The Day the Mets Voted to Forfeit

imageThe worst thing about the Mets breaking camp has been that Terry Collins keeps opening his mouth. So far, I’ve found pretty much everything he’s said to be unsettling. He loooooves Ike’s swing! He loooooves Eric Young in the leadoff spot! His standard deference to veterans like Dice-K, Farnsworth, and Valverde. The comment that Juan Lagares has “earned” the right to start the first game of Spring Training in CF. After that, “Hellooooo Chris Young!”

I realize that Terry is here because he does only what he’s told, energetically. I’m not foolish enough to think that he makes important decisions, but I believe his comments reflect the organization’s thinking. Oh well. The Mets have kind of bummed me out. Maybe it’s winter’s tug, I don’t know. I probably just need to see some games, spend time under baseball’s metaphorical sun.

One thing that’s always helped has been reading. This time of year, I like to knock back a few baseball books.

arts_books1-2_13I’ve been flying through Summer of ’68 by Tim Wendel. It’s excellent, moves well, and is loaded with fascinating anecdotes. For starters, the book accomplishes one of my favorite things in a baseball book, which is that it integrates current events into the story of the season. Context is everything. And what a tumultuous time that was in America. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the riots at the Chicago Convention, the Vietnam War, and so much more. Baseball doesn’t occur in a bubble; its players, especially back then, still lived in the real world.

While the ’68 World Series was the first one I avidly watched, rushing home after school to watch the day games on television, I don’t have clear memories of the regular season. It was as if my eyes were opening for the first time and the first thing I really saw was, “Holy shit, Bob Gibson!” Game one is carved into my bones like scrimshaw. Sad thing is, I can easily conjure the grainy footage we witnessed on TV after the assassinations, that lonely balcony in Memphis, the confusing scene at the Ambassador Hotel in California. There I was, seven years old, eating Pop-Tarts and watching the death of innocence on national television.

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Here’s one story from the book I wanted to share, since it involves the Mets. After the death of 42-year-old Bobby Kennedy, William Eckert, the baseball commissioner, wanted the teams to play.

From Summer of ’68:

“After Kennedy’s death, President Johnson declared a national day of mourning. But in response, baseball commissioner William ‘Spike’ Eckert opted to postpone games only in New York, between the Yankees and the Angels, and in Washington, between the Senators and the Twins. He told the other ballclubs that their particular contests could go ahead, as long as they didn’t start until after Kennedy’s funeral services were concluded.”

That, folks, is what we call a failure of leadership.

1976848In Houston, the Astros were set to play the Pirates. Many players felt uneasy about it. Maury Wills refused outright, staying in the trainer’s room, reading To Seek a Newer World as a form of protest. Roberto Clemente was prepared to sit out, too, but his mind was changed by Pirates manager Larry Shepard. The clubhouse was divided. Recalled Clemente:

“This is one of the things wrong with our country — too much indifference. I didn’t want to play but I did. I also voiced my opinion.”

On the Astros, two players — Bob Aspromente and Rusty Staub — sat out and were fined for their actions by Astros GM Spec Richardson. Red Smith subsequently wrote: “Among all the mealy-mouthed statements, it remained for Richardson to come up with the nauseating prize. The games would go on, he said, because ‘Senator Kennedy would have wanted it that way.'”

In Cincinnati, the Reds voted on whether to play and came out deadlocked, 12-12, with one player abstaining. Management was not at all happy, and the players were pitted against each other. Management called for a revote, and prevailed, 13-12, with manager Dave Bristol angrily declaring that he’d play with any nine guys. Now it was Milt Pappas, slated to be that game’s starting pitcher, who was disgusted. Again, another clubhouse divided. The vocal Pappas was traded three days later.

Meanwhile, Wendel writes:

In San Francisco, the Mets were scheduled to play the Giants at Candlestick Park. It was Bat Day for the home team, with an estimated 40,000 tickets sold. Unlike some ballclubs, the Mets stuck together and decided, as a squad, not to play. Even under threat of forfeiting the game, management told players to stay at the team hotel and not show up at the ballpark. 

