'Imperfect Game' foretold special year
Seaver's near-miss at Shea stood out even in 'Improbable Year'
NEW YORK -- Games at Shea Stadium began at 8:05 p.m. in those days, and attendance figures represented bodies that had passed through the turnstiles, not only those who paid for the right. Standing room was available for a price. And on the night in question -- July 9, 1969 -- Howie Rose and a buddy now known as Dr. Robert Joseph intended to pay for the right to stand up for their Mets. They would be among some 59,000 people who would sit, stand and scream for Tom Seaver.
But at 6:30 p.m., they stood on a corner in the Bayside section of Queens, not all that far from Shea, waiting for a bus when buddy Barry Berman happened by. Berman was incredulous when his friends told him of their agenda for the evening. "You crazy?" he said. "It's too late. Seaver against the Cubs? You'll never get in."
Evidently, Joseph already had recognized the summer of '69 as the summer of the implausible. He'd read about a proposed trip to the moon, and some jokers had planned some hippie festival for upstate New York for August. And if such pioneering steps could be planned, well, he thought he was within his rights to challenge Barry Berman's assertion. "We'll get in, and Seaver will pitch a perfect game," Joseph said.
Berman's comeback was to wager $1 million against that daily double.
Some time later that evening, Joseph and Rose were making other plans -- what to do with all the loot they were certain to split. Not only had they gained entry to Shea -- they even found adjacent seats amid 59,000 people -- but Seaver was pitching perfectly. Maybe this walk-on-the-moon thing wasn't so far-fetched and this Woodstock idea wasn't so far out.
Alas, the Berman family never had to pay. A player as anonymous as Joe Cocker had been before Woodstock conspired with the family to deny Joseph and Rose -- and Seaver, too. Jimmy Qualls made a place for himself in Mets history along with Terry Pendleton, Yadier Molina and Chipper Jones -- killjoys all. Because of Qualls, the implausible was displaced by the imperfect.
That night, Seaver pitched what would become known as "The Imperfect Game," a game not so momentous as other Mets engagements that fall and in subsequent summers, but one that ranks among the most extraordinary staged at Shea Stadium and in franchise history.
The pitcher who regularly pursued perfection nearly attained it. In the prenatal stages of what became a Silky Sullivan pennant race -- the Mets were Silky -- Seaver faced 28 Cubs batters, one more than the minimum, and retired 27. Qualls interfered, putting a single into left-center field with one out on the ninth inning. No Met has come so close to perfection or a no-hitter, a circumstance that only enhances the grandeur of what Seaver did accomplish that night.
He created distinction. No-hitters hardly are uncommon in the game's history. Perfect games are more rare, but the Yankees have three of them. But only the Mets have an imperfect game. The Imperfect Game.
Robert Joseph found his calling in medicine, we see, and Rose his in calling Mets games at Shea and other big league outposts. He's assured of a seat these days in the Bob Murphy radio booth. Precious few days remain at the park. Chances are Shea won't see a Mets no-hitter before its doors slam this fall. And, given the Curse of Nolan Ryan -- that's another story -- Rose may not see a Mets no-hitter, regardless of site.
Rose, he of the encyclopedic memory of all things Blue, Orange and Rusty, reveled in that game. He put that one in the books, for sure. He recalls where he and Joseph sat that night, though he would witness countless other games as a fan. He knows where Agee's double and triple and Cleon's home run landed and probably had a good sense of what ditties Jane Jarvis played between innings. Rose knew -- knows -- the Mets.
The specific memory that struck him, though, involved a far more modest contribution Seaver made to the Mets' 4-0 victory and the moments that preceded it. The Mets already had their four runs when Seaver was to bat in the eighth inning with one out and Al Weis on first base.
Rose takes it from there:
"It started as he took that slow walk to the plate. Remember how slowly Seaver walked to the plate?" Rose says as he re-tells the tale. "It was like thunder from all over Shea. You couldn't hear anything else. We're 15-year-old kids, and we're in the middle of it. It was so over-the-top.
"And I remember thinking ... 'We've got one now, the Mets have their Mantle or their Koufax.' They'd been around almost eight seasons, and they had their superstar and they were in a pennant race and the focus of all baseball. That was the Mets' bar mitzvah."
With other matters in the forefront of his thinking, Seaver laid down the bunt, but he never took a step toward first base. He merely turned and headed for the dugout to plot the last three outs -- Randy Hundley, that anonymous center fielder Qualls and a pinch-hitter for Ken Holtzman.
No reason to plan beyond three outs in the summer of the implausible.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.