A look back at the history of the New York Mets and the two-for-one special, the doubleheader.
With the New York Mets hosting a doubleheader that suddenly could mean more than just playing out the string, it’s a good moment to look back at the franchise’s doubleheaders over the years.
In 450-plus days when the Mets have played twice, there have been plenty of noteworthy moments, especially back when doubleheaders were printed on the schedule before the first rainout could occur. The 1962 Mets played 30 doubleheaders—winning three.
The 1965 season saw the Mets go until August before they had a week where they did NOT play a doubleheader. There are a few cases where the second game was not completed.
One memorable instance was in the final weekend of 1965 when Rob Gardner pitched 15 innings of shutout ball in the nightcap of a twinbill at Shea, only to see the game called by curfew after 18 innings. That game was replayed the next day from the beginning as another doubleheader.
Of Banners and Extras
The Mets allowed—yea, encouraged—thousands of people to come on the field annually between games of a selected twinbill (that’s an acceptable sports synonym for doubleheader) between 1963 and 1988. That event was known as the Banner Day doubleheader.
Banner Day was occasionally rescheduled due to rain. In an interview for Shea Stadium Remembered, Mets broadcaster Howie Rose told me how it felt in 1967, when, as a 13-year-old Queens kid, he received his first piece of mail from the Mets regarding the rained out Banner Day he had signed up to take part in with his buddies.
“Out of absolutely nowhere, in early September, I get a letter from the Mets on Mets stationary, which I thought was the coolest thing I’d ever gotten,” Rose recalled. “I open it up and it’s two tickets to the rescheduled Banner Night… I was in shock, here I was with free tickets to another Mets game.” Let the record show that a couple of hours after Rose walked on the field with his banner, the Mets walked off the field celebrating a three-run home by Jerry Buchek to beat Houston in inning number 10. You know Howie was there until the final pitch.
That was certainly not the last time Banner Day fouled up someone’s schedule. Phillies third baseman Don Money hit a game-tying home run off Jon Matlack in the ninth inning in the opener of the 1972 Banner Night twinbill. The teams played the equivalent of another game without offensive success.
Author Greg Prince wrote in The Happiest Recap that nearly 4,000 people with banners had gone out to wait for the parade beyond the center field fence. Almost half of them gave up over the next couple of hours, but once Cleon Jones ended the interminable wait with a game-winning single in the 18th, the game day staff whisked 2,176 people across the field with their bedsheet displays of emotion. The teams hit the field again for a much quicker nightcap, which the Mets lost. The last pitch of the game thrown by that year’s Cy Young winner, Steve Carlton, came at 12:45 a.m.
That still wasn’t close to the longest doubleheader ever played by the Mets—or any other team. The first twinbill ever played at Shea ended with a 23-inning loss to the Giants in 1964. With a regulation first-game defeat added in, that’s a doubleheader record total of 32 innings.
One of the more exciting Banner Days occurred in 1983. The Mets would finish last that year, but between the return of Tom Seaver and the Mets debuts of fan favorites Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling, Shea there were some fun moments. July 31 was Banner Day and the Mets overcame the Pirates in 12 innings. Twice.
All-Star reliever Jesse Orosco, who would finish third in the Cy Young voting, pitched five innings in all and won both games. New York scored four in the eighth inning of the opener and then won on Bob Bailor’s walkoff hit in the 12th inning. The Mets were being no-hit by Jose DeLeon in the ninth inning of the nightcap when Hubie Brooks broke it up with a single. Neither team had scored, so the game ground on.
The Pirates tried to turn a double play to end the 12th, but George Foster beat the throw and Mookie Wilson, who never stopped running, scored the only run of the game. Those ’83 Mets went 4-2-5 in doubleheaders; the rest of the time they were 56-84. But the Mets renaissance soon followed.
I was happy when Banner Day was brought back after 16 summers off in 2012. But the event never worked as a single game. Banner Day was created as between-game entertainment. Thousands of banners would stream on the field between games and the proceedings were shown live on WOR-TV. There was no postgame show (or pregame show for the second game, for that matter) because there was another game coming up!
The announcers talked about what happened in the first game and what may happen in the second game during the parade, but mostly the announcers watched and laughed along with the people at home and in the stands as thousands of banners were carried through the center field fence and then around the track. A personal favorite: “Ralph Kiner is God!”
Economic considerations drove the scheduled Banner Day doubleheader out of existence after the 1988 season. The parade of banners died a slow, sad death for another eight years with fewer and fewer people coming out before a game to watch the dwindling number of participants.
May 25, 2014 was scheduled as Banner Day. A rainout the day before necessitated a doubleheader the same day. Yet the banners did not come out between games. Arrrgh! They were seen by a handful of employees and relatives before the first game.
Almost all of the 30,000 on hand for the split against the Diamondbacks spent the half-hour between games looking at their phones rather than at the field and the scrawled witticisms of their baseball brood.
When Banner Day began 56 years ago, about the only way a Mets fan could show their fellow fans what they felt about the team was on a bedsheet. Now there is any number of ways people can trumpet their thoughts on the web and Twitter-verse. I’d rather give a sheet.