Jerry Koosman, Tom Seaver, retired numbers and statues

When I was a freshman in my 5,000 kid high school, mistakenly my schedule had me placed in a gym class that was comprised of sophomores. Doesn’t sound like a big deal but at the time, it really was. Anyway, it brought out my competitive side, to excel against physically more mature kids. We were doing volleyball very early in the class and as nobody knew me and my body style would best be described as “scrawny,” my fate had me among the last kids being picked.

The captain of the team had a definite draft style. He picked the roughest boys and the prettiest girls to form the team. The two exceptions to the first part were me and this kid Danny. Since we were the outcasts, we bonded. Anyway, we’re playing the games and I’m running all over the court, getting to every ball that I could because my teammates just didn’t care about winning.

What they cared about was having fun. I didn’t get it at first. My initial thinking was that the object was to do your best and win. But if there was a rule, our team’s goal was to break it. On a dead ball, you were supposed to roll the ball to the other team under the net. We didn’t do that – we threw it over the net and onto another court to disrupt other team’s games. You weren’t supposed to touch the net. We pulled down the net and tried to spike the ball in the face of a kid from another team. You were supposed to hit the ball with your fingertips. Our goal was to catch the ball in our hand and throw it over the net. That one was my specialty and the punks on my team loved it.

We were the bad guys. And once I figured it out, not only did I accept it – I loved it.

At the end of the class, the teacher would get the captains to report the scores of the games. We lost every game we played. The teacher, thinking this would be a motivating tactic, started to call our team the bagels – you know, hole in the middle, zero wins. But it didn’t motivate us – we wore it as a badge of honor.

In fact, when we saw one another in the hall, we would scream “Bagel!” at one another. My grades were good; my friends were the smart kids. Imagine their surprise when some sophomore punk came up to me and yelled “Bagel!” in my face, while I was doing the same thing to him. It makes me happy all these years later just thinking about it.

Generally, I disliked high school. If the option was available to go straight from middle school to college, that would have been ideal for me. But that gym class and that team – The Bagels! – is one of my fondest memories from that time.

Flash forward to about 10 years ago. Danny, my first friend from that gym class, joins Facebook. Haven’t heard from him since high school but can’t wait to reminisce about The Bagels. Only problem is he doesn’t remember me or the gym class.

I’m devastated.

His lack of recognition about a brief moment in my life knocked me harder than I would have thought possible. After a lot of deliberation, my mind settled on one thought – Does memory need outside confirmation to be meaningful? And ultimately, my conclusion was – no, it doesn’t. Yes, absolutely, it would have been nice if Danny remembered. But this is my story, and not his, and my story doesn’t need any validation from others. It’s a story about a quiet, Straight-A kid being not only accepted but embraced by the punks. If I was going to make something up, it would have been about getting one of those pretty girls to go out with me.

*****

In sports, people make a big deal about having an athlete’s number retired. There have been countless stories about how the Mets haven’t retired enough numbers throughout their history. It’s an argument that doesn’t hold much weight with me. My memories of the Mets and their players don’t need outside justification from the Wilpon family making an official ceremony. The fact that Jerry Koosman’s “36” isn’t in a round circle on the outfield wall doesn’t make him any less important to me.

And now we have the news about Tom Seaver, one of my early heroes. His number is already retired, so the call went out on MetsBlog about having a statue built of him in front of Citi Field. And now that looks like it’s going to happen. It seems like the right thing to do and a lot of people are happy about it. And that’s good.

But my opinion is that the best way to honor Seaver – or anyone for that matter – is to talk about them. And much like I detest the idea that the only way to get fans to clap at the ballpark is to put the word “cheer” on the scoreboard, I dislike that the only way to get fans to talk about a Koosman or a Seaver is to have their number on a wall or a statue outside the ballpark. Don’t get me wrong – those things are nice. But those of us who lived through their careers shouldn’t need them.

Let’s carry this one step further. When people die, there’s no shortage of survivors telling you how much of an impact that person had on their life. This is always the case but it became really clear – in a not-good way for me – with the passing of the chef Anthony Bourdain. My Facebook feed was filled with loving tributes to him. He never had a big impact on me when he was alive. Had seen his show, and enjoyed it, but not enough to make it must-see TV or anything like that.

