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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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A Stud With No Name

We are a few days from the 40th anniversary of the most Magical home run in Mets history — the Steve Henderson game-winner of June 14, 1980 — and should you care to treat yourself to a commemorative viewing, you can transport yourself to the evening in question and take in extended highlights of the Saturday night Shea Stadium rally to end all Saturday night Shea Stadium rallies (at least until the Saturday night Shea Stadium rally of October 25, 1986). Go to the 51:00 mark to experience it unfolding. Stay past the 52:00 mark, after Henderson’s opposite-field home run flies into the Mets’ bullpen. Watch Hendu’s teammates gather around him in jubilation; pound him on the back; lift him in the air; follow HENDERSON 5 to the dugout. You can identify the 1980 Mets in mid-giddiness by name and number.


And right in the middle of the World Series-level celebrating those Magic is Back Mets absolutely earned, 15. No name, just 15. The lack of complete identification was sort of understandable in that the player who wore No. 15 was relatively new to Shea, though you’d figure there’d have been ample time to properly outfit a guy who’d been acquired a week earlier and who’d been playing for the team since Wednesday the 11th. Maybe there was a no-return policy on jerseys once you stitched a letter across their backs and the Mets just wanted to be sure their newcomer was a keeper.

No. 15 would soon make a name for himself in Flushing.

Make no mistake about it, though. We who hung on every move the Mets made knew who No. 15 was. His presence in a Mets uniform in June 1980 was a cause for celebration unto itself. The irony in his name not being ironed on was that he was probably the biggest name the Mets had the moment he arrived in Flushing.

We got Claudell Washington. Eventually his uniform top fully reflected his affiliation with us, and ours with him. We might not have realized we’d be united in common cause for just that one summer, but, as Carol Burnett liked to sing every Saturday night, I’m so glad we had that time together.

Claudell looked pretty pumped about it, too. Watch the video and focus on the nameless wonder. He is as elated as any Met this side of John Stearns that the Mets have come back from six runs down to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Giants. You can understand why Stearns was thrilled. Dude had been trying to push the Mets into the end zone since 1975. Washington? As noted, he’d been a Met for a matter of days. Yet he was susceptible to Mets Magic. Hell, he was largely responsible for this particular megadose of it.

We know June 14, 1980, as the Steve Henderson Game, but it was also something of a Welcome Wagon fiesta for Washington. Frank Cashen traded minor league pitcher Jesse Anderson to the White Sox for Claudell on June 7 — the first exchange the GM engineered at the outset of his long, arduous post-de Roulet rebuild of New York National League baseball. The Mets were scratching and clawing toward provisional respectability. They needed another set of fingernails, preferably wrapped around a bat capable of driving in some runs. The day Cashen landed Washington, almost two months into the season, the Mets had gone deep exactly eleven times.

That is not a typo.

Washington wasn’t a slugger, per se, but he could hit a few homers, totaling 13 the year before with Chicago. The outfielder had been making things happen since 1974, when he was only 19, yet an integral part of the world champion A’s. Few teenagers play in the majors. How many bolster a dynasty already in progress? A year later, he’d sock 10 home runs, steal 40 bases, bat .308 and make the AL All-Star squad. When he got to the Mets, Washington was decorated, venerated, and still only 25. This was more than lefty punch combined with dangerous speed. This was a bona fide stud baseball player, the kind we weren’t used to having in our ranks. For Mets fans of the era, this was a genuine morale boost. We must be sort of serious about competing in this division. We just went out and got Claudell Washington.

On June 14, Washington, who’d made an impressive catch at the wall in right in the early innings, drove in the first Met run of the night in the sixth with a sacrifice fly. In the eighth, his right-side grounder set up the run that reduced the home team deficit to 6-2. And in the ninth, with The Magic bubbling up from the Met cauldron, it was Claudell who singled up the middle with two outs to score Lee Mazzilli and send Frank Taveras to second, making the score 6-4 and things very interesting. Two were on base as Henderson strode to the plate as the potential winning run. The potential tying run was Washington on first. The potential became reality four pitches into Henderson’s battle with San Francisco reliever Allen Ripley.

