If you ever wanted to be the proverbial fly on the wall at one of the most significant gatherings of legendary Mets in the history of the franchise, then your place is waiting in Art Shamsky’s newest book, “After The Miracle,” the story of the 1969 Mets both then and now.
With the news this week that the great Tom Seaver no longer can travel, and is suffering from the advent of dementia, a direct byproduct of his decades-long bout with Lyme Disease, the decision to plan a reunion between Shamsky and his Mets mates to visit Tom Terrific at his vineyard in Calistoga, California, has taken on greater significance.
The journey and memory-laden visit bookends Shamsky’s recollections of the historic 1969 World Championship season. Along with co-author Erik Sherman – who also has chronicled various aspects of Mets history in books about the 1980s teams with “Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the ‘86 Mets,” “Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with the ‘86 Mets,” and last year’s release of “Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball,” – Shamsky scheduled a visit to Seaver in May of 2017 with extreme concerns that the entire trip could have been for naught if Seaver’s physical condition on the day they arrived would prevent any sort of meaningful reunion.
Seaver’s ailments have led to memory loss and a tendency to repeat things, and days when any sort of function could be restrictive.
“After the Miracle,” which will be officially released on March 19th, (Simon & Shuster, hardcover, 325 pp., $28.00, w/photos) is an absolute must-read for any Mets fan of any age, as the reunion between Seaver and his former teammates – Shamsky, Jerry Koosman, Ron Swoboda, and Bud Harrelson – accompanied by Sherman to document the journey, is delightlfully detailed and filled with stories that will make you smile and remember what Shamsky recalls as “the most memorable” World Series team to win it all.
You know the story, you do, but you might not know the story flavored with such background, and the little moments that fill the entire picture.
You know about the day their manager, Gil Hodges – who to a man all Mets state was the number one reason the team won 100 games that year and the Fall Classic with such verve and determination – came out to scold and remove Cleon Jones from left field after what was perceived as a nonchalant approach to a ball that resulted in a double by the Astros’ Johnny Edwards at the end of July that year.
Jones was nursing a bad leg, and was playing left in a swampy quagmire after two days of rain, so yes, he was being a little careful.
Hodges left the dugout and didn’t skip over the first base line as was his custom. Shamsky was in right, and wondering, uh-oh, was he taking out Nolan Ryan, who gave up the double, or something else. Hodges walked past Ryan and headed toward Buddy at short. “Me?” Harrelson asked. Hodges told him, “No, the other guy.”
The ex-Marine skipper kept going to Jones, and went right up to him practically face to face and asked sternly, “What’s wrong?” Jones answered, “What do you mean, what’s wrong?” Hodges replied, “I don’t like the way you went after that last ball.” Jones told him to look down at the field conditions.
Hodges understood. “I didn’t know it was that bad out here. You probably need to come out of the game.” Jones agreed and trailed him back to the dugout.
It was an embarrassing situation for Cleon, and the team, but Hodges was making a statement.
“You bet your ass Gil was making a statement,” Seaver still recalls with lucid clarity. “His actions spoke volumes.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Hodges basically apologized to Cleon privately the next day, explaining his message to a “leader on the club.”
It was Hodges, however, as we learn in After the Miracle, who was scolded by his wife, Joan, after the game.
Mrs. Hodges, who still lives in Brooklyn, told Shamsky she gave it to him when he got home for his traditional post-game home-cooked meal. “I said, ‘I wouldn’t care if you got Cleon in the office after the game, shut the door, and wiped the floor with him. But whatever possessed you to do it on the field?’ And he goes to me, ‘Do you want to know the gospel truth? I never realized it until I passed the pitcher’s mound. And I couldn’t turn back!’”
“After the Miracle is filled with such moments, back stories you will treasure, with updated recollections by the men who made it happen and what many of them are doing now, including Al Weis, Ed Charles, Bobby Pfeil, Nolan Ryan, Duffy Dyer, Ken Boswell, Ed Kranepool, and others.
