The Night the Lights Went Out at Shea

Four decades later, the black and white images serve as static reminders of the dark days (and nights) of life in New York at the time.

The infamous 25-hour blackout on July 13, 1977 has gone down in history as a night of chaos and terror throughout the city that resulted in damages and looting to  1,616 stores, rioting that led to 1,037 fires and 3,776 arrests. According to a congressional study, the blackout resulted in more than $300 million in damages (or roughly $1.2 billion today).

When Shea Stadium went dark just after 9:30 p.m. Mets third baseman Lenny Randle was in the batter’s box leading off the bottom of the sixth inning. Just as Cubs starter Ray Burris wound up … boom.

Lights out.

“It was pitch black, so I swing, make contact, and take off,” Randle said. “What would you do? The Cubs Manny Trillo and Ivan de Jesus tackled me as I coming into second. I’m from Compton so I’m used to playing with no lights, having games lit with candles and car high-beams. We had great eyes and great vision. I figured the game was going to continue, but I guess everyone in charge was too concerned about the ice cream melting.”

Burris added:

“Lights had gone out during games before, so I just stood there on the mound. I noticed Lenny had taken a phantom swing, pretended he hit the ball, and started running the bases. I thought, ‘What in the world is he doing? I had the ball in my hand. If memory serves, I tried to hit him as he rounded second. Lenny was a colorful character, loved to compete.”

 

Burris and the Cubs were staying at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. In an interview with Vice Sports, Burris still remembers the experience clearly:

“Seeing the rioting and looting firsthand was unbelievable, guys everywhere just walking down the street with stolen TVs and stuff. It was like people were possessed. We didn’t say a word, but you start thinking ‘This is not good, this is not good.’ What if they storm or hijack the bus? Or they realize there’s professional athletes making good money on here? Being young men, we would have protected ourselves. We told the bus driver, do not stop. I don’t know the driver’s state of mind, but he did an amazing job getting us through the mayhem.”

With the elevator out of order, Burris climbed the stairs to his room on the 16th floor. “I can’t see my hand in front of me and I don’t know which way to go,” he said. “I was scared to death. I didn’t know if there was someone hiding in the hallway or what. I went room to room looking at the numbers up close until I found mine. There was no air conditioning, so I hardly slept. The next morning, I was so happy we were headed to Philadelphia, but I still had to carry everything back down the stairs.”

Of course, never at a lose for words, Randle remembers the night saying, “I thought it was my last day on Earth. I thought God was calling.”

Link: Art Shamsky pushing to get Hodges into Hall of Fame

The 1969 Mets have representation in the Hall of Fame. But is it enough? Not according to many, many fans of that club, as well as actual team members. Now one player wants to elevate his efforts to enshrine that team’s manager, the late Gil Hodges.Art Shamsky, who played on the Mets from 1968 through 1971, will put together a committee to consider people from the “Golden Days Era” (1950 to 1969). Hodges has been considered by many of the committees, which feature Hall members as well as current team executives, historians and media folks, only to fall short.

Link: Baseball that brought Mets first victory finally comes home

How far can one baseball go?This baseball was the one in play when the Mets recorded the first victory in their history, on April 23, 1962, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. You can now see it at the Mets’ Hall of Fame at their ballpark, Citi Field, where it arrived just last week nearly 57 years after its moment of glory.

Link: Kranepool gets donor

Former New York Mets first baseman Ed Kranepool is due to get a new kidney next month. Kranepool said the kidney transplant is coming from an anonymous donor.

Link: Darling taking medical leave

Mets broadcaster Ron Darling announced he will be taking a leave of absence due to a medical issue. The former Mets pitcher, now broadcaster, said a recent medical exam revealed a large mass in his chest.

April 11, 1962: A lot of firsts, and a loss

On the eve of the New York Mets first game in franchise history, general manager George Weiss was asked what his goal was for the fledgling franchise.

