“Lou Klimchock can be considered by virtue of his intense and persistent labors on behalf of innovative baseball mediocrity one of the few truly seminal figures in the drab and dreary history of this era. [...] Here’s to you Lou. You gave the common fan someone to identify with. You were a constant source of inspiration to all us bumblers. It makes one feel good just to sit here and think about you.”
—Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading And Bubble Gum Book
The Mets were pounding the ball so authoritatively Friday night that they could have given Lou Klimchock an at-bat and he might have managed a fly ball to the track.
Lou Klimchock, who knocked around the majors with five teams over twelve seasons, went 0-for-5 for the 1966 Mets, delivering not a damn thing in five pinch-hitting appearances spaced out over five games. Then he made his disappearance, not to emerge in the greater Mets fan consciousness ever again, save for a few fond memories posted to Ultimate Mets Database and two conversations I’ve been in the past two weeks.
Because I’m the kind of guy who talks and is talked to about Lou Klimchock.
No offense to kindly Mr. Klimchock, who collected 155 more base hits between 1958 and 1970 than I ever will (though exactly as many as I have in a Mets uniform), but that’s as inconsequential a composite Met performance as any ever registered on this planet. It was so inconsequential that the fellow who brought him up to me Friday night, someone who recalled Lou Klimchock as an icon of inconsequentiality in his prime, was genuinely moved to ask me, “Lou Klimchock was a Met?”
What does Lou Klimchock, whose name I apparently enjoy typing, have to do with how thoroughly the Mets banged away at Marlin pitching? Well, nothing, I suppose, except that when you’re throttling the opposition, you can sit back, relax, talk about Lou Klimchock, lean forward to make out where Lucas Duda’s and David Wright’s homers landed, and get back to convincing someone Lou Klimchock was once a Met.
So were Galen Cisco, Larry Burright, Amado Samuel, Carl Willey, Tracy Stallard and Jimmy Piersall, who ran the bases backwards and then out the door at Casey Stengel’s irritated behest. More semi-random names to you, precious recovered adolescent memories to my Friday evening companion, Mark. Mark and I recently became acquainted through a highly impeccable intermediary, and it was only a matter of time before we converged on Citi Field together. On the 41st anniversary of my first game at Shea Stadium, I found it an honor and privilege to show Mark around the successor facility for his first game.
His first game at Citi Field, that is. He took in plenty at Shea when the paint was fresh and the leaks were barely condensation. He also saw a few at the Polo Grounds. The Polo Grounds, for Chacon’s sake. You think I’m gonna miss a chance to spend nine innings with somebody who saw the Mets at the Polo Grounds?
Did Lou Klimchock ever a have a hit for the Mets? The answer to each of the last two questions is, “No.”
I happily waded into Mark’s stream of Met consciousness, which runs deep and vibrant with impressions of Mets long unseen and generally uncontemplated. Burright with his two hits in the 1963 opener; Willey and Stallard starting and succeeding in a doubleheader; Joe Christopher’s helluva 1964. And in between, there’s Wright locked in and Duda sunning himself on the Pepsi Porch and Zack Wheeler doubling in a run and Juan Lagares coming back to life with three hits and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada and Travis d’Arnaud executing the most delightful of 7-6-2 putouts. The Mets hit, pitched and fielded. Not coincidentally, the Mets won. The crowd went semi-wild. Not a huge turnout but a sizable response. Even the Lou Klimchockian among us were impressed by the present-tense Mets.
What fun to watch the Mets create a new page (and maybe a chapter) of history and what fun to sit adjacent to a man who carries, in his mind, a set of 1960s Mets yearbooks, albeit with the pages slightly unbound. Line drives and doubles to the wall made for perfect background scenery as we endeavored to place games and players and events in their proper chronological slots, though really, when you’re soaking up an eyewitness account of Piersall’s hundredth home run and how he turned his back to the bases during his trot, you can afford to slack off on your innate sticklerness. I can confirm a fact on Baseball-Reference anytime. It’s rare that I can gain first-hand confirmation that when it came to talent, skill and promise, Elio Chacon no lo tenía in any language.
We visited the past but we reveled in the contemporary. Mark, whose affinity for the Mets hasn’t necessarily remained constant through the decades, came away from his maiden Citi voyage suitably impressed with what he saw. He found the park “beautiful” and its players a sight to behold. “You’re going to do all right,” he told me as we parted, referring to what Wheeler, d’Arnaud and everybody else would be accomplishing on behalf of Mets fans. I thought maybe I should invite him into the first-person plural and let him enjoy what these youngsters might be doing for “us,” but if the Mets keep playing as they have this week, Mark, perhaps in the company of legions of currently unaligned New Yorkers, will figure his way in. It may have taken him six seasons to catch a ballgame in the Mets’ third ballpark, but he seems to catch on quick.
And good night, Lou Klimchock, wherever you are.