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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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The Seasons are Passing One by One

Because The Tonight Show was taped in beautiful downtown Burbank, it didn’t seem odd that one summer night in 1979, Johnny Carson would include Tommy Lasorda while doing his Carnac the Magnificent bit. Playing to the Southern California studio audience was one of Johnny’s staples, and Chavez Ravine was certainly within driving distance. Carnac listed the Los Angeles Dodgers manager among three beleaguered figures in the news. One of the others was either Jimmy Carter or a member of the Carter administration. The other I don’t remember. After Ed McMahon repeated the trio — and Carnac gave him the side eye — the Magnificent one tore open his envelope and revealed what they all had in common:

They were three people who’d be out of a job by next year.

On the Carter front, Carnac nailed his prediction. Maybe the other person, too. But Lasorda, despite a subpar ’79, wasn’t going anywhere. And why should he? Tommy won a pennant in his first full year managing the Dodgers, in 1977. He did the same in 1978. After the aberration, already in progress, Lasorda would go on to steer the Dodgers into a one-game playoff for the NL West title in 1980, take them all the way in 1981, to the final day in 1982, another pair of NLCSes in 1983 and 1985 and, for his signature scene, a second world championship in 1988.

When Johnny Carson bowed out of The Tonight Show in 1992, Lasorda was still managing the Dodgers. He’d remain the man visibly in charge clear into 1996, officially retiring a week after The Daily Show debuted.

For 20 baseball seasons, Lasorda was himself a daily show, and it’s not like he went into syndicated reruns after stepping down as manager. Tommy Lasorda never really left the Dodgers or baseball. Even with his passing at the outset of 2021, you don’t think of him as gone. No manager alive, and hardly a handful of them less so, remains as famous.

We don’t have managers normal people have heard of anymore. We barely have managers baseball fans have heard of. Lasorda everybody had heard of. He wasn’t just baseball famous like, say, Whitey Herzog or Earl Weaver (or Buck Showalter). He was Johnny Carson famous. Famous enough for Johnny Carson to weave into his sketches. Probably as famous as Johnny Carson.

He earned it, not just by managing successfully for a long span in a large market but by making himself too big to ignore. Him and baseball. “Ambassador” is kind of a catch-all for the role Lasorda served to promote baseball, the Dodgers and, one supposes, himself. It may not be specific enough. Tommy was an entire diplomatic corps.

After managing the Dodgers, he coached the U.S. Olympic baseball team to a gold medal in 2000. He coached third base for Bobby Valentine at the 2001 All-Star Game. He starred in MLB commercials in 2006 coaching fans of teams that didn’t make the playoffs to watch the postseason anyway because it was still baseball. He was around Dodger Stadium a lot. In 2020, in failing health, he made it to the new ballpark in Arlington, home of the neutral-site World Series. If the Dodgers were on-site, and Tommy was present, there was nothing neutral about it. He wasn’t gonna miss the Dodgers winning their first world championship in 32 years, the first world championship in Dodgers history won under the guidance of somebody who wasn’t Tommy Lasorda or Tommy Lasorda’s direct predecessor Walter Alston. The first season the Dodgers won one, Tommy pitched for them. That was 1955. He never left the organization.

Alston had Lasorda on his coaching staff during the 1974 World Series. Alston didn’t call attention to himself from taking the reins in Brooklyn in 1954 forward. That wasn’t a problem for his third base coach, who was mic’d up and gave the producers of the official Fall Classic film something to amplify. They talked about him during the NBC broadcast that October. The network of Carson and Garagiola knew a star when it saw one. The following spring, in a preseason special, Tommy was featured preaching the gospel of Dodger Blue at Spring Training in Vero Beach. He bled it, the coach told the minor leaguers. When he died, he’d hoped somebody would tack a Dodgers schedule to his tombstone. Come to his gravesite, pay your respects, divine whether the Dodgers were in town, decide to catch a game.

That’s the life Tommy Lasorda extolled. That’s the life Tommy led.

