The Last Summer at the Polo Grounds

A while back I had found some great fan photos of the old park in Cincinnati, in its last season, and posted them as The Last Summer at Crosley Field. Well, here’s some newly discovered photos from YashicaD on Flickr of the Amazin’ 1963 season, with Casey, Duke Snider, and even Miss Rheingold on hand (click on photos for larger versions). So pop open that Rheingold, light up a Viceroy, and follow me…

First, I’ll double check my calendar…

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Yep, the day looks to be Friday, July 5, 1963, vs the Pirates. And yes, the Mets lost, 3-1, thanks to a 2-run HR by Clemente off Tracy Stallard in the 8th inning, which would be their 8th straight loss. They would go on to lose 15 straight before halting the streak, and lose 111 that year (3rd worse Mets total ever).

Below, Casey and likely Ernie White chatting with what appears to be the new Miss Rheingold for 1964 (or at least a candidate)! Solly Hemus is at home plate hitting fungoes.

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Duke Snider comes to the the plate in the bottom of the 2nd inning, with Frank Thomas on deck. Don Cardwell pitching, Jim Pagliaroni the catcher, Bob Bailey at third, Johnny Logan at short. Snider would strike out.

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Bottom of the 5th inning. “Duke Snider, an All-Star Game outfielder currently batting .221, tapped the ball down to the Pirate first baseman, Donn Clendenon, and Clendenon decided upon a foot race. Snider won it. Clendenon stabbed the bag with his long left leg, but the Duke beat him by a foot.”, as the Mets fans rejoice. Tim Harkness then doubled him in for the early lead, but it would be Mets’ only run of the afternoon.

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Three more months at the old Polo Grounds, and it was over. Duke would go on to the Giants, the Mets would go on to Queens, and the Polo Grounds would fade into memory, but hardly forgotten.

Camera Day at classic Shea!

Hello all, been so busy with work lately that I haven’t had much time to write or research, so getting by with ninja strikes of great photos for a short while.

Here’s some photos that I took at Camera Day 1974 (Saturday, August 10) as a young tyke, and finally got around to scanning. Loved these events, getting to see my heroes up close and personal. A little blurry, but hey, I was only 11 and cameras were much less fancy in those days.

Nothing beats good old Shea in its heyday, especially with us Mets fans; the grass was always greener, the sun always brighter. Oh, and not surprisingly, the Reds and Don Gullett bested Tom Terrific and the Amazins, 5-3. Ray Sadecki himself would take the loss by allowing 2 runs in the 8th, but they were unearned due to a Felix Millan error. Ah, the good old days.

 

Ken Boswell, Ray Sadecki

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Jerry Grote

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Tug McGraw sporting a beret

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Jon Matlack

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Duffy Dyer

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Ron Hodges and Duffy Dyer

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Pastime Portraiture, #6

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Ralph Kiner, spring training, Tuscon, AZ, March 1955.

Kiner’s final spring, and final season. After nine seasons in the NL, and a bad back betraying the prolific slugger, he would spend 1955 with the Cleveland Indians as a part-time LF and pinch-hitter, with 18 HRs and 54 RBIs, but would retire after the season, at only 32 years of age. He would have a short career as a minor league executive in San Diego, until his old buddy and current GM Hank Greenberg hired him for play-by-play with the White Sox in 1961. After that, New York came calling, and Ralph became a Mets’ icon, with over 50 years of Amazin’ memories. And Ralph is still with us in 2013, at 90 years of age. So for having one of the shortest HOF careers (10 years), he’s one of the few that can say he’s been in professional baseball for over 70 years in some capacity. Long live Ralph Kiner.

Yet another great Hy Peskin shot, check out his site and buy a classic photo or two:

Hy Peskin Collection – Baseball

Say Hey, one that got away?

Thomas Wolfe once wrote that “You can’t go home again”, and that was largely true for Willie Mays in 1972. That year, the prodigal son was traded to the New York Mets in May as his career was winding down, back to the city where it all began. Willie would not return to the City By The Bay until July 21-23, 1972.

