And Away Goes Shea
Thomas A. Droleskey
As noted on the home page of this site, this article will not appeal to all readers. This article is an exercise in pure, unadulterated naturalistic sentimentality, probably one of the last of its kind to appear on this site. It is not an article that addresses, at least not directly, any of the "doings" of the entity known as Major League Baseball as I have indeed given that up once and for all. I do really take to heart the points made in a sermon, Agony Contention And Sports, given by Father Charles McGuire at Saint Gertrude the Great Church on Sunday, August 17, 2008. Competitive sports breed needless agony and strife in life. Collegiate and professional sports have become for so many millions of people a way of life that has taken the place of the true Faith and consumes practically all of their waking moments, to say nothing of what they actually dream about as they are sleeping.
Nevertheless, you see, I was raised in a thoroughly naturalistic environment. Although I was taught the Faith very well by the Reverend Sisters of Mercy at Saint Aloysius School in Great Neck, New York, and knew that I had to be a counter-cultural witness in Its behalf by resisting peer pressure to "go along" with the crowd, it never dawned on me that the things into which my parents immersed me from the time of my infancy (television, baseball, motion pictures) were wastes of time that impeded my learning how to interiorize the Faith that I had learned in school, how to make the Faith central to everything in my life, how to use my time profitably for the honor and glory of God by praying more and reading books about the lives of the saints (and not about baseball or the history of automobiles and trains and passenger train lines).
As explained in There's No Cure for This Condition (we have one box of ninety-eight books left; I threw out another six boxes when we cleared out our storage facility in Monroe, Connecticut, on Friday, September 19, 2008; see two book reviews: There is No Cure for this Condition and
Sticking with the Mets). I was a fan of the expansion New York Mets baseball team before the franchise had a single player, eagerly awaiting the day, October 10, 1961, that the team would purchase players from the rosters of the existing eight National League teams in what was termed an "expansion draft," which was held at the Warwick Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, then the headquarters of the National League. The first player drafted was Hobart ("Hobie") Landrith, a catcher off of the roster of the San Francisco Giants. When asked why the Mets had drafted a catcher before any other player, Charles Dillon "Casey" (the Ole Perfessor) Stengel, the Mets' first field manager, said, "Without a catcher you're goin' to have all them passed balls." I could hardly wait to attend my first game at the dilapidating former home of the New York Giants in the Harlem part of the Borough of Manhattan in the City of New York, the fabled Polo Grounds.
The Polo Grounds, located at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue, in Harlem, served as the home of the expansion New York Mets for their first two seasons of play, 1962 and 1963. Fans, however, awaited the construction and opening of the permanent home of the Mets in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Although it was thought at first that the new stadium would open for the 1963 season, the stadium would not open until the 1964 season, and I still remember the facility going up like a giant erector set whenever I would ride by the place in my parents' car or onboard the Port Washington branch of the Long Island Rail Road while traveling from Great Neck to Manhattan.
The new stadium was named after an attorney, William A. Shea, a parishioner of Saint Aloysius Church in Great Neck, New York, where we lived, who was instrumental in convincing the lords of baseball to bring National League baseball back to the City of New York following the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles, California, and of the New York Giants for San Francisco, California, following the end of the 1957 baseball season. Shea worked with former player, manager, general manager and owner Branch Rickey, the man who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 by signing Jackie Robinson to a contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in which he, Rickey, had a partial ownership stake, to create a third major league, the Continental League, as a means of pressuring baseball owners to expand the American League and the National League by two teams. Facing Congressional pressure, the owners of baseball consented.
The American League did so in 1961, admitting the Los Angeles Angels and the second incarnation of the Washington Senators (the first Senators moved to Minnesota at the end of the 1960 season; the 1961 expansion Senators moved to Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers). The National League admitted the Mets and the Houston Colt .45s (known as the Houston Astros since the 1965 season) for play to begin in the 1962 season. William A. Shea's role in helping to bring National League baseball back to the City of New York was thus memorialized by naming the new ball park in Flushing, Queens, after him. Although the last game at Shea Stadium was played on Sunday, September 28, 2008, as the visiting Florida Marlins defeated the Mets to knock the home team out of the playoffs for the second straight year (mind you, this information comes strictly from reading online reports), some have suggested that the area on which the new ballpark, CitiField, is located should be named Shea Meadows (instead of Flushing Meadows) to continue to honor the late Bill Shea, who died in 1991.
