Posts Tagged ‘Tom Seaver’

What if…

Friday, April 21st, 2017

What if…

Charlie Finley hadn’t broken up the 1970s Oakland A’s dynasty?

Bob Uecker hadn’t appeared in Major League?

there was no Designated Hitter position?

the Mets had never traded Nolan Ryan to the Angels?

Yogi Berra had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers?

George Steinbrenner had never bought the Yankees?

the Dodgers had never moved from Brooklyn?

the Giants had moved to Minneapolis instead of San Francisco?

the Red Sox had never sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees?

Walter O’Malley had never owned the Brooklyn Dodgers?

the Red Sox had integrated in 1949 instead of 1959?

Satchel Paige had pitched against Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and other Hall of Famers in their prime?

Bob Feller and Ted Williams had never lost years to military service in World War II?

Mickey Mantle hadn’t blown out his knee in the 1951 World Series?

Bobby Thomson had struck out against Ralph Branch?

Commissioner William Eckert had never invalidated Tom Seaver’s contract with the Atlanta Braves?

Major League Baseball banned synthetic grass?

the Mets had never traded Tom Seaver to the Reds?

Reggie Jackson had never played for the Yankees?

Thurman Munson hadn’t died in a plane crash?

Mickey Mantle had stayed healthy in the home stretch of 1961?

The Natural had ended the same was as the eponymous novel?

the Indians hadn’t traded Chris Chambliss, Dennis Eckersley, Buddy Bell, and Graig Nettles?

the Braves hadn’t never left Boston for Milwaukee?

the first incarnation of the Washington Senators hadn’t left for Minnesota to become the Twins?

the second incarnation of the Washington Senators hadn’t left for Texas to become the Rangers?

the Seattle Pilots hadn’t left for Milwaukee to become the Brewers?

Jim Bouton hadn’t written Ball Four?

Roger Kahn hadn’t written The Boys of Summer?

Mark Harris hadn’t written Bang the Drum Slowly?

Jackie Robinson had sought a football career instead of a baseball career?

Billy Martin hadn’t managed the Yankees in the late 1970s?

Gil Hodges hadn’t died in 1972, during a high point in the history of the Mets?

Vin Scully had stayed in New York City and announced for the Yankees or the Mets?

Bob Feller had pitched for the Yankees?

Ted Williams had played for the Yankees?

Joe DiMaggio had played for the Red Sox?

Charles Ebbets hadn’t owned the Brooklyn Dodgers?

Honolulu had a Major League Baseball team?

Pete Rose were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

the commissioner’s office rescinded the lifetime banishment of the 1919 Black Sox from Major League Baseball?

Hank Aaron had played in the same outfield as Willie Mays?

Wiffle Ball hadn’t been invented?

Nashville had a Major League Baseball team?

Dwight Goodman and Darryl Strawberry had stayed away from drugs?

Roberto Clemente had played for the Dodgers instead of the Pirates?

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 17, 2016.

Hank Aaron’s Last Home Run

Monday, April 10th, 2017

As America recovered from its Bicentennial hangover, Hank Aaron clubbed a home run in the Brewers-Angels game on July 20, 1976.  It was not, in any way, a cause for ceremony.  It was, however, highly significant.

Aaron’s solo smash off the Angels’ Dick Drago was his last home run, though nobody knew it at the time.  Hammerin’ Hank followed George Scott’s solo home run, one of 18 blasts that Scott swatted in 1976.  Jerry Augustine got the win for the Brewers—his first in more than a month—scattering five Angel hits in seven innings.  It capped a streak of five consecutive losses for Augustine, who had a 9-12 record, 3.30 Earned Run Average, and WHIP of 1.299.

Aaron, Scott, et al. belted 12 hits against the Angels; Von Joshua, Tim Johnson, Darrell Porter, and Robin Yount scored the other Brewer runs.  Johnson, the Brewer second baseman, had an outstanding 3-for-3 day.  In the eighth inning, relief pitcher Danny Frisella replaced Augustine.

When Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record on April 8, 1974 by hitting his 715th home run, every dinger afterward became, simply, icing on top of frosting.  His round-tripper in the Brewers’ 6-2 victory over the boys from Anaheim was his 755th home run; Aaron hit 10 home runs, batted .229, and racked up 62 hits in a rather uneventful 1976 season for the Brewers—a 66-96 record garnered 6th place in the American League East.

At age 42, Aaron retired after the 1976 season with outstanding career statistics:

  • 3,771 hits
  • 2,174 runs scored
  • 13,941 plate appearances
  • .305 batting average
  • 2,287 RBI (major league record)
  • Led the major leagues in RBI four times

Henry Louis Aaron clocked his first major league home run on April 23, 1954.  Throughout the next two decades and change, Aaron faced the pitching gods of Major League Baseball—Don Sutton, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Don Gullett, Roy Face, Don Drysdale, Nolan Ryan, Vida Blue, Sandy Koufax, Robin Roberts.  When he went yard, it was the definition of power against power.  Tom Seaver’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site recalls Aaron’s statement of Seaver being “the toughest pitcher I’ve ever faced.”

Aaron’s last home run occurred during the year that the Yankees reached the World Series for the first time since 1964; Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday snatched an American flag from two trespassers about to burn it in the Dodger Stadium outfield; the Chicago White Sox played in shorts for one game; Ted Turner became the sole owner of the Atlanta Braves; the second incarnation of Yankee Stadium débuted after two years of renovations; Philadelphia Phillies third baseball Mike Schmidt knocked four home runs in a game against the Cubs; original Houston Astros owner Judge Roy Hofheinz sold the team that began its life as the Colt .45s; Dodgers manager Walter Alston resigned after 23 years at the helm in Ebbets Field and Chavez Ravine; and the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays began selecting players for the following year’s American League expansion.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 20, 2016.

Beyond ’69

Monday, March 6th, 2017

When the New York Mets took the field for the first time, America was awash in a tidal wave of promise.  The year was 1962—John Glenn had become the first American to orbit the Earth, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had taken viewers on an unprecedented televised tour of the White House, and Dodger Stadium had marked a new standard for ballparks.

Respect eluded the nascent Mets, however.  Inheriting the Polo Grounds and the interlocking NY logo from the Giants—who abdicated New York City for San Francisco after the 1957 season—the Mets lost their first game.  It was, indeed, an inauspicious beginning for the National League squad bearing Dodger Blue and Giant Orange as its colors.  At the end of the season, the Mets’ tally read 40 wins, 120 losses.

Subsequent seasons followed a paradigm of mediocrity.  It shifted in 1968, when Gil Hodges took the reins after managing the Washington Senators for five seasons—the Mets went from 61-101 in 1967 to 73-89 in Hodges’s first year at the helm.

In 1969, the Mets exorcised their ghosts.  With a 100-62 record, the “Miracle Mets” defied expectations with a World Series upset of the Baltimore Orioles, thereby securing 1969 as a season of glory; Mets fans get wistful at the mere mention of the year.

Lost in the nostalgia is the decade after the miracle—the 1970s Mets were, for the most part, a formidable team often overlooked in accounts of baseball in the Me Decade.  Surely, the Yankees drew more attention with three consecutive World Series appearances resulting in two championships, not to mention drama of Shakespearean proportions.

In Oakland, the A’s—also known as the Mustache Gang—carved a dynasty with three consecutive World Series titles, later suffering a shattered team when owner Charlie Finley broke it up.

In Cincinnati, the Big Red Machine set the bar high for National League power, with a lineup including Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Johnny Bench.

