Monthly Archives: February 2019

50 YEARS SINCE THE MIRACLE METS-THAT WONDERFUL SEASON

Last week we looked at the building of the Miracle Mets.  In my opinion, this team really wasn’t a miracle at all.  Successful drafting by George Weiss, Bing Devine, and Johnny Murphy built a solid organization from the ground up.  Key trades by Murphy rounded out this team.  The core of the team that these men built contended for years past the 1969 season.  Most of this core was intact when New York won a second National League pennant in 1973.

The Mets became part of baseball history by simply taking the field on Opening Day in 1969.  New York opened the season at home against the expansion Montreal Expos.  Not only was it the inaugural game for Montreal, it also marked the first time a club based outside the United States played a regular season Major League game.

As was the case throughout most of the Mets history, openers were not kind to them.  Coming into the 1969 season the team lost every season opener.  The historic game between the Mets and Expos was played on April 8th at Shea Stadium.  The year began just like every other one in Mets history.  The Expos opened their history by defeating the Mets by the score of 11-10.

The 1969 season began divisional play in Major League Baseball.  Both leagues expanded by two clubs.  The National League welcomed Montreal along with the San Diego Padres, while the American League added the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots (who would move to Milwaukee the following year and are the current day Milwaukee Brewers).  As a result of the expansion, both leagues split into two divisions (East and West).

The divisional alignment left the Mets in the newly minted National League East.  Along with the Mets, the division included the defending National League Champion Cardinals, and the loaded Chicago Cubs.  The way the season began, things weren’t exactly looking up for New York.

 

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On June 15, 1969, the Mets acquired Donn Clendennon from the Montreal Expos.

 

On June 15th the Mets had a record of 30-26, pretty good by team standards.  The club was starting to show signs of this not being another “Metlike” campaign.  The team was actually in second place, an unusual spot for the perennial cellar dwellers.  The bad news was they stood nine games behind the division leading Cubs.

Chicago was one of the favorites to win the new division.  They featured four future Hall of Famers in Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and ace pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.  With a nine game lead, the Cubs were poised to run away with the division championship.

Then came a defining moment, on June 15th the Mets traded Steve Renko, Kevin Collins, and two minor leaguers to the Expos in exchange for veteran first baseman Donn Clendennon.

The arrival of Clendennon was one of many twists and turns for the Mets.

 

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Tom Seaver is perfect through 25 batters on July 9, 1969.  Cubs Jimmy Qualls hits a clean single to break up perfection.  He was Chicago’s lone baserunner.

 

As play began on July 9th, the Mets stood 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs.  They were still in second, however they picked up quite a bit of ground since the Clendennon trade.  The Mets faced the Cubs that night, and ace Tom Seaver was on the mound.  Tom Terrific was just too much for the loaded Chicago lineup that night.  Cleon Jones homered, Tommie Agee, Seaver himself, and utility man Bobby Pfiel would drive in runs, in a 4-0 victory.

Seaver was the story that evening.  He was perfect with one out in the ninth inning.  Seaver’s perfect game bid was broken up by Jimmy Qualls.  Qualls hit a clean single and was the only Cub to get on base.  In Mets team lore, that night has been dubbed “The Imperfect Game.”

Following Seaver’s heroics on that July 9th, the Mets began to kick it into high gear.  They managed to close in on the Cubs and on September 8th they found themselves in the biggest regular season series in team history.

The Cubs made their final trip into New York’s Shea Stadium that evening.   It was the beginning of a short two game set.   The Mets had closed the gap to two-and-a-half games entering play that night.  Jerry Koosman pitched a complete game in a 3-2 victory.  What followed the next night was legendary!

 

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A black cat circles Ron Santo in the Cubs on-deck circle at Shea Stadium on September 9, 1969.  The Mets would win the game and never look back as Chicago collapsed.

 

The following night the Cubs found themselves facing Seaver again.  Chicago countered with another future Hall of Famer, their ace Ferguson Jenkins.  The duel between Seaver and Jenkins would take a back seat to a chapter in  Cubs lore.  With Chicago captain Ron Santo waiting in the on-deck circle, a black cat jumped onto the field, circled the Cubs captain, and ran into the Cubs dugout!  The Mets would go on to win the game 7-1 behind Seaver’s complete game.  Seaver improved his record to 21-7 and finish the season at 25-7.

The Cubs collapsed through the remainder of September while the Mets continued their torrid run, and on the night of September 24, 1969 the Loveable Losers became champions!  A 6-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, on Fan Appreciation Day at Shea Stadium clinched the National League East!  The Mets would go on to face the Atlanta Braves in the first ever National League Championship Series!

A lot more to go in this look back at the Miracle Mets.  Stay tuned for a trip through the 1969 post-season next week!  See you then!

