A fond remembrance of a legendary baseball team and the teammates who kept in touch throughout the ensuing decades.
On Oct. 16, 1969, the New York Mets defeated the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series. Playing in right field for those Mets was Shamsky (The Magnificent Seasons: How the Jets, Mets, and Knicks Made Sports History and Uplifted a City and the Country, 2016), who—along with sportswriter Sherman (Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with the ’86 Mets, 2016, etc.)—offers a narrative of that season and later memories anchored by the teammates’ 2016 trip to visit ailing pitching ace Tom Seaver. On paper, the 1969 Mets were average. Outfielder Cleon Jones finished third in the National League in batting average, yet no one on the team hit more than 26 home runs or drove in more than 76 runs. The team succeeded because of two main factors: the guiding hand of their manager, Gil Hodges (“Sixty-nine would never have happened if not for Gil Hodges,” says Jones), and the fact that these Mets, in the words of first baseman and World Series MVP Donn Clendenon, “epitomized the word team.” Thus Shamsky, who hit .300 that season, split time in right field with Ron Swoboda, who made a key catch in Game 4 of the World Series. Neither Clendenon nor Swoboda had played a single game in the National League Championship Series. The narrative of the season itself, which takes up two-thirds of the book, is informative and entertaining, and Shamsky effectively places the team’s magical year within the social and political contexts of 1969, including the moon landing, the Vietnam War (shortstop Bud Harrelson missed time to fulfill his military obligation), and the now-all-but-forgotten rioting in York, Pennsylvania. Moreover, the author persuasively argues that the team helped unify New Yorkers during a turbulent time. However, the reunion itself is somewhat anticlimactic, and Shamsky probably overstates his case that the ’69 Mets inspired the nation as a whole.
An enjoyable tale of a storybook season.