The inside account of an iconic team in baseball history: the 1969 New York Mets—a consistently last-place team that turned it all around in just one season—told by ’69 Mets outfielder Art Shamsky, Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, and other teammates as they reminisce about what happened then and where they are today.
The New York Mets franchise began in 1962 and the team finished in last place nearly every year. When the 1969 season began, fans weren’t expecting much from “the Lovable Losers.” But as the season progressed, the Mets inched closer to first place and then eventually clinched the National League pennant. They were underdogs against the formidable Baltimore Orioles, but beat them in five games to become world champions. No one had predicted it. In fact, fans could hardly believe it happened. Suddenly they were “the Miracle Mets.”
Playing right field for the ’69 Mets was Art Shamsky, who had stayed in touch with his former teammates over the years. He hoped to get together with star pitcher Tom Seaver (who would win the Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the league in 1969 and go on to become the first Met elected to the Hall of Fame) but Seaver was ailing and could not travel. So, Shamsky organized a visit to Tom Terrific in California, accompanied by the #2 pitcher, Jerry Koosman, outfielder Ron Swoboda, and shortstop Bud Harrelson. Together they recalled the highlights of that amazing season as they reminisced about what changed the Mets’ fortunes in 1969.
With the help of sportswriter Erik Sherman, Shamsky has written After the Miracle for the 1969 Mets. This is a book that every Mets fan—and every baseball fan—must own.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Art Shamsky was a Major League baseball player for eight years, starting with the Cincinnati Reds in 1965 and then joining the New York Mets in the winter of 1967. He was an integral part of the World Championship team in 1969. Since his retirement from baseball, he has been involved in various businesses and worked as a sports broadcaster at WNEW-TV in New York City and on ESPN, and as a broadcaster for the NY Mets. He is also the author of The Magnificent Seasons: How the Jets, Mets, and Knicks Made Sports History and Uplifted a City and the Country.
Erik Sherman is the author of the critically acclaimed Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball With The ’86 Mets, and is also the coauthor of four highly acclaimed baseball autobiographies: Out At Home (with Glenn Burke), A Pirate For Life (with Steve Blass), the New York Times bestseller Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the ’86 Mets (with Mookie Wilson); and Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride In Baseball And Beyond. Erik is an annual lecturer at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Read an Excerpt
After the Miracle
– December 16, 2016 –
MY OLD FRIEND AND MIRACLE Mets teammate Tom Seaver was ailing.
The greatest Met of all time, the heart and soul of our ’69 championship team, and the Hall of Famer who had a baseball career marked by brilliance and a burning desire for perfection, was now practically homebound.
The long-term manifestations of Lyme disease, which include extreme fatigue and memory loss, have induced the Franchise to no longer travel outside of his beloved Napa Valley in Northern California. For the onetime fearless power pitcher, a true warrior out on the mound, and one of the most intelligent ballplayers I’ve ever been associated with, his limitations are now practically unfathomable.
Another Mets teammate of mine from our halcyon days and one of Tom’s closest confidants, Buddy Harrelson, was a maestro in the infield who possessed great range and a strong arm in making the most difficult plays look easy. Once a vibrant and fiery All-Star shortstop in a slender 145-pound frame, Buddy was also now greatly slowed—in his case, by the harsh early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s a cruel twist of fate what time has done to two men synonymous with everything great about the game of baseball—and the history of the New York Mets.
Buddy and I have remained especially close since our playing days ended, with geography being the main driver. I have lived in Manhattan for decades, following up my playing career with jobs in sports media, partnering in a successful downtown restaurant, making special appearances, and even writing a book entitled The Magnificent Seasons.
Harrelson, a baseball lifer who always loved the game, would rise through the coaching ranks of the Mets organization before eventually being promoted to manage the club for a two-year stint beginning in 1990. He’s now co-owner of the Long Island Ducks, an independent minor-league team, and, despite his ailment, actually still throws batting practice to the players before games.
So like me, Buddy never left New York, and we see each other fairly often.
I keep tabs with as many teammates from our 1969 championship team as possible, as well as manager Gil Hodges’s widow, Joan, whom I try to call as much as I can to let her know the guys still think about her. She was, after all, a significant part of our whole wonderful experience when we went from finishing in ninth place—a half game from last place—my first year with the club in 1968 to world champions the following season.
