Mets Magic Was Born 50 Years Ago

Agee

Mets outfielder Tommie Agee made this spectacular catch in Game 3 of the 1969 World Series

Baseball season is here.  Today Jacob deGrom, the reigning National League Cy Young Award-winner, scattered five hits and struck-out twelve Washington Nationals in the 2-0 opening day victory.  Needless to say, I am happy he just signed a long-term contract extension. Robinson Cano homered in his first at-bat as a Met.

It is also worth noting that this season is the fiftieth anniversary of the New York Mets’ 1969 World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles.  Jay Schreiber has it covered at The New York Times.  Check out his multi-part special report, “The Year the Mets Jumped Over the Moon.”

Here is a taste of the first installment:

Just how had this happened? Yes, the Mets had excellent pitching, solid defense at key positions and some very good young players, but their lineup was hardly overwhelming. And yet, that didn’t matter in the regular season, when the Mets won a whopping 100 games and, in the process, beat out a Chicago Cubs team that played three future Hall of Famers every day.

Nor did it matter in the National League Championship Series, when the Mets swept an Atlanta Braves club led by Henry Aaron, one of the best players in the sport’s history. Or in the World Series, when the Mets went up against a mighty Orioles team anchored by the two Robinsons, Frank and Brooks. The Orioles, winners of 109 games in the regular season, seemed unbeatable until the Mets quickly proved otherwise.

Making this all the more remarkable is that the 1969 Mets did not represent the beginning of a dynasty. In the seasons that followed, the Mets won considerably fewer games and while they did make it back to the World Series in 1973, they did so almost by accident, having finished the regular season with a thoroughly mediocre 82-79 record.

But none of that diminishes what occurred in 1969. Here was a group of players who stumbled all over the place in 1962, with fans who embraced them almost in defiance. A team that slowly improved in the years that followed, but only slowly. And yet a team that proceeded to figure it all out for one intensely memorable season.

I was a preschooler when the Mets won in 1969, but I feel like I re-lived the season through WWOR-TV (Channel 9 in NYC) highlights during Met rain delays in the 1970s.

The Poet Laureate of the 1969 Miracle Mets

Ed Charles

If you are a New York Mets fan, a general baseball fan, a poet (it’s National Poetry Month), or a student of the African-American experience you must read Gettysburg College historian Tim Shannon‘s recent Penn Live (Harrisburg Patriot-News) piece on Ed Charles.  (I should also add that Shannon will be our guest on Episode 36 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  It drops tonight).

I was too young to see Ed Charles play third base for the Mets (1967-69), but I have fond memories watching him play in the “Miracle Mets” highlight footage that WWOR (Channel 9) used to show during Mets rain delays in the 1970s.

Tim Shannon is one of the few writers who can connect Ed Charles’s poetry to Phillis Wheatley and the Atlantic slave trade.

Here is a taste of his op-ed:

Ed Charles, the third baseman for the “Miracle Mets” team of 1969, died last month at the age of 84.

When the New York Times ran his obituary, it included several photos, including two shots of Charles on the field. One showed him diving for a ball with the agility that earned him his nickname, “The Glider.” 

Another showed him leaping with joy along with pitcher Jerry Koosman and catcher Jerry Grote after the Mets recorded the final out of the ’69 World Series.

These two shots of Charles in action on the diamond were accompanied by a very different one of him taken in the Shea Stadium locker room in 1967, not long after he had been traded to the Mets by the Kansas City A’s. 

Charles sits on stool by his locker, dressed in his uniform, with a pad of paper on his knee and a pen in his hand He looks away from the camera, his eyes raised above the horizon. The photographer, it would seem, has caught “The Glider” in a different kind of action. 

Rather than being in mid-air, he is in mid-thought. 

Charles was a locker room poet. 

Read the entire piece here.  Here is Charles the poet:

cHARLES pOET

 

The Club of American Bible Society Historians Who are Mets Fans is Always Looking for New Members!

🙂

Some of you are familiar with Peter Wosh’s excellent history of the American Bible Society, Spreading the Word: The Bible Business in Nineteenth-Century America (Cornell, 1994).  I relied heavily on Wosh’s book in my The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (Oxford, 2016).

Wosh recently retired from his post as Director of the Archives and Public History Program at New York University.   If his Facebook page is any indication, he is spending a lot of time exploring the historical landscape in his home state of New Jersey and enjoying his New York Mets season tickets.

Today Wosh posted a picture of himself at Citibank Field.  It was Mets helmet day! (Posted here with his permission).

Wosh

When I saw this pic I had to respond. As you can see, my childhood Mets helmet is way to small for my head.

 

Mets

American Bible Society historians stick together. Let’s Go Mets.

On the Occasional Failure of Mets Magic

I have been a sports fan my entire life.  My aunt and uncle gave me my first subscription to Sports Illustrated when I was seven years old. The next year they bought me a subscription to The Sporting News.  Somewhere in the attic at my parent’s house in New Jersey those magazines are stacked in chronological order alongside similar piles of Baseball Digest, Sport and thousands of baseball, basketball, and football cards.  I don’t know why I never took this collection of memorabilia out of the attic. Perhaps I want it to stay there as long as possible.  Nostalgia can be a powerful thing, especially when it is applied to the favorite teams of our childhood years.

