Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log, a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I have seen there for myself, namely 358 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
7/27/03 Su Cincinnati 9-6 Trachsel 12 148-117 L 8-5
9/25/03 Th Pittsburgh 11-10 Gl@v!ne 1 150-118 L 3-1
8/10/04 Tu Houston 9-9 Trachsel 14 153-123 W 7-3
Talk about a strange dream.
I was at Shea. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was there with my bobblehead-collecting friend Joe. The Mets were playing the Reds. We were handed bobblehead dolls. The dolls had two figures: Ralph Kiner holding a cigar and Bob Murphy holding a microphone. That was weird.
The pitcher for the Reds was Paul Wilson, which was weird, too, because he was the No. 1 draft choice for the Mets long before and Wilson hadn’t pitched at Shea in seven years.
Weirder still was I kept taking out my tiny radio to listen not to the Mets game but the other all-sports station in town, ESPN, because I wanted to hear the Hall of Fame ceremonies. I was sitting at Shea and watching a game and listening to Bob Uecker accept the broadcasters’ award. Weird, huh?
Even weirder is I got up after five innings and said goodbye to Joe. I took my Kiner-Murphy bobblehead and walked over to the Long Island Rail Road station. I called my wife from there. I left early because she had bought tickets on my say-so for a Cyclones game because I had forgotten that I was already going to the Mets game because Joe had gotten the tickets months earlier because of the bobblehead. So weird…I never forget stuff like that.
Except as I was standing on the deserted LIRR platform, my wife was telling me by phone that she had taken the car to the East Rockaway station and it had stalled and she was calling Triple-A. Plus her westbound train to the city was cancelled. Now instead of meeting her at Penn Station to take a subway to Coney Island for the Cyclones game, I told her to forget about Brooklyn and I would take a train from Penn to East Rockaway and we’d skip the Cyclones game which was the reason I had left Shea after five innings. And with all that on my mind, I was still listening to ESPN and they were broadcasting Gary Carter’s induction speech at last.
And it gets weirder still, because when I turn around inside Penn Station for the train home and tune in the end of the Mets game that I had walked out on, Gary Cohen and Ed Coleman are on the post-game show talking about what a nostalgic day this was, with Paul Wilson beating his old team and Gary Carter going into the Hall and mostly because of Bob Murphy announcing his retirement on the same day they handed out those bobbleheads and getting that sustained standing ovation when they posted his decision on the scoreboard in the middle of the sixth, a half-inning after I took off.
I’d call it surreal except that it actually happened. This is how I found out that the Mets figure I held dearer than any other was calling it quits. As the train rumbled east toward Nassau County, I was numb. Bob Murphy was retiring. Can he do that? Is that allowed? If the Mets fall in the forest and Bob Murphy isn’t there to broadcast it, did they really lose?
And me. What’s my problem? Did I really leave the only Mets game in the history of the franchise during which Bob Murphy, who had been the voice of the Mets since there had been Mets, stood up in the press box and waved and everybody there who had a ticket — except one idiot who had a ticket and left — waved back? What a faux pas. Cyclones games, jump starts, Cooperstown…there’d always be time for those mundane episodes. Bob Murphy, 78 and not able to withstand the travel and the staircases and the strain of being even an occasional baseball announcer, was saying goodbye to us.
What the hell was wrong with this picture?
We all knew it was coming. It had to be. 2002 morphed into 2003, an extended mix of Met embarrassment, on the field and off of it. And still there was Murph. Not as much of him as there once was — there used to be a full slate of 162 — but enough to make you happy he was hanging on, maybe just a few too many when you heard him flub a name, such as the Sunday he somehow turned Al Leiter into Larry Dierker. But he was still Murph. Still upbeat, still on the game as much he could be. Still winking at us once in a while. During a week when steroids flared in the news, while Gary expressed concern, Murph mused, “maybe the Mets’ hitters should be taking them.”
“That’s not funny,” Cohen scolded. Murph apologized. He shouldn’t have. Shame on you, Gary — nobody puts Bob Murphy in a corner.