The crowd certainly missed old Willie, cheering every time he made an appearance, and he didn’t disappoint, hitting a 2-run HR (and the eventual game-winner) in Friday night’s game. But while the fans loved it, the Giants may have taken offense, as shown below.

Willie didn’t start on Sat., but pinch-hit in the 8th with runners on and the game tied, 1-1, and he walked. On Sun., he played the whole game and had 4 plate appearances. The photos below are from an at-bat either on Sat. or Sun., since they were taken during the day, most likely on Sunday, in which a purpose pitch would’ve been a less risky proposition.

 

 

 

 

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A clear message? Or just one that got away? It could be either one, but check out the second photo, where S.F. catcher Doug Rader barely moved his body to corral what would’ve otherwise been a ball way outside. Personally, I think that leaves little doubt as to the intention of the pitch. Of course, back then, it was part of the game, not like today – think of Albert Pujols being drilled in his first at-bat against the Cardinals, whenever that would be. A full-scale riot would ensue, or at least a bench-clearer for the ages.

So even though the fans were still 100% behind him, and Willie still lived only a few miles away, with California “SAY HEY” license plates on his car in the parking lot, between the lines it’s still all in the uniform; and, whether the above pitch was in anger or not, it was pretty clear going forward that that plate at Candlestick Park was no longer…home.

The Last Weekend at the Polo Grounds – but the first Mets Banner Day!

Earlier I posted some great fan photos from the last summer of baseball at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati, but how about the last weekend (specifically the last Sunday) of baseball at the late, great Polo Grounds (Mets would move into brand new Shea Stadium in 1964)? And what better way to send off the old park, but to have the very first Mets’ Banner Day!

Sunday, September 15, 1963, a doubleheader against the Houston Colt .45’s (wouldn’t be the Astros until ’65). Between games, the Mets elected to have fans come out on the field and parade banners for all to see. Photos are mainly banners taken in the stands afterward. Notice the one banner hoping for a Mets championship in the 1970’s (they wouldn’t have to wait that long!), others don’t particularly care for the Mets’ catcher Choo-Choo Coleman, and the Mets’ own banners, spelling out TO THE METS FANS! WE LOVE YOU TOO! Also, the last one is poignant, a nice tribute to the two years the Mets spent there. Photos are a little deteriorated but still great; from a cool Mets blog. As always, click on the photos for larger versions. So pop open a Rheingold, light up a Viceroy, and enjoy.

Incidentally, the Mets lost the doubleheader, 5-4 and 5-0, and were already firmly in last place (they wouldn’t escape the cellar until 1966). And sadly, there would be only two more baseball games at the Polo Grounds, with the final game that Wednesday, when only 1,752 fans saw the Mets lose to the Phillies, 5-1. And in March 1964, the wrecking ball came.

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

With the earlier Mantle post regarding a Yankees legend’s at-bats at Shea, it made sense to also check the final playing days of another Yankee immortal, Yogi Berra. Unlike the Mick, Yogi actually went on to don the Mets’ uniform and become an Amazins icon himself. But among his last few at-bats in baseball are some interesting stories indeed.

Most die-hard fans are aware that Yogi’s official Yankee playing days ended with the 1963 World Series, after which he was named the Yankees manager for the 1964 season, after Ralph Houk was summarily dismissed following the WS loss. But although he never had an official game at-bat for the Bombers in 1964, he did step up to the plate to face major league competion once – August 24, 1964, at Shea Stadium, in the Mayor’s Trophy Game vs. the Mets, the first one in the Amazins’ new park, and the last time he stepped to the plate in an actual game in a Yankees uniform.