It was on Sunday, September 28, 2008, the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost and the Commemoration of Saint Wenceslaus, that I received a phone call from two longtime friends from Great Neck, New York, Bob and Jerry Stern. They were watching the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium following the conclusion of the Marlins-Mets game.
"Tom, quick," Bob said in his rapid fire New York mannerism, "what's Jack Fisher's number."
"What kind of moron question is this?" I said to myself before answering in a microsecond, "Twenty-two." (Jack Fisher, who pitched for the Mets between 1964 and 1967, gave up the first home run in Shea Stadium history, a blast by the late Willie Stargell on Friday, April 17, 1964. Fisher is more famous for giving up Roger Maris's sixtieth home run of the 1961 season at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, when pitching for the Baltimore Orioles on September 26 of that year.)
"Tom, Tom, who was number eleven on the 1969 Mets?"
"You can't be serious? Wayne Garrett."
"How do you know these things, Tom?"
"Bob, I went to sixteen hundred games over forty years before walking out of the place for good on July 16, 2002, forty years, one day after I attended my first Mets' game at the Polo Grounds."
"Tom, what's 'The Gilder's' number?"
Exasperated, I let out a sigh, "Number five." ("The Gilder" is the great gentleman named Ed Charles, who came to the Mets in the 1967 season and played a key role on their World's Championship team. Ed was always very nice to me whenever our paths crossed.)
"All right, Tom, what's Ron Hunt's number?"
"You mean the man from Overland Park, Kansas, whose autograph I secured on Wednesday, June 26, 1963, at the Polo Grounds? Number thirty-three, thank you."
And on and on the quiz show lasted until I explained that I had to get back to my family. Bob and Jerry Stern mentioned Dave "King Kong" Kingman, who was, of course, number twenty-six, who was also very nice to me. They mentioned Art Shamsky, number twenty-four, and Little Alvin Jackson, born in Waco, Texas, on December 25, 1935, who wore number fifteen during his first tenure with the Mets (1962-1965) and number thirty-eight in his second tenure (1968-1969). Number fifteen was being worn by Gerald Wayne Grote, the starting catcher for the National League in the 1968 All Star Game, by the time of Jackson's return to the Mets at the beginning of the 1968 season.
The phone call from the Stern brothers was a trip down naturalistic memory lane. There is a great deal of useless information stored in my memory, most of which is unused these days but which could provided the fodder for hours and hours upon hours of endless talk show programs or interviews. I spent my childhood being "formed" in the naturalistic ways of baseball, never giving my immersion in a very close following of the New York Mets a second thought, although I did recognize as the culture coarsened over the decades that I was making compromises with this coarsening by continuing to attend games at Shea Stadium despite the invasion of "rock music" and video clips that featured immodesty and, sadly, even blasphemous comments now and again.
The past is past. Shea Stadium's history is now a thing of the past. I can't undo my own past, and I do have many fond memories of my "home away from home" six months out of the year for almost every year between 1964 and 2002, at which time I walked out in protest of the advertising of a pharmaceutical product that should never be discussed publicly, no less in the presence of thousands upon thousands of children. Even some of the Diamond Club hostesses were complaining that day, July 16, 2002, of the rude, crude and vulgar comments being made by male patrons as a result of the public advertising of this product This was the end for me even though I was in the midst of marketing There Is No Cure for This Condition and was about to be interviewed by the longtime host of the WFAN pre-game radio program, Mets Extra, Ed Coleman. To quote Roberto Duran, "No mas!" No more.
There is, however, more than a little bit of sentimentality at work in my remembrances of Shea Stadium, where I had become somewhat prominent as a ballpark novelty figure, "The Lone Ranger of Shea Stadium," between 1976 and the time of my departure in 2002. Indeed, one of the men who manage the storage facility in Monroe, Connecticut, said to Sharon--and then to me--on Friday, September 19, 2008: "Hey, they were talking about you just last week. One fellow on television was talking about whatever happened to The Lone Ranger of Shea Stadium. They haven't forgotten you!" I only continued my "act," which poked fun at myself as I led various cheers, because the fans enjoyed it. And although I don't give much thought to the fan reaction (I mean, why would anyone want my utterly worthless autograph during the middle of games?), it is nice to know that a few people remember the "act" and the good cheer that I tried to bring to the games.
