Earlier in our discussion, Marty Noble remarked that uniform numbers were “a background thing,” but something he noticed once they came to the surface. In the conclusion of our interview, there’s definitely an itch to scratch. He riffs on numbers, and stories, with the perspective only a veteran beat reporter could have. This whole interview was a blast, but for me, this part was especially fun.
Are there particular Mets numbers you have specific associations with?
I’d be sitting around the clubhouse and see 23. That’s a favorite of mine. I liked Flynn. I thought Gilkey was as good a teammate as they ever had.
I saw the game after 9/11 on TV the other night and they had a guy in right field, No. 23. I had no idea who it was, as the batting order goes around I’m waiting for him to come up thinking Jermaine Allensworth? He was 23. Finally, I realized. It was Matt Lawton.
There’s a study that says when you like something, there’s a secretion in the brain that makes it stick in your head. If you hear a flip side of a song you like, you’ll remember that too because you like the song it’s attached to. So it’s weird. Matt Lawton was unfriendly. He wasn’t a bad human being, but he was unfriendly. I don’t want to think of him.
That turned out to be such a bad trade, for Rick Reed.
Don’t tell me what his number was. He wasn’t 34 or 36…
He was 35.
Billy Beane wore 35. I like him, so I remember that.
34 was always a nondescript pitcher.. The first 34 I met was Apodaca. There was one year they got into late August where he hadn’t even appeared in a victory.
Things are starting to come out. When I see six, I see Darryl Boston.
Sandy Alomar. I wouldn’t want Bobby Valentine to know I thought of him. Marv Throneberry was 20 with the Yankees and 2 with the Mets.
My six is Wally. Al Weis is probably the most important 6 in Mets history.
Has to be Bobby O. Though Gardy is a special guy, I love him. In fact, I’ll put Gardy above Bobby O.
I’m drawing a blank. Hojo is 20 but he’s not the one I want. I like Hojo. I like Shawn Green a lot. Ryan Thompson was fun.
My 28 is Bill Robinson.
That’s a good choice. Robinson has been there as long as any player. Except maybe John Milner.
Milner was lazy. He had a bathrobe that was Howard Johnson colors: orange, turquoise and white. He could have gone 60-for-60 in the previous weeks but if he had that bathrobe on, he wasn’t playing. If he had gone 0-for-48 and didn’t have the bathrobe on, he was playing. He wouldn’t say anything. If he had the bathrobe on he’d just walk away. Not a nice person. He once had a wine bottle by the neck and threatened me with it. I called him “the Hamper” not the “Hammer.”
You’re ruining my childhood memories.
He wasn’t a good guy.
How about 33?
Ron Hunt, but Hondo was the big 33 for the Mets.
Actually, Hondo was 55, not 33.
My mistake. I’m seeing him hit against Whitey Ford.
He and Frazier were both managers who wore 55.
I remember Frazier wore 55. Frazier was a misfit. Very nice guy, but completely over his head. He had no sense of New York. He attacked Tom Seaver on the bus, not physically, but he got all over him. If you’re the manager of the Mets in 1976, you can’t do that.
It’s actually part of a funny story. Remember Augie Borgi? Augie was the Daily News Mets writer for years in the 1970s including 1976. Augie was the cheapest man on the face of the earth. No one was remotely close. We were in the bus, coming out of LA into Chicago. Seaver is on the same bus as Frazier, and the manager is a little loaded, and he got on him, calling him Seavers, saying, “I wouldn’t be saying too much if I was pitching like you’ve been pitching, Seavers.” We all wrote this story afterward that nobody had ever spoken about Seaver that way. Augie was right there but he didn’t write it. Why? Because he wanted to put in for a cab fare. Now that redefines cheap!
My first that comes to mind is Paul Siebert. He comes to mind, I can’t tell you why. The other one that comes to mind is Spider Lockhart but he didn’t play for the Mets. Who else wore 43?
I liked him.
Didn’t remember that.
Benitez comes up. He’s not my favorite but he comes up. What did Mike Bruhert wear?
He wore 26. He was the first 26 after Dave Kingman.
I remember Kingman wore 26, and 10, but 10 may have just been spring training [it was]. Rusty wore 4 and 10. But my all-time 10 is Kelvin Chapman. He wore 10 as a kid when he first came up in 1979, then 11 in 1984 when he came back up. Maybe he changed because 10 was bad luck.
Kelvin Chapman was a great kid and the best basketball player they ever had. Better than Strawberry.
I read somewhere that he has a son who’s a well-regarded prospect.
I wouldn’t doubt that. The Mets wanted him desperately to become a coach. They thought he’d be a great manager. He was as personable a guy as you’d ever want to meet. He and Xavier Nady are two of the most popular people in the clubhouse I’d ever known. Chapman couldn’t touch right-handed pitching but he could really hit lefties and Davey loved him.
Davey rescued him from several years in the minors and in the process turned away guys like Brian Giles.
