Thursday, July 31, 2014

Forever the Voice of the Mets

Bob Murphy was born 90 years ago this September. Born in Oklahoma, he got into broadcasting after serving with the Marines during the War. He started out calling games for the Muskogee Reds in his native state as well as for the Tulsa Oilers before getting the call to the big leagues in 1954 when he joined Boston Red Sox radio broadcasts along side the legendary Curt Gowdy. He stayed in Boston for 6 seasons and then moved down to Baltimore for another 2 honing his craft before finding a home with the expansion New York Mets in 1962. He called New York Mets games for their first 42 seasons, retiring after the 2003 season, his 50th in the Major Leagues. He also called Oklahoma Sooners (NCAA) Football in the 1950s and 2 seasons of the AFL's New York Titans as well as radio broadcasts for the Orange Bowl in the 1980s. He might be best remembered for, in 1973, hosting "Bowling for Dollars" in New York.

When the Mets were starting up in 1962, they wanted a broadcasting trio that consisted of a network guy (Lindsey Nelson), a former slugger (Ralph Kiner), and a straight up play-by-play man that would rotate between TV and radio. Bob Murphy won the job beating out a couple hundred applicants. The original trio remained in tact through the end of the 1978 season and were inducted together into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1984. The TV/radio rotation remained through the 1981 season.

Starting in 1982, Bob Murphy was the lead radio broadcaster for the New York Mets, a position he would hold until his retirement in 2003. Bob Murphy shared a booth with Steve Albert, Bob Goldsholl, Art Shamsky, Steve LaMar, Gary Thorne, and finally starting in 1989, Gary Cohen. The first generation of Mets fans grew up with the Nelson-Kiner-Murphy trio, while a whole other generation (including my own) grew up listening to Bob Murphy calling games on radio where he was cemented as "the voice of the Mets"

In the summer of 1994, after 40 years in the majors, Bob Murphy was presented with the highest honor among baseball broadcasters when he was awarded with the Ford C. Frick award and inducted into the broadcaster's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bob Murphy was known for being a homer, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, he was the voice of the METS and not a network broadcaster. He was upbeat in his broadcasts when the Mets were good, and he showed the despair when the Mets were on the brink. That was evidenced in his description of maybe the most roller coaster inning in Mets history. From being on the brink of elimination to coming back and winning the game, you can tell just by listening to the tone in his voice what was happening.

When I think about the history of the New York Mets (at least until 2003), I hear it in Bob Murphy's voice. I've listened to some interviews where he'd be asked about something and then breaks into a narration of the moment. Someone could probably pull together enough interviews to get a pretty decent narration of the first 40 years of the Mets. He had a different inflection in his voice than most broadcasters and he had a unique way of using adjectives and adverbs. I don't know if it was his Oklahoman accent or his diction or what. Listen for yourself to a few random soundbytes from the 1999 and 2000 seasons:

July 31 marks 20 years since he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and August 3 marks 10 years since Bob Murphy passed away. Take a look at the tribute page on Bob Murphy after his passing. In my mind, Bob Murphy will be forever the voice of the Mets.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Heart Versus Head

Lately I've been noticing in what's known as "#MetsTwitter" a lot of unhappy Mets fans. Some people even going to the point of saying that they're going to go watch something else and try to sell of their upcoming tickets so they don't have to go to games in person. Now, that's not the Mets fan community as a whole. It's probably only a very small (but sometimes very vocal) sample. But night after night, it seems like most of the same people are back for more, saying the same things when the Mets lose. I started thinking about this from a different perspective.

The heart versus the head. That's actually paraphrased from a line I remember from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory ("Where is fancy bred, in the heart or in the head?"; which out that's a line from William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice). It's an internal struggle that a lot of people are facing right now (I think I'm there too).

In our collective heads, we know that this Mets season is going nowhere, this team sucks, the Wilpons need to sell, and many other bad things (I've even been surprised at some of the people who sound fed up with the Mets these days). Logic should dictate that we all just walk away from the Mets and either give up being baseball fans or go find another team to fall hard for. I'm sure a few have.

