They were into the second month of school at Holy Name, their eighth and final year at the Catholic school located at 241 Prospect Park West.
Their main hangout was the boys schoolyard on Howard Place; it was where they met every day after school. They walked from tenth avenue and Sherman Street. They walked from seventeenth street and as far away as thirteenth street eighth avenue. Some lived in apartment buildings, some owned their own homes. On Saturday mornings they were up before nine, making sure to get there early to get in the first game of taps. On Sunday’s they had to wait until the last mass of the morning was over before they could enter what some called “paved paradise.”
The boys schoolyard was the one place they felt safe. It was the place they could do what they wanted without getting yelled at (or hit) by parents, teachers and their older brothers. It was here where no one told them what to do. It was where their friendships began and later nurtured.
They argued with each other over who was the better guard Clyde or the Big O?
Who was a better pitcher Tom Seaver or Don Sutton?
They argued over who was better, the Giants or Jets; Yankees or Mets? And they even argued over who would win, the New York Nets or the New York Knicks?
At thirteen, they started talking about the pretty girls in school and which teachers they liked and which they hated.
Didn’t matter the sport; basketball, baseball, or football. There was plenty of action at the pro levels to keep the teenagers busy expressing their views. Their discussions and arguments went on all year. There was no off-season from debate. They studied the sports sections in the New York Post and the Daily News just like the nuns and brothers had them read the new testament in school. No one read the New York Times.
During the summer months when school was out they leaned against the chain-linked fence that surrounded the yard and drank ice teas from Henry’s Deli up on the avenue. In the winter they shovelled snow off the court and bitched about how they wished they had their own gym at Holy Name.
On a brisk afternoon in early October the conversation was baseball.
“Did you see Pete Rose kick Buddy Harrelson’s ass yesterday?” Jimmy asked the group of boys hanging out in between their three-on-three basketball game.
“Yeah, I saw it, it was bull-shit if your ask me,” Michael added.
The Cincinnati Reds were playing the New York Mets in the 1973 National League championship series. The Reds finished the regular season 99-63 in the West beating out the LA Dodgers by three and a half games. The Big Red Machine were looking to make it back-to-back appearances in the World Series. Last year the Oakland A’s had defeated the Reds four games to three. Cincy was led by Rose, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan. The Mets finished 82-69 nudging out the Cards and Pirates for the East title. Yogi Berra was their lovable skipper and the Metropolitans were led by a strong pitching staff along with sluggers Rusty Staub, John Milner and Wayne Garrett.
With the series tied at one game apiece (the teams split at Riverfront) all hell broke loose. In the top of the fifth inning at Shea Stadium, with the Mets leading 9-2 the fight took place at second base with Rose trying to break up a double play. Mets starting pitcher Jerry Koosman was on the mound and with one out gave up a single to Rose. The Reds second baseman Joe Morgan stepped to the plate and hit a sharp grounder to first base where John Milner fielded it, fired to Harrelson and back to Milner for the 3-6-3 double play ending the inning. The crowd went bananas.
The Mets shortstop took exception to Rose coming in hard at him and the two went at it.
“Harrelson’s a midget, Rose is a bully,” Peter said.
“Rose is a punk,” Michael asserted.
It was just three years ago in the 1970 all-star game, Rose knocked Ray Fosse over at home plate to score the winning run for the National League in the 12th inning.
“Rose plays the game hard,” Jimmy proclaimed. “You see what he did to Fosse in the all-star game.”
“Yeah, yeah, we saw it. It was bullshit. Rose could have ended Fosse’s career,” Michael responded.
Jimmy was a Reds fan. He was from Cincinnati; his family had moved to Brooklyn a couple of years ago after Jimmy’s father got a teaching job up at Bishop Ford High School.
“Fuck your Reds Jimmy, the Mets are going to take this series, just you watch,” Peter declared.
The Mets won game three behind Rusty Staub’s two home runs and now led the series 2-1 with game four scheduled that night at Shea.
“Think I’m gonna head out to Shea to check out game four tonight and give that chump Rose a piece of my mind for picking on Buddy,” JC announced.
“A piece of your mind? That’s a good one JC. Rose would hop over the fence and kick your ass,” Jimmy said.
“Hey Jimmy, maybe you and your dad should go to the game and sit out in the left-field seats with the Mets fans, did you see those guys yesterday after the fight?” Billy added.
Jimmy didn’t respond. He knew there was no way him and his father would sit out there in the middle of the raucous Mets fans. They had plans of getting some pizza from Joe’s on Prospect Avenue and watching the game on channel nine.
After the fight Mets fans went crazy in the stands and started throwing beer cans at Rose who was playing left field. Reds manager Sparky Anderson pulled his team off the field.
Together, Berra, Willie Mays and Staub walked out to left field to try to calm the fans down. Someone even tossed a whiskey bottle at Rose.
“Yeah right, Fred Norman is on the mound tonight, the Mets are going to drill him,” Peter said.
Jimmy kept on shooting at the netless rim, ignoring Peter.
Fred Norman, the Reds scheduled pitcher was 12-6 on the year so the Reds faithful had a lot of confidence in their 30 year-old left-hander.
“I think the Reds will win tonight, and even up the series,” Pattie snickered.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP, ASSHOLE! YOU’RE A YANKEES FAN AND YOUR TEAM SUCKS!” screamed Peter.
Again, all the boys laughed.
The Yankees finished the season 80-82 good for fourth place in the AL East.
One thing was certain, the boys would be home later tonight in front of their TV’s watching game four and back in the yard tomorrow talking about the game.