7: Monday, September 22 vs Cubs
Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived in the final week of the 2008 baseball season, the final week of regularly scheduled competition ever to take place at William A. Shea Municipal Stadium. One week from now, pending potential playoff participation, the New York Mets will cease to call Shea Stadium home.
Not only does it feel like this last season of Shea just began, but we are left to wonder, with seven games remaining from the start of tonight, where did 45 springs, summers and falls go? Where did the 45 seasons of Mets baseball go? Where did all those games against all those worthy Met opponents go?
All but seven contests have been played to their conclusion and all but one National League rival has made an appearance as part of this season's separation process. Since there is no home game without a visiting team, we want to use the number 7 to pay homage to the role that the one team which waited until tonight to touch down in Flushing in 2008 played in building the legend of Shea Stadium long ago.
With them present at last, we recall the first genuine rivalry in which the Mets ever battled for high stakes, a rivalry forged in the heat of Shea Stadium's first pennant race and a rivalry at the heart of the most unforgettable season the patrons of this ballpark ever experienced.
Tonight we remember the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs and 1969.
It's a happier story told in Queens than it is in Wrigleyville, but it's a story complete only with the acknowledgement that there were two sides to the miracle coin. One team's and one fan base's eternal joy is somebody else's cause for sleepless nights and teeth gnashed to the gums. Nearly four decades later, it would not be sporting to say to the Cubs and their followers “we couldn't have done it without you.”
Even though we couldn't have.
On the other hand, Mets fans have learned some painful lessons in recent seasons, lessons in being ahead and falling behind, lessons that expectations sometimes exceed results. If this doesn't necessarily put Mets fans in league with Cubs fans, then at least they might now speak two dialects of the same language.
In any event, to Mets fans in 1969, one Cub represented all that was imposing about the team they hoped to overtake in the course of the summer. He was one of the best players of his time, some would say a Hall of Famer in everything but title. Few National League third basemen were surer bets in the field or at the bat and few Chicago athletes have grown as revered as this man, Ron Santo.
Nobody could have imagined in the summer of '69 that the Mets would bring Ron Santo to Shea Stadium to sing his praises. It was, after all, Ron Santo who drew the ire of the Mets and their fans for his habitual clicking of heels after Cub victories. It was Santo who was seen as the overbearing leader of the team that was standing in the way of the miracle that would change us all. Goodness knows Ron Santo never sought a spotlight at Shea. In fact, his exact words in 2007, upon being asked about the imminent final season of this ballpark where the Cubs' hopes have crumbled before his eyes as a player and announcer, were:
“I would come personally back here to blow it up. I'd pay my own way. Maybe even just to watch it.”
In another time, those would be fighting words. But this is the end of time for Shea. It's hard to think of Shea without 1969 and it's impossible to think of 1969 without the Mets playing the Cubs in September, winning a tight one one night and a laugher the next. So we asked Ron to join us on this September evening from the Cubs' broadcast booth. We didn't pay his way, but the Mets did make a sizable donation to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, a cause Ron has supported vigorously for many years. When it comes to fighting disease, the only enemy is the malady itself.
So please welcome Ron Santo to the field.
Ron, as you can see, is happily hitching a ride in the Met bullpen buggy that's been recharged for the final week of the season and he is heading now to the rightfield corner to remove number 7…he is exiting the cart now and he is approaching the wall…he is about to take part in the most sacred honor Shea Stadium has to offer…
AND WHAT'S THIS? It's a Black Cat! A black cat, just like the one that crossed in front of the Cub dugout and around the Cub on-deck circle on September 9, 1969 as the Cubs were en route to falling out of first place. The black cat, likely one of the dozens of feral cats for which Shea is so well known, has frozen Ron Santo in his tracks and…the black cat has leapt up in front of Ron…and the black cat is peeling lucky number 7 down with its teeth and its claws! The black cat appears to have gotten it all in a couple of swipes and gotten the best of the Cub great once more.
Ron Santo is shaking his head in dismay, making what looks like a gesture of pushing a button, as if he wished he'd stuck to his original plan of blowing up Shea.
That, of course, was never an option.
Our mysterious feline interloper — and folks, this was totally unplanned and unforeseen — delivers 7 to Ron Santo's feet, one final gesture to remind this North Side icon that accomplishing what he has set out to achieve at Shea Stadium is a task that will perpetually elude him. Ron is getting back into the bullpen buggy and is driven through the centerfield gate never to set foot on Shea soil again. Goodbye Ron Santo — we hate to see you go.
The black cat appears to be clicking all four of its heels. I believe we hear some purring, too.
Number 8 was revealed here.
Number 6 will be counted down next Monday, May 26.