But I think deep down in our hearts, I don't think many of us can really walk away. I liken being in love with this team to the way a man falls in love with a woman or vice versa (or however it works for you). In a sense, we all are in love with the New York Mets. We each fell in love at different points in our lives and at different times in the team's history. But we've all fallen hard and we can't get up. So we keep coming back game after game and year after year only to have our hearts ripped out and stomped on. It's kind of toxic.

Should we abandon ship, like logic (head) would seem to dictate, or are we all just that much in love (heart) with this ball club that we just can't give it up? It's like that girl/guy that you're just so head-over-heels in love with even though it makes no sense that you should be together or even though there are obstacles in the way, but you just can't help yourself but be in love.

Even if ratings are down and attendance is down, it still seems like the diehards like myself and a lot of the people I know in "#MetsTwitter" are still there. We keep watching and we keep coming back for more. Maybe we need to take a timeout from this relationship, but we always seem to come back.

Why? Are we all crazy Mets fans in love with the club?

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Concert Worth 50 Cents

The Mets, as part of their 2nd year summer post-game concert series, recently had rapper 50 Cent perform after a Saturday late afternoon game. I was in attendance for the game and the show, with a friend who wanted to see the show (she's a hardcore Mets fan, so she was an ideal customer for the day). Let me preface this all by saying that I have absolutely zero interest in rap. Never had, and never will. I've also led a life, by choice, that hasn't involved any drugs or large quantities of alcohol. I never had an interest in it or a taste for it. I never associated with those crowds when I was in school. Let's say that I was there to observe what was going on since I had no interest in the concert and was really only there for my friend. I should also note that neither my friend nor I took part in any of the activities that I mention below (aside from her enjoying the show, which I think she did).

The game on Saturday might have been a low point for the 2014 Mets, nearly getting no-hit (and they probably deserved it). Even if the Mets had thrown a no hitter on Saturday, the day would have marked a clear low point at Citi Field (a ballpark which I despise, but we'll leave that out). Now don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking the rap-loving crowd. That's your choice in music, but not mine. We're all entitled to those choices. But the type of crowd that Citi Field attracted on Saturday night isn't what the Mets should be aiming least not for an event that's basically part of a Mets game.

If the Mets want to have a concert at the ballpark as a way to generate additional revenue, well, more power to them. They have a few more this season. All different varieties of performers throughout the season. Saturday night, it seemed to work. About 39,000 fans instead of what might have been between 22,000 and 30,000 (based on recent weekday attendance and a large Father's Day crowd). But the mixing of the two crowds and the general behavior of this concert crowd wasn' I'm trying to think of another way to put it.

The baseball-only crowd probably started heading out in the 8th when the Mets were still getting 1-hit by the Padres (who have never had a no-hitter), and the concert-only crowd was starting to arrive around that same time. I'm not suggesting that the two crowds physically clashed in the Rotunda. I could definitely see the concert crowd moving into my area (section 516) as the game was ending. I am really going to try to stay away from making generalizations about the fans who came to the concert. I'm only going to comment on what I saw (and what I smelled).

I saw many people entering with cans of beer. I saw many puffs of smoke. And I could smell them more than I could see them. Beer aside (I heard that alcohol sales continued later than normal or restarted after the game...not entirely sure, but I don't think that many cans of beer were illegal in the ballpark), there were various levels of illegal smoking going on. And nothing being done to crack down on it (I wasn't going to be "that guy" to call people out). I'm not saying the smoking bothered me. It may have bothered some people. I don't know. It wasn't like being in a bar years ago when you couldn't breathe without being in a cloud of cigarette smoke. But it did bother me that there was no stadium security visible to keep an eye on things.