He should have been turned away. He had skills but he didn’t want to play. And he didn’t want to stand close in the batter’s box. He stand as far back in the corner as you could be. Balls on the outside he couldn’t hit with a telephone pole. Defensively he could do things that most people couldn’t do, but he was afraid of the ball at bat.
My first thought goes to Bud Daley, a Yankee. 29 was Viola who I didn’t like very much. And Magadan who I liked a lot. Very good guy. Very good hitter and a good hitting coach from what I hear.
The Mets didn’t believe in him. They had Hernandez who was a slightly better version of him…
Slightly? Hernandez was the best player I ever covered. He made his team win more than any other player. He was a good interview, and we’re friends today, but when he played he never, ever gave me stuff. I still get on him for that. He never helped me! He gave me nothing. I don’t care if you didn’t give it to anybody… give it to me! Keith would give you opinions but wouldn’t give you facts. I don’t think he gave anyone facts.
Who’s on the all-interview team?
Glavine is No. 1. He and Joe Torre are the best interviews in the game. Keith would be No. 1 at first. Wally was great. He tell you to come over and trip you. At shortstop, Elster was great. He saved a quote for me one day. In Chicago, in 1991, they had lost 9 straight games and I walked into the clubhouse and Elster said to me, “Before you go into Buddy’s office, I have to tell you something. I’m saving this just for you.” He said, “You know what makes this so good?” meaning losing 9 in a row on the road? “We just cut four and a half innings off the season.” It was great, and I wrote that. The next day Buddy came to me and he said, “I’m not accusing you of making this up, but did he really say that to you?” I said yeah. He said, “I have no control of my players, do I?” And he didn’t.
At third base, David is not there yet. Hojo was OK. He was good at first, but got too cautious after a while. Roy Staiger wasn’t any good. Hubie didn’t say much. I have to go with Ray.
Left field, no one liked McReynolds as much as I did, but he wasn’t a great quote. Alou is very interesting sometimes but not always. Kingman was a pain in the ass. Foster was a bigger pain in the ass. Gilkey would be the guy.
Catcher would be LoDuca though Todd told me more than LoDuca would. LoDuca was a good quote. Center field had to be Lenny. He’d say anything. Though Brian McRae had the quote of the century. When they lost five straight games at the end of the 98 season, after they were shut out by the Expos he said, “Everyone plays us like the World Series. They want to kick our ass because they hate our manager.”
I remember that quote.
We all went down after that and talked to Felipe, who denied it. But Bob Nightengale of the LA Times was in Houston and heard about this quote and after the game and went to Moises Alou who said, “My dad hates Bobby. Are you kidding? He wants to kick his ass!” So he called me, and we had it confirmed!
Right field? Bonilla never did anything but lie. Burnitz was no good. Straw was Straw. He could be manipulative. Rusty was very condescending when I covered him. Now we’re good friends but then, he was a difficult. Shawn Green is actually quote good.
Relief? Franco was tough. Neil was loose-lipped. Tug was spectacular every day. Billy is good when he pitches like shit. But Tug was amazing.
Did Wagner’s criticism of Willie and Peterson ring true to you?
Yes. They moved Sosa to the bullpen which was a good move but after that I couldn’t ever figure out who they were going to bring in. You see guys warming up who wouldn’t come in. There may have been injuries we didn’t know about – that’s often the case.
Do you find Willie a little churlish?
I get along great with Willie. I’ve known him since he was a baby. But I have to be by myself. If I’m by myself he’ll tell me anything. But in a group, once in a while I think I can read him.
Remember two years ago when Feliciano shot his mouth off? I remember the next day I could tell Willie wanted to say something but he didn’t want to be the one who said it. So I asked, is there anything else you want to say about this and he later thanked me for allowing him the opportunity to say this – he said, “I’ve been around winners all my life and winners don’t do that.” What an incredible way to assert himself and not rip Feliciano, but say what had to be said. I thought it was a genius quote, I couldn’t think of a better thing to say.
We have a system that allows what I can write without his name, what I can write with his name, and what I can’t write. It used to be that way with a lot of guys but the world has changed. Part of that is that there’s more Spanish guys who don’t trust you or just don’t know how to say the things that need to be said. There are also guys who just don’t want to deal with us.
But Wally would say anything. Remember the fight with Eric Davis in ‘86? We came in to the clubhouse afterward and Wally was there and said, “Come here, write this down.” And he motherfucked George Foster for an hour! That motherfucker wouldn’t fight. Danny Heep was out there fighting in his underwear, and George is on the bench. Fuck him. Write it! And say I said it!And I did.
You’re 59 years old, and approaching 40 years covering baseball. Do you have plans to retire?
I have no plans yet, not while I’ve got a wedding to pay for in September for my daughter, and another daughter still in college.
Again, I’d like to thank Marty for being so generous with his time and his opinions. Met fans in general — and this site in particular — owe much to his style and spirit while telling us how it is.