The 100 Greatest Days in New York Sports
By Stuart Miller
525 pages, photographs, $40.00
Houghton Mifflin; 1st edition (Oct. 20, 2006)
In Part I, SNY.tv’s Barry Wittenstein sat down with the author of “The 100 Greatest Days in New York Sports, “ Stuart Miller, to discuss the best and worst days in New York sports. Part II of the Q&A focuses on the New York Mets.
The Mets' Best Days in New York Sports
Barry Wittenstein: Now that we’ve talked about the lists for all the sports in New York, let’s discuss the Mets a little bit. What are your top five Mets moments?
Stuart Miller: It’s not surprising that two of them are from 1986 and two of them are 1969. The fifth best moment is Robin Ventura’s grand-slam single against the Braves in 1999. And overall, in the top 100 of all New York sports events, the Mets winning the World Series in 1969 is No. 9 and them winning in 1986 is No. 11.
BW: And the No. 1 top moment in Mets history is?
SM: It’s Game 5 of the 1969 World Series. Now, you can make an argument that Games 3 or 4 might have been on the same level -- particularly Game 4, which was an extra-inning game that may have been a better game -- but what mattered most in ranking Game 5 as the top Mets’ moment was that this was the game that gave them the Series. Game 5 was the clincher.
BW: Remind me again about Game 4.
SM: Game 4 was when Tom Seaver pitches brilliantly, Swoboda makes a diving catch and they win on the J.C. Martin play, but that only gave them a 3-1 lead. I think that game probably was the moment when most of the Mets thought, you know, we’re a better team.
Game 5 is Cleon Jones and the shoeshine incident and Donn Clendenon’s home run. But it wasn’t until Davey Johnson’s fly out to Cleon Jones that these guys are the World Champions. That’s why Game 5 is in my top 10 and clearly the greatest moment in Mets’ history.
BW :And the second greatest moment is…
SM: Game 6 because you can’t beat it, you can’t make this up. Not only Mookie Wilson, hitting the ball through Buckner’s legs, but it’s the pitch getting past Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman that brings home the tying run. And you know what? At that point, I don’t think there was a single New Yorker alive that didn’t think the Mets would find a way to win. Once the lead was gone, I think Boston was doomed. So that moment to me is as indelible in my mind as the moment the ball went through Buckner’s legs.
BW: An argument could be made that the top moment in Mets history is when they picked Tom Seaver’s name out of a hat after baseball commissioner William Eckert deemed the Braves’ signing him illegal.
SM: I originally thought about that, but then it became too many passive moments to consider.
Was picking Tom Seaver out of a hat better for the Mets than the Giants getting Christy Mathewson for a washed up Amos Rusie? No, not really. We think it is because it’s modern times, but Rusie never won another game while Mathewson became the great Christy Mathewson. Or the Knicks getting Dave Debusschere for Walt Bellamy, the Rangers getting Mark Messier, the Jets picking Joe Namath, the Knicks picking Willis Reed or the Yankees picking Derek Jeter? There are so many examples.
BW: So you’re staying away from events that took place off the field.
SM: All this stuff -- the best deals, the best draft picks, the best free agent signings and then the worst of each of those -- I put at the back of the book under the category, “Wheeling and Dealing.”
Also, the Seaver thing, technically, was neither a trade nor a draft pick. It was this weird free agent signing.
The Mets’ Worst Days in New York Sports
BW: What are the top two worst days in Mets history?
SM: The Mets have had many unique ways to break our hearts or give us agita. Obviously, if I were writing the book right now, I would have included Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Even though it was one of the greatest games -- the catch that Endy Chavez made was so phenomenal. At that moment when Chavez caught it, the first thing I thought of was my book, oh my God -- it would be one of the greatest moments in NY sports history! I would put that No. 1 under heartbreaking loses right now if I were starting over.
But, in the book, I have Dwight Gooden giving up that homer to Mike Sciosia in 1988. And I have to say, I’m a Met fan, and I love celebrating all these moments, top 100, and the top 25 on the road, but Met fans, and Knick fans, unlike Yankee fans, invariably ask about the worst moments, and spend as much passion on them. They’ll ask, “Do you have the Charles Smith game, or do you have Gooden giving up the homer to Sciosia?” I was 22 in 1988, so for people younger than me and older than me -- every age group -- I think they remember that. If a team wins the World Series twice in three years, you’re a dynasty, but Gibson’s home run off McDowell (ruined that possibility).
BW: I remember the Sciosia home run, but not the Gibson homer.
SM: It was that same game. Gooden giving up the home run to Sciosia in 1988 only tied the game. They’ve got a 4-2 lead in the 9th inning. Gooden is pitching a three hitter. And if they win, the Mets are up 3-1, which you have to figure is pretty tough to come back from. And then Gooden walks the lead-off hitter and Mike Sciosia comes up and hits this home run. And your jaw drops because Sciosia had only three homers the entire year. So that only tied the game and made it 4-4. The Mets still could have won it, but it went to the 12th and then Kirk Gibson, who of course, hit his famous home run in the World Series off the A’s, homered off McDowell.
BW: Funny how the Gibson home run takes a backseat to the Sciosia homer.
