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 371 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
6/28/75 Sa Philadelphia 1-0 Tate 1 2-1 W 5-2
This is what C.J. Cregg on The West Wing would call a process story. It’s the process by which I had carried with me for almost three years a nagging insecurity and the process by which in the past several days I have shed it.
Last Saturday, I inscribed into The Log my 200th win. It was a great personal milestone for me and I noted it for all the world to see. The world, almost without exception, went about its affairs largely undisturbed by my moment, but that’s OK. Before I had this blog through which to shine a light on it, I’d regularly announce to whomever I was with what my record had just turned to as we left Shea Stadium. I strongly suspected whomever I was with would sleep soundly either way, but I liked to mark the occasion vocally before marking it down in ink.
After Fernando Tatis & Co. ensured my nice, round number, of course I wanted to let it be known it had been achieved. Two-hundred times I wrote “W” under “Result”. Two-hundred times, I bore witness to at least a portion of Met home regular-season victory. Two-hundred times, at the very least, I didn’t jinx my team.
But deep down, I was nagged. Was it really 200 last Saturday? Or was it 199? No matter what The Log said, was the true 200th win the next night? Was it possible that I took something as innocuous as the practice of writing down the essential details of every game I’ve ever attended and stirred up a searing statistical controversy, albeit a searing statistical controversy that robbed only me of rest?
If anyone could do it, I could. But I am relieved to declare — even if you are apathetic to learn — that I can rest easily now. 200 wins equals 200 wins for real, and not just in the “nine balls used to equal a walk” sense of processing old numbers in a modern context.
This is how I remember June 28, 1975:
For the second consecutive year, my sister and I got on a train, then another train and we arrived at Shea Stadium for Old Timers Day. It was cloudy. We watched the Old Timers introduced and play their game. We waited for the real game, Mets vs. Phillies, to begin. It got started. Then it started to rain. After an inning-and-a-half, play was called. It was raining hard. After waiting it out a while (I distinctly recall buying the “Shea Stadium Edition” of The Baseball Quiz Book, which featured Jack Davis renderings of Ruth, Aaron and Maris touching home while a tiny pitcher trembled), Suzan insisted we leave. C’mon, she said, look at how it’s raining, you know they’re not going to play. Besides, we’re coming back with mom and dad on Wednesday.
Reluctantly agreeing that it was pretty wet, we departed. To avoid a long wait at Woodside, we took the LIRR back into Penn Station (I saw the Amtrak trains to Philly and asked if it would be possible to go to Veterans Stadium some day to see the Mets there; she said that would cost something prohibitive, like thirty bucks). From there we rode back to Long Beach. And once in the door at home, we found our parents watching Kiner’s Korner.
The game had resumed. It was completed. The Mets won 5-2. I growled a bit at Suzan for giving up so soon but was otherwise happy for a Mets win. I would remember having gone to this game, started by Randy Tate, as my second win. True, I didn’t stick around to the end, but I was there and it happened. Good enough for me.
The rock on which The Log was built when it opened for business in 1981 was my memory which, even at 18, was considered by those who encountered it as exceptional. “How do you remember all that?” I’d be asked about whatever it was I was rattling off the top of my head like dandruff. I don’t know, I said, I just do.
But even at 18 I knew I couldn’t remember everything into perpetuity. I knew that although I could tell you the essential details of every one of the Mets games I’d attended since I began attending Mets games, I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to keep it up forever. So as a precaution against future fallibility, I finally jotted down, in a steno pad, what happened as I remembered it from the eighteen games I’d been to since 1973: Date; Opponent; Starting Pitcher; Result. After 1981, with what we’ll call The Original Eighteen put in the books, I kept it up on a game-by-game basis. I’d go to a game, I’d mourn or possibly celebrate its outcome and I’d make official what I saw by Logging it.
It never occurred to me as I moved through the ’80s, into the ’90s and past the millennial marker that I had ever gotten any of the Original Eighteen wrong. Dates, you see, were my strong suit. Some writers are geniuses at description; they can introduce you to a man or woman whose face is blessed or cursed by an “aquiline nose”; they will profile a powerful executive by the way he “tucks into his steak”; they can recount a ballgame without blurring a play Carlos Delgado made on Andre Ethier into a play he made on Jeff Kent.