Long before I dressed up for what intended to be a one-day lark on May 4, 1976 (yes, something that I would not do now knowing what I know about the Faith that I did not know then), I was a regular fixture at "The Big Shea," as the cement mixing bowl in Flushing Meadows, Queens, was known. I attended my first game at Shea Stadium on Saturday, April 18, 1964, with my mother and brother (who is two years, eighteen days my junior), making my first solo venture on Thursday, April 23, 1964, becoming known to the ushers for giving fifty cent tips when tickets for field box seats cost $3.50 a piece. Many of those ushers became good friends over the decades. Most of them were "meat and potatoes" Catholics who took their Faith very seriously, good, kind men who worked very hard in their jobs.
One of the reasons that I kept going to games in the 1990s even after the players' strike that lasted from August 12, 1994, to April 2, 1995, was to support the "little people" behind the scenes, including the ushers and the equally hard working hostesses at the Diamond Club/Charcoal Grill season ticket holders' restaurants. Some of the hostesses had day jobs as teachers, many in what I believed at the time to be Catholic schools. These hostesses had to have extraordinary patience and class to deal with the often unruly patrons.
Indeed, the degeneration of the behavior of the patrons of the Diamond Club/Charcoal Grill restaurants was itself a testament to the coarsening of the culture; season ticket holders years ago were generally pretty refined according to the standards of naturalistic"decency" and the residual after-effects of Catholicism in our culture. Not so today. Not so today as the lack of grace in the conciliar structures has helped to create a situation where baptized Catholics have descended in their behavior to the level of their ancient pagan ancestors, acting, speaking and dressing in ways that would make the Druids and the Visigoths blush. A conciliar "priest," a man who has risen to some prominence in his diocese and in a conciliar scholarly association, was shocked to hear two Catholic men boasting quite openly at the Charcoal Grill of their immersion in total immorality.
Shea Stadium reflected the coarsening of the culture as more and more people became less uninhibited. It was the case back in the 1960s and 1970s that real fans bought box seats on the Field Level at Shea Stadium. Although corporations and various professional firms did have season boxes to parcel out to their employees over the course of a season's eighty-one home games, most of the season ticket holders were ordinary fans who loved the game. Indecent, profane language was never heard in the "expensive" seats on the Field Level. This had changed so much by the late-1990s that I had left a game between the visiting Cincinnati Reds and the Mets at Shea Stadium on May 19, 1999, because two Spanish-speaking spectators in back of me kept using every foul word they knew in the English language. I felt as though I was under assault. It was intolerable. Oh, what cultural decay had established itself between the time the Big Shea opened on April 17, 1964, and the 1990s.
Indeed, the innocence of those early years cannot be overstated. The stadium was a panorama of color as it opened just four days before the World's Fair across the Long Island Rail Road tracks in Flushing Meadows Park. Seats on the Field Level were yellow, those in the Loge Level were either dark orange (for box seats) or a lighter shade of orange (reserved seats), the few seats available to the public in the third level, the Press Level, were white, the Mezzanine Level sported dark blue (box) and light blue (reserved) coloring, and the Upper Level had dark green and lighter green colored seats. Being a Field Level snob, I didn't even venture up to the Upper Level until the fifth game of the 1973 World Series between the Mets and the Oakland Athletics. And it was when hosting one of about twenty-five gatherings of friends from high school and college, events that began in 1974 and ran through the year 2001, migrating down to the Picnic Area shortly after it opened beyond the left field fence in 1980, that Jerry Stern bellowed out loud as he walked up to his seat, "From where we're sitting the game is just a rumor!" His brother Bob piped in, "The only ones who higher up in the air than we are have got harps!" (The coloring of the seats changed in 1980 as the new owners, Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, changed the exterior and interior appearances of the ball park.)
Oh, those early days were a lot of naturalistic fun as I arrived at the ball park three hours before game time to try to get autographs from player, being sure to be at Gate D for the lifting up of the gates so that I could take my place in a box seat and watch batting practice as I chowed down on a greasy hamburger or a basket of fried chicken that would sometimes disagree with me (depending upon how many days in a row the grease in the fryer had been used) or a freshly cooked hot dog or a potato knish.
You need something to wash the food down, right? Well, what's a soda-drinking teenaged boy to do? It was a thirst-quenching thrill to drink a cup of Coca-Cola out of one of those old wax-lined paper cups on a hot summer day during a Sunday double-header. Ah, I can still taste those cups of soda, made just a little bit watery by the ice that had melted in them as the cellophane wrapping covering the drinks hawked from the stands absorbed the heat of the sun. A box of salty, buttered popcorn or a large, soft New York pretzel made one want to have many of those cups of soda!
