Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
October 2, 1969, Vol. XIV, No. 51
Young-at-Heart Mets Wait Till This Year!
by Michael C.D. Macdonald
The first game ever played at Shea Stadium had proved to be my last visit with the Mets. Feeling apart from the “new breed” of mid-suburban fan who cheered the Mets to defeat that brisk April day, I further crossed off Shea for visual reasons alone. Aesthetically, Shea was a plastic pleasure dome for young Nassau; psychologically, Shea’s sweepback concrete tiers removed fan from field, chucking you backwards toward Flushing Bay. And finally, Shea was remote from New York. Not just from Manhattan but even from Queens itself.
This past August, I had watched half an inning of a Red Sox game from a telescope atop the 50-story Prudential Building; Fenway was accessible if away from the Hub, but Shea — seen through a telescope on the Empire State, Shea was a vague blob out by La Guardia. It seemed accessible only when passed over in an air shuttle to Washington or Boston — that was the remoteness of Shea.
All these things considered, exile from Shea proved easy. And then this season! Cornered by a sense of history, with the “magic number” down to one, I returned to Shea last Wednesday night exactly six seasons less two days since my last encounter. From the first game ever played there to this last game of the 1969 season, television had done the job. But now the Mets were doing the job: to Shea!
Vic Ziegel of the New York Post walked down University Place wearing an old corduroy jacket and a somewhat mundane blue shirt. “I’ve been saving these old clothes for five years — it can get very wet in a pennant clinching party! In Detroit last year, I saw writers tossed into the club’s whirlpool bath,” grinned Ziegel as we neared the IRT. It was 4 in the afternoon, the game would be at 7 and it was 2-2, bottom of the sixth in Chicago as the Cubs and Montreal Expos fought it out. Conceivably, by the time our subway reached Flushing, the Cubs might have lost and the Mets could back into a title. Still, even then Ziegel noted it would be “the division clinching to end all division clinchings!” at which he pulled back and discreetly smirked at my pressed blazer, tie, and gray flannel slacks. Two things began to worry me: would the Cubs win and preserve the drama for tonight — and did the Mets have a whirlpool bath…
The way out on the Flushing line: a lily white subway car. Rare for New York — a subway line contiguous to no major black or brown ethnic areas. Only one black couple aboard: like riding the LIRR. The black guy has a radio and as we get off at Shea he tunes in and grins: “6-2 Cubs, bottom of the eighth!” The view of Shea hasn’t changed since ’64: a vast parking lot surrounded now with a slightly damp mist being partly burned off by a setting sun. It is a lovely sky, but it is the same old Shea baseball factory set in an area void of housing, hotdog stands, or randy Irish, black, or Puerto Rican bars…
The press box at Shea is oppression defined. One enters through a passage separate from the fans, one is part of a Press and Clubhouse level — a thin tier running around the stadium just above the Mezzanine. Further isolation from the game is provided by a wall of plexiglas protecting writers, and box-seat holders sitting in the P and C level. On this muggy evening in these sealed quarters, with the heated, chattering wire service machines, the Press Box is tropical. Lindsay Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner next door are luckier: a camera cannot shoot through plexiglas, they alone can breathe fresh air, can visually and aurally relate to the stands and the game. But for the writers in the press box, the game is under glass — a huge VistaVision production one can turn away from as the spirit moves.
At 7, the game begins. Gentry sets the Cards down one-two-three, and the Mets promptly do their thing. Harrelson singles sharply, Agee walks, Cleon Jones returns to the starting lineup and strikes out. On the mound is Steve Carlton — the last time out against the Mets, Carlton had struck out 19 players for a new single-game record — and lost the game as Ron Swoboda hit two two-run homers in the spirit of the Truly Amazings. But Carlton’s authority is short: Donn Clendenon continues his batting practice, hits a line drive out toward dead center, and the ball nearly clears the fence at the 410 mark before tailing off in trajectory. It reminds me of my youth: throwing a Spalding up, up, up and just over the top of my four-story apartment house on 10th Street: Clendenon’s home run is quick, clean and very final — it is also the division title and the fans know it as they cheer him around the bases…
A the end of the eighth, pitcher Gary Gentry wound up things by taking a third strike: Cardinal catcher McCarver casually flipped the ball to Gentry — an intimate gesture from sandlot days. Gentry skimmed his plastic helmet into the dugout and for seconds stood revealed before 55,000 fans as the young man he was. His soft cap on, he walked to the mound as the fans began chanting “One! One! One! One!”, their right index fingers proudly spearing the air in short forward snaps of the wrist.
Five minutes later, the game-ending double play and the deluge. Koosman runs out of the dugout to hug Gentry, barely gets back, later calls what happened a “stampede.” And so it was. In one minute flat, a dust storm of dervishes was aboil, an animated Bethel happening, flecked with silver highlights where wristwatches caught the light as 1000 hands went up and index fingers pointed: “One! One! One! One!” they chanted as firecrackers blasted away and rolls of toilet paper unfurled across the field. The surging, brownish mass had the vibrant swirl of a Rubens oil sketch, the undefined sponginess of late Monet, and the subject matter, to borrow Pete Hamill’s perfect phrase, was “urban Brueghel.”
For the moment, a divided New York was whole and hopeful again — Art Shamsky replaced Al Shanker as jewish professional hero. For this moment, one could almost forget the trial of the Chicago Eight and the Black Monday protest — the Mets had told the Second City to stay in second place. For this moment, John V. Lindsay should have been there to seize this splendid new day. But his campaign goofed and he wasn’t around to sing “Good Night, Leo” with the fans while the psychedelic scoreboard summed the evening: “Mets O-Le!!!”
Down in the dressing room; the reek of spilled champagne, a press conference with Gil Hodges. He is smiling from a lined, somewhat pitted face which features a large nose that ski-jumps into a bit of a bulb. It is a caricature-face, yet a handsome and charming one in the Art Linkletter school. Jerry Koosman races in, empties a can of Rheingold over the boss, whoops back out. Hodges laughs with the press, towels his head for form’s sake, awaits the next pitcher of beer, and thinks that the 11-game winning streak might have been the turning point — “that’s my opinion, anyway,” he adds with modest authority as the writers smile…
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
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