Friday, April 27, 2012

Existing in New York City: The Mets Are 50 Years Old...Amazin'!

Foto by tgw, New York City, March 2012
Say Goodbye to: Bill "Moose" Skowron,
one of the great of the old-time tobacco-chewing rough and ready ballplayers, with the Cardinals, with the Yankees, and ending his lusty career with the White Sox. Bill Skowron, 81, American baseball player (New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox), congestive heart failure.
50 Years Ago
1962. It's hard to believe that is 50 years ago. In 1962, I was single, young, looking good, a woman chaser, sports car lover, driving all cars fast as Hades, with a youthful sparkle in my eye, a wearer of fine clothes that I couldn't pay for--in those days even a kid could get credit at a clothing store, a lover of the New York Yankees, and as such crazy about Casey Stengel and the Mick and Rajah Maris--what a life I was entering! As a pompous Yankee fan, how laughable was it that some rich boys in New York City were thinking about starting a second city baseball team to compete in the newly expanding National League. I mean, come on. The Yankees were the pennant-winningest and World-Series-winningest team ever, the mighty Bronx Bombers, the mighty men who played in the sacred House That Ruth Built, a stadium I would have never believed would be torn down and replaced with one now called the House That George Built.

In 1962, the Yankees started their 61st season in the American League; their 39th season of playing in Yankee Stadium. Yes, Casey Stengel had retired and was replaced with The Major, Ralph Houk. The team was loaded, with the Mick, Rajah, Yogi, Bobby Richardson, Whitey Ford, Ralph Terry, Elston Howard, Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek, Moose Skowron, Bob Turley, Luis Arroyo, Johnny Blanchard, Bob Cerv, Joe Pepitone. I mean, Yankees fans were looking forward to another successful season, another American League pennant, another World Series championship.

Also in 1962, thanks to the efforts of a man named Shea, a new baseball team entered the expanded National League, the newly formed East Division, a team it was decided would be called the New York Metropolitans, or the Mets for short, Metropolitans a hard logo to fit across the front of those 1962 uniforms. Their colors were red, white, and blue, the same as Old Glory. And their logo featured a baseball encompassing the skyline of New York City:
At the beginning of the 1962 season, the Mets had no stadium of their own. They were in the process of building one, the ground broken in 1961 for a stadium that was going to be called the William Shea Municipal Stadium, built out in Flushing Meadow Queens on the landfill made from a former garbage dump and right under the La Guardia Airport take-off flight paths. In the meantime, their opening season was going to be played in the decrepit old Polo Grounds in uptown Manhattan, the stadium abandoned by the New York Giants and that old asshole Horace Stoneham when he pulled up stakes and moved to San Francisco where the New York Giants became the San Francisco Giants, who, by the way, began that 1962 season as one of the favorites to win the National League with a great star-packed team that included Willy Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Billy Pierce, Felipe and Matty Alou, Harvey Kuehn, Jose Pagan, Jim Davenport, and Willie McCovey.

What hope did these new kids (that's a joke, son), the New York Mets, have? Well, they had Casey Stengel out of retirement as their manager. Yeah, Casey was an old man by then, but he was still Casey Stengel, one of the winningest managers in baseball--old Casey, calling his new team, "Amazin', Amazin', Amazin'," thus beginning the story of the Amazin' Mets.

And the 1962 Mets, well, they didn't look like losers really--I mean check out the team they took the field with to start that Amazin' season:
1962 New York Mets