Maybe you remember Tommy’s appearance in the movie Fletch. It came in a framed photo, the kind of brag-wall shot Lasorda lined his own office with. Chevy Chase, as Fletch, notices his nemesis Joe Don Baker (the police chief) with his arm around the Dodgers manager.

“Hey,” Fletch says, “you and Tommy Lasorda.”
“I hate Tommy Lasorda!” at which point Fletch punches the glass loose from the frame.

That’s sort of how I felt about Tommy Lasorda after all the Big Dodger in the Sky proselytizing had taken its toll on me, but as I figure it, we owe Tommy Lasorda at least partially for four indelible Mets.

There was, most obviously, Mike Piazza, who the Dodgers drafted as a personal favor to their manager in the 62nd round 10 years before Mike became a Met and 28 years before he became the second player to be portrayed with a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. If Lasorda isn’t pals with Vince Piazza, and Lasorda doesn’t have the sway of a Lasorda, Vince’s son goes unselected in 1988 and Mets history doesn’t have a chance to change for the better.

There was Bobby Valentine, one of his most eager protégés while Tommy L and Bobby V both worked their way through the minors, manager and player, in the late 1960s. Lasorda would be managing in the majors by 1976 and in the World Series four times; Valentine would skipper at the highest echelons, too, most notably with the 2000 National League champion Mets of Piazza.

There was also Tom Seaver, the first Met to be portrayed with a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. Lasorda heartily recommended the Dodgers draft the righty out of Southern Cal in 1965 after scouting him, but lowballed the righty so badly in terms of a bonus — $2,000 — that Seaver opted to continue his studies. “Good luck in your dental career,” Lasorda told him. A year later, the Braves would draft Seaver, there’d be a glitch in the transaction, the pick was voided, Seaver’s name went into a hat, and a lucky team from New York had its destiny called. (Dentistry would have to get by.)

And there was Sid Fernandez, the pitching prospect Lasorda signed off on trading away in the offseason following 1983, underestimating the durability of the beefy southpaw. “Everybody felt he was kind of overweight,” Lasorda explained in 1986 as El Sid was pitching his way to the All-Star team and adding however many ounces a World Series ring weighs to his frame.

We won a few because of the influence Tommy Lasorda had on the course of events. We lost a few to Lasorda’s Dodgers in the two decades he managed, especially four games of seven in the 1988 NLCS that still stings Mets fans of a certain age. But you couldn’t miss Lasorda if you were a baseball fan all those years he ambassadored for a sport he never stopped believing was the National Pastime. When he died in 2021, even if you didn’t bleed a drop of Dodger blue, you sort of missed the man whose veins flowed with the stuff.

One of the many aces Lasorda had at his disposal when he took over from Alston at the tail end of ’76 was Don Sutton. Had Sutton been more amenable to a trade proposal on the table the previous Spring Training, Lasorda would have known right away what it was like to have his team face this future Hall of Famer. M. Donald Grant was already mad at Tom Seaver for Seaver being not thrilled at being underpaid, so a swap was engineered: Tom to the Dodgers, Don to the Mets. Sutton, though, wasn’t too hot on coming to New York and, while potential sweeteners were being worked out to change the West Coast righthander’s mind, the blowback in the press back east brought the trade tumbling down. A few years later, Sutton would hit the free agent market and the Mets, under new ownership, made a run at him. Don listened, but opted to sign with Houston. We never wanted to trade Seaver, but we could’ve used a guy like Sutton.

Lasorda, Sutton and Hank Aaron were three full-fledged baseball immortals who left us in 2021. I wrote about Aaron in January. I wrote about the Hank Aaron of the feline set, Avery the Cat, in December. Through the years, when I’ve made the time, I’ve tried to acknowledge the passings of those who touched us as baseball fans or me personally. As the season and other matters distract a person’s attention, sometimes I don’t say what should be said right away. Not everybody who leaves us is a legend. Everybody leaves a little something behind.

