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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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You Never Forget Your First

Welcome to Flashback Friday: I Saw The Decade End, a milestone-anniversary salute to the New York Mets of 1969, 1979, 1989 and 1999. Each week, we immerse ourselves in or at least touch upon something that transpired within the Metsian realm 40, 30, 20 or 10 years ago. Amazin’ or not, here it comes.

The 1969 baseball championship, won — not stolen — by the New York Mets, stands unquestioned as the greatest sporting achievement of the year. Yes, some will say “of the century”.

—Richard Dozer, Chicago Tribune, 1969

I’ll love Ron Swoboda ’til the day I die.

—John “Little Chief” Sullivan, Frequency, 2000

Forty years ago today was the last time Mets fans who could sleep woke up never having never experienced a world championship. Come afternoon, Gil Hodges would bring a shoe polish-smudged baseball to Lou DiMuro; Donn Clendenon and Al Weis would each homer; Ron Swoboda would double; Cleon Jones would score a couple of runs; and Jerry Koosman would throw a complete game five-hitter. The last pitch he fired was hit by Orioles second baseman Dave Johnson. It would be caught by Jones in front of the left field warning track and crown the New York Mets the World Champions of baseball.

That was it. For as long as there would be baseball, for as long as there would be Mets, for as long there would be Mets fans, we had one. We had a world championship. We had a trophy (the only one with a Seattle Pilots flag among its ornaments, it would turn out). We earned a parade. We could watch Ed Sullivan introduce Edwin Charles, Rodney Gaspar and G. Thomas Seaver so they and their teammates could sing of the benefits of having heart. But even without the tangible rewards of victory, we were fulfilled in the eyes of eternity. We were Mets fans and we were fans of a world champion. It was not mutually exclusive. Stunning to consider both for where the Mets had been not long before October 16, 1969 and, let’s face it, where they’ve been lately.

This winning a World Series isn’t easy. First you have to get to a World Series, and our Mets have done that only four times in 48 attempts. They’re two-for-four upon arrival. The second time they succeeded, in 1986, they were overwhelming favorites along every step of their journey and it was still hard as hell to nail down. The first edition to be ultimately successful went all the way more succinctly (five games versus seven) but not without its own share of stress and drama.

Your first world champions won two games by one run (one in extra innings) and another after falling behind by three runs. The one game they won by a large margin came via two magnificent Tommie Agee catches that, if not made, would have changed the course of immediate baseball history. It’s not severe overstatement to calculate the Mets in Five could have been, if not for just about everything going right, the Orioles in Four.

But just about everything went right. Maybe not Ron Swoboda’s leap at the Memorial Stadium wall in the first inning of the first game, but history would say Rocky made up for that all right. History would say the Orioles didn’t know what hit them, or, more precisely, what caught them (to say nothing of who pitched right by them). History has been kind and consistent to the Mets from the moment Cleon Jones put away Dave Johnson’s fly ball.

What amazes me when I read contemporary accounts of the 1969 world championship is that everybody got it right away and that the story hasn’t changed all that much over four decades. It was an achievement for the ages and a miracle like no other. It still answers to that brief description. Occasionally its enormity has been overlooked (like when MLB failed to include it among what couldn’t therefore be described as the sport’s thirty most memorable moments) and sometimes it’s been taken a bit for granted (like when shortsighted Mets fans voted it no higher than the third-greatest moment in Shea Stadium history), but it’s held up. The 1969 Mets didn’t fall down a memory hole. You don’t have to explain it all that much. It’s not a season for which you had to be around to understand. It probably helps to have experienced at least some of it first-hand to truly appreciate it, but you can probably say that about everything.

I’m forever grateful for the timing I unwittingly demonstrated in coming to baseball and the Mets in the late summer of 1969. By the time I understood what a world championship was, I had one. My earliest sports memory of any kind was watching the 1968 Summer Olympics with my parents. We laughed at whichever discus thrower grunted the loudest in Mexico City. The first specific sports event I can recall watching was the fourth game of the 1968-69 NBA Eastern Division Finals between the Knicks and Celtics from Boston Garden (Knicks lost a one-point heartbreaker and fell behind three to one in the best-of-seven). But really, it was the Mets who were the beginning of everything for me. They were the beginning of knowing what I was watching and why I was watching. The 1969 Mets were the first thing outside the limited sphere of my own insignificant six-year-old life that I ever cared about.

The Mets were my point of entry to the world at large. And suddenly they were the champions of it. Talk about your most hospitable of Welcome Wagons.

After plucking the Birds, Maury Allen suggested in the Post that ever higher times loomed for those Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’ Mets. “Ryan hasn’t yet been tapped and Ken Boswell will be better and Agee has confidence and Jones is only 27,” Allen wrote with glee. “Why, the Mets could win for the next 10 of 20 years.” Perhaps Maury Allen was doused with more clubhouse champagne than Mayor Lindsay. Perhaps the giddiness of the moment was contagious. Or perhaps the Mets seemed just that ready to roll.

