Thursday, February 5, 2009

Meet the Mets' "Monument Park"

You know how the New York Post doesn't know the meaning of journalism? Or, all too often, editing? Well, like all the other things that Rupert Murdoch (Arrrrgh) owns, it's that, but also usually has a great sports section.

On the front page of its February 5 edition, there's a headline about what happened to Art Shamsky, former right fielder, as he left the famed Gallagher's steakhouse on Manhattan's East Side following a charity luncheon honoring the 40th Anniversary of the Mets' 1969 World Series "Miracle." (Yes, this coming October 16 marks forty years since the Mets completed their miracle. Feel free to feel old.)

What happened was that his ex-wife, whom he married well after his playing career ended, accosted him and shouted wild charges at him, and this was caught by a Post reporter and cameraman who had been covering the luncheon. She's accusing him of all kinds of deviant practices, some financial, some sexual, the latter of which resulted in her getting, as was said in those days, "V.D."

Shamsky denies everything, and the woman does seem a little nuts -- and not nuts in a sports-fan sense, either.

The Post, as usual with all the subtlety of a cab speeding up to the 8th Avenue entrance of Port Authority, published a headline that paraphrased the old saying, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

"HELL HATH NO FURY: Mets great ambushed by ex on street." This above another headline about Bernie Madoff, with the sensational (and sensationalist) headline, "SWINDLER'S LIST."

But... "Mets great"?

Shamsky was a nice player, and they wouldn't have won the '69 Series without him. I certainly don't want to cast aspersions on him, especially after this embarrassing incident.

But... Art Shamsky? "Mets great"?

Excuse me for a moment...


Either the Post has a ridiculous idea of what constitutes a "baseball great," or the Mets do. Ridiculous, I say? Calling Art Shamsky a "great" is Aristophanes-level ridiculous!

What is a "Mets great," exactly?

There are 2 players who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame with significant performances with the Mets: Tom Seaver and Gary Carter. If that's the way we judge "Met greatness," then it's pretty pathetic. I know, I know...

If we go by retired numbers, then we don't even include Carter. His Number 8 has not been awarded since his HOF election, but it's not officially retired. The only Met numbers that have been officially retired are:

37, Casey Stengel, manager 1962-65, number retired 1965, Hall of Fame... but for reasons that have nothing to do with his management of the Mets. He gave the Yankees 10 Pennants and 7 World Championships; he gave the Mets... great publicity and some fun.

14, Gil Hodges, 1st baseman 1962-63, manager 1968-71, number retired 1972, as he died right before that season began... no problem with this one, he deserves both the retirement and his as-yet-unrequited election to the Hall of Fame. But his 14 is still retired for what he did as a Met manager, not as a Met player, or even his fine work as a Brooklyn Dodger player. That he was the Mets' 1st-ever 1st baseman is almost a footnote.

41, Tom Seaver, pitcher 1967-77 and 1983, number retired 1988, Hall of Fame... no problem with this one, since he was, and is, "The Franchise."

42, Jackie Robinson, retired for all of baseball 1997. Never had anything to do with the Mets. For all I know, he may never even have visited Shea Stadium.

And a wall notation for Bill Shea, the lawyer whose work went a long way toward establishing the franchise, honored 1964 with the stadium being named for him and 2008 with the wall notation. No problem with this one.

But that's it: Just 5 "retired numbers," 4 who actually had something to do with the Mets, 3 in uniform, 1 with significant playing accomplishments in blue and orange.

The franchise has played 47 seasons. It's not an expansion team anymore.

The Mets do have a team hall of fame, but notations as to who was in it were never displayed at Shea Stadium. They do not have anything resembling the Yankees' "Monument Park." Not enough teams do:

* Baltimore Orioles: A team hall of fame on a brick wall behind right field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

* Chicago Cubs: A Walk of Fame behind the home-plate entrance at Wrigley Field.

* Chicago White Sox: A team hall of fame display somewhere in the outfield at U.S. Cellular Field. I haven't been back to Chicago since it was placed there, so I don't know anything more about it than this.

* Cincinnati Reds: A team hall of fame was displayed at Riverfront Stadium, and while I've never been to Cincinnati, I'm presuming it's somewhere at Great American Ballpark. (A company called "Great American" bought naming rights. It's obviously an American ballpark, and it looks like a pretty good one on TV, but "Great American Ballpark"? Hopefully, one day, I'll find out.)

* Cleveland Indians: Heritage Park in center field at Jacobs Field. It's an impressive display, with every member of the team's hall of fame, plus a monument to Ray Chapman, who in 1920 became the only major league player ever killed as the result of an on-field incident, that once stood in center field at League Park, their home from 1910 to 1946.

* Detroit Tigers: Statues for each of their players whose number has been retired, plus Ty Cobb, in the outfield at Comerica Park.

* Philadelphia Phillies: A Philadelphia Baseball Hall of Fame behind left field at Citizens Bank Park, honoring Phils greats. It was once under the 3rd-base stands at Veterans Stadium, with Philadelphia Athletics greats also honored. When the Phils moved out, the A's plaques were moved to a new Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society museum in the suburb of Hatboro.

