|Ron Swoboda. Courtest of St. Martin's Press.
Ron Swoboda was a key part of the 1969 Amazin' Mets championship team, and author of the most famous catch in the franchise's history, as the right fielder caught a liner hit by Brooks Robinson to secure their win in the fourth game of the World Series against Baltimore.
Swoboda's autobiography, Here's the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More, is now out in paperback (St. Martin's Press Griffin; $17.99), after being originally released a couple years ago in honor of the 50th anniversary of one of the most beloved teams in New York baseball history.
In this entertaining baseball book, Swoboda takes you on a journey in his time with the Mets, from when they were mired in 100-loss seasons in 1965 to showing significant improvement in 1968, which was Gil Hodges' first year as Mets Manager, before stunning the baseball world the following year.
At the start of that Amazin' 1969 season, the young core of the team, including Swoboda, Tom Seaver, Gary Gentry, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, Ed Kranepool, and Jerry Koosman, began to see in themselves a team that could surprise the experts. Swoboda takes the reader through the day-by-day, game-by-game journey of that season. He introduces us to some of the more colorful figures in the game and builds the drama of that season through its peaks and valleys.
In this second part of my interview with Ron Swoboda (Part 1 is here: http://www.brooklyndigest.org/2021/04/part-1-ron-swoboda-on-his-book-heres.html), he discusses how he thinks the Mets will do this year, their new owner Steve Cohen, and the new rules changing America's Pastime:
Our chat opened with Ron telling me that he and his wife, whjo live in New Orleans, are both fully vaccinated against the vaccine, to which he then said, "It's like that line from Steve Martin, 'you know, the good news is I got both my vaccinations, the bad news is I'm 75 years old," he said while laughing joyously, which is how he characteristically is.
Jason Schott: That's wonderful news, how soon will you be returning to Citi Field?
Ron Swoboda: I'm gonna get up there when I can get up there. There's a couple of things going on that might bring me to New York. I am less fearful of travel, at the age of 76, so I have nothing hard scheduled as we speak, but I did buy MLB's Extra Innings, so I'll be watching the Mets every chance I get, including tonight. (we chatted just as the Mets were about to start their long-awaited Opening Day Monday night in Philadelphia)
JS: Are you excited about this year's team?
RS: You can't help but be excited! Steve Cohen came in there - he's got pieces of art sitting around the house that are worth more than a hundred million dollars - so signing Francisco Lindor for $341 million, I don't think that fazed him...I don't mean to suggest that money's nothing to him, I think the difference is that Steven Cohen looks at the Mets in terms of a major-market team and is willing to invest those levels where I think that was economically difficult for the Wilpons because of all their financial troubles.
JS: It never was really the same after they lost a lot of money with Bernie Madoff, which was revealed around 2010.
RS: I wouldn't be surprised if their connections with (former MLB Commissioner) Bud Selig hadn't been so tight, you know someone else might have had to give up that franchise, like the guy in LA when he was monkeying around. (referring to former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who lost a lot of money because he was getting divorced)...
Well, what's good is nothing's guaranteed (about 2021 Mets), and I always tiptoe around predictions because you're playing in the toughest division in baseball, you know. You're playing the Phillies, they got one of your former pitchers, who probably should not have been let out of the system in Zack Wheeler, and they're going to be good, and you're going to have to be good. It's a tough road out of the National League East, you can believe that.
JS: If they get out of the division, do you think it could be like 2015, when they made a late run to win the NL East and then went to the World Series? Do they have the pieces to win it all?
