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Article:Casey Stengel and the New York Mets Owned New York

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by Harold Friend

Bethany Britton is an original Mets fan who grew up in Brooklyn rooting for the Dodgers. No one expected too much of the early Mets' teams, and Bethany, like so many other New York National League fans, rooted for the Mets and whoever was playing the Yankees. After the 1964 season, Bethany realized that the Yankees were in for a lot of trouble.

Following Baseball Wasn't As Much Fun

I loved the Brooklyn Dodgers and was devastated when our owner, whose name I am loathe to mention, moved them to Los Angeles. Following baseball wasn't much fun, and even rooting against the Yankees was not as satisfying as it had been until 1962, when I could follow the Mets.

Consecutive World Series Losses

We didn't expect much from the Mets, and we received even less. The Yankees won the World Series in 1962, and we lost a record 120 games, but the Yankees lost the World Series in 1963 and again in 1964. They hadn't lost consecutive World Series since the Giants beat them in 1921 and 1922.

New York's Other Team Had Problems

After St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Yankees in 1964, I could see that New York's other team was in a lot of trouble. Owners Dan Topping and Del Webb sold the team to CBS, general manager Ralph Houk fired manager Yogi Berra, and for reasons that remain unknown to this day, they fired Mel Allen, the announcer who was better than any of them, with the exception of Red Barber.

Hard to Believe

Ralph Houk tried to convince everyone that the Yankees were still on top, but he was hard to believe. In an effort to illustrate to the fans and media that the Yankees were a fan-friendly organization, the Yankees held a pair of press conferences early in 1965.

Houk said that the Yankees payroll would total about $800,000 (not a typo), which was twice the Mets' payroll. No player would be asked to take a cut in salary, and no efforts would be spared to make Yankee Stadium more appealing to fans.

The Tenth Place Mets Outdrew the American League Champs

The Mets had a new ball park, the World's Fair was a few blocks away, and Flushing, not the Bronx, was the "in" place. In 1964, the Mets, who finished tenth, drew 1,732,594 fans. The first place Yankees had an attendance of 1,305,638. I loved it. New York had been a National League city before the Dodgers and Giants had left, and it still was a National League city.

No Casey Stengel

Ralph Houk was a fine baseball man, but he was no Casey Stengel. At first, it was strange rooting for the manager whose former team, the Yankees, had beaten my former team, the Dodgers, so many times in the World Series, but I got used to it.

Casey Stengel was a publicist's delight. He was colorful, funny, unpredictable, and to anyone who didn't understand "Stengelese," unintelligible. Ralph Houk was a serious man.

Spahn and Berra

On Nov. 23, 1964, the Mets purchased Warren Spahn's contract from the Braves. They had hired Yogi Berra as coach after the Yankees fired him. This is what Casey Stengel had to say about Mets' opening day at Shea Stadium, when they would be facing the Dodgers, whose pitching staff was led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

What Did He Say?

"Spahn and Berra the opening day battery? Well, I tell you. You know the amazing fans we have in Shea Stadium, which have stormed us with mail from all over, and now we have a girls' group of fans and a women's group. There's nobody in the world I've seen that will buy more tickets, and more fans are going to show up on opening day whether the Dodgers show up or not. So maybe we'll fill the park anyway and let those boys (Spahn and Berra) play 'em another day."

What did he say? Oh, he knew exactly what he was saying. Opening day was sold out against the Dodgers, who would play only one game before leaving town, The Houston Astros, an expansion team like the Mets, would be at Shea for the next two games. The shrewd Stengel was telling everyone that since opening day was a sellout, he might save the attraction of a Spahn-Berra battery for the Astros to increase attendance.

The Yankees and Ralph Houk couldn't compete with Stengel and the Mets off the field. Starting in 1965, the discovered, much to their chagrin, that they soon wouldn't be able to compete with the Mets on the field either.

Reference:

By JOSEPH DURSO. (1965, January 17). Sports of The Times :Who Owns New York?. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. S2. Retrieved February 3, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 98450987).


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