The remaining members of the 1969 world champion Mets emerged from the pages of history and into the hearts of a fan base eager to see the miracle workers in person.
Time did not diminish their accomplishment as the Citi Field crowd gave repeated ovations to those players who could attend and loud applause to the family members representing those who have died.
It was as if Citi Field was retrofitted to replicate Shea Stadium, where the '69 Mets reversed years of ineptitude into a national feel-good story. “We certainly wouldn’t have gotten to first place without you people,’’ Ed Kranepool said in addressing the crowd from the infield podium. He was announced last and beamed, knowing the fans were recognizing his health issues, which resulted in a recent kidney transplant.
Any mention of Tom Seaver, who has dementia and retired from public life, brought cheers. The appearance of Bud Harrelson, who is waging a very public battle against Alzheimer’s, brought special attention as he, along with his teammates, were carted to the field from behind the centerfield wall. Emcee Howie Rose, directing his attention to Harrelson, said: “You just got a great big hug from 40,000 people.’’
Jerry Koosman had said before the ceremony that the team expected nothing less than what they received from the crowd. “These fans read all the newspapers, they knew a boxscore better than me. The fans come here, they educate us.’’
Koosman was on the mound in Game 5 of the '69 Series against the Orioles at Shea. “I was scared to lose, I feared losing, especially in a big game,’’ he said.
Koosman got Davey Johnson, who would become the manager of the 1986 world champion Mets, on a fly ball to leftfielder Cleon Jones for the final out. “He caught the ball didn’t he?’’ Koosman joked.
Jones said he gave the game ball to Koosman, who promised to compensate him. “He said the check’s in the mail,’’ Jones said, “It’s still in the mail, I've haven't gotten it.’’
Koosman sold the ball. “It helped pay for my kids’ college education,’’ he said, not revealing the amount.
Some of the players have stayed in touch over the years and others have not, so when they all got together earlier this week they saw that time had taken some toll.
“I look in the mirror first,’’ relief pitcher Jack DiLauro said. “I looked at myself, then I looked at them.’’
Rod Gaspar, looking in great shape at 73, said he still hits a ball now and then and has a pretty good arm. His dream sounds like "The Twilight Zone’’ episode where oldtimers in a boarding house play kick the can and find its an elixir enabling them to be young again. “I was the young punk at 22 who said we’d win the World Series,’’ Gaspar said.
Ron Swoboda, 75, said, "Fifty years later, youth has left you and you’re lucky to be here and have your mind able to get around all of this,’’ he said. “That’s a blessing. I’m happy that I can be a part of this. We better enjoy the 50th because I don't know about 75 or 100. When they celebrate this a hundred years from 1969, my ashes are going to be in a Maryland [home] that I bought with my World Series money. That's what I’m sure of.’’
Art Shamsky was glad his former teammates could again get a New York ovation. “I hear about that '69 team almost every day because I’m in the Met area,’’ he said. “These guys get back and they see this, the love that is still going on and I think they're all still amazed.’’
Kranepool playfully said his teammates have “lied’’ and embellished some stories over the years.
The '69 Mets were a whopper of a story that came true.