg” video of Game 3 of the ’73 World Series, the first inning of
which you can see
(with the added treat Mets broadcaster Lindsey Nelson, as was the
custom, working as “home” announcer in the NBC booth with Curt Gowdy).
But just look at Seaver… he is throwing harder and better than I ever
saw him. He is at the tail end of what
some number-crunchers have called the best season of his brilliant
career, and he was a gamer the likes of which, due to pitch counts
and contracts defying comprehension, are no longer allowed full reign in
Another extinct gamer, Catfish Hunter, was on the hill for the A’s. He
allowed two runs, threw a wild pitch, and committed an error just five
batters into the game on a frigid night. It looked like a rout in the
Catfish wriggled off the hook.
Third, the Mets were playing at home in front of 54,000 fans. Some of
these same crazed fans had, just six days earlier, torn Shea Stadium
limb from limb after the ballclub won the unlikely pennant. At this
point in Mets history, the team owned a 6-1 postseason mark at Shea and
had 11 veterans of the ’69 triumph on the roster: catcher (Jerry Grote),
shortstop (Bud Harrelson), third baseman (Wayne Garrett), left fielder
(Cleon Jones), a strong bench (Ken Boswell, Ed Kranepool, Duffy Dyer),
and a deep pitching staff (Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw, Jim
why didn’t the Mets win Game 3, and, more to the point, the 1973 World
Series, in an easy-peasy five games? Here’s the hard truth:
First, Dick Williams was a better manager than Yogi Berra. Though he was
down two players that night, Oakland’s Hall of Fame skipper deftly
utilized his bench. Even as the game went extras—using pitcher Paul
Linblad to bat for himself in the decisive 11th—Williams still had two
starting pitchers, two relievers, and a reserve outfielder in case the
game continued forever. When the A’s were down a run in the seventh,
Williams sent up three pinch hitters in a row. After the A’s tied it an
inning later, he played it close to the vest. One of his replacements,
Ted Kubiak, scored the winning run. Oakland pitchers did not allow a run
over the last 10.2 innings of Game 3. Once Seaver and McGraw were used,
the Mets were vulnerable. Bert Campaneris singled, stole second, and
scored the tying run in the eighth against Seaver; in the 11th his hit
knocked home Kubiak, who’d walked and taken second on a passed ball by
Grote. Williams had the American League’s best reliever, Rollie Fingers,
come in and notch the save.
Second, as good as he was, Seaver was not infallible. Tim McCarver was
just saying yesterday how he recently spent seven hours talking with Tom
about pitching and how GTS hates the concept of pitch count. But
throwing so many pitches in Game 3 in ’73—he fanned five in the first
two innings, had 10 by the fifth, and whiffed 12 overall—took a lot out
of a shoulder that had troubled him down the stretch. Oakland’s
determined plate approach got to him, but it was nothing that a couple
more runs by the Mets wouldn’t have solved. Hunter, Knowles, Linblad,
and Fingers combined to strand 14 Mets.
Third, Mets fans can share some of the blame. Because of the ravaging of
the field after the NLCS, Mets groundskeeper Pete Flynn had to work
magic to get the infield into shape for the World Series. His solution
was to replace the missing infield with grass from the outfield near the
warning track. An ingenious solution, but Don Hahn didn’t know. As the
Mets center fielder raced toward the wall after Sal Bando’s drive in the
sixth inning, he came up short, thinking that he was about to hit the
wall—based on reaching the warning track. Though he still had room,
Hahn, who’d been involved in a horrific collision with George Theodore
in July, slowed up just enough for Bando’s ball to land for a double.
Bando scored on Gene Tenace’s two-out double for Oakland’s first run.
Shea’s ground rules also did them no favors. John Milner hit a drive in
the fifth inning that landed against the brick facing in right field. At
the end of the 1970s, under a ground rule change, that would have been a
home run. In 1973 it was just a long single, a longing for just a little
Milner also provided the team’s best shot at sudden victory. The Hammer,
who reached base his first four times up, scalded a drive with two on in
the ninth off Paul Linblad. Despite very well knowing how the game
ended, I stood up while watching the tape as if the Mets were going to
win… until Reggie snagged the ball. Even in predetermined outcomes,
there is yet still hope. On some distant alternate universe, fans at
Shea rip up the field once more in 1973.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/14/73... Game 2: Flub, Flop, Fire
second game of the 1973 World Series has been called one of the greatest
Series games by some, and called one of the sloppiest by others. At the
end of the day the A’s made five errors, plus several other flubs that
were not charged as errors, and one of Oakland’s players was crucified
over a game that should have never lasted so long.
Thanks to three hits, two walks, a hit batter, and a bases-loaded error,
the Mets scored four times in the sixth inning to take a 6-3 lead in
Oakland. As was a manager’s wont back then, Yogi Berra brought in his
top reliever in the sixth inning to close out the A’s and even the
Series at a game apiece. Tug should have gotten the save, too. But
42-year-old Willie Mays, playing center field, lost a ball in the tough
California sun to give the A’s life in the ninth. (Hard as it may be to
comprehend today, this Sunday game was played in the afternoon sunshine,
starting at 1 p.m. Pacific time, 4 p.m. eastern—the network choosing to
forego late NFL games for baseball.)
two outs in the ninth, Tug had Sal Bando struck out, but umpire Augie
Donatelli, who had a difficult career-ending game of his own, called
ball three and ball four. Bando would score the game-tying run a base
hit by Gene Tenace.
McGraw remained on the hill. In fact, he retired seven in a row after
allowing the game-tying single. The Mets scored four times in the top of
the 12th—helped by consecutive errors by A’s second baseman Mike
Andrews—but Willie Mays lost another ball in the sun to start the bottom
of the 12th. After a walk to Tenace, Berra decided that McGraw, who came
up to bat three times in his six innings—yes, six innings!—had pitched
long enough. George Stone came on and pitched out of a bases-loaded jam
to pick up the save for McGraw, who more than earned the 10-7 win.
Mays muffs were tough to take. Announcer Monte Moore, working the NBC
booth, said it for everyone: “This is the thing all sports fans in all
areas hate to see, a great one playing in his last years having this
kind of trouble standing up and falling down.” Rusty Staub had gritted
his teeth and played right field despite a separated throwing shoulder.
There was no DH in the World Series then, so Staub had to play the field
despite not being able to throw overhand. Mays thus entered as a
defensive replacement for Staub. That’s another “in hindsight
moment” a manager from this game would have liked to have back. The most
memorable gaffe, however, was Dick Williams’s decision to play Mike
Andrews in the field in extra innings. Neither Mays nor Andrews ever
played in the field again in the majors.
forever image of the Mays as a Met, and the cover image of
Swinging ’73, is the great Willie pleading his case to umpire
Augie Donatelli after the ump said Ray Fosse had tagged Bud Harrelson at
the plate in the 10th. (Harrelson
was so safe!) For all his short-comings in the game, Mays did hit a
hundred-hopper to center to break the tie in the 12th, before the
Andrews errors gave the Mets three more runs.
the game, Andrews was “fired” by irate A’s owner Charlie Finley, who had
the team doctor write—and the crushed Andrews confirm—that the veteran
infielder’s shoulder was too injured to continue playing in the Series.
The brouhaha would go coast to coast and lead to another classic
confrontation between the A’s owner and commissioner Bowie Kuhn. It
would also lead manager Dick Williams to abandon ship. And it all could
have been avoided if a center fielder had caught a flyball, or an umpire
had made the right call in the innings prior to all hell breaking
this was baseball as opera. A sloppy, beautiful opera of a World Series
that was just starting. And as Yogi Berra so wistfully observed long
ago, “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” And everyone was just
getting warmed up.
Oakland starter Ken Holtzman came up with a man on first and one out in
the third inning of a scoreless game. Having batted just once all year
due to the first year of the designated hitter rule, the plan was for
him to bunt until a pitch hit the dirt and Dick Green took off for
second, only to be gunned out by Mets catcher Jerry Grote. With two outs
and no one on, Holtzman swung away, pulled a ball down the line in left
field, and slid into second with a double.
Campaneris followed by hitting a grounder to second that sure-handed
Felix Millan let go through his legs for an error to give Oakland a
1-0 lead. Matlack then picked off the speedy Campaneris, but he simply
took off for second and beat John Milner’s throw. Campy then scored on
Joe Rudi’s single and it was 2-0, A’s.
think that with both Willie Mays and Reggie Jackson playing center
field, the Mets would have the advantage, but you’d be wrong. Reggie,
playing center in place of injured Bill North, made a game-saving play
on a liner by Grote to quell one rally, and he made four catches overall
and got to balls quickly before he moved to right field in the late
innings with Vic Davalillo taking over center field.
Willie Mays was lauded when he was introduced before the game. (Check
out the very cool Game One introductions and NBC pregame show
here.) Mays was playing center field because of Rusty Staub’s
injured shoulder, and Willie had no business playing the field. He
stumbled and then fumbled Sal Bando’s hit in the third, allowing the A’s
to take an extra base and earning an error. Matlack got out of the jam,
but two runs was a lot on this day.
Showing how things have changed in terms of managing, Holtzman, who
banged up his knee sliding, left after the fifth, and Rollie Fingers
took the mound. That’s Rollie Fingers as in Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers
in his prime, coming in to start the sixth inning. He stayed on the hill
until the ninth—he even came up as a batter and struck out—and Fingers
only came out when the Mets put the tying run on base. This 2-1 game
took 2:26 to play, some 90 fewer minutes than the opening game of the
ALCS last night. I watched both games and you know what the difference
is? Pitcher and batter fidgeting between pitches. Pitchers got the ball
and the sign, then pitched; batters stayed in the box. Remarkable.
Darold Knowles got the ball when pinch hitter Rusty Staub was announced
(as a decoy, he couldn’t swing just then), and then righty Jim Beauchamp
batted in his place, hitting a soft liner that was caught on the run.
Wayne Garrett came up with a chance to be a hero and popped up to end
the game. And not for the last time.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/11/73...
The A’s Last
Game Five Clincher
2013, it’s a tough day for the Oakland A’s, who have lost each of the
five Game Fives they have played in the American League Division Series
since 2000. The last time the A’s won a decisive Game Five in the
playoffs was, in fact, 1973. And the source of that win came from the
arm of a Hall of Famer and one of the great money pitchers:
Jim “Catfish” Hunter.
Unfortunately, Catfish has been gone for a long time, a victim of
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou
But from all I’ve read and gleaned from talking to his teammates, Hunter
was the glue to those dominant A’s teams. Though in 1973 he was still
only 27, Catfish was among the longest tenured members of his club. As a
championship high school pitcher in rural North Carolina, he was pursued
by the then-Kansas City A’s in 1964. Hunter signed with Charlie Finley
for $75,000—a huge bonus in the last year before the amateur draft. And
this was after Hunter’s brother had accidentally shot him in the foot
and scared off other clubs. I’ll let you read up in
Swinging ’73 about the rest of his colorful background and his
intriguing relationship with the A's owner and general manager, who were
one in the same.
was a Game Five in the 1973 ALCS only because the A’s had blown Game
Four. With the A’s leading that game, 4-0, and Vida Blue cruising, the
Orioles quickly rallied for a run in the seventh and then tied Game Four
the Earl Weaver way: by hitting a three-run homer. That it came from the
most unlikely of sources—part-time catcher Andy Etchebarren—made it all
the more stunning. Rollie Fingers allowed a home run the next inning and
the O’s had evened the series.
like the Mets, chance had given Oakland home-field advantage and the
extra game. Catfish had won Game Two after the ’73 Cy Young winner Jim
Palmer had stymied the A’s in the opener. Palmer had been knocked out
early in Game Four and he was summoned early in Game Five after Weaver’s
decision to start Doyle Alexander backfired. Run-scoring hits by Joe
Rudi, Vic Davalillo, and Jesus Alou gave Oakland a 3-0 lead by the time
Palmer came on in the fourth inning. He allowed only two hits and a walk
the rest of the way, but it didn’t matter. This 3-0 lead wasn’t getting
away from Catfish.
Bobby Grich grounded out to end the game—Hunter fanned just one in a
breezy 2-hour, 11-minute shutout—the A’s barely had time to shake hands
before getting the hell out of the way. Despite what remains the
smallest crowd in League Championship Series history (24,265), the
Oakland Coliseum mob took part in a little Thursday afternoon
insurrection. The team’s past clinchers—including the division, pennant,
and World Series—had all been on the road. The Oakland fans took the
field and A’s took it to the clubhouse. Next stop: the ’73 World Series,
and the New York Mets.
matter how much some people held onto the 1960s concept of “turn on,
tune in, drop out,” you could not get away from politics in 1973. Forty
years later, it isn’t any easier to escape.
this day in 1973, just as the Mets and Reds were getting ready for their
afternoon game to decide the National League pennant, Vice President
Spiro Agnew resigned. It was due to allegations of accepting bribes
while Agnew was governor of Maryland. He stunned reporters by
unexpectedly arriving at the Federal Courthouse in Baltimore and, as
part of a plea deal, Agnew abruptly announced his resignation.
network news quickly cut to the story, even NBC, which was carrying the
Mets-Reds game from Shea Stadium. Though Agnew was the first VP to
resign under duress in American history (John Calhoun had resigned in
1828 to join the Senate), the two-minute report ended with an almost
cheery, “and now back to the ballgame.”
The Mets were winning, thanks to a two-run
single by Ed Kranepool, filling in after Rusty Staub severely hurt his
shoulder crashing into the wall in extra innings the day before. (The
Reds won Game Four in 12 innings, 2-1, on a home run by Bud Harrelson
abuser Pete Rose,
fist raised and booed lustily at Shea.) The Reds rallied in Game
Five, but once more in this series, the Big Red Machine struggled
to keep up with the Punch-and-Judy Mets lineup. Facing Tom Seaver didn’t
Cincinnati tied the game in the top of the fifth, the Mets went for the
jugular. Wayne Garrett led off the home fifth with a double. Reds
starter Jack Billingham fielded Felix Millan’s bunt and went for the out
at third, but Dan Driessen did not make the tag. Cleon Jones followed
with a double to give the Mets the lead. Billingham’s replacement, Don
Gullett, walked John Milner, and when Berra replaced Kranepool with
Willie Mays, the managerial wheels spun once more and Sparky Anderson’s
best reliever, Clay Carroll, emerged from the bullpen cart with the
bases loaded and two out.
pitching change gave the fans at Shea a longer chance to salute the
great Mays, who had been feted but had not batted in more than a month.
Some force, perhaps God watching from his Flushing apartment (as the
papers had credited as the source of this ’73 autumn miracle in New
York), allowed broken-down Willie Mays—and the fortuitous Mets—one more
great hop. Mays clubbed a ball off the plate, bounding high enough to
score a run and put Mays on first with an RBI single. Don Hahn’s
groundout and Bud Harrelson’s hit—take that, Charlie Hustle!—made it a
With Seaver mowing down the Reds—and even
scoring in the sixth for a 7-2 lead—the natives grew restless. In the
stands behind first base, the Reds contingent was jostled, pushed, and
abused so much that they were led out of the stands early. Anyone could
see there was a riot brewing, and the 340 policemen in the stands would
be unable to quell it. Fans pushed down to the lower deck, preparing to
attack the field when the game ended. Fans had behaved similarly in
1969, but that was seen as “joyous looting.” Witnesses who experienced
both “celebrations” say that the clinchings four years apart were
completely different animals, with animal being the right word.
Expecting the worst, Mets security had already secured the bullpen
carts, and Tug McGraw had to walk in from the pen when Seaver lost his
concentration in the ninth following the collapse of part of the railing
down the right-field line from the crush of fans. McGraw retired the
last two Reds, fielding a throw from Milner at first base to end the
game and commence
a sea of grabbing, clutching, frenzied fans. Even Willie Mays,
stranded in no man’s land in center field, was not immune. As a fan
aggressively grabbed at his cap, members of the Mets bullpen fought off
the man and the mob to get Willie to safety.
Champagne flowed in the locker room and the Mets talked about the World
Series—they did not yet know if they would play Baltimore or Oakland. It
had been quite a climb from last place to the pennant in six weeks. And
it had been quite a day.
people think back to the 1973 Mets, the first memory is usually not the
Amazin’ comeback from last to first, it’s not Tug McGraw and his “Ya
Gotta Believe” mantra, it’s not even winning the pennant and taking the
A’s dynasty to a seventh game in the World Series—the first recollection
someone usually brings up is the fight between Bud Harrelson and Pete
Rose. Forty years ago today, the fight was on.
Reds were the best team in the National League in the first half of the
1970s. They won division titles in 1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1976. The
only one of those times they did not reach the World Series was in ’73.
And they couldn’t believe who beat them.
the Mets defeated the Reds to even the 1973 NLCS at a game apiece, the
Mets had home-field advantage. It’s only in the last 20 years that
home-field advantage has been decided by better record; before that
home-field alternated each year. In the NLCS it was two games in one
city followed by three in another. And in 1973 it was not only a
best-of-five, the series was played with no off days.
the Reds and Mets took the field for batting practice before Game Three
on Columbus Day morning, the Reds were still boiling from the previous
day’s loss to a team they felt was inferior to the Big Red Machine. Bud
Harrelson, barely 150 pounds and the lightest of the light-hitting
shortstops in the NL, made a joke in the press about the Reds looking
like him at the plate on Sunday in Jon Matlack’s shutout. In two games
the Reds had two runs, six hits, and fanned 22 times against Matlack and
Tom Seaver. It wasn’t the underdog Mets who were lucky to be tied in the
series—it was the Reds!
Morgan, who hailed from the same part of the Bay Area as Harrelson, told
Bud before Game Three that the Reds did not appreciate his postgame
comments, especially Pete Rose. Cincinnati only got Red-hotter under the
collar as the Mets smacked them around at Shea Stadium on Monday. Rusty
Staub, who’d homered off a lefty a day earlier, homered twice in the
first two innings of Game Three against southpaws Ross Grimsley and Tom
Hall, respectively. Though the Reds scored twice to make it 6-2, the
Mets continued to batter every lefty sent in by Sparky Anderson. Jerry
Koosman singled in a run off Dave Tomlin to support his own cause in the
third. Then Cleon Jones and John Milner drove in runs before Tomlin was
finally knocked out in the fourth. But the real knockout came in the
fifth when, with Rose on first and one out in a 9-2 game, Morgan, who
started the whole Big Red brooding brouhaha, hit a groundball that
started a 3-6-3 double play. As always, Bob Murphy was the eyes for
those not packed into Shea Stadium.
And a fight breaks out! A fight breaks
out! Pete Rose and Buddy Harrelson. Both clubs spill out of the dugouts,
and a wild fight is going on! Jerry Koosman’s in the middle of the
fight. Everybody is out there. Buddy Harrelson and Pete Rose got into
it. Rose apparently thought that Harrelson had done something in making
the double play. Rose outweighs Harrelson about 35 pounds. And now Buzzy
Capra is in a fight! Capra is in a fight out in center field. Another
fight breaks out!
was a full-on donnybrook, the doozy of all Mets fights. SNY has trimmed
the postseason part off 1973 Mets Yearbook—I was told that it was
because that is an extra fee to air—so take a look at this
excellent “lost” footage of the fight.
There is a great
overview about that week from the excellent 1980s program,
that begins with the fight and leads into the Yom Kippur War, which
began this week in the Middle East in 1973, resulting in the oil Embargo
that changed the American consumer and the car industry. And
in case you missed it (or I let anyone forget), one more time we have
Steve Somers and I last week talking up the fight on WFAN.
you want to hear blow-by-blow recounts of the Shea Stadium main event
from Jerry Koosman, Buzz Capra, Rusty Staub, Wayne Garrett, George
Theodore, Ron Hodges, Jon Matlack, and Harrelson himself, pick up a copy
Swinging ’73. The FAN’s own Bob Heussler, then a college
freshman, describes the scene sitting directly above Pete Rose in the
left field loge section when the garbage and the whiskey bottle started
flying from the stands. Groundskeeper Pete Flynn, charged with cleaning
up the debris after Sparky Anderson pulled the Reds off the field, will
even tell you the brand of whiskey it was.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/7/1973... Matlack, Mets Lick Reds
If you stayed up for the A’s-Tigers finish
Saturday night, and watched some of the postgame (what can I say, I like
Keith Olberman and Dirk Hayhurst and their standing up to
David Price’s bellyaching tweeting),
there was a graphic about Detroit’s pitching dominance in the first two
games. It said that the 29 strikeouts by the Tigers were the third-most
in the first two postseason games of a series since the 1973 Mets. Keep
in mind that the 1970s were a time when more batters choked up on the
bat, had pride in making contact, and fewer strikeouts in general, so
the Mets fanning the Big Red Machine that many times—on the road, no
less—was that much more impressive. Though it should be noted that the 4
p.m. start times of the best-of-five ’73 NLCS games in Cincinnati
allowed the late-day sun to make two hard-throwing Mets moundsmen even
harder to see, much less hit.
Tom Seaver struck out a then-LCS record 13
Reds in the opener, only to lose on homers after the sun went away in
the eighth and ninth by Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, respectively. Jon
Matlack kept the pitching log that day in preparation for his Game 2
start. He told me for
I’m looking at this
chart after the game, thinking, ‘How in the world do you do better than
this?’ You can’t give them anything, or they are liable to beat you. It
was that sort of a mindset that went into the next day.
Matlack’s mindset paid off. He faced Don
Gullett, at age 22 a year Matlack’s
junior and one of the few lefties in the National League who threw
harder than the Mets southpaw. Rusty Staub noticed something in
Gullett’s delivery, and he took the Reds lefty deep. The Reds were lucky
to get any baserunners off Matlack. If not for
Andy Kosco, the journeyman right- handed outfielder who’d just
turned 32 and got a start instead of rookie lefty-swinger Ken Griffey
Sr., Cincinnati might not have gotten any hits at all. Kosco had the
only two hits against Matlack, but entering the ninth it was still a 1-0
game, which looked somewhat tenuous given Seaver’s superb effort and 2-1
loss the previous day. One little mistake and…
Matlack never made one. And he felt much
better after Mets Cleon Jones, Jerry Grote, and Bud Harrelson all
collected RBI hits in the top of the ninth against the Reds bullpen. The
5-0 win evened the series as the second-year southpaw went the distance
with as dominant and critical an outing as another second-year lefty,
Jerry Koosman, had in Game Two of the 1969 World Series after Tom Seaver
had been defeated in the opener. Now New York was coming home. And the
old saying that
great pitching beats great hitting wasn’t looking like just a
postseason adage. It looked like the gospel truth.
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For anyone who is in Providence on Tuesday
(October 8), I will be at the
New England Independent Book Association Conference at the Rhode
Island Convention Center in Providence. I will be signing at table B-2
at 11 a.m. Tell me you read about the gig here and you’ll get a stunned
look, a free book, a bookmark, and a slap on the back from this baseball
nerd—take that David Price, who despite a later apology, should be
strong and silent, like Jon Matlack was in his Game Two.
October 3, 2013
Schmoozing Right Here on the FAN
those who missed it or are out of market, listen
here to my long-awaited interview with “The Schmoozer” Steve Somers
on WFAN a couple of days ago. I can’t believe all the people who didn’t
even know I was on who heard it and sent me notes. Even without the Mets
that FAN has some range.
Thanks to WFAN’s “Mr. Met” Bob Huessler for setting it up and staying on
point, along with producer Casey Keefe and Mr. Somers himself, who, I
forgot to mention on air, is quoted a couple of times in
Swinging ’73 during his days on TV out in “Sacratamato” and
points west. And thanks to all who retweeted and spread the word about
my appearance, which was set up just as I was getting ready to fly to
Florida to be with family. My dad probably would not have heard the
interview if I had not visited that day, so that was a treat unto itself
for both of us.
Forty Years Ago Today: 10/1/1973... Believe It: NL East Champs!
now in the collective fan’s mantra that the Mets always blow it on the
final day of the season (1998, 2007, and 2008 come to mind). The Mets
claimed the 1999 Wild Card with a one-game playoff victory, but never
has a Mets team won a game on the last day of the season to clinch a
division title... with the marvelous exception of October 1, 1973.
NL East was extremely mediocre, but the Mets were Amazin’ with a capital
A, going 34-19 over the final two months with a 24-9 charge to the
finish line that saw them go from last place to first in just over three
weeks. Rain at Wrigley caused the Mets and Cubs to play a pair of
doubleheaders to end the season. The Mets split Sunday’s doubleheader,
and another twinbill was scheduled for Monday—with a three-way tie
between the Mets, Cardinals, and Pirates still possible if the Mets got
decision that would come up again, manager Yogi Berra opted for Tom
Seaver and his sore shoulder over well-rested George Stone. Berra could
have started the first game with Stone and his 12-3 record, 2.80 ERA,
and eight-game winning streak. If the Mets lost the opener, Seaver could
start the second game. If the Mets won the first game, Berra could start
someone else—from the forgotten Jim McAndrew to a random September
callup—in the nightcap. But Yogi chose Seaver, as he would fatefully do
in Oakland three weeks later. This time it worked.
Seaver gave the Mets all he had, and the Mets provided plenty of
offense. New York went up 5-0 against Burt Hooton, but the Cubs scored
twice in the home fifth to cut it to 5-2. Ron Santo, playing his final
game as a Cub before a controversial trade sent the beloved third
baseman across town, committed a run-scoring error for the second
straight game to make it a four-run lead. But Rick Monday came up with a
man on and drilled a home run off Seaver in the seventh to make it 6-4.
came to get Seaver and went to his best man, his fireman: Tug McGraw.
Tug had coined “Ya Gotta Believe” as the mantra for downtrodden teams
still hoping for a miracle. McGraw pitched the final three innings,
climaxing an Amazin’ run that saw him earn four wins, 12 saves, and an
0.88 ERA over his last 41 innings. Yet there was a tenuous moment.
Ken Rudolph on first and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Cubs
manager Whitey Lockman turned to “the book.” With a southpaw on the
mound and the tying run at the plate, Lockman removed his leading home
run hitter, lefty-swinging Rick Monday (with 26 homers on the year,
including one his last time up against the eventual Cy Young winner) in
favor of Glenn Beckert, even though Beckert had just 22 homers in his
long career, and he hadn’t homered at all in ‘73. But he was a
right-handed hitter. Sheer genius—and one of the reasons the Cubs
dropped from first to fifth over the summer of ’73, and all of 1,913
people were interested enough in the conclusion of the NL East race to
come to soggy Wrigley on Monday.
Beckert did not hit the ball out of the
park. He hit a soft liner that John Milner caught while stepping on
first base in the same motion to double off Rudolph and end the game,
not to mention the most convoluted race in history. When Milner came
over to give Tug
a well-earned soul shake, the celebration was on.
Forty Years Ago Today: 9/30/1973... Of Splits and Boos
this day in 1973 the Mets finally played. A day off plus two rainouts at
Wrigley had done them a world of good, however. Three days of idleness
had gained them a full game in the standings. The chance of a five-way
tie for first place dissipated, as did the Pittsburgh Pirates. When the
Mets finally took the soggy field at Wrigley on Sunday for a
doubleheader, the Pirates stood in third place, two games back, with the
Cardinals now in second place, 1 ½ games behind.
the way that this race was going and given that we’re talking about,
well, the Mets, a doubleheader loss was not out of the question. And the
question grew larger when Jon Matlack lost a hard-luck 1-0 game to the
Cubs in the opener. The Cards and Pirates were also winning that day.
St. Louis ended its season at 81-81 and could still win the division; so
could the Bucs, who had a makeup game on Monday. The Mets could turn
their feel-good comeback into a full-blown nightmare by dropping all
four games to the Cubs. But it was Kooz to the rescue.
Koosman, who’d beaten the Orioles twice in the 1969 World Series,
started the nightcap (though that is a misnomer since Wrigley had no
lights). Fergie Jenkins, a future Hall of Famer, was pitching his last
game before a surprising trade to Texas that winter. Following six
straight 20-win seasons, Jenkins was just 14-15, which is what Kooz’s
record ended up being after he beat Jenkins. The Mets handed Koosman a
3-0 lead before he even took the mound thanks to two grounders to Ron
Santo—one of which the Cubs third baseman threw away for two runs. So
much for worries about the Cubs coming back to sabotage the Mets as
payback for 1969. The Mets won, 9-2, splitting the twinbill and
clinching at least a tie for the NL East title. All they had to do was
split Monday’s makeup doubleheader at Wrigley.
was exciting news from Chicago, along with all the NFL games on the last
Sunday in September—the Mets outscored the Jets and almost matched the
Giants (both of whom lost despite not allowing a touchdown). The only
team playing in New York that day was an afterthought.
Yankees had held first place into early August, but an 18-36 freefall
eliminated them from the race and left the Yanks at 81 losses with four
games on the schedule. But the Yankees won three straight and still had
a chance to finish with a .500 record. How ironic that the also-ran
Yankees could finish with almost the same record as the sudden media
lost on many was the final day of Yankee Stadium. Yes, four decades
later baseball is still played at Yankee Stadium, but it is essentially
two stadiums removed from the House That Ruth Built. After the ’73
season, the 50-yearold edifice would be almost completely leveled,
forcing the Yankees to play at Shea Stadium for two years while the
rebuilding project cost New Yorkers in excess of $100 million. Other
than the address, the second incarnation of Yankee Stadium would have
more in common with other 1970s stadiums like Riverfront, Three Rivers,
or the Vet than it did with its Bronx predecessor.
in the 1970s newer was better. People weren’t hung up on nostalgia. The
last game at a stadium then was more likely to touch off a riot than a
postgame stadium-closing ceremony. Throughout the Yankees’ last game,
the sound of wooden seats being pried from concrete could be heard
echoing through the stadium—until the noise was drowned out by boos. The
Yankees fell apart during Detroit’s six-run seventh and manager Ralph
Houk was forced to make not one but two trips to the mound. Booed every
step of the way.
a World War II hero and a Yankee since the 1940s, had served in every
capacity in the organization. And he had already resigned, only nobody
outside of management knew it. The fans couldn’t wait. “It was the worst
thing I ever saw,” says Fritz Peterson, the first pitcher relieved by
Houk that inning. Lindy McDaniel took the defeat, but the whole stadium
felt the loss.
officially resigned at the conclusion of the game and his team’s 80-82
season, leaving him with a 944-806 mark (.539 win percentage), plus
three pennants and two world championships in 11 years. His players were
stunned by the news. The boobirds were happy. And the original Yankee
Stadium was history.
Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw, Rusty Staub, and the first-place
Mets watched it rain at Wrigley Field for the second straight day,
a swing in the third inning on September 29, Atlanta’s Hank Aaron
created the first trio of 40-homer hitters on one team in history. That
was nice. Nice for Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson, the other members of
this troika. For Hank Aaron it was another in a long list of
accomplishments, but career home run 713 still left him one behind Babe
Ruth’s all-time record. He still had a shot of breaking the record on
the final day of the year. Atlanta, lukewarm at best and hostile at
worst about its hometown hero taking on the biggest record in sports,
came out in droves for the final day of the year to see Aaron try to
break the mark. In front of the first crowd even close to 40,000 all
year in the finale, Aaron had three singles to go over .300 for the
year, but no home runs. The record chase would have to wait until April
of 1974. The pressure increased, as did the volumes of mail—much of it
encouraging, but some of it racially pointed and threatening enough to
make for a very long winter for Hank Aaron.
The final appearance of the year by Angel
Nolan Ryan, on the other hand, had been ideal. No, it wasn’t a
no-hitter, which he had two of in 1973, but his team’s inability to
score kept him on the mound long enough to go 11 innings and strike out
16 Twins. The last batter, Rich Rollins, was his 383rd strikeout victim
of the year, breaking Sandy Koufax’s 20th century record of 382, set in
1965. Richie Scheinblum then put an end to the night with a pinch-hit
double to win the game. Ryan’s
21 victories lined up with his staggering figures of 326 innings, 26
complete games, and 1,335 batters faced. None of these led the
league—though his 162 walks were the most in baseball. In the year of
the designated hitter, American League managers did not need to
pinch-hit for pitchers in game situations, and those starters got plenty
of extra work. It was not the Year of the Pitcher but the Year of Ben
Gay: Seven pitchers threw at least 300 and 12 stayed in games long
enough to win 20. And afterward they need the soothing relief of Ben
Gay. Thanks for the
22 years, 383 steals, 1,903 RBI, 2,063 runs, 3,283 hits, 6,066 total
bases, and 660 home runs, Willie Mays officially called it a career.
Though a rib injury in Montreal on September 9 had kept him from
playing, there was one more big night to go. Willie Mays Night drew
43,805—plus 10,000 more freebies not counted in the gate—for a Tuesday
night at Shea Stadium. Gifts rained down on Willie for 45 minutes before
he finally said, “Willie, say goodbye to America.”
Canada’s team was in the other dugout. An overachieving Expos team under
the legendary strategist Gene Mauch had been having a far better season
than the Mets until a seven-game losing streak dropped Montreal (76-81)
to a tie for fourth place behind the now first-place Mets (79-77). Such
was the flighty NL East in September of ’73.
Rookie Steve Rogers had beaten the Mets in both his starts in ’73,
defeating Tom Seaver and Jon Matlack, but now he faced a different
pitcher—and a different team, for that matter. Jerry Koosman, who’d
earlier established a club record with 31.2 consecutive scoreless
innings during the Mets run, blanked Montreal for the first five
Mets, getting all kind of fortunate bounces this month, got a big one
when a Wayne Garrett grounder hopped off Tim Foli’s glove for an infield
hit that moved Bud Harrelson to third in the home fifth. An out there
would have rendered Felix Millan’s subsequent flyball pointless, but
with one out, it was sufficient to plate the first run of the game.
