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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Changing of the Guard

If the clock is running inexorably counterclockwise, then it must be Flashback Friday at Faith and Fear in Flushing.

To borrow from the late, great Molly Ivins, the 1967 Mets yearbook is more fun than a church-singin’-with-supper-on-the-grounds.

Yearbooks get more expensive every year and are progressively less fun. The 2006 version was ten bucks, 244 pages long and distressingly short on zazz. There was a nice takeout by the esteemed Dennis D’Agostino on the twentieth anniversary of ’86 but everything else about it fairly whispers annual report. Proxy statements are more whimsical.

The cover, various Mets in various boxes, is as exciting as a ticket brochure. The player facts are minimal (Yusaku Iriki enjoys playing golf in his spare time). The recap of the previous year is Orwellian in its deletion of those who had since moved on (Marlon Anderson never pinch-hit that inside-the-park homer and Mike Piazza never waved goodbye). There’s an ad for a perfume with a big picture of Paris Hilton; kids shouldn’t have to see that. The modern-day yearbook is heavy on heft, long on price, light on charm.

Ah, but the 1967 Mets yearbook…the Mets yearbook was something then. You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.

I didn’t see the 1967 yearbook in those days. I was 4 and a couple yearbooks away from entry into Metsdom. I probably couldn’t have rounded up the 50 cents necessary to buy one at Shea to say nothing of getting a ride to and from. I have a copy thanks to my co-blogger’s relentless pursuit of all things Schmelz. He had it on a tip a couple of slow winters ago that the elusive Al, who was seemingly never properly photographed as a Met (the Schmelzes believe a photograph steals something precious from the soul — or am I thinking of I Dream of Jeannie?), showed up in a team picture. Sadly, this SECOND Revised Edition of the OFFICIAL Year Book (were there bootlegs?) came a cropper and Dr. Fryenstein’s mad experimentation would have to wait another day.

I, on the other hand, made out like a bandit when Jace tossed the thing my way. What a treasure. Start with the cover, drawn by Willard Mullin of New York World Telegram & Sun fame, the premier sports cartoonist ever. The only sports cartoonist we modern folk have with which to compare him is Bill Gallo which is no comparison at all. Maybe you’ve seen some of Mullin’s most classic work, the moony Jint and the perpetually scruffed-up Bum who personified New York National League baseball in the ’50s. Their successor was the kid Met who by 1967 was taking toddler steps up the stairs of heretofore awful records. Note the detail, specifically the cracked step of 1965 when the kid Mets stumbled and managed a worse record than 1964′s extraordinarily poor result.

But that’s ancient history in 1967. Mullin’s boy, our boy, is in ascendance. He’s leaving behind those hundred-loss seasons — imagine acknowledging all your miserable failures of the past half-decade on the cover of your primary propaganda tool — and, having launched himself to the heady stratosphere of 66 wins, he’s on the climb. Watch out National League!

Gosh, what optimism. Unfounded in the short term, of course. The next step would be cracked, too, as the ’67 team stumbled to five fewer victories than in ’66. But we know that Mullin’s golden staircase reaches its apogee way ahead of schedule, just two years after, so no complaints on the prognostication front.

They don’t draw covers like that anymore. And they don’t print yearbooks like this either. Turn the page and the first picture you countenance is a solemn “changing of the guard,” two men in suits who may as well be shaking hands in the Kremlin. It’s grip ‘n’ grim time for a stoic George Weiss “turning over presidency of the Mets” to a wary Bing Devine in November of ’66. Khrushchev and Brezhnev couldn’t have looked any less comfortable. And who, come to think of it, were the marketing wizards who decided the first image to hit fans with was two men in suits?

That’s the beauty of baseball back then, I’ve Bing-divined. It wasn’t marketed, not really. There was something clubby about the whole thing. Oh, it was insidious. It needed Marvin Miller and the NFL and society to shake it up. It needed to move into the second half of the twentieth century by 1967. But the quaintness I found when I leafed through the 1967 yearbook is from another time.
Which is what surprises me. The Mets are supposed to be thoroughly modern. They’re the expansion team born amid the hopes of the New Frontier. They’re the embodiment of the Swinging Sixties.