Ed Lucas, who I met once, was a remarkable man. Blinded as a child, he worked as a baseball writer the rest of his days and authored an incredible life I recommend reading about. Jazz musician Dave Frishberg’s gift to baseball fans was “Van Lingle Mungo,” a song I swear you can’t hear enough (and I couldn’t resist attempting to pay my own brand of homage). Stephen Sondheim scored more than a few of my baseball days and nights, regardless that he was writing for the theater rather than the stadium. After my Mets won the World Series in 1986, fate doubled down and allowed me to experience my Giants winning the Super Bowl, with John Madden’s buoyant analysis intrinsic to watching them at last conquer the NFL. With Pat Summerall, Madden did every Giants playoff game to which CBS held rights from 1981 to 1993. There’s so much more to Madden’s impact on football, but having him be the voice detailing why your team is suddenly the best there is is a thrill unto itself.

Roland Hemond was a revered baseball executive. To me, he’s the White Sox GM who plucked Tom Seaver off an unprotected list on Super Bowl weekend 1984; in his defense, at least he valued obvious talent more than Tommy Lasorda did. LaMarr Hoyt won a Cy Young for the White Sox and started an All-Star Game as a Padre. To me, he’s the pitcher who took an Opening Day start while being on the same pitching staff as Tom Seaver (only three other pitchers could say that) and won one of the four decisions Dwight Gooden lost in 1985, driving in a pair of runs off Doc in the process. Richie Lewis, a reliever for seven MLB seasons, learned just how much Doc appreciated good hitter-pitching on the final day of the 1993 seasons when he surrendered a triple to Gooden, who was serving as a pinch-hitter (something Doc remembered well when I asked him about it a mere 23 years later).

Ray Fosse was an All-Star behind the plate and tremendous behind a mic….but through this Mets fan’s eyes, he’s always going to be the catcher who didn’t tag Bud Harrelson in Game Two of the 1973 World Series, even if Augie Donatelli was sadly mistaken in ruling he did (we won despite the blunder in blue). Julio Lugo, who’d bat .269 over 12 years in the big leagues, and I, who never made it out of tee ball, were briefly corporate teammates. He was a Houston Astro. I worked for a publication owned by the man who owned the Astros. The Astros let Julio go. Lugo left behind his bats. I know this because at an event my magazine staged at Minute Maid Park, I got to take batting practice with one of Julio Lugo’s abandoned bats. His name was etched into it. Despite the lumber’s pedigree, I didn’t hit .269.

In 2021, we lost nine men who at one time or another played for the New York Mets. We remembered Willard Hunter, Randy Tate and Pedro Feliciano in this space earlier this year. The other six deserve a tip of the cap as well.

Norm Sherry was a top-flight defensive catcher. He helped Sandy Koufax harness his talent in Los Angeles. He brought his wisdom to bear coaching Gary Carter in Montreal. And, let’s face it, it had to have been his defense that appealed to Casey Stengel in 1963 because Norm spent the entire season with the Mets, came to bat 161 times, and batted .136. No position player with as many as 100 plate appearances has ever recorded a lower season’s batting average as a Met. Twice Tom Seaver logged a lower BA with 100 or more PAs, but six times within those parameters Tom hit higher. It’s worth noting, however, a) Norm played with a bad back much of 1963; b) the 1963 Mets weren’t exactly bulging with better all-around catching options; and c) Sherry bounced a grounder over the head of Jimmy Wynn — playing shortstop — to bring home Rod Kanehl and beat the Colt .45s in walkoff fashion one fine July afternoon at the Polo Grounds. Norm managed all of 20 hits across a full campaign. One won one of 51 games the Mets won all year. That’s called making the most of your OPS+ of 13.

