Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Interview with Matthew Silverman - co-editor of new 1969 Mets book 'The Miracle Has Landed'

The Miracle Has Landed: The Amazin' Story of How the 1969 Mets Shocked the World is a new book celebrating the Miracle Mets. The book is a project of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) that contains biographies of every player, coach, broadcaster and signficant front office member of the 1969 Mets. It also features essays on the greatest moments of the season, including perspectives from fans of the Cubs and Orioles, as well as rare photos and images of 1969 baseball cards.

I have not read the entire book yet (it is almost 400 oversized pages), but I have read more than enough of the essays and sidebars to recommend it highly to any Met fan. If you are familiar with 1969, the book will bring back many great memories, but you are likely to learn many new facts as well. If you are not familiar with 1969, this book is a great place to start.

"Miracle" co-editor Matthew Silverman has written numerous books about the Mets, including "Shea Good Bye" (co-written with Keith Hernandez) and "100 Things Met Fans Should Know Before They Die."

Silverman agreed to answer some questions from Subway Squawkers on the Miracle Mets:

While reading the book, I learned that Jerry Koosman avoided getting released in 1966 because he owed Met farm director Joe McDonald $50. What did you learn from doing this book that you did not know before?

First, thanks for having me. I also want to mention that The Miracle Has Landed is a compilation of about 40 writers, along with co-editor Ken Samelson, who put in their time for free to benefit this book for the Society of American Baseball Research. That said, here's a few of my favorite things I learned about '69 in the last year:

--That the Mets lost four of Tom Seaver's first five starts in 1969, but between the end of April and mid-July, Seaver won 13 of 14 starts with seven complete games. (He'd finish 25-7 and would complete each of his last eight starts.)

--That Gil Hodges used almost 100 different batting orders during the season. If you look at the postseason batting orders, Hodges, who advocated using all his players, had one lineup against a right-hander and a second order against a lefty. During the season, though, he changed the order on a nearly nightly basis--even sitting slugger Donn Clendenon a lot of the time. It worked.

--That the Mets schedule originally had them playing without a day off for most of the first month, but it rained a lot that spring--and for much of '69--so the Mets benefited from a lot of rainouts while the Cubs got off a scalding start. Those games were made up in August, when the Mets were hot and their pitching unstoppable. The Mets swept six of the nine doubleheaders they played in the final weeks of the season while the Cubs floundered.

Most Met fans are familiar with such legendary 1969 games and moments as Tom Seaver's "imperfect game" and the black cat that walked in front of the Cubs' dugout. What lesser-known game or event from 1969 would you point to as further evidence of what a special year it was?

There are probably a dozen games from that season Mets fans still remember, like the 1-0 wins where the pitchers drove in both runs in the doubleheader in Pittsburgh; Cardinal Steve Carlton 19-strikeout game he lost on two Ron Swoboda home runs; and even the Mets getting no-hit by Bob Moose at Shea two weeks before the season ended, but there was a remarkable win at the end of August at a time when the Mets could have faded.

The Mets had won 12 of 13 to go from 10 back to 2 1/2 behind, but Juan Marichal skunked them in San Francisco while the Cubs won in Atlanta to go back up by four. The next afternoon, August 30, the Cubs had already won when the Mets allowed a game-tying double to Willie McCovey (NL MVP in '69). It looks like the Giants will win in the ninth when McCovey hits another double, this time the other way against the "McCovey shift," but left fielder Rod Gaspar makes a desperation thrown to the plate and gets Bob Burda.

The catcher, Jerry Grote, thinks it's the third out and rolls the ball onto the field. First baseman Donn Clendenon races over, grabs it, and throws to third to get McCovey. So Willie Mac doubles into a double play! Clendenon homers the next inning. The Mets finish 26-9 while the Cubs won just 10 of their last 28.

What 1969 Met player does not get the recognition he deserves?

A few of the guys have faded a bit from the public's appreciation, like Cleon Jones, who hit .340 in '69, but most Mets fans still know and love him. An important player who is often forgotten is reliever Ron Taylor. The starters on the Mets were superb and had more than 50 complete games, but when they couldn't go the distance, they called on Taylor. He was also the only Met with postseason experience (as a 1964 Cardinal) and he got the last out in the first World Series win in Mets history in Game Two.

He helped Tug McGraw adapt to a new role in the bullpen and between them they were magnificent down the stretch. Taylor is among the last of the '69 Mets still affiliated with a major league team. The only non-American on the '69 club, the Toronto native became a doctor after he retired and has been team physician for the Blue Jays for 30 years.

