Being a New York Met fan is never easy. Sure we’ve had some great runs. 1969 and the early 70’s were filled with a stunning World Championship and then basically mediocrity headlined by the likes of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan and Jon Matlack. While the offense struggled, the pitching gave the Mets and Met fans credibility. But then came the late 70’s and early 80’s. Shea stadium was nick-named “Grant’s Tomb” and a revolving door of mediocre and retread players streamed through Flushing. Willie Montanez, Richie Hebner, Ray Burris, Kevin Kobel, Pete Falcone…I could go on. Needless to say, being a Met fan has its ups and downs. We are currently in a down, and hoping that between David Wright (truly, the second true home grown HOF candidate the Mets have every spawned), Curtis Granderson, Zach Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud that a new renaissance is coming. Let’s hope so.
I wanted to talk about my first Met hero. Met fans more than any other, especially from my generation (I’m 53yo), didn’t have much to choose from. Basically you loved Seaver, Koosman, Kranepool, Rusty or Willie Mays. As my interest in baseball sparked it was April of 1971. The Mets opened with a very hot April and they had a new addition who started off very strong and he because of that became my hero. I’m talking about Bob Aspromonte. “Who??” Robert Thomas Aspromonte. Born June 19th 1938, brother of Ken Aspromonte, his true claim to fame is that he was the last Brooklyn Dodger to retire. He made a huge splash with the Mets, who in 1971 were infamous for never finding a solution at third base. Aspromonte, a near all-star with the Astros, brought a .252 lifetime batting average to the offensively challenged 71 Mets. But also brought a gold glove caliber presence to the hot corner at Shea.
To my young eyes Bob was amazing. Offensively he started out great, as did the Mets. By June 9th the Mets were looking like winners. They were 32-20. Tom Seaver was in the middle of his best season and Bob was a force. By the start of June, Aspro was hitting .270 with 5 homers and 25 RBI and was one of the steals of the season. The Mets had finally found a star at third. EXCEPT….that’s when the needle scratched off the record. Bob went into a horrific tailspin, as did the Mets. Over the next 110 games Aspromonte hit no homers, drove in 8 RBI and saw his average fall to .225. As he put it “I’ve heard of going 0 for 8, I went 0 for July!” Pretty soon, Wayne Garrett was back from his reserve duty in the Army and he was taking games away from my hero. I followed the Mets loyally and was distressed by Bob’s lack of playing time, but was confident he would get “back into form” He didn’t. But, there were two highlights. On August 2nd, I saw the Mets play the Reds at Shea Stadium. I was so excited. I didn’t know if Bob would be playing. I had to wait till I got to Shea to see. I remember walking out to my seats. The first thing I noticed was the ultra-green Shea grass of the infield and outfield and then the big scoreboard with the Rheingold signs all over it in right-center field. I immediately scanned the lineup. Batting 6th and playing 3B #2 Bob Aspromonte. Ross Grimsley was in for it tonight! The game also featured a start by young Met hurler Jon Matlack. Matlack got the loss, falling to 0-3 on the year. The Reds scored twice off him in the top of the 9th to win the game 4-2. Bob’s struggles continued. He went 0-4. He did make one spectacular fielding play. On a squib between the mound and third an inexperienced Matlack found himself in no man’s land, Aspromonte grabbed the ball, pushed Matlack out of the way and fired a seed to first to retire the runner. I was thrilled. I had gotten what I came for. A moment from my hero.
Then in the final days of the season, Bob had one more shining moment. This one I witnessed on television. September 25th at Shea and the Mets were playing the eventual World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and they got themselves into a 15 inning marathon. Bob didn’t start. He rode the bench. For 14 innings! In the bottom of the 15th Tim Foli led off with a single. He was sacrificed to 2nd. Bud Harrelson flew out to center, Leroy Stanton was intentionally walked. Bob then pinch hit for the lefty batting Dave Marshal l against Ramon Hernandez. On a 1-1 count, Bob singled up the middle and the frantic “Crazy Horse” Tim Foli scurried home with the winning run. A walk off win! They celebrated on the field. I remember Bob giving and getting a slap me 10’s with another nameless Met. I didn’t realize it being only 11 years old at the time. But that was the swan song for my hero Bob Aspromonte. He did drive in one more run before taking his final turn at bat and calling it a career, but this is the hit I remember. Bob retired at the end of the year. Bob did end up leading the NL in fielding percentage at third base only making 8 errors in 104 games. To my horror, the Mets traded away Stanton and Ryan for Jim Fregosi that winter. They were hoping that Fregosi was the Mets answer at third. He wasn’t. Fregosi wore the same number as Bob. Oddly enough, he had almost EXACTLY the same stat line as Aspromonte too. Very odd. But he wasn’t Bob. My heroes have changed over the years and I did try to contact Bob to get an autographed picture with no success. I may try again. What the hell?
But, to me, this is what being a Met fan is all about. This was way before the Carters and Hernandez’ and Goodens, the HoJos and the David Wrights. This is about when an 11 year old thought that his favorite player instinctively knew his biggest fan was in the stands waiting for him to come through. No matter what they did. Whether they went 0 for 4, or drove in the winning run…..even time itself will never change how I feel about Bob Aspromonte, and the New York Mets.