I don’t do that. What I do is tell you that on July 17, 1976, for example, I went to see the Mets play the Astros. I tell you about who I went with and who gave me a ride and what they offered me from the back of their trunk and what the overactive, over-the-hill cheerleader type in our section chanted. I tell you Tom Seaver pitched. I don’t tell you how his breaking stuff tickled the corners of the strike zone because, quite frankly, how would I know?
I don’t know that stuff. I don’t notice that stuff unless I’ve got slo-mo and Tim McCarver in his announcing prime turning me into an advance scout. I don’t know and I don’t notice plenty. I don’t notice what people look like all that much. I don’t necessarily remember what people I’ve met several times look like. I went to a game last week with somebody I know mostly through blog and e-mail, somebody whose only defining physical characteristic I could recall from our one prior meeting was that he wore a Todd Zeile jersey. Thank goodness he was wearing it again or I might have circled Shea in search of him.
Thank goodness for The Log, for it makes clear without aid of statistically enhanced Web site what I saw when I was a kid. I saw Randy Tate in 1975. I saw Tom Seaver in 1976, Craig Swan in 1977, Jerry Koosman in 1978…
I didn’t see Jerry Koosman in 1978. I walked around for 27 years fairly certain Koosman started the only game I saw in 1978, the game I remembered better for what I got (and didn’t get) from a storage closet of Met merchandise. I remember being told wearing a Red Sox cap to Shea Stadium was a fashion faux pas. I don’t remember that on June 25, 1978 Jerry Koosman was actually Nino Espinosa.
No use fighting it once I stumbled upon the boxscore on some combination of Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference and Ultimate Mets Database. They all said the same thing: Espinosa pitched for the Mets (and the Mets still lost). I was compelled by research to put a line through Koosman and amend the STARTING PITCHER column to Espinosa for 6/25/78. That was all right in terms of history. I had seen Kooz once before. I could now say I had seen Nino.
But could I any longer be certain of all I was sure I had seen? Did I really get from 1973 to 1981 with memory intact? Were all my details correct?
I take great pleasure in introducing or at least being on hand for a person’s first game at Shea Stadium. It is my missionary work. I was thrilled to do it for Alex and Zack, the sons of my friend Alan, one of the least baseball-savvy people I’ve ever known well. Technically, it would be just older brother Alex watching the field; Zack had a cold and slept through the entire Mets-Dodgers game of July 24, 2005. Alex asked a few questions but, I’d be told in ensuing summers, didn’t really take the bait to become a Mets fan. Oh well. But it was a lovely afternoon nonetheless. The Mets won and my all-time total games attended at Shea, if I were to incorporate the eight postseason games I had seen in ’99 and 2000, was an even 300.
Such happiness. Such pride. Me, the kid from Long Beach who got to only one or two games a year in his youth…who didn’t get started at Shea until he was a ripe old ten, four long years after discovering the Mets in the newspaper and on Channel 9…who somehow never got to more than seven games in any one season until he was thirty…I had made up for lost time and how! I don’t know that I constituted much of an adult on any other count, but I had sure grown up to be the all the fan I could be.
Maybe it was a victory lap that caused me to explore Retrosheet in the wake of the perceived milestone. I just had to go back and look at some of my early work. I examined my third game, that Old Timers Day from 1975, the Randy Tate start, the one delayed for about an hour-and-a-half in the second, the one I had to leave but the one I was at, so it counted.
1:27 rain delay at start
That’s what Retrosheet said, but that’s not how I remembered it. They played. The Mets and Phillies played the top of the first, then the bottom of the first, then the top of the second. I didn’t remember that Steve Carlton was the opposing pitcher, I only vaguely remembered each team scoring a run, but I did remember getting an inning-and-a-half in before the rain. That’s why it was so deflating to have the delay, so defeating to have to be dragged away. The Mets wouldn’t have started that game on June 28, 1975 if they didn’t think they could finish it. And they had finished it!
But did they start it? Specifically, did they start it before or after the rain? I knew they did. I was there!
I was also there for the Old Timers ceremonies, the whole shmear. They introduced the players from another era, then they had them come out and play one of those games that doesn’t count…
Hold on. Could have I mixed them up? Could it be that the Old Timers game was the one for which they had to clear the diamond and unfurl the tarp? Is that what I was remembering all these years? Is it possible I never saw Randy Tate fire a pitch that afternoon in 1975?
