Friday, July 28, 2017

A long taxi ride.

Last night, not too late, I slid into the front seat of a ride-share, a black Honda Pilot. The driver, a young African-American man with a James Harden beard, said to me, "Hello, George." 

I heard a ballgame--the ancient sounds of the old American game--on the radio. 

"Mets or Yankees?"


I said nothing.

"You're a Mets fan," he asked. 

"Well, no. I'm really a nothing fan. I enjoy the game. But I don't root for any teams anymore."

I sized him up--as men do with other men. I guessed he was about 25 years old.

"I'll tellya something though, back when I was a kid, in 1969, everyone was a Mets fan."

He looked lost. 1969 was as far away from him as 1850 was to me. And if you're a New Yorker of a certain age, my age, it was the supreme year in New York sports history.

"What happened in '69," he asked as we turned right to head down 54th Street.

"Well," I began like the Ancient Mariner, only land-bound, "the Met's had only ever finished in last place since they entered the league in '62. One year they finished in 9th place, but they reverted to form the next year."

"Ok," he said, swerving to avoid a delivery boy on a bike.

"In '69, the Cubs had a great team and were leading the division by a ton. I think they had four or five eventual Hall-of-Famers on the team. Ernie Banks. Ron Santo. Billy Williams. Fergie Jenkins."

The names meant nothing to him. They had been heroes to me. I even had a Ron Santo autographed infielder's glove. I still have it, in fact.

"But around this time of year," I continued, "the Mets' young arms started growing wiser. They had Seaver, of course, and Koosman and Nolan Ryan and a guy called Gary Gentry who was a pretty good pitcher. They might have started July ten games behind the Cubs, but by August were just two or three games out."

We had made it across town and were heading up 3rd Avenue.

"Leo Durocher was the Cubs manager, and he was reviled in New York. He had coached both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. Then the Cubs and the Mets met in Shea for a four-game set, and I think the Mets swept 'em."

"So the Mets overtook first," he added.

"The whole crowd, I was there with my old man, started chanting "Goodbye, Leo. Goodbye, Leo. We hate to see you go."

We were nearing my apartment house, so I summed up as quickly as I could.

"The Mets won their division. Beat the Braves in four for the pennant--beat Hank Aaron. And beat a great Oriole team with Frank and Brooks Robinson in five."

We stopped at my white brick.

"The greatest year in New York sports history," I told him. "The Jets started off '69 winning the Super Bowl. Then the Mets won. Then finally, in '70 the Knicks won."

We shook hands.

"Thanks for the history lesson, George."

And we shook hands again.

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