The Giants owner, Horace Stoneham, thought about all those tickets and was determined to play the game. The Mets voted no. The Giants, in turn, threatened the New York club with forfeit. The Mets voted no again. At that point, Stoneham relented “in deference” to Kennedy’s death. Yeah, right.

Said Ed Kranepool: “We’re from New York. It’s a matter of respect. If we do forfeit, so what? It’s only one game. It’s better than playing.”

Later on, Frank Mankiewicz, press secretary for Robert Kennedy, sent a grateful telegram to Gil Hodges on behalf of the entire Mets team. It read:

Please accept my personal admiration for your actions. Senator Kennedy indeed enjoyed competitive sports, but I doubt that he would have put box-office receipts ahead of national mourning.”

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The entire disorganized, disgraceful episode was pilloried in the press, with Dick Young calling for Eckert’s resignation. The Sporting News ran an article titled, “The Aftermath — Baseball Takes a Beating.”

“Baseball wallowed in a morass of confusion and acrimony in trying to decide what to do about paying respect to Sen. Robert Kennedy. For the most part, there was no concrete plan on how mourning [for Kennedy] would be handled.”

At least on this day, the entire Mets organization stood tall. Not an accident, I would contend, that a strong, respected, authoritative manager like Gil Hodges was at the helm. Gil was never much for talking.

Additional readings:

RetroSimba recounts the situation, “While nation mourned RFK, Cardinals reluctantly played.

The New York Times article by Richard Sandomir, “Sports History: In Times of Crisis, Debates About Whether to Play Games.”

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23 comments

  1. since68 says:

    I agree Collins is only doing what he’s told, but I believe he is being told by the Wilpons, not Alderson. I think this is the last foothold Jeff has on control of the teem, and he’s not letting go.

    Enjoy these good times while they last. Its eventually gonna get ugly folks.

  2. Gil Hodges was a good and decent man. He married and settled down in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. My wife remembers the kids in the neighborhood searching for the Hodge’s lost dog. Seems everyone in Brooklyn knew about Gil’s lost dog. That was Brooklyn in the 1940’s. A small town feeling and a passionate love of the Dodgers. If Hodges were here, I think he would say to you, “Go easy on Terry Collins, he’s a good man.”

    Red Barber, with his Southern drawl, sat in “the cat bird’s seat”, and later a young Vince Scully, fresh out of Fordham, joined him. And all over Brooklyn, radios were tuned to the Dodger games.

    • See, now you’ve made me feel bad. I’m sorry, Gil! It’s just that lately, in the absence of games, Terry’s talk has jangled my nerves. It’s been a long winter.

      About Gil and Brooklyn, that sounds like such a great story, all those kids looking for Gil’s lost dog. Thanks for your comment.

      • Don’t feel bad, We’re all frustrated. The fans are suffering for the owner’s financial debacle. As kids in the 40’s, we didn’t know anything about team finances. Players made a couple of thousand dollars and the stars made up to 10 thousand, if memory serves me. We loved our Dodgers, “Dem Bums”, as the Daily News would call them in the headlines. And, “wait “till next year” was what we said at season’s end. There were other things going on, such as WWII, and we put sports in perspective, but we really did love that team.

  3. Michael Geus says:

    I have very strong memories of the political summer of 1968, yet none of this story. Fascinating stuff, I’m going to pick up the book today.

    • A lot of good little stories in there — and that cover image of Lou Brock not sliding becomes significant, because the Tigers had that shit scouted. They saw that teams usually never bothered to throw home on hits to the outfield when Brock was on second base, and they saw they he had developed some bad habits along the way. Coasting, not sliding. The 3rd base coach got lazy, the on-deck hitter got lazy. And so on.

      Another story that I had no recollection of was how Bob Gibson got screwed out of the scoreless-inning streak by a Dodgertown Official Scorer . . . and how Drysdale was helped by a home plate umpire. Also, Luis Tiant had a hell of a year.

      • Michael Geus says:

        Many pitchers did. I believe the year the mound was lowered was after 1968.

        Prior to that the one at Dodger Stadium looked like it was about 8 feet high.

  4. Alan K. says:

    I have to believe that the leadership that Hodges showed in that instance did much to set the tone for what happened the following year. And is also why I can never buy into Alderson’s belief that a field manager should be nothing more than a middle manager who takes direction from the front office.