 

 

 

50 YEARS SINCE THE MIRACLE METS-THE BUILDING OF SOMETHING SPECIAL

After a hiatus of nearly a year , I am back, I am ready and I’m excited!  Beginning today I will be back here on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn every Sunday.  So to quote CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “Lets get after it!”

The baseball world lost an icon this week.  Frank Robinson, the only player to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues, and the game’s first African-American manager passed away at the age of 83 on Thursday. Rest well Frank and thank you for all you did for the game of baseball!

 

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Frank Robinson, baseball’s first African-American manager and the only player to win MVP awards in both leagues passed away this week.

 

For all of us from the Midwest to the east coast, the past couple of weeks have been historically cold, snowy, and icy.  I offer all of you a break in the madness today.  This week training camps in Florida and Arizona will be opening their gates to pitchers and catchers.  Spring games will begin next week.  The crack of the bat, albeit in the tropics and desert, will hearken the coming of spring.  With that being said, let’s talk about some baseball!

The New York Mets began play in the National League in 1962.  The ballclub brought in to replace the iconic New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers had an ominous beginning to its existence.  The “lovable losers” finished their inaugural season with a record of 40-120.  They trailed the league champion San Francisco Giants by a whopping 60 1/2 games.

The years that followed were not kind to the Mets.  New York failed to place higher than ninth in the ten team league from 1963 to 1968.  The club also suffered through seven consecutive losing seasons.

In 1967, George Weiss was replaced as the Mets general manager.  This move was the first step in a change of fortune for the lovable losers.  Weiss was replaced by Bing Devine, the architect of the St. Louis Cardinals teams that won the World Series in 1967 and the National League championship in 1968.  Devine would draft what became the core of a “miracle.”

Young stud pitchers Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Gary Gentry, and Jim McAndrew were all signed under Devine’s tenure with the Mets.  He also added one more centerpiece, with the help of lady luck.

In 1966, a young USC right-hander named Tom Seaver was drafted by the Atlanta Braves.  Baseball commissioner Willliam Eckert voided the contract that Seaver signed with the Braves because USC had played two exhibition games that year.  Seaver did not appear in either game.  Seaver then planned on playing college ball in 1966, but was declared ineligible by the NCAA since he had signed a contract with the Braves.  After a threatened lawsuit against Major League baseball by Seaver’s father, Eckert ruled that teams could match Atlanta’s offer.  The Mets won a lottery for Seaver’s services, beating out the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies.

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Tom Seaver was the crown jewel of the draft class of 1966.  He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1967 and to this day is the face of the Mets franchise.

 

Following that monster front office year of 1967, Devine left the Mets to return to the Cardinals.  Johnny Murphy replaced him and continued to build what would become the Miracle Mets.

Murphy’s first move as New York’s general manager turned out to be huge.  He engineered a trade with the Washington Senators for their manager!  Yes, a major trade involving a manager.!  Pitching prospect Bill Denehy was dealt to Washington in exchange for manager Gil Hodges.  Hodges was the first baseman on the Dodgers team that departed from Brooklyn in 1957.  He returned as an original Met in 1962 and was always a fan favorite in New York.  Hodges also knew how to win, this sent a message to the rest of the National League, the Mets were done being court jesters and were very serious about winning.

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The signing of Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, and the hiring of Gil Hodges legitimized the Mets as a serious baseball team.

 

All of these new arms worked well with catcher Jerry Grote.  Grote was acquired from the Houston Astros following the 1965 season.  Grote became the starting catcher immediately and grew with the team.  Outfielder Cleon Jones signed with the Mets in 1963 and became an integral part of the growing team.  Shortstop  Bud Harrelson debuted with the Mets in 1965 and grew to become the glue of the Mets infield.

Murphy added to the growing talent pool with a couple of key trades.  Following the 1967 season, the Mets sent Tommy Davis ( a perennial .300 hitter)., Jack Fisher and two minor leaguers to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Tommie Agee an Al Weis.  Both players would play key roles in the 1969 season and postseason.

Perhaps the last piece of the puzzle came during the 1969 season itself.  On June 15, 1969 the Mets dealt Steve Renko, Kevin Collins, and two minor leaguers for first baseman Donn Clendennon.  Clendennon would go on to win the 1969 World Series MVP Trophy.

It’s been 50 years since the Amazins were assembled.  A half a century later there is still a lot to cover.  Next week I will chronicle the 1969 season itself.  It was a doubly memorable year for this writer.  As a young boy in Southeast Queens, the Mets were the team that I grew up with.  That wonderful year was the first time I really followed the game of baseball.  See you next week!

 

I dedicate this article to my son, Justin.  As many of you know, we lost him to suicide two years ago.  This coming Thursday will mark two years since that horrible morning.  We also got some heartbreaking news on January 5th of this year.  A dear friend of the family, “Coach” Mike Young passed away from a heart attack.  I know that they are reunited in heaven.  I miss you son, more than any words that can be written.  I miss you too, my brother in coaching.