When Tampa Bay takes on Toronto, it’s the Rays against the Jays.1 When Baltimore travels to Houston, or vice versa, it’s O’s vs. ’Stros. You have to be a pretty serious baseball fan, though, to remember a third rhyming matchup: Mets vs. Cadets.
The US Military Academy in West Point, New York, is roughly 60 miles north of New York City along the Hudson River. In 1914 the New York Giants played an exhibition game against the Army Cadets2 as a favor to former Giants player Sammy Strang, the highly regarded coach of the Army baseball team.3 This kicked off an irregular series of more than 60 spring exhibition games between the Army Cadets and big-league teams, most but not all of them from New York City.4
The expansion New York Mets didn’t get to West Point in their first season, 1962, when they went 40-120. Casey Stengel’s lovable losers first made the trip up the Hudson early in the 1963 season. In classic early-Mets fashion, they turned a feel-good visit with elements of comedy into a surprisingly tense ballgame.
The Mets entered the exhibition with a 9-15 regular-season record, six games out of first place. They occupied the ninth spot in a 10-team league, ahead of only the Houston Colt .45s, their 1962 expansion brethren. The Mets had just completed a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants at the Polo Grounds, dropping three games out of four, including a 17-4 skunking on May 4.
Two iconic names were on their way out of the Mets’ lineup. First basemen Gil Hodges and Marv Throneberry had both played their final major-league games on May 5.5 Hodges subsequently reentered New York legend as manager of the 1969 World Series champion Miracle Mets, while Throneberry parlayed his error-prone image into a series of national TV advertisements for reduced-calorie beer. Hodges was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022.
Even in the early going, Stengel’s team had established a seasonlong theme: Offense was going to be a challenge.6 The New Yorkers closed April with a .203 team batting average, and while May was still young, they went on to hit just .208 that month. For the full season, the second-year Mets hit only .219. Entering the 2022 season, this remained the worst team batting average in Mets history. Outfielder Frank Thomas embodied the team’s struggles. He’d been their biggest power threat in 1962, hitting 34 home runs with a batting average of .266. As of May 6, he’d hit two homers, and his batting average of .188 and on-base percentage of .240 ranked in the bottom four among qualifying NL batters.7
History does not record the feats of the 1963 Cadets in quite so much detail. We know the team went 12-10-1 under the leadership of former Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia A’s outfielder Eric Tipton, who coached the Cadets from 1958 through 1977. We know that outfielder Ed Haydash Jr. hit .393.8 He was an All-American selection by the American Baseball Coaches Association; a first-team All-League selection in the Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League; and, 55 years later, an inductee into Army’s Athletic Hall of Fame.9 We also know from news stories that the New York Yankees had politely crushed the Cadets two weeks earlier, 15-2, and that Army previously lost 9-4 to Ithaca College and 13-7 to St. John’s University.10
The Mets’ reception at West Point mirrored the Mets’ reception just about everywhere else in those days—which is to say, it was joyous out of all proportion to the team’s performance. The Mets were greeted with rousing cheers when they joined the Cadets in the mess hall for lunch, and Stengel read a farcical version of the traditional “orders of the day.” Dick Young of the New York Daily News, possibly with tongue in cheek, quoted “an unimpeachable lieutenant-colonel”: “Virtually to a man, the Cadet Corps is rooting for the Mets. In fact, each night at mess, the result of the Mets game is announced. This never has been done before, for any team. … You oughta hear the cheers when they win.”11
The exhibition also provided the backdrop for a reunion of two former schoolmates from South Carolina, now pushing 50, whose paths in life had diverged. One, Ernie White, was the Mets’ pitching coach. In younger days he’d pitched in the big leagues, with time out to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. The other was the superintendent of the Academy, Major General William C. Westmoreland. Subsequently promoted to general, Westmoreland commanded US troops in Vietnam and served as Army chief of staff, becoming a nationally recognized and sometimes reviled representative of the nation’s military effort in Southeast Asia.12
Unfortunately, newspapers covering the game printed only line scores, not a full box score listing all the players. Stories identify some of the participants, like catcher Chris Cannizzaro. He was the Mets’ most frequent catcher in 1962 and 1965 and a regular backup in 1964; a broken finger limited his contributions in ’63.13
