So, last night, while the 1st place Yankees enjoyed a deserved day off, the Mets -- then trailing the Washington Nationals by mere percentage points, but most definitively not in 1st place in their Division -- went down to Miami to start a series with the Marlins.
While the Nats were getting clobbered, and mounted a comeback that fell a little short, the Mets beat the Marlins 12-1, to go definitively into 1st place. Although they and the Nats are tied in the All-Important Loss Column. (Mets, 56-50; Nats, 54-50; the Nats, as they say in English soccer, have 2 games in hand.)
The attendance at Marlins Park -- a.k.a. the Loria Dome -- was officially listed as 23,119. Oh, please. If the real attendance was half that, I'd be shocked. Jeffrey Loria and David Samson were hoping that all those ex-Nyawkuhs in South Florida were going to come out to meet the Mets, and it didn't happen.
If the Mets move into 1st place, and nobody's there to see it... does it still count in the standings?
The winning pitcher for the Mets was Bartolo Colon. He's now 10-10. Met fans cheer him. And rag on Alex Rodriguez for steroids.
Speaking of 40-year-old righthanded pitchers with too much weight and a Mets connection (although, at the time, Seaver wasn't that fat, but certainly is now)...
August 4, 1985, 30 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 years old, and, with my parents' permission (they, along with my grandmother, would be going with me), I called Ticketmaster the preceding Tuesday, and ordered the tickets, 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.
Interestingly, while Seaver had made the uniform Number 41 iconic in baseball, Cowley was also wearing it for the Yankees at the time.
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. Ex-teammate Yogi Berra was not there, having recently been fired by Clyde King on behalf of George Steinbrenner, and having begun was turned out to be a 14-year boycott of the Yankee organization. Ex-teammate Joe DiMaggio wasn't there, either. I don't know why. Considering the kind of praise he frequently had for Rizzuto, the only reason I can think of is his egotistical insistence on always being the last man introduced, which wouldn't have happened on another figure's Day.
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."
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, stepped on his foot, causing him to fall backwards. There was 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." This elicited a big cheer from the Bronx faithful, since he had not yet been elected to the Hall.
But it was a lie, and he knew it. In 1994, 9 years later, 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: Here were the starting lineups:
Chicago White Sox
23 LF Rudy Law
47 2B Brian Little
3 RF Harold Baines
29 1B Greg Walker
72 C Carlton Fisk (an old enemy)
0 DH Oscar Gamble (an old friend, the zero representing an O for Oscar)
32 3B Tim Hulett
13 SS Ozzie Guillen (a good fielder, and this was well before we knew he was crazy)
5 CF Luis Salazar
41 P Tom Seaver (11-8)
New York Yankees
24 CF Rickey Henderson
33 DH Ken Griffey Sr.
23 1B Don Mattingly
31 RF Dave Wnfield
21 LF Dan Pasqua
12 C Ron Hassey
30 2B Willie Randolph
6 3B Mike Pagliarulo
20 SS Bobby Meacham
41 P Joe Cowley (9-4)
So, except for Cowley not exactly being an ace, Meacham being a liability with the bat, and Hassey part of a platoon with Butch Wynegar, the Yankees were roughly at full strength. As best as I can remember, so were the ChiSox.
The umpires were all men I remember as being good: Derryl Cousins behind the plate, John Shulock at 1st, Joe Brinkman at 2nd and Terry Cooney at 3rd. None of them made a noticeably bad call during the game.
It was a gorgeous summer Sunday afternoon. Not too hot, no discernable wind. The field at the old Yankee Stadium was immaculate. Cliche alert: It was a beautiful day for baseball.
From our box seats in Section 35 in right field -- right around the spot where Roger Maris' 61st home run of 1961 landed (although it was Section 33 in the pre-renovation configuration), we had a decent view. And we were surrounded by other Yankee Fans. This would turn out to be very helpful, for reasons that will soon become clear.