    • Likely, Gil would have told them, “This is what we’re going to do.” I can only compare that to Terry’s endless chatter about possibly, maybe making David Wright a captain. He practically took a clubhouse poll. I realize that times are different. But we are also seeing the erosion of the office of the manager, the dwindling power of that position, and the rise of the fascist GM.

  5. Eraff says:

    “Management Theory” has been applied to Baseball. Managers have always been subject to various “interference” from GM’s and Owners. Input now comes from a very large professional staff—and there’s still just One Guy filling out the lineup. As much as Managers as subject to the will of teh “Management Team”, I believe they have also benefited from and become reliant upon the input and “baseball science”…after all, it’s not all Crap.

    The downside is that Managing people is NOT about managing a system—162 games…. 8 months together…. Undermining the influence and power of a Manager is disasterous.

    • Patrick Boegel says:

      There’s an additional layer that complicates the relationship of manager to team, and manager to front office. Money.

  6. Former Met says:

    I dunno folks. You seem to want it both ways. Billy Beane is your ultimate GM, but he’s also renowned for micromanaging his managers. The players are different than they were in Hodge’s day, and the role of the manager is different too.

    And as noted in a comment above, using the ’68 Kennedy assassination as the context for negatively comparing Terry Collins to Gil Hodges is not only a logical stretch (based purely on your speculation of Hodge’s role in that decision then and how Terry would have handled the situation), but a gratuitous shot at Collins. Complain about his managing as you see fit, but steer clear of the personal attacks.

    • Patrick Boegel says:

      I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone around here, the authors daily or the commenting rabble that finds Billy Beane to be the ultimate anything.

      There is nothing illogical about comparing Collins to Hodges in the context provided or any context.

      Collins is a yard barker who constantly contradicts himself with his next days actions and words. Sometimes his next sentence. It is not a personal attack pointing out what this guy does continuously in front of a camera and microphone. It is not as if people are setting him up and filming him from a hidden camera.

    • Thanks, it’s nice to have a “former Met” stop by the old blog. Usually, these days, it’s a “former Met fan.”

      Since I wrote this one solo, I’ll speak for myself: Billy Beane is not my ultimate GM, though I think he’s done an outstanding job with a small market team. My real hope is for the New York Mets to raise payroll significantly — I’m not eager to wave goodbye to Matt Harvey, for example. I realize that a significant payroll increase is unlikely given the present situation with ownership. So the next-best hope is for the Mets learn from other successful small market organizations. There are lessons to be learned from Tampa Bay, too.

      As for Terry, I’m surprised. My impulse to write today’s post was simply to tell the story of how the Mets figured in baseball’s bungled attempt to pay tribute to Bobby Kennedy. It was an interesting story and it came from a good book. I did open by stating my frustration with Terry’s comments, his thought process about some of the players he manages. I just reread the piece and I don’t see anything remotely close to a “personal attack.”

      At this blog, Mike basically never criticizes Terry. Whereas I tend to complain about him as an “irritant.” He dances on my nerves sometimes. I think it’s his cheerleader, golly gee approach that grates. Both of us know that he’s not the problem. Thanks for coming by, it’s appreciated. Not seeking a chorus of agreement here.

      • Former Met says:

        I’m a big fan of the blog – enjoy the always entertaining/interesting pieces and the generally thoughtful opinions and comments.

        This is the part where I felt you took your very interesting story and turned it into a personal shot at Terry, “At least on this day, the entire Mets organization stood tall. Not an accident, I would contend, that a strong, respected, authoritative manager like Gil Hodges was at the helm. Gil was never much for talking.”

        Clearly you were sharing what you believe to be a contrast between Hodges and Collins. In so doing you took a pretty abrupt turn from your Kennedy/Mets story, and, in my opinion, implied that Terry wouldn’t have had the spine to do the right thing under similar circumstances. That seemed unnecessary and unfair. I assumed the “stood tall” was an innocent choice of phrasing. : )

        Again, I’m a big fan. Probably a little more protective of Terry than most being a glass half full, rah rah kind of guy myself. Thanks for the respectful exchange – sadly infrequent on most blogs.

  7. Eraff says:

    Collins being Collins…. I think there should be some allowance for that without attachment to any feelings I may have about him as a Field General, Strategist.

