By now, it’s as intrinsic to the home game experience as the apple, the Italian sausages and the expansive parking. It’s too clever and stirring to have ever become wallpaper but also a little too out-of-context to be completely appreciated when we’re exposed to it. It’s delivered regularly by the only Finch — sorry, Sidd — to ever make an actual impact inside Shea Stadium.
You know the drill. The Mets are tied or behind, they’ve got a runner or more on base and the other team is caucusing on the mound. Cue the anchor of the UBS-TV nightly newscast:
So I want you to get up now. I want you to get out of your chairs and go to the window. Right now. I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell…
We know the rest. There was a time we could’ve figured out to scream “LET’S GO METS!” on our own, but if we’re going to be electronically provoked, Howard Beale’s “I’m mad as hell” diatribe sure beats “MAKE SOME NOISE!” as a tickler.
With the off night last night, I decided I wanted to see more of Network than just Beale, portrayed to the Oscar hilt by the late Peter Finch, exhorting us as if it were nothing-nothing and Dusty Baker is chatting up Mark Prior after walking Carlos Beltran (exactly the situation that elicited “…and stick your head out” yesterday afternoon). I watched the DVD both with and without director Sidney Lumet’s commentary; it was a cinematic doubleheader sweep.
If you know nothing more about Network than it spawned what the American Film Institute chose as the 19th Greatest Movie Quote of All Time, then you should be mad as hell that you haven’t seen it and you should not take this anymore. Rent it or, better yet, buy it. It is the single most prescient movie ever made about the way we would come to live and the most penetrating film I’ve ever seen about the medium that dominates our consciousness whether we want to admit it or not.
I first saw Network on my 14th birthday. What I understood enraptured me immediately. Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay is so unsparing toward television that you’re ready to destroy your tube until you realize you need it to watch Network again. And the Mets, of course. Still, after CCA chairman Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) regales him the riot act…
The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr. Beale, will live to see that perfect world in which there is no war and famine and oppression and brutality — one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.
…well, let’s just say you wonder what would happen if that was the speech they excerpted on DiamondVision to fire up the crowd.
Network foresaw reality television and the assault it would make on our senses. It understood that if corporations wouldn’t exactly replace countries, they would have a great deal to do with how they are run. It was so cynical about cynicism that it, like Beale as the honestly mad prophet of the airwaves, rose above the morass it portrayed by being pure of heart.
When you watch Bill Holden and Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch and Bob Duvall and Ned Beatty and a cast of dozens at the top of their game and see Lumet’s and Chayefsky’s craft translate to art, you feel a little cheap going along with the Mets’ use of the “Mad as Hell” speech like it was a rally monkey. It’s more than that.
That said, the Mets aren’t wrong to ally themselves with Network. Not after what I noticed during last night’s viewing.
In the runup to Beale’s defining scene, he breaks down twice: first on Tuesday, September 23, 1975, when he threatens to blow his brains out on the evening news and then, the next night, when he literally yells “bullshit!” over and over again. His position becomes tenuous, to say the least, but he sure gets lots of attention — everybody in town is covering the newsman. UBS programming executive Diana Christensen (Dunaway) picks up a copy of the Daily News the morning after his second explosion and thumbs through it, describing the true-to-their-times contents to an assistant:
The Arabs have decided to jack up the price of oil another 20 percent, and the CIA has been caught opening Senator Humphrey’s mail, there’s a civil war in Angola, another one in Beirut, New York City’s facing default, they’ve finally caught up with Patricia Hearst — and the whole front page of the Daily News is Howard Beale.
Sure enough, we see a very authentic News cover, headlined BEALE FIRED over Peter Finch’s picture. But thanks to the magic of DVDs, we see something else if we pause strategically. We see the back page, and if we squint, we’re pretty sure we can make out the word METS.
We can, indeed. We assume it’s a made-up headline of some sort, but what we’re looking at is pretty detailed, so we read carefully and we can’t quite believe what we’re seeing:
CUBS NIP METS IN 11TH, 1-0
SEAVER NO-HITTER FOR 8 2/3
Well I’ll be The Great Ahmed Khan. In a triumph of realism, that’s a genuine back page headline. And since Howard Beale had prefaced his first cry of “bullshit!” by noting the date as Wednesday, September 24, 1975, I could look it up and confirm what I thought that September 25, 1975 back page headline was about:
It’s the Joe Wallis game.
