Tuesday, May 11, 2021

25 Years Ago: When Mark Grace Punched Me in the Face

Twenty-five years ago today, I decided to take in a Saturday matinee at Shea Stadium to see the Mets take on the Chicago Cubs.  Although the 1996 squad had three offensive forces in center fielder Lance Johnson, left fielder Bernard Gilkey and catcher Todd Hundley, my favorite player on the team was first baseman Rico Brogna.

Brogna was only a Met for parts of three seasons and never played for a winning Mets team, but in his short time with the club, he became a beloved figure with the fans.  One of Brogna's many big moments with the team came on that particular Saturday - May 11, 1996 - when he delivered a walk-off home run to defeat the Chicago Cubs, 7-6, at Shea Stadium.

But the story of the game wasn't the Brogna blast that erased a four-run Cubs rally.  It was the bench-clearing brawl in the fifth inning that started when Mets starting pitcher Pete Harnisch and Cubs catcher (and good friend) Scott Servais got into a heated argument at the plate.  And before the 15-minute donnybrook was done, Mark Grace had punched me in the face.  Here's the story - 25 years later - of how a great contact hitter made some unwanted contact with my left cheek.

Is this what Mark Grace looked like before his fist came in the direction of my face?

The Mets were celebrating John Franco Day at Shea Stadium on May 11, 1996, to commemorate the reliever's 300th career save.  But Franco was not around to notch a save in this game, thanks to the fisticuffs that took place in the fifth inning of the Mets' 7-6 victory.

The seeds to the battle royale were planted in the first inning, when Mets catcher Todd Hundley had to duck out the way of a errant pitch by Cubs starter Kevin Foster.  When Foster came to bat for the first time in the second inning, Harnisch drilled him with his first pitch.  No warnings were issued at the time by home plate umpire Greg Bonin.

Harnisch expected retaliation by Foster when he came to bat, but fortunately for him, the Mets had two runners on base when he came up to the plate in the second inning and the bases loaded for his next at-bat in the third.  Neither Foster nor relief pitcher Rodney Myers (who came in for Foster in the third) could hit Harnisch with a pitch because doing so would damage the Cubs' chances at a scoreless inning.  Harnisch batted again in the fifth inning, but this time there were two outs and no one on base.  Terry Adams was now on the mound for the Cubs.  It didn't take long for the fracas to begin.

Adams threw his first pitch low and behind Harnisch.  Cubs catcher Scott Servais then started jawing at Harnisch, which caused the Mets pitcher to throw a punch at Servais.  Both benches and bullpens emptied and a violent brawl ensued.  The fight then moved in the direction of the Cubs dugout.  Guess where my seat was that day?

Now, you should know that I have always enjoyed taking photos at Mets games.  And in 1996, the Mets had a promotion where they gave fans in attendance a disposable Kodak camera.  It was a camera that had no zoom and could only be used for 24 photos before it had to be discarded.  It was as primitive as you could get for a wannabe photographer.  The Mets didn't draw well in 1996, so I was able to get a ticket three rows behind and slightly to the home plate side of the Cubs dugout.  Because I was so close to the field, I figured I'd use the disposable camera since I wouldn't need a zoom feature from that distance.

Of course, as soon as I saw the mountains of men pushing, shoving and trying to decapitate each other near the Cubs dugout, I ran down to the front row and tried to take a super close-up photo of the action.  That's when Cubs first baseman Mark Grace stepped in.  And my face and my camera checked out.

Video courtesy of MetsRewind


In his effort to try to separate Mets players from his teammates, Grace accidentally (or at least I think it was unintentional) took a swipe in my direction, landing his fist on my face between my left cheek and left eye.  I dropped the camera in shock, and of course, it broke upon impact with the field level concrete.  The area between my cheek and eye ended up slightly swollen, and it had the appearance of a piece of skin that had just been ripped off with a piece of tape.  Grace had as mean a left hook as he had a sweet lefty swing.  I just had a mean bruise on my face and a broken camera.

After the pugilists were sent back to their respective corners, nine players and coaches had been ejected, including the man who was celebrating his special day at Shea Stadium: John Franco.

The Mets, who at one point had a 6-2 lead in the game, saw their lead whittled down to two runs in the ninth.  With Franco stewing in the showers - he claimed he was unjustly ejected, saying "I'm too old to be doing that kind of stuff" - the Mets used three pitchers in a failed attempt to protect a 6-4 lead in the ninth.  A two-out, two-run single by Jose Hernandez off Doug Henry tied the game at six and put Rico Brogna in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth.

With one out and no one on, Brogna delivered a high fly ball deep down the right field line.  Right fielder Sammy Sosa climbed the fence right near the foul pole, but Brogna's blast just cleared the wall over Sosa's glove.  With Sosa still dangling on the wall, Brogna ran gingerly around the bases, having injured himself during the fifth-inning fracas.  It gave Brogna a four-hit, two-homer, four-RBI day and capped a thrilling 7-6 victory for the Mets.

Of course, I have no photographic evidence of this home run because my camera was in pieces thanks to Mark Grace, but I'll always have clear memories of that free-for-all, Rico Brogna's amazing day at the plate, and the shape of Grace's left fist - all of which happened 25 years ago today on a Saturday afternoon at Shea.

I guess I should be thankful Grace didn't sock me a few inches higher.  My memories might not have been so clear then.


Big thanks to MetsRewind for the video of the fight.  I was standing near the dugout at the 0:49 mark of the video, but might have been bending over at the time picking up my damaged camera.  At least I had a ringside seat.

Please check out metsrewind.com for podcasts, blogs and much more amazin' Mets content.  You can also find MetsRewind on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@metsrewind, naturally).



Thursday, April 8, 2021

Thirty Years of Opening Days

Home sweet home.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

For the first time in over 18 months, Citi Field opened its gates today for baseball-starved fans.  And just like they did on September 29, 2019, the Mets sent their fans home happy after walking off with a win.  Back then, the celebration came on a three-run homer by Dominic Smith.  Today, it was a combination of a Jeff McNeil game-tying birthday blast followed by a bizarre hit-by-pitch of Michael Conforto with the bases loaded.  The Mets scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Miami Marlins in the home opener by a score of 3-2.

Today's win marked the 30th consecutive Opening Day game that I attended in which fans were allowed in the building.  And the victory came thirty years to the day of my first home opener.

I've had many memorable moments throughout those three decades of Opening Day affairs.  I've seen a franchise's first game in 1993 when the Mets defeated the Colorado Rockies, 3-0.  Two years later, I saw the Mets erase a five-run deficit when I wasn't watching fans running on the field throwing dollar bills at players in New York's first home game after the eight-month players' strike.  I've also witnessed the fielding excellence of Rey Ordoñez in a 1996 Opening Day victory and saw Alberto Castillo's sole magical moment as a Met in a 1-0, 14-inning win two years later.  Two National League pennants have been raised with me in attendance and a new ballpark opened its doors with yours truly cheering the Mets on.