Center fielder Jim Hickman, the Mets’ home-run leader for the season with 17, took part. So did infielders Larry Burright, Charlie Neal, and Ted Schreiber, jack-of-all-trades Rod Kanehl,14 and outfielder-first baseman15 Ed Kranepool—who, at 18 years old, was younger than many Cadets. This wasn’t new for Kranepool, who’d been the youngest player in the NL in 1962 and would be third-youngest in 1963.16 Future Hall of Famer Duke Snider played too—and pulled a muscle running out a grounder, limiting him to pinch-hitting duty when the Mets returned to “real” competition.17
Tracy Stallard got the start in the seven-inning game. The Virginian righty was in his first season in New York after three nondescript seasons with the Boston Red Sox, where he achieved notoriety by surrendering Roger Maris’s record-setting 61st home run in 1961. Stallard had worked in eight games for the Mets, all in relief, compiling an 0-3 record and an 8.64 ERA. (One game preview indicated that pitcher Larry Foss would make his first appearance of the season in the West Point game, but Foss did not pitch.)18
The young Cadets gave struggling Stallard the tonic he needed. He threw a complete-game shutout, striking out 13 batters—almost two per inning—and yielding only two hits. Haydash legged out a single in the fifth inning, and Dick Tragemann added a single to center field with two away in the seventh.19 “Stallard swept through cadets like a former private getting even with lieutenants,” one story reported.20
But the Mets’ hitters didn’t fare much better over the first six innings. Cadet starter Jeff Davis worked three shutout innings, allowing two hits to Neal and one to Kranepool. Reliever Bob Johnstone followed with three more run-free frames, yielding only a double to Hickman.21
Stengel’s team, facing the embarrassment of going extra innings against a team of amateurs, finally broke through with one out in the last inning. They rallied against the Cadets’ third pitcher, Joe Kosciusko, who had lost the game against the Yankees two weeks before.22
Schreiber drew a walk, took third on a single by Stallard, and scored on a ground single by Burright—who drove in only three runs in major-league action in 1963. Kanehl moved the runners ahead a base with a long foul out before Hickman drove them in with a single down the left-field line.23 The Mets had claimed a 3-0 lead, and Stallard made it stand up for three more outs. The overflow crowd of 6,500 people at Army’s Doubleday Field had seen the Mets pull off a victory in inimitable style.24 “The Mets had better be careful about which colleges they book the rest of the year,” Young quipped.25
Perhaps inspired by their victory, the Mets returned to the Polo Grounds and rattled off four straight wins, including a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies. It didn’t last, though. The team closed the season in last place with a 51-111 record, including a putrid 17-64 record on the road. Between June 16 and July 28, the Mets lost 22 straight road games. Stallard moved into the starting rotation in June and stayed there for much of the season. But the inspiration he found at West Point faded away, just as old soldiers are said to do. He ended the season with a 6-17 record and a 4.71 ERA, tying for fourth in the NL in losses.
As for the Cadets mentioned in game coverage, Tragemann, Kosciusko, Haydash, and Davis served in Vietnam.26 The author was unable to track Johnstone beyond West Point, where he is listed in Army baseball media guides as a former letterman.
This article was fact-checked by Gary Belleville and copy-edited by Len Levin. The author thanks John Fredland for comments and guidance on an early draft.
Sources and photo credit
In addition to the specific sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for general player, team, and season data.
Neither Baseball-Reference nor Retrosheet provides box scores of exhibition games. The May 7, 1963, edition of the New York Daily News published a line score.
Image of 1963 Topps card #419 downloaded from the Trading Card Database.
1 The Oakland A’s can be swapped into this rhyme scheme as well.
2 The nickname Black Knights, informally applied to Army football teams since the 1920s, was adopted as the official name for all Army sports teams in 1999. The traditional Cadets name is still used colloquially. Kevin Lilley, “Army Athletics Rebranding May Mean End of ‘Black Knights,’” Army Times, November 19, 2014. Accessed online January 10, 2022. https://www.armytimes.com/off-duty/military-sports/2014/11/19/army-athletics-rebranding-may-be-end-of-black-knights/. (While this article described a possible end to the Black Knights nickname, it remained in place as of January 2022.)
