On Sunday morning, I had the opportunity to interview veteran Mets broadcaster Howie Rose, one of the best in the business, who recently released Put it in the Book!, a book about his baseball life to this point. We chatted about Mets history, the designated hitter, the All Star Game, and Mets uniforms.
A memento and his favorite calls
There’s no question that Howie Rose is an expert when it comes to Mets history, which comes as no surprise since he was a Mets fan from day one of the franchise. Rose writes of carving his initials in the original wooden seats of the upper deck at Shea Stadium. He mentions how he would have loved the chance to buy that seat when was given its makeover.
Decades later, however, Rose isn’t without a very special piece of Shea Stadium: the chair he used in the park’s broadcasting booth, which the Mets were kind enough to give it to him when the stadium closed its doors. For Rose, though, it wasn’t primarily his chair.
"And you can’t give me a bigger or more significant memento," he says. "It’s really just a museum piece that I have up in my office now because — given that it had to be unpackaged and it was in a box — it’s missing some hardware here and there—though I’ve often been accused of the same thing so maybe it’s fitting. I wouldn’t necessarily advise people to sit in it, but it’s very much a museum piece that I stare at and sometimes stare at in wonder, thinking about the odds of listening to Bob and Ralph [Kiner], and Lindsey [Nelson] as a kid, and then literally growing up and sitting in their seat and, ultimately, at least in the case of this particular chair, owning it. So that’s sometimes a little mind-blowing if I allow myself to drift back that way."
Sitting in that chair, and in his new one at Citi Field, Rose has made thousands upon thousands of calls. His two favorite calls were momentous occasions: Johan Santana’s no-hitter, which he details in depth in his book, and the Mets’ division-clinching win in 2006.
"The moment Cliff Floyd caught the final out of the Eastern Division clincher in ’06, I had immediate flashbacks to being the 15-year-old kid with a bag full of torn-up newspaper, standing on the Loge Level behind home plate and firing that bag of homemade confetti into the air, when Joe Torre hit into the double play that gave the Mets the ’69 East Division championship. And then being on the field after the game and going home and hearing Lindsey’s call replayed over and over — ‘at nine-oh-seven on September 24’ — and hearing Murph’s call played on the radio for years, the realization that for that one split-second that I’d had that kind of a moment — without knowing where the postseason was headed, of course — was also extremely emotional for me."
The Mets’ 2013 season
Speaking of Santana, Rose was saddened by the news that Johan Santana re-tore the same capsule in his shoulder that caused him to miss the 2011 season.
"He’s a good guy and someone who worked incredibly hard to come back from something that many have been unable to come back from. So again, when you get a little distance and separation from June 1 of last year, you realize again: here’s something that the odds were stacked so heavily against and that he pulled off. You know, not only pulled it off, but did something that was unprecedented in 50-plus years of the Mets’ existence. I certainly marvel that he was able to do all of that."
Rose acknowledged that Johan’s days with the Mets were presumably over after 2013, but he is ultimately hopeful that Santana will make it back to the big leagues and pitch again.
Even with Santana on the shelf, Rose is looking forward to the 2013 season and is particularly interested in the development of the team’s youngest players.
"[Matt Harvey]’s such a serious kid; that’s the thing that really sticks out to me about him is that — and I’m not comparing him to Tom Seaver so let’s just get that right out of the way immediately — there was a seriousness in Seaver that I think, almost through osmosis, translated and found its way into the team and the organization when he got there in ’67. And that was taken to a much higher degree when Gil Hodges got there in ’68 to manage. And again, I’m making no comparisons between those circumstances and today, but when I see the way Harvey comports himself and I see the drive and determination to improve every facet of his game, it just really makes you root hard for this kid because he’s got such a terrific future."
Rose has heard plenty of good things about Zack Wheeler, too, and is looking forward to seeing Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud, and others come up from the minor leagues to establish the Mets’ new core.
"It’s beyond even the wins and the losses. It’s: Show me progress. Show me that these kids are potentially the nucleus of a perennial contender. With ownership having said that they’ll be in a much better position to add salary at the end of this season, show me progress this year and I think you’ll have a lot of people truly excited moving through the next half-dozen or so years, hopefully more."
Even if everything breaks right for the youngsters, the Mets aren’t exactly World Series favorites. Like plenty of other Mets fans, Rose knows that. But he’s not writing off the 2013 season just yet.
"I’m not under any delusions here about the Mets winning the World Series this year, but then the crazy thing is, when you’ve lived through 1969, you just never say never to anything."
If you’ve listened to Mets games on the radio since Rose took the helm, you know he’s a big fan of the team’s original uniform. "I just like the continuity that uniforms, when they’re done right, provide," he says.
He’s never been a fan of the team’s alternate black jerseys that debuted in the late 90s and were only removed from regular rotation before the 2012 season began. "The less we see of those, the better, and I’ve felt that way since the first time I saw them, but that’s just me."
Regarding the team’s spring training hat featuring Mr. Met, well, Rose isn’t going to get too worked up over a hat that’s used for practice and exhibition games.
Over the years, the Mets have turned to Rose for emcee duties at many of the team’s major pre-game on-field events, including the reunions of the team’s 1969 and 1986 championship teams. Rose discusses the 40th anniversary of the ’69 team in the book. It is apparent that each reunion experience is special to him, beginning with his first, the 30th anniversary celebration of the ’69 Mets in 1999.
"It wasn’t nearly done as elaborately as the ’06 one was. In fact, we did it on a Sunday in the morning prior to an afternoon game. I think we started introducing the players at 11:30 in the morning or something like that, or maybe even noon, and everybody who was coming to the game wasn’t in their seats yet. It just didn’t have the panache that the one we did in ’06 did."
"But what I do remember about the ’99 one was, I emceed that and we had the microphone right around home plate. Anyway, I’ve got to go upstairs, I was doing TV that day. And I was working with Ralph, and I thought it was the coolest thing, and it really hit me. And I got upstairs, and there’s Ralph, and he’s got this real warm smile on his face, and he says, ‘so did you ever think when you were in high school you’d introduce the ’69 Mets?’"
"And I just looked at him. I said, ‘Ralph, that’s all I could think about the whole time I was doing it. That’s where I was when the Mets were playing and winning the 1969 World Series. I was in a classroom when they actually won it, and I just thought it was so cool that Ralph was thinking the same way I was. And I’ll never forget the warmth of his smile, it was almost a paternal sort of knowing affirmation that the event I just did meant to me exactly what it had."
As for Ralph Kiner, he’s as great in person as he seems on television, according to Rose. "I’ve never heard anyone say anything even remotely negative about Ralph, and you can’t! It’s impossible!"
He then shared with me a couple of brief stories from the book, both of which demonstrate how difficult — if not impossible — it is to get Kiner angry.
"I’ve seen a waiter spill a whole tray of drinks of him, and that didn’t get him mad. The closest I ever came to seeing him get mad was in San Diego — and I know this is in the book — when they came up and asked him to put his cigar out, he looked at the guy with a glare and said, ‘you know, this used to be a great state.’ That’s as close as I’ve seen him to getting angry."
Although Rose isn't on Twitter — and probably won’t be anytime soon despite his radio partner Josh Lewin’s on-air attempts to persuade him to join — he did like that the Mets paid attention to their fans on social media when it came to bringing back Banner Day, another thing that brings him back to life as a young Mets fan.
"I think it’s great that they listened, and I know how enthusiastically it was received. I was one of the judges on the field, and as a kid who once paraded a banner around the field, to go from that to being a judge, that was kind of cool, too."
(Photo: Debby Wong-USA TODAY SPORTS)
Baseball and broadcasting
A baseball traditionalist, I knew before asking that Howie Rose wouldn’t be a fan of the idea that the National League should adopt the designated hitter to make MLB’s rules uniform across both leagues.
"I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. The only thing I like about it is that it makes for a cleaner scorecard, it’s an easier scorecard for a broadcaster to keep. But I’m not interested in the DH from a clerical standpoint, I’m interested in its ramifications from a strategic and a purity-of-the-game standpoint. And I hate it, and I despise it, and I never liked it, and I like it even less now, if that makes any sense."
When it comes to baseball tradition, Rose doesn’t think there’s any real way to make the All Star Game, which will be played at Citi Field this year, as great as it was when he was growing up. The business of baseball — free agency and rising salaries — generate so much player movement that it’s nearly impossible for a player to develop a strong identity with his league, which Rose remembers players doing decades ago.
"There’s just so much movement now, so many players shuffling back and forth between leagues, that the identification of the American and National League has become so clouded and distorted, and whatever rivalries genuinely existed between the leagues — and they did — back then have been largely eradicated by free agency and contracts forcing players to move more frequently because teams want to dump salary given their particular circumstances any particular time of year."
Because of that, he doesn’t see much of a way to improve the game, but you might be surprised to hear his thoughts on the rule that the league winning the game gets home-field advantage in the World Series.
"I’m, by the way, one who does not mind seeing it create home-team advantage for the World Series because there was never any hue and cry about changing the system when they simply alternated from year to year. I don’t know that it’s really put all that much of a jolt into the significance of the All Star Game. But, I know I’m in the distinct minority here, I don’t mind that at all. I’m glad it counts for something. I’m glad you can look at it when it’s over and say, ‘okay, because A happened, now B will take place.’ And I like that."
I asked him if there’s any particular game or series he’s looking forward to calling this year, but like players and coaches, Rose takes it one game at a time. I asked him what kind of preparation goes into each broadcast, and he said it can range from looking up players on the Internet — mainly on sites for broadcasters with "some exclusivity" — to talking to the players themselves and the time-honored tradition of talking to the opposing team’s broadcasters. And there’s no doubt Rose appreciates the opportunity to call each and every Mets game that he does.
"The beauty of it is, you never know what you’re going to see. Murph used to say that all the time, but I know when I was driving to the ballpark last June 1, all anybody was talking about was ‘Carlos Beltran’s back in town,’ and by the end of the night all anybody was talking about was, ‘could you believe Johan Santana pitched a no-hitter?’ So that’s the beauty of it; you just kind of ride the uncertainty and rely on your passion and your energy and your love for what you do to get you through."
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