59: Monday, May 26 vs Marlins
Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to our Shea Stadium Final Season countdown. If, by chance, this is your first game at Shea this season, a quick reminder: At every home game this year, we are pausing in the fifth inning for a brief ceremony in which we introduce one or more individuals with a deep and abiding connection to Shea, tell you a bit about that person or those persons and have him, her or they take a number down from the right field wall to signify how many games remain in the life of this wonderful ballpark.
To continue the countdown tonight, we have someone who spent a great deal of time on Shea Stadium's pitcher's mound during a single game. It was October 2, 1965. The season was about to end but it wouldn't end all that soon thanks to what you would have to call the yeoman efforts of Rob Gardner. Rob took to the hill that Saturday evening in the nightcap of a twinight doubleheader and pitched…and pitched…and pitched some more. By the time manager Wes Westrum took him out, Rob had pitched 15 scoreless innings. His opponent that night, the Phillies' starter, the late Chris Short, matched him frame for frame, zero for zero…and struck out 18 Mets while doing so.
It was a pitching performance for the ages even if eventually it was put in the books as a tie. The Mets and Phils played 18 innings that night, neither team scoring a run. They had to play a doubleheader the next day, the last day of the season.
Tonight, we want to give Rob the opportunity to get some kind of number next to his name for authoring perhaps the greatest forgotten Met pitching performance in the history of Shea Stadium. We can't give you any runs, Rob, but we can offer you the honor of peeling number 59. And to join you, we've asked the two relievers who backed you up to take the walk with you. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome home to Shea Stadium, from your 1965 New York Mets, Darrell Sutherland, Dennis Ribant and Rob Gardner.
58: Tuesday, May 27 vs Marlins
Ladies and gentlemen, throughout the years at Shea Stadium, management has strived to offer you, within reason, a fine selection of food and beverages to make your baseball-watching experience relatively pleasant. Rest assured, when Citi Field opens in 2009, the culinary effort will be kicked up a notch.
Until then, we ask you to remember as fondly as possibly some of what you've eaten and drunk here and if you do and if you are old enough, one particular Shea Stadium sponsor's product will stand out in memory above all others.
From the opening of Shea Stadium in 1964 through the thrilling pennant run of 1973, Rheingold was the beer of choice here in Flushing and a big part of New Yorkers' lives. Brewed in Brooklyn beginning in 1883, Rheingold gave us the Miss Rheingold contest, the Ten-Minute Head and of course a jingle that echoes down the corridors of time. It has been relaunched under different ownerships since and has even returned to Shea on occasion. True, other beers have taken its tap space, to say nothing of its spot on the scoreboard, but at heart, Shea Stadium will always belong on the Rheingold beat.
To commemorate Rheingold's place in Shea Stadium history, we have asked Terry Liebman, one of those who worked to bring Rheingold back to New York in the late 1990s and a member of Rheingold's founding Liebmann family to join us, take down number 58 and toast the memory of a great Mets sponsor. Feel free to join in with a chorus of “My beer is Rheingold the dry beer…”
57: Wednesday, May 28 vs Marlins
Have you ever wondered why, ladies and gentlemen, the Mets are here? That's not an existential question but rather a query pertaining to the Mets having set down their roots in Flushing Meadow. The answer can be traced back to one man.
For the balance of the 20th century, that individual held sway over New York City in ways that are unimaginable today. His name was Robert Moses. He held various job descriptions across more than four decades of government service, but he is probably best known by the title of the masterful biography that explained him to succeeding generations: The Power Broker.
Moses believed the future of the New York metropolitan area lay ever eastward. Demographic trends validated his vision as more people left the five boroughs and began to call Long Island, right next door to Queens, home. He saw a future driven by the automobile and set out to build a network of highways second to none to accommodate it. And he recognized the potential of parkland in the geographic center of New York City, Flushing Meadow. He worked tirelessly to develop it and included within his blueprints for growth a modern baseball stadium the likes of which New Yorkers had never seen. The result was Shea Stadium, a structure Moses consciously modeled on the Roman Colosseum.