After Garrett’s error let Montreal tie it the next inning, Cleon Jones,
with 11 RBI in the first six games of the final homestand of ’73,
launched a Steve Rogers pitch to left for just his ninth home run of the
year but fourth of the homestand. Jones showed off his glove work the
next inning with a backhanded snag of a Felipe Alou liner to thwart a
McGraw—a middle reliever, setup man, and closer rolled into one—got the
final seven outs to give Kooz and the Mets a 2-1 win and, after a 2-1
Pirates loss to the Phillies, a 1.5-game lead. For the complete wrapup
Albert’s postgame show—I sure wish this had been unearthed a couple
of years ago! But I digress. Here is one player’s perspective from
Swinging ’73 on the special night for Willie:
“Absolutely, it was special. I mean, how
could it not be special?” says Jon Matlack now, 23 at the time. “The guy
was and is a phenomenon in the game and still at his age brought such
instinct and life to playing the game. He was great to be around. He was
a phenomenal influence.”
Though the ceremony was long and the Mets
had an important game to play, watching Mays’s tearful goodbye wasn’t
easy for a ballplayer who understood that the glory years for even the
greatest of players had their limit, the accolades fleeting. Explains
Matlack, “It was something that I watched some of . . . I don’t think I
watched it all because it was something you don’t want to end. You don’t
want to see the end for somebody else, and you certainly don’t want to
think about that it could end for you. It was a wonderful tribute and
all that kind of stuff, but it was like looking at what’s coming for me
at some point. I don’t know there’s ever going to be a day for me. But
it meant the end for his existence and for baseball, and I didn’t want
to look at that.”
The fans couldn’t get enough of the
ceremony or of Mays. Karl Ehrhardt, Shea Stadium’s “sign man,” a fan who
carried dozens of signs suitable for numerous points in a ballgame,
summed up the feelings of the crowd:
We Who Are About to Cry Salute
You. Joan Payson joined the throng in crying as Willie came over
to her seat near the Mets dugout. Mays, who a week earlier had told the
press during his retirement announcement, “Maybe I’ll cry tomorrow,” was
Forty Years Ago Today: 9/23/1973... Flushing Up, Bronx Out
1973 NL East race was a battle of mediocrity, but it was without doubt
the most exciting race in baseball. With a week to go in the season, the
other races were pretty much wrapped up, but the NL East was so much in
play that the managers were over-managing like hell. Some 51,000 at Fan
Appreciation Day at Shea Stadium reveled in their first-place team.
the third-place Cardinals up 2-0 in the first inning at Shea Stadium,
St. Louis skipper Red Schoendienst yanked starter Mike Thompson after
the first two Mets got on base; neither runner scored. In the second
inning, with two outs, none on, and the Mets still down by two runs,
Yogi Berra pinch-hit for George Stone, who had not lost a start since
July. Though pinch hitter Lute Barnes fanned, Yogi’s charmed September
continued as the Mets bullpen threw seven scoreless innings with—try to
get your 2013 heads around this—their top two relievers tossing all
seven frames. Harry Parker went four innings and Tug McGraw the last
three. The Cards’ bullpen was not up to its task of eight relief
innings. Wayne Garrett, who scored the first two runs, drove in the next
two with a tiebreaking triple off Al Hrabosky, making the Hungarian mad.
Red hot Cleon Jones later homered to make it 5-2, their sixth straight
win to sweep this unconventional two-game weekend series. But nothing
the Mets did in September of ’73 could be called conventional—or even
believable. But Tug would tell you, as many times as you wanted to hear
Across town, it was merely a football Sunday. The Giants played for the
final time at Yankee Stadium, marking the last time an NFL
regular-season game was ever played in the Bronx. It came down to the
final seconds, with Pete Gogolak kicking a field goal on the last play
to assure a 23-all tie with the Eagles. Back in ’73 the uprights were
still on the goal lines, most kickers (other than
the soccer-style Gogolaks) kicked straight ahead, and overtime only
existed in the playoffs. The Giants would take their 1-0-1 start north
to the Yale Bowl in New Haven—and win just once more all year.
the Oakland A’s were clinching their third straight AL West title in
front of absentee owner Charlie O. Finley in his home base of
Chicago—with Vida Blue joining teammates Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman
in the 20-win column (the
last 20-win troika of teammates in baseball history)—the Oakland
Coliseum was celebrating the end of a different era. The Raiders ended
the Dolphins’ 18-game win streak, 12-7. John Madden’s team became the
first club to beat Miami since Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl
VI, some 20 months earlier. In the meantime, Don Shula’s Dolphins had
won all 14 regular-season games of 1972, two playoff games, and Super
thanks to Gary Yepremian. The Dolphins had begun 1973 with a win
over a 49ers team coming off an NFC West title.
shook off the loss to Oakland to win 10 more games in a row—giving them
a mind-blowing 28 wins in 29 games—before inexplicably losing to a bad
Colts team on December 9, 1973. Miami avenged the loss in Oakland by
trouncing the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game. The Dolphins then
rolled the Vikings in Super Bowl VIII for their second straight title.
Nouveau dynasties were all the rage in ’73.
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For anyone who missed it Saturday,
listen to me on Ed Randall’s “Talking Baseball” on WFAN. Since you
are here, enjoy the exclusive back story: When the interview started I
was in a dead zone in a West Point parking lot after the Army vs. Wake
Forest game. I was able to quickly locate—this means run to—a far off
building to shield the whistling wind from marring the interview. Many
thanks to Ed Randall, who had me on both that morning and afternoon. I
was on the MLB Home Plate Channel on Sirius/XM with Ed and Rico
Petrocelli, whom I had watched in awe when he hit .308 for the Red Sox
during the unforgettable 1975 World Series. Saturday won’t be forgotten
around my house anytime soon, either.
September 21, 1973, the New York Mets, in last place on August 30, took
over first place. On Tuesday they’d been in fourth place and nearly
counted out; on Wednesday they reached third; on Thursday they took over
second; and the Mets capped a busy work week by going top of the heap
course it was Tom Seaver, doing the honors. Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass,
who’d gone from 1971 World Series hero to unable to throw the ball over
the plate, was knocked out in the first inning as the Mets beat the
Pirates, 10-2. Seaver lost the first game of this unique five-game
series, but notched his 18th win and the biggest game of the year in the
finale in front of a packed house at Shea.
was watching… The Brady Bunch on ABC. At eight, my tastes still
had sports as a foreign entity, if you can believe it. But I was
watching a New York sports star. That same night the Mets took over
first place, Joe Namath beamed into my house and living rooms across the
country, stepping onto the Astro Turf in The Brady Bunch backyard
to throw a pass to littlest Brady boy, Bobby. The Bradys’ fifth TV
season began with Broadway Joe and ended with
Frigging Oliver (like there weren’t enough kids on the show
already). The last original Brady Bunch episode aired in March of
1974 due to enmity between actors and producers. The show’s 116 episodes
would be repeated for decades. The Mets’ 1973 ending, on the other hand,
would be repeated only once, in 1999.
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It’s a busy Saturday and I’ll be at West Point for
Army-Wake Forest, but I am also supposed to be on both MLB Home Plate
Channel on Sirius/XM Channel 175 Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and
Ed Randall’s “Talking Baseball” on Saturday on WFAN, which starts at
4 p.m. and goes until Mets Extra at 6:30 p.m. Fingers crossed.
Rising Apple has been doing a Forty Years Ago Today all year to mark
the 1973 season. A couple of others jumping on board the ’73 Express in
the last week are SNY and
Faith and Fear in Flushing (Greg Prince and I personally traded ’73
stories with “Ya Gotta Believe” he was there fan Bob Heussler of FAN
fame at the Mets-Giants matinee). And on this day four decades ago the
dream became real, though it certainly was surreal.
The Mets and Pirates began the week with one of
the oddest five-game scheduled series I have ever come across: five
night games, Monday through Friday, two games at Three Rivers Stadium,
and then three at Shea. September 20, 1973 was a Thursday. The day began
with Willie Mays on NBC’s Today Show talking about his just
announced—but long overdue—retirement from baseball. Football season had
just started—the Giants were 1-0 and Joe Namath’s Jets had lost to Green
Bay in Milwaukee on Monday Night Football. That Thursday night, though,
both baseball and football took a back seat to tennis. Billie Jean
King’s “Battle of the Sexes” against Bobby Riggs dominated the media.
Riggs—rhymes with pigs—had beaten top-ranked woman Margaret Court on
Mother’s Day and used the victory to put down not just the women’s game
but the women’s movement, which had made significant strides in the
early 1970s. King took the baton for her sex and shut up Riggs for good
by beating him in straight sets
at the Astrodome. Then she beat Riggs again in Ping Pong in a
memorable Odd Couple episode a few weeks later.
While the spectacle of the “Battle of the
Sexes” was waged on an ABC special, WOR-TV had its own special
broadcast. The Mets-Pirates game was only scheduled for radio, but with
the Mets suddenly making a run, Channel 9 threw it on the air at the
last minute. There had been heady drama already that week. Tom Seaver
was blown out Monday in Pittsburgh. And Tuesday night the Mets were
three runs down and three outs away from being 4½ games back with only
12 games left, perhaps beyond resuscitation. But the Mets rallied for
five runs in the ninth with a two-run triple by Felix Millan followed by
key RBI hits from unlikely suspects Ron Hodges and Don Hahn, who’d both
begun the season in the minors. With fireman Tug McGraw already used,
manager Yogi Berra made the questionable decision to have Bob Apodaca
make his major league debut in a save situation against “The Pittsburgh
Lumber Company.” Dack didn’t have it and Buzz Capra came in and saved
the day—barely—in what turned out to be his last appearance as a Met.
With the series moving to New York,
another late rally put away Pittsburgh, 7-3, behind George Stone and Tug
McGraw. Now 1½ games behind the first-place Pirates, 5,000 fewer people
came to Shea—24,855 to be exact. Two lefties who threw hard but were
thought of as crafty, Jerry Koosman and Jim Rooker, started that night.
Every time the Bucs went on top, the Mets came right back. It was 3-2 in
the ninth with Ramon Hernandez on the mound, two outs, a man on second,
and Duffy Dyer up as a pinch hitter. Dyer, with a .180 average that
would fit nicely on the Mets of 40 years later, turned into the latest
hero of the moment with a double that tied the game.
Ray Sadecki came in to pitch and retired
10 straight Bucs as the game moved to the 13th inning. Rookie Richie
Zisk singled with one out and Manny Sanguillen followed with a fly out.
Up stepped September call-up Dave Augustine.
What came next was a bounce that is only surpassed
in Mets annals by the throw off J.C. Martin’s wrist that won Game 4 of
the 1969 World Series and the grounder to Bill Buckner lm 1986.
Augustine’s drive, seemingly destined for the bullpen for a home run,
hit the top of the wall, came to Cleon Jones, who relayed to Wayne
Garrett, who threw to Ron Hodges, who slapped the tag on Zisk.
Yes, Murph, they may get him.
In the bottom of the 13th came Pirates
palmball specialist Dave Giusti, roughed up by the Mets the past two
nights. Make that three straight nights. Giusti relieved Luke Walker,
who’d walked the first two Mets. Don Hahn could not move up the runners,
but no matter. Ron Hodges, drafted out of Appalachian State only a year
earlier, was a New York hero once more. He singled home John Milner to
put the Mets just a half game out of first. And there was still plenty
of Amazin’ to go.
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100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, I
ranked this as number 23 in Mets history, just behind “The Black Cat” in
1969, the first time the Mets crept within a game of a seemingly
superior rival in September. You can read far more detail about “The
Ball on the Wall” game in
Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season, including the memories
of a couple of the players involved in the play, plus the great Howie
Rose, a college student sitting in the stands at Shea that night, and
Newsday reporter Steve Jacobson, perched in the press box. And Buzz
Capra’s version of the ninth inning of that second game Pittsburgh is
one of my favorite stories.
I’ll be talking ’bout ’73 with Ed Randall on
Home Plate Channel on Sirius/XM Channel 175 Saturday at 8:30 a.m. The
second part of my morning-afternoon doubleheader picks up lateron
Ed Randall’s “Talking Baseball” on Saturday on WFAN. Check back
later for the approximate time I’ll be on. Ed’s show starts at 4 p.m.
and goes until Mets Extra at 6:30 p.m.
The NFL season opened on this date in
1973. There were a few week one storylines: The Dolphins knocked off the
49ers for their 18th consecutive win in the follow-up to their perfect
’72 season (the streak would end the next week in Oakland); despite
being blanked in the first quarter, the Falcons still put up 62 points
at Tulane Stadium to dismantle the Saints and third-year QB Archie
Manning; the closest game of the game saw Dallas kicker Toni Fritsch
snap a fourth-quarter tie at Soldier Field with an 11-yard field goal
(the goalposts were still located on the goal line); and O.J. Simpson
ran for 250 yards in Buffalo’s rout of the Patriots to commence his
quest as football’s first 2,000-yard rusher.
The strangest site of the day, though, had
to be Johnny Unitas… in a San Diego Chargers uniform. The Baltimore
Colts legend had helped build the NFL on the strength of his arm. He
threw lightning bolts, he didn’t wear them on his helmet.
In an era when the NFL was run-first,
run-second, and then throw if necessary, Johnny U. led the league in
pass attempts, yards, and touchdowns four times each. He threw a
touchdown pass in 47 straight games, a streak finally broken by Drew
Brees in 2012. Brandishing high-top cleats, number 19, and a crew-cut
that Grampa Simpson said “you could set your watch to,” Unitas was the
first to surpass 40,000 passing yards, averaging 215.8 yards per game in
his first dozen seasons.
And in a sport often measured by how many
championship you’ve won, Unitas won two NFL titles—including “The
Greatest Game Ever Played” in 1958—plus Super Bowl V, which some still
call “The Worst Super Bowl Ever Played”; but a win is a win. Unitas was
a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, a six-time All-Pro, and a three-time MVP.
One more item of note should be added after each of these
achievements—“All with Colts.”
Unitas played under coaching legends Weeb
Ewbank and then Don Shula in Baltimore, but Johnny U. made the calls in
the huddle. A year after claiming his third MVP, an arm injury kept him
on the bench for most of the 1968 season, as Earl Morral led the Colts
to a 13-1 record. Even Unitas coming off the bench couldn’t rescue the
Colts against the upstart Jets in Super Bowl III. He came back the next
year to throw for 2,342 yards to guide the Colts to the first AFC
title—the year the merger went official. He got the Colts back to the
AFC Championship Game in 1971, but they were shut out by the No-Name
Defense of Shula, who’d taken over Miami.
1972 season was bad for Unitas and the Colts. He suffered his first
losing season as a starter since his rookie season of 1956. Benched by
interim coach John Sandusky, Unitas was inserted late in Baltimore’s
final home game as the large crowd chanted his name. A short pass to
Eddie Hinton turned into a 63-yard touchdown as Memorial Stadium went
insane one last time for the original “Johnny Football.”
Traded to the Chargers in ’73, the
40-year-old Unitas began the season at RFK, not from his hallowed
stomping grounds, but it might as well have been a world away. The
defending NFC champion Redskins chewed up the Chargers, 38-0, as Unitas
threw three interceptions and San Diego turned the ball over seven
times. He won one of his four starts and tutored rookie QB Dan Fouts,
who’d one day join Johnny in the Hall of Fame. The ’73 Chargers went
2-11-1, the same record as the moribund New York Giants. With Bert Jones
under center instead of Unitas, Howard Schnellenberger’s Colts finished
4-10, tied with the Jets for last place in the AFC East.
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I am on the air with Dan Reinhard at WKNY
1490 AM on Monday at 6 p.m. If you cannot in on your radio, try
Forty Years Ago Today: 9/13/1973... Schoolhouse Rock
For a kid in 1973, Saturday was the day.
Parents slept late, I woke early, and I propped myself in front of the
black-and-white TV in our family room. Cartoons existed for only a few
hours on weekdays—mostly re-runs of Bugs Bunny, Gigantor,
or Speed Racer that had entertained people now too old to bother
with such simple fare. On Saturday mornings, though, network TV aimed
right at me—firing out so much new programming it was almost unfair that
I was denied so much content the rest of the week. The VCR or even Beta
Max was still a few years away, so you had to catch it as it was
happening or miss it. And in the land of seven channels, you (or at
least I) could not stand missing anything good.
But in September of 1973, while watching a show on
what I only knew as Channel 7 (ABC), came a between-shows snippet called
confusing grammar, or
confounding multiplication tables suddenly became simpler and, well,
fun because of a song. I learned more from these three-minute snippets,
which would now be called micro-series, than I did from my awful
third-grade teacher, who was as mean as she was ugly.
The bits, concocted by New York adman
David McCall—you could call him a Mad Man—who came up with the concept
for a kid who was struggling with his multiplication tables. Bob Dorough
wrote and sang many of the three dozen such animated shorts through
1980. I can still recite a few of these by rote—and not just because I
later bought the DVD for my kids.
I remember Schoolhouse Rock better than any
individual Saturday morning TV show. I was not alone. Twenty-five years
after the first bit debuted, when my wife and I had our first child, I
left a message on the answering machine of Linc, a great friend from
high school. I started my astounding news with the snippet from the
original Schoolhouse Rock ditty, the
three multiplication song: “A man and a woman had a little baby.” He
instantly knew the song and my news that followed—everyone our age would
have known. And however you remember or decipher Schoolhouse Rock,
“It’s a magic number.”
On this day in 1973, Willie
Mays played his final major league game—though no one knew it at the
time. Willie would actually take a final bow in the postseason, where
fortunate bounces found his bat and unfortunate bounces found his glove.
The glove he was wearing on
September 9 was a first baseman’s mitt. The Mets were at Jarry Park on a
Sunday afternoon against the Montreal Expos before 20,743, not far from
a capacity crowd at the small Canadian outpost. Gene Mauch’s Montreal
club, the division doormat its first three seasons in the National
League East, held second place at 69-72. The Mets (68-74) had won 16 of
their last 25 games after having the second-worst mark in the National
League until mid-August. They now stood tied for fourth with the Cubs,
four games behind St. Louis. Montreal was in third place, 2 ½ back.
Expos rookie Steve Rogers had outdueled Tom Seaver the previous day,
halting New York’s four-game winning streak. Both the Mets and Expos
needed this game.
Leading 2-0, Mays chased
after a foul pop near the first-base dugout. He slammed into the
chest-high railing and winced in pain. The 42-year-old veteran, seven
weeks removed from his 660th—and final—major league home run, stayed in
the game. He batted third in the order in spite of his .213 average
coming into the game; being Willie Mays has its advantages. He batted
once more after the collision and struck out against righty reliever
Chuck Taylor, not the Chuck Taylor of basketball fame whose
iconic sneakers were in their fifth decade of coolness in ’73.
Mays finished the game—a 3-0
combined shutout by George Stone and Tug McGraw—but afterward he
complained of soreness in his chest. He returned to New York during the
team’s off day and was to meet up with the Mets for the Tuesday game in
Philadelphia. With the Mets now just three games out, Mays was listed as
the first baseman that night at Veterans Stadium, but there was no Mays.
He was still in his Riverdale apartment waiting for a return call from
the doctor. When you’re Willie Mays, you can make news by not even being
around—as he had done in spring training when he went across the country
to see his wife in California and missed a team workout. Manager Yogi
Berra was again displeased, though he continued to ask Mays if he could
play as the team made its epic September run. The man couldn’t go,
a-Maysing regular season stats could forever be etched in stone.
And neither the Say Hey Kid
nor his teammates on the final stop in a Giant career would go quietly
September 5, 2013
Kong Sung Blue (and
We interrupt the 1973 September
countdown—it’s a slow week in that regard—to bring you an update on a
player who was 3,000 miles from New York that year. Giants third baseman
Dave Kingman—yes, third baseman; he started a career-high 60 times there
in ’73, no wonder the Giants finished 11 back in the NL West, though
they did win six more games than the NL East champion Mets; this
sentence is all messed up, let’s start over. Giants third baseman Dave
Kingman, 24, had a poor year in 1973. Besides his 18 errors at third
base, and four more miscues at first base, Kong barely crept over the
Mendoza line at .203, even though the line’s namesake, Mario Mendoza,
was still a year from his major league debut at the time. Kingman hit 24
homers, whiffed 122 times (seventh in the NL), and reached base at a
.300 clip. He even pitched twice, tossing four innings and allowing as
many runs, but San Francisco had drafted him out of USC with the first
overall pick in 1970 to hit, not pitch—though he’d done both well for
All that ballast aside, the moment Kong
donned Mets togs in 1975 he became my hero. As a first-year fan that
season, I admit I liked him as much as Tom Seaver, maybe even more
because he was on WOR every night. Charlie Vascellaro was likewise
Charlie is a longtime Mets fan and writer,
who lives in Baltimore (look at this
clip about the 2010
Orioles, a team that, by the way, defied critics and finished with a
robust 96 losses). In 2007 Charlie conducted what may be the last
interview with Karl Ehrhardt before “The Sign Man” moved on to the big
banner day in the sky. He tracked me down to send me a note and we
quickly got talking Kong and all other things Mets related.
We’re a few weeks away from the
semi-annual publishing of Letters to the Met-idor, and this
correspondence would have dominated the piece anyway, so we’ll let it
stand as is. And make sure to read his piece on Kong that he presented
at the Mets 50th Anniversary Symposium at Hofstra in 2012 and he
graciously allowed me to post
ME: I think your
Kingman presentation was on the Thursday afternoon at the conference
when I played hooky to see the
Mets rally in the ninth at Citi Field. I have been a fan of your
work, especially the piece on Karl Ehrhardt. I used it—and said as much
(you are also in the index) for a short piece on the Sign Man in the
ME: Loved the piece.
Loved Kingman. Saw a moonshot that went into the parking lot and hit a
bus in 1976. Nearly cried—oh who am I kidding, did cry—when he came out
on the last day at Shea in 2008 with Craig Swan, who started my first
game at Shea at age 10 in ’75. We must go to a game some time and trade
notes over a beer and rat burger. By the way, on the Mark Harris note in
your story—Bang the Drum Slowly is an amazing book and I have the
movie poster framed to bring to Cooperstown for a presentation on
1973. [Editor’s Note: Brought it to Cooperstown and I loved it, though
some in the audience may have been confused by its presence. But
everybody loves a young Bobby DeNiro.]
Matt. My relationship with Kingman is complicated. I loved him like you
did as a kid but, as you just read in the story, our personal
interactions have been frustrating. I guess I loved him as a player but
I’m not so sure how I feel about him as a person.
I got to know Mark Harris quite well and became a good friend of his. I
was with his family a few years back to scatter his ashes around his Mt.
Vernon, New York boyhood home.
I’d love to see your chapter on Karl Ehrhardt. I have Mets Essential
and the 100 Things books but do not have Best Mets.
[Editor’s Plug: Well, here’s your chance to get
your copy and read not just about Ehrhardt, but also on
groundskeeper Pete Flynn, legendary organist Jane Jarvis, Jerry
Seinfeld, Cowbell Man, and more.]
Yes let’s definitely get together for a game either here in Baltimore or
at Citi Field some time. You sure have been busy chronicling the team’s
What is your 1973 presentation? Do you have a new book? [Editor’s Plug
II: We’ll let the other entries on the site display the obvious, but you
can click to pick up your copy of
Here are my top 10 games attended at Shea:
10. Roy White Steals Home and I have my first knish, September 21, 1974.
While renovations were being made to Yankee Stadium the Mets and Yankees
shared Shea in 1974-75. From a great box seat along the first base line,
I’m surprised to see Yankees outfielder Roy White make a mad dash for
the plate. I also eat my first knish at Shea that day.
9. Keith Hernandez Day at Shea, September 14, 1997. Luis Lopez
celebrates Keith Hernandez’s induction to the Mets Hall of Fame by
hitting his only home run of the season and provides the only run of the
game in the Mets' 1-0 victory over the Expos. Lopez, fittingly, wears
Hernandez’s old number 17 on his jersey.
8. Hendu Can-Do, June 14, 1980. We’re exchanging high-fives all the way
down the ramps on the way out of the ballpark after Steve Henderson’s
three-run blast caps a five-run rally in the Mets come from behind
victory over San Francisco.
7. Piazza Rocks Roger, July 9, 1999. Mike Piazza’s three-run homer off
Roger Clemens provides the margin of difference for the Mets in a 5-2
over the Yankees and sets the tone for future Piazza/Clemens
confrontations. Piazza will eventually rack up 8 hits in 19 career
at-bats (.421) against Clemens including four home runs with 10 RBI.
6. Game Five NLCS, October 16, 2000. Mike Hampton pitches a three-hit,
complete game shutout as the Mets advance to the World Series for the
first time in 15 years.
5. Game Three NLDS, October 7, 2000. Benny Agbayani’s 13th-inning blast
is his shining moment as a Met.
4. Game Four 2000 NLDS, October 8, 2000. Bobby Jones throws a one-hitter
in the best pitched game I’ve ever seen in person as the Mets defeat the
San Francisco Giants and move on to the NLCS versus St. Louis.
3. Robin Ventura’s grand slam single, National League Championship
Series, October 17, 1999. I keep score through 15 innings, the last six
of them in a driving rain. The Mets and Braves deplete their entire
rosters (minus Rick Reed and Al Leiter) in this all-time epic for the
ages which ends on a bases loaded blast by Ventura, who is mobbed by
teammates and fails to reach second base, resulting in a game-winning
single instead of a grand slam.
2. Dave Kingman hits three home runs for the Cubs against the Mets, July
28, 1979. I catch one of them and have it signed after the game.
1. Game Three National League Championship Series, October 8, 1973. I’m
a star struck nine-year-old sitting way up high in right field with my
Uncle Tony at one of my earliest games at Shea, made extremely memorable
when Pete Rose and Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson slug it out at second
ME: I was at six of
those games [numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 9]. I was in awe of you for
being at the Hendu-Can-Do Game, and then I saw you were at the
Harrelson-Rose brawl. I’m not worthy!
This is one from the heart. On this day in
1973, Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock” reached number one on the
charts. Since it first came out, that song has—not surprisingly—always
reminded me of my mother and the love still felt long after she left us.
Here in 2013, my daughter, named after my mother—the name
Swinging ’73 is dedicated to—begins a big adventure on her own
today. Time to be a rock. The girl doesn’t know from Paul Simon, but my
Forty Years Ago Today: 9/2/1973... Watching, ’73
Regular season baseball broadcasts that still exist from 40 years ago
are very rare. Getting a couple of DVDs of complete World Series
broadcasts required getting “bootlegs”—a very 1970s term—from various
sources to aid in the preparation of Swinging ’73. But for a moment, for
a day, let’s try to imagine what it was like to be watching live as
announcers bring you the pictures, descriptions,
of the game.
The 1973 schedule listed the Mets as
broadcasting 119 games, a high number for a major league team at the
time. The idea that TV—and radio—would hinder attendance had persisted
in some corners. Some teams, including the 1970s Los Angeles Dodgers,
rarely broadcast home games at all. No televised home games for local
teams—in the regular season or playoffs—had been the rule in
football for more than two decades. In September 1973, President Richard
ardent football fan, among other things—signed legislation lifting
the blackout of all home games in local markets, provided the games were
sold out 72 hours in advance. This rule, however arcane, largely remains
in effect today, though it is being challenged. The blackout rule rarely
affects New York, but TV viewers in some cities hardly ever see their
teams wear the home uniforms.
In baseball, it has always been up to the team and its
TV outlet to decide how many games to show. That being said, the Mets
1973 TV schedule petered out as summer became fall. When the Mets
suddenly, miraculously, got involved in the ’73 NL East race, Channel
9—the team’s only television outlet for its first two decades of
existence—added games to the TV schedule at the last minute. Just four
of the team’s last 10 games were originally slated to be televised, but
that quickly changed—and with little advanced warning. (Despite this
late-season revelation, the original 1974 Mets schedule ended with just
two of the team’s last nine games slated for TV—there would be nothing
worth watching at Shea that September.)
Forty years later, talking about teams and TV stations
adding content at a time when CBS is shut out of New York homes while
carriers and networks argue over fees, makes the 1970s feel like a
golden age for TV; except that there were only seven channels available
in New York at the time. Though I’d still take the ’73 CBS Saturday
lineup of All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore,
Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett over any combination of
televised all-star fare of current shows that could be assembled.
Back to baseball… it wasn’t just the
games, it was the team that made watching memorable. And by team I mean
the trio of Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson, and Bob Murphy,
with jackets that sparkled and words that stayed true. While there
were many more years to appreciate Ralph and Murph doing Mets games,
Lindsey Nelson was actually nearing his final quarter of his 17-season
run with the Mets. He’d been the easy hire for the team in 1962, a
national broadcaster with a distinctive style and Southern voice so
distinct that even simple statements roll off the tongue that still
tingle 40 years later: “Thank you very much Ralph Kiner and hello…”
Hello, indeed. When the Mets reached the
’73 World Series, it was NBC’s practice at the time to pick the home
team’s announcer to work with Curt Gowdy in the TV booth. Lindsey was
chosen for the Mets.
Monte Moore got the nod for the A’s. Ironically, Moore, who’d been
hired by A’s owner Charlie Finley when the team was still in Kansas
City, had been doing A’s games for as long as the Mets trio had been
broadcasting in New York.
For regular-season games, the practice for
the Mets was to have one announcer on TV, one on radio, and the other
off. During autumn weekends, there would be no time off since they’d be
working a man short with Nelson broadcasting college football on
Saturdays and the NFL on Sundays. By the early 1980s, most teams had
segmented announcers into working solely on radio, TV, or cable—doubling
and sometimes tripling the number of people needed to broadcast one
In 1973, though, New York had Nelson,
Murphy, and Kiner—plus
Bill White, Frank Messer, and Phil Rizzuto across town. While
Rizzuto was too much of a joker for me, I admit to really enjoying White
and Messer and the Yankees broadcasts. Back when baseball wasn’t
necessarily on TV every night—and as mentioned above, there were few
other TV choices—I, like a lot of Mets fans, watched the Yankees trio
work, even while rooting for their job to be that much harder. Come
1974, either of these trios would be at Shea Stadium every night because
the rebuilding of Yankee Stadium brought the Yanks to Shea for two
And all we could do was watch. Some things haven’t
Forty Years Ago Today: 8/30/1973... Happy Birthday to Tug
The late great Frank Edwin “Tug” McGraw
would have been 69 today. A hero of the ’69 Mets—and, of course, the ’73
pennant winners—McGraw died a decade ago from brain cancer in the cabin
of his son, famed country singer Tim McGraw. Tug McGraw’s last
appearance before the Mets faithful was at a 30th anniversary
celebration of the 1973 team at Shea Stadium. Those were the days.
A practical joker, extrovert, and
screwball specialist in both the baseball and real-life application of
the word, this 1970s bullpen fireman was the son an actual fireman in
Valejo, California. His brother, Hank, a year older than Tug, was
considered a far better prospect when he was signed by the Mets before
they’d even played a game. Even more stubborn and outspoken than his
brother, Hank was famously suspended for not cutting his hair in the
1960s. He never played a major league game in a dozen pro seasons as a
Tug, so named because of the way he pulled
on his mother while nursing, made the Mets at the tender age of 20 as a
starting pitcher for Casey Stengel. He was the first Met to beat Sandy
Koufax—the only other loss by “The Left Arm of God” in 19 career
decisions against the Mets came against Bob Friend in Koufax’s final
career start against New York in 1966. Even for a team as bad as the
1960s Mets, McGraw still spent enough time in Class AAA Jacksonville to
have a child out of wedlock: Tim McGraw, who took his father’s last name
though Tug long refused to acknowledge him.
In 1969 Tug’s career changed when Gil
Hodges made him a reliever. Back then such a move was deemed a demotion,
but Tug ran with it and teamed with Ron Taylor to help pitch the Miracle
Mets to their improbable ’69 NL East title. McGraw went 9-3 with 12
saves and pitched in the first NLCS, a sweep of the Braves. The ’69 Mets
starting pitching was so dominant that Tug did not appear in the World
Series victory over the Orioles. The southpaw was dominant over the next
three years, with a matching 1.70 ERA for both 1971 and 1972. By ’73 he
was the highest-paid reliever in the National League at $75,000, but he
was pitching batting practice to opposing hitters. He began the year at
0-6 with a 5.45 ERA—his ERA reached a high of 6.20 in July. Tug finally
won his first game on August 22, an unlikely victory with the Mets
rapping out three straight two-out hits in the ninth to come back from a
run down against the Dodgers.
On his 29th birthday on August 30, 1973,
Tug could only watch as Tom Seaver pitched 9.1 scoreless innings and
lost on a single in the 10th inning in St. Louis. On Labor Day weekend,
the Mets stood in last place, 61-71, and seemingly beyond all reasonable
hope of contention. Though the distance between the cellar-dwelling Mets
and the first-place Cards (68-65) was just 6 ½ games, only 30 games
remained on the schedule. “Ya Gotta Believe” the season was just
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This is just a small part in a celebration of the
great Tugger. I wrote an extensive bio on him for the book
The Miracle Has Landed. That
story is available online via the
Society for American Baseball Research. Tug’s numbers speak volumes
and I am proud to have sponsored Tug for several year at
Baseball-Reference.com. Of course, Tug is one of the main characters
in my latest effort,
His baseball card is even
my Avatar on
Twitter. I guess you could call me a big fan. And if you want to
have a part in Tug still making a difference, may I recommend you
support the Tug McGraw Foundation. Big Mets fan and friend Sharon
Chapman runs for the
McGraw Foundation and is the embodiment of the Tugger attitude.
On this day in 1973, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It
On” is released, unleashing a million men to whisper to 10 million young
ladies: “Let me put some mood music, baby.” And there go the lights.
all sensitive people.”
