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The Art of Good Conversation

Perhaps someday I’ll find myself engaged in conversation with Ariel Jurado [1]. We’ll likely talk about his baseball career; how it brought him to the Mets; and the challenges he endured, particularly that night in Baltimore in 2020 when, in the process of becoming the franchise’s 1,107th player overall and that season’s tenth Met starting pitcher 36 games into a 60-game campaign, he experienced what Wayne Randazzo termed a “bloodbath”: six hits allowed his first time through the Oriole order, punctuated by a three-run homer from Renato Nuñez. Or maybe we’ll gloss over that part and focus on his final two innings, for after giving up five runs in the first and second, Jurado gave up no runs in the third and fourth. True, it still calculated to an 11.25 ERA and the Mets were en route to a 9-5 defeat [2], their fifth consecutive loss, but I’d like to think that tact is the better part of discretion. Hopefully, in this hypothetical scenario, Ariel and I will find happier topics to talk about.

Honestly, chances are I’ll never chat with ex-Texas Ranger Ariel Jurado, who wound up no-decisioned because the Mets hit some for a while and tied the game after he left (Franklyn Kilome took the L), but you never know. For example, as I began my lifelong devotion to the New York Mets more than fifty years ago, I never would have imagined I’d someday spend forty minutes on the telephone with one of the players I spoke to then only through the television.

On April 10, 1968, Art Shamsky [3] became the 160th player in Mets history. Like Jurado, Shamsky’s Met career commenced with a defeat, 5-4 at San Francisco. Better days were ahead. One of them included a 9-5 Mets win, in Atlanta, in the first game of the playoffs a year later. Art had three hits that day, three hits the next day and another the day after that. In the 1969 National League Championship Series, Shamsky batted .538 as the Mets swept the Braves. That performance spurred them to a pennant and earned them a trip to the same city where Ariel pitched last night.

Different Orioles. Different Mets. Different times. The games — five in the World Series; four of them won by the Mets — didn’t take nearly as long back then, but the memories they generated endure indefinitely. As has Art Shamsky, who fits my concept of too big a deal to give me the time of day, yet graciously gave me that and plenty more earlier this week.

We were talking because these days Art Shamsky, outfielder/first baseman for the Mets from 1968 through 1971, hosts an eponymous podcast and he wants to make sure Mets fans know it’s available for listening and enjoying. The Art Shamsky Podcast is indeed a very pleasant conversation. Art started the show a few months ago to bring a little light to dark days. Nothing earth-shattering, just good, solid talk with people you’re delighted to hear from. “I just want to try to make it as casual as possible,” Art told me. “We’re just having a conversation.”

Joe Namath’s joined Art’s conversation. So have Bob Costas and Al Roker. Phil Rosenthal, the sitcom creator who put Shamsky on Everybody Loves Raymond (and named the show’s bulldog after him), returned the favor and guested. “Not only sports people,” Art explained. “I’m interested in other professions.” Nevertheless, Ed Kranepool, Jay Horwitz and Howie Rose have also appeared, catering somewhat to those of us primarily interested in one particular line of work.

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A podcast can hardly heal a world in pain, but listening to Art Shamsky’s might make a Mets fan feel a little better for a little while.

Why does Art Shamsky host a podcast? Other than “why not?” If you’ve been a consumer of New York sports media going back a ways, you aren’t surprised to hear Shamsky conducting these interviews because you remember this is what Art has been doing on and off since retiring from baseball in 1972. His foot nudged through the broadcasting door on June 18, 1977, when he was hired by NBC for a last-minute call of a Reds-Expos game in Montreal. It wasn’t just any Game of the Week. It was Tom Seaver’s first start for Cincinnati. Art teamed with Marv Albert that Saturday afternoon, and things clicked pretty well for a first attempt at a new endeavor.

“I thought it was really easy,” Art admits. “In reality, it was not easy.”

The Art Shamsky name, accompanied as it was by a World Series ring, opened more doors, but he worked at improving his game, just as he did across eight seasons as a major leaguer. When Mets fans discovered an entity called SportsChannel was showing the games that had been confined previously to radio, they heard Art offering analysis alongside Bob Goldsholl. That was in 1979, when cable TV was a novelty through much of the Metropolitan Area, making Shamsky a pioneer — and, when you think about it, the first forebear of Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. For three seasons, Art called games on cable; in the last of those years, 1981, he rotated among the Channel 9 and WMCA booths as well as SportsChannel’s, working with Steve Albert, not to mention a couple of Hall of Famers in Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy. “Just a wonderful experience,” Art calls it to this day, even if the Mets teams he announced weren’t quite ready for prime time.