But the Mets, consistent rather than dominant, compiled winning seasons from 1970 to 1976, except for 1974.  Further, the Mets battled the powerful A’s in the 1973 World Series, falling to the fellas from Oakland in seven games.  Gil Hodges, unfortunately, did not live to see that second grasp at a World Series—he died from a heart attack right before the 1972 season.

At the New York Mets 50th Anniversary Conference hosted by Hofstra University in 2012, the impact of Hodges’s death on the 1970s Mets was a point of discussion on a panel populated by Ed Kranepool, Art Shamsky, and Bud Harrelson—all agreed that if Hodges had survived his heart attack, they would be wearing a few more World Series rings.  More importantly, perhaps, Hodges might have been able to prevent the darkest point in Mets history.

Tom Seaver won the Cy Young Award three times—all in the 1970s.  When the Mets traded Seaver to the Reds for four players in 1977, fortunes plummeted.  After an 86-76 record in 1976, the Mets closed out the remainder of the 1970s with losing seasons:

  • 1977:  64-98
  • 1978:  66-96
  • 1979:  63-99

In contrast to the optimism permeating Shea Stadium at the beginning of the decade, frustration became an unwanted friend as the Mets piled on loss after loss.  This streak continued into the 1980s, finally reversing with a 90-72 record in 1984.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 7, 2016.

The Great Groat

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Dick Groat does not have the fame of Bill Mazeroski, the immortality of Roberto Clemente, or the legend of Willie Stargell.  Nevertheless, he was a mainstay of the Pittsburgh Pirates for a majority of his major league career, which spanned 1952 to 1967.

In the October 1, 1952 edition of the Sporting News, Les Biederman honored the rookie shortstop’s special relationship with the city.  “Of all the bonus babies the Pirates scouted, signed and put into major league uniforms during the first two years of the Branch Rickey regime, the one standout has been Dick Groat, Pittsburgh native who leaped from the Duke University campus right to the Big Time in June,” wrote Biderman.  “Groat had a choice of many teams when he completed his baseball curriculum at the North Carolina breeding grounds, but now admits he chose well when he picked the Bucs.”

Groat’s best year was 1960, the year that the Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series; with a .325 batting average, Groat won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.  In his career, Groat compiled 2,138 hits and achieved a .268 batting average.

Though Groat displayed solidity in baseball, he might have had a career in basketball; at Duke, Groat was an All-American in both sports.  In a 2014 article for the magazine GoDuke, Groat explained, “Baseball was always like work for me.  Basketball was the sport that I loved, but it was baseball, where I knew I would make a living.  I made a deal with Mr. Rickey (Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates at that time).  I was a junior at Duke.  I went home and worked out for the Pirates in the summer before I went back to Duke.  After I had worked out he invited my mother and father to come to a game at Forbes Field where the Pirates played.  I was sitting in his booth and he turned to me, remember I am only 20, I’m still a minor, he says to me, ‘Young man, if you will sign a contract tonight, I’m going [to] start you against the Cincinnati Reds tomorrow night.’

“I said, ‘Mr. Rickey that’s not even fair.  You know I want to play major league baseball [sic], but I owe my senior year to Duke and I am going back to play basketball and baseball.  But I promise you, you make the same offer to me next spring and I will sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates.'”

Rickey relented.

After the 1962 season, the Pirates traded Groat to the Cardinals, where he became a vital part of the team’s infield.  In a 1963 Sports Illustrated article, Walter Bingham wrote, “Groat, still the same deadly opposite-field hitter he was when he won the National League batting title in 1960, uses a log for a bat and merely slaps the ball wherever it is pitched.  While [Cardinals manager Johnny] Keane admires Groat’s uncanny ability at performing the hit-and-run, he feels that Groat too often gives himself up to protect the runner.  ‘He’s too good a hitter to be sacrificing himself.'”

Groat added another World Series championship to his résumé in 1964, when the Cardinals beat the Yankees in seven games.

After three season with the Cardinals, Groat played for the Phillies and the Giants—1967 was his last season.

