Archive for the '50th Anniversary' Category

The Tournament

I was discussing the post season with a friend of mine who is about my age. It is interesting how we both feel the World Series was so much better years ago (when it really meant something). It used to be special when we could not watch on TV because the games were played during the day and we were in school. I remember sneaking a transistor radio to school so I could try and listen to an inning or two. The series was usually over between October 7th and 10th when the weather was still pretty nice. Now a days, the series encroaches November. The regular season seems like the Fourth of July picnic, so very long ago. So what has changed?

My friend and I grew old. That’s what changed.

Not too long ago I read an article that described how what we grew up with as kids seemed so much better than it is today. That theme was the premise of Woody Allen’s most recent film “Midnight in Paris”. The main character, Gil Pender played by actor Owen Wilson, longs for the past because he thinks things were so much better. As he walks around Paris late at night, he magical travels backward in time and discovers that his literary heroes from yesteryear feel the same way he did. Their past clearly was better than their present.  I often remember fondly of a ten team American and National League who sent their champion to the World Series. No divisions, no wild cards–ah the good old days.

But in fact, the ten team leagues of the 1960s was one of the shortest lived major league configurations in baseball history. It lasted from 1961 (1962 in the NL) to 1968. In 1969, the leagues were split into divisions, adding a league championship series to the post season mix. Since then, all hell has broken loose—or has it?

Divisional play has now been around for forty-three seasons. If you consider 1900 as being the start of the modern baseball era, divisional play has been around for 38% of the last 112 seasons. Prior to 1961, there were eight teams in each league (the AL was born in 1901). A 154 game season concluded with a best of seven World Series. The only changes were minor such as a few franchises moving to a new city. That was 60 years or 54% of modern baseball history.

I grew up in the sixties. The format that I wax poetic about, ten teams in a league, was around for just 7% of modern baseball history. So what makes me think it was the best of times for baseball?

It’s simply a matter of perspective. Those twenty teams just happened to be in that format when I first fell in love with baseball.

So the idea that anyone’s memory of the past far outshines the present is only opinion and not based in real fact. But when discussing the World Series, there is an important distinction. Prior to 1969, the two teams in the World Series were the two best teams, a first place team from each league. As soon as divisional play was introduced, that claim could no longer be made.  Then it was possible for a team with a lesser record within the NL or AL could represent their league in the World Series. Many considered that sacrilege at the time. One can only wonder what those opinions would have been had they known that some day (our present) a team with the fifth best record in their league would be able to compete on the grandest baseball stage of all.

That brings us to today where the San Francisco Giants just completed a four game sweep of the Detroit Tigers to become the world champions of 2012. Neither of these teams had the best record in their respective leagues. In fact, the Tigers did have the fifth best record in the American League, even less wins than the two wild card winners. In the NL the Giants record was better than the number two wild card Cardinals and tied with the 94 win first wild card Braves. But the Nationals (98 wins), Reds (97 wins), Yankees (95 wins) and Athletics (94 wins) all went home early, losing out at a chance to be in the Series.

No hard feelings. That’s the system all parties, the owners and players, agreed upon. So if the Yankees, who won 95 games, are now being considered a failure, were do we go from there?

Around this area, Yankee fans continue to call in the talk shows blasting their team’s failure in the post season. Here’s a team that has been to the post season every year but one since the last ice age. Yet their fans are acting like the Bombers are the Houston Astros. It is absolutely ludicrous that so many fans believe that the only day they can be happy is when their team wins the last game of the World Series. Do you know the odds of that? It’s one in 30 and that does not take into account the talent on the teams. Of course the odds are different for every club.

How is it that a team that wins 90 or more games is a failure? They are not a failure. That is a very good season. But only one team can ultimately come out on top. The Yankees won 95 games, hit 245 home runs during the regular season, staved off a huge challenge for the division title by the Baltimore Orioles down the stretch, won the first round of the playoffs with less than stellar offense but then got swept in the ALCS by a buzz saw from Detroit. So they’re a failure? If so, what does that make the Cubs?

Here’s the way we need to look at the baseball season. There are two parts, the regular season then there is the Tournament. Yes, I purposely capitalized the word.