The music during the game came from the organ (a Magnavox for the 1964 and 1965 seasons, followed by a Thomas organ from 1966 to the close of the 1979 season, the last time that live organ would be featured at Shea Stadium until 1997) played by Miss Jane Jarvis, who is still alive at the age of ninety-three. Miss Jarvis retired from her Shea Stadium work in the middle of the 1979 season, being replaced by a man named Richard Wallace for the remainder of that season. The Doubleday-Wilpon ownership made the most unfortunate decision to introduce "rock" "music" to Shea Stadium in 1980, and I should have walked out then and there. I didn't. I "loved" the "game" too much. I made a compromise that I should not have made. It took me another twenty-two years to realize that I had compromised for far too long.
While it lasted, however, the live organ at Shea Stadium was magnificent. Jane Jarvis played only before game and between innings and when a Mets' player hit a home run. She never played the organ to prompt cheers from the fans. The fans provided their own cheers of "Let's Go, Mets!" as they imported their home made banners from the Polo Grounds, where the phenomenon had begun during the 1962 season. One banner sported by a fan in 1962 read, "The bed sheet manufacturers of America love the Mets!" And there were ball park novelty figures long before I donned my hat and mask on May 4, 1976. Dr. Dominick Principatti, a radiologist, wore an orange hard hat and banged on a tambourine in the Loge Level starting in the 1964 season. The late Karl Erhardt, the famous Sign Man of Shea Stadium, began to sport his custom-made signs during games from his season seat on the third base side of the Field Level in 1965. Erhardt's first sign, "Welcome to Grant's Tomb" (a reference to the Chairman of the Board of the New York Mets from 1961 to 1978, the late M. Donald Grant) was not welcomed by the officialdom of the Mets.
As the years progressed, I got to know many of the personnel who worked in the front office of the Mets, especially those in the ticket office.
Bob Mandt, now retired, was a ticket seller when I first met him in 1964. A 1959 graduate of Saint John's University, Bob went to work for the Mets in 1961, staying with the club in various capacities until he retired in 2002. He became the ticket manager by the middle-1960s, being promoted to the position of the Director of Stadium Operations (which meant that he supervised the physical operation of Shea Stadium) and retired as a vice president of the organization. He was an original New York Met. He was very kind to me over the years, as were his various executive assistants, especially Cora Pruitt Wheeling and the late Michelle Daugherty, who died just about ten years ago now.
Few people alive, save for Howie Rose, who has been broadcasting for the Mets since 1996 and who was a host of before and after game shows on WFAN for nine years before that, know as much about the history of the Mets as Bob Mandt. Indeed, the entire ticket office over the years was most accommodating to me whenever I needed to purchase tickets for friends or to pull some strings to get good seats when I found myself in a city where the Mets would be playing an away game. I will always remember with great fondness and appreciate the kindness of each of these people.
This could go on for quite some time. Suffice it to say that the closing of Shea Stadium three days ago did indeed bring back a lot of memories. And that phone call from the Stern brothers reminded me of how I used to respond with mock indignation when fans of the incarnation of all evil in the world, the New York Yankees, would tout their Hall of Fame players with all of their retired numbers (the Mets have retired precisely three uniform numbers--37, Casey Stengel; 14, Gil Hodges; 41, Tom Seaver):
"You have your retired numbers? Well, listen here, my friends, we can match you number for number:
"Number 1? You have Bill Richardson and Billy Martin. We have Richie Asburn and Mookie Wilson.
"Number 2? You have Derek Jeter. We have Marvelous Marv Throneberry and Bobby Valentine.
"Number 3? You have Babe Ruth. We have Bud Harrelson.
"Number 4? You have Lou Gehrig. We have Ron Swoboda and Lenny Dykstra and Robin Ventura.
"Number 5? You have Joe DiMaggio. We have Hobie Landrith, the first Met, and Ed Charles and Davey Johnson (remember, I stopped going to games in 2002; sorry, David Wright).
"Number 6? You have Joe Torre. We have Cliff Cook.
"Number ?: You have Mickey Mantle. We have Edward Emil Kranepool.
"Number 8? You have Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. We have Yogi Berra and Gary Carter (and Chris Cannizaro as well).
"Number 9? You have Roger Maris. We have Jim Hickman and Joe Torre.
