As we watch another Metsless playoff – ten years out of the last eleven, if you’re scoring at home – there is little to say about the end of the season that hasn’t already been said. The Mets stunk. There’s little money in the till, so they’re likely to continue to stink. Attendance is down 8%, seeing as they stunk. Jose Reyes is likely running away from the stink. Looking ahead gives no relief, so let’s look backward instead…
I was ten years old in 1975.
At the time my Dad worked in the Manhattan as the sales manager for Dudley Sporting Goods (“The World’s Best-Selling Softball!”). The main representative for the Midwest territory was none other than Al Unser — not the Indy-Car driver, but a former major league catcher and father of recently acquired Mets’ centerfielder Del Unser.
Al was in contact with my father a lot. I had met him a couple of times over the years, most notably in early 1974 at a huge sporting goods show in Anaheim. We spent my ninth birthday at Disneyland with Al, his wife and their other son Larry, who had just washed out of the Cleveland bushes.
Fast-forward a year, and Del gets traded to the Mets. I was upset as only a ten-year-old can get that Tug McGraw was gone, but I was ecstatic that I had somebody I “knew” playing center. In June, Al & Larry came out to NYC for a sales conference. Lo & behold, the Mets were home that week. So a couple quick phone calls and we’re going to a Thursday night game vs. the Cubbies: me, my dad, Al & Larry.
So we made a day of it. I commuted to my father’s office with him, had fun playing with the calculators and was then sent as an envoy to escort Larry to the top of the Empire State Building, right across 34th Street from the office. When we got back –sales meeting presumably complete — it was time to head for Shea.
We drove into the parking lot, but we weren’t waiting in line for tickets, as I was used to doing. We went over to the players’ entrance (really? Is this REALLY happening? Holy CRAP!), through the double doors and found ourselves at the entrance to the clubhouse. Del came out and greeted his relatives in FULL UNIFORM! WOW, those colors look a lot brighter than on
TV. We were then invited and escorted into the inner sanctum by none other than Del Unser himself.
Here’s a ten-year-old mind at work: There’s TOM SEAVER getting dressed! Holy Jeezum, it’s EDDIE KRANEPOOL! Omygodit’sJOHNMILNER! Del then introduced my Dad and me to a couple of people I’d only seen in the yearbooks: traveling secretary Lou Niss, and trainer Tommy McKenna. I was allowed to peer into Yogi Berra’s paneled office and caught a glimpse of the runway to the dugout.
The final piece came most unexpectedly — as if I’d had any expectations left by this point — when a naked Willie Mays came trotting past us with an embarrassed grin on his face and a large hand protecting his modesty. My father, of course — a wisenheimer from Long Beach to the end — nodded at him and yelled, “Say HEY, Willie!”
After all of this, there was still a game to watch. We sat in the players’ family section behind home plate with Del’s wife Dale. We were right behind Jerry Grote’s family and two rows behind Bob Apodaca and his family. Bob was on the disabled list at that moment and was modeling his newly reconstructed schnozzle. He generously signed an autograph for me in my 1975 yearbook
— a picture of Seaver on the cover behind a big number “7” made out of baseballs.
Jerry Koosman shut out the Cubs and our party — now including Dale – waited outside the clubhouse for Del to emerge, as we were going out for Chinese dinner at Lum’s’ in Bayside. While waiting, I got autographs from Felix (“Choke up!”) Millan and George (“Yes, I’m hurt AGAIN!”) Stone.
Del came out & we went to Lum’s — also notable as this was my first time eating Chinese food! I don’t really remember much about the meal, because when we got to the door, Del asked the hostess if Bud Harrelson had come in yet, and my head nearly spun off my shoulders.
Del signed my yearbook, of course, and I can recite his inscription without even looking: “To my good buddy CA [my dad called my CA: my middle name is Arnold], Best of Luck, Del Unser, Mets ’75”
36 years ago and it’s like yesterday…