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Family members share fond memories of 1969 Mets who have died

The 1969 Mets pose for a team photo.

The 1969 Mets pose for a team photo. Credit: AP

Some family members of the 1969 Mets have only the memories of others or YouTube to learn about their relative’s role on the World Series champion.  

“The reality of mortality,’’ former pitcher Jim McAndrew said.

Tommie Agee’s wife and daughter are looking forward to Saturday’s reunion at Citi Field. Agee, who died in 2001 at 58, made two brilliant catches against the Orioles in the Series.  

“I hope they make mention of my father. He’d be so happy to be here,’’ said J’nelle Agee, 31.

She is often asked if she is related to the ballplayer. “It makes me really proud,’’ she said. “It's such a unique last name. If I go to the baseball stadium and I wear his jersey, people will come up to me and tell me stories of how they used to imitate him in their backyard, pat their gloves, try to do that little wobbly run.  For me, it's really great to hear other people's stories about how they interpreted him as a baseball player, how they grew up with him and how they looked up to him. And how he was an all-around nice guy who would always sign autographs.’’

Maxcine Agee met her husband in 1981, eight years after he retired. She knew nothing about the '69 Mets before she met her future husband at his restaurant on Astoria Boulevard, a short distance from Shea Stadium.

 “My parents didn't follow baseball and I really didn't know who he was,'' she said. "I was invited to his restaurant by a friend at the Outfielders Lounge. He introduced himself to me.’’

They were married in 1985.

Cleon Jones, who grew up with Agee in Mobile, Alabama, was the best man at the wedding.  “Cleon was late to the wedding,’’ Mrs.  Agee said. “We almost had to have Art Shamsky stand in as the best man.  Cleon said, ‘I was just giving Tommie an opportunity to think about what he was really doing.’ ''  

Maxcine Agee saw her husband’s post-Mets fame. “He was open to having conversations with whoever stopped him, in particular, children,’’ she said.  “He would stand in the street and have conversations with people.  They felt like they knew him as a friend, not just a player. For me,  it's great to see even though he's gone, the impact he had and that people still remember him.  They still talk about the catches. They talked about him and Cleon coming from Mobile.’’

Agee had a history of heart problems. “Two years prior to leaving us, he was having issues with his heart,’’ Maxcine Agee said. “I know before we were married he had some issues as well. We went to several doctors.  They were giving him some medication to assist him. We thought we had it covered.  But he also had high blood pressure, which was a determining factor as well.’’

The families of the other Mets players embraced the Agee family after his death. “That team specifically is family to us,’’ Maxcine Agee said. “When we see them, it’s like we were there all the while.’’

TUGGING AT HEARTSTRINGS

Diane McGraw was relief pitcher Tug McGraw’s second wife. She, too, initially was not aware of his presence on the 1969 Mets.  

McGraw told his wife of his early years in the organization. His older brother, Hank, a Mets prospect, had asked the Mets to take a look at his younger brother, and the Mets said they wanted to sign Frank. The family was sure they meant Hank, but it was Frank McGraw, Tug’s birth name.  

Diane McGraw also was told of the birth of “Ya Gotta Believe,’’ the rallying cry of the 1973 pennant-winning Mets. Many people believe that started with the '69 team. “He was in the manager’s office for a meeting,’’ Diane McGraw said.  “And when he said “you gotta believe,’ they thought he was being a smart aleck.’’

 McGraw’s son, Matthew, who bears a striking resemblance to his late father, will represent his dad at the celebration. McGraw died at age 59 in 2004 from complications of brain cancer. He recorded the final out for the Phillies in the 1980 World Series.

McGraw was part of a young and often playful pitching staff. It took pitcher   Don Cardwell, then 33, to calm them down, and it happened in spring training of '69 when he said something close to  “cut the nonsense,’’ according to McAndrew.  

He added, “Some of us younger guys didn't know what it was to be professional. He was a professional. He didn’t complain about things. He just went out and did his job.’’