From my perspective, there was something, well, amazing, about that feat. And to have played a role in our miracle, it’s always made me want to stay in touch with the guys. There’s no ulterior motive other than to say hello and reminisce a little bit.
There were now just twenty of us still around from our World Series roster—coaches included. And there is a unique, personal sadness I feel when we lose one of our guys.
The most shocking, of course, was Gil dying of a heart attack two days shy of his forty-eighth birthday on the eve of the 1972 baseball season. The words of our bullpen coach, Joe Pignatano, who was with Gil at the time of his death, still haunt me.
“We had just played a round of golf—Gil and his coaches,” Piggy told me. “After we grabbed a beer, Gil bought some oranges and arranged to have them sent home. Then, just as we got back to the hotel and were about to part ways—Gil and I on one side of a path, and Eddie Yost and Yogi Berra on the other—Hodges says, ‘Don’t forget: dinner at seven o’clock.’ But then his heart just stopped, and he fell backward. I’ll never forget the sound it made. It was over. The doctors at the hospital tried to bring him back for two or three hours, but nothing worked.”
Aside from Gil, there were others who passed on relatively young, like Tug McGraw, Cal Koonce, Tommie Agee, and Donn Clendenon.
I think my feelings of sorrow all fall back to how we were all a part of this very important thing that happened early in our lives, and when one of us dies, so does a part of the youthful invincibility we once shared.
When another member of that team, Don Cardwell, passed away, I wrote a piece in the New York Times about how not only was he a terrific pitcher and a great teammate, but also that baseball was always going to remember him because he pitched for the ’69 Mets. And history has proven that to be true.
I’ve traveled around the country and run into people all the time who can rattle off the players from our club. The ’69 Mets are like folklore now. The legend has taken on a life of its own.
So when we lose somebody from that team, or if I hear that one of them is not well, it truly affects me in a powerful way.
• • •
It’s a hard reality for me to accept that it’s been almost a half century since our club shocked the baseball world. And with time ticking away toward that milestone, I began to wonder how the Mets organization would commemorate it. Considering what the team meant to the franchise, to baseball, to New York City, and even to our country, I thought we merited the biggest anniversary celebration ever given a Mets team.
I’ve met Vietnam veterans who were in the worst place in the world tell me that when we were winning, it helped get them through that awful time in their lives. But they’re just one example of how the team collectively helped a lot of folks forget—if only for three hours a day—some of the most turbulent times in the history of our nation.
But something dawned on me while having lunch with baseball historian and author Erik Sherman one late December afternoon. If a celebration for the ’69 Mets was to take place, an individual who had as much to do with our winning the World Series as anyone, Tom Seaver, would be unable to attend.
“So bring the celebration to him!” Sherman exclaimed. “And we could write a book about the reunion so Mets fans could be a part of it, too.”
I loved the idea.
That’s because countless fans have come up to me over the years to share their memories, tell me what the ’69 season meant to them, or to shake my hand and simply say ‘Thank you.’ They tell me how they were at Shea Stadium for Seaver’s near-perfect game, or when the black cat came out near the Chicago Cubs’ on-deck circle, or when Jerry Koosman plunked Ron Santo with a retaliatory pitch to show we weren’t going to be pushed around by veteran teams anymore. And if they weren’t actually there in person, they were there through osmosis. And that’s okay because whatever it is that’s in their mind, the final result really happened: we overcame the greatest of odds to bring a world championship to our fans. And as long as I’m around and am able to talk and write about it, it will always be the most special part of my professional career.
So I believed that, in some small way, if this story could bring the fans back to reliving that season—even the ones who weren’t born yet but learned all about it from their parents and grandparents—and include them in our inner circle a half century later, it would be a gift.
And to do it right, I wanted Erik to come along with me to get a feel for the camaraderie and special bond we had on that ’69 team firsthand. I also thought it would be valuable to have an “outsider”—a nonplayer—to add a little more objectivity to the story. And because Sherman was a talented author of a number of well-received baseball books, including three Mets-related ones, I knew the guys wouldn’t have an issue with him joining us.
But, still, a flood of questions raced through my head.
