Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May 15- New York Mets

I started writing this article earlier in the day, but quickly realized by the third paragraph that I was in fact writing a decent lead for a completely different New York Mets hat. I had a feeling something like this would happen; that I wouldn’t be able to form a strong enough opening to my story. For hours I’ve gone back-and-forth with different methods and ideas of how to kick this off, but none of them worked. The last few days seemed much easier to put together and I really have no idea why this article is so difficult. I guess something like this was bound to happen after 133 articles each and every day. I just want everything to be perfect.

Since 2008 the New York Mets have hosted a Military Appreciation Day every Memorial Day along with the USO. This upcoming Memorial Day will mark the sixth year they’ve done something so grand. Over 1400 active and retired members of the armed forces will be on hand as the Mets host their cross-town rival the New York Yankees. Last season the Mets hosted the Philadelphia Phillies before a packed house at Citi Field, losing the first game of the series. I remember the day vividly as it was the final full day that I was in the MLB Fan Cave. Eddie Mata, the Yankees fan, and I were shown the door the next day. But the one thing that made it all worth while was when Eddie had scored tickets from the owner of the Phillies for the rubber match on Wednesday.

I had never been to Citi Field, let alone Shea Stadium, but I can honestly say that it is in my Top-five of the stadiums I have visited. Our tickets were about 15 rows behind home plate. Both of us just looked in awe at one another with every “private” door that we were given access to. Around us were a few veterans who were still in town enjoying a game before they had to report back to their base over the weekend. Eddie and I chatted them up a bit, asked where they were from, etc. Eddie asked a few questions too many in my opinion, so I sat back and enjoyed the game without getting too involved. I crushed one of the finest pastrami sandwiches I had ever eaten, I drank a few beers, got soft serve ice cream in a helmet (only way to go), but mostly got to enjoy my freedom again after being cooped up in a glass box for two months. As great and as cool as the experience looks on the outside, it’s way more stressful than I could have ever imagined.

I’ll go into more details of that night in a later post. I found it fitting for the time period and as a reflection of how good I have it some times. Life could always be worse, and life certainly was worse a little shy of a hundred years ago when the United States was involved in its first overseas conflict during World War I. The US had gone to war several times in the previous 200 years, but none of them took as many lives as the four-year conflict we encountered, added on with the influenza outbreak of 1919 which killed millions more. Seriously, the flu. Back then it wasn’t a joke, and it was all made worse by the introduction of chemical-based weapons like mustard gas which were introduced during the war, and eventually brought back within the men who fought and later died due to complications. The most notable figure who faced this was Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, but he’ll come up again in a later post. Only one person with ties to the Mets throughout baseball history was involved with the first Great War, but very little can be found about his time in the military.

#37- The Old Perfessor, Casey Stengel, served as the original Mets manager from 1962 until the middle of the 1965 season. Prior to his time with the Mets Stengel was a Hall of Fame-bound manager of the Yankees. From 1949-1960 he led the Yanks to 10 World Series, but only won seven of them (1949-1953, 1956 and 1958). His time with the Mets went in the exact opposite direction; he posted some of the worst years in Major League history and became the first manager of a team to compile 100 or more losses in three or more straight seasons. His final record with the Mets was 175-404 and he never managed in baseball again after August 30, 1965.

Stengel played professionally from 1912-1925 as a right fielder for the Brooklyn Robins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Giants and Boston Braves. In 1919, when he was with the Pirates he was taunted mercilessly by fans of the Robins, his old team. Somehow Casey got hold of a sparrow and used it to turn the crowd in his favor. With the bird tucked gently beneath his cap, Casey strutted to the plate amidst a chorus of boos and catcalls. He turned to the crowd, tipped his hat and out flew the sparrow. The jeers turned to cheers, and Stengel became an instant favorite. In 1921 and 1922 he won two World Series rings as a member of the Giants, thus bringing his ring total up to nine as a player and a manager.

From what I’ve been able to track down his time in the military is a bit of mystery. This is his draft card from May 28, 1917, two days before Memorial Day.

Everything looks pretty legit; however, where everything goes weird is that I found a site that has Stengel listed as having been in the Navy and served during World War I, but according to his stat sheets he played ball every year from 1917-1918 the last few years and months of the war. So, being the good journalist that I am, I kept digging until I found an answer… and sure enough I did in the form of an article from the St. Petersburg Times from July 28, 1963: Casey Stengel
 Stengel never fought overseas. Hell, he never even left the dock. But that was how things went for professional ballplayers throughout the military campaign.

The one thing that I will always give full credit to the Mets about is that they were classy enough to retire Stengel's #37 by the end of the '65 season. Even though his time there wasn't something to be celebrated, the fans and the front office loved having him in the house. The other important thing to note from this is that it took until 1970 for the Yankees to give Stengel the same amount of love.That's the Amazin' Mets for ya!

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