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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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What Don Cardwell Didn't Mean to Teach Me About Baseball But Still Did

Don Cardwell, one of the Miracle Mets’ elder statesmen, died Monday at 72.

It’s been that kind of offseason: Most of the headlines the Mets make are because there are fewer of them, and not because three or four are headed to Minnesota for Johan Santana. Jim Beauchamp died shortly before New Year’s; now Cardwell. What news do we have otherwise? Well, Angel Pagan has come back to the fold in what Bill Veeck used to call a dog-and-cat trade — I’ll trade my utility guy for your utility guy so the papers will have something to write about and the fans will have something to chew on in the barbershops for a few days.

(Actually I was pathetically excited to hear Pagan was returning — he was the phenom on the inaugural edition of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the one the girls would yell loudest for, with that goofy-in-English name that sounded like something a bunch of suburban punk kids would call their crappy band. I’d been warned, as a newcomer to this short-season A-ball thing, that at most two or three guys might make the big leagues in any capacity. Pagan had some pop and some speed and a certain way of gliding around the bases that made me imagine it would be him. Now, I suppose, it shall be.)

I never saw the ’69 Mets play (OK, I did but I was five months old when they won), so as a geeky Met fan on Long Island I did the only thing I could: I learned them by rote, assembling them from little snippets of biography I read in quickie books borrowed from the library or found in used bookstores. I was a kid, so the portraits I assembled were odd bordering on random: They mixed obvious baseball descriptions with personal stories, and often prominently featured words and concepts I was just learning. For example: Tom Seaver was the phenom, who’d bulked up in Fresno moving boxes (some of which contained big spiders) and in the Marines, played in Alaska, wound up in a lottery, and married Nancy, who was beautiful and blonde and wore something called a tam o’shanter in the stands, where she was not afraid of Orioles fans.

See what I mean? And Tom Seaver was easy, because he was Tom Seaver — still around while I was falling in love with the Mets and devouring every bit of their history that I’d missed. Most of the others were gone, and thus not so simple to fix in memory. Grote was hard-nosed, muttered at umpires and thought the writer who said the Mets had as much chance of winning as men did of landing on the moon had insulted the team. Swoboda had once got a batting helmet stuck on his feet but despite that was smart, had beaten Steve Carlton with two home runs, had a Chinese grandfather and you pronounced his name “Suh-boda” even though that was wrong. Nolan Ryan soaked his fingers in pickle brine and was now very good. Ed Charles wrote poetry and was nicknamed the Glider. Tug McGraw was a flake, which was a baseball term, gave his teammates haircuts, and his brother Hank had been a Met minor-leaguer. Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones were from Mobile. Rod Gaspar’s name had eventually been twisted into “Ron Stupid” by Frank Robinson and the rest of the Orioles, which might have been one reason they got what they deserved. Jack DiLauro was the guy you’d forget the first time around.

Don Cardwell, hmm. He was older, had been a Phillie and a Cub and a Pirate. Swingman. Helpful to the younger pitchers. Bigger than Cal Koonce, with whom I otherwise got him confused. Not a lengthy or terribly flashy biography, but then that’s the life of a swingman as put together after the fact by a child.

And yet, unfairly, Cardwell also became the name I connected with an important and thoroughly unwelcome loss of baseball innocence: These guys wearing the same uniform didn’t always get along.

The root of that is a tiny incident, one the principals invariably laughed off in the retelling: On an airplane in the summer of ’69 (when Bryan Adams was freaking nine, by the way, that Canadian faker), Swoboda — my favorite Met whom I never saw play — and Cardwell got into a dispute over Swoboda’s general Swobodaness and his wearing love beads. (I didn’t know what love beads were when I first read that; truth be told, I’m not sure I do now.) Cardwell objected to the love beads or tore them off, and eventually wound up taking a swing at his teammate.

No harm was done, but for a baseball-obsessed kid it was an eye-opener. How was this possible? Baseball players wore the same uniform, they had road roomies, they went to battle together, they slapped hands and hugged after home runs and once in a very great while they got to cover each other and anyone else in range with champagne, which looked like it would be incredibly fun to do. And now you’re telling me there are guys who do this and don’t get along, who even once in a while try to punch each other over love beads, whatever those are? I was shocked.

