Sticking with the Mets
August 29, 2002
The history of Major League Baseball since the
1960s has been the saga of Major League Baseball betraying its own
history. First there was the breaking of the two leagues God created into
four, then six divisions, with playoffs. There was the addition of the
designated hitter. Then came the endless players strikes (as I
write, another one may begin tonight). And many of the games most
venerable records are falling to players with muscles beefed up by drugs
that werent available to Ruth, DiMaggio, and Walter Johnson.
Its not just the
details. The spirit of Major League Baseball has become disgustingly
would trace the games decline to 1958, when the Brooklyn Dodgers
moved to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco. I
wouldnt go that far. The charm of Brooklyns beloved Bums
was soon transferred to one of the first expansion teams, the New York
Mets, who joined the National League in 1962.
For their first two
seasons the Mets played in Manhattans Polo Grounds, vacated by the
Giants. In 1964 they got their own new ballpark, Shea Stadium, in Queens.
The Mets quickly
became the laughingstock of baseball. A team of castoffs and aging stars
on the skids, they lost more than a hundred games a year (though, in
fairness, there should be an asterisk by their record, in view of the
lengthening of the season from 154 to 162 games). And it wasnt
just the number of losses, but the way they did it. They seemed to invent
new ways to lose games. Emblematic was Marv Marvelous
Marv Throneberry, whose fielding and hitting became equally
legendary for spectacular, but endearing, ineptitude.
But baseball is also a
mental game, and here too Throneberry, in his way, stood out. He once hit a
triple but was called out for failing to touch second base. Manager Casey
Stengel tried to argue with the umpire, until one of his coaches advised
against it on grounds that Throneberry had also missed first base. An
optimist might point out that he at least touched third. Why should his
achievement be dimmed by technicalities about the other two?
One wag, told
that the Mets had scored 19 runs in one game, raised the obvious question:
Did they win? They boasted several Hall of Famers
Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn, Richie Ashburn, Duke Snider but
unfortunately, these baseball giants belonged in nursing homes by the time
the Mets acquired them.
Sandy Koufax pitched a
no-hitter against the Mets; Jim Bunning, a perfect game; and one
Mets season ended when, with nobody out and two Mets on base in
the ninth inning, the batter hit into a triple play. Whats not to love
about a team like that?
Meanwhile, over in the
Bronx, New Yorks perennial champs, the Yankees, were going the
way of Mickey Mantles knees. By the mid 1960s the Bronx bombers
were bombing, finally sinking ignominiously into the American League
cellar. At the same time, the Mets fortunes were gradually rising,
especially as they started getting such superb young pitchers as Tom
Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan.
In 1969 the Mets
somehow won their division championship and pennant playoff series, then
beat the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. They were
now the Amazin Mets, and New York went mad about
them. New York fans all claimed to have loved them all along, though you
couldnt prove it by their early attendance records.
One who really had
loved them all along was my friend Tom Droleskey, whose colorful
presence at hundreds of Mets games earned him the title
the Lone Ranger of Shea Stadium. He has written a funny,
charming memoir of his life as a Mets fan, There
Is No Cure for This Condition (Chartres Communications).
Tom was born a few
days after Bobby Thomsons famous home run won the 1951 pennant
for the Giants against the Dodgers. Growing up on Long Island, where his
father was a veterinarian, he was too young to form a strong attachment
to the older New York teams before they went to California; but he quickly
fell for the hapless Mets. No sunshine patriot, he.
Last time I looked, the
Mets had just run up a 12-game losing streak. For Tom, it must have
seemed like old times. Amazin.