In the long storied history of New York City baseball, perhaps no player tantalized the citizenry more than tonight’s legendary honoree at Shea Stadium. In winning Rookie of the Year, this man batted .274 with twenty home runs, sixty-eight runs batted in, and was the on-deck batter when team mate Bobby Thompson connected on his N.L. pennant clinching home run to defeat the rival Brooklyn Dodgers back in October of 1951. However, this player was promptly taken away from Gotham a first time when duty called. Uncle Sam employed him during the Korean conflict for the better part two seasons.
At age twenty-three, he stormed back into the Polo Grounds, ending the 1954 regular season with a National League leading .345 average, thirteen triples, and a .667 slugging mark. He hit forty-one home runs and won the N.L. Most Valuable Player in a most triumphant return to baseball. The New York Giants won the World Series over Cleveland that year, highlighted by this center fielder’s brilliant, if not miraculous catch off the bat of Vic Wertz, while running full speed with his back facing home plate – a catch still considered remarkable today, then still had the ability and presence of mind to stop on a dime, turn, and throw the ball back into second base.
Unlike Mr. O’Malley who was still generating profits in Brooklyn, Horace Stoneham’s club was actually losing considerable money playing in upper Manhattan, and when O’Malley proposed the Giants accompany the Dodgers to California, business decisions ruled the day. At the conclusion of the 1957 season, two National League baseball teams, and all Gotham’s N.L. hometown heroes to include Willie Mays, were taken away from New York City, this time for good.
Fifteen years later, in 1972 a heavy burden was lifted off the shoulders of San Francisco Giants owner Horace Stoneham. On the one hand, Willie Mays was clearly not the Say Hey Kid of his prime, but Stoneham, contrary to popular opinion in this town, still is one of the more compassionate owners in the game, and wanted nothing less than a dignified end to the great Willie Mays’ career. In fact, Stoneham was far more torn over leaving New York than his contemporary ever was.
Truly a one and only - New York City native Mrs. Joan Payson was a minority owner of the former New York Giants, and voted against the move to San Francisco. Once the final decision to head west was made, Mrs. Payson sold her interests in the Giants. She then teamed with lawyer William Shea and others, and in matter of fact fashion, muscled Major League Baseball into expansion under threat of creating a new league (Continental League), and forcing direct competition upon the old establishment. Thus, in 1962 the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club was born, and National League baseball was correctly restored to Gotham.
On May 11th of last year, at our wonderful Lady Payson’s behest, Willie Mays was returned to the city that never ceased to love him. Tonight, before a chilled crowd of 43,805 adoring Willie Mays and Mets fans alike, the Say Hey Kid, who many would argue is the greatest all around player in baseball history, was honored.
When it came time for Willie to reflect and share his thoughts with the Shea crowd, he offered:
“I never felt I would ever quit baseball. But as you know, there is always a time for someone to get out.”
“I look at the kids over here, the way they’re playing, the way they’re fighting for themselves and it tells me one thing – Willie, say goodbye to America.”
Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial were on hand for tonight’s near hour long celebration. Along with Willie Mays, they are the only three players to appear in twenty-four all-star games. Among the many gifts lavished upon Willie Mays, was a snowmobile given by pugilist Smokin’ Joe Frazier, three cars, and even a mink coat for Mrs. Mays.
Willie is unlikely to play again during this regular season. He has not played since September 9th in Montreal. While playing first base and in pursuit of a pop foul ball near the stands, he bruised his hip against the railing. Willie hit six home runs for the Mets this season, bringing his prodigious total to 660 for his illustrious career.
There was still important baseball to be played after the ceremony. The Mets entered tonight’s series opener against the Montreal Expos winners of six in a row, and astonishingly, leaders of the National League East by one-half game over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tonight, with southpaws Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw combining on the mound, and Cleon Jones supplying a huge clutch hit, the Mets defeated the Expos 2-1, to capture their seventh straight victory.
|Montreal Expos||New York Mets|
|1||Felipe Alou||LF||1||Wayne Garrett||3B|
|2||Ron Woods||CF||2||Felix Millan||2B|
|3||Bob Bailey||3B||3||Rusty Staub||RF|
|4||Hal Breeden||1B||4||John Milner||1B|
|5||Ken Singleton||RF||5||Cleon Jones||LF|
|6||John Boccabella||C||6||Dave Schneck||CF|
|7||Tim Foli||SS||7||Jerry Grote||C|
|8||Pepe Frias||2B||8||Bud Harrelson||SS|
|9||Steve Rogers||P||9||Jerry Koosman||P|
In earning his thirteenth victory of the season, Jerry Koosman held Montreal scoreless through the first five innings. He tossed 6.2 total innings, allowed just one unearned run on six hits, walked two and struck out four before giving way to Tug McGraw. The Mets eccentric reliever extraordinaire then continued his September domination over division rivals. With another 2.1 innings of scoreless work, Tug has now allowed just one run in 27.1 innings pitched this month, for a 0.33 September ERA. In addition to recording three other victories this month, he earned his ninth save tonight, and his twenty-fourth overall.
The Mets broke a scoreless deadlock in the home fifth on Felix Millan‘s sac-fly off Expos starter Steve Rogers. Bud Harrelson scored to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. Wayne Garrett‘s error in the top of the sixth led to Montreal’s only run of the game. Then quickly, with one out in the home sixth, Cleon Jones took Steve Rogers deep for his ninth home run of the season, giving the Mets a 2-1 edge, and final victory.
Yogi Berra‘s squad now owns a 1.5 game first place lead over Pittsburgh, who lost this evening to Steve Carlton and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Mets improved their record to 80-77, and now have just five games left in the regular season. They will wrap up this short series against Montreal tomorrow, which will also bring their highly successful final home stand of the regular season to an end as well. The Mets have won six of a possible seven home games heading into tomorrow. Tom Seaver and Balor Moore are the scheduled pitchers. New York will then end the regular season in Chicago. Looking ahead, the weatherman predicts a grim forecast over Waveland Avenue this weekend.