To reiterate: Cardwell, by all accounts, was an awfully nice guy. (And he got traded to the Cubs and threw a no-hitter in his first start, which is insanely cool.) It’s ridiculous to have the kind of little disagreement that probably happens all the time on planes and buses during a long season surgically attached to him. But it got wired that way when I was a kid, and I’m powerless to change it: Ever since I read that ages ago in some forgotten book, Don Cardwell has been the face of intramural dust-ups. Whether it’s Rey Ordonez and Rey Sanchez fighting on the bus or Darryl hitting the cutoff man on Picture Day or everybody abusing Gregg Jefferies, when I hear about stuff like that, the first thing that pops into my head, always, is “love beads.”

23 comments to What Don Cardwell Didn't Mean to Teach Me About Baseball But Still Did

  • Anonymous

    Cardwell was the glue who held the 69 staff together. Traded to the Mets for Dennis Ribant whose autograph I have or had.

  • Anonymous

    I am not nearly as up on Mets history as you are, but if memory serves correctly one day the mets swept a double header. Lossman and Cardwell pitched complete games I believe. The score in both games was 1-0. Both games were won by HRs by the pitcher. Koos and Cardwell were known as particularly bad hitters which made it even weirder.

  • Anonymous

    Not HR's, but both pitchers had their team's respective lone RBI

  • Anonymous

    On an airplane in the summer of ‘69 (when Bryan Adams was freaking nine, by the way, that Canadian faker)
    While it has very little to do with the article, I love this line.

  • Anonymous

    I stand corrected. I actually googled it after posting the comment. I have heard people say they were both HRs but that is how legends grow! Still pretty darn cool.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    In 1966 Dennis Ribant posted the greatest Met season to date, sporting an 11-9 record with a 3.20 ERA (one of the top 15 in the league) and was traded during the winter for a pair of Dons from Pittsburgh – Don Cardwell and Don Bosch. It was Bosch whom the Mets went after and Cardwell was actually the extra player thrown in by the Pirates.
    Bosch was one of those sure-fire prospects destined to be a star centerfielder. He could do it all – hit, hit with power, steal bases and sparkle in the field. He even got a full page devoted to him in the 1967 yearbook. But when training camp opened sports writers were startled to see he was only five feet ten inches tall and weighing just 160 pounds. This was the new, powerful lead-off hitter? Throughout spring training Bosch proved he could run and field, however, he was a bust at the plate (due somewhat to the emmense amount of expecations built up on him) and was sent to the minors before the end of May and would up hitting .140.
    On the other hand, Cardwell pitched well in spring training and to everyone's surprise, Wes Westrum touted him to be the opening day pitcher over Jack Fischer and Bob Shaw (he lost to Bob Veale 6-3 and blew an early 3-1 lead). Bosch? He legged out an infield hit leading off the game, stole second and scored. That was the highlight of his Met career. Cardwell went on to post a 3.57 ERA (Ribant's rose to 4.08 and retired after the 1969 season) and was the veteran Gil Hodges needed to help influence his budding young pitching staff
    In three seasons with the Mets the veteran Cardwell won 20 games as the fifth starter and reliever. Bosch, the centerfielder the Mets desperately wanted and traded their ace for, went on to become a truck driver.

  • Anonymous

    Your brain cells may have crossed this story with another one from 1969, the one where Steve Carlton set the then MLB record of 19Ks against the Mets and lost- on account of two home runs by Ron Swoboda.
    I had love beads back then. They must've worked.

  • Anonymous

    Bosch was the onetime Met prospect I referenced a couple of weeks ago who summed up the '67 season about as well as anyone. Maury Allen quotes this exchange between Bosch and a beat writer during spring training:
    “What are all you guys interviewing me for? I haven't even made this club.”
    “Don't you know,” said a reporter. “You're the next DiMaggio.”
    “Which one,” said Bosch, “Vince?”

  • Anonymous

    Good luck with Pirate throw-ins = not an entirely recent development.

