Time has taken its toll on the 1969 Mets, some of whom are gone, some of whom are ailing and some of whom are just grumpy.
Ron Swoboda is none of the above.
The middling outfielder best known for one transcendent catch during Game 4 of the 1969 World Series will turn 75 late next month, during that team’s 50th anniversary celebration, and he has written a book to coincide with the occasion.
“Here’s the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More” begins with that diving catch in rightfield and recalls the evolution of those (mostly) young Mets. But it also reads as a paean to life itself from a self-described “upbeat guy.”
“You hate to use the term, ‘I’m playing on house money,’ but it’s an awful lot like that,” he said in an interview to promote the book, due out on June 11.
“I’m not terribly religious. My spirituality goes in different ways. But I am very much a humanist, and I feel like I’m a guy who just got lucky and got to do these things and lived to tell about it.”
Swoboda had been telling some stories in the book for years, but he had been putting off writing them all down until a friend persuaded him that if he ever were going to do it, the 50th anniversary was the time.
So he did, doing the writing himself after years of fashioning his own copy as a New York TV sports anchor and later for a long stint in New Orleans, where he still lives. (He does color commentary for the Triple-A baseball team there.)
There are many writerly touches, such as this about his first major league at-bat, against Don Drysdale: “Tense? If someone had slapped me, I would have shattered like a rose dipped in liquid nitrogen.”
But facing Drysdale was a cakewalk compared to Bob Gibson, a frightful experience that still haunts him. “Fifty years have passed, and if Gibson would walk into the room, I would get queasy,” he writes.
It would be an understatement to say that Swoboda is fine with being remembered for one play, even though he had other moments in the majors.
“It’s one of the best things you ever did as an athlete,” he said. “That’s not the worst thing I can think of . . . I’m a people person. If something like that can break the ice and open a conversation, I’m good with that.”
It beats the alternative. He was working for WCBS-TV during the 1986 World Series and saw Bill Buckner – who had a far more productive career than Swoboda did – at Shea Stadium the day after his Game 6-deciding error for the Red Sox.
“I said, ‘Bill, I’m not going to [expletive] you and tell you I’m sorry it happened, but I’m sorry it happened to you,’ ” he recalled.
Swoboda said he is looking forward to what likely will be the last large gathering of the ’69 Mets, but he knows the emotions will be complicated.
“I think most of it is going to be a hoot, but there is some bittersweet,” he said. “Kenny Boswell just felt like the franchise didn’t treat him right and he’s not interested in it and I’m sad about that because he’s doing all right.
“But the guys that are not healthy or have had some physical problems or are struggling with some things now, that’s going to be a little bittersweet. I’m not oblivious to what old age brings down the road.”
In the book, Swoboda recalls phoning Tom Seaver to add his thoughts about a key moment, and Seaver tells him he has no memory of it. Seaver since has withdrawn from public life.
“These memories I hold and that I’ve written about and that I’m able to retain and recall are treasures to me – they are treasures,” he said. “I know enough people who in their older age have suffered from dementia. Now Buddy Harrelson’s going through it, where the light starts going out for someone who’s still walking around.
“Whoever that thief is who goes in there and steals those memories, it is the saddest thing I can think of it. That is a tragedy. It is a tragedy on a scale that I don’t even want to think about too much, because I would hate that.”
So far, so good, for Swoboda. He said he has lost weight, cut back on alcohol and sugar, and works out regularly. His eclectic interests also keep him young at heart. Genes help, too. His father died last year at 96.
Swoboda said he hopes readers will see him as a relatable everyman “who can screw up things with great elan” but who was in the right place at the right time – that season, and on one sinking line drive by Brooks Robinson.
“I didn’t think I was smarter or a better athlete than anybody,” he said. “I felt like just a guy who was lucky enough to get around a bunch of pretty damn good athletes and live the dream that you could have never envisioned.
“And I’ve been lucky that my wife of going on 54 years, Cecilia, hasn’t changed the locks on the door – yet. To this point in time, you don’t like to take anything for granted because you can’t. You’ve seen too much of it the other way. I just tried to write it down in a way that people go, ‘Golly goddamn, that’s pretty cool.’ ”