66: Friday, May 9 vs Reds
Ladies and gentlemen, to remove number 66 from the right field wall, we call on a player intimately associated with tonight's opponent, someone who ordinarily would not be setting foot inside Shea Stadium without buying a ticket, but someone so intertwined with the history of this ballpark that it would be impossible to say goodbye to Shea without saying hello to him one more time.
For a quarter-century, as a player, a player-manager and a manager, he was a regular visitor to Queens. Nobody in baseball was more recognizable, more controversial and, as it pertained to the Mets, more notorious than our special guest tonight.
He played his first game here on May 6, 1964 and in his second Shea Stadium at-bat doubled. Fourteen years and many individual and team accomplishments later, he tied and broke the modern National League hitting streak record right here to the cheers of the home crowd. As a Philadelphia Phillie, he would be the first batter Tom Seaver would face in his Flushing homecoming in 1983 and back with the Reds in 1986, he'd collect the last of his 189 regular-season Shea Stadium base hits off Dwight Gooden.
But it would be a postseason appearance that would inextricably tie Pete Rose to Shea Stadium, specifically a hard — some would say too hard — slide into Buddy Harrelson at shortstop in the third game of the 1973 National League Championship Series that brought Pete the kind of lasting infamy only true passion and a level of regard elicits.
Tonight, however, with only 66 games left in the life of this stadium, we believe it is time to greet Pete Rose if not forgive him or forget his role in the most memorable brawl Shea Stadium ever saw. That is why we secured permission from Commissioner Bud Selig for Pete's return to Shea, his first time in a New York ballpark since being banned from baseball for gambling in 1989. That is also why we asked the Glass Distillery Packaging Association to sponsor Salute to Pete Rose Night.
GDPA was gracious enough to provide the commemorative Pete Rose bottles of whiskey from which every fan has been enjoying since entering the park and the Mets remind you that when you're finished with your liquor, there are better ways than recycling to make use of your empty bottles.
65: Saturday, May 10 vs Reds
That sound, ladies and gentlemen, can mean only one thing. The sound is that of a cow bell and it belongs to a Mets fan everybody will recognize instantly, Eddie Boison. You might know him better by the name on the back of his jersey, Cow-Bell Man.
Eddie has been coming to Shea since it opened in 1964 but has truly become a fixture in the 21st century, strolling every section, making a joyful noise and stirring up his fellow fans from the field level to the upper deck.
We had planned to ask Eddie to reveal number 65 in partnership with another true Shea Stadium original, a fan who, like Eddie, became synonymous with enthusiastic and unique support of the Mets. Alas, Karl Ehrhardt left us this past winter, but in light of the tributes he received upon his passing, we are confident the placards held aloft by Shea Stadium's own Sign Man will live in the mind's eye as long as there are Mets fans. To represent Karl, we have asked his children, Richard Ehrhardt and Bonnie Troester, to join Eddie in making the walk to right field. Please give them a warm welcome.
64: Sunday, May 11 vs Reds
As you know, ladies and gentlemen, at every game throughout the 2008 season, we are taking a moment and pausing our game long enough so that individuals connected to the long and rich history of Shea Stadium can enjoy a moment in the sun. On this Sunday, however, we turn our attention to the Mets' only other home to date, the Polo Grounds.
It is true that the modern and attractive ballpark under construction right before our very eyes pays homage primarily to Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, but it is just as true that the Mets never played in Ebbets Field — it was gone two years before the Mets were born. It was left to the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan to serve as launching pad for this franchise we all hold so dear. When Citi Field opens in 2009, no matter what the exterior would indicate, proper tribute will be paid to the Polo Grounds' role in the development of the New York Mets and New York baseball.
Until then, there is today, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg has officially proclaimed Polo Grounds Appreciation Day in the city of New York. In Manhattan, the portion of the Harlem River Drive that runs past the site of the Polo Grounds has been renamed the Ottway in recognition of legendary New York Giants slugger and all-time New York City home run king Mel Ott. And here at Shea, to commemorate this admittedly overdue occasion, in addition to presenting every fan who entered Shea this afternoon with a handsome, glossy 96-page program filled with pictures and essays devoted to the Polo Grounds, we have invited a quartet of Mets whose presence speaks to roots of the club.
• Frank Thomas hit 34 home runs in 1962, 18 of them at the Polo Grounds, establishing a team record that would stand another thirteen seasons. He was the Opening Day leftfielder the day Shea Stadium opened and would remain a Met into the 1964 season.
• Roger Craig was the ace of the Mets in 1962 and 1963, pitching in hard luck but always giving it his best. His appearances at Shea would come in other uniforms, yet he would always be remembered warmly here for his work at the Polo Grounds.
• Choo Choo Coleman gained a measure of immortality as a catcher on the 1962 and 1963 Mets. He may have been quiet, but the stories shared by those who played with him and interviewed him spoke volumes. Choo Choo returned to the Mets in 1966 for a brief stint before retiring as an active player.
• And leading these three original Mets out to right field to remove number 64 is a teammate of theirs whose story becomes complete today. Ted Schreiber played one season in the big leagues, 1963, when the Mets still called the Polo Grounds home. In fact, Ted turned out the lights, in a manner of speaking, on the historic bathtub-shaped ballpark at Eighth Avenue and 155th Street. He came to bat as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth on September 18, 1963 and grounded into a double play, one involving two future Met coaches, Cookie Rojas and Bobby Wine, as the Mets lost to the Phillies, 5-1.
It was the last play in the baseball history of the Polo Grounds. Ted left the Mets after 1963 and never made it to Shea. It only seems right to invite him here now and give him the honor of taking down the next number in the park that he just missed playing in. Ted's presence also reminds us that no matter where we are at a given moment, whether it's this year or next, there is usually something that came before that deserves to be remembered.