Much of my childhood revolved around the New York Mets.  This morning I was telling a friend that my first real memory of Mets baseball was watching the Bud Harrelson (I loved Bud Harreslon!) and Pete Rose fight in game three of the 1973 National League Championship Series.  As a Jersey kid growing up in the 1970s I spent countless hours in my backyard, baseball bat in hand, simulating imaginary Mets games.  I knew the roster by heart:  Grote, Milner, Milan, Harrelson, Garrett, Jones, Staub, Unser, Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, McGraw, Apoodaca, etc.  I acted out complete nine-inning games and, of course, the Mets always pulled out the victory in the bottom of the ninth.  On at least one occasion our neighbors asked my parents if everything was okay with me.  I was the weird kid next door who spent an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon swinging a bat, talking to myself (I would impersonate Mets announcers Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson, and Ralph Kiner), and imitating the wind-up of Tom Seaver, my boyhood hero.

After 1973, being a Mets fan was not easy.  My imaginary games in the backyard–games in which Mets Magic always prevailed in the end–represented an alternative universe that was far removed from what was actually happening at Shea Stadium.  The Mets had two winning seasons between 1974 and 1983.  They would not make the playoffs again until 1986, my junior year in college.  And what a year that was! I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing in game 6 of the NLCS. Many of you will recall this 16-inning marathon against the Houston Astros.  It was one of the greatest games in baseball history.  I must confess that I did not watch the entire game.  After the tenth inning I had to go to basketball practice.  Fortunately, between drills and water-breaks, my coach let me run out of the gym into a nearby lobby with a television set so I could check the score.

And then there was game 6 of the World Series.  I was in a packed dorm lobby with a few Mets fans and a lot of anti-Mets fans and Red Sox fans.  I felt like I was watching a miracle take place that night. It was even better than the hundreds of imaginary games that took place in my backyard over the years. Any die-hard Mets fan can chronicle the events that occurred in the bottom of the 9th. Gary Carter’s two-out single to get the rally started. Bob Stanley’s wild pitch.  The Buckner mishap on the Mookie Wilson routine grounder and the image of Ray Knight crossing the plate.  When we got back to my dorm room my roommate (who was also a Mets fan) popped Arrowsmith’s “Sweet Emotion” into the tape deck and we picked up a couple of hockey sticks and played air guitar (or something close to that) in front of the Mets pennant hanging on the wall. We were pouring with sweat. Our throats were sore.  We were exhausted physically and emotionally.  Bring on game seven!  “Mets Magic!”

Last night, as the Mets batted in the bottom of the ninth trailing the Royals 7-2, I could not stop thinking about game six against the Red Sox. My rational faculties were momentarily suspended and the raw emotion that can only come from a lifelong loyalty to a baseball club took over.

But Lucas Duda, Michael Conforto, and Wilmer Flores are not Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, and Ray Knight.  Wade Davis is not Calvin Schiraldi or Bob Stanley.  Like 1973 and 2000, 2015 was not our year.

The magic of youth fades, but it never disappears.  Next year I will hope for a revival of Mets Magic, but I will also put my hope in the ever-maturing arms of Harvey, DeGrom, Syndergaard, and Matz.

Let’s go Mets!

Three Cheers for Will in Queens

Will in Queens represents what many of us Mets fans are feeling today.

Unfortunately for Will, he decided to get emotional about last night’s disaster at Dodger Stadium with Mike Francesca.  Anyone who listens to WFAN in New York knows Francesca does not do very well with this kind of thing.  Just ask Chris Russo.

He is a Yankees fan who doesn’t like the Mets.

What Do Jerry Koosman, Carl McIntire, Arnold T. Olson, and Jayber Crow All Have in Common?

I often tell my students that “the past is a foreign country.”  But sometimes, when conducting historical research, one can run into familiar faces.  This is happening to me over and over again as I write my history of the American Bible Society.  Over the course of the last year I have encountered several people–some already dead–who have in one way or another intersected with my personal life or my career as a historian.

In order to honor such serendipity, I have decided to do my best to include these people in my book, tentatively entitled “The Bible Cause: A History of American Bible Society.”  The three people I am about to mention are very peripheral to the 200-year-old story of the American Bible Society, but they do represent certain trends that are central to the larger themes I am addressing in the book.  My goal is to somehow find a way to bring them into the narrative without disrupting the narrative flow. 
Your job, once the book is complete, is to try to find them (without looking at the index) in what may turn out to be a 400+ page book.   (This has a strange “where’s Waldo”-type feel to it)
Here they are:
1. Jerry Koosman:  He was a pitcher for the New York Mets from 1967-1978.  As a diehard fan of the Amazin’s, Koosman was one of my favorite Mets (next to Tom Seaver).  When I was a kid I used imitate his pitching wind-up with its unusually straight-legged extension.  In 1977, Koosman was the runner up for the National League Cy Young Award and was a member of the 1969 and 1973 World Series teams.  Here is Koosman striking out Boston’s Carl Yastremski (my favorite non-Met) for the last out in the 1968 MLB All-Star game at the Houston Astrodome.
Well, it turns out that Jerry Koosman was a devout Lutheran layman.  In 1969 the American Bible Society presented Koosman with the 17 millionth copy of the Good News for Modern Man New Testament “in recognition of his service to the Bible cause.”  Later, he would endorse the Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) for the ABS.  
McIntire

