Members of the 69 Mets are gathering at Citi Field this weekend to celebrate a miracle. This, as the 2019 Mets limp home from Philadelphia…
A half-century ago, the 69 Mets stunned the world of baseball. Only seven years removed from their inaugural season in the National League, this Mets team put together a run that swept them by the Chicago Cubs, winning the NL East by a full eight games.
In the postseason, the 69 Mets swept the Atlanta Braves and followed up by humiliating the favored Baltimore Orioles (4-1) to capture their first World Championship.
At the time, I was in my senior year at Marist College. The war in Vietnam was in full swing. There were protests on the streets of Manhattan and across our nation. The draft had every young person in a tizzy about their future. Middle-aged America stood by, puzzled and demoralized as the Nation they knew seemed about to crumble. Uncertain times, an uncertain citizenry.
In a country still entranced by the Kennedy magic, the family took a big hit when U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge at Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, resulting in the drowning death of a woman companion. A brief moment of triumph occurred on July 20 when Apollo 11 reached the landscape of the moon.
A few weeks later, a half-million rain-drenched souls made the pilgrimage to Woodstock. The Beatles were putting the finishing touches on what would prove to be their final collaborative effort as a group, Abbey Road.
It was the 69 Mets though, who were there to provide a longer range distraction from the turmoil of the summer, reaching on into the fall. Neil Armstrong and Tom Seaver, two American heroes.
The 69 Mets finished first in attendance as 2,175,373 flocked to Shea Stadium to witness the rise of this vagabond team, many of whom can only be classified as overachievers, separate from players like Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Ed Kranepool, Bud Harrelson, and a few others.
This team came to play. Their roles were well-defined by their old-school and strict-minded manager, Gil Hodges. Contributions came from everywhere. Fifty years later, the Ron Swoboda “catch” seems as Amazin’ as it did then. In his own words, Swoboda described the play below. There was veteran third baseman Ed Charles snaring the final out of the season, making $35,000 for his efforts that year (Baseball America). Note: Seaver made $40,000.
And the rest reads like a storybook all fans of the Mets are familiar with. Even more familiar, however, is the Mets team that will be trotting out to play the first-place Atlanta Braves during the weekend series. Truly apt to define the Mets 2019 season is to wrap it around the 69 Mets, a team of destiny and fortitude, challenged to do the impossible.
Now a full eight games under .500, the 2019 Mets should be able to see the irony and contrast when juxtaposed against the team wearing the same uniforms from 50 years ago. The 2019 Mets always play well enough to lose. The 69 Mets somehow always found a way to win.
Fans who are still alive, holding solid and vivid views of that 69 Mets team, can only sit with wonder at what has become of the franchise that shook the baseball world in the summer of 1969, and then again in 1973 and 1986.
Those older fans can look to their left and right at the Gen-Xer’s attending the weekend games with bafflement and wonderment that these fans are even in attendance at all. It’s like comparing the Orioles of 1969 and 1973 to the team they have the gall to put on the field today.
Hopefully, but not likely, Jeff Wilpon is wondering the same thing. He was present at yesterday’s dedication naming “41 Tom Seaver Way” as the new address of Citi Field.
Wilpon has also authorized the construction of a statue honoring Seaver. Did he give pause then recalling the days when Joan Payson owned the Mets while he was still a young man under the tutelage of his father?
Was there a stroke of envy in his body that dreams of the same success for these New York Mets. We have theories and prejudices, but no one can say how the Wilpons view the team they now own.
Excepting ownership, though, I can say with authority, every single fan packing Citi Field to honor the 69 Mets this weekend will be caressed with envy as they wonder – why can’t it be that way again?