Steadily the metal box filled up. In retrospect, I'm amazed at the alacrity with which most Mets answered. But Tommie Agee could have wallpapered his locker with all the envelopes and file cards I plied him with over the rest of that summer; he could have featherbedded his ego with all the letters, each more fawning, I enclosed. September delivered to me a strange ambivalence: giddiness as the Mets conjured up one victory after another, and despair as nothing from Agee came in the mail. I had long since checked with Mark, who confirmed that he had somehow missed Agee during the spring. Oh, to have been one of those Game 3 outfield drives off the bat of Elrod Hendricks or Paul Blair, and meet up with Tommie Agee.
I considered the canceled-check solution. Back in 1969 a major leaguer just might have found tribute from an adoring fan something other than mere chump change, and gone through the trouble of cashing that check. Yet at age 12 I was at an interstice of personal finance, between my last piggy bank and first passbook savings. I had no check to write, no account on which to draw.
I pleaded my case to my parents, but to no avail. They didn't believe we had any business paying for Tommie Agee's lawn furniture.
Ever so gradually, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that crossed our doorstep each morning began to tell of the most extraordinary occurrences. The Mets seemed to have forgotten how to lose. By noon the mailman would have retraced the paperboy's steps, and I would have begun to consider each incoming autograph a sort of personalized notarization of whatever the Mets had done the night before. A few of our red-letter days, both mine and the Mets':
?May 28. Bud Harrelson's 11th-inning single beats the Padres, beginning an 11-game winning streak that causes much consternation around the NL. (On Sept. 23 Harrelson would hit another 11th-inning single to allow the Mets to clinch a tie for the Eastern Division title.)
?June 3. At the midpoint of the Mets' streak, Tom Seaver pitches New York past the Dodgers and past .500. Of course, these being the Mets, there is the strong likelihood that they will lose the next night and fall back to .500. But Jack DiLauro, some Tidewater flotsam, keeps them afloat. He shuts out L.A. for nine innings, and New York wins 1-0 in the 15th.
?June 13. Al Jackson, the last original Met, is sold to the Reds. A shame, for he has creditable penmanship. His sale must be a requisite act of exorcism.
?July 9. In the midst of winning the first "crucial series" in their history, the Mets watch a cub Cub, Jimmy Quails, spoil Seaver's bid for a perfect game with a one-out, ninth-inning single. Does this look like the signature of a man obsessed with perfection? Seaver later calls his biography The Perfect Game and writes therein of that night: "I wanted that perfect game more than I'd ever wanted anything in my baseball life."
I felt the same way about Tommie Agee's autograph.
?July 15. The Rematch at Wrigley. Today, Mets manager Gil Hodges delivers the riposte of the ages. Consider please Tug McGraw's signature: The whimsical loops to the capital "T" and "G"; the irrepressible flourish on that final "w." Now, recall Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who had taken to clicking his heels to celebrate Chicago victories. And picture Santo exchanging lineup cards with Hodges at home plate before the game, protesting that he had to perform his fancy footwork, or the Bleacher Bums would boo him.