In 2007, the College Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Groat.  Four years later, the College Baseball Hall of Fame followed suit.  Groat, like many athletes, pursued a broadcasting career after his playing days, but he did not join the ranks of Bill White, Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez et al.  Rather, Groat went back to his first love—he provides the color commentary for the radio broadcasts of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers men’s basketball games.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 25, 2015.

Expos and Excellence

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

On September 29, 2004, Montreal bid adieu to its beloved Expos ball club.  And so, a baseball legacy faded into finality as the Expos transitioned to become the Washington Nationals.

Montreal never celebrated a World Series championship, but moments of greatness sprinkled across its major league tenure, which began in 1969.  Bill Stoneman, for example, stands as a bright spot, achieving twice what some pitching legends achieved once and others not at all—a no-hitter; Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and Jim Palmer fall into the former category while Steve Carlton, Lefty Grove, and Whitey Ford reside in the latter.

In the Expos’ rookie season, Stoneman threw a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies.  Although he walked seven batters, Stoneman retired the Mets with aplomb.  The New York Times noted, “There were no difficult plays by Stoneman’s teammates as only five balls were hit to the outfield.  Stoneman struck out nine.”

Both games had scores of 7-0.

Stoneman’s dual no-hitters belie a career win-loss record of 54-85 and 4.08 Earned Run Average.

Dennis Martinez retired 27 Dodgers on July 28, 1991 in a perfect game, the 15th time a major league pitcher reached that pinnacle of performance; 17 batters grounded out.  Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times noted the impact of the daytime schedule.  “Another factor, according to the Dodgers is that Dodger Stadium is toughest on hitters during afternoon games,” wrote Plaschke.  “It is even harder when Martinez is pitching, because in his windup he tucks the ball in his glove until the last possible moment.”

A recovering alcoholic, Martinez plodded through a minor league stint in the Expos organization after nine seasons as a favorite on the Orioles pitching staff.  “I look back and see the faith that I had, and the reaching out for help that I did, and I think, it is paying off now,” said Martinez.  Climbing his way back into the major leagues, Martinez kindled pride in his hometown—Granada, Nicaragua.  Kevin Baxter, also of the Los Angeles Times, explained, “Edgar Rodriguez, a sportswriter at El Nuevo Diario, said each of the country’s radio stations broke into their normal programming to report the perfect game.  That was cause for loud celebrating in the neighborhoods around his paper’s office.”

To call it a “masterful performance” is to do it injustice, like saying the Aurora Borealis is nice to look at.  “Though there weren’t advanced pitch-tracking systems back then to break down every Martinez offering that day, you’d swear he threw 50 of those trademark knee-buckling curveballs,” wrote Jonah Keri in his 2014 book Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball & the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos.

The perfect game was not an outlier for Martinez in 1991—he led the National League in Earned Run Average with 2.39.  And it was not the only marvel for Montreal during its series with Los Angeles.

Two days prior to Martinez’s accomplishment.  Mack Gardner threw nine no-hit innings; the Expos did not score either.  Los Angeles punctured hopes for the metropolis that Mark Twain dubbed “City of a Hundred Steeples” during a  visit in 1881.  Keri explained, “Dodger Lenny Harris opened the bottom of the 10th with a high chopper over Gardner’s head [Expos shortstop] Spike Owen charged, tried to field the ball…and dropped it.  A frustrating misplay, but with the ball hit that slowly, Owen would’ve had no chance to get Harris either way—it was an infield hit, busting the no-hitter.”

Daryl Strawberry won the game for the Dodgers with an RBI single in the 10th inning to bring Harris home.

Final score:  1-0.

Although Gardner cleared the Dodgers for nine innings, Major League Baseball’s scoring paradigm labels a game as a no-hitter when the pitcher’s team scores.  Hence, Gardner did not technically pitch a no-hitter.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 22, 2015.

