Friday, July 17, 2009

Of Perry, McGraw and Apollo 11

I just read a funny story about Gaylord Perry in the latest Sports Illustrated that also includes a favorite topic of mine - Apollo 11.

While watching Perry take batting practice as a rookie in 1962, a reporter told San Francisco Giants manager Alvin Dark that the pitcher would hit a lot of home runs.

As the story goes, Dark replied: "There'll be a man on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run."

People must have said that a lot back then. "They'll be a man on the moon before ... (fill in the rest)." Now its, "If they can put a man on the moon, they can ... ."

Anyway, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. An hour later, Perry hit his first major league home run.

Perry swears it's a true story, and who wouldn't believe a man who carved out a hall of fame career by throwing a spitball.

We are in the midst of celebrating that historic trip to the moon, which began July 16 with liftoff, the touchdown on the moon four days later and Armstrong's amazing first steps.

I can't get enough of Apollo 11. I must have read my Dad's National Geographic issue on the space trip a hundred times.

That leads me to another of my favorite topics: the 1969 Mets, who, given the sorry past of the franchise, may have taken a bigger step for man that same summer.

As the story goes, the Mets were stuck in the Montreal airport waiting for their flight to leave. They passed the time at the airport bar watching Armstrong's historic walk. Reliever Tug McGraw yelled out, "If they can put a man on the moon, we can win the World Series."

I met McGraw and Ron Swoboda in 1999 when the Mets played the Rays at the Trop, and the Rays held a turn back the clock night to honor the Mets. Yeah, I know. Weird.

Anyway, McGraw said the incident definitely happened. Swoboda thought it did, but wasn't sure if it was McGraw who made the prediction.

Swoboda gave it some thought and decided that, yeah, if anyone on the team was crazy enough to yell that across the bar, it was McGraw.

The summer of 1969: Man first walks on the moon, the Mets win the World Series and Gaylord Perry finally went deep.

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