Kranepool couldn’t make the trip to California, as he continues in his quest to find a suitable kidney donor, and it was even questionable whether Harrelson would be able to endure the journey, as he too, suffers from the onset of Alzheimers, and has good days and bad days from that debilitating disease.
Some have passed – Charles died just last year at his home in New York City – but their stories remain their legacies.
Donn Clendenon became a stabilizing force in the middle of that 1969 Mets lineup after a trade from Montreal at the June 15 deadline. “Clink,” as he was known, was also the clubhouse lawyer, and indeed, was studying to become one after his playing days were over.
“When Clendenon came on board,” Jim McAndrew recalled, “you got the feeling that if the pitchers kept a ball game close, he would help us win it with his bat.”
Indeed. Clendenon’s .252 average, 12 homers and 37 RBIs in 72 games might not seem like much in these stat-driven days of the present, but his presence in that platooned lineup was as instrumental as just about any other bat.
He was a presence on and off the field and he liked to needle his team, even more so, the opponents. And after the season, when the Champs were booked for a singing, yes, singing act, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, we find out Clendenon liked to have himself paged through the casino just so he could hear his name on the PA system.
There was another famous “singing” performance the ‘69 Mets became known for, an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show shortly after their victory over the Baltimore Orioles secured their place in history.
However, Shamsky now reveals that before they were to go on, the team had dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant and imbibed a bit too much to be vocally professional, so the Sullivan producers scrambled to find a men’s choir and had them secretly singing, “You Gotta have Heart” strategically placed behind the risers featuring the Mets.
Koosman was one of the best pranksters on the team, and still to this day, could come up with some zingers. His best gag may have come in 1975, when he had Seaver convinced he had been traded to the Astros for Doug Rader. This was a full two years before Seaver actually was dealt. Koos planted a bug in the portable radio Seaver kept in the locker. Out of the room, Koosman hired a professional announcer voice to present “breaking news,” “Tom Seaver has been traded…
Not surprisngly, the “fake news” didn’t go over too well with Seaver at the time, but they reminisced about it once more during the vineyard visit. Koosman came from his home in Wisconsin. Swoboda journeyed from his home in New Orleans. Shamsky still lives in Manhattan while Harrelson (his longtime roommate, Seaver, still calls him, “Cheech”) has long since made Hauppauge, Long Island his home.
So pull up a chair and take that ride to California with Shamsky and his teammates to visit The Franchise as they “tell the same old lies.”
“Ahh, but those are good lies,” said Seaver.
Statue Time for Seaver?
When news broke about Tom Seaver’s onset of dementia and his inability to travel, it will be heartbreaking when the Mets celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the ‘69 Champs throughout a weekend in June and one of the most important members of the team, not debatably the most important player ever to wear a Mets uniform, will be unable to attend.
The Mets issued a statement which sounds like there will be somewhat of a proper celebration done to honor his legacy.
“We are planning to honor him in a special way and have included his family in our plans,” read a statement by MET COO Jeff Wilpon. “Our thoughts are with Tom, Nancy, and the entire Seaver family.”
Mets fans, and the media, are all in agreement – to best honor Seaver and his importance to the organization – build a statue!
The Braves have statues outside their ballpark honoring their great players. The Cardinals have statues outside their ballpark honoring their great players. The Cubs, Dodgers, Reds, and others all have statues. The Brewers even have a statue honoring their broadcaster, Bob Uecker!
For reasons which are hard to understand, the Mets have been resistant to erect statues honoring players such as Seaver, and perhaps others. There is a Tom Seaver entrance at Citi Field, complete with the bust from the Diamond Club back at Shea Stadium, and there is also a Gil Hodges entrance, also featuring the bust, and a Casey Stengel entrance, but no statues.
With all of this public outcry, perhaps the Wilpons will finally awaken to the notion that their fans want a statue of Seaver and will unveil it during that 50th Anniversary weekend.
‘Bout time, Jeff. ‘Bout time. Get it done.