The only theory that ever held any water was that the Mets had played all of their home games in parks with three of the largest fair-territory square footage totals. Far-away fences might mean fewer home runs, but they increase the chances of hits in distant outfield corners, or even catchable balls that were just out of range of fielders who had just that much more ground to cover, and that’s why the Mets had never thrown a no-hit game!
The problems with this explanation still obtained as the New York team took the field for what we all presumed was the 8,020th game in their no-hit-free history tonight. Even such a simply understood theory of simple math did not account for the facts a) that they have played roughly half of their games in other stadiums with less hit-friendly terrains, b) that visiting teams threw no-hitters in the Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium (hell, Bob Moose no-hit them at Shea Stadium when they were three weeks from becoming the Miracle Mets of 1969), and c) that the New York Giants, the previous occupants of the Polo Grounds, threw plenty of no-hitters there, even when the dimensions in straightaway center reached as much as 505 feet as recently as 1949.
However, with Johan Santana ending the Mets’ 50+ years of no-no-hitters tonight, the Square Footage Theory gained some new credence and respectability. Obviously, the Mets moved in the fences at virtually all points of the outfield at CitiField over the winter to increase home run production, and have gotten about a dozen dingers for their trouble. But it is unmistakable that just 28 games into the new, smaller fair footage field dimensions, the team got its first no-hitter. Fair territory is only 98 percent as large as it was last year in Flushing, and in those areas more than 300 feet from home plate, it’s only 95 percent as large.
Suddenly the theory has a lot more life to it, but I still feel like we’re in the dark ages of research here. As evidence of…something…eight ex-Mets went on to throw no-hitters for other teams (Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Mike Scott, Hideo Nomo, Phil Humber and Jim Bibby, who was on the regular season Mets’ roster and in uniform in 1969 but never got into a League game). Finally, Santana has put a period at the end of all the data.
Of course, he really didn’t. Just as Armando Galarraga actually threw a perfect game for Detroit in 2010 but first base umpire Jim Joyce took it away from him by as mind-bogglingly lunkheaded a False-Safe call as any of us has ever seen, ex-Met Carlos Beltran actually broke up Santana’s bid leading the top of the 6th. Beltran sent a screamer over the bag at third that clearly caused the puff of tell-tale chalk as it landed fair behind the bag for what should have been a single or a double. Umpire Adrian Johnson flat out blew it – an undeniable fact that will always taint Santana’s effort tonight no matter how heroic, nor how extraordinary the saving catch by Flushing native and life-long Met fan Mike Baxter as he went shoulder-first into the left field wall to rob Yadier Molina in the 7th.
Incidentally, that fence would’ve been about thirteen feet further away last year. Baxter might’ve missed the ball, or not hurt himself, or been playing Molina differently, or who knows what.
If you want a more whimsical theory of why Santana finally did what Seaver et al did not do as Mets, there is this. I had personally witnessed only part of one no-hitter – Dave Righetti’s at Yankee Stadium in 1983. I had to leave that one to get to a sportscast I was doing for CNN. I thereafter instituted a rule that I would never leave a game before each pitcher’s no-hitter had been broken. Tonight was my first game back at a park in the two weeks since I underwent minor surgery. I underestimated the wear and tear of being up on my feet again, and also how quickly the post-op pain would kick in. So – yep – after two innings, with the discomfort literally making me feel faint – I went home.
Congrats to Johan Santana. I’m happy to take all the credit. Or you can rack it up to the Fair Territory Factor. Whatever: the Mets’ inexplicable streak is finally at rest.
Unless you want to make a dealio about that blown call.
On Saturday, July 29, 1978, with Bob Lemon having gotten six unexpectedly good innings out of Ken Clay and the Yankees leading the Twins 7-1 at Yankee Stadium, Lemon thought it was a good time to break the new kid in.
He had been obtained from the Cubs a month before in the repatriation of Ken Holtzman to Wrigley Field, and had dazzled in AA at West Haven. He was greeted by Minnesota catcher Butch Wynegar, who walked. Hosken Powell followed with a single. Roy Smalley then walked. I was there, but my scorecard is stored somewhere, so I don’t know if he actually threw any strikes before Lemon came and got him, and – in a move that would presage 1979, 1980, and 1981 – Rich Gossage was summoned to clean up the mess.
The next day, in my capacity as part-time free-lance semi-pro not-real-good photographer, I posed the kid on the field in the Bronx. “I guess you better get the picture before they get rid of me,” he said with a laugh that didn’t disguise his discouragement. I told him that he was 22 and I was 19 and even if neither of us was still in the majors the next day, he’d be back – and I’d never get there. That cheered him up.
I think they did send him back the next day, or soon thereafter. His next appearance in the majors was in September. The next year, amid an otherwise horrible season in New York, he’d go 14-2 (all in relief) with nine saves, and he’d stay in the majors through 1988.
His name was Ron Davis, and hours from when I write this his son Ike will debut, also in New York, also (almost) directly from AA. Wish I could be there.
THE METS AND NO-HITTERS:
Got asked a great question on twitter about any kind of theory that could even partially explain why, after Ubaldo Jimenez’s gem, the Mets could remain one of the franchises that has no no-hitters to its credit. Suddenly the light bulb turned on.
Years ago, one of the Stats Inc guys did a wonderful analysis of the amount of fair and foul territory in current and historical parks – I’ll have to find the book. But the gist was, the amount of fair territory in which hits could drop in the Mets’ first home (The Polo Grounds) was enormous (centerfield was nearly 500 feet away from the plate). In Shea it was still pretty damn big, and in Citifield, it is, especially when measured against other new parks, proportionately just as bad as at Shea.
That might be one explanation. Interestingly, if my list is complete, there were only five no-hitters ever thrown at the “last” Polo Grounds (Rube Marquard, Earl Caldwell, Jess Barnes, Carl Hubbell, and Rex Barney) over 69 seasons (57 by the Giants, 2 by the Mets, 10 by the Yankees) and only two (Jim Bunning, Bob Moose) in the 45 at Shea.
UPDATE, 5:30 EDT: Just to clarify, obviously this would only explain half of the Mets’ no-hit drought. One might wonder if years of pitching inside a big-fair-territory-area might influence how the same pitchers would throw in road parks, but lord knows there isn’t any stat to measure that.