2. Carl McIntire;  I wrote my M.A. thesis at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on this 20th century fundamentalist and published one of my first articles on him–a 1994 piece in the Journal of Presbyterian History.  About fifteen years ago I got started on a biography of the man–even did some oral history interviews and bought a lot of microfilm.  I hope to come back to this project one day.  McIntire makes several cameo appearances in ABS history–mostly as a fundamentalist gadfly who opposes the ABS support of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible and a cold warrior who, much to the dismay of ABS leadership, wants to send Bibles into Cold War Eastern Europe using helium balloons.  

3. Arnold T. Olson:  He was the president of the Evangelical Free Church of America from 1952 to 1976.  When I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the early 1990s it was the official seminary of the Evangelical Free Church. (And it still is).  I learned about Olson in a required course I had to take on Evangelical Free Church history and polity.  He also became a part of my regular vocabulary since the seminary chapel was named after him.  One of the earliest conversations I can remember having with the woman who would eventually become my wife took place in the Arnold T. Olson Chapel.
Much to my surprise, Olson was active in the American Bible Society.  He served on the Board of Managers and several important committees, including the Translations Sub-Committee.  I like to

Arnold T. Olson Chapel

think of his role in the late 1960s and early 1970s as one of the ABS’s token evangelicals.

All of this stuff about trying to get characters into my book reminds me of something similar I managed to pull off while putting the finishing touches on my The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.   A lot of my discussion of “place” and “rootedness” in that book stemmed from my reading of Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow, the story of a barber in Berry’s fictional town in Port William.  I still think it is Berry’s best work and may be one of the best pieces of fiction I have ever read.
When it came to write the Acknowledgements for The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I managed to slip my fictional friend Jayber Crow into a list of people I wanted to thank. Here is the pertinent sentence:
This project has been improved by the formal conference comments, general encouragement, words of inspiration, and informal remarks of several people, including Dee Andrews, Richard D. Brown, Richard Bushman, Jayber Crow, Jay Green, Allen Guelzo, Kevin Gumieny, Marsha Hamilton, Rhys Isaac, David Jaffee, Eric Miller, Mark Noll, Elizabeth Nybakken, Donna Rilling, Mark Schwehn, and Nancy Tomes. 

Either the editors at the University of Pennsylvania Press had no idea that Jayber Crow was a fictional character or they simply indulged me by letting him stay nestled between Richard Bushman and Jay Green.
Look for Koosman, McIntire, and Olson sometime in May 2016!

New York Mets Begin 50th Anniversary Season

If you are a Mets fan (like me) you should be prepared for an exciting year of 50th anniversary celebrations.  I was not born when the Mets stepped onto the field for their first season in 1962 and I don’t remember anything about the 1969 “Miracle Mets” (except the highlights that channel 9 used to show during rain delays), but one of my earliest baseball memories was the 1973 National League playoffs against the Reds and the fight between Buddy Harrelson and Pete Rose.  My life has overlapped with a good portion of the history of this franchise.  And, of course, who can forget 1986.  (RIP Gary Carter).

Sportswriter Robert Lipsyte covered the Mets in 1962.  In yesterday’s New York Times he reflects on the Mets’ first Spring training.  The group of players that arrived in St. Petersburg in February 1962 included Richie Ashburn, Frank Howard, Don Zimmer, and Gil Hodges.  And let’s not forget manager Casey Stengel. 

Here is a taste of his article:

Hiring Stengel was a stroke of promotional genius. He had won 10 pennants and 7 World Series with the Yankees. He was considered a brilliant tactician, ruthlessly shuffling players. He was endlessly quotable. He had been fired after the 1960 season for having grown old. Upon taking the Mets job, in a sly nod to his age, 71, and a Civil War-era baseball team, he said, “It’s a great honor to be joining the Knickerbockers.”
Cranky, smart, mean, compassionate, profane, hilarious, Stengel was the show’s leading man. He was up early, instructing the younger players on life (“Get yourself in shape now, you can drink during the season”) and hitting (“He who stands up to bat is all right; he who sticks his fanny out isn’t worth a road apple”) while bantering with fans and holding a running news conference. The nutty language called Stengelese (“So this here fella on second base, let me tell you he was not as horseapple as he was in Kankakee, which was amazing for a left-handed dentist, which I did not get to be”) was a construct of big-time columnists parachuting into camp for 15 minutes with “the ol’ perfesser.” Heard in their entirety, his hours-long monologues made perfect sense.
I spent many nights in the hotel bar, at his elbow, absorbing his intricate, though coherent (if you were there from the beginning, that is) theories of platooning and pinch-hitting and his ribald reminiscences of players he managed, especially Joe DiMaggio, whom he did not like and referred to by an Italian slur. Even for his time, Stengel was not politically correct.