The Midnight Massacre

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Not since 1957, when the Dodgers and the Giants vacated Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively, had baseball in New York City suffered an emotional blow equivalent to the impact on June 15, 1977, when the New York Mets committed an unpardonable sin in the eyes of the Flushing Faithful by trading Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds.

The Midnight Massacre.

Seaver in another team’s uniform did not compute.  It was an incongruous thought.  Blasphemous, even.  Imagine Mickey Mantle playing for the Cleveland Indians, Sandy Koufax playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, or Al Kaline playing for the Chicago White Sox.  Nicknamed “The Franchise” for his importance to the team, Seaver was synonymous with the Mets.  Beginning in 1967, the Mets flourished in Seaver’s glorious achievements in the National League, including Rookie of the Year Award in 1967, three Cy Young Awards, and five seasons leading the league in strikeouts.  Indeed, Seaver was a cornerstone of the 1969 World Series championship team and the 1973 National League championship team that pushed the World Series against the dynastic Oakland A’s to seven games.

But the relationship between Seaver and the Mets frayed by June of 1977.  A media item severed it.  During Seaver’s 1977 contract negotiations, New York Daily News columnist Dick Young wrote, “Nolan Ryan is getting more now than Seaver, and that galls Tom because Nancy Seaver and Ruth Ryan are very friendly and Tom Seaver long has treated Nolan Ryan like a little brother.”

Young doubled down by attacking Seaver’s integrity:  “It comes down to this: Tom Seaver is jealous of those who had the guts to play out their option or used the threat of playing it out as leverage for a big raise—while he was snug behind a three-year contract of his choosing.  He talks of being treated like a man.  A man lives up to his contract.”

Three decades after the trade that sent Seaver to the Reds—in exchange for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, and Dan Norman—Daily News sports writer Bill Madden penned a retrospective of the events leading to the trade.  Seaver shared his insights for the piece:  “That Young column was the straw that broke the back.  Bringing your family into it with no truth whatsoever to what he wrote.  I could not abide that.  I had to go.”

It was the boiling point in a tumultuous relationship with Mets Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant, for whom Young advocated.  In the Madden article, Seaver said, “There are two things Grant said to me that I’ll never forget, but illustrate the kind of person he was and the total ‘plantation’ mentality he had.  During the labor negotiations, he came up to me in the clubhouse once and said: ‘What are you, some sort of Communist.’  Another time, and I’ve never told anyone this, he said to me: ‘Who do you think you are, joining the Greenwich Country Club?’  It was incomprehensible to him if you didn’t understand his feelings about your station in life.”

The Seaver trade devastated Mets fandom.  In the June 17, 1977 edition of the New York Times, Murray Schumach wrote, “The anger of New Yorkers was no secret at Shea Stadium, where the switchboard was flooded with telephone calls, mostly of protest, many of them very abusive in what was admittedly the strongest display of anger ever recorded in one day at the switchboard.”

Seaver returned to the Mets for the 1983 season, inspiring Young to revive the volcano that triggered Seaver’s demand for a trade.  In the December 22, 1982 edition of the New York Post, Young opined, “It took me half a column to get to this, didn’t it.  This is the tacky part when Tom Seaver asked the Mets to renegotiate his contract, which had two years to run.  Don Grant said no.  Tom Seaver had every right to ask for a new contract, and Don Grant had every right to say no.  Tom Seaver couldn’t accept that.

“That’s how I saw it, that’s how I wrote it.  You signed the contract, live with it.  Play the two years left at $225,000, then hit the free agent market and make your millions.  It’s there, waiting.”

Young’s analysis ignored Seaver’s honor, symbolized by acceptance of a 20% pay cut for the 1975 season after a lackluster 11-11 performance in 1974.  It was part of a “gentleman’s agreement” designed in September 1974 between Seaver and the Mets front office.  In the January 22, 1975 edition of the New York Times, Joseph Durso quoted Seaver in detailing the circumstances surrounding the salary drop:  “Don Grant and I were talking one day and he brought it up.  No, I wasn’t disturbed that I got a cut after one bad year.  The ball club’s been very good and honest with me, and I with them.  They paid me a good amount of money last year and I didn’t pitch up to that amount.”

