I’ve been in the book production business now for over thirty years. In the summer of 1982, my first job after college was at Simon & Schuster in New York City. I was hired as an assistant and I was put in charge of making advanced reader copies for new books being published. This was intense for a young man right out of college. Quantities, specifications, deadlines all had to be coordinated; it was the perfect training environment for learning the manufacturing business.
One of the people I met during this time was the owner of Sterling-Pierce, Bill Burke. He helped me learn the ropes of this particular side of the business and we became very good friends. During the off-season between 1982 and 1983, we were talking and he said that he was going to buy season tickets for some sports team. He wasn’t sure which team to go for, the Yankees, the Knicks, the Rangers, the Mets; he couldn’t decide. I lobbied for the Mets; I said, “this team is finally heading in the right direction. They’ve got some good talent on the rise. They are going to be very good again pretty soon” and “get your season tickets now”.
At this point in time, the Mets were beginning to assemble an interesting team. We had Hubie Brooks, Mookie Wilson, Rusty Staub, George Foster (pre-bust), Walt Terrell, and Jesse Orosco among other players. For the most part, this was a balanced team of young players with talent and older players with savvy. Ownership, headed by Doubleday & Co. was injecting new energy and resources into the team.
When Bill Burke finally decided to buy season tickets for the Mets, he asked me what section of the stadium he should get seats for. I said, “get tickets behind the visitor’s dugout so you can see what is going on inside the Mets’ dugout”.
On April 5, 1983, we went to his first opening day together and we sat in his two seats along the third base line. Not only was this Bill Burke’s first game as a bonafide New York Mets’ season ticket holder but it was also the heralded return of Tom Seaver. As the start of the game drew closer, the energy in the stadium was electric; really beyond expression. The stadium, of course, was packed and the weather was perfect. Bill and I heard some guys yelling behind us, “Hey, Mr. President! Hey, Mr. President!” We looked up and behind us and there in one of the new luxury boxes built by the Doubleday administration, was Richard M. Nixon, graciously saying hello back to the fans who acknowledged him. There was neither ill will nor hard feelings expressed that day. Nixon was just a fan like the other 48,682 people in attendance at Shea Stadium.
When game time arrived, the Mets took the field and the thunder from the crowd boomed forth. When the announcer went to introduce the starting pitcher, he didn’t even say his name. He just said, “and starting for the Mets is number 41″. The stadium erupted beyond thunder and beyond lightning into something undescribable…and Seaver walked out to take the mound.
The fact that Seaver was facing Steve Carlton and the Philadelphia Phillies was somehow even sweeter. The fact that he struck out the first batter, Pete Rose, was even sweeter than that. A second round of cheers and applause rocked the stadium like an earthquake’s aftershock.
Seaver won that game after shutting out the Phillies for six innings. Doug Sisk replaced him in relief and prevented the Phillies from scoring the rest of the way. Seaver and the Mets won 2-0.
Bill Burke has renewed his season tickets every year since then. His generosity has been extended to me many times since 1983. Many people have benefitted from his generosity over the years.
Earlier this year, I corresponded with Bill and asked him if he was going to renew his tickets and he said that he was considering not doing it. He indicated that it might be time to let that go. So I said to him, “you know, this team is finally heading in the right direction. They’ve got some good talent on the rise. They are going to be very good again pretty soon”….
He let me know on Thursday that he had renewed his season tickets.