This article was written by Alan Raylesberg
The New York Mets came into existence in 1962 and were one of the worst teams in baseball history, losing 120 games. The 1963 season was much of the same for Casey Stengel’s Mets. They lost 111 games and finished last for the second straight year. The Mets of that era were lovable losers, with a host of colorful players who found new ways to lose games and who occasionally provided great winning moments that stood out all the more since victories were few and far between. One of those moments came on the summer afternoon of June 26, 1963 when a little-known first baseman named Tim Harkness etched his name into Mets lore with a dramatic game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the 14th inning.
The Mets started the day at 28-45, in ninth place. The Cubs, at 39-33, were fifth and only three games behind the league-leading Cardinals. There was nothing special about this matchup and only 8,153 paying fans were on hand to witness what unexpectedly turned out to be one of the more memorable games in Mets history.1
The Cubs clearly had the better team that day. Their lineup featured three future Hall of Famers: Ernie Banks at first, Ron Santo at third, and Billy Williams in left.2 A fourth, Lou Brock, started the game on the bench and entered the game in the 10th inning.3 1962’s Rookie of the Year, Ken Hubbs4 was at second base.5 The veteran right-hander Bob Buhl was on the mound.6
The Mets lineup paled in comparison. The Mets did have a future Hall of Famer of their own, Edwin “Duke” Snider playing right field. Snider was in his last full season, having been acquired by the Mets in the offseason as part of a pattern of bringing to their team fan favorites of the recently departed Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants as their careers wound down.7 Third baseman Charlie Neal fit that category as well.8 Ron Hunt, a Rookie of the Year candidate, 9 was at second base and an original Met, Frank Thomas, a legitimate power threat, played left field and hit cleanup.10 At first base was the 25-year-old Harkness11who had been acquired in an offseason trade with the Dodgers in the hope that he could be the Mets regular at the position.12 Pitching for the Mets was “Little” Al Jackson, another original Met picked in the 1962 expansion draft.13
The game started out like many other Mets games, with the home squad falling behind 4-0 after five innings. The Mets of that era would often frustrate their fans by creating opportunities to win games only to fall short. This game looked no different as the Mets rallied to tie the game and then managed to blow three opportunities to win the game. Finally, after falling behind by two runs in the top of the 14th inning, a base running blunder cost the Mets again before Harkness came through with his dramatic hit.
The Mets comeback began in the sixth inning when, trailing 4-0, the Mets rallied with two outs. Hunt singled and scored on a double by Snider, Thomas homered, and the Mets were back in the game trailing by a run, 4-3. The Mets tied it in the bottom of the eighth on a single by Thomas, driving in Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman who led off the inning with a walk and took second on a balk. 14 With the score tied at four, the drama of the afternoon was only beginning.
Time and again the Mets appeared on the verge of victory. In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets had runners on second and third with two out but Jim Hickman struck out to send the game to extra innings. In the 11th, the Mets threatened again, putting runners on first and second with one out only to see pinch hitter Norm Sherry ground into a double play.15 The Mets had yet another chance in the bottom of the 12th when Jimmy Piersall walked with two out, only to be promptly picked off first. In the 13th, the Mets threatened once more, this time loading the bases with one out. After Chico Fernandez grounded into a force out at home, Galen Cisco — the Mets’ fifth pitcher of the day — was scheduled to bat with the bases still loaded and now two outs. Of course, the Mets being the Mets, there were no position players left on the bench and Cisco had to bat for himself.16 He grounded out to end the threat.17
Adding to the drama of the game, the Mets went to the 14th inning with their bullpen having pitched eight consecutive innings of hitless ball.18 With the Mets having squandered four opportunities to win the game, it could not have been surprising to the faithful fans that the Cubs would finally break the tie in the 14th inning with the only hit that they would have over the course of the final nine innings. Of course, this being a Mets game, the tie-breaking hit was a most unusual one, aided by a Mets misplay. With a man on first (from a walk) and two out, Billy Williams hit a liner to left. The Polo Grounds was oddly shaped with a huge expanse in the outfield and Frank Thomas, after getting a bad jump, failed to cut the ball off as it rolled all the way to the wall.19 Don Landrum raced home from first and Williams circled the bases — an inside-the-park home run – to give the Cubs a 6-4 lead.
In the bottom of the 14th, the Mets were not giving up as the small but enthusiastic crowd cheered on the “Amazings.”20 Another blunder, however, nearly sealed their fate. Hickman led off with a single and Hunt followed with another single. On Hunt’s single, Hickman inexplicably was thrown out at third (by Lou Brock) trying to take the extra base when his run did not matter. The crowd was groaning now but the best was yet to come. With one out, a walk to Piersall put runners at first and second. Paul Toth relieved Jack Warner21 and got the second out. With two out and two on, Jim Brewer replaced Toth and walked Sammy Taylor to load the bases for Harkness.22 The count went to three and two. The small crowd was cheering loudly as Harkness connected and sent the ball rocketing into the right-field seats. A two out walk off grand slam in the bottom of the 14th inning! An uncharacteristic ending as the Mets had an amazing comeback win, 8-6.
