|“Ford Frick just reached for the rye bottle. It’s his first positive move in four years.”
— Tom Meany, working the room at Toots Schor’s
When you list Hall-of-Famers the Mets have employed, you perhaps wouldn’t want to overlook Tom Meany. Meany, the Mets’ public relations guy in 1962-1963 and promotions director in 1964 (does that make him the father of Banner Day?) took the alleged would-be route of Adam Rubin toward baseball employment, having jumped the fence after decades of writing about the game, working with several papers and authoring over a dozen books, while gaining a rep as one of the game’s great raconteurs. When the famed Toots Shor’s Restaurant closed, guess who was the toastmaster on their last night. None other than Tom F. Meany, that’s who. A room full of well-oiled athletes, writers, and celebs of all stripe, and Tom was the one that held the room together for the evening.
But more than a wag, he had a nose for a story. His big scoop as a baseball writer had come back in 1932 when he ducked under the bleachers during a rain delay at the Polo Grounds and stumbled upon the scene of John McGraw packing his office up to turn the team over to Bill Terry, ending a legendary 32-year career by sneaking out not-quite-as-unnoticed as he wanted to. The scoop was among the biggest stories broken by The New York World-Telegram. Meany became sports editor and columnist for tabloids now mostly forgotten — PM, The New York Star, and The Morning Telegraph — before becoming sports editor for the not-forgotten Collier’s magazine. When Collier’s too closed, he must’ve seemed like a carrier of a fatal disease, but he went to work for the Yankees on special promotions in 1956 before joining the not-yet-born Mets.
Meany was felled by hemorrhage on September 11 of 1964, he became the first Met (so much as he was a Met) passing in about 21 months. Among the legacy he left behind was a shelf full of books (see right), enough to leave any young fan of the mid-century with an advanced education in baseball, filled with equal parts fact and wit, while still sophisticated enough to engross the adult reader six decades later.
As noted in my lede sentence, if you’re scoring at home with regard to the great list of Mets personnel who’ve reached immortality in the Baseball Hall of Fame, you might want to remember Tom’s name. He was posthumously honored with the J. Taylor Spink Award in 1975 (so much as that would allow you to be called a Hall of Famer, and it’s really not supposed to, but I can always make an exception for a Met). In the seventies, they would give the award to two or more a year, and he was honored in the same year as Shirley Povich, which is sort of like going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same year as the Beatles, you know? But good on him.
Did you know (I bet you did!) that the Mets were originally supposed to move into Shea Stadium in 1963? Tom Meany said so! When announcing the park, our subject ominously promised that “Only a series of blizzards or some other unforeseen trouble might hamper construction.”
Well, blame the weather, blame the mob, or blame the Cuban Missile Crisis, but construction was delayed enough that the Stadium debuted a year later with the paint still fresh on the outfield walls. It was the sort of misunderestimation that would get a Mets official denounced as a lying flack in our current online atmosphere, but I hope Meany got the slack he he deserved, because that wasn’t him.
You want to know why? I’ll tell you why. It seems that the retirement of John J. McGraw wasn’t the only story Meany found while sniffing around beneath the bleachers of an old ballpark. On December 31, 1959, the Dodgers lease on Ebbets Field expired. The Dodgers leaving town should have been a dead story by then, but he showed up to see the team’s caretaker turn the keys over to the new landlord, who would begin demolishing the place almost immediately. Meany took to his typewriter and described the scene: “Being Irish, I have attended my share of wakes, Lord have mercy on us all, but on New Year’s Eve at historical Ebbets Field, I went for the first time to a wake without a body. The corpse was alive and kicking 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles. All that was left at Ebbets Field was the spirit and that was giving up the ghost at noon.”
I mean, if you fancy yourself a journalist, for God’s sake, don’t read Tom Meany. Because it’s a paragraph like that that can make a fellow writer lose confidence. You know? You can picture readers from six to 96 eating out of his hand after a paragraph like that.
And by most accounts, he was a mensch as well. During World War II, he went and joined a troop of ballplayers heading overseas to visit and entertain the troops. Most ballplayers being as dull to listen to as they are thrilling to watch, a great storyteller like Meany was a natural to tag along. But he apparently made an impression with more than just the GIs, as one of the ballplayers, Nick Etten, came home and named his son after Meany. Ballplayers and the writers that can build up or break them are usually known to be natural enemies, and to hear Red Smith tell it, such an honor was the “equivalent of a Hatfield marrying a McCoy.”
Seems like a great character. Unfortunately, while I found some great statements while searching, I can’t figure out where he is buried, which kind of falls short of the whole purpose of this blog. He was born in Brooklyn, and died somewhere in New York, so it’s pretty safe to assume he was buried in New York City limits, or possibly Long Island. Beyond that, the trail has gone cold. But I promise to keep digging, though I hope I don’t have to, you know, literally dig.) In lieu of a gravestone, I turn to the great Red Smith, who offered a reflection that should stand as a monument for any sportswriter.
|“He possessed in abundance two talents which seldom go together — a phenomenal memory and a flashing wit. Most memory experts are dullards with room in their heads for little or nothing besides their freight of facts and figures, names and dates. Tom’s remarkable memory was a mine of anecdote, illumined by his sometimes double-edged wit.”
— Red Smith
New York Herald-Tribune
How about that as something to shoot for in all of our next blog posts?