As this is our only trip to Los Angeles this season, please allow me to turn back the clock a bit, and give June one last twist. Thirty-six years ago, the Mets visited the Los Angeles Dodgers for a three game series. On June 4th, 1976, the Mets were 25-27, and in third place, 10 1/2 games out of first place.
Promoted from within, Joe Frazier followed Yogi Berra, who was fired during the 1975 season, as manager of the Mets. Joe Frazier was also soon fired early in the 1977 season, and replaced with Joe Torre, who was still an active member on the Mets’ roster. For the home team, Walter Alston was in his last season managing the Dodgers. The man who piloted Brooklyn to their only World Series championship would be replaced with Tommy Lasorda the following season. But on this day, he probably wished he had retired a game sooner.
L.A.’s starting pitcher; Burt Hooton; lasted all of 4.2 innings against the Mets. He surrendered seven earned runs on seven hits, and issued two walks, with one strike out for show. Stan Wall, and Al Downing pitched in relief. Wall pitched well over 1.1 innings. But the Mets hammered Al Downing for another four runs.
The brunt of the punishment inflicted upon L.A.’s pitching came off the bat of Dave Kingman. The called him Kong, and Sky King. If you never saw him play, he was a right handed and skinnier version of Adam Dunn. In 1976, he was off to a great start, and having a prolific season, battling with Mike Schmidt of the Phillies for the N.L. home run lead. On the other side of this tale, a thumb injury derailed not only Kingman’s season, but the Mets’ entire season. Without Kong, the Mets line-up lacked clout. Rusty Staub was now in Detroit, and John Milner couldn’t keep the power going by himself.
But on this night, your author was up late watching the Mets’ game on WOR-TV. Dave Kingman had the best night of his career, jacking three home runs and driving in eight runs in five at-bats. Two home runs came off Hooton, and one came off Al Downing. For reference, Burt Hooton would get creamed a year later in the 1977 World Series by Reggie Jackson. And Al Downing was the pitcher who famously gave up Hank Aaron’s 715th home run in Atlanta a year before.
Dave Kingman’s home runs weren’t cheap either. They were all no-doubters. His second home run dropped way back in the left field bullpen. And his third was a moon shot to straight away center field. It was indeed a prolific display.
Tommy Lasorda’s post game reaction is now legendary. From a post titled: Infamous Dodger Moments over at Dodger Blues, here is the post-game exchange between Tommy Lasorda, and reporter, Paul Olden – The post also has an audio link:
Reporter: Can you give us just a few basic comments about your feelings on the game?
Lasorda: Well, naturally I feel bad about losing a ball game like that, there’s no way you should lose that ball game. An’, it, uh, just doesn’t make sense.
R: What’s your opinion of Kingman’s performance?
TL: What’s my opinion of Kingman’s performance!? What the BLEEP do you think is my opinion of it? I think it was BLEEPING BLEEP. Put that in, I don’t BLEEP. Opinion of his performance!!? BLEEP, he beat us with three BLEEPING home runs! What the BLEEP do you mean, “What is my opinion of his performance?” How could you ask me a question like that, “What is my opinion of his performance?” BLEEP, he hit three home runs! BLEEP. I’m BLEEPING pissed off to lose that BLEEPING game. And you ask me my opinion of his performance! BLEEP. That’s a tough question to ask me, isn’t it? “What is my opinion of his performance?”
R: Yes, it is. I asked it, and you gave me an answer…
TL: Well, I didn’t give you a good answer because I’m mad, but I mean…
R: Well, is wasn’t a good question…
TL: That’s a tough question to ask me right now, “What is my opinion of his performance.” I mean, you want me to tell you what my opinion of his performance is…
R: You just did…
TL: That’s right. BLEEP. Guy hits three home runs against us. BLEEP.
Pitching for the Mets that night, was none other than Tom Seaver, looking for his fifth win of the season against four loses. He pitched a complete game shutout, lowering his ERA to a 3.10 mark. He gave up a mere three hits, walked one, and struck out eight. Two of the hits Seaver allowed came from pinch-hitters batting for the pitcher.
It was one of those games that has stayed fresh in my mind throughout my lifetime. What a great night to be a Mets fan.
Background to 1976: The Mets finished the season in third place, fifteen games behind first place Philadelphia, and six games behind second place Pittsburgh, but posted their second highest victory total (86) in their fourteen year history. Buddy Harrelson missed most of the season with an injury. And Jerry Koosman was working on his first twenty win season.
Also From the 1976 Archives ~ More Fun Than a Nine Year Old Should Be Allowed to Have: I was born a Mets fan, but I was schooled in the art of Dodger Hatin’ from friends, neighbors, and Mets fans on my block. And so as a kid, I hated the Dodgers and Cubs the most.
Chalk another game up to DairyLea milk carton Mets coupons. After handing my Pop another forty-coupons good for two tickets, me, Pop, his cousin, and my best friend from next door took in the game that night at Shea. It’s not you… the math doesn’t add up; I know. But when you’re nine, who cares!
Back then, soda was still sold in the old wax paper cups with plastic wrap around the top. We sat front row upper deck this night. The famous Dodgers’ infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey was already in place. But it was Garvey I despised most, and I couldn’t offer a reason why. But on this night, my buddy and I finished our sodas, and popped out the bottom of the cups to make an improvised megaphone.
With profound immaturity and great pleasure, I used my cup to announce every Steve Garvey at-bat. And it was glorious! Now batting for the Dodgers, STEVE GAR-BAGE, GARBAGE, #6…! My Pop was paying us no mind because he was entertaining his cousin from out of town. But my buddy and I were crying, stupidly, with laughter.
That’s what being a Met fan was like at nine. And that’s what the Dodgers are to me; Garbage. Dem Buncha Bums! Traitors!
Let’s Go Mets!