It did bother me that someone a few rows back, either drunk, high, and/or clumsy, fell down over a couple rows of seats only to have his fall broken by a guy in the row behind us and a few seats over. There was no reason why that guy, or someone else, couldn't have fallen onto me and/or my friend. I think everyone was okay. Maybe the influence which they were all under kept them out of pain (a luxury my friend and I didn't have if it had been us breaking that guy's fall). And nothing from security.

Even when we left (at least 30 minutes later) to move closer to the ballpark exit, I don't remember seeing any security in the Promenade concourse in that area behind home plate. Downstairs on the field level concourse, people seemed to be more well behaved. At least in terms of breaking smoking laws. I honestly don't know if it was just a better group down there, or if there were security guards keeping an eye on things (and it was pretty crowded in there since the OF areas were basically closed off), but I really didn't notice any security.

What I didn't see, and judging by the daylight, it was early in the show, was this fight in the stands.

The camera's view was narrow, but I didn't see security in the video. They can tell you that you can't enter that field level section during a Mets game, but they're nowhere to be found during a fight that takes place during a post-game concert? #CitiFieldFail

Smoking, drugs, somewhat violent fighting. That can't be the image that Citi Field and the Mets want to project. Not all concerts will be like this. Draw your own conclusions.

Quite a few times during the concert, I was thinking that Fred Wilpon has to be out there somewhere thinking "get off my lawn".

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Best Citi Field Memory

It was an innocent Friday night. I was driving home from work, and I remember one of the intersections that I was at coming off the highway while listening to the pregame show. They were talking about Josh Thole coming back from his stint on the DL for that night's game. I can't tell you what I had for dinner, or how much of the game I watched before hitting the couch and working to clear space on my DVR. But at some point in the evening, I was done with reruns of Family Ties that I had recorded for the evening and switched back to the Mets back. It was the 7th inning, before Mike Baxter's suicidal catch in LF.

I could feel the energy coming through the television set. This was something different. I got onto twitter to try to understand things that had happened earlier in the game. At some point a bit later, I hit "record" on my DVR, recording whatever the DVR box had saved in memory of the program (a moving target over the course of a couple hours that the channel had been on SNY) to save whatever I could of this. I've done that once or twice with DVRs and VCRs in my years as a Mets fan (starting in 1987), but usually that proved to be a jinx. It must have been around the 8th inning that I started that because the recording starts during the commercial at the 7th inning stretch (the buffer holds about the last 15 minutes). And I kept recording, extending past the end of the scheduled program and recording the scheduled post game and extending it beyond. And somewhere in between was the final out. I have much much more than what the DVD has.

When the final out happened, I wanted to listen to both Howie and Gary (both voices of the Mets) call the final out at the same time. It has sound reasoning, even if there's no real way to execute it well. In some ways, I didn't need to hear them, and in others, mixed together, I couldn't.

I remember that I couldn't breathe normally after it happened (even to the point that I had to hang up the phone on my dad who called almost right away). I also remember coming on here and writing down some immediate thoughts. And I wrote a few posts here in the following days.

That was 2 years ago tonight.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Banner Day Aftermath - I'm Not Bitter

I'm not bitter. I'm really not. But I didn't win on Banner Day like I had expected to. And I still don't know why.

I am more than ecstatic with how my banner turned out.

The reaction from family, friends and strangers to my banner was something on a level above anything I've experienced before. I could tell that people were blown away by it. A number of people told me either that I should be a finalist (before the finalists were announced) or that I was robbed (after the finalists were announced). And people took time to take it all in. And therein lies the rub. My feeling is that I had too much for the judges to see in such a short time (15 to 30 seconds). I couldn't be properly judged. Remembering past finalists and winners, you could see it all in a short amount of time, and you were blown away. Here, I don't think that was the case. But I also don't think I would have changed anything in my presentation because, really, this was on a whole different level, once fully absorbed, from almost anything else out there. (I did see one other banner that was on my level - "Captain America Saves the Mets", which looked like a hand-drawn comic strip of David Wright as Captain America. I didn't get to read it all, but maybe that person faced the same problem that I did)

And I thank all of you for your support and kind words through all of this. I knew I had done something special, but hearing it from all of you really made me appreciate it.