In the bottom of the 3rd inning, with the game scoreless, Pagliarulo led off with a single to right. Meacham flew to center. Henderson grounded to 2nd, but Little couldn't make the double play, and threw Henderson out at 1st, allowing Pags to advance to 2nd. Griffey, not nearly as good as his son but still a very good player at this stage of his career, singled to right, scoring Pags. Yankees 1, White Sox 0.
The Yankees still led 1-0 after 5 innings. But the White Sox struck back in the top of the 6th. Cliche alert: Leadoff walks will make you regret them. Cowley issued a leadoff walk to, somewhat appropriately, Walker. Fisk grounded into a force play, getting to 1st as Walker was eliminated by Randolph. But Gamble singled Fisk over to 3rd.
Billy Martin, in his 4th term as Yankee manager, dismissed Cowley, and brought in Brian Fisher. The Pale Hose hadn't yet scored. Now, they would. Hulett tied the game with a double, bringing home Fisk. Guillen gave the South Siders the lead by singling home Gamble. Salazar grounded to short, enabling Robertson to eliminate Guillen, but that left 1st and 3rd with 2 outs. Law drew a walk to load the bases. Little singled home Hulett and Salazar. Baines singled to left, but Pasqua threw Law out at the plate.
As the Scooter would have said, "But the damage is done. I tell ya, Bill White, this is unbelievable." In the space of less than 10 minute, the Yankees had gone from 1-0 up to 4-1 down, and were very nearly 5-1 down.
Seaver set the Yankees down in order in both the 6th and the 7th. In the 8th, he began to tire, allowing singles to Meacham and Mattingly, but worked out of it. Tony La Russa, noted bullpen tinkerer, was the White Sox manager at the time, but he trusted the veteran from Fresno, California to finish the job he began, and to still be on the mound to accept congratulations on Number 300 after the final out.
If Seaver's milestone had been the whole story, that would be enough of a memory. But it wasn't.
For the out-of-town scoreboard told another story -- and led to another, very shocking 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 1st 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 (most heralded, and probably even more hyped), 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 crowd at Yankee Stadium that day sure looked like it was about evenly split between Yankee Fans hoping for a win, and Met fans hoping 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. (In each case, click on the 1st link for details, and the 2nd link for video.)
(Notes to my fellow Arsenal fans, not that I knew that Arsenal even existed at the time: George Graham, who would manage Arsenal to the 1989 and 1991 League titles, was Millwall's manager at the time, although the crowd was beyond his control. And 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 from the visiting Flushing Heathen. After about 10 seconds of shock from the home fans, this blasphemous utterance was followed by a "Mets suck" chant. This was followed by a fight, and I couldn't tell which side started it: The Yankee Fans (indicating an overreaction) or the Met fans (indicating that their blue and orange skins were very thin). Whoever started the fight, it started small, then got bigger. Much bigger.
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, including easily the worst of it (but not all of it), was in the Bleachers, and the proto-Bleacher Creatures were taking no shit from the infiltrating 7 Line Army.
There must have been about 50 people ejected by the Burns security officers. At the time, 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 Yankees did threaten in the bottom of the 9th. Pasqua led off with a single. Seaver reared back, and, in that familiar overhand throw with his right knee brushing the mound, struck Hassey out. He got Randolph to fly to right. But he walked Pagliarulo.
That brought the tying run to the plate, but it was the pathetic Meacham, then batting an inept .232. Billy knew that he needed baserunners. Surely, he was remembering the play 2 nights earlier, when Meacham got caught between 2nd and 3rd, not knowing if a Henderson fly ball would drop for a hit, which it did, and then stumbling, resulting in himself and Yogi's son Dale Berra both running through 3rd base coach Gene Michael's stop sign, and both being tagged out at the plate by Fisk. So Billy went for broke, sending up Don Baylor to pinch-hit.
Baylor was 36, and wasn't hitting much better, .239, but his OPS was .796, .188 higher than Meacham's. And he did end up with 24 doubles, 23 home runs and 91 RBIs that season. So, on paper, it was a good move. (Cliche alert: The game isn't played on paper, it's played on grass. Had the game gone to extra innings, Billy probably would have sent Andre Robertson out to play shortstop.)
