Hobie Landrith holds the distinction of being the first New York Met, selected on October 10, 1961 in the expansion draft that populated the lineups of the nascent Mets and Colt .45s.
When the Mets took the field at the Polo Grounds the following April for their first regular season game, Landrith started at catcher. His was a philosophy embracing the importance of communications between battery mates. During Landrith’s time with the San Francisco Giants, Will Connolly of the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Landrith in a 1959 column subtitled “Hobart Landrith’s An Articulate Gent” describing the relationship: “Apart from the finger signals, the pitcher and catcher should talk it over in tight spots—and almost every inning is a critical one these days. I run out to the mound to eliminate any indecision on the pitcher’s part, and mine. Some batsmen have to be pitched to very carefully.”
Landrith’s vocal quality was a subject of a 1951 scouting report for the Cincinnati Reds: “‘Pepper pot’ little backstop who brings to the major leagues a brand of on-the-field chatter comparatively unheard since the days of ‘Gabby’ Hartnett. Shrill voice behind plate can be heard all over park.”
As the pioneering member of the Mets, Landrith holds sacred ground. Fertile, it was not. In early May, the Orioles traded Marv Throneberry to the Mets for a player to be named later and cash; a month later, the Mets named Landrith. Financial strength provided the impetus. “[O]ne of Throneberry’s most compelling charms was his availability for cash, one of the few departments in which the Mets are in string contention for league leadership,” wrote New York Times sports writer Robert Lipsyte, citing team president George Weiss.
Throneberry’s performance was anything but marvelous, the alliterative adjective that became synonymous with the first baseman and right fielder. When Throneberry died in 1994, New York Times sports writer George Vecsey recalled, “There was the day that Marv hit a two-out triple with the bases loaded but was called out for missing first. Even though nearly everyone in the Mets’ dugout saw Marv miss the base, Casey Stengel, the manager, started arguing with the first-base umpire anyway. During the exchange, another umpire walked over and said, ‘Casey, I hate to tell you this, but he also missed second.'”
As a ’62 Met, Throneberry played in 116 games, batted .244, and struck out 83 times. His career ended after the 1963 season.
Throneberry became a pop culture icon through his appearances in the famed Miller Lite television commercials of the 1970s and 1980s featuring, among others, Rodney Dangerfield, Mickey Spillane, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, and Bob Uecker.
In one commercial, Throneberry appears with Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford and Billy Martin. Deford says, “There’s one guy I can’t write anything bad about, His unique brand of baseball has made him a living legend.” Other plaudits follow.
Throneberry is not in the commercial until the end. It’s the payoff after the setup—Martin thinks that Deford’s comments are targeted to him. When Deford gives a Miller Lite to Throneberry, the former Met issues the commercial’s punch line: “Cheer up, Billy. One day, you’ll be famous just like me.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 13, 2016.