“The umpires screw us because we’re horseshit.”
Solly Hemus was gone from baseball and working in the oil business in Houston long before I was born.
I know of him only because of his distinctive name, and because of the memorably vinegary assessment quoted above, which is attributed to him in Joy in Mudville, George Vecsey’s excellent book about the 1962-69 Mets.
Other sources confirm what this quote suggests: Hemus was something of a hothead. Or a bench jockey, or a pepperpot, or a fireball … call it what you will.
In his 17 years as a big-league player, coach and manager, Hemus was thrown out of games 31 times — leading the league three times.
That included seven ejections in 1959 alone, the year he took on the unusual role of player-manager with the St. Louis Cardinals. (The playing ended quickly. The managing lasted until July 1961, when the Cardinals sacked him in favor of future World Series winner Johnny Keane.)
On May 6, 1962, scarcely a month into the Mets’ first season, third-base coach Hemus became the new franchise’s first-ever ejection, when future Hall of Fame umpire Jocko Conlan ran him from a game in Philadelphia.
Retrosheet says Hemus got on Conlan’s case about breaking up a meeting on the pitcher’s mound; the New York Times article about the day’s game makes no mention. (Yes, I looked it up.)
Hemus, by Vecsey’s telling, was about the only coach who pushed for effort and improvement among the wreckage of the ’62 Mets. Apparently he still harbored hopes of landing another big-league managing job. Perhaps he was trying to position himself to the Mets’ senior leadership as the kind of energetic leader that septuagenarian Casey Stengel couldn’t be.
Unfortunately, not every crisis is an opportunity. Some of ’em are just crises.
In two seasons with the Mets, Hemus had a front-row seat for some of the worst big-league baseball ever played, and whatever effort he put in seems to have made not the least bit of difference.
His experience with the Mets didn’t end his career — he coached with the Cleveland Indians in 1964 and ’65 — but it didn’t help him get hired as a big-league manager again, either. By 1969, when Major League Baseball added four new managing jobs (and the Mets won the World Series), Hemus had been out of organized ball for two years. He stayed there.
The hard-nosed, spit-and-polish sergeant assigned to the most bumbling unit of raw recruits is a stock comic character. (Many of us have encountered such people in person — at summer jobs, perhaps, or our first or second job out of school. Usually we learn to either throw them the occasional bone, or to altogether tune them out.)
Perhaps there was more to Solly Hemus than that. And perhaps he was right to demand more effort; Vecsey paints some of the early Mets as lackadaisical, more interested in their golf games than their day jobs.
Still, my imagination pictures Hemus the way it would picture an Army major who woke up one day to find himself attached to a circus instead of an infantry battalion.
It’s no wonder, I guess, that an early departure from the proceedings came to look awfully appealing from time to time.
The marvelous archive of old MLB radio broadcasts at the Internet Archive includes the second game of a Mets-Cardinals doubleheader from June 9, 1963, in which Solly Hemus gets tossed by second-base umpire Lee Weyer. Haven’t listened to it yet, but maybe this weekend will allow.