I learned the game from 1962 on, in the company of Casey Stengel, as he managed The Worst Team in the History of Baseball.
Casey's first young star with the Mets was Ron Hunt, tough country boy and master of getting hit by pitches.
Casey knew the odds were stacked against the Mets. He said the umpires “screw us because we are lousy,” only he said it more graphically.
So his Mets had to do something. He had a club rule – anybody who got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded would make $50.
On May 12, 1963, Rod Kanehl, scrappy itinerant, took one for the team – and for his wallet – by managing to get hit by the Reds, scoring (NB: delightful Mets names about to appear) Tim Harkness, with Jim Hickman moving to third and Choo Choo Coleman moving to second. It is said that Rod virtually skipped on his way to first, laughing at the manna from heaven, or Casey, either way.
How much would $50 be today? Kanehl’s protégé in 1964 was Bill Wakefield, rookie pitcher. Being a Stanford guy, Wakefield crunched the numbers the other day and figured the windfall for his late pal would be worth between $600-750 today. “We were all making $7K - $10K a year,” Wakefield wrote.
Plus, the Mets went on to win the game, no small achievement then, or ever.
Casey’s belief that you gotta do something was not lost on Ron Hunt, who used to wear floppy flannel jerseys a size or two big, so they would hang out and absorb a pitch. Hunt even dared the fates by getting hit by Bob Gibson, the surliest pitcher in the universe, and proud of it. Hunt went on to set a modern record by getting hit 50 times in 1971 (for Montreal.)
Being around scrappers like Hunt and Kanehl and enablers like The Old Man, I still think it is part of the game to bend the rules until the umps wise up. One ump who may have wised up by now is Ron Kulpa, who ruled Conforto was legitimately hit, and the game was over, but later admitted Conforto had his arm in the strike zone and should have been called out. (Every sportswriter in American promptly dubbed him Mea Kulpa, obviously.)
Having been around tough birds like Casey, Hunt, Kanehl and Gibson, I have some advice for the admirable Michael Conforto: in the next two games against Miami, you just might want to hang loose.
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PS: Talk about mood swings: the Mets were down, 2-1, going into the bottom of the ninth. Howe Rose, on Mets radio, said he knows the mindset of Jeff McNeil, intense second baseman (when management leaves him alone) who was hitless in his first 10 at-bats this season. Take it from an old-timer, McNeil has some Rod Kanehl and Ron Hunt in him. Howie Rose said McNeil would try to pull a home run -- which he did, tying the game, prompting a celebratory bat flip, seen as bad form by opponents these days, Soon came Conforto's bases-loaded heroics. If I were McNeil, I also might want to hang loose in the next two games.
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Rod Kanehl’s $50 plunking in 1963:
Lovely profile of Ron Hunt:
4/10/2021 10:24:00 pm
george-beautiful.i also thought that conforto and mcneil should hang loose.was at a weekday day game at the polo grounds that harkness won with a 270 foot grand slam.
4/11/2021 05:25:30 pm
Ahron: I was there, Weekday day game....hot...I had mowed the lawn in the AM and got there before gametime at the Polo Grounds, I can still see Harkness -- nice guy -- outside the clubhouse in deep CF, waving to the fans. The PG was nuts for those two years. I feel that it's still there somehow. GV
4/11/2021 06:56:22 pm
george-i was a 15 year old in that crowd he was waving to.i can pick myself out of the crowd in the next seasons yearbook.
4/12/2021 01:52:14 am
4/11/2021 01:20:58 pm
Sigh! Mets shut out, DeGrom 8 innings, one ERA, (previous discussion). Meanwhile four Met starters are batting under the Mendoza line, and another at .211. The all star, superstar, team saver is one of them!
4/11/2021 05:30:32 pm
Yes, that is an old Quaker saying. Our grandson, maybe 4- or 5, was in a grocery store with his mom outside Harrisburg, PA -- and he used the word "schmutz." Somebody laughed appreciatively -- our daughter didn't know if the person was familiar with Yiddish or Pennsylvania Dutch, or both., What a great country!
Mike from NW Queens
4/11/2021 02:20:20 pm
Did Conforto get Mo Vaughans old locker? He dresses like him on the field with that forearm gear.
4/11/2021 05:38:59 pm
Mike, I had forgotten Vaughn's armor ....but they're not the only ones, I covered the 2002 WS, Giants and Angels, and Barry Bonds was dressed like some warrior in "Monty Python" -- armor everywhere,
4/11/2021 03:34:46 pm
George Costanza: "It's not a lie if you believe it."
4/11/2021 05:41:14 pm
Mendel: It is a good Talmudic question: which is worse: believing something or not believing but saying it anyway? GV
4/11/2021 05:07:36 pm
I have this vague memory od someone saying, “if it had hit him on the head, it wouldnt have hurt him,” but cant find it. Anybody else?
4/13/2021 09:09:04 pm
Dear George: Thank you very much for bringing these amazing baseball stories. Your texts increase my love for baseball. I never get tired to read and reread.
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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.