It was one of the most memorable games in team history. And I had the luck of good timing (or maybe bad timing) to be in the stands.
No, it wasn’t June 1, 2012 when Johan Santana hurled the Mets first no-no. It wasn’t October 19, 2006 when Endy Chavez defied the laws of gravity and robbed Scott Rolen of a home run. It wasn’t October 25, 1986 when Mookie Wilson hit that slow roller. And it wasn’t April 9, 1985 when newcomer Gary Carter won the hearts of fans with an opening day walk-off HR in the tenth inning.
Nope, none of these. It was May 10, 1981, the day when Hubie Brooks tied a modern day record by committing three errors in one inning.
My dad and I were seated in Loge Section 5 amongst the Shea faithful that Sunday afternoon. With Mike Jorgensen batting cleanup (sad, isn’t it?), Randy Jones was outpitching Bob Welch.
The Mets were up 2-1 over LA going to the top of the 4th when my dad mentioned he was going to run below and get us a couple of ice creams. I was a teenager but still loved those little Breyer’s cups that were half vanilla/half chocolate and came with a wooden spoon that in retrospect was probably a choking hazard. It was a big deal because my father was entrusting me with the monumental responsibility of maintaining the scorecard in his absence.
When he returned, he asked, “What’d I miss?”
“Dad!” I wailed. “Hubie made two…”
A collective gasp of abhorrence rose from the stands as our third baseman fumbled an easy double-play ball.
“Make that three! Hubie made three errors!” I held up three fingers for effect. A fella sitting a few rows behind us disgustedly tossed his scorecard in the air and cried, “Bring Back the Glider!” Worse than the 3 errors and 4 walks that inning was the fact LA batted around, everyone’s worst nightmare when scoring a game.
Hubie stepped to the plate in the 6th, his first AB after bumbling his way into the record books. He received a standing BOO-ation. Catcalls rained down upon the field. Taunts. Insults. Jeers.
I was 15 years old and carving out my path in life. I’d sprouted some chest hair. I’d started shaving my face (twice a week anyway). I’d be learning to drive soon. I started cursing (though not around my parents.) I was cool cause I now smoked behind the Grand Union in Bay Terrace with my buddy Adam.
With my pal Doug I tried a different kind of ‘cigarette’ that made me laugh…and munchy. I progressed from listening to Elton John and Wings to AC/DC and Van Halen. (‘Unchained’ had replaced ‘Crocodile Rock’ as the greatest song EVER!!!)
Second Base wasn’t just the position Doug Flynn played. It was also how far I’d gotten with a girl I knew named Tracey. I didn’t need my old man anymore. I stood and joined in with the cavalcade of sneering. “You suck Hubie!!!!” I shouted.
I glanced left. Despite the facial hair, deepening voice and smoking, I saw my dad giving me ‘The Look.’ I immediately shut my mouth and sat my ass down.
“What the hell are you doing?”
I stammered. I deflected blame and waved my arm dismissively. “Everyone else was booing, too!”
“That’s their problem. They’re idiots.”
“But dad,” I moaned. “Hubie made three errors!” I again held up three fingers to emphasize my point. “Three. He sucks! He should be booed!”
“They hear enough of that booing s**t on the road. They don’t need it at home, too. How would you like it if 22,000 people booed you every time you answered something wrong in school?”
My dad then told me a story about the team he rooted for as a kid.
In 1952 his beloved Dodgers were embroiled in a heated pennant race with the hated Giants. Slugging first baseman Gil Hodges went hitless in the last 4 games but Brooklyn managed to hold off NY.
“Did they boo him?”
In the World Series, the Dodgers as always faced the Yankees. And as always, the Dodgers fell short, losing in 7 to Mickey Mantle’s club. Hodges’ hitting woes continued. Number 14 went an unheard of 0-for-21 in the Fall Classic. Had Hodges just gotten one hit perhaps Brooklyn finally would’ve gotten that pinstriped monster off their back.
“Did they boo him?”
When the 1953 season opened, his slump persisted. Had the 29 year-old slugger forgotten how to hit? What was going on?
“Did they boo him?”
“Boo him?” my dad said. “Hell, no. It was Gil Hodges. They cheered louder.”
No matter what Hodges did, Brooklyn fans rose to their feet. If he struck out, they clapped. If he popped out, they cheered. If he hit some weak fly to short right field, they applauded. Fans sent him cards and letters, encouraging him to keep his spirits up.
Father Herbert Redmond of the St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn requested his flock to “say a prayer for Gil Hodges.” Journalist Thomas Oliphant even wrote a book centered on Hodges’ prolonged slump entitled “Praying for Gil Hodges.’
My dad’s point was made.
When Hubie came up in the 8th inning, he once again was subjected to booing and hissing and jeering. Taking my dad’s lesson to heart, I stood and cheered. Hu-Bee, Hu-Bee.
“Siddown kid!!!” yelled someone close by. Now fans were booing me! When I glanced left I saw my dad smiling. It was worth it.
As the 2015 season kicks into high gear, no one knows the outcome. And although the Mets are off to one of their best starts in history, there are certain things we can be sure of.
No matter what, our Mets will lose 55-60 games. Wilmer Flores will make his share of errors. Daniel Murphy will make a bone-headed play. Lucas Duda will screw up a bunt and allow a sacrifice to become an infield hit. Curtis Granderson will miss the cut-off man. Travis d’Arnaud will let one get by allowing a go-ahead run to score. Jeurys Familia will give up a walk-off HR. Terry Collins will pull the starter too soon and cost us a game. And he’ll also leave a starter in too long and cost us a game. And who knows, maybe even our Captain will join Hubie Brooks in Mets folklore and make 3 errors in one inning.
When these things occur, what will you do? Cheer, boo, or sit quietly.
While cheering under such circumstances seems cynical in today’s world, I think it’s imperative not to boo. The Mets, like every other team–and the players, like all us in every day life–will make errors. But as long as they try their best, as long as they run out every ground ball and play a full 27 outs, that’s all we can ask.
It’s our own David Wright who once said, “Whether you have a great game or a terrible game, tomorrow’s another day. You’ve got to come out here and compete.”