Forty Years Ago Today: 8/19/1973… Kooz
Throws Goose Eggs
With the Mets winning in Minnesota today,
why not shine the spotlight on the best Met to come from the Land of
10,000 Lakes; a guy who was also the best lefty in Mets history: Jerry
Koosman. It was 40 years ago today that Kooz started a scoreless
consecutive inning streak that lasted nearly four decades and helped
start the Mets on their way to one of the most unlikely pennants since
the Miracle Mets of 1969.
As Kooz took the hill against the red-hot
Reds at Shea Stadium on August 19, 1973, he was stuck on a last-place
team with an 8-14 record and 3.47 ERA. He allowed an unearned run in the
fifth inning but did not allow another run to score until September 7,
covering five starts—three complete games, with two route-going
shutouts. He went the distance against the Reds on August 19, tossed a
10-inning shutout against Juan Marichal on August 24, combined with Buzz
Capra to blank the Padres on August 29, went the distance in the first
game of a Labor Day doubleheader to shut out Philly, and threw six
innings of four-hit ball against Montreal on September 7. He allowed a
fourth-inning RBI single to Expo Bob Bailey to end the streak at 31 2/3
innings, a number R.A. Dickey would surpass in 2012. Yogi Berra
pinch-hit for Koosman in the seventh inning on September 7 and it
worked. Pinch-hitter Ken Boswell’s single tied the game and the Mets won
in 15. Who knows how long Kooz would have gone if they’d inaugurated the
DH in the NL in 1973.
Most importantly, the Mets won nine of his
last 10 starts in '73 as they climbed the ladder from last to first.
They won all three of his postseason starts as well. Too bad his turn
didn’t come up for Game 7 in Oakland.
Forty Years Ago Today: 8/9/1973… Nicklaus
Tops Bobby Jones
Thirteen was not lucky for Jack Nicklaus. That is how many major titles
he had won in his 12-year pro career as he headed into 1973’s final
major, the PGA Championship. Thirteen was also how many majors that
belonged to Bobby Jones, who died in 1971. Jones had won seven Opens
(four U.S. and three British) plus six Amateurs (five American, one
British). Jones retired in 1930, at the age of 28, after becoming the
first—and still only—man to win four majors in one year. Since Jones
never turned professional, he never played in a PGA Championship.
The second weekend of August 1973,
Nicklaus was in his 11th year as a professional after a superb career at
Ohio State. By virtue of his two U.S. Amateur titles as a Buckeye—followed
by four Masters, three U.S. Opens, two British Opens, and two PGAs to
was deemed to have as many major titles as Jones. (Though the sporting
press today does not consider the Amateur to be a major, scribes of the
day still held it in high enough regard to count it among Nicklaus’s
majors in the 1970s.) Nicklaus even jokingly suggested to put an
asterisk next to his name for number 14 because he had more majors
to shoot for than Jones. That comment came after it was all over. In the
heat of the battle, the Golden Bear was sheer determination.
Nicklaus had not won a major since his U.S. Open victory in June of 1972
at Pebble Beach. If he did not win the 1973 PGA Championship at
Canterbury Golf Club, the tie with Jones would continue until the
Masters in April 1974. And no matter how good a player is, there is no
guarantee that the next major is coming—just ask Arnold Palmer. Fan
favorite Arnie Palmer, Nicklaus’s chief rival, had won his last major in
1964, at age 35—seemingly at the top of his game.
33-year-old Nicklaus did not light the world on fire to open the ’73 PGA,
shooting a pedestrian 72 the first day—one over par at Canterbury,
located outside Cleveland. The next two days, however, he shot 68,
putting himself one stroke ahead of the field. He fired three birdies on
Sunday and finished with a 69, taking the PGA by four strokes over Bruce
Crampton, at the time the largest margin since the PGA went from match
play to stroke play in 1958. He also claimed the $45,000 first prize.
But the money wasn’t as important as winning—just ask Bobby Jones.
After taking the 54-hole lead, Jack’s
four-year-old son Gary hopped on his dad, who went on to win 18
major championships (20 if you consider his two Amateur titles). That
record once seemed as likely to fall as the Bobby Jones mark in the
1970s, but golf is funny that way—just
ask Tiger Woods.
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Came across a very nice review of
Swinging ’73 from
English Plus Language Blog. If there are any reviews that I may have
failed to mention on the site, please bring them to my attention. And if
you haven’t penned a review, all I can say is that the 40 Years Ago
Todays get more exciting as August rolls on. Tug McGraw hasn’t
even won a game yet.
Lightning, a movie about running moonshine and driving a General Lee
prototype (sans Confederate flag) slammed into theaters 40 years ago.
Burt Reynolds, with his shirt off, graced the movie poster as Gator
McCluskey and the Deep South continued to bedevil Ned Beatty (a year
after a performance in
Deliverance that no one who has seen it can forget). In 1973, a
year that included movie badasses like Joe Don Baker in
Tall, and great car
chases, such as the one in The
7-Ups (featuring ’70s gas guzzlers zooming from Manhattan to an
abrupt halt in Briarcliff Manor), White Lightning
wasn’t a classic by any stretch. It was, however, more evidence that the
establishment of the ratings system in the late 1960s had led to movie
car chases and violence hitting their pedal to the metal stride. And
audiences wanted more.
August 6, 2013
As a very unfashionable fifth grader in
glee club—and an all-boys glee club at that—the first song I recall
learning was “Another Opening, Another Show.” I thought it was cool
because it incorporated the names of three cities I was coming to know
as baseball cities. The songs referred to in Cole Porter’s lyrics for
Kiss Me Kate were Philly, Boston, and Baltimore. Never in my wildest
fifth-grade dreams did I ever think I’d see games in all three cities in
the same week. Even when I was in fifth grade and my own major league
playing dreams seemed possible, I would have dismissed being in these
three cities in one week because two were American League cities and the
other was in the National Leagues. Interleague play seemed all stuff and
there I was over the last five days driving up and down the East Coast
making contact with eight states in all and planting my flag in nine
burgs: Beverly, Salem, and Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, PA;
Claymont, Delaware; Owings Mills, Ellicott City, Baltimore, and
Frederick, Maryland. I had a presentation to make in Philadelphia at the
annual Society of American Baseball Research convention, and I built in
a day before and after the trip to see some old friends I don’t get to
see much anymore. As was the case of Paul and Paul, Glenn, Guy, and
Crum, we did what we often did back when we spent a lot of time
together: We took in a ballgame.
Though I bought lousy seats that faced
away from the field at Fenway, it did afford a great view of everyone’s
old buddy: Oliver Perez, who helped blow the lead for Seattle. Paul,
Paul, and I used to attend a Mets game every year, but since they each
wound up in New England, we hadn’t hit a game as a trio in six years. I
admit we only stayed for half of the 15 innings at Fenway—Paul had a
long ride to New Hampshire and if we’d stayed to its inevitable
conclusion, we would have gotten home after 2 a.m. The next day I had a
seven-hour drive that became nine hours, but I still managed to get in
tour of Salem before heading off. Ollie headed out of town on a
broom to beat me to Baltimore.
catching up with old colleagues and new friends at the convention on
Friday (plus a walk to Independence Hall), SABR night at the ballpark
saw the Braves beat the Phillies. Crum and Glenn picked me up and we
tailgated… before the game, after the game, and in the hotel parking
lot. Not surprisingly, I got a bit of a late start Saturday, but I
Sean Lahman’s presentation about baseball in the age of big data,
ESPN correspondent Steve Wulf’s piece
on the late Johnny Callison (the Phillie who won the ’64 All-Star
Game at Shea with a walkoff homer while wearing a Mets helmet), and
Mark Simon helped fill me in on the breaking developments of Wright,
Baxter, Feliciano and more. I answered questions and talked to people
for 90 minutes or so during my poster presentation on—what else?—Swinging
’73. Then it was back to the car.
After a fun Saturday night with Glenn in
Ellicott City, Crum and Guy joined us for the most pleasant summer
afternoon that I have ever experienced south of the Mason-Dixon line.
When Camden Yards was new and we were younger, I used to go to Baltimore
every summer to see Orioles games and visit Crum. Things happen over
time, and those long trips dried up. My last Orioles game was in 2002,
but the O’s have resurged and so have I. Crum provided great seats and
even greater hospitality. Heck, 1970 MVP and barbeque connoisseur Boog
Powell even signed my glove and listened when I told him—not for the
first time—that he hit the first home run I ever witnessed at Shea (as a
red-clad 1975 Indian). Boog’s response:
“I hated those uniforms.”
Loved the trip, though. Even if the O’s
lost to the M’s on a Henry Blanco home run, it was fun to see Baltimore
back on the baseball map, and back on my radar as well. We continued the
great time with Cuban food and mojitos down by the water. Even the drive
back Monday morning was fun, counting down the car hitting 100,000
miles. The only thing I do regret was missing the Saturday Mets-Royals
game with the Mets giving away
1973 playing cards, which may be the closest we get to a 40th
anniversary tribute to one of the franchise’s most exciting teams. But
in any event, you’re already at the place for the best coverage of all
things 1973. At
least I still have a framed drawing given by the Mets to mark the time
20 years ago.
It was 40 years ago this week that
Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk got into a
donnybrook at Fenway,
Phil Niekro tossed a
no-hitter in Atlanta, and Hank Aaron was appreciated by Brewers fans
like he’d never been by Braves fans. Now within slugging distance of
Babe Ruth’s all-time career mark of 714 home runs, Braves fans seemed to
exude ambivalence at best and hostility at worst. At an August 6
exhibition game in Milwaukee, where Aaron had played for 12 years before
the Braves moved South, Hammerin’ Hank was lauded. The umpires even
waved the NL’s designated hitter prohibition for interleague contests of
any kind, and let Aaron DH so he could have some rest for his
39-year-old bones. He homered, sending the Milwaukee crowd into ecstasy
and leading to the
Brew Crew trading for himafter he broke Babe’s mark in 1974.
33,000 at County Stadium for an exhibition game was far larger than any
crowd that had come see Aaron play at home through the season’s first
four months. (Only 8,748 had been in Atlanta the previous day for
Niekro’s no-no.) But then the Braves were mired in the bottom of the
standings behind the first-place Dodgers; just like the Mets stood in
sixth place, 12 games under .500, and nearly as many games behind St.
Louis (11½). Summer still had a long way to go.
title sounds like it should have been the B-Side to Grand Funk’s bad ass
“We’re an American Band,” which hit number one during the scorching
July of ’73.
however, refers to two distinct—if overlooked—events of July 30 of that
Bibby pitched a no-hitter on this day in 1973. Though a rookie in 1973,
Bibby had been around. He had served in the Army in Vietnam, driving
trucks when booby traps and sabotage of anything American was de
rigueur. Back in the States and back playing ball, the pitching-rich
Mets sent him to the Cardinals in an eight-player trade that was Art
Shamsky going to St. Louis for Jim Beauchamp, with a lot of bodies
thrown at the wall. About the only names that stuck were Bibby and Harry
Parker, a valuable—if inconsistent—reliever for the 1973 Mets. The
28-year-old Bibby was traded again just a month before his no-no. At
this point, Texas had teen sensation David Clyde and little else to be
excited about, so Whitey Herzog, remembering Bibby from his days as
player development director of the Mets, put the big man right to work.
He started twice and pitched twice in relief in his first two weeks as a
Ranger. In his first start in Arlington on June 29, he got his first
career shutout, allowing just one Kansas City hit (to everyone’s
favorite future announcer, Fran Healy). Bibby won three times over the
next month and tossed four more complete games for the moribund
the evening of July 30, Bibby faced the defending world champion Oakland
A’s for the first time. Oakland was in first place, but was still a
little down after losing Catfish Hunter to a broken thumb in the
All-Star Game a week earlier. Vida was mighty Blue when the punchless
Rangers tagged him for five runs in the first inning. Jeff Burroughs hit
a grand slam and the next batter Mike Sudakis also went deep. A’s
manager Dick Williams, strapped for pitching without Hunter, left Blue
in and he went the distance. The manager figured the A’s chances of
winning were somewhat slim, but the 39-63 Rangers were bad enough that
the 58-47 A’s might ambush the young pitcher. The Rangers would win just
18 of their last 60 games, but this was their night. Or at least
fanned 13 A’s—including Bill North, Sal Bando, and Reggie Jackson in a
row in the fourth. He walked six, including Bando to start the ninth in
a 6-0 game. Bando stole second (defensive indifference not being a thing
back then). Bibby fanned Reggie and got Deron Johnson to ground out.
Gene Tenace popped up to second base and Bibby had the no-no.
Bibby would be traded again—to the Indians
in 1975. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent in 1978 and the next
year was a key cog in Willie Stargell’s “Fam-i-lee.” He pitched seven
strong innings in Game 2 of the NLCS, one of two Pirates extra-inning
wins on the road in their sweep of Cincinnati. He pitched twice in the
World Series win over the Orioles. After getting a late start, he ended
late as well, being one of the game’s oldest players when he threw his
last pitch for the ’84 Rangers. Bibby graduated later than most, but got
it done at Lynchburg College while a player, then remaining in town as
pitching coach for the Lynchburg Mets. I loved that because I always sat
near the visiting dugout when the L-burg Mets came to Salem when I was
in college. Mike Cubbage was not that impressive looking as manager, but
I would marvel at the massiveness of Jim Bibby (Joe
Posnaski was also taken with the size of 6-foot-5, 230-pound Bibby,
whose brother and nephew both played in the NBA). Jim Bibby stayed on as
pitching coach in Lynchburg even after the Mets moved out.
Unfortunately, he died young, passing at age 65 in 2010 due to bone
That is a lot of Bibby, baby. What about
the Jackal? Frederick Fosyth’s book The Day of the Jackal was
turned into a movie that came out on this day in 1973; it should not be
confused with the December 1973 George C. Scott film,
Day of the Dolphin, about smarter than your average mammals.
Both movies dealt with fictional attempts on a president’s life.
Dolphins, jackals, apes… what was it about animals lusting for power in
the 1970s? Actually Jackal was the code name of the fictional assassin
looking to take the life of Charles de Gaulle, the closest thing the
French Army came to a “hero” in World War II, and who served as France’s
president in the 1960s. Day of the Jackal was emblematic of the
British fictional spy genre so bloody popular in the 1970s and resulted
in some jolly good films as well. Carry on.
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Anybody coming to the
Society of American
Baseball Research convention in Philadelphia this weekend, be sure
to stop by and say hi on Saturday at the poster presentation from
3:30-4:30 p.m. Or say hi if you see me Thursday or Friday as well. I
will be at SABR night at the ballpark Friday for Braves-Phillies, giving
myself a headache as to which I should hate more.
On this day in 1973, some 600,000 people
descended on the race track in Watkins Glen, New York (near Ithaca) to
see three of the top North American bands of the day—or of any day: The
Grateful Dead, The Band, and The Allman Brothers Band. I say North
American because The Dead were from San Francisco, The Allman Brothers
from Jacksonville, and four members of The Band were Canadian while the
late, great Levon Helm hailed from Arkansas. Billed as Summer Jam, the
Watkins Glen concert was larger—but not bigger—than Woodstock (if you
get my meaning, man).
The Allman Brothers, one of the biggest draws in
the country, had top billing and went on last at Watkins Glen. Two years
removed from the death of Duane Allman (killed in a motorcycle
accident), every song they played in concert seemed to last 20
minutes—20 minutes of bliss. That was perfect because ’73 was the time
of the jam. And all three bands specialized in improvisation. Even the
sound check was epic. The Dead and Allmans
jammed together for a bit at the Glen, while The Band’s organ
virtuoso Garth Hudson entertained the crowd during a massive rainstorm.
The mud, muck, mire, bad parking, hundreds of thousands of people
showing up without tickets, and great rock n’ roll—it was sort of like
Woodstock all over again. Maybe the peace, love, and understanding part
was on the wane, but the music never stopped.
Watkins Glen also provided some redemption for the
performers. While the Allmans, who’d just released their first album in
1969, had not gotten a Woodstock invite, The Dead and The Band had
endured lackluster performances at Woodstock. They were both left out of
the landmark film of the event that lasted 330 minutes and included
Na Na, among others without much staying power. There was no big
film of Watkins Glen, but the
home movies were pretty cool. One of the themes of 1973 was second
chances and The Dead and The Band more than made up for an off night in
one rural New York venue in 1969 with memorable performances in 1973.
To bring it back to baseball, I believe the Mets
did pretty well both ’69 and ’73. And to give you an idea of how many
people 600,000 is: The Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres each
drew as many people in an entire year as these bands did in one day.
One hell of a day.
Forty Years Ago Today: 7/24/1973…
An All-Star Headache
All-Star Game was a political event for baseball in 1973. By virtue of
winning the 1972 World Series, Dick Williams got to manage the American
League the following July. It was as big a pain as it was an honor.
Williams didn’t like Nolan Ryan. Sounds
crazy now, but a lot of people were turned off by his wildness back then
and Williams looked past the two no-hitters—and nearly a third—he threw
before the All-Star Game, not to mention striking out 233 batters in 200
innings before the All-Star break. Those numbers are quite good
for a pitcher for a whole season—even more remarkable was that Ryan
would fan another 150 batters to break Sandy Koufax’s record of 382—but
Williams looked at his 11-12 record, and probably his 100 walks to that
point, and declared him not All-Star worthy. If you
look at the box score, however, you’ll note that Ryan threw two
innings and—not to his All-Star manager’s surprise—allowed two runs,
including a home run to Willie Davis. Johnny Bench and All-Star MVP
Bobby Bonds each homered against Ryan’s Angels teammate Bill Singer—Dick
Williams preferring the Singer Throwing Machine over the Ryan Express.
Williams, who picked three A’s pitchers, left the eventual Cy Young
winner off as well.
Palmer would win the first of his three Cy Youngs in 1973, going 11-6
with a 2.86 ERA at the break—he would go 11-3 with a 1.78 ERA in the
second half as the O’s reached the postseason for the fifth time in
eight years. But forgive Williams for being cranky. The Thursday before
the All-Star Game he was rushed to the hospital for an emergency
appendectomy. Dick missed Oakland’s sweep of Cleveland heading into the
break, and pushed himself out of the hospital bed to board a plane to
Kansas City—only to be booed out of brand-new Royals Stadium at the
All-Star Game. There had been so much going on—besides the operation,
don’t forget that Charlie Finley was his very hands-on,
always-questioning boss—that Williams plum forgot that the A’s had
ditched Kansas City five years earlier. No one in Kansas or Missouri had
When Williams was introduced as AL manager
he was booed out of the building, along with his yellow-clad Oakland
All-Star starters (Bet Campaneris, Reggie Jackson, and Catfish Hunter)
and green-clad reserves (Ken Holtzman, Sal Bando, and Rollie Fingers).
You can see them
lined up in this picture,
the two A’s uniforms—including the yellow by A’s coach Wes Stock (No.
42)—clashing mightily with the white worn by every other AL counterpart.
The A’s could have opted for their wedding-gown white Sunday uniforms,
green shirt, green pants. Finley liked to keep everyone guessing.
Ryan got on the All-Star bill because commissioner Bowie Kuhn added an
extra spot on each roster to accommodate Willie Mays. The last time Mays
was eligible and did not appear in an All-Star Game was during the
Truman Administration (in 1952, five presidents earlier). In July 1973
Mays was hitting .214 and had yet to officially announce this would be
indeed be his last season, but Kuhn allowed him to take part in a game
that included Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Rollie
Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Joe Morgan,
Brooks Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Ron Santo, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Don
Sutton, and Billy Williams—Hall of Famers all, not to mention they were
managed by two future Cooperstown enshrinees in Sparky Anderson and Dick
Williams. And many would call Mays the best of the bunch.
1973 All-Star Game is also remembered for future Hall of Famers injuring
one another. Billy Williams hit a shot through the middle that Catfish
instinctively tried to stop with his pitching hand. Hunter, who came
into the game with a record of 15-3, would miss a month with a broken
thumb. For his manager, this hurt like another appendectomy. Ace
removal. This time it counts.
July 17, 2013
(49 Years and Counting)
regale you with tales from the 1973 All-Star Game for the 40th
anniversary of that last Willie Mays Midsummer Classic on July 24. In
the meantime, I am taking my own All-Star break that has been a long
time coming. In 1973, it had been nine years since the All-Stars had
come to Flushing. A dozen years later, in that wonderful summer of 1985,
I recall thinking for the first time how cool an All-Star Game might be
to see in person. “Hell,” I thought, “the Mets haven’t hosted one in
more than 20 years, they’ll have to have another real soon.” Right.
the next All-Star Game in Flushing is 49 years away, I figured it best
to marshal the whole family for this one. Through the second-chance
lottery that I didn’t even realize I’d been entered in, I got standing
room tickets. It came as a package, so I got the Futures Game (which I
passed on to another family), the Home Run Derby, the ASG itself, and a
bunch of tickets for Fan Fest. The face value of my All-Star Game ticket
was $100, the same sum I have seen on tickets I have used for
Mets-Pirates meaningless September baseball. (Is there another kind?)
live in an area that is generally tepid about big league baseball, but
neighbors, friends, and others have chimed in about the game. The
Mariano Rivera tribute was both surprising and cool, but my favorite
moment personally came when Matt Harvey got into trouble on the first
three pitches—he even drilled some batter—and then pitched himself out
of the jam on the way to two shutout innings. Then, like most Harvey
starts, his team couldn’t score and he got a no decision.
what has been about three decades of waiting turned into a pretty good
week, especially so when we got picked out by Richie Wheels to sit in
the handicapped area in front of where we camped out for our All-Star
stand. (My 10-year-old son was worn out from Fan Fest that day and from
the first round of home run derby the night before—after 90 minutes of
batting practice, I could stand no more.) Richie, whom I had never met,
asked my son to sit down in a folding chair; then he asked his friend to
stand so my 15-year-old daughter could sit; then when his group was
leaving to retire to an air-conditioned club, he bequeathed their seats
to me and the Mrs. Even more shocking was the usher literally giving us
a thumbs up sign. I take back all I’ve ever said about Citi Field
ushers. They came through for me when it counted... the
All-Star Game counts, right?
whole three days was a lot of effort, a lot of driving, a lot of cash
forked over for parking, and not one but two visits to the Javits Center
for Fan Fest (including my part in an MLB TV New York panel last Sunday
that I have yet to see). I even bent my personal rule about lemming up
for Shake Shack and stood for 40 minutes pre-game because my daughter
wanted to go. Those shakes are from heaven. And for a night, a
little class and clout came to Citi Field. Not like anyone had been
waiting or anything.
July 15, 2013
First Half Grades Are In
As we arrive at the long-awaited second Mets All-Star Game—a
mere 49 years after the first one—we
also have the not-so-long-awaited Mets midseason report card from
metsilverman.com. On the plus side, at least the 2013 Mets have not had
the kind of tremendous first half they can foul up immediately when the
second half starts, as had happened the last three years. Second-half
improvement would be nice after this year’s 41-50 start, but
expectations are so low I think quite a few Mets fans would sign on for
nine games under .500 for the second half, which would result in a 72-90
record for the year. But those 72 wins would have to include a kernel of
hope, young players debuting, and people getting playing time based on
potential rather than past performance (see John Buck and Ike Davis
clapping erasers in the hallway). The first half last year produced no
F’s, this time there are seven. Whether it is all the 15-, 16-, and
20-inning games, the schizophrenic offense, the savior/sabotage bullpen,
and the regression of players once deemed the future core, these first
three months have been different.
for inclusion is 50 at bats or 15 innings. Last year I used 20 innings,
but this year that would leave off four relievers who have been
important members in the bullpen. And while game-winning RBIs went out
of fashion about the same time as stretch pants, walkoff hits carry
weight here, which aided the grades of Baxter, Brown, Nieuwenhuis, and
First-half 2013 Report Card
Back where he belongs as starting All-Star 3B. Shown true leadership
Starting the All-Star Game well deserved, as was resting on Saturday.
Keep it up, kid
Biggest surprise of first half. Whether he stays or is traded, I’ll take
over Scott Hairston.
expect this to continue, but Mets lineup has been better since the day
Only been up 76 times and shows no power,
but line of .361/.487/.557 spells trouble for Ike.
Jeremy Hefner A-
A 4-6 record and 3.33 does
not begin to sum up how Hef has thrived.
Dillon Gee B+
After really struggling early, health and wins are up, ERA is down.
finally grown into closer role. Two of three blown saves result of bad
Carlos Torres B+
Has only thrown 22 innings, but he’s been great. Has saved team in
Up less than two months and hit .238, but has played almost every
inning. Welcome back, Q.
Still too streaky and one of best Mets trade chips. Love to see more of
that old Murph eye.
Gets high marks as 40-year-old vet teaching by example. Hope old man not
I know it’s only been five starts and he’s been spotty, but last start
counted for half his grade.
Rice not great, but rookie has handled lefties, righties, and massive
Veteran same age as rookie Rice, but brings experience. Becomes closer
if Parnell dealt.
John Buck C+
First half numbers (14 HR, 48 RBI) cancel periods of utter uselessness.
Plays less, plays better.
many Mets in this grade bracket, I don’t know if he’s part of future or
Like Duda, he’s hurt, and may not be long for team. Beard and pie
tossing key contributions.
Has some of Turner’s
offensive skills, more pop. If up earlier he’d
have gotten a lot of OF starts.
Has been much better
since recall from minors. Looking more like the guy from last year.
Jekyll and Hyde sidewinder has team's worst WHIP (1.709), but 25%
inherited runners score.
Inconsistent most of his career, but blame 1.610 WHIP on shoulder
problem. Hope he’s OK.
Despite overwork injury, just 20 appearances. If Collins acts
responsible, Atch may be useful.
aren’t pretty and he is 29, but good catcher with power. Should start
Should also start more. If not in New York than in Vegas. Needs to chase
Clutch character who has gotten a lot of starts lately. Not sure of
know why he was sent to minors. Had two walkoff hits in three days for
team that can't hit.
One day we may say,
couldn't the Mets find a place for this guy?”
Looks done under Collins.
Had 71 plate appearances in a month and hit .182. There have been worse
CFers. See below.
Remember this name
whenever someone says how much
a player brings.
Same player got a B+ for the first half in 2012. But he is not same
player. Will he be back?
If Ike does not have another great second half in him, his future is in
Sorry, Rob, but if Ruben and Ike fail, then 8 HR + 18 IP = F.
Started out all right, couldn't get anyone out, then DFAed. Blew a
three-run lead for Harvey.
he has one—is
in long relief; 1-10, 5.29 ERA is his epitaph as starter.
Better politician than he is a manager. Old school guy lets youngsters
know they’re in bigs.
Forty Years Ago Today: 7/8/1973… The Duke
Well, the latest Lone Ranger has already
been declared D.O.A. Has there ever been a kid from the 1930s to now,
who has ever heard the name of the character and not first thought, “The
Long Ranger”? This flick may not be long for theaters, and the character
always makes me hearken back to the thrilling days of yesteryear and the
Lone Ranger cartoon re-runs I used to watch
circa 1973, with one of the
longest, darkest cartoon openings I can ever recall. And back in 1973,
Westerns were still sure-fire entertainment and sure-fire box office
success, especially if it starred one of the most famous
cowboys/marshals/cavalrymen in cinematic history: John Wayne.
Duke, who turned 66 in ’73, was getting near the end of a remarkable
career that had started in the 1930s. The J.D. Cahill was new, but we’d
seen John Wayne play this role many times before. And we never stopped
loving it, no matter how hokey, or repetitive, the scripts got. After
Cahill United States Marshall, the Duke would have just two cowboy
pictures left in him: Rooster Cogburn (1975) and The Shootist
(1976). Cahill was his second Western of ’73, having already done
The Train Robbers with Ann-Margaret. The Duke still had it,
earning National Lampoon’s “Brass Balls Award” for 1973, and
pulling into Harvard Square for the ceremony in an armored personnel
John Wayne died of stomach cancer in 1979, the nation was stunned that a
man who had been killed so many times in so many films, was not going to
get up and take on another role. Even those who didn’t like John Wayne’s
heavy right-wing politics couldn’t argue that no man was ever more
believable on the screen when he strapped on his holster and pushed back
his wide-brimmed hat. Westerns haven’t been the same since.
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10 years ago today, Tyler came into the world. You are the man, son.
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reminder to all that I will be
part of a
New York baseball panel at
Fan Fest at the MLB.com booth at the Jacob Javits Center on Sunday
(July 14) at 3:40 p.m. MLB’s official historian, the great John Thorn,
moderates an esteemed group.
Forty Years Ago Today: 7/8/1973… Mets Set
Stage for Greatness
This day in 1973 was
the low-water mark for the Mets. The last-place Mets (34-46) dropped a
season-worst 12½ games out of first place in the National League East.
One day after the gruesome collision between Mets outfielders Don Hahn
and George Theodore, the Mets lost to the Braves, 4-2, to give Atlanta a
three-game sweep at Shea Stadium. Phil Niekro beat former teammate
George Stone. The southpaw Stone, acquired from the Braves over the
winter with Felix Millan for pitchers Gary Gentry and Dan Frisella, fell
to 4-3 on the year. Stone would not lose again, winning his last eight
decisions to finish ’73 at 12-3. His .800 winning percentage would have
been best in the NL and his 2.80 ERA would have joined teammates Tom
Seaver—the league leader at 2.08—and Jerry Koosman (2.84) in the top 10,
but in the back end of Yogi Berra’s rotation, Stone made just 20 starts
(plus seven relief outings). His 148 innings fell short of the 161
innings needed to qualify among the leaders. Though he pitched well in
his lone NLCS start, Berra’s decision to skip Stone in Game 6 of the
1973 World Series created one of the great “what ifs” in Mets lore.
But during this week
in July 1973, things were going so badly that board chairman M. Donald
Grant bored the Mets with a pep talk. It was a snoozer until he told the
team that he believed in them. That was all it took for Tug McGraw to
stop the speech in its tracks, yelling over and over,
Grant stormed out of the locker room. Was Tug making fun of Grant? There
are several theories, from Tug and his teammates, that you can read more
The top of the other
divisions in the major league on July 8, 1973 looked far different than
it would wind up three months later. The Yankees held first place with
the American League’s best record at 48-39. Like the Yankees, the 48-38
A’s held first place in their division by one game. The Dodgers, with
baseball’s best record at 54-33, seemed to have the NL West salted away
with a 5½ –game lead over the Reds. The Cubs (50-37) were five games
better than the rival Cardinals. The Orioles-A’s ALCS and Mets-Reds NLCS
in October went a long way toward relieving the complacency of July.
I will be a part of a
New York baseball panel at
Fan Fest at the MLB.com booth at the Jacob Javits Center on Sunday
(July 14) at 3:40 p.m. MLB’s official historian, the great John Thorn,
moderates. Come one, come all.
Forty Years Ago Today: 7/3/1973… Brother
I am not talking about the Battle of Gettysburg,
which ended on this day 150 years ago. On this day in 1973 on the banks
of the Ohio River, brothers Jim and Gaylord Perry faced each other for
the only time in their careers. Careers, by the way, that accounted for
529 wins and three Cy Young Awards. On July 3, 1973, Jim’s Tigers beat
Cleveland, 5-4, with Gaylord taking the defeat (Ed Farmer got the win
for Detroit). With the loss, the Tribe fell 18½ games behind the Yankees
in the AL East. The Yankees beat the Red Sox, 3-1, but the Yanks’
high-water mark for 1973 dipped from a 4-game lead to 3½ because the
Orioles swept the Brewers in a doubleheader. From July 4, 1973 on, our
Baseball-Reference tell me, the Orioles put together the best record
in the league (58-31) while the Yankees endured the AL’s worst finish
(34-48). Unless you count the Rangers, who were in the midst of a
season in hell.
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Recently I did an interview with
Muneesh Jain, a former ESPN writer and Detroit publisher I met at my
signing at Bergino
Baseball Clubhouse. Muneesh is in the midst of a dream trip to all
30 major league stadiums. I spaced getting this up on the site earlier,
but we had a great talk on an historic night—the evening the Mets
completed their first four-game sweep of the Yankees. Hope you’re
reveling in a great ballpark, Muneesh, wherever you are!
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Speaking of roadtrips, I will be in Cooperstown
Hall of Fame author series next Tuesday (July 9) at 1 p.m. If you’ve
been looking to get to the Hall of Fame and want to go on a day that’s
less crowded, this could be your ticket. The “birth” of baseball in this
wonderful, sleepy town may be the best-serving fib in sports history. No
other Hall of Fame can even touch Cooperstown. Free baseball cards,
bookmarks, and baseball knowledge for those who make the journey.
start of the new fiscal year came the start of a new federal bureau by
President Richard Nixon in July of 1973: The Drug Enforcement Agency.
Forty years later some would say the results have been mixed since
Tricky Dick’s time, but given how we have gone from bugging the Oval
Office to everybody’s email, I will simply mark the anniversary (you saw
what happened to Glenn Frey and his accomplice in the 1980s). The New
Riders of the Purple Sage, who found gold in ’73 with
Panama Red, may sing a different tune.
June 28, 2013
Appearing Friday on 92.9
the Ticket in Maine
I am on
the air today (Friday) with Rich Kimball at 5:15 on The Ticket 92.9 FM
in Maine. Tune in
here to get the lowdown from Bangor.
honor of the Mets pulling one out in Denver, here is a song that was
taking the airwaves back in Swinging ’73
from the album The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get by Joe
Walsh. Couldn’t get much higher.
Forty Years Ago Today: 6/27/1973… Live
and Let Clyde
This was a
day with a few interesting occurrences in 1973. On the baseball diamond,
David Clyde made his major league debut for the Texas Rangers. It was a
PR move. Clyde was just 18 years old and had only recently graduated
Westchester High School in Houston. Owner Bob Short doled out a (then)
whopping $65,000 for the number one pick in the 1973 draft and then
announced he would make his first two starts at Arlington Stadium. He
pitched five innings and won his debut. The start time had to be delayed
because 35,000 people showed up on Friday night, the biggest crowd since
the relocation of the Rangers from Washington a year earlier.