But my first home opener took place on April 8, 1991, exactly 30 years ago today.  And that one was special for more than just a Mets victory.  You see, that trip to the ballpark was also my first date.  And what better place to take someone special than Shea Stadium to see Mets legends Tommy Herr, Charlie O'Brien and new shortstop Howard Johnson taking the field against Von Hayes and the Philadelphia Phillies.  In fact, that game was more than just a first date; it also began an Opening Day tradition that has continued to this day. 




I love my wife.  And I met her at a Mets game.  True story.  She was a blogger, as was I, and we were both going to "Build-A-Bear Night" at Citi Field on August 1, 2009.  So we decided to meet up on the Promenade Level before the game.  Of course, we had our new bears in tow, and I had a few other bears with me.  We talked about bears and the Mets, then saw the game separately from our regular seats.

Later that month, we went to our first game together.  Naturally, the bears were our chaperones.  We met up a few more times during the season's final month.  Then I asked her what she was doing during the off-season.  Notice I didn't say "during the winter" because to a Mets fan, there are only two seasons - baseball season and the off-season.  Well, that phrasing struck a chord with her.  Needless to say, what we did during the off-season was spend more time together and fall in love.  The following May, we got married, then waited two months to go on our honeymoon in San Francisco.  Why the wait?  Because the Mets weren't due to play the Giants on the road until July.  Yup, I gave her a diamond AFTER we got married.

I never said we were a conventional couple.

Almost 20 years before I met the love of my life, I went on my first-ever date.  The day was April 8, 1991, and my date's name was K.V.  (I'm using her initials in case she's reading this and doesn't want to be associated with a bear-carrying Mets fanatic.)  Most people go to the movies or dinner or a combination of the two on a first date.  Not me.  Where did I take K.V. on our date?  Like you need to ask...

It was Opening Day.  So we went to Shea Stadium.

The temperature that day was an unseasonably hot 90º.  At the time, it was the earliest date on the calendar that New York had ever registered a 90º reading.  We were both undergraduates at St. John's University, finishing up our sophomore years.  Her mother worked in the school library, so I had already gotten that first meeting with her out of the way.  We actually went to visit K.V.'s mother prior to leaving for Shea, at which time she told us to have a good time and stay out of the sun, if at all possible.

The Mets were fielding a brand-new team in 1991 as they embarked on what the team hoped would be its eighth consecutive winning season.  But this would also be the first time since 1983 that Davey Johnson wouldn't come out of the dugout during the Opening Day introductions, as Buddy Harrelson had taken over for the former skipper during the previous season.

K.V. confessed to me that it was her first baseball game as we proceeded to sit in our Upper Deck seats on the first base side.  I confessed to her that it was my first-ever date with anyone, to which she said, "Awww, and you chose me.  I'm so honored."

As the game began, I noticed that four of the starting nine players on the Mets had not been with the team at the beginning of the previous campaign.  Charlie O'Brien was calling the game behind the plate, while former Cardinal nemeses Tommy Herr and Vince Coleman were the Mets' new second baseman and center fielder, respectively.  Right field used to be where Darryl Strawberry had his patch, but he had left for Los Angeles as a free agent.  In his stead was a player who was very special to long-time Mets fans, including myself, but had not worn a Mets uniform since 1984.  And this was how he was re-introduced.

"Playing right field, No. 7.  Welcome back, Huuuubie Brooooks."

I'd have bought one of these, but I chose to save the money for my date.


Hubie Brooks made a quick impression on me during his first stint in New York.  It was Brooks who hit the first home run I ever saw in person.  On June 15, 1983, I was at Shea Stadium with my Little League teammates when Brooks took future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins deep in the fourth inning.  It was the only home run Brooks would ever hit off Jenkins in 18 career plate appearances, and one of only two hits he would muster off the pitching legend.

Eight years after I cheered Brooks as he touched home plate following his homer, I would cheer him again as he scored, although this time he touched the plate in a completely different way.

The Mets were leading the Phillies, 1-0, as the game headed into the bottom of the fourth.  Hubie Brooks led off the inning by roping a double to right field - his first hit as a Met in seven years.  Brooks then advanced to third on a fly ball by Howard Johnson.  Left fielder Kevin McReynolds failed to bring him home when he grounded out weakly to third base.  With two outs, Tommy Herr drew a walk to put runners on the corners.  That brought up Charlie O'Brien, whose .209 career batting average entering the game was six points lower than Mario Mendoza's .215 lifetime mark.

You read that right.  The namesake of the "Mendoza Line" was a better hitter than Charlie O'Brien.

Clearly, if the Mets were going to extend their lead, manager Buddy Harrelson was going to have to try something different.  So he did.  On an 0-1 pitch, Harrelson had Herr steal second.  When Phillies catcher Darren Daulton threw the ball to second in an attempt to nail Herr, Brooks darted for the plate, sliding home safely to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.

The unexpected play caused K.V. and I to simultaneously jump out of seats and embrace.  Yup, it was our first hug, and Hubie Brooks made it happen.  With the Mets now holding a two-run lead, we decided to get some refreshing ice cream to cool down on the sweltering day.  By the time we got to the concession stand, John Kruk had homered off Dwight Gooden to cut the Mets' lead back to a single run.

Needless to say, we went back to our seats and didn't leave our section again until the final out was recorded.

In the seventh inning, as we were singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", K.V. accidentally bumped into my leg.  So I bumped her back.  We ended up doing what appeared to be a strange leg-bump dance for the duration of the song.  It was then that I realized that I could do something other than calculate players' batting averages in my head.  I could also flirt.  Score one for me.

Speaking of scoring, there were no more runs scored after Kruk's fifth-inning homer.  The Mets held on for a 2-1 victory, making my first date - and my first-ever Opening Day game - a complete success.

After the game, K.V. and I walked back to Main Street in Flushing, where we had two additional ice cream cones (mint chocolate chip for both of us), then we took the bus back to her house.  I was a gentleman, and didn't ask to go in, but she insisted.  I didn't spend much time inside, but when I left, I did get a kiss goodbye.

I scored more that day than the Phillies did.

K.V. and I continued to hang out during our remaining college years, but we never went to another Mets game.  We also didn't really date much more after that hot April afternoon.  Perhaps that's a good thing.  After all, had something happened between us, I might never have met my wife on "Build-A-Bear Night" nearly two decades later.

Hubie Brooks and I go way back.  He was responsible for the first home run I ever witnessed at a ballgame, and he was responsible for the first (and to this date, only) double steal I've ever had the privilege to see in person.  He may also have helped me get that special kiss at the end of my first date.

April 8, 1991 was most certainly a good day.




Just like April 8, 1991 was a memorable day at Shea Stadium that culminated with a one-run victory by the Mets, April 8, 2021 was also one to remember at Citi Field, and not just because of the Mets' 3-2 walk-off win.  Today's game was the first in which fans were allowed to attend since before the pandemic caused daily fan attendance to be zero.  It was also the 30th consecutive Opening Day I've been fortunate to attend and the eleventh I've been to with my wife.

