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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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Kodai, By Way of Hobie

Someday, perhaps, there will be another Kodai who plays for the New York Mets. I’d like to think that soon there will be a son of Mets fans, and his parents will name him for the righthander who left the Miami Marlins mostly spooked in his first two outings in the United States, the second of them his Citi Field debut. By my script, that kid, not only yet to be named but yet to be born, will show off a live arm, learn the ghost fork and be up with the team he grew up rooting for within the quarter-century.

Or we could just take everything one game at a time and appreciate the results wrought by the only Kodai currently in the Mets’ world. That would be Kodai Senga, 30-year-old MLB rookie who’s been around, if not around these parts until very recently. Shed of whatever nerves plagued him when he took the mound in Miami, Senga controlled Miami’s offensive aspirations long enough for the first five innings Saturday. The Mets provided him a run in the first (bases-loaded walk) and two more in the fifth (Pete Alonso homering, a blessedly daily occurrence). The Marlins got to Kodai for one run in the sixth (Jazz Chisholm going deep), but Senga outlasted his gas tank to complete the inning and exit in triumph.

Knowing he’ll be back to do what he does again is a comforting thought.

The bullpen diddled around a bit, but their foibles were minimal and cushioned besides when Eduardo Escobar finally hit into some good luck, which is to say an area beyond the left field fence. Maybe there’s a Metropolitan Area infant out there whose birth certificate just got filled in as Eduardo rather than Brett.

A 5-2 win awaited at day’s end for Kodai Senga and the Mets, a day that started with the sad news that Hobie Landrith had died at age 93. Hobie was the first major leaguer the Mets ever drafted, the first Hobie to ever play for the Mets and, as of this writing, the only Hobie to play for the Mets. That’ll make a feller an Original for a long time.

Hobie Landrith’s role in Met lore is pretty much Amazin’ 101, not just his status as the player picked before any other among those National Leaguers made available to George Weiss and Casey Stengel, but Casey’s explanation for taking a veteran receiver with limited pop and little in the way of glitter — no All-Star selections since reaching the bigs in 1950 as a defense-first catcher, never a sniff of the postseason. There are variations of the quotation, but I’ll go with the one Dave Bagdade used in his comprehensive survey on the 1962 Mets, A Year in Mudville:

”Ya gotta start with a catcher, ’cause if you don’t, you’ll have all passed balls, and you’re gonna be chasing the ball back to the screen all day.”

As Dave notes, “Speculation persists that Stengel’s comment was his way of poking fun at such an exciting first pick.”

However Casey meant it, the rationalization stuck, and it is Landrith who became embroidered in the upper tier of the legend of the Original Mets, just as it was Landrith who arrived first on every budding Mets fan’s depth chart in the fall of 1961. Come that first game in St. Louis six months later, it was Landrith who was the first to crouch behind home plate on our behalf. Let the record show that while his pitchers gave up seven earned runs that night, Hobie did not allow a single passed ball.

It bears mentioning that Landrith — the first of seven catchers Casey would employ in 1962 and the only one to live long enough to see the franchise turn sixty — batted lefthanded. A lefthanded-hitting catcher is something of a rarity. Omar Narvaez is the 25th lefty-swinging backstop the Mets have ever used. Only a few had much longevity as Mets. Hobie was on the roster for less than two months. He’s still twelfth among lefty-hitting Mets catchers all-time in RBIs. Two of the runs he drove in were on a game-winning home run off a lefty pitcher…a lefty pitcher named Warren Spahn. Eyewitness reports confirm the walkoff wallop was a pop fly that took advantage of the Polo Grounds’ inviting right field dimensions. It’s a two-run homer in the box score.

The great Spahn bowed his head because he knew that he’d been beat by a lefty-swinging, defense-first catcher.

Hobie’s third of three passed balls as a Met came in his final game as a Met, when he was already identified as the player named later in the May 9 trade for Marvelous Marv Throneberry, whose own Met legend was fast gaining steam. “Later” was officially June 6, when the Mets and Orioles agreed that Hobie would be the payment for the first baseman Baltimore had sent New York, yet there Landrith was in the Mets’ lineup in Philadelphia. The Daily News, in reminding its readers that Weiss had given the impression Throneberry’s acquisition was a straight cash deal yet was suddenly sending Hobie south, said the club president “deals in ballplayers and half-truths”.