The regular season serves the purpose of giving one third of the teams an opportunity to participate in the post season Tournament. A team does not have to have the best record in the Tournament but the team with the better record gets a better opportunity because finally seeding makes sense.

Certainly it is better this year than ever before if your team wins a division. The six teams that win a division title now get at least three games in the post season. The two wild cards from each league must fight over who is the better wild card by winning a single game. I love this idea because it gives incentive and motivation for a team to win a division.  The Atlanta Braves were upset with the format because after 94 wins, they were bounced by the Cardinals. Well Atlanta, that’s the way it goes. Next time, try and win the division.

So to the fans of the Yankees, Cardinals, Nationals, Athletics, Rangers, Braves, Reds, and Orioles…rejoice. Your teams did not fail. They got to the Tournament and that is an accomplishment. If your team made the league championship series even better yet. Am I saying you should not be disappointed your team didn’t get to the end? No, of course not.  Just have some perspective. Enjoy every regular season win and put each loss into perspective. Baseball should be an escape, not the cause of acid reflux.

Near Perfection, 43 Years Ago Today

There are many memorable moments in the 50 year history of the New York Mets. One occurred a little over a month ago when on June 1st, Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history. It came in the Mets 8,020th game.  It’s hard to believe that Santana’s no-hitter came 43 years after the Mets and Tom Seaver came so close to the first no-hitter in club history. In fact Seaver was two outs away from a perfect game in still the most dominating pitching performance in Mets history.

 

Seaver’s classic that occurred 43 years ago this evening had no controversial call down the third base line and he walked no-one. Seaver was in complete command until journeyman Jim Qualls hit a dunker that broke up the perfecto. Perhaps it was a good thing in a way because Seaver’s near no-hitter probably will always be better remembered than had he got through that ninth one-two-three. Here now is a post I wrote several years ago that recaps that game as I remembered it as a 13 year old watching that Wednesday evening in living black and white so very long ago…

 

July 9, 1969, up till this point the Mets had never tasted success. Having begun life in the National League seven seasons earlier, the Mets had never finished higher than 9th place. They also had never been above the .500 mark at any significant time during any season. But there were signs of hope in the previous couple of years. Players like Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Cleon Jones, Bud Harrelson, Ken Boswell, and Jerry Grote were all produced from the farm. Good trades were made too. In 1968 the Mets got center fielder Tommy Agee from the White Sox. He was hit in the head during the first game of spring training and was never right that season but ’69 was another story. Oh yeah and let’s not forget Tom Seaver.


On the morning of July 9, 1969 the Mets found themselves in an unusual position. They were just 4.5 games out of first place behind the Chicago Cubs who the Mets beat the previous day in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the 9th inning. The current Mets team would be proud of the way their ancestors scored 3 runs in overcoming a 3 to 1 deficit. The Mets record was 46 and 34 after the game, a whopping 12 games above .500. A state of euphoria had enveloped the city of New York in regards to the Mets. No one was quite sure of what was happening. Could the Mets really have been this good? This team which never accomplished much was now the hottest ticket in town.


In contrast, the other team in town was floundering at 40 and 46. It was the Yankees first year without Mickey Mantle, and with their poor play, their attendance was hurting to say the least. The Mets had grabbed the headlines and the fans started pouring into Shea Stadium. Without a doubt, New York was a Mets town.


Having won the first game of this crucial series with the Cubs, the Mets would send ace right hander Tom Seaver to the hill on Wednesday night the 9th. If Mets fans and baseball fans in general had not yet thought anything special was happening in Flushing, that would all change in a few hours.

The starting line up for the Mets that night had Tommy Agee leading off and playing center field. Bobby Pfiel at second, Cleon Jones in left, the recently acquired Donn Clendenon at first, the “glider” Ed Charles at third, Ron Swoboda in right, Jerry Grote catching, Al Weis at short (Bud Harrelson was on military reserve duty and had to miss the game) and of course Seaver pitching.


