Welcome to Flashback Friday: I Saw The Decade End, a milestone-anniversary salute to the New York Mets of 1969, 1979, 1989 and 1999. Each week, we immerse ourselves in or at least touch upon something that transpired within the Metsian realm 40, 30, 20 or 10 years ago. Amazin’ or not, here it comes.
Is nothing sacred? Duffy Dyer’s 1969 World Series ring was stolen. If you know who took it, tell the thief to give it back.
This is Duffy Dyer we’re talking about. Duffy deserves his ring.
I read in last Sunday’s News that the most revered piece of jewelry imaginable, a ring identifying someone as a 1969 Met, was taken from Dyer’s locker in the Dominican Republic last summer when he was out on the field coaching some San Diego Padre prospect. That’s what Duffy Dyer does nowadays. According to Anthony McCarron’s article, coaching’s what Duffy Dyer’s been doing pretty much forever, or at least since he stopped catching.
Which I would have guessed was five minutes ago, but it’s longer.
Duffy Dyer was going to catch for the Mets forever by my reckoning. Duffy Dyer was a fact of life when I was growing up. Second games of doubleheaders; two-week stretches when Jerry Grote would go on the Disabled List; nights in July for no particular reason. Suddenly Duffy Dyer was catching and, most likely, hitting eighth.
Duffy Dyer hit .231 in consecutive seasons, 1971 and 1972. Then he fell off. That was Duffy. How could anybody who went by the first name Duffy in the last half of the twentieth century (when only Ed Sullivan’s Chyron operator called him Don) bat higher than .231? He batted .257 in his first full season, which was 1969, but of course every Met reached for the stars that year. For Duffy Dyer, the stars shone a little shy of .260.
But who noticed? He was the backup catcher. Backup catchers didn’t have to hit, especially on the Mets (even though Dyer’s pinch-hit three-run blast on Opening Day 1969 was the first home run the Montreal Expos ever surrendered; last home run surrendered by the Expos was hit by Met catcher Todd Zeile, FYI). Pitching and defense was our early ’70s calling card. Defense started with the catcher and extended to the backup catcher. And backup catchers stayed in one place. Duffy stayed with the Mets from a callup cameo in 1968 clear through to 1974. It never occurred to me the Mets could continue National League play without Duffy Dyer on their roster. He was the 410 sign, the orange foul poles. He was part of the scenery. His job was to catch Seaver and Koosman and everybody else. His catcher’s ERA in 1969 was 2.07 for a pitching staff that generally allowed just under 3 runs per game. If he hit .231 and the like, well, what did you want from the man?
Duffy Dyer spent one year as the Mets’ de facto starting catcher, 1972, when Jerry Grote and everybody else was out hurt. Dyer hit 8 home runs that year, a figure that would be the rough equivalent of Sammy Sosa hitting about 800 homers in 1998, juiced or not. The Mets were so strapped for hitting in 1972, Duffy batted fifth 10 times. In every other one of his Met seasons, Duffy batted as high as fifth never.
And he threw. Boy could he throw. In ’72, 79 runners attempted to steal a base against Duffy Dyer; 40 of them were cut down. Too bad whoever stole his ring wasn’t trying to take it to second. Duffy would have nabbed him. When Grote was healthy that year, incidentally, he threw out 20 of 38 would-be thieves. Who consistently throws out more than half of enemy baserunners like that anymore? Who tries to steal bases that much either, come to think of it?
Having flexed each of his muscles in ’72, Dyer dipped to .185 in ’73 and dropped behind Ron Hodges on the backup catcher depth chart. Duffy got an at-bat in the 1969 World Series. He received no such consideration in 1973. He had outlasted J.C. Martin, who saw more memorable action in the ’69 World Series, as well as a flock of transitory backup catchers (Francisco Estrada, Bill Sudakis, Joe Nolan, Jerry May), but Ron Hodges was Duffy Dyer’s Kryptonite. Hodges’ ascension in 1973 made Duffy, hitting .211 the next year, dispensable. He was traded in October 1974 to Pittsburgh for speedster Gene Clines.
I had high hopes for Gene Clines. I had lost hope for Duffy Dyer. The net effect was negligible however you sliced it. Clines was a bust in New York. Dyer toured Pittsburgh, Montreal and Detroit through 1981. I never missed him, just as I never particularly missed Ron Hodges, Luis Rosado, Butch Benton, Alex Treviño, Ronn Reynolds, Junior Ortiz, John Gibbons, Clint Hurdle, Ed Hearn, Barry Lyons…just as I don’t miss Ramon Castro. Backup catchers, unless they hit you a home run that wins you a playoff series, don’t really stick in the mind as long as they used to stick on a roster.
But reading about Duffy Dyer’s stolen ring brought back a sense of certainty that’s been missing around the Mets for ages. It was only parts of seven seasons, but damn, Duffy Dyer stuck around. You didn’t have to think who backed up Grote. Duffy Dyer did. Couldn’t hit. Could surely catch and throw. That he put in seven seasons with three other teams didn’t stop me from immediately thinking “Met!” when I read about him in the Daily News. On some level in my mind, Duffy Dyer is always the backup catcher on the Mets. Jerry Grote is always the starter. Every catcher who’s come along since they stopped being a tandem, from John Stearns through Omir Santos, strikes me intrinsically as a temporary condition.
McCarron’s article reveals what an honorable baseball career Duffy Dyer’s been conducting his entire adult life. He’s caught and coached, managed and scouted. He’s been in the majors, the minors and the independent leagues. These days he roves for the Padres. He’s also instructed Mets fantasy campers. I met one St. Lucie alumnus Thursday night who told me he empathized with Luis Castillo because he dropped an easy pop fly in one of those fantasy games that wasn’t so easy if you didn’t know the correct way to catch it. Who taught him exactly how to handle the next one that came his way? Duffy Dyer, that’s who.
My first thought upon hearing this anecdote was where was Duffy Dyer when we could have used him a week ago? My next thought was Duffy Dyer was there quite often when we needed him when I was a kid. My final thought was whoever has Duffy Dyer’s 1969 World Series ring — give it back.
He’s Duffy Dyer. C’mon.