Art also channeled his budding talents into the groundbreaking Channel 5 show Sports Extra, serving as correspondent for a program that was about as must-see to a New York sports fan in its heyday as Kiner’s Korner. For a half-hour on Sunday nights, you received sports news, sports features, sports talk, all about New York, all much deeper than you got anywhere else. For the 10:30 touchstone, Art honed his conversational skills as he traversed the Tri-State, dealing with jubilant and desultory locker rooms alike. “You go into a clubhouse after a tough loss and try to interview somebody,” he says, “it’s a learning experience.” Recounting assignments that brought him into contact with everybody from the dynastic Islanders to tennis phenom Tracy Austin, Art considers the Sports Extra experience “wonderful years,” and is quick to credit producer Norman Ross and on-air colleagues Bill Mazer and John Dockery among the “wonderful, top-notch people I got to work with. I learned a lot.”

The veteran New York sports fan ear recognizes Art’s voice as well from the original WFAN, 1050 on your AM dial, where he hosted the station’s first midday show in 1987 from his restaurant. There were other stops along the way, including Channel 11 and ESPN. Though he may have started behind the microphone and in front of a camera with little journalism experience, being an athlete in the biggest media market in the nation couldn’t help but prepare him for this next chapters.

“When I played in Cincinnati, you had two writers and maybe one from Dayton,” Art recalls. “In New York, it was a different story: 10, 12, 15 writers from all the different papers, UPI, AP.” Art interacted with all of them, and his assessment remains “they were fair to me.” Maury Allen helped him ghostwrite a column for the Post that appeared on Saturdays, but that didn’t stop him from forging respectful working relationships with Allen’s competition. “Dick Young, Red Foley [of the Daily News], all of the great writers from the New York Times, Newsday, the Long Island Press, the New Jersey papers — they were all fair to me.”

Appreciating what goes into a reporter’s job allowed Art to develop the insights it took to take up the profession himself. His experience as a ballplayer in turbulent times gives him an inkling of an idea of what it’s like on the field in 2020. “There are some things that are similar,” he says of then and now. “The late ’60 and early ’70s were some awful times. The war in Vietnam, the city was down, in bad shape, morally and spiritually.” Against that backdrop, the 1969 Mets played ball so dazzlingly that a galvanized citizenry was grateful for the distraction. Today, with the world “upside down,” Shamsky acknowledges “there are a lot of problems” impossible to ignore, no matter how much one wishes to focus on fun and games. “In some ways, the world is still in a crazy situation.” Sportswise, “this year’s situation, with teams addressing social unrest and players taking stands is different in some ways, regarding what they’re trying to do in terms of making people’s lives better. Whether it works or not remains to be seen.”

In 1969, when New York had the Mets to lift its mood, those Mets had 162 games to pursue their elevation. The vault from ninth place to first place made it a season for the ages. Art hears regularly from people telling him, “you guys made me feel a lot better, if just for a brief period of time.” Nobody’s really asking for, let alone expecting, such miracles from the 2020 Mets, and it would be a bit much to believe any baseball team could mean as much to their times as the 1969 Mets meant to theirs. Conceding that he might be a bit subjective in his view, he asserts his team was no ordinary champion, not the kind of ballclub you have to look up in a list. “Most people,” Shamsky says, “will always remember the 1969 Mets won the World Series,” what with their legacy handed down to at least two generations. If last year’s fiftieth anniversary celebration is any indication, there are probably more to come.

“The fans treated us so wonderfully last year,” Art says, adding his gratitude for the serendipity that had the surviving ’69ers reuniting in a pre-pandemic atmosphere. “Kids not born yet know about that team from their parents and grandparents. They ask me about the black cat, Tom Seaver’s imperfect game, the Steve Carlton 19-strikeout game, the pair of games we won 1-0 in the doubleheader. They want to talk about it and they want to hear more about it.”

Many folks, he adds, will always remember being at Shea Stadium for the moment those Mets became world champions, on October 16, 1969, even if chances are they were physically elsewhere. “I think I’ve had 100,000 people tell me they were at the final game,” Shamsky estimates. “Now the ballpark held about 53,000, but if they were there in their mind or in some capacity, that’s fine with me.”

It would also be fine with Art if you accessed the Art Shamsky Podcast from any popular podcasting platform; follow Art on Twitter via @Art Shamsky [10]; keep up with all he’s up to at artshamsky.com [11]; and, if you want to give the gift of Art, arrange a video message from No. 24 for the special Mets fan in your life at cameo.com [12].