Many things have changed in this world since 1991.  Heck, mostly everything has changed just since the start of 2020.  But the more things change, the more one thing remains the same.  I'll always be present at a Mets home opener.  And I'll always be there with my favorite date.  There's no one else I'd rather open up a season with.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

If Studious Metsimus Had a 2021 Hall of Fame Vote...

On Tuesday, January 26, the baseball world will know if any new inductees will be entering the Hall of Fame with the members of the Class of 2020, whose induction ceremony was postponed until this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year's class featured Ted Simmons, Marvin Miller, Larry Walker and a gift basket provider.  This year's potential class does not have a first-ballot no-brainer on it, which means that Simmons, Miller, Walker and the other guy whose name escapes me at the moment might not have company on the stage, assuming they don't have to give their speeches via Zoom.  (Although a Zoom speech would allow Larry Walker to give it while wearing his famous Spongebob Squarepants shirt.)

There are 25 players on this year's ballot, which includes 14 holdovers and 11 newcomers.  Of those 25 nominees, six are former Mets, as Billy Wagner, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent and Bobby Abreu are still on the ballot, joining first-timers Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins.  Other notable players who are making their initial appearance on the ballot are two-time no-hitter thrower Mark Buehrle, nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter, one-million-word-per-minute talker Nick Swisher and the only player who has blocked the Studious Metsimus staff on Twitter, Shane Victorino.  No, really.  He doesn't like us.



As usual, the Studious Metsimus staff isn't allowed to vote for this year's Hall of Fame class.  (We were told it has nothing to do with Shane Victorino but everything to do with the fact that we're not actually writers.)  But we aren't barred from sharing our opinion as to who should join Miller, Simmons, Walker and what's-his-face as new members of the Hall.  So let's stop lamenting about Cryin' Hawaiians and start presenting our imaginary Hall of Fame vote!


Scott Rolen

Scott Rolen never led the league in any category.  Not one major category.  Not one minor category.  Nothing.  In fact, the closest he came to finding his name atop the league leaderboard was in 2004 when his 124 RBI were second to Vinny Castilla's total of 131 ribbies. But his consistency at the plate and impeccable fielding throughout his career helped him finish his 17-year tour of duty in the majors with an impressive 70.1 bWAR. 

Injuries cost Rolen hundreds of games, as he missed 20 or more contests in a dozen different campaigns.  But that didn't stop him from collecting 517 doubles, 316 homers, 1,287 RBI, 1,211 runs scored and 2,077 hits.  He was also the owner of a lifetime .855 OPS and 122 OPS+.

Rolen won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1997 and his eight Gold Gloves at third base were more than anyone not named Brooks Robinson or Mike Schmidt, otherwise known as Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt.  The seven-time All-Star also produced in the postseason, helping the Cardinals win their first N.L. pennant in 17 years by batting .310 with a 1.044 OPS in the 2004 NLCS.  Two years later, Rolen was a key contributor in St. Louis' first World Series victory in 24 seasons, hitting .421 with a 1.213 OPS in the Fall Classic.

The injury bug that constantly sidelined Rolen during the second half of his career more than likely kept him from reaching 1,000 extra-base hits and 2,500 total hits, as well as 1,500 runs scored and 1,500 runs batted in.  But that's what WAR is good for.  And because of it, we know that Rolen was invaluable to the teams he played for.

The next team he should be a part of is the one that calls Cooperstown home.


Scott Rolen was booed in Philly as an opposing player.  Or maybe he was booed because he was a person.  (Sporting News)
Scott Rolen was booed in Philly as an opposing player.  Or maybe he was just booed there because he was a person.     (Photo by Sporting News)


Curt Schilling

If you thought Scott Rolen's 70.1 bWAR was high, you should see Curt Schilling's.  His 79.5 bWAR fully shows how valuable he was to his teams.  And by teams, I'm talking about the Philadelphia Phillies (who won a pennant with Schilling in 1993), the Arizona Diamondbacks (who won their first and only title in 2001 with World Series co-MVP Schilling leading the way) and the Boston Red Sox (who ended an 86-year championship drought with Schilling in 2004 and then repeated the feat three years later in the right-hander's final active season).

Schilling was nearly perfect in the postseason, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, 0.968 WHIP and 120 strikeouts in 19 starts.  As dominant as he was in October, he was just as impressive in the regular season.

Pitching in an era that doesn't require its starters to go deep into games, Schilling recorded 83 complete games and 20 shutouts.  He is also one of only five pitchers in history with 3,000-plus strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks.  The other four are Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Ferguson Jenkins, Pedro Martinez and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.  But none of those four pitchers could boast the 4.38 K/BB ratio that Schilling had over his twenty-year career.

It's one thing to lead the league in a major category once.  It's another thing to be a league leader multiple times, which shows a player's consistency and excellence.  So how many different major categories did Schilling lead the league in on more than one occasion?  Well, there's wins (2001, 2004), games started (1997, 1998, 2001), complete games (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001) and innings pitched (1998, 2001).

But wait, there's more!

Schilling also led the league multiple times in strikeouts (1997, 1998), WHIP (1992, 2002) and strikeouts per walk (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006).

Somehow, Schilling never won a Cy Young Award.  But he was a three-time runner-up and finished fourth in another season.  He also earned MVP votes four times, which is rare for a pitcher in this or any other era.

Curt Schilling may not be on your most-liked player list.  But he should be on your Hall of Fame list.  Schilling has waited long enough to finally have his day in Cooperstown.  That wait should come to an end this year. 


 Don't like that I'm voting for Curt Schilling?  Suture self.  (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Billy Wagner

It's a shame Billy Wagner hasn't gotten more recognition from the BBWAA voters, as he was far more dominant than 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Trevor Hoffman and 2019 enshrinee Lee Smith ever were.  Hoffman and Smith got the job done as effectively as any other closer who ever lived.  But Wagner would eat a hitter up and spit him out.

Injuries curtailed Wagner's career, but any pitcher who averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings, four whiffs per walk and finished his career with a WHIP under 1.00 (Wagner's WHIP was 0.998, which was lower than all-time best closer Mariano Rivera's 1.000 lifetime WHIP) deserves serious Hall of Fame consideration.

Speaking of Rivera, he held opposing batters to a .211/.262/.295 career slash line.  How did hitters slash against Wagner?  They didn't.  All they could manage was a .187/.262/.296 mark against the flame-throwing southpaw.

With all the praise we just heaped on Wagner, we didn't even mention that he was a seven-time All Star, recorded 422 saves and put up a 2.31 ERA.  Okay, maybe we just did.  


Southpaw, Flamethrower, Hall of Famer.  Billy Wagner should be all three.  (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)


Todd Helton

Like former teammate (and current Hall of Famer) Larry Walker, Helton's candidacy will be questioned because of the Coors Field factor.

During his best eight-year stretch (1998-2005), Helton averaged 46 doubles, 33 HR, 113 RBI and 114 runs scored, while striking out just 76 times and drawing 96 walks per season.  That contributed to his absolutely off-the-charts .338/435/.610 slash line during the eight years.

