JIMMY, CASEY, AND THE DUKE – THOSE AMAZIN’ METS! – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was swapping old baseball anecdotes with friends on Facebook after Marilyn and I re-watched Ken Burns’ classic “Baseball” series recently. It began with memories of 1963, one year after the introduction of the New York Metropolitans into the National League.

The Mets were designed to lure back fans disenchanted by the flight of Brooklyn’s Dodgers and New York’s Giants to the west coast a few years earlier. It was also a great business opportunity to reclaim some of the money that overflowed the coffers at Yankee Stadium. The once three baseball team Gotham was now dominated by the Bronx Bombers.

1963-mets-rosterThe Mets began as a circus with aging baseball legend, Casey Stengel, as ring master and manager. George Weiss, ousted from the Yankees front office when Casey was dumped for being old and losing the 1960 World Series, was the Mets first General Manager. The old Polo Grounds, once home to John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, a young Willie Mays and a host of other legendary Giants, was now home for the Mets. You could smell the history. Sometimes you had to hold your nose.

It was a good year to be 20 years old and a budding reporter with a life long love for baseball. The national stage was being set by JFK and his new frontier. “Gunsmoke” was topping the TV ratings and Elvis was king of the pop world.

Now came the Mets! They had problems hitting, throwing and catching the ball. Otherwise, they were fine. There were instant heroes like “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, the error prone first baseman who had a minus fielding range. “Choo Choo” Coleman was a pleasant catcher who had problems with pitchers who couldn’t throw strikes. Elio Chacon was a flashy shortstop who did tangos as ground balls went through and around him. Roger Craig was a veteran starter whose fast ball was behind him … by several years … back in the ghost of Ebbets Field.

Opposing teams feasted on the new Mets. Baseball games were like batting practice for the other guys. Their batting averages soared and their earned run averages dropped against Casey’s Amazin’ Mets who lost and lost and lost.

Management decided to hype the circus atmosphere of the Mets by bringing in aging stars who normally would’ve retired. The over-the-hill retinue would include Richie Ashburn, Jimmy Piersall and Duke Snider. Even the legendary Willie Mays would show up a decade later in the dark autumn of his career. But it was storybook time for a young reporter in that summer of ’62.

Casey Stengel was wrapping up a 10 minute, one question interview that I’d forgotten as we shook hands. The Ol’ Perfesser tapped me on the cheek and pointed to Duke Snider as my next interview. I froze!! My boyhood hero, the Duke of Flatbush, was standing a few feet away from me.

You have to appreciate the moment and its back story. Growing up in the city of three baseball teams was a very special time. The time of three great, Hall of Fame centerfielders. Willie, Mickey and the Duke. There were myriad brawls over who was the best. There was even a song about the three heroes.

Duke Snider

Duke Snider

Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider was my idol. He was the sweet swinging lefty slugger from Compton, California. I had the Duke’s baseball cards, magazine stories and photos of Duke and his wife, Bev. I copied Duke’s swing and classic running gait, with elbows slightly raised as I rounded the bases after my imaginary grand slam home run. We still have his Hall of Fame plaque on the wall in the kitchen.

Now, he was standing next to me. My voice shot up several levels as the interview began. The Duke stared at me and mumbled, “I’m busy, Kid”. I just stood there. Crestfallen. Duke? Duke? I was still standing there when the Duke returned with a small smile on face.

Casey was standing behind Duke as he stood and politely granted me the interview. I was mesmerized. He apologized for his earlier, gruff manner and posed for a polaroid moment with me. Behind us, I could see Casey winking at me. As I basked in the moment, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to see the familiar face of Jimmy Piersall. Casey again was winking at me a few feet away. It was a wicked grin. I was puzzled.

Piersall who didn’t resemble Tony Perkins who had starred in the bio movie, “Fear Strikes Out”, also had a strange grin on his face.  It was a bizarre moment. In a blur of seconds, Piersall was running around the bases backwards with a bat raised over his head and yelling. I kept my distance. It was surreal!! Piersall approached me again, bat in hand and weird smile on his face. “I was just funnin’ with you, Kid”, Piersall explained. He went on with a rambling anecdote about the joys of playing for Casey and the Mets.

I don’t recall ever asking Piersall a question. It didn’t matter.

My tech aide, actually a pal from the college radio station, was laughing as he showed me the pictures he’d taken. We had proof. I hadn’t imagined the crazy events. I wish I had those pictures now!

So it was, some 54 years ago. One memorable summer afternoon, when all was right in my world.

STORM OF THE CENTURY – EVIL SQUIRREL’S NEST

This is a great story and it’s also true! This is peak baseball season. Time for some thrills and chills that have absolutely nothing to do with politics! From the inimitable Evil Squirrel’s Nest, I give you …

STORM OF THE CENTURY!

Evil Squirrel's Nest

Mother Nature's always at her worst when I go to a ballgame. Mother Nature’s always at her worst when I go to a ballgame.

If you happen to be one of those weird people who actually keep track of my weekly picture dayfeatures, then you’re probably looking at your squirrel calendar right now wondering if it’s really Wednesday already.  No… calm down.  It’s still just Tuesday.  If you have a stereotypical job, you’ve got another three and a half days to toil away yet before the next weekend.  I decided to run Picture Day a day early this week because I wanted to commemorate the night I had a front row seat to the most wicked weather event this city’s seen in my lifetime… and that occurred ten years ago today on July 19, 2006.