Landrith probably chuckled mordantly at the description if he had the chance to read it en route to the O’s. “What a piece of work he was,” Hobie told This Great Game, frustrated decades later that the Mets, despite drafting him ahead of everybody, were determined to pay him less than he was getting from the Giants the year before. “I mean, if you’re the first pick, you figure you should make at least the same as you did the year before, right? […] The man was cold, cold, cold, and I didn’t enjoy that at all.”

Stengel seemed to be a different matter. Hobie liked Casey well enough to cite him fondly long after the Polo Grounds converted to that big ballyard in the sky. Listening to an interview Mark Rosenmann of Sportstalk NY conducted with Landrith in 2020, recalling how Stengel’s advice helped him navigate a tough situation behind the plate when he was catching for Gil Hodges in Washington in 1963, his last year in the majors, warmed my heart. Same for when Jay Horwitz told me in 2019 how much it meant to Hobie when Jay, new in his alumni relations role, reached out to our first catcher and was told, essentially, nobody from the Mets had been in touch with him since 1962.

Think about that: the first pick in the expansion draft, referenced at least a half-dozen times a year by Met announcers via the “passed balls” anecdote, and he’d fallen off the organization’s radar. It says something about Horwitz’s efforts to reconnect to an otherwise lost generation of retired players that it was the Mets, one of seven different teams for whom Hobie caught, who announced the news of Landrith’s passing.

Although I was barely in utero when the catcher in question was playing the bulk of his 23 games as a Met, Hobie Landrith impacted my historical consciousness beyond simply providing a shorthand explanation for why a team needs a catcher.

In October of 2006, when local media was seeking every angle possible for its coverage of the Mets as they headed for the NLCS, I remember reading an article from the Star-Ledger in which their reporter visited Landrith in California to see what the de facto first Met had to say about his alma mater’s latest burst of success. This was during that vast interval when the Mets didn’t call and didn’t write, which was mentioned in the article. At the time, I guess I was surprised there’d been no contact, but I think I was more shocked that Hobie Landrith was alive, well and conscious of the contemporary Mets. He’d existed in a such a defined nutshell — picked first; passed balls — that to me he was more a character from ancient Mets history than an actual person who a) used to play the game; b) was capable of commenting on it; and c) continued to live his life.

To this day, I know of no other Hobies in or out of baseball, so comprehending that the only one who was ever a Met was not only still with us, but still paying attention to the Mets (despite the Mets not paying attention to him) took me an extra beat. The more I thought about it after I found out he died, the more I realized what amounts to my ongoing determination to not gloss over any Met, particularly those Mets who predated my personal awareness of the team, and to try to learn something about the ones I missed or didn’t remember well so maybe I could pass something from their experiences along to whoever reads or listens to me, stems from that specific sense of you mean those guys in those stories are actually walking around? with which the Star-Ledger piece hit me. Some 1962 Mets had been on the scene as a matter of baseball course or were caught up with on “where are they now?” occasion, but others had all but vanished from public view, or at least my slice of it. Hobie Landrith was one of those.

I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since.

7 comments to Kodai, By Way of Hobie

  • eric1973

    Great tribute, Greg, to a guy all of us have heard of many times, but then glossed over, just as the Wilpons did. Shame on them.

    Roger Craig and Willie Mays are now the oldest living men to ever play for the Mets.

    BTW, did I miss something, or was John Stearns not included in the Mets ‘In Memoriam’ before the game?

    • The In Memoriam covered those who died since the end of last season. John died in the middle of September and was acknowledged pregame at Citi Field. (Similar to Joan Hodges and Ted Schreiber.)

  • Seth

    GKR pointed out that Jim Marshall, 91, is still alive and also played for the 1962 Mets. I wasn’t familiar with the gentleman’s work, but there he is.

  • eric1973

    Got it, thanks Greg.
    Not sure that was shown on SNY.
    In Memoriams should cover the 12 months since last opening day.
    The Bob Murphy first pitch tribute was good.
    Lindsey Nelson next year!
    Make it happen, Uncle Stevie!

  • Blair M. Schirmer

    Kodai’s looking good out there. Running Marte and Nimmo almost as a matter of course, though? One or both of them are going to miss three weeks because of it, broken fingers, swollen wrists, the strained neck that affects Marte all year, as it may…

    What can they possibly be thinking?

  • Of the 13 surviving members of the 1962 Mets, Craig is the oldest, with 15 months on Marshall. Mays was born in 19 days before Marshall, so this makes the three of them, the oldest surviving Mets players.

    Great stuff, and thanks as always for the mention, Greg!