More relevant to my self-centered view of things, they’ve taken place almost entirely in my lifetime.To have experienced the Mets and nothing but the Mets as your forever baseball team, to have not even a wisp of experience of living without them or before them, arithmetic says you can’t be much over 50. It would take a man or woman born no later than the mid-1950s having a child by the mid-1970s and that child having a child by the mid-1990s to assume there’s a family with three generations of pure, lifelong, well-versed Mets fans — not your grandpa who converted from the Dodgers or Giants or apathy or worse and raised your pop/you right, mind you, but someone whose childhood team was the Mets. Demographically speaking, that third generation is only approaching the staircase as we speak.

Tradition in the sepia sense has always been for the Tigers and the Cubs and the Red Sox and other franchises with roots dating back a century or more. They’re the ones that have grandfather clauses. They’re the ones caked in must and dust. They’re the ones with the antiquated team publications that read so anachronistic in relation to the now. The Mets’ 1967 yearbook, from suddenly 40 years ago, proves to me that we might be, too.

Enough sociological, anthropological noodling. Let’s turn more pages.

There’s Vaughan Devine, President. Oh wait, that’s the same guy from the page before where he was Bing. The Mets took their “Officials” headshots very seriously (and, by their looks, took them before World War II). No Mr. Devine, you can’t use your nickname here. This is our page of record.

There’s Vaughan again. Naturally. Baseball fans love executives. President Bing is a little looser in this two-page spread (whereas Weiss, “Man of Dynasty and Destiny,” gets a double-truck of his own later and couldn’t be a whole lot tighter). We have shots of Devine playing basketball with Solly Hemus in 1954, donating his vital fluids to a blood drive in Rochester and being delighted by “gag gifts” at a 50th-birthday surprise party in St. Pete. Bing, who passed away last month, seems reasonably delighted by the all-stag affair.

Baseball was a very manly business in 1967. A group photo of the Met beat writers (you don’t see those anymore) features 13 men, including a few (Vic Ziegel, Steve Jacobson, Maury Allen) who are still active and one (Dick Young) who most of us believe hung on too long. Not pictured: a single woman.

Pictured: a married woman. That would be Josephine Westrum. She’s pouring coffee for her husband the manager, Wes Westrum. According to the caption, by doing so she “proves worth as a manager at the breakfast table.” I’m assuming that was considered complimentary by the editors in 1967, fellows, one senses, whose values system was set in stone by 1937. The first yearbook I ever had as a kid was the ’72 and while there were arcane references to Met player wives as “better halves,” I don’t remember nearly as much patronizing prose. A lot could change in five years. A lot did.

But in 1967, “Mets are Model Wives.” Look out Twiggy, here comes Mrs. Jack Fisher sporting the latest from Carnaby Street or wherever ’60s fashions were sold. Yes, it’s Austin Powers come to life on pages 54 and 55, a fashion shoot to benefit the Doctors’ Wives Auxiliary of Flushing Hospital when “Shea Stadium served as the ‘salon’.” Some salon — they used a ramp between loge and mezzanine. That’s where we find the “purty Mrs. Dennis Ribant” (let’s keep her first name out of the public eye) pretending to sell copies of the Daily News. How this helped Flushing Hospital I couldn’t tell you, but there’s no denying it: Mrs. Dennis Ribant sure was purty.

Somebody worked overtime on assigning nicknames to the major Met players themselves. Newly acquired Tommy Davis was THE TOMMY GUN: Mr. Two-Time Batting King. He’s captured in candid conversation with Mickey Mantle, presumably reminding him “they call me MISTER Two-Time Batting King”. Titular ace Jack Fisher is simply HI-JACK, perhaps in honor of his absconding with 24 losses two years earlier. Ken Boyer is 7-TIME ALL-STAR (not much of a nickname, but truthful advertising), Bob Shaw is THE CITY SLICKER: Mound Magician of Mets (coming off a 12-14, 4.30 campaign — some magician) and 21-year-old William Francis Denehy is “Literally Billy the Kid,” presumably in deference to his callowness and not because the Mets planned to use him in a trade to rob the Washington Senators blind of manager Gil Hodges.