Shea stadium was packed, over 50,000 in the house. The ballpark was still relatively new and shiny. The Mets took the field, the crowd cheered as Jane Jarvis played the organ (I miss that organ). Everyone stood for the national anthem and of course back then you saw that on television. For me, it was in black and white since we didn’t get our first color TV till 1970.


The Cubs sent up Don Kessenger, the Cubs shortstop to lead off. Seaver promptly struck him out. Next second baseman Glenn Beckert flied out to Swoboda then left fielder Billy Williams struck out, side retired.

 

In the bottom of the first, Tommy Agee led off with a triple. Bobby Pfiel doubled to left and the Mets had a quick 1-0 lead. The crowd went nuts.


In the top half of the second facing the Cubs heart of the order, Seaver struck out the side. Down went Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Al Spangler. With one out in the Mets half of the inning, the Cubs committed two errors in a row, one by Ron Santo and the other by Kessinger. The Mets had two men on. Tom Seaver then promptly singled to center driving in Jerry Grote. Al Weis went to third. Agee who tripled in his first at bat, doubled driving in Weis from third. Ted Abernathy replaced the Cubs starter Ken Holtzman. At the end of the second, the Mets had a 3 to 0 lead.


Seaver retired the bottom third of the Cubs line up without any problem getting Randy Hundley (Todd’s father) and Jim Qualls to fly out before striking out Abernathy. The Mets went quietly in their half so a third the way through, the Mets lead 3 to 0.


Top of the order for the Cubs in the forth inning as Seaver went to work. He had retired all Chicago batters to face him so far. Lead off hitter Kessinger struck out looking. Beckert and Williams grounded out, twelve in a row retired by Seaver. On TV you could sense a small buzz developing among the crowd.


The Mets put a couple of runners on in the 4th via a walk and an error but were left stranded when Cleon Jones stuck out. In the Cubs fifth, Seaver again faced the big hitters in the Cubs line up. Ron Santo flied out to Agee, Hall of famer Ernie Banks grounded out to short, and Spangler struck out again. Now Tom Seaver had retired the first fifteen batters to face him.


Swoboda singled to right, but the Mets did not score in the fifth. Seaver entering the 6th inning having not allowed a runner, not a hit, a walk, a hit’s batsman, nothing. He would face the bottom third of the order now. After a couple of ground outs, Seaver struck out Abernathy. He was making it look so easy. The huge Shea crowed roared louder and louder with each out. TV announcer Ralph Kiner was not talking about it but you could hear it in his voice. Something historic may be happening here.


The Mets went quietly in the 6th. Ted Abernathy was doing a good job in his own right keeping the game close. The Cubs sent up the top of the order for the third time in the 7th inning. Kessinger and Beckert flied out and Billy Williams grounded out to third. Eighteen in a row set aside.


Cleon Jones hit a home run in the bottom of the seventh which made the score 4 to 0 in favor of the Mets. It was Cleon’s 10th dinger of the year.


In the top of the eighth, manager Gil Hodges sensing history in the making made some defensive changes. Wayne Garret went in to play second base. Bobby Pfiel moved over to third spelling Ed Charles. Rod Gaspar went into right to replace “Rocky” Ron Swoboda. After Ron Santo flied out, Seaver struck out Ernie Banks and Al Spangler. Seaver appeared to be getting stronger as the game went on. He was simply throwing smoke. Twenty-four Chicago Cubs were retired in a row. The crowd was on its feet. Three outs to go till perfection.


With one out in the Mets eighth, Al Weis singled. Tom Seaver bunted him over to second. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. The Mets did not score however and that seemed to be okay with the fans. They just wanted to get on to the ninth.


50,709 fans roared and held their breath at the same time. Only a handful of pitchers prior had ever thrown a perfect game. Tom Seaver was three outs away. Randy Hundley grounded back to the mound. Seaver threw the ball to first and there was one out, twenty-five in a row.