Sylvia Cardwell, the pitcher's widow, was along for the entire ride. Playing a leadership role was “very important to him because he was one of the older men on the team,'' she said. "He felt like he was playing a part in helping the young players and he saw what they could do that season. And he was very happy about that. They called him 'Old Man' and 'Pops.' After a while, I think he took that role and was proud of it. He was very fond of Tom Seaver.  Tom would come to our apartment and sit down and talk with Don. Don enjoyed him so much because he was so brilliant. He realized all their potential.’’

Cardwell died at age 72 in 2008 of Pick’s disease, a virulent form of dementia. “It progressed very quickly,’’ Sylvia Cardwell said.

THE CLUBHOUSE LAWYER  

Donn Clendenon was the Mets' know-it all . . . in a good way. He took it so seriously that he became a real lawyer after his career. “My dad was an overachiever, super-intelligent. He graduated from college when he was 19 years old,’’ said Donn Clendenon Jr., 52. ”He was a knowledge junkie. And if he thought there was something that was not right, he would fight for it.’’    

Clendenon was the difference-maker in the lineup when the Mets acquired him on June 15 of the championship season. He became the World  Series MVP.

 “I was too young to appreciate what was going on,’’ his son said, “but in hindsight, it was profound to me to see my father on the field with tens of thousands of people cheering him on and super-excited that he became part of the Mets. It  probably means as much to me to be able to meet the people who continued to play long after my father retired and have a relationship with those people,  all those teammates.’’

Clendenon was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia when his son was a senior in high school.  He died at 70 in 2005.

“I would have never imagined that he wouldn't have been around forever. He was such a big, strong presence,’’ Clendenon said. “They said his life expectancy was 20 years and he beat that, he had that additional year. When he was first diagnosed, he kept it to himself for about a year and a half.  He never really felt like it was a death sentence. He wasn't having any complications.  He figured he was strong and he'd be able to beat it.  And he did for as long as he could.’’

Former teammate Ron Swoboda said of  Clendenon, “There was so much more to Clendenon than most of us really understood. His education, where he was coming from, being a black man at that time. A lot of things going on that we knew nothing about. Most of the  stuff you learned later.’’ 

HODGES IN FAMILY HALL OF FAME

The Mets lost a great manager when Gil Hodges, 47, died of a heart attack during spring training in 1972 before the beginning of his fifth year with the Mets, but Gil Hodges Jr. lost his father.

”You can either get angry about that or you embrace the adoration that people still have for your father, and that's what I've decided,’’ said Hodges, 69.  “People speak to me like they know him for 25 years, which to me is what more can you ask.’’

In this anniversary year, there has been revived talk about Hodges’ chances of finally making the Hall of Fame for his playing career with the Dodgers. His son said that would be the “cherry on top,’’ but he added that he knows his father would have picked being on three World Series winners, including two with the Dodgers, over  Cooperstown.

Said his son, “You wouldn’t get the whole sentence out before he answered.’’

CHARLES HAD RHYME AND REASON

Ed Charles was the Mets' poet laureate. “He said, ‘When the leaves turn brown, the Mets will wear the crown,’ '' son Edwin Charles Jr. recalled. He is 49 and did see his dad play.

Charles did not come from a happy-go-lucky baseball background. “He talked about the harshness of playing baseball in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era,’’ his son said. “He was called a very despicable name. He had told his grandfather he couldn't take it anymore and wanted to quit.’’

His grandfather responded, "What would have happened if Jackie [Robinson] quit?’’  Enough said.

Charles said his father stayed connected to the community after baseball. “He worked for the juvenile justice system as a liaison for a group home,’’ he said. “He took a lot of kids who had never been to a ballgame. He took them to meet the players and have that experience.’’

Charles died at age 84 in 2018. He knew the 50th anniversary was around the corner. "‘He was very much planning to go,’’ his son said. “We were looking forward to it.’’

Perhaps Charles and some of his former teammates will be watching from a sky box. 

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