The people must have thought it was a high school football game. When
33,000 appeared for his next start (the Rangers bullpen blew the win for
him), Short decided to keep Clyde in the rotation, much to the dismay of
rookie manager Whitey Herzog. At least Whitey liked the kid. Billy
Martin replaced Herzog late in the team’s dismal 105-loss season, and
Martin sat Clyde for an entire month in 1974 after he’d started the year
3-0. The Rangers had a stunning—yet temporary—turnaround in ’74,
finishing second behind the powerhouse Oakland A’s, but the damage to
the teenager was permanent. Arm trouble followed and he was out of the
game by 26, not even logging enough service time to earn a major league
Doug Gladstone has worked to right this kind of inequity from the
rulers of an $8 billion industry).
Two movies of note came out
on this day in 1973.
Live and Let Die, with new James Bond Roger Moore, was a big
hit—as was the theme song by Paul McCartney.
That Bond flick featured the Louisiana bayou,
Yaphet Kotto, plenty of voodoo, and far more actors of color than your
average Hollywood film, then or now. But that was nothing compared to
another June 27 release—Scream,
Blackula, Scream, the sequel to the “Blaxploitation” film of the
previous year starring William Marshall, as the trailer puts it—as
“Dracula’s soul brother” on the prowl for young Pam Grier.
Cleopatra Jones—released in July of ’73—starring Tamara Dobson,
Shelly Winters, and Huggy Bear, also looked to take advantage of the
African American movie market. The movies weren’t great, but they were
enjoyable and addressed, rather than ignored, a large segment of the
population in search of entertainment. “Ride on, sweet sister.”
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Back in this century,
I saw Greg Prince at Jay Goldberg’s
Clubhouse on Wednesday. You can pick up a copy of the first edition
of The Happiest Recap there or
here. There are three more editions of the greatest Mets wins (I
already pre-ordered for book the second). Great talk and great art at
Jay’s place. It was sort of an art overload as I earlier snuck uptown to
my first ever trip to the Met. Not the Mets, but the
of Art. They had a Civil War photo and painting exhibit that I had
just enough time for in two hours, but I would need two days (or two
weeks) to begin to take in all the art on display in the museum.
paragraph: I have been to many other museums, but our school usually
went to the Museum of Natural History or other stops—often Radio
City—while my dad, a Mad Men era commuter, did not believe going back
into the city as a “tourista” on his days off. (Here is a
picture of what our family might have looked like in 1965, with dad,
mom, and me as baby Gene—I do not know who the bum is Dad is trying to
get away from.) Given all the revelations about life among these
seemingly mundane 1960s commuter types I’ve seen in six years of superb
viewing of Mad Men on AMC, I’ll live with a man’s reluctance to
stand around looking at paintings. He spent many an off day with me
staring at inactive forms of another Met kind in Flushing.)
I usually don’t talk about books by other
authors until after Father’s Day has passed. In the sports book
business, Father’s Day is Christmas in June—which makes Christmas into
Father’s Day in December for sports book buying. You can color me
selfish, or perhaps authors with more success may find that book sales
go up all the time. Well, that is like a Yankees fan declaring the
regular season “boring” or spouting about how they longed for the kind
of daily excitement fans from other teams from winning hard-fought
meaningful games with players who may never make the All-Star team. Put
a sock in it. Or better yet, send me a beer.
Send the Beer Guy: Mets Fan, Mets Vendor, Mets Police is the
tale of blogger Shannon Shark of
Mets Police. He has
been a big supporter of mine, and his propensity for covering all things
uniform and ballpark related puts him in the same camp as
Mets by the Numbers and
fellow good fellows (not to be confused with
Goodfellas). I met Shannon fleetingly at the Mets 50th Anniversary
Conference at Hofstra last year, but after reading Send the Beer Guy,
I feel like I’ve known him forever. He started going to ballgames in the
late 1970s, like I did, when the team was pitiful and the seats
plentiful. He went with his dad and a friend who had season tickets, and
at times has been turned off by the Mets, as can happen to someone who
has had repeated exposure to anything, especially something as
potentially toxic as Mets baseball. But a funny thing happened, he
became a vendor along the way, carrying trays at Shea through several
summers. Shannon was not a beer guy, but as a vendor, “Send the Beer
Guy” was a phrase he heard excruciatingly often. His father was a
bartender as well, so “beer guy” serves a dual purpose. The book serves
several roles as well. It is informative about the Mets, but also on the
opinions of someone who spends a lot of time thinking Mets. I suggest
getting the book. And while you’re at it, “send the beer guy.” I’m
It is Amazin’ that Shannon is as well
grounded in Metsology as he is today, getting the ear of a few front
office types and helping spearhead efforts that resulted in both
abandoning the black uniforms (a grass roots effort begun by Paul Lukas
at Uni Watch) and the return of Banner Day. It’s good to have the beer
guy, or at least the hot dog vendor, on our side.
The book is short, cheap, Kindleable, and
enjoyable. There are few other Mets books on the shelf I need to get
to—people are always saying this about my books, so it’s a little
delicious to say it back. And as I have said for several years now, it’s
a lot more fun writing—and reading—about the Mets than it is watching
them. Most of the time.
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I hope to be in the audience on Wednesday, June
26, at 7 p.m., at
Bergino’s Baseball Clubhouse to see Greg Prince, author of the
Metsilverman.com Gift of 2012, The Happiest Recap. There may be
more people crammed into Jay Goldberg’s shop in the village than at the
Mets-Rockies makeup game on Thursday in Denver.
Oh, baby! All the crappy movies I had to sit
through in the 1970s: the plodding documentaries, the endless double
features we came late to, the movies that were supposed to be good but
weren’t, it was all made up for during this week in 1973. Battle for
the Planet of the Apes, the bittersweet ending to the Planet of
the Apes saga was released. Directed by Brit J. Lee Thompson, who
had directed The Guns of Navarone and the original Cape Fear,
the final Ape film starred
Roddy McDowall, my favorite actor then, who donned the money mask
one last time. And he was joined in ape makeup by
Claude Akins, Twilight Zone vet and the future Sheriff Lobo,
who played the gun-happy gorilla general; four-foot-tall singer
Paul Williams as the orangutan assistant, and
John Huston, yes, the legendary director, was somehow talked into
playing the orangutan lawgiver and narrator of the tale. The film ended
with the classic chant, “Ape has killed ape.” It killed me, too.
It looks a little campy now, but in 1973
this was the bitch! Real makeup, real explosions, army jeeps, mortars,
school buses … school buses? Well, they threw in the works. The fifth
and final Planet of the Apes movie—for that millennium, at
least—paved the way for a TV show on Friday nights and a cartoon on
Saturday mornings. Have you ever read the original Planet of the Apes
novel by Pierre Boulle (author of Bridge on the River Kwai)?
There is enough material for about 45 minutes of one film, and 20th
Century Fox turned it into five while creating one of my favorite
franchises ever—though the budget got smaller and smaller for each
marathon in 1974 (showing all five Ape movies in one mind-bending
quintuple feature) inspired me to write a school play based on Planet
of the Apes that never saw production due to makeup problems. I’m
sure there would have been copyright and union issues going forward as
When people ask what I was into before
baseball, this is the answer. I made everyone in my family so crazy with
the Apes that they gladly welcomed my new baseball obsession a
couple of years later. Until that made them go ape, too.
Forty Years Ago Today: 6/19/1973… 2,000
Hits & What Do Ya Get
landmark day in Metland—Zack Wheeler winning his ballyhooed major
league debut, David Wright collecting his 1,500th career hit (while
being a .300 career hitter), and Matt Harvey hurling the opener and
winning for the first time in a month despite pitching like someone who
should be 10-0—but I am going back to a milestone Tuesday in 1973. On
June 19 that year, both Pete Rose and Willie Davis collected the 2,000th
hits of their careers, both in shutout victories. Rose did it for the
Reds in a 4-0 win in San Francisco and Davis clubbed a two-run homer off
Phil Niekro in a 3-0 Dodgers win.
While Rose would be
1973 National League MVP and more than double that career hit total,
Davis quietly went about his noteworthy career. A fellow NL All-Star in
1973, the smooth southpaw centerfielder also claimed his third straight
Gold Glove. Yet that season would be his last as a Dodger. After 14
years in Los Angeles, he was traded that winter to Montreal for Mike
Marshall, the best NL reliever not named Tug McGraw at the time. In
1974, Marshall would pitch in a record 106 games, amass a staggering
208.1 innings out of the bullpen, and become the first reliever to
capture the Cy Young Award, all while helping the Dodgers take the
pennant. Davis would make single-season stops in Montreal, Texas, St.
Louis, and San Diego through 1976. He made a comeback in 1979, joining
the Angels as a fill-in outfielder and finishing his career with 398
steals and 2,561 hits—plus 10 more safeties in postseason play. His
final at bat produced a double in the ’79 ALCS. Davis died in 2010 at
age 69 in Burbank.
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Attention all Nutmeggers… I will make my lone
Connecticut book appearance this Thursday, June 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the
Library on 33 Quality Street. I will be talking baseball, signing
books, and making arcane
FCIAC references upon request from my years as a sports editor in
the area in the 1990s.
Forty Years Ago Today: 6/17/1973… Miller
June 16, 2013, Justin Rose won the U.S. Open at the classic course
Merion outside Philadelphia. On June 17, 1973, Johnny Miller claimed his
U.S. Open title at a classic course on the other side of Pennsylvania,
at Oakmont in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Like this year’s Open, rain played
a part in the tournament, only in 1973 the rain came the night before
the final round—and some say Oakmont’s sprinkler system also
malfunctioned, making it even softer. The softened up greens were like
putty in the hands of Miller, who carded a U.S. Open record 63. He
needed every shot.
shooting a seemingly unrecoverable 76 on Saturday to fall to 13th place,
the 26-year-old San Franciscan didn’t seem to have a prayer, especially
with Arnold Palmer, from nearby Latrobe, tied for the lead and a heavy
favorite among the bettors and the partisan crowd. With Palmer still on
the practice range, Miller opened Sunday with four straight birdies. He
carded a stunning 32 on the front nine, and did it one stroke better on
the back nine. He missed only one fairway, hit every green in
regulation, and putted just 29 times to card his 63. It was later dubbed
the greatest round of the 20th century. Though 63 has twice been matched
in Open, no one else has done it in the final round—or used it to claim
Steve Elling described Miller’s pure ’70s ensemble that was as
memorable as his round. “Miller was wearing
polyester pants with a houndstooth pattern,
along with red-and-blue wingtip spikes. His hair, always
fashionably long in his swashbuckling prime, looked like the untamed
fescue rough.” His play was even louder than his threads, completely
rattling the leaders, who were stunned to see the hand-operated
leaderboard ripped up before their eyes with Miller’s name hastily put
up along with his score in a blistering stream of red. Third-round
co-leader John Schlee finished one stroke back. Palmer was two back,
much to the dismay of Arnie’s Army.
made my career what it is,” said Miller, who went on to a Hall of Fame
career. As analyst for NBC he called the final day action yesterday at
Merion. He will always be remembered for that Sunday 63 in ’73. The
champion turned analyst put it simply: “It was unreal, a magical round.”
The same can be said of that year.
Forty Years Ago Today: 6/10/1973…
“Like a Tremendous Machine”
I’m four decades and a day off, but given
a rainout, a campout, NJ Books (thanks to Dave Singer and all who came
out), and getting swept by the Marlins—again (fewer games, more
innings), the weekend zipped by without even learning who
won the 2013 Belmont.
But 40 years ago, June 9, 1973, there was an all-time moment in the
sport of kings at Belmont. I recreated Secretariat’s Triple Crown
performance in Swinging ’73 and you owe it to yourself to sneak a
peak—like jockey Ron Turcotte did because he could not believe track
Chic Anderson’s iconic call—for
the greatest horse of my lifetime, or most any other. As Anderson called
the horse’s time, “an unbelievable 2:24,” a 1½-mile record “that may
stand forever.” That time has yet to be approached. Horse racing now is
crowded out by slot machines and racinos, which says more about people
than animals, but there was a day Secretariat put the world on its ear.
Simultaneously appearing on the covers of Time, Newsweek,
and Sports Illustrated prior to the Belmont, Secretariat not only
lived up top the hype, he blew away all expectations. A tremendous
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entertaining three-minute You Tube video of a more recent vintage was
filmed and, more impressively, uploaded by my daughter after some
Here’s the pitch. You want the one sentence version?
makes the ideal gift for Father’s
Day, or any old occasion.
Forty Years Ago Today: 6/5/1973…
Caught in the Draft
With the amateur baseball draft on tap
this week, it’s nice to see that the draft still has the same timing,
but things have changed a bit in 40 years. Three of the first four
players taken in the 1973 draft went directly to the majors. Two were
Hall of Famers: Robin Yount (Brewers, second overall pick) and Dave
Winfield (Padres, fourth selection). The first overall pick, David
Clyde, went directly to the Texas Rangers and debuted June 27. Like
Yount, Clyde was fresh out of high school and selected by a recently
relocated godawful team that no one cared a lick about. Clyde, a Houston
native, drew 35,000 to Arlington Stadium in his debut. He won that start
as well as his next and owner Bob Short—as in Short-sided—announced
Clyde would stay with the team the rest of the year. He went 4-8 with a
5.01 ERA for a 105-loss monstrosity. He had a 7-18 mark and 4.63 ERA
before (wait for it) his arm gave out in 1975 at age 20. He wound up in
Cleveland and was done by 24, just about the same time Winfield, a
college stud drafted by four teams in three sports, and Yount were
hitting their prime.
While the Yankees
were one of five teams in 1973 to
draft a player in the first round who never made the majors, only
the first pick by the Mets made an impact among 36 rounds of selections;
the Mets’ draft still had a silver lining—kind of. Lee Mazzilli,
Brooklyn’s own, was taken in the first round (14th pick) before the Mets
went 0-for-35 the rest of the draft in terms of players who lasted at
Shea Stadium longer than a few months. They did wind up with the second
overall pick in ’73. Like Winfield, he was a multi-sport star in the
other big conference back then: the Big Eight’s Bad Dude, safety/catcher
John Stearns. The Colorado stud, however, was taken with by the Phillies
with the second pick. Getting him to New York cost Tug McGraw in a
December 1974 multi-player deal that is still pretty questionable.
Stearns made the All-Star team more times than McGraw (4-2), but I think
most of us would still take Tug. We’d all still like to have
another shot at the 1973 draft.
leaguers of note were taken from Los Angeles: American League Rookie of
the Year and MVP—the same season!—Fred Lynn out of USC (Red Sox, second
round), and future Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray of L.A.’s
Locke High School, as in pick-a-Locke when talking to the press
(Orioles, third round). Others you may—or may not—have heard of:
perfect-game pitcher Len Barker (Rangers, third round), Floyd Bannister
(A’s, third), Mitchell Page (Pirates, third), Ruppert Jones (Royals,
third), 1983 AL Cy Young winner LaMarr Hoyt (Yankees, fifth), 1979 AL Cy
Young Award winner Mike Flanagan (Orioles, seventh), Mike Krukow (Cubs,
eighth), friend of the site Billy Sample from Salem, VA (Rangers, 10th),
and Jack Clark, who hit 340 home runs (Giants, 13th). Jeff Reardon was a
23rd-round pick by the Expos, but the pride of Dalton instead attended
nearby University of Massachusetts at Amherst—only to not get drafted at
all after his senior year. He signed with the Mets as an amateur free
agent and was pretty good until he was traded to Montreal for Ellis
Valentine in a 1981 deal that makes the Stearns-McGraw deal look like
Keith Hernandez for Neil Allen.
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A reminder that I will be on hand to talk
Swinging ’73 and at
BooksNJ at the
Paramus Library this Sunday, June 9. The fest, which goes from 1-5 p.m.
at 116 E Century Rd, Paramus,
NJ, features dozens of authors and hundreds of books. I will be part of
a Mets-Yankees panel at 3:20. Also, thanks to WKNY in Kingston for
having me on the morning show today. This is the big rush pre-Fathers
Day, so sites, stations, and podcasts feel free to contact me at
Reds blanked the Mets on this day in 1973. The 5-0 loss was the third
time in four days the stumbling Mets had been shut out; the game also
marked the first inkling of conflict between the two teams. With a
runner on first in a scoreless game in the fifth inning, Jack
Billingham’s poor bunt was fielded by Jon Matlack. He fired to shortstop
Bud Harrelson at second, who relayed to Felix Millan covering at first
for a double play. In the process, however, Reds catcher Bill Plummer,
Johnny Bench’s backup, took out the pocket-sized Bud. The Mets
shortstop, who was born on D-Day, June 6, 1944, would spend his 29th
birthday in a cast. Harrelson missed more than a month, thanks to
Plummer. (Bud would miss nearly three more weeks in August with a
fractured sternum.) Though not much of a hitter—he hit .258 for the year
with just 15 extra-base hits in 408 plate appearances—his defense,
leadership, and peskiness helped fuel the Mets comeback in September.
And come the unlikely Reds-Mets rematch in October, Harrelson’s
ill-fated swipe at Bill Plummer’s teammate, a guy named Pete Rose,
transformed Shea Stadium into a three-ring circus.
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Calling all Kingstonians… tomorrow, June 5, I will be on the air at 7:35
a.m. on the morning show on my local station, WKNY 1490 AM Kingston.
We’ll be talking
Swinging ’73 and other matters.
Calling all New Jerseyites… I will be at
BooksNJ at the
Paramus Library this Sunday, June 9. The fest features dozens of authors
and hundreds of books. I will be part of a Mets-Yankees panel at 3:20.
Any support—from both Mets fans and metsilverman.com fans—is much
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/31/1973…
Yanks Skunked Once More
Not to kick the Yankees while they’re
down, but… on this day in 1973 the Yankees were nearly no-hit by
Oakland. A’s southpaw
Ken Holtzman allowed only a seventh-inning single to Matty Alou in a
6-0 trouncing at Yankee Stadium in a rapid fire 1 hour, 42 minutes.
Holtzman, who had already pitched two no-hitters in his career as a Cub,
improved to 10-2 on the year, halfway to being one of three A’s to reach
20 wins in ’73 (along with Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue). The
fifth-place A’s stood at .500, while the Yankees were just a half-game
better but they stood second to Detroit.
The most interesting thing about the game is that
Holtzman didn’t finish it. The score was never close, there wasn’t a
health issue, and if you told Dick Williams about pitch counts he would
have laughed you out of his office. The reason seems to be that Williams
wanted to get Rollie Fingers some work. Two months into the season,
Fingers had made just 11 relief appearances—he did make two starts,
remarkable since he was considered the best reliever in the AL. But in
the first year of the designated hitter era, there was nothing to force
a manager to remove a starter and relievers could get a little rusty.
The American League would see an 18 percent increase in complete games,
up 112 CGs to 614, the most in either league since 1928. Fingers
finished off the Yankees, retiring five of six batters to drop his ERA
to 1.51. He would get his work in all right, pitching in 62 games and
tossing more than one inning 43 times. It wasn’t just that
handlebar mustache that got Rollie in the Hallie—as in Hall of Fame,
It is hard to imagine a world where the
Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells existed and was not part of the
soundtrack for the film, The Exorcist. Both the album and film
came out the same year, but Oldfield’s music came out in May of 1973 and
The Exorcist was the feel-good Christmas hit of the year.
(Kidding. Big time.) To this day I have never seen the movie or even a
part of it or its sequels. I recall just thinking about the commercial
or hearing this song putting my third-grade self into terror mode. Being
in Catholic school at the time, the devil taking over your body was not
something you wanted to screw around with or even think about. Forty
years later I’m still not taking any chances. But bravo to Mike Oldfield,
performed this with an orchestra but made all the sounds on the
album himself. He had just turned 20 when the Tubular Bells was
released, launching not only his successful career but Richard Branson’s
Virgin record label as well. It’s one hell of a tune.
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I stayed away from The Exorcist,
but three days of cold and rain in the Adirondacks over the weekend had
me attending three movies in two days at the Palace Theatre in Lake
Placid. I saw The Hangover III (laughed frequently), Epic
(twas epic, what else can I say?), and The Great Gatsby. I
expected to dislike the latter movie—especially since I saw it in mere
2-D. Yet as far as adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterwork go,
Baz Luhrmann’s version is the best I’ve seen, hip hop and all. Though it
is my favorite book and still the title I mention when people ask what
made me want to become a writer, I was surprised to learn the middling
reputation of The Great Gatsby until after Fitzgerald’s death and
the issuing of the book to soldiers during World War II. That
jumpstarted its popularity and it still regularly sells more copies
annually than it did during Fitzgerald’s short lifetime. It was also
cool seeing it at a movie theater that may well have shown the first
Great Gatsby silent movie in 1926, the year the Palace Theatre
opened. Here’s to hoping the
forced conversion to digitaldoesn’t force the
great old place—and others like it—to shut down. What would we do then
when it rains for three straight days? Wasn’t pleased with the weather
over the weekend, but hours after we left, a surprise blizzard
dropped three feet of snow and closed the roads to nearby Whiteface
Mountain. And you thought it was a little chilly
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/24/1973…
Nixon Tea Party Honors POWs
On this day in 1973, more
than 600 people crowded the White House for a party for returning POWs.
Wives of the recently released prisoners also had tea with Pat Nixon,
but all hail President Nixon in a rare escape from domestic problems.
The Nixon Library this weekend marks the
40th anniversary with a reunion of the POWs at the late President’s
museum in his native Yorba Linda, California. Then, as now, it was a
rare moment when Dick Nixon’s
image could be pushed aside to let the spotlight show on these men, and
their families, who gave so much for their country. Memorial Day is set
aside for the dead, but it is celebrated by the living. It is not
something that should ever be forgotten.
By the spring of 1973, it had already been
a fertile year for rock, especially in England. The landmark Dark
Side of the Moon was released by Pink Floyd, along with new material
by British bands Led Zeppelin, Traffic, King Crimson, and David Bowie.
Yes climbed aboard that British sailing ship with its live triple-album
opus, Yessongs. A progressive rock band of the highest order, Yes
did plenty of musical exploration on the live album, which featured
Roger Dean art on the album cover and interior that kept many a
spaced-out youth staring for hours on end. “Yes, mom… I’ll clean my room
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There is a great review from
Spitball magazine that I cannot help but share: “Swinging ’73
is entertaining, irreverent, and fun. The book takes nothing serious,
yet is serious as hell. It is only a game but it is our game, our
memories, our lives… ‘Ya Gotta Believe!’”
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/17/1973…
Watergate Hearings Begin
Entire books have been written on the subject of Watergate; Swinging
’73 is not one of them. Yet the hearings, which started on this day
in 1973, were an undercurrent of much that went on in that time. It was
a drag on the nation’s attention, patience, and credulity, which
resulted—in one way or another—to everything from the 1973 resignation
of Vice President to the 1975 suspension of Yankees owner George
Steinbrenner for illegal campaign contributions. Of course, the scandal
eventually led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon and the
elevation of Gerald Ford, who replaced Agnew as vice president. Ford
became president despite never being elected to an office higher than
the House of Representatives.
But that was all in the future on
Thursday, May 17, 1973. Newsmen Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer,
the air together for the first time, set the stage far better than
I—or most anyone else—ever could. Their continuing daily coverage
launched what became known as The MacNeil-Lehrer Report and the
show that is still a household favorite today: The PBS New Hour.
Watergate, no matter how much time passes, remains with us, too. Even if
the lessons are too often overlooked amid party pandering and finger
pointing. One of the few things that keeps me somewhat positive in
today’s never-ending cycle of inaction in Washington, is that if the
U.S. could eventually recover from Watergate, it can survive anything. I
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May 17, 1973 was also the day Bobby
Valentine’s career changed during a game in a game between the
California Angels and Oakland A’s. Valentine was a shortstop, not a
center fielder, but he played out of position to help his team and
appease his superstitious rookie manager, Bobby Winkles. It cost
Valentine dearly. The event is documented in
Swinging ’73, and it is also explained today by Chris Jaffe in
The Hardball Times.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/15/1973… The
First Nolan No-No
On this day in 1973, Mets fans died a
little over something that happened far away and in another league.
Nolan Ryan, all but given away by the Mets to the California Angels a
year earlier, pitched the first no-hitter of his career. His first no-no
was against a good-hitting Kansas City club, 2-0. Ryan threw another
no-hitter later in the year and nearly had a third in 1973. In all, Ryan
would throw seven no-hitters, along with 300 wins, 5,000 strikeouts, and
joining the Hall of Fame after a 27-year career. Though he never won a
Cy Young Award, he received more votes than Cy Young for the All-Century
Team—a 1999 national popularity contest that excluded Tom Seaver in its
final tally, and thus should be taken with a grain of salt.
Back in ’73, Ryan had detractors despite
his astounding success. Though he ripped through American League
lineups—even with the designated hitter—he still had the same bouts of
wildness that had plagued him with the Mets. As a pitcher who had
more no-hitters than complete games in which he did not walk a batter,
Ryan could thank his lucky stars he did not play in the era of pitch
counts. A’s manager Dick Williams wouldn’t pick him for the 1973
All-Star team, but then again Williams didn’t pick eventual Cy Young
winner Jim Palmer of the Orioles, either. Buttinsky commissioner Bowie
Kuhn added an extra spot on the All-Star team—ostensibly so Met Willie
Mays could be on the National League roster—and that’s how Ryan (11-12,
2.84 ERA, 233 K’s, 100 BBs in 199.1 innings at the break) got on
the AL team. Palmer, with an 11-6 mark and 2.86 ERA, did not.
Skylab was launched on this day in 1973. This
anniversary is also being marked by the National Aeronautics and Space
call it maize, I mean NASA. Their release this week states:
NASA launched Skylab
on May 14, 1973. It was the nation’s first foray into significant
scientific research in microgravity. The three Skylab crews proved
humans could live and work effectively for long durations in space. The
knowledge gathered during Skylab helped inform development and
construction of the International Space Station, just as the research
and technology demonstrations being conducted aboard the ISS will help
shape a new set of missions that will take Americans farther into the
Not mentioned in
the release was Skylab’s re-entry to earth six years after it left.
Bulls-eye T-shirts were printed up and two San Francisco newspapers
offered six-figure prizes for people affected by the debris. The
calculations for Skylab’s 1979 fall back to earth were off slightly and
large pieces came down near Perth, Australia. A big chunk of debris was
even displayed on stage at the Miss Universe pageant that year, which
happened to be held in Perth. (Miss
was the 1979 winner—and because we can’t leave you hanging,
Miss Phillippines, Margarita Moran, won the 1973 Miss Universe
The bad PR from Skylab’s
descent—and the inevitable scientific process of trial, error, and
improvement—led to the reusable Spacelab module sent skyward in the
1990s, which could be returned to earth without the histrionics, bulleye
T-shirts, and mortal peril for Miss Universe.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/12/1973… One
Charlie Daniels was 36 years old when he
had his first hit in 1973 with
“Uneasy Rider” from the album, Honey in the Rock. It’s a
spoken-word tale about a long-haired, pot-smoking dude making his way
cross country when his car with a “peace
mag wheels, and
four on the floor”
breaks down in Jackson, Mississippi. He runs into a problem with some
locals at a bar. The narrator goes on the offensive before his
adversaries can. He gets away but has a little fun first—and is scared
enough to reroute his trip to head to “LA via Omaha,” which, if you know
any geography, is not exactly a direct line. It may—on paper—take you
farther away from people with green teeth and members of the
über-conservative John Birch Society. But don’t get
Penny started about folks in her native Omaha.
Though “Uneasy Rider” reached number nine
in ’73, Charlie Daniels would be in his 40s before he hit it big with
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” in ’79, which won him a Grammy and a
spot in the film,
Urban Cowboy. Somewhere along
the way, Charlie hopped the center line over to the far right lane and
even remade his first hit, releasing “Uneasy Rider ’88.” The 1988
“updated” version featured a couple of buddies on a car trip who get in
a bit of mischief at what turns out to be a gay bar in Houston. In his
70s, Charlie still plays that fiddle and does spoken and sung word with
the best of them—country, rock, or both. I saw him perform at Belleauyre
Mountain summer before last, and me and the Mrs. snuck up front to see
that fiddle jam at the end. He just may be
“the best that’s ever been.”
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Something that reminds me a little of “Uneasy Rider” is a short e-book I
just read called
Honky Tonk Tourist: The Night Buck Owens Almost Got Me Killed.
It’s by Dan Epstein, author of a great book on baseball in the 1970s
that I’ve recommended here before,
Big Hair and Plastic Grass. Those of you with a copy of
Swinging ’73 handy—I’ll wait while you turn over your copy—will
see Dan had some nice words (namely “informative, amusing, and highly
readable”) to say about my latest. That aside, Honky Tonk Tourist
is a fun, quick, and cheap ($2.46) read that taught me that there was a
lot more to Bakersfield Sound creator Buck Owens than Hee
Haw and being mentioned in a
Creedence song. Dan is a noted rock critic as well as baseball
aficionado and the e-book and opened my eyes to music influences I had
eschewed previously. Though using words like “eschewed” and
at a bar in
Bakersfield, Jackson, or Houston might get me in the kind of trouble
that only Charlie Daniels could talk his way out of.
Speaking of talking, for those in the area of Kingston, New York, I’ll
be on the air Monday (May 13) with old pal Dan Reinhard at WKNY 1490 AM
at 6 p.m. I took a satellite ride on Mad Dog Radio on Friday with Dino
Costa and spent 40-plus minutes talking ’73 baseball with the
knowledgeable and entertaining host.
Missed Banner Day again, but my son and daughter both had games
Saturday. As long as they keep having this in May (back in the day, the
Banner Day doubleheader was held during the summer, after school—and
Little League—were over), we may never get to Banner Day, but the boy
did score his first goal Saturday—yes, he’s playing lacrosse; and I’m
being a big boy about it. Just like in hockey when he lit the lamp the
first time, lucky mom was with him and I was at my daughter’s sporting
event—but her softball team won. Consider this win-win a Mother’s Day
present we can’t wrap.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/10/1973… The
Knicks Win It All!
Yes, we are in the wayback machine if that
is the headline. But that was the big news in New York on this date in
1973. The Knicks knocked off the Lakers at the Los Angeles Forum, and
they did it in dominating fashion. After losing the first game of the
finals in LA, the Knicks won four straight. They pulled away in the
fifth game, 102-93, to claim their second title in three years. Then
they hurried off to the locker room for the champagne that their fans
would savor as the decades rolled by without another championship.
The 1973 Knicks had the best defense in
the league (98.2 points per game in an offensive era) and drew an
NBA-best 790,031 to Madison Square Garden—more people than came to see
the MLB Indians, Padres, and Texas in twice as many games, and almost as
many as the Braves drew with Hank Aaron bearing down on Babe Ruth’s
all-time home run mark. But in an exciting year in New York sports, the
Knicks ruled the city with a team chock full of Hall of Famers.
The Knicks were the toast of New York,
and plenty of teams were vying for that title. As of 1973, New York had
two teams in every sport for the first time—including two tenants at the
new Nassau Veterans Coliseum: the expansion Islanders, who won just 12
of 78 games (plus 6 ties) to earn Sports Illustrated’s
designation as “one of the sorriest NHL teams ever,” and the 30‑54 New
York Nets of the American Basketball Association, whose coach, Lou
Carneseca, left the team in the summer of ’73 to return to his alma
mater, St. John’s University in Queens.
The Knickerbockers—a name that harkened
back to the city’s 17th-century Dutch roots—followed the world
championship trail blazed by the Jets and Mets in 1969. The Knicks beat
the Lakers for the NBA title in May 1970 with a limping Willis Reed
providing the spark in the deciding seventh game. Reed was still at
Madison Square Garden three Mays later, and all five Knicks starters in
1973 ended up in the Hall of Fame: ’70 championship holdovers Bill
Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, and Reed, plus
superstar acquisition Earl “the Pearl” Monroe. The team also had Hall of
Fame coach Red Holzman, team president Ned Irish, and sixth man Jerry
Lucas, who became the first player in history to win a championship in
high school, college, the pros, and the Olympics. The ninth Hall of
Famer in the group was thinking man’s forward Phil Jackson, who averaged
17 minutes per game for the 1973 Knicks after watching from the
sidelines in 1970 due to back surgery; when his playing career ended,
Jackson sharpened his focus to become a Zen master coach in Chicago and
Los Angeles. At the LA Forum, New York claimed the ’73 title by
dispatching the Lakers in five games, with the
Knicks flashing the “number one” sign in the visiting locker room
and leaving no doubt as to the authenticity of their claim.
May 10, 1973 was also the night the
Montreal Canadiens captured the Stanley Cup in five games. The Habs
defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, who had knocked off the Rangers in the
semifinals after New York beat the defending Stanley Cup champion
Bruins. Forty years ago, there were 16 NHL teams and three rounds of
playoffs. In 2013, with 16 NHL teams making the playoffs, the
hockey playoffs are still in the first round on May 10.
Another one for the wayback sports
machine: While the Knicks and Canadiens were dousing themselves with
champagne, the Mets and Yankees were slogging through an exhibition game
in Queens. The Mets won the 11th annual Mayor’s Trophy Game, 8-4, behind
southpaw George Stone. The win at Shea Stadium gave the Mets a 6-5 lead
in the series.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/8/1973…
Soylent Green: It’s—Y’Know
film Soylent Green was released on this day 40 years ago. I don’t
know which is more frightening, this
lousy trailer, or that the dystopian tale is set nine years from
now, in 2022. Soylent Green was the final credit of
Edward G. Robinson’s impressive career, as he died at age 79 in
January of ’73. You could say he won an Oscar for Soylent Green
since it was his last film, but it is more accurate to say he
posthumously received the 1973 Lifetime Achievement Award from the
Academy. He probably got it for the other 100 films he was in. And
despite the way the Soylent Green trailer makes it appear,
Robinson did not euthanize himself to avoid being around for this movie
premiere. Yet the irony is delicious.