1962 New York Mets Official Logo

Complete Roster

20 Craig Anderson 6-02 205 Right Right 1938-07-01
26 Galen Cisco 5-11 215 Right Right 1936-03-07
38 Roger Craig 6-04 191 Right Right 1930-02-17
35 Ray Daviault 6-01 170 Right Right 1934-05-27
27 Larry Foss 6-02 187 Right Right 1936-04-18
27, 34 Dave Hillman 5-11 168 Right Right 1927-09-14
47 Jay Hook 6-02 182 Right Left 1936-11-18
29 Willard Hunter 6-02 180 Left Right 1934-03-08
15 Al Jackson 5-10 169 Left Left 1935-12-25
36 Sherman Jones 6-04 205 Right Left 1935-02-10
41 Clem Labine 6-00 180 Right Right 1926-08-06
19 Ken MacKenzie 6-00 185 Left Right 1934-03-10
36 Bob Miller 6-01 185 Left Right 1935-07-15
24 Bob Miller 6-01 182 Right Right 1939-02-18
26 Vinegar Bend Mizell 6-03½ 205 Left Right 1930-08-13
26 Herb Moford 6-01 175 Right Right 1928-08-06
22 Bob Moorhead 6-01 208 Right Right 1938-01-23
8 Chris Cannizzaro 6-00 190 Right Right 1938-05-03
44 Harry Chiti 6-03 225 Right Right 1932-11-16
17 Choo Choo Coleman 5-09 165 Right Left 1937-08-25
12 Joe Ginsberg 5-11 180 Right Left 1926-10-11
5 Hobie Landrith 5-10 170 Right Left 1930-03-16
5 Joe Pignatano 5-10 180 Right Right 1929-08-04
16 Sammy Taylor 6-02 185 Right Left 1933-02-27
3, 11 Ed Bouchee 6-01 205 Left Left 1933-03-07
2, 7 Elio Chacon 5-09 160 Right Right 1936-10-26
6 Cliff Cook 6-00 188 Right Right 1936-08-20
12 Sammy Drake 5-11 175 Right Both 1934-10-07
6 Rick Herrscher 6-02½ 187 Right Right 1936-11-03
14 Gil Hodges 6-01½ 200 Right Right 1924-04-04
10 Rod Kanehl 6-01 180 Right Right 1934-04-01
21 Ed Kranepool 6-03 215 Left Left 1944-11-08
18 Felix Mantilla 6-00 160 Right Right 1934-07-29
6 Jim Marshall 6-01 190 Left Left 1931-05-25
4 Charlie Neal 5-10 165 Right Right 1931-01-30
2 Marv Throneberry 6-00 197 Left Left 1933-09-02
17 Don Zimmer 5-09 177 Right Right 1931-01-17
1 Richie Ashburn 5-10 170 Right Left 1927-03-19
3 Gus Bell 6-02 196 Right Left 1928-11-15
23 Joe Christopher 5-10 176 Right Right 1935-12-13
29 John DeMerit 6-01½ 195 Right Right 1936-01-08
9 Jim Hickman 6-04 205 Right Right 1937-05-10
16 Bobby Gene Smith 5-11 185 Right Right 1934-05-28
25 Frank Thomas 6-03 205 Right Right 1929-06-11
11 Gene Woodling 5-09½ 195 Right Left 1922-08-16

I mean they had pitchers like Galon Cisco, Clem Labine, Roger Craig, Vinegar Bend Mizell. And in the infield they had Felix Mantilla, Gil Hodges, Ed Kranepool, Charlie Neal. And in the outfield they had the great Richie Ashburn (one of my heroes as a Philadelphia Phillie--consistently leading the National League in batting), Big Frank Thomas, ex-Yankee great Gene Woodling, and Gus Bell. I mean, come on, surely, OK so these guys were getting a little long in the tooth, but surely these guys could maybe pull a break-even season out of Casey's hat.

They opened the season in Saint Louis on April 10th. It was sort of promising of what was to come: the game was rained out. So their season really began the next day, April 11th--and, yep, they began the season just like they would finish the season. Don Zimmer, yep, the old veteran with a steel plate in his head, made an error on the very first defensive play of the game--and then starting pitcher Roger Craig balked in the first run of the game. The Cardinals ended up winning the game 11-4 and thus started a 9-game losing streak for the Metropolitans.

In the meantime, the World Champion New York Yankees (they had won everything in 1961) were off and running full speed in 1962 on their way to winning 96 games while only losing 66, coming in 5 games better than the Minnesota Twins and 35 1/2 games ahead of the lowly Washington Senators, who ended the season with a 60-101 win-loss record. Surely no team could be lousier than that year's Senators!

The Yankees had a phenom season, with Ralph Terry posting a 23-12 record and Whitey Ford a 17-8 record. With the Mick winning the MVP Award for the year, hitting .330 and knocking 30 HRs and driving in 89 runs and Roger Maris hitting under .300, but hitting 3 more HRs than the Mick and driving in 100 runs (Roger was intentionally walked 4 times in one game). And Bobby Richardson leading the team in fielding and also hitting .302. And Elston Howard and Moose Skowron hit 23 and 22 home runs and driving in 161 runs between them. And a guy named Tommy Tresh having a phenomenal season driving in 93 runs.

Then these 1962 Yankees went on to beat the San Francisco Giants in one of the most exciting World Series in baseball up to that time, beating the Giants in 7 games, winning the last game 1-0.

I mean, who the hell was following the New York Metropolitans that year? Well, over 900,000 people sweated out the Mets that year out at the Polo Grounds. And, ironically, this was a year the two former New York teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers both broke 100 in terms of winning games, the Giants winning 103 to the Dodgers 102--clobbering all opponents, the champion by 1 game Giants beating the lowly Cubs that year by 42 1/2 games--the Cubbies at 59-103 the worse team in baseball...well, no, because you see the Giants beat the worst team in baseball that year by 60 1/2 games...WHO! Yep, the Amazin' Mets. Last place their first year in baseball with a ghastly 40-120 record-setting record.