And I know I've said this before...I've got a killer idea for the next contest that if I can pull it off, I'm a shoo–in to the finals.

As a full fledged supporter of Banner Day, and one who wants to make sure it doesn't go anywhere (I don't trust the Mets), I fully appreciate everyone of the 100 or so people/groups who came out on Sunday with banners to show off their expression and creativity.

But with that, I think the Mets need to make some changes to Banner Day for next year to encourage more and maybe even better participation. The basic idea is to have more prizes and more contests and more judging than the singular parade that we've had for the past 3 years. So here are some ideas.
  1. Give something special to all of the kids in the parade. It doesn’t matter if the kids are there because dad has a banner, or if the kids are actually in the banner, or if they made the banner, or anything in between. Get more kids involved, even if they make simple banners that say “Let’s Go Mets” or “David Wright is my favorite player”, by giving them a special giveaway that nobody else gets.
  2. Have different categories. Maybe “Mets history”, “Today’s Mets”, “Best use of colors” (I don’t know about that), “Best use of a Mets logo”, and “Best in Show”. With so many creative banners, there should be more prizes because frankly, I really thought I had one of the best 2 or 3 and went home feeling empty. Maybe award prizes for “Most creative” and “Best executed” too. Let people come up with better categories than mine, but have more prizes for more banners. Maybe even best banners measuring over and under a certain size.
  3. With that, maybe if we knew at the beginning of the season what the judges would be looking for in each category, it would be helpful for those going for the ultimate prize. I spent 3 1/2 weeks on my banner, and it would be nice to know if I’m anywhere close to what the judges are looking at before I start.
  4. Having a theme is good (Mets 50th anniversary in 2012 for instance), but have one judging for banners meeting that theme and another for being outside that theme. Not everybody is going to meet that theme, nor should they, and it should be noted in the “rules” that the theme is a suggestion but not a requirement. That’s what I tell people when encouraging them to come out for the parade.
  5. Give the judges more time to judge. What does it really cost you? Not every banner needs 30 seconds to be judged, but some might need more, and those banners should be judged fairly. I felt a bit rushed when I was out there.
Basically, my takeaway is to get more people involved by increasing the chances of rewarding people. And others have said that the holiday weekend isn’t good. I like it on a Saturday before a 4:10 game so that we’re not there absurdly early like we were yesterday. Either late May or early June for that is good. Not too early in the season because it means less time to prepare and my creations take time.
And promote Banner Day on Mets broadcasts and in the park better. Have Channel 11 televise the parade live with commentary. It's a whole lot better than parading in front of 200 people inside the ballpark, some of whom are kept at a distance by the ushers (so I've heard). Channel 11 has their own pregame show for some games, so have their morning crew or that pregame show crew show the parade before handing it off to the SNY-produced game telecast.

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Banner Day 2014

So most people have a 3 day weekend for Banner Day, the unofficial start of summer. Wait, that's Memorial Day Weekend. So today is the traditional Banner Day doubleheader with the parade in between games. Close? It's just Banner Day, with the parade of banners starting shortly after the ballpark opens at 11am. And thanks to mother nature and Friday night's rainout, we still get the doubleheader.

And for the 4th time in the 3 years since the return of Banner Day, I am entering the parade and contest (I had 2 banners last year). And I think I have the winner this time. I've thought my ideas were awesome before, but this is my best one yet.

