Longtime readers of this blog know of my quixotic pursuit of a decent picture of Al Schmelz, former Alaska Goldpanner and briefly a New York Met, along with many other momentary ballplayers in the bizarre 1967 campaign.
There were 54 1967 Mets — 35 making their team debuts — and those 54 players managed 61 wins, or 1.13 per Met. Those making their blue-and-orange debuts included a future Hall of Famer (Tom Seaver, of course), a player who’d become a star in New York (Jerry Koosman), one who did so elsewhere (Amos Otis), future workers of Miracles (Ken Boswell, Don Cardwell, Ed Charles, Cal Koonce and Ron Taylor), a guy who’d be better known in Met circles as a coach and a father (Sandy Alomar), a guy whose name would live in mild infamy (cruelly overhyped center fielder Don Bosch), another who’d be better known for his watering hole than his on-field pursuits (Phil Linz, impresario of the once-upon-a-time famous tavern Mister Laffs), and a lot of guys of interest only as answers to trivia questions posed on blogs such as this one (Dennis Bennett, Bill Graham, Joe Grzenda, Joe Moock, Les Rohr, Bart Shirley, Billy Wynne).
But all those guys, from Bennett to Billy, got a decent baseball card one way or another, and are now enshrined in The Holy Books — my pair of binders collecting baseball cards for all the Mets since 1962: one card for each new Met, ordered by year. Including the Class of ’67.
Some of the ’67 Mets are fortunate enough to actually appear on Topps cards as Mets. Others demand creativity. Momentary Met Les Rohr has to share a 1968 rookie card with Ivan Murrell, a Houston outfielder wearing one of Topps’ blank black hats, but hey, it’s a card. Billy Connors shares a ’67 rookie card with fellow Cub Dave Dowling. Bill Denehy, Bob Heise, Bob Johnson, Jack Lamabe and Larry Stahl and Amos Otis appear hatless in their Met uniforms, or with their caps rendered generic, and are identified as members of other teams on their Topps cards. Properly attired as members of other teams are Bennett (Red Sox), Shirley (Dodgers), Nick Willhite and Wynne (Angels). Hal Reniff, sad to say, is a Yankee.
Graham and Moock never got Topps cards, and their careers were over before minor-league teams started issuing card sets in the mid-1970s. (A number of Mets in The Holy Books have cards from their tenure as Tides, Zephyrs, Bisons or members of other organizations’ farm clubs.) But Graham and Moock do have baseball cards, thanks to the efforts of a veteran card dealer named Larry Fritsch. Beginning in the late 1970s, Fritsch made several series of cards called One Year Winners, giving cardboard immortality to players who’d never had a card before. His efforts saved 10 thimbleful-of-coffee Mets — Graham and Moock, as well as Ray Daviault, Larry Foss, Rick Herrscher, Ted Schreiber, Wayne Graham, Dennis Musgraves, Shaun Fitzmaurice, Dick Rusteck — from anonymity.
But despite such efforts, a few Mets slipped through the cracks. Two — Brian Ostrosser and Leon Brown — got minor-league cards that are so dismal they’d be better off with nothing. (In Brown’s case this happened twice.) Tommy Moore got a Senior League card long after his big-league tenure. On it, he looks … well, senior. Then there are the guys who got nothing: Francisco Estrada, Lute Barnes, Bob Rauch, Greg Harts, Brian Ostrosser and Rich Puig. And, of course, Al Schmelz. Together, these nine make up the lonely roster of the Lost Mets.
In a fit of spectacular OCDism, I decided a few years ago that if the Lost Mets didn’t have cards, I would make cards for them — and so I did, using Photoshop to cobble together cards from old yearbook photos and scans of Topps cards. Which worked out fine for everybody — except Schmelz.
No moment of Schmelz’s baseball career seems to have been captured in a decent color photo. There are shots of him as an Alaska Goldpanner, but they’re in black and white. A couple of Mets yearbooks have pictures of him grouped with other guys invited to camp — always group shots, always black and white. He’s in the team photos — in glorious color, no less — in the ’67 and ’68 yearbooks, but of course he’s in the back, almost completely blocked by his teammates. His Holy Books card is a Frankenstein assemblage, with his body assembled from bits of pieces of different Mets from that ’67 team photo. It was the best I could do.
The Mets don’t have a better picture. As far as I can tell, no one else does either. I’ve even written to Schmelz himself a couple of times, with no answer. (I no longer do that — it seems like a ridiculous reason to wind up the subject of a restraining order.) Though Schmelz was photographed a few years ago at a fantasy camp in Arizona: He was wearing 1990s-looking Mets garb, sunglasses and what I had to interpret as a slightly mocking smile.
Every couple of months, out of habit, I Google Schmelz’s name. The results are not as straightforward as you might think: “Al Schmelz” appears to mean “aluminum smelter” in German. I also look for him on eBay. Sometimes this turns up a copy of an undersized, black-and-white semi-card he got as part of a 1990 Shea giveaway. (Cool, but no good for THB purposes.) Mostly it turns up nothing.
Until this morning. There it was, a snapshot of Al Schmelz, wearing the number that would one day belong to Dwight Gooden. As you can see, naturally it’s in black and white. Inevitably, Schmelz’s face is mottled by shadows. Of course his expression suggests that he just had a gulp of milk past its expiration date. No matter. It’s a picture of Al Schmelz, and though it’s faint praise to say it’s the best picture of him I’ve ever seen, it’s the best picture of him I’ve ever seen.
Of course I bought it. By now, it’s pretty much my job. Besides, who else would?