Saturday night, I was informed relatively late in the evening, would have been Marv Throneberry ’s 84th birthday. If I had known earlier, I’d have baked a cake in his honor and then dropped a piece in his memory. Instead, I watched the Mets drop the back end of a day-night doubleheader to the Astros  after watching them do the same with the front end. That’s error enough for one day and night.
Casey Stengel didn’t save Marv a slice of his birthday cake, legend has it, because Casey figured Throneberry’d fumble it like he did so many grounders and throws that befuddled him at first base when the Mets were young and their manager was aging rapidly. The team was off on July 30, 1962, the 72nd anniversary of Casey’s birth, so they celebrated in St. Louis on the 29th, a Sunday that also featured a doubleheader the Mets dropped. Marv’s gift to Casey was chasing Ken Boyer from first to second (safe!) on a botched rundown while Stan Musial gallivanted home from third (safe!) in the opener. That’s a performance hard to call cakeworthy in any century.
Another version of the legend is that five weeks later, when Marv turned 29 on September 2, 1962, he wanted to know where his cake was. If this telling is true, Throneberry’s sense of entitlement seems relatively justified…if, in fact, you’re gonna keep delivering cakes to the clubhouse every time a player celebrates a birthday, which doesn’t sound like the most optimal fitness plan for a roomful of athletes. Marv and the Mets were literally marvelous on their first baseman’s birthday. He collected a pair of base hits, committed no errors and helped his club beat the Cardinals, 4-3. The Mets raised their record to 35-103 that Sunday afternoon in St. Loo. Seeing as how nobody had to worry about staying in fighting trim for the pennant race, hell yes, give that man some cake. Give him the whole damn box. And one to grow on.
However Marv came by his miffedness, it’s Stengel’s sentiment that continues to glow like a trick candle that defies blowing out: Well, Marv, we wuz gonna save you a piece/give you a cake, but we wuz afraid you wuz gonna drop it.
Wuz, not was. That I’m certain of. I’m also certain that when it comes to quotability, Casey Stengel’s Met standard will not be threatened by Terry Collins. When asked after the nightcap why he allowed Dominic Smith to swing on three-and-oh, Terry answered, “Why the hell not?”
Actually, Casey probably said that a lot, too, but there were fewer microphones picking up everything accurately in 1962. Also fewer first basemen.
It’s no accident that the subject of Marv Throneberry’s birthday arose Saturday night. Somewhere amid the misery of the Mets’ third consecutive loss, there was a ball that clanked off the glove of Astros first baseman Tyler White, and Keith Hernandez quickly invoked the name Dick Stuart, a.k.a. Dr. Strangeglove. Stuart is the tin standard for first basemen overmatched by the demands of their position, a reputation cemented long before he arrived on the 1966 Mets for 31 games, 4 homers and 6 errors. Stuart was a Met like (until further notice) Nori Aoki is a Met. He was just passing through, which is fine for those of us who keep tabs on all 1,041 men who’ve been Mets, but his Metness is not otherwise his calling card. You can be certain Keith Hernandez, the polar opposite of Dick Stuart as a first baseman, has no idea Dick Stuart was a Met.
Gary Cohen, on the other hand, knows Dick Stuart was a Met, but more importantly, knew Dick Stuart can’t be the default example of first base ineptitude on the broadcast of a franchise embodied in its infancy by Marvelous Marv Throneberry. Gary proceeded to wrestle the point of reference from Keith. He talked Marv Throneberry for several minutes on what would have been Throneberry’s 84th birthday (which didn’t come up on air), invoking “the original” Frank Thomas along the way. For a generation, we heard Marv Throneberry and Frank Thomas stories regularly, because that’s what Bob and Ralph and Lindsey filled the spaces between pitches, out-of-town updates and commercial reads with. One-hundred twenty losses notwithstanding, it was nice to hear the 1962 Mets discussed during a Mets game again.