So this is where I go on explaining what I did and why. First, in case you didn't recognize the game board and colors, and the logo in the middle, this year's banner is called "Shea Stadium Monopoly". 2014 is the 50th anniversary of Shea Stadium (an occasion really only celebrated by the Mets for one weekend in April with a price reduction and a giveaway that features a slightly modified version of the "Final Season at Shea Stadium" logo, which I used in the banner), so that was my theme. It's not necessarily about the Mets. It's about Shea Stadium. So let me give you a tour of the game board.
  1. Instead of "Go" where you collect $200, I have "Kiner's Korner" where you collect $200. I don't know what the going rate for being on Kiner's Korner would be today, but I didn't adjust any prices in the game.
  2. "Mediterranean Avenue" is replaced by "Shea Stadium Opens" with the 1964 World's Fair logo. All of the colored properties (ones which you can build houses and hotels on) are games or sporting events at Shea.
  3. If I put everything in the correct places, "Community Chest" is Shea's blue and orange tiles, which were on the ballpark in the 1960s and 1970s. "Chance" is the neon ballplayers. The 4 shown are actually from my own pictures.
  4. "Baltic Avenue" is replaced by "Banner Day at Shea". I couldn't leave that one out. I just couldn't.
  5. "Income Tax" is replaced by "Ticket Fees". I didn't change the text/prices, so it's kind of funny that ticket fees are 10% or $200. Or maybe it's not so funny.
  6. "Reading Railroad" here is the movie "Men In Black", representing all moments in film which took place at Shea. The picture is from the scene at Shea when then-Mets LF Bernard Gilkey is hit in the head by a popup because he is distracted by a spaceship overhead. All of the railroads in my game are non-Sports.
  7. The next set of properties has "Agee's Upper Deck HR", "Bunning's Perfect Game" and "Len Dykstra's NLCS HR" replacing "Oriental Avenue", "Vermont Avenue" and "Connecticut Avenue" respectively. It's not all Mets moments here. I tried to use actual photos or video screenshots when possible, but more important, I wanted something that would make people instantly recognize what moment it was.
  8. The only mean-handed spaces in this game are "Jail" and the corresponding "Go To Jail". Since this is a banner about Shea Stadium, "Jail" is Citi Field. Another one of my photos used here. These 2 squares are the only places in the entire banner in which you will see Citi Field. It's not even in the background of any pictures.
  9. The next set sees "St. Charles Place", "States Avenue" and "Virginia Avenue" replaced by "Carter's Opening Day HR" (of course from his Mets debut in 1985), the "Grand Slam Single" and "The Imperfect Game" respectively.
  10. The 2 utilities - "Electric Company" and "Water Works" are replaced by the "Ralph Kiner TV Booth" and the "Bob Murphy Radio Booth". That seemed to fit. Sorry there was no place for Lindsey Nelson here.
  11. "Pennsylvania Railroad" in this game is "Grand Funk Railroad (1970)", a big concert at Shea.
  12. The next set has "Buckner's Error", "Shea Goodbye" and "Piazza's Post 9/11 HR" instead of "St. James Place", "Tennessee Avenue" and "New York Avenue". Putting Piazza's HR on New York Avenue was a happy accident that I didn't realize until just now.
  13. "Free Parking" is the "Home Run Apple", and that's the apple when it was in use at Shea, not in its location on the plaza outside Citi Field.
  14. "Kentucky Avenue" here is the "1964 All Star Game". All of the remaining properties which belong to sets are home team clinchers which took place at Shea.
  15. First, the Division Clinchers. 2006 first, in place of "Indiana Avenue", then 1988, in place of "Illinois Avenue.
  16. Pausing for a moment, "B&O Railroad" here is Billy Joel's "Last Play at Shea (2008)".
  17. Then up are the "1986 NL East Clincher" in place of "Atlantic Avenue" and the "1969 NL East Clincher" in place of "Ventnor Avenue".
  18. On to NLCS Clinchers. 1973 is first, in place of "Marvin Gardens", then 1969 in place of "Pacific Avenue" and 2000 in place of "North Carolina Avenue".
  19. I do include the Jets, with the "1968 AFL Title Game" (the one the Jets won sending them to Super Bowl 3) replacing "Pennsylvania Avenue".
  20. The final railroad, "Short Line Railroad", is represented by arguably the most famous stadium concert ever - "The Beatles (1965)". If you don't know what I'm talking about, go research that one.
  21. Jumping ahead by one space, "Luxury Tax" is "Stadium Parking", though the price was left at the game's $75 and not changed to today's $21 (or is it $22?)
  22. "Park Place" is replaced by the "1986 WS Clincher" and "Boardwalk" is replaced by the "1969 WS Clincher". Enough said.
For all 40 spaces, they are hand-cut from poster board nearly to exact measurements. The labels are computer printed onto stickers and cut and placed on the spaces. And the same technique was used for the pictures. The colored areas, where applicable, are hand-colored using either sharpies or markers, based on what I had in stock that came close to matching the colors on the actual game board. The black boarders between the white space and colored space on each game space, when applicable, was hand drawn as well, using measurements as a guide. You can probably tell that it's hand-crafted by some of the labels, pictures, lines and even cuts being a little off. I like that it looks hand-made. Banner Day should have that look. The spaces were all laid out on the posterboard and taped down. The black spaces between each game space, which again look a little uneven, were based on how well I spaced out everything and then how much each piece shifted as I attempted to tape it down. After seeing the contrast between the clear scotch tape and the posterboard, I went in with a sharpie to basically hide as much of the tape as I could.