But when reading all of these tributes, my main takeaway was: Why didn’t you express this when he was alive and active? Why do we have to wait for someone dying to pay them the proper tribute? If enough of my friends had expressed their admiration for Bourdain earlier, perhaps that would have made me given him a closer look. Maybe he could have impacted me to the degree he did others. And that would have been a good thing for everyone.

Seaver didn’t die but official news of his dementia made people (seemingly) come out of the woodwork to honor what he meant to them. Loved seeing all of the Seaver pictures on my feed but for Pete’s sake – why did you have to wait until terrible news came out to share your appreciation and admiration for the guy?

Don’t wait for bad news to honor those people and things that are important to you. Celebrate Jacob deGrom – today. Appreciate Edgardo Alfonzo now. Salute Cleon Jones immediately. Talk about them and why they’re important and let others know – preferably while they’re still active and certainly while they’re still alive.

So, let me tell you a few words about how much I dig Neil Young…

17 comments for “Jerry Koosman, Tom Seaver, retired numbers and statues

  1. Mike Walczak
    March 10, 2019 at 9:42 am

    I am 57 years old an in my room in addition to photos if our grandchildren, I have two photos. A signed photo of Nolan Ryan and a photo of Seaver, Koosman, Gentry and Ryan. Funny thing, Ryan looks really scrawny in the photo compared to the memory of him being a hoss and mowing down batters.

    The Mets and watching baseball on channel 9 had a big impact on me. It helped me focus in something and brought me a lot of happiness growing up and distracted me from some tough challenges. If I could have a do-over, I would also skip the high school years.

    And yes, a lot of the Bagels are still Bagels.

    Thanks for writing such a great story.

  2. JimO
    March 10, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    I had heard the news about Seaver a few days ago. He is sort of the B. C. vs A. D. timeline mark in the franchise. I was at opening day when he returned to Shea Stadium and when they announced “41” was the starting pitcher, the place boomed.

    Now don’t get me started on Duffy Dyer or Steven Stiils.

    • March 10, 2019 at 10:59 pm

      Duffy Dyer was a favorite of mine. Loved Stills in Manassas but generally think he was full of himself.

  3. TJ
    March 10, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    Brian,
    Very interesting read. I can directly relate to your retro experiences…I have been on both sides of the “memories from the past” recall. For my two cents, I am not big on awards, who’s who lists, rankings, deserving or not of HOF, etc.; just my personality. But, I think “class” is part of the human social structure. I am also not a fan of statues, per se, but in keeping an open mind, I do see merit from the historical point of view. Unlike our generation, there are many fans who never saw a guy like Seaver perform. I myself was too young to “experience” the 69 world champs and get the true vibe of living through that wonderful season. Documenting history and having a legacy does have value, even in the playland of sports. Now, I agree that it is always better to express appreciation of someone when that person is around and can accept it, genuine expressions of thanks and goodwill can be done without idolizing another person. I hope Seaver is able, to some degree right now, to enjoy the good sentiment and expressions of thanks from Met fans.

    • March 10, 2019 at 11:01 pm

      Thanks TJ!

      And absolutely I need to be more open minded about the fans who didn’t get to see Seaver and Koosman pitch. Can I make a distinction about a 30-something leading the charge for a statue compared to a guy with an AARP card?

      • Chris F
        March 11, 2019 at 10:32 am

        There is a lot that goes into statuary, and Im a huge believer of it for the right cause/reason. I have wanted to see seaver and hodges statues in public space at Citi for ages. While our memories might not need a jog now, that could change. But I see these as a means to bridge generations, and generations far from now, for whom Seaver will be a guy with 70 WAR and little else. Current Mets players hardly know the history of their own team. In 2042, a 12 year old kid will run up to the statue, want a picture, and for sure will hear stories from peopl that never saw him pitch, but that bigger than life piece of bronze will cement that classic form of Seaver even then. For me another part is the massive mistake in building a stadium in remembrance of a team that had nothing to do with the Mets. Tom Seaver belongs to the Mets, not the Dodgers. Seeing Mets heroes would go a long way in recognizing that.

        • Metsense
          March 11, 2019 at 1:36 pm

          In Hickory North Carolina at the L.P Frans Stadium where the Low A minor league team Hickory Crawdads play there are two statues in front of the stadium. One is a pitcher and the other one is 60 1/2 feet away and it is a catcher. Many people step in the batter’s box and get their picture taken just for the fun of it. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a statue of Tom Seaver throwing to his Hall of Fame teammate Mike Piazza in front of Citi Field.

