In the end, the Mets’ final game had nothing to do with ancient failures and curses on the Brooklyn Dodgers and early Mets. The Mets lost to a great pitcher, a great October pitcher.
I saw Madison Bumgarner’s expressionless face as he trudged out to the mound nine times. I was visiting my friends Gary and Nancy, and I explained to them that he was a mountain man from western North Carolina, neither north nor south but Appalachian. He had a job to do, and he had the tools to do it.
Later, when the job was done, he submitted to an interview, and I could hear the mountain accent; he comes from a hamlet full of Bumgarners, for generations. One tough, self-reliant dude, with great arm, great purpose.
My friend Big Al from Queens, who used to pitch off the scruffy mound in Alley Pond Park, wrote me this morning that as a former hurler he marveled that Syndergaard could bust in 98- mph fastballs, with admirable location, but that Bumgarner’s 92-mph pitchers went even more precisely to the right place, where Céspedes and others could not harm him. Big Al thinks Bumgarner could have gone 11 or 12.
I’m just sorry it was Familia at the end. He’s such a nice guy, gave us such a good season.
Then there is Granderson’s catch. He is already the favorite Met to so many people. (I know a few women who refer to him as “my boyfriend” when he smiles and hits home runs.) On Wednesday night he ran straight to the center-field fence knowing he could make contact, and he held the ball for the third out.
My son David wants to know how Granderson’s catch compares with Endy Chavez in 2006 and Tommie Agee and Rocky Swoboda in 1969, and I say quite equally.
Big Al had to bring up – he always does this – Mantle’s catch off Hodges to preserve Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956, and I retort with names like Gionfriddo from 1947 and Amoros from 1955. But that’s old stuff.
Right now it is 2016 and Bumgarner evokes names like Ford and Gibson and Koufax.
For me, la guerre est finie. I got no dog in this fight from here on in. I’ve seen all the baseball I want for this lovely surprising gritty season of the Mets. I’m checking up on the Premiership and Serie A, and books, and classical music.
Big Al suggests Chopin and Schubert. I’m thinking Dvorak and Bartok. As we said in Brooklyn, wait til next year.
(Your comments on the game and 2016 are welcome; my earlier premonitions of gloom and doom are below.)
Brian Savin asks if I have any thoughts about the Mets in the wild-card game Wednesday.
Oh, yes, doctor, I have thoughts. I also have fear and trembling on this 65th anniversary of something terrible.
It happens every October, when I feel that something terrible is going to happen in a ball park near me. I mean, it’s only baseball terrible. Henrich terrible. Thomson terrible. Sojo terrible. Molina terrible.
This has nothing to do with Syndergaard vs. Bumgarner, Mets vs. SF Giants. They are on their own and will perform what they perform. I am talking about the miasma of gloom that hangs over an old, I mean old, Brooklyn Dodger fan at this time of year.
Let’s start with Oct. 5, 1949, first game of the World Series (still played in sunlight, before the current long march toward freaking November.) I race home from school, turn on the radio, just in time for the bottom of the ninth, and Tommy Henrich blasts a homer off Don Newcombe, first and only run of the day.
Traumatic? And not just me. Let us fast forward half a century or so. My good friend and Newsday colleague Steve Jacobson is typing in the press room of Yankee Stadium on old-timers day. He sees Tommy Henrich, still spry, heading toward the men’s room.
Steve accuses Henrich of ruining his childhood with that home run. From that point on, Steve laments, he could no longer study, and therefore had to drift into the sordid life of sports columnist.
“Tough shit,” Henrich says genially. “What were you going to be, a doctor?” (Perfect Noo Yawk inflections and gestures.) And like a man taking a trot around the bases, Henrich continues to the men’s room.
Next stop: Oct. 3, 1951. I am in shop class in junior high. The teacher lets us put on the radio. My Dodgers have a lead on the annoying New York Giants in the third game of a playoff for the pennant. A classmate, a Yankee fan, says, “I can’t imagine how you will come to school tomorrow if the Dodgers lose.”
I take the subway home. Bobby Thomson hits a home run. Perhaps you have heard of it. I go to school the next day. Giants fans and Yankee fans jeer at me.
The only good that comes of it is Don DeLillo’s great “Pafko at the Wall” segment of the otherwise murky (to me) novel, “Underworld.”
