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Inside Mr. Met's Head


August 2, 2009 5:35 PM

"Anatomy of a Franchise" New York Mets: Part VI - Building For Greatness

I want to dedicate this part of my self proclaimed series to Cathy. She is wife number two and although we are no longer together, she remains my dear friend. She gave me an incredible, bright, beautiful daughter and she deserves to be nominated for sainthood for putting up with me for 14 truly bi-polar years. Cathy who taught me that out of every bad can become a good, the only person whom I ever met that really put others in front of themselves, I thank you for pointing and guiding me in the right direction. You are truly a special one of a kind person.

 

1981 dawned bright for the Mets and me because I began to think we were both on the same path of rebuilding for greatness. The Mets had lost 95 games in 1980 and the "streak" and my marriage to Ellen was over. By years end the talk of a possible player's lockout didn't strike me as too serious a possibility since Cathy and I decided to tie the knot, and that we did, on November 9th 1980.

 

I made her a promise that we would not attend any Mets games together and she was OK with that because baseball was not anywhere near the top of her priority list. Besides I had a ten year old son and an eight year old daughter and they would make great partners to my many planned trips to the Vet to see the World Champion Phillies take on my Mets.

 

I need to clarify a point about my fan hood after I received many comments about my rooting for the Phillies during their great run from 1976-1983. I never rooted for them in any game they played against the Mets no matter how far out of the race the Mets were and although I was rightly disturbed at the Mets organization and the way they ran things then ( and still do today) I could never under any circumstances change my loyalties.

 

During the next 5 years the Mets were about to change the perception at that time from laughingstock to world champion and the team that everybody outside Brooklyn and Queens loved to hate.

 

Frank Cashen was brought in to be the General Manager if February of 1980 and although the Mets still had three straight losing seasons, one could see the handwriting on the wall and the excitement certainly found it's way heading south on the New Jersey Turnpike.

 

The Mets finally got it together in the amateur draft by getting, Daryl Strawberry, Roger McDowell and Dwight Gooden. His trading for Keith Hernandez, Howard Johnson, Gary Carter, Sid Fernandez and Ron Darling set the nucleus for what some have called the greatest team ever for one single season that was 1986.

 

The 1981 team was managed by Joe Torre. Nobody at the time could have ever possibly imagined the future success that Joe would have achieved. In 1981, he had finished a very solid career with the St. Louis Cardinals and was entering his fourth year as manager of the Mets.

 

Here's the 1981 starting lineup for the New York Mets.

 

Mookie Wilson   LF

Frank Taveras  SS

Dave Kingman 1B

Rusty Staub      RF
Lee Mazzilli     CF
Alex Trevino      C
Hubie Brooks  3B

Doug Flynn      2B
Pat Zachry          P

 

This was a historical year for baseball. For the first time in Major League history there was a stoppage of play during the regular season. This situation began what many people have called the end of baseballs supremacy as America's Sport and greed on both sides can, in my opinion, be spread equally causing a real mess in what was supposed to be a great year for baseball.

 

June 11th was the last game the Mets would play in earnest for two full months. I could not imagine myself without baseball. If it were not for the fact that I was managing Russ' little league team that year I might have gone completely nuts.

 

I did manage to go to 3 games against the Phillies that year in June. At this point at time I'm going to bring a new character into the series. His name is Gary. He lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and he simply is the most addicted Phillies fan of all times.

 

Gary was just starting his accounting business in 1981. He had a booth in Montgomery Ward on Route 38 in Cherry Hill and he was pimping his newly formed Tax Return business. Cathy and I were shopping there one day when she said to me "Rich, since you haven't filed a tax return for the past three years don't you think it might be a good idea to talk to this guy?"

 

What happened next is something you can only get in Hollywood. Not only did I make an appointment to talk to Gary in his office, (in the attic of his Moorestown band box of a home), but it turns out, after he mentioned a letter he got from his Grandmother, that my Grandmother and his Great Grandmother were first cousins, or something like that. I have forgotten by now the connection.

 

So now I find that my accountant is my cousin and worse still and avid, to say the leas,t Phillies fan and from this point forward our lives would intertwine for the next 28+ years.

 

So it was Gary and I who went to this Phillies Mets series at the Vet. The Phillies won two out of three; I kept looking around for Ellen during the first two games. In the first game Larry Christenson outpitched Pat Zachry but the dull pain I got leaving the stands that day was that Tug McGraw got the save for the Phil's. That pain was still festering pretty well in 1981.