I mean, what the hell happened? Richie Ashburn hit over .300. And Big Frank Thomas hit 34 home runs, 3 more than Roger Maris, and drove in 94 runs, 5 more than the Mick. But that was it. The pitching was terrible. The Mets best pitcher, Roger Craig, ended with a disastrous 10-24 record and Al Jackson did even worse with an 8-20 record.

And Then There Was 1969
My young wife and I came to New York City in the spring of 1969. Just as baseball season was getting underway. The Yankees were coming off a lousy 5th place finish in 1968. The Mick, beat up, unable to run, playing first base, had finally retired. The team had no hitters and though they had some pretty good pitchers, led by Mel Stottlemeyer, they still weren't predicted to do much.

The Mets had done worse than the Yankees in 1968, ending up in 9th place under Manager Gil Hodges. Though they were drawing good attendances at Shea Municipal Stadium, still nobody was expecting anything Amazin' out of them in '69.

I as a Yankees fan was totally pissed at the Yankees ownership and Manager Ralph Houk. I mean The Major looked like a Buck Private to me, so I had little or no interest in baseball at the beginning of this season. I concentrated on getting a job mostly, working around town as a free-lance typist first before landing a free-lance job as a part-time copywriter for a New Jersey discount department store whose headquarters were on the far West Side in an all-concrete building that sat over the Penn-Central rail yards and boasted of an ice-skating rink on its top floor.

It was while working as that copywriter and having an affair with my boss that I suddenly began to notice the Mets. Remember, the Mets had never finished above 9th place since their inaugural year. And '69 had started off like maybe they were again going to stick to their losing ways with the Cubbies going wild and leading the newly divisioned-up league most of the early season until in the heat of summer when they suddenly started nose-diving and who was that coming on strong, winning more than they were losing? Why it was the Amazin' Mets. And suddenly by August the Mets were Amazin'! Amazin'! Amazin'! It was their pitching that was doing it, with the great Tom Seaver headed toward a 25-7 season, backed up by Jerry Koosman who went 17-9, both pitchers with under .300 ERAs. With the late Tug McGraw coming out of the bullpen. The pitchers being the reason for their great winning and not necessarily the hitters, Cleon Jones hitting .344. Tommy Agee hit 26 homers followed by Art Shamsky had an Amazin' year hitting .300 and 14 homers. Though as fielders the Mets were the best, Bud Harrelson, Wayne Garrett, Cleon Jones, and Don Clendennon on the infield and Tommy Agee staring in the outfield. The Amazin' Mets winning the new Eastern division over the Cubs by 8 games, finishing the season 100-62 under Gil Hodges managerial leadership, with Yogi Berra as his first-base coach. Then Amazin'ly going on to beat the Atlanta Braves in the first National League playoffs 3 straight games...and THEN, that September after Woodstock--yes, 1969, that Summer was Woodstock up near Maggie's Farm--and it rained like a pissed-off rain god was angry over something--maybe the brown acid being dropped by the Hipster culture--and my lover and I made it to Harrison, New York, that day in her Volkswagen bug (Hitler's car) and we checked in to a motel instead of making it to Woodstock--the cars were backed up all the way back to Harrison--just off the NY Thruway--and that was also the year the Jets beat Baltimore in the Super Bowl under Broadway Joe Namath--and that was the year the Knicks won the NBA championship under Willis Reed--and after the Mets won the National League title, folks predicted they didn't have a chance in hell against the Baltimore Orioles under Earl Weaver, with Jim Palmer pitching for them, and Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, I mean, it would be impossible, but it was the year for the impossible and after 5 games, it was over when Koosman got Davy Johnson (who ironically would manage the Mets to their next championship in 1986) to fly out--and the Mets were the World Champions--and Casey Stengel was right all along, they were Amazin', Amazin', Amazin'. And names like Al Weis would go down in the baseball history books...and Don Clendennon would be the MVP, and Gil Hodges would be the Manager of the Year.

And now the Mets are 50 years old. And they haven't been so hot in quite a few years. And they've suffered under back general management and choosing bad managers since the heyday of Davy Johnson and Hojo and Dwight Gooden and Darrell Strawberry and Ron Darling or the year they had a chance again but lost to the Yankees in short order. This year, well they started off like they were serious but now they've settled back down to being a 50-5o-looking club under this former nobody manager who wasn't that good of a manager in the minors but, hey, the Mets were managed badly from the top down--the team almost bankrupted by Bernie Madoff--but they did get a new stadium, named after one of the crookedest of the bailed-out super bankrupt banks. Will we ever see them Amazin' again? Maybe so many years from now...maybe so. Will they be around another 50 years? Who knows. Maybe the Shadow knows.

for The Daily Growler

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