Duke Carmel was Norm Sherry’s teammate on the 1963 Mets. He began the season as Stan Musial’s teammate on the 1963 Cardinals. A midseason trade may have represented a precipitous drop in the standings, but the Mets’ second Duke — this was the year Snider was our All-Star representative — dealt the Cards a little regret about as soon as he could. In the first series in which St. Louis made their erstwhile first baseman/outfielder’s reacquaintance, they watched Carmel go deep off Bobby Shantz in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and give Al Jackson all the support he needed to complete a rare Mets victory. “I’m getting a chance here,” the hero of the moment exulted afterward. Duke’s opportunity with the Mets wouldn’t last long, but his legacy still shimmers on two fronts. First, he became the first former Met to join the Yankees, which perhaps said a little something about where both franchises were heading once New York (A) deigned to acquire somebody New York (N) wasn’t hanging onto in the Rule 5 draft of 1964. Second, and of more lasting importance, he was a good man. My source? A gentleman who recently passed along a few tidbits about Carmel’s post-baseball life because “the guy deserves to not be forgotten”. Per our polite correspondent, Mr. Carmel “worked in the liquor business with an old friend and I met him a few time and he was great.” Good enough for us.

Bill Sudakis became a Met in 1972. I was excited we were getting a recent Dodger All-Star. Maybe I was conflating Bill Sudakis with Billy Grabarkewitz, the L.A. infielder Gil Hodges added to the National League squad in 1970, because this Bill had never earned such accolades. Nevertheless, I was reasonably familiar with Sudakis and welcomed him with open arms. Bill played a little first, caught a little, came off the bench to pinch-hit a little. During one of his starts, at San Diego, Bill’s two-run single in the top of the first, with Willie Mays and John Milner scoring on Sudakis’s hit to center, held up via the pitching of Gary Gentry and Tug McGraw to manufacture a 2-1 win on a starry Saturday night in July. When Sudakis reached again in the eighth, Yogi Berra pinch-ran for him with Tom Seaver.

Mike Marshall, the free-thinking reliever who won a Cy Young for the Dodgers after pitching in 106 games in 1974 (man, we sure do get or try to get a lot of ex-Dodgers), landed on the Mets after play resumed post-strike in 1981 and bolstered a bullpen that was a major reason the club hoisted itself into Second Season contention. By August of ’81, Mike had been inactive in the majors for more than a year, but at age 38 he picked up where his 188-save career left off and made a difference in Flushing. On August 27, Marshall threw a scoreless inning to keep the Mets within a run of the Astros, watched his teammates take a one-run lead, and then shut down Houston in the ninth to seal the deal at Shea, ensuring the Mets would remain barking in the NL East dogfight and raising his own record to 2-0. The Mets were surprising the National League in the wake of the strike, but Marshall wasn’t surprising Joe Torre. “Marshall is really what I wanted,” Mike’s manager said, “because he can still throw physically. And he’s got experience. That’s what we need with so many young pitchers,” an assortment that included Neil Allen, Jeff Reardon and, after rosters expanded, Jesse Orosco. “If you don’t love going out,” Marshall said of the mound where made his living for so long, “you can’t pitch.” Mike toed the rubber professionally for close to 20 years.

Dick Tidrow was another battle-scarred veteran who the Mets added to their bullpen, in 1984. His experience contrasted vividly with the rookie whose first major league start he took over for on April 7. Dwight Gooden, 19, gave the Astros a preview of what the rest of the NL would be looking at in ’84 by striking out five of them and holding them to one run in five innings. With Davey Johnson deciding young Dr. K had shown them enough, he handed the ball to the 36-year-old Tidrow, who held the lead for an inning and paved the way for Doug Sisk and Jesse Orosco to take care of the rest of that Saturday night’s business. The decision, a 3-2 Mets win, went to Dwight, his first in a career that was about five minutes from taking off for the stratosphere. Tidrow’s pitching days, however, were about at an end. The Mets released him a few weeks later, but he’d stay in baseball for decades succeeding wildly as part of San Francisco’s front office in the 2010s and receiving due credit for helping to construct the team that won three World Series titles in five years.