63: Monday, May 12 vs Nationals
Ladies and gentlemen, if you can't hear me or I have to stop speaking for a moment so you can hear me, it is not a technical difficulty on the part of Shea Stadium's often erratic public address system. It is almost certainly for the same reason conversations have been interrupted, batters have been stepping out of the box and pitchers have been leaving the rubber for 45 seasons.
It is the airplanes.
We have a very famous neighbor just slightly to our north, LaGuardia Airport. While it is in many respects a fine airport, one once voted the greatest in the world by those who made their living in aviation, its presence may not make for ideal company during a ballgame. While passengers on the planes overhead no doubt thrill to a glimpse of Shea Stadium, the players on the field and the fans in the stands have mostly tolerated and learned to live with some pretty powerful jet noise.
But the airplanes are a part of the Shea Stadium scene, just as we sense they will be around when Citi Field opens, so we may as well acknowledge the unusual role they have played at Shea. To do so, we have asked Anthony Coscia, chairman of the Port Authority, the government agency that runs LaGuardia, to remove number 63 from the right field wall. Anthony's being such a good sport about representing noise and distraction, we have asked to join him the one Met more likely than any other to disrupt air traffic from below.
He hit 73 Shea home runs in two tours as a New York Met, and seemingly each and every one of them was a cause for concern among pilots flying into and out of LaGuardia. It's no wonder that he once did television commercials for United, one of the airlines that flies regularly from the airport next door. Please welcome back to Shea the slugger more likely than any other on any given day to reach the clouds and part the jets, Dave Kingman.
62: Tuesday, May 13 vs Nationals
Ladies and gentlemen, there are many factors that have made Shea Stadium one of the most distinct ballparks in America, none of them as juicy and tasty, however, as what we can rightly call its native crop.
How many stadiums do you know where tomatoes were grown as a matter of course? We refer, naturally, to the agriculture in the home team bullpen, the tomato plants that for decades were an integral part of the Shea scene.
One man was more responsible for those tomatoes than any other. He was the planter, the farmer and the inspiration, to say nothing of a pretty fair tutor of relief pitchers across 14 seasons. Please give a warm hand to coach Joe Pignatano as he trots out to right field to remove number 62 and then, presumably, continues into the Mets bullpen to check on the soil.
61: Wednesday, May 14 vs Nationals
As Mets fans, ladies and gentlemen, it is your inclination to root, root, root for the home team. It has never been common to cheer an opponent at Shea Stadium. It is almost unheard of today unless it is for a certifiable superstar.
The man whom we have asked to take down number 61 would be the first to tell you he was no superstar, just a guy doing his best. Sometimes, because he is human, his best wasn't good enough. Unfortunately for our special guest, the fates were not with him on the biggest stage baseball has to offer, the World Series. In one game, Game Two, he made three errors and his team lost in extra innings. The club owner for whom he worked was not pleased and attempted to circumvent the rules regarding postseason rosters and attempted to have him replaced by another player. A firestorm of protest erupted and this player's place was preserved.
The World Series in question was 1973, which means the action began in Oakland and shifted to Shea Stadium, which is why we honor A's infielder Mike Andrews here tonight. Mets fans recognized the raw deal Mike was receiving from Charlie Finley, so when he came to bat as a pinch-hitter in the fourth game of that Fall Classic, Mets fans rose as one and supported him with a long and loud ovation. They gave him a second round of applause as he made his way back to the Oakland dugout after he grounded out.
Mike never forgot the reception he got at Shea, normally a tough place for visitors to play, that much more intense with a world championship on the line. Mike would say of Mets fans, “The ovations gave me chills, it surprised me. I don't think I've ever had a standing ovation in my life. To me that meant everything.”
Mike retired after that World Series, the only career appearance at Shea Stadium for this lifelong American Leaguer. We thought it would be appropriate to have him back here once more. Ladies and gentlemen, please remind Mike Andrews what good fans Mets fans are.
60: Thursday, May 15 vs Nationals
Ladies and gentlemen, if you own a 2008 media guide, available at Shea concessions, or have visited rich and informative Web sites like Ultimate Mets Database or Mets By The Numbers — now available in book form — you know where to find a list of every player who has ever played as a Met. Yet one of the most lovable Mets of his era won't show up in any of these reputable reference sources.
Nevertheless, Mets fans will always remember the contributions infielder Chico Escuela stitched into the fabric of the 1969 and 1973 Mets even if the boxscores from those seasons don't reflect his presence. He is probably better recalled for his comeback attempt, tracked ably by Weekend Update anchor Bill Murray, during the spring of 1979 when he had to overcome the doubts and grudges that arose from his classic tell-all volume, Bad Stuff 'Bout The Mets. Anyone who remembers 1979 would have to admit there was plenty of Bad Stuff to write 'Bout The Mets in those days, but Chico's presence in blue and orange surely was one of the better things the franchise had going then. You might even say he was “berry, berry good” for the Mets. He certainly brought laughter to a fan base mired in an understandably dark mood.
Chico Escuela lit up Shea on Old Timers Day in '79, appearing alongside “other” members of the '69 Mets at their first on-field reunion, and baseball was better off for it. Unfortunately, Chico had a speaking engagement this afternoon and couldn't make it when we called and asked him to take down number 60 from the right field all as homage to his many fine years as a Met. But Chico being Chico, he was thoughtful enough to send in his place a great performer in his own right, a cast member on Saturday Night Live at the exact same time Chico was making his Met comeback. Please give a berry, berry big welcome to Garrett Morris.
Numbers 72-67 were revealed here.