The coda of Soylent Green came more
than two decades following its release, and after it had made the rounds
of the late-night movie showcases that were the rage in the 1970s and
1980s before cable provided a never-ending supply of tasty late-night
fodder. A Saturday Night Live skit spoofed the film’s climatic
scene that revealed the answer to the question: “What! Is! The! Secret!
Of! Soylent! Green!” Spoiler alert,
don’t click if you you are afraid of dining finding out (I
really did type “dining” originally) the secret ending of this 40-year
old schlock—I mean ’70s classic. But the late Phil Hartman—you may also
remember him from such Simpsons roles as attorney
and B-movie actor
a great Charlton Heston.
Love that scarf.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/8/1973… Wounded
Knee, Fractured Skull
On this day in 1973,
the standoff ended between federal marshals and members of the American
Indian Movement on the land where the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred in
1892. The standoff had lasted three months and would continue long
afterward on the reservation as hostilities between residents and tribal
Racial progress was
slow. Even on the baseball diamond. Shortly before his death in 1972,
Jackie Robinson had challenged baseball to hire a black manager. And in
1973, it happened—if only for a couple of hours. Cubs coach Ernie Banks
filled in as manager for ejected Whitey Lockman in San Diego. Rick
Monday tied the game in the seventh with a two-run home run and
blow-drying pioneer Joe Pepitone made Banks a winner with an
RBI-double in the 12th inning after Padres manager Don Zimmer elected to
pitch to him with a runner on third and one out. A full-time
African American manager in the big leagues would have to wait
until the Cleveland Indians hired Frank Robinson as player-manager in 1975. Four decades later, there are
exactly two black managers.
One is Dusty Baker,
who was in center field at Shea Stadium on the night of May 8, 1973 with Hammerin’ Hank
Aaron and the last-place Atlanta Braves. General Dusty—actually at this
point in time, he was more like a sergeant—was one of four Braves who
would hit at least 20 home runs; three of them Aaron, Davey Johnson, and
Darrel Evans became the game’s
first trio of 40-homer sluggers on one team in ’73. The light-hitting Marty Perez batted
in front of this formidable group, and with the bases loaded and a light
rain falling in the seventh inning, Mets lefty Jon Matlack held a two-run lead and was one
pitch away from escaping the jam.
“I’m trying to nail down this game,”
Matlack recalls. “I overthrew the next pitch. It was a fastball, and I
landed really hard when I threw it. I lost sight of the ball to the
plate. I could see him swing and hear the bat crack, but I don’t pick up
the baseball until it’s right on top of me. I barely got the fingers of
my left hand in front of my face. It hit my fingers [on the mitt], hit
my cap, and it hit me just over the left eye. They tell me—I don’t know
because I couldn’t see it—but it went from my forehead into the dugout.
It cost me two runs and ultimately cost me the ballgame.”
The sudden tie fell to secondary
importance during this frightening moment at Shea Stadium. Right fielder
Rusty Staub, shaking his head at the memory of it years later, summed up
his teammates’ reaction: “We were just all thrilled that he wasn’t
dead.” Dee Matlack wasn’t even sure of that as the trainer came out and
pulled a tarp over her prone husband’s body as the rain fell.
“They’re messing with me, and it’s
raining,” he thought as catcher Jerry Grote and his teammates gathered
around him. “My wife thinks I’m dead because they cover me up with a
tarp.” Still conscious and bleeding from his head, the dazed pitcher
thought he’d been struck in the mouth until things came into sharp,
painful focus. “I can see my forehead at this point. I can see it
literally swollen up to where I can see it. I had a whale of a
headache and felt very weak.”
Matlack was taken to
the hospital and told he had a fractured skull... and a 10-6 defeat as
the Braves rallied to win—the Braves scored seven times in the inning
starting with Perez’s liner off Matlack’s skull that went for a two-run
double. It was eerily similar to an event that took place
almost exactly 40 years later, when a line drive hit Blue Jays lefty
JA Happ in the head and went for a two-run double. But Matlack did not go on
the disabled list. He started again just two weeks later and was
actually more effective.
On July 10, just two months after he was thwacked in head with a line
drive that fractured his skull, Matlack tossed a one-hitter while facing
just one batter over the minimum. And you were impressed that Matt Harvey
started his one-hitter by overcoming a bloody nose.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/6/1973…
The WHA’s Missing Cup
this day in 1973, the first
World Hockey Association title was captured by the
New England Whalers. The Whale beat the Winnipeg Jets in five games
for the inaugural Avco Cup (a defense contractor was the sponsor). Since
the cup was not yet ready, the triumphant Whalers had to skate around
the ice holding their division trophy aloft. The
rings were sweet, though.
conclusion of the inaugural season was a triumph for a league that
played its first game in October 1972. The National Hockey League, which
had been expanding at a furious rate after a quarter-century as a
six-team league, got its garters in a bunch at the thought of a rival
league, hastily adding the New York Islanders as an expansion team to
keep the WHA New York Raiders from playing at the Nassau Coliseum. The
Raiders got the scraps of the Madison Square Garden schedule, eventually
pushing the team to New Jersey, where they failed. But the league
prospered even without a significant presence in New York.
Many future Hall of Famers wound up in the
WHA, including Gerry Cheevers, Rod Langway, Mark Messier, Bernie Parent,
Jacques Plante, Derek Sanderson, Glenn Sather, and Bobby Hull, who was
pushed out of the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets because he’d
defected to the new league. Legend Gordie Howe went to the Houston
Aeros, where he became the first person to play professional hockey with
his sons, Mark (another Hall of Famer) and Marty (a defenseman who made
one WHA All-Star team). The WHA was also way ahead of the NHL in
bringing European talent to North America.
After seven seasons inflicting wounds upon
each other, the NHL reached a deal, just as the NFL and AFL, and NBA and
ABA had done before them. In 1979 the NHL added three WHA teams that
have since relocated: the Hartford Whalers (to Carolina), Quebec
Nordiques (to Denver), and Winnipeg Jets (to Phoenix; the current
Winnipeg club moved from Atlanta). The WHA provided the best thing to
happen to hockey since the Zamboni. The fourth absorbed WHA team became
an NHL dynasty: the Edmonton Oilers, thanks to securing a teenaged star
named Wayne Gretzky.
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/5/1973…“Dancing Days Are Here Again”
May 5, 1973 a crowd of 56,800 came out in Tampa to see Led Zepplin, to
date largest single artist concert in history. Billed as
“The Supershow of the Year,” the hype proved true
the old Sombrero. Promoting their 1973 album Houses of the Holy,
Led Zep pulled out all the stops. They zipped from city to city aboard
their own jet, “Starship,” playing large venues like Atlanta Fulton
County Stadium, San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium, and Three Rivers Stadium
in Pittsburgh before wrapping the whirlwind tour with three nights at
Madison Square Garden, which turned into the film and soundtrack album,
The Song Remains the Same.
stadium rock and roll era was on!
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Good Sunday reading with media reporter Ed
Sherman, formerly of the Chicago Tribune. His interview with me
the first of May, 1973, the defending world champion A’s were
next-to-last in the American League West. They stood at 9-12, and
in those 21 games had used six different players in the new designated
hitter spot. Most AL teams made DHs from veteran sluggers whose body or
glove prevented them from taking the field regularly. Orlando Cepeda was
enjoying a career rebirth in Boston after the A’s did not offer the
gimpy-kneed future Hall of Famer a contract just as the DH became the
new law of the land in the AL.
A’s tried a novel—and rather unsuccessful—approach to the DH by using
speedy ballplayers, or, worse idea, guys who couldn’t hit well. Then on
May 2, Oakland owner Charlie Finley, who also served as the team’s
general manager, worked a deal with Philadelphia that not only beefed up
this newfangled DH spot, but the middle of the A’s order as well. Two
days later he was in the lineup for the first time against Cleveland.
Oakland embarked on an 8-2 run and went 84-56 from that point forward en
route to their third straight AL West title.
While Oakland discard Orlando Cepeda was
hitting .347 with six home runs and 17 knocked in during his first month
as Boston’s DH, six different A’s combined to bat just .231 with two
home runs and six RBI in the newly-created position over the same span.
So Finley found the best available ballplayer to fill that void.
Deron Johnson, who had spent parts of two
years with the Kansas City A’s before being sold to Cincinnati in 1963,
returned to the fold a decade later at the expense of low-level minor
leaguer Jack Barnstable. Johnson, in a slump since faltering for the
Phils as a pinch hitter on Opening Day at Shea Stadium, fit perfectly in
Oakland. The A’s stopped using speedsters like Bill North and Angel
Mangual as DH and followed the path of other AL teams by going with a
slow-footed slugger. “We changed our thinking on the DH,” Dick Williams
said. “Deron Johnson is the DH we’ve been looking for.” Johnson, 34, who
had never played in a postseason game in a major league career that
stretched back to 1960, had three hits and knocked home four in his
Oakland debut and barely missed a game until the last week of the
Though an unsung name on an A’s roll that includes Hall of Famers Reggie
Jackson, Catfish Hunter, and Rollie Fingers, plus All-Stars Sal Bando,
Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, and Ken Holtzman, among others, it should be noted
that when Dick Williams shifted Gene Tenace back to catcher and put
Deron Johnson at first base for the last two games of the World Series,
the A’s came back to win. As important as he was in ’73, Finley liked to
keep his machine running by changing parts often. Traded to Milwaukee
the following year, Johnson wound up a member of the 1975 Red Sox,
though he was acquired by Boston in late September and was ineligible
for postseason play. So 1973 was his only postseason in a 14-year,
Forty Years Ago Today: 5/2/1973…Seaver’s Harvey-esque Start
would Seaver do? You wonder 40 years later how Tom Seaver would have
fared if he had to pitch with the anemic offense of the current Mets. I
think he might laugh: “You’ve got a catcher who hits home runs? Sign me
Seaver, undoubtedly the best Met of all time since he first stepped on a
major league mound in 1967, was also challenged when it came to
offensive support. A month into the 1973 season the Mets scored all of
six runs in his first five starts. Half of those runs came on Opening
Day, when he beat reigning Cy Young winner Steve Carlton of the
Phillies,3-0. In his next start he faced another Hall of Famer, Bob
Gibson, whose first-inning error was the difference in Seaver’s 2-1 win
over the Cardinals. After that, it was Seaver’s turn to suffer through
no fault of his own.
went the distance in his third outing, allowing just one run to the
Cubs, but Fergie Jenkins won 1-0 behind Rick Monday’s home run. Finally
facing a non-Hall of Fame opponent, the immortal John Strohmayer of
Montreal shut out the Mets into the ninth before Ken Boswell singled
home Jim Fregosi, of all people, to tie the game at 1-1. Since Boswell
was up to bat for Seaver, Tom’s day was done. The Mets lost the
following inning when Phil Hennigan allowed a single to Tim Foli to
score Boots Day.
April 27, Seaver finally had a bad inning. Hank Aaron and Darrell Evans,
who along with Davey Johnson would become the first 40-homer trio on a
major league club in ’73, homered back-to-back at the Launching Pad.
Seaver allowed just one other hit—a single to Johnson—but the damage was
done. Pat Dobson tossed his own three-hitter and blanked the Mets, 2-0.
Mark Simon at ESPN NY pointed out this week that the April that Matt
Harvey enjoyed in 2013 was comparable to the opening month of Seaver’s
superb 1971 season. But Seaver’s ’73 is as good, and can be considered
superior to both. In five starts in April of ’73, Seaver pitched 40.1
innings, allowed 21 hits, 11 walks, and fanned 30. The five runs he
allowed came on five solo shots, but even that indicates how much he
bore down when men were on base. His ERA of 1.12 along with a walks and
hits per inning ratio of 0.798 were both better than Harvey’s 2013
(1.56, 0.82) and Seaver’s 1971 (1.37, 0.84). Unlike those two Aprils, in
which both pitchers finished 4-0, Seaver finished April of ’73 at 2-2.
he fell to 2-3 on May 2, 40 years ago today (talk about a roundabout way
to get here). The Big Red Machine became the first team to score on
anything besides a home run over Seaver in 1973. Dave Concepcion’s
two-out double scored Tony Perez from first base in the fourth inning to
break a scoreless tie. Johnny Bench and Pete Rose took him deep later in
a game in which Seaver fanned 13; these same two culprits came through
with homers in the opening game of the 1973 NLCS, when Seaver again
fanned 13—and lost. By then, however, Seaver would have won 20, be the
eventual Cy Young winner, and his Mets wound up having more punch in
October than in April.
Forty Years Ago Today: 4/19/1973…George’s First Victim
Barely four months
after heading the syndicate that bought the Yankees, chairman George
Steinbrenner got what he wanted. On this day in 1973, Michael Burke,
team president since 1966, resigned in disgust. Steinbrenner’s choice,
Gabe Paul, took over the role. Burke’s
abrupt departure marked the first domino in a line that would see GM Lee
MacPhail, manager Ralph Houk, and PR head Bob Fishel all quit by year’s
end. The old days in the Bronx were over.
Mike Burke was a
renaissance man, a success at everything he’d tried before baseball.
He’d been a star halfback at the University of Pennsylvania when Ivy
League football really mattered, a spy behind German lines during World
War II, part of the early CIA, head of the world’s most famous circus,
and the man who set in motion the sale of the greatest sports team of
the day—the New York Yankees—to the top network of the era: CBS. Under
Burke, however, the Yankees endured their most fallow period since the
pre-Ruth period of the 1910s. Yet even before Burke took the helm, the
team had let its guard down and the talent pipeline stopped—the wins
quickly stopped, too. After years of teams like the Yankees signing the
best young talent because of their prestige, the creation of the amateur
player draft in 1965 allowed teams previously pushed aside to get first
crack at the best young players. It took the Yankees years to get the
hang of the draft.
Since he was running the team for the Tiffany
Network, Burke gets the blame for the decline of the Yankees—but he
rarely receives credit for keeping the Yanks in the Bronx. In Nixon’s
America, New York was no gleaming city on the hill; many saw it as
dingy, dirty, and dangerous.
based on the bestseller and filmed on location in 1973 in “the most
violent town in the world,” along with
Scorcese’s first major film, released in ’73—did little to improve the
city’s image in terms of crime and violence. Many corporations, not to
mention families, had already fled New York by the 1970s. More would
follow—including the Giants. The Maras, whose football team had been
born at the Polo Grounds before moving to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s,
opted for New Jersey. The Meadowlands also pushed to reel in the
Yankees. So did New Orleans, in search of a baseball tenant for its
under-construction Superdome. Burke worked with beleaguered New York
mayor John Lindsay to rebuild Yankee Stadium where it stood. When
Steinbrenner bought the team—arranged by Burke with the understanding
that he would stay on as president—the Yankees came with a ready-made
agreement for an essentially brand-new stadium. And then Steinbrenner
pushed the deal’s architect out the door.
It is easy now to look
at the win-loss record over these past four decades and dismiss Burke,
MacPhail, Houk, as well as the players whose “crime” was being Yankees
during the period when the rest of baseball finally caught up to—and
passed—the vaunted Bronx Bombers. CBS wanted out badly enough to sell
the team for $10 million (or closer to $8 mil, if you count a couple of
garages included in the deal) after paying $13 million in1964. Yet the
transition of ownership was not what you would call graceful. It was one
thing when Steinbrenner issued a list of the uniform numbers of players
he felt needed haircuts. It was another thing when personnel started
From Swinging ’73:
“It made no sense for us
to try work together,” Burke later wrote of Steinbrenner. “We came at
the world from two different poles, and Yankee Stadium was too confined
a space to contain us. . . . He [Steinbrenner] shouted and blustered for
lack of fundamental self-assurance, terrible tempered for reasons
perhaps as unclear to himself as to others.” Burke’s letter of
resignation was even more succinct:
The scope of responsibilities and
authority proposed to be assigned to me are so limited as to be
incompatible with even the narrowest definition of “chief operating
officer” and I must conclude that you do not want me to operate the
Yankees. Slowly and sadly, I have come to this conclusion. It represents
a stunning, personal setback.
When the players heard
of the resignation on April 29, Graig Nettles quipped, “Was his hair too
long?” For the Yankees, it was the beginning of the “Bronx Zoo” period.
Those who had options started to weigh them.
A change of the guard
is rarely smooth, and treating people badly never looks classy. By 1976,
with Burke running Madison Square Garden, the Yankees would have a new
ballpark and a new ballclub, for the most part. But under Steinbrenner,
the bodies would pile up higher than in a Scorcese picture.
Forty Years Ago
Today: 4/28/1973… Starters Fast and Slow
present has a way of getting in the way of the past. It’s been a week
since I had a chance to update what was happening at this time of year
in 1973. To recap, in the almost two months since I’ve started this
feature, we’ve seen the Dark Side of the Moon released, sung
along with Charlotte’s Web and Tom Sawyer, and looked at
everything from comets to comics and POWs to G.I. Joe. What we haven’t
done so much is look at the baseball season. That changes now.
April may be the cruelest month, as T.S.
Elliot said, but in terms of baseball, April is a veritable
of quickly fading clubs that whither before the air is warm.
wit, on this day 40 years ago, the San Francisco Giants had the best
record in baseball at 18-5. The Giants would barely play .500 ball the
rest of the way and finish a distant third behind the Reds, who at this
point in the season had the National League’s second-best record at
12-8. The NL West was vastly superior to their Eastern counterparts in
1973. The top three clubs all would have run away with the NL East, plus
a fourth club, the Astros, were just a half game worse than the Eastern
champion Mets when the season ended.
April 28, 1973, the Cubs and Mets were tied for first in the East at
11-8. The Cubs would surge ahead as the Mets fizzled until their alarm
clock went off four months later. The Cardinals began the year with the
game’s worst record at 2-15; they would surge past the Cubs into first
place in July and then hit the same wall most NL East teams ran into—an
inability for the top clubs to beat up on the bottom clubs, and vice
versa. The Cardinals would finish second in the NL East at 81-81.
Kansas City Royals had the American League’s best record at 13-7 on
April 28, 1973. The Royals also had their first career no-hitter, tossed
a day earlier in Detroit by Steve Busby. The April 27 game was not only
the first no-no of the year, it was the first ever pitched by a pitcher
who did not bat—thanks to the new designated hitter rule. Busby was a
Royal wunderkind making just his 10th major league start. The kid from
Burbank, drafted in the second round out of USC in 1971, became the
first pitcher to throw no-hitters in each of his first two full seasons
when he tossed another no-hitter in 1974. Busby pitched in two All-Star
Games and racked up 56 wins in his first three seasons… then his rotator
cuff gave out in 1976. With Busby in the Kansas City rotation, those
three straight losses to the Yankees in the playoffs from ’76 to ’78 may
well have been different. A longtime play-by-play man for Texas, Busby
student and ambassador of the game. As it was then, though, he could
not pitch the Royals past the Oakland A’s at his—and their—peak. Oakland
began ’73 sluggishly and after their 2-1 loss in a duel between Jim
Palmer and Ken Holtzman on April 28, stood at 8-11, 4 ½ games out.
a 10-8 record, the Orioles led a tight AL East that saw all six teams
within two wins of each other. Baltimore would be the only ’73 team that
held first place on April 28 as well as September 28. That’s the Oriole
The first winners
of the Greg Spira Baseball Research Award were announced this morning,
which would have been Greg’s
46th birthday. I miss my friend, colleague, collaborator, and sometimes
dog sitter. I was honored to be one of the judges. I also put together
the press release, so I will just run the release here. It says it all.
For release at noon,
Eastern Time, 4/27/13
Trent McCotter Wins Inaugural Greg
Spira Baseball Research Award
April 27, 2013—
McCotter has been selected as winner of the first annual Greg Spira
Baseball Research Award. McCotter’s 2012 essay,
Ripken’s Record for Consecutive Innings,”
compiled for the first time the correct total of consecutive innings
(8,264) played by the Orioles’ great shortstop between 1982 and 1987.
McCotter’s extensive research also created a list of every player who
ever played at least 2,500 consecutive innings, information previously
unknown despite the fact that the players involved had all retired many
The article by McCotter,
an attorney living in Washington D.C., first appeared in the Fall 2012
edition of the Society of American Baseball Research’s
was one of the top baseball researchers of our time and probably the
person most responsible for bringing baseball discussion to the Internet
in its early days,”
said McCotter. “But
more importantly, he was an all-around nice guy, someone whose
innumerable research credits show his willingness to share his work with
others. I know his friends and family have put a lot of effort into
preserving his memory, which is why it is such an honor to be chosen for
the first Greg Spira Award. I hope it will encourage other young writers
to focus their efforts on baseball research and analysis.”
Given in recognition of
the best published article, paper, or book containing original baseball
research by a person 30 years old or younger, the winners were announced
today, April 27, which would have been Greg Spira’s 46th birthday. Spira
was the founder of the annual Internet Baseball Awards (IBA) in 1991,
now maintained by
Prospectus. Spira was also an early adopter and a pioneer in using
the Internet to advance baseball analysis, particularly via Usenet’s
groundbreaking rec.sport.baseball and via BaseballProspectus.com.
Spira later contributed
to many sports books as a researcher, writer, and editor, including the
Baseball Encyclopedia, the ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia, Total
Baseball, and annual periodicals about the Mets.
A lifelong and
passionate Mets fan, Spira died on December 28, 2011 in his native New
Pieces eligible for
consideration for the Spira Award included those published on the World
Wide Web, in e-books, and in print, as well as academic dissertations
and presentations at conferences. Entries needed to display innovative
analysis or reasoning to be considered.
The dozen judges who
evaluated the submissions for the first annual Spira Award were a mix of
baseball writers and researchers who knew and respected Greg Spira and
his work. The panel consisted of Sean Lahman, Gary Gillette, Sean
Forman, Matthew Silverman, Dave Pease, Joe Hamrahi, Claudia Perry,
Stuart Shea, Rod Nelson, Carl Rosin, Dvd Avins, and Greg’s brother,
of the submissions that I read in my first round of judging was
‘Ripken’s Record for Consecutive Innings Played,’”
said Jonathan Spira. “This
was not only an article Greg would have liked, but it sounded like the
type of article he would have written as well, both in tone and subject
matter. I was pleased that my fellow judges agreed with my assessment
and that Mr. McCotter is being awarded the first ever Greg Spira
Baseball Research Award.”
McCotter received $1,000
as the top prize for his article on Ripken’s consecutive innings streak.
The $200 second prize went to Dan Farnsworth’s article on the economics
of team restructuring, “Is
Rebuilding Worth It?”
A 2008 graduate of Franklin & Marshall, Farnsworth serves as director of
baseball operations and player development at Carmen Fusco’s Pro
Baseball & Softball Academy in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. His article
was originally published on
a student at the College of the Ouachitas in Malvern, Arkansas, has
spent four years on the project and continues to add features to the
All three 2013 winners
will be invited to serve as judges for the 2014 Spira Award.
April 25, 2013
Come for the
Harvey, Stay for the Jordany
developments set up quite an evening Wednesday at Citi Field. Billed as
Harvey Night, I got a last-minute call to the press box, my first time
so treated at the Citi. I sat next to
member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and possessor of
Hall of Fame voting rights. John and I discussed a periodic
Swinging ’73 giveaway during his 1973 weekly articles on his
site, plus another site with whom we are negotiating. I also talked to a
couple of people interviewed in Swinging ’73: Steady Eddie
Kranepool and Steve Jacobson, original New Breed writer and “Chipmunk,”
who came out to see this Harvey in the flesh. He agreed that the best
pitchers have a little swagger, a confidence necessary to compete
against the game’s best. All at our dining room table, including
Coutinho, concurred that the Mets needed more people like that.
The press box was warm and three-quarters
full—not bad for April in Flushing. Thanks to the
wonderful and courageous Shannon Forde for setting me up, but as the
game entered the sixth inning, I felt the need to go out and get a feel
for whatever buzz the ballpark held on yet another chilly night. The
packed bar/lounge adjoining the press box had no shortage of buzz, a
phenomenon I recall seeing as well during the early Ike Davis days in a
frosty doubleheader against the Dodgers in April of 2010. Unlike then,
however, the stands emanated a buzz as well. Without a seat to call my
own, I stood along the first base line as the Dodgers took a two-run
lead on a “home run,” thanks to the unwanted miracle of instant replay.
(After a century and a half of half-assed umpiring, does baseball
suddenly need to be this precise?)
chowed on popcorn and nursed a can of beer as the Mets made it 3-2 on a
sacrifice fly by Justin Turner. Alas, Burner was batting for the
pitcher, ending Matt Harvey’s night. There were still quite a few
new orange shirts pulled over sweatshirts and coats, as well as more
energy in the park—24,170 closer to the actual number of people in the
house than usual. I ran into Greg and Jason,
Faith and Fear fellas, who’d told me earlier they were sitting down
the first-base line, and we chatted and warmed up for an inning. After a
frustrating end to the eighth when, with the tying run at third and two
outs, pinch hitter Jordany Valdespin grounded out on the first pitch as
a pinch hitter, I decided to move closer to the egress in right field.
It was in section 101, a beginner seating area apparently, since I had
to stand, that I saw the Mets stamp their claim on this night. Beyond
Matt Harvey, who later told the working media (as opposed to vagabond
interlopers like myself) that he was disappointed in his outing, and
beyond the machinations of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who
double-switched like he was being paid by the move, the game would
belong to the late-comers.
Mike Baxter, Flushing boy, hit a sinking
liner botched by Carl Crawford, who played but three innings and screwed
up all he came in contact with. Bax beat the throw to second for what
Howie Rose called “a hustle double.” Bax went to third on a sacrifice by
Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy worked the count in his favor against
closer Brandon League before his soft pop was grabbed out of the stands
by third baseman Jerry Hairston. The Mets were now 1-for-12 with runners
in scoring position. “The
Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day”…
verse that we Mets fans—and indeed baseball fans in general, all subject
to the laws of probability—are all too familiar with.
came the David Wright, the big hope, the big kahunah. Just like Mike
Piazza, you hoped he’d come through, but were rationalizing the numbers
in your head, knowing they probably wouldn’t. Players like Mike and
Wright are lucky to see one decent pitch in an at bat like this with a
base open and the game on the line. But Brandon League got a ball over
the plate and Wright went with it, dropping it on the grass below Citi
101 where I was now sitting (the green-jacketed mafia looked the other
way long enough for me to set up camp in the back row—very glad I packed
that extra jacket). David must have heard me telling him to steal, and
the Dodgers must have heard as well, because he was out by a mile. But
Harvey was off the hook and yet more free baseball was at hand.
ending of the game in the 10th was strange in that Donnie Baseball did
not come to take out pitcher Josh Wall with runners on second and third
and one out; the Dodgers manager took out his left fielder, Crawford,
replacing him with Luis Cruz and putting him at third base while going
with a five-infielder, two-outfielder configuration that I once saw work
against my daughter’s Little League softball team. Too bad Jordany
Valdespin wasn’t on her team.
Jordany worked the count and then crushed
a ball that kept coming closer and closer to me as it became more and
more obvious the game was over. It landed in the dopey net they have
above the groundling seats in right field—can’t they just put a sign
that says “Beware of Walkoff Grand Slams” instead of the net? But I
guess that since the last such instance was by Kevin McReynolds in 1991—Robin
Ventura’s basepath dance with Todd Pratt in October 1999 doesn’t
technically count —they figured no one would much take notice of a sign.
Is this a sign of greatness to come in
2013? Well, Kevin Mac’s ’91 walkoff slam portended a season that ended
the most successful era in Mets history in ’91, so we won’t etch
anything in stone. We’ll remember this one for a while, though. Even
last year when things went wrong in the second half, I could take out
and polish the April
ninth-inning comeback I saw against the Marlins. As this was my
first night-game triumph I had witnessed at Citi Field since 2011,
before the reign of Jordany, I will tuck this away for polishing some
day when the breeze is too hot and the team is not.
so happy that on the way home I made my first-ever call to WFAN and
Steve Somers. The Schmoozer is another person I interviewed for
Swinging ’73, and someone I have listened to late at night since I
worked the midnight journalism shift (not in a major league press
box). We spoke for a few minutes before the 12:40 a.m. update. “Me here,
you there,” only with Schmooze pitching the book and me reminiscing how
Jordany’s wicked hacks reminded me of a speedier version of John Milner,
misunderstood and without a position for much of his Mets time, but
still “The Hammer.” A ’73 Met gone too soon, forgotten perhaps, but
taken out and shined up through memory on a cold, contented April nights
such as these.
April 22, 2013
I got some grief for the latest 40 Years Ago Today that featured Tony
Orlando and Dawn. I can understand that. What I can’t understand is how
anyone would give any grief to the new film, 42.
have been a lot of baseball films through the years. Most of them,
frankly, have sucked. Games, seasons, and even careers are jumbled
together to fit the story, or the film’s budget. Or the characters come
across as one dimensional, or two dimensional, at best. And few of them
have anything important to say. No matter what you might say about 42,
you can’t say that the subject matter isn’t important.
write about the past a lot—some would use the word “exclusively”—but I
still live here in the present. And with two kids, I sometimes even find
myself thinking about the future. My son, who is nine, asked to see
42. As I was taught about Lou Gehrig when I was in fourth grade, he
learned about Jackie Robinson in fourth grade. Some day we will get
around to seeing
Pride of the Yankees, which even an avowed Yankee hater cannot
watch without getting a lump in the throat. And we didn't stop at 42, we
made a weekend of it, showing the whole family
Mighty Macs, the 2012 movie about Immaculata College, the tiny
school that gave women’s sports a face just as Title IX was coming into
being; this all-women’s college, like the all-mustached Oakland A’s,
claimed championships in 1972, ’73, and ’74. We borrowed that film from
the library. (And the Macs borrowed their “Let’s go Macs” chant from
another cheer I know.)
is in theaters, and I am glad to hear, is doing well. This event from 66
years back, two-thirds of a century ago, is hard to tell kids about in a
way they can even begin to understand how harsh it was. In 42 the
veil is lifted off. Robinson deals with a lot just getting on a major
league roster. Then the Phillies come to town.
Phillies manager Ben Chapman steps on the
field and spews some of the harshest racial invective that I have heard
in a film in some time. I looked over at my son wiping his eyes and I
put my hand on his shoulder. (Lucas Black, as Pee Wee Reese, later does
the same thing in the film.) You can explain all day what it was like,
but 42 puts you there. Alan Tudyk, best known previously for
playing a Pirate,
plays the harsh Phillies manager. What made it even harder for me was
knowing that he was my late beloved uncle’s favorite player and that
Chapman, like my mother’s family, was from Birmingham, Alabama. Chapman
was fired the next year—probably more because the Phillies had only one
winning season between 1918 and 1948 than because of his harsh managing
style. According to
writer Allan Barra, Chapman did turn a new leaf in his later
years, but we are often judged how we perform in the heat of the day not
the cool of the evening.
Before the movie began, I said I was ready
to signal the historical inaccuracies as they came up. The only one I
noticed was the number 13 worn by pitcher Kirby Higbe, the leader of the
group of Southern Dodgers pushing for the petition against Robinson.
Higbe wore number 13 and I said to myself, “That’s Ralph Branca’s
number.” Afterward I checked and found that Branca took the number after
the malcontent Higbe was traded—to Pittsburgh. So they even got that
middling detail right, as they did in casting Hamish Linklater as
Branca, who shows that barriers can start to come down a bit simply by
putting out your hand and
saying hello to someone new. Chadwick Boseman was fully believable
in the lead role and Harrison Ford, who had to push the producers to
play Branch Rickey, really caught the essence of the Mahatma, who not
only had a hand in the installation of the farm system and, of course,
the integration of the game, but as front of man of the would-be
Continental League, Rickey helped break the National League’s
seven-decade ban on expansion that resulted in the birth of our own New
York Mets. You could almost smell the cigar Ford was constantly chewing
on as Rickey. And Ford, who stands 6-foot-1, was filmed either alone or
sitting for most scenes so he looked smaller. Rickey, who was a catcher
in the majors in the 1900s before his considerable organizational and
business talents landed him in management, stood just 5-foot-9. Another
casting nod goes to John G. McGinley, who was marvelous as Red Barber.
But it was young Dusan Brown, all of 11
when the film was made, who got the first tear rolling down my cheek.
Sitting in the segregated section of the stands with his mother in
spring training, he prays for Jackie Robinson. Maybe he is praying for
his own future, too. After Jackie made the Montreal Royals—breaking the
minor league color barrier a year before he would do the same in the
major leagues—Robinson flips a baseball to a trio of black boys seeing
him off on the train. Watching the train leave, the boys take off after
it. They run until the train is out of sight and then Brown places his
ear to the track to listen to the train still running and carrying
Robinson into a future now opened to him. That child was Ed Charles,
whose last game in the major leagues culminated with his
dancing on the mound at Shea Stadiummoments after the
Mets clinched the 1969 World Series. Writer
Hoytmade that story live in The Miracle Has
Landed, director Brian Helgeland made it live on the screen in 42,
and Mets announcer Howie Rose gave it even greater relevance last week
saying, while the Mets wore the number 42 uniforms in honor of Robinson,
that the team should have Charles tell the younger generation of
fans—and players—how Robinson literally changed the world they live in.