Later, the New York Mets will be formed, and the collective angst of the Dodgers and Giants will be infused into the Mets’ DNA. The Mets will know glory in October, but also despair, as in 2000 when Yankee fans outnumber Mets fans for World Series games in Shea Stadium and Luis Sojo dribbles a crushing hit up the middle, and in 2006 when Yadier Molina hits a two-run homer as the Cardinals beat the Mets for the pennant.
Now my friend asks if I have any thoughts about the Mets’ game on Wednesday.
This has been one of the most enjoyable baseball seasons I have ever had, with the Mets playing beyond all hopes and expectations in the final six weeks or so. I will always glory in Granderson and TJ Rivera, Cabrera and Familia, and the prodigal son Reyes.
But I am writing this on the 65th anniversary of Bobby Thomson.
The game will be played on the 67th anniversary of Tommy Henrich.
I have thoughts.
10/3/2016 12:03:10 pm
October 1969. Fourteen years old watching first World Series game Mets vs Orioles with my friend Larry. We both put a quarter in the ash tray for bets. Orioles win game one, I lose the bet. Don't bet again Mets win 4 straight. 61 years old and haven't bet on a sporting event since then.
10/3/2016 01:30:40 pm
Dear Richard: Thanks. Great days. Epic days. I did brush over them, didn't I?
10/4/2016 09:36:16 am
"Well, they're playing with house money," says the casual Mets fan implying that this injury-plagued team has already surpassed everyone's expectations. But that is never true. Now that they're in I want to win. Badly. So I'm going to the Wild Card Game tomorrow night. on the theory that I want to either celebrate with 45,000 compatriots or be consoled by knowing that I'm in the company of thousands of my fellow sufferers.
10/4/2016 12:55:11 pm
Roy, hope you are happy afterward. I loved the Mets fans in Phila over the weekend -- like last year's clinching in Cincy. Mets fans don't look like any other fans, bless our scruffy little hearts. GV
10/6/2016 01:36:12 pm
Joan Didion wrote, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live" and I assume that will happen for me as I put this season in perspective but this morning it just hurts.
10/4/2016 01:58:54 pm
Mr. Vecsey, lovely. I seem to recall the comedian Phil Foster calling October 3, 1951, "D-Day" for "Dat Day." For me, it also means it was the first day in my 51 1/2 years of life that Vin Scully wasn't a Dodgers broadcaster. That may be worse (I jest?).
10/4/2016 04:01:48 pm
Michael, nice to hear from you. Connie Desmond had a great voice and knew the game. Shame he didn't go a long time, but it opened up space for Scully.
10/4/2016 05:03:31 pm
In the days when I was more ecumenical in my NY baseball beliefs, I too enjoyed Red Barber on WPIX in New York. Mel Allen, of course, as well. I recommend Red's Friday morning chats with NPR's Bob Edwards. I hope they're available on NPR archives. They're quite rich.
10/5/2016 08:31:56 am
Peter,it's true. Red had a voice after baseball. Edwards brought out that side of him. Barber had a pastor's view -- admitting his guilt about his original thoughts about blacks in baseball, particularly.
10/5/2016 10:30:04 am
As a Yankee fan who grew up when NYC was a three team baseball town, I did not appreciate Red until he came to the Yankees. I had always enjoyed Mel Allen, but he did not have Red's class and knack of putting things into perspective.
10/5/2016 11:36:00 pm
Add tonight's 3-0 to the list. Saved 50 games, lost the big one this year. Ouch.
10/6/2016 09:48:58 am
Ouch, indeed. But what an improbable run.
10/6/2016 10:49:07 am
“Baseball has a way of ripping your ♥ out, stabbing it, putting it back in your chest, then healing itself just in time for spring training.” Noah, aka Thor.
10/6/2016 11:30:48 am
Ed, I was born half a decade after the bums left town, but my dad (a lifelong Yankee fan) exposed me to the Mets at just the right time -- a twi-night double header against the Phillies at Shea during the '69 pennant run. The Horace Clarke Yankees had no chance with me after that.
10/7/2016 10:46:50 am
Joshua, congratulations on overcoming your father's defective Yankee genes. I smile, just thinking of Ebbets Field. At about 15, I used to walk from the LIRR Atlantic Ave. station to the field carrying a small cardboard suitcase, strong enough to sit on for several hours to buy general admission tickets and wait for the park to open. Sandwich and drink in suitcase. There was an informal Section 8 club, between the mound and first base. Inside joke was a "Section 8"discharge from WWII military was psychiatric.
