Friday, October 3, 2008

Top 10 Moments at Shea Stadium

The dismantling of the William A. Shea Municipal Stadium has begun. A mercy killing.

Top 10 Greatest Moments at Shea Stadium
Keep in mind, this is my list. It's not the same as a Met fan's list.

Honorable Mention. June 14, 1987. Mets-Phillies. Met fans are enjoying a beautiful afternoon, when a crucial Keith Hernandez error leads to a 5-run Phillies 9th, costing the Mets the game. Their day was ruined.

There was a lot of people, you know, they were waiting by the player's parking lot. Now, Kramer and Newman were coming down the ramp. Newman was in front of Kramer. Keith was coming toward them. As he passes, Newman turns and says, "Nice game, pretty boy!" And then, Keith spit on them!

Actually, it was Roger McDowell, behind the bushes along that gravelly road.

Actually, that was just an episode of Seinfeld. In reality, the Mets played the Pittsburgh Pirates on that date, away, at Three Rivers Stadium. The Mets won 7-3, with Hernandez going 2-for-4 with 2 RBI & 2 runs scored. Neither Keith nor any other Met committed an error.

10. Pretty much any day from 1977 to 1983. After general manager M. Donald Grant traded Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman in the Midnight Massacre of June 15, 1977, Shea had so few fans coming in it was called "Grant's Tomb."

Things didn't get much better until after Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday bought the team from Lorinda de Roulet, daughter of the late founder Joan Payson, in 1980. By '83, they had Darryl Strawberry and had traded for Keith Hernandez. The pieces would fall into place over the next 3 years.

But that '77 to '83 era is a permanent scar on the franchise's history. Sure, any Yankee Fan can name the '78 Yankees, but can you name the '78 Mets?

I can. 1st base, Mike Jorgenson. 2nd base, Doug Flynn. Shortstop, Sergio Ferrer. 3rd base, Lenny Randle. Left field, Steve Henderson. Center field, Lee Mazzilli. Right field, Bruce Boisclair. Catcher, John Stearns. Top starter, Craig Swan. Top reliever, Skip Lockwood. Of these, how many were invited to the Shea Goodbye ceremony? Just Flynn, Mazzilli, Stearns and Swan.

9. Take your pick of days in 1993. The seemingly endless winless streak of Anthony Young. Bobby "Make Yo' Move, 'Cause I'll Hurt You" Bonilla. Bret "Bleacher Bum" Saberhagen. Vince "Firecracker" Coleman.

The Mets of 1962-65 had been laughably bad. The Mets of 1966-68 were merely mediocre, but still had the excuse of being an expansion team. The Mets of 1977-83 were just awful. But the Mets of 1993 weren't just ahead of the '62 originals' record pace of 120 losses (a record for the 20th Century, anyway, and they ended up with "only" 103), they were overpriced (Saberhagen, Bonilla, an apparently useless Eddie Murray, all of whom perked up after they were traded), and some of them were juvenile delinquents.

It was the most disgraceful team in the history of New York baseball, in ways that a team that merely loses big games could never be.

8. June 26, 1998. Interleague matchup. The Mets lead the Yankees 4-3 in the top of the 7th, but the Yankees get 2 men on. Manager Bobby Valentine brings in lefthanded pitcher Brian Bohanon to face lefthanded hitter Paul O'Neill.

Wait, no, to face the lefty O'Neill, Bobby V brings in the righthanded Mel Rojas! What is he thinking? Rojas is thinking, "Curveball, low and away." Paulie Pinstripes is thinking, "That's just the kind of pitch I can reach, and knock over the left-center-field fence into that dopey little picnic area out there. Thank you very much." Okay, he probably only thought, "I got this."

But the rest happened. Yanks 6, Mets 4. The game ends Yanks 8, Mets 4.

O'Neill is 2nd only to Mr. Reginald Martinez Jackson on my list of all-time favorite players, and this is one of the Top 10 Paul O'Neill Moments -- maybe Number 3, behind his 2000 World Series Game 1 performance and his farewell in Game 5 of the 2001 Series.

7. October 9, 1988. Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Mets lead the Los Angeles Dodgers 2 games to 1, and 4-3 in the top of the 9th, and Dwight Gooden, the greatest pitcher in the world (or so Met fans tell us), is pitching to Mike Scioscia. Finishing off this inning will put the Mets up 3 games to 1 with Game 5 tomorrow at Shea, and it'll never get back to L.A., and the Mets will face the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. (As they did in 1973, and lost.)

Today, we know Scioscia as the manager of the Whatever They’re Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim. But 20 years ago, he was the Dodgers' catcher. A good catcher. Not much of a hitter, though: In 408 at-bats that season, he batted .257 with 3 homers and 35 RBI.