In 1975, Tom Seaver went 22-9, won the National League Cy Young Award, and led the National League with 243 strikeouts.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 15, 2015.

The Hall of Fame Case for Mickey Lolich

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Consistency is the yardstick by which excellence is measured.  Mickey Lolich, a Detroit baseball icon, demonstrated consistency, ergo, excellence in a pitching career that, perhaps surprisingly, has not yet warranted admittance to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Lolich was a perfect fit for the blue-collar metropolis that defined American industry in the 20th century by churning out Cadillacs, Buicks, Chevrolets, Fords, Chryslers, and Pontiacs.  Performing his pitching tasks with efficiency, aplomb, and reliability, Lolich emblemized the work ethic of Detroit’s working class demographic.  Do the job.  Do it well.  Do the same thing tomorrow.

Lolich had six straight seasons of at least 200 strikeouts; in 1971, he led the American League in strikeouts with 308.  Tom Seaver, the National League leader, trailed Lolich with 289 strikeouts.  Additionally, Lolich pitched 376 innings in 1971, the most in the major leagues since Grover Cleveland Alexander’s 388 innings for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1917.

In a career spanning 1963 to 1979, with a hiatus in 1977, Lolich had a career win-loss record of 217-191. Though Lolich’s victory total is far from the magic number of 300, he recorded other achievements meriting consideration for Cooperstown.  Lolich tallied 2,832 strikeouts, just shy of the gloried 3,000 plateau.  With a career total of 586 games pitched, one additional strikeout every 3.5 games would have launched Lolich into the vaunted 3K pantheon.  Still, the 2,832 number is impressive, giving Lolich the distinction of being the pitcher with the 18th highest number of career strikeouts, more than Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Don Drysdale, Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove, Dazzy Vance, Early Wynn, and Jim “Catfish” Hunter.

Using Hunter and Drysdale as a basis, a Lolich analysis reveals comparable statistics.

Years Played
Hunter 1965-1979
Drysdale 1956-1969
Lolich 1963-1979
Games Pitched
Hunter 500
Drysdale 518
Lolich 586
Career Victories
Hunter 224
Drysdale 209
Lolich 217
Career Winning Percentage
Hunter .574
Drysdale .557
Lolich .532
Home Runs Against
Hunter 374
Drysdale 280
Lolich 347
Earned Run Average
Hunter 3.26
Drysdale 2.95
Lolich 3.44

Stacked against Drysdale in ERA and Home Runs Against, Lolich falls shorts.  He has eight more career victories than Drysdale, but he played in nearly 70 more games.  Compared to Hunter, Lolich played in 86 more games and notched only seven less career victories.  One can argue that Lolich had more opportunities for victory but didn’t deliver.  On the other hand, Lolich’s endurance is a factor to consider.

In 1968, the Detroit Tigers won the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Game Seven paired Lolich and Cardinals powerhouse Bob Gibson in a battle of pitching titans.  Lolich secured a victory, notching 3-0 in the ’68 series to cap his 17-9 record.  Naturally, Lolich won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.  But he wasn’t the only force on Detroit’s pitching staff—Tigers ace Denny McLain conquered American League opponents, tallying a 31-6 record.  McLain is the last major league pitcher to win at least 30 games.

 

1969

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

As described by German Prussian politician Otto von Bismarck, politics is the art of the possible.  So is baseball.  When the New York Mets defeated the Baltimore Orioles to win the 1969 World Series, possible elevated to miraculous.