I hope I haven’t given away too much, but
if you are a baseball fan who knows the story, let me tell you, the
important pieces are all there. I have long held
Eight Men Out by John Sayles to be the best
historical baseball movie. 42 is a different film, but it is even
more important. Those who complain about the content of 42 should
be forced to watch a 24-hour loop with
John Goodman as Babe Ruth.
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon
Round the Old Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn reaches number one. It
will be Billboard’s No. 1 song for 1973.
To illustrate the
song’s popularity, let me tell you about the Silverman family’s road
trip in November of 1973. We drove to Washington D.C. in our big brown
Impala: three people in the front, three in the back. My brothers and
sister jostled in the back, while my eight-year-old self was up front
between my parents. (Child booster seats? We didn’t even have
functioning seat belts!) The entire way home through numbing traffic on
the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we listened to the radio—AM only,
naturally. “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” played so many times I learned the song
backwards and forwards. I can still see my dad clenching his pipe in the
mouth as the song came on yet again as the car idled on unmovable roads
and I sang loud and proud. I can only remember taking one interstate
family car trip after that.
Forty Years Ago
Waltons Mountain Miracle
1973, this day was Holy Thursday, the start of Easter weekend. CBS,
already the top network, packed in the heavy holiday artillery with a
special two-hour, season-ending Waltons episode called “The
Easter Story.” The story focused not just on Easter, but on Olivia,
mother of the brood on Waltons Mountain, Virginia, contracting polio.
This crippling disease had been contained in the U.S. by vaccinations by
the 1970s, but anyone who had grown up 40 years before knew of its
devastating effects that took many lives and changed many others.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president when the The Waltons was set
(the show began in his first year in office, 1933), had lost the ability
to walk because of the disease, though this handicap was kept from the
public during his record four terms in office.
the Waltons episode, Miss Michael Learned’s character, Olivia—or
Liv, as she was called by John Sr. (not to be confused with
John-Boy)—tries several remedies, but she seems resigned to life in a
wheelchair. In the hours before Easter morning, she thinks she hears
Elizabeth, the youngest of her seven children, call out to her in
distress in the night. Liv gets out of bed and walks to her and
discovers she is healed. The whole family attends Easter Sunday sunrise
much for TV having little to offer the American family in the cynical
1970s. The first-year Waltons remained on the air
until it finally said goodnight in 1981. The show kept getting up
for sporadic TV specials through 1997.
Forty Years Ago
Today: 4/17/1973… The Birth of Star Wars
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far
away…” On this day in 1973, George Lucas began writing the screenplay
for what became Star Wars. After its 1977 release, the film’s
name would transform into “A New Hope” and by Lucas decree be called
Episode IV, even as the original spawned one of the most lucrative
franchises in history.
At age 30 in 1973, Lucas had completed directing
the story of his growing up in Modesto, California: American Graffiti.
It was a low-budget film still months from release, destined to become
the year’s surprise hit (and introduce film audiences to a TV actor
named Harrison Ford). Yet even before that, Lucas’s star burned bright.
He had helped form Zoetrope Studios with Francis Ford Coppola, whom he
had worked with in his first major effort, a bizarre film about bald
people in a dystopian future: THX
1138. Coppola, who had challenged Lucas to write about his youth
in Modesto, was enjoying a good run of luck as well in 1973. His
Godfather won Best Picture and garnered 10 other Academy Award
Lucas had a contract for a space film to follow
American Graffiti. The result would take four years to get on the
screen, but when it appeared in—or rather, took over—theaters in 1977,
Star Wars would transform not only films about space, but also
the concepts of special effects and blockbusters. Because of Star
Wars’ extended production, Lucas was unable to direct Apocalypse
Now, leading to the end of his partnership with Coppola, who
fatefully took over as that film’s director. By then, Star Wars—starting
with a story
scrawl that had to be filmed manually (and translated for foreign
language versions)—had become the stuff of legend. And it started with a
man with a
Flash Gordon fixation dreaming about space adventures.
<> <> <>
The appearances and reviews keep coming
for Swinging ’73.
It does a body good. Thanks to my 1973 classmate as well as baseball
aficionado Bruce Markusen at
The Hardball Times, new pal Eric Brach for our interview on
Bleacher Report (and to whatever machine misidentified my image as
is a mistake I can deal with), to fellow Mets sufferer Steve Keane at
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
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
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….
Forty years ago today the first DHs batted. Ron
Blomberg was the first—Tony Oliva hit the first DH home run that day.
'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
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
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.
I am co-owner of an e-zine
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.
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
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).
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
“Let’s Go Mets!”)
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.
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
R.A. falls below
legends like the 1980 Miracle on Ice, which many thought was America’s
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
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.
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
best—and worst—aspects 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.
Hey, I saw your
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.
Thanks for checking
in. Your question of what’s 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
(it is a publishing sin that this book is not available at least
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!
Forty Years Ago
Today: 4/10/1973… Royalty in Kansas City
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
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
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.)
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
Converted Mets Fan Sam Maxwell, one of many Mets aficionados we met
on Shea Bridge, showed for both ends of my Thursday day-night
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
I learned that it is a hard
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
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.
Martin Cooper, general manager for Motorola, makes
the first cellular phone call—to
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?”
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
a hoax or delayed April Fool’s
joke. One of the reporters at the 1973 demonstration called Australia
and called his mother. “Gooday,
Mum. Would you believe...”
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,
<> <> <>
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
Mike Vaccaro calls Swinging ’73 “a fantastic ode to a year
that began with the Yankees wife-swap and ended with the Mets’ second
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.”
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
new phonebooks—and everyone who buys a book will get a genuine 1974
baseball card featuring the exploits of ’73, swinging and otherwise.
<> <> <>
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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
Forty Years Ago
Today: 3/26/1973… Something Bruin, Again
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.
Coming Soon to a
Store, Library, and Radio Station Near You
truly is making the rounds for
Swinging ’73 this spring. Dates will be added, but this is a
April 3, Wednesday, 7 p.m.: Kiner’s
Korner and the Mets
Personality Podcast. Hosted by Taryn Cooper and more Mets flavor
than a Mex Burger.
April 4, Thursday, 7 p.m.:
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.
June 20, Thursday, 6:30 p.m.:
(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.
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...
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
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.
My Randall K.
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.
you’ve been reading the site, following me on
Facebook , or eagerly anticipating my every tweet
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
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.
only Met to ever play until age 48 was Julio Franco.
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.
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
Age 43—My Terry Leach Year, #43 (number worn, 1981-82)
Age 44—My Ron Darling Year, #44 (number worn, 1983-84)
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
Terry Leach’s prowess as an author should not be discounted, nor
should his 11-1 ’87 season).
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.
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
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.
Berenguer, Señor Smoke, went on to be a decent reliever for the Tigers
and Twins, but not for the Mets. Next.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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
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.
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).
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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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.
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?
interrupt our 1973 obsession with a topical item. Our oarsmen resume
bearing us ceaselessly into the past tomorrow.]
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.
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
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.
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
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 October. Is winning a second-round WBC game in March
on par with the World Series? The dog pile near the mound speaks
volumes. And Dominican second baseman Robinson Cano has proven in the
WBC that he is not the emotionless, nonchalant robot he sometimes
appears to be at Yankee Stadium.
major league season is a thrill to ardent fans, but as these emotional
WBC displays show, the big leagues pales in comparison to representing
their homeland. Good for them. But is it good for us? Perhaps a switch
of the WBC from March to November could make the contrast in excitement
between playing for money and playing for country not seem so stark. But
that is an argument for another day.
now, the WBC is a welcome change at a time of spring training that is
nap inducing as the days until Opening Day slowly drag on. One can only
hope that the excitement level for the players taking part in the WBC
carries over to games that “count”—or at least count in the minds of the
paying MLB customers. Maybe this attitude will change if the U.S. ever
gets to jump up and down in the finals.
Forty Years Ago
Today: 3/17/1973… Vietnam Comes Home
this day in 1973, the new London Bridge opened in England, but in the
United States, amid parades and celebrations in honor of St. Patrick’s
Day, other low key reunions were held amid joyful tears. With the
Vietnam War over, prisoners of war returned to the U.S., mostly
overlooked by a public that had long ago soured on Vietnam or just
wanted to forget about the American military’s first “loss.” The face of
those returning vets—and the unbridled joy of reunion—was forever
captured by a girl running to greet her long lost daddy.
Lorrie Stirm started running as her father headed off the airfield at
Travis Air Force Base in northern California.
In the photo you can see the exultant faces of Lorrie, Bo, Cindy,
Loretta, and Roger Stirm, but you cannot see the face of Lt. Colonel
Robert L. Stirm. He sees is what we all see. Photographer Slava “Sal”
Veder, who had spent the last few years covering anti-war demonstrations
in San Francisco and Berkeley, saw the family running toward their
father, stepped past a barricade, and started clicking. He recalled,
“You could feel the energy and raw emotion in the air.” You can still
feel it by looking at Veder’s “Burst of Joy” four decades later.
coda, however, is not joyous. Lt. Col. Stirm, who’d been shot down over
Hanoi and held in North Vietnamese camps since 1967, including the
infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” was given a “Dear John” letter from his wife,
Lorretta, on the day he was released from captivity. They soon divorced.
He was the only member of his family not to display the photograph they
each received after Veder’s image earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1974.
“We didn’t know if he would ever come
home,” Lorrie Stirm Kitching later said in a
Smithsonian Magazine interview. “That moment was all
our prayers answered, all our wishes come true…. We have this very nice
picture of a very happy moment, but every time I look at it, I remember
the families that weren’t reunited, and the ones that aren’t being
reunited today—many, many families—and I think, I’m one of the lucky
University of Wisconsin forged its link as a college hockey power in the
1973 NCAA Championships with a comeback for the ages against Cornell in
the semifinals at Boston Garden. Trailing 4-0 in the second period, and
still down 5-2 in the third, the Badgers battled back to record the
final four goals of the game. Tournament MVP Dean Talafous scored the
tying goal with just five seconds left in regulation and the game-winner
a mere 33 seconds into overtime. Wisco fell behind Denver the next night
in the championship game before Talafous again scored the game winner
for the first of the school’s six NCAA hockey titles.
Forty Years Ago
Today: 3/15/1973…The Ides
of Tom Sawyer
The musical film version of Tom Sawyer opened on
the Ides of March, 1973. The title role was played by Johnny Whitaker,
best known as Jody Davis—not the
1980s Cubs catcher, but the 1960s imp and brother of Buffy and Cissy,
ward of Unca Biwl, and charge of gentleman’s gentleman Mr. French on the
Family Affair. Tom Sawyer was also the first film to
feature Jodie Foster in a major role. She played Becky Thatcher, but at
age 10 was already well-known for numerous guest-starring and recurring
roles on family shows like The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and
My Three Sons, and even in cartoons—such as The Amazing Chan and
the Chan Clan (with
of the cooler animated intro themes in a decade full of cool
animated intro themes).
by the Sherman brothers, who’d penned the music in Charlotte’s Web
and Mary Poppins, Tom Sawyer was a decent movie actually
filmed on the Mississippi River, but what stands out is the where I saw
the movie: Radio City Music Hall. It was the first class trip I
remember. I was very much looking forward to the matinee with my second
grade class. I tapped my fingers throughout the Rockettes, always hating
the “dancing and girls stuff” that preceded a Radio City screening—and
being with an all-boys Iona Grammar contingent, I was not alone in my
impatience. I have been to Radio City many times since it stopped
showing movies in 1979, but I always find myself tapping my fingers,
momentarily thinking, hoping, that the show will end and the giant
screen emerge. (Tom Sawyer author Mark Twain probably would have
been tapping his fingers during the showing of film, which was
produced by Reader’s Digest.) And now, ladies and gentleman,
Tom Sawyer and the
Injun Joe courtroom scene.
Charlotte’s Web is one of the greatest children’s books ever
written. It conveys how life can be changed by those around you through
the tale of a lonely pig with a death sentence transformed into a
celebrity by a common gray spider. Charlotte’s Web unblinkingly
reminds us that life isn’t fair, but it is grand. And life keeps going,
whether we agree with its meandering path or not. E.B. White’s 1952
novel ends this way: “It is not often that someone comes by who is a
true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
lump-in-your-throat kind of stuff whether you’re a child hearing it for
the first time, or a parent trying to read it to them without a tear
dropping on the page. I, like my children, was introduced to this
barnyard tale by the 1973 film. The Hanna Barbara cartoon does not shy
away from the book’s bleak yet hopeful ending and spices it up with
songs written by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, who provided the
music for Disney’s Mary Poppins.
Debbie Reynolds provided the
star power and empathy needed in the title role, telling the
producers she would take on the role for nothing. A veteran cast of
distinct voices was brought in to play Wilbur (Henry Gibson aka Wrongo
Starr on F-Troop), Fern (Pamelyn Ferdin, one of the most popular
child TV actors of the period), Templeton (the incomparable Paul Lynde,
a regular on Hollywood Squares and countless other shows), Goose
(Agnes Moorehead, best known as Endora on Bewitched), Ram (Dave
Madden, aka Mr. Kinkade from The Partridge Family), and Avery
also from The Partridge Family).
It was narrated by country singer Rex Allen, who had brought life to
another great animal-related film of a decade earlier, The Incredible
White did not like the musical aspect of the film, but he and his wife
were ill and needed the money, so they signed off on a lot of their
control. I loved the film—and still do. As do many others who watched it
on holidays and other occasions through the 1970s on TV. When it was
released on VHS in 1994, it was one of the top videos of the year and
Wilbur, Charlotte, and Fern became a staple in the childhoods of many
second-generation households. Whether on the page or singing on the
screen, people cannot get enough of the terrific, radiant, humble
Zuckerman’s famous pig.
Baseball wasn’t yet on my radar in 1973, but Planet of the Apes
sure was. In 1973 the fifth—and final—Planet of the Apes movie of
the series was to be released, Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
My eight-year-old body was aquiver to see this in the theater. Come
March there was still three months to go until the final POTA
opened (actually, we had more time to waste then and didn’t feel the
need to abbreviate everything). There was little recourse other than to
just wait for the movie. And then I saw the March issue of MAD.
Alfred E. Newman’s
irreverent brand was at its peak in the 1970s—or maybe the magazine just
appears that way to every generation of American kid once they are old
enough to read and appreciate satire and sarcasm. (My nine-year-old son
reads it—I buy it for him—and I’m sure one day he will say that he grew
the golden age of MAD.) But I think that MAD magazine
making fun of Planet of the Apes was one of the coolest issues of
the coolest magazines of my childhood. If this was science fiction, then
I was a scientist fictionist. Damned dirty ape.
Forty Years Ago
Today: 3/12/1973… Marcus Welby,
1973 TV calendar was pretty well spent by March. Many shows had already
wrapped for the season, making re-runs the bill of fare until September.
With few alternatives (cable was in its infancy and VCRs were a few
years away), people had to either watch their favorite shows again, or,
God forbid, do something else. Tuesday night meant Marcus Welby, M.D.
on ABC, a highly-rated medical drama featuring Robert Young. Known for
his long-running hit Father Knows Best, the good doctor did not
give the best advice to a patient in one of the ’73 season’s final
In “The Other Martin Loring,” Welby
crosses a couple of lines: first, he convinces police to drop a drunk
driving charge on the alcoholic Loring, and then, after the doctor
deduces that his patient’s problems stem from homosexual thoughts, Doc
Welby advises Loring to get cured. Played by Mark Miller (who appeared
in many TV shows and starred in the 1960s family comedy Please
Don’t Eat the Daisies),
Loring attempts suicide, but after a failed try, he agrees with Welby’s
advice to see a psychiatrist. The episode ends with Welby saying he
believes Loring will win this “fight” and eventually lead “a normal
Gay rights groups were infuriated. There was a sit-in at ABC’s New
York office as well as picketing at the Los Angeles County Medical
Association, featuring a protest sign that read, “Marcus Welby, Witch
Doctor.” Protestors also did plenty of quacking to show what kind of a
doctor they thought Dr. Welby to be. The witch, er, good doctor had to
be hard of hearing as well, because a 1974 episode, “The Outrage,”
featured a boy sexually assaulted by a male teacher. The episode was
criticized for drawing homosexuals as pedophiles. “The Outrage” summed
up what gay rights activists thought of the clumsy practice of Marcus
Welby, M.D. handling these issues. As a result, 17 affiliates
refused to show the episode, the first time affiliates boycotted a
network TV episode due to protests. Regardless, Marcus Welby
droned on until 1976.
Willie Mays went missing in 1973 Mets spring training. The legendary
slugger, passed as the all-time National League home run king the
previous year by Atlanta’s
Hank Aaron, had permission to return home on an off day during spring
training. Now in Florida for spring training with the Mets after
spending all but one of the 22 training camps of his career in Arizona,
a relatively short flight from San Francisco, geography caught up with
him in his final spring camp. Newly married to the alluring and
alliterative Mae Mays, Willie wanted to be home with his wife, who was
feeling ill. He left Thursday afternoon and was with her Friday on the
off-day, but weather postponed his return cross-country journey until
after the Mets were done for the day on Saturday in St. Petersburg.
Manager Yogi Berra, never known as a disciplinarian, put his foot down.
Berra handed out a $1,000 fine for the game’s highest-paid player
($165,000 per year). Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich,
who had covered Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth late in their careers,
applauded Berra’s move: “There can’t be one rule for Mr. Wonderful No.
24 and another set of rules for the other 24 players on the roster.”
Mets owner Joan Payson adored the “Say Hey
Kid” as a partial owner of the New York Giants, prior to the baseball
team’s move west. She had set her heart on reuniting Mays with New York
since the Mets first joined the league in 1962, but San Francisco kept
saying no until Mays started showing signs of wear. The Mets finally got
him for Mrs. Payson on Mother’s Day, 1972, a week after his 41st
birthday. In the words of Povich, the great Mays was now a “teacher’s
pet.” Though the pet was in Yogi Berra’s doghouse, injuries and poor
planning by the front office left the Mets with no choice but to have
the 42-year-old with rickety knees better suited for first base—or the
bench—as the Opening Day center fielder in 1973.
Forty Years Ago
Today: 3/8/1973… The Weed and the Wing
Paul McCartney was
fined £100 ($247)
for growing marijuana outside his Scottish farm. The former Beatle said
that he and wife Linda McCartney received seeds in the mail from a fan
and planted them, not sure what they were (wink, wink). It still turned
out to be a pretty good year for Paul with “My
going number one, the theme song to the James Bond film Live and Let
Die being nominated for an Academy Award and a Grammy (losing the
Oscar, taking the Grammy), and his signature non-Beatles album, Wings’
Band on the Run, being released in the fall. His song “Hi,
which left off the “gh”and
peaked at number 10 in the U.S. in January 1973 and remained a popular
in-concert song for the run of Wings. A pot bust in Japan in 1980, with
McCartney spending more than a week in jail before being deported, led
to Wings abandoning a tour before it started. Wings never performed
another concert. Bummer.
The Comet Kohoutek was first sighted by a
Czech astronomer, Luboš Kohoutek.
He named the
“Comet of the Century” after himself, as is an astronomer’s right.
Musicians followed this naming conceit, with Kohoutek songs by everyone
from Argent to Journey to Bill Carroll to
Academics got on board, too. The Kohoutek Music and Arts Festival has
been held annually now for four decades at Pitzer College in California.
Kohoutek also set up a cool episode during the heyday of The
Simpsons, when Principal Skinner and Bart (serving detention)
search the night sky for comets and find one that sends Springfield
scrambling for the bomb shelter.
The cult Children of God convinced its members in
1973 that the comet signaled the end of the world, precipitating much
discussion about the end of days that was a bit frightening for an
eight-year-old boy already learning way too much about heavenly anger
and retribution in Catholic school. Of course, they were wrong about
their dire predictions, and I survived to serve out a life sentence as a
Mets fan while still missing out on the Ya Gotta Believers of
The comet did not live up to the hype. Even in the
days before Facebook and Twitter made it easy to complain, the masses
whined about the object’s lack of brightness—though the image taken when
it was closest to the earth
looks pretty cool to me. You can see for yourself when Kohoutek
comes back into view in 74,960 years or so.
On newstands, Edgar Winter is on the cover
of rock n’ roll magazine, Creem. The first musician with a
strap-on keyboard, Winter takes the charts by storm with the
instrumental, “Frankenstein,” so named because of how the recording was
spliced together with a razor while cutting the single down to a
marketable 3:28. It reaches number one in the U.S. in 1973, the first
instrumental to do so since the theme from the film Romeo and Juliet
by Henry Mancini in 1969. Winter has another top 20 hit with “Free
Ride,” also off his double platinum album, They Only Come Out at
Night. At age 26, the Texas albino (as is musician brother Johnny
Winter) looks like death warmed over on the cover of
Creem. Somehow, Edgar Winter is still alive—and touring—40 years
later. The power of rock. And
On this day in 1973, one of the strangest baseball stories ever came
out of Fort Lauderdale. “Viral” was many technological advancements away
from becoming a term not related to illness, but this story singed
across telephone wires, TV wires, and newspaper wires, sending hordes of
reporters from every section of the newspaper and every segment of the
media to find out what happened between Yankees pitchers Mike Kekich and
Fritz Peterson. They traded wives, children, and even dogs. Yes, the
swinging ’70s had come to the Yankees, like it or not.
To the pitchers, it wasn’t a big deal; to the Yankees it wasn’t
anybody’s business. Both sides were proved wrong as the story made
headlines throughout the country. It was even a segment on Paul Harvey’s
“The Rest of the Story,” which actually pleased Peterson, who’d grown up
listening to the staccato-voiced announcer in Illinois.
In truth, “the swap” between the pitchers had taken place months
earlier, and it was news now because the players and press were all
together for spring training. Ball Four, Jim Bouton’s tell-all
book of three springs earlier, had created a crack in the locker room
wall between players and the public. Reporters could no longer keep this
kind of information out of the papers as they had done for decades, from
Babe Ruth’s “bellyache” (which was actually venereal disease) to the
family life of Mickey Mantle (his carousing and drunkenness covered up
by his front office, teammates, and friends in the press). The undue
publicity did little for the careers of Peterson, a team leader and the
team’s top lefty, and Kekich, a cerebral southpaw who gave new meaning
to the term swingman. Peterson’s new marital relationship blossomed and
remains strong while Kekich’s soon fell part, as did his career. Hurt
and ineffective, the Yankees traded him to Cleveland in June.
From Swinging ’73:
Until the first week
of March 1973, however, very few people knew of or even believed the
story. “Nobody knew,” says Peterson. “The only player that knew anything
was Mel Stottlemyre since Marilyn and Mike stopped out to see them
during the offseason just before spring training in 1973. Mel and his
wife Jean thought it was a joke and waited for me and Susanne to show
up. It wasn’t a joke. We never showed up. I hoped it would have worked
out for all of us.”
All these years
later, this story can still make news. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have
the option to do a movie version of the Peterson (Affleck) and Kekich
(Damon) swap. Fritz Peterson is involved as a consultant for Warner
Bros., but given Affleck’s
own Hollywood redemption tale and higher profile since Argo, will
this film get made? Hollywood and baseball have always made strange
bedfellows, never more so here.
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Something that also may seem bizarre is
my presence in a publication about the Yankees, but there I am with an
article in the inaugural Lindy’s Sports In the Dugout Yankees 2013
Annual. My story centers on the brusque and blustery arrival of
George Steinbrenner, the end of the original Yankee Stadium, the
Kekich-Peterson swap, and the change of the guard in the Bronx is not a
love poem to the Yanks. It is the truth. Oh, and most importantly for a
they said they would pay me.
I would gladly share the Mets’ side of
events in 1973 in a Mets magazine, if any still existed. I will be
sharing that info in a couple of online outlets in the days ahead. Stay
The 15th Grammy Awards were broadcast on
CBS live from… Nashville? It was the last year the Grammys were hosted
outside of New York or L.A. It was sort of downer year at the Grammys,
at least as far as who got what. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,”
which went really well with a couple of Quaaludes and a tumbler of
Harveys Bristol Cream, was chosen as Record and Song of the Year. The
Concert for Bangla Desh—also a bummer, please—was the Album of the
Year. Elvis won a Gospel award, Muddy Waters grabbed a folk award, and
Helen Reddy had the top pop hit with “I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar).”
Then, as today, it was hard to figure out the
Grammy mindset, but at least they got it right in the R&B category,
where Billy Paul won Best Male Vocal Performance for “Me and Mrs. Jones”
and the Temptations earned best song and instrumental for
“Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Dadgummit.
The first Iditarod dog sled race from
Anchorage to Nome, Alaska begins. Commemorating the fabled 1925
diptheria serum run, the 1,000-plus mile race is won by Dick Wilmarth—and
lead dog, Hotfoot—in
just over 20 days.
nothing too exciting happened in the big, wide world on this day in ’73,
but since I was eight years old, at some point on March 2, 1973, I was
playing with G.I. Joe. I was still getting plenty of mileage out of the
Christmas gift of a lifetime, the “Seach for the Stolen Idol.” Though
pieces were invariably missing three months into the adventure, I held
onto that G.I. Joe helicopter, plus the cobra, for longer than I should
probably admit. How Joe managed to climb down the winch to get the idol
while the copter was still in the air is a feat of aviation I never
quite figured out, but then again I never sucked the cobra venom out of
Joe’s infected arm, either. But this was G.I. Friggin’ Joe, and I was
part of the team, even if I was missing the facial scar and beard. I had
a member of the G.I. Joe Adventure Team since 1970. Jealous? I
thought as much.
Dark Side of the Moon was released on this day 40 years ago. The
Pink Floyd masterpiece, the best-selling concept album in history,
remained on Billboard magazine’s top 200 for an unprecedented 591
consecutive weeks—or 11 years and four months.
case you’re like, “Whoa—what’s this, man?” I will be running a timeline
of significant dates from 1973 for the rest of this year as we, or at
least I, celebrate the release of Swinging ’73. It will be
released to the public shortly, but this is what they call in the
business, building anticipation—like the heartbeat beating louder and
louder to open Dark Side of the Moon.
From Swinging ’73:
Dark Side of the Moon rocketed Pink Floyd from
acquired taste to musical gods overnight…. The Dark Side of the Moon
LP, with its now iconic cover image of
light refracting through a prism, included stickers as well as
posters that became de rigueur for teen room decoration for a decade and
beyond. One poster featured members of the
concert, the other an infrared image of the
pyramids at Giza. All the better to behold while pondering the
societal perils of time, money, war, isolation, and insanity—or simply
Just hearing this album played today on
the WDST in
Woodstock, my mind is as blown now as it was when I first heard it
all the way through. How many other people’s top 5’s is this album in?
Listen in. And if you want to cue up to pre-purchase a copy of
Swinging ’73, “I’ll see you on the Dark Side of the Moon.”
And because Swinging ’73 is shelved
as a sports book, on 3/1/73 in sports:
We will be working on
the format for this feature as the year goes on. And remember,in the
words (and the brogue) of Abbey Road Studios doorman, Jerry Driscoll:
“There is no dark side of the moon, really . . . Matter of fact, it’s
The first key review—and great review—is
in. A starred review from Library Journal. Like to hear it, here
Swinging ’73: The Incredible Year Baseball Got the Designated Hitter,
Wife-Swapping Pitchers, and Willie Mays Said Goodbye to America.
Apr. 2013. 256p. photogs. notes. bibliog. index.
ISBN 9780762780600. pap. $16.95.
SPORTSIf you had to pick
out one year that epitomized the volatility of the 1970s, 1973 would be
it. Watergate was rearing its ugly head. The Vietnam War finally ended.
OPEC embargoed oil, sending gas prices soaring. In the midst of all of
this, Silverman (Baseball
Miscellany) suggests, baseball offered a reprieve. He
details how the 1973 MLB season unfolded as it ushered in Willie Mays’s
last season, and started two American League phenomena that changed the
game: the designated hitter and George Steinbrenner’s ownership of the
Yankees. Silverman takes readers around the major leagues, placing the
baseball season in the cultural and political climate of 1973 as he does
so. Anecdotes about such cultural details as the Atkin’s diet and Archie
Bunker do not hinder the larger story as he effectively connects 1973
into baseball history. He crafts a thrilling account of the 1973
baseball season itself right up to the final out of the World Series.
The reader will not get bogged down in detail during this fun and
fascinating read. VERDICT
Highly recommended both for sports fans and those interested more
generally in this crucible of a year. They may also enjoy Tim Wendel’s
Summer of ’68: The Season That Changed Baseball—and America—Forever.—Jacob
Sherman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., San Antonio.
Mets are not getting fat this Tuesday, but they are on a diet they hope
will make them look good in time for bathing suit season—in
2015. I usually rhapsodize on Mets history because when it comes to
predicting the future, my crystal ball works probably about as well as
yours. But in the case of Michael Bourn, Cleveland can have him at four
years, $48 million. Add that on top of the Tribe’s
equally dubious outlay for Dick Swisher (I know his name is Nick), which
can easily vest to five years and $70 million, and I think the Indians
will regret their decisions come 2015, regardless of whether the Mets
look ugly in their bathing suits.
The way the baseball gods
love to toy with the Mets, we all know that whomever the team selects
with their much-belabored 11th pick in the 2013 draft will likely be a
will at least never reach the 14.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) Bourn
has accrued the past four years.
Hey, at the end of the day, the money isn’t
mine, and I don’t
even like the beach, for that matter, but I would rather dole out
four-year contracts to players more worthy than Cleveland has this
offseason. Like the Mets, they were the underdog cat’s
meow for the first half of the year and then went 25-54 after July 6, an
even more heinous freefall than the Mets endured (29-49). Though, as was
pointed out by
Adam Rubin, if the Mets had lost just once more in 2012, they
would have gotten the 10th pick anyway and would not have faced the
prospect of losing it by signing Bourn. In New York’s
version of Basementville, at least we can try to brace ourselves from
rock bottom with the Marlins rather than with overpriced free agent
outfielders. Around these parts, Jason Bay is being paid to go away in
what is the last year of his ludicrous contract. You can only go so far
robbing Peter to pay Paul, or doing the same with Bay and Bourn.
February 10, 2013
Last Call for
Inaugural Greg Spira Award
a reminder that registration for the Greg Spira Award ends at midnight
on Friday, February 15. Official regulations—as well as an application—are at
To be eligible for nomination, an article or book must be about
baseball and must contain original analysis or research. Nominated
pieces or books must have been published between January 16, 2012, and
January 15, 2013. The nomination period remains open through 11:59 p.m.
EST on February 15. Nominations after this period will not be
considered. 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.
Articles, papers, and books eligible for consideration include those
published in print or in e-books, posted on the internet, academic
papers or dissertations (including the Mets Conference at Hofstra last
April), and papers presented at professional or public
winner of the inaugural Greg Spira Award will receive the $1,000 cash prize. The
committee will also recognize two additional writers with awards of $200
for second place and $100 for third place. The inaugural Greg Spira
Baseball Research Award winners will be announced on April 27, the 46th
anniversary of Greg’s birth. Greg was a good friend, neighbor,
colleague, and co-editor of the Maple Street Press Mets Annual.
Greg died of kidney disease in December of 2011.
If you are under 30 and reading this, thank you. If you did not write
something that fits the criterion for this year, maybe this is incentive
to get to work now on that long overdue baseball writing project you
have put off. I spent much of my 20s putting off writing projects
besides my newspaper assignments covering small town politics, business,
and high school sports. If they had had the gull-darned intranets back
then, I like to think a competition such as this might have spurred me
to get off my duff and write about a subject that meant more to me.
(Although back in the early 1990s I only had a dust-covered typewriter
at my messy bachelor abode, but I could have used my Apple II at the
West County News office on off days.)
Maybe $1,000 will help motivate you or someone you know to start
February 1, 2013
Very grateful to
get a nice notice in
Mets Merized today for my upcoming book, Swinging '73. There is also a note about it in
Publishers Weekly, which, ironically, only mentions the aspect of
the Yankees in the book (probably because they ran out of room in the
writeup). But this is no mere Yankees book, that is for sure.
I have reached
out to a few blogs and publications thus far and will make a bigger push
closer to the March, when the book is available. In case I miss any
blogger or writer out there, this is an open invitation that I am
putting in caps so it cannot be misconstrued or deemed too subtle.
PLEASE CONTACT ME
AT MATT@METSILVERMAN .COM IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN WRITING OR TALKING
MORE ABOUT SWINGING '73. I WILL HAPPY TO ACCOMMODATE YOU.
That said, we can
go back into a little winter hibernation. Shadow or no.
January 17, 2013
Greg Spira Award
for Writers Under 30
Spira was a good friend, productive colleague, diehard Mets fan, and
enthusiastic neighbor for several years. Sadly, he died from kidney
disease just over a year ago at age 44. I’ll admit, it has been a tough
year without him, but his name lives on with an award funded by his
brother, Jonathan, and crafted by several people, including friends who
worked with Greg and me at Total Sports Publishing.
upshot: You could win $1,000 for a piece you’ve already had
published—the only catch is you have to be under 30.
was an avid researcher who owned more books—and magazine
subscriptions—than anyone I’ve met in my age bracket. On the internet,
he was a surfing pro. He could find information in a few minutes that
might take others hours, but the internet does not always divulge its
treasure so easily. There are rabbit holes at every turn on the web that
can suck a person in and lead them in nine different directions from
whence they came, and spit them out wondering what started all this. So
getting the right information, putting it together cogently, crafting an
article, and getting it published on the web, or elsewhere, ought to be
worth something. Now is your chance.
can read the official regulations—and find an application—at
I’ll summarize the information here.
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, 2012, and
January 15, 2013. The nomination period remains open through 11:59 p.m.
