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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Good Times I Remember

Happy 1975 everybody! No, I’m not daft, but I realize with less than one day left in 2015, the opportunity to write a milestone remembrance of one of my favorite Met years is about to expire. I could write about 1975 in 2016, but that would be the 41st anniversary and even though 41 is an awesome number in Met circles, it just doesn’t work that way.

So because 1975 + 40 is about to end — and because today is my birthday (the 40th anniversary of the one when I turned 13) — I’m going to celebrate what the Mets did in 1975.

Tom Seaver won 22 games.

Tom Seaver won the Cy Young award.

Tom Seaver struck out more than 200 batters for an eighth consecutive year.

Tom Seaver was my favorite player and the best pitcher in baseball.

Randy Tate, whom I’d never heard of before 1975 and who’d never pitch in the majors again after 1975, won five games, not including one in which he nearly threw a no-hitter. He went 5-13, but I’m still thinking fondly of him four decades later.

Jon Matlack was the All-Star Game co-MVP. He shared it with Bill Madlock, which seems like a typographical precaution.

Jerry Koosman saved two games, stole second base once and lost as many games as Randy Tate. He went 14-13.

The Mets went 82-80 (I like how pitchers and teams “go” and “went”), which was an eleven-game improvement from 1974, which was the first losing season I ever experienced and, maybe not coincidentally, the last season that I have significant holes in my specific recollections of. I decided to be very excited about 1975 in advance and stayed immensely engaged in their activities for 162 games.

The 1975 Mets subtracted Duffy Dyer, Ken Boswell, Ray Sadecki, Teddy Martinez, Don Hahn, Dave Schneck and Tug McGraw before it ever became 1975. They added Gene Clines, Bob Gallagher, Joe Torre, Jack Heidemann, John Stearns, Mac Scarce and Del Unser as a direct result. That’s what got me excited.

Then they added Dave Kingman as Spring Training was beginning. Now that was exciting.

Dave Kingman broke Frank Thomas’s single-season Met home run record. It had been 34 since 1962. I accepted that 34 home runs by a Met was the equivalent of 48 hit for a player on a team that hit home runs as a matter of course…which was something the Mets simply didn’t do. The idea that 34 could be exceeded was as mind-boggling in its day as it was that any Met — Randy Tate or otherwise — could throw a no-hitter.

Tom Seaver nearly threw a no-hitter in 1975, but he lost it with two out in the ninth to Joe Wallis and, besides, the Mets hadn’t scored yet, so even if was a no-hitter, it wasn’t necessarily going to be a no-hitter.

Dave Kingman hit 36 home runs.

Dave Kingman played first, third and the outfield. He was what was considered versatile. He played none of those positions gracefully or particularly skillfully. But who cared? He hit more home runs than Frank Thomas.

Rusty Staub drove in 105 runs. Another inconceivable total. Donn Clendenon had held the team record of 97. Rusty shattered it.

Kingman: 36 homers! Staub: 105 RBIs! Seaver: a conceivable/excellent 22 wins!

Why were the Mets only two games over .500?

Ah, it doesn’t matter 40 almost 41 years later. What matters is Unser (batting close to .300 at midseason) should’ve joined Seaver and Matlack at the All-Star Game; that Felix Millan played in all 162 games; that Ed Kranepool batted .400 as a pinch-hitter; that Bob Apodaca was a better closer in the first half than McGraw was for the Phillies; that Mike Vail — a throw-in with Heidemann — hit in 23 consecutive games as an August callup; that Mike Phillips (a .342 hitter in his first 22 Met games), Jesus Alou (.350 as a pinch-hitter); Ken Sanders (who was terrific out of the pen before and even after getting hit in the eye by Stearns’ errant return of a warmup pitch), Tom Hall (who wasn’t terrific out of the pen for very long, but was a former Red, and they were good) and Skip Lockwood (a 1.49 ERA in 24 appearances, including a save in the team’s 82nd win, which clinched them a piece of third place and a memorable World Series share) all came along as the year progressed. They were veterans I’d heard of and their presence made me think the Mets couldn’t help but get better…just as I was sure Heidemann and Gallagher and Clines and so on were going to improve the Mets something fierce.

