The Mets used to regularly play Memorial Day doubleheaders, Independence Day doubleheaders and Labor Day doubleheaders, yet the holiday that launched them into the public consciousness was the one we celebrate tomorrow.
That’s right: the Mets are as much a part of Thanksgiving as stuffing, pumpkin pie and forced conversation you could do without.
Two months before they started limbering up in St. Petersburg and nearly four months before they began losing in earnest, the New York Mets made their debut at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 23, 1961. There had only been actual Mets for about six weeks, since the expansion draft yielded 22 players of varying talents and primes who were slated to comprise the bulk of the Original Mets. Their real star, of course, was their manager. One year removed from not quite winning an eighth World Series in a dozen seasons for a particularly demanding employer, Casey Stengel had signed on to pilot the expansion Mets. Casey Stengel had been, was and would always be the personification of baseball in New York. He was a Dodger under Wilbert Robinson, a Giant under John McGraw, a Yankee who lorded it over the American League and now the best thing the nascent Mets had going for them.
What better first public relations move than to parade Casey Stengel before the adoring masses? And what better venue than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of 1961? It already promised to be a star-studded procession: Connie Francis, Troy Donahue, Annette Funicello; Lionel Hampton; the maiden appearance of the Bullwinkle J. Moose balloon; the title vehicle from Car 54 Where Are You? getting a push from Fred Gwynne and Joe E. Ross; and NBC stretching its coverage of the event to an unprecedented two hours. Amid this great march of history came your 1962 Mets…maybe your 1961 Mets, if you want to be literal about it.
Gil Hodges was a part of it. So was Al Jackson. Billy Loes, the Brooklyn Dodger who once claimed to have lost a ground ball in the sun, was there. He was supposed to be a Met (meaning he was on the roster, not that somebody losing a ground ball in the sun was destined to be one of ours in 1962) but he’d retire before a single pitch would be thrown in futile anger. Monte Irvin joined Casey’s cadre as well. Irvin was never going to be a Met, but he had been a New York Giant, and the Mets were, in a very real sense, getting the band back together — a blue and orange supergroup, if you will. New York’s affection for the National League simmered on the back burner for four desolate years, so the expansion Mets were as welcome a sight in November 1961 as they would be in April 1962.
Thus, there was Casey, just one man in one car in the Macy’s display, but really — apologies to the cast of Bonanza, which technically led the cavalcade — the grand marshal of any parade in which he strutted his stuff. George Weiss thought it would be a sound idea to get Stengel in front of potential customers as soon as possible. Stengel, always happy to give the crowd a wave and a bow, didn’t disagree.
“I may be able to sell tickets with my face,” said the ever aware Ol’ Perfesser.
The first official pilgrimage for Mets fans would come April 13, 1962, uptown to the Polo Grounds. But should you check in on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this Thursday morning, you might want to remember that 48 years ago, the same spectacle served as our Crossing of the Mayflower.
The modern-day turkeys who run the Mets want you to run out and buy a brand new 2010 jersey on Black Friday. They’ve even provided a handy, practically decipherable guide to an hourly discount program at the Citi Field team store…and nowhere else, if I’m reading it correctly. Then again, these are the people who load up their Sunday ticket plans with Thursday night games, so caveat Met emptor and all that.
If you want to be among the first to purchase a new “natural color” top, by all means buy it, wear it or give it in good health. But if you’re interested in getting a more satisfying bang for your fan buck, consider one or all of the following.
1) Tonight, Wednesday, at 8 o’clock MLB Network debuts its 1969 edition of the fine Baseball’s Seasons series. 1969 can only mean one thing, and it’s something of which we’ve yet to get enough. Retroactive cap tip to MLBN for airing all five games of the ’69 Fall Classic last Sunday, perhaps the most super Sunday ever. And SNY reairs the same games all Thanksgiving Day starting at noon, albeit with their trademark SpongeTech editing technique that makes almost everything they show slightly less enjoyable than it should be.
2) The Bible of the 1969 Mets, The Miracle Has Landed, has been released at last. It is as nearly as phenomenal as 1969 itself and an absolute must for your baseball library. Sanctioned by SABR, meticulously organized by Matt “Met” Silverman, authored by a gang of impassioned baseball fans, writers and bloggers (yours truly included) and augmented by no better image source than The Holy Books, it is the ’69 reunion to end all ’69 reunions. Every Met, every Met episode and every Met perspective from 1969 is incorporated in one substantial volume. It coincides with the 40th anniversary of that most Amazin’ year, but you’ll be reading it and referring to it as the Miracle turns 41, 42 and continues to age gracefully. On The Black‘s Kerel Cooper offers an insightful interview with Matt here.
3) Should you find yourself browsing an airport newsstand this weekend or happen to be anywhere where current magazines are sold, do yourself a favor and pick up the November 30 issue of The New Yorker and luxuriate in Roger Angell’s treatment of the 2009 season and postseason. No, the Mets aren’t featured players in the article, and yes, the Yankees are, but that’s not important. What is is that Roger Angell is the greatest baseball essayist who ever lived and that every yearly recap he offers is a gift to every baseball fan who loves to read.
Top and bottom, that inning required forty-four minutes, and it felt like a colonoscopy.
This columnar closing posture — he’s not twisted off to one side, like other pitchers, but driving forward, with the back leg still aloft, as his eyes follow the pitch — is classic, and reminded me strongly of some fabled pitcher from my boyhood. He looked a little dusty and work-worn out there, which may have contributed to this impression. I thought about Dizzy Dean or Lon (the Arkansas Hummingbird) Warneke, but they were righties.
…CC Sabathia’s sunny looks and pavilion-sized pants…
Word pictures like…
Damon plants his left foot in the box when he first steps in and swings his right foot away so that he’s facing the pitcher almost directly, with the bat in his right hand also pointing off to right. He’s surveying, you think.
And canny conclusions like…
This time, the Mets’ problems and psyche may require something more than better luck and the customary between-season signings and statements for them to reverse things — some fresh attitudes, and perhaps less conviction of their own wonderfulness.
…remind me, yet again, that sports’ first great proto-blogger still has a fastball worthy of Prince Hal Newhouser — a lefty like Cliff Lee.
The Mets give us myriad reasons to kvetch in their direction. But they also constitute a fabulous backdrop for the best year-round discussion I know, the one we’re in the middle of here virtually all the time. At the risk of enabling their future foibles, I’m thankful they give us all a reason to talk amongst ourselves as much as we do. Who knows? Maybe by this time next year, we’ll see members of the 2010 Mets riding in the Thanksgiving parade for the same reason they did in 1969, a month or so after they enjoyed an even more famous ride downtown. And maybe we’ll all be exponentially happier because of them. Maybe they’ll give us reason to kvell.
Probably not, but it’s late November 2009 and nothing bad has happened in those 2010 uniforms yet. On the Thursday the 1961-62 Mets rolled into Herald Square, they had yet to lose a game. Sometimes it’s nice to think about the Mets’ next game when they’re both idle and undefeated.
Need any further affirmation as to why you remain a Mets fan in spite of it all? I invite you to have a gander at Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available as a swell holiday gift to yourself or a loved one.