What a way to end a stadium!
Once again, the New York Mets were eliminated from post-season contention in the last game of the season by the same team, the Florida Marlins.
It shouldn’t be surprising. In April 1964, the Mets christened their new stadium in Flushing Meadow with a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Back then, the Mets were used to losing. Two years earlier, under the tutelage of legendary manager Casey Stengel, the Mets lost an astounding 120 games. From 1962 to 1968, the Mets finished in next to last or last place.
But in 1969, it all changed!
The Mets, surprised many of the critics by playing great baseball right to the end. Their manager was Gil Hodges, a Brooklyn Dodger great who came back to lead the team. The team had some great pitching, lead by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and a young, up and coming pitcher with a nasty fastball named Nolan Ryan. Their closer was Tug McGraw, who used to beat his leg with his mitt after he struck out the last batter.
Leading the team in hitting was Donn Clendenon (above, photo courtesy of NY Times), who they picked up in a trade from Montreal later that year. They had some other great hitters that year, Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones and Ron Svboda.
On a September evening at Shea, the Chicago Cubs were holding a close lead in the National League East, when a black cat walked across the Chicago dugout. That “miracle” sent the Mets pass the Cubs and won the NL East title.
They went on to defeat the Atlanta Braves for the NL Pennant, 3 game to 0 in what was the first playoffs in major league baseball. They continued their incredible play by shocking the Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1 to win their first World Series title.
Man, those were the days! As a kid, my mom to my brothers and I to see the Mets at Shea Stadium at least 5 times a year. We took the “G” train from Brooklyn to Queens Plaza. We then took an “E” or “F” train to Roosevelt Avenue and transferred to a “7” train, which took us right to the stadium.
Being that it looked like a cookie cutter, I always thought Shea Stadium was incomplete. But it was still a great place to see a game. I remember the hot dogs with Gulden’s mustard, the RC cola and the popcorn. Back then, food wasn’t as expensive as it was now.
The most excitement we has was a game in May of 1972 when the “Say Hey Kid”, Willie Mays hit a home run in his first game as a Met against his old team, the San Francisco Giants. That was a thrill!
When the game was over, we used to see if we could get home quickly so we could see “Kiner’s Korner” on Channel 9. Speaking of WOR-TV, who could ever forget Lindsey Nelson and his plaid jackets. Ohh, my eyes!
In 1973, they did it again. This time, they shocked the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs.
That playoff series was memorable because of the fight between Mets shortstop, Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose, who was twice the size of Bud. Fans were throwing stuff on the field afterwards. They went on to play the Oakland Athletics and took them to a seventh game before losing the series.
It was all downhill from there. For the next 13 years, the team endured some pretty bad seasons. I lost all interest in the Mets during that time. After trading all their talent, I figured it wasn’t worth it to support a bunch of losers.
I didn’t take much interest in the Mets, except when they played in the 1986 World Series. To me, it was the lesser of two evils, root for the loser Mets or the hated Red Sox. My allegiance was to New York.
If there’s anything I’ll miss about the ballpark, it’s going to be seeing the same look as I drive past on the Grand Central Parkway on my way from Upstate New York. The new stadium is going to have alot of the old Ebbets Field in it, which is a good thin, I guess.
Though the stadium didn’t have as much baseball history as Yankee Stadium, memories of my youth will always be there.