Moeller: Clendenon Was a Passing Hero Who Made a Lasting Impression

SNY recently concluded a week long broadcasts of the Mets’ five-game 1969 World Series win over Baltimore. In the current age of rewind sports, it is a treasure that never loses its uniqueness.
The heroes, plays, and the story lines, that led to that memorable day in mid-October that shocked the baseball world, were seemingly countless.

Tom Seaver was the face of the franchise, and Jerry Koosman was part of the that team’s Mets Mount Rushmore. Yet, where would the Mets have been without series MVP Donn Clendenon?

It will be 15 years this fall when Clendenon lost a battle to leukemia and passed at the age of 70 in 2005. However, his fall of 1969 should not be forgotten. His short Mets’ stint was a microcosm of his life and career.

Clendenon turned out to be the final piece of the puzzle when he was acquired from Montreal during the 1969 season, for pitcher Steve Renko, who became a fixture on the young Expos’ staff. He was a hired big bat and cleanup hitter they needed.

Clendenon basically shared time at first with Ed Kranepool until he exploded in the Series with three homers, the key one a two-run shot in Game 5 that helped the Mets begin to solve Baltimore’s Dave McNally, who had a 3-0 lead through six innings.

At the time, Clendenon had one of the best and timely World Series’ performances ever recorded with a .357 average to go along with three homers. His 15 total bases was a record for a five-game series.

There were rumors of him being a malcontent that surfaced over his eight-year stint with Pittsburgh (most notably a rift with manager Harry Walker) that began as a draft pick in 1961. However, he became a selfless player with the Mets. When he was awarded the MVP award, he quipped. “There is no most valuable player on this team — we’ve got lots of them.”

Clendenon apparently found a home. His life had come full circle from being cast off to Montreal in the expansion draft as a temporary, last-stop filler to a full-time 33-year-old World Series champion.
The big first-baseman responded the following season with a solid 22-homer, 97-RBI, .288 campaign in 121 games, his 97 RBIs were a new club record. He also set a new mark with seven RBI’s in a game, but the Mets faded down the stretch and another postseason wasn’t in the offing.

However, his success would be short lived. Clendenon fell victim to fate as Kranepool had a bounce-back year in 1971 after his demotion to Tidewater, and farmhands Mike Jorgenson and John Milner needed roster spots. Clendenon was relegated to 88 games with an 11-homer, 37-RBI and .247 line for the year.
He was released at the end of the season, two years from being a World Series MVP.

Clendenon spent his final year with St. Louis in 1972, but he saw little time behind incumbent Matty Alou at first. He was consequently released and announced his retirement at the end of the season.

In true fashion, Clendenon returned to Pittsburgh to earn a law degree from Duquesne in 1978.

He had yet another battle to fight with a cocaine addiction in his early 50s. He overcame it in a rehab center and worked as a chemical dependency counselor for a corporation in Utah. “I had to go to a place where I could change my environment, my associates and everything else,” Clendenon said in a New York Times article about his then position.

In October of 1969 and the following season, Clendenon certainly changed the Mets’ environment.

About the Author

Jeff Moeller

Jeff Moeller has been covering the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and college football and basketball as well as high school sports on a national and local scene for the past 39 years. He has been a Jets and Giants beat reporter for the past 13 years.

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