Robert Moses lived from 1888 to 1981, a time when the world changed and changed again. His legacy remains up for debate in matters large and small, but it is clear that he helped shaped New York as we know it, particularly Flushing Meadow. If you're wondering why the Mets are right here, you can be certain Mr. Moses had something to do with it.
To recall the impact of Robert Moses, we asked his Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, by no means an unalloyed admirer of the man, to join us and remove number 57 from the right field wall tonight. One of America's greatest writers and kind enough to take time out from his rigorous research on the life of Lyndon Johnson — president of the United States, incidentally, when Shea Stadium opened — please welcome the author of The Power Broker, native New Yorker Robert Caro.
56: Thursday, May 29 vs Dodgers
This evening, ladies and gentlemen, it gives the Mets great pleasure to welcome back an old friend to Shea Stadium. He played his first game here as a member of the Milwaukee Braves on May 12, 1964, catching a complete game shutout. He would visit often over the course of eleven seasons until 1975 when he became a Met. Midway through his third season as a player for the home team, he became the Mets' manager, a post he'd hold for five years.
We speak, of course, of Brooklyn's own Joe Torre. While Joe hasn't exactly been a stranger around these parts, we are happy to have him back as a National Leaguer again. Joe will be removing number 56 from the right field wall tonight and joining him are two of the most popular players from the Joe Torre era at Shea.
He was an All-Star four times, three under Joe's tutelage. He was also one of the hardest-charging Mets of any period in team history, someone who gave no ground on the basepaths, at the plate or anywhere the field of play extended. Please give a warm welcome to the Dude, John Stearns.
Another Brooklynite, he spent his rookie season at the elbow of manager Joe Torre, learning the game and mastering his trade. By 1979, he was a Mets All-Star and a stellar one at that, homering and later walking with the bases loaded to ensure a win for the National League. He enjoyed two tenures in New York, the second of them commencing just in time for the 1986 World Series when he played a key role in securing victories in Games Six and Seven. Ladies and gentlemen, Lee Mazzilli.
55: Friday, May 30 vs Dodgers
Ladies and gentlemen, the next time a Met homers — provided all functions as it should — an apple will rise from a top hat and all will be right with the world. As has been the case since 1981, the Home Run Apple remains Shea Stadium's most recognizable and beloved landmark.
How did this apple come to take rise at Shea? We can thank one of advertising's most legendary minds for the inspiration. In 1980, when the team's new ownership was looking to garner attention, it hired Jerry Della Femina to produce an ad campaign. He came up with one of the most memorable lines in baseball advertising history: The Magic Is Back. A year later, the hat you see today was installed, sporting the phrase Mets Magic. It would take a little while for the club itself to pull out of the proverbial hat enough wins to contend, but by 1986, a world championship was conjured right here in the Big Apple.
Jerry joins us tonight to remove number 55 from the right field wall and, accompanying him, are two of the original Magic Mets of 1980, a pair of players who stirred the sleeping giant that was the New York National League fan base and gave it reason to hope that lasting success would someday soon be more than an illusion.
Craig Swan pitched for the Mets for over a decade, earning the N.L. ERA title in 1978 and always throwing his heart out from the Shea Stadium mound. His right arm bridged the gap from Seaver to Gooden like the Triborough connects Queens to points north, including Swannie's home in Connecticut.
Doug Flynn joined the Mets in 1977 and manned second base as no other Met had previously. Little got past Doug and his defensive brilliance was recognized in 1980 with the Gold Glove award. Bob Murphy liked to say Doug would look ground balls into his glove and we're happy to get another look at Dougie tonight.
Please give a big hand to Jerry Della Femina, Craig Swan and Doug Flynn.
54: Saturday, May 31 vs Dodgers
Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you're enjoying your Saturday in the park. Saturday has been a great day for Mets baseball over the years, particularly when the sun starts going down. Though it will probably still be light out when we're done today, we wanted to pay homage this late afternoon to some of the most memorable Saturday night fireworks in Shea Stadium history.
