In the 1968 yearbook, Don Cardwell doesn’t quite look like he’s thrilled to be here, but inside of two seasons, he had every reason in the world to be satisfied with what must have seemed like exile to baseball purgatory. Traded to the perennially lousy Mets before 1967, he earned the Opening Day start (kid named Seaver took the ball for the next game) and produced sparkling ERAs of 2.96 a year later when the Mets improved immensely and 3.01 the year after that, when they won it all. With a Major League career that began ahead of any of his 1969 teammates, he was the personification of “elder statesman” on the world champs’ pitching staff, even if he was seven weeks shy of his 34th birthday as the ticker tape rained over Lower Broadway.
As for those love beads Ron Swoboda wore on a team flight — the ones that raised Cardwell’s ire — Don told Stanley Cohen, in the essential 1988 book A Magic Summer, he had long transitioned into forgive & forget mode: “He thought I was a southern redneck, and I thought…I thought he was just a Rocky.” Confirmed Swoboda in the wake of the news of his teammate’s passing, “Just old school, man. He was old school back then.”