Jungle Joe Wallis was a Cubs outfielder of no note whatsoever when Tom Seaver started in Chicago on 9/24/75. It was an afternoon (of course it was, Wrigley having no lights then) when the Cy Young-bound ace had it goin’ on. No hits in the first or the second or the third all the way through whenever I got home from seventh grade and turned on WRVR-FM to listen. Tom continued to mow down Cubs while I sat and hoped. Perfect through six. A walk to leadoff batter Don Kessinger ended that at the start of the seventh, but no damage done and, more importantly, no hits. None in the eighth either.
Tom Seaver was no-hitting the Cubs. Tom Seaver, who was good for approximately one one-hitter every other year — four to date in his incandescent career — was getting close, just like he had against Jimmy Qualls and the Cubs six years earlier at Shea, just like he had against Leron Lee and the Padres three years earlier, also at Shea. Both of those died with one out in the ninth. No Met had ever come closer.
There was the little matter of Rick Reuschel, a formidable opponent. The Cubs starter had scattered four Met singles and one Met double over eight. It was 0-0, just like it was at Shea yesterday between Prior and Maine. In the top of the ninth on September 24, 1975, Felix Millan, Mike Vail and Rusty Staub went down 1-2-3.
Now Tom Seaver entered the bottom of the ninth poised to make history, more or less. If he could get through the ninth without giving up a hit, then he would have…nine no-hit innings. But since it would still be 0-0, would it be a no-hitter? By the rules of the day, not exactly, but it would be the moral equivalent of a no-no, the first in Mets history. It would be something out of Harvey Haddix (Tom’s first Mets pitching coach, FYI). To make it count, the Mets would eventually have to score one for Tom and Tom would have to keep it goin’ on into the tenth or however long it took. We were asking the ace of a team that had failed to achieve a no-hitter for almost 14 full seasons to maintain one beyond the regulation limit.
Whatever it was Tom Seaver was nearing, it seemed huge.
It grew larger after Tom K’d Kessinger. It became absolutely immense when he struck out Rick Monday. That’s two All-Stars who went down for Seaver’s seventh and eighth strikeouts. All that stood between him and a slightly warped version of immortality was Joe Wallis.
I’d never heard of him. I doubt few had. This was right out of the Qualls textbook, the chapter that said beware the most unfamiliar man on the roster when your team is attempting to record its first no-hitter. The Cubs lineup that September day was roughly half veterans of accomplishment, half youngsters with a future. They were men whose baseball cards I could pull out of my collection at a moment’s notice: Kessinger, Monday, Cardenal, Thornton, Madlock, Trillo, Mitterwald, Reuschel — I knew who they were.
I had no idea who Joe Wallis was. Listening on the radio, I didn’t even know he didn’t spell his name Wallace. I just knew what Jimmy Qualls had done and that I didn’t want the same thing to happen. Qualls was one out in the ninth. This was two. Maybe that would help.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game between the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs, Joe Wallis lined a clean single into right field, the first base hit surrendered by Tom Seaver all afternoon. In a baseball life marked by the long and hard development of a sixth sense about these things, I can honestly say I could feel it coming.
I want to say I remember there being two strikes on Wallis, but I can’t say that for sure. I don’t remember either whether it was before or after Wallis ended Seaver’s bid that Bob Murphy mentioned he was known as Jungle Joe. In the past 31 years, he hasn’t been known for anything except that base hit, his 16th and final safety of 1975. He would play in four more seasons as a Cub then an Athletic and register exactly 200 more hits. His career ended before his 28th birthday.
Neither Seaver nor the Mets would come away from Chicago with their first no-hitter. They would be, as the News accurately reported, unhappily nipped in the 11th, 1-0, Skip Lockwood taking the loss. Seaver, who would go 10 and give up three hits but no runs, would no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals as a Cincinnati Red three years later. The New York Mets, who avoided being no-hit by the Cubs yesterday, have never had a pitcher, even a combination of pitchers, throw a no-hitter for them. In the 4,882 games the Mets have played since Joe Wallis singled with two out in the ninth, they have yet to come that close again.
Now that’s something to get mad as hell about.