No. 15 touched home plate to make it 6-6 moments before Henderson officially put the comeback in the books. Steve was the obvious walkoff hero. Claudell was an unnamed co-conspirator. He wouldn’t be unsung in Met success for long. The following weekend at Dodger Stadium, he and we got a Claudell Washington Game for the ages. Four hits and five RBIs in a 9-6 victory to bust up a losing streak. Three of those hits were home runs. Magical finishes notwithstanding, Mets didn’t hit home runs in 1980. They dwelled in a dinger desert. As for doing it in triplicate, Jim Hickman had hit three home runs in game in 1965; Dave Kingman hit three home runs in a game (also at Dodger Stadium) in 1976; and Washington became only the third Met ever to do it, do it and do it once more. Of course he was an old hand at it, having whacked three homers in a game for the White Sox in 1979. To that point, three players had gone deep three times in one game in each league: Babe Ruth, Johnny Mize and Claudell Washington.

“If the game had gone on much longer,” first baseman Mike Jorgensen half-joshed regarding his normally power-deficient outfit, “Washington would be leading the club in homers.” Great self-deprecating line, except at the time, Jorgy led the Mets with five round-trippers. By the next afternoon at Wrigley, when Claudell reintroduced himself to the Windy City by belting one over the ivy, it didn’t seem like such a joke.

By season’s end, Washington would, in fact, be the Mets’ second-leading home run hitter with ten, six behind Mazzilli’s sixteen; the Mets slugged 61 combined. Considering he played in only 79 games, it represented a pretty powerful output. Combined with his notching 17 steals and 42 ribbies, Claudell had made a good case for continuing his association with the Mets. Cashen was able to grab him in June on the last year of a contract. Signing him to a new deal in the offseason made plenty of sense for a Mets club yearning to rely on something more tangible than Magic. Alas, Ted Turner made Washington — still only 26 as of next season’s Opening Day — an offer he couldn’t refuse. Claudell was off to Atlanta.

As enticing a proposition as Claudell Washington appeared for the long-term, especially the day he blasted those three home runs in L.A., the Mets had already secured their right fielder of the future in June of 1980. Four days before the Washington trade, the Mets drafted Darryl Strawberry — a Los Angeles product, it so happened — No. 1 in the nation. Darryl, then 18, wouldn’t be able to hit home runs for the Mets immediately, but he’d make it to Shea soon enough, and he’d give us something (including, in 1985, the fourth three-homer game in Mets history) to look forward to. Young outfield prospects will get your motor running like prospects at no other position. A supremely confident Southern California-bred center fielder named Pete Crow-Armstrong, whom the Mets selected in the first round of the abbreviated 2020 MLB draft Wednesday night, will do that, assuming he signs and assuming professional baseball gets its ass in gear again one of these days. Lefty-swinging Crow-Armstrong is 18. He’s presumably a ways away from Citi Field, but years tend to circle the bases at a brisk pace. We just drafted somebody born in 2002, for cryin’ out loud. That’s even crazier than realizing our summer with Claudell Washington took place forty years ago.

Washington played for the Braves until 1986. He’d see action with seven teams in all, plying his craft clear into 1990, by which time he was in his seventeenth major league season…and was still only 36. Almost half of his life had been spent as a big leaguer by then. Just a little of it was as No. 15 on the Mets. Nevertheless, when I learned on Wednesday that Claudell Washington had died at only 65, hours before we started thinking about a future with Pete Crow-Armstrong, I was back in 1980 with the Magic. I was thinking about the guy whose name was missing amidst the home plate Hendu hug, the guy who’d been a Met for about a minute yet greeted Steve Henderson like a true brother in arms.

“Claudell played for 7 teams,” Washington’s fellow ’80s Brave Dale Murphy tweeted in the wake of the sad news. “Guarantee he was a teammate/clubhouse favorite on each team he played for.”

I can see that. I saw it in 1980.