It was just another Wednesday night at the ballpark for me… it was also the one game each year my Mom tags along to.  Which is good, because…

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SUMMERTIME SUMMERTIME SUM SUM SUMMERTIME

Summertime! When all the leaves and trees are green … and the red bird sings, I’ll be blue …

The Jamies were an American singing group
Single Released in 1958
Chart : Peaked at No.26 on The Billboard Hot 100 in 1958

There’s a long, interesting history of “Summertime” and its historic relationship to Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox. Possibly the oldest tradition in baseball! 

Sherm Feller, who wrote Summertime, Summertime was an old pal of Garry’s as well as the public address announcer at Fenway Park for many years. He was known for playing the song regularly over the speakers at the park.

Read all about Sherm Feller and his song …

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Summertime, Summertime Lyrics


It’s summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime summertime…

Well shut them books and throw em away
Say goodbye to dull school days
So come on and change your ways
It’s summertime…

Well no more studying history
And no more reading geography
And no more dull geometry
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball
A regular free-for-all

Well are you comin or are you ain’t
You slow-pokes are my one complaint
Hurry up before I faint
It’s summertime

Well I’m so happy that I could flip
Oh how I’d love to take a trip
I’m sorry teacher but zip your lip
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball
A regular free for all

Well we’ll go swimmin every day
No time to work just time to play
If your folks complain just say,
It’s summertime

And every night we’ll have a dance
Cause what’s a vacation without romance
Oh man this jive has me in a trance
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball A regular free for all
It’s summertime

It’s summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime

It’s summertime!

BRANDING THE AMERICAN PASTIME

“It’s an exciting afternoon here at Petco,” the announcer says. The Padres are playing the Mets. At Petco Park.

The mental image this formed in my head were utterly un-baseball, totally non-sporting. This whole branding thing is out of hand.

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I looked up from the computer, wondering if we needed more dog food and biscuits. We’re forever running short.

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But next, the announcer points out the pitcher has been, so far, throwing a no-hitter. Never, in Padre history has any pitcher thrown a no-hitter, so this should have been riveting baseball.

Except the announcers couldn’t seem to focus on the game and instead, were busy talking all kinds of nonsense while showing clips of everything but the game in progress. Ultimately, I suppose it didn’t matter since the pitcher gave up three hits but still, they might have at least given the kid his time in the sun.

Finally they pointed out the right-hander, Odrisamer Despaigne “… has a great, boring fastball.”

And this made me wonder if they should be playing any kind of game at Petco, especially if Odrisamer Despaigne’s fastball is boring. I get they are really saying something technical about the pitch. Nonetheless, words matter. Boring has multiple meanings, the most common being dull. So how boring was that fastball?

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And doesn’t Petco Park sound like a dog park to you?

Someone once told me I’m “branding” my photographs by signing them. No, I’m not. I sign my pictures because I’m proud of them. “Branding” would be if I sold the rights to my photographs to Costco, after which this site became Costco Web Thoughts. I would continue to write and take pictures, but Costco would put their corporate logo on all my work. For a price. That’s branding.

Garry points out the Padres not only have a crappy team and awful branding — Petco really doesn’t work as a stadium name — but they wear ugly uniforms. From Garry, that is total condemnation.

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Whatever else is wrong with the Red Sox, at least they have not turned Fenway into Burger King Stadium. Or Walmart Watcharama. And, to the best of my knowledge, the pitchers throw highly entertaining fastballs.

BASEBALL’S HALL OF FAME

We spent some hours in the museum. There’s more to the story, but now isn’t the time for me or Garry to write it. Instead, here’s a gallery of pictures from the outing. A little of this, a little of that.

We definitely have more to say on the subject. When we get home. Maybe a week or 10 days from now …

SEPTEMBER FANTASY BASEBALL

The Red Sox are playing the Phillies. Winning. They haven’t won often this year, compiling a record so awful I thought they had an unbreakable lock on last place in the American League East.

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I was wrong. They actually have been playing well enough — while other teams play badly enough — to possibly, maybe slide into fourth place before the season is over.

The Home Run

The Home Run

Such a warm, cozy thought that, as the quiet day continued, I got to drifting into fantasy, thinking … What if they just keep winning? And suddenly, it’s the end of September and they have the wild card spot. And they go on to win the series …

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It would leave the baseball world stunned. Probably leave Red Sox fans the most confounded of all …

I’m not saying it’s likely, but it could happen. Stop laughing. It could!

A SEASON OF PAIN

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The look of sudden shock and pain on Garry’s face was alarming.

“What’s wrong?” I cried. He was obviously hurting.

“I just saw the score,” he said sadly. Which is when I realized he had turned on the Red Sox game. They were playing the Angels, the first game of a double-header on the left coast. “It’s eleven-to-one,” he explained.

The agony of defeat!

The agony of defeat!

“Ouch,” I said. “I don’t suppose they’re going to stage a come from behind victory.”

“Actually,” he replied, “I was wondering exactly how bad they’re going to be in the second half of the season.”

There seems to be no bottom for this year’s Sox. No pitching, no bottom. No hope. (Houston put the seal on the deal. If you don’t know what I mean, maybe it’s best you don’t find out.)

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Indeed, I had seen correctly. It was pain. Mental, not physical, but the look of agony on his face will stay with me a long time.

There’s no medication that can take away the pain of your team in the dumpster. This will be a season of pain in New England. It’s not our year.


 

If you follow baseball and especially, the Red Sox and Fenway Park, check out Fenway Park 100.