    I don’t take much issue to what he’s done with player use as far as it influences wins… they were every bit a 75 win team for the past several years, and I don’t care who would have been the Manager!

    As for Player Development…. I believed last year was a defining year for several guys— all failed……all returned!!! Their handling of Lagares is not logical….I won’t go through it again….I believe most of THAT stuff is Front Office Delegated TO the Manager.

    Overall—Collins has been an excellent face to and of the team—I’m surprised, but I really believe that.

    • Raff says:

      Collins is the point of multiple swords for multiple masters who themselves often don’t seem to have a unified strategy or plan, other than wanting to get their individual weekly ball washing in the form of hearing their words echoed with relish and their plans and schemes implemented without question. On one hand, It’s hard to see how a team in the Mets recent predicament would grant much autonomy to a manager. On the other hand, it’s hard not to be disgusted as I witness the “gleefulness” with which some of these “directives” are carried out. The public “ripping” of a player on a team would be one example. I guess Collins values having his job.

  8. wkkortas says:

    You can debate the relative leadership merits of Collins and Hodges (and I am bending over backwards to be generous to Terry here), but one thing I will state as a proven theorem–any guy named “Spike” will talk the talk, but never walk the walk.

  9. Raff says:

    These stories about Hodges remind me of the stories my Dad, who very recently passed away, told us as little boys. He was a REGULAR at Ebbets Field- playing “hookie”- skipping school – on Dodger home game days- “sneaking in” with a wink and a nod from security and gate attendants.. He humorously described it as “one of the benefits of a misspent youth” ;-) He was a lifelong Mets fan. He told us about Hodges Great Slump of 1952, as Hodges ‘oh-Fered” in the final games of the season and the full 7 games of the World Series against the Yanks. My Dad recounted, vividly, how the various religious congregations offered special prayers for Hodges as he and they suffered through the struggles of Gil’s great slump. My Dad always said that it was open to debate as to whether Gil Hodges was the greatest of the many great Dodger players, but he stated that it was without question that he was The Heart And Soul of The Dodgers and the Mets and, more importantly, the entirety of Dodgers ad Mets fandom. This is an example of the stories which fathers tell to sons to help them understand and connect the dots in the great history of our game. We all have them. And this story and other stories he told us and your fathers’ told you continue to connect us to them.

    • Nice. Yes, baseball is the thread that runs through so many families. For some people I’ve met, it was the only easy conversation they had with their fathers, the default topic that connected teenager to father. I suspect that the great time of baseball has passed, it’s been pushed into the margins, I don’t know if it ever comes all the way back. Too many other things to distract us.

  10. Raff says:

    No- you are wrong, on many counts. . In an earlier post you spoke of a “Metaphorical Sun ” which might lift you from the malaise of a long winter of discontent. Baseball, as a metaphor for life- enjoins us in spring. The start of new beginnings. Baseball, and its participants – the players, the fans, even the “elite” which present it to us, comes to us unvarnished— without the thick coating of uniform armor which surrounds the football player, without the thick coating of psychological armor which encases the basketball player. Baseball players come to us, modestly, no matter how acclaimed their accomplishments. In their pants, toting their bats and gloves like others before them- their bodies and faces in full view. . Faces in view for all to see. Records in comparison for all to compare and to rate. Baseball is the only game we speak of in terms of Real History. The only game where we compare Ruth to Mays-Johnson to Seaver, etc… etc…,with statistics which remain constant in a game that has remained stable in a world which is ever-changing. Baseball is the game which remains CONSTANT- the ONE we can pass on and give o our children. No other game or sport can do this.

  11. ERAFF says:

    In the WAY BACK YEARS, Gil Hodges and other players lived in your neighborhood. In the 70’s, Mets announcers were doing in-game reads of commercials for “housing for Mets”– Mets players needing apartments or rooms for rent during the season. The Playets are now big stars, and they are inaccessible to normal people…fans. This is part of the lost magic.

    • I remember in the 1940’s standing with a few kids on our street corner [Washington Ave. and Sterling Pl.] and waiting for a convertible full of Dodgers to stop at a red light. We would joke and banter with them and they would respond in kind.

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