Podcast: Mets-Dodgers (05.30.1962)

On May 30, 1962, the New York Mets were swept in a doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers, 13-6 in Game 1 and 6-5 in Game 2 at The Polo Grounds.

Podcast: Matthew Silverman

On May 19, 1963, the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers had a classic pitcher’s duel at Dodger Stadium.The Dodgers scored on a sacrifice fly by Tommy Davis in the first inning. After that run, it was all Sandy Koufax and Roger Craig. Both pitchers posted one zero after another as the lone run held up to give Dodgers a 1-0 win.

Meeting Bob Murphy

It was Sunday, September 4, 1988, right smack in the middle of Labor Day weekend. My wife Nancy and I had tickets to the Mets/Dodgers game on that day. The weather forecast called for rain, but since we had already lined up a babysitter for our children, aged four and seven, we decided to give it a go. The rain began to fall right about the time we crossed the George Washington Bridge.

“Do you think that we should turn around?” Nancy asked.

“Not yet,” I answered. “We’re almost there, and besides, we already have a babysitter and everything. Let’s give it our best shot.”

There really wasn’t an ‘and everything’ to speak of. We had a babysitter. We were going to the Mets game. That’s basically it.

We got to the parking lot and ran between the raindrops into the stadium. I remember the ticket taker smiling knowingly at me as if to say, “If you’re here in this weather, you must have a babysitter.”

Our seats were located out in the pouring rain. I asked an usher if we could move up to the dry seats.  He just shrugged his shoulders. As we were climbing up the steps, I swear I heard him say, “If you’re here in this weather, you must have a babysitter.”

I looked back but he was gone.

We sat there for an hour, watching the rain pummel the tarp on the infield as the outfield water began to collect and form puddles. I noticed a bus backing up through the players parking lot next to the Mets’ bullpen. The team was hitting the road after today’s game, so I figured that this activity meant the game was about to be called on account of rain. I decided there was still time to try to make something of the day, so I said, “Why don’t we try to find the new Mets Hall of Fame?” Nancy was tired of being wet from the blowing rain as well as the water cascading down the stadium steps, so we got up and both headed for an exit.

“Maybe we should just go,” she said, her wet shoes squeaking as she walked.

The voice in the back of my mind immediately began screaming, “Don’t go! We have a babysitter!” However, I chose to take a humorous approach with a Bill Murray line from the movie Caddyshack, “I don’t think the hard stuff’s coming for a while.” Although I didn’t see it, I believe that I heard her roll her eyes at me.

We found our way to the press level and made a left and a right and another left until I found the exact spot that I always seem to find in times like these: Lost!

“Are you sure you know where you are going?” Nancy asked. “Why don’t we try to find someone that we can ask for directions?”

I wouldn’t even qualify that question with an answer. Real men don’t ask for directions. Besides, I was pretty sure that we had already passed into an area where we didn’t belong. We forged ahead with another few more turns, hoping to find our way out before we were arrested for trespassing.

At this point, I saw someone coming down the narrow corridor from the other direction. Luckily, it wasn’t a policeman. It was none other than long time New York Mets announcer Bob Murphy. He gave us a smile and a nod, acknowledging us as fans but also indicating that he had somewhere to go.

“Do you think we are going to play baseball today, Bob?” Nancy asked as Murphy passed us in the close quarters of the hallway.

“Well, little lady, it’s raining awfully hard,” Bob Murphy said, “and there’s an awful lot of water on the field. I’d have to say that it doesn’t look good for today.”

Murphy disappeared behind a door.

Suddenly, a security guard was heading our way, waving his hands and shouting to get our attention. My go-to reaction to troubled situations was to play stupid. Somehow, it’s always been believable. This time I merely told the truth. We were looking for the Mets Hall of Fame and got lost in the catacombs of the Shea press level. The guard told us that the game has been rained out, the Hall of Fame was closed, and he sent us towards the exit.

“I wish I had more time to talk to Bob Murphy,” I said as we headed outside.

“Were you planning to ask for a happy recap of his men’s room visit? That’s where he was headed.” Nancy said. I hate it when she has better jokes than me.

We exchanged our rainchecks for the game of September 22 and got to see the Mets clinch the 1988 National League Eastern Division Pennant. That was an exciting and electrical night, one that I’ll never soon forget. It’s my second favorite New York Mets Shea Stadium experience of all time.

My first is meeting Bob Murphy.

The Eyes Have It

His eyes froze the five year old version of me, instantly. That Christmas morning-type of frozen, when your haul from Santa is witnessed for the very first time in all its glory.

There, peering straight at me, and piercing straight through me, from just above the Mets dugout were the eyes of Bud Harrelson.