If Tampa Bay had won the World Series in 2008 after never coming close to a winning season in the franchise's first ten years, do you think that would that have been as big a miracle as the 1969 Mets?

There was no ESPN, Internet, Twitter, or other methods of instant hype in 1969 and to tell you the truth the fact that there wasn't probably makes the '69 Mets more of a legend. The Rays were more of a fact while the '69 Mets seemed like the stuff of fiction. The '08 Rays were a remarkable story, but they were created during a time when there were many ways for an expansion club to help itself, such as free agency, while the Mets had to rely almost solely on players other teams didn't want.

The Rays screwed up repeatedly and were terribly run. No one thought their losing lovable, as Mets fans had of their club in the early years. And I don't mean to sound provincial, but if you have a New York Miracle or one in Tampa, I think the New York one probably wins out in people's perceptions.

New Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog was an important part of the Mets' organization in 1969. How do you think Met history would have been different had Herzog become Met GM or manager in the early 1970s?

I like to think there'd be more than one world championship banner since '69 if Whitey had been kept around. We have a piece in The Miracle Has Landed on Herzog following the M. Donald Grant bio. Those two couldn't stand each other. As Mets farm director, Herzog belittled Grant, the board chairman, because Whitey wanted him to stop meddling. He wasn't subtle about it. So when GM Johnny Murphy died a couple of months after the world championship, the replacement was blundering Bob Scheffing (the guy who traded Nolan Ryan against Herzog's advice) because Grant wasn't about to let Herzog get it.

When Gil Hodges died in '72, Herzog wasn't even considered as replacement. Herzog left and started a managing career that was good enough for the Hall of Fame. Herzog is one of the great "ifs" in Mets history. He made the Royals into a three-time division champ in the late 1970s and then he took the Cardinals to three World Series (two at the Mets' expense). He still might be the only guy I can think of who could make the 2010 Mets legitimate contenders because Whitey knew how to build a team around a big ballpark in St. Louis. It's not easy, but Herzog made it look that way.

Next season, the Mets will display their history more prominently at Citi Field. Aside from what has already been announced, how would you like to see 1969 commemorated at Citi Field?

I was disappointed the Mets wore a mock-up of an old New York Giants baseball uniform--against San Francisco!--but no one thought that maybe during the 40th anniversary season they should wear the '69 uniforms, with the Major League Baseball logo patch (1969 was the first year for that). I'd still like to see them do that and I think a lot of Mets fans wouldn't mind seeing that as the alternate uniform instead of the one the team recently announced to groans throughout the tri-state area.

I really liked the 80-foot tall '69 tribute they had at Shea above the Mets bullpen. I could certainly live with a tribute where everyone could see it, such as in the food court area or maybe on the roof of the Robinson Rotunda, along with some words that explained who they were and why that was the touchstone moment for this franchise. No matter how many years ago it was, 1969 was the year the Mets had their confirmation, bar-mitzvah, what have you. No expansion team had ever won a championship before the '69 Mets and none would again until 1985. The '69 Mets are always worth remembering and celebrating.

Photo by ShellyS.


Rob A from BBD said...

Sounds interesting. I tried to get a review copy, but I got a we'll see and then never heard back. I would love to read the book, but I get so many free books that I don't have time to buy books anymore. It's a good problem to have, but it sucks when they don't send me a book that I actually want to read.

Jonmouk71 said...

I've always found it interesting that Hodges was such a disciple of platooning - this was more the way of Casey Stengel, manager of the rival Yankees - Hodges certainly didn't get much of this from Dodger managers Dressen or Alston.

Uncle Mike said...

Well, I just finished reading "The Bad Guys Won," about the Mets' other World Championship. All that did was remind me of all the reasons I hated the Mets and Met fans from 1984 to 1990. And reinforced my belief that Davey Johnson is the worst manager ever to take a team to a World Championship. His clowning around as manager in Baltimore, L.A. and Cincinnati backs that up.

There's really only two things Met fans need to know before they die: One, the Yankees are New York's team; and, two, the Mets are not.

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Anonymous said...

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Jonmouk71 said...

A few other interesting '69 things: the Mets lost opening day at Shea to the expansion Montreal Expos (52-110) by a score of 11-10 - Seaver didn't get the loss; Clendenon came from the Expos not the Pirates as commonly assumed; Stengel once said that the Mets would win when they started spreading the poorer Met players around the National League. The Cubs had Dick Selma and Jim Hickman.

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