They were improved. They won eleven games more than in ’74. They stayed relatively close to first place during the summer and edged to within four games of first in early September. It didn’t take, but I believed.

I was 12 going on 13, so you couldn’t tell me different.

I was 12 and watching or listening to the Mets every day and reading about the Mets in everything I could find and thinking about the Mets most of the time.

Just like when I was 52 going on 53, I suppose.

And 42 going on 43.

And 32 going on 33.

And 22 going on 23.

I’m either in kind of a rut or Amazin’ly consistent.

It’s always been fun, but it was, on some level, as fun as it ever was or would be in 1975. Give me an OK Mets team that has kind of a chance and a handful of players doing extraordinary things and I’ll still be warmed by their very existence 40 going on 41 years later.

There was a song out that season: “Old Days” by Chicago. It was reflective of somebody else’s nostalgia. I was too young for nostalgia. To my mind, I was living in the greatest baseball season I’d ever lived through, all things considered, yet I identified with “Old Days” immediately. Maybe I was taken by the lyric that listed “baseball cards and birthdays” among the things the narrator wistfully longed for.

My birthday wouldn’t be until December 31, but by the time I first heard “Old Days,” probably in May, I’d managed to secure most of the 660 cards Topps had released in 1975. Baseball cards were at the center of my life and now they were mentioned on the radio at regular intervals.

The world was coming around to my way of thinking.

The day 1975 ended, the day I turned 13, I might have had an inkling it was never going to be the same again. That wasn’t to say it wasn’t going to be fine — it would just be different. “Twelve years old” had a ring to it. “Thirteen,” impending Bar Mitzvah notwithstanding, was supposed to be unlucky. Once 13 got going, it was all about getting to 14. I had my first facial hair at 13, the slightest hint of a mustache. People expected you to know more and more things as you got older. At 12, knowing about baseball was enough.

Plus, just before I turned 13, the Mets traded Rusty Staub for Mickey Lolich. The world was definitely getting more complicated.

Twelve became Old Days pretty quickly. I asked for one birthday present at 13: The Sports Collectors Bible by Bert Randolph Sugar. Thing is, I never collected baseball cards with quite the same enthusiasm again. I wouldn’t be quite so optimistic about how the Mets were going to do in the season ahead for almost another decade. By then, former youngsters Gary Carter of the Expos and Keith Hernandez of the Cardinals were grizzled Mets. Mike Vail, who never exceeded his late 1975 exploits, was retired. Rusty Staub was somehow back with the Mets but not driving in 105 runs. Tom Seaver somehow wasn’t a Met and had never again won as many as 22 games in a single season or another Cy Young.

The next time I was incredibly optimistic about the next Mets season, it was 1985, which was 30 years ago and is about to be 31, which is also a pretty special Met number, but those are other stories for other times.

I hope this time that we’re in now, 2015 going on 2016, is breaking records for all of you. I really hope that some Mets fan who was 12 this year that the Mets improved by eleven wins (from 79 in 2014 to 90 in 2015) finds himself down the road looking back and remembering how great it was then, that year the Mets won the pennant.

And when he’s down that road, I hope he still finds himself excited over how great it can be every year.

16 comments to Good Times I Remember

  • Will in Central NJ

    Happy New Year, Greg. Best wishes for 2016. I still have my 1975 Topps cards, which show all the colors of the rainbow in their design.

    Here’s a question that is tangentially relevant for ‘2015 going on 2016’. About 40 years ago, the Mets dealt LHP George Stone to Texas for Rutherford, NJ native RHP Bill Hands, who retired before ever throwing a pitch in orange and blue.

    Now, I’m sure many of our age will recall that Hands was one of the 1969 heel-clicking Chicago Cubs; that is, a one-time heated rival of our beloved Mets. Hands, in fact, knocked Tommie Agee in the dirt with a fastball during that memorable July ’69 series at Shea; in retaliation, our LHP Jerry Koosman did the same with their Billy Williams.

