ropa ralph lauren niña First Spring in 1962

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Early one morning in St. Petersburg, Fla., while the scrubs were batting against a hung over bullpen coach, I slipped into right field and settled under what broadcasters call “an easy soft fly.” It exploded in my hand. My palm still stings at the memory.I hung up my glove that day, having survived the revelation that professional athletes were a different species, even if they were the has beens, hardly ables and never will bes stocking an empty shelf on its way to becoming one of the worst baseball teams of all time. It’s a lesson that has lasted 50 years, since the Mets were new and America felt good about itself. We could take a joke then. America was flexing its muscles, shaking off its ’50s flab as surely as winter sodden ballplayers were groaning their way into shape for a fresh season.Among the Mets acquired in the expansion draft because they were considered past their prime or otherwise expendable were some star players, including Frank Thomas, a three time All Star slugger at Pittsburgh; Gus Bell, a four time All Star at Cincinnati; and the onetime Phillies Whiz Kid Richie Ashburn, a former batting champion with a .308 career average. Alas, there were more critical numbers the three made up an outfield with 19 children and a combined age of 102.Continue reading the main storyWhile most of the reporters, including me, saw this as further proof of the Mets’ inevitable haplessness (why else would I have taken my glove?), my best friend on the team, Jay Hook, saw stars. He was, like me, a 24 year old college boy, but he was also a real prospect, expected to become one of the club’s starting pitchers.”I was optimistic that spring, I was optimistic for years,” he told me recently from his farm in northern Michigan. “The beauty of baseball is that it’s a new game every day. I never thought we were that bad. There were some pretty good guys on the team, especially the old Dodgers.”Although they also tended to skew old, veteran valiants like Roger Craig, Clem Labine, Charlie Neal, Don Zimmer, Gil Hodges and Cookie Lavagetto gave the Mets a patina of respectability, if not nostalgia, perhaps none more than the former Dodgers player and manager Casey Stengel.Hiring Stengel was a stroke of promotional genius. He had won 10 pennants and 7 World Series with the Yankees. He was considered a brilliant tactician, ruthlessly shuffling players. He was endlessly quotable. He had been fired after the 1960 season for having grown old. Upon taking the Mets job, in a sly nod to his age, 71, and a Civil War era baseball team, he said, “It’s a great honor to be joining the Knickerbockers.”Cranky, smart, mean, compassionate, profane, hilarious, Stengel was the show’s leading man. He was up early, instructing the younger players on life (“Get yourself in shape now, you can drink during the season”) and hitting (“He who stands up to bat is all right; he who sticks his fanny out isn’t worth a road apple”) while bantering with fans and holding a running news conference. The nutty language called Stengelese (“So this here fella on second base, let me tell you he was not as horseapple as he was in Kankakee, which was amazing for a left handed dentist, which I did not get to be”) was a construct of big time columnists parachuting into camp for 15 minutes with “the ol’ perfesser.” Heard in their entirety, his hours long monologues made perfect sense.I spent many nights in the hotel bar, at his elbow, absorbing his intricate, though coherent (if you were there from the beginning, that is) theories of platooning and pinch hitting and his ribald reminiscences of players he managed, especially Joe DiMaggio, whom he did not like and referred to by an Italian slur. Even for his time, Stengel was not politically correct.Once, acting on a tip that guests at the Colonial Inn, where we were all staying, had complained about African American ballplayers in the hotel pool, I asked Stengel if that was the reason he barred the Mets from swimming.He added, “Now print that.”A few days later, with a straight face, he introduced his two worst rookies to the press as the future face of the franchise. Their fame was affirmed in the next day’s issues of the seven daily New York City newspapers. The youngsters were soon cut and never heard from again. It was recognizable Stengel: cruel to players, contemptuous of the news media.He could also be incredibly kind, particularly sensitive to the disabled. He would unselfconsciously offer up his seamed face to the questioning fingers of blind fans and trot up the grandstand on his bandy legs to patiently chat with people in wheelchairs.Once, while I was talking to Stengel, a middle aged man approached, dragging a sullen teenager. This was clearly a troubled son and dad. The man claimed to have played for Stengel years ago in the minors. Stengel took his time, regaled them with tales of the father’s prowess and promised the kid a Mets contract if he got as good as his old man. As they left with arms around each other, Stengel rolled his eyes at me and shrugged. He had no memory of the man.Stengel was true to himself in his fashion, never more than when he would say, after another losing Mets performance, “The attendance and Mrs. Payson got robbed.”The First OwnerThe team’s owner, Mrs. Joan Whitney Payson, one of the country’s richest women, had been the beneficiary of a power elite baseball coup. Then as now, there was a shady side to the Mets.In the late ’50s, Branch Rickey, who had integrated the game in 1947 with Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn, and William A. Shea, a politically wired Manhattan lawyer, concocted the threat of a rival, the Continental League, to squeeze play baseball into returning the National League to New York. Since 1957, when the Dodgers and the Giants went west, New York had felt baseball deprived, none more so perhaps than Mrs. Payson, who had owned a piece of the Giants and pined for Willie Mays. (She bought him for the Mets embarrassingly late in his career.)The new owner installed her stockbroker, M. Donald Grant, as chairman of the board. Grant was no Bernie Madoff, to be sure, but imperial enough. He would swagger through the clubhouse lining up ballplayers so Mrs. Payson, regally dotty under a floppy garden club hat, could review them like the Queen Mum trooping the Household Cavalry. She trilled over them, offering a gloved hand, as Grant hovered.Grant seemed to have attended that first spring training in 1962 primarily to get massages in the trainers’ room. Actually, this fit with the more relaxed mood of that day. The news media had almost total access to the clubhouse and to Miller Huggins Field. Eavesdropping on players took no skill at all. I remember how a light hitting utility infielder named Ted Lepcio, who had played 10 years for five clubs, liked to rank on Richie Ashburn. He followed him around the field one day, saying, “Tell them how I was your bat boy in Utica, Richie.”At first, Ashburn pretended not to hear him, but Lepcio wouldn’t let up. He raised his voice. “Bunch of cocky rookies in Utica in 1945, and I was the bat boy.”Ashburn, a most amiable man, must have suddenly felt his age because he wheeled on Lepcio and snapped, “You were a lousy bat boy.”Lepcio was released before the season began. Ashburn hit .306 for the Mets that season, then went on to a brilliant broadcasting career and the Hall of Fame.Pitchers and PitchmenIn the relaxed atmosphere of 1962, Miller Huggins Field was often swarming with Mad Men in button down shirts, rep ties and Harris tweed jackets overseeing the making of commercials.”We want to have our product associated with symbols of acceptance,” said a man from the advertising agency representing Viceroy cigarettes. He gestured at Gil Hodges, posing for $750. “If Hodges smokes Viceroy, it might do something for you, too.”
ropa ralph lauren niña First Spring in 1962