5: Wednesday, September 24 vs. Cubs
If this week is about anything, ladies and gentlemen, it is about this: closure. We say goodbye to Shea Stadium and we aim to do it definitively. We wish to put a bow on a yearlong celebration and tie it tight. We don't want our home of 45 years to be cast off without the most complete and satisfying ending possible.
We hope we can say the same about Shea's final season. That we can't do anything about at this point. If we could, we'd do it every year…and we'd present for your consideration directly a far larger procession than we are about to.
Instead, we give you two men who will team to take down number 5 in the Countdown Like It Oughta Be. They are well suited to provide closure to Shea Stadium because these two men provided the greatest closure there is at Shea Stadium.
They caught the final outs of the two World Series won by the New York Mets.
Ironically, their stories are as much about beginnings as they are about closure. Each man became a Met and elicited a great deal of anticipation for what he might one day bring to the team. In both cases, their output was suspected to be pretty good. Nobody could have rightly dreamed that each would grasp a baseball that would clinch spots at the top of the baseball world in their respective dream seasons.
Start with our first man. He commenced his Met career in the veritable dark ages, 1963, in a far-away land known as the Polo Grounds. While his big league debut predated Shea Stadium, it was just a taste of things to come. He didn't arrive as a full-time, full-fledged Met until 1966. It would take a little while for it to become apparent that everything fans were hearing about “the Youth of America” wasn't hype. It was the real thing. Come 1968, there could be no doubt Mets fans were watching not just a good prospect, but a leftfielder who was the finest everyday player the Mets had signed and developed to date. He'd hold that distinction for years to come and remains, even now, one of the crown jewels ever polished by the Met system.
He'd hold something else as well. He'd hold a fly ball hit in the bottom of the ninth inning of the fifth game of the 1969 World Series. There were two outs when Baltimore Orioles second baseman Davey Johnson hit it toward him. When he caught it, there were three — and the Mets had reached their sport's pinnacle.
Ladies and gentlemen, the man who caught the ball that made the Mets world champions in 1969, Cleon Jones.
Our second man took a different route to Shea. His started on another club, in a different country. His reputation as one of the best at his position preceded him. It's what made him so attractive to the Mets and their fans. When he was acquired in exchange for a hefty bounty of young talent, it was agreed that he was truly worth it, that he could be the honest-to-goodness difference between the Mets being fine and the Mets being, as they were when Cleon Jones played left field, Amazin'.
This man, a catcher, indeed constituted that kind of difference. He played hard, he played hurt, he played brilliantly. He was a rock behind the plate, a fearsome threat when he stood at it. His mere presence transformed the Met lineup in 1985 and established it as the one that would dominate throughout 1986. And when he went into his final crouch of the 1986 postseason and caught a pitch that Jesse Orosco threw and Marty Barrett swung through, he, like Cleon Jones, found in his mitt not just a baseball, but a switch. When he grasped that ball, it was akin to pulling the switch that electrified an entire city.
Ladies and gentlemen, the man who caught the ball that made the Mets world champions in 1986, Gary Carter.
Cleon, Gary, you honor us by peeling No. 5 together, by reminding us for one more moment apiece what it was like at Shea Stadium when the Mets ascended to the top of the baseball world. To honor you back, the New York Mets and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation are thrilled to announce the creation of two installations that will greet visitors to the Queens Museum, adjacent to the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
One is of a leftfielder cradling a fly ball.
One is of a catcher snapping shut his mitt on strike three.
You'll find their faces and forms very familiar.
Cleon Jones' and Gary Carter's defining Met actions will then, for all time, be represented on the site of Shea Stadium's spiritual sibling, the 1964 World's Fair, symbolizing for generations to come the moments when they and their Met teammates made Flushing the undisputed capital of the baseball world.
Number 6 was revealed here.
Number 4 will be counted down next Monday, June 9.