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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Harvey Frommer at:
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,
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