EST on February 15. Nominations after this period will not be
Articles, papers, and books eligible for consideration include those
published in print or in e-books, posted on the internet, academic
papers or dissertations, and papers presented at professional or public
conferences. So, in the case of Mets fans, papers prepared for the Mets
Conference at Hofstra University last April are eligible.
winner of the Greg Spira Award will receive the $1,000 cash prize. The
committee will also recognize two additional writers with awards of $200
for second place and $100 for third place. The inaugural Greg Spira
Baseball Research Award winners will be announced on April 27, the 46th
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.
the age restriction? For my two cents, I think it’s because he liked to
encourage young talent, whether it was minor leaguers who could throw
95, or college students who showed promise at the keyboard. (The defunct
Maple Street Press Mets Annual, which I edited with him, always
included at least one writer who was in school or had recently
graduated.) I think it is also partly because Greg spent much of his 20s
at his parents’ home in Whitestone, unable to work following his kidney
transplant. Greg had graduated Harvard and had many, many friends and
Crimson contacts, so the confinement grated on him. Yet it also pushed
him to reach out via the phone and the internet. Besides his excellent
research skills, he was one of the most talented people I’ve known in
terms of maintaining friendships. He would not let excuses like time and
distance get in the way of staying in touch. Before MySpace, Facebook,
LinkedIn, et al. provided virtual friendship, Greg was keeping in touch
the old fashioned way, by actually caring. He is missed.
January 9, 2013
A Hall of a
My reaction to the baseball writers not
voting anyone into the Hall of Fame in 2013? Good.
It’s not good for Mike Piazza or Craig
Biggio or Alan Trammell or Tim Raines or Dale Murphy, for heaven’s sake.
And it certainly isn’t good for Cooperstown. I do not know what this
will mean for future votes, or even for the Hall of Fame, but January
shutouts are the only real punishment available for people who think
that there should be some penalty for those who cheated the game, either
by lying or by saying nothing.
A high-profile journalist is sorry for not having pushed
harder about making his information known to the public. I would love to
hear a similar confession from any of the players blanked today, who may
now wish they’d said something. By saying nothing, they are now paying
the price for their complicit silence. They are being painted with the
same brush as everyone else from their era. It is not so much a color as
a stain. It is probably not permanent, but it sure looks ugly right now.
The players union, the commissioner’s
office, and even the court of public opinion may have no harsher
penalties to levy on the offenders than a few missed paychecks, or
wagging fingers, but the vote here speaks loud and clear. There are
eight or so worthy candidates on the ballot. Some worthier than others,
based on their statistics. There is outrage over the vote in some
corners. Someone reading this may even be outraged at me, but I don’t
have a vote. I do have an opinion. Good.
January 6, 2013
Reflections of a
Mets Life: 2012
was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
continue a Dickensian form of expression—blame the Great Expectations
book on CD in my car—this memorable opening line by Charles Dickens
relates indeed to the 2012 Mets. In ways most of us are far too aware,
the year sucked. But it could also be a Pip, and, for the most part was,
until the clock turned to Game 84 on July 6. To that point, the club’s
45-38 mark tied them with the eventual world champion Giants for the NL
Wild Card. Even more shocking, the Mets had the third-highest run total
in the NL at that point with 384 (4.6 runs per game), trailing only the
Cardinals and Rockies. From that point on, the Mets scored just 266
times (3.4 RPG), worse than every team except Houston. They finished
29-50, with three six-game losing streaks (it felt like more) and were
so abysmal at home that they set a franchise record, and nearly broke a
century-old major league mark, by scoring three runs or fewer in 16
straight home games. The Marlins mercifully provided the pitching fodder
to finally snap the dubious streak, and provided a cushion for a 74-88
Mets team that deserved the basement.
That’s the worst of times, in a nutshell. The best of times are worth
polishing and looking at to brighten a winter’s day. If you scratch off
the dingy exterior a little—well, actually a lot—you’ll fondly recall
three moments in time from 2012.
the Mets had just managed to finish .500, I think this year would
universally be remembered as the Year of the No-Hitter. As time goes by
and more mediocre finishes pile up, the no-no will be what
differentiates this year from other disappointing seasons. In 50 years
the Mets had never had a no-hitter, but they had 35 one-hitters,
including five from Tom Seaver, a couple of which were perilously close
Astros and Rangers have been around roughly the same number of years as
the Mets and had multiple no-hitters—including a former ex-Met in
common, Nolan Ryan, who tossed no-no’s for both Texas teams. Yet neither
of those teams had a world championship. The Mets have two world
championships. It is hard to believe, given that the no-hitter is a
one-day wonder while a world championship starts with a year that goes
well enough to reach the playoffs, followed by the heavenly hand of
fate—a heavy heavenly hand of fate, in the case of the 1969 and 1986
Mets—in order to win a world championship. No no-hitters became a fluke,
like flicking a spinner 8,019 times and never having one of the outcomes
on the board come up. On June 1, 2012, the Mets hit the lottery.
old friend, Duck, and I had a pact in pre-cell phone times, when we were
younger, unmarried, childless, and irrational, that if it got past the
sixth inning of a possible no-hitter and neither of us was at the
ballpark, we would drop whatever we were doing to be at Shea by the
ninth inning. Of course, Shea never saw a Mets no-hitter and saw just
two in its long life: Jim Bunning’s perfect game for the Phillies in
1964 and Bob Moose of the Pirates, who skunked the Mets in September
’69—those resilient Mets proceeded to reel of nine straight wins to
clinch the division. If one thing truly went right in my Mets universe
in 2012, it was that Duck, who gave in and renewed his tickets after the
season started, was at Citi Field with his son for the no-hitter. I was
at home, my son asleep, but watching the last few innings with my wife
and daughter riveted to the little kitchen TV with me. We could have
moved to the room with HD TV and all, but I did not stir from my stool
until the game had been over for an hour.
no-hitter was laborious for all involved: the umpires, the fans, the
manager, and the players. Johan Santana had pitched a more dominant—and
far less stressful—96-pitch, four-hit shutout in his previous outing;
now, nothing short of a hit was driving him from the mound against the
Cardinals, even as his pitch count soared past 130. Terry Collins looked
as anxious as an expectant father in a waiting room in a pre-Lamaze
Method world. Despite labor pains in the form of Carlos Beltran and
Yadier Molina—and head nurse Mike Baxter taking one for the team—the
Mets gave birth to a no-hitter at 9:45 p.m. Name on birth the
The Cy Young
Whether he won the Cy Young or not, R.A. Dickey’s 2012 would go down as
one of the greatest seasons ever by a Mets hurler. If you judge by
Wins Above Replacement, it doesn’t approach any of Seaver’s
three Cy Young years (or several years when he didn’t win), but R.A. is
not Tom Terrific and vice versa. Seaver was a phenom, R.A. a reclamation
project. Seaver was fastballer, R.A. the knuckleballer. Seaver started
one—one? one!—All-Star Game (and his manager, Gil Hodges, was the man
who tabbed him with the deserving honor in 1970); R.A. got the shaft for
starting the 2012 game by T.F.C. LaRussa. When the Mets got dumb and
desperate, they traded Seaver for a parcel of prospects they hoped would
turn the team around; when R.A. was traded…
all see what the Mets did here, but Dickey was the only reason anyone
cared at all about the Mets in the second half. He even poured it on in
the final weeks after the dead ass Mets seemed sure to drag him off the
Cy Young pedestal. As Dickey has showed in his three memorable years
proudly wearing the blue and orange, he rose above the club. He played
the good soldier (almost) to the end. Even when they traded him, he
understood the reasoning and thanked the fans. No. Thank you.
back-to-back one-hitters were incredible, but his 20th win in the home
finale—the first Met to reach the milestone in 22 years—was the shining
bright moment of the second half. Hopefully R.A.’s legacy will be the
foundation of players sent from Toronto that changed the fortune of the
Mets. Even if that never pans out, R.A. Dickey brought the Mets
something that has been in very short supply: dignity.
the mystery of who will be on the All-Star team, the excitement
dissipated as soon as the record was set by David Wright the night
before the home finale. Hit number 1,419 enabled him to pass the
longest-serving Met, Ed Kranepool. Now that Wright is signed, he will
probably overtake all of Steady Eddie’s records for longevity during
Krane’s 18-season run from 1962-79. The silver lining is that Wright
should be around for a while. There are many other statistical
milestones left, but the biggest goal is to surpass Kranepool’s
mark—shared by several others—of appearing in two World Series in a Mets
uniform. I’d even sign on for one, as long as Wright is in the happy dog
pile for the final out.
December 26, 2012
First R.A. Dickey, now
Oscar Madison . This has been a tough
month on the Mets faithful. Going over R.A. Dickey’s Mets pedigree isn’t
necessary, but it’s been so long since Oscar took in a Mets game, I
think a moment about him is necessary.
Madison was a sports columnist for the
New York Herald Tribune who lived in a spacious Manhattan apartment
(Upper West Side in the original play’s script and on the
Upper East Side in reality).
Oscar, a bit of a slob, shared the apartment with compulsive neat-freak
Felix Unger, a commercial photographer, portraits a specialty. When the
show first appeared in 1970, there was a long truncated
beginning—insisted on by ABC so viewers wouldn’t think they were gay. It
On November 13,
Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence;
that request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but
he also knew that some day he would return to her. With nowhere else to
go, he appeared at the home of his friend, Oscar Madison. Several years
earlier, Madison's wife had thrown HIM out, requesting that HE never
return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each
The answer was no. That craziness created
hours of laughs that went way beyond the five-year TV run, later
remakes, a cartoon, and two films (I did not know until today that there
had been a movie sequel made three decades after the first; it seems the
less we know about The Odd Couple II, the better). In
syndication, The Odd Couple became a phenomenon, especially in
New York, where it was shown on WPIX five and six times a day. One of
the few perks of being sick as a kid in the 1970s was catching a couple
of midday Odd Couples.
Oscar, played by
Jack Klugman, who died on Christmas Eve at age 90, was a Mets
fan—the “I don’t root for teams, I root for stories” pabulum of modern
sports scribes be damned. He wore his Mets hat for most of the series.
The Odd Couple, never a ratings giant on ABC, died after five
years, but its death was actually a bit of a blessing. The show hadn’t
gotten stale, as longer-running series invariably do. Its 114
episodes—including a series-ending climax—created a large enough base of
programs to make it so that even at 40-plus showings a week on 11 Alive,
it still took close to a month to go through the whole run. Only to
start all over again.
I don’t recall ever turning off an Odd
Couple—my parents did it for me a few times. I knew the show so well
that I could tell which episode was coming up by the credit freeze frame
at the top of the show. It was good medicine to help forget the most
recent Mets loss of the Grant’s Tomb Era.
To me, there has never been another show
like it. Nor has there been another Oscar like Klugman, a veteran actor
of stage and TV guest star, including four Twilight Zone
episodes—doozies all. He later starred as a medical examiner on the
hour-long drama Quincy on NBC, which lasted longer on the air
than the OC. I enjoyed his impassioned speeches at about the
50-minute mark of nearly every episode, usually starting with the words:
“And if you think for one minute that I am going to sit by while
innocent women and children are threatened…”
He seems to have been born to play Oscar,
but he was not initially taken to by Felix—played by Tony Randall, who
died eight years ago. Randall wanted Mickey Rooney as Oscar, but
producer Garry Marshall—who could do no wrong on TV in the 1970s—coerced
Randall into teaming with Klugman. It was like the Mets bringing in the
manager for the first half of The Odd Couple’s heyday: Gil
Hodges. Everything just clicked.
Somewhere perhaps the original Oscar (Walter
Mathau) and Felix (Jack Lemmon, as well as Broadway original Art Carney)
are playing poker with Randall and Klugman. You’d like to think
this song is playing in the background. I could listen to it six
times a day.
December 20, 2012
The Spirit of
Mets Christmas Yet to Come
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently
approached. When it came, I bent down upon my knee; for in the very air
through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.
It was shrouded
in a deep black—no, blue—garment, which concealed its head, its face,
its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. Yet
after casting eyes on the floor before me, I could not help but notice
that the Spirit’s cloak concealed a misshapen head far out of proportion
with its body.
“I am in the
presence of the Ghost of Mets Christmas Yet To Come?” I asked.
answered not, but pointed downward with its hand.
“You are about to
show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in
the time before us,” I pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?”
The upper portion
of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the
Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer I received. The
Spirit turned its head, and a frigid breeze pulled off his hood,
revealing a most frightening visage.
He put both hands
to his head in an expression of surprise and then yanked the hood back
on his oversized noggin. He pointed downward with his hand again. “Does
your hand gesture mean the Mets will finish lower in the future? Is that
possible? I guess anything is possible with this team.”
The Spirit put
out his hands in a universal gesture of “Who knows?” Then he got back in
specter character. I shivered.
“Ghost of the
Future!” I exclaimed, “I fear you more than any specter I have seen. But
as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be
another fan from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do
it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”
It gave me no
reply. The hand was pointed straight before us.
“Lead on,” I
said. “The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know.
Lead on, Spirit.”
The Phantom moved
away as it had come toward me. I followed in the shadow of its dress,
which bore me up. “You know, this outfit is so much nicer than those
black uniforms,” I thought. “Maybe Mr. Met can wear this hooded death
garb the next time the Mets go a month without winning at home.”
seemed to enter the clubhouse; for the clubhouse rather seemed to spring
up about us, and encompass us of its own act. But there we were, in the
heart of it.
They sat in
chairs, watching a flat screen TV set in silence. Glancing around, I saw
Duda with his hand in cast, Santana with his shoulder heavily bound,
while Tejada stared at the screen, salsa music blaring through earbuds,
crutches against the an empty chair. All tried to look away but could
not. The voice of the announcer rang through every corner, calling all
from the sanctuary of the trainer’s room. Wright and Rubin, Murphy and
Martino, Cowgill and Coleman, player and press alike, none could look
away. “One out in the ninth, here is the 0-1 pitch to Joyce… popped up
behind the plate, near the stands… Thole makes the catch! Two down! R.A.
Dickey is now one out away from a perfect game against the Tampa Bay
Rays here at SkyDome.”
Quiet and dark,
beside me stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand. When I roused
myself from this thoughtful quest, I fancied from the turn of the hand,
and its situation in reference to myself, that the Unseen Eyes were
looking at me keenly. It made me shudder, and feel very cold. “And to
think I chased your entourage all over the ballpark to have my son’s
picture taken with you.”
His head turned
sharply at me. I demurred. “Lead on, Spirit,” I said, “lead on.” The
voice of the announcer grew louder and then fainter as we exited that
haunted place and walked into the darkness.
We stepped into
the sunshine into a large empty expanse. Cups and wrappers swirled
around in the wind. A crack of a bat and a ball skied toward us, to the
left of the orange pole. I reached out and braced for impact, only to
see the ball go right through me and bounce against a seat. Two men
appeared, one faster than the other.
“Got it! I got
it!! A major league home run from a former MVP.”
“Dude, Ryan Braun
hit that. Not only is he a cheater, he’s a Brewer. Throw it back, dude.”
“Are you kidding
me? That is a stupid tradition and it’s not even your tradition. This is
a major league home run. No Met has hit one of those in two weeks. And
who cares? I’m a Yankees fan. The only reason I’m even here is the
5-for-1 ticket deal. No Mets fan wants to come and see them lose their
100th game. How those prospects doing for you?”
“Every team has
“No one gets ‘em
like the Mets. See you, dude. I’m going to the Shake Shack. No waiting!”
“No kidding,” the
other said, as he trudged away, resigned to his fate.
“Spirit," said I,
shuddering from head to foot. “I see, I see. The case of this unhappy
man might be my own. My life tends that way, now. Merciful Heaven, what
I recoiled in
terror, for the scene had changed, and now he almost touched a bed: a
bare, uncurtained bed: on which, beneath a ragged sheet, there lay a
something covered up, which, though it was dumb, announced itself in
Then I recognized
it. This was my son’s bed! Unmade as usual, I tried to pull up the
sheets but my fingers could not touch. I looked closer. I hadn’t seen
these sheets before, the odd markings... a Yankees insignia!
“Am I that fan
who lay upon the bed?” I cried, upon my knees.
pointed from the sheets to me, and back again.
“No, Spirit! Oh
The finger still
cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me. I am not the fan I was. I
will not be the fan I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show
me this, if my team is past all hope?"
For the first
time the hand appeared to shake.
“Good Spirit,” he
pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature
intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these
shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.”
The kind hand
trembled. And the long finger had changed into… foam. It said, “Number
“I will honor the
Mets in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the
Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive
within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me
I may sponge away the writing on this sheet!”
But he was gone.
I jolted awake.
I looked around
my room. All seemed the same. I ran into the boy’s room afraid of what I
might see, but as I dashed inside I saw the Mets stickers still on the
window, the Mets garbage can in the corner, the Mets pennants on the
wall, and the poster taped to the dresser, though I told him not to do
it. Oh, let is stay there forever, even if David Wright is the only
person on the poster still on the Mets. And for all the aggravation they
cause, the Mets are still here, if just hidden in the basement. Or
damned close to it.
across the room from atop a shelf stood a bobblehead of Mr. Met. I’d
swear he winked at me, but he was quiet as ever, while I, well, shouted,
“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as
a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to
everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here!
Hallo indeed as I
dashed down the stairs for all that was waiting for me below. Real
people, not apparitions. The ghosts had worked their magic, but they
needn’t have bothered. Where else was I going? Going to Citi Field the
first chance I get. I will miss the Tiny Tim of the Mets, R.A. Dickey,
as I missed past Mets who moved on—or
were moved on—including
Jose and John Olerud, Coney and Matlack, Staub and Seaver, and many,
many others I have watched go. And more will go, that’s guaranteed. As
for the events of the future, who can tell? As for the team we’ll be
watching, that is no mystery.
As much as they
make me—and so many others—totally nuts, there is love for each of the
940 players who have worn the uniform in 51 seasons, plus others who
were sent away or had hard luck visit them before they ever even reached
New York. Ownership and management… they’re on their own. But right now,
when games are far away, and neither winning streak nor slump makes any
never mind, let’s all have good cheer. God bless us all, every one.
<> <> <>
Charles Dickens for stealing liberally and directly from A
Christmas Carol these last three weeks. We will have a
proper “Reflections of a Mets Life” for 2012 sometime soon. Until then,
the razzleberry dressing is on me.
December 13, 2012
The Spirit of
Mets Christmas (Recent) Past
“Are you the
Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?”
“Who, and what
“I am the Ghost
of Christmas Past.”
“No. Your past.”
“Um, crap. Line…”
“Cut… Great. We’re never going to get this
done. You’re supposed to go into your past Mets experiences, yada, yada,
yada. C’mon. This isn’t Shakespeare.”
“No, it’s Dickens.”
“Well you’ve already screwed that up. Mr. English
major, all high and mighty, you said last week that in the original
Dickens the ghost of Christmas Present comes first and then the
ghost of Christmas Past. But that
how Dickens wrote it.”
“That’s how they did it in Mr. Magoo’s
You are sad.”
“Well, Magoo is official enough to me. The
script here started with the real Dickens until I messed up. Now the
whole thing is preposterous. What were you going to tell me about my
“April 1962: The first ever Mets game.
They lose nine in a row before winning for the first time. April 1964:
Shea Stadium opens. Guess what? They lose. April 1967: Tom Seaver
debuts—they’ll still lose 100. April 1969: Tommie Agee launches the only
fair ball into the Shea upper deck to win Gary Gentry’s first start.
April 1970: Seaver fans 19 Padres, including the last 10—still the
record for most K’s in a row. April 1978: First April without Seaver. I
attend the second game of the year. We would have frozen to death if my
dad hadn’t gotten us out of there early. Missed Ed Kranepool’s
game-winning home run, though. April 1981: Tim Leary hurts his arm after
two innings the first Sunday of the year in frigid Chicago. What was
Torre thinking? And, of course, there was April 1983, when Duck, Des,
Lerno and I—we can’t get in trouble now, can we?—skipped school senior
year to see the Seaver return. It was my first Opening Day and…”
“Now you’re trying to be the English major
again after flubbing Dickens. You looked that up.”
“Of course I did. Colton was dead a decade before
A Christmas Carol was even written. C3
is more obscure today than Choo Choo
“That’s the problem. You already remember
all this stuff from long ago and you’ll talk about it nonstop if no one
stops you. I don’t need to come here in the middle of the night and
remind you about decades ago. It’s what happened last season you can’t
“You mean 2012? The Mets finished fourth.”
“That doesn’t count. They finish fourth
“OK. There was the no-hitter.”
“Which you were lucky to catch on TV. You
missed the first five innings.”
“Well, I saw the last four. R.A. threw
back-to-back one-hitters. I saw those.”
“You saw, what, four, five innings between
the two games on television. And you missed Opening Day for the first
time since Art Howe was manager. You didn’t even see it on TV.”
“I was in Florida. Family. Grandparents.
Disney. Overeating. Listen, there was a lot going on in 2012. I was
helping coach my daughter’s softball team. My son was on the Mets in
Little League, if that counts as watching them play in person.”
“The Who kicked butt! And Roger Waters
with Eddie Vedder? Epic. I was moved enough to make a pledge. And you?”
Don Kirshner. There are no pockets in this robe. I will get
around to it.”
“...You bet. Yes, yes. I’m the one who’s
supposed to be making the threats here. So I’ll tell you that the 2012
Mets season was a handful of momentous events followed by weeks and
weeks of garbage time. No-hitter, one-hitter, another one-hitter, 20
wins. But it was mostly 1-2-3 inning upon 1-2-3 inning of Andres Torres,
Josh Thole, and Ronny Cedeno. Take it from a ghost—or someone playing
one—’62 was more fun. At least in ’62 they lost in grand style.”
“I’m calling my agent. I’m out of here.
Roll the metsilverman.com 2012 Citi chart already.”
Captain’s Log 2012 Citi
Mets Rec, Pos
Who hit the HRs
A late but great start to my year and Mets 50th
anniversary conference at Hofstra.
LA, 8-5 L
I waited three months for this? Dickey in relief
allowed HR. At least Batista got the L.
Was, 5-2 L
Had to hurry
back, huh?. Cy Young candidates go opposite of Nov. vote; Mets 1 win
in last 12.
Mia, 6-1 W
Three wins I saw were all Thursday matinees.
Dickey CG; Torres, of all people, had a big day.
Atl, 3-2 L
Last Chipper game in New York ends like most
games he played in Flushing.
Pit, 6-5 W
Davis, Barajas, Wright, Presley
Keith shaves stache, Snyder steals Baxter HR,
Wright has clutch HR, R.A.on pure guile wins 20th--and Cy Young.
Parnell bails him out.
Batista, R.A., Parnell
Saw more losses in 2011 than games in 2012, but
R.A. gems salve wounds of missed first half. Resolution: Go more
before break in 2013.
Since '09 opening
Before this year, an average of 1.6 homers were
hit in my presence at Citi (.84 by Mets); in 2012 it was 2 (.83 by
Mets). Fences solved everything.
December 6, 2012
The Spirit of
The last couple of years I have recommended a Mets
gift of the year for the holidays. I have gone the team route before,
recommending the Mets Kids Club, which I am renewing—my son loves it, even
if the seats this past year were two rows from the top corner of the
promenade, miles from home plate. But his ticket was included in the kid
package and as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, kids under 10 don’t
care where they sit as long as they’re at the park. And should they
complain, tell them to sit down and watch the game or risk missing going
to the kids area for hitting Wiffle balls off the tee—and if that
doesn’t work, confiscate any handheld device/DS/BS, and leave your phone
in your pocket, where it should be at the game. Unless, of course that
device contains a Kurt Smith E-Guide for Citi Field, last year’s top gift suggestion,
which is still a cheap yet wonderful way to learn the ins and outs of
Surprisingly, there has not yet to be a
printed book on the gift list as our official Present of the Year. Wait
Well, maybe a moment longer. Before we dive into
another author’s very worthy work, the metsilverman.com PR machine
compels me to disclose that this gift recommendation is for those who
have, of course, already purchased my books. Available online and
in stores are Best Mets and New York Mets: The Complete
Illustrated History. 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die
still sells as well as any Mets book around the holidays. They all make
great gifts and I appreciate you thinking of the books—and me—any time
And, I must interject that our legal
department insists I say that you are welcome to give the gifts listed
above and below for whatever holiday you choose to celebrate. Or not
With all that said, I present the Mets
Christmas, er, Holiday Present of the Year, not from my desk, but it
will be sitting on my desk for years to come. It is The Happiest Recap.
There have been past books on Mets history
covering the day by day doings of the team, but nothing before contains
the scope, breadth, and authority of The Happiest Recap. Written
by Faith and Fear in Flushing mensch Greg W. Prince, it distills the
greatest games in team history. To say I have been waiting for this my
whole life is not hyperbole. I have stacks of books of this type
covering a dozen or so other teams, dog-eared 1980s recollections
mostly, plus hardcovers, magazines, and even a rough manuscript someone
sent to Total Sports. I have worked on projects requiring close study of
these, or at least keep them handy. I even created my own collection of
greatest days for every team in Big League Ballparks a few years back. But nothing I
have seen before compares with what Prince has created.
It starts with the
source. No matter how many Mets sites start up and close down, dwindle
and dawdle, the top of the line is Faith and Fear, which is a
partnership between Prince and Jason Fry, another superb and successful
writer. I have thought of their site as my morning Joe (I don’t drink
coffee) and the best thing on the web since I stumbled across Messrs.
Prince and Fry a few months after they started in 2005. There is even a site that
functions to critique the contributions of Faith and Fear.
If only Mets ownership converted to this form of worship, they’d have
saved millions in debt payments for a new stadium and we might have a
real team in a real dump we could love. But, Jacob Marley warned, one
spirit at a time.
There are other Mets sites I have come
upon before and since that I cherish, but for writing, reading, and
researching, FAFIF is the Big Kahunah. Greg, the Prince of Mets
Kahunahs, turns 50 this month. He is celebrating the big day next
Saturday, December 15, from noon to 2 p.m. at Foley’s at 18 West 33rd
Street in Manhattan. I don’t generally get out much after baseball
season, but I’ve cleared the holiday calendar and, barring emergency,
will be there for the soiree and to purchase my very own signed copy of
the first edition of The Happiest Recap.
A couple of years ago, Greg released the
collection in a different form on Faith and Fear in Flushing (which, I
should mention, is also the name of his tour de force first book). In
version on his site, the wins—it’s only wins, folks, the losses get
rehashed enough—were broken up by game numbers and rated by importance
in team history. Here’s the best Opening Days, and the best game twos,
and threes. Here is a sample. In book form it is set up differently.
And there will be four parts. This initial offering goes by First Base,
perhaps we can nickname it the Kranepool edition, for the guy who manned
the bag the most from 1962-73 (he made 1,038 of his 1,302 starts at the
position during the span covered in the book, according to numbers from
another of the big cheese Mets sites:Ultimate Mets Database).
So as not to screw up the explanation, I
corresponded with the author via email about the book’s specific makeup.
Here is what the first edition of The Happiest Recap, covering
the years 1962-73 contains:
An introductory section
with three short essays (a tribute to Bob Murphy; explanation of the
series you are about to read; brief consideration of the period
covered by this book and why, beyond "duh," it's called First Base.
1962-64 (Games 1-29)
1965-68 (Games 30-56)
1969 (Games 57-85,
1970-72 (Games 86-106)
1973 (Games 107-127,
A bit on sources &
“The next three volumes,”
Greg says, “will be aligned similarly, with five chronological chapters
apiece for clarity, but really, game after game after game. The emphasis
is still on the individual wins, but as we go along, there is a kind of
an organic narrative that forms to offer a flowing history of the
franchise, with time taken for an occasional detour or digression...
just like baseball (and, to a certain extent, like
Baseball the Ken Burns program that was something of
an inspiration in all this). I want it to read not like a team-approved
which case it would skip from 1973 to 1984—or
as an encyclopedic adjunct to what fans like you and I already know, but
as folktales, myths and memories, the way we as fans experience the Mets
in whatever year we got hooked and stayed hooked. “500 bedtime stories”
is a line I am
using with conviction. (But not in that cookie-cutter ‘Tales
from the Something or Other Dugout’
grand moment of justification came during the Hofstra Mets Conference
back in April. Greg, moderator of the brownbag lunchtime sessions,
turned them into absorbing and riotously fun Mets confessionals (with
penance already having been served by all in attendance).
“I threw open the floor to
a simple question: tell me about your favorite game,” he says. “The
answers were rich and detailed and emotional and EVERY ONE of them
(except for ‘yesterday
against the Marlins’)
was already included on my 500-game docket. That alone convinced me I
was on the right track with this.
“Some of the material has
been adapted whole from the blog series. Some of it (certainly the
postseason stuff) is brand new. I started with a base of 326 games—the
Happiests and the Also Happys from last year. Dropped some of those I
used previously because they were redundant or not overly compelling (I
am no longer concerned whether I have a ‘64th
game of the season,’
for example, because the perfect-season conceit is not the deal here).
Broke some previous entries into multiple entries to let the stories
appreciate that every win from the stretch drive of 1973, starting with
the second game in Pittsburgh on 9/18/73, gets its own treatment). Added
others not written about at all on FAFIF in 2011 but really, really
wanted to. I got it down to 661 games before I reached ‘no,
that HAS to be in there!’
territory... but eventually the total became 500 (which will inch up to
501 or 502 by the final volume because of historical circumstances and
wanting to end on a high note).”
My office bookshelves are
already double stacked, with books on the floor and in boxes, but I will
find room for all four books in this series. Greg even addresses readers
who will not want, but need, all four books when the series is
“Perhaps when we have all four volumes we will box them into a beautiful
gift pack or something, but 500 games as written by me in one volume
might be a bit unwieldy. We’ll
see if there is any call for it. I want it to be accessible, both
mentally and physically. (And we’re
figuring out the Kindle aspect of it since people seem to like that sort
If this is not your cup of tea, be my
guest and spend $100 or more on a jersey for someone the Mets might
trade today, or for a jersey style the team may deem as yesterday’s news
tomorrow. I like my Mets T-shirts, but I don’t need everyone on every
street to know my Metsdom by watching me pass in the latest and greatest
clothing collection the Mets have put up for sale. If they can’t tell
where my allegiance lies by my beat-up Mets cap and even more beaten-up
soul, who need ‘em? The Mets pay numerous young men very handsomely to
be their billboards and runway models. When checks from the Mets start
coming this way, I’ll dress accordingly. In the meantime, I choose to
overflow my bookshelf rather than my closet. I am in for Prince’s piece,
complete with its information, confirmation, and affirmation.
OK, so this ran longer than I expected,
but it would not be a Prince production without a little more length and
significant commentary than most. I call it value. I’ll see you December
15 at Foley’s at noon. For now, let’s end with Greg’s parting words from
Mets... but come back by April.”
December 5, 2012
Visits of Three More Ghosts”
Around this time of year I get a little Scroogie. No, not the cartoon
concoction by departed Mets great Tug McGraw; I mean A Christmas
Carol. Good things always seem to start with A Christmas Carol.
The line at the top here—out of the mouth of the late Jacob Marley—is in
every incarnation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. And it
is a great cameo role for an actor, a voice,
a Goofy, you name it.
top of the animated Dickens genre, Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol,
led to the creation of one of my all-time favorite short-lived shows—The Famous Adventures of
Mr. Magoo, which, while finding a link for this post, I was
stunned to learn is now available with all the old Magoos
on DVD for the first time (now I can put away the bootlegs I
bought online, which my wife only wishes I was kidding about). All-time
favorite runner-up Underdog is now available, too.... But here I am, tearing
open gifts when the tree is barely up and I was supposed to be expecting
three ghosts and all. Where was I? Oh, yes: Bah, humbug.
the next three Thursdays we will be looking at the present, past, and
future—most say past, present, and future, but I go with the Dickensian
order this time of year.
Expect the first ghost to strike tomorrow, bringing news of the Mets
Gift of the Year and a way to make the spirit of Christmas present even better
with a festive, but not very far, Mets holiday roadtrip.
next ghost will arrive a week later, on December 13, bringing a lot of news about my Mets
experience this year. If that doesn’t sound like a frightening ghost
includes the last Citi Field appearances by Chipper Jones and Miguel
(Chains a rattling.)
finally, we’ll end on December 20 with Reflections of a Mets Life: 2012.
don’t usually like to say what is going to happen on the site because
there may be a mechanical failure, or power failure, or motivation
failure, or I get hit by a bus, or we all get hit by a bus. According to
the Mayans, the world is supposed to end on December 21, which has me a
day out ahead of the end—some who have known me a long time may tell you
that me being ahead of schedule is a sign the world is ending. While the
Mayan prediction has created actual panic in
Russia and other locales in the East, we are so much smarter
in the West that NASA feels obliged to discuss it. (I would feel more
confident if noted
Cal Tech theoretical physicist Dr. Sheldon Cooper and his colleagues
issued some type of statement.) If the world really does end, the Wilpons
will get the last laugh because they
won’t have to pay David Wright one more dime!
while waiting for the posts, or Christmas, or the end of the world, why not watch
the Scrooge who has it all
(since Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol is somehow not
included on the DVD that just shot to the top of my Christmas list). And
how could a people pick the world to end four days before Christmas?
That is just cruel, Mayans. Especially to Mets fans, who have already
seen their baseball world end countless times. Oh, we’ll show them, and
live it up. Ghosts and all.
November 27, 2012
was very easy to dislike
Marvin Miller. I never met Miller, 95, who died three decades
after he stepped down as head of the Major League Players Association,
but I spent a couple of summers staring at the brick wall of his
negotiated legacy—the ruining of 1981 and the abrupt end of the 1994
season. In 1981 there was a postseason, but it was so convoluted it
actually kept two teams home (St. Louis and Cincinnati) who would have
won their divisions in anything even remotely resembling a regular
regular season. But 1994 was worse—canceling the end of the season made
me wish there hadn’t been a season at all; and giving out individual
awards that year was, to me, an utter abomination.
