"Her name's Mrs. Coleman," replied Coleman. "And she likes me."
What does David Letterman say? Do we have time for one more? Here goes. On May 12, Stengel inscrutably sent the lefthanded Landrith to pinch-hit against Hall of Fame lefty Warren Spahn of the Braves. As soon as Hobie reached the batter's box, Stengel called time, hobbled out there himself, whispered in Landrith's ear and then returned to the dugout with a smirk on his mug. Hobie hit Spahn's first pitch for a game-winning home run. What had Stengel told him? "I told him," Stengel said afterward, "to hit a home run."
What does David Letterman say? These are actual letters from actual viewers. Well, these are actual stories from actual players. "Some of the stuff is myth," says Hot Rod Kanehl, the utility infielder who spent the eight seasons before 1962 kicking around the minor leagues. "Some of it sounds better than it actually was." But Kanehl not only fails to refute a single story, he also enthusiastically antes up with others and then embroiders those with delightful detail.
So on July 6, Hot Rod didn't just hit the Mets' first grand slam, he won 50,000 King Korn trading stamps for doing so. "King Korn had a store in Chicago, and I traded the stamps in there," says Kanehl, who now manages a Garcia's Mexican Restaurant in Rancho Mirage, Calif. "I got a living-room suite, a Deepfreeze, an end table—a lot of junk." Go deep, win a Deepfreeze. Mets home games were like Wheel of Misfortune that summer of '62.
The decrepit Polo Grounds, erstwhile home of the Giants, had undergone $350,000 in renovations for that season, which is to say the place was painted white. The Polo Grounds were, in fact, more like a state-fair grounds, full of ridiculous sideshows and carnival-midway games that diverted attention from the Mets games themselves.
"They had circles on the walls down the foul lines at the Polo Grounds," recalls Ashburn, who is now a broadcaster for the Phillies. "If you hit a ball in a circle during a game, you got so many points. Ball boys were stationed down the lines, and they decided whether a ball landed in the circle or not."
The player with the most points at season's end would win a boat. Keep in mind that Ashburn would eventually be named the team's MVP, and for that he would win a 24-foot Owens powerboat that slept four. "Well, I hit one ball that I know was in the circle, but the ball boy didn't see it," Ashburn says. "And there was no appeals process. That ball would have given me enough points to win the boat. So I should have won two boats that season. But what the hell, I didn't even know what to do with one. I lived in Nebraska."
Remember, this nautical intrigue occurred during the games. Frank Thomas, in fact, tried to jerk so many balls boatward down the 279-foot leftfield line that Stengel is said to have chastised him at one point, saying, "If you want to be a sailor, join the Navy!"
In any event, Ashburn would dock his boat in Ocean City, N.J. "It sank," he says. "But it didn't just sink. The sucker took five or six days to go down. So they dragged it up, and I sold it. Oh, and the guy I sold it to—his check bounced."
No it didn't. "Yes," says Ashburn. "That really happened."