Mets, Dodgers invoke memories
NEW YORK -- Sixteen years ago Friday, a new member of the Mets scorched the lawn in right-center field at Shea Stadium. In his third at-bat in his first game with the team, Mike Piazza hit what was wrongly identified as a mere double in the fifth inning of a game against the Brewers. The baseball reached the wall in a New York second. Al Leiter, the winning pitcher that Saturday afternoon, called Piazza's hit a "full-fledged laser," and he said he planned to survey the damage it caused. "There has to be a skid mark out there," Leiter said. "He laid leather."
The Mets' planned revival was legitimized one day earlier when the club spent pieces of an uncertain future -- Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnell and Geoff Goetz -- to import the player who became the most intimidating batter to play in the 52-plus years of the franchise. The team was dramatically improved the following year with the additions of Robin Ventura and Rickey Henderson, but the acquisition of Piazza had changed so much more. Only the trade that brought Keith Hernandez to Flushing in 1983 had a greater positive impact for the Mets than the import of Piazza.
Moreover, Piazza brought with him power that, borrow phrasing from The Boss, "put fannies in the seats" and kept them there. Darryl Strawberry was compelling in that way, so too Dave Kingman. And, to a lesser degree, Carlos Delgado was compelling as well during his brief tenure in Flushing.
Strawberry and Delgado were components of good teams; Kingman wasn't so fortunate. But he and Tom Seaver were attractions in the mid-'70s, when the Mets were mostly mediocre. Those Mets could play poorly and they could lose. But every fifth day, Seaver commanded attention -- so did Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack -- and anytime he played, Kingman was a confounding character -- Dr. Home Run and Mr. Strikeout -- who might do something worthy of postgame conversation, a chuckle and a wow.
His at-bats seldom were dull. The same could be said of his pursuits of fly balls. In a sometimes perverse way, Kingman was entertaining. He might have hit a baseball to LaGuardia. He might have struck out four times. And he might have reminded us of a play he made that had prompted the great Red Smith to write, "The ball fell among Dave Kingman."
Eric Campbell smiled broadly after his dazzling diving catch in left-center field produced the first out in a double play that ended the Dodger' eighth on Thursday. Yasiel Puig made a more difficult and glittery play in right-center in the second inning. He was stone-faced as he returned to his position.
Puig is such a phenomenal athlete, he thought he merely had done what was expected of him. Campbell enjoyed his play more.
A brave 20-something Mets fan passed through the stands behind the plate Tuesday night, wearing something akin to a sign that said "kick me" on his back. It was a Jason Bay Mets uniform shirt. He disappeared into the crowd, otherwise his explanation of his choice of attire would appear here. Instead, we offer a salute to his courage and his loyalty to one of the good guys whose Mets career fizzled at least partially because of the original dimensions of the Citi Field outfield and because of a concussion he suffered at Dodger Stadium. Bay was standup throughout his time with the Mets, and he played the game properly and with energy.
Which is a greater sign of courage: wearing a Bay shirt to the Big Citi or what some presumably Yankees fan did last week at Yankee Stadium. He wore a No. 13 Yankees top, 13 as in Alex Rodriguez. His dress prompted dozens of double-takes, incongruous reactions and one question from a curious passerby: "A-Rod, you batting eighth tonight?"
To those who hold to the theory that baseball today is superior to baseball in '70s, we give you this as evidence to the contrary.
The incident between two players on the roster of the Dodgers' Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate Tuesday, the fracas that prompted the club to release veteran catcher Miguel Olivo on Thursday, was legitimate news. Olivo, a veteran of 13 big league seasons, bit the ear of Cuban defector prospect Alex Guerrero and mangled it during a game in Salt Lake City. Guerrero required surgery and now may miss significant time as he recovers.
As bizarre as that incident was, it hardly resonated as did another intramural Dodgers fracas that occurred while the Dodgers were in New York at Shea Stadium in August 1978. The main card that Sunday afternoon featured Don Sutton and Steve Garvey, an eventual Hall of Famer and a National League MVP, respectively. Even with the Mike Tyson moment, Olivo vs. Guerrero couldn't match the Garvey-Sutton fracas that occurred in the visitors' clubhouse when Garvey took exception to comments attributed to Sutton -- Sutton acknowledged he had made them -- and to a vulgar comment Sutton then made about Garvey's wife.
Dodger (black and) Blue
The Garvey-Sutton incident occurred on a day when the cast of "Happy Days" entertained and played in a softball game before the varsity game. Sutton bloodied Garvey's eye, but Dodgers teammates acknowledged Garvey had inflicted greater bodily harm.
Joe Gergen of Newsday covered the game. He noted the attendance of Richie Cunningham, The Fonz et al., the "One big happy family" image of the Dodgers that had been reinforced while playing the internally contentious Yankees in the 1977 World Series and also Tom Lasorda's penchant for hugging.
"And there," Gergen wrote, "were Garvey and Sutton on the floor, hugging."
That tale of that tiff was news to Dodgers manager Don Mattingly when it was shared with him Thursday. "Is that right? I never heard of that," Mattingly said. "I'm not very good on Dodgers history. ... I'd like to make some though."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.