After the details of the Mets’ loss to the Reds were covered, Gary and Eddie stayed on and talked about Murph. Listeners called in in shock. And I, sitting on the train alone with my headphones, was growing more and more numb. This is not an announcer. This is my uncle you’re talking about. The calls grew more intense as the train pulled into East Rockaway and I walked home. When I came through the door, I started to tell Stephanie the news. But I couldn’t get the words out. I excused myself to the bedroom and composed myself. Then I called Chuck in Florida to tell him. Chuck all but eschewed television when he lived in New York, so he spent his spare summer nights with Murph. He and I kidded relentlessly about Murph’s growing inability to follow the flight of the ball, all those catches at the wall that were actually home runs, all that “they win the damn thing” stuff. But he understood. Stephanie understood. Everybody understood. Bob Murphy was retiring.
I couldn’t understand, not really.
Bob Murphy gave the Mets 42 seasons of Ford C. Frick Award announcing. The Mets gave Bob Murphy a night. A Thursday night.
Years before, five years, Jason expressed disappointment he wasn’t at Shea the night Bill Pulsipher returned from his endless odyssey of rehabilitation and recovery. He added that he was determined to be on hand when Jay Payton made his long-awaited debut. Funny, I thought, I have two days I am going to bust down the doors to be at Shea Stadium for if I have to — but for lasts, not firsts: Whenever they have the final game at Shea and whenever they say goodbye to Bob Murphy.
Not that I could picture either of those events ever transpiring. But one of them was, September 25, 2003, the final home game of that season, a season so useless that I had no plans to be on hand for its finale, until it became Dodge Bob Murphy Night. A Thursday night didn’t seem appropriate, but it was fortunate. Had they done it the previous weekend, I was going to be out of town, on business. I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t have skipped the trip, my own career be damned, for Murph. It — and he — meant that much to me.
They gave Bob Murphy a Friday night, too, the Friday night before the Thursday night. Fox Sports Net decided to pair Murph and Ralph in the television booth one more time. I wasn’t going to miss that either. It was just two or three innings. Matt Loughlin and Fran Healy were standing by for when they faltered, and there was no doubt they would falter. Murph and Ralph had talked more baseball in their lives than most of us would ever see. Hard to believe they had much more to talk about, except how much they had loved doing all that talking together.
Fox Sports Net placed a camera behind home plate, the way Channel 9 used to do it. They imitated the graphics of WOR-TV circa 1973 as best they could. It was a nice touch, though not nearly as nice as hearing those two voices together again, even if those voices had grown slower and less certain than those that accompanied our growing up. Like I said, it was just two or three innings, but it did the trick. It could have been 1973 or any of the years when Mets fans came of age with those guys and their partner Lindsey Nelson. Maybe they were faltering, but in our eyes, to our ears, they would never fail.
Friday night passed, I left town Saturday afternoon, I flew back on a Tuesday evening. I sat on the plane and I thought about Murph, about how Murph had been the Mets to me, about how in a couple of nights Murph wouldn’t be the Mets anymore. And I cried not a little.
To be fair with regard to gauging the source of my tears, I was on the verge of probably the worst illness of my adult life. It would eventually be diagnosed as acute bronchitis. It felt like walking pneumonia. It felt like impending death. I would straggle into work on Wednesday, feeling only remotely human. Come Thursday morning, I knew I was going down. So I stayed home from work to save myself for Shea.
I wasn’t missing this.
I’d love to tell you it was a beautiful night in Flushing, that it was a packed house, that it was an adoring crowd. Well, the weather was all right, I guess, and what crowd there was adored Murph. But there wasn’t much of a house. I’d heard later that construction leading to the Whitestone was something awful, that it kept the announced attendance of 25,081 (hellaciously high by ’03 standards) down for the pregame ceremonies. Imagine having a ticket for the last night of the 2003 season, a ticket for the last night of Bob Murphy’s broadcasting career, and getting held up in traffic and arriving too late to see it.
My throat was sore, my head was pounding, my appetite was in abeyance, I was popping every over-the-counter remedy I could find. But I wasn’t missing this. I took an early train and had no intention of leaving before the final out
I met Jason at Gate E as ever and we received a videotape of a SportsChannel interview Fran Healy had done with Bob sometime in the mid-’90s (kind of a retrospective of other Murph retrospectives; I thought it odd that the Mets had not heard about DVDs; Jace said we should consider ourselves fortunate they didn’t hand it out in Beta). My friend had secured us $5 seats via Verizon. Just about every seat that September was $5. The Mets’ slogan could have been “baseball that’s worth what you’re paying for it.” The Mets we were ostensibly ponying up to see included Raul Gonzalez in left, Jorge Velandia at short and the immortal Mike Glavine at first. Mike Glavine’s presence was a sop to his brother, who was pitching.
