When Cleon Jones stepped onto the leftfield grass during Shea Stadium's closing ceremony last September, all the details of catching the final out of the 1969 World Series came rushing back - including the costly decision of giving away perhaps the most priceless piece of memorabilia in Mets franchise history: the ball Jones caught for the final out.
In a telephone interview with Newsday from his home in Mobile, Ala., Jones said he did the same thing with that ball that he had done with the last out from other victories. He gave it to the winning pitcher, who on this day was Jerry Koosman.
Koosman, in a separate telephone interview, confirmed Jones gave him the ball amid the champagne-soaked clubhouse celebration, joking that he "guarded the ball with my life" during the typically wild party.
But you might call that line cruel humor, considering that about a little more than two decades later Koosman stopped protecting it. Instead, he sold that ball for his own profit.
This weekend, many of the '69 Miracle Mets, including Jones and Koosman, will gather for a 40th reunion Saturday night at Citi Field.
Koosman said he doesn't remember to whom he sold the ball, only that the transaction most likely occurred sometime during the early 1990s.
"A guy came out to my place and offered me some money for some things I had, and that was one of the things he wanted," he said, "so I just sold it."
Other items included in that personal sale, Koosman said, were broken bats from the 1969 World Series, but not the game ball from Game 2. "I still have that," he said.
When asked if he remembers how much he sold the final ball used in the series for, Koosman, 66, said, "I don't, and even if I did I probably wouldn't tell you."
In May, Koosman pleaded guilty to tax evasion for failing to pay income tax in 2002, 2003 and 2004, defrauding the government of $90,000.
Jones, 67, said he had heard rumors over the years that Koosman sold the ball. But he insisted he doesn't hold a grudge. For all he knows, he would have done the same thing if only he had kept it in the first place.
"At that time we weren't thinking about trophies, keepsakes, memorabilia," Jones said. "We were just young guys having fun. He just so happened to be the guy on the mound and he won the ballgame and the guy who won the ballgame always got the ball."
That's changed over the years. In 2004, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz held onto the ball that was the final out of the 2004 World Series, the Red Sox' first title in 86 years. The Red Sox claimed it was their property, but Major League Baseball ruled with the player. Eventually, they reached an agreement and the ball now resides at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Jones said the only mementos he has from his Mets career are "memories."
Koosman, though, admittedly regrets selling the ball.
"Knowing what I know now, I wish I still had it because it probably would be worth more money today," he said. "Everything goes up in value, but it was a decision I made at the time, so it's done with."