Friday, September 20, 2019

The Freakin' Weekend (1973)

As of today 1973, with each team having 10 or 11 games left to play, three MLB73 division championships appear settled. Oakland (90-61) leads the American League West by eight games over Kansas City; Baltimore (89-62), the A.L. East by six and a half over Boston, and Cincinnati (93-58), the National League West by five and a half over Los Angeles. The N.L. East, however, remains in fierce combat:

Pittsburgh 75-74
Montreal 75-76, 1
New York 75-77, 1.5 
St. Louis 75-77, 1.5 
Chicago 72-79, 4 
Philadelphia 67-85, 9.5

I know how this comes out, of course, and, still, seeing the Mets, Cardinals and Cubs in contention so late in a season so late in the 1970s is kind of strange. My initial experience of baseball has those teams (and, to a lesser extent, the Expos) as N.L. East scrubs. I turned only 5 in August 1973, and my family was significantly more dialed in to football and basketball than baseball. It wasn't until the summer of 1975, when we moved across Paducah from Kennedy Road (and the Clark Elementary district) to Cairo Road (Concord Elementary) that I remember paying attention to baseball at all. 

On a return trip from the new house to pick up more boxes from the new house, Mom stopped for Cokes at Holland’s store about a half-mile back toward town on Cairo Road (Ky. 305). Interstate 24 wasn’t yet open across western Kentucky and into Illinois. Had it been, Mom almost certainly would’ve headed west out of our new driveway and picked up the I-24 exchange a quarter-mile in that direction to then head south toward the old neighborhood.

I’m uncertain where she would’ve stopped for Cokes in that case—quite possibly either the Kroger near Burger Chef and Brazleton Junior High or the Wonder on Jackson. Between the two supermarkets, she really preferred Wonder, and I remember that I particularly loved the grooved-rubber, sensored mats at the entrance of that store that would throw open the doors and release a wave of air-conditioned goodness onto incoming customers. I'm sure same was true for Kroger, but Wonder is the air conditioning I remember. Also, as I think about it this morning, I seem to remember Wonder typically had the better deal on the glass-bottle soft drinks that everyone, of course, preferred to cans. So I feel pretty certain we would’ve been heading to Wonder for moving-day Cokes had I-24 been open, and I think it must've been true that Wonder didn’t stock packs of Topps baseball cards—otherwise, I would’ve already been begging Mom to buy them on weekly grocery trips.

But, again, I-24 wasn’t yet open, and so Mom headed east on Ky. 305/Cairo Road instead of west, and we discovered tiny Holland’s. It was about the size of one of those first convenience stores that were laid out in the 1980s (some of which in 2019 linger but are now too small now to much compete). I’m pretty certain Holland's didn’t sell gasoline, though it still had one old pump.

Anyway, I think about Mom, age 46 at the time ... having lost her parents and a sibling in the last 10 years … having moved away from two of her own four children just three years before … now amid her third move in that span … I imagine being inside that little Holland’s grocery for the first time for Mom might’ve felt refreshingly homey. It would've, of course, reminded her of her parents’ little grocery in Evansville in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. It would've, of course, reminded her of working in the store with her family. I don’t exactly remember her talking about this, but I imagine Mom would’ve refrained from saying anything along those nostalgic lines, for concern that it would further discourage Dad, who, at age 49 at the time, was scrambling to re-invent himself and figure out how to keep making a living for another 15 years or so (at least until he got this last little kid out of the house).

Whatever, in Holland’s and in the low candy shelving designed to tempt impulse buying for children at the cash register, I discoverd beautiful, splashy Topps baseball cards (Sports Collectors Daily image here) ...

I think Mom bought me two or three packs, and I absolutely remember climbing in the back of our Pinto station wagon—the back seat collapsed for transport of boxes and me unencumbered by seat belt—immediately creating some game with them on the gloriously wide-open canvas of navy interior carpeting. 

My first favorite card was Bill Butler of the Twins. He looked cool, and maybe he performed some heroic act in that first game I created with the cards (I doubt it much resembled baseball because I doubt I knew how to play baseball at this point) ...

My first favorite team was the A’s because I got three of them, and I liked their uniforms ...

The Bert Campaneris pictured here is my original (!) from the back of the Pinto. I also got Dave Hamilton and Pat Bourque that day, but the cards pictured here (and the cool Bill Butler above) were replacements I was thrilled to acquire at some point in the last 30 years. 

