Forty years ago Friday, someone made a home run prediction far less famous but much more ambitious than Babe Ruth's Called Shot. Dan Weis, 6 years old, was riding to Shea Stadium with his mom and Jerry Grote's wife when, out of the blue, he said, "My dad is going to hit a home run for my birthday."
Al Weis was in the Mets' clubhouse, preparing for Game 5 of the World Series, so he had no idea about his son's forecast. Nor would he have believed it. "I hit seven home runs in my life," Weis said the other day. "The odds of my hitting one in the World Series were a million to one."
By the standards of the 1969 Mets, a million-to-one shot was a pretty safe bet. Dan Weis had the best birthday party ever because Al did hit a home run in the seventh inning, tying the Orioles and helping to finish one of the most amazing stories in baseball history.
And Al Weis, Franklin Square native, Farmingdale High School graduate and lifetime .219 hitter, ensured that he forever will be mentioned in the same breath as the Sultan of Swat. For what he did that week and especially that one day, he was awarded the baseball writers' Babe Ruth Award as World Series Most Valuable Player.
"I still have the plaque," Weis, 71, said from his vacation home in Florida. "I've got the bat I used and my uniform. They're all displayed in my basement."
Countless other people have mementos in their heads and their hearts from Oct. 16, 1969.
"That was a moment about which it is impossible to speak," said Dana A. Brand, a Hofstra professor whose new book, "The Last Days of Shea," is his second on being a lifelong Mets fan. "You have to somehow or other point out that it is like the moment in 'The Divine Comedy' where Dante sees God and is beyond words.''
Brand is preparing a major conference at Hofstra for the Mets' 50th anniversary in 2012. He recalls listening to the start of Game 5 at school in Englewood, N.J., and watching the end at home. "It was so amazing,'' he said. "We hadn't been just a bad team. We were the bad team that defined all bad teams."
Anything seemed possible 40 years ago with what Brand calls "a whole series of weirdly mythic happenings." Cleon Jones was awarded first base after manager Gil Hodges proffered a ball smudged by shoe polish, alleged proof that Jones had been hit by a pitch. To this day, Mets players aren't sure about winning pitcher Jerry Koosman's claim that he had smudged a ball himself in the dugout. All they know is that Jones came home on Donn Clendenon's home run.
That, in turn, put Weis up against Dave McNally in the seventh with the Mets trailing 3-2. Weis compares it to a perfect golf swing that catches a ball just right. Still, it wasn't until he was near second base that he knew it was gone. "I saw [leftfielder] Don Buford break in; then, when I was going around first, I saw him go back," he said.
After that, there was no holding back fate. Ron Swoboda knocked in the winning run and scored an insurance run in the eighth. Jones went to one knee as he caught the final out (he still swears it was the best catch of the Series).
Weis, the Mets' top Series hitter at .455, remembers his dad and Dan celebrating with him in the clubhouse. He remembers Clendenon receiving a Dodge Charger from Sport magazine as Series MVP. But a Volkswagen dealer awarded Weis a Beetle because the car and player shared a nickname, "Mighty Mite."
The Weis family celebrated Dan's 46th birthday at home outside Chicago last weekend. Al isn't sure how to mark the anniversary of a miracle.
"Maybe I'll have a shot of something," he said. "No, I shouldn't say that. I ought to try to find a Rheingold."