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Astros, 1978

March 7, 2008
  
I can’t stop thinking about Gene Pentz. 

At left is the only other card I own, besides the Pentz I displayed a couple days ago, that features the mustachioed obscurity. Can you spot him?

I have spent so much time thinking about Gene Pentz that I am tempted to wonder if I have become the biggest fan he’s ever had. I would be wrong in that assumption. During Gene Pentz’s brief career there was a Gene Pentz Fan Club.

Darren Viola knew the founder and sole member of the Gene Pentz Fan Club. Viola, better known to baseball fans as Repoz (the name he uses in his tireless gathering and hilariously skewed presenting of baseball news at The Baseball Think Factory), was a “friend of a friend” of the fan of Pentz, and wishes when trying to recall him that his “mind wasn’t so alchohazingly damaged from those years.” Still, a vivid portrait of Pentz and Fan of Pentz comes through in Viola’s recollections. . .

He was one strange kid . . . muy intense and singleminded in his adoration of all things Pentz!

I remember asking him WHY GENE FUCKING PENTZ? And he told me that he liked the way he threw and he felt bad about his record and how he wasn’t appreciated or something. I was shocked that Pentz would even give him the time of day, but they used to correspond regularly . . . and when the Tigers/Stros would come to town he would visit this kid and his loony parents for dinner in North Bergen, N.J.

My friend (Fester) did get invited over for a glorious Pentz dinner with the nutty kid/family and he told me that Pentz sorta welled up over the love shown by this derango. Of course, Pentz would give them freebie tickets at Shea.

Gene Pentz made his major league debut at Shea Stadium. (In 1975, when Pentz was called up to the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees were playing their games in Shea.) I wonder if the future founder of the Gene Pentz Fan Club was one of the 13,410 in attendance on July 29, 1975, when Gene Pentz was brought in to start the sixth inning, the Tigers down 4-2. I’m a romantic, so I’m going to say that he was there, that he was somehow made aware that he was witnessing a player’s first moment in the major leagues, the moment that put Gene Pentz officially in the record books for all time, the moment that would make him, Gene Pentz, immortal. And when Gene Pentz struck out the first man he faced (Chicken Stanley) and went on to pitch three innings of no-hit ball, albeit to no effect (the Tigers were unable to rally), it’s easy to envision a weird kid in the mostly empty stands deciding to follow every step of the brand new major leaguer’s journey. It’s easy to envision a weird kid in the mostly empty stands falling in love.

Pentz made one more appearance at Shea as a Tiger, giving up four hits, a wild pitch, and two runs in one inning of a 9-6 loss (attendance: 7,240), then appeared twice at Shea as an Astro, once in 1976 and once in 1977. It makes me happy to imagine the founder of the Gene Pentz Fan Club in the stands at these two games. In the first of these games (attendance: 13,303) Pentz recorded an old-fashioned when-men-were-men three-plus-inning save, squelching a rally in the 6th inning and keeping the Mets scoreless the rest of the way. In Pentz’s last appearance at Shea Stadium, he pitched two scoreless innings and picked up one of his eight career major league victories. That game, oddly, was played before 52,784 people, possibly the largest audience ever to witness the artistry of Gene Pentz. I’m not really sure why there were so many people at the game. It was a Saturday game, but a quick glance at other Saturday games at Shea that season shows low attendance figures in line with other Gene Pentz appearances at Shea. Maybe there was a big promotion that day. Or maybe the one-day spike was due to the fact that just three days before the Mets had traded away Tom Seaver. This was the first weekend game since the trade, so perhaps Mets fans flooded the stadium to voice their profound displeasure with management for trading away their beloved star. If fans were ever going to root, root, root for the away team, it would be Mets fans angrily mourning the loss of Tom Seaver. So if this was the case, then maybe when the founder of the Gene Pentz Fan Club rose to his feet to cheer Gene Pentz as Gene Pentz walked off the mound after his second and last inning of scoreless work, his efforts allowing the Astros to tie the game (they would forge ahead in the next half-inning), maybe, just maybe, 52,000 people followed the lead of the founder of the Gene Pentz Fan Club. Maybe for one slim strange beautiful moment everyone was a member of the Gene Pentz Fan Club.

39 comments

  1. 1.  I don’t know what caused the spike in attendance at that game, but June 18, 1977 suddenly looks like a significant date. Not only did Pentz make his last Shea appearance, but the last hitter was fellow Cardboard God Bruce Boisclair, facing CG Joe Niekro.

    Seaver made his first start for the Reds that day and pitched a shutout.

    Also that was the day the Mets released Joe Torre as a player.


  2. 2.  This post is what baseball is all about for me. Gene Pentz looks like he would be a cool uncle. The kind that offers you a beer when you walk in and has the ball game on. I bet he is somebody’s cool “uncle Gene” somewhere out there. He probably helped that weird kid in life more than he would ever know. Now it’s time to watch the best pitcher in the universe according to John Kruk.