I’m starting to think I’ve already typed this recollection at the HP. I definitely hope I get to remember it again in a couple of years. I wonder how closely any of these versions will match.

Well, that was real 1975, and real 2019 me is stuck in fake 1973. Fake September 1973 me is still so sucked in by MLB73 that he’s already falling behind on NFL73 and the Dolphins' inevitable march to a second Super Bowl championship. 

The Sun-Democrat headlines on the N.L. East wire reports have been dripping with unmistakable heartbreak of copy editors working to Jack Buck’s broadcasts on WDXR. To wit, here’s one from the Sept. 20 paper:

Carlton Slips By
Ex-Teammates, 3-2

Steve Carlton himself scored the go-ahead run at home against the visiting Cardinals. He came home on a wild pitch in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie. The Phillies got one more run that inning to go up 3-1. St. Louis threatened in the top of the ninth and got home a run, but Carlton finished it off for his 12th win against 19 losses.


  1. This is really great. Thank you, Eric.

  2. Roger Angell was a huge Mets fan, and 1973 was one of his very favorite seasons. His article on the end of the 1973 season -- it's called "Mets Redux" in the collection entitled "Five Seasons" -- is one of the best essays ever written about baseball.

  3. Danny Murtaugh’s Pittsburgh lineup:

    Rennie Stennett, second baseman
    Dave Cash, third baseman
    Al Oliver, center fielder
    Willie Stargell, left fielder
    Richie Zisk, right fielder
    Manny Sanguillen, catcher
    Bob Robertson, first baseman
    Dal Maxvill, shortstop
    Jim Rooker, pitcher

    Yogi Berra’s New York lineup:

    Wayne Garrett, third baseman
    Felix Millan, second baseman
    Rusty Staub, right fielder
    Cleon Jones, left fielder
    John Milner, first baseman
    Jerry Grote, catcher
    Don Hahn, center fielder
    Bud Harrelson, shortstop
    Jerry Koosman, pitcher

  4. Montreal has already lost earlier in the day, Sept. 20, 1973, 5-4 at Chicago. So, at the moment, we have the Expos, Cardinals and Mets all tied at 1.5 games behind Pittsburgh.

    I am rooting for the future Washington Nationals and the black-and-gold Pirates.

  5. Cardinals lead, 1-0, in the second inning at Philadelphia.

  6. William Leggett has a really fun roundup of the N.L. East race in the Sept. 24 Sports Illustrated, headlined "CHURNED BY THE GUT-GRINDER." Here's a great paragraph: "Although any team that tops .500 is arrested for speeding, the fans by no means have lost interest. In Montreal you can't get a snail fork between the customers in tiny Jarry Park, a place of 28,456 seats that more or less accommodated 34,331 souls last Saturday as the Expos defeated the Phillies in a frenetic extra-inning game that saw, among other drama, two Phillie runners thrown out at the plate in the ninth."

  7. The story is also told with some beautiful, exciting pictures of Willie Stargell, Billy Williams, Lou Brock, Mike Marshall, Tug McGraw, Dave Guisti and Ted Simmons.

  8. Bob Murphy, the Mets' play-by-play man, notes that Willie Mays announced in a press conference earlier today that he is retiring after this season. "Right now, he is recovering from a rib injury sustained at Montreal, but he'd like nothing better than to participate here down the stretch run."

  9. Some other things the Sept. 24 Sports Illustrated taught me about MLB73:

    — Detroit’s John Hiller broke the year-old American League record for saves in a season, with his 36th. That got him to within one of the major-league mark of Clay Carroll, who is still the Cincinnati Reds’ closer.

    — The Angels threw a “Nolan Ryan Night” at Anaheim Stadium and gave him a half-ton pickup.

    — The Rangers, who fired Whitey Herzog and hired Billy Martin, who had been fired by the Tigers, lost four of Martin’s first six games as manager.

    — The Dodgers have been trying to trade for two years to trade with Houston for superbly-nicknamed outfielder Jim “The Toy Cannon” Wynn.

