In a reversal of roles, Marv Throneberry played the hero and the Cardinals performed like the 1962 Mets.
Sixty years ago, on July 7, 1962, Throneberry hit the first walkoff home run of his big-league career, lifting the Mets to victory against the Cardinals at the Polo Grounds in New York. Throneberry’s winning hit came an inning after rookie Dal Maxvill made a base running blunder that cost the Cardinals a run.
A first baseman whose gaffes on the field came to symbolize the ineptness of the expansion 1962 Mets, losers of 120 games, Throneberry hit like an all-star against the Cardinals that season.
Marv and his older brother Faye, who also reached the big leagues, grew up on a family farm in Fisherville, Tenn., about 30 miles east of Memphis.
Faye Throneberry signed with the Red Sox in 1950 and hit .236 during eight years in the majors as an outfielder for the Red Sox, Senators and Angels.
Marv Throneberry signed with the Yankees in 1952. A left-handed batter, he became a prolific slugger for their Denver farm club, hitting 36 home runs in 1955, 42 in 1956 and 40 in 1957.
When Marv made his big-league debut with the Yankees in a game at Boston on Sept. 25, 1955, Faye was in the outfield for the Red Sox. Marv went 2-for-2 with three RBI and a run scored. Boxscore
That would be Marv’s only big-league experience until he stuck with the Yankees as a backup to first baseman Moose Skowron in 1958.
After the 1959 season, Throneberry was traded to the Athletics in a multi-player deal that brought Roger Maris to the Yankees.
“Marv Throneberry swings and misses with outlandish regularity,” Sports Illustrated noted in April 1960, “but manages to connect just often enough to maintain his reputation as a slugger of great promise.”
The Athletics shipped him to the Orioles in June 1961. Throneberry was a teammate of Whitey Herzog in Denver and with the Athletics and the Orioles.
No shortage of shortcomings
The 1962 Mets opened their inaugural season with Gil Hodges, 38, as their first baseman, but a variety of ailments limited his playing time. On May 9, the Mets acquired Throneberry, 28, from the Orioles for a player to be named (former Cardinals catcher Hobie Landrith) and cash.
When Mets general manager George Weiss said Throneberry probably would be the club’s first baseman for the next four years, manager Casey Stengel “almost fell off his seat,” columnist Joe King reported. Weiss and Stengel were with the Yankees when Throneberry was there, and Stengel wasn’t impressed. “I know he can maybe move around at first base, but whether he can hit, I don’t know,” Stengel told The Sporting News.
With his options limited, Stengel played Throneberry against right-handers. Making mistakes in the field and on the base paths, and whiffing a lot at the plate, Throneberry was viewed as “a symbol of the futility of one of the most tragicomic teams in baseball,” the New York Times noted.
On June 17, in the first inning of a game against the Cubs at the Polo Grounds, Throneberry, batting with two on and one out, drilled a deep drive to right. Both runners scored and Throneberry reached third with a triple.
“He was dusting off his uniform at third base, apparently feeling that the tide in his fortunes had turned,” the Associated Press reported, when the Cubs appealed to first-base umpire Dusty Boggess, saying Throneberry had failed to touch the base on the way around.
The umpire agreed, and Throneberry was ruled out. He was credited with two RBI but no hit on the play.
“Stengel charged from the dugout in protest,” columnist Arthur Daley wrote in the New York Times. “The umpire shut him up fast. Throneberry didn’t touch second either.”
When the next batter, Charlie Neal, followed with a home run, Stengel emerged and pointed out each of the four bases to Neal as he made his home run trot, the New York Times reported. Boxscore
Hooray for Marv
The Mets were 22-57 entering the July 7 Saturday doubleheader versus the Cardinals at the Polo Grounds.
With the score tied at 3-3 in the eighth inning of the opener, the Cardinals had two on and two outs when Red Schoendienst hit a smash off Hodges’ glove at first base and into right field for a single.
Dal Maxvill, running at second for Stan Musial, rounded third and reached the plate easily with the apparent go-ahead run. The Mets appealed, saying Maxvill didn’t touch third base, and umpire Augie Donatelli agreed, calling him out and nullifying the run. Donatelli said Maxvill missed the bag by almost a foot, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
In the ninth, Curt Flood led off with a home run, putting the Cardinals ahead, 4-3.
Facing left-hander Curt Simmons in the bottom half of the inning, Joe Christopher hit a tapper along the first-base line. Simmons fielded the ball, tried to tag Christopher, but missed, enabling him to reach first with a single.
After right-hander Ernie Broglio relieved and got Hodges to fly out, Stengel countered by sending Throneberry to bat for shortstop Elio Chacon. Rather than have a left-hander pitch to Throneberry, Cardinals manager Johnny Keane stayed with Broglio.
Facing the Cardinals for the first time in a regular-season game, Throneberry worked the count to 1-and-1 before lining a pitch into the lower seats in right for a two-run home run, giving the Mets a 5-4 triumph. Boxscore
“Chances are that if you had 20 guesses as to which Met batsman had a pinch-hit homer in the ninth, you’d probably mention Marv Throneberry last, if at all,” the New York Times concluded. “His derelictions afield and at bat in recent exercises had made him the comic symbol of all that is wrong with the forlorn Mets.”
Throneberry started at first base in Game 2 of the doubleheader and almost was the hero again. In the seventh inning, his home run against Ray Washburn tied the score at 2-2. After Stan Musial put the Cardinals ahead, 3-2, with a home run in the eighth, Throneberry hit a triple against Washburn with two outs in the ninth, but Lindy McDaniel relieved and retired Gene Woodling to end the game. Boxscore
Man of the people
Throneberry hit one more walkoff home run for the Mets. On Aug. 21, 1962, he was coaching first base when Stengel told him to bat for Jim Hickman in the bottom of the ninth. Throneberry hit a three-run home run against Pirates closer Roy Face, eliminating a two-run deficit and giving the Mets a 5-4 victory. Boxscore
For the season, Throneberry led the National League in one category: most errors by a first baseman (17 in 97 games).
He hit 16 home runs for the 1962 Mets and batted .244, with almost as many strikeouts (83) as hits (87).
Against the 1962 Cardinals, though, Throneberry batted .326 (with 15 hits) and had an on-base percentage of .396.
“Marvin Eugene Throneberry became the symbol of the New York Mets,” Arthur Daley wrote in the New York Times. “Even his initials spelled out Met. Like the rest of his team, he was lovably inept but with a flair for heroics. He’d lose games by his bungling, or win them with dramatic home runs.”
According to Daley, “more than half the fan mail that came to the 1962 Mets was directed to Marvelous Marv. Ninety-nine percent of it pledged undying devotion. One percent call him a bum.”
After the season, the Mets acquired Tim Harkness, 25, from the Dodgers and made him their first baseman in 1963. Throneberry got into 14 games, hit .143 and was sent to the minors in May.
In seven years in the majors, he had 295 strikeouts and 281 hits.
He resurfaced in popular TV commercials for Miller Lite beer during the 1970s. Video