About a year ago, in this space, I wrote about my relationship with my late father. I spoke of our love of baseball and how it bonded us.
When my dad passed away in October 2014, we were in shock; it took all of us — my mom, my brother and I — a while to even accept it. That first year was a blur. It seemed as though Dad was going to shuffle through the front door at any minute, wearing his baseball cap, with his newspapers tucked underneath his arm, carrying his bags of groceries from Shoprite. I once dubbed my dad “the Noah of shopping” because he always had to get two of everything.
We kept his room the same for nearly two years after he died. It took me a long time before I was even able to set foot in there and not shed some tears. When I was finally able to look through his possessions, I discovered some interesting items. But the act of cleaning up or getting rid of your dead parent’s personal items is never fun. There’s such a finality to it. It’s one thing for them to not be present anymore, it’s another when you remove their possessions from view.
One afternoon, I was sitting in my parents’ bedroom and looking through my dad’s sports books. Dad had a lot of books—mostly about his two favorite sports, baseball and basketball—and many were more than 40 years old. I happened upon a book called Baseball Stars of 1974, which has a picture of Hank Aaron on the cover and I smiled when I saw it because I was born in 1974 so it felt as though that book was bought for me as well. I picked it up and began to flip through the pages when suddenly, two tickets appeared in the middle of the book. I gasped. When I looked at the tickets, I smiled. In a weird way, it felt like my dad was there and that he was giving me something to write about.
The tickets were from a game on Aug. 12, 1974 at Shea Stadium. That year the Yankees and Mets both played their home games at Shea because Yankee Stadium was being ripped apart and rebuilt. These tickets were for a Mets game against the Los Angeles Dodgers — exactly two weeks before I was born.
On Aug. 12, 1974, Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Making Love” was at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Death Wish was in movie theaters, and U.S. citizens were still reeling from the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon on live television four days prior.
In baseball, on the same day, Nolan Ryan, then of the California Angels, struck out 19 Boston Red Sox in a 4-2 win at home, and pitcher Matt Clement, who went on to play for the San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, was born.
The Dodgers were in first place in the National League West and the Mets were in fifth place in the National League East, 10 games in back of the first-place St. Louis Cardinals. This game was the first of a three-day weekday series.
- Davey Lopes 2B
- Bill Buckner LF
- Jimmy Wynn CF
- Steve Garvey 1B
- Willie Crawford RF
- Ron Cey 3B
- Bill Russell SS
- Steve Yeager C
- Andy Messersmith P
- Bud Harrelson SS
- Felix Millan 2B
- John Milner 1B
- Rusty Staub RF
- Ed Kranepool LF
- Wayne Garrett 3B
- Don Hahn CF
- Jerry Grote C
- Harry Parker P
The umpires that day were Tom Gorman at home, Nick Colosi at first, Bill Williams at second, and Satch Davidson at third.
Gorman, the father of current major league umpire Brian Gorman, pitched in four games for the New York Giants in 1939—and struck out two batters. He was injured while serving in the Army during World War II, ending his playing career. His wife talked him into becoming an umpire and Gorman started in the New England League. He moved up to the International League and then became a major league umpire. He was in left field for Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 and was behind the plate for Game One of the 1968 World Series when Bob Gibson struck out 17 batters. He also set a record working nine no-hitters. Gorman died in 1986.
Colosi, who was born in Sicily, umpired from 1968 until his retirement in 1982. He worked various postseason series including the National League Championship series in 1970, 1974 and 1978, and the World Series in 1975 and 1981. He died in 2005.
Bill Williams served as a National League umpire from 1963 until 1987. He had planned on retiring after the 1987 season but two injuries cut his season short. He was hit in the elbow by a wild pitch thrown by Rick Sutcliffe on June 9 and then 20 days later, his leg was broken on a plate at the plate during a game in San Francisco. As The New York Times told it in July 1987:
On a suicide-squeeze play, Zane Smith, the pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, fielded the bunt and ran to the plate to tag a sliding Joel Youngblood of the Giants. As Smith made the tag, he fell over Youngblood and into Williams, who managed to make the call while on his knees.
Third base umpire Davidson was behind the plate for Hank Aaron’s 715th home run a few months prior, and was also behind the plate when Carlton Fisk hit his game-winning home run in Game Six of the 1975 World Series. He died in 2010.
Mets starter Harry Parker worked around a walk to Bill Buckner in the top of the first by getting Davey Lopes, Jim Wynn and Steve Garvey to ground out. Parker, who pitched only six seasons in the majors, pitched in his last game on his 29th birthday on Sept. 14, 1976. Buckner, famously, would help the Mets win the World Series in 1986 as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
Dodgers starter Andy Messersmith started off the bottom of the first with a walk to Bud Harrelson. Messersmith, who went by the nickname Bluto, made his major league debut on July 4, 1968 when he was just 22. He pitched in the majors 12 years and made the All-Star team four times. He retired in 1979 at 33 years old.
