|Book Review: The Miracle has Landed|
Written by Richard Coreno (Contact & Archive) on December 07, 2009
Leave it to southpaw star Jerry "The Kooz" Koosman to deliver a perfect pitch for the spectacular The Miracle Has Landed: The Amazin' Story of How the 1969 Mets Shocked the World: "This year, 1969, is broken down into minute stories, with detailed biographies of players and coaches and their thoughts from the great season and how it compared with other memorable moments of their careers and lives."
Edited by Matthew Silverman and Ken Samelson, the October 2009 release is a collaborative effort between Maple Street Press LLC and the Society for American Baseball Research. It features a wealth of essays over the 393 pages from more than 30 SABR members and other baseball historians. There are biographies of 35 players, the five members of the coaching staff -- including manager Gil Hodges and coach Yogi Berra -- top brass in the front office and announcers -- Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner -- along with sections covering the history of the club to the closure of Shea Stadium in 2008 and a variety of perspectives on the championship season.
"The Mets finished the '69 season with a record of 100-62. The pitching staff threw 28 shutouts, including six by Koosman (then age 26), who ended the season at 17-9 with a 2.28 ERA, 180 strikeouts, and a second All-Star appearance," writes Irv Goldfarb. "He struck out 15 San Diego Padres in 10 innings on May 28 and piled up 23 consecutive scoreless innings in June. He won eight of his last nine decisions."
While the lineup card is filled with top guns like The Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year winner Tommie Agee, National League Cy Young Award honoree Tom Seaver, slick-fielding shortstop Bud Harrelson, top hitter Cleon Jones (.340 batting average) and bullpen aces Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw -- who combined for 25 saves -- there is enough room in this diamond gem for players like Jack DiLauro, Danny Frisella, Bob Heise and Les Rohr.
And then there is first baseman Donn Clendenon, who was acquired in a June 15 deal with the Montreal Expos. His role expanded, after being platooned with Ed Kranepool, as the pennant race began to heat up with the Chicago Cubs. In 72 games, he batted .288 and swatted 12 homers. His three homers in the World Series earned him the coveted Most Valuable Player Award.
"Victory is fleeting, and Clendenon received a call at the stadium (after the World Series) informing him that nothing of value was left in his apartment," writes Edward Hoyt. "'Fans' had broken in and taken almost everything - clothes, dishes, even wallpaper."
Wins were few when the Mets began play in 1962; they immediately set a new standard in Major League Baseball futility, losing 120 of 160 games, while finding a cozy home in the cellar (10th place) in the National League. Through 1968, the club would only claw into ninth place twice -- 1966, 1968 -- and were dismissed at 100-1 odds to win the 1969 World Series when spring training opened up.
The season marked the 100th anniversary of professional baseball -- honoring the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first pro team -- which delivered substantial changes: four expansion teams (Seattle Pilots, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, Expos) and the "Division Era," as the 12-team leagues were each divided into two divisions. Not to "disappoint," the Mets started the season with a thud.
"One of the key elements of drama for a baseball miracle is that the team in question should walk out on stage for the first time as if nothing has changed, as if nothing will ever change. So the 1969 Mets lost (11-10) to the brand-new Montreal Expos with their star pitcher (Seaver) on the mound on Opening Day," Silverman writes. "It also put the Mets into the category of scoring double-digits against a team that had never played before...and losing. The loss made it eight straight Opening Day losses, dating back to the franchise's first game in 1962. The first scene of the play had gone off flawlessly."
Muddling along at 18-23, the club powered to an 82-39 record over the final 121 games, which included capturing 39 of the last 50. Trailing the Chicago Cubs by 9.5 games in mid-August, the Mets would win the East Division by a comfortable eight games over the pacesetters and 12 over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The bases are loaded with neat tidbits on the chase, with the infamous black cat in Shea during a Mets-Cubs game receiving "purrfect" treatment.
Sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the NL Championship Series in three games, the Mets were huge underdogs to the American League's Baltimore Orioles, who coasted to the East Division title and swept the Minnesota Twins to march with confidence into the World Series. With starters Mike Cuellar (co-AL Cy Young Award winner), Dave McNally and Jim Palmer combining for 59 of the 109 regular-season wins and sluggers like Frank Robinson and Boog Powell, it was no surprise that the Orioles won the first game by a 4-1 tally on October 11 in Memorial Stadium.
There is a grand slam of coverage for the next four games -- October 12, 14, 15, 16 -- as the Mets swept past the Orioles by the scores of 2-1, 5-0, 2-1 in 10 innings and 5-3. With the front pages of newspapers dominated by major stories like Apollo 11, the Vietnam War, border clashes between the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China, the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl, the Charles Manson cult, Woodstock Festival and the John Lennon/Yoko Ono Bed-Ins, it seems fitting that the "National Pastime" would deliver a curve ball for the ages.
"The Amazin' Mets had cast off the mantle of lovable losers," writes Ron Kaplan. "'This is the summit,' said (third baseman) Ed Charles, who retired after the World Series. 'We're number one in the world and (it) just can't get any better than this.'"
AHP Rating: 4 Balls
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Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.