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Sticking with the Mets

August 29, 2002

The history of Major League Baseball since the 1960s has been the saga of Major League Baseball betraying its own history. First there was the breaking of the two leagues God created into four, then six divisions, with playoffs. There was the addition of the designated hitter. Then came the endless players’ strikes (as I write, another one may begin tonight). And many of the game’s most venerable records are falling to players with muscles beefed up by drugs that weren’t available to Ruth, DiMaggio, and Walter Johnson.

It’s not just the details. The spirit of Major League Baseball has become disgustingly crass.

Some old-timers would trace the game’s decline to 1958, when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco. I wouldn’t go that far. The charm of Brooklyn’s beloved Bums was soon transferred to one of the first expansion teams, the New York Mets, who joined the National League in 1962.

For their first two seasons the Mets played in Manhattan’s Polo Grounds, vacated by the Giants. In 1964 they got their own new ballpark, Shea Stadium, in Queens.

The Mets quickly became the laughingstock of baseball. A team of castoffs and aging stars on the skids, they lost more than a hundred games a year (though, in fairness, there should be an asterisk by their record, in view of the lengthening of the season from 154 to 162 games). And it wasn’t just the number of losses, but the way they did it. They seemed to invent new ways to lose games. Emblematic was Marv “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry, whose fielding and hitting became equally legendary for spectacular, but endearing, ineptitude.

[Breaker quote: A fan's notes]But baseball is also a mental game, and here too Throneberry, in his way, stood out. He once hit a triple but was called out for failing to touch second base. Manager Casey Stengel tried to argue with the umpire, until one of his coaches advised against it on grounds that Throneberry had also missed first base. An optimist might point out that he at least touched third. Why should his achievement be dimmed by technicalities about the other two?

One wag, told that the Mets had scored 19 runs in one game, raised the obvious question: “Did they win?” They boasted several Hall of Famers — Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn, Richie Ashburn, Duke Snider — but unfortunately, these baseball giants belonged in nursing homes by the time the Mets acquired them.

Sandy Koufax pitched a no-hitter against the Mets; Jim Bunning, a perfect game; and one Mets’ season ended when, with nobody out and two Mets on base in the ninth inning, the batter hit into a triple play. What’s not to love about a team like that?

Meanwhile, over in the Bronx, New York’s perennial champs, the Yankees, were going the way of Mickey Mantle’s knees. By the mid 1960s the Bronx bombers were bombing, finally sinking ignominiously into the American League cellar. At the same time, the Mets’ fortunes were gradually rising, especially as they started getting such superb young pitchers as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan.

In 1969 the Mets somehow won their division championship and pennant playoff series, then beat the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. They were now “the Amazin’ Mets,” and New York went mad about them. New York fans all claimed to have loved them all along, though you couldn’t prove it by their early attendance records.

One who really had loved them all along was my friend Tom Droleskey, whose colorful presence at hundreds of Mets’ games earned him the title “the Lone Ranger of Shea Stadium.” He has written a funny, charming memoir of his life as a Mets fan, There Is No Cure for This Condition (Chartres Communications).

Tom was born a few days after Bobby Thomson’s famous home run won the 1951 pennant for the Giants against the Dodgers. Growing up on Long Island, where his father was a veterinarian, he was too young to form a strong attachment to the older New York teams before they went to California; but he quickly fell for the hapless Mets. No sunshine patriot, he.

Last time I looked, the Mets had just run up a 12-game losing streak. For Tom, it must have seemed like old times. Amazin’.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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