TODAY'S PAPER
Clear 48° Good Afternoon
Clear 48° Good Afternoon
SportsBaseballMets

1969 Miracle Mets were one of a kind

A team photo of the 1969 World Champion

A team photo of the 1969 World Champion New York Mets. From left, front row: trainer Gus Mauch, coach Joe Pignatano, coach Rube Walker, coach Yogi Berra, coach Eddie Yost, assistant trainer Joe Deer. second row: Tug McGraw, Garey Gentry, Al Weis, Cleon Jone, manager Gil Hodges, Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson, Ed Charles, Rod Gaspar, Duffy Dyer. THIRD ROW: Jim McAndrew, Tommie Agee, Cal Koonce, Ken Boswell, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Ron Swoboda, Wayne Garrett, Bobby Pfell, traveling secretary LouNiss. TOP ROW: equipment manager Nick Torman, J.C. Martin, Ron Taylor, Ed Kranepool, Don Cardwell, Donn Clendenon, Nolan Ryan, Art Shamsky, Jack DiLauro, clubhouse Roy Neuer. Photo Credit: AP Photo

The similarities are striking, what with the dominant pitching, the dramatically clutch hitting and the joyful element of surprise. You can't help but notice that the 2015 Mets have raised echoes of the 1969 Mets.

As keen an expert as Ed Kranepool, a career-long Met whose days still are marked by people complimenting him on being a champion 46 years ago, said on the phone last week, "It feels like 1969 all over again. Everything that can go right for them is going right. They're playing great, the pitching is great, they're really dominating the games.''

But he is a gracious man, not the "it-was-better-in-my-day'' type. To be honest, comparing any team to the 1969 Mets is like saying a meteor, cloud or anything else in the sky is like the moon (which also was huge that season). The point is, the Miracle Mets' run in 1969 was, is and always will be one of a kind.

"The 1969 season will never go away. It gives a particular flavor to life, and it will be taken as a treasure to the end,'' the late Hofstra professor, Yale PhD and author Dana Brand wrote in his book "Mets Fan.'' He added, "It stands apart from all other sports miracles . . . because no other suddenly great team had spent so long in the cellar, and no other team had ever become such a symbol of futility.''

There never will be another team like the '69 Mets in large part because there never will be another year like '69. It straddled the line between excitement and turmoil. Woodstock happened that summer and Vietnam loomed over every aspect of American life, including baseball. Players, including Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson, had to leave their clubs for weeks to fulfill military reserve duties. Tom Seaver won Game 4 of the World Series against the Orioles during Moratorium Day, which produced a massive antiwar protest in New York.

What's more, 1969 changed the way people everywhere perceived Earth and beyond. Astronauts set foot on the moon, fulfilling a desire as old as human history. (Catcher Jerry Grote was miffed that Newsday's Joe Gergen quipped that the Mets had as much chance of winning the pennant as man did of landing on the moon -- until Grote realized that, you know, Apollo 11 did make it up there.)

Even more pertinent, though, is what the Mets stood for before 1969. Lovable as they may have been, they were a national icon for failure. They never had been anything close to good. They set a record with 120 losses in their debut season of 1962 and never won more than 73 in any of the following six years. They were a walking punch line. When Dodgers stars Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were celebrity guests on the Hollywood Palace variety TV show, comedian Milton Berle stood alongside in hapless contrast, dressed in a Mets uniform.

What makes the 1969 Mets extraordinary to this day is that they suddenly, stunningly became champions. In the 1977 movie "Oh, God!'' George Burns played the title character and said, "My last miracle was the '69 Mets. Before that, you have to go back to the Red Sea.''

Years later, rightfielder Ron Swoboda said, "It was a time when anything seemed possible. And it was.'' He proved that with a spectacular diving catch in Game 4, immortalized with a silhouette etched onto the Right Field gate at Citi Field.

To be sure, you can look at 2015 and see 1969. Daniel Murphy's climb through the postseason records began when he tied Donn Clendenon's mark of homers in three successive games. Jacob deGrom tied Jerry Koosman with victories in his first three postseason decisions.

"It recalls the good old days when the Mets were flying high and were on the top. They've got the city back,'' Kranepool said. "Nobody ever forgets a winner. 1969 was a miracle year. This team can have the same effect for itself for 50 years.''

Except that it can never be quite like 1969 again. World Series games back then were played in the daytime, which made them less accessible to the public at large but oddly more communal, with people sharing the experience at offices, schools and Manhattan streets. Amid the daunting issues of the era, The New York Times' Quotation of the Day usually was reserved for a head of state or an opposition leader. But on Oct. 15, 1969, it was "I feel if I can touch a ball, I can hold it'' from centerfielder Tommie Agee.

Brand later wrote, "There are no words adequate to this. There are not even numbers. There is only the bursting of all boundaries.'' Like Agee on a searing liner, the human imagination caught and held something in October 1969. It was the idea that the impossible really is possible, that the biggest losers can become the biggest winners. There never has been anything quite like it.

New York Sports