* St. Louis Cardinals: Statues of their retired number honorees, plus broadcaster Jack Buck, outside the new Busch Stadium.

* Washington Nationals: A Washington Wall of Stars at Nationals Park, honoring greats from D.C. and the suburbs from all kinds of sports.

Counting the Yankees, that's 10 out of the 30 teams.

I'm sure there will be some sort of display at Citi Field -- if, in fact, that name stays on the Mets' new park, though right now it seems possible the name will go down as hard as the Mets have the last 3 years -- and that's hard.

But let's suppose that the Mets honored players the way the Yankees do, and at the same rate.

* The Yankees have honored the greatest of the honored dead with "Monuments": Manager Miller Huggins, and "the Mount Rushmore of Baseball": Right fielder Babe Ruth, first baseman Lou Gehrig, and center fielders Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Joe and Mickey previously received Plaques while alive, which were replaced with the Monuments after their deaths.

* The Yankees have honored other stars, living and dead, with "Plaques": Team owner Jacob Ruppert; general manager Ed Barrow; managers Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and Billy Martin; pitchers Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez, Allie Reynolds, Whitey Ford and Ron Guidry; catchers Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Thurman Munson; first baseman Don Mattingly; shortstop-broadcaster Phil Rizzuto; right fielders Roger Maris and Reggie Jackson; broadcaster Mel Allen; public-address announcer Bob Sheppard; a memorial to the victims and a tribute to the rescue workers from the 9/11 attacks; and notations of the Masses delivered by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

* 29 notations, from 106 seasons of play. That's 1 for every 3.65 seasons.

* At that rate, from 47 seasons, the Mets should have just under 13 notations. For argument's sake, let's call it 13. (An unlucky number. As if the Mets needed more bad luck.)

Who should be in the Mets' Monument Park? All kidding aside.

1. Bill Shea.
2. Casey Stengel.
3. Gil Hodges.
4. Tom Seaver.
5. Gary Carter.

Those are the ones we've already mentioned. Hodges is the only one who really should get a "Monument." It could be the centerpiece of such a "park."

Who else?

6. Joan Whitney Payson, team majority owner, 1962-76. Whatever one can say about the Mets, Mrs. Payson, a member of New York's famed old-money Whitney family, was admired by everyone.

7. Lindsey Nelson, broadcaster, 1962-79, and...
8. Bob Murphy, broadcaster, 1962-2003. Both are in the Hall of Fame as broadcasters.

Ralph Kiner? He's in the Hall as a player, and he is certainly much-admired. But to honor him, especially while he's still alive, would leave only 4 more places open for players.

For the same reason, I can't put Yogi Berra in here, even though he managed the Mets to a Pennant. Same with and Bobby Valentine, and general managers Bob Scheffing and Frank Cashen.

Who else from the '69 team?

9. Tommie Agee, center field, 1968-72. The only real offensive star of that team.

That leaves 4 spots. And we have to leave off some big names. We can rationalize leaving off 1986 stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden because of their personal issues, and simply say that they'll be added when the Yankees allow the ratio to be adjusted for the allowance of new Met honorees.

From the 1986 World Champions, the last title won by the Mets? (Ever?)

10. Davey Johnson, manager, 1984-90. The only living human to have led the Mets to win a World Series win.

11. Keith Hernandez, 1st base, 1983-89. He was the guy whose arrival, shortly after Darryl's and right before Doc's, showed that the Mets were serious about intending to contend.

Just about everybody from the 2006 Division Title team is still with them, so they're ineligible for consideration.

The 2000 Pennant team? Only 2 members can be legitimately considered, and not Al Leiter, Edgardo Alfonso, or, God forbid, the hopelessly overrated Rey Ordonez.

12. John Franco, pitcher, 1990-2003. No lefthanded pitcher has more saves, and when he retired neither did any pitcher of either hand within National League play. (Trevor Hoffman has since surpassed him, and all pitchers.) He's also the only name on this list who's actually from New York, or even from the Tri-State Area -- not counting Mr. Shea and Mrs. Payson.

13. Mike Piazza, "catcher," 1998-2005. The greatest offensive force the Mets have ever had, and 2nd only to Seaver as the greatest player they've ever had.

If you have to limit it to 13, that's not a bad "baker's dozen." (It's an old term for bakers offering people a "buy 12, get 1 free" deal. It's not meant to suggest that the Mets, or their fans, can't count. Then again, they still don't know that 26 > 2... or even 6 since '69 > 2.)

I suppose they could wait until Piazza is elected to the Hall of Fame before awarding him a plaque -- he'll be eligible in January 2013 -- so perhaps they could sneak in somebody else. Maybe Ed Kranepool, still the Mets' all-time leader in games, at-bats, hits and runs. Maybe Cleon Jones. Maybe Tug McGraw. Maybe Yogi or Ralph. Maybe Doris from Rego Park.

But not Art Shamsky. And definitely not his ex-wife. She just might be a "worthy" competitor to Anna (Mrs. Kris) Benson.

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