During the decades that Karl Ehrhardt attended Mets' home games at Shea Stadium, he had a unique way to share his wit. In the early years of the New York Mets franchise, aside from winning a world championship in 1969, and losing 100-plus games five of their first six seasons, there are off field people […]
During the decades that Karl Ehrhardt attended Mets' home games at Shea Stadium, he had a unique way to share his wit.
In the early years of the New York Mets franchise, aside from winning a world championship in 1969, and losing 100-plus games five of their first six seasons, there are off field people that remain strong in fans' memories. Jane Jarvis for more than a dozen seasons, beginning in 1964, played the organ for fans at Shea to enjoy. Who doesn't remember Kiner's Korner? The post-game show following Mets' home games aired on WOR-TV 9 hosted by broadcaster and future hall of famer Ralph Kiner, and remains popular conversation among fans still today.
Then, there's Ehrhardt – the “Sign Man”.
“Actually, he was a commercial artist,” says Bonnie Troester of her father during a telephone conversation earlier this week from her home in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. “One day a co-worker invited him to a game. He made a sign to bring with him, and the rest is history.”
Sitting in a field level box seat on the third base side of the stadium, Ehrhardt quickly became a fan favorite for those at the ballpark as well as watching on TV. Armed with a reported 1,000-plus signs at home, at the ready, whenever a key play or managerial maneuver was executed on the diamond, in the stands fans became trained to look for the “Sign Man's” 20-by-26-inch placards.
Perhaps Ehrhardt's most memorable message delivered from field level came in October 1969, as Game 5 of the World Series concluded, and the Mets became world champions – Believe In Miracles.
Bringing cheer to Mets' fans, beginning when Shea opened in 1964 through the 1981 season, Ehrhardt fell out of favor with team management. After proudly noting, and many would claim honestly when compared how the franchise was being run by then minority team owner and chairman of the board M. Donald Grant, the Glen Oaks, Queens resident became increasingly unpopular with team officials by holding up a sign reading – Welcome To Grant's Tomb.
“They (Mets) didn't want negative publicity. The next day after he held that sign (Welcome To Grant's Tomb), my father made his way to the press box. They asked him about that sign and the Mets reaction. He made the papers the next day,” Troester says of her father, who at 83, passed in 2008.
Troester traces her father's loyalty to baseball in Flushing when a customer of the company he worked for invited him to a game. The season tickets were on the third base side. At first, Ehrhardt brought along a single, small in size, homemade sign. “It (being the “Sign Man”) grew from there,” recalls Troester.
Friday night home games became a growing hobby for Ehrhardt, who along with his signs, was easily recognizable wearing a black derby, complete with royal blue and orange trim, and a Mets logo front and center. When he stopped attending Mets games, according to Troester her father destroyed a lot of the sings, but kept a select few; maybe 15 or 20. Ehrhardt was sought after by fans for autographs and requests came for appearances on local television stations. For a couple generations of Mets' fans, when coming out to Shea, it was expected to see a game on the field and a sign that would generate a chuckle for what they just witnessed.
Ehrhardt was a real fan of the game and the Mets. At times,after her father communicated with fans and players with his signs on Friday nights, come Saturday morning, Troester and her younger brother would comb through Newsday (Long Island's daily newspaper) hoping to see a picture of the “Sign Man”.
When the Mets won the National League Pennant in 1973, and faced the Oakland A's in the World Series, call him a good luck charm or just a little slice of home field advantage, Ehrhardt flew out to the west coast with the team.
“He (Ehrhardt) had the team all sign one of his (signs),” offers Troester of her father who worked for American Home Foods.
Although the comments on his signs were to be taken lightly, there were a few who weren't appreciative of Ehrhardt's views. Ed Kranepool, the face of the Mets for many of his 18 seasons with the club, dating back to their inaugural season of 1962, wasn't a fan of the “Sign Man.”
” My father made a sign – Super Stiff. It was in reference to Ed Kranepool. My father wanted to get him moving in '69,” remembers Troester. “So, there's a party after the World Series at Gracie Mansion (official residence of the Mayor of the City of New York), and Kranepool said that if he saw my father there that he would punch him in the nose.”
When Mets' management changed hands in 1980, sold by the Payson family to Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, Ehrhardt retired, and gave up his much cherished seat along Shea's third base side. The fun of spontaneously grabbing a sign pertinent to the action of the game, and no doubt sharing the opinion of fans seated throughout the stadium, had dwindled.
“He wouldn't let them (Mets) control his signs,” Troester said of her father. ” He said forget it. It was all about having fun for him.”
Before Ehrhardt passed, Troester tells of her father following the Boston Red Sox.