Seaver was 40, had gone the distance, was in his 2nd straight struggling inning, and had to be gassed at this point. But he reared back, reached into his bag of tricks -- one of the greatest arrays of "stuff" any pitcher has ever had -- fired, and his pitch reached the inside corner, a perfect strike.
But Baylor swung, and connected. In almost any other ballpark -- even the White Sox' home of Comiskey Park, a notoriously poor one for hitters as opposed to its windy, ivy-walled North Side NL counterpart -- this might have been a game-tying home run. But in the old Yankee Stadium, with its left-center "Death Valley," it was just a long fly. Reid Nichols, who had replaced Law in left field for Chicago, caught it.
Ballgame over. White Sox win.
All 54,032 in attendance rose as one to applaud Seaver off the field, just as La Russa had intended. Yes, at age 40, he pitched a complete game. (Somewhere, a collegiate catcher named Joe Girardi was getting a cold chill down his spine, and knew not why.) Tom Terrific had allowed just 1 run, 6 hits, and just 1 walk. He had notched 7 strikeouts, 1 more than Gooden did that day, and the much-hyped "Doctor K" was, literally, half his age. Truly, we had seen a master of his craft at work.
From Section 35, the last section of box seats in right field, I had a great view of the Bleachers (and the fighting), and, although in the outfield, I had a good view of Seaver and the strike zone. 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.
As my man Reggie Jackson, who struggled against him in All-Star Games and late in their careers when both were in the AL, but hit a home run off him in Game 6 of the 1973 World Series, once said of Tom Seaver, "Blind people come to the park, just to listen to him pitch."
Here's the totals on the ballgame:
For the White Sox: 4 runs, 13 hits, 1 error, and 10 men left on base. For the Yankees: 1 run, 6 hits, no errors, and 8 men left on base.
The winning pitcher: Tom Seaver, 12-8. No save. The losing pitcher: Joe Cowley, 9-5.
The attendance, as I said, was 54,032, about 3,000 short of a sellout, but I couldn't see many empty seats.
As Michael Kay, then still better known as a sportswriter than as a broadcaster would say, "And the time of the game, an unmanageable but enjoyable 3 hours and 20 minutes."
The entire broadcast of the game is available on YouTube, if you're so inclined. Here's the last out.
Speaking of Reggie Jackson, he was present for another big milestone on the same day. He was with the California Angels (now named the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), as was another future Hall-of-Famer, Rod Carew. They were playing Carew's former team, the Minnesota Twins, at Anaheim Stadium (now named Angel Stadium of Anaheim).
In the bottom of the 3rd, Carew batted against Frank Viola, and singled. It was his 3,000th career hit. It was his only hit of the day, going 1-for-5.
He was batting just .264 at the time, and retired at the end of the season. It was a far cry from his multiple batting titles in the 1970s, including a run at .400 in 1977, when he ended up at .388, with 14 homers, tying a career high, his only 100-RBI season, a Gold Glove, and the AL Most Valuable Player award, despite the Twins finishing nowhere near the Playoffs.
Carew was a legend, not fully appreciated by Calvin Griffith, the racist cheapskate who inherited the original Washington Senators from his uncle Clark, moved them to Minnesota, and then pissed off fans and players alike. Like Reggie, Rod was welcomed with open arms by "Singing Cowboy" turned media mogul and Angels owner Gene Autry.
When the news of Carew's 3,000th hit went up on the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium, everybody cheered: Yankee Fans, Met fans, and the few White Sox fans in attendance, even though Carew never played for any of them.
Managed by Gene Mauch, The Angels won, 6-5, despite Kirby Puckett's 3 RBIs for Minnesota. Reggie pinch-hit for Dick Schofield in the 8th, and grounded to 1st, resulting in a force play. He was stranded on 1st. Attendance: 41,630 -- far from a sellout, as this was the era (1980 to 1996) when The Big A had a capacity of 65,000, enabling the Los Angeles Rams to play home games there -- but, considering that Carew was on 2,999 hits, and any at-bat could be Number 3,000, a decent crowd. (There was no distraction up Interstate 5: Tommy Lasorda's Los Angeles Dodgers were in Cincinnati, where they lost to Pete Rose's Reds 5-4.)
