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The New York Mets of Yore

Shea Stadium denizens delight today in the doings of their New York Mets. The word in Flushing is that the home team will be in the World Series. The team looks good, very good. They are surely a far cry from the Mets of yesteryear, of yore and yawn.
But it is  pleasurable for some to flash back to the way they were.
   
AMAZIN' METS The first run they ever scored came in on a balk. They lost the first nine games they ever played. They finished last their first four seasons. Once they were losing a game, 12-1, and there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. A fan held up a sign that said "PRAY!" There was a walk, and ever hopeful, thousands of voices chanted, "Let's go Mets." They were 100-l underdogs to win the pennant in 1969 and incredibly came on to finish the year as World Champions. They picked the name of the best pitcher in their history (Tom Seaver) out of a hat on April Fools' Day. They were supposed to be the replacement for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. They could have been the New York Continentals or Burros or Skyliners or Skyscrapers or Bees or Rebels or NYB's or Avengers or even Jets (all  runner-up names in a contest to tab the National League New York team that began playing ball in 1962). They've never been anything to their fans but amazing-the Amazin' New York Mets.

"CAN'T ANYBODY HERE PLAY THIS GAME?" In 1960 Casey Stengel managed the New York Yankees to a first-place finish, on the strength of a .630 percentage compiled by winning 97 games and losing 57. By 1962  he was the manager of the New York Mets, a team that finished tenth in a ten-team league. They finished 601/: games out of first place, losing more games ( 120) than any other team in the 20th century. Richie Ashburn, who batted .306 for the Mets that season and then retired, remembers those days: "It was the only time I went to a ball park in the major leagues and nobody expected you to win."

A bumbling collection of castoffs, not-quite-readyfor-prime-time major league ball players, paycheck collectors, and callow youth, the Mets underwhelmed the opposition. They had Jay Hook, who could talk for hours about why a curve ball curved (he had a Masters degree in engineering) but couldn't throw one consistently. They had"Choo-Choo" Coleman, an excellent low-ball catcher, but the team had very few low-ball pitchers. They had "Marvelous Marv" Throneberry, a Mickey Mantle look-a-like in the batter's box-and that's where the resemblance ended. Stengel had been spoiled with the likes of Mantle, Maris, Ford, Berra, etc. Day after day he would watch the Mets and be amazed at how they could find newer and more original ways to beat themselves. In desperation-some declare it was on the day he witnessed pitcher A1 Jackson go 15 innings yielding but three hits, only to lose the game on two errors committed by Marvelous Marv-Casey bellowed out his plaintive query, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

CHOO-CHOO COLEMAN A catcher for the New York Mets during their early struggling years, Coleman is a  case in point of the fact that not all things can be traced back to their origins. Once during a television interview, Coleman was asked how he got his nickname. He responded, "I don't know." He followed this up some time later with another gem. Casey Stengel, a bit frustrated by the ineptitude of the Mets, decided to return to basics. He held up a baseball during a lockerroom meeting and said, "This is a baseball." Coleman interrupted, "Wait, you're going too fast."

MARVELOUS MARV Marvin Eugene Throneberry was perhaps born to be a New York Met. His initials spelled out the name and his personality and limited skills underscored the characteristics of the New York expansion team that made its debut on April I I, 1962. Throneberry, who looked like Mickey Mantle batting but did not get the same results, labored through a  seven-year, four-different-team major league career- the Mets were his last team. He is a gentle, finehumored man, and sportswriters hung the nickname on him in good-natured jest. Throneberry loved it and went along with their efforts to depict him as a clown. Once a teammate dropped an easy fly ball. Marvelous Marv smiled and shouted, "What are you trying to do anyway, steal my fans?" A native of Collierville, Tennessee, Throneberry can be viewed today from time to time deadpanning it through a beer commercial on television-extracting dividends from his days as a New York Met.

YOUTH OF AMERICA Casey Stengel's beginning years as manager of the New York Mets were a time of trial and frustration for many. Afflicted with over-the-hill players and has-beens, Casey delighted in the potential of some of the younger Mets. Although not quite ready for prime-time baseball, they had promise and Stengel's feeling for them was revealed in this phrase, which he pronounced, "The yuth of America" (see "CAN'T ANYBODY HERE PLAY THIS GAME?").

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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