Howie Rose photo by Kevin Ryan

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Meet the Mets! Greet the Mets!

     Oh, I can see the whole scene even now, nearly a half century down the pike. You're eight years old, living out some place in the wilds of Nassau County, Great Neck, say. The clock has struck 9 P.M. (8 Central). Your teeth are brushed and you got your jammies on. You've said your prayers and kissed your parents goodnight. You turn off the lights and jump under the covers with your little transistor RCA radio scraping up against your ear with the volume turned down so low the occasional passing car obscures the sound of joy emanating from a soggy Busch Stadium in St. Louis on a cool early/mid-April 1962 Wednesday night answering what seems to have been a longstanding dream wish: National League baseball has returned to New York.

For download or stream, click here (selection #12):

     You are the product of a mixed marriage: Moms loved the Dodgers especially that Gil Hodges (pitter-patter) but Pops was a Giants guy — it wall about Bill Terry, Mel Ott and Willie Mays for him. But even though they bonded on their mutual hate of the Yanks, you were a secret fan of the Bronx Bombers — especially the exploits of the M&M Boys: Mantle and Maris as they chased the babe's single season home run record just a few months before.

     But all that has changed. The Dodgers and Giants are long gone, a continent away and ain't coming back except for the infrequent road swing. You were only three when they split and you say you remember them but you really don't.

     No, tonight it's just you, your little radio and your new heroes: the New York Mets. Little do you suspect — oh innocent one — what a lifetime of joy and heartache this long affair will wreak on your soul. The names of the players will at first become more familiar to you  than the voices singing their siren song. Hodges, Ashburn and Musial — Moms and Pops have mentioned them many times. Others like Zimmer, Craig, Neal, and Bell or Boyer, Brock, White, and Flood will be recalled, forgotten and recalled again and again as the seasons approach, are played and inevitably tumble past melding one into the other —­­ background music for the symphony of your life.

     Years later, when you happen upon a recording of the game, you'll marvel at the little things: the way the names evoke an epic novel of sorts, all more than mere characters in a narrative so dense and tangled not even Dickens or the guys who wrote "The Wire" could have given it an appropriate finale. Julian Javier, Minnie Minoso, Solly Hemus, Cookie Lavagetto, Casey Stengel... their apparitions live once again.

     The announcers will mention that Rogers Hornsby is in the house as a scout for the Mets and you'll hear the name Curt Flood and think about free agency and all that has wrought. And it might now occur to you that these two men represent alternate universes — a rush into the very distant baseball past (Hornsby was born in 1896!) and, in Flood's case (and in no way to fault his brave stand against ownership and the bit of slavery then known as the "reserve clause),  the orgy of greed that, sadly, marks not only our beloved game once played as a summer idyll but just about anything else touched by greenbacks and warbucks.

     You'll change as you grow. Tonight, along with the Mets, you love Chubby Checker but soon enough your older sister will bring home a Beatles record which — like the Yanks — you'll pretend to hate. In less than decade you'll break curfew by catching the Dead's late show at the Fillmore and a few years after trade that summer job as a lifeguard at Jones Beach for an internship on the Commodities Exchange. But the Mets will never be far away, just a quick flip of the AM dial, really.

     You'll be all of fifteen when the Flushing Miracle makes believers of even the most cynical and you'll fear for your life when — sitting in Shea's left field upper deck on an October afternoon in '73 — those lovable Met fans will go a little coo-coo when calling for the head (and balls!) of one Pete Rose after he tarred and feathered your little shortstop after a dust-up at second base. You'll cry when Tom "The Franchise" Seaver is sent packing to Cincy and you'll endure another decade of spring promises soured and scorched into mid-summer mediocrity.

     Your first kid — a boy! — will enter the world the same month Doc, Straw, Keith and the Kid bring a crown back to Shea. And you'll stand in the rain with that boy thirteen years later almost too hoarse to cheer when Ventura's 15th inning "grand slam single" clears the fence in deep right center. The Subway Series a year later? Well, you always were a closet Yankee fan and Jeter is pretty hard to hate so you took it in stride. A few years hence, you'll sell a couple of ducats on Stub Hub for a game at the new Shea (you refuse to call it Citi Field) to bury your second parent.

