Saturday, June 29, 2019
Books: On the 1969 Amazin' Mets
The Mets will be celebrating their 1969 World Championship team this weekend at Citi Field, and there are plenty of new books you can read on this Amazin' team: After the Miracle by Art Shamsky and Erik Sherman; They Said It Couldn't Be Done by Wayne Coffey; and Miracle Year 1969 by Bill Gutman.
After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the '69 Mets
By Art Shamsky and Erik Sherman
Simon and Schuster, hardcover; $28.00
After the Miracle is the inside account of an iconic team in baseball history, the 1969 New York Mets, a consistently last-place team that turned it all around in just one season.
This story is told by ’69 Mets outfielder Art Shamsky, Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, and other teammates as they reminisce about what happened then and where they are today.
Shamsky stayed in touch with his former teammates over the years, and he hoped to get together with Seaver, the ace of the pitching staff who would win the Cy Young award in 1969 and go on to become the first Met elected to the Hall of Fame, but Seaver was ailing and could not travel.
So, Shamsky, along with baseball historian and author Erik Sherman, organized a visit to Tom Terrific in California, accompanied by the #2 pitcher, Jerry Koosman, outfielder Ron Swoboda, and shortstop Bud Harrelson. Together they recalled the highlights of that amazing season as they reminisced about what changed the Mets’ fortunes in 1969.
Shamsky writes of visiting Seaver, "On a personal level, we always got along great. Not only does he have a great sense of humor, but he also has a serious and contemplative side as well. One of the things I like about Swoboda still today is how he always says what's on his mind. He's one of the most outspoken people I've ever met in the game. He's liable to say anything, at any time, anywhere. He'll sit there and argue with you all day if he believes what he's saying is right. And while I may not always agree with him, I have always respected his point of view.
"Rocky's career went all the way back to some of the earliest days in Mets history. He signed his first major-league contract with the organization in 1963 and made his big-league debut two years later when the manager was the legendary Casey Stengel.
"Often, Swoboda's baseball career mirrored his personality.
"One of my favorite Rocky stories occurred in a game at Crosley Field while I was with the Cincinnati Reds. After he hit what should have been ruled a grand slam over the concrete center field wall, the ball bounced off the wood behind it - making a big thud sound - and came straight down on the warning track. Shockingly, one of the umpires called it in play. So Ronnie ran hard, as he should have, but overran the runner at first base. The other umpires, despite seeing that the ball did, indeed, go over the wall, called it - by rule - a mere single because Swoboda passed his teammate on the bases.
"Not surprisingly, there was a huge controversy on the field over it. Casey ran out to argue, but it was first base coach Yogi Berra who shouted at the umpire who'd ruled it in play with the classic line 'You must be blind if you didn't hear it!'
"But knowing Rocky like I got to know him so well later, I've often though, Who else would that happen to but Ron Swoboda?
"I also thought Ronnie would be a great choice to invite to Seaver's because of how their relationship and mutual admiration grew during their years with the Mets and how it continues to grow to this day. The pre-Seaver Mets that Rocky started out with were the so-called lovable losers, a team for which winning only fifty or so games a year was accepted because National League fans in New York were just so grateful they had a club again after losing both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants to California following the 1957 season. In many ways, Tom felt those early Mets teams - of which Swoboda was a part - weren't taking the games seriously enough. Thus, when Seaver arrived in 1967 as a rookie, he believed the losing attitude of the old guard was unacceptable.
"So it was more than ironic when Swoboda, after working so diligently at his defense, helped preserve Seaver's only World Series victory of his storied career in game four of the '69 Series with one of the greatest catches in baseball history. In a way, Seaver's appreciation for the kind of player Swoboda was came full circle on that autumn afternoon. He was now a lovable winner.
"As for Rocky, his esteem for Seaver as an all-time great pitcher was always there, but his admiration for Tom the man continued well after their baseball careers were over. While both men excelled in the broadcast booth, Ronnie has long been enamored with Tom picking up and leaving his high-profile announcing gig with the Mets and home in tony Greenwich, Connecticut, to follow his dream of owning a vineyard in the Napa Valley. In fact, Swoboda has kept close watch of how Seaver's wines have been judged and awarded by various industry magazines over the years.
"So, in my mind, if Buddy, Kooz, and Rocky could join Erik and me in seeing Seaver, it would be a formidable a group as any from our '69 team. And I thought having this collection of four of Tom's teammates visit him was a good, manageable number. The last thing I wanted to do was overwhelm him."
After the Miracle is a must read for fans of this team as you will learn so much about 1969 and feel like you're right there with them at the amazin' reunion.
They Said It Couldn't Be Done: The '69 Mets, New York City, and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History
By Wayne Coffey
Crown Archetype; hardcover, $28.00
1969 was a remarkable year for America, as it brought the moon landing, Woodstock, nonstop protests against the Vietnam War, and the most tumultuous and fractious New York City mayoral race in memory.
It also was the most improbable season in baseball history, as the Mets, a woebegone franchise since it came to existence in 1962, won the World Series.
Wayne Coffey, the former longtime sports writer for the New York Daily News, tells the story of the Miracle Mets and the world at that time in the new book They Said It Couldn't Be Done.
From the ash heap of those first seven seasons of Met baseball, Gil Hodges, a beloved former Brooklyn Dodger, put together a 25-man roster that was vastly more formidable than the sum of its parts. They had a top-notch pitching staff headlined by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Gary Gentry, and the hitting prowess of Cleon Jones, but the rest of the team was mostly comprised of untested kids and lightly regarded veterans.