Who should I invite?
How many should I invite?
How will the logistics of flying guys in from around the country with different schedules work?
Will Tom be up for it?
Will it overwhelm him?
I left the lunch with Erik feeling that the next logical step would be to contact Tom and his wife, Nancy, to get their feelings about such a reunion with some of the guys. Physically, I knew he might not be up for some things. But for just a few of his closest friends from that team to spend some time with him and reminisce a little bit, I thought it would do him a world of good.
• • •
As I walked back to my apartment, I began to think about who to invite should the trip be a go.
I instantly thought that Buddy, if physically and mentally able, would be a natural. There was a closeness he and Tom have always shared with each other. They were best friends while Mets, both were Californians, and they were roommates on the road for more than eight years. You could really see a camaraderie there.
And now, sadly, they both had something else in common: memory loss. And because of that, I thought it was especially important for Buddy to make the trip. I believed it would do him as much good as it would Tom.
Koosman also seemed like a no-brainer. For so many years, he and Tom formed one of the greatest pitching rotation duos—one from the right side, the other from the left side—in Major League Baseball. I can barely recall any instances when either was hit really hard. We always felt like we had an excellent chance to win when either of those guys was on the mound.
And in ’69, particularly through the last two months of the season and the postseason, no two hurlers were better. You could argue that Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally in Baltimore, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry in San Francisco, Fergie Jenkins and Bill Hands in Chicago, and Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton in St. Louis were comparable that year, though having seen them all like I did, I thought the greatness of Seaver and the toughness of Koosman stood above the rest.
With both of them, even in ’68, when we were still kind of just feeling our way through, everybody knew they were special. Their mannerisms, their special arms, and their command gave us a swagger that wasn’t on the club before.
Obviously, we don’t win in ’69 without either one of them. But for all the attention that Seaver gets, on any given day, Jerry was as good as any pitcher in baseball. Seaver may have been the Cy Young Award winner that year, but Kooz pitched in so many important games that, had we not won, we probably don’t win the division, the pennant, or the World Series.
When you look back at the great pitchers of that era—Marichal, Jenkins, and Gibson—Seaver was, of course, right there with them.
You can argue all you want that he wasn’t quite at their level. But I do know one thing for sure: nobody was a better big-game pitcher than he was. Just look at the ’69 Series. If we don’t win the second game that Kooz pitched, who knows what happens? We go down 0–2 to the Baltimore Orioles, and we’re liable to lose four in a row. And then, of course, he goes the distance to win the game five clincher.
To be perfectly frank, if someone asked me back in 1969 or 1970, You need one guy, one game to be won, who would you pick: Seaver or Koosman? well, I’d really have a hard time answering that. And it wouldn’t be because Tom wasn’t a great pitcher, but because Kooz was such a superb competitor. Kooz really should have had far more consideration than he did in the Hall of Fame voting, but his win total was hurt by pitching for some really lousy Mets teams in the late seventies.
As a person, he’s one of the most gregarious characters I’ve ever known. And what a great joke teller! He’s got amusing stories galore, starting with his experiences as a kid growing up in Minnesota, right through his long, illustrious baseball career. So I knew it would be fun and entertaining to have Kooz out there with us.
My third choice was Ron Swoboda. Rocky was a guy I was particularly close with because we platooned quite a bit in right field. Even though we played the same position and each of us clearly wanted more playing time, there was absolutely no jealousy or problems between us. We both had a lot of respect for Gil Hodges and his decision to split our time out there. And who were we to complain? The platoon worked brilliantly. Our combined output in ’69 was 24 home runs and 99 runs batted in. Gil had successfully fused us into becoming an All-Star right fielder. Besides, Rocky was a guy you had to root for: nobody worked harder at improving his game than he did.
On a personal level, we always got along great. Not only does he have a great sense of humor, but he also has a serious and contemplative side as well. One of the things I like about Swoboda still today is how he always says what’s on his mind. He’s one of the most outspoken people I’ve ever met in the game. He’s liable to say anything, at any time, anywhere. He’ll sit there and argue with you all day if he believes what he’s saying is right. And while I may not always agree with him, I have always respected his point of view.