 

The usual suspects Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa and Gary Maddox all had two hits with Gary Maddox hitting a winning two run homer in the 8th off Neil Allen who at the time was my favorite Mets pitcher.

 

The next day, the Phillies and Pete Rose who had 3 hits beat up on Mike Scott, who later would become a Mets killer in 1986, and Ed Lynch as the Phillies beat the Mets 9-7. Gary was his usual talkative self and proclaimed the Phillies would repeat as World Champions in 1981. I have to give him credit. He doesn't say things like that any more probably because it took the Phillies 28 years to win another championship and despite the fact that this year I think they have a great chance to repeat, Gary is still saying it's a long season. I wonder if he realizes it's already August.

 

The next game I finally got a little measure of revenge. At least we didn't get swept and believe me Phillies fans must have pretty dirty homes because Veterans Stadium is one place that you never ever have to wonder about having enough brooms on hand.

 

On June 3rd we finally got to Dick Ruthven with a 4 run 8th inning to break up a close game. Neil Allen got the save and Greg Harris who only played one year out of 15 in a Mets uniform got the win.

 

The Mets finished the "first half" at 17-34 and in last place, but after a two month layoff when baseball resumed on Aug 10th, The Mets went 24- 28 the rest of the way.

 

In 1982 and 1983 the Mets lost 90+ games both years but on June 15th 1983, the Mets traded my guy, Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey to the Cardinals for Keith Hernandez. Keith brought to the team a certain amount of legitimacy that would carry over for the next few years which would culminate in four incredible seasons, 1985 through 1988.

 

Joe Torre was replaced in 1982 with George Bamberger, a nice old guy who brought absolutely nothing to the table. Perhaps a little more patience with Joe Torre is great 20-20 hindsight but it took the Mets to lose 127 games before Bamberger was replaced by the gentle giant Frank Howard to finish the 1983 season.

 

In 1984 Davey Johnson was hired to lead the Mets to greater heights. Johnson was known to Mets fans for making the final out of the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

 

By 1984 the Mets had a completely new look. The starting lineup looked like this.

 

Wally Backman       2B

Jose Oquendo          SS

Keith Hernandez     1B

George Foster          LF

Daryl Strawberry    RF

Hubie Brooks          3B

Mookie Wilson        CF

Ron Hodges             C

Mike Torrez             P

 

Mike Torrez was certainly at the end of his career when he stepped on the mound for the Mets on opening day. As it turned out he gave up six runs and six his in an inning and a third and that was pretty much it for Torrez career in the MLB.

 

Dick Tidrow another pitcher at the end of his career also saw action with the Mets that day. I guess his 9.19 ERA was enough for the Mets to see that his career was over as well.

 

The reason I bring this up is that this seems to be a never ending problem with the Mets organization that has with them for the full 47 years of their existence. They have a dream that somewhere in their wildest imagination some over the hill player will find lightning in a bottle and lead this team to the Promised Land.

 

"Hey guy, The Natural was a MOVIE".

 

After losing that opening game in Cincinnati the Mets rattled off six wins, then lost three in a row, won three in row and lost three in a row again. It sure looked like this was a team trying to find its own identity.

 

By June 1st they were 22 - 22 and didn't look like a team ready to challenge anyone. June was better as they won five more games than they lost. I had already gone to 4 out of the six games the Phillies played the Mets at the Vet and the Phillies won both series 2 games to 1. Unfortunately I went to the 4 losses. I spent most of those days searching the stands for Ellen.

 

By the All-Star break the Mets had won nine out of their next ten and were officially contending for the NL East. Right from the break they took three out of four from the Braves in Atlanta and were right in the thick of the race.

 

By July 28th the Mets were 59-37 in first place and on a roll. Then all they did was drop the next seven games and wound up finishing 2nd with a 90-72 record.

 

I managed to get to one more Mets Phillies game in September and finally I got to see a Mets victory. They came from behind with three in the 7th and three in the 9th to win 8-5. Daryl hit a tremendous blast off Al Holland in the ninth inning with two out and two on to put the cherry on top of the day. Mookie, Daryl and Hubie all had two hits.

 

On May 5th 1983 Cathy gave me a baby girl who I promptly named after Jamie Lee Curtis. I spelled it Jaime Leigh. To see where she's at take a look at

 

jldragonfly.deviantart.com

 

 

Part VII will deal with the four most exciting seasons I witnessed as a fan of the Mets for all 47 seasons. 1985-1988 was absolutely fantastic. I went on my own personal in game winning streak that I doubt I will ever see again. They were truly great years. I sure hope you will share them with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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