Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The "Sign Man" Is No More

The New York Times on the passing of Shea Stadium fixture Karl Ehrhardt, who for years sat behind third base and held up little signs that commented on the action.

The WOR-TV cameras would frequently zoom in on Ehrhardt whenever he picked up one of his professionally lettered signs, always the right sign at the right moment. When the Mets won the World Series in 1969, Ehrhardt brandished a sign which read "THERE ARE NO WORDS".

Sidebar: You have to know what watching a Mets game was like back then. There was no SNY. Every game was on broadcast TV, specifically WOR-TV (now WWOR-TV, a MyNetwork affiliate). The Mets switched to WPIX about a decade ago. Radio skipped around from station to station - I think in the championship year of 1969, it was on WJRZ-AM out of Hackensack, NJ well before its rebranding as WWDJ (home of Bwana Johnny among others) and rebirth as a religious station. (The WJRZ calls were soon adopted by a station in Ocean County.) By that time the games moved to WHN, and eventually to WFAN where they are today.

Since we never went to the games in person, we had to settle for TV, with its more primitive camera angles. We think WOR-TV broadcast the games on a budget of about 50 cents each. The outfield fences were green back then. (We knew that from reading yearbooks; never had a color TV back then.) The sights and sounds of the game included broadcasters Lindsey Nelson, always outrageously dressed in sort of an odd cultural bridge between Liberace and Rod Roddy, Bob Murphy (who was best experienced on radio) and Ralph Kiner. Jane Jarvis' organ punctuated all of the action; today in sports arenas, the organ and other sounds are largely on tapes.

Banner Day was one of the big promotions - it took place between games of a scheduled double-header (remember those? bet you don't). People would come in with spraypainted bedlinens and other outpourings of love for the Amazin's, then the Mets themselves would offer their own banner to the fans after the banner parade had ended.

And in all these years, it had never occurred to me why Karl Ehrhardt never won the Banner Day prize. He didn't need to. For all those years from his third-base field-level box, he put into words what Mets fans felt.

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