Rocky’s career went all the way back to some of the earliest days in Mets history. He signed his first major-league contract with the organization in 1963 and made his big-league debut two years later when the manager was the legendary Casey Stengel.
Often, Swoboda’s baseball career mirrored his personality.
One of my favorite Rocky stories occurred in a game at Crosley Field while I was with the Cincinnati Reds. After he hit what should have been ruled a grand slam over the concrete center field wall, the ball bounced off the wood behind it—making a big thud sound—and came straight down on the warning track. Shockingly, one of the umpires called it in play. So Ronnie ran hard, as he should have, but overran the runner at first base. The other umpires, despite seeing that the ball did, indeed, go over the wall, called it—by rule—a mere single because Swoboda passed his teammate on the bases.
Not surprisingly, there was a huge controversy on the field over it. Casey ran out to argue, but it was first base coach Yogi Berra who shouted at the umpire who’d ruled it in play with the classic line “You must be blind if you didn’t hear it!”
But knowing Rocky like I got to know him so well later, I’ve often thought, Who else would that happen to but Ron Swoboda?
I also thought Ronnie would be a great choice to invite to Seaver’s because of how their relationship and mutual admiration grew during their years with the Mets and how it continues to grow to this day. The pre-Seaver Mets that Rocky started out with were the so-called lovable losers, a team for which winning only fifty or so games a year was accepted because National League fans in New York were just so grateful they had a club again after losing both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants to California following the 1957 season. In many ways, Tom felt those early Mets teams—of which Swoboda was a part—weren’t taking the games seriously enough. Thus, when Seaver arrived in 1967 as a rookie, he believed the losing attitude of the old guard was unacceptable.
So it was more than ironic when Swoboda, after working so diligently at his defense, helped preserve Seaver’s only World Series victory of his storied career in game four of the ’69 Series with one of the greatest catches in baseball history. In a way, Seaver’s appreciation for the kind of player Swoboda was came full circle on that autumn afternoon. He was now a lovable winner.
As for Rocky, his esteem for Seaver as an all-time great pitcher was always there, but his admiration for Tom the man continued well after their baseball careers were over. While both men excelled in the broadcast booth, Ronnie has long been enamored with Tom picking up and leaving his high-profile announcing gig with the Mets and home in tony Greenwich, Connecticut, to follow his dream of owning a vineyard in the Napa Valley. In fact, Swoboda has kept close watch of how Seaver’s wines have been judged and awarded by various industry magazines over the years.
So, in my mind, if Buddy, Kooz, and Rocky could join Erik and me in seeing Seaver, it would be as formidable a group as any from our ’69 team. And I thought having this collection of four of Tom’s teammates visit him was a good, manageable number. The last thing I wanted to do was overwhelm him.
But the reality was that I could have tried to put together an entirely different cast of characters from our club—like Cleon Jones, Eddie Kranepool, and Ken Boswell, for example—and it would have been just as wonderful. Part of the reason for that is that everybody got along on our club and contributed significantly to our miracle season.
Still, there was bonus, if you will, in having Kooz and Rocky on this trip. I knew that the dynamic of having the diametrically opposed viewpoints of the politically conservative Koosman and the liberal-minded Swoboda would make for some lively and entertaining banter during the inevitable traffic jams we would encounter in Northern California as well as at mealtime. So between all the reminiscing and baseball talk—our common denominator—I planned to stir the pot and agitate them both a little bit by bringing up various geopolitical topics. It would be unbelievably interesting and all in good fun—just like the old days.
Now I just had to hope those three old teammates of mine could make it.
• • •
Once back at my apartment, I gave Seaver a call, and he picked up on the second ring.
“Hey, Tom, it’s Sham,” I said.
As always, Tom was eager to hear how everybody from our club was doing.
“Have you talked to Buddy?” he asked.
Then later on: “Who else have you seen lately?”
While Tom is somewhat secluded from them out in the hills of Calistoga, it’s a different story for me living in New York. Until he passed away in 2018, Ed Charles lived in Queens, and Buddy and Ed Kranepool are out on Long Island. And I see others like Rocky and Cleon from time to time at various events.