Having been on the Mets scene myself since ’69, I’ve seen most everybody who’s played for us. But I never saw the guys mentioned above, certainly not in their New York phase. Mets who were Mets in 1967 but not later may as well be Cleveland Spiders from 1899. I know they were there. I’ve read about them plenty. Yet it feels somehow impossible there were Mets without me, even more unlikely that these historical figures cavorted with many of the same gents — THE JONES BOY (Cleon), THE PONY EXPRESS (Buddy), “THE DEAN” AT AGE 22 (Kranepool already a legend), Seaver The Saver: Picked out of a hat (Tom not yet Terrific nor worth upper-casing) — who introduced me to baseball. It was only two years from ’67 to ’69 but from the time I was 4 to the time I was 6, it was an eternity.

What links the eras as I read through this, what connects what I perceive to be the time before time began and the time when time started, is a bit of the advertising. The Mets may have presented themselves through out-of-date thinking (unless reincarnating Ron Swoboda as THE PEEPUL’S CHERCE was “with it”) but a couple of their sponsors were clearly endeavoring to be a part of the late ’60s as they happened. Opposite the Flushing Gothic of Weiss and Devine is a perky, today kind of couple selling cherry-red Plymouth Furys. On the back we have a Rheingold ad that’s almost cutting-edge in its meta-commentary on the medium: an Archie Bunker type (before we knew that’s what he was called) clutching a beer, smoking a cigarette and demonstrating “In N.Y., the city of tough customers, only Rheingold’s made it to the top.” It’s an ad that’s sort of about the ad…if you look at it hard enough. Or tough enough.

It’s 2007. The Fury is off the lot. Rheingold shuttered its brewery. Don Bosch never developed into MIDDLE MAN: Center of Attention. Vaughan Devine beat it out of town after a year. Judging by his own downcast demeanor before his September dismissal, Wes Westrum never asked the dutiful Josephine for that second cup. The 1967 Mets lost 101 games. But this 1967 yearbook? It’s a winner in any baseball library.

Next Friday: It seemed like such a good idea.

6 comments to The Changing of the Guard

  • Anonymous

    You'll probably get an entry out of me for that cover. Of course I have it, only by July 20 of that year, the Mets were already up to a SECOND revised edition. Even before you mentioned them, I remembered the Swoboda reference, as well as “Seaver the Saver” and “Pony Express.” You didn't mention the immortal Chuck Hiller being the MAN IN THE PINCH (probably perferable to his real nickname of “Iron Hands” which fit right in with that team) or Don Cardwell being our PITT PICKUP (one of the Bi(n)g Deals I just mentioned the other day).
    Also, in keeping with our theme of That's Armageddon, don't forget Jack Lang being in the press corps picture on Page Six.
    My only beef about this yearbook is one I've mentioned before- that little agate-type column filler on page 36, where the author contributed to the Worst Curst by suggesting, merely five years in, that the Mets were overdue in knotting a kno-hitter.
    That, and I didn't get the joke in the Manny Hanny ad in the inside front cover until, um, now.
    Thanks for the memories. Hope you'll sign up for a pitcher or catcher report soon:)

  • Anonymous

    Other than the Molly Ivins reference (harrumph, grrr… whatever,) good bit. If nothing else, show our appetite whetted for '08's yearbook!

  • Anonymous

    Inside back cover. Sheesh, Ray.
    Also neglected to mention that any possibility of Schmelz sighting in my V2.0 disappeared sometime around August of 1967, when the centerfold came out of the book and went up on a wall, never to return.

