PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — As 1969 Mets Cleon Jones, Art Shamsky and Ed Kranepool sat side by side — and in full uniform — at Mets camp Friday, reminiscing about their long shared history, their mere presence underscored a new off-field focus for the organization, an area that had been unintentionally neglected for years.
The Mets want to embrace, and celebrate, their past. The spring training visit by Jones, Shamsky and Kranepool for the first time since they retired — all of them at least 40 years ago — was part of the start.
“It is a good feeling that you get called back in. You get flashbacks when you come to spring training,” said Kranepool, 74. “Like Casey [Stengel, the Mets’ first manager] said, you get old real quick. I didn’t realize 50 years would pass so fast. It’s great to have that feeling, the championship we were involved in — the Mets have had two and they respect that and brought us back. It’s a nice feeling.”
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Mets’ surprising 1969 World Series championship, the first time in eight years of existence that the club even had a winning record. It’s a convenient occasion to re-up their alumni efforts, which won’t end there.
Last fall, Jay Horwitz, a Mets public-relations head for four decades, transitioned into a new role — vice president of alumni public relations and team historian — in which he is responsible for putting much of this together.
The Mets already have a podcast in which Horwitz talks with former Mets, including Dwight Gooden, John Franco and Jay Hook, who earned the first victory in franchise history (making the 1962 Mets 1-9). They also started up a new alumni newsletter, and once during every weekend home series this season — 14 in all — the Mets will host a pair of players from yesteryear to meet fans and sign autographs.
June 28-30, a home series against the Braves, will be a weekend-long celebration of the 1969 Mets, including themed giveaways each day.
Basically, Horwitz says, the Mets want their former players to know they care. “We’re trying to embrace the different eras,” he said. “And not just the superstar guys.”
The ’69 visitors appreciate that, even if being in spring training doesn’t have the same meaning that it used to for them.
“I know what it means to be in spring training: I’m looking for my first check,” said Jones, 76. “It means the offseason is over and you’re getting ready to get paid.”
Added the 77-year-old Shamsky: “It’s all part of the Mets just recognizing how important that team was to New York and their history . . . Just being down here and being part of it is exciting for us. To be able to see [former teammates] again, it’s just very special. Fifty years means we’re all older, I guess.”
Over the course of a 30-minute group interview, the three kept ending up at a familiar topic: They think very highly of their manager in 1969, the late Gil Hodges, who they believe should be in the Hall of Fame (and indeed will have a chance in 2020 when he appears on the museum’s Golden Days Committee ballot).
“Tough, tough manager, but everybody respected him,” Shamsky said. “He managed by feel. Everybody respected him.”
The thought of Hodges brought Jones back to around this time a half-century ago.
“Even in spring training, our first day of spring training, he told all of us we were a lot better than we thought we were at that time, and that it would be proven throughout the season,” Jones said. “We didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.”