Anyone reading this blog since it’s inception would know that I am a dyed in the pinstriped wool, unapologetic Yankee fan. All Yankees all the time. But it wasn’t always that way.
At the tender age of 9 I started following baseball with the open mind of an unknowing child, looking for baseball guidance and knowledge. My brain was a sponge, ready to soak up any baseball goodness that came my way. The Yankees were a prominent fixture on my black and white TV in 1968, but they were pretty bad. Mickey Mantle was just some old guy who struck out a lot, and limped around like my Grandfather with a charley horse. He had yet to become The Mick for me. So the Yankees weren’t my 1st choice as a favorite team. Although I instinctively knew the Red Sox could never be my team. (Lucky me.)
So when the 1968 World Series began I didn’t have to think about which team I would root for. Bob Gibson and Lou Brock were the stars of a Cardinal team that was destined to be my favorite team. How can you not root for and become a life-long fan of a team that had Gibson and Brock. Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, the Cardinals proceeded to lose the World Series in 7 games to the Tigers. In the mind of a 9 year old, this was the ultimate betrayal. I chose you, I rooted for you, I cried for you, and you lost. See ya, nice knowing ya, let’s see what’s behind door #2.
In 1969 the Yankees were still the only team on TV, they played better and they had Bobby Murcer. Why he became my favorite player is lost in the baseball mists of time, but Murcer and the Yankees became locked in for life. Favorite team, favorite player, no backsies, no do-overs.
Because the Yankees were an American League team there was still room for a favorite National League team. The Cardinal’s were now dead to me, so my friend Chuck convinced me to become a Mets fan. Yes, a Mets fan. Not a bad choice, especially in 1969. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Cleon Jones and my favorite Met, Tommie Agee made for a pretty good team. In 1969, not only did Tommie Agee have his best season, hitting 26 home runs, but he helped the Mets to the World Series. His 2 catches in Game 3 are legendary and made a huge impression on a 10 year old budding outfielder. I practiced throwing a ball in the air in just such a way that I had to make the catch identical to the 2 catches Agee made in the World Series. In the winter time, I practiced in the snow. Hundreds and hundreds of tosses trying to make the perfect Tommie Agee catch.
Later, while playing centerfield on my Little League team, I was a fearless fly chaser, making numerous tough catches thanks to my Tommie Agee practice sessions.
As I got older, I came to realize that you can only have one favorite baseball team. I wisely stuck with the Yankees, and tossed aside the Mets like yesterday’s trash. No regrets.
But this post is about Tommie Agee. He was my outfielding inspiration to make every catch of every fly ball. I wanted to do him proud every time I chased down a fly ball. I don’t think I ever let him down.
Agee was the Rookie of the Year in 1966 playing for the Chicago White Sox. He also won a Gold Glove that year as well. In 1970 he won his 2nd Gold Glove while playing with the Mets. He became the 1st outfielder to win a Gold Glove in both leagues. Based on my crack research he is just 1 of 4 outfielders to do this, joining Mike Cameron, Dave Winfield, and Jim Edmonds.
He is the only player to hit a fair ball into the upper deck of Shea Stadium, a shot estimated at 480 feet.
Tommie Agee died of a heart attack on January 22, 2001, he was just 58 years old. He didn’t make me a Met fan, but he made me a better outfielder, and he is my all-time favorite Met.