Up comes Jim Qualls. He flied to right in the third and grounded out to first in the sixth. This was Jim Qualls’s first year in the big leagues, a below average player at best. He would be traded by the Cubs at the end of the season to Montreal, then on to the Reds, then White Sox. He would be released in 1972 ending his short career. Others like him would never be remembered. He himself would have faded into baseball obscurity if not for this one at bat. Jim Qualls will always be remembered by Mets fans old enough to have witnessed this game. I forget the count but the pitch from Seaver seemed to be a good one. At that time, the camera angle was from behind the catcher. The center field camera had yet to gain acceptance for Mets telecasts on WOR 9. The pitch appeared to be a slider low and angling in on the batter. Qualls swung and somehow got his bat on the ball. The ball sailed high and lazy to the outfield a little left of center. The ball appeared to hover as if to give Cleon Jones enough time to get under it. It was clearly too far out for Weis to reach. The huge crowd grew silent as if someone turned the volume control down. Bob Murphy’s voice gave us watching at home a feeling of hopelessness. The ball fell to earth and for the first time during the game, a ball hit by a Chicago batter touched down on Shea’s outfield grass. The bid for a perfect game by Tom Seaver was over. I wanted to cry. I’m sure I was not alone. At Shea, 50,709 fans gave Seaver a standing ovation that seemed to last forever.

Twenty-five batters in a row then Jim Qualls stood on first base. Seaver got the next two batters to end the game. The game became known as the near-perfect game. In a way, the result may have more legs than if Seaver had pitched the perfecto. You see, no Mets pitcher in the 44 year history of this pitching rich franchise has ever pitched a perfect game or even a no-hitter. When the topic comes up, this is the game that all Mets kingdom points to.


Eventually, Seaver did pitch a no-hitter but it was as a member of the Cincinnati Reds (he never looked right dressed in red). I don’t even remember who he did it against. Other Mets pitched one-hitters. Dwight Gooden did it, David Cone did it too. And ironically both of these pitchers went on to pitch no-hitters for the Yankees of all teams. Cone’s of course was a surreal perfect game, doing it on a day dedicated to Yogi Berra with Don Larsen in attendance.


That game long ago vs. the Cubs will live forever in Mets history. I wonder if somewhere a tape of that game exists in a vault. Wouldn’t you love to see that one on Mets Classics? I certainly would, and this time in color.


Not only was it an historic game for Seaver and the Mets, but it was truly a bench mark for that team of 1969. After the game, the Cubs lead over the Mets was reduced to 3.5 games. The Mets won the first two games of that series against a Cubs team who did not believe the Mets were for real. By the end of the season, the Cubs knew better and their first clue should have been that night in July, 1969.

Mets All Time on the Fourth

What’s the Fourth of July without a baseball game. Today, the Mets will play their 61st Fourth of July contest. Even though the Mets have only been around for 50 years, in the early days they played doubleheaders on the Fourth. Ah, the good old days. Two for the price of one. This year’s Fourth of July game will be at Citi Field starting at 1:10PM. It is the first time a Fourth of July game will be played at Citi Field.

Here is the compiled list of every Fourth of July Mets game in their 50 year history…

