Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Seaver's 300th: 25 Years Ago Today

August 4, 1985, 25 years ago today. The Yankees were scheduled to play the Chicago White Sox on a Sunday afternoon at the original Yankee Stadium.

It was Phil Rizzuto Day, and the Scooter, beloved Yankee shortstop (1941-56) and broadcaster (since 1957, eventually retiring after 1996), was going to have his Number 10 retired, and a Plaque dedicated in his honor for Monument Park.

I was 15, and, with my parents' permission (they, along with my grandmother, would be going with me), I phone-ordered the tickets the preceding Tuesday, neither knowing nor caring who would be the day's opposing starting pitchers.

The next day, Wednesday, the starters for the Sunday game were announced: Joe Cowley for the Yankees, and Tom Seaver for the White Sox.

At that point, Cowley had 19 career wins, a total that would eventually rise to 33. Seaver had 299 career wins, a total that would eventually rise to 311.

In other words, the man Met fans (for whom he won 199 of his 311) called Tom Terrific and The Franchise would be going for his 300th win, and I would be there.

The ceremony for Rizzuto was great. Several of his Yankee teammates showed up, including Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. This was the first time I'd ever seen either of them in person. In reference to two of the Scooter's favorite expressions, one of his gifts was a cow with a papier-mache halo, a "Holy Cow," named "Huckleberry." And that cow, paying no heed to the halo or to Rizzuto being just 5-foot-5 and 150 pounds, or 67 years old for that matter, head-butted him and knocked him down.

A lot of gasping in The House That Ruth Built. Fortunately, Rizzuto was all right. And he gave a speech in which he said, "This means more to me than the Hall of Fame ever could." Big cheer, since he had not yet been elected. But it was a lie, and he knew it. In 1994, he found out just how big a lie it was, as he was finally, rightfully elected, and Yankee Fans everywhere rejoiced that he'd gotten his due while he was still alive.

As for the game, the Yankees led 1-0 after 5 innings. But the White Sox scored 4 runs in the top of the 6th, on doubles by Luis Salazar and Tim Hulett. It was 4-1 White Sox, and that would be the final score.

If that was the whole story, that would be enough of a memory. But it wasn't.

For the out-of-town scoreboard told another story. New York was playing Chicago in the National League as well, the Mets vs. the Cubs at Wrigley Field. By a wacky turn of events, this one also ended 4-1, in favor of the Mets, who were closer to first place at that point in the season than at any time since 1969. (When they won the Pennant in 1973, they were in last place on August 4, before going on a tear.) And Dwight Gooden, the most heralded Met pitcher since Seaver, went the distance. (For some reason, I remembered him striking out 16 Cubs that day. He struck out "only" 6. He may have fanned 16 Cubs in another game that season.)

The attendance was 54,032, and it sure looked like it was about evenly split between Yankee Fans hoping for a win, and Met fans there to see Seaver win his 300th.

This was 1985. It was the peak year of soccer hooliganism in England, including the Millwall-Luton riot in an FA Cup Quarterfinal on March 13, and the Heysel Stadium disaster at the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Italy's Juventus in Brussels, Belgium on May 29, which resulted in English clubs being banned from European play for 5 seasons.



(Note to Arsenal fans: David Hutchinson, the beleaguered referee at the Kenilworth Road Riot, was also the ref for the Anfield finale in 1989, who correctly ruled Alan Smith's header a goal despite the protests of Ronnie Whelan.)

Anyway, back at Yankee Stadium on August 4, 1985, when the Mets-Cubs score went up on the out-of-town scoreboard, a "Let's Go Mets" chant went up, followed by a "Mets suck" chant, followed by lots of fights.

I've seen Yankees-Red Sox at both the old Stadium and at Fenway Park, and I've been to hockey games at Madison Square Garden, the old Boston Garden and the new Philadelphia arena, but I've never seen as much fighting at a sporting event as I saw that day. There were hundreds of people throwing punches. Most of it was in the bleachers, and the proto-Bleacher Creatures were taking no shit from the infiltrating Flushing Heathen.

There must have been about 50 people ejected by the Burns security officers. An English "football" crowd would have called that "just another matchday." An American baseball fan would call it "disgraceful."

The game went on, and I have no idea if any of the players involved knew about the fighting.

The last out was Don Baylor hitting a fly ball to ChiSox left fielder Reid Nichols. All 54,000 rose as one to applaud Seaver off the field. Yes, at age 40, he pitched a complete game, allowing just 1 run, 6 hits, just 1 walk, 7 strikeouts (1 more than Gooden, who was half his age), and by no means was he slipping at the end. Truly, a master of his craft at work.

I was in Section 35, the last section of box seats in right field, giving me a good view of the Bleachers (and the fighting), and, though I hate to lose and I hate the Mets, all I could do was stand and tip my cap to Seaver. It was the only time I ever saw him pitch live.

The Yankees finished the 1985 season 2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East, and the Mets finished it 3 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League East.

The Chicago teams? The Cubs, defending NL East champions, had been slammed by the injury bug, and went from 96 wins to 77, a 19-game drop -- or, from 6 1/2 games ahead of the 2nd-place Mets in '84 to 23 1/2 games behind the Cards, their arch-rivals, in '85, by that measure a whopping 30-game slide. The White Sox finished 6 games behind the Kansas City Royals in the AL West.

In the Playoffs, the Royals beat the Jays, the Cards beat the NL West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Royals won the World Series thanks to a controversial umpiring decision.

1985. A strange year. And nobody was bowling for soup. (Note to fans of that band: George Michael was still in Wham! and hadn't gone into his "Faith" phase yet, and when wasn't Ozzy Osbourne an actor?)

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