Casey Stengel made his final Shea Stadium appearance on this date back in 1975. The Old Perfessor, at that point ten years removed from his last day of active managerial duty, was invited back to participate in the team's Old Timers Day festivities. Showing a flair for the dramatic even at the advanced age of 85, Stengel showed up just before the start of a scheduled two-inning exhibition match between retired American and National League legends, riding in through Shea's center field gate atop a Roman chariot drawn by two white horses. As for the game, Willie Mays and Ralph Kiner each went one-for-one with a run scored, but the rest of their teammates didn't do much and that doomed the NL to a 6-2 loss. Luckily, the Mets treated the 37,250 fans in attendance to a 5-2 win over Steve Carlton and the Phillies in the day's regulation contest.
Nineteen years after Stengel's last visit to Shea, another Mets icon faced the end of an era. On this date in 1994, Dwight Gooden received a 60-day suspension after he tested positive for cocaine, thus violating the terms of the drug aftercare program MLB mandated he participate in after his 1987 rehab stint. Gooden responded via a prepared statement, read by then-GM Joe McIlvaine, that stated:
I want to apologize to the club and to the people of New York. I want to thank everyone for their past support. I will be back stronger and better.
For all intents and purposes, however, the suspension ended Gooden's Mets career. The last remaining member of the 1986 championship team failed another random drug test while serving said suspension, which prompted commissioner Bud Selig to punish Doc by placing him on baseball's inactive list for the entire 1995 season. During that time, Gooden became a free agent and the Mets chose not to resign the erstwhile ace.
- Richard Hidalgo turns 38. A one-year wonder, Hidalgo hit 44 home runs as part of a six-plus rWAR season for the Astros in 2000. He slumped badly, hurt in part by a congenital knee disorder, over the ensuing seasons, which lead Houston to trade the talented outfielder to the Mets for a pair of relievers midway through 2004. Hidalgo brought a good glove to Flushing and hit for decent power (.205 ISO) while with the team, but the Mets let him walk at year's end. He returned to Texas, this time as a Ranger, and played one more season before injuries ended his career.
- Joe Sambito is 61. A member of the Mets bullpen in 1985, Sambito jumped to the Boston Red Sox for the '86 season and shared closing duties with fellow former Met Calvin Schiraldi. The former fared slightly better than the latter against his old team in the World Series that fall. Schiraldi took losses in Game Six and Game Seven, while Sambito merely posted a 27.00 ERA.
The Mets came to terms with the only Hall of Famer that the team has drafted and developed on this date in 1965, as scout Red Murff got Nolan Ryan to sign the dotted line of his first professional contract. New York's 12th round pick in the inaugural amateur draft, the 18-year old Ryan was assigned to the Appalachian League Marion Mets, the team for which he walked 56 batters in 78 innings. Walks remained an issue for Nolan the following year in a season split between Single-A Greenville and Double-A Williamsport, but he also fanned an eye-popping 307 batters to earn a September callup.
Game of Note
Ron Darling utterly dominated the Phillies for seven innings on June 28, 1987. The handsome Hawaiian recorded the first 21 outs of the game, eight via strikeout, without allowing a hit. Unfortunately, the final six proved much more difficult. Pinch hitter Greg Gross led off the bottom of the eighth with a triple to break up the no-no and Juan Samuel ruined the shutout by singling him home one batter later. Manager Davey Johnson chose to rely on the two-headed closer tandem of Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell to finish the game, but the normally beastly Joger McOroscwell didn't have it that night. The Phils BABIP'd seven singles (four of the ground ball variety) off the two relievers to score four unanswered runs and steal a 5-4 victory from the Mets in walk-off fashion.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
It was 16 years ago today that Mike Tyson, in one of the craziest moments if all of sports history, bared his teeth and bit off (or, as Wikipedia puts it, "avulsed") a chunk of Evander Holyfield's right ear during the third round of their WBA Heavyweight Championship rematch. I bring that up mainly as an excuse to link to this photo, which might encapsulate New York's mid-'80s sports scene better than any other. Cocaine's a hell of a drug.