     But under the covers in 1962, you don't know from any of that. All you know is that you are hearing the voices of guys with names you never heard of (Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner and Lindsey Nelson) lightly floating in the air of an early spring Long Isle eve. As you fight off sleep, you thrill to the team's first hits and runs, their first error and balk. You quickly begin to love these voices in the night as they describe Musial scoring and tying Ott's then-all time record for most NL runs scored in a career or Hodges' home run (his 362nd and the Mets' first ever) which placed him ahead of Joe DiMaggio on that then-all time career list. Between innings these faceless voices — remember you have yet to see them on the family black and white Magnavox ­— try to sell your little ass Rhingold beer and Tarryton cigarettes but that's just another secret to stow away in your stash of secrets.

     This Bob Murphy is a bit of a stiff but you can hear his big smile shining right through the little circuits on your transistor. He'll loosen up in time and oh how you'll relish his "happy recap" as the Mets notch the rare win in the coming years. With his relaxed and humble tone, you'd never know that Kiner was a former ballplayer, a power hitter who struck fear into the hearts of pitchers and fans in both leagues. He hasn't made one of his infamous malapropisms yet and you're too young to know if he had but now, all these years later, you remember them and all the great players you saw schmoozing on his post-game "Kiner's Korner" show on channel 9. And the weird Lindsey Nelson. He hadn't begun wearing those screamingly loud and awful plaid jackets yet but if he had you can be sure it was bright enough to practically see on the radio.

     For the next fifty years these voices would accompany your journey. They would become your friends, your strange uncles, your soul mates. Lindsey would split in '79 for San Francisco. Murph would eventually become the primary radio voice of the team until retirement and then death took him to baseball Valhalla.  And Ralph... well, Ralph is still around making the odd cameo on some televised games with today's version of the whacked-out trio: Gary, Keith and Ron.

     You don't know any of that as the eight year-old version of yourself slowly fades into the Land of Nod. You miss the game slip away amid bad pitching and a long rain delay. And you are not surprised when you wake up in the morning — radio still pressed to your ear — that the game was lost.

Box Score of the First Mets Game:

Bob Murphy Wikipedia Link: 

Ralph Kiner Wikipedia Link:  

Lindsey Nelson Wikipedia Link:


  1. Oh, sheesh, that was my life you just wrote! And beautifully, too.

  2. One ex-8-year-old I know used to shoot hoops on his driveway for hours on end, listening to Baltimore Orioles games over the magic transistor. His very favorite moment occurred every few games or so when O's lead announcer, Chuck Thompson, would punctuate his call of a decisive event in the Bird's favor by pronouncing with humble bravado, "Ain't the Beer Cold!" It always sounded so incredibly cool and grown-up.

    Another memorable "grown-up" radio call that thrilled this fellow upon hearing it, 21 years later, came from the aformentioned Bob Murphy, who topped off a rather excruciating Mets near-collapse in Philadelphia with: "A line drive caught. The game is over. The Mets win it. A line drive to Mario Diaz. And the Mets win the ballgame! They win the damn thing by a score of 10 to 9!"

    God bless Chuck Thompson. God bless Bob Murphy.

  3. And I didn't even mention the "honey dew" season. This occurred as the last innings were playing themselves out in the regular season and any post-season chance for the Mets had vanished. Gary Cohen would ask Murphy what his plans were for the off-season. Murph would say he was ready to enjoy the honey dew season. Gary would play along, saying something like, "the honey dew season?" Murph would follow with, "Gary, honey do this and honey do that" referring to spending the off-season at home with his wife and taking care of chores. Always a charming moment that would truly signal the end of another summer.

  4. What do you mean "closet" Yankee fan." I really do hate them. I didn't hate them then, but since 1996, since Sterling and Kay, since Jeter (what a fuckin phony he is), since Gay-rod (ditto, plus Cameron Diaz and popcorn), since the new Stadium (which I refuse to set foot in), since Hank Steinbrenner (a thug) it's pretty hard NOT to hate them.

    Should the Wilpons go to the wire with this Madoff nonsense or should they sell to a douchebag like Donald Trump, I may actually part ways with the Mets. Maybe I'd root for the Braves or the Cardinals or the Giants or the Royals, but never the Yankees (or doppelgangers in Boston).

    Because-- despite the fervent belief of all Yankee fans-- we really don't want to join you.

    Nicely written, as always. See you on Eighth Avenue.