After seven years of perennial losing, there was something palpable in the air. This combination of young guns pitching and timely if unspectacular hitting had them hanging around contention but they didn’t make the final push to the top until a mid-season acquisition who delivered the power punch the lineup was so badly missing. No, I’m not talking about the current first place Mets and Yoenis Cespedes, but the 1969 “Miracle Mets” who had toiled at or near the basement since their inception in 1962.
Going into the season everyone knew the team had two studs in Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, but much of the rest of the team was overlooked. Everyone respected what guys like Jerry Grote, Ken Boswell and Bud Harrelson could do with their gloves but they were fairly anemic with bats in their hands. Slugger Tommie Agee was coming off a 17 HR/.217 campaign in 1968 and although Cleon Jones acquitted himself well with a .297 average that year, no one could have anticipated the 48 point spike in batting average that was to come. Starter Dick Selma and his sub 3.00 ERA was gone when the 1969 season started, replaced by rookie Gary Gentry. The Glider, Ed Charles, gave way to primary starter Wayne Garrett who turned in a .218 rookie campaign. Art Shamsky was solid in a platoon role but there wasn’t a whole lot else going on offensively with this bunch.
Then came the mid-season trade in which Donn Clendenon arrived from the newly minted Montreal Expos for solid but unspectacular starting pitcher Steve Renko and light hitting infielder Kevin Collins. Clendenon assumed regular first base duty and in roughly 1/3 of a season’s worth of at bats delivered 12 HRs and 37 RBIs…not unlike Yoenis Cespedes’ 14 HRs and 36 RBIs. All of the sudden the Mets had a bonafide slugger in the lineup and it coalesced the rest of the team into a productive unit. Still, like the current Mets, the 1969 squad was more about pitching than hitting, but the parallel is rather striking.
For the Mets it was the Chicago Cubs who were the nemesis and the 1st place team-to-beat in the inaugural year of divisional play. In 1969 the Mets stood at 55-44 on July 31st, 6.5 games back. They then went on a tear that found them in first place with a record of 84-57 on September 10 behind the strong pitching that day of one Nolan Ryan who topped the Montreal Expos 6-1.
On July 31st this year the Mets were 53-50, in second place, 2 games behind the Washington Nationals who they beat that night 2-1 in extra innings. Last night it was Bartolo Colon supplying strong pitching and Juan Uribe plus others delivering a 7-2 victory for the 1st place Mets 79-61 with a 7.5 game lead over the fading Washington Nationals.
In 1969 it was Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, McAndrew and veteran Don Cardwell (with spot starting from hot young pitcher Nolan Ryan). In 2015 it’s Jacob de Grom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jon Niese and veteran Bartolo Colon (with spot starting from hot young pitcher Steven Matz).
In 1969 you had a platoon-happy manager who juggled Ed Charles with Wayne Garrett, Donn Clendenon with Ed Kranepool, and Ron Swoboda with Art Shamsky. In 2015 you have Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Michael Cuddyer, Juan Lagares and Kirk Nieuwenhuis all getting in the outfield mix. You have Kelly Johnson, Daniel Murphy, Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada getting time on the infield.
The 1969 squad improbably beat the heavily favored Atlanta Braves in three straight, manhandling the likes of Hank Aaron, Rico Carty, Orlando Cepeda, and Felipe Alou. Then they promptly lost the first game of the World Series with Tom Seaver on the mound before storming back for four straight victories for their first ever crown. Here’s hoping the 2015 squad can follow suit.