Messersmith got Felix Millan to hit a pop fly to first for the first out of the inning, but gave up a single to John Milner, which advanced Harrelson to third. Milner was in his third full season with the Mets in 1974. He went on to play 12 seasons with the Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and Montreal Expos.
The next batter was Rusty Staub, who was in his 12th major league season. He made his major league debut at 19 with the Houston Colts, who became the Astros, and was traded to Montreal in 1969. A footnote from this deal is that one of the players involved in the trade, Don Clendenon, refused to report to his new team, so Montreal turned a two-for-one trade into a three-for-one plus $100,000 cash.
Staub hit the first pitch he saw from Messersmith into right field and Harrelson scored, Milner advancing to second. Ed Kranepool stepped up to the plate and Milner stole third on the first pitch of the at-bat. Kranepool hit a 1-0 sac fly to center field and put the Mets up 2-0. Wayne Garrett grounded out to end the first with Staub on third.
Kranepool was a Met lifer. He played three games on the inaugural team in 1962 as a 17-year-old and retired after the 1979 season at 34. In between, he was part of one World Series championship team in 1969 and the National League pennant winner in 1973. Kranepool made the All-Star team just once, in 1965 when he batted .253/.303/.371 with 10 home runs in 153 games.
The teams exchanged zeros until the top of the fifth, when the Dodgers put a run on the board. After he surrendered two runs in the bottom of the first, Messersmith had set down the Mets in order in the second, third and fourth innings. Parker gave up one hit in each inning, but the Dodgers would never get anyone past first base until the fifth.
Shortstop Bill Russell started things off for the Dodgers in the fifth with a single to right field but it was quickly erased when Steve Yeager hit into a line drive double play—Garrett to Milner. This Bill Russell, not to be confused with the NBA legend, played in the majors for 18 years and was with the Dodgers the entire time. He made the All-Star team three times (1973, 1976 and 1980).
Parker then gave up a double to left field to Messersmith. With his pitcher on second, Davey Lopes hit a single to left which scored Messersmith to put the Dodgers on the board and cut the Mets’ lead to one. But just when it looked like the Dodgers were finally getting to Parker, he got Buckner to hit a fly ball to right to end the inning.
The starters matched zeros once again in the bottom of the fifth and the top of the sixth. Then in the bottom of the sixth with one out and with Messersmith still on the mound, Milner hit a solo shot—his 18th of the year— to put the Mets up 3-1. Milner would finish the season with 20.
That home run gave the Mets an 85 percent chance to go on and win the game, and they did. The final score was 3-1 and the winning pitcher was Parker, who pitched a complete game. Messersmith was replaced by reliever Mike Marshall in the eighth inning.
The Dodgers did threaten in the top of the ninth, but they left men on first and second. Catcher Steve Yeager struck out to end the game. Yeager played with the Dodgers until 1985. He won a World Series ring in 1981 and was named M.V.P. of the series against the Yankees. He retired after playing his last season with the Seattle Mariners in 1986. He was also known for posing semi-nude in Playgirl in 1982. He, along with George Brett, Dennis Eckersley and others, appeared with Yeager going so far as to pose with shorts on in an aerobics class and in a shower with nothing on. That shower shot was the issue’s centerfold.
The 1974 Dodgers would go on to win 102 games and win the National League West. They beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Championship Series three games to one and lost to the Oakland Athletics in the World Series four games to one. The Dodgers would appear in two more World Series in the 1970s. Both times they faced the Yankees and lost.
The Mets finished the 1974 season 71-91. Manager Yogi Berra would manage one more season with the Mets and be replaced by Roy McMillan as interim manager for the rest of the 1975 season. The Mets had a playoff dry spell that lasted until 1986. In that year, they captured their second ever World Series title.
I now keep that copy Baseball Stars of 1974 book in my nightstand, along with a bunch of other books I found in my dad’s room that same day. The Mets tickets are also still in the book—I didn’t want to misplace them. The books and the tickets make it seem like my dad is with me somehow. And that somehow, he’s guiding me in my writing career from beyond the grave. which is pretty cool if you believe in that sort of thing.
References & Resources
- Society of American Baseball Research
- The New York Times, “Sports People; Uneasy Umpire”
- Ira Berkow, The New York Times, “Sports of the Times; Tom Gorman’s final Call” NYT
- Michael Clair, Baseball Prospectus, “Baseball ProGUESTus: Dollar Sign on the Glistening Muscle: Scouting Ballplayers in 1980s Playgirl”