It wasn’t so nice watching the 2017 Mets resemble the 1962 Mets, but that’s the Metsus Operandi of the moment. Having lost 26 of their past 37, the Mets have fallen to precisely 19 games under .500 for the first time since 2009. Two Thousand Nine was abysmal, yet heaven and earth above 1962 in won-lost terms. The last time the 1962 Mets were precisely 19 games under .500 was on June 1 of that first year. The Mets lost to the Giants at the Polo Grounds, 9-6. It was their twelfth consecutive defeat. Five more in a row would follow.
The 17-game losing streak, still the worst Met skein ever, began in Houston, hours after Ol’ Case gave us another of his legendary lines. The Mets had pulled to within seven games of the break-even point — they would never again in their existence get any closer to .500 as a franchise, by the way — and after a long night’s journey into day (the flight from Milwaukee to Houston was diverted to Dallas), an exhausted Stengel let it be known past dawn that, “If anyone wants me, tell ’em I’m being embalmed.”
Such was the Mets’ introduction to Houston in 1962. They lost the two games versus the Colt .45s on that trip; seven of eight played to completion at Colt Stadium, where Ralph Kiner swore the mosquitoes were as big as Volkswagens, that year (there was one tie); and, by 2012, when they were swept three at Minute Maid Park, should have been glad to have been saved the trouble of regular visits to their expansion brethren’s hometown. Their reacquaintance with Houston from a baseball sense has shown the Mets are true to their roots. They couldn’t win there 55 years ago and they’re not getting any better at it now.
We went over the first game after the first game Saturday.  As for the second game, you can understand why I’ve sought refuge in 1962, when losing at least came with good material.
• Wilmer Flores fouled a ball of his nose and broke it. His nose, that is. The ball was fine. We’ve tacitly agreed that Wilmer’s best position is probably the dreaded DH. He grand-slammed as a DH in the first game. In the second game, he hurt himself batting. Not running, batting. He’s the second Met to do that in the last two weeks, Michael Conforto having disabled himself without making contact. What can one say beyond Get Well Wilmer…and Michael…and Yoenis…and we’re gonna need a bigger get-well cake.
• Matt Reynolds lost a foul pop in the roof, which is to say it hit a rafter, it came down, Matt circled it helplessly, and he missed it.
• An inning Juan Lagares led off with a triple and included the Mets loading the bases resulted in just one run. Smith, in sanctioned why the hell not? mode, lined an RBI double that brought home Lagares. Plawecki lined a ball just as hard, but it was snagged by third baseman J.D. Davis. Two other outs were less impressive and not at all helpful.
• The one-run lead the offense reluctantly handed Seth Lugo dissipated almost as fast as Seth’s night did. After five scoreless frames, Lugo gave up a hit, a walk, another hit and a hit after that in the sixth, which doesn’t seem to be his inning in general. The Astros’ sudden barrage gave them a 2-1 lead. Hansel Robles entered to disinherit two of the runners Seth left for him. Reynolds, not a third baseman (but playing there because Flores had to leave with a broken nose), didn’t throw home on a ground ball. Three runs in. Lagares, who can only smother only so many rallies on his rounds, reeled in a sacrifice fly but couldn’t do any more. Four runs in. The Astros have the best record in the American League, and that’s without any longer deploying mosquitoes or hardly ever playing the Mets.
The Mets lost, 4-1. That was with White making like Throneberry/Stuart at first for the Astros, and Springer halting a would-be rundown as a baserunner so compliantly that even Marv could have tagged him out. Francisco Liriano didn’t look good at all in relief for the Astros and was booed by a voluble segment of Houston fans. That was an encouraging sign in the life goes on department. I’ve always said it wasn’t Piazza’s home run on September 21, 2001, that indicated to me things would get better in New York. It was blowing the game to the Braves two days later. I was bothered by baseball, which I didn’t think was gonna be possible that month. May Astros fans find solace in frustration soon. It probably won’t materialize from anything the Mets do in Sunday’s finale, but the Mets can’t do everything.
Or all that much these days.
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