Former New York mayor Ed Koch dies at 88

David Brown
Big League Stew
(L-R) New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Yankees outfielder Reggie Jackson, and MTA chairman Harold Fisher, September 14, 1979. Jackson served as a spokesman for an MTA anti-fare-evasion campaign.
(L-R) New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Yankees outfielder Reggie Jackson, and MTA chairman Harold Fisher, September 14, 1979. Jackson served as a spokesman for an MTA anti-fare-evasion campaign.

As an adult, former New York City mayor Ed Koch freely admitted to not being much of a baseball fan. Growing up in the Bronx in the 1930s, when the New York Yankees were gods, Koch desperately wanted to be a ballplayer someday. But he was a terrible athlete and couldn't play to save his life.

And yet, when by the time he became mayor in 1978, Koch did his part as it related to baseball. That's why Amazin' Avenue paid tribute to Koch, who died Friday at age 88 after suffering from pneumonia. Koch was there in 1986, for example, when the New York Mets beat the Red Sox in the World Series:

[Koch] had no filter for his opinions. So when he reflected on the Mets-centric festivities to a reporter in the clubhouse that magical night in 1986, everyone alive knew he spoke from the heart.

"This is the second time I have stayed for the full nine innings. But tonight made me a fan. Not an expert, but a fan."

Granted, that sentiment's a little easier to adopt when you're being showered in champagne by Lee Mazzilli. (After Mazzilli covered Koch in bubbly, the former mayor humorously quipped, "Is that California champagne?") And given that the Bronx-born leader made no secret about his lack of fan allegiance to the Mets and the Yankees, one might be tempted to dismiss his "becoming a fan" comment as nothing more than a guy who enjoyed one hell of an evening in Queens on Oct. 27, 1986.

But by then, Amazin' Avenue said, he has developed enough baseball street cred to hang. Koch was in the "Let's Go Mets" video, after all. They wouldn't just let anyone appear in it:

Koch was friendly with the Yankees, too. In '78, they won the World Series for the second straight season, and Koch handed over the key to the city to principal owner George Steinbrenner and Series MVP Bucky Dent:

Koch looks thrilled. But he knew the Yankees' victory was good for the city, which was reeling from financial crisis, urban decay, the Son of Sam murders, etc.

Howard Z. Unger of the Yahoo! Contributor Network writes:

Koch recalled the parade debate in a 2010 column after George Steinbrenner's death.

"I knew that bankruptcy was not an option if we were to avoid becoming another Detroit. So when the Yankees won the Series in '78, it was a huge boost to our morale," Koch recalled. "I announced that I would authorize a tickertape parade to celebrate.The New York Times, I recall, published an editorial urging me not to, saying it would be a needless expenditure. I knew, however, that New Yorkers needed a lift."

In classic Koch fashion, the mayor told the Times, "You have your head screwed on wrong," held the parade, and hosted a ceremony at City Hall.

"It had a wonderful, energizing effect on the people of this great city," wrote Koch.

Also, Koch signed off on respective deals that kept the Yankees at old Yankee Stadium and the Mets at Shea for a little longer. (Use your own judgment as to whether those kinds of deals are good for cities.) But they probably were good political moves. Koch knew baseball was important to the people. If only he could have played it a little better.

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