SM: Right. People remember the Sciosia home run, and the reality is, not only did that just tie the game and not win it, but the Mets left on two guys in the 11th and in the 12th, after Gibson’s homer, they got two guys on again, Greg Jeffries was called on to bunt, and failed, and then, with the bases loaded, Strawberry popped out. But you know who’s pitching at that point for LA? Jesse Orosco. Orosco comes on to get the lefty Strawberry out, then they bring in Orel Hershiser who pitched the day before, and Hershiser gets Kevin McReynolds on a weak fly-out. But it was kind of that double indignity of Orosco helping to beat the Mets and McDowell, his replacement, giving up the homer. So, that’s just a bad day in so many different ways.
BW:And what’s the second worst day in Mets history?
SM: There are a lot of really interesting bizarre losses, like 25-inning losses, 24-inning losses, but I would have to say that the second worst one -- and it didn’t happen here in New York -- is the day after Robin Ventura’s grand slam single to beat the Braves in the 1999 NLDS.
That, by itself, was amazing, but what was most amazing was how the Mets had now come back from 3-0 to force a Game 6. So everybody’s thinking with starter Al Leiter on the mound, this is going to be great, But the Mets go down 5-0 after one inning only to come back to take a 8-7 lead going into the ninth. (The Braves then tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, but the Mets went ahead in the top of the 10th. In the bottom of the 10th, Armando Benitiz blows a save to re-knot the game at 9-9.) Then in the 11th, this was Kenny Rogers “I’m afraid to challenge Andrew Jones” and instead walks in the winning run. If Kenny Rogers had challenged Andrew Jones and he hit a double to left center, people would have been upset, people would have blamed Rogers, sure. But not to the same extent as you’re afraid to throw a strike. That’s just pretty awful.
So the idea of a) Benitez blowing another save under pressure and b) Rogers who had been run out of town by the Yankee fans again doing this to us was just terrible. And again, this was a Mets team that had choked in 1998, had resurrected themselves in 1999 and they looked like a World Series contender. They were obviously very close to being a World Series team because they made it the next year and if they had forced a Game 7, who knows what would have happened? It’s just such a terrible choke.
Off The Field Worst Days
BW:Well, here’s an argument to be made, that one or two of the worst days in Mets history happened off the field. The Nolan Ryan trade, for instance. People, I think, tend to think of that as one of the worst days in Mets history.
SM: I would say that, as bad as the Ryan trade is, I would absolutely say that the Seaver trade was worse, because the Seaver trade came out of pettiness; it wasn’t just bad baseball acumen. It was just terrible management and was the demise of the team. The Mets trading Ryan in 1971 was terrible, but they still reached Game 7 of the World Series two years later against Oakland. Even in 1972, they would have won the NL East probably if Rusty Staub hadn’t broken his hand. So they were still a good team.
For six years, from June 15, 1977, when Tom Seaver was traded until the Mets got Keith Hernandez in 1983, there wasn’t anything good going on. So I think that the Seaver trade was the worst in team history. But I think you’re right, if you asked me for the worst day in Mets history, I would say the day they traded Seaver, because it was the low point in the franchise. By far. The other “worst days” were just losses -- that’s one way to look at it -- whereas this was just catastrophic.
BW:How about when he was left unprotected by the Mets after the 1983 season and selected by the White Sox?
SM: Which was just really embarrassing and bad. Look, he won 31 games over the next two years for Chicago’s 1984 and 1985 teams. The Mets came up five games short in 1984 and two games short in 1985. If they had had Seaver, they possibly could have won one or both of those years.
BW:This is a bit off the subject – and I’m not sure why this is not written about more -- the fact that Seaver was with the Red Sox in 1986 in the losing clubhouse.
SM: Yeah, I think it’s because he wasn’t on the active roster. So I think it gets forgotten because of that.
BW:Yeah, that’s just ironies of ironies.
SM: I would say that another low point would be Vince Coleman throwing the firecracker and injuring two young boys and a woman in the stadium’s parking lot in 1993. It was the same day that Anthony Young lost his 27th straight game – the ultimate symbol of futility of that team. Why did the Mets ever bring in Vince Coleman to begin with? He came from the Cardinals, who we spent years rooting against. Other than his speed, he had no talent whatsoever and he had a terrible attitude. So that was another dark era in Mets history between 1990-1997, which Coleman came to symbolize.
Endy Chavez and “The Catch”
BW:Marty Noble has made an argument that the Chavez catch might have been the greatest catch in the history of baseball.
SM: If the Mets won the game the catch is even greater. And, Chavez came up at the bottom of that inning. So you couldn’t ask for a better script than that! If he had just pumped a single to the outfield and driven home two runs, yes, the catch looks ten times bigger.
BW:And everybody expected him to come through.
SM: Exactly. It’s not one of these situations where, you go, oh no, not Daryl. Why can’t Keith Hernandez be up now? He was the perfect guy, this kind of clutch guy. But look, it still is one of the great catches of all time.
As with Al Gionfriddo’s catch which only made honorable mention in the book because the Dodgers lost that World Series, he saved the game. Same thing with this. I don’t know that you can measure which was more difficult, Chavez’s or Amoroso’s catch, Mays’ catch or Gionfriddo’s catch? Or Bill Cunningham’s catch for the Giants versus the Yankees in 1921 -- which sounds like it was probably an even better catch -- because he had to run around a monument that was in the outfield. Unfortunately, we don’t have any clips of that.
So you have to add to that the surrounding situation and the fact that the Mets lost. But if the Mets won, I would say, yeah, that could be the greatest catch, because it was Game 7.