And while Stengel had two pitchers named Bob Miller on his team—they were roommates on the road, in fact—he called one of them Nelson. Still, it is startling to see Stengel on a flickering black-and-white television screen during that first week of the '62 season trying to name his starting lineup for broadcaster Lindsey Nelson. Stengel makes it all the way to his rightfielder before treading air.
"He's a splendid man and he knows how to do it," says Casey on camera. "He's been around and he swings the bat there in rightfield and he knows what to do. He's got a big family and he wants to provide for them, and he's a fine outstanding player, the fella in rightfield. You can be sure he'll be ready when the bell rings—and that's his name, Bell."
Having returned from the Wednesday game in St. Louis to be disparaged at their own parade on Thursday, Gus Bell and the rest of the Mets then lost their first home game, amid snow flurries at the Polar Grounds on Friday the 13th. Still, advance sales were as brisk as the weather at the Mets' Manhattan ticket office, located seven blocks from the Metropolitan Opera in the Hotel Martinique. Legend has it that an opera buff mistook the Mets' ticket window for the Met's ticket window one spring day, requested "two for Traviata" and was asked by an eager-to-please Mets employee: "First base or third base side?"
Apocryphal, you say? Hey, don't rain on our parade. Bill Shea did that once already.
Remember Miss Rheingold? Remember King Korn trading stamps? Remember when Ford Prick was baseball commissioner? Remember when people had names like Ford Frick? Remember cruising with the top down in your Ford Frick?
If so, you may also remember that the Mets began the '62 season 0-9. And because the Pirates got out of the gate 10-0, New York was indeed 9½ games back after playing only nine. In fact, the Mets beat those Bucs on April 23 for their first win, 9-1 on Ladies Night at Forbes Field. The following day Frick fined Stengel $500 for appearing in uniform with the voluptuous Miss Rheingold in a Rheingold Extra Dry Lager ad. Why ask why?
Two days later the Cleveland Indians announced that they had traded catcher Harry Chiti to the Mets for a player to be named later. The deal would not be completed until June 15, when Chiti was returned to the Tribe as the player named in compensation for himself. That's when the New York media—tough crowd, the New York media—suggested that the Mets had been fleeced in the Chiti-for-Chiti swap. And thus began a Mets tradition that continues to this day, in which fans in the street endlessly second-guess the team's front office. Yo, I can't believe Weiss couldn't get more for Harry Chiti than, you know...Harry Chiti.
Chiti, by the way, was one of seven catchers who would do time with the Mets in 1962. Hobie Landrith, another, had been the Mets' very first selection in the expansion draft. "You gotta start with a catcher or you'll have all passed balls," explained Stengel, who then, just a few weeks into the season, had Landrith traded to Baltimore for Throneberry.
Stengel tried Clarence (Choo-Choo) Coleman behind the plate, and the former Phillie showed early promise. "He was one of the best low-ball catchers I've ever seen," says Craig. "But if it was high stuff, you could forget it. Choo-Choo would also give you the sign and then look down to see what it was."
Coleman was also fidgety in the crouch, so animated that when journeyman pitcher Chuck Churn was once asked to name the toughest man he ever pitched to, he answered, "Coleman." Coleman was equally elusive in interviews. Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner recalls, in his seminal prose opus Kiner's Korner, asking Coleman on the air how he got his nickname. Coleman responded that he didn't know. Flustered, Kiner then recovered by blurting, "Well, what's your wife's name, and what's she like?"