The Yankees finished the 1985 season 97-64, 2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Eastern Division. The Mets finished it 98-64, 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.
There was no Central Division in either League in those days, meaning you had to finish ahead of 6 teams (in the AL) or 5 teams (in the NL) to make the Playoffs, instead of the 3, 4 or 5 you have to top now; and no Wild Card, meaning that, despite 97 wins -- 5 more than they won in their 1996 title season and 10 more than in their 2000 title season -- the Yankees were out of luck. So were the Mets,
If the current setup were in place then, the Yankees would have won the AL Wild Card; while the Cards would have won the NL Central, enabling the Mets to win the NL East.
In the Playoffs, the Royals came from 3 games to 1 down to beat the Jays, the Cards beat the NL West Champion Dodgers, and the Royals came back from 3 games to 2 down to beat the Cards and win an all-Missouri World Series, thanks to a controversial umpiring decision in Game 6 and a Cardinal mental meltdown in Game 7.
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?)
One final note. On September 19, 1986, a little more than a year later, the White Sox beat the Angels 7-1 in Anaheim. The ChiSox' pitcher that day pitched a no-hitter, despite walking 7 batters, and allowing a run in the 6th inning, on 3 straight walks and a sacrifice fly by Reggie. The Sox pitcher? None other than Joe Cowley, the man Tom Seaver outpitched to win Number 300.
In the preceding winter, the Yankees had traded Cowley and Hassey to the White Sox for 2 guys who never reached the majors, and Britt Burns, a solid lefty who was supposed to be the 2nd left in the rotation (along with Ron Guidry) that the Yankees so desperately needed, but had a degenerative condition in his hip, and never pitched in the majors again. That was the kind of trade that George Steinbrenner and "my baseball people" made in the 1980s.
And in a fascinating irony, that same day, although no one knew it for sure at the time, Seaver made his last major league appearance. (Appropriately, his age was 41.) The previous June, the White Sox had traded him to the Boston Red Sox, even-up, for outfielder Steve Lyons. That's right: The man today's kids know as baseball pundit "Psycho."
In his last game, Seaver started for the Red Sox against the Blue Jays at Exhibition Stadium. He only went 4 innings, and lost to the Jays, 6-4. Dave Stieb was the winning pitcher. The last batter he ever faced? Tony Fernandez, who flew out to right.
The first batter he ever faced? It was on April 13, 1967, at Shea Stadium, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and his 1st batter was the dangerous defending NL batting champion, Matty Alou, who doubled to right. But the 22-year-old Seaver stranded him, and the Mets won, 3-2 on an 8th inning single by Chuck Hiller. The opposing pitcher was 1960 Cy Young Award winner Vernon Law.
Attendance: 5,005. It was the 3rd game of the 1967 season, the Mets were still horrible, and while Seaver had been highly-touted, many a highly-touted rookie has failed to pan out. At the time, who knew? Seaver did, however, pan out, and then some.
Moving back to 1986: The Red Sox did not include him on their roster for either the American League Championship Series or the World Series, so the September 19 loss in Toronto was his last major league appearance. But with his Boston teammates, he was introduced at Shea Stadium before Game 1 of the World Series, and appropriately got a thunderous ovation.
And you know what? After September 19, 1986, Cowley, like Seaver, never won another game. He was traded by the White Sox to the Philadelphia Phillies during spring training in 1987, went 0-4 in 5 starts, got send down in early May, went 3-9 in Triple-A, got released, and before turning 29 had thrown his last professional pitch.
Cowley is forgotten today. Seaver is remembered. So is Carew. And so is Rizzuto, who even had Seaver as a WPIX-Channel 11 broadcast partner in his last few years on the air.