Writing in the next day’s New York Times, Gordon White, Jr. described the “feeling as one of gloom” as Harkness batted with the 3-2 count. Given that these were the hapless Mets, White wrote that “it looked like another tough defeat” for them. Harkness turned that “gloom” into “complete ecstasy” as his fourth hit of the game was his biggest one. The enthusiastic crowd did not stop cheering until Harkness came out of the dressing room to acknowledge the cheers, something that rarely happened in those days. Casey Stengel put it all in perspective, commenting that “it was one of those good ones. We just had to end it there because I’d run out of men.”23
1963 was the only season in which Tim Harkness played regularly. He played in 259 games in four seasons, his career ending after 1964. As a career .235 hitter with 14 home runs there is not much to remember him by. Yet, more than 50 years later, legions of Mets fans still remember Harkness for his leading role in one of the greatest games in Mets history.
This article was published in “Met-rospectives: A Collection of the Greatest Games in New York Mets History“ (SABR, 2018), edited by Brian Wright and Bill Nowlin. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com.
The author recalls listening to this game on the radio and remembers the excitement of the moment when Harkness smashed his game-winning grand slam.
1 According to the New York Times account of the game, 18,072 fans were in attendance. In those days, the Mets often had promotions that allowed groups to attend their games for free. Presumably, that Wednesday afternoon was such a game, which would explain the discrepancy between the Times account and the attendance as reported in the official box score. Gordon White, Jr., “4th Harkness Hit Decides 8-6 Game,” New York Times, June 27, 1963.
2 Banks was not in the starting lineup. Leo Burke started at first base but was ejected in the seventh inning for arguing on a called third strike. Banks then took over at first base as part of a double switch.
3 Brock was in his second full season with the Cubs. In 1964, he would be traded to the Cardinals for Ernie Broglio and others, in what became known as one of the worst trades in baseball history. Brock went on to play 16 seasons with the Cardinals in his Hall of Fame career.
4 1963 was Hubbs’ final season as, tragically, he was killed in a plane crash following the season.
6 Buhl came to the Cubs in 1962 after 10 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves.
7 The “Duke of Flatbush,” then 36 years old, was one of the “Boys of Summer” on the great Brooklyn Dodgers teams of the 1950s. After 16 years with the Dodgers, in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, the Mets bought his contract from the Dodgers prior to the season’s start. Snider played only one year with the Mets, hitting .243 with 14 home runs. He was a part-time outfielder for the San Francisco Giants in 1964 before retiring.
8 Neal was another former Brooklyn Dodger, who the Mets traded for prior to their inaugural 1962 season. Later in 1963, the Mets traded him to Cincinnati where he finished what turned out to be his final season.
9 Hunt would go on to finish second for Rookie of the Year, losing out to a young infielder on the Cincinnati Reds by the name of Pete Rose. The 22-year-old Hunt was acquired from Milwaukee in the offseason and became the Mets first young star. The scrappy second baseman went on to play 12 years in the majors, four with the Mets. His “specialty” was being hit by the pitch, as he led the league in that category seven times including 50 in 1971.
10 Thomas slugged 34 home runs in 1962 but only 15 in 1963. He was obtained in a trade with Milwaukee prior to the start of the 1962 season.
11 Harkness was a Canadian, at a time when very few players from Canada were in the major leagues. The Mets traded “Righty” Bob Miller to the Dodgers for him and second baseman Larry Burright. Miller went on to have a 17-year career in the majors. He was known as “Righty” Bob Miller because the 1962 Mets had two Bob Millers, one a righty and one a lefty.
12 The rest of the lineup included Jim Hickman in center, a young hitter who would go on to have a solid 13-year career mostly with the Mets and later the Cubs; Sammy Taylor behind the plate, a career backup who played five seasons for the Cubs before coming to the Mets during the 1962 season; and shortstop Al Moran, a rookie who played only part of one additional season in the major leagues. Hickman, like Neal and Thomas, was an original Met, having been picked in the 1962 expansion draft.
13 Jackson, who was only 5’ 10” tall, was an effective left-hander who was a key part of the Mets rotation from 1962 through 1965.
14 Coleman entered the game as a pinch hitter for reliever Larry Bearnarth. “Choo-Choo” was one of the most colorful of all Mets. He ran faster than most catchers and had one of the all-time great nicknames but he could not hit. His career batting average was .197 in 462 major-league at-bats. Coleman, even though a catcher, was a threat to steal and that threat may have caused the balk by Cubs reliever Don Elston that put “Choo Choo” in position to score the tying run.
16 In 164 career at-bats, Cisco had a career batting average of .128.
17 The Mets used 20 players in the game and only four pitchers were still available when the game ended. White, “4th Harkness Hit Decides 8-6 Game.”
18 Writing his game account in the next day’s New York Times, Gordon White noted that this was “the closest the Mets have come to a no-hitter.” Little could he know that it would be nearly 50 years before a Mets pitcher would pitch a no-hitter, a feat achieved by Johan Santana in 2012.
20 The Mets got the nickname “Amazings” when “The Old Perfessor,” Casey Stengel, while giving a lengthy answer to an interview question, dubbed them the “Amazing Mets.” youtube.com/watch?v=PBjPm_C-53E
21 Warner pitched 4 2/3 solid innings in relief. Toth, who relieved him, was included in the 1964 Brock trade. See n.3.
22 Harkness came into the game batting only .208. He was 3-for-6 on the day going into his final at-bat but was facing a lefty pitcher in Brewer. In 1963, Harkness hit only .156 against lefties.