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 387 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
5/1/79 Tu San Diego 0-1 Twitchell 1 3-5 L 10-5
The first time I went to a Mets game with no advance planning, on a school night no less, was a pretty lame night in the history of Mets baseball, let alone The Log. The Mets were terrible, they were beaten badly, I can’t say I had a particularly good time and I felt all alone despite attending as a part of a large group. You’d be entitled to call it, as people tend to do when discussing their less-than-favorite things, forgettable.
Yet, perhaps because I don’t forget much, it stays with me. It stays with me nearly 30 years later, as much as do most of the 400 games that have followed. I’ve had better times with better people watching better Mets teams, but I remember the night in 1979 — parts of it — better, probably, than I will remember more recent games 30 years from now if I am, in fact, in a position to remember anything.
What do I remember?
I remember the unforeseen circumstance that brought me to Shea that Tuesday night. I was in journalism class in the morning when our teacher asked if anybody wanted to go to the Mets-Padres game tonight. No, he wasn’t buying, but the Mets were sponsoring a high school newspaper night. Our paper had been invited and was told we could bring eight staff members. Seven slots had been spoken for by various juniors and seniors on the paper. I was a sophomore, still getting my feet wet (evidenced by my taking the introductory class that semester). Who wants to go? our teacher asked. Whose hand do you think shot up first?
I remember the trip in, me and seven guys I barely knew. Most of them I didn’t like because they had been very cold to me in my early weeks on the paper. At their core was a clique and their clique wasn’t into me. (Right backatcha.) I remember that none of them was really a Mets fan. One liked the Red Sox, the rest were Yankees fans, probably the fair weather kind. Mostly there was hockey talk. The Rangers and Islanders were facing off in the Stanley Cup semifinals. It was a big deal, but we were en route to a Mets game. Where was the baseball talk? Who were these people? What was i doing with them? I sat quietly mostly.
I remember after transferring to the subway at Woodside, somebody said we should get off at 82nd Street in Jackson Heights. I was 99% sure that sounded wrong but these were the older guys, they must have known better. They knew enough to get me to take one step off the train until, after a ripple of laughter, I was told, no, don’t get off here. I wish I could frame it as good-natured hazing. It was not. And it took about twenty years for me to completely shake off the idea that maybe I am supposed to transfer at 82nd.
I remember the official aspect of the evening, being led up to the press level. We were handed press kits and clipboards with the Dairylea and Mets logos on them and the game notes included in them. I saved mine for years until I was no longer overwhelmed by the novelty of owning a press release. Nowadays I save everything. I wish I’d saved that. I’d love to see how the press notes explained the 1979 Mets without expletives.
I remember thinking we’d get to see the Diamond Club, but they herded us into a different room and handed us box lunches for dinner while somebody from the pre-Horwitz PR department spoke. I remarked to a couple of my colleagues that the roast beef sandwich may have come from that mule who had been mentioned as the new team mascot. It actually drew a laugh from those not otherwise predisposed to enjoy my company. I wasn’t trying to impress them, I just wanted the night to feel a little more normal, like I was with people I could share a chuckle with.
I remember little about the actual presentation the Mets made. Somebody else who was there says on Ultimate Mets that Pete Falcone spoke to us, but I don’t remember that. I’m pretty sure somebody else who posted there a few years ago said that Bob Murphy spoke to us, but I can’t find the post and I don’t remember that happening. I do remember my mule joke.
I remember my one and only up-close look at the Shea Stadium press box. It was the part that wasn’t in great demand on a Tuesday night in early May for a showdown between the 8-10 Mets and the 9-14 Padres. It was empty. It was early, but it wasn’t that early. It was mostly empty.
I remember another place that was empty: Shea Stadium. The room where we had dinner was crowded, but the ballpark otherwise welcomed 5,614 paying spectators. The third game of that Rangers-Isles series at the Garden drew nearly 3½ times as many fans. Our seats were in right field. I’m going to say Mezzanine. I wasn’t all that clear on levels then, but I know we didn’t sit in the press box.
I remember there was much excitement that one of our photographers talked his way down to the box seats behind the Met dugout and set up his tripod on top of it. It had never occurred to me you could just put your stuff on a Major League dugout.
I remember the photographer eventually returning from his box seat, explaining he gave an usher five bucks. He was so excited about shooting what he did that he talked directly to me as opposed to one of the guys he knew.