1962  – Mets lose to the Giants in San Francisco by the score of 11-4 in game one of a doubleheader. In game two the Mets lost 10-3.
1963 – At Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Mets lose game one by a score of 2-1. They lost the nightcap too, getting blanked 3-0.
1964 – The Mets lose to the Dodgers at Chevez Ravine by a score of 3-2.
1965 – At Shea Stadium, the Mets lose to St. Louis 6-2.
1966 – Finally, the Mets win on the fourth of July. In fact they did it twice defeating the Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium by scores of 9-6 and 8-1.
1967 – The Mets defeat the Giants and Juan Marichal at Shea Stadium by a score of 8-7.
1968 – The Mets split a doubleheader at Shea against the Pirates, losing in the first by a score of 3-2 and winning the second 4-3.
1969 – The Mets trounce the Pirates twice at Forbes Field by scores of 11-6 and 9-2.
1970 – Mets beat the Phillies in the last season at Connie Mack by the score of 7-2.  Seaver wins his 13th.
1971 – The Braves shutout the Mets 2-0 at Shea.
1972 – The Mets, behind Tom Seaver, shutout the Padres 2-0 at Shea in game one of a doubleheader. San Diego wins game two 4-2.
1973 – The Mets lose in Montreal by a score of 7-5.
1974 – The Mets split a pair with the Phillies at Shea with the Mets winning the first 5-3 and losing the nightcap 6-2.
1975 – Mets beat the Phillies at Veterans Stadium 4-3.
1976 – At Shea the Mets split a doubleheader with the Cubs. The Mets win game one 9-4 and lose game two 4-2.
1977 – In Philly, the Mets lose 3-1.
1978 – The Mets split with the Phillies again at Shea. Mets win opener 4-0 and lose closer 3-2.
1979 – The Phillies beat the Mets 1-0 at the Vet.
1980 – The Mets split with the Expos at Shea. Game one goes to the Mets, a 9-5 win while game two is a 5-4 Montreal win.
1981 – No game today. The baseball players were on strike.
1982 – The Phillies sweep the Mets in a doubleheader at Shea by scores of 9-7 and 7-2.
1983 – Mets get shutout by Phillies 4-0 at the Vet.
1984 – Astros defeat Mets 10-5 at Shea.
1985 – In 19 innings, the Mets defeat the Atlanta Braves at Fulton County Stadium by a score of 16-13. The game lasted six hours and 10 minutes and finished about 4:00AM. Fireworks were shot off after the game waking many in the Atlanta area.
1986 – Doc Gooden and the Mets defeat Houston 2-1 at Shea.
1987 – Mets lose to the Reds in Cincinnati by a score of 7-3.
1988 – Reds beat Mets again, this time at Shea by score of 5-1.
1989 – Astros defeat Mets 10-3 at Astrodome.
1990 – Mets get back at Houston winning 7-4 at Shea.
1991 – Mets beat Expos in Montreal by score of 5-1
1992 – In a doubleheader against the Astros at Shea, the Mets won the first 5-3 and lost the second 3-1.
1993 – The Giants beat the Mets 10-8 at Shea.
1994 – The Mets beat the Giants 2-1 at Candlestick.
1995 – The Cubs shutout the Mets 3-0 at Shea Stadium.
1996 – Mets shutout Expos 4-0 in Montreal.
1997 – Mets beat Marlins 6-2 at Shea.
1998 - Braves defeat Mets in Atlanta 4-1.
1999 - Mets defeat Braves 7-6 at Shea.
2000 – Marlins beat Mets 9-8 at Florida.
2001 – At Shea, Mets defeat Cubs 2-1.
2002 – In Florida, Marlins take Mets 9-7.
2003 – Mets win over Reds 7-2.
2004 – Mets defeat the Yankees in the only interleague game between the two clubs on July 4th by a score of 6-5.
2005 - Mets defeat Washington 5-2 in the nation’s capital.
2006 – At Shea, Mets defeat Pirates by a score of 7-6 scoring 3 runs in 8th.
2007 – At Coors Field, the Rockies crush the Mets 17-7.
2008 – Phillies beat Mets 3-2 at Citizen’s Bank Park.
2009 – Phillies do it again at Citizen’s, this time by a score of 4-1.
2010 – Mets take care of the Nats in DC 9-5.
2011 – Mets defeat Dodgers in LA by a score of 5-2.

This Date in Mets History

The Mets won on June 6th for the first time ever in 1967.  That was during the Summer of Love when hits like “Light my Fire” by the Doors and “Incense and Pepperments” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock were on the airways.  At that time, we’re talking AM Radio. Remember those transistor radios we would take to the beach or the pool?

On that date, to listen to the twi-night doubleheader in Pittsburgh, you would have had to tune to WJRZ AM. I cannot recall if the games were on WOR channel 9 that evening but if the Mets were televising, that would have been the only place to see them.  In 1967 there was no SNY, Sportschannel, MSG, MLB Network, At Bat 12 app for your Droid, or anything else that back in 1967 that would have been assumed to be the stuff of science fiction. Speaking of science fiction, the original (and still the best) Star Trek TV series had completed it’s first season on NBC.  Little did we know then that the devices Captain Kirk. Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy were carrying around would some day be real. But instead of communicating with starships, today we can talk and text each other and get the score of the Mets game no matter where we are.