“We are aiming for .500 and we will be pleasantly surprised if we go above .500,” he told the media. “(Casey) Stengel will not let the men coast and he will get some good from our young pitchers with good arms who never had real opportunities to pitch regularly before.”

Weiss was referring to Al Jackson (26), Jay Hook (25), Bob Miller (23) and Craig Anderson (23) who, by season’s end, combined to record 20 wins and 68 losses. Even veteran ace (for lack of a better word) Roger Craig was ineffective, finishing 10-24 with a 4.51 ERA in 42 appearances (33 starts).

Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy have been broadcasting since Night One. “You thought they’d hit a little, and they did,” said Ralph Kiner. “But the pitching …”

But “the pitching” is right. The Mets staff finished last in wins, ERA, hits allowed, runs, home runs and strikeouts.

“We knew they were going to be bad, but not that bad,” added legendary Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy years later.

On April 11, 1962 in front of a modest crowd of 16,147, the New York Mets took the rain-soaked field at Busch Stadium in St. Louis for their first regular season game in franchise history.

Cardinals starter Larry Jackson wasted no time exploited the Mets’ weaknesses as Richie Ashburn, Felix Mantilla and Charlie Neal went quietly in the first inning. The Cardinals jumped on Roger Craig early, on three consecutive hits and a balk by Craig that set up a two-run first.

The Mets made history in the second inning when Gus Bell collected the Mets first-ever hit, a line drive single to center field off Jackson. The Mets tied the game an inning later, scoring two runs. Ashburn scored the first run in franchise history and Charlie Neal recorded the first RBI. The Cards scored three runs in the bottom of the third, cruising to an 11-4 win. The Mets committed three errors,  left seven runners on base and grounded into two double plays. Craig, the Mets starting pitcher, allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings including a balk, marking the first loss in a season he would pile up 24 losses which is still a franchise record.

In hindsight, the Mets inaugural game was a foreshadowing of things to come. The Mets held their own through mid-May (12-19) before the wheels fell off. New York dropped 17 straight games from May 21-June 6. The Mets suffered through two more long losing streaks that season losing nine of 10 from June 12-June 20 and an 13-game losing streak from August 9-21. The ’62 Mets lost 120 games and recorded only 40 wins, finishing 60 1/2 games behind the National League champion San Francisco Giants.

You can listen to the entire radio broadcast of the New York Mets first game below:

SIDE NOTE: 

The New York Mets stayed at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis the night before the season opener. After the team was rained out on the scheduled April 10 date, players went back to the hotel. After having dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, a group of Mets players piled into the elevator. “We were going up to our rooms, and I was in the elevator with a bunch of other players; it was packed, and Harry Chiti jumped in there. That’s what did it,” Rod Kanehl told Peter Golenbock in his book, Amazin. “The elevator went about three floors, and it stopped.” The players were stuck in the elevator for nearly 30 minutes before help arrived.

METS FIRSTS RECORDED ON OPENING DAY 1962

  • First Game: vs. St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium
  • First Batter: Richie Ashburn
  • First Hit: Gus Bell (single, second inning vs. Cardinals)
  • First Home Run: Gil Hodges (vs. St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Larry Jackson)
  • First Run: Richie Ashburn (third inning)
  • First Walk: Felix Mantilla (third inning)
  • First Strikeout: Roger Craig (third inning)
  • First Batter Faced: Curt Flood (flied out to CF)
  • First Run Allowed: Julian Javier (first inning)
  • First Hit Allowed: Julian Javier (first inning off Roger Craig)
  • First Batter Walked: Stan Musial (fifth inning vs. Bob Moorhead)
  • First Batter to Strikeout: Gene Oliver (second inning vs. Roger Craig)
  • First Error: Charlie Neal (groundball hit to second base in sixth inning)
  • First Pinch-Hitter: Ed Bouchee (fourth inning, walked for Roger Craig)
  • First Relief Pitcher: Bob Moorhead (fourth inning)

RESOURCES