I'm over the Mets' miracle of 1969 - Well, almost
I found out a long time that it was a lifelong condition, making its presence known every now and then. Not exactly life-threatening or even life-impacting but kind of like acid reflux that leaves that sour taste in your mouth, a little like tasting a dead sock with tabasco sauce on it. Yeah, that sour taste that isn’t there every day but never totally goes away.
No tests needed to find the source of it all, but no cure either. Blame the New York Mets and the 1969 World Series. With all due respect to the 1986 Mets and their demoralization of the Red Sox with all the Bill Buckner stuff and an epic collapse, `69 is the year and the moment.
A damn shame that it had at the expense of the Baltimore Orioles, my team. You don’t forget stuff like this when it happens particularly as a 12-year-old kid. But let’s backtrack for a bit.
I often get asked why I am an Orioles fan in the divisive Yankee-Red Sox world of Connecticut that includes a smattering of Mets’ fans. It’s a fairly simple explanation. When I was growing up there was the Game of the Week on television and that was about it. All before cable gave you access to 122,000 channels and even a couple worth watching. I found the Baltimore Orioles and Brooks Robinson found me. I fell in love with the greatest third baseman ever (don’t even try to argue with me on that) and thus I became a Bird watcher and lover.
And I was hardcore. I had a whiffle ball stickball league with my neighbor and we kept stats. He was the Yankees and I was the Orioles. Much to my chagrin, all the game sheets got thrown out one day during a spring cleaning. I knew players like Tom Shopay, Jim Hardin, Elrod Hendricks and Clay Dalrymple. See, only a true fan would know those names.
The early memories were good – a stunning sweep of the Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966 led by a young Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Moe Drabowski. Then came 1969.
Heck there was no way we could lose this series. I mean, it was the Mets. Sure they had a brilliant Tom Seaver (25-7) and Jerry Koosman (17-9) and Cleon Jones had a career year, hitting .340. The Mets won 100 games. But this was the Mets.
This was the first winning season in franchise history. They needed a black cat to catch the Cubs in a memorable September game at Shea Stadium .Of course maybe we should have gotten the message with that one.
But I had Brooks (24 HR), Frank Robinson (.302, 32 HR, 100 RBI), Boog Powell (.304, 37 HR, 121) and Paul Blair (26 HR). On the mound I had Mike Cuellar (23-11), McNally (20-7), Palmer (16-4) and Tom Phoebus (14-7).
The Orioles hit 175 home runs before they started making the ball with plutonium and the fences were 200 feet away. The Mets hit .242 with 109 HR. There were 109 wins. This Orioles team was considered one of the best ever.
I couldn’t lose this one. Then they played.
Seaver got beat by Cuellar in Game 1, 4-1, and then the bottom of the Orioles’ bag fell out. Koosman, Gary Gentry and Seaver gave up two runs over the next three and the Orioles were cooked. The big bats were overpowered and reduced to pop-guns.
The Mets pitching spoke for itself. It was the other stuff. Stuff meaning people like Al Weiss, Ron Swaboda and Tommie Agee. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the shoe polish. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Now Weiss might have been replaced by the designated hitter in an American Legion game that year, hitting a robust .215 with two HR. What does he do here? Game-winning RBI single in a 2-1 Game 2 win. Then he ties Game 5 with a seventh inning home run. Now he hit seven home runs in his entire career. Seven. This was the only one at Shea. . He hit .455 in the series. I still want an investigation.
Swaboda? You could hire a detective agency to look for his Golden Gloves. You won’t find them. There aren’t any With two runners on in the ninth inning of Game 4 and the score tied, 1-1,what does Swaboda do? Robs Brooks Robinson of a sinking line drive just inches off the ground. Did I mention he doubled in the winning run in Game 5.
Agee? All he did was rob Elrod Hendricks and Paul Blair of game-changing hits in Game 3, the first a back-handed catch in left center off Hendricks with runners on first and third in the fourth inning. In the seventh he made a headfirst diving grab off Paul Blair’s line drive with the bases loaded.
The shoe polish had nothing to do with looking good. In Game 5 with the Orioles up, 3-0, McNally appeared to hit Cleon Jones with a pitch in the foot that was not called. The ball bounced into the dugout and when Met manager Gil Hodges Gil Hodges showed the ball to umpire Lou DiMauro there was a shoe polish mark on it and Jones went to first base. Don Clendenon then hit his third home run of the series.
In 2009, Koosman said that Hodges told him to rub the ball on his shoe and then he showed it to the umpire. Swaboda said in 1986 that when the ball came into the dugout, it hit an open ball bad under the bench and balls spilled out. The first one was picked up. Either way there is room for question here.
Earlier in the game Frank Robinson was hit by a pitch confirmed by replays but it wasn’t called.
In Game 4, Mets’ pinch hitter J.C. Martin attempted to sacrifice with two runners on. Oriole reliever Pete Richert picked up his bunt but his throw hit Martin in the back as Rod Gaspar came around to score with the winning run. Replays showed Martin should have been out for running inside the baseline. Didn’t happen.
When you get a little older you understand these things a little better. This was the Mets’ magical year. At 12 not so much. You see black cats, bad calls, plays by players who never made plays like that in their lives.
The Orioles were a more talented team. But, doesn’t matter. The Mets were world champions.
The Orioles hit .146 in the series. Koosman especially was awesome (2-0, 2.04 ERA). Ed Charles hit .333, Don Clendenon, Series MVP, was a New York hero with three home runs and hit and hit .357. Fifty years later, there is more perspective.
But, that sour taste produced in the 12-year-old still hangs around. I listened to last out in my garage on a transistor radio, hoping for the miracle all the Mets’ fans would experience and nearly threw the radio into the Naugatuck River when was all was said and done.
On the 50th anniversary of it all, the Mets deservedly honored their heroes last weekend (even killed off a couple). They should have, it is their shining moment.
But before there was Bucky`Freakin’ Dent there was Ron `Freakin’ Swaboda, Tommie `Freakin’ Agee, Al `Double Freaking’ Weiss. Really, Al Weis did all that? Al Weiss? Come on it was just a bad dream.
Not so. Earlier that summer I had watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. In October I wanted be on the rocket ship and there myself. Life is hard at 12 when your team loses. I’ve gotten over it.
Well, at least accepted it.