2/23/12

The View From The Rear View Mirror - Jesse Orosco, Tom Seaver, Ed Kranepool

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By Michael Jawitz, AKA: Grubby Glove


In my second post of this series, I continue to discuss the twenty-five key New York Mets Baseball cards I'm going to send my new friend in Sydney, Australia. 


Jesse Orosco was on the pitching mound the moment the Mets won their 1986 World Series 
Championship. His presence there stands as one of the most fitting moments in the team’s history. As dependable as a setting sun settling gently into the horizon of a western sky, his devastating sliders were a continually reassuring presence that whispered, like an old friend, this game is ours
So it with a degree of irony that I confess my most vivid memory of him occurred when he did not appear in a game. It was in San Francisco when Davey Johnson made a late-game pitching change. Another reliever was called in to halt a Giants rally. I was wearing my colors, never a pleasant experience at Candlestick Park, receiving one verbal barb after another, for which I held a resentment for twenty-five years, when I instantly knew that the game had just been lost. I stood up and loudly proclaimed for all to hear, "Davey, No! Jesse, Jesse, Jesse.” While I exhorted my plea I was pointing to my left arm, as if I were the Manger making the correct decision. I was so animated that Davey actually looked up at me, but it was all to no avail. I sat there and said over and over, you win, to  the Giants fans who surrounded me. Corroboration followed in short order, and the Mets lost the game.
That was the sort of thing that didn't happen very often when Orosco was called in to close out a game. He appears here on his 1988 Score card, which I selected for three reasons. First, it features a nice crisp shot of him in mid motion. Second, it shows the script road jerseys the team wore for just one year, in 1987. Third, as a  baseball card guy, I always found this design very pleasing to the eye.

In 1967, Tom Seaver exploded onto the scene like a super nova, signaling that our universe would never be the same again. Who was this guy? Didn't he know that as a Met he was supposed to stink? He actually thought he could win! And he did! "Tom Terrific" instilled something in the other Mets players, a belief, a confidence, a sense that victory was not only within reach, but clearly attainable. When he pitched for the Mets, his teammates performed at a higher level. You could see it. You could feel it. He was dazzling.
I remember watching him close out the All-Star game that summer, and shaking the hands of the other National League players after their side won. Tom Seaver looked like he belonged, and proved it as the season wore on. As the NL Rookie of the Year that season, he compiled a 16-12 record, good for a .552 record. In games when he did not factor into the decision, the Mets went 45-88, for a record of .338. How's that for an impact pitcher?
He would only get better. During the 1969 stretch drive he emerged as a full-blown superstar, an unbeatable, unstoppable force. I have often said that in my entire life I will never experience any story as improbable as the 1969 Mets, and in the intervening forty-three years, I haven't. Tom Seaver was the symbol of that transformation. The words on his Hall of Fame plaque express this perfectly by saying " franchise power pitcher who transformed Mets from lovable losers into formidable foes."
I have selected his 1977 Topps card for inclusion here. It was the last card issued during his initial tenure with the team. How his banishment to the Cincinnati Reds unfolded has been told too many times to be repeated here. As for myself, let me say that after the trade, which I equated to God trading Jesus, I didn't return to Shea until he was reacquired in 1983.

Ed Kranepool was one of Mets Owner Joan Whitney Payson's favorites, an untouchable who was never to be traded. Among the 1969 World Championship Mets, he was the first to appear in orange and blue, when  on September 22, 1962, he appeared in his first big-league game at the age of 17.
It was a long journey from that first game to the Miracle Mets, but Kranepool persevered. Along the way he was part of one of the longest days in the history of major league baseball. On Sunday, May 31, 1964, the San Francisco Giants played a double-header against the Mets at Shea Stadium. Kranepool started at first base in the opening contest, a 5 to 3 loss, which was standard fare for that era. He played first in the second game, too, an epic twenty-three inning affair that the Mets also lost. In one day he played thirty-two innings.
There are two noteworthy things about this Sunday that I must mention. First, there was a family connection as my Uncle Nathan attended this epic. I was pretty envious about that at the time, but now, older and wiser, I'm still envious. Second, unknown to some, the previous day Kranepool appeared in both ends of a double-header with Triple A Buffalo, then after being promoted to the big club, traveled all night to get to Queens and went straight into this struggle.
In 1969, Kranepool platooned at first base and was one of the many players who contributed just enough offense to help facilitate the miracle. He hit a home run in the third game of the World Series that fall. I like to think that there was at least one fan who was in attendance that day who was also at the Polo Grounds seven years earlier when Ed Kranepool made his debut. In 1969, that sort of thing was expected.
His career continued, with his best years coming from 1974 to 1977. It was during those years that he became a fan favorite. He is included here for his longevity, and for linking the bumbling, lovable loser era to what many consider the most unexpected championship team in the history of baseball, the 1969 Miracle Mets.

This is his 1974 Topps card. This is one of the earliest efforts the card manufacturer made at showing the players in game action. You could tell from the dust at his feet and his posture that the photographer picked the right moment. I find the card's design very attractive, with the references to the city, player's position, team name and player's name in perfect symmetry, but without crowding the picture.

I'll identify more Mets players + cards next week.  


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