  3. 3.  No takers on the “Where’s Pentz?” challenge?

    It’s quite an amazing team picture, which I guess any Astros team picture from that era would have to be, all those uniforms that are dazzling on their own banding together to form stacks of nonbiodegradable rainbows. But J.R. Richard anchoring the back row kicks it to a higher level of cool. I believe he’s the best team picture anchor in the history of the sport.


  4. 4.  Torre wasn’t so much released as a Mets player as deactivated. Remember – he had recently been given the thankless task of managing them…

    Back in the glorious heyday of ’70s hockey the California Golden Seals had a mild mannered, modestly talented, wholly inconspicuous player with the improbable name of Morris Mott.

    Some fans in New York, most likely bored with the fatcat under-achieving Rangers,took notice.

    Perhaps somewhat faceitiously at first, but later with true fondness and devotion, they started a fanclub for this relatively anonymous schlemiel-on-skates.

    At the time the Seals were a laughingstock, (owner Charles Finley clad them in gaudy Athletics gold-and-greenery and famously had them wear white skates). I can clearly remember the Rangers blowing them out 10-0 in one of my first live games.

    But everytime California would visit MSG there would be banners, chants and cheers for Morris Mott. He would get interviewed between periods, and appeared bemused, if not somewhat puzzled by the whole thing.

    Maybe silliness was taken more for granted back in those days, but what had started as a joke soon became a groundswell and a movement. An outporing of support celebrating the ultimate NHL Everyman.

    The Official Morris Mott Fan Club remains a shadowy, barely recalled anomaly. An internet search turns up far more hits for an eponymous young Christian recording artist than the hockey player. Perhaps someone’s elderly uncle kind of remembers him.

    But it truly existed. May the Gene Pentz Fan Club live long and prosper.


  5. 5.  Our man looks to be the last guy on the right end of the bench.

    I’ll take a stab at the attendance spike and guess that it was a Father’s Day promotion one day early?


  6. 6.  4 : Thanks for the story of Morris Mott. That’s great stuff. Did he wear a helmet?

    5 : I believe the last guy at the right end of the bench is Joe Ferguson, who jammed in stops in St. Louis (primary part of the trade for Reggie Smith) and Houston in between two long stints with the Dodgers. Few have looked more incongruous in the rainbow colors than Joe Ferguson.

    Someone at Baseball Think Factory guessed bat day as the reason for the attendance spike, which could be right since in those days teams, scarily enough, armed the hordes coming through the turnstiles with real bats.


  7. 7.  1 , 4 : The Joe Torre angle on the attendence spike is an interesting one. Maybe they did have a day for him that day, as someone suggested at Baseball Think Factory. But it’s odd to think he could have pulled in 52,000 in his honor–though he must have been respected at Shea (especially as a Brooklyn guy), he hadn’t exactly become a Mets hero while winding down his career there. By the way, though he was no longer a player that day, he had pinch hit during Gene Pentz’ big save at Shea the year before. Pentz got him to fly out.


  8. 8.  I was with #5, Josh. I saw a pic of Pentz sans mustache in a TSN.


  9. 9.  The Sporting News didn’t mention the crowd in the couple of sentences they wrote about the game.


  10. 10.  June 18, 1977 was Jacket Day. It was also 3 days after the Seaver trade, and Tom Terrific was pitching his first game for Cincinnati, so maybe some fans came out to boo.

    I well remember the days when they gave away real bats – but only to the kids, so what’s the problem? They’d also give away real basballs on Ball Day.

    I dismissed the guy in the first row as looking too much like a catcher, and apparently I got that right. I say Pentz is at the right end of the top row.


  11. 11.  10 : Firstly, how’d you find out it was jacket day? That’s some good sleuthing.

    Secondly, regarding the location of our man: you are correct, sir, at least as far as I can tell. It’s easier for me to see in the card itself (rather than the reproduction here), but the guy at the right end of the top row has the same slightly left-slanting mustache as the guy in the Pentz card from a couple days ago.

    It’s odd that he’s on the end of that row, because height-wise he should be one guy away from JR Richard (by comparison, check out the good descending slant on the left side of the top row). It’s as if when they gathered for the photo he didn’t feel as if he deserved to be that close to the center of things.


  12. 12.  11 The tilt of the moustache makes Pentz look like he’s got a little smirk on his face. I have no idea why he would, though.

    My other question about that picture: what is Ron Guidry doing in an Astros uniform, standing just to J.R.’s right?

    As for the sleuthing, I had a shortcut. I’m a NYTimes subscriber, so I checked their archives. Here’s their lede from 6/19/77:

    “Tom Seaver hurled a three-hit shutout yesterday, but the Mets lost, 4-3.

