I was introduced to Major League baseball, like millions of my generation, by my dad, an inveterate fan of the New York Giants. Time upon end, I heard wondrous tales of the 1951 miracle pennant chase with the hated Bums of Brooklyn, beating them in the playoffs with the three run homer hit by Bobby Thomson off of Ralph Branca, forever known as “The Shot heard round the World.”, with Russ Hodges endlessly repeating “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT AND THEY’RE GOIN’ CRAZY! (* You can listen to the pandemonium on the field at this You Tube site.) Dad also smiles at the memories of the Giants sweeping the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series, highlighted by the most famous catch of all time: Willie Mays streaking at the speed of light to catch Vic Wertz’s titanic drive to dead center. (* Catch the video of “The Catch”) .
Although Dad was a die-hard Giant fan, and by definition hated the Dodgers, he always enjoyed seeing a game at Ebbets Field, home to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dodger fans always had a great deal of fun at the park; they listened without criticism to the cacophony of the “Sym-Phony”; and then there was Hilda ringing her Cowbell. But in 1957, Dodger Owner Walter O’Malley and Horace Stoneham signed a pact with the devil, and the two beloved franchises headed out west. For the first time in baseball history, the Big Apple was left without a National League baseball team.
Soon after the departure of the Giants and Dodgers, efforts were made to establish a National League franchise in New York. Five years later, the New York Metropolitans were created and were part of the expansion of the National League in 1962, along with the Houston Colt .45’s. The Mets of ’62 were truly legendary for their ineptitude, losing 120 games; some historians consider that squad as the worst team in the history of the game. By 1964 they moved to their new gig, which would be named Shea Stadium.
After Shea Stadium opened in 1964, our family used to go on a regular basis to see Met/Giant double-headers. On Mother’s Day of 1964, Shea was filled to capacity, 50,000 fans buzzing with anticipation. Little did they know on this day the Giants and the Mets would set a record that still stands – they participated in playing what was to become the longest day in baseball history. The Giants won the first game of the twin-bill, which started at 1:05 PM. The second game would continue for 23 innings. We finally left the stadium at about the 18th inning, as we were afraid of missing the last train connection home. By the time we left, there was absolutely nothing left in the way of provender or drink at the ballpark. When we arrived home I turned on the TV to see who had won the game. Lo and behold, the game was still going on! It was the bottom of the 23rd, the Giants had finally scored in the top of the inning; the Mets went down in order, and the ordeal was finally over.
Many years later, I found out that this game had a great deal more significance than anyone would realize at the time. The winning pitcher was Gaylord Perry, who at that point in his career was a mediocre hurler, but on that day his pitches dived as if falling off a cliff. Gaylord would wind up winning over 300 games in his career, which bought him a ticket to Cooperstown. After his career had long ended, he disclosed that it was at that marathon in Queens that he first threw his fabled spitter.