Coffey, in an interview, said of the Hodges' influence, "Every single person on that team who I spoke to said, 'without Gil Hodges, this doesn't happen,' and you just can't minimize the brilliant leadership that he brought to that franchise. He arrived early in the spring of 1968, and he was the proverbial new sheriff in town, and he basically said day one, 'the lovable loser stuff is over. We're not doing that anymore. We're going to play the game right, we're gonna be fundamentally sound, we've got some great young players, and then he methodically and brilliantly put this all together, and I think his real genius was the way that he made everyone feel a part of this whole. The individual parts of the Mets were not all that impressive. Sure, they had great pitching, but you look at the offensive stats, they were bottom-feeders in the National League in every category. They did this by getting contributions from up and down the roster and the results speak for themselves."
Every member of the Miracle Mets had a remarkable backstory, from Koosman, who never played high school baseball and grew up throwing in a hayloft in a hayloft in subzero temperatures with his brother Orville, to third baseman Ed Charles, an African-American poet with a deep racial conscience whose arrival in the big leagues was delayed by almost a decade because of the color of his skin.
The Mets principal owner at the time was the beloved, Joan Payson, who, Coffey writes, was "a scion of one of the nation's wealthiest families a woman whose ancestry traced back to the Mayflower. A patron of the arts and noted philanthropist, Payson also had a deep passion for horse racing and baseball, owning a number of Thoroughbreds and a minority share in the New York Giants. When the Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers decamped for California after the 1957 season, Payson was among the appalled masses who couldn't imagine life in New York without a National League ball club. So when the league announced it was adding two franchises, Payson bought one. She thus became the first woman to purchase a club in big-league history."
One of the things that gives this book a personal touch is the recollections of the season from Mets fans, including Howie Rose, who went on to be one of their announcers, and writers who covered the team, including George Vecsey of the New York Times.
This is a tale of an unlikely collection of players and the hallowed manager who inspired them to glory. Coffey finds the beating heart of a baseball family and delivers a spellbinding, feel-good narrative about an unbelievable triumph by the ultimate underdog.
To read my full interview with Wayne Coffey from April, click here: http://www.brooklyndigest.org/2019/04/a-conversation-with-wayne-coffey-author.html?m=1
Miracle Year 1969: Amazing Mets and Super Jets
By Bill Gutman
Sports Publishing; paperback, 260 pages; $14.99
Sports fans in New York will always remember the incredible events of fifty years ago when two of the city’s underdog teams would rise above all expectations to be crowned world champions.
Miracle Year 1969 tells the story of how the Jets and Mets defied almost insurmountable odds to win it all by completing upsets against two formidable teams from Baltimore.
On January 12, 1969, the underdog New York Jets faced the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Up to this point, no former AFL team had ever won a Super Bowl. Leading the Colts were future Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and quarterback Johnny Unitas (also a future Hall of Famer). The team looked unbeatable finishing the season with a 131 record.
But then, in historic fashion, Broadway Joe” Namath, the quarterback of the Jets, made an incredible guarantee” that the Jets would be victorious. And behind Namath’s strong arm they were, as he led his team to a 167 victory.
For a city that had not housed a championship team since the Dodgers in ’55, one championship was more than enough. But who would have expected that later that year, another New York team would rise to stardom?
The Mets completed their first season in 1962 and would go down in history with the worst record ever recorded at 40120 (a record still unbroken). They averaged over 100 losses in their first seven seasons and were seemingly permanent cellar dwellers of the National League. That was until the ’69 season, when the Metsled by Tom Seaver (a future Hall of Famer) and Jerry Koosmanwould complete an improbable run by not only leading their team to a winning record (which they’d never done before), but by defeating the Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1 for their first World Series championship.
Gutman writes of the Mets in the years leading up to 1969, "Slowly but surely, the hangover from losing so many games for so many years was abating. And when lefthander Jerry Koosman joined Seaver in 1968 and promptly won 19 games (while Seaver won 16 more), we all took notice. Now the Mets had a couple of dynamic young pitchers that fans wanted to see. The team again finished ninth, but it's 73-89 record made it the best Mets team ever. The Yanks had shocked the baseball world by finishing last in 1966, and were just a mediocre 83-79 in '68. So as the 1969 season dawned, many of us wondered if New York would again become a National League town. It was a season in which more expansion had created a 12-team league, which was divided into two divisions. The winners from each division would play a best-of-five series for the pennant...
"It was apparent that the 1969 Mets were no longer lovable losers. We all knew that Manager Hodges wouldn't accept that. Neither would Seaver and Koosman, both fiery competitors and outstanding pitchers. Plus some of the other young players were coming into their own, and Hodges was leading the team with an iron hand. Yet after 40 games, roughly a quarter of the season, the team was 18-22. At that point, Leo Durocher's Chicago Cubs were looking like the class of the division, now called the National League East.
"But soon the Mets were coming on, and more of us began taking notice. At 80 games - the halfway point in the season - the Mets were 46-34 and just 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs. Suddenly the cry of LET'S GO METS! had new meaning. The Jets' great upset victory over the Colts just six months earlier was still a hot sports topic in the area, and some even dared to begin thinking the impossible. Could the Mets possibly make this a doubleheader to remember?"