3 Stephen V. Rice, “Sammy Strang,” SABR Biography Project. Accessed online January 10, 2022.
4 Baseball Reference B-R Bullpen, “United States Military Academy.” Accessed online January 10, 2022. https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/United_States_Military_Academy.
5 In the absence of a box score, it’s unclear whether either player took part in the Army exhibition. Both were still active at the time: Throneberry was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo on May 8, while Hodges was placed on the 30-day disabled list that day with a knee injury. On May 23 the Mets traded Hodges to the Washington Senators—not to play, but to manage. Outfielder Jim Piersall came to New York in return. See United Press International, “Marv Throneberry Optioned to Buffalo,” Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, Mississippi), May 10, 1963: 8. Also: United Press International, “Gil Hodges Placed on Disabled List,” Evansville (Indiana) Press, May 9, 1963: 36.
6 Admittedly, pitching and fielding were challenges too. For the full 1963 season, the Mets posted far and away the league’s worst ERA at 4.12 (league average: 3.29) and the most errors, 210 (league average: 158.)
7 Thomas rebounded to post a .260 batting average for the full season, but declined to 15 home runs.
8 “Ed Haydash Jr.,” Army Athletic Hall of Fame website, accessed online January 14, 2022. https://goarmywestpoint.com/honors/hall-of-fame/ed-haydash-jr-/136.
9 2016 Army Black Knights baseball media guide, accessed online January 14, 2022. The History portion of the media guide includes pages 55-97.
10 Dick Young, “Cadets Make It Close, 3-0,” New York Daily News, May 7, 1963: 58.
11 Dick Young, “Mets’ Fever Hits West Point,” New York Daily News, May 7, 1963: 58.
12 Information on White-Westmoreland reunion from untitled and unbylined news item, The Sporting News, May 18, 1963: 25. Information on Westmoreland’s military career from profile on Britannica.com, accessed online January 14, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Westmoreland.
13 David E. Skelton, “Chris Cannizzaro,” SABR Biography Project. Accessed online January 14, 2022.
14 In his three seasons with the Mets (1962-64), Kanehl appeared at least once at every position except pitcher and catcher. In 1963 he played more in left field and center field than anywhere else.
15 While first base is typically thought of as Kranepool’s primary position, he played 55 games in the outfield and only 20 at first base with the 1963 Mets. Kranepool also made more appearances in the outfield than at first base in three other seasons later in his career—1974, 1977, and 1978.
16 The only NL players younger than Kranepool were both Houston Colt .45s. Pitcher Jay Dahl, at 17, made his only big-league appearance as part of the Colts’ all-rookie lineup on September 27. Outfielder John Paciorek, 18, played his only major-league game two days later. Coincidentally, both games were against the Mets. Kranepool’s teammate Gil Hodges, at 39, was the fifth-oldest player in the NL that season.
17 John Ryan, “Confidence Plus for Al Jackson,” Hackensack (New Jersey) Record, May 8, 1963: 65.
18 Dana Mozley, “Mets Must Pare Roster by 3; Bearnarth, Ed Safe,” New York Daily News, May 6, 1963: 51.
20 “Casey’s Soldiers Get to the Point,” Newsday (Melville, New York), May 7, 1963: 47.
21 “Never-Say-Die Mets Battle On: Late Uprising Defeats Army, 3-0,” New York Times, May 7, 1963: 49.
22 “Never-Say-Die Mets Battle On: Late Uprising Defeats Army, 3-0.”
23 “Cadets Make It Close, 3-0.”
24 “Never-Say-Die Mets Battle On: Late Uprising Defeats Army, 3-0.”
25 “Cadets Make It Close, 3-0.”
26 Information on Tragemann and Kosciusko taken from entries on a West Point alumni website, accessed April 5, 2022. Information on Haydash taken from several news stories accessed through Newspapers.com, including a wedding announcement (“Andersen-Haydash”) appearing in the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, July 9, 1967: 2E. Information on Davis taken from the West Point alumni website, which gives his full name as Robert Jefferson Davis, and news articles including “News of Kings County Men in Service,” Hanford (California) Sentinel, November 23, 1967: 7. The West Point alumni website does not have a listing for a Johnstone in the class years corresponding to this game.
New York Mets 3
United States Military Academy Cadets 0
West Point, NY
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