Our first sparkplug joins us from the active roster of the New York Mets. On June 11, 2005, he did one of the most difficult things there is to do in baseball. He came off the bench as a pinch-hitter and delivered a big blow off an ace reliever. What made this feat all the more amazin' was that not only was it a game-tying blast in the ninth off the superb Francisco Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim but it was an inside-the-park job. He was already one of the best pinch-hitters the Mets had ever seen but this hit — and his mad dash around the bases while blowing his bubble gum — made him an instant legend with the Shea fans. We're thrilled he's a Met again, please greet Marlon Anderson.
As evening began to fall over Flushing on September 13, 1997, it appeared the Mets were going down to a rather dreary defeat at the hands of the Montreal Expos. The score was 6-0 for the visitors and the end was at hand…until an unbelievable rally unfolded that scored two runs, loaded the bases and brought up this man to face Ugueth Urbina. There were two outs and two strikes, but this valuable fourth outfielder had a game-tying, grand slam home run left in his bat. He sent the Shea crowd into ninth-inning euphoria and, as would be the case in the Marlon Anderson game, the Mets would go on to win in extra innings. Please welcome back the slugger Carl Everett.
What Marlon did and what Carl did no doubt spurred memories all over Shea Stadium of what one more Met did on a Saturday night when things looked desperate. On June 14, 1980, Joe Torre's Mets fell behind the San Francisco Giants 6-0. But typical of how they operated that spring and summer, the Mets battled back and closed the gap on the Giants to 6-4 in the ninth. Then, with two on and two out, our next guest, who will peel off number 54, swung and belted an Allen Ripley pitch into the Mets' bullpen. Just like that, the Mets had won, 7-6. So thrilled was the Shea crowd that it demanded a curtain call — a response almost unheard of here or anywhere in those days. Those who saw it will never forget it nor the man who came back on the field to wave to the fans. Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Henderson.
53: Sunday, June 1 vs Dodgers
As you know, ladies and gentlemen, Shea Stadium has been the home of the Mets since 1964. Sometimes, however, the Mets share their digs with others. Never were they as generous with their real estate as they were in 1975. During that calendar year, thanks to various construction and renovation products taking place around the metropolitan area, Shea Stadium played host to not one, not two, but four big league professional teams. In 1975, if you were at Shea Stadium, you were at the home of the Mets…and the Jets…and the Yankees…and the football Giants. Together, they kept the ushers and the grounds crew very busy.
To remember that unusual year, we have invited back a representative of each of those teams, starting with one of the best punters in NFL history. Dave Jennings gave the Giants great field position for 11 autumns, one of them right here in Queens. He finished his career kicking for the Jets and has been an excellent broadcaster of New York football ever since. Please welcome Dave to Shea again.
On Sundays when the Giants weren't playing at Shea, a more familiar football team set up shop. In 1975, the Jets depended on a talented Kansan to rush the ball for them and did he ever. He racked up 1,005 yards, the first Jet to run for four figures in one season. He would later rush to even greater glory in Washington but it was at Shea where he established himself as one of the great ground game threats in the NFL. Loosen up and say hi to John Riggins.
During the 1975 baseball season, for the second year in a row, when the Mets were on the road, they laid out the welcome mat for the New York Yankees. Someone already at home here after a stint with the Mets in 1967 was a stalwart for the temporarily Flushing Flashers at second base. He played 151 games for the '75 Yankees and the next year would take under his wing an up & comer named Willie Randolph. From the third base coaching box right here at Shea, give a warm hand to Sandy Alomar, Sr..
And leading our troop of 1975 Sheamen down the right field line to remove number 53 is someone who was most familiar with the terrain here. He came up in 1972 and earned Rookie of the Year honors for the Mets and would go on to contribute mightily to the National League championship run of a year later. In 1975, he pitched well enough for a second trip to the All-Star Game, emerging as its winning pitcher and co-MVP. One of the best southpaws to ever pitch in a Mets uniform, give a great big hand to Jon Matlack.
Numbers 66-60 were revealed here.