Once again, National League baseball thrived in New York City.  It was a long wait, too.  There were only two World Series between 1947 and 1957 that did not have either the Giants or the Dodgers representing the National League.  After the 1957 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants departed for Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively.  With fan bases mourning the loss of their teams, the Mets offered an outlet for those who did not want to—or refused to—switch allegiances to the Yankees.  Those fans were used to excellence, however, not mediocrity.  Or worse.

Débuting in 1962, the Mets leapt to new heights in futility; the team’s record was 40-120.  Successive seasons offered no solace:

1962 (40-120)

1963 (51-111)

1964 (53-109)

1965 (50-112)

1966 (66-95)

1967 (61-101)

Rooting for the Mets, in turn, became a pastime requiring emotional endurance.  That changed when Gil Hodges took the managerial reins in 1968.  Though still below .500, the Mets vaulted to a 73-89 record.

Momentum continued in 1969, resulting in a 100-62 record for the so-called Miracle Mets.  Tom Seaver tore through opponents like a flame through a box of Kleenex tissues, ending the season with a 25-7 record, 205 strikeouts, and a 2.21 ERA.  Unsurprisingly, Seaver won the 1969 National League Cy Young Award.  Cleon Jones batted a career-high .340, placing third in the National League, behind Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente.  Jerry Koosman won 17 games, notched 180 strikeouts, and had a 2.28 ERA.

Though impressive, the Mets faced an American League team exploding with dominance—the Orioles ended the 1969 regular season with a 109-53 record, largely a result of phenomenal pitching:

Mike Cuellar (23-11)

Dave McNally (20-7)

Tom Phoebus (14-7)

Jim Palmer (16-4)

Conventional wisdom favored the Orioles.  Conventional wisdom was wrong.  The Mets won the 1969 World Series in five games.

Miracles replaced miseries.

In 1969, the Corleone family first appeared in Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, Led Zeppelin released its first album, Richard Nixon became the 37th President of the United States, Boeing’s 747 airplane made its first flight, Willie Mays became the first baseball player in the major leagues to hit 600 career home runs since Babe Ruth, journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre, Chemical Bank’s Rockville Centre branch unveiled the first Automatic Teller Machine in the United States, Golda Meir became the first—and, to date, only—female Prime Minister of Israel, the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, Dr. Denton Cooley implanted the first artificial heart, Sullivan County in upstate New York hosted a three-day festival called Woodstock, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon, and the Montreal Expos earned the distinction of being the first MLB team stationed outside the United States.

1969 was a year of achievement in politics, science, technology, sports, literature, entertainment, and journalism.

For baseball fans, however, 1969 was a year of miracles.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 16, 2014.

1977: A Year of Extremes in New York

Friday, November 4th, 2016

1977 was the best of times for fans of the Yankees, but the worst of times for fans of the Mets.

After seeing the Yankees get swept by the Cincinnati Reds in the ’76 World Series, George Steinbrenner went shopping; Steinbrenner led a group to purchase the Yankees in 1973.  He persuaded Reggie Jackson to come north from a year-long sojourn in Baltimore, where Jackson played for the Orioles in 1976.  Jackson was more than a winner.  He was a champion with three World Series titles from his tenure with the Oakland Athletics.  Indeed, the A’s ball club was a dynasty, winning the series in three consecutive years—1972, 1973, 1974.

Free agency allowed Jackson to get top dollar for his services.  Brash with flash and lots of cash, Jackson drew attention.  An article in Sport magazine added tension to the Yankees team.  Robert Ward quoted Jackson: “I’m the straw that stirs the drink.”  Jackson has said that the quote is incorrect.  Controversy abounded within the clubhouse.

Then, on June 18, 1977, manager Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson brawled in the Yankees dugout during a game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.  Martin though that Jackson loafed on a ball hit by Jim Rice to Jackson’s position in right field.  Rice stretched the hit into a double.  Martin, in turn, replaced Jackson with Paul Blair.  With the game broadcast on national television, the Martin-Jackson fight put the Yankees in the spotlight.  But winning can absolve a lot of sins.  And winning is exactly what the Yankees did.

