The 1968 Mets had been the most successful season in the Flushing franchise’s history up to that point. That season, they won 73 games, finished 16 games under .500 and just one team ahead of the cellar in the National League.
For a hapless franchise born in 1962 whose fans knew nothing but losing — and losing big, they lost 100 or more games in five of their first seven seasons — that 1968 season was considered a great improvement. Powered by young pitching and a dynamic manager, they seemed to be heading in the right direction —but the concept of the Mets contending still seemed to be a fantasy.
But along came the 1969 Mets, who went on a truly miraculous run that lives in Met folklore to this very day. The new year marks the 50th anniversary of the Miracle Mets, and the Flushing home team will celebrate that championship season in a special way later this year.
Fans will flock to Citi Field the weekend of June 28-30 for a three-day celebration of the Miracle Mets, and to watch the current roster try to follow in their footsteps in a series against the Atlanta Braves.
A number of team members figure to be invited. They include Tom Seaver, “The Franchise” pitcher who won 25 games for the team that season; Jerry Koosman, his left-handed compliment, who fired off the final pitch of the 1969 World Series; Cleon Jones, the slugging left fielder who caught the final out of the series; and Ed Kranepool, the utility man who spent 17 seasons with the Amazins.
They represent the core pieces of the 1969 Mets, a team that transformed itself from a perennial loser to a world champion in just one year. The path that they took to get there — filled with improbable comebacks, spectacular plays, clutch hitting and even a black cat crossing their rivals’ path — is the stuff of legend, baseball folklore passed down from one generation of Mets fans to another.
Under the guidance of manager Gil Hodges, the Mets shook off their losing culture and started winning in ways that Mets fans hadn’t seen before. On June 3, 1969, the Mets had a 24-23 record; it was the first time the Mets had a record above .500 that late in a season.
And there was no looking back.
Realizing that they actually had a shot to contend, on June 15, the Mets acquired slugging first baseman Donn Clendenon from the expansion Montreal Expos, then won 8 of their next 10 games. By July 5, the Mets found themselves facing the first-place Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium, and trailing them by just 5 ½ games in the National League Eastern Division standings.
The Mets won two out of three against the Cubs in that series — highlighted by the “imperfect” game thrown by Tom Seaver, who came within two outs of throwing a perfect game before a capacity crowd.
But things didn’t get any easier for the Mets, who cooled off in late July and found themselves 10 games behind the Cubs entering play on Aug. 13. Then, the Mets started another hot streak just as the Cubs started falling apart.
The Amazin’ Mets rattled off 18 wins in 24 games, and the Cubs returned to Shea on Sept. 8 clinging to first with a 2 ½ game lead in the standings. The Mets swept the two-game series from the Cubs, then found themselves taking first place all by themselves two nights later.
At 9:07 p.m. on Sept. 24, the Mets defeated the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea Stadium, 6-0, and clinched the franchise’s first-ever National League Eastern Division title. But the improbable run was far from over.
The Mets ended the season with 100 wins and advanced to the first-ever National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves. It didn’t take the Mets much effort to topple the Braves, sweeping the best-of-five series 3-0 to advance to the World Series.
Incredible as this triumph was, few gave the Mets any shot of winning the World Series. They were up against the Baltimore Orioles, a dominant team that won 109 games en route to an American League pennant. The Orioles captured the first game on their home turf, but the Mets bounced back to win the second game 2-1, sending the series back to Queens.
The next three games would prove that the 1969 Mets weren’t just incredible — they were a miracle.
The Mets took the third game, 5-0, with centerfielder Tommie Agee making two incredible catches that abruptly ended two Orioles rallies. In the fourth game, a spectacular diving catch by rightfielder Ron Swoboda in the ninth inning prevented the Orioles from taking the lead. The Mets wound up winning the game in the 10th inning on a squeeze bunt play in which Orioles pitcher Pete Richert threw the ball into J.C. Martin’s back, allowing the winning run to score.
The Mets had a commanding 3 games to 1 lead in the series, but the Orioles pulled ahead to a 3-0 lead, threatening to send the series back to Baltimore. But in the sixth inning, the Mets turned the corner when Cleon Jones was struck in the foot by a pitch from Orioles pitcher Dave McNally.
Though the umpire initially ruled it a ball, manager Hodges produced a baseball with a speck of blue shoe polish from Jones’ shoe — evidence that Jones had indeed been hit. It convinced the home plate umpire to reverse his call, sending Jones to first base.
The next batter, Clendenon, hit a home run, narrowing the lead to 3-2.
The next inning, the Mets tied the game when infielder Al Weis — who wasn’t known for his slugging — belted his first home run of the season. The Mets then scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth, and Koosman got the last three outs in the top of the ninth to clinch the Mets’ first world championship. (Trivia: The out was made by Baltimore Orioles outfielder Davey Johnson — who would go on to manage the 1986 Mets to a world championship.)
It also clinched one of the wildest celebrations Queens has ever seen. Fans poured out of the Shea Stadium seats onto the field, tearing it up in unbridled ecstasy.
You can’t run onto the diamond at Citi Field, but you can attend the 50th Anniversary celebration the weekend of June 28-30, and capture some of the magic of that memorable season. The June 28 game will feature a 1969 Mets replica jersey giveaway; the June 29 game will feature a pregame ceremony celebrating the 1969 Mets, and the first 15,000 fans will receive a commemorative pennant; and the June 30 game will feature a giveaway of a replica 1969 Mets world championship ring to the first 15,000 fans.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit mets.com.