“It’s always good planning to have a baseball in the dugout with shoe polish on it, just in case.”
That is the expression coined following the infamous Shoe Polish incident, when in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, Cleon Jones hit the deck to evade a Dave McNally pitch that skidded into the Mets dugout, only to be retrieved by Mets skipper Gil Hodges to reveal a smudge of shoe polish, awarding Jones first base and eventually leading to a Mets victory and clinching their first World Series title in franchise history.
The incident capped off one of most incredible World Series upsets in baseball history. The Miracle Mets, just months prior labeled the lovable losers of baseball, needed just five games to best Earl Weaver’s 109-win Baltimore Orioles and become champions.
I spoke to one of those mighty 1969 Orioles, last week at the MLB Draft regarding this controversial moment in Mets history; Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson, and he did not hesitate to speak his mind on the subject.
“It had to be [a trick],” said Robinson, amid applause after Bud Selig announced the selection of the Rangers thirtieth overall pick, Travis Demeritte roughly 100 feet away. “People forget the length of time that ball went into the dugout before Gil Hodges brought it out to show it to the umpire.
“That ball didn’t go into the dugout with black shoe polish on it, but it came out with black shoe polish on it,” He said.
Several different Met accounts have come out over the years including Ron Swaboda claiming that the pitch hit an open bag of balls, spilling identical baseballs all over the dugout, one of which Gil picked up that had a black mark on it. Of the most recent claims was Jerry Koosman, who in 2009 stated that Hodges instructed him to rub the ball on his shoe, however neither accounts put to rest whether the pitch actually hit Jones, a truth that will likely never be known for sure.
Although even if Jones wasn’t awarded first base in Game 5, Robinson doesn’t believe it would have made all that great of a difference in the outcome of the game or the series.
“The Mets deserved to win, they did what they had to to win,” said Robinson. “I still watch it on classic sports and I still don’t believe we lost.”
Like Robinson, many were in disarray at the fact that the lowly New York Mets, just seven years into existence, stood atop the baseball world. After their improbable comeback to beat out the Chicago Cubs for the division crown, they had an even greater upset of the Orioles and the ‘Bird’s Big Four’ in stunning fashion. Robinson recalls what he found most impressive of the Mets in that series.
“They got contributions from everybody, the little guys we used to call them, and they did what they had to do,” said Robinson almost begrudgingly. “They also had some great pitching.”
Despite his high praise of the team, it was clear that the Miracle Mets to this day are still not Robinson’s favorite subject as he brought the conversation of the Amazin’s to an abrupt close.
“That’s all I’ve got to say about ‘69.”
The legend of the 1969 Mets lives on to this day as one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the game’s history, who with the help of a little shoe-polished baseball, were able to put National League baseball in New York back on the map with their first World Series title.