'69 Mets are symbol for long shot that came in

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In a telling moment in the 1977 movie "Oh, God!" George Burns, playing the title role, was asked essentially, "What have you done for us lately?" He replies, "My last miracle was the '69 Mets. Before that, you have to go back to the Red Sea."

Score a point in the debate over who had the greatest ascent in 1969, the Mets or the Apollo 11 astronauts. The astronauts, after all, went no farther than the moon.

The '69 Mets had their own soaring trajectory - they were more than just a chronically bad ballclub that suddenly won the World Series, as dramatic as that is. They were, and still are, a symbol of the longest of long shots.

"There aren't limits on anything you can do," said Ron Swoboda, whose physics-defying diving catch in Game 4 of the World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles remains the template for the '69 Miracle. "It was a time when anything seemed possible. And it was."

Before that season the Mets were not merely a poor team. They were a national symbol for bad luck and worse results. When Dodgers superstars Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale appeared on "The Hollywood Palace" TV show in 1966 wearing tuxedos, how did host Milton Berle dress to look haplessly overmatched? He put on a Mets uniform.

Audiences for "Oh God!" in 1977 didn't need an explanation. They had an idea. The Mets set a major league record with 120 losses in their first year, 1962. They knew the Mets had been a punch line, emblematized by former manager Casey Stengel's lament, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

That was the image the Mets carried into the Woodstock summer of '69, when they overtook the star-studded Chicago Cubs. It was the image forever shattered in the Age of Aquarius October, when they defeated the Atlanta Braves in the first ever National League Championship Series and shocked the Orioles in the Series.

Tom Seaver, the greatest star on that Mets team and a Hall of Famer, stood before a packed house at Citi Field, the Mets' new ballpark, last month and said, "We cherish this memory, each and every day, forever."

Art Shamsky, who shared rightfield with Swoboda, said earlier this year that just about all the work he has done in the past 40 years has come as a result of being a 1969 Met. "I played for 13 years, and nobody ever talks about the other 12," he said. He recalled telling Don Cardwell's widow, soon after the pitcher's death last year, that, "Don's name never will be forgotten because he was part of that team."

The same goes for the late Gil Hodges, the manager, and late team members Tug McGraw, Donn Clendenon, Tommie Agee and Cal Koonce.

Fate was gentle with the Miracle Mets' victims. The 1969 Cubs still are immensely popular in Chicago, the Braves' Hank Aaron became the home run king five years later, the Orioles won the 1970 World Series, and Orioles second baseman Davey Johnson managed the Mets to a world championship in 1986.

But it is the 1969 Mets that history remembers best. Al Weis, a weak hitting utility player, will be immortalized for batting .455 with a key home run in the World Series.

Cleon Jones was a hero again in New York last month, at a 40th reunion, recalling what it was like to catch Johnson's fly for the final out and go down to one knee: "I'm bowing, saying, 'Thank God it's over.' "

And he wasn't talking to George Burns.

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