So while I gave updates to Tom, I didn’t bring up the latest medical news on Krane, who had just had his left big toe amputated after an effort to treat an infection related to diabetes had failed. Thinking that Seaver had his own problems to deal with, I didn’t think the time was right to give him that kind of bad news over the phone. I was a bit torn, so I just kind of danced around it. Instead, I got down to the primary reason of my call.
“I’m writing a book on our team, and I’d like to come out with some of the guys to see you in May,” I said. “At this point, I’m going to try to get Buddy, Kooz, and Rocky to come along. We’ll sit around, laugh a little bit, reminisce, and tell the same old lies—the balls that we barely hit over the fence that are now five-hundred-foot blasts—those kinds of lies.”
Seaver chuckled and said, “Ahh, but those are good lies.”
After a brief pause, Tom said, “Look, Art, I’m not going anywhere. I don’t travel anymore. So let me know what you guys plan. I would love to see you all again. It would mean a lot to me.”
“I’ll do the best I can,” I told him.
I hung up with Tom feeling invigorated. There was no doubt in my mind that this would be great therapy for him. And Buddy, too. The reunion would be exactly what the doctor ordered for them both—especially if guys like Koosman and Swoboda, whom neither had seen in a long while, would be able to make it.
• • •
My first call was to Swoboda.
“Hey, Rock, it’s Sham,” I said. “I spoke to Tom, and I think it would be great for some of the guys to go out there and see him. I’m going to try to get Buddy and Kooz to come along. It would be a fun two or three days if we can pull it off. And if you could make it, it would be really great. We could all sit around and do some reminiscing about ’69. I think it would be helpful for Tom. As you may recall, he is really struggling from the effects of Lyme disease.”
“Yes, it’s really sad,” Swoboda said. “I’ve heard about it.”
“I’m also planning on bringing a writer out with me, a good guy, to do some interviews for a book on our team. Would you be interested in coming along?”
“I would love to go, Sham,” Rocky said. “But I don’t know if I can to make it. Cecilia hasn’t been well.” Ron and the former Cecilia Hanna have been married since 1965. “She recently had a very serious surgery to remove a malignant tumor. I would have to see how she’s doing at the time. But maybe if she’s doing better, I could ask her sister to come stay with her. When do you plan on going?”
“We’re hoping for some time in May,” I said.
“Well, I’m also doing games, so that might be difficult for me.”
Swoboda was working as a color analyst for the New Orleans Baby Cakes, the Triple-A minor-league affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
“Well, how about this,” I said. “We’re going to look for a couple of days when you’re not working, and hopefully Cecilia will be feeling better. But obviously, if you can’t make it, you can’t make it. But let’s try because everybody would love to see you.”
A couple of days later, I got hold of Koosman on the phone. As I mentioned, Kooz is a staunch conservative and often sends me emails supporting right-wing politics and denouncing the Left. So after about ten minutes of politics, I told him about my idea of visiting Seaver. Kooz, who grew up in Minnesota, is kind of a good old Midwestern guy who cut right to the chase.
“When are you going?” he asked in his low, raspy baritone, sounding receptive to the idea.
“Well, we’re going to try for early May, but it may have to be later in the summer—perhaps in August.”
“That sounds good. If I’m free when everybody else is able to go, you can count me in.”
As far as I knew, Kooz was now completely retired after spending much of his postcareer years piloting his own plane and spending afternoons out on the greens as a scratch golfer. But he still had various commitments, like autograph signings and other personal events. And he was thinking about putting a landing strip on his property and possibly resuming his flying. Still, after talking to him, I was optimistic we could work around his schedule.
So that left Buddy. I had left him a couple of voice mails but hadn’t heard anything back. Then finally, my third attempt was the charm, as I was able to reach him live—but he said he had to call me right back. After several days, I was still waiting for that return call. In my mind, the prospects of Buddy joining us weren’t good at all.
• • •
By April, the time had come to coordinate the trip and check on plane schedules. While Erik and I finalized the reservations on his laptop, I sighed and looked over at him.
“Well, what do you think?” I asked. “One more call to Buddy?”
Buddy was Tom’s best friend, and we both knew how important it would be to Seaver to have him come along.
“Absolutely,” Erik told me. “You should give it one more try.”
Buddy’s phone rang, and, to my surprise, he picked up. The voice on the other end of the phone was soft and measured. I thought I should get right to the point and asked if he would like to join our group to see Seaver.