1994 Miller had been retired for a dozen years, but his specter hung
around the humongous dollar amounts and egos during the nuclear winter
of a lost summer. And fall. There were other stoppages as well: 1972,
1985, 1990, and a few very near misses. It was like England and France
in a near perpetual state of war between the Hundred Years War and the
Napoleonic War, a period of 500 years or so. For those hardcore fans
lucky enough not to remember the two big strikes, each one of them felt
like half a millennium. My faith in the game was monumentally shaken.
And I am pretty hardcore.
one was more hardcore about unions or more supremely gifted at
representing them than Marvin Miller. When he left the steelworkers
union for baseball in 1966, owners had a hard grip on the game. The
reserve clause bound players to teams for their entire careers, as it
had since the 1880s. Fans could sympathize with players wanting to earn
more, but ownership held the promise that the status quo not only kept
ticket prices reasonable, it also kept your favorite player in your
favorite uniform until he was too old or too banged up to be of use. Or
perhaps trade him for someone else, with neither man coming or going
having a say in the matter. Unless he quit and did something else for a
living. Rebels were blackballed.
Players toiled summer and winter to try to earn a living and keep their
place in organized baseball. There was no security if something happened
to their bodies. There were always more where they came from.
fan, it was hard to wean yourself away from the plantation mentality of
what was good for the owner was good for the fan. Dynasties provided the
image that things were swell and didn’t change. The Yankees, the
Dodgers, the Orioles, even Charlie Finley’s colorful Oakland A’s took
turns dominating the game. Summers came and went uninterrupted. Each
October brought a Fall Classic and then there was football and Christmas
and the Super Bowl and Valentines Day and hey, here comes baseball
again, in the quaint and bright setting of Florida and Arizona. The
players—the good ones—would be back, and the old or injured ones, well,
survival of the fittest and all. No multi-year contracts to muddy up the
Marvin Miller took over a union that had no full-time employees and in a
few years broke up the old boy fiefdom, unrigged the machine and fixed
it so that jackpots found their way into the players’ pockets. If family
ownership didn’t have the capital to keep up, well, survival of the
fittest and all.
took a lot of angst and growing up to see the other side of the
argument. Neither my family nor my team was pro union and it sure looked
like the players union was ruining the game that fans before me had
enjoyed uninterrupted. It wasn’t fun to see the word “strike” not
confined to an umpire’s right arm but threatening to blow apart a whole
season, a whole way of life. It was not The Grapes of Wrath, not
life or death, but in the same way it was a story of people who had one
way of making a living, a great living, and their right to make it. If I
had been given the athletic talent to stand with them, I certainly would
have. So I reluctantly stood. If only figuratively. Even that was hard.
I was angry but there is a difference between what is right and what is
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who was at the wheel when every advantage
shifted from the owner to the player, is in the Hall of Fame. Marvin
Miller is not. Is that fair? Baseball isn’t always fair. Sometimes it
takes time for change to come to it. And acceptance.
November 14, 2012
Cy Young balloting is over and it wasn’t even close. R.A. Dickey won all
the swing states. Women loved him. Minorities—and aren't knuckleballers
a minority—loved him. Anyone who’s ever been on the verge of seeing
their dreams forever cast aside yet did not give up. Those people loved
him. What’s not to love?
Writers love him, too, but sometimes it’s tough love. Back in August,
when the Mets were in the groove of never winning another home game,
this writer wrote off R.A.’s chances of capturing the Cy Young Award. It
was the game against the Rockies where these two brutal teams were tied
1-1 after seven innings and Terry Collins pulled Dickey, for reasons
that still defy logic. He got the no decision and the Mets—stop me if
you’ve heard this—lost the game in agonizing fashion. The odds seemed
impossible for Dickey to get the 20 wins that would put him in the Cy
conversation, while staying among the leaders in other stats: the
ridiculous strikeout totals, the high innings count, the not giving up
with a team that had packed it in. And every time you saw one of these
talking heads on TV, they were coming up with every reason possible for
someone besides Dickey to win the NL Cy Young, though they did concede
it would be close. I remember one of them saying—was it Fox News?—that
Aroldis Chapman deserved the award as much as anyone. When the votes
were finally revealed, Chapman received one vote. As the saying goes,
that’s only one more than I got.
Clayton Kershaw was the smart pick for those who like to crunch their
numbers sideways and toss out the wins, which, of course are as
worthless as Greek currency nowadays. Yet there was a year (1986) when
Met Roger McDowell won the same number as Kershaw this year—and he did
it in relief. Not that a reliever can’t win the Cy Young Award, though I
don’t think it’s advisable. The last reliever to win the award,
French-Canadian export Eric Gagne, was later found out to be juicing in
two different languages.
And there is Gio Gonzalez, whom I saw beat
R.A. live in a head-to-head outing when the Mets were treating everyone
who came to Flushing like royalty. Gonzalez did quite well for his first
year in the National League, though pitching for a first-place team and
beating the Mets three times makes his feats seem less impressive. The
one time the Mets beat him? Dickey was pitching. But there I go talking
about wins again for an award that is named for Cy Young because he had
the most wins in history—not that he knew from WAR (he retired before
became part of the language). Beyond those 511 meaningless wins, old
Cy’s WAR is also the best for any pitcher in history.
Not even close, really.
you dug up Cy, who’d be 145 years old now, he’d give you an earful about
wins. He pitched 22 years for a lot of teams, some of them lousy—the man
came up as a Cleveland Spider, for corn’s sake—and he’d surely tell you
wins mean even more for a pitcher who is on a crappy team. And R.A. was
on a crappy team. With a crappy offense. And a crappy owner, who will
find himself in a palace revolt if he doesn’t sign the best pitcher in
the league. And just the third Met, and first since Dwight Gooden in
1985, to claim the Cy Young. The award, not the corpse (though Cy’s
1,217 career base on balls would give new meaning to The Walking Dead).
was nervous watching the pre-award show with the three finalists
interviewed on the MLB channel like it was The Dating Game. “So
R.A., if you were a pie, what flavor would you be?” (I am surprised I
did not see FNP Justin Turner emerge from a bush and plop a shaving
cream pie into Dickey’s face.) And what is the deal with there being
three finalists for the award? I understand people like awards shows—I
don’t understand why they like awards shows—but the drawn-out
nature of this made me long for the days of the press release.
that it’s over, we can all smile. The Mets did not blow this one. They
did not trade Jose Reyes and four other starters to another country for
a handful of beans. (Next time get a no-trade, Jose.) And if you’re
listening Sandy—not the one that is still disrupting life and property
in the tri-state area—Alderson must make sure to keep R.A. around.
You’re lucky to have him. Or anyone that has Mets fans thinking about
awards come fall. Team awards don’t come in on my TV.
October 24, 2012
Letters to the Met-idor
A couple of times per
year I dump out a mailbag with a few questions (and answers) from emails
at metsilverman.com HQ. I actually made this a World Series-timed
edition because I wanted to include my last correspondence with Andy
Esposito as editor of Mets Inside Pitch. He asked me to hold onto
the news of the magazine’s
final edition until the news became public. I hope to hear from Andy
again and see him at the ballpark, but Inside Pitch has seen its
last issue after 30 years of ups and downs with this up-and-down
franchise. The cover of the last issue simply says, “Amazing,” with a
backdrop of past covers; if you see the magazine around, pick up this
collector’s item. Inside Pitch is yet another casualty in the I-Padification
of printed matter as well as people’s dwindling interest in reading
about the Mets. But when the Red Sox magazine is also going bye bye, you
can be sure this is not just a Mets thing. I remember the elation when I
first saw a writeup of one of my books in the magazine. Like news of a
Mets win, the feeling never got old. Thank you, Inside Pitch. You
will be missed.
With that in mind, let
me say to those of you who read my books, follow my site, or just happen
to have come across this: Thanks for reading and for being Mets fans.
It’s too hard a road to hoe without some company. And the going will be
a little harder without my favorite Mets publication. Or, as you’ll also
see in this mailbag, my favorite third-base coach.
The Last Inside
Hope all is well.
It took one year later, but looks like
Mets Inside Pitch will go the way of Maple
Street’s Annuals and the dinosaurs.
They’re also killing
Diehard, our Red
Sad, yes, but we’re now also another victim of the
digital/online age, I guess.
Keep in touch,
As someone who received every issue of the newspaper/magazine since I
won a one-year subscription—along with a Croton watch—from Ed Coleman on
a WFAN call-in Mets Extra quiz in 1997, I am saddened by the demise of
Inside Pitch. I started reading the magazine around 1992. When I
discovered it had been around for a decade before that, I could not
believe I had gone so long without knowing about its existence. I am
still amazed that I got through college in the NASCAR belt—during the
greatest period of Mets success—by enduring local newspapers that deemed
one sentence and a box score for each game to be sufficient baseball
You, Joe McDonald, and everybody who contributed to the magazine through
the years should be commended for a great job. I have stacks of
Inside Pitch around my office and just today I recycled a copy with
R.A. grimacing on the cover from last year, an issue you gave me
multiple issues of because of your kind coverage of one of my books. As
I slid the issue into the bulging paper bag, I gave R.A. a high five. I
didn’t know I’d be saying farewell to Inside Pitch as well. I
will miss Inside Pitch more than Jose Reyes—and I was a big fan
of his in blue and orange.
There was a great working relationship between your crew and the
Maple Street Press Annual. Now we are both gone. My specialty in
newspapers was layout and taking story ideas and finding the right image
to go with the right story and working on spreads. I use pictures on my
site once or twice a year—otherwise links seem sufficient in this
medium. We may be old school, but it was a hell of a school and it
taught us well. We will use those lessons again. Hopefully together
‘The Walking Man’
Touches Them All
Well, another member from the Miracle Mets has passed: Eddie Yost, the
esteemed traffic cop along the third-base lines. He joins Agee,
Cardwell, Clendenon, Frisella (3 games), Koonce, and Tugger as the
’69ers who’ve taken that long Shea escalator ride to the upper deck.
Sad news about “The Walking Man.” He played when
some “experts” complained that the likes of Ed Yost and Ted Williams
needed to swing at more borderline pitches to help their teams. Now Yost
would be getting $10 mil a year, or at least what Placido Palanco used
I was queried by the obit writer for the New York Times. I had a bunch of stuff from the Hall of
Fame clip file on him that I used to edit his piece in The Miracle Has Landed. It was too little and too late to
aid in his obit, but I was glad to get a little extra study in on “The
The nitty gritty is
that he was a great guy, a gym teacher, a World War II veteran, and a
product of NYU. Yost never spent a day in the minor leagues and was a
superb third baseman, team leader, and player rep when that could get
you blackballed. He was not a big home run hitter because Griffith
Stadium in Washington made the original Citi Field look like a bandbox.
Pitchers could not help but walk the eagle-eyed guy. Yost walked
100-plus times eight different seasons, including a staggering 151 in
1956. He led the league in bases on balls six times and in on
base-percentage twice. Despite a career batting average of .254, Yost’s
career OBP was .394.
But what I remember
about him was Lindsey Nelson saying every first inning, “And ‘The
Walking Man,’ Eddie Yost along the coaching lines at third.”
The day his death was announced, the Tigers—one of his former teams—were
playing the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS. (The only time Yost saw the
postseason was the 1969 and 1973 seasons coaching for the Mets.) In that
game last week, Detroit third-base coach Gene Lamont held Omar Infante,
who had just stolen a base, at third base on a softly-hit single. The
throw came into second and Infante could have scored easily. He never
crossed home plate. Yost would never have thrown away offense like that.
He could not afford to be overly cautious with the popgun Mets hitters
of the 1970s. He had the livelihoods of some of the great pitchers of
the decade depending on his right arm. “Eddie Yost is waving Kingman
home and he slides home safely. It’s now a 2-1 Pirates lead.” Runs were
hard to come by, and Yost squeezed out every drop like a kid raised
during the Depression.
That he was a
right-hand man of Gil Hodges spoke volumes as well. Yost was on the
greatest coaching staff of the greatest manager in Mets history, a group
that included Rube Walker, Joe Pignatano, and Yogi Berra. (Hodges and
Walker from the 1969 staff predeceased him.) There were other coaches
flitting in and out, but native New Yorker Yost was with the Mets for
nine seasons, through four managers, until he left for Boston in 1977
because M. Donald Grant—here’s a shocker—wouldn’t pay him what he was
worth. R.I.P., Eddie Yost.
Grading on a Curve
your analysis [of Mets grades for the year]. R.A. Dickey almost can
erase such a sour feeling about this season all by himself. Only way he
doesn’t win Cy Young is if there are replacement writers voting or an
anti-NY and Tenn. bias. I think you graded Torres too high. From Opening
Day he showed that he couldn’t field, terrible judgment on the bases,
and not much of a hitter. Couldn’t understand why he got so much PT.
Niese’s success this
year was under the radar. Never much of a Hairston fan, a space filler
on a bad team. Most disappointing player to me is Thole. His was a nice
story. I thought he would hit enough for average and walk a lot with few
strikeouts to offset his lack of power. Player who most lived up to my
expectations was Ramon Ramirez. Saw him in Spring Training on St.
Patrick’s Day in Fort Myers a couple of years ago and he didn’t miss any
bats, including a home run to Fernando Martinez. Later that season in
Fenway I predicted a HR when he came in and sure enough…. Right handed
lineup with Bay, Nickeas, Cedeno, among others, was unwatchable.
A few of these guys probably got a higher grade
than they deserved during the giddy first half—the first semester report
was written around the time they beat the Phillies two out of three just
before the All-Star break. To help my second-semester grading I went on
ESPN.com and found the team’s stats broken down by half. Torres, Cedeno,
and Turner all had far better numbers than reality would seem to warrant
for a team that couldn’t hit lefties. Manny Acosta’s second-half numbers
Dyar Miller good, in reference to the 1980 Mets reliever who
had superb stats during the short-lived Mets renaissance of June and
July of that year. Though like Acosta, I recall very few moments where
he got anyone out in a key spot at Shea or Strat-o-matic.
Johan Santana deserved
an F for his second half, but given that he was hurt and coming off the
no-hitter, I let him pass with a D-. And you are right, Ramon Ramirez
does indeed suck. Elvin Ramirez may yet tend that way as well. Josh
Thole played himself into a backup and Mike Nickeas should only be
allowed out of the minors in a dire catching emergency. For another
R.A. Dickey was getting an A+ without even looking
at the stats, but your note made me see look up how he compares to past
Mets in the new hot stat, Wins Above Replacement. His season ranks 19th
all-time according to WAR, but
it’s quite a list. Dwight Gooden tops the list with his
stellar 1985, but Doc is nowhere else in the top 20. Tom Seaver is
listed eight times—years listed by highest WAR—for 1973, ’71, ’75, ’69,
’68, ’74, ’67, and ’70; for that last year Tom Teriffic’s 5.4 WAR tied
R.A.’s 2012 and Craig Swan’s 1978 (talk about a guy not getting much
support). Also in the top 20: Jerry Koosman (1968, ’69, ’73), Jon
Matlack (1974, ’72), Johan Santana (2008), Pedro Martinez (2005), Al
Leiter (1998), Frank Viola (1990), and Sid Fernandez (1992). These
pitchers had higher WARs than those garnered in what I consider three of
the best seasons I have witnessed: David Cone’s 1988, Bret Saberhagen’s
1994, and Dwight Gooden’s 1984. Jerry Koosman’s 1976, which as a kid was
the final flickering light as the last great season by a Met for what
seemed like an eternity, clocks in at number 33. Go figure. While I am
bombarding you with numbers, R.A. in 2012 was eighth all-time for the
Mets in strikeout to walk ration in a season (4.259), which is
staggering for a knuckleballer.
So considering that only four of these two dozen
seasons listed above garnered a Cy Young Award for a Met, I would not be
surprised if the voters bathed themselves in obscure numbers and
rationalized a way to give the Cy Young to someone else. But if you look
WAR for 2012, defending Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw has a
higher number than Dickey, but the hot pick—Atlanta reliever Craig
Kimbrel—has a WAR down the list. The only thing I know is, I’ll go to
WAR with R.A.
Get Me Rewrite!
May be needing an update on your book for NOHAN!!!!!
a bad penny, or a bad Mets season that won’t go away—I’m back. While
other teams were punching their cards for the World Series, I realized
after signing off on the Mets Monday Monologue that I had plum forgot to
do a couple of annual postings to provide the Mets public, which this
time of year is either starved for information or licking its wounds
from another lost season, info of the useless kind. Like the
metsilverman.com Favorite Non-Playing Met Award.
like to pinpoint the origin of the award to 1990 Mets catcher Mackey
Sasser—one in a long line of players I was convinced would become a
quality ballplayer if given the at bats (or in Mackey’s case, a position
that didn’t require him to
throw the ball back to the pitcher). There have been many
others who fit the bill of misfit Met who did not get a real shot at
decent playing time. Some had shining moments of greatness: Todd Pratt
and Heath Bell. The rest—Tim
Bogar, Chris Jones, Jason Hartke, Joe McEwing, Mark Johnson, Dicky
Gonzalez, Jeff Keppinger, Chris Woodward, and on and on—prove
that those running the team know more about player acquisition and
development than yours truly. Probably.
an awards show, we can’t simply read off the winner and let it go at
that. So what follows are the recent history and drama paragraphs.
Evans won the award in 2009 and 2010, the first repeat FNP Met—yet Jerry
Manuel played him grudgingly despite good results (.306 average and .472
slugging in just 37 begrudging plate appearances in 2010). With Manuel
fired after the 2010 season—clearly caused by his abuse of Evans—Nick
got another try under a new skipper. Terry Collins sent Nicky boy to the
plate a career-best 194 times. Still, the Mets continually designated
him for assignment when a roster move needed to be made. Evans wound up
with the Pirates in 2012. He never got out of the minors and spent most
of the year out of action after breaking three bones in his glove hand
hustling after a foul ball.
Orville Pridie, who like Evans grew up in the Phoenix area, joined the
legion of Mets with moxie yet seemingly glued to the bench. Injuries got
him to the majors in 2011, where he showed a good glove and surprising
power with 18 extra-base hits and 20 RBI while getting into 101 games.
He started 45 of those games and was the rare Met who actually hit far
better at Citi Field than on the road: .260/.339/.450 vs.
.204/.281/.296. The Mets, who had claimed Pridie from the Twins the
previous year when Collins was overseeing the minor league operation,
let him go as a free agent after 2011, even though he was probably one
of the few players they could actually afford. Let loose on the world,
he soon signed with Oakland—and was suspended for 50 games for violating
MLB’s drug policy. Now we know where his surprising power came from. He
then went to Philly, where he batted .300 in 2012. Of course that was in
just 10 at bats. He did homer, double, and drive in all the Philly runs
in a 4-3 loss to Atlanta on July 8, the last day before the All-Star
break. When they came back from All-Stars Pridie was back on the bench
and soon returned to minor league obscurity. The first cheater in the
FNP bunch—that we know of, these guys trend toward the obscure—we need
to wash our mouth out for the FNP Award for 2012.
Rinse, spit, repeat.
right. This year’s winner showed grit and determination. He came off the
bench as needed, putting together his signature moment of 2012 by
working out a game-tying walk in the ninth inning against the Marlins in
April, the best at bat this writer witnessed in person in 2012—albeit in
a greatly reduced schedule for me. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2012 FNP
Met is... Justin Turner.
Turner generally provided a competent bat for a mostly incompetent
offense. If he had any ability to play the outfield he would have seen
far more playing time, but as it was, his starts dropped by more than
two-thirds over 2011, from 102 to 31. But he still administered a mean
shaving cream pie, doing so on the elevated stage after Johan Santana’s
no-hitter. He came through all year, just not in a way most Mets fans
could see. Because he was an infielder on a team whose only stabilizing
force was its infield, he saw plenty of pine time, but he was ever
ready. In fact, the Mets bench, infield, and rotation was pretty good.
It was the outfield, catching, and relief pitching that kept them from
reaching .500 for the fourth straight year. You can’t blame Justin
fete him instead. There wasn’t a whole lot of competition other than
Ronny Cedeno, but most of the players you figured would be
reserves—Scott Hairston, Lucas Duda, Andres Torres—played far too often
to get that FNP flavor going. Oh, fire-hued haired pinch hitter, we call
you Burner. Now we call you FNP Met. Come and get your
aware that this award is often enjoyed in absentia because the
non-playing Met—favorite or not—is often on his way to another locale
where he hopes to play more. We hope you stick around, Turner.
October 19, 2012
Delighting in the
Misery of Others Since 1976
long after becoming a Mets fan in 1975 I thought I might double my
pleasure by also following the Yankees. It was all just baseball, right?
Ah, youth. After a couple of weeks surveying Yankees fans, I ended the
ill-fated experiment, though I continued to watch Yankees games on TV,
only rooting against them.
Yankees made the Mets look like amateurs throughout 1976, with their
revamped and packed new/old stadium leading local sportscasters to
intone the name of the year’s popular baseball-themed film with Walter
Mathau, Tatum O’Neal, and the incomparable Vic Morrow into their
derisive reportage of New York’s other team: “And now for The Bad News
Mets.” In October came the first Championship Series I ever paid
attention to—the 1975 Championship Series were both over before I knew
what they were. The Reds swept the Phillies in entertaining fashion in
the 1976 NLCS, but that year’s ALCS is still among the best, for drama,
that I have witnessed—culminating with the Chris Chambliss home run
against Mark Littell of the Royals as fans poured onto the field. The
Yankees got clocked by the Big Red Machine’s legendary lineup in the
World Series, complete with the DH, used in alternate Octobers for the
first time in ’76. The result? Reds 4, Yanks 0.
was wonderful seeing the braying horde of Yankees fans at school briefly
humbled, but it was a rare defeat in an invasion that encircled my
youth. The Yankees won the World Series in ’77 and ’78, those years in
life that seem to go on forever but you later come to feel went by too
quickly. The Yankees did not make the playoffs in 1979, but they rolled
to another division title in 1980. The Yankees won 103 games under Dick
Howser—in their Yankees way, two years earlier the team had announced
that Bob Lemon would move from manager to GM and Billy Martin would take
over as skipper in 1980, only to have already jumped the gun and gone
through that whole scenario before ’80 even arrived. Howser was a
longtime coach with the club—a Buck Showalter type that the team
responded to. Until October.
gone from sixth grader to high school sophomore in the years since the
Yankees-Royals rivalry had been joined, and I had no reason to believe
that Kansas City could do anything to the Yankees. The Royals had
already found every way to lose heartbreaking best-of-five ALCS to the
Yankees: the Chambliss homer in ’76, blowing a lead in the ninth inning
of Game 5 in ’77, and even losing a three-homer game by George Brett in
’78. Why should 1980 be any different?
Royals won the first game of the series behind Larry Gura, an ex-Yankee
and veteran of the Yankee-Royals wars. Red-haired, mutton-chopped Dennis
Leonard—who like me was a product of Iona (he the college, me the
grammar school)—tossed a gem in Game 2. George Steinbrenner chose to
scapegoat third base coach Mike Ferraro for sending Willie Randolph home
on a two-out double in the eighth. He was out and Dan Quisenberry
escaped the ninth with a 3-2 win.
To prove that Bud Selig wasn’t the only
commissioner who made the unnecessary mandatory, Bowie Kuhn had the
teams play again the next night—no off day—and it looked like it could
be to the Yanks’ advantage as they scored two unearned runs. Future Mets
batting coach Jim Frey, who’d replaced former Mets farm director Whitey
Herzog as manager in K.C., went for the jugular that Friday night by
bringing in Quisenberry in relief of Paul Splittorph with one out in the
sixth. Sure-handed Frank White made a throwing error that helped the
Yankees take a 2-1 lead. The Royals veterans, like me, had to know the
coming attractions to this movie: Yankees comeback, winning three
straight games at “The Stadium,” and tossing another pennant on the
pile. And just to show that past Yankees third baseman endured benchings
in the past,
Aurelio Rodriguez—the Eric Chavez of his day, without the
power—started instead of former home run champ and future Yankees
captain Graig Nettles against the lefty.
Royals put a runner on second in the seventh, when Howser summoned Rich
Gossage to face U.L. Washington, he of the constant toothpick chewing—a
habit my father had recently taken up in lieu of cigars. Washington
reached on an infield hit and up came Brett. He was the unquestioned MVP
of baseball in 1980, batting .400 deep into September before relenting
to the inevitable math and clocking in at .390, while tossing in 118
RBI, 27 go-ahead hits, and a 30-game hitting streak. Brett had been an
animal in a losing cause in past playoffs, hitting the game-tying homer
that set the stage for the Chambliss heroics in ’76, batted .300 against
them in ’77, and .389 in ’78. He came up with two outs and the tying run
on third. One of those singles that his Charlie Lau-honed swing seemed
to crank out like an assembly line would do nicely here. After all the
water under the bridge between these two teams, that was not good enough
for Brett. Upper deck. His sixth home run in the four ALCS against a
dreaded foe. This was for keeps.
Yankees went down in the ninth, Quisenberry’s fourth inning of work, and
the Royals commenced on four Octobers of deferred celebration. My friend
David from the neighborhood, whom I had worked on to the point where
this once diehard Yankees fan was willing to celebrate a Yankees loss
with me, took turns downing a proffered
Schmidt’s near the bushes in front of my house. We’d never been
drunk before—nor did we get so then—but while the Royals dumped buckets
of champagne, beer, and anything liquid on themselves in the Yankee
Stadium visiting clubhouse, we felt we should get in the spirit.
It also marked the end of the rivalry,
save for a 1983 game involving
excessive pine tar, the AL president’s office, and a sham
ninth inning. After four series in five years that truly lived up to the
title Championship, the Yankees and Royals did not meet again in
October. After another year, it was the Yankees who embarked on a nice,
long postseason siesta, while the Royals, who lost the 1980 World Series
to the damned Phillies, won division titles in 1981, 1984, and 1985, the
last coming under Dick Howser—unceremoniously canned by Steinbrenner
after his 103-win season in 1980. Howser’s 1985 Royals, with holdovers
Brett, White, Quisenberry, Hal McRae, Willie Wilson, and a few others,
finally won a world championship before turning into cicada bugs able to
go decades without emitting a chirp.
watched the Tigers pile on runs on Thursday afternoon to complete the
2012 ALCS sweep of the Yankees, the TV at the ice rink surrounded by
parents while my son skated with the team. Everyone assumed that I, like
them, of course, was a commiserating Yankees fan. It made me wish you
could still get Schmidt’s.
Even a lousy beer on an inexperienced tongue can taste like
October 15, 2012
The Monday Monologue ends with a nice
round 30. I want to be off the Monologue, the Facebook, and just about
every media device or platform before all hell breaks loose with the
torrent of BS in the final weeks before the election. I would rather
have strangers actively try to convert me to their religion or send me
pictures of cute kittens every seven minutes than be inundated with
people’s political views over and over and over. I maintain my
independent voter status, even if I do tend to vote on one side of the
aisle (because the people on the other side are just plain nuts). I am
not leaving the site. I’ll be back on metsilverman.com for the election
I will remember for a long time—the National League Cy Young vote. If
you are interested in finding out more about Mets history, try Best Mets, or baseball in general, try Baseball Miscellany.
I can’t believe the Nationals blew that
Division Series to St. Louis after they were up 6-0, even though I
watched it happen. I also can’t believe that Davey Johnson didn’t walk
Peter Kozmo with a base open to face pitcher Jason Motte in a tie game.
That would have made the Cards have to at least pinch-hit for their best
reliever. The Nationals took their chances with the rookie shortstop
with 15 career RBIs—and he knocked in the winning run. Strategy never
was Davey’s strong suit….
Since I am going off Facebook until after
the election, I can’t reply to a strain of Yankees fans on FB saying how
hard it is to watch them go down by a couple of games in the
Championship Series against Detroit. To a Mets fan, that is like someone
complaining from their Rolls Royce
that they are out of Grey Poupon. (A product, I must confess,
that I use every day, but never while driving.) Here’s hoping the people
inside their Rolls have a dry, stale luncheon....
Breaking News: I am going to say something
nice about the Yankees and Joe Girardi. I feel bad that Girardi lost his
father last week. My condolences. I think anyone’s Dad would be proud to
see their son have the stones to sit a $25 million player and go off the
reservation and let C.C. Sabathia throw all the pitches needed to beat
the Orioles in a very well-played Division Series. We now return to our
It is pretty bad form, though, to whine about
replay when you got hosed. When Girardi was catcher for the Yankees, the
Orioles sucked it up after the ridiculous Rich Garcia call jumpstarted a
Yankees dynasty in the 1996 ALCS. MLB has made so many foolish decisions
regarding the postseason—such as allowing
the bozo who thought he was umpiring third base and not left field
work the Tigers-Yankees ALCS—I wouldn’t be surprised if they added
replay for all calls as well as challenge flags to further kill the
pacing of games. “The Mets win the World Series! No wait, there is a
challenge flag on the field. Let’s sit here for five minutes and wait
out this check swing.” Replay breeds indecisive officiating in football.
I think its unrestricted use in baseball would make the game drag on
even more and further harm its immediacy. But I say if you’re going to
have replay, have the K-zone call strikes and balls since the lack of
uniformity in that regard has more to do with altering outcomes than a
blown call on the bases now and then.
And when they argue a bad call, it at least is entertaining….
One day, I hope, the Mets will be involved
in the postseason and then these postseason format objections will lack
conviction when these rules invariably help the Mets, but something
needs to be said now, if for this one postseason. The last-minute
addition of an extra playoff game for each league—after the schedule was
set so the regular season ended midweek—has resulted in teams playing
with no day off between series and with the 2-3 Division Series format
instead of the 2-2-1. I like the 2-3 format myself, it’s what I was
raised on in the 1970s to the mid-1980s, and I think it proved more than
able of creating more entertaining Division Series than most Octobers,
where that round usually sees one or two bore fests. But MLB is going
back to the 2-2-1, full-rest format next year. I don’t understand why
they ramrodded this change in this year when it compromised the same
playoff integrity they seemed so sure of upholding. There must have been
a focus group that said to make it so….
And I don’t know if a focus group of one
is any indication, but I am loving my period dramas on non-network TV.
Copper, on BBC America, a channel I didn’t even know I got, is
pretty damned good. Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, the team from
Homicide: Life on the Streets, and a group of actors I am not
familiar with have made that show a new fave. The show about New York
police during the Civil War is nearing the end of its first of what I
hope will be many more years. They are not afraid to kill off characters
you thought would last forever on the show. They did that on
Boardwalk Empire last year, but that show either jumped the shark or
is enduring the equivalent of a ballplayer batting .103 through April
and May. I’m hoping that the ballplayer in question hasn’t become Jason
There is a lot of talk about whether
Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown is enough to overcome the high WAR of
Angel Mike Trout. I spent six years with Total Baseball, which
regularly cranked out numbers like this before anyone knew what they
stood for; but consider that a Triple Crown has not been won since 1967
and you want to give the MVP to a player who has been in the majors less
than one year? For all we know he could conceivably flame out like past
Rookies of the Year John Castino, Hector Cruz, or Ben Grieve. Ted
Williams twice won the Triple Crown yet did not win the MVP either
year—and that sounds awfully dumb now, doesn't it? Picking Cabrera for
MVP should be as big a no-brainer as choosing R.A. Dickey for Cy Young….
Thanks to the people at
Lifespring in Saugerties for having me come teach a class on
baseball this past week. I do not do a lot of local appearances, and it
was fun talking to people from a time when baseball was king….
A movement is afoot to get all-sports
stations on FM. I don’t get it. Literally. That ESPN was willing to give
up thousands of listeners outside FM range is one thing, but WFAN is a
whole different matter. I live 100 miles from Citi Field yet I get the
station clearly most of the time. I have even gotten it at night in the
Adirondacks and deep into Pennsylvania. If the FAN switches (and
subsequently gives up its AM presence like ESPN did), I hope the Mets
switch to a station with an AM signal. The Mets don’t have what it takes
to create their own affiliate radio network like the one they had in the
1980s, when Mets games could be heard across the Northeast and in
Florida. The Mets have since ceded all territory outside Long Island to
the Yankees. This will only kill off the last pockets of resistance….
And with that, the last word on the last
October 8, 2012
a little pressed this week, so rather then have this be the final Monday
Monologue, we will extend this by a week and leave it with a nice round
30. For those just joining in—or who were directed by a kind word on
facebook from Greg Prince at Faith and Fear in Flushing, here
in the 50th season of New York Mets baseball, we are honoring the
memories of Mets clubs past and present with a Mets Monday Monologue. It’s a bit of mental stew on a few different subjects. This week we look
at one thing the Mets did all right, the failure of the play-in playoff
game, registering for the All-Star Game lottery, Bobby V. getting a raw
deal, the potential availability of Mike Scioscia to manage, and
ladybugs, or should I say ladybeetles.
Volume 29: May the Fourth Be With You Edition
This season may have been a
disappointment, but I will say that the 2012 Mets did one thing right:
They won the last game of the season. Not that their last game against
the Marlins mattered—what we all would give for that to be the verdict
on the last day in 2007 or 2008. But by winning the last game, every
time you go to a Mets site that has “last game”—such as
ESPN New York—it will say Mets 4, Marlins 2 for the next five
months. Too bad there’s not much to be done about their perpetual
fourth-place standing right below the last game feature. That has dogged
Mets fans for the past four winters….
hate to say I told you so, but however wonderful people thought the
second Wild Card was, the one-game play-in playoff looked horrible in
practice. And to those who say, “Well, then you better win your
division”—a coin flip would be about as fair to the team with the better
record of the two teams as the current system. One of the teams won’t
have a home game? And you call that playoff baseball? Another brilliant
move by the people who will bring you interleague play ev