Wanna know what his average season from 1998 to 2005 looked like in road games, otherwise known as games not played at Coors Field?  While wearing road grays during those eight seasons, Helton slashed .298/.398/.520 and produced 277 extra-base hits, drove in 347 runs and scored 337 times.  That's an average of 73 extra-base hits, 91 RBI and 89 runs scored per 162 road games.  And for those who are mathematically challenged, Helton produced a .918 OPS in all road games from '98 to '05.  In other words, Helton was still up in the elite hitter stratosphere when he wasn't taking his hacks one mile above sea level.

Even with an assortment of nagging injuries sapping his power in his later years, Helton still managed to finish in the top 100 all-time in home runs, doubles, extra-base hits, hits, RBI and runs scored.  There are over 100 hitters in the Hall of Fame and Helton ranks in the top 100 in many major hitting categories.  And he wasn't just a one-dimensional player, as evidenced by his three Gold Gloves.  You do the math if he belongs in the Hall or not. 


Here's Helton fielding at Shea.  You don't need a reminder of his .323/.413/.581 slash line there.  (Rich Pilling/Getty Images)

Jeff Kent's Mustache

Jeff Kent was a very good player.  His mustache, on the other hand, was the stuff of legend.

Sure, Kent had nearly 1,000 extra-base hits and had a .500 lifetime slugging percentage in the regular season and postseason.  And yes, he had over 1,500 RBI, including eight seasons in which he reached triple digits in that category.

Kent also won the 2000 N.L. Most Valuable Player Award, received MVP votes in six other seasons and hit more home runs than any second baseman in history.

But all of those accomplishments take a backseat to his classic lip hair.

A clean shaven Kent might still have produced above-average offensive numbers, but would have left him with nothing else that set him apart from his ballplaying brethren.  His 'stache allowed him to play a villain on a TV remake of CHiPs (that never made it past the writers' room) and a stunt double on the sequel to Boogie Nights (that was never filmed).  

The only former player with a more recognizable mustache is Rollie Fingers and he's already in the Hall.  That bodes well for Jeff Kent's mustache to finally get the recognition it deserves.

A mustache like Kent's deserves its own black-and-white headshot.  (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

And that just about does it for our annual Hall of Fame ballot that no one takes seriously.

Actual voters are allowed to check off a maximum of ten players on their Hall of Fame ballots.  This year, the Studious Metsimus staff did not find that many players worthy of enshrinement, only voting for the four players and one body part listed above.

So if you're unhappy that we didn't vote for for players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Gary Sheffield, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel, you can take it up with Shane Victorino.  He's already reached his blocking quota for the day anyway.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

In Honor of My Grandfather, Who Taught Me About Love and Baseball

My grandparents moved to Puerto Rico when I was three years old.  After they moved to San Juan, I only saw them for a few weeks at a time when my parents and I visited them during my summer vacation from school.  Because those trips coincided with the middle of baseball season, my grandfather always wanted to talk to me about the game.

When I was eight years old, I discovered that Abuelo (that's Spanish for "grandfather") was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.  He, my grandmother and their four children (one of which is my father) moved from the Island of Enchantment to New York in 1947, the same year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.  Robinson wasn't the only reason Abuelo became a Dodger fan, as 1947 was also the year Gil Hodges and Duke Snider came up to the major leagues to stay.  The Dodgers won the pennant in 1947, making only their second trip to the World Series since 1920.  They would make many more over the next few decades.  Abuelo was hooked for life.

The summer of 1981 was special for both Abuelo and I.  It was the year I became a Mets fan, but it was also the year of Fernandomania.  That summer, when my parents and I went to visit my grandparents in Puerto Rico, the players' strike was nearing its conclusion.  But just because there was no baseball to watch didn't mean there were no baseball stories to share. 

Any time I wanted to talk about Mookie Wilson, my grandfather would remind me that he wasn't as fast as Maury Wills.  (Wills was the first major league player in the modern era to steal 100 bases in a season, swiping 104 bags for the Dodgers in 1962, which was 45 more than the entire Mets team stole in their inaugural season.)  I knew better than to argue with him.

After a few minutes, the conversation would always turn to Fernando Valenzuela, who had taken the country by storm during his rookie season.  Abuelo would normally be in bed by 10 PM every night, but if Valenzuela was pitching and the game just happened to be broadcast on the local television channel, he'd always stay up to watch the game on a 13-inch black and white TV.  He'd keep the volume low so as not to wake my grandmother, telling me that he didn't need to hear the game because Fernando's pitching would tell the story.  In the summer of 1981, he was absolutely right.

I'll always remember talking to him on the phone after the Mets won the World Series in 1986.  He was thrilled that I was finally able to celebrate a championship, but he was also quick to remind me that despite the Mets boasting a pitching staff that included Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez, it was Fernando Valenzuela who led the National League in wins.  (Valenzuela won 21 games for the Dodgers in 1986; his only 20-win campaign in 17 years in the big leagues.)

Oh, Abuelo.  He really loved his Dodgers.

Two years after the Mets won the World Series, they played for the right to appear in another.  But this time it was different.  This time, the Mets were playing the Dodgers for the pennant.  A member of the Leyro family was going to see his favorite team play in the World Series in 1988.  But for that to happen, another member of the Leyro family was going to be disappointed that his team failed to reach the Fall Classic.  It was about as awkward as it was ever going to get between me and Abuelo when it came to our shared love of the national pastime.  In the end, it became one of the most important times in our relationship.

The Dodgers defeated the Mets in the 1988 NLCS, upsetting them in seven games.  The Mets weren't the only ones upset by that result.  The day after Game Seven, the phone rang in our house.  My mother picked it up, spoke for a few seconds, then called me over to the phone.  It was for me, she said.  It was Abuelo.

I thought it was strange that Abuelo would call me.  After all, any time I'd speak to him on the phone, it would be my grandmother who called us and then she'd pass the phone over to Abuelo.  (The men in the Leyro family have never been known as "phone people".)  But this time, my grandfather let his fingers do the walking and he called me directly.  Over three decades have passed since this call was made, but I'll never forget that conversation.

Not once did he mention the Dodgers while talking to me.  Nor did he mention the Mets.  Instead, he reminded me that there would be times in life when we'd question why things happened the way they did.  He told me that he once went on a date with a girl when he was eighteen.  She was his definition of "the perfect girl".  She was smart, beautiful and came from a great family.  He was sure after one date that he was going to marry her.  Two dates later, she decided she didn't want to see him anymore.  He was crushed.

After two years of wondering where he went wrong, he made the acquaintance of another local girl.  Abuelo admitted to me that he wasn't attracted to her at first, but she listened to his story of lost love and gave him words of encouragement.  They continued to talk as friends for nearly a year until he realized something.

He was falling in love.  And this time, the girl he loved felt the same way about him.

The year was 1933.  In 1934, they were married.

When Abuelo finished telling me the story of how he and Abuela met and fell in love, I thanked him for making me smile.  I thought that was the reason he was sharing his story with me, because I was upset that my Mets had lost to his Dodgers and I would need some cheering up.  But that wasn't why he told me the story.  He then went back to the beginning of our conversation, the part where he said there would be times in life when we'd question why things happened the way they did.

