Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Amazings

They played the last game ever at Shea Stadium today (September 28).

The New York Mets lost it and won't be going to the baseball playoffs when they begin this coming week. But 39 years ago in 1969,the first year a playoff system was introduced into National and American Leagues, the Mets did go.

In fact, they went all the way, winning the most improbable of world championships. The Mets had never finished higher than ninth in the league their previous seven seasons. But in the playoffs, sparked by the pitching of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and a very young Nolan Ryan, plus the hitting and fielding of Tommy Agee, Cleon Jones and MVP Don Clendenon, "The Amazin' Mets" beat, first the Atlanta Braves for the National League crown, then upset the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1 to win the World Series.

All this occurred just as we were starting our freshman year at Vanderbilt and just a few months after man first landed on the moon. Given what the Mets had accomplished, it was truly a time when anything seemed possible.

Here's how David Brinkley and NBC Nightly News captured the moment the day it happened on October 16,1969....

There was a bit of the flair for the dramatic all four years of the World Series while we were at Vanderbilt. After losing to the Mets, the Baltimore Orioles bounced back the following season in 1970 to win a world championship 4 games to 1 over the first edition of the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati. Brooks Robinson was the MVP, putting on a fielding exhibition at 3rd base during the Series that had never been seen before (or since).

However, despite having four 20-game winners on the staff the next season, a third straight trip to the Series in 1971 did not result in another win for Orioles. Instead, they lost in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates and MVP Roberto Clemente, with Clemente playing in his final games before tragically losing his life in a plane crash during the off-season trying to bring relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. 1971 also was the first time any World Series game was played at night under the lights.

1973 saw the beginning of a new dynasty as the Oakland A's defeated another edition of the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati. It would be two more years before the Reds would win any world crowns. This time it was the unexpected slugging of MVP catcher/first baseman Gene Tenace, which sparked Oakland to the first of three championship flags.

OK, how many of us skipped those afternoon classes to catch the World Series on the radio? Or, if you didn't have a TV in your room, found some place to watch it with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek doing the play by play and color analysis? Or how many of us did it like we did in high school, found a way to flick on the radio and catch a quick score to share around the room with our friends while the professor droned on during that 1:00 or 2:00 PM class?

Both the Mets and Yankees (who also did not make the playoffs in the final year of historic Yankee Stadium) will open brand new ball parks in New York City next year, and that is likely to spark a new renaissance for the game (if you can afford the tickets).

Still, for me that period of baseball while we were growing up during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, remains one of the greatest periods ever in the history of the game. Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

There's only one October!


Steve said...

Pat, are you absolutely sure this is not just the two of us having one of our "normal" trips down memory lane?

The Mets, you actually led with the Mets?

Okay, 1969 was notable for many things. It was Harry Carey's last year with the Cardinals who had dominated the league the past two seasons. "The Cardinals are coming Tra-la-la-la."

The Braves traded Joe Torre to St. Louis for Orlando Cepeda and suddenly won the first Western Division Crown. I for one was pretty upset when the Mets swept them in three games.

1970 saw the rise of the Big Red Machine, part one. Johnny Bench had his breakout year, and for the first time since 1961 when they won the flag with a host of ex Nashville Vols, we followed the Reds. But then they lost to the misplaced St. Louis Browns (nee Orioles) in the World Series due to superior pitching and the human vacuum cleaner, Brooks Robinson at third base.

1970 for us was the year of Curt Flood sitting out the season to protest the reserve clause, and the Cardinals getting Richie Allen in return. I remember WSIX picked up the Cardinals that year, and listening to them on the West Coast while I worked the night shift at UPS.

In 1971 Joe Torre had an MVP season and Bob Gibson pitched a no hitter against the Pirates. This was the first of those cell phone commercials where I must have called your house FIFTY times trying to reach you that night.

In 1972 we took our first trip together to see the Cardinals in St. Louis, we made the mistake of taking Don Powell, who insisted we come home so he could go to Church the next morning. I remember less than fondly the trip home. The Cardinals traded Matty Alou on my Birthday while we did a remote from Rand Terrace during orientation. I then boldly predicted that the Detroit Tigers would beat Oakland in the ACLS because the Athletics were well, the Athletics, and they hadn't made it to the World Series since 1931, a streak longer than the Cubs and the Senators!

1972 also saw the first players mini-strike. It cost the Red Sox a share of the Eastern Division as they played one more game than Detroit and missed the playoffs by only 1/2 game!

They kicked us out of school mid-way through the 1973 season, but watching Willie Mayes at the end of his career for the Mets in that World Series (should have been the Cardinals, dang Steve Swisher) was sad. The greatest center fielder I ever saw was a mere shadow of himself that October.

1973 also saw the Braves hitting balls over buildings as Hank Aaron came within one homerun of tying Babe Ruth with 713 homeruns. Davy Johnson whose previous high had been like 6, hit 43, and Darrell Evans hit 41, while the Braves pitching allowed them to finish 5th out of 6 in the West.

Are you sure, we need to subject these people to all of this?

Steve Womack

Steve said...


Vandy is undefeated and alone in first place!

ESPN is doing Gameday from Dudley Field, and we're talking baseball?

Oh, yeah, it's us, we always talk baseball, football, basketball, and politics in the same breath.

My bad.

Steve Womack

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