  • Anonymous

    Well, at least Joe's younger brother batted .249 over ten major league seasons. Am sure the Mets would have settled for that with Bosch, whose two season total was 92 points lower.
    BTW – I saw Bosch homer in the second game of a double-header against Pittsburgh on July 4, 1968 won by the Mets 4-3. Cardwell was the starter and winning pitcher. Don (B) also made an error playing center.

  • Anonymous

    Kooz went the distance. Cardwell pitched eight, giving way to McGraw in the ninth.

  • Anonymous

    Although Joan Baez was not a Confederate war veteran, I could sooner buy her singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” than I could Bryan Adams pretending to be of age in the summer of '69. This has been pissing me off in varying amounts since the summer of '85.

  • Anonymous

    Interestingly, (or perhaps not so interestingly), the Mets traded two former Cyclones in order to reacquire Angel Pagan, so, as far as I know, this constitutes the first trade entirely composed of former Cyclones.
    I'm glad he's back, for what it's worth. Not exactly a big off-season pick up, of course, but that doesn't appear to be in the cards, as we've all observed.

  • Anonymous

    How about Ribant's 26 starts, 10 complete games, 13 relief appearances, 188 innings and almost 2 – 1 K-BB ratio to go with that 11-9 record and 3.20 ERA in 1966. You just never see that anymore out of one pitcher. 24 years old and all it bought him was a picket to Titsburgh.

  • Anonymous

    And – Mets were 15 – 11 in games he started in 1966.
    IIRC – Ribant's first start for the 1964 Mets was a monster win and his only win for the Mets that year. A bunch of us kids mobbed him for his autograph the day after that win and he signed each one. I'll never forget how flattered he was.

  • Anonymous

    Aug 17 – Ribant's second Mets start – 5-0 complete game shutout. 4 hitter 10k, 0 BB

  • Anonymous

    (Danger: adult content ahead)
    The music geek in me has to say this: when I did an interview with Mr. Adams a few years ago he said, “That song really isn't about a year, it's about something else.” And I knew exactly what he was talking about..
    (Adult content over)
    Jim Vallence, the longtime co-writer of our Canadian friend Bryan, was indeed 17 in 1969. And he wrote a rather lengty essay about the song on his website that is (I swear) worth reading.

  • Anonymous

    That was worth reading, getting the tour inside the writing process as it were. Also confirms what a derivative song it is.
    Regarding “it's about something else,” Paul Simon makes much the same point as Adams did to you about title and subject diverging or not necessarily literally matching — that at some juncture of “Graceland,” his song was no longer about Graceland the Elvis estate.
    The title “Summer of '69,” of course, forgives all.

  • Anonymous

    Swoboda and Seaver had some nice things to say about Cardwell in an article on Mets.com.

  • Anonymous

    I must add it's also a fun song to cover on your birthday, especially being born in 1969.
    Oh, and Adams wasn't as thoughtful as Mr. Simon–he made his implication very clear (with an almost sleazy look in his eye) that the title was about a ceratin sexual act. Somehow I don't think the writer of an amazing song like “Train in the Distance” would later claim it was all about his johnson.
    And that being said, I was and still am a huge fan of Reckless.
    Is it spring training yet?

  • Anonymous

    R.I.P. # 27………………………………………………..

  • Anonymous

    There was a weekday afternoon game in 1966 which Ribant started against Juan Marichal and got the first hit off him in the sixth inning. By that time the Mets were losing 6-0 but rallied with runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth to come from behind and win it 8-6. Wes Westrum called it the best Met victory of all-time. Trailing 6-4 going into the bottom of the ninth, Ken Boyer led off with a solo shot over the fence and with two out Bill Henry gave up a three-run, pinch hit homer to Ron Swoboda (the home run call, BTW, can be found on the special 40 year CD the Mets gave away in 2002). Still remember Swoboda mobbed at home plate and dancing back toward the dugout shoulder to shoulder with Chuck Hiller.

  • Anonymous

    Let's hope we never hear a similar revelation from Van Morrison regarding the true meaning of “Brown Eyed Girl.”