“I’d love to,” Harrelson responded quietly, yet sincerely, without adding another word.
After a short pause in which I thought he might say something else, I started talking again.
“Well, that’s great, Buddy. You can fly out with me and an author who is helping me write a book on our ’69 team. We would fly out of JFK Airport on Friday, May 12. I checked the Ducks’ schedule, and they’re away that weekend.”
“That sounds great,” he said. “Thank you.”
I gathered all of his information from him, including his first name, which hardly anybody knows: Derrel.
“We’ll reserve your ticket, print out a copy, and mail it to you,” I said.
“Okay, that would be fine,” he said slowly.
“I’ll call you in a few days,” I said. “Be well, Buddy.”
After adding Buddy to our flight, Erik printed out his reservation and dropped it in the mail to him. Harrelson was, at last, on board. Our group was now complete!
• • •
A few days later, Erik received a call from Buddy’s ex-wife, Kim, who has remained close with Harrelson—often stopping by his house on Long Island, where he lives with their adult son. After finding the plane reservation printout on a table, she contacted Erik, whom she initially mistook for a baseball card show promoter.
“Buddy no longer does autograph signings,” she told Sherman.
But after Erik quickly explained who he was and what was planned, she thought it would be a wonderful thing for Buddy.
“Take lots of pictures for him,” she requested. “It will help him remember the occasion.”
Kim also offered to drive Buddy curbside at JFK on the day of our trip, as well as arrange to have him picked up after arriving back in New York. Even though they were divorced, it was clear that Buddy and Kim still loved and cared for each other.
“I think this is going to be great therapy for him,” she added. “And it’s going to be great for Tom and you guys, too. I just hope he’s feeling well enough to make the trip.”
I swear, as someone with experience in this department, Buddy and Kim should write a book on how to divorce amicably.
• • •
I called Tom to let him know that, barring any unforeseen circumstances, Buddy, Kooz, Rocky, Erik, and I were all confirmed to fly into San Francisco on May 12, a Friday afternoon, and we would come by either that evening or the next morning.
“Hey, Sham, let me put Nancy on the phone so you two can get it on our calendar,” he said.
High school sweethearts, Nancy and Tom have been married for more than fifty years—a reality almost unheard-of in the baseball life. During the ’69 season, more than any of the other Mets players’ wives, she was often caught on camera rooting on her man while wearing her trademark assortment of stylish hats. She was the Mets’ very own fashion icon—and a wonderful lady.
I told Nancy about our plans to go out there, and, while she was excited by the news and said they would be home the weekend we planned to come out, she was cautionary as well.
“Well, Art, to be perfectly honest, we just don’t know how he’s going to feel—he gets foggy sometimes,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful idea and will really be great for Tom—and Buddy, too—but just understand that some days are good and some days are not too good. Every day is different. It’s really a roll of the dice.”
Still, I wanted to forge ahead. I knew how very special it would be to bring the guys out there to see him.
“Well, let’s hope for the best,” I said. “We get in about one o’clock on that Friday. By the time we would get up to Calistoga, I guess it would probably be around three thirty or four.”
“Oh, I don’t think it’s a good idea to come over then,” Nancy said. “Tom gets tired in the afternoon and a little forgetful. Why don’t you come over the next morning about nine o’clock? Hopefully, he’ll be doing well. I’m sure he will want to take you out to the vineyards.”
“That would be wonderful,” I said, giving off an air of optimism.
But at the same time, I had come to the realization that our sole chance to see him was limited to just one day: that Saturday. Sunday would be out, as we had to make it all the way back to San Francisco in the early afternoon to make our flights home.
“And then afterward,” Nancy continued, “he’ll want to take you out to lunch and make you some coffee back here. It’s not going to be very good coffee, but pretend that it is—tell him it’s good anyway!”
• • •
In the final days leading up to the big trip, I was restless.
I called Koosman, Harrelson, and Swoboda at least twice at the beginning of the week to make sure they were still okay. And I phoned Nancy on Wednesday and then again on Thursday—the day before we were to leave—to check on Tom.
“He’s doing well, Art,” she told me in her usual friendly voice. “He told me how much he’s really looking forward to it.”