But he hits a 2-run homer off the supposedly invincible Doctor K. Tie game. The Dodgers win it in the 12th, 5-4, to tie the series. The Dodgers win the Pennant when Orel Hershiser pitches a 5-hit shutout in Game 7, 6-0 at Dodger Stadium. The 3 previous Dodger wins in the series were all by 3 runs or less.

The Mets had much more talent than the Dodgers. This would have built upon their 1986 World Championship. And it was the first chance New York – the National League "half" of it, anyway – had their chance to get their revenge on the evil O’Malley family for the Treason of '57. But they blew it.

The Curse of Kevin Mitchell had leveled its first blow against the Mutts. The Flushing Heathen would have to wait until 2006 to finally beat the Dodgers in the postseason – and, by then, the O’Malley family had been 9 years beyond selling the franchise.

6. December 29, 1968. American Football League Championship Game. The New York Jets win, advancing to Super Bowl III. The icing on the cake is that it was the Oakland Raiders that they beat. Although, let's be honest here: They were already the Raiders, but they weren't yet Da Raiduhs, if ya know what I mean. Still good, though, especially since this was just a month after the Heidi Bowl in Oakland.

And, as long as we're being honest: In the Super Bowl, Joe Namath was rather ordinary aside from his bold guarantee; in the AFL Title Game, he was magnificent. And I'm not even a Jet fan.

5. October 19, 2006. Game 7 of the NLCS. The Mets are playing the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets won 97 games, the Cards 83. They're tied 1-1 in the top of the 9th, when Yadier Molina -- at that point, the 3rd-best Molina brother -- hits a Pennant-winning home run off Aaron Heilman.

In the bottom of the 9th, the Mets get the tying and Pennant-winning runs on base, but Carlos Beltran takes a called 3rd strike to lose the Pennant. This is the closest the Mets have gotten to a Pennant since 2000, and they blew it.

4. September 30, 2007. Regular season finale. The Mets finish a choke of a 7-game NL East lead with 17 to play, and lose to the Florida Marlins to miss the Playoffs completely. The biggest choke in baseball history. Or, at least, regular season history.

3. September 28, 2008. The End. The Groundhog Day Game. The Mets finish a choke of a 3 1/2-game NL East lead with 17 to play, and lose to the Marlins on the last day of the regular season to miss the Playoffs completely.

This one was worse than 2007, even though the blown lead was half as much, because it also forced the Mutts to close Shea out with an awful, crushing loss.

After that, a few thousand fans left, missing the closing ceremony. You slimeballs. Just because the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Mets clowned around and broke your hearts, don't take it out on the 1969, 1973, 1986 and 2000 Mets, who actually won Pennants!

And then, the final pitch, Tom Seaver to Mike Piazza... and "The Franchise" couldn't reach the plate. Okay, the final pitch at Yankee Stadium didn't make it to the plate, either, but that was by Julia Ruth Stevens. She's 92. Seaver's 63 (64 next month), and, unlike the Babe's daughter, actually was a pitcher, and a great one. But he couldn't do it. What a way to close out the Flushing Toilet.

2. August 15, 1965. The Beatles perform. Okay, it was only for 31 minutes, and nobody could hear them because of all the screaming, and no one had ever staged a concert in a baseball stadium before, so nobody knew what they were doing. Well, John, Paul, George and Ringo knew what they were doing. Paul McCartney has gone to games at Yankee Stadium, but this was THE BEATLES.

Funny: CBS owned the Yankees at the time, and they were liberal enough to let the Beatles play on The Ed Sullivan Show, but they were too conservative to let them onto the field at Yankee Stadium? Seriously, what did the Fab Four do to deserve getting detoured to Shea?

And the undeniable, unforgettable, untoppable Number 1 Greatest Moment in Shea Stadium History:

1. October 26, 2000. Game 5 of the World Series. Yankees 4, Mets 2. The greatest moment in Yankee history. We beat them in a World Series -- they've never beaten us in one. We won a World Series on their field -- they haven't even won a World Series game on our field. Twenty-five thousand Yankee Fans chanting, "Let's Go Yankees!" and "Thank you George!" (Steinbrenner, cheered at Shea? Believe it.)

The only real "Subway Series" since October 1956, and as nerve-wracking as it was -- those 5 games sure felt like 7 -- it made all the crap I dealt with from the Flushing Heathen up 'til then worth it. As a fellow Yankee Fan said at the time, "We have scoreboard over them for all time." Until, that is, the Mets win another Pennant (dream on) and beat us in a World Series. (No... way... in... HELL that ever happens!)

Goodbye, you dingy old dump.

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