Learn how major leagurers were bought, sold and traded in the pre-free agent era.
My first Pitch at Shea Stadium
I was on my way down the right field fair line heading for Yogi Berra, Mets Manager, who happened to be a boy hood idol of mine, and Jerry Grote, Mets catcher both standing waiting for me on the mound. Neither one of which I had ever met.
On route the cart driver was waving to the fans and drumming his figure to the radio, which was set on the game by playing a beer commercial also waiting for me to come in.
“Good luck” he said and patted my uniform sleeve as I slide out onto the cinders pebbles that encircled the field in front of the Mets dugout. Luckily I picking the right direction this time and headed for the pitching mound for yet another meet and greet.
The public address announcer, Rex Barney said, “Now pitching for the Mets… number 38… Skip Lockwood.” I silently gasped not being able to checkout my number. “How far would Herbie take that earlier particular joke?” I wondered but I had other things of concern at the moment.
Standing on the mound Yogi, not smiling, petulant, stuck out his hand, but not to shake. It had the ball in it and he put it into my glove. I resisted the “nice to meet you” stuff and I took the ball.
“What’s your name, kid?” he asked me. I thought it was an odd question especially on the heels of the PA announcement but at least by now getting the hang of this line of questioning. I said “Skip” resisting for the second time the social convention of a handshake, a formality might have seemed strange to the fans in the stands.
Looking directly at me Yogi was trying to find my eyes, which proved to be a problem since I was wearing my glasses and they were wet and steamed from the ride from the pen and an over active pituitary gland reaction to stress. I could tell he wanted to make eye contact, always a good habit when meeting new people, so I took the glasses off and began to whip the sweat of the heavy lens with my finger and I dropped the ball. It rolled towards first. Grote first looked at me and then retrieved it, but I couldn’t immediately take it back, being busy with the glasses and maintaining make eye contact with Yogi. Grote put it back into my glove more firmly than Yogi trying to make it stick in there.
“Okay… listen, Chip” Yogi said. “You’ve got two on – second and third and we’re leading only by a run. There’s no outs. I don’t think they will bunt in this situation but I don’t trust these fuckers. If they do, you need get your ass over to cover the bunt at third. Listen, Chip, can you see me… get ahead of this next batter. Throw strikes for Christ sakes.”
Meeting over, he turned round-shouldered and headed back to Mets dugout doing a little 70’s shuffle and jumping over the first base line not wanting to bring any bad luck to either of us.
It was down to two of us left on the mound, me and my new friend Jerry, who had not been introduced by Yogi, a social malfeasance on his part. But we immediately assumed a first name basis. “Your name is Skip right?” he said. I nodded “This next batter is Garvey and he’s a first ball fast ball hitter.”
“Steve Garvey” I asked immediately realizing if must have sounded stupid as soon as I said it. “Yea” Grote said “You heard of him?” You okay?” I nodded in answer to both questions.
“So” he said “What are we featuring today?” Continuing with the menu metaphor I said “I’m mainly a fast ball pitcher, not much from column B.” He got my little pun and half smiled. I continued “A cross-seamer…sometimes it has some life to it.”
“Shit, you’re going to need it. This guy’s leading the league in homers. Listen, get ahead and I’ll come out again before the next hitter comes up.”
We agreed. We had a plan. It wasn’t a long term strategy but workable. I could hear Yogi on the bench, “Come on, Chip throw strikes.”