For two years, he wondered to himself why the love of his life didn't love him back.  But without that unexpected breakup, he never would have met my grandmother, a woman he would be married to until she passed away in 2001.  He then told me to think about his words and to "never stop believing" before hanging up.

It took me until that evening, but as I was getting ready for bed, it finally hit me.  Abuelo was using his story as an analogy.  I was questioning how the Mets could lose to the Dodgers in the playoffs after defeating them 10 of 11 times during the regular season, just like he had questioned why the girl he loved couldn't reciprocate those feelings for him.  He had to wait two years after suffering through a devastating heartbreak, but in the end, it netted him the love of his life.  Therefore, what Abuelo was telling me was that he knew I was heartbroken because of the Mets' loss to the Dodgers, but before long, they'd be back and I'd love them more than ever.

You know what?  He was right.

Sure, it took 11 years for the Mets to make it back to the postseason, but when they did, they went to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and made their first trip to the World Series since 1986.  And when they did win the pennant, Abuelo was the first person who called me to offer a congratulatory message.

Abuelo didn't make it to see the next two Mets/Dodgers postseason matchups in 2006 and 2015, as he passed away five days after his 90th birthday in 2002.  But when the Mets defeated the Dodgers to advance to the NLCS in both campaigns, the first person I thought of was him.  What did I think of?  That he didn't have to feel sad because the team he loved would be back.  And they did, as the Dodgers have won eight consecutive division titles and three National League pennants in the last four years.  Somewhere in Heaven, I knew Abuelo was smiling.  And now he's probably smiling even more, as the Dodgers just won their first World Series championship since the year he called me to tell me a story about love and patience.

There is a point to this personal story.  You see, Abuelo was born on October 29, 1912.  That means today would have been his 108th birthday.  He and I never went to a Mets/Dodgers game together, but we didn't have to.  The stories took us there.

When I was eight years old, Abuelo shared his love of the Dodgers with me at the same time I was trying to share my love of the Mets with him.  He never became a Mets fan, just as I never became a Dodgers fan.  But we shared that love of baseball that no rivalry can break.  That love brought us together and provided me with some of my most wonderful childhood memories - memories that I continue to cherish as an adult.

Sometimes we question why things happen the way they do.  I never have to question why I loved my grandfather.  He was the most important man I've ever known.

Happy 108th birthday, Abuelo.  And thank you for always taking me out to the ballgame.

Dedicated to Horacio Leyro (October 29, 1912 - November 3, 2002)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

A Walking Tour of New York Baseball History

When a hitter takes a free pass, he walks - or runs, in the case of Brandon Nimmo - 90 feet to first base.  When I decided to pass through the city freely, traveling on foot to various sites of former and current ballparks to raise money for the American Cancer Society, I walked 64 miles, or 337,920 feet.

This two-day journey through all five boroughs took me to major league stadiums (Citi Field and Yankee Stadium), minor league parks (MCU Park and Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George) and several sites where professional baseball used to be played.  If you followed along on Facebook and Twitter while I was shuffling my feet, you saw me post short videos at each location.  If you didn't, that's where this blog post comes in.  Think of it as the Cliff's Notes to my walking tour of New York baseball history.


This place is a part of my past, present and future.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

The walk began on Friday, October 9, at Heritage Field in the Bronx.  This is where old Yankee Stadium used to stand from 1923 to 2008.  The field, which has not been well maintained during the current global pandemic, is where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and the recently departed Whitey Ford established themselves as baseball legends.

There is not much left from the original Yankee Stadium in this area other than the large bat that used to stand outside the House That Ruth Built and a piece of the iconic frieze, which was originally above the upper deck of the old ballpark.  That frieze is now located by a running track located in the approximate area where the center field wall at the old Yankee Stadium once stood.


Batman vs. Mr. Freeze?  No, it's just a bat and a frieze.  (EL/SM)

From Heritage Field, I crossed E. 161 St. to the new Yankee Stadium, which opened for business in 2009.  Despite it being the closest major league stadium to where I live, I have never set foot inside the new stadium, and I'm okay with that.  Besides, I'd probably look just like this in all my photos if I ever entered the ballpark.


Doing my best Siskel & Ebert reviewing "Ishtar" pose. (EL/SM)

The Yankees weren't always known by that moniker.  In fact, they weren't always a New York team.  In 1901 and 1902, the franchise played in Baltimore as the original Orioles, then they moved to Manhattan and became the New York Highlanders.  The Highlanders took that name because they played their home games in American League Park, which was better known as Hilltop Park because it sat atop a hill in Washington Heights.  That was the future Yankees' home for ten seasons (1903-12) before their lease expired.  They then left the park and the Highlanders name to move to the Polo Grounds and play as the New York Yankees.

Hilltop Park was demolished in 1913, but over a century later, there is still one reminder that a ballpark once rose atop the hill.

After I crossed Macombs Dam Bridge into Manhattan, I made my way to Fort Washington Avenue between W. 165 St. and W. 168 St.  This is the current location of the New York Presbyterian / Columbia University Irving Medical Center.  On the east side of Fort Washington Avenue, just north of W. 165 St. is a set of two gates that lead to a garden and chapel.  These gates are usually locked from the outside, but as one person left the gate furthest away from W. 165 St., I took advantage and went in before the gate locked shut.  Walking to the back of the garden across from the chapel, I found a plate-shaped plaque that was dedicated on the exact spot where Hilltop Park's home plate was once located.  It's a shame that it's not easily accessible to the public, but as long as you don't mind sneaking in - the garden is technically a public space even though it's behind a locked gate - the Hilltop Park artifact is there for the viewing.

Behind a locked gate, this home plate is definitely safe.  (EL/SM)


When the Highlanders moved to the Polo Grounds in 1913 and became the Yankees, they shared their new home with their National League counterparts, the New York Giants.  The Giants had only been in existence for a little over a quarter century, but they already had quite a history with their home ballparks.  In fact, their home in 1913 was the fourth such edifice known as the Polo Grounds.

The original Polo Grounds was built in 1876 and was located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues from 110th to 112th Streets, just north of Central Park.  Polo was originally played there before the original New York Metropolitans called it home from 1880 to 1885.  The Metropolitans, who played in the American Association, shared Polo Grounds I with the National League's New York Gothams, who began play in 1883.  Two years later, the Gothams became the Giants.

In 1886, the Giants no longer had to share a stadium with the original "Mets", as the Metropolitans baseball club left polo for cricket, vacating the Polo Grounds to move into their new home in Staten Island at the St. George Cricket Grounds, where they played for two seasons until the team ceased operations.  The Giants' residence at Polo Grounds I ended after the 1888 season, when the city of New York decided they wanted to extend the Manhattan street grid north of 110th St.  Needing a new home, the Giants played two games at Oakland Park in Jersey City, NJ before temporarily moving to the St. George Cricket Grounds.  While they played in Staten Island for two months, a new Polo Grounds was being erected under Coogan's Bluff in upper Manhattan.  That ballpark opened in the summer of 1889.

