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77th Birthday Thoughts As Mets Limp Home to Celebrate Golden Anniversary of 1969 Triumph

The disappointing Mets will stumble back to CitiField this weekend to face the surging first-place Braves. I, for one, didn't expect much of this year's Mets because of holes in the lineup, mediocre defense, and a bullpen that matches my Orioles for ineptitude (and that means trouble right here in East River City).    

 
Forgive me a little reference to "The Music Man" because I've just completed my trombone year of 76 and start walking 77 Sunset Strip as I type this blog.  (If any dear readers want to lend Kookie Kookie a comb, please do -and while you're at it, send along a tape of Efrem Zimbalist's Sr. great violin playing.)   

 
A golden anniversary year like the Mets are celebrating brings back many memories. Kudos to the Met organization for selling some tickets to the ESPN Sunday night game at 1969 prices.

 
I was still living in Baltimore on June 27, 1969 after one year of teaching at Goucher College, just north of Baltimore. For my first Baltimore birthday I treated myself to the Birds playing the defending World Series Tigers.  

 
It was a steamy Friday on Bethlehem Steel night.  The factories were still brimming in Charm City and the steelworkers brought along a contraption placed behind the outfield fence that blasted smoke into the stifling humid air every time the Orioles did something good.   

 
Funny how memory can be deceptive. I was sure that the Birds annihilated former Cy Young award-winner Denny McLain in a rout. And that damned boiler gizmo added more hot air into the already stifling atmosphere.  

 

Thanks to a glance at retrosheet.org - SABR's indispensable guide to virtually every box score ever -, the Orioles did take an early lead and beat Detroit 4-1 behind Dave McNally's complete-game 5-hitter. But it was hardly a rout.

 
McLain did pitch the next night in a loss and didn't get out of the 6th inning but that too wasn't exactly an annihilation.  The Tigers wound up winning 90 games in 1969 but still finished far behind the Orioles, winners of 109 games.


The Birds were fated to meet the Mets in the World Series and lose in five games after beating Tom Seaver in Game One in Baltimore.  I attended Game Two in the right field upper deck nosebleeds and I have to admit like most New Yorkers (except for those sullen Yankee fans living through a rare dark decade of non-contention), I was rooting for a Mets victory.   


I reasoned it would be a good thing for the city of New York and the country itself.  It was the height of anti-Vietnam war opposition amidst Richard Nixon's succession to the Presidency earlier in 1969. 

 
If you want to relive that time, I highly recommend Wayne Coffey's new book from Crown Archetype:  "They Said It Couldn't Be Done: The '69 Mets, New York City, And The Most Astounding Season In Baseball History."  

 

It recreates very well the magical year where the Mets scored only 15 runs more than their hapless maiden version of 1962 but wound up winning it all. Ace Tom Seaver was so exuberant that he even took out an ad saying that if Mets could win World Series, America could end Vietnam war.

 
Coffey is a veteran columnist and reporter for the New York "Daily News".  Among his prior books are "The Boys of Winter" (about the USA hockey team that upset the Russians at the 1980 Winter Olympics) and "Wherever I Wind Up," his collaboration with former Mets Cy Young award-winner R. A. Dickey on his memoir.  

 
I felt drawn into this book from the opening epigraphs, quotes from Booker T. Washington and St. Francis Assisi.  Some of the baseball material will not be new to ardent Mets fans. But Coffey has done new interviews with pitcher Jerry Koosman - Tom Seaver's too-often neglected second banana -, Ed Kranepool, and probably the last interview with the Mets' platoon-third baseman and poet in residence Ed Charles.

 

Too many other of the Mets' 1969 heroes are gone now, starting with manager Gil Hodges who left us so shockingly of a heart attack on the dawn of the strike-delayed 1972 season.  Tom Seaver's ongoing battle with dementia caused by lyme disease will keep him away from this weekend's festivities.

 

Of the quartet of key AfricanAmerican Mets core players, only Cleon Jones remains. He remains actively involved in restoring his Mobile, Alabama neighborhood of Africatown, the last port where slave ships arrived. His friend and neighbor Tommy Agee is gone as in the mid-1969 acquisition, slugging first baseman Donn Clendenon.

 

Happily, they all come back to life on Coffey's pages.  We learn such new details (new at least to me) that Clendenon turned down a bigtime college football scholarship to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta. A person serving as his unofficial big brother made the recommendation, . . . the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  

 

"They Said" is also enhanced by the still-vivid memories of Mets broadcasters Gary Cohen and Howie Rose both of whom like Coffey were teenagers in that special year of 1969.

 

My only criticism of Coffey's book is that there is no index.  A work of this quality needed one.

 

Well, that's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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