Phil Lombardi was a catcher in the Yankee organization who must have gotten a lot of local press in the mid-1980s, because when the Mets got him as part of the trade that sent Rafael Santana to the Bronx in December 1987 (sorry, Raffy), I was pretty pumped. We got their big-deal catching prospect? Perhaps I overestimated Lombardi’s potential once he joined the Mets’ organization, but he gave me and the Mets one big night. On June 28, 1989, in his first start as a Met, Lombardi led off the eighth inning at Olympic Stadium and crushed a Mark Langston pitch to somewhere amid the distant precincts of Quebec. I had just walked in the door from one of my first business trips as a trade magazine editor when I witnessed the blast. It was quite the welcome home.

Speaking of Canada, one of the best baseball expatriates the Mets ever picked up from the Great White North was former Blue Jays batting champion John Olerud. John had raked for Toronto until he didn’t. When he came to New York in 1997, he found his stroke again, with significant assistance from hitting coach Tom Robson. Bobby Valentine’s lieutenant was someone Olerud thanked mightily for reviving his sweet swing. “He was the perfect hitting coach,” John once reflected. “He helped save my career. We came from the same philosophical school of hitting — hit the ball where it’s pitched — and we really hit it off.”

One of my coaches, you might say, was a journalism professor named George Meyer (not to be confused with the Simpsons writer of the same name). Unlike Olerud and Robson, I had no deep personal relationship with Meyer. I had him for one semester of News Editing my junior year in college. By the time I was a senior, I’m convinced he would have no idea who I was if you mentioned my name to him. But damned if, as the years have gone by, I haven’t continually found myself remembering something specific Meyer taught in class and applying it to something I was writing, something I was editing or something I was thinking. I had several instructors in the Mass Communications department at the University of South Florida. George was in the distinct minority of those who left an impression I feel to this day (I’m holding up two fingers). He was also a mensch when I realized I’d totally misinterpreted an assignment as I was handing it in and asked him if I could do it over now that I figured out what he was looking for. “Sure,” he said, rescuing me from my own unforced error. More prepared for any eventuality than his addled student, George Meyer even wrote his own obituary in advance. There’s a person who understood an assignment.

The year I took News Editing was the year I hung out with John Pazman. John, you might say, is here on a do-over. My close friend from my dorm my junior year died in 2014, but I didn’t learn about his passing until a little curious Googling in 2021. Somehow the subject of clove cigarettes came up — John is the only person I knew to have smoked them — and I got to thinking about him. I’m sorry to learn he’s been gone all this time. I’m delighted I got to know him as I did when I did. We were down-the-hall neighbors, each of us with roommates who ghosted, so we visited each other frequently for company. He was kind of a surfer type, though I can’t recall if he actually bothered to surf. Maybe he just liked soaking up the rays (there was a lot of that going on at a college not terribly far from Clearwater Beach). I don’t necessarily remember much we had in common other than a fondness for Steely Dan and disdain for certain residents of our floor. Despite being from Pittsburgh, he had no interest in the Pirates, though the Steelers were sort of cool, he decided, because when they’d won all those Super Bowls, he got to go downtown and party.

John moved out of the dorm the following fall, and we remained friendly when I was a senior, but we were already drifting apart. The reason I’m moved to mention him here is the letter I received from him in the waning weeks of 1986, more than a year-and-a-half from the last time I’d heard from him. The line he dropped was to congratulate me on the Mets having won the World Series. He didn’t go in for baseball, but my room with all its Metsaphernaila had stuck in his mind, and he figured I must be very happy and he wanted me to know he was very happy for me.

One time our dorm had to clear out into the parking lot because of a false alarm, John took note of some scaffolding on the side of our high-rise building. Hey, he mused, we should get up in that thing and pull ourselves back up to our floor — everybody will see us and we’d be the coolest people here. Then he thought about it and decided, “Nah. We’re already the coolest people here.”

One of us was, anyway.

