“Anytime you win, boy, there’s commotion, I’ll tell you,” said Yogi Berra.
JOHN LINDSAY was dumbfounded.
“John Lindsay knew nothing about baseball, and he didn’t like it,” said Richard Reeves, the biographer and author of the forthcoming history of the Berlin Airlift, who was the New York Times City Hall bureau chief in 1969. “Literally at the end of each inning, he’d pop out of his seat and ask, ‘Is this over?’ And then he had to be pulled back down.”
“In one of those playoff games, he said, ‘If the game stays tied, then what happens? Who wins?’” said Shelly Brosoff, a member of the mayor’s staff who was sitting with him at Shea Stadium.
“He was crew in college, his twin brother was a boxer, and baseball was not his game of choice,” said Mr. Davidoff.
As Shea Stadium’s field was mobbed with delirious Mets fans, Mr. Brosoff guided Mr. Lindsay from their seats behind the dugout, onto the warning track, into the clubhouse.
Mr. Lindsay didn’t look much different from former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, who was standing inside the Mets clubhouse with his arms crossed and a stoic, somewhat bewildered look on his face. Mayor Lindsay didn’t know what to do.
“Tom Seaver was sitting on a stool and guys were around all around him and Champagne was flying everywhere,” said Mr. Brosoff.
“I gave the mayor a bottle of Champagne and I said to him, ‘You see that guy on the stool?’—he didn’t know anybody, he wasn’t a baseball fan—and I said, ‘See that guy over there? Go over there and pour this bottle of champagne on his head.’
“He looked at me and said, ‘Shelly are you crazy?’ I said, ‘No, no, go over there and pour on its head! Go and do it!’
Then Champagne was everywhere, and suddenly the tall dry mayor was in the middle of the wet Mets melee.
“It wasn’t something that was totally spontaneous,” said Mr. Aurelio, the campaign manager. “In the locker room, we kind of urged them to soak Lindsay. Here’s this patrician-type guy who some people, some of the ethnics, had turned against in the city, and now these white ethnics suddenly are seeing him being doused with Champagne over his face.”
Suddenly John V. Lindsay was a man of the people, a baseball fan, drenched in Queens, beloved in Brooklyn, the cross-cultural political phenomenon that he had been when elected in 1965.
“I remember John Lindsay was in political trouble and he had this complete embrace of the team,” said Mr. Swoboda, the Mets right fielder. “He came in the clubhouse and he had himself doused in Champagne and he used all of it for the campaign: ‘The Mets can do it, I can do it! The Mets are an underdog, I am, too!’
“He even had guys on the team doing commercials and doing personal appearances for him. He totally used that whole event as a trigger for a campaign that was in big trouble.”
Then the Mets had a ticker-tape parade, the first time it happened for a World Series champion.
“It was touch-and-go until the last three or four weeks of the campaign,” said Mr. Aurelio. “In October, after the Mets victory, in the three weeks before the election, we felt the momentum going our way. Up until then, while I was hopeful and optimistic, I thought I was prepared to lose by a small margin.”
“I don’t know if he picks up a single vote for being at Shea and being in the locker room with Champagne,” said Mr. Kriegel. “This is a city that is very beaten down and just endlessly consumed in racial conflict and tension and recrimination. What the Mets do is create some sense across the city of a breath of fresh air, they feel good, a relaxer. It relieves the tension. It cuts it like a knife.”
“There was anger, a lot of anger,” said Mr. Davidoff. “The snowstorm, the teacher’s strike, the claim that Lindsay was giving away the city to minorities, there was decentralization—how many things do you have to go through! And with the Mets the city felt better, and when there’s a better feeling about the city, there’s a better feeling about the mayor.”
“The city went from being anti- this tall, handsome, WASP, debonair patrician,” said Mr. Aurelio, “into seeing him as a guy that was fighting the bosses and was attracting Democrats and fighting the radical right and who was fighting against the Nixon Vietnam policies and his insensitivity to the plight of the city,” said Mr. Aurelio. “And then with the Mets, it just was this dramatic change. A lot of it we were lucky to have happen to us, and a lot of if we inspired ourselves in clever ways. It was a lot of things coming together in a way that created the perfect comeback campaign.”
“Everything came together for that one shining moment,” said Mr. Reeves. “It was our Camelot. It all came together. And even with all that union and racial stuff, the Mets pulled those people together, and to a lesser extent, the Jets and the Knicks. It pulled together for that moment. The fact is Lindsay was a lousy mayor and the recession began in 1970, and Ford told the city to drop dead and then people abandoned the city. It was this kind of peak.”
So attention, Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Paterson, Fred Wilpon and the Steinbrenner Boys: Don’t worry about the banks and Tim Geithner, pay no attention to the subways and the Fed. Give us a little magic. It doesn’t need to last forever. Just a few innings. For this summer and for this fall, if you want to save your butts, give us a few wins.
We’ll love you for a month or two.
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