Polo Grounds II was not the only park in the area.  Just two blocks south was a ballpark that housed another baseball team known as the New York Giants.  Those Giants were part of the Players' League and they played in Brotherhood Park in 1890.  When the rival Players' League folded after just one season, the National League's New York Giants moved into Brotherhood Park in 1891 and renamed it - you guessed it - the Polo Grounds, the third such park with that name.

The third Polo Grounds was built out of wood, which as we all know is quite flammable.  Sure enough, in April 1911, Polo Grounds III was destroyed by a fire, forcing the Giants to relocate to Hilltop Park for two months while a new Polo Grounds was being built on the same location as the burned down building.  Learning from the past, Polo Grounds IV was built out of steel and concrete, allowing it to survive everything except a demolition ball, which was used after the second iteration of the Mets left for Shea Stadium in 1964.

In over half a century, Polo Grounds IV housed the Giants (1911-57), Yankees (1913-22) and Mets (1962-63).  The site now houses the Polo Grounds Towers, an apartment complex that overlooks the Harlem River.  There are still several reminders that baseball was once played there, including a new Polo Grounds Towers sign that's painted in the old New York Giants' colors and the John T. Brush Stairway, which used to lead fans down Coogan's Bluff into the Polo Grounds.

Also the first home of the New York Mets.  (EL/SM)


The Yankees and Giants were just two of the three major league teams that called New York home prior to the formation of the Mets in 1962.  Brooklyn once had a team as well, but they weren't always called the Dodgers.

From 1883 to 1891, the Brooklyn Atlantics, Brooklyn Grays, Brooklyn Bridegrooms and Brooklyn Grooms played at the first Washington Park in the neighborhood of Park Slope.  This ballpark was located between Fourth and Fifth Avenues from 3rd to 5th Streets.  Currently, a public park with that name can be found where Brooklyn's first National League team once played.  After leaving Washington Park in 1892, the team moved to Eastern Park in Brownsville.  But when fans failed to follow the team to their new digs in Brownsville, the club moved back to a new Washington Park after the 1897 season, located just a block away from the original ballpark.

This park, in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, was home to the team with many names, as they were known as the Bridegrooms in 1898 and the Superbas from 1899 to 1910 before finally setting on the Dodgers in 1911 after the people who dodged the trolleys in the vicinity of Washington Park.  Brooklyn played at this Washington Park for fifteen seasons (1898-1912) before moving to Ebbets Field in 1913.

Washington Park might not be standing anymore, but the building's wall still is.  A short 12-mile walk from the Polo Grounds Towers, on the corner of Third Avenue and 1st St. in Gowanus, is a wall that looks exactly like what you'd expect a late 19th century/early 20th century ballpark wall to look like.  The brick wall that was behind center field runs for part of 1st St., while the wall that stood behind the left field area of the park takes up all of Third Ave. from 1st St. to 3rd St.  The photos below show what that exterior wall of Washington Park looked like.

Washington Park wall.  (EL/SM)


Once the Dodgers left Washington Park for the new Ebbets Field in 1913, they became the Superbas once again before taking the new name of the Brooklyn Robins in 1914.  That name stuck for nearly two decades until they finally settled on the Dodgers for good in 1932.  The Dodgers played at Ebbets Field for another quarter century before failed attempts at a new ballpark in Brooklyn or Queens caused the team to move to Los Angeles, taking the Giants with them to the Golden State.

The location of Ebbets Field in Crown Heights (the area was part of Flatbush when the Dodgers called it home) is now covered with apartment buildings.  Similar to the Polo Grounds Towers in Manhattan, the Ebbets Field Apartments (also known as the Jackie Robinson Apartments) rest on the location of a former major league ballpark.  This apartment complex also remembers its history, with a cornerstone on Bedford Ave. that notes what used to stand there and a home plate marker just outside a laundromat within the complex, which can be seen by walking into a nondescript entrance on Sullivan Place.  (The former address of Ebbets Field was 55 Sullivan Place.)

The site of the House That Jackie Built.  (EL/SM)


Before the Dodgers settled on moving to the west coast, one of the areas they were looking at for a new stadium was in Queens.  And seven years after Brooklyn got out of Dodge, Queens had its own team when Shea Stadium opened to Mets fans in 1964.

The Mets became New York's one and only National League team in 1962, setting up shop at Polo Grounds IV for two seasons while they waited for Shea Stadium to be completed.  Once they moved to Flushing, the Mets stayed at Shea for 45 seasons - the same number of years Ebbets Field hosted the Dodgers/Superbas/Robins - before moving across the parking lot to Citi Field in 2009.

By the time I walked the ten miles from the site of Ebbets Field to the former home of Shea Stadium, the sun had set on my first day of walking, so I ran the Shea Stadium bases, which are conveniently marked in the current Citi Field parking lot, before taking one last photo with my Studious Metsimus colleagues outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda entrance at Citi Field.

Time for bed.  There's still another day of walking to go!  (EL/SM)

Day two of my baseball walk (Saturday, October 10) began where the first day ended - at Citi Field.  Although the sun had not officially risen when I got there, there was enough daylight to take photos of the area where Shea Stadium used to be and the special purple and back bunting above the Seaver Entrance, which was named after the late Tom Seaver.

May "The Franchise" rest in peace.  (EL/SM)

With the major league parks out of the way, it was now time to go back to the minors.  From Queens, I walked over the Kosciuszko Bridge to Brooklyn, made my way through Greenpoint and Wiliamsburg, then scampered over the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan.  Once in Manhattan, I made my way south through Chinatown and the Financial District before arriving at the Staten Island Ferry terminal.  Since it's not possible to walk to Staten Island from another borough, I got on the ferry and walked around the boat as I made the 25-minute trip through New York Harbor.  Once the ferry docked at the St. George terminal, I walked a short distance to the next stop: Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George, a.k.a. the home of the Staten Island Yankees.

The Staten Island Yankees have played in the New York-Penn League since 1999.  In their first two seasons, they played their home games at the College of Staten Island Baseball Complex before moving into their current home in St. George.  The parking lot of RCB Ballpark is also home to a bit of baseball history, as that was the former location of the St. George Cricket Grounds, where the original New York Metropolitans and New York Giants played in the 1880s.

The ballpark in Staten Island has several unique features, such as the likeness of the Verrazzano Bridge above the video board in left field, a panoramic view of the Lower Manhattan skyline, and a Wall of Fame dedicated not to former players, but to the baseball scouts who discovered some of the best players.  If only that Wall of Fame wasn't located behind the first base stands, invisible to mostly everyone in the stadium.

Seriously, couldn't this have been located where it could be, you know, seen?  (EL/SM)


From Staten Island, it was back on the ferry to Manhattan, followed by a walk north to the Manhattan Bridge, which I crossed to get back into Brooklyn.  On my way to the final destination of this two-day baseball trip, I made a stop at Barclays Center.  Why did I stop at a place that was built for basketball, hockey and non-sports events?  Because it is also the home of a piece of Brooklyn Dodgers history.

