Almost Perfect

by on July 22, 2023 :: 0 comments

photo "Game On!" by Tyler Malone

July 9, 1969. We were sitting in the top row of the nosebleed seats at Shea Stadium, watching Tom Seaver and the New York Mets lay a serious ass kicking on the Chicago Cubs. With each low flying plane that passed overhead, coming out of LaGuardia Airport, the entire upper deck shook. Some flew so low we could see passengers’ heads and faces in the windows.

We all wore light jackets that evening because even though it was July, it was cool and breezy in the grandstand. Elliot was the only one old enough to buy beer, so we slipped him money every time the beer guy came by. Nobody was really watching the game. We were drinking Rheingolds like water.

That year, the Borden’s Milk company ran a promotional campaign by which fans could get into Mets home games free if they collected fifteen coupons from the backs of Borden’s Milk containers. If you were really slick, you didn’t actually have to get fifteen. You could rubber band five or six and pad the rest with pieces of milk carton cut down to the same size. The admission lines were long and the ticket people never really checked. Guys like Junior didn’t even bother to buy the milk. He’d just go into the supermarket, cut coupons off the containers and leave them with a flooded dairy case.

By the sixth inning it was clear to everyone around us that something special was happening, something that was destined for the mythical baseball record books. The Met’s ace right-hander, Tom Seaver, was working on a perfect game no-hitter. If he could pull it off, Tom Terrific would be just the tenth pitcher in Major League history to accomplish this phenomenal feat. But outside of Anthony, the ultimate Mets fan, none of us really cared. We were there to drink beer and yell and have fun.

Junior had dragged a life-sized dummy in behind him and the guys at the ticket gate didn’t bother to stop him. He had made the dummy himself, using an old pair of pants, an old New York Mets sweatshirt, and lots of old newspapers for body stuffing. The hope was that the dummy would get us on television during the seventh inning stretch, when the Channel 9 WOR-TV cameras panned the crowd, looking for the most outrageous fanatics. But when the seventh inning rolled around, a couple of uniformed guards and ushers parked themselves in our area, presumably to keep an eye on us. A bunch of people sitting a few rows below had complained that we were getting too rowdy, even by ballpark standards. While the guards were there, we were as well behaved as a troop of Boy Scouts.

As soon as the guards left, we started right back up again, and this time we began rooting for Chicago just to piss off the people who ratted us out. Anthony got mad and moved over to the next section; far, far away. Somewhere around the eighth inning, Junior, for reasons that no one will ever know, decided to drag the dummy down to the end of the grandstand where he began fighting with it, as though it was a real person. Then suddenly, Junior tossed the dummy over the railing and watched it sail down about a hundred feet, directly into the Mets bullpen, where it landed with a loud, dusty thud. Everyone who saw it screamed and gasped in horror, and soon there were guards rushing at us from all directions.

Somehow, we managed to scatter throughout the aisles like bugs, eluding capture, making our way down the exit ramps and out of the stadium. Anthony was the only one who stayed behind, a true Met fan, he simply pretended he didn’t know us.

As we hopped over the subway turnstiles, without paying, and ran onto a waiting #7 subway train, there was a thunderous roar from the crowd inside the stadium. It was not an elated cheer, which one might have expected from a crowd that was witnessing a perfect game in the making, but more like a huge collective sigh of disappointment that was followed shortly by a long, but solemn, ovation.

Elliot said, “Man, they must really be sad to see us go.”

We didn’t find out until the following day that a rookie ham and egger named Jimmy Qualls had busted up Tom Seaver’s bid for a perfect game with just two outs to go in the top of the ninth inning. Anthony, who had stayed in the grandstand until the final out, was so mad he didn’t speak to us for weeks. Seaver would have to wait another nine years before eventually getting his no-hitter, but by then he was no longer a Met, and it wasn’t a perfect game.

Anthony never forgave us. And to this day, he still blames Junior and that damn dummy, not Jimmy Qualls, for ruining Tom Seaver’s perfect game.

editors note:

Batter up! There’s no pinch hitter for any of us; we take our lessons and wins the same way we take the losses. ~ Tyler Malone

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