    — “Henry Aaron hit career homer No. 710 in a 10-4 victory over the Giants, and Atlanta continued to go gaga over his chase after Babe Ruth's record of 714. Twenty billboards were unveiled around the city saluting his effort, a street will be named after him, a statue of him erected, etc. The Braves are still offering cash payment for Aaron's home-run balls, stamping all the balls pitched to him beforehand with invisible ink to avoid being sold phonies.” Good for Atlanta and the Braves!

  10. Stargell is the N.L. leader with 113 RBIs, and he has hit 41 home runs. So far in this series with the Mets, Stargell has two home runs among five hits in 12 at-bats. He's going to end MLB73 as baseball's RBI and home run champ, with 119 and 44, respectively, so Stargell has a lot of highlights left in these last few days of the season. But Stargell strikes out against Jerry Koosman here to end the Pittsburgh first, leaving one runner on base.

    "Willie likes to dance," reports Stargell's 1974 Topps card.

  11. Now we have a little delay in the top of the second because of a fistfight in the stands at Shea Stadium. Still 0-0 ...

  12. It's probably way too early in both this game and this pennant race, but I'll go ahead and note that Pittsburgh has two on with two out in the top of the second and Danny Murtaugh decides to go ahead and let pitcher Jim Rooker hit. Rooker (actually a pretty good hitter in MLB73, .245) strikes out, and it's still 0-0.

    Ralph Kiner reports that Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs are 1-1 in the first of their three-set "Battle of the Sexes" tennis exhibition in the Houston Astrodome. Actually, he calls her only "Billie Jean," and he apparently doesn't see need to detail the circumstances or significance of the match--he apparently believes his Mets-radio audience will know exactly what he's talking about without the explanation.

  13. In the third in Shea, we have a bit of a hullabaloo as the umpire approaches Jim Rooker on the mound after the Pirates' left-hander puts his hand to his mouth. It's a chilly night, so it's OK for the pitcher to blow on his hands, Kiner says, but it's not OK for him to touch his mouth.

    Baseball has been worked up all MLB73 about spitballs. Gaylord Perry is a big star, and several other pitchers are suspected and have even talked with the media about throwing spitters.

    Kiner later: "Bobby Riggs broke Mrs. King in the fifth game, and he's leading, 3-2 ... and then Billie Jean came back to break Bobby, and it's 3-3 ..."

  14. 4-4 in Houston in the first set ... 1-0, Pirates, in New York in the fourth inning ...


  15. Yogi Berra sends up Jim Beauchamp in place of Jerry Koosman to lead off the bottom of the eighth, and the frequent Met pinch-hitter singles to a thunderous release of applause in anxious Shea Stadium. ("In high school basketball, Jim averaged 25.2 as a senior, was 2nd in state prep track meet in 100-yard dash & led football team in scoring," notes the Oklahoman's 1971 Topps card.)

    Berra sends in Ted Martinez to pinch-run for the old Oklahoma sprinter. Wayne Garrett sacrifices him to second, and then Felix Millan singles home Martinez with the tying run. "This place is a madhouse!" reports Nelson.

    The Phillies lead the Cardinals, 6-5, and Bobby Riggs has deadlocked the third set at two games apiece with Billie Jean King in Houston.

  16. So this game goes to the ninth tied, and now it's Harry Parker (whose younger brother, Tom, just finished up a basketball career at the University of Kentucky) on to face the Pirates. With Montreal having already lost and St. Louis trailing, either New York or Pittsburgh is going to gain a full game at the top of the very tight N.L. East standings.

  17. Billie Jean finishes off Bobby; the Phils finish off the Cardinals, and now the Pirates lead the home Mets, 3-2, in the bottom of the ninth. Duffy Dyer, a .181 hitter, comes up to pinch hit in the pitching slot, with two out and Ken Boswell on second base. And Duffy delivers! A double off the left-field wall brings home Boswell, and we'll go to extra innings at Shea Stadium.

  18. That makes three times the Mets have come back to tie the Pirates in this game.

  19. OK, Ron Hodges--like the ninth-inning hero, Dyer, a backup catcher--singles home John Milner with the winning Met run in the 13th, and New York prevails, 4-3. Bob Murphy: "A deliriously happy crowd leaving Shea Stadium ... the Mets have won their last four extra-inning games; they've won seven of their last nine ... 18 of their last 25 ... in July, they were 12 games out of first; they are now one half game out of first. And tomorrow night, they will have Tom Seaver pitching against Steve Blass."