Baseball novice recalls 50 years in the big leagues
By John Riordan
Pete Flynn is firmly ensconced in retirement now so I decided to reconnect with him on Monday.
It has been an adjustment but that’s how it all began as well.
For most of the 1962 baseball season, he tried to get to grips with the sport that would put bread on his table for a half-century.
He had just got a job on the groundstaff at the Polo Grounds for the fledgling New York Mets, who today celebrate their 50th anniversary in the Major Leagues.
There was one upside for the young fella not long out of Leitrim who wouldn’t know an RBI if it careened off his face. Flynn was unable to fully appreciate the comical depths to which the historically awful Mets sunk that season. It remains the worst win/loss record since the Second World War: 40 victories and 120 pitiful defeats.
This was the year of aging manager Casey Stengel who, it’s worth repeating, came out with some memorable lines including his despairing: “The Mets have shown me more ways to lose than I even knew existed.”
It was also the inspiration for Jimmy Breslin’s book, “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”, an apocryphal quote which Breslin subsequently admitted was never uttered by Stengel.
Flynn remembers Stengel with affection but that opening salvo in the big leagues set the tone for what remains a tragicomic institution, the black sheep in New York professional sport.
He has nothing but fond memories of his impressively long career in Queens. I interviewed him the day before his big send-off last September and we covered all the bases: the two dramatic World Series victories in 1969 (the Miracle Mets) and 1986, his chauffeuring the Beatles around Shea Stadium for that iconic concert in 1965, that brutal mid-70s season when the Yankees, Jets and Giants all shared the fragile turf.
“St Louis was the first game on April 11 but that was an away game,” he says. “They didn’t play in New York until two days later against Pittsburgh. They were a novelty for everyone. The National League was back in New York. And every time the Giants and Dodgers came to town, the place was packed. It was a hot summer. Back then they’d have double-headers on almost every Sunday. It was tough work, long days.”
Having housed the Mets for their first two seasons, having witnessed great days for the baseball Giants before them in the 1950s and having also hosted an All-Ireland football final victory for Cavan over Kerry in 1947, the Polo Grounds is a block of flats now, close to the top of Upper Manhattan.
“I’ve driven past there once, that’s it. There’s not much to see,” remarks Flynn sadly about his old hunting ground, the vast structure which gave him his start.
The same fate has befallen Ebbets Field in Brooklyn from where the Dodgers upped sticks, broke hearts and moved to LA in the late 1950s. And those reincarnated Dodgers are celebrating their own 50th anniversary this week. Yesterday , at their home opener, the Beach Boys serenaded the fans with a mini-concert prior to a national anthem performance, all of which was commemorating the five decades that have passed since they moved to their now legendary home in Chávez Ravine between Hollywood and Chinatown.
Regular readers will know this is old ground for me so I won’t dwell. But there’s another important anniversary in baseball this month: the opening of Fenway Park in Boston infamously shared front page space with news of the sinking of the Titanic.
Their poor start to the season and dramatic implosion at the end of last year adds extra poignancy to the close proximity of the two occasions. They’ll celebrate nonetheless when the Yankees visit on Friday week.
The future is brighter for Flynn. His days are quiet now leaving him free to enjoy baseball properly for a change. He was in Citi Field last Thursday for the opening-day victory over the Atlanta Braves. And he’ll be there later today when the Washington Nationals finish a three-day series with the greatest young pitcher in the game, Stephen Strasburg.
“We look good so far,” Flynn said of his unbeaten Mets (four wins from four going into last night’s game). “They’re a big-hitting team. If we can get some solid pitching, you never know what could happen. I’m just glad to be able to watch them properly, it’s so much different from when you’re working. And I’ll have time in August to visit my nephews and nieces back in Ireland. It was time to quit. I’m happy.”
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