And then there's the centerpiece, which could be an awesome banner in and of itself. It's a black and white photo collage of pictures from Shea Stadium. It's mostly Mets, but it also includes the Jets, Yankees, concerts and even the Pope. None of the photos here are repeats from the actual game board. I won't even begin to list out what these pictures are. Nothing is completely hidden from view. There's probably a couple dozen in total of different shapes and sizes and orientations (slanted in different directions).

And in the center of it, bringing good color contrast, is the game's logo, which is the Shea Stadium final season logo combined with the Monopoly game logo, including Rich Uncle Pennybags (a.k.a. Mr. Monopoly). I was hoping to use the Shea Stadium 50th anniversary logo, which is the same as the one I used except for the text ("1964 * 2008" replaced by "50th Anniversary"), but I never found that logo in downloadable form. It was used on the Shea 50th Anniversary Canvas print. Anyway, the logo still worked. The Monopoly logo fit in nicely and covered up the Mets logo, which for once is good since this is about Shea and not the Mets.

You may or may not be able to tell from a distance (I hope not), but everything is taped down, gaps in the centerpiece were colored gray in order to blend in, and gaps between the game spaces and around the center of the gameboard were colored black over the tape.

It took me almost 4 weeks of nights and weekends to put together, and the original idea and initial design was dated 12/16/2013, with the idea for the centerpiece coming together just in the past week. It measures about 32 inches square, much larger from the 19 square inch sized gameboard from the manufactured games (in fact, the centerpiece is larger than the 19 square inch size). I wanted something larger so that the pictures on each game space could be seen from a distance, which is what would be necessary during judging and also in the parade.

And I hope you like it. Happy Banner Day.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Baseball has been asleep for a while, welcome, the game is coming back

NOTE: this is my annual first-spring-training-game post.

Back when I was a bit younger (we'll call it the late '80s and early-mid '90s, a time when I wasn't quite a teenager), I remember running home from school on the day that Spring Training games finally began, or at least the day of the first broadcast on WFAN (for some reason, I had no, or chose not to use, a walkman). I would look forward to hearing the voices that I knew meant baseball for the first time after the long offseason.

On the eve of the fist Spring Training game, I bring you two treats.

First up is a 1 minute audio clip from the Mets first broadcast on WFAN from Spring Training 1998. I won't say any more, other than the voice is forver the voice of the Mets...

Second is about 6 1/2 minutes in length, coming from another 1998 Spring Training game. This one is most of half of an inning from a road game against St. Louis in Jupiter's inaugural season. The play-by-play voice again belongs to Bob Murphy with Gary Cohen along side.

I invite any readers to submit or link to their own Spring Training audio and video from the 1980s and 1990s.

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