RS: I think they have enough to be competitive if guys produce like they can. If Pete Alonso looks like what I felt like I saw when I went down to West Palm and watched a game there, and I loved his at-bats and his approach. I thought he was letting the ball come to him, and he's so strong, he has such great technique, and he works what some people think is too hard sometimes, you know, that he works too hard. His pregame is sometimes too stressful, you only have so much on a given day and you have to shut it down. I think Pete sometimes, he's so intense, I think they've gotten him to back off a little bit. He looked calmer at the plate and able to let the ball come to him because he can fight the ball off, you know he can fight balls off to right field that are trouble - trouble in the sense that they can be extra bases and home runs, on balls that he fought off to oppo field. When you make a mistake and he pulls the ball, you know, he's got good enough technique that he never has to feel like he's in a hurry, and that's what I thought I saw in spring training this year. (Michael) Conforto, solid, goes the other way with authority, (Jeff) McNeil I like so much, (Dom) Smith, I want to see what (Brandon) Nimmo does in the one-hole because that's a big responsibility. He's gotta be smart, get on base, but that lineup, and I didn't even mention (James McCann) or Lindor - that lineup has some pop, and the pitching staff, and if (Edwin) Diaz had a terrific spring, he had a wonderful close to last season, maybe he's settling in there and believing that he's got enough stuff to do it as a closer. That'll be the difference it seems like to me. If you can close them with Diaz, and he's solid with that position, you've got enough. What you find out is when you play the Phillies, when you play the Braves, and you play the Marlins, who are no off day for sure, so I think it's going to be a pretty interesting season.
JS: The one guy they can count on is their two-time Cy Young Award-winning ace, Jacob deGrom. Do you see any similarities between him and another legendary Mets pitcher, Tom Seaver?
RS: Well, I'll tell you what, mechanics-wise, no, velocity-wise, yes. I saw deGrom in the spring, and he's out there, he looks like he's out there letting it go and going upwards to 101 miles-an-hour. Seaver always looked like a max effort guy, you know, always looked like he was just cranked up and coming at you. deGrom looks like, you know, he's not an imposing physical guy, but his mechanics are so good, his technique is so good, the ball jumps off his hand and he can command that hundred-miles-an-hour up in the zone, so now you're thinking, he busts you up and you can't hit it. You can't hit 101 in the zone, and he's going to make it a strike, and he'll drop a slider or something on you, with a changeup once in a while, but mostly, pretty good slider. It ain't fair, and he's so relaxed and so comfortable-looking out there. It's a little different temperament, he just looks like ho-hum, here it comes, boom, 101! Seaver was like BOOM, he comes at you, and with that big drop-and-drive kind of thing, and deGrom just looks so easy and relaxed and it's big-time stuff.
JS: You're right, such a different approach; he looks like he's out there tossing the ball around.
RS: It is, you know, when your technique is that good, strength sometimes is invisible, in the sense that he doesn't look like a guy who's in a gym pumping up. He looks like a guy who's just lean and flexible, and just getting through the pitch in a really relaxed and easy way. Nothing looks forced, and here comes this thing that jumps at you, 101, that opens your eyes a little bit. As soon as you know what it is, he's on people, and up in the zone, you're not hitting it. You're not hitting it!
JS: The thing is he's only getting better, rare for guys to exceed a hundred in their sixth year.
RS: He's cranking that out in spring training, looking like, ah, just got to get these five innings in, ho-hum, fa la la, boom! You know, it's truly amazing, and he's such a cool guy, he's so comfortable with himself.
I know they went down the road with Trevor Bauer, his loudmouth, look-at-me kind of crap, you don't get any of that from Jake deGrom. Jake is like, 'I know who I am, I know what I'm doing here, and that's what you're going to get.' I'm way happier than that...
I don't mean to suggest that Bauer doesn't have any ability, but one of his other abilities is to create so much chaos and chatter over nothing, you know, over nothing, things that annoy him and people say things, he's gotta correct them and be right, and clutter his social media with all of this angst and crap, it's like, 'wow, man, just do your job and do what you can do. You're a talented guy, and oh by the way, shut up, you know, because you don't have to prove anything. Go out there and do it.' Jake deGrom, his statement is in what he gives you on the mound, and it's over. He's quiet and unassuming about all of that stuff, and that's more impressive to me.