Outside the arena, on the corner of Atlantic Ave. and Flatbush Ave., is a lone flagpole.  But this is not just any flagpole.  No, my friends, this pole once flew at Ebbets Field and was brought to Barclays Center in 2012 to commemorate the return of professional, major league sports to Brooklyn.  (The NBA's Nets have called Barclays Center home since 2012, while the NHL's Islanders played there from 2015-19.)

O say, does that Ebbets Field banner yet wave?  Yes.  Yes, it does.  (EL/SM)

I had already walked over 50 miles between the two days.  I had visited two current MLB stadiums, the sites of several former major league parks and had even seen some artifacts from those current and former parks that are still standing.  I had just one stop to go.  And to do so, I had to walk as far south as I could go on foot in Brooklyn.  I had to go to Coney Island.

By this time, I was walking at a Bartolo Colón home run trot pace.  But I was determined to make it to my final destination.  I walked eight miles through the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Borough Park, Midwood and Gravesend, with no other baseball sites to slow me down.  And right before sunset, I finally made it to Coney Island.  Once there, I passed by Luna Park.  I also passed by Nathan's.  I did not pass by MCU Park, which was the end of my journey.

Once the Brooklyn Dodgers left for California after the 1957 season, the borough of Kings was left without professional baseball for 44 years.  It wasn't until the Cyclones came to town in 2001 that Brooklyn had a team again.

The Cyclones started in St. Catharines, Ontatrio, as a minor league affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.  They played in Canada from 1986 to 1999, before moving to Queens in 2000 as the Queens Kings.  Although they played in Mets country, they were still the New York-Penn League affiliate of the Blue Jays.  Finally, in 2001, and nearly half a century after the Brooklyn Dodgers considered building a new home in Queens, the Kings moved from Queens to Brooklyn, setting up shop at KeySpan Park in Coney Island, which was renamed MCU Park in 2010.

Brooklyn had a professional baseball team again and this bum was done with his walk.


Forgive the blurriness.  It was late and I was tired.  (EL/SM)


In just two days, I covered 64 miles walking through all five boroughs and saw more New York baseball history than I ever thought I could.  But most importantly, I helped raise $2,100.00 for the American Cancer Society.

This was a 36-hour period I will never forget and one my feet will probably never forgive me for.  But I certainly hope they'll get over it.  After all, it was a baseball trip.  And taking a walk is always good for the team.

A walk is as good as a hit.  In this case, my walk was a hit.  (EL/SM)

Monday, June 15, 2020

June 15, 1983: My Ten-Year-Old Self Shares Memories of My First Mets Game

The Internet did not exist in 1983.  Neither did winning baseball at Shea Stadium.  As a ten-year-old Mets fan in '83, I knew as much about the World Series as I did the World Wide Web, as both were still years away from becoming a reality.

So when my Little League team decided to attend a Mets game together on Wednesday, June 15, 1983, I was naturally excited but I didn't have a forum to document my experience.  (My mother had discovered my diary just a weeks before the game and because of her find, I wasn't allowed to write in it anymore.  Censorship at its overprotective motherly worst.)

It's been exactly 37 years since I attended that game, so I thought now would be a perfect time to finally tell that story.  To make this recap even more special, I have decided to allow my ten-year-old self access to my computer.  I figured more people would be able to read the recap that way instead of trying to read it on my just-returned-to-me diary.

Take it away, Eddie!

Hi, everyone!  My name is Eddie Leyro and I'm ten-and-a-half years old.  I just got home from Shea Stadium where I saw my first-ever Mets game!  I went to the game with my Little League team and some of the coaches and I had an awesome time.  Well, it would have been better than awesome had the Mets actually won the game.  But stupid Rusty Staub made a dumb error in the tenth inning that helped the Chicago Cubs win the game.  I mean, seriously.  Even Orko from the "He-Man" cartoon could've made that play and he floats in mid-air!

Anyway, the game started with Craig Swan sucking more than Madonna's music.  (I mean, do you really think she's going to have a long career as a singer?  She's no Toni Basil!)  Swan was knocked out of the game in the second inning after giving up an RBI single to Bill Buckner in the first and allowing Jody Davis, Mel Hall and Ryne Sandberg to drive in runs in the second.

Once Swan hit the showers, I figured I'd hit the concession stand with my teammates, David and Robby.  But I never got my hot dog because the coaches had to get off the line to break up a fight by our pitcher, Walter and our second baseman, Ricky in the bathroom.  Walter was also the son of our manager, so you can imagine who got blamed for starting it.  (Hint: Not Walter.)  Needless to say, I never got my hot dog.  The coaches made us all go back to our upper deck seats and no hot dog vendor came around.  The only other time they allowed us to get out of our seats was when a few of the guys had to go to the bathroom.  I didn't go because I don't like peeing in public.  I'm as afraid of public restrooms as B.A. Baracus is of flying on a plane.

Anyway, by the time we got back to our seats, the Mets had already scored a run to cut the Cubs' lead to 4-1 and I just managed to see my first major league home run, a shot by Hubie Brooks in the bottom of the third to make it 4-2.  I didn't get why people were booing him until I was told that the fans were actually saying "HUUUUUUUUUU-bie".  Baseball fans are very weird.

The fans also cheered a message that was posted on the DiamondVision about some guy named Keith Hernandez.  Apparently, he was just traded to the Mets for a few pitchers.  He can't be as bad as the guys already on the team, right?

Oh, I almost forgot!  The Mets tied the game right after the DiamondVision announcement on an RBI double by Jose Oquendo and a run-scoring single by Danny Heep.  But of course, Heep got greedy like Boss Hogg and got thrown out trying to get to second base.  Had Heep not gotten thrown out, the Mets might have taken the lead in that inning.  Instead, the game was just tied, 4-4, and stayed that way through nine innings.

Maybe if Danny Heep didn't have such a big ear flap on his helmet, he'd have seen he was going to be out by a mile.

Coach Walter, Sr., announced that we would stay for the tenth inning, but we'd have to go home if the game kept going.  It was a Wednesday night and we had to go to school the next day.  So I started praying for the Mets to hold the Cubs scoreless in the tenth and then maybe Hubie Brooks could hit another home run to win it in the bottom of the inning.  But while I was alternating between one of my many Hail Marys and Our Fathers, the Cubs scored three runs, all because our first baseman, Rusty Staub, made a lousy error.

The Mets didn't score in the bottom of the tenth, as Hubie Brooks made an out and the skinny rookie, Darryl Strawberry, grounded into a double play to end the game.  All I kept thinking as we walked down the Shea Stadium ramps was:

a)  This Keith Hernandez better be a good first baseman so that this Rusty Staub guy isn't allowed to make more stupid errors.

2)  Why do we have to go down these long ramps when there are escalators all over the place?

iii)  Oh, snap!  I never got my hot dog!

So that's it.  My first Shea Stadium experience.  Craig Swan sucked.  My teammates fought in the bathroom.  And Rusty Staub should never play first base again.  But at least the experience was more fun than having to sit through another rerun of "The Facts of Life", which I would have done had I stayed home.  (They should really move "Magnum P.I." from Thursday to Wednesday.  That would be, like, totally awesome.)

