April 13, 1970
Jerry Koosman was all alone, pacing back and forth in the bullpen before the start of Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, when he heard a soft, sweet voice call his name. It was Pearl Bailey, the sassy performer and avid New York Mets fan who was at Shea Stadium to sing the national anthem, and she offered some soothing words to the trembling Koosman, a 26-year-old lefthander from the small town of Appleton, Minn. "She said she had ESP," recalls Koosman. "She saw the number eight and told me I was going to win the game. Hearing her talk actually calmed me down a little bit before I stepped onto the mound."
His nerves relaxed, the high-kicking Koosman tossed a five-hit complete game, and New York beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-3 (eight total runs) to wrap up the World Series. Thus ended the miracle season of the amazing Mets, who won 38 of their last 49 regular-season games to come from 9� games back in mid-August and take the National League East. "It was a dream season," says Koosman, 56, who now lives in Bonita Springs, Fla., with his wife, LaVonne—the mother of their three adult children—and owns a company that designs devices such as self-cleaning soft-serve ice cream machines. "It was one of those years in baseball that isn't likely to happen again."
How does Koosman think 1969 compares with last season, when the public was mesmerized by the miraculous feats of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa? "I honestly don't watch much of the game anymore," he says. "It just doesn't appeal to me because most of the young pitchers have no control. They're pitching up in the strike zone. If I'd done that, I'd never have made the club."
Koosman relied on a lively fastball and an old-fashioned curve that dropped from shoulder to knee. Mixing speeds on those two pitches, Koosman put together a 222-209 record in 19 seasons with the Mets, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. However, he never became a household name, in part because he spent his best years working in the shadow of New York teammate Tom Seaver, an eventual Hall of Famer.
Koosman was happy to let Seaver receive most of the attention. "I was a farm kid pitching in the biggest media market in baseball," says Koosman. "Imagine how a lifelong New Yorker would fare on a farm, and that's how shocking it was to me. So, no, I never minded missing the spotlight. I just wanted to win."