As much as the 1969 Mets shook baseball with everything they did in the playoffs and World Series, what happened on a day off turned the entire sport upside down. On Oct. 7, 1969, a day after the Mets finished their sweep of the Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies made a blockbuster trade. And Curt Flood refused to be part of it.
The Cardinals star centerfielder announced he would not report to the Phillies. Instead, he challenged the reserve clause that tied a player to one team for life unless he was traded or released. Flood sued and lost his first court fight. But his case ultimately led to free agency and put baseball in a whole new orbit.
The game on the field, in the stands, in front of TVs (high-definition now) and especially on balance sheets has changed drastically since 1969 World Series most valuable player Donn Clendenon was awarded a car by then-influential (and now departed) Sport magazine. In 1969, the minimum player's salary was $10,000, and the average was $24,909. This season the minimum is $400,000, and the average is $3.26 million.
Ballclubs can afford to pay because of massive income from cable TV (a novel concept in 1969), the Internet (the what?), posh new stadiums and luxury suites that don't require VIPs to sit in the box seats, as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her two children did during the 1969 World Series.
With so much invested, teams and agents are careful about how players are used. Josh Beckett's nine-inning effort for the Florida Marlins in 2003 notwithstanding, it is almost unheard-of for a starting pitcher to still be on the mound when the World Series ends, as Jerry Koosman was in 1969. His was the fourth complete game of that series.
Ninth-inning closers represent only one segment of modern baseball's specialists. Some batters don't have to play in the field (the American League adopted the designated hitter rule in 1973). The 1969 season was revolutionary because it introduced two divisions in each league and two rounds of postseason play. Now each league has three divisions, and there are three postseason rounds that feature wild-card entries. Most teams play in small, baseball-only parks, not circular, multipurpose stadiums like Shea.
It is extremely unlikely any current team could catch the world by surprise, as the 1969 Mets did. Every pitch in every game is televised and scouted. Every hint of a trend is dissected by radio talk-show hosts and bloggers.
Tapes of 1969 games reveal a frenzied crowd but a long-gone subdued approach from the public address system and TV announcers.
Players in 1969 looked like average-sized people. Today, with or without steroids, "big" is huge. "Koozie and I were talking about it. Whitey Ford would never get a job today," Tom Seaver said, referring to the Yankee great.
Change has been rapid, in contrast to the ballgames themselves. Games 1 and 5 of the 1969 World Series took 2 hours, 13 minutes and 2 hours, 14 minutes, respectively. In the 2008 World Series the shortest game lasted 3 hours, 5 minutes.
Young people missed much of the 1969 World Series because all the games were held in the daytime, while kids were in school. Now, Major League Baseball is criticized for causing its young audience to miss World Series games because they are on too late at night.