I hope you liked my recap.  Maybe I should ask my mom to get me a Commodore 64.  I'm sure it's a lot better to write on than my diary! 

I certainly didn't adore my easily-read diary.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Von Hayes Game Haunts Me to This Day

Forget Freddy Krueger.  This is the true man of my nightmares.  (MLB.com)

On June 11, 1985, the Mets took on the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium.  New York entered the game with a 31-22 record, leaving them just three games behind the first place Chicago Cubs.  The Phillies, on the other hand, were already falling out of contention in the N.L. East with a 20-34 mark.  Only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians had a worse record in the majors than the phloundering Phils at the time.

Starting for the Mets that night was Tom Gorman, who was making just his seventh start in the big leagues but was entering the game with a solid 2.52 ERA.  Philadelphia countered with Charles Hudson, who had lost each of his previous four starts, with the Phillies having scored a total of seven runs in those four contests.

Clearly, the Mets appeared to have an advantage coming in to the game.  Then Von Hayes happened.  And I haven’t recovered since.

Without going into too much detail for fear that I’ll suffer a post-traumatic Mets disorder breakdown, Gorman faced seven batters and retired one of them.  He couldn’t retire Von Hayes, who led off the game with a home run.  Gorman had already been replaced by Calvin Schiraldi by the time Hayes batted for a second time in the first frame, not like Hayes could tell the difference, as he launched a grand slam off Schiraldi.  An inning later, with Schiraldi still in the game, Hayes singled and scored a run.

After two innings, the Mets were losing, 16-0.  And then it got worse.

Schiraldi allowed ten runs before manager Davey Johnson ended his suffering.  The Mets then scored seven unanswered runs to make it 16-7, at which time Johnson summoned Joe Sambito from the bullpen to relieve Doug Sisk, who had pitched 2 scoreless innings.  Clearly, Sambito decided he was going to pay homage to Schiraldi’s performance, as he gave up ten runs of his own.  Included in the carnage was a bases loaded walk to Von Hayes, who later came around to score his fourth run of the game on a groundout.

The final straw in what became a 26-7 loss came during the WHN radio post-game show when the turning point of the game was announced.  Was it Von Hayes’ leadoff homer or his grand slam?  How about Sambito giving up a ten-spot after the Mets had cut the deficit to a “manageable” nine runs?  Nope, it happened well before either of those events took place, as fellow Von Hayes Game sufferer Vince Vincenzo can attest.

Oh say, can you see how much this game affected me.

Things eventually got better for the Mets following their historic loss to the Phillies, a game that forever put Von Hayes’ name in the minds of Mets fans who obsess over every little thing about their team.  (And by “Mets fans who obsess over every little thing about their team”, I mean me.)

New York passed the first place Cubs in the standings and went on to win 98 games in 1985, just two victories shy of a franchise record.  Yes, they lost the division to the St. Louis Cardinals instead of the Cubs, but they proved that the 1984 campaign - a year in which they won 90 games and finished above .500 for the first time in eight years - was not a fluke.  They continued their climb in 1986, a season that culminated in the franchise’s second World Series championship.

Since winning it all just sixteen months and sixteen days after the Von Hayes Game took place, the Mets have reached the playoffs six times, including three division titles and two National League pennants.  One would think that success would erase the events of June 11, 1985 from my mind.  One would be wrong.

The truly Hayesian effort continues to haunt me to this day.  Every time the Mets fall behind by a significant number of runs early in a game, I find myself saying aloud, “Who’s going to be Von Hayes in this game?”  Whenever a Mets reliever comes into the game in a mop-up role, proceeds to get shelled and then is left on the mound to take one for the team, the Schiraldi and Sambito Wrecking Crew come to mind.

Even while watching a Mets game that ends up well for the good guys, the Von Hayes Game is inevitably brought up.

During the current pandemic, SNY has taken to showing classic Mets games from years past.  One contest that has been aired ad nauseam is Game Seven of the 1986 World Series.  As we all know, while Von Hayes and his Phillies’ teammates were watching this game at home, the Mets were putting together their second straight comeback win against the Red Sox.  With the score tied in the seventh inning, Boston manager John McNamara brought in Calvin Schiraldi to face Ray Knight, who had delivered a key single against Schiraldi in the miraculous tenth inning comeback just two nights before.  Knight followed up his bloop in Game Six with a blast in Game Seven, taking Schiraldi out of the park to give the Mets the lead.  But they weren’t done yet.

After Knight circled the bases, Schiraldi allowed a hit to Lenny Dykstra, uncorked a wild pitch on a pitchout to Rafael Santana, then gave up another hit to Santana.  After Roger McDowell moved Santana into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, McNamara replaced Schiraldi with Joe Sambito, who continued to add gas to the fire.  Sambito issued two walks and allowed a sacrifice fly to Keith Hernandez, which scored the sixth run of the game, otherwise known as the run that was the difference in the 8-5 championship-clinching win by the Mets.

A normal fan would have just celebrated the rally by the Mets, praising their clutch hitters coming up big in key late-inning situations.  I guess I’m not a normal fan.  Because this is what I was doing while watching that seventh inning (even though I mistakenly referred to it as happening in the sixth; I blame Von Hayes for my error).

We all have games that give us a kind of post-traumatic Mets disorder; games that are forever associated with the opposing player responsible for our pain.  Whenever someone mentions the Terry Pendleton Game, we know what they’re referring to.  The Mike Scioscia Game?  Don’t get me started.  Some people even can’t let go of the Jason Jennings Game (although I think those people remember it more for Donne Wall than for what Jennings did to the Mets).  Personally, I’m surprised that after his devastating performance against the Marlins to close out the 2007 season, Tom Glavine didn’t say, “I’m disappointed, but at least it wasn’t the Von Hayes Game.”

See what I mean about PTMD and not being able to let things go?

For me, I can’t seem to rid myself of the Von Hayes Game, which took place 35 years ago today.  It comes back to me during blowouts.  It comes back to me during World Series viewings.  It comes back to me when I flip the channel past VH-1 and think it stands for “Von Hayes Won”.  Heck, I can’t even see the Van Halen logo and not think of Von Hayes.

You can't unsee it, can you?

A third of a century after “The Von Hayes Game” became part of my vocabulary, the Mets defeated the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, 24-4.  In that game, played on August 16, 2018, the Mets broke a 31-year franchise record for runs scored in a game.  They pounded out 25 hits, of which 11 went for extra bases.  It got so bad for the home team that they used two position players to pitch the final three innings.  The Mets knocked them around as well, crossing the plate nine times in those three frames.

I should have been ecstatic at the offensive outburst.  I should have been thrilled the Mets beat up on a division rival.  I should have celebrated a long standing franchise record being toppled.  Instead, I just said four words as the game came to its conclusion.


I guess it just goes to say that in good times and in bad, the man and the game that put his name in my brain will always find a way to haunt me.  Anyone know the number of a good exorcist?

Call the Ghostbusters.  I'm being haunted by Von Hayes. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)