Conversely, there wasn’t much cool about Todd Feltman, which is what made him such a warm character to be around. I met Todd on the first day of fourth grade. Our teacher told us to introduce ourselves to somebody sitting near us and get to know each other. Todd and I shook hands and exchanged vital information: I was a Mets fan, he was a Yankees fan. This was 1972, when Yankees fans on Long Island were in short supply, so I assumed he wasn’t putting on airs. Despite our core difference, we hit it off and stayed, in some form or fashion, hit off for the next nine years of public school, then friends from afar while we were in college, then in touch sporadically for a pretty good while thereafter. Upon learning from an old mutual friend in September that Todd died this past spring, I found myself mentally opening my “Feltman, Todd” file. The memories filled a warehouse.

When I say Todd wasn’t cool, I don’t mean he wasn’t capable of wearing a stylish shirt. He just put himself out there with limited self-awareness. No pretenses. He didn’t care how he came across so much as he cared that you felt good about yourself. I mentioned we shook hands in fourth grade. We shook hands a lot. Todd was one of those gregarious guys who’d shake your hand every day if you saw him every day. When we were older, he’d want us, with our significant others, to meet up so we could “cocktail”. It was his approach and it was genuine. He was delighted to see you, to ask how you were doing, to listen to the answer. It didn’t matter that your cause wasn’t his. He wanted your cause to succeed for you. And yes, I’m talking about the Mets, but it applies to everything else. I’ll stick with the Mets here, though.

Monday afternoon, September 20, 1976. Eighth grade. Todd was coming over after school. On the way to my house, we stopped by the Lido Deli to pick up a snack. I don’t remember what I ordered. He asked the counterman for a seltzer and a sour tomato. He was 14 years old and ordering like his grandfather would. But it’s what he wanted, so why not? We take the food and drink back to my house, sit down at the kitchen table and I turn on the radio. The Mets are finishing up a series with the Pirates. I don’t know that every 14-year-old would have planned an afterschool get-together around the final innings of a Monday matinee, but it’s what I wanted, so why not? Todd, whose team was soon to go to the playoffs for the first time in his sentient baseball life, may not have been thinking this was the most fun activity, but he went along with it and he joined me in rooting for the Mets. It wasn’t a big game for them. It was a big game for the Pirates, who were chasing the Phillies, so the Mets were at least playing spoiler if they could come from behind.

With two out in the bottom of the ninth, trailing by one, John Milner singles off Kent Tekulve, Leo Foster runs for Milner and September callup Lee Mazzilli gives Tekulve’s final pitch the ride of its life, taking it over the right field wall for the 5-4 Mets win, or a win that I’m still talking about 45 years later. Todd and I celebrated. The high-five had yet to be widely disseminated. We probably shook hands.

Todd was living out of town when Stephanie and I got married fifteen years later, which is now thirty years ago, so he sent his parents in his place. He was back in the area when he got married five years after that, in 1996. We went. He and I not only shook hands a lot, but embraced. “We’ve got to get together more often,” he told me with utmost sincerity, the only sincerity in his portfolio. “I’m serious.”

We never saw each other again. I looked for him on Facebook, but remembered he was inevitably the kid who didn’t know to order the sixth-grade autograph book or that today was the day to show up for the yearbook photo. No, I never found him on social media. I didn’t need to. My mental file is blessedly crammed with silly, sincere and authentic interactions with Todd Feltman that spanned nearly a quarter-century and have lived with me for another quarter-century since.

I’ve still never “cocktailed” with anybody. Or seen anybody else order a seltzer and sour tomato.

4 comments to The Seasons are Passing One by One

  • eric1973

    If I have this right, today is a Very Special Birthday.

    Happy Birthday, Greg!

    Now on to the Baseball Equinox, and a much anticipated 2022 season with Buck at the helm!

    It helps me if I like my team professionally and personally, and it makes it more fun to watch and to root. I love Buck, and really disliked Rojas/Zack/Baez/Conforto/Thor.

    Let’s Go Mets!

  • DAK442

    I didn’t know about Phil Lombardi. True Story: my friends and I claimed I was Phil to get us into a club in Montreal during a visit there to see the Mets. I figured he was about my age, no one would have heard of him or known what he looked like. It worked. Thanks Phil, and RIP.