I was thrilled to hear that and just as glad that he remembered.
Still, it was a tense and nerve-racking time for me. The night before the flight out of JFK with Buddy and Erik, I couldn’t sleep. In fact, I never even bothered going to bed. I simply couldn’t relax. So I watched a little TV and played some Solitaire on my computer while all sorts of scenarios went through my mind.
Rocky’s issues. Buddy’s issues. Tom’s issues.
But maybe I was the one with the most issues!
• • •
Both Erik and I arrived at the Delta Air Lines terminal at JFK exceptionally early the next morning to ensure we would be there when Kim dropped Buddy off curbside.
When Kim and Buddy arrived, I thanked her for everything she had done before walking with Buddy toward the doors.
Buddy, wearing a light Mets jacket, was in great spirits. His Alzheimer’s was readily detectable by his slower speaking pattern and how he sometimes had difficulty verbalizing his thoughts, but he seemed genuinely excited about the trip.
We reached our gate well before take-off, so I treated our threesome to breakfast in the Delta Lounge, where I am a member. While we ate, Buddy was especially interested in talking to Erik about a book he had written on the 1986 Mets, entitled Kings of Queens, as Harrelson was the third base coach on that club—the only other squad in franchise history to win the World Series.
For the next half hour, Buddy regaled us with stories about the Mets teams of the mid- to late eighties, on which he served as a coach under manager Davey Johnson. Those Mets wrote the next auspicious chapter in club history. The foundation of the 1969 world champion Mets stayed largely intact through 1976. But then came the doldrums: seven consecutive losing seasons. With Johnson’s arrival, though, the Mets immediately reversed course, reeling off seven straight winning seasons, including two division championships, a pennant, and a second World Series ring for Buddy in 1986. He would replace Johnson as manager two months into the 1990 season and guide the team to a strong second-place finish, just four games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Buddy’s memory was surprisingly sharp and his take engrossing. It really passed the time while creating a bond between him and Erik, which I was glad to see, considering we would all be spending the weekend together.
As we boarded the plane, and I got comfortable in my seat, a sudden calm came over me. The plan that Erik and I had hatched up better than four months before was becoming a reality.
I admit it: I’m still a kid at heart. I get around Seaver and Koosman, and I’m still in awe of how well they pitched. With Buddy, even though we’ve been together countless times, I’ve never lost sight of the fact that he’s a true Mets icon. And with Rocky, I can still vividly recall that incredible catch he made in the World Series.
My admiration has always been there for those guys—and the rest of the team as well. We were a part of something so special in 1969. The common thinking then was, If the Mets can win the World Series, then anything is possible.
So although I was thoroughly exhausted by this point, the anticipation of getting the guys together again gave me a rush of adrenaline. And as the plane took off, the memories of those glorious days came flooding back.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The 1969 New York Mets are known for a very surprising championship season that was considered by some to be a miracle, hence they got the moniker “the Miracle Mets.” One of the players from that team, outfielder Art Shamsky, got together with three of his teammates and author Erik Sherman to relive that glorious season and share many baseball stories. Shamsky and Sherman, along with Bud Harrelson and Ron Swoboda, paid a visit to Tom Seaver’s home in California and there all four players shared some great stories together, laughing frequently despite the health issues of Harrelson and Seaver. While those passages made up the best parts of the book, they really did not take up a lot of the book. Instead a great portion of the book is a full season recap of that 1969 season, mainly from Shamsky’s viewpoint. However, because Shamsky obtained many different quotes on the season from many of his teammates, it is far from a dry recap of games and victories. The various viewpoints from many players, stars and bench players alike, give the reading of the 1969 Mets season a fresh look. It also helps to validate the notion that every player contributed to that special season, not just a few star players. While Shamsky writes his recollections in a nice conversational manner, the stories from others give it a nice touch. While this reader wishes the heartwarming reunion between the four teammates in a nice California home was a bigger part of this book, it is nonetheless a book that every Mets fan should have on his or her shelves. With so many people remembering this team fondly, even if they weren’t born yet to witness them, any book on the 1969 Mets is sure to be enjoyed by the team’s fans of any age. I wish to thank Simon and Schuster for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.