These were not Mets I was almost literally dying to see on a Thursday night in late September, but it wasn’t about them. It was about Murph. Murph transcended the men who passed through Shea just long enough to try on a uniform. Murph was more Met at the end of an otherwise empty September than anybody else. He was the first hint of spring and he was the hottest days of summer. Murph was the summer when I was 7 and 17 and 27 and 37. By speaking so highly, so accurately, so constantly of everyone from a Sadecki named Ray to a Seo named Jae, Murph was the first Met who came to mind in winter when you needed a taste of summer. Murph was the fastening of my seatbelt and the security of my shoulder restraint. But he was no airbag.
That’s why I was there on September 25, 2003. That’s why exploding acute bronchitis couldn’t keep me away.
That’s why it was so damn sad. I could have felt tip-top and the fire marshal could have guarded every gate to prevent overcrowding and it would have been sad. Everything about the festivities was well-meaning, but a heavy heart hung over it. Gary Cohen emceed and seemed in mourning. A night to honor your flagship broadcaster should have been happy, as happy as every winning recap Murph ever delivered.
But forget it. This was too much of an ending. They rounded up Seaver and Harrelson and Hernandez and Pignatano. They invited Mrs. Hodges and Mrs. de Roulet and Bob’s friend, the singer Julius La Rosa. They saved seats for Al Leiter and John Franco, two Mets fans before they were Mets. The DiamondVision showed us smiles, but you didn’t have to look too hard to see they were really stiff upper lips.
Gifts were presented. A Mets uniform, MURPHY 42, commemorating his seasons in the booth, was framed and autographed. Nice, very nice words were spoken. Cohen, allegedly not always on the best of nightly terms with his senior partner, spoke the moon of Bob. “Other broadcasters will come and go,” he said, “but Bob Murphy will always be the voice of summer.” Ralph called Murph his brother. The best words of all, however, were found square on the banners that were hung from the railings and the placards that were held among us.
Thanks for the memories Murph
Bob, Thanks for the word pictures
Thanks Murph, for 42 Happy years
To Recap: “The Voice of Summer” will never be silenced but will live on
Come Back Often
Banner Day had been discontinued after 1996. It lived again for a night in 2003.
When Murph spoke, he paid homage to everybody but himself. Mets fans — us, of all people — were “unbelievably good, loyal, friendly”. In those first years, ’62, ’63, ’64, “baseball was such fun.” He liked the days when “the announcers got to know the fans a lot better.” The Mets would win one game a week and everybody would be happy. Casey would keep him and Ralph and Lindsey up to the wee hours and then tell them he’d meet them for breakfast.
Casey was wonderful, as were Tom Seaver and Gil Hodges and Yogi Berra (“pure as the driven snow”) and 1969 and 1973, and those years’ “dynasty teams,” the Orioles and Reds, the Mets beat to win what they had won. Ownership, starting with Mrs. Payson right up to Fred Wilpon, was great, too, having always “stood up” for the fans…and “I love the fans, they’re terrific.” He was going to have to answer a lot of mail this winter because he’d gotten lots of it wishing him well since he announced he’d be retiring.
Murph wasn’t about Murph. Murph didn’t talk about his announcing, only whom he had been around and what he’d reported — and the Mets and the Mets’ fans, entities who “provided me with a way of life that I’ve enjoyed so much, you just can’t possibly believe how much I love it.”
At the end, just before and after praising Cohen as the best baseball broadcaster in the country (“he can really get it done”), Bob Murphy got as personal as he was ever likely to.
I hate to say goodbye so much. I know I have no choice. It was a lot easier saying hello the first day we came to New York 42 years ago than it saying goodbye here tonight.
There’s no point in keeping you waiting any longer. Let me tell you how much I love you, let me tell you how great you have been. I’m gonna miss you, believe me I will. I’ll start missing you the minute I walk off this field. It has been such a marvelous, marvelous time.
On behalf of my wife, Joye, we both say thanks to you for being so good to us, for allowing us to be a part of your life and for enjoying baseball with us.
Thank you very much. Good night and God bless.
With that, Bob hugged Joye and we resumed our applause which had been intermittent but hardy for half-an-hour. The PA played “Yesterday Once More” by the Carpenters, its first lyrics more than appropriate to the occasion: When I was young, I’d listen to the radio.
