Turning the clock back to 1962: 50 years ago the New York Mets and Houston Astros were born
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It’s hard to argue that the biggest MLB anniversary celebration of 2012 is for “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark”, or “Pahk” — Fenway Park in Boston, which turns 100 this season. The Seattle Mariners turn 35 years old this year, and their fans may beg to differ. After all, that’s what you call dedication when you are one of 170 rabid season ticket holders cramming into Safeco Field at 3 a.m. (Pacific time) to cheer on your team as they “open” the season in Japan.
Other notable anniversaries in 2012 include 20 years of ball at Camden Yards, which is the first park to start the “retro” architectural design fad for future stadiums, and the 40th anniversary of the Texas Rangers’ home in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Then there is the place Vin Scully has called home for a half a century, Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are the perfect segue into our next biggest anniversary of note, that of 50 years of baseball for New York’s beloved Amazin’ Mets and the Houston Astros (then Colt 45s.). When the Dodgers fled Brooklyn in 1957, it was a dagger in the heart for those who had cheered on them “bums” in Flatbush for generations. That same season, Horace Stoneham put the nail in the coffin on National League baseball in New York, when Willie Mays and the Giants shipped out to San Francisco.
Both the Houston Colt 45s and Mets are “sister” franchises, in that they were both part of National league expansion in 1962. Expanding from eight to 10 teams meant, for the first time, National League play would consist of 162 games. A year earlier, the junior circuit started playing 162 contests after the addition of two new teams, the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins.
In celebration of their 50 years, the Mets and Astros will have special events scheduled for 2012. The Astros will have “Flashback Fridays” at Minute Maid Park, when former stars will throw out first pitches and current players will wear throwback jerseys from different eras in the history of the franchise. After a little bit of controversy regarding the pistols logo in their inaugural uniform, the original Colt 45s jerseys will be worn. In addition, the funky ’70s orange and yellow jerseys will certainly be fan favorites, bringing back memories of Jose Cruz, Larry Dierker and Joaquin Andujar.
The Mets, meanwhile, will bring back the popular Shea Stadium tradition of Banner Day to Citi Field on May 27 versus the Padres. In addition, in an event which is the first of its kind, Hofstra University on Long Island will host a three-day conference in late April devoted exclusively to the history of the Amazin’ Mets.
The stories of both the Mets and Astros began in the minds of two baseball obsessed visionaries in each respective city. New York attorney William A. Shea, who was once a former basketball player at Georgetown in the 1920s, spearheaded the campaign to return National League baseball to New York. While in Houston, it was former sportswriter turned PR-man George Kirksey who was Shea’s Texas counterpart.
Immediately, after the Dodgers and Giants exodus to California, New York mayor Robert Wagner, Jr. expressed his personal dismay about not having another team in town besides the Yankees. After being told by Wagner to lead a committee to bring a National League team back to New York, Shea had to deal with the reality that major league baseball didn’t care. Trying to lure other teams to New York, such as the Reds, Pirates and Phillies proved to be both expensive and useless propositions. Finding a suitable stadium would be a big stumbling block, as negotiations broke down. The only alternative was for expansion, which neither owners nor Commissioner Ford Frick wanted any part of.
Back in Houston, Kirksey faced a far more daunting task in bringing baseball to the Deep South. In the mid-1950s, Houston was 1,000 miles from the nearest major league city. Half the teams were on the east coast, while other established cities had franchises, such as Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago. Kirksey also tried in vain to lure other teams to town, including the Cubs and White Sox, as well as the Cincinnati Reds.
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