Good Times: Johan, Rusty and Gil

While watching today’s broadcast of the Mets 9-0 blanking of the Padres, there were so many great things going on. This was easily one of the best games I’ve watched all season thus far. May there be many more!

Johan Santana was as cunning as ever and even though his fastball resided in the 86-88 mph range today, the crafty southpaw spun a gem and went all the way on a complete game shutout, his first since 2010. He was absolutely tremendous and to me Johan Santana is the best comeback story of the 2012 season.

And what about the suddenly resurgent Mets offense that included a grand slam from the light-hitting catcher Mike Nickeas? How awesome was that! Scott Hairston started the ball rolling with a three-run bomb, followed by a solo home run for Vinny Rottino, the first of his career. Let’s face it, today’s game was a feast for the senses for Mets fans.

Another highlight that may have gotten overlooked was when Rusty Staub visited the booth and share some of his early Mets memories with Gary, Keith and Ron. The one that tugged at my heart strings the most was when he discussed the trade that first brought him to Flushing Meadows in 1972. I learned something that I had never heard before and was wondering if the rest of the Mets faithful here at MMO caught it?

As Rusty put it, on April 2, 1972, the Expos and Mets were both holding camp at Spring Training. The day before it was Holy Saturday and Staub had gone to church before reporting to camp and he ended up noticing that Gil Hodges and his coaching staff were also attending the service.

The next morning it was a beautiful Easter Sunday morning and Rusty made his way to church again only this time Gil Hodges and his coaches who were also there again, came up to him and greeted him and shook his hands and they all treated him so nicely. “It was very surprising and I thought what a bunch of nice guys”, he said.

After church and on his way back to camp, he was still puzzled at how nice Gil and the other Mets were toward him and the all the pleasant things Gil had to say to about him as a player. Little did Rusty know, but he had just been traded to the Mets only he hadn’t been told yet because they were waiting for medical clearances to go through.

Ironically and sadly, his warm exchange with Gil Hodges would be his last and only conversation with Gil who was stricken by a heart attack during a round of golf later that afternoon and died. As Rusty put it to GKR, “I couldn’t believe Gil Hodges died that night”.

On the day of Gil’s funeral the trade became official. The Mets had acquired Le Grand Orange for Tim Foli, Mike Jorgensen and Ken Singleton.

When Rusty entered the Mets clubhouse for the very first time and donned his new Mets uniform, on his sleeve was a black band to honor the passing of the Quiet Man, Gil Hodges. A constant reminder to Rusty of his warm exchange with one of the most beloved Mets of all time.

Rusty of course wasted no time becoming a fan favorite himself and he became the first Mets player in franchise history to have a 100 RBI season. In nine seasons with the Mets, Rusty posted a .276/.358/.419 slash with 75 homers, 298 runs scored and 399 RBI. Many fans will always remember his many big hits as Rusty was at his best when the game was on the line. He is enshrined in the Mets Hall of Fame and today the Mets celebrated his Mets career with his first ever Mets Bobblehead Day.

It was a wonderful day for Mets fans.