They weren’t dark or brown or deep space black, like the eye coloring of everyone else in my neighborhood from downtown Brooklyn. No, these were unrelentingly light. Were they blue? No, that’s too dark. Aqua? Maybe, except Coney Island never had water as transparent as Buddy’s eyes so, scratch that. Were they violet? I don’t know! But if they were, what was violet? With that, I was all out of colors from my Crayola memory bank.

My mental paralysis was suddenly released by the sound of my father’s voice.

“C’mon, John-John. Buddy is waiting to say hello to us. He’ll give us his autograph.”

My father wasn’t lying. Now standing in full view in front of the dugout and smiling, Bud Harrelson was waving at me to come down from Row 5 of the Field Box and meet him at Row 1, so we could interact over the top of the dugout.

But each time he smiled and waved and LOOKED at me with those EYES, my terror resumed, as if he had a squad of frothing pit bulls pacing behind him, impatiently awaiting their long-promised 5 year-old boy snack. I could not and would not move. Not today. Not here at Shea. My Dad eventually apologized for my statue imitation, Buddy waved goodbye and then disappeared forever.

As I got older I wondered why I had reacted the way I did that day. I finally realized it’s likely because it was the first time I’d ever viewed a baseball player as a human being. I’d watched them on WOR-TV and caught them taking batting practice back when you could actually watch the Mets take BP. But they were distant figures. Characters. Unreachable Gods.

How many times have you ever looked a baseball player directly in his eyes? If you meet one, chances are they’re signing something or talking to three people at once or distracted in general. They’re not stopping to have a heartfelt one-on-one with you, like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in “Heat”. Buddy didn’t talk to me that day but his eyes certainly spoke to me. I learned in that moment he was a living, breathing man and a really nice one at that, just like my Dad.

A few years later, the 10 year-old version of me learned the darker side of eye contact with another beloved Met: Joe Torre.

Let me be clear: Joe did nothing bad or wrong or Dave Kingman-ish to me.

I was being a punk. Period.

Torre was managing the Mets, so this is around ’77 or ‘78 and, as usual, because there were more ushers than fans in the stands, I was able to stroll down to the first row behind the dugout and watch the game from there.

I don’t recall the details of the game or what prompted me to do what I did but as Torre returned from the mound after removing God-knows-who from the game, I hatched a plan.

For the first and last time in my life, I decided to stand up and boo a New York Met. Consider that statement for a moment. As a Mets fan in the 1970s at Shea, booing could have been a full-time gig. Yet, I never booed Richie Hebner (who pulled the shoulder of his uniform more than he ever pulled anything into the right field corner). I never booed Frank Tavares, who could make spectacular plays look easy and make routine plays look like he was fielding a hand grenade loaded with ebola. I never booed Bruce Boisclair for being Bruce Boisclair.

Why?

Joe Torre. That’s why.

The Joe Torre returning from the mound that day obviously wasn’t the warm, cuddly, fuzzy, emotionally-engaged Hall Of Fame communicator we know and love today. No, this was the 37 year-old, hard-nosed, powerful, thick-bodied, hairy-chested, simian-armed Joe Torre.

So, as I’m in the middle of a full-throated, lusty boo of Mr. Torre, he picks up his head and fixes me with a stare that I’m pretty sure killed the entire row of people behind me with a thoroughness rivaled only by the nuclear bomb detonation scene in “The Day After”.  It was a withering, soul-reducing, shrinkage-inducing glare, radiating from eyes that were as black and un-Buddy Harrelson as eyes could ever be.

I froze — again — as our eyes stayed locked, Torre telling me silently, “I don’t need to look where I’m walking, punk. I only need to peer into your soul and take whatever little remains.”

I slowly sat down and stopped booing. Forever.

Over the years, as I’ve awakened with the cold sweats from reliving these images on an endless loop, I came to realize that like Bud Harrelson, Joe Torre was a human too.

I know baseball players have a dream job and they get insane amounts of money for said dream job but my feeling is the great ones always try hard and they sometimes miss, just like all of us do. And, I believe, the not-so-great ones are doing the best they can. So, after the blood returned to my face on that day in Flushing in 1970-something I decided booing was no longer an option for me as a fan.

My Mets are human, just like you and me. I could tell that just from looking in their eyes.

Podcast: Mets-Dodgers (05.19.1963)

On May 19, 1963, the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers had a classic pitcher’s duel at Dodger Stadium.The Dodgers scored on a sacrifice fly by Tommy Davis in the first inning. After that run, it was all Sandy Koufax and Roger Craig. Both pitchers posted one zero after another as the lone run held up to give Dodgers a 1-0 win.

A Metsian Podcast

I appeared as a guest on A Metsian Podcast on Thursday night to talk about the current state of the Mets with Mets bloggers Sam Maxwell, Rich Sparago and Mike Lecolant.