JS: What do you think of some of the new rules that MLB has added, like the runner at second base to start the 10th inning?
RS: You know, we used that - I did a lot of Triple-A baseball in New Orleans as a color commentator, it makes sense for minor-league baseball, people don't come out here to spend all night trying to see who's going to win an extra-inning game. In the Major Leagues, I'm not crazy about it. It's almost like Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of Baseball, doesn't really like baseball. I know he likes being Commissioner of Baseball, but he doesn't like baseball. He thinks people don't like baseball enough to watch it a while, and I think now with baseball all over the world on television, people are going to come and go during the broadcast, and I suppose there's probably something connected to selling time late in the game where it becomes more certain that people are going to hang in there and watch extra innings with a runner at second base so the commercial time is worth more, but the notion that - it saddens me when the commissioner of baseball acts like people don't really want to hang in there and watch baseball, that they don't like it and appreciate the nuance of the game just running its normal course, and there's a few things too. You know, they've got video replay - you want to speed games up, but they got video replay where everything stops, and you've got this whole process going on of looking at replays. Why doesn't Major League Baseball let you in on the conversation going on with the people the booth who are looking at the replays, what they're saying, the conversations that lead up to the decision? What's wrong with that? Let people in there instead of sitting there with your thumb in your mouth wondering, when is something going to happen here, you know. Let 'em in it, for crying out loud, if you're proud of it! Open it up! What's wrong with that?
Let's see the video and what guys are looking at, and the guys that are going to make the decision, and hear what they're saying. Let's hear the process, let us in on the process, and then you have an event, rather than a delay. When they're looking at the replay, they may run it on television, but they're not letting you in on the discussion. Let me in on the discussion, and the other thing is, you know, when these over-shifts come, and you've got the greatest players in baseball that can't go the other way? Can't try to hit it the other way? You can counteract that over-shift if you work on it as a team. Every batting practice that I ever went through as a professional athlete over ten years, including one year in the minor leagues,the first round of batting practice is hitting the ball the other way, and these guys come up with an over-shift to the right or left, you know, three guys on one side of the diamond, and you can't try a strike or so the other way, you know, what would be wrong with that? But, you know, apparently, the analytics say you don't do that; I think teams could do that. I think more guys can do that and they'll get them out of the over-shift. You don't have to outlaw it, you can make it less productive as a defensive maneuver by hitting it the other way.
JS: You are correct, a lot of trends have faded from the sport as players have made adjustments. Do you think outlawing it is a grave overreaction?
RS: Well, the analytics are saying it's correct, but there is some information down there that says it doesn't always help you. You move the second baseman out of position in a double play situation, and they don't know who's covering second base. You know, I just think that big-league ballplayers can hit the ball the other way. They practice it, they're asked to do it in batting practice - in the first round of BP every day of their professional career - why wouldn't you want to take some of that into the game? What's the point?
JS: What did you think of the universal designated hitter, which was used last year, but not carried into this season?
RS: I think the universal DH is something - I don't love it, I don't love the DH - but I think it's something that should happen. Now, you know, there's no point, with interleague play, of having one set of rules for the National League and one set of rules for the American League when they have interleague play, it's stupid, forget it. You know, go universal DH - it's the one rule they probably should have done, they didn't do. I would love to be in some of those meetings just to be an irritant for Rob Manfred when they're in there, and the geniuses of figuring it out.
JS: I believe your last season, with the Yankees, in 1973, was the first year of the designated hitter.
RS: Yes, I would have been the first DH if the Boston Red Sox had started a left-handed pitcher instead of a right-handed pitcher, which gave it to Ron Blomberg,and he was the first DH in Major League history. I was the DH the next day when they started a left-handed pitcher.
JS: I never knew that, and astonishing because, at this point, that is Ron Blumberg's claim to fame.
RS: It's those wonderful little pieces that all come together at some point.