          • glenrussellslater
            March 20, 2019 at 12:20 am

            I think it would be much more appropriate and appreciated by the fans who watched and loved Seaver to have the battery-mate most associated with Seaver: Jerry Grote. Jerry Grote was instrumental in Tom Seaver’s success. When he knew a pitcher was not pitching to his potential, he didn’t hesitate to go to the mound and tell him. Grote was a tough and knowledgeable guy while on the Mets. He wanted to WIN. Seaver appreciated this. Remember how hard Grote used to throw the ball back to the pitcher when he was disappointed in his pitching? He was sending a message to the pitcher to straighten up and fly right. Seaver and Grote is real and what happened. Seaver and Mike Piazza???? Totally incongruous. They had nothing to do with one another’s career. It would be as relevant as statues of Christy Mathewson pitching to Ivan Rodriguez.

  4. Metsense
    March 11, 2019 at 12:11 am

    Brian, I met Your wife today and I think you did better than some fantasy girl in your gym class. You should erect a statue of her in your front yard.

    You like Neil Young because you believe in Rocking In The Free World. One of the best concerts I saw was at Nassau Coliseum with CSNY 8/15/74. The 3rd set was an electric set and it open with a memorable rocking “Deja Vu” but I also don’t need validation of this fond memory or for Seaver who was the greatest player in Met history.
    PS Thanks for a great day with your family.

    • March 11, 2019 at 10:43 am

      I really appreciate you traveling all the way to the see the show! It was great to see you and hope we get to do multiple games this year.

  5. March 11, 2019 at 3:42 am

    My parents separated when I was a freshman in high school. I was transferred to a school three thousand miles away in midterm. I was a minority of the minority in a school where there were only 3 Hispanic students (2 Mexican and I Puerto Rican} out of 500. I was an outcast and ostracized simply for being from New York. My first gym class was for softball. I was picked last next to the kid wearing black formal socks. I was determined not to have that label. We all go through some form of peer pressure one way or another. Scrawny but with athletic ability by the third week I was a captain choosing players on my team. I made it a point to pick the kid (who’s name happened to be Brian Lamb) with the black socks in the middle of the pack never last. I think we learn a lot about ourselves and each other and the respect for each that comes with it. I went back 30 years later for a class reunion but same as you Brian my friends did not recall the incident. I will still cherish the memories.
    Seaver was my hero growing up. He truly was The Franchise. By remembering him not as a player but as a good human being we will continue his legacy. I don’t need the Wilpons to have a Tom Seaver Day. That would be shallow and a despicable way of trying to boost ticket sales. Honor the player. Honor the man

    • March 11, 2019 at 10:44 am

      Agree completely with your last graph.

      And glad to hear that you took care of the kid who shares my first name.

  6. March 11, 2019 at 3:54 am

    I remember Kiners Korner (ouch) when Ralph would have Seaver on after a game. Seaver’s laugh and self depreciating humor always put a smile on Ralph’s face. There was mutual respect in their conversations and Seaver always thanked Ralph for having him on.

  7. Eraff
    March 11, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    Funerals….Statues…Memories…All for The Living—and I’d guess that at least half of the People who would have wanted remembrances of their own Met Heroes and Memories of that early Met Era have, themselves, died.

    The sadness of the Mets is that they have been mostly under-loved by their owners….it is quite clear that the Present Ownership, especially the Elder Mr. Wilpon, “Loves Owning The Mets”— for many reasons…..but Not Because They Love The Mets!!!!!!

    The Men Who Own the Mets are disgraceful and unloving and uncaring Keepers of this Team…… it will Never truly Belong to them because they have abandoned and abused it for so long. They have captured their own memories in their own Crypt—and those are not memories or loving Tributes to The Mets. Their ownership will be most fondly remembered for its Last Day.

    There is not a Single Player or Person who would more perfectly embody the Mets History to a greater extent than Tom Seaver. If Casey Stengel was it’s most Loving Uncle and Gil Hodges was it’s Stern and Steadfast Father, Seaver is The Prodigal Son. He Is the Brand…The Heart and The History.

  8. Rob
    March 11, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    Iwas 7-at the time. Still not sure how my dad got tickets but opening day 1983 seaver vs Carlton pitchers duel till ninth. Still greatest game saw.ver be eaw

  9. March 20, 2019 at 12:24 am

    Excellent piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Glen R. Slater

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