What the New York Mets achieved in 1969 was truly amazing and the world witnessed not only mans first steps on the moon but equally remarkable, the first World Championship by a National League team in New York in 14 years.
I had just turned 24 that April and I was unable to attend opening day on April 8th where the Mets lost to the newly created Montreal Expos expansion team 11-10 in front of 44,541 fans.
What had become a tradition of sorts was to try to go to the game on April 11th, my birthday, where the St. Louis Cardinals were coming to town and the proposed match-up was going to be Steve Carlton vs. Jerry Koosman. I was stoked, only in those days no one ever said the word stoked.
Jerry Koosman was a left handed pitcher who complimented Tom Seaver at the top of the Mets staff. In 1968 he went 19-12 and actually had one more victory than Tom Terrific. With 7 shutouts, I was there for one of them, and a .208 ERA I couldn’t wait to see him against Carlton.
Steve was the sharper pitcher that day and Joe Torre hit a monster homer off Koosman as my wife Ellen and I moved from the upper reaches of Shea Stadium down to the box seats right over the 3rd base dugout. You see it was pretty easy to do that since only 12,591 showed up for that classic pitching match-up.
Since my wedding on August 25th 1968 my wife and I attended five Met games. We went 0-5. Hmmm. The stirring of rumbling deep within my mind was staring to take shape. Wait until you hear my final scorecard with Ellen and me at Met games. You will not believe it. But you’ll have to wait a segment or two for those results.
By the way, a step backwards a couple of days, here is the starting lineup for the 1969 opening day New York Mets.
- Tommie Agee CF
- Rod Gaspar RF
- Ken Boswell 2B
- Cleon Jones LF
- Ed Charles 3B
- Ed Kranepool 1B
- Jerry Grote C
- Bud Harrelson SS
- Tom Seaver P
Most sportswriters and other so-called prognosticators picked the Mets to finish near the bottom of the newly created divisions. I thought they had a chance to do better than expected. Maybe an 81-81 record, but I could never foresee this team winning 100 games, sweep the powerful Atlanta Braves team led by Hank Aaron, and then go on to beat the “unbeatable” Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
Bing Divine who succeeded George Weiss as General Manager left after one year to go back to his beloved Cardinals. He was succeeded by Johnny Murphy. Murphy had a decent career as an American League relief pitcher. He played for the Yankees and some of his teammates included Babe Ruth, Joe D, Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey. He pitched along side of Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. That’s some pretty good company.
Murphy’s promotion to the top GM position came at the same time the Mets were developing some of the best young pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately Murph never had the chance to become a long standing GM as he died suddenly from a massive coronary in January 1970.
In my opinion, this was the turning point in the Mets history that has haunted them for the next 40 years.
This team’s future which looked so bright as the new decade launched would soon be in disarray for years to come.
Getting back to the 1969 season, there were so many different accounts of what happened that I’ll only point out a few that I personally witnessed.
By May 27th, after suffering from a five game losing streak the Mets stood at 19-23 in 4th place and nine games behind the Chicago Cubs who by their own accounts were already planning on what look the playoff tickets would have. Black (cat) and blue would have been my choice.
On May 28th I was back at Shea to see the San Diego Padres. All Jerry Koosman did that night was pitch 10 innings of four hit ball with 15 K's. Tug McGraw pitched a scoreless 11th as I hoped my bud (Ted Blecher) and I wouldn’t have to sit through a 20+ inning game.
Cleon Jones reached first base on an error by Roberto Pena who was playing third. Billy McCool (one of the great sports names of all time) then struck out Ed Kranepool. Frank Reberger then gave up a single to center to Ron Swoboda. Cleon moved to third. Jerry Grote was then intentionally passed to load the bases.
Believe it or not, and I swear on all that's holy, that what happened next would change not only the Mets season but bring me immense pain and pleasure within 20 seconds of each other.
With the bases stacked, Bud Harrelson smacked the first pitch, a screaming line drive right at us. I dove, (I could do that then) for the ball, missed it and broke two fingers on the railing as my friend Teddy snagged it like he was Brooks Robinson.
I was screaming so loud (what a wimp!) that I missed Buddy’s single up the middle to win the game.
The Mets went on to have an 11 game winning streak and by the All Star Break they were 53-39, in second place and just five games behind the Cubs. They went 34-16 during that stretch. I went to one more game with my wife during June. Grant Jackson shut us out and beat Don Cardwell 2-0 Hmmm.
On August 13th the Mets came staggering home from a miserable road trip ending in Houston where the Mets were swept and fell into 3rd place 10 games behind the Cubs. This called for drastic measures.
August 16th is my brothers’ birthday and he had no love lost for the Mets but never in his life had he ever turned down free tickets to a game, especially since I was taking him to Shea as a birthday present. I’m sure he would have rather had the cash but he agreed to go. My wife stayed home. I wonder why.
The Mets went on to win that game 2-1 and by the way my brother catches a foul ball off the bat of Bud Harrelson as I was hiding under my seat.
The rest is history.
The team went on to win 38 of their next 49 games and miracles were alive and well in Flushing Meadows.
My wife and I went to one more game that season and given the play of the team down the stretch I knew my curse with her was over. If not maybe well maybe, nah we didn’t think those things. Besides, my mother would kill me dead if I came over to her place some night and I told her I was leaving my wife because she’s bad luck for the Mets.
Anyway, the game, an 8-2 loss to Bob Veale on September 19th.
I’d love to tell you that I attended playoff and World Series games that year but I promised to keep this truthful with only a touch of literary license. So, no, the best I could do was watch the games on the tube like millions of fans across the country.
You know the story for sure. The Mets went on to glory and I think it was in the second or third week in November that a couple of my childhood buddies suggested we drop in and talk to Gil. So off we went to Gil who still lived on Bedford Avenue about three blocks from our apartment on Kings Highway and East 23rd Street.
Sure enough, as he often did when we were kids, Gil and Joan were home and we sat and talked baseball with him. His house hadn’t changes a lick in almost 20 years. As we walked out the door Gil said, “Hey guys want to see something cool?”
Like we would say no.
He then opened a desk draw and flipped a ball to me. I didn’t drop this or break anything. It was just a ball signed by a player whose signature I could not read. The ball had a black smear on it. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me?” He just smiled as I tossed it back to him.