I remember Doug Flynn lifting a fly ball down the left field line in the bottom of the second, that it headed for the 338 sign, that it barely cleared the wall. Shea’s dimensions were altered ever so slightly before 1979. It used to say 341 out there. Whenever my attention is drawn to the 338 sign, I think of Doug Flynn. And whenever a Met lifts a fly ball toward any part of the outfield wall, I think of a gesture I picked up from the guy in our group who told me not to get off at 82nd Street. Even though none of them was a Mets fan, they all rooted for Flynn’s ball to go out. This one guy, the 82nd Street guy, gestured with both arms, waving it forward. I picked up on it and have been doing that at Shea ever since. I’m sure he didn’t invent that move, but that’s where I got it from. It may also be where I got yelling “GET OUT!” from, too, but I probably would have figured that one for myself after a fashion.
I remember Wayne Twitchell, the first Met to be assigned 36 after Jerry Koosman, was making his first Met start. I had no expectations for him and the old Phillie did not meet them. Given a most unlikely 3-0 lead by Flynn, Wayne gave it right back. Eighth-place hitter Fernando Gonzalez tripled to lead off the third. Ninth-place hitter Gaylord Perry — the pitcher — doubled to drive him in. One out later, Twitch hit Ozzie Smith with a pitch. After another out, he walked Dave Winfield, then Mike Hargrove with the bases loaded. Then he left. Kevin Kobel entered and surrendered a single to Gene Tenace, Ozzie and Winnie scoring.
I remember Frank Taveras striking out five times and learning it was a Met record. It still is.
I remember Gaylord Perry, 40, pitched a lot younger than Twitchell, Kobel, Dale Murray or Dwight Bernard. The only Mets pitcher who didn’t give up any runs or allow any inherited runners to score was 21-year-old Jesse Orosco, the player to be named later from the Twins after we traded Jerry Koosman home to Minnesota.
I remember Kooz raised his record to 5-0 against the Blue Jays that very night. He pitched until 1985, with teams other than the Twins. But Jesse pitched a long time as well.
I remember a lot more reaction to the Rangers beating the Islanders when that score was announced than there was for anything the Mets did in what became a rather routine 1979-style 10-5 loss.
I remember Perry got the win and Rollie Fingers got the save. Throw in Smith and Winfield, and I can take solace that it took four future Hall of Famers to subdue the 1979 Mets.
I remember that enough empty seats in the farthest sections of the left field Upper Deck had been flipped down to spell ELMONT. A nearby usher explained some guys had spent all of Sunday’s doubleheader against the Dodgers doing that. He thought it was supposed to say ELMO. To this day, if you say Elmont, I think seats.
I remember my father being kind enough to pick me up at the train station and give a couple of the other guys who lived in our direction, including one fellow I truly despised, rides home. It didn’t win me any goodwill at school the next day, but it was sure nice of my dad.
I remember telling my teacher there was nothing worth putting in the paper, even a high school paper, from the night before. METS SERVE UP DINNER, GIVE UP RUNS wasn’t news. We never ran any of those dugout tripod pictures either. I never saw them.
I remember it irked my sophomore rival in the budding battle for eventual editorship that I got to claim the eighth ticket, that it was just bad luck for him that he wasn’t in class that Tuesday morning, that I didn’t necessarily deserve to get chosen. He was a Yankees fan and kind of obnoxious besides that, so he definitely would have fit in better with the group. He would go on and provide a great deal of motivation for me to outwrite and outwork him over the next year to claim the editorship every bit as definitively as I did that eighth ticket. He died just before starting college, which was awful, but I never felt a twinge of remorse that I won the editor’s job over him. Or that I got to go to that game, as lousy as it was.
I remember a year later, after I had become editor-in-chief of the paper. Everybody from that Mets-Padres game was gone, either graduated or ready to be; once the seniors gave way to the juniors in late spring, they generally didn’t stick around. I had brought in my own friends, my own clique, you might say. Enjoying running the new regime, I magnanimously welcomed in one of the less offensive guys from that night at Shea when he dropped by the paper one May afternoon in 1980. He had just finished his first year of college and came by to look for his friends (including the fellow I truly despised) in the newspaper office. He was the Red Sox/Islanders fan in the bunch from May ’79, not a bad sort from what I could tell; at least he didn’t like the Yankees or the Rangers. The Isles were on their first successful Stanley Cup run by then and I asked him how he was enjoying it and we chatted about this and that and it was all very amicable, but he seemed surprised I knew who he rooted for and, for that matter, what his name was. He asked who the new editor was. I said me. He seemed even more surprised. My finely honed reporter’s instinct told me that this guy didn’t remember me at all.
Apparently I’m not always memorable, but when it comes to the Mets, I’m likely the last to forget what others deem forgettable.