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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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Look Both Ways

Hit or an error? Look to your right. The scoreboard transmits the official ruling. Look to your left. The Sign Man tells you what you’re thinking.

Before there were helpful little gadgets any more exotic than a transistor radio, you had two sources of information to enhance your Sheagoing experience. You had the biggest scoreboard in baseball over the right-centerfield fence and you had Karl Ehrhardt the Sign Man, in that one-of-a-kind derby of his, sitting behind third. The Manufacturers HanovEr sign would tell you it was an E. The Sign Man would make it clear the ball should have been caught.

The most famous images of Karl Ehrhardt, who died this past week at 83, relate to the Mets in triumph, which is as it should be. Karl was the superest of the superfans, and if you saw a picture of the Sign Man after the fact, it was because the fact involved the greatest of Mets moments. His most iconic sign, at least to me, was the one he held up as the Mets became world champions the first time: THERE ARE NO WORDS.

Yet Karl did not pull punches, right down to the end. He disappeared from the Shea crowd after 1981, a result of some dispute with management over admission — perhaps management’s myopic focus on being the new broom sweeping out the old miasmic atmosphere, as if Mets fans couldn’t differentiate between hating a few lousy ballplayers and disliking themselves. Anyway, he was still there in ’81, the year of the baseball strike, the rupture in the summer I graduated from high school. I remember seeing Ehrhardt interviewed once the stoppage was settled. First bad Met play (and there were bound to be a few), he promised to tell the Mets what we would all be thinking: GO BACK ON STRIKE.

And he did. For all his joyous acknowledgement of THAT OLD MET MAGIC and his victory-bound queries of BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?, it was the brassy honesty in editorial comment that stayed with me after the Sign Man became the stuff of legend. I hated that the Mets didn’t arrange for Karl Ehrhardt to keep sitting where he had from the early days of Shea Stadium, but I loved that the Mets couldn’t buy off the Sign Man. I loved that as the years went by, you would inevitably meet somebody at a game, somebody you didn’t know but you knew was one of you, and he or she would ask, “Hey, remember the Sign Man? Karl somebody? He came to every game at Shea and he had all those signs and he’d pull them out at a moment’s notice and he always held them way up over his head and it would be the exact right thing to describe what was happening right then and there…Karl Ehrhardt, yeah, that was his name…the Sign Man. Wasn’t he great?”

Yeah. We remember.

5 comments to Look Both Ways

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for that. And, less directly, for this:

  • Anonymous

    No offense to Greg and Jace, but it cannot be denied that the two greatest, most quintessential fans in the history of the franchise are Basement Bertha and Karl Ehrhardt.

  • Anonymous

    RIP Karl
    And those of us of a certain age are yet further removed from our childhoods.

  • Anonymous

    So sad having to again say goodbye to another thread from our youth. In those early days Karl, his hat and his signs were as much a part of the Mets as the bedsheet banners, the horn blowing, the shouts of “lets go Mets” and Jane Jarvis playing the hammond organ. And yet, few noticed him at the ballpark for Karl was really just another one of us, a nutty member of the new breed who loved the club and having a great time at the park. It was television that brought Karl into our living rooms every home game along with Bob, Lindsay and Ralph. And maybe that is the best tribute one could give Karl. While TV captured him for all to see, when at the park, he was just a part of the family.

  • Anonymous

    R.I.P. Karl.
    I meant what I said when I met you in the Shea corridor & got your autograph in '82: You're the greatest!