Hi all. This is a Father’s Day edition, not directly related to how I see baseball on this Sunday, June 18.
First and foremost, Happy Father’s Day to all dads who read this. I want to mention a Father’s Day event nobody who was there will ever forget, and a Mets-related tribute to my dad.
Father’s Day 1964 was a blistering Sunday, June 21, the hottest day of the year up to that point. Shea Stadium was part of the 1964 New York World’s Fair and as such was something to gawk at. It was still too new for the incessant complaints about the jets flying over from nearby LaGuardia Airport. Even the team was new enough that they didn’t hear the booing the 2017 Mets get. In game 1 of a doubleheader that day, Phillies’ picher Jim Bunning, who had pitched a no-hitter in the American League six years before, carved his name in baseball history. Leading up to his perfect game of June 21, 1964 no regular season perfecto had been broadcast on radio. The last one thrown had been in 1922 by a White Sox pitcher-and 1922 was two years before the Pale Hose took their show to radio with Hal Totten. The last NL perfecto dated all the way back to 1880 when future President James A. Garfield, Billy the Kid and the outlaw Jesse James were all still alive. It didn’t take much to beat_ the 1964 Mets-they lost 109 games that year. Their new toy, Shea Stadium would host the All-Star game and the Mets’ Ron Hunt was their chosen All-Star-mostly because the rules required that every team have one. All that being said, throwing a perfecto at them, as bad as they were still took considerable talent and luck. Bunning had gotten the first 12 hitters up and sent them down some 5 weeks before against the NL’s other expansion team, the Houston Colt .45’s. The Toy Cannon, outfielder Jimmy Wynn broke that effort up with a base hit.The .45’s shot blanks the rest of that day so Bunning saw 28 men in all. But the Mets had no answers for Bunning-27 came up, 27 went back down again. The Phillies had the lead early on with runs in both of the first two innings. Their second baseman Tony Taylor made the game’s best play, fielding a grounder in shallow right field off the bat of catcher Jesse Gonder. Had a faster man, say Ron Hunt hit that ball we wouldn’t be talking about that game now. The Phillies scored 4 in the 6th including a two-run double by Bunning himself. The last Met to hit a ball out of the infielder was former Philly Charlie Smith who flied out to the vast expanse of deepest center field. The Phillies’ catcher was Gus Triandos. Bunning told Triandos in the 9th “I’d like to borrow Koufax’s fastball for the 9th.” Nobody on Earth knew that some 15 months later Koufax would use that heater to throw his own perfecto at the Chicago Cubs. Bunning, using 86 pitches and striking out 10 men completed his perfecto as over 32,000 Mets fans roared their approval of a game they would tell future generations about. Lindsey Nelson, calling the 9th inning on radio and Bob Murphy on TV were two of the 3 future Hall of Famers in the Mets’ booth that day along with Ralph Kiner. The Phillies’ By Saam and Richie Ashburn also were Cooperstown bound. While the 1964 Phillies are still remembered for their epic collapse at the end of the season, Bunning’s perfecto n Father’s day is a much more positive memory for that team.
Father’s Day never comes around without me recalling my father, Malcolm Wardlow JR. While he wasn’t a major sports fan, my Grandpa was and once Grandpa discovered my burgeoning love for baseball, he and my dad both played their roles in developing that love. Grandpa told me stories about baseball players he had seen in the 1920’s and 1930’s when the Yankees won their first dozen or so pennants. Dad handled the more practical aspect of having a young son who was a baseball fan. He taught me early on that no single game was all that important unless my team happened to make the World Series. Early on, my team-the Mets-weren’t close. I had missed the Miracle Mets of 1969 and had to wait a few years for the “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets of 1973. Meantime, I listened as often as I could to the games by way of radio or TV. Soon enough I asked the inevitable question-“Dad, when can I go to a game?” The usual answer was “When you’re big enough.” Soon enough the day came-August 6, 1972. While I didn’t know it, Dad had a surprise up his sleeve I would talk about for decades to come. He told me we were going to the Mets’ game against the Cubs on August 6. He told me that a week or two ahead so I could take note of the pitching rotations and find out what pitchers would be on the mound on that Sunday. It turned out to be Burt Hooton for the visiting Cubs facing Jerry Koosman for the Mets. Once we got our tickets, Dad said “We have to wait a few minutes.” With his difficult breathing this was something we had to do often, so I didn’t think anything special about it. So I stood where we were at Shea Stadium. While he caught his breath, the first of 3 men approached me asking me to shake hands. They were in fact Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy, the Mets’ broadcasters all 3 of whom would reach Cooperstown. I don’t remember what I said in what we now call a “meet and greet.” It couldn’t have made much sense but I’ve never forgotten hearing those famous voices saying “Hi Donnie.”
Years later, I found out Dad had written to Mets’ media relations director Jay Horwitz, explaining that I was blind and how much it would mean for me to meet the broadcasters. In spite of their busy schedules all 3 men came through in a major way. From there, Dad and I went to our seats, I turned on a borrowed radio and we bought hot dogs. The classic father and son moment of another age, when baseball truly was the national pastime. Dad left this Earth on June 25, 1985 at age 59. In life I could never thank him enough for that special moment at Shea Stadium and for several baseball games we went to before his health became too bad for him to travel. Since then, in social media, in this forum and in my upcoming book I will express my thanks in a way I never had the words to do while Dad was alive.0