Reporting from Philadelphia is Pat Hastings, proprietor of the Brown Jug bar and a man who has sat through more bad baseball than anybody in America. For consistency, Philadelphia baseball always has been the worst. On nine occasions during Pat's tenure at old Baker Bowl and Shibe Park, both the Phillies and A's finished in last place.
But Pat, who has viewed the Mets on several occasions this season, refuses to put any team in a class with them. "The 1916 Athletics had Stuffy McInnins, you got to remember that," he says. "And some of them Phillies teams could hurt you with the bat pretty good. There was players like Chuck Klein, Virgil Davis, Don Hurst. I seen 'em all. Why, we used to make jokes about Buzz Arlett. He played right field for the Phillies in 1931. People used to go out and get drunk if they seen him catch a fly ball. I feel like writing the fellow a letter of apology now. Why he done more fielding standing still than some of these Mets I seen do at full speed."
In Brooklyn there is Joseph (Babe) Hamberger, who once associated with the old Dodgers and vehemently denies he ever saw a Brooklyn club as bad as the Mets.
"When Uncle Robbie [ Wilbert Robinson] was managing, he didn't even know the names of the players," Babe says. "But he won two pennants and was in the first division a couple of times. Casey was over here, too. Ask him. He'll tell you. It got rough, but never like now."
Now all this is not being pointed out as an act of gratuitous cruelty. Quite the opposite. The Mets are so bad, you've got to love them. Name one true American who could do anything but root for a team that has had over 135 home runs hit against it. In New York a lot of people root for the Mets. They are mainly old Brooklyn Dodger fans and their offspring, who are called the "New Breed" in the newspapers. They are the kind of people who, as San Francisco Giant Publicist Garry Schumacher once observed, never would have tolerated Joe DiMaggio on their team at Ebbets Field. "Too perfect," Garry said.
The Mets are bad for many reasons, one of which is that they do not have good players. The team was formed last year when the National League expanded to 10 teams. ("We are damn lucky they didn't expand to 12 teams," Manager Stengel says.) The other new team, the Houston Colt .45s, has done a bit better than the Mets. It's in eighth place, 11� games ahead of New York. For players, the Mets were given a list of men made available to them by the other eight National League teams. The list was carefully prepared and checked and rechecked by the club owners. This was to make certain that no bona-fide ballplayers were on it.
"It was so thoughtful of them," Stengel says. "I want to thank all of them owners who loved us to have those men and picked them for us. It was very generous of them."
Actually, the Mets did wind up with a ballplayer or two. First Baseman Gil Hodges was fielding as well as ever before a kidney ailment put him in the hospital. Center Fielder Richie Ashburn, at 35, is a fine lead-off hitter, although he seems to be on his way to setting some sort of a record for being thrown out while trying to take an extra base. If Jim Hickman, an outfielder, ever learns to swing at good pitches he might make it big. Here and there Al Jackson and Roger Craig produce a well-pitched game. And Frank Thomas can hit. But all this does is force the Mets to go out of their way to lose.
And once past these people, the Mets present an array of talent that is startling. Most of those shocks Casey talks about come when his pitchers throw to batters. There was a recent day in St. Louis when Ray Daviault threw a low fast ball to Charley James of the Cards. James likes low fast balls. He hit this one eight rows deep into left field for the ball game.
"It was bad luck," Daviault told the manager after the game. "I threw him a perfect pitch."