Happy Halloween, everybody. I wish today would disguise itself as part of baseball season. It’s been one month since the Mets played ball. Even their most recent version of it looks mighty good from the precipice of November.
So the Mets didn’t dress up as playoff participants. So they’ve provided no tricks and few treats since they closed up shop for 2007. So all their news has been knees, bunions and paperwork. At least we’ll still have them next year if we so choose despite their having turned into a pumpkin when the clock struck midnight on the afternoon of September 30.
If you need a little Mets to get you through this particular festive occasion, consider those who first got the ball rolling for us 45 going on 46 years ago. So what if the ball rolled by them as often as not?
The 1962 Mets certainly understood the spirit of Halloween — they dressed up as a major league entity for an entire season. They might not have tricked anybody, but at least 922,530 New Yorkers who passed through the turnstiles of the Polo Grounds considered their existence a treat (as, one supposes, did nine other National League franchises). When you read about those Mets, whether through history or contemporary account, you get the sense they were a ghost story, that this ghoulish collection of 40-120 goblins stuck in one long rundown couldn’t have been real.
But they were. I can swear they were. I’ve heard the creaking and the thunder and all the spooky sound effects.
Earlier this year, my considerate friend and New Breed veteran Joe Dubin (or Joe D. as you might know him from commenting here) sent me a recording of Game One of the Cubs @ Mets doubleheader of June 17, 1962, a broadcast he tracked down because it included the notorious Marvelous Marv tripling but being called out for missing first (and, legend has it, second) play. While Lindsey Nelson’s call doesn’t mention the occasionally added kicker of Ol’ Case running out of the dugout to point at all the bases when Charlie Neal directly follows Marv’s miscue with a homer (what good is a legend if it’s absolutely true?), the broadcast features an announcer saying something I can’t imagine has been said since 1962.
It’s the bottom of the seventh, Marv Throneberry is batting, and Bob Murphy has a request:
Marv Throneberry and several other members of the New York Mets, now that school is out, would like very much to move their families to New York for the summer if they can find a furnished house to rent someplace. If you know of one, don’t call but write Housing, The Polo Grounds, New York, 39.
When they tell you 1962 was a more innocent time, believe them.
I think my favorite part is “don’t call but write,” as if no hurry, the Throneberrys can sleep out on 155th Street a few more nights, the weather has been beautiful of late and those puffy cumulus clouds are like a soft blanket to Mrs. Throneberry and Marv’s delightful children Mary Beth and Marvin Junior.
In Janet Paskin’s Tales From the 1962 New York Mets, it was explained why you were supposed to write, not call. The first appeal for Met housing was made in April after Jay Hook asked Murph, Lindsey and Ralph Kiner to spread the word that New York’s newest heartthrobs were hard up for housing (it was less New York’s treacherous real estate market than the front office forgetting to take care of this rather common detail that led to such dire straits; outfielder John DeMerit said most teams helped players in a new town find a place to live, but the Mets said, “Here’s the newspaper”). The announcers did as they were asked and, Paskin writes, the New Breed put out the welcome mat:
Soon enough, the switchboard at the Mets offices lit up with calls from people who had rooms, apartments and houses for rent. Nobody warned the Mets operators. They answered the phone, told would-be landlords that they had no idea what they were calling about, and refused to take their messages.
Two months later, the broadcast of June 17, 1962 reveals there were still, figuratively speaking, Mets knocking on doors like kids on Halloween. Except they didn’t want candy. They wanted to move in.
But the Mets on the radio their first year weren’t just an excuse for classifieds of the airwaves — a Roger Craig’s List, if you will. Lots of other gold nuggets revealed on this baby Joe D. sent me, including:
• continual entreaties to stop up, plenty of baseball left today, plenty of good seats available (yes, they actually said it and really meant it);
• the Rheingold theme played in Spanish (and you thought Los Mets were a recent phenomenon);
• the soon to be visiting Houston club referred to as “the amazing Colt .45s,” presumably for not being as horrible as the only other National League expansion club of the 20th century;
• much promotional excitement that just-retired Clem Labine has joined the cast of next month’s Old Timers Day;
• a reference to an on-deck batter hoping “to get a stick” in this inning;
• Cubs “head coach” Charlie Metro making moves (the infamous rotating college of coaches was in full effect for the innovative Cubbies in those Mad Men days);
• a reference to Ron Santo having been voted best “second man” in the National League by the writers last year (I think “second year” is what Lindsey meant, though I don’t think there’s a sophomore of the year award anymore);
• hearing the national anthem loud and clear and being told Flag Day ceremonies would take place between games;
• all those we think of dinosaurs actually roaming the earth as ballplayers, including Cliff Cook, Ken Mackenzie and newly acquired Gene Woodling;
• young Lou Brock reaching the right-center bleachers (first time ever at the Polo Grounds and it took Met pitching to make it happen);
• Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, being booed in the first inning;
• and Marvelous (albeit haplessly homeless) Marv Throneberry striking out with the winning run — pitcher Hook, pinch-running for Big Donkey Frank Thomas — on first and being pretty badly booed for it.
So much for the fans embracing the lovable losers. I can just hear the calls to the switchboard rescinding their rooms for rent.
Quite a game to go with quite a broadcast. The Cubs scored four in the top of the first. The Mets, despite Marv’s misadventures around first (and possibly second), tied it. Before Neal’s bases-empty homer, Throneberry’s non-triple did drive in two runs, though the Baseball-Reference notation has to be one of a kind:
M Throneberry Flyball: 1B; Woodling Scores; Thomas Scores
Al Jackson gave up eight runs (four earned) on eight hits and five walks…yet Casey left him in until there was one out in the ninth, presumably a reflection of the confidence he had in his bullpen. Little Al took the 8-7 loss, dropping his record to 3-8. One of the Bob Millers started the nightcap and left in the sixth leading 3-2. But Craig Anderson surrendered a homer to Billy Williams in the seventh and Vinegar Bend Mizell gave up a long ball to second man Santo in the ninth, making him a 4-3 loser…though how a man who went by the name Vinegar Bend could ever be described as a loser is beyond me.
Marvelous Marv went 1-for-3 in the second game, drove home a run on a sac fly and was charged with a fielding (as opposed to running) error at first base. He committed one of those in the opener as well, when, in the aforementioned four-run first, the Cubs’ Don Landrum was technically caught stealing second but was ruled safe on first baseman’s interference when he got himself into a rundown and ran right into Marv, who neglected to be holding the ball at the time. In As Jimmy Breslin observed in Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?, “Rundowns are not Throneberry’s strong point.”
The tenth-place Mets’ record dropped to 16-44 that Fathers Day. The ninth-place Cubs, despite the presence of future Hall of Famers Brock, Banks and Williams, improved to all of 24-42. Then again, we had Casey Stengel and they had a head coach. Paid attendance was 13,128, as many available good seats apparently went wanting.
That’s Housing, the Polo Grounds, New York, 39. Don’t let the Throneberrys sleep in the subway, darlin’.