SI Vault
William Leggett
October 27, 1969
A seven-year joke—and a fraying one at that—the Mets brought joy to New York with a succession of World Series victories that would be hard to match for dramatic impact or for sheer improbability
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October 27, 1969

Never Pumpkins Again

A seven-year joke—and a fraying one at that—the Mets brought joy to New York with a succession of World Series victories that would be hard to match for dramatic impact or for sheer improbability

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It was nearing midnight in the Diamond Club four stories above what remained of the playing field at Shea Stadium, and the New York Mets, the most improbable champions in 100 years of professional baseball, gathered in a circle around the bandstand. Swaying back and forth with their arms wrapped around each other, they sang Heart from the musical, Damn Yankees. ("When your luck is battin' zero/Get your chin up off the floor;/Mister you can be a hero/You can open any door, there's nothin' to it but to do it./You gotta have heart/Miles 'n miles 'n miles of heart....") Next they sang God Bless America . And then, as the clock struck midnight, they all turned back into pumpkins.

No, they didn't, not really, for somewhere in the delirious weeks leading up to their victory over Baltimore, the Mets had been touched with permanent magic. Of course, no world championship will ever be the same again, either, as Cecilia Swoboda pointed out to her husband the next morning in their home on Long Island. Ron Swoboda was talking—and talking and talking—about what had been one of the biggest upsets in World Series history when Cecilia smiled. "Ron," she said, "you can only win it for the first time once."

About the same time Al Weis, a man who hits a home run about as often as Gil Hodges smiles during a World Series game, thought again about the homer that had tied Baltimore in the seventh inning of the fifth and final game. During eight years in the major leagues, both with the Chicago White Sox and New York, Weis had gone to bat more than 600 times before home crowds without hitting a homer. But he got hold of a fastball from the Orioles' Dave McNally and began to run as fast as he could. "When I got near second base," he said, "I started hearing the crowd roar and thought something must have happened. I guess I don't know how to react to a home run. I only know how to react to singles and doubles."

Also that day, as he cleared out his locker in Shea, Ken Boswell looked at the stack of mail before him. The hardhitting second baseman had batted .422 through the Mets' stretch drive and had led the team with five runs batted in against the Atlanta Braves during the National League playoffs. As a bachelor from Austin, Texas he receives a lot of mail. "The girls from Brooklyn," Boswell said, "keep writing and inviting me to go over and try their spaghetti, but they'd have a better chance if they tried spareribs. After I woke up this morning I went down into the street and some people were saying, 'There goes Ken Boswell.' When I get home to Austin they are going to have a Welcome Home Ken Boswell Parade. I hope they mean me and not some other Ken Boswell."

Despite all the things said by the Mets about their inspired victory, it remained for Earl Weaver, the manager of the Orioles, to put his finger on the heart of the matter. After thinking over his team's defeat for two days, Weaver said, "We hit the ball right where they could show off their defensive ability." Almost unbelievably, after the first game nearly half of the balls hit by the Orioles for outs went toward either Shortstop Bud Harrelson or Centerfielder Tommie Agee, the two strongest gloves in the New York defense. Harrelson had a spectacular Series, going into the hole between third and short time and again to turn a hit into an out, and it will be a long time before anybody forgets Agee's play in center.

But the 66th World Series will be remembered for many things. Those were not really angels in the Met outfield: they were the Flying Wallendas. Donn Clendenon set a record for a five-game World Series by hitting three home runs and he only got into four of the games. For the first time in 35 years a manager, Baltimore's Weaver, got bounced from a Series game. When the Mets finally clinched the championship, a blizzard of ticker tape settled over Manhattan; and at Shea Stadium fans pulled up chunks of turf, festooning themselves with the magic sod as if its new-established healing qualities could cure all their fears and ills as merely walking upon it had cured those of their heroes.

The reason for the emotional binge, of course, was that just a short while before the Mets really had been pumpkins. Five days before the Series started, Casey Stengel, who alone made the Mets something to talk about eight years ago, stood in the victorious clubhouse after the playoff series against Atlanta. "Yes, yes, yes," said Stengel, "it's taken eight years but now the people are beginning to know their names!" Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman and Cleon Jones, of course; but now Weis, Harrelson, Swoboda, Jerry Grote, Art Shamsky, Gary Gentry and Nolan Ryan, too. They were being talked about, admittedly as the urchins who threw the snowballs that knocked the stovepipe hats off the autocrats' heads.

In their first bungling year as a baseball team the Mets lost 120 games, and a saying developed around New York that went, "I've been a Met fan all my life." By 1967 New York had done all to baseball that could be done to it, and the natives were growing restless. During that year the Mets put uniforms on 54 different players with results that are still frightening. Players sent their laundry out and had to have friends pick it up for them and mail it on to their next destination. The fans couldn't tell the players with a scorecard.

In spring training this year Manager Gil Hodges explained how he felt about the constant shifting of personnel. "It doesn't do anything but breed unrest among the players," he said. "There's no feeling of security knowing you may be the next to go. Those days are over."

This year the Mets got to the World Series by using only 29 men, and their followers knew who they were watching. Even the banners improved. Gone were the derogatory signs, as Shea Stadium's peculiar art form assumed a positive note that made the place more fun than ever before. As the Mets drove toward the division championship a large sign made of reflecting tape appeared high above home plate, LET'S GLOW METS! During the Series a sign greeted Baltimore's huge slugger, Boog Powell, with A 500 POUND BIRD. And in the victory crush on the field after the Orioles had been defeated for the fourth straight time, a youngster held a placard that said, TWEET TWEET.

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