In the 1977 classic film “Oh, God,” Jerry Landers (John Denver) is speaking with God, played by George Burns. Landers asks God about miracles and He replies, “The last miracle I did was the ’69 Mets. Before that you have to go back to The Red Sea.”
There’s been a lot of talk about October baseball in Mets circles these days, which after the six previous seasons is a much welcomed change. Some might say we’re a lock for the postseason, others say we’ll be a near miss, and others still say it would take another miracle.
Ironically, there are a few similarities between the 2015 Mets and the 1969 version that shocked the world. Perhaps most apparent is the top-flight pitching and the below average offense.
That ’69 team also had a lot of personality and swagger too, not to mention a tremendous manager and plenty of outstanding defensive players both in the infield and outfield. But there was so much more to the Miracle Mets and that turbulent, transformative and thrilling year.
To fully grasp what that Mets team meant let’s take a step back. Defeating the Orioles over a few days in mid-October meant much more then a World Series flag flying over Shea. It was more rewarding then the small amount of money collected by the winning team. It proved that anything is possible. That dreams, do in fact, come true. And when this nation needed it most, the Mets showed that Miracles can happen.
There has never been a more tumultuous time in America as the 1960’s. This nation was turned upside down. The status quo was in question and authority was being second guessed. The fabric of America was in tatters.
Just three plus years into the decade the unthinkable happened when our own president was assassinated in broad daylight in Dallas. It took several years for hushed rumors to begin circulating that perhaps there was more to this than one lone gunman who acted alone. The word ‘conspiracy’ entered our vocabulary and for the first time ever we began to ‘question the government.’
But the murder of John Kennedy was just the beginning. In April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death while standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis.
As if that was not enough for America to deal with, just weeks later another Kennedy was killed. Bobby Kennedy was attempting to follow in his brothers footsteps and rise to the highest office in the land. That dream ended in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles when he was brutally murdered in a hail of gunfire.
Cities burned. Presidents, politicians and leaders were being killed on our own streets. For the first time since we had won our independence from England the future of our Republic seemed in doubt. Everything was changing.
By the end of the 60’s, there seemed to be no hope. We were embroiled in an ever deepening war in southeast Asia. A war that was now expanding beyond the borders of Viet Nam, a war that was seeing American casualties mounting, a war that had no end in sight. And for the first time in our nations history citizens were protesting against the government by the tens of thousands.
African-Americans had also reached their breaking point. They would no longer be content with sitting in the back of a bus, drinking from different water fountains and not being allowed to use ‘white restrooms.’ And while blacks were getting sprayed with water hoses and had to face the gnarling teeth of German Shepherds in the south, police in Chicago beat up and clubbed American students who were protesting outside the Democratic convention in 1968.
Women were also beginning to demand equal rights and equal pay. The sexual revolution was taking place. Slogans like ‘Make Love Not War’ were disconcerting to the powers-that-be. Drug use was commonplace and in the open. Men grew facial hair and dressed in anti-establishment clothing. The man in the grey flannel suit was replaced by a ‘hippie’ in a tie-dyed shirt.
Comedian Lenny Bruce tested the limitations of ‘free speech’ and was arrested for using the F-word in his stand up routine. For the first time TV shows began showing married couples sleeping in the same bed.
CBS-TV was fined after an appearance by The Doors on The Ed Sullivan Show when Jim Morrison sang the lyric, ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,’ an obvious drug reference. The Beatles classic album Sgt. Peppers was banned because of John Lennon’s line in ‘A Day In The Life’ when he sang, “I’d love to turn you on.”
In August 69, a concert in upstate New York attracted hundreds of thousands who listened to music, got high and made love in open fields.
On a fairly unpopular TV show entitled ‘Star Trek’ William Shatner kissed Nichelle Nichols, the first interracial kiss ever televised. Surely, the world was coming to an end.
Even the grand ol’ game of Baseball underwent major changes in the 60’s. A young outfielder in the Giants minor league system named Garry Maddox had to receive a special ok from the commissioner to grow a beard. Up until then ball players were prohibited from displaying any facial hair, but Maddox had been scarred while serving in Viet Nam.
There was now a domed stadium in Houston. Natural grass was replaced by something called ‘Astro-Turf.’ When a reporter asked Mets reliever Tug McGraw if he preferred artificial turf to grass, Tug replied, “I don’t know. I never smoked artificial turf.”
America was definitely in chaos. This nation was at a crossroads. Would things change? Could things change? Were we truly a nation of freedom? Was true change really possible or was it just some innate concept?
The Mets showed that anything–ANYTHING–was possible. Long before Rocky Balboa defeated Apollo Creed, long before Billy Chapel pitched an unlikely Perfect Game against the Yankees and then retired, long before the NY Giants shocked the world and defeated the undefeated Patriots, the ’69 Mets were true underdogs. Outside of New York names like Swoboda, Agee and Koosman were not known.
Just 12 weeks after man landed on the moon, the Mets landed on top of the baseball world. And if the Mets of all teams could win a World Series then anything was possible.
For seven years this club had been a joke, a laughing stock. But not any longer. No, Tommie Agee didn’t make those catches for America. Ron Swoboda did not dive across the grass at Shea for any reason other then to catch a sinking liner. The only reason Jerry Grote hoisted Jerry Koosman into the air was simply to celebrate a victory, not for equal rights or a war protest. There was no hidden agenda for Gil Hodges and that 69 club. They were not out there to make any kind of statement. But that is exactly what happened.
The victory of the Mets over the powerhouse Orioles, symbolizing David beating Goliath, signaled something different as the 60‘s came to a close. Things can change. America can become a better place. The war in southeast Asia can come to an end and certain groups can obtain equal rights and get equal pay. After all, if an unlikely team of nobodys like the Mets can win the World Series, then anything truly is possible. Miracles can happen.