Retrosheet said it was. And I depended on Retrosheet to fill in all my blanks.
I continued to function in 2005 and I continue to function to this day. It’s not debilitating to learn you may have had your facts confused somewhere between the ages of 12 when you saw what you saw and 18 when you wrote down what you saw and 42 when you were led to question if you really saw what you thought you saw.
I saw Randy Tate. I know I did! It’s in The Log!
No players’ names are written down in The Log except those of the starting pitcher. The starting pitcher’s identity is one of four prime identifiers, right there with the date, the opponent and the final result. The starting pitcher is a pelt, a notch. It is what I tack up over the fireplace, what I carve into the bedpost. Seeing Randy Tate, even if Randy Tate’s career lasted a single 5-13 season, even if Randy Tate is remembered primarily for not throwing a no-hitter (he held the Expos hitless into the eighth and wound up losing anyway), was a prize. I liked having written down “Tate” in The Log.
Who am I kidding? I loved having written down “Tate” in The Log.
In 2005, I was distressed by the information I had uncovered in Retrosheet. It’s not as if the game hadn’t taken place. But if it took place and I didn’t see it, did it really fall under the purview of The Log? In 1999, I arrived in the seventh inning of the opener of a twinight doubleheader against the Brewers. It started at four in the afternoon. I couldn’t leave work early, so I just had to take what I saw. Well, I thought, I’ve seen some of it. So I guess it counts in The Log. That became my guide: See one pitch, it counts. Show up between games of a twinbill, the first one doesn’t count. Respond to an emergency phone call before first pitch and bolt, it doesn’t count. Theoretically, if I show up at Shea, spend nine innings chatting with the lady at the mezzanine BBQ stand…well, why would I do that?
Let’s not lose sight of the issue. If, in fact, I was at Shea on June 28, 1975 but left the premises before any of the Mets-Phillies game was played, could I count it?
I decided in 2005 I could. I decided I was there in good faith. I decided it was part of The Log’s legacy, one-eighteenth of its foundation. I couldn’t be responsible if my sister was a wuss.
So it stayed counted. And when I occasionally let people in on my record, I included the Randy Tate game. When I counted up starting pitchers I’d observed in person in Flushing, I included it as well. Yet…yet even then, a little voice inside my head told me everything would have to be “plus one”. Want to say safely and soundly that you’ve seen 200 Mets wins? Make sure you see 200 plus one. Want to say, as I hope to before this season is out, you’ve seen 400 games, regular and playoff, at Shea Stadium? Make sure you see 400 plus one. I crossed my fingers last Sunday that I’d get my 201st win because, deep down, I wasn’t 100% sure I had actually gotten my 200th.
The curiosity nibbled at me Monday night. Retrosheet had never changed its story. Baseball-Reference and UMDB shed no light. The New York Times doesn’t let you go back that far for free.
But The Sporting News does. The Sporting News‘ archive is online at paperofrecord.com. You have to register and you have to hold tight to your password because it’s not one you get to make up and you have to find it every time you want to look anything up, but you can go straight to The Sporting News and look up almost anything from the distant past. That’s what The Sporting News was for back in the day. It was the Bible of Baseball. I began reading The Sporting News in 1975. They printed boxscores and summaries for every single game played in the Majors in the course of the season.
So I took a deep breath and logged on. I entered the name Tate. A targeted search brought me to the July 19, 1975 edition. I began to scroll. And there it was:
Staub and Kingman each drove in pair of runs and rookie Tate hurled four-hitter to give Mets 5-2 victory over Phillies. Staub singled home tally in first frame and delivered another with sacrifice fly in third. Kingman’s bases-loaded single snapped 2-2 tie in fifth. Game was delayed hour and 27 minutes by rain in last of second inning.
GAME WAS DELAYED HOUR AND 27 MINUTES BY RAIN IN LAST OF SECOND INNING!
I saw it. I saw enough. I saw enough to say I was there. Me and my sister and Randy Tate and the third game in Log history and the second win in Log history and all it represents to me.
“I write poetry, Toby,” Tabitha Fortis said in the West Wing episode entitled “The U.S. Poet Laureate”. “That’s how I enter the world.”
Me, I write down the date, the opponent, the starting pitcher and the score of every game I go to. I’m definitively 201-170 as we speak. 201-170 plus nothin’.