    Fast-forward to the 1975-76 offseason: did Hands retire before ever putting on a Met uniform due to lingering ill feelings with Koosman, Seaver, Grote, et. al., who still ruled the home clubhouse in Flushing? I’ve always wondered about that, and wonder if others have heard about that…

    • Thanks Will.

      Re Hands: In the sublime The Cubs of ’69, Hands told Rick Talley that he asked the Rangers for a trade home to New York (he’s from North Jersey and settled out east on L.I.) and he tried getting into shape, but “both my back and arm were killing me,” and he gave up before Spring Training.

      “Besides,” he admitted in the late 1980s, “I didn’t want to pitch for the Mets anyhow.”

      • Left Coast Jerry

        Bill Hands was one of those people that my brother and I used to mention in trades we created based on the players’ names, such as Bill Hands for Barry Foote, or Dave Cash for Don Money, or Johnny Bench for Jim Davenport.

        Happy Birthday, Greg, and Happy New Year to all those who read this blog.

  • If I remember right, Tate never got a major league hit.

    Hands ended up running a gas station on the north fork of Long Island.

  • Dave

    Hey, there have been some nice progressions in Mets history as years ending in a 5 become years ending in 6…from last place in 65 to a coveted 9th place in 66, a decent 75 team became what at the time was the 2nd best W-L record in Mets history in 76, 85 to 86 is well documented, from 05 to 06 they wemt from good to best record in baseball. Maybe there’s a similar progression from 15 to 16 and the Mets finish business that needs finishing. OK, that was a ramble and conclusive of nothing, but there’s still 6 weeks until we see guys dressed in baseball uniforms.

    Happy New Year to all, Happy Birthday Greg, and hopefully 2016 will be happy and memorable for all Mets fans, up to and including the final out of the season.

  • Will in Central NJ

    Thanks, Greg. Happy Birthday and Happy New Year one and all!

  • eric1973

    I turned 10 years old at the beginning of the 1975 season, and that season was a lot of fun.

    We also lost George Theodore after 1974.

    And I can recall listening to the Randy Tate game on the radio, when Jim Lytle broke up the no-hitter.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    If only the 96 Mets had Tom Seaver, I feel like this piece would translate perfectly to my childhood. Ah well… there’s always 97.

  • MetFanMac

    And three years later, Joe Wallis was traded for… Mike Vail.

  • Greg:
    That was a good read. I am 2 years older than you and Seaver is my all time favorite player. 2015 should be the start of an “up” cycle. The Mets have had a series of approximately 7 year “up” and “down” cycles through out their history.

    1962-68 – down
    1969-76 – up
    1977-83 – down
    1984-90 – up
    1991-96 – down

    then the pattern changes
    1997-2000 -up
    2001-05 – down
    2006-08 – up but down because of the season ending collapses
    2009-14 – a six year down cycle which hopefully means a true up cycle
    2015 -?

  • The feast/famine pattern, though somewhat compressed in the past two decades, has always fascinated me. I’d nudge 2001 into the up, as there was a winning record and a late surge and tuck 2005 in with ’06-’08 as there was a legitimate run at a playoff spot. But mostly I hope 2015 was indeed the start of something big and relatively permanent.

  • DAK442

    Belated happy Birthday and New Year greetings!

    ’75 was the first year I bore down and really hard-core followed the Mets all season. (I was 9). Even 41 years later I look at that roster and am surprised we weren’t better. Kingman and Seaver together – those were the days!

  • jeannie

    I cried the day Rusty was traded. I was 6 after all and he was my favorite player since I was 4.
    I knew the Mets prospects wold be brighter when he returned!

    Happy New Year to you!

    • DAK442

      I didn’t cry when Rusty was traded. Oddly enough, I lost it when Mickey Lolich retired after a single mediocre season, while Rusty was killing it in Detroit.

  • Z

    1975 was my first season as a Mets fan. I was 7.

    I still reflexively think of all those names as the real ur-Mets, whom all subsequent comers have acted as latter-day replacements for.

    Thanks for bringing it up.