It didn’t happen that way, of course. The 1969 Mets stand apart not just from their predecessors but all their immediate successors. Anybody who came along not much after me would have to wait until 1986 for the kind of fulfillment I felt instantly (though 1973 wasn’t a bad consolation prize). Anybody who came along after the fall of ’86 is still waiting. Using my own timeline as a gauge, I deduce that no one currently under the age of 29 likely has any tangible memory of the Mets approaching and winning a world championship.

Thus, I congratulate you the younger Mets fan on this fortieth anniversary. You’ve maintained your affinity despite receiving no ultimate reward on your watch. Congratulations on displaying admirable perseverance and loyalty. But congratulations, too, because today is the fortieth anniversary of the Mets winning their first world championship, and it belongs to you just as it belongs to me, just as it belongs to everyone who started at zero — literally zero and nine — with this franchise when it commenced losing in amounts so voluminous that when it began to win anything at all, it had to be considered a miracle. What happened forty years ago today belongs to all of us. I hope if you’re younger than 30 you see October 16, 1969 that way.

I wasn’t around in 1776, but I still celebrate the Fourth of July.

I’d like to think I would have been every bit the diehard I became had I discovered the Mets a little later, without the benefit of witnessing them become world champions the first time. I assume I would have, but I’m glad I’ve never had to find out. I’m glad I could grow up knowing that it happened at least once. It meant it could happen again. That fact was all that tided me over when things grew grim. Somewhere in my Met-loving soul, I’m pretty sure I still rely on it for reassurance. On October 16, 1969, the Mets beat the Orioles 5-3 and became champions of the world. I know it happened. I saw it happen. It can happen again.

It will.

14 comments to You Never Forget Your First

  • Anonymous

    Beautiful Greg!

  • Anonymous

    Greg,
    Unlike the Mets and the Yankees bandwagonfiles, I knew you wouldn't/couldn't forget this day. I couldn't have said it better myself, though I tried. I will put in a plug for Greg, who's one of the major contributors to the ultimate book on the 1969 Mets, The Miracle Has Landed. (Jason lent his extensive collection of baseball cards.) For those interested–and if you're reading this site, frankly, you should be interested– it's available for order at a bargain price and in stores in time for the holidays. http://www.amazon.com/Miracle-Has-Landed-Amazin-Shocked/dp/1934186171/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1255702980&sr=8-1

  • Anonymous

    I'll be 29 in 2 months, so I suppose I made your cutoff. You're absolutely right, as well. I was happy the Mets had won, but I didn't really experience it as a 5-year-old.
    My mind clearly isn't used to World Champions, as when I consider October 16th I only think of Olerud poking one through the middle off Rocker. Though, to be fair, 10/25 and 10/27 are burned into my brain.
    Is it weird that I've been looking forward to tomorrow for a month now because it means I can watch Game 5 again?

  • Anonymous

    I pulled out 10/17/99 on Labor Day. And it was no labor to watch.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    As always, great words about a great anniversary. The memory of the '69 Mets will live forever.
    Now you know me well enough to know I couldn't pass up an opportunity like this to share my thoughts with the FAFIF faithful.
    I'm sorry you and the Mets were born the same year for as great as it felt to a six-year old, you can't imagane the euphoria felt by us old enough to have been there from the beginning. I disagree with those who have so elegantly written about the Miracle but refered to us new breeders being “long suffering fans”. That might be correct for players like Kranepool and Swoboda but is revisionist when it comes to us for I can't remember a time prior to 1969 when the Mets made me “suffer”, especially in light of the way they do today.
    And you're so right – back then we knew it could have easily been the Birds in five. Game two was not miraculous, just a meticulosly played and tension filled nail biter until Ed Charles decided not to race to third and got the batter out at first. Agee saved game three, Swoboda game four and shoe polish game five. But that's the way it had to be; we had to beat Baltimore with the aid of miracles. Anything less would have been anti-climatic (notice how the three game sweep over Atlanta holds little charm compared to the regular season and world series?).
    1969 and 1970 was a brief but glorious two year run for New York sports all around. Bill Gallo created MJKWC – the “Mets Jets Knicks Winners Club”. And the Rangers were quite colorful with Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacoman, Vic Hadfield, Brad Park and crew good enough to have made it a four sport throne.
    And as an extra bonus, the Yankees finished fifth in 1969 and were ignored even more by the media than we were this past September.

  • Anonymous

    i am glad you wrote this, though of course i never doubted you would.
    just as i never doubted they would win, both the game and the series. i was 11 then, and went to Game 5 with my dad. mezzanine or upper deck, down the right field line.
    the memories are vivid enough that this 40 years distance seems to validate just how short a lifetime can feel.
    of course, so much has happened since then. these days are feeling uncomfortably similar to the seasons of the mid '90s, if not the blackest days of the late 70s. my son has taken to questioning my devotion.
    but as peak experiences go, in sