You can't spell Banner Day without Mets
NEW YORK -- Almost from the beginning, the Mets were the "People's team," the 99 percenters, if you will; not because they tried to be, but because they weren't the Yankees. They weren't aristocracy. At their best, they were commoners. They had good days and bad days, like the rest of us. Great years and dreadful years, like some of us.
The Yankees had a half-dozen Hall of Famers before the Mets had a name or a manager or a first player, Hobie Landrith. The Mets came from the Dodgers, a team favored by the underdogs. They incorporated Dodgers blue, before Tommy Lasorda uppercased the "B," and Giants orange in the uniform color scheme.
The Mets' first home was a slum -- the poor, dilapidated Polo Grounds. A swing and a miss might blow down the stands in right. The Mets didn't have years in the game then, they had weeks. How could they have even a slice of tradition? The Yankees had it, long before George Steinbrenner tried to convince the world he invented it.
Now the Mets have 50 seasons, and though other franchises have significantly more time in, 50 qualifies as a lot -- a half-century even. And they have tradition. The opening home-game horseshoe is a nice touch, and the final home game tip of their caps is well conceived and well received. The Mets traditionally play more than their share of long games, and doubleheaders usually bring misery. Moreover, many of their engagements become games of chants. "Let's Go Mets" has been heard almost as long as the Mets have been heard from. That is tradition.
While rummaging through their attic recently, the Mets stumbled across another one. And they plan to dust it off and share it with the world some time next summer at Citi Field. Rather than hoist a flag, they will host a Banner Day.
Yes, Banner Day returns on a date as yet unannounced, as part of the club's season-long celebration of its 50th season. Honest to Agbayani. So grab your bed sheets, markers and ideas. Gentlemen, start your embroidery. Sing hallelujah, c'mon, get clever, get ready for the judgment day.
"What rhymes with Duda?"
"How do you spell Isringhausen?"
"Who can draw The Stork?"
"How many 'Ls' in Darryl?"
"How about 'I like Ike?'"
Without Bob Mandt, the late unofficial club historian, to set the record straight, no one at Citi Field was quite sure Wednesday exactly when the Mets last staged the event. Guesses ranged from the late '70s to the mid-90s. YouTube appeared to provide evidence of a celebration in 1984. Another Internet site suggested 2007. Impossible.
It is a certainty that the celebration began in 1963. And it was a grassroots movement just as the chant and the K Corner. Mets fans have remained creative, at least somewhat passionate. Bringing banners to the Polo Grounds became a popular practice in '62. The club didn't discourage it, but found the banners to be a bit of a nuisance because they blocked fans' view of the field, particularly when they were hung from the railings of an upper deck or were carried, unfurled, through the stands.
But the club also recognized rather quickly that it had a marketing opportunity. The event was born.
It brought out the good and bad. Some banners were eliminated -- too risqué or too much to the point. Those were, after all, dreadful teams in the early '60s. Some were quite clever, a few were well done. Eventually, banners were judged and prizes were awarded.
The club thought the event had run its course at one point. Perhaps it was in 1984, when chants of "Let's play ball" developed during the parade and when the final banner -- it read "Amen" -- was cheered.
Mets vice president of business operations Dave Howard said Wednesday fans had expressed a desire for the return of the event, and the club has become quite accommodating again.
Banner Day was routinely staged between games of a doubleheader, a twin bill created out of a need by a postponed game. Sometimes the parade made for a particularly long day at the park.
The Mets and Phillies played a doubleheader at Shea Stadium on Aug. 1, 1972. It was deemed Banner Day. After the eighth inning of the first game, public-address announcer Lauren Mathews urged those who planned to participate in the parade to assemble beyond the center-field wall. They did.
And there they stood when Don Money led off the ninth inning with a home run against Jon Matlack that tied the score at 2. Eighteen scoreless half-innings passed until Cleon Jones singled to score Tommie Agee in the 18th. Then the Banner Day celebration went on as planned -- for 44 minutes -- even though it was a tad rushed. The vendors ran out of beer in the third inning of the second game. The hot-dog reserve was gone two innings later.
But help did arrive. Phillies starter Steve Carlton had the good sense -- and good enough stuff -- to dispose of the Mets in one hour, 45 minutes in the second game.
After the doubleheader, I approached Carlton in the visitors' clubhouse, fully aware of his standing embargo; he didn't speak with reporters. Nonetheless, I approached him, prompting an incredulous expression from his teammate, Tommy Hutton, and, hoping for a few words, I thanked Carlton for his dispatch with which he had handled his nine innings. Instead, Carlton responded with a perfunctory nod.
Hutton pulled me aside. "You know he doesn't talk to you guys," he said.
I said, "I know. But all I said was 'Thanks for doing it quickly.'"
"Oh," Hutton said. "We'd already thanked him."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.