Miracle Mets honored for Amazin' '69 run
World Series champions given 40th anniversary celebration
NEW YORK -- The anecdotes -- some purposely embellished, others inadvertently modified by 40 years and the shortcomings of human memory -- flowed, and they prompted smile upon laugh upon grin upon belly laugh. The '69 Mets had reassembled to celebrate and be celebrated for their improbable achievements Saturday evening. Cream-colored uniform shirts that were characterized as home whites and more gray hair that seemed possible distinguished them from what we recall. Wayne Garrett and Mrs. Gil Hodges were the only redheads. And so what? It's the lexicon of the day, color it wonderful. It was such a special summer evening that reminded us of a special and improbable summer and fall.
In some ways, these Mets never had left. Even though Gary Gentry never threw a pitch and Jerry Grote never caught one in Citi Field, the champions of the 1969 World Series were home again. They were introduced by Howie Rose, a 15-year-old when the Mets made all things seem possible, and he's still so passionate about those times and events. And they were hailed by a large gathering of folks, some of whom undoubtedly purchased their tickets expecting something less nostalgic and more about the '09 Mets and Phillies. And so what? The mystique of the game is fueled by its past.
Don't merely recognize it, celebrate it. So on this night, in a new park accused of being "too Brooklyn Dodgers," everything was about the first Kings of Queens. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Bud Harrelson, Cleon Jones, Ron Swoboda, Ed Kranepool, Grote, Gentry, Garrett, Ed Charles, Al Weis, et al. And even Nolan Ryan, back in the No. 30 he wore before he wore the garments of the Angels, Astros and Rangers.
Citi Field put its arms around the '69 Mets and around, as Seaver characterized them, "the perfect, glorious and improbable" events that made the team a permanent part of any review or assessment of World Series accomplishments. Even Ryan, who did so much after he was traded away, was embraced. And on this night, even he, the 150 percent Texan, enjoyed what the big Citi provided.
"That season changed all our lives," Harrelson said.
The patrons came to see all their heroes of the past. And the heroes gathered -- it seemed -- to enjoy themselves and salute Gil Hodges, the man who paved the road the Mets followed into October. It was Hodges, Seaver said, with whom the notion of the Mets winning "began to percolate."
"It's been 40 years," Harrelson said. "And we're talking about Gil."
It was Hodges, first mentioned last night by Jones, who had shown up Jones by yanking him out of left field when he thought his leading hitter had dogged it. "If he could take my butt out ..." Jones said.
Jones' version of the event didn't necessarily jive with what others recalled -- "Why didn't you tell us earlier?" Koosman asked when he heard it -- but Jones had made his point, though he plea bargained down the charges against him.
Koosman provided a new story, too, confessing he, seated in the dugout, had rubbed the baseball on his shoe at Hodges' direction in Game 5 of the World Series. Jones was deemed to be a hit batsman as a result. Whatever it takes! The statute of limitations evidently expires once the guilty team has participated in three additional World Series.
"Koozie's the only guy who ever saw it," Swoboda said later. "Maybe that's Koozie's urban myth."
It was Grote who acknowledged Joe Namath's guarantee in Super Bowl week and "what he pulled off in the Super Bowl" against the Colts as having inspired the Mets' adventures against the Orioles.
"Too bad the Knicks didn't beat Baltimore when they won [in the 1970 NBA Finals]," Grote said.
And Koosman told of summoning teammates before Game 1 of the World Series after Orioles pitcher Jim Hardin had offended him asking, "What are you guys doing here? You don't belong on the same ballfield as us," Koosman recalled. He told his colleagues of the Orioles' arrogance, as did Harrelson after the first inning of Game 1.
Seaver's second pitch was hit barely beyond Swoboda's reach in right field for a home run by Don Buford. After Buford touched second base and reached Harrelson at shortstop he said, rather brazenly, "You ain't seen nothing yet."
"Turns out," Grote said, "we'd seen enough."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.