    About 52,784 “I told you so’s” were probably mouthed by the Jacket Day crowd at Shea Stadium as the scoreboard followed the departed Seaver’s first game for the Cincinnati Reds in Montreal while the Mets were dropping their second straight to the Houston Astros.”


  13. 13.  Pentz was out of baseball in 1981 and 1982, but he tried to make a comeback with the Astros in spring training in 1983. Joe Sambito’s injury opened a spot in Houston’s bullpen, but Pentz didn’t make the team.


  14. 14.  Good to see that his son Hunter is doing so well with them, though.


  15. 15.  12 : I believe the tall mustachioed guy next to Richard is 6’5″ Bo McLaughlin (for a closer look at him see link in sidebar).

    13 : Wow, thanks for tracking down that info. By ’83 he hadn’t pitched in the majors for five years. That’s a man who cared. I wonder what the correspondences were like between him and the Fan Club Guy during those years when he was trying and failing to get back to The Show.


  16. 16.  12 That article also includes this:
    When told of the Seaver victory over Montreal, Torre said:
    “Isn’t that something! What a rotten trade.”


  17. 17.  6 I wasn’t going to bother with this since the tie-in was precarious at best, but since he came up….

    I was sitting in the Dodger stadium left-field bleachers, about six rows up, for a 1980 games and it went extra innings. My section was becoming a little sparse. Joe Ferguson steps up and launches a deep fly ball to left and headed our way. A fellow directly in front of me in the first row stands up, holds up his glove in front of his face and without moving snags Fergie’s walk-off homer. This guy was wearing a Dodger blue-sleeved baseball jersey with ironed-on letters reading “The Entire Joe Ferguson Fan Club”.

    (I apologize if I told this story here before. I have a vague, possibly false, recollection of having posted it somewhere on the Toaster before. I find that in my 40s the frequency of vague, possibly false, recollections increases. Something for you to look forward to, Josh.)


  18. 18.  17 : That story’s new to me, and I’m glad you told it. It’s a beauty.


  19. 19.  That looks like the immortal Enos Cabell just in front of J.R.


  20. 20.  Kinda like the day (previously recounted in this blog) when 33,000 people at Fenway Park suddenly became Rick Waits fans?


  21. 21.  15 6’5″??? Damn, J. R. was huge.

    19 Definitely “Enos the Penis,” as we used to call him. Two guys to his left, I think that’s Bob Watson; second from the left, bottom row, could be Cesar Cedeno; and to his left might be Cheo Cruz.


  22. 22.  Josh… I’m still tracking down the former Pentz pres. by leaving messages at a few bars where my buddy Fester used to hang out.

    Someone told me that he had joined AA, but I’m not going there…they made pour Bill Wilson beg for booze on his deathbed!


  23. 23.  “I believe the tall mustachioed guy next to Richard is 6’5″ Bo McLaughlin (for a closer look at him see link in sidebar).”

    It’s definitely Bo McLaughlin. He’s now the pitching coach for the Tulsa Drillers.


  24. 24.  Jacket day was a HUGE day at Shea. I know because when Alfonso tried to get Rick to skip school to go to the Mets-Phillies game, he tempted him by noting it was jacket day. I searched the web to see if there was anything written about that episode (I’m talking Silver Spoons here, of course). But there was only one thing. And I wrote it. Make it two now.

    Three fan club memories: In the upper deck at Yankee Stadium, I once sat behind fan #01 and #02 (according to their T-shirts) of the Luis Sojo fan club. (They were a husband and wife team. Betcha didn’t picture that.) I also ran into Jack Clark’s #1 fan there at a Sox-Yanks affair. She had a book full of his pictures with “JACK CLARK” written in rhinestones on the cover. Finally, at Fenway in ’87, a dude behind me during BP went on and on about his mother being Calvin Schiraldi’s only fan. I bet that was true.


  25. 25.  24 : The Silver Spoons jacket day incident that you mention makes me wonder if the Mets are the most referenced team in sitcom history: jacket day, Oscar Madison’s iconic shlubby gray sweatpants uniform topped with a Mets cap, the Seavers (and their next door neighbors the Koosmans) on Growing Pains. And none of Seinfeld’s Yankees cameos matched the epic “I’m Keith Hernandez” saga.


  26. 26.  25

    That reminds me of Dodger players on the Brady Bunch and The Munsters.


  27. 27.  Why didn’t the shitty players ever happen to knock on the door in sit-coms?

    “Hey Mrs. Garrett, it’s Dale Berra!”

    Okay, maybe I should have gone with a simple:

    “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Roger LaFrancois?”


  28. 28.  I got Pentz top row, furthest right. To me he looks like Brad Delp, dead singer of Boston.