"Number 10? You have Phil Rizutto. We have Daniel Joseph "Rusty" Staub.
"Number 14? You have Lou Piniella. We have Gil Hodges?
"Number 21? You have Paul O'Neil. We have Cleon Joseph Jones.
"Number 32? You had Elston Howard. We have Jon Matlack.
"Number 30? You had nobody. We have Nolan Ryan.
"Number 36? You have nobody. We had Jerry Koosman.
"Number 37? You have Casey Stengel. We have Casey Stengel!
Number 38? You have Johnny Blanchard. We have Roger Craig.
Number 41? You have Mel Stottlemyre. We have The Franchise, George Thomas Seaver.
Number 47? You have nobody. We have Dr. Jay Hook and Jesse Orosco (sorry, Tom Glavine, you hightailed it back to Atlanta after bungling the last game of the 2007 season; oh, what I am talking about? I stopped following all of this in 2002.)
"Announcers? You have Mel Allen. We have Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner, each of whom is in the Baseball Hall of Fame (as is the late Mr. Allen, for whom no baseball fan could have anything but esteem).
"Go eat your hearts out, Yankees' fans!"
(Isn't this utterly wortheless information? Just don't get me going about Ironside! I'll get you the details of every episode--and in chronological order of their being telecast.)
Yes, the old days were fun. The trivia amassed in those old days is recalled very infrequently, although it can be called up at a moment's notice (Father Joseph Collins is a good one for asking questions about who wore what uniform number). Alas, it is just trivia. Shea Stadium was always just "dust," and it will be reduced to dust quite literally in a short period of time after its naturalistic "relics" are sold off (I believe a pair of Shea Stadium seats are selling for something on the order of $869 a pair!). I did waste a good deal of time in my life on needless strife in a place of dust, strife that has been further corrupted by greed and the desire to "win" at all costs, a mentality that is itself a product of the very glorification of "strife" that serves no useful purpose for society or even for those involved. (See: This Bud's Not for You.)
All is in God's Holy Providence, however. I might have made better use of my time had I not been at Shea Stadium for all those games, but it is also possible that I might have made worse use of my time. I was far from alone among believing Catholics in trekking out to the ball park on a regular basis. Priests in their clerical garb and nuns in full habits used to go to Shea Stadium quite regularly as the infections of naturalism were considered to be just part and parcel of everyday life that were never called into question as being anything other than legitimate diversions and/or forms of recreation and relaxation. For my part, however, I do recognize that the past is the past and that I could never bring my daughter into an environment where "rock" "music" assaults the senses constantly and where horrible video images are shown on the large television screens, to say nothing of the immodest attire and indecent speech of many of the fans.
Shea Stadium is going away. Its innocence went away a long time ago. All things that are not supported by the true Faith--and are indeed contradictory in essence of the Faith (such as the needless strife engendered by competitive sports)--must lose their innocence over the course of time, especially as the residual after-effects of the Faith die out in the wake of conciliarism's graceless liturgies and its "reconciliation" with the very anti-Incarnational principles of Modernity that have made it possible for degeneracy to become "normal" while the Faith itself is considered by so many ignoramuses as "insanity." I should have walked out of Shea Stadium long before I did. However, I am grateful to Our Lady for leading me out when she did, and I do not regret in the slightest having done so.
As can be evident, I have much need of making reparation for the way in which I wasted my time for so many years.
Well, October is the month of Our Lady's Most Holy Rosary. What better time than now, this very month, to pray extra Rosaries each day to make reparation for our sins and those of the whole world as the consecrated slaves of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary? Our time is far better spent praying more Rosaries than wasting it on the useless strife of competitive sports or on the babblings of naturalists in the political realm who understand--or care to understand--anything about First and Last Things.
Saint Francis of Assisi, who feast we celebrate in three days, withdrew from the frivolities of his early life to live in the austere poverty of the Holy Family as he spent many hours in prayer before Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ's Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament and as he showed his most tender devotion to Our Lady, helping the Order of Friars Minor from eternity to spread devotion to her Most Holy Rosary that was given by Our Lady to his friend, Saint Dominic de Guzman, the founder of the Order of Preachers. If withdrawing from frivolities was good enough for Saint Francis, it should be good enough for us.
What are we waiting for?
Vivat Christus Rex!
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Beloved, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, pray for us.
Saint Remigius, pray for us.
See also: A Litany of Saints