What made the first of the twi-night contests interesting is that it was started by a young pitcher by the name of Tom Seaver.  It was Seaver’s first year up with the big club.  Seaver had  a record of 4-3, on his way to a fine 16-13 season. After the season, he would be named 1967 National League Rookie of the Year.

June 6th, ’67 was also the day of the amateur draft. The Mets drafted left handed pitcher Jon Matlack as the fourth overall pick in the nation.  It would turn out to be quite a day for the Mets.

Here’s the lineup Seaver would face in the opening game… Matty Alou, Maury Wills, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Donn Clendenon who in two years would help the Mets to their first world championship, Gene Ally and Jerry May.  Seaver did just fine, shutting out the Bucs on four hits through six innings.  Unfortunately the Mets could not score any runs either off of Pirate pitcher Dennis Ribrant.  The game remained scoreless through nine innings.

In the top of the tenth, left fielder Willie Davis, who came to the Mets the previous winter from the Dodgers for Ron Hunt and Jim Hickman, singled. Second year player Cleon Jones came in the game and ran for Davis.  Met legend Ed Kranepool struck out before second baseman Jerry Buchek singled, moving Jones to third.  Third baseman Ken Boyer flied out, deep enough so Jones could score the game’s first run. The Mets led after ten and a half innings by the score of 1-0.

After catcher Jerry Grote grounded out to end the inning, Cleon Jones stayed in the game and played left field. Reliever Don Shaw, who had come into the game in the ninth, struck out Wills and Clemente before getting Stargell to pop out to end the game.  The Mets took the opener 1-0.

Dick Selma started the second game for the Mets against Juan Pizzaro.  In the second inning, first baseman Ron Swoboda (yes, first baseman) tripled in the first run of the game.  It stayed that way until the Pirates third when Selma gave up two runs to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead.  Like Swoboda’s run scoring hit, the Pirates’ two runs were also driven in as a result of a triple, this one from Willie Stargell.

Swoboda was in the thick of the Mets offense again, doubling in the fourth. The ball got passed center fielder Matty Alou for an error as Swoboda rounded the bases and scored the tying run.

Mets pitchers Selma, Bill Denehy, and Jack Hamilton combined to shut out Pittsburgh through the ninth. The Mets had not scored again so for the second game in the same day, the Mets and Pirates where headed to extra innings.

Young Ron Swoboda had accounted for both Mets runs in game 2. He tripled in the second driving in a run then doubled in the fourth and scored on a two base error.  Swoboda led off the 10th and hit a bomb to deep center field, clearing the fence for a home run. The Mets led 3-2.  Hamilton stayed in the game in the tenth and retired the Pirates only giving up a walk. The Mets won the game 3-2, sweeping the doubleheader.

It was a wonderful day to be a Mets fan. They had swept a doubleheader from the Pirates, a power house with future Hall of Fame players in the lineup. The Mets also drafted Jon Matlack earlier in the evening who would become a major pitching force a few years down the road.

But it was one day, not a season. In fact the Mets record at the conclusion of play on June 6, 1967 was 17-30. They were in tenth place fifteen games behind.  The team was going nowhere.

However, there were clues as to what would be to come.  Dominant pitching, specifically from a young man named Seaver, was on display. The Mets staff held the powerful Pirates to 3 runs in 20 innings.  Players like Kranepool, Cleon Jones, Ed Charles, Bud Harrelson who had played shortstop in both ends of the doubleheader, Ron Swoboda who was the entire offense in game 2, a 24 year old catcher named Jerry Grote, all contributed that day. The seeds of a World Series champion were beginning to grow and bear fruit.

Also there was an indication of some magic with this team. The last place Mets win two 10 inning games by one run each. Perhaps a coincidence or maybe a sign that there was something special about this franchise.

Ultimately ’67 ended worse than 1966. The Mets lost 101 games and appeared to take a step backward. But 1968 would be better and 1969 became history.  If in ’67, a last place team could show signs that a brighter future was on the way, can a team a game and a half out of first place today with a six game better than .500 record be showing similar signs for our future. I think it can and hopefully it will.

That’s the way it was June 6, 1967, 45 years ago today.  And you can look it up.