I sure did. When I was 7, and as part of me stayed 7, clear up to that moment when I was technically 40. I didn’t draw up a banner or anything, but I had my own tribute prepared for Dodge Bob Murphy Night.
When I was young, I would listen to the radio, specifically this RCA transistor I inherited from my sister. That’s the radio I carried around with me for day games and night games when it was only with great protest that I agreed to be torn away from the Mets. That’s the radio I pressed to my ear on a Wednesday afternoon one particular October, in a Lamstons drug store in Manhattan (Sukkot got me out of school), so I could hear Tug McGraw tease a grounder to first out of Dan Driessen and know that after having been in last place on August 30, the New York Mets were champions of the National League.
That radio had to come with me to the upper deck thirty years later. One 9-volt battery and it was good to go. Thus, with the bottom of the ninth at hand, I dug it out of my bag and turned up the volume so I, so Jason, so everyone around us could hear Bob Murphy call the final three outs of his career. Timo Perez, Mike Piazza (who had become the Met first baseman for the first time in the top of the ninth) and the 2003est Met of them all, Ty Wigginton, went down quickly. With the Mets’ home season done, there went Bob Murphy’s broadcasting career. No Happy Recap, just a tidy summation of one game in thousands in a career that touched everybody who had ever carried a transistor radio to hear what he had to tell them.
I’ll say goodbye now to everybody. Stay well out there wherever you might be. I’ve enjoyed the relationship with you.
New York Mets baseball is a production of Sportsradio 66 WFAN in conjunction with the New York Mets. The coordinating producer is…
One of the banners thanking Bob Murphy ended with METS IN 2004 as its coda. That was appropriate as anything the Carpenters might have sung. Murph gave us that kind of optimism, never not on display at Shea Stadium. Even at the end of 66-95 seasons, he prevented pessimism. Murph never broadcast games the Mets were losing, only ones that they were a few base hits from getting right back into. Seasons, too. It worked in 1973, so we never believed it might not happen again.
Amid the goodbyes was the promise that Murph, retiring like so many New Yorkers to South Florida, would stop by Port St. Lucie for an inning or two now and then, and that if the spirit moved him, he would Come Back Often to Shea Stadium. The radio booth was named for him, so he was eternally welcome. He did pick up the mic once more in the spring of ’04, and it was quite reassuring to hear. Then he left and that was that. In the middle of the season, word spread that lung cancer — the manifestation, apparently, of all that damn coughing you’d hear between pitches — was getting the best of Murph. You wanted to hear he was doing better. You weren’t hearing that.
On the first Tuesday in August of ’04, Stephanie and I went to the movies, The Manchurian Candidate. We came back with sandwiches from our nearby Subway. After setting them down, I turned on the radio in our new home. Bob Murphy, somebody said, had died at 79. He didn’t make it one year into retirement.
If the 2003 Mets had had any decency, they would have been in a 1973-style pennant race the September before. The crowd for Murph should have overflowed. The following summer, however, it did. From the second Bob’s passing was reported, everybody was on the air somewhere talking about him with loving unanimity. The Yankees were home that night and Bob Sheppard read a tribute that Yankees fans stood and applauded long and hard. The Mets were in Milwaukee and Brewers fans stood and applauded for him, too. That entire night’s radiocast, Gary Cohen and Howie Rose presented essentially one long recollection of Murph. Somewhere in the middle of it, the Mets engineered a rout at Miller Park.
I suppose that by sitting alone, typing up whatever spilled out of me and staying glued to Murph’s old frequency, I said goodbye for good that night, August 3, 2004. But there were two more farewells that I had to make.
A week after his death, I was at Shea with Laurie. We figured they’d say or do something for Murph before they played the Astros, and they did. It was a DiamondVision tribute full of pictures and clips, some of which we hadn’t seen, like Murph in his Marine uniform. We applauded as long and as hard as we could. There was nothing intermittent about it.
The day after that, we went to a public memorial at St. Patrick’s. I put on a suit for it. Hundreds of Mets fans showed up in their Piazza jerseys. I’m still glad I wore my suit — and I’m never glad to have worn a suit. Gary Thorne, by no means my favorite broadcaster, gave a rousing eulogy, one that declared there was no better seat in this world than one at a bar, after a game, between Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner. Cardinal Egan led the congregation in one final, almost endless ovation for the departed.
On the way home, it rained torrentially.