As we round out our “2 Guys” Team, I took a quick turn from center and ended up in right field. Right field is pretty far from the action but that didn’t stop us from getting a lot of nominees. I counted six. Swoboda, Staub, Youngblood, Strawberry, Nady, and yes, Shane Spencer.
I will skip right by Shane and Xavier. Although I have somewhat fond memories of Joel Youngblood, I don’t think of him as tough or gritty.
For Swoboda, I have a quick personal story. After the Mets won the second game of the 1969 World Series, Dad got the idea that we should head out to the airport to meet the plane coming back from Baltimore. I don’t know how he got the correct flight information, but we headed out and sure enough we had a spot outside the runway, behind a fence, and the players all had to pass us before getting inside to the terminal. About fifty people had the same idea, no more, but we cheered as loudly as we could as the players filed past, waving and smiling at us. As Swoboda went by, he stopped and looked out at all of us and yelled, “We will not be going back! We sweep them from here!” Which, of course, they did. Unlike before Super Bowl III with Joe Namath, no reporters were around to record Ron’s words, but it showed the cockiness Swoboda always played with. Swoboda was also a real “dirty uniform” type guy, and his crazy catch in the 1969 World Series was clearly an example of how he always went all out. I think Ron deserves consideration.
Well, Jimmy, I still haven’t gotten to either Darryl or Rusty, but I don’t want to dominate the conversation. What do you think of the right field crew assembled?
First off, that’s a great Swoboda story. Didn’t any of you think of bringing a camera? I got the impression the Geus clan was always snapping pictures back then? In my family, Dad brought out the camera for Easter, high school graduations, and when anybody bought a new car, and that was it.
Back to right field. Fifty-seven guys have played 50 games or more in RF for the Mets — and Mordecai Brown could count the tough guys on one hand. Strawberry deserves consideration, because he was clearly a guy nobody wanted to mess with when the dugouts emptied. But I don’t think that’s our kind of toughness, exactly. Toughness is what Rusty Staub gave us in the 1973 playoffs.
Yes, Staub is the guy. What Rusty was able to do in 1973 was truly remarkable. First, in tough guy fashion, Staub crashed into the wall making a game-saving catch to help win game four of the NLCS against the Reds. Staub severely injured his shoulder on the play, and it seemed clear when he missed the clincher the next day that his season was finished.
Rusty was our best hitter that year and the idea of playing Oakland without him put a damper on the Mets second World Series appearance. But Staub played, basically with one arm. Not just one pinch-hitting appearance like that wimp Kirk Gibson (a bad hamstring, c’mon rub some dirt on that!), nope Staub started and played right field in all six games. It was one of those things you never forget. Staub was injured so badly that on some plays he would shovel the ball to the center fielder to make the throw to third or home. He was hitting with one arm too.
Now there is a fine line between tough and selfish. What good is going out there if you can’t find a way to help the team? Not to worry with Rusty. The one-armed bandit hit .423 in that World Series and he had an OPS of 1.079. Oakland couldn’t get him out.
I could go on about Staub in general, but I’ll just add one more fact. He is my wife’s favorite player. And it’s common knowledge that she has a thing for tough guys.
Oh, and Jimmy, about those pictures. No, we have nothing from that particular night. But we have a whole lot, some real cool stuff, and some home videos too. Right now it’s all in the attic, collecting dust, but I think it might be time to climb up there and see what I can find.
Spring is right around the corner, spring cleaning will come with that.