BY JOE RINI
While recent Septembers for the New York Mets have been uneventful at best and cruel at their worst, late surges by the Mets in 1969 and 1973 propelled them to the World Series and a “miracle” World Series championship in 1969. Former Mets catcher Duffy Dyer graciously shared some of his memories of this gloried time in franchise history with the Rockland County Times.
Dyer debuted with the Mets in September 1968 and was a solid back-up to Jerry Grote through the 1974 season before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He later played for the Montreal Expos and Detroit Tigers, mentoring All-Star catchers Gary Carter and Lance Parrish before concluding his career in 1981. While Dyer played for some of the most famed managers of his era including Sparky Anderson and Dick Williams, he said the best manager he played for was Mets manager Gil Hodges.
Hodges’ reputation as a “hard-nosed” great ball player with a strong physical presence preceded him when he took rein of the Mets in 1968 and initially, Hodges was “intimidating because he was so quiet.” According to Dyer, Hodges maintained a certain distance and used his coaches to communicate to the players. However, he said Hodges was “awesome” to play for and Dyer was especially grateful to coaches Joe Pignatano and Rube Walker for mentoring him as a young catcher.
Dyer had a flair for the dramatic in his first appearance at Shea Stadium on Opening Day in 1969 when he hit a pinch hit three run home run in the ninth inning. He recalls his “knees shaking” as he batted before the full house at Shea and then “practically
sprinting” around the bases as the ball cleared the fence. As he reached second base, he thought, “Hey, I hit a home run in the big leagues.” On a side note, he laughingly recalled that his wife missed the home run because she left in the seventh inning to scout out an apartment for their young family (it was worth it – they lived there for six years and his elderly landlords became like grandparents to his children).
Speaking of the fans, Dyer said, “The fans really inspired us when we played at home,” and there was no doubt in his mind that the fans affected the players for the better. He said the fans were great and he loved playing in New York. He met many fans on the “banquet circuit” in the off-season, including numerous trips to youth groups in Rockland County.
Dyer appeared in game one of the World Series and watching from the bullpen in the ninth inning of game five, he said the “fans were going nuts” and he thought, “How far we’ve come,” before the final out. Running to the infield to celebrate the victory was “a little scary” as the fans poured onto the field but aside from losing his cap, he a made it to the clubhouse safely.
The ticker tape parade for the new champions was especially rewarding according to Dyer because the players’ wives joined them in the parade. Within days of the World Series the Mets recorded an album although he recalled with a laugh that they might have been better to wait to record it since they had been celebrating for a few days. More than 40 years later, he said people are still fascinated by the 1969 team. Just one day before we spoke, he met a man on the golf course who was thrilled to hear Dyer had played for the 1969 Mets – and the person was a Yankee fan no less!
Among other highlights of Dyer’s career was being the Opening Day catcher in 1973 when he caught the ceremonial first pitch with a barrel as 20 former POWs threw a ball to him; late in September of 1973 his dramatic two out run scoring pinch hit double in the ninth inning against the Pirates helped win a key game for the “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets.
Since his playing days ended, Dyer has stayed active in the game as a coach, minor/independent league manager, minor league instructor, and a scout for various major league teams. He currently enjoys working with amateur players, but is willing to get back in uniform on the major league level.
The 2012 Mets won five of six against the Phillies and Marlins before dropping the first two games at St. Louis against the Cardinals on the current nine game road trip. The Mets enter play on Wednesday with a record of 64-72 and return to Citi Field on Friday September 7 to start a six game homestand against the Braves and Nationals.