10/12/2016 03:35:20 pm
Dear Josh: I get a pang whenever I drive near the site. I once compared notes with Fred Wilpon. We both feel a magnetic pull when we are visiting the Botanical Garden -- the head jerking to the east.
10/6/2016 01:11:59 pm
10/12/2016 03:38:43 pm
Dear Altenir: Their even-year regime is over. Their bullpen let them down. I was long asleep. Once the Mets went out, I'm taking the autumn off. Wait til next year. GV
10/6/2016 04:43:36 pm
Bumgarner’s performance got me recalling something a Dodger manager said (do any of you remember who he was, and what year it was?) when he had to decide who to start in (I think it was) the seventh game of a World Series. His choices: Drysdale, with three days’ rest, and Koufax, with two. He went with Koufax, saying, "When it's a seventh game and you've got a Koufax, I don't care if he's had three days’ rest, or two, or one. You go with him."
10/6/2016 05:12:34 pm
Let’s hear it for Google, which just provided the answer to my question: it was the 1965 World Series, against the Minnesota Twins, and Walt Alston was the manager.
George S Vecsey
10/7/2016 09:18:55 am
Gene: I always thought the Drysdale quip was apocryphal (I covered that World Series as a boy reporter) but my pal Jane Leavy has it in her lovely bio of Koufax, and I knew Jane gets things right, and has good sources. The SI link says Koufax had been in uniform on Yom Kippur twice earlier in his career, and pitched after sundown, but that was before he was an icon, with great meaning to Jews (and others) and there was never an issue. He is an admirable person -- I heard it from my friend Bob Welch, who regarded Koufax as an older brother in whom he could confide.
10/6/2016 09:44:27 pm
George, this is exciting and brilliant commentary
10/7/2016 09:29:06 am
Brian: Well, here's a good reason to root as you do. After finding fault with Trump in the primaries, the Republican Ricketts family has now pledged $1-m to his campaign
10/7/2016 09:41:53 am
That's a great find, George! You are unsurpassed as a researcher. If you worked for the FBI, they'd all be in jail! Fans and teams are like a marriage. I remember the Giants on local NY TV, so now I'll route for my EX and hope Bumgarner's arm does fall off after his seventh game victory over the Cubs.
10/7/2016 07:21:17 pm
Brian, that's nice, but when I retired I was at the low quadrant of researching skills for NYT reporters, and it's only gotten worse. Google is an amazing tool, however. It saves hours of arguments over little things.Just take out the smartphone and peck a few keys...and no guessing. Imagine all the bar rights that could have been avoided.
10/9/2016 10:51:26 am
"Good Night, Mets," wrote Roger Angel in an essay that finished with this prophecy: "This will instill in Ian a lifelong sense of joy and optimism—nothing remotely like reality, but another gift from baseball."
10/9/2016 08:19:49 pm
Mendel thanks for letting me know. I don't check up on Roger online as much as I should. He adds the perfect pastor/rabbi touch for finding the good. The sum of the season was a blessing, nothing less, except maybe to the pitchers with careers in the balance. But for fans....Be well. GV
10/10/2016 10:20:16 am
Gotta love all this fuss about "locker room" talk - prefaced with the modifier "football," as if baseball locker rooms are obviously more refined. You've been in both, George. What is your experience?
10/12/2016 03:46:47 pm
Dear Mendel: It is past sundown there; so here is my answer: the only locker room where reporters spend a lot of time is baseball. And it used to be more informal. In my youth I heard more scabrous stuff from ball players because I was there 3-4x longer from 1960-70. Much of it came from Mickey Mantle, who provided a daily recap of his off hours. ( Probably a lot of it true.) His night-owl pals didn't chip in much. He could be hilarious. He would pipe down when he realized Bobby Richardson was nearby, because he respected Richardson's religious life. Otherwise, there was little that did not get discussed. That was before women reporters were in the locker room. It took some of the lads a decade to figure out they could drape a towel around their waist. But the addition of our female colleagues cut the "locker-room talk" by 90 percent, and thank goodness for that. GV
10/11/2016 10:02:58 am
Per the discussion above of the Roger Angell requiem for the 2016 Mets, he apparently has a long history of describing the Mets as "tatterdemalion" (as, of course, only he could). Funny how such a highfalutin' word fits so well for such a persistently lunch bucket team.
10/11/2016 05:22:31 pm
10/12/2016 03:53:10 pm
10/13/2016 02:08:22 pm
Yes, I do, George, he's my favorite writer too.
10/15/2016 06:49:18 pm
Seem dated by now, but at the time:
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.