The 1977 World Series pitted the Los Angeles Dodgers against the boys in pinstripes.  A Hollywood screenwriter could not have written a better ending.  The Yankees added another World Series title to their legacy, vanquishing the Dodgers in six games.  Jackson hit three home runs in Game 6, each on the first pitch and each off a different pitcher: Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa, Charlie Hough.

The other New York team also found itself in controversy in 1977.  It was not a winning season for the Mets, however.  They compiled a 64-98 record.  When Tom Seaver negotiated with the Mets in ’77, the thought of him in another team’s uniform was unthinkable.  He was, after all, the team’s franchise player.  But that’s exactly what happened.

Seaver, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, began his career with the team in 1967, leading the Mets to a World Series championship in 1969 and another World Series appearance in 1973.  They lost the ’73 contest to the A’s in seven games.

Dick Young of the New York Daily News wrote several columns about the negotiations, crossing an unwritten line in sports writing when he mentioned Seaver’s wife in a column.  Young wrote that Nancy Seaver was unhappy about Nolan Ryan making more money than her husband.  After the column appeared, Seaver wanted out of the Big Apple.  Quickly.

The Mets engineered a trade to the Cincinnati Reds.  It brought Pat Zachry, Dave Henderson, Doug Flynn, and Dan Norman to Shea Stadium.  In 1978, Seaver pitched a no-hitter.  Meanwhile, the Mets rebuilt, investing in younger players.  Nearly a decade later, they won the 1986 World Series.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 1, 2013.

The Odd Couple’s Triple Play

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

The New York Mets have a treasure chest of memories, moments, and merriment—Tom Seaver winning the National League Cy Young Award three times, Mr. Met serving as the first three-dimensional mascot for Major League Baseball, and the 1969 Mets performing a baseball miracle by beating the vaunted Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

One of the greatest achievements in Mets history isn’t in a box score nor is it in the team’s record books.  On June 27, 1967, the Pittsburgh Pirates played the Mets at Shea Stadium.  Bill Mazeroski, the Pirates’ star of the 1960 World Series, hit into a triple play.  Sort of.

“The triple play, filmed just before the start of the regularly scheduled Mets-Pirates game, was staged for a scene in Paramount Pictures’ ‘The Odd Couple,’ the film adaptation of Mr. [Neil] Simon’s Broadway comedy about a couple of grass widowers,” explained Vincent Canby in the next day’s edition of the New York Times.

The grass widowers are New Yorkers—sports writer Oscar Madison and television news writer Felix Unger.  Oscar’s apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan is a sanctuary for Felix after Mrs. Unger says that she wants a divorce.  Heartbroken, Felix finds emotional support from his poker buddies—along with Oscar, there is Murray, Roy, Speed, and Vinnie.  Oscar, already divorced, understands his friend’s predicament.  So, the two become roommates.  But empathy for a poker buddy does not translate to a good roommate relationship.  Oscar is sloppy, carefree, and disorganized.  Felix is neat, budget-conscious, and fussy.

Simon added the Shea Stadium scene and others to give an authentic New York City flavor to the film version of The Odd Couple.  It highlights the difference between Oscar and Felix.  During the top of the ninth inning of a Mets vs. Pirates game, the visitors trail by one run with the bases loaded and Bill Mazeroski at bat.  Because he is making franks and beans for dinner, Felix calls Oscar in the press box to instruct him to avoid eating frankfurters at the ballpark.  During the phone call, Oscar misses Mazeroski hitting into a 5-4-3 triple play.

Walter Matthau played Oscar, a natural fit as he originated the role on Broadway with Art Carney as Felix.  Jack Lemmon played Felix in the film.  It’s one of several starring Matthau and Lemmon.

The actual Mets vs. Pirates game resulted in a 5-2 Mets victory.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on August 31, 2013.