  • Anonymous

    A couple of cool Seaver oddities in the book.
    1) The centerfold picture features the baby faced marine in the middle of row three — between Tommy Davis and Jack Fisher — his Mayberry grin betraying his joy in knowing that he has the team made. (Mmine is also a 2.0, with the team shot at Shea leaving me to wonder where Seaver was among the spring squad in the original spread.) Anyhow, Seaver looks, on glances one through three, to be wearing number 4, and it's only after confirming that, yes, Ron Swoboda is in the shot and apparently wearing 4, and then noticing a wrinkle in the shoulder of Seaver's jersey, that I sort out that Jack Fisher's nearby girth has squeezed the future ace a little tightly and the 1 on his uniform has pleated itself underneath the 4. I think it's fair to say that, on future picture days, Seaver got all the room he needed.
    2) The other Seaver keeper is from his profile on page 37. It's a photo of Seaver's head and bare shoulders peeping above the press throng at his locker after his first win (again, I densely had to remind myslef that this was a mid-season edition of the yearbook to sot out that this was indeed his first major league win.) The Seaver we know as having been cool and media-savvy throughout his career is pinching his temple and jutting his chin with an anxious aw-jeez-fellas-wouldja-back-off look that suggests Eddie Bracken or Crispin Glover.
    Also worth noting as a watermark of the era is a visit from “Viet Nam war hero” Sgt. Robert O'Malley (the first Marine recipient of the Medal of Honor) chronicled on page 34, maybe a year or two before the tipping point in public feeling about the war. Most of the men smile proudly around the highly decorated marine, but the gravity of Mrs. Payson's greeting says volumes.

  • Anonymous

    I have the first edition of the '67 yb – I bought an “as is” copy a couple of years ago at a card show. Lots of photos of Don Bosch, but only the one headshot of Seaver with his stats. Pretty apparent why they had to issue 2 revised versions that year.
    Greg, I agree about the decline of the yearbook – my prime years of yearbook-buying was in the 1980s, but I did pick up the '06 yb only to have the same reaction you did. Although, if nothing else, at least the photography is nice – those '67 headshots look like they were taken at the DMV (unless most of the roster really DID have double-chins . . .)
    And the Mets apparently realized after '67 that they needed to get more “hip,” which would explain some of the descriptions in the '69 WS program, such as Tug McGraw being a “way-out” guy and that Cleon Jones “is really something else.” (And this description of Cal Koonce: “Cal is a man of many facets, all turned on.”)
    One more note about the '67 yb: At least in the first edition, there is a Banner Day photo on page 44 with one banner accurately foretelling the Mets success to come in '69. See if you can find it! (Oh, and longtime MAD Magazine fans might enjoy the Jack Davis-illustrated Bankers Trust ad.)
    Thanks for giving me the excuse to dig thru my collection – looking at this stuff always brightenes my day!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    I have all the Met Yearbooks from 1962 through 1974 (and some others after that) and admit the '67 edition was one of the better produced ones, the first to be printed on glossy-type paper. I only have the revised version (remember getting the first print at an April doubleheader but don't know what ever became of it) and shortly after the revised Yearbook hit the stands Ken Boyer, called “the clubhouse leader” was sold to Chicago, Bob Shaw, one of the “aces” of the starting rotation was released and Don Bosch, already sent down to the minors, still got the full-page treatment. Purty Mrs. Ribant” was seen even though Dennis was traded that winter to the Bucs.
    So much imagination was put into those early editions and each had more information packed into 48 pages compared to today's 200 or so page yearbook which (except for one or two magazine length articles) are more like thick photo albums containing a greater amount of advertisement than information (the Cincinnati Red yearbooks of the early sixties had the biggest amount of pages for their time but every other page was dedicated to advertisements; yet, the other pages were loaded with information).
    Whatever happened to the written biographies that accompanied each player's picture and stats? Or creativity? Tom Seaver's biography in the 1970 edition started out with the sentence “Only Met in history to lose a World Series Game”. I think the best Met Yearbook of all, however, was the 1968 edition with a portrait of Gil Hodges on the cover. This was the first yearbook to have color photos (other than the team picture) and had an imaginative new graphic design for the information, pictures and stats appearing on each player's page.
    What has changed for the better are the programs. Though more expensive these have developed into magazines that contain a wealth of articles and information compared to the thin scorecards back then and actually overtakes the yearbook for quantity.
    A final note. In those days each seaon's yearbook would be uniquely different. Except for pictures and the change in player personnel, there is hardly anything distinctive between the 2005 and 2006 versions.