    I don’t recall the Mets ever hosting “bat day” — in the 70s at least, that was a Yankee thing. The biggest Met promotion, as far as we were concerned, was helmet day. That usually came pretty early in the season.

    The TV Seavers also neighbored with the Gentrys. The character Merle “The Pearl” from Eight is Enough was a Mets minor leaguer.

    Belated Happy birthday.


  29. 29.  This isn’t a 1978, but close enough : a 1980 Mets Jacket from Jacket Day :

    http://cgi.ebay.com/1980-Mets-Jacket-Day-Shea-Stadium-Giveaway_W0QQitemZ170192313672QQihZ007QQcategoryZ50133QQcmdZViewItem

    What a piece of crap. Still, I bet that the kids who got them were, for at least one day, the collest kid in fifth grade.


  30. 30.  29 : Great find, Tybalt.

    “Still, I bet that the kids who got them were, for at least one day, the collest kid in fifth grade.”

    Three or four years before that jacket was handed out, my brother and I, during a summer visit to see our dad, wore Mets hats to a playground in Washington Square Park. The other kids playing there referred to us by saying “Yo, Yankee hat.” Which makes me wonder if the Mets’ jacket day jacket generated much coolness (or even any recognition) in the late ’70s/early ’80s…


  31. 31.  27 These players weren’t exactly shitty, but they weren’t Keith Hernandez:

    http://snltranscripts.jt.org/97/97ibaseball.phtml


  32. 32.  Ah yes, Ted Brogan. Nice call.


  33. 33.  31 Thanks for the laugh, I hadn’t seen that skit in ages. Totally forgot about it.

    Scott Rolan: Hey, Andy!

    Danny: It’s not Andy. It’s Danny.

    Scott Rolan: Whatever, kid. Hey! You can fulfill your dream. This is North America!

    Todd Hunley: We usually just say America.


  34. 34.  33 The guy spelled Rolen’s name wrong but still a good effort.


  35. 35.  34 : I think he got Todd “Hunley” wrong, too.


  36. 36.  35 Yup, and yet he somehow spelled “Grudzielanek” perfectly.


  37. I would have bet $100 that I was Gene Pentz’s most enthusiastic fan, with the possible exception of my cousin, Tim, who shared my experience with Pentz in 1976.

    During a vacation to Texas, our families attended a game between the Astros and Pirates. I was 6 years old, and it was my 1st Major League game; I remember my primary hope before it started was that someone would hit a home run, setting off the fantastic “exploding scoreboard” in the outfield.

    Before the game, as we watched batting practice, Tim noticed Willie Stargell emerge from the Pirates dugout and begin signing autographs. I quickly emptied my megaphone-shaped popcorn container, complete with a convenient side panel labeled “Autographs,” and hustled with Tim to the end of the Pirates dugout, where a crowd had formed.

    So many people had gathered there, in fact, that it was impossible to see Stargell on the other side at all. Left with no other choice, Tim and I handed our papers and pens into the throng of people (it seemed like a throng when I was 6), trusting that it would return to us with Stargell’s signature.

    And return it did, but not with Stargell’s autograph. Instead, I looked at my flattened megaphone to see the name “Gene Pentz” scrawled on the side. At some point between the time we left our seats and the time we arrived at the railing, Stargell had ducked back inside and Mr. Gene Pentz, that newfound hero of my youth, had taken his place.

    I’m pretty sure that Tim, at age 11, was far more disappointed by this turn of events than I was. He knew the difference between a Stargell and a Pentz. But I was thrilled to have a Major Leaguer’s autograph at all.

    I returned home to Missouri and pinned Gene Pentz’s autograph on the bulletin board in my bedroom. It stayed there for 12 years, until I left for college, surrounded by an ever-changing collection of fleeting importances: newspaper articles, medals earned in youth sports, photos of my schoolboy crushes. Even now, the autograph is pinned to the same spot on the same bulletin board, although it is gathering dust in my parents’ basement.

    I’ve always wanted to contact Pentz, to let him know what his autograph meant to me; that although his career may have seemed inconsequential to most of Baseball, it was important to me–an unknown kid from southwest Missouri who happened to catch a game he didn’t even play in back in 1976. Who got his autograph without ever looking him in the eye.

    I’m glad he’s getting recognition here. Thank you, Gene Pentz.


  38. Great story. Pentz!!!!


  39. My first game was in 1976 at the Astrodome. JR was pitching against the Phils. My dad took us from Section WTF to right behind home plate. You could barely see the ball coming in out of that cat’s hand, although you couldn’t miss the mitt pop afterwards. I don’t know how Skip Jutze did it.
    Also of note, Enos Cabell took one in the shorts at 3b.
    Astros freak ever since, for worse. I’d say ‘better or worse’, but, you know.



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