Ticket stub (was rained out at least once), program, and rare photo of ’64 MTG info on Shea scoreboard

 

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Skipper Berra was already in a bit of hot water with the Yankee brass and the team themselves after a very recent incident regarding Yankee Phil Linz playing a harmonica in the back of the team bus after a loss. Per Wikipedia:

Much was made of an incident on board the team bus in August 1964. Following a loss, infielder Phil Linz was playing his harmonica, and Berra ordered him to stop. Seated on the other end of the bus, Linz couldn’t hear what Berra had said, and Mickey Mantle impishly informed Linz, “He said to play it louder.” When Linz did so, an angry Berra slapped the harmonica out of his hands. All was apparently forgotten when Berra’s Yankees rode a September surge to return to the World Series. But the team lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, after which Berra was fired. It was later learned that general manager Ralph Houk had been ready to discharge Berra since midseason, apparently for a perceived loss of control over the team.

This game was soon after that incident, and Yogi, either looking to reassert control over the team, or just pull a grandstand play to loosen everyone up, found his chance in the top of the 7th inning. With two men on and one out, the score 4-3 and the pitcher Jim Brenneman due up, the time was ripe for a big slugger to pinch hit and put the game away. Yogi’s choice: Himself. As described below within the Times article the next day (which also had a heavy and unusual harmonica-incident theme), Yogi grounded into a double play to end the inning, and his Yankee playing career.

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Herewith, the last box score with Yogi Berra as a Yankee:

 

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An interesting followup to the above article is Casey Stengel’s insistence on Berra coming over to catch for the Mets, with Casey’s humorous asking price of a then-exorbitant $200,000. Yogi did indeed come to the Mets in 1965 after he was let go by the Steinbrenner-esque Yankee front office, but for the far more reasonable salary of $35,000, as a unique “catcher-coach”. Yogi’s beautiful last player baseball card from the 1965 Topps set says it all (albeit in a Yankee uniform sans cap):

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In 1965, while Casey must have been thrilled, as it turns out, Yogi was much more coach than catcher, but did play in 4 games for the Mets that year, 3 at Shea Stadium:

First game (on the road), 5/1/65 at Cincinnati, 0-1 as a pinch hitter.

5/4/65: vs Phils, 2-3 (2 singles, a run scored). Caught the whole game.

5/5/65: vs Phils, 0-1, pinch-hitter in 8th.

Sunday, 5/9/65: vs Braves, first game of a doubleheader, caught the entire game, batting 7th, but went 0-4 with 3 K’s against Tony Cloninger (in his 24-11 season with 211 K’s). He came up in the 9th with two on, but grounded into a forceout, and called it a career.

So, the final tally for Yogi at Shea: 2-9 (.222) in 4 games (1 as a Yankee, 3 as a Met), with 2 singles and a run scored. And It was Over. Except…that harmonica would come back to haunt him again in 1967, when still a coach with the Amazins, Linz himself became a New York Met!

PostScript: As for Yankee Jim Brenneman, the pitcher who Yogi pinch hit for in the Mayor’s Trophy Game, and who marvelled at how “beautiful” brand new Shea was on that August night, that game also had special significance – it was his only start on a major league mound in his short career of 5 total games against major league competition. Unfortunately, while he pitched 6 strong innings at Shea that night, surprisingly he did not get the win (the judgment of the official scorer in those days). In his 4 other appearances, 3 were official, and in one he was pinch-hit for again – this time by Mickey Mantle. So he was only pinch-hit for twice: by Berra, and by Mantle.

That 4th game? The Hall Of Fame Game at Doubleday Field, Cooperstown, NY, on 7/26/65, Yanks vs Phillies, his last MLB appearance. He walked 3, and gave up a HR, but finished the game…and got the only official win of his career against major league competition. He was out of baseball by 1966.

Now, It’s Over.

So Long, Shea

Missing old Shea. Here’s two quickie videos I made that last year. Our season ticket seats we had in ’07 and ’08 (same seats – we now own them! And, we have the nameplate too) shot on the last Opening Day (2008), and my last beer at Shea at the late, great Broadway Brew House, with my favorite beer guy! Don’t know if he made it over to Citi, haven’t seen him yet. Sorry about the shake.