8 comments to A Stud With No Name

  • eric1973

    Loved Claudell, and R.I.P., and will always also remember him for being very susceptible to the low inside curve, which he had the tendency to swing over, and to miss by a foot.

    And Jorgy’s line was a keeper.

  • RIP. I remember being thrilled with getting him and adding his bat to Hendu, Stearns, Mazz, etc. Alas, it wasn’t to be. I forget why the White Sox essentially dumped him for nothing (no offense Jesse), I guess it was because he was going to be a FA.

    That 1980 Mets team had some intriguing players: the three aforementioned players, Claudell, Jorgensen, Flynn and Taveras. Jeff Reardon, Mookie, Backman, and Hubie Brooks made their debuts. Joe Torre was the manager. They got to within a game of .500 as late as mid-August. Unfortunately, none of the stars where in alignment yet. Along came a five game sweep at the hands of the Phils and they went back to being the Mutts.

  • Ken Samelson

    In the summer of 1980 we found a scrawny gray and white kitten on our block and my father (who up to then had barely tolerated our cats) insisted we add him to the family. He dubbed him Ton-Son-Sen, shortened to “Tonney” (I occasionally called him Claudell) after the Mets’ 4-5-6 hitters Claudell Washington, Steve Henderson, and Mike Jorgensen. My parents and youngest sister moved to Florida shortly after the World Series that year and while our older cat moved there with them, I kept young Tonney with me in NY and he grew up a big Mets fan (I have several photos of him with a Mets ice cream helmet on his head), celebrated 1986, and he lived until 1995.

  • Joe Gulant

    Greg: Your periodic references to the 1980 “Hendu game” always bring back a flood of memories for me. Having been a nine year old kid present at the Big Shea on October 16, 1969 (my second Met game ever, after “Helmet Day” 1968) as “Koosman shut the door,” I must say that the joy felt as Hendu’s home run disappeared over the right-field wall was almost as great a thrill. My friend Cliff and I were at the Hendu game, left early (a rare surrender of arms for us, but it seemed hopeless), and arrived home in time to watch the 9th inning on T.V. It was as if the weight of the Dark Age M. Donald Grant/DeRoulet years had been lifted off of our shoulders with one swing. We should have known better than to leave, because the two of us had attended another exhilarating game earlier that week against the despised Dodgers in which prodigal son Mike Jorgensen won it in the 10th with a LIIIINE DRIIIIVE (as Bob would say) GRAND SLAM into that sliver of right-field Loge on the money side of the foul pole. For one brief, shining moment, the “Magic is Back” appeared to be more statement of fact than hollow, hokey advertising slogan (right up there with “the ’69 Mets belong to a special circle, the Shaeffer Circle”). We were so inspired by Jorgy’s blast, that we actually went to the Outfielder’s Lounge on Astoria Boulevard (owned by erstwhile heros Agee and Jones), to see if we could find Tommy and share the moment (and a Schaeffer) with a living legend. It was late,Tommy wasn’t there, both the bar and its patrons had seen better days, and it was apparent that the group was not basking in the afterglow of what went down a few blocks away. At least we tried. Anyway, we were too heartened by the addition of Claudell, the wishful emergence of Swan as our new Seaver, and an enthusiastic young core of players to be deflated – heck, maybe if we can catch a few breaks, we can make a run with this group! It was not meant to be, but we loved that 1980 team as if they were Champs.

    • The excursion to the OL (as if anybody actually called it that) is a beautiful Metsian touch. Sorry Tommie wasn’t there and that the clientele wasn’t chanting on behalf of Jorgy.

  • open the gates

    The funny thing is, when I think of my personal memories of that season, I always remember the Claudell three-homer game more than the Hendu game. I was a ninth grader that year, and the Henderson game came right in the middle of my first encounter with the dreaded Regents exams. The Claudell game was after finals were over, and I actually recall wondering who the heck this guy was who had just hit 3 homers for the Mets. In retrospect, I think if they had been able to hold on to him, the Mets may have turned things around a little more quickly – I guess we’ll never know. Sad to hear about his passing.