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Miracle Year 1969: Amazing Mets and Super Jets

By Bill Gutman (Sports Publishing L.L.C.)

Reviewer: Marc Maturo,; Lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and sports copy editor for The Journal News, White Plains, N.Y.

Besides man first walking on the moon in 1969, that year was celebrated in sports by the Miracle Mets of manager Gil Hodges and the Super Bowl champion Jets of quarterback Joe Willie Namath. To say that the Mets' victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles and the Jets' astounding victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts stunned the sporting world would be an absolute understatement. No one, it seems, expected either team to reach the pinnacle of success that year.

Everyone, apparently, but the players themselves. If anything comes out of Gutman's work, it is this: No one on the Mets felt they pulled off a miracle and no one on the Jets were shocked by the way they handled the NFL champion Colts, who were installed anywhere from 17- to 19-point favorites. You might even say, as Gutman recounts, that the Mets and the Jets actually expected to win. As is often stated, time after time, the only people upset by such improbable victories are the sports writers.

Gutman divides the book into nearly equal halves, devoting the first part, some 107 pages' worth, to the Jets; and some 111 pages in the second part to the Mets.

Surprisingly, only two members of the Super Bowl champion Jets were elected into Pro Football's Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But not surprisingly, those players were the pass-catch combo of Namath (yes, Gutman deals with Joe Willie's famous "guarantee") and the reed-thin but fleet-footed, sure-handed Texan, Don Maynard. Putting the team together was the Hall of Fame coach Weeb Ewbank, who first achieved fame in what is still known as the Greatest Game Ever Played, his Colts' 1958 overtime victory over the New York Giants - the game that truly put the NFL on the sporting map. Another interesting item from the Jets' team is the bombastic defensive end Johnny Sample. Sample never played again after the Super Bowl, but had the distinction of playing both for the 1958 Colts and the 1968 Jets. For him, says Gutman, there were no more worlds to conquer.

As for the Mets, who won it all in only their eighth year of existence, they also had a resolute leader in manager Gil Hodges. Casey Stengel, of course, was long gone from the scene, but Gutman offers many insights into Stengel the man and Stengel the myth. Casey might have been great for the writers ("My writers," he called them) but he was no pushover, as several players attest, including Ron Swoboda, who would play a pivotal role in the World Series with -- get this -- great defensive plays in the outfield. "You learned," noted Swoboda, "that you didn't mess with Casey."

As Cleon Jones, another outfielder, would learn, you didn't mess with Hodges, either. And it's easy to forget that Hodges actually came into the picture prior to the 1968 season, when the Mets sent pitching prospect Bill Denehy along with $100,000 to the Washington Senators in return for their manager, Hodges. The Mets and their fans had become tired of losing and Hodges proved the perfect antidote.

"Gil was a strong disciplinarian and a tough manager. You played it his way or took to the highway," said Swoboda. "He always made decisions on what he felt was right and that was it. He had one set of rules and didn't divert from them. It was apparent that he was the right man for the job at the time."

But the Mets, who had those 100-1 odds against them winning, had a solid core of players, led by the excellent pitchers Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver. The veteran Donn Clendenon was a great mid-season acquisition. Clendenon was a guy who didn't like to lose and came to New York ready to play.

The Mets, however, needed a tremendous surge to pass the front-running Cubs, who were led by fiery manager Leo Durocher. One of baseball's storied moments happened during a key series against Chicago, the never-to-forget "Black Cat Incident." Seems that right in the middle of game one, one of the cats that lived under the stands came out on the Cubs' side of the field. A black cat. He got scared and ran right across in front of the Cubs' dugout, recounts Koosman. Continues Koosman: "The fans saw it and began cheering and screaming, which scared the cat even more. He just kept running back and forth in front of their dugout, and in seconds the whole stadium was rocking. Then the press picked up on it and portrayed it as another sign that the Cubs were done."

Swoboda, who still laughs about the incident, said it was the most incredible thing you could ever see. "It was like we trained the cat and trained him to run back and forth right in front of their dugout."

Black cat or no black cat, the Mets polished off the Cubbies, polished off the Braves and, finally, triumphantly, polished off the Orioles to become, forever, The Miracle Mets.

But think again, fans. Listen to the astute Koosman.

"Winning the World Series was totally incredible, but it wasn't a miracle," says Koosman. "We had some outstanding talent...we had a manager who knew how to utilize everything he had 100 percent of the time. In my mind, Gil Hodges deserves most of the credit for what happened that year."

What the Mets did, however, was, as shortstop Bud Harrelson notes, "something that can never be duplicated."

Our ratings board gives Gutman's work the "Grand Slam" label.

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