Downtown Express photo by Will McKinley
Andrew Perlgut, left, and friend and fellow fan Cathie Laundrie spread the word at Shea Stadium last weekend about Perlgut’s campaign to save the Mets’ Home Run Apple.
Downtown fan makes pitch to save Met history
By WILL McKINLEY
Andrew Perlgut is a Mets fan on a mission.
The Village native has launched an online petition to save the Home Run Apple, a giant piece of fiberglass fruit that rises from a 10-foot-tall magic hat every time a Mets player hits a ball out of the park.
“It’s a great representation of the cheesiness of the Mets,” said the 25-year-old Perlgut, with a level of self-awareness common to lifelong fans of Flushing’s Finest. “And that’s why we love it.”
Perlgut is not content just to rescue the aging apple from the wrecking ball that will strike out Shea Stadium after next season. His goal is for the often-ridiculed relic to make the move to active duty at Citi Field, the new ballpark slowly taking shape in Shea’s parking lot. But his nostalgic affection does not extend to the structure that has been the apple’s home for 27 years.
“Shea has a lot of character. Another way to say that is it’s pretty awful,” Perlgut said, while holding a hand-painted “Save the Apple” banner with a group of friends at a recent game. “But there’s a lot of history here that’s important to Mets fans.”
Management has been coy about the apple’s future, but one former Mets executive believes that the apple lies at the core of the team’s legacy.
“People have been laughing at it since it began. So what?” said Joe Donohue, director of promotions for the Mets in 1980, and one of the apple’s creators. “It symbolizes a home run, but it’s also a reminder of the old days when we had to have a lot of perseverance and thick skin, both on and off the field.”
If you’re a fan of a certain age, you know what Donohue means. Following the death of the team’s original owner, Joan Whitney Payson, in 1975, the Amazin’ Mets became amazingly awful. Payson’s heirs traded away hometown heroes like Tom Seaver and soon Shea Stadium had become the concrete coffin of a dying franchise. Hope returned when Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon bought the team in 1980. Their first step was a laughably optimistic marketing campaign: “The Magic Is Back.”
“We had to do anything and everything to get the attention of baseball fans in New York,” Donohue said. “Even if it meant getting a lot of derision, and we took it hard with that campaign. But the magic was back, in terms of respectable National League baseball.”
The theme was extended to the magician’s hat with the big apple, constructed by a New Jersey scenic shop that specialized in parade floats for Macy’s. For the next six seasons the team fought to prove its respectability, a battle that culminated in a World Series victory in 1986.
“The magic began with the apple. It took a few years to work itself into the team, but it got there,” said Perlgut. “Fans need a reminder in the new park of what the old park represented.”
Citi Field has been designed to evoke the memory of Ebbets Field, the Brooklyn landmark that had a date with demolition after the Dodgers skipped town for the West Coast half a century ago.
“People have tremendous nostalgia for ballparks, and the physical objects are such an important part of that,” said Ann Meyerson, curator of the Museum of the City of New York’s must-see exhibition “The Glory Days of New York Baseball: 1947-1957.” “I would really support saving that big apple. It’s very beloved.”
Beloved by some, perhaps, but not by all.
“There is a small percentage who think it’s terrible,” said Matthew Cerrone, editor of metsblog.com, where a number of posted comments have been decidedly anti-apple. “But I love that apple,” he said. “It would be great to look at it one day and say, ‘That was from Shea.’”
Word has it the Mets may be planning to put a new Home Run Apple in the new stadium, yet still keep the old apple around somewhere nearby. But that won’t satisfy Perlgut.
Increased attention for his petition (which now includes more than 3,500 signatures) has inspired him to redouble his grassroots preservation efforts.
“This is something that we care deeply about,” he said, while holding his banner outside Shea after a Mets victory last weekend. “But we hoped it was an idea that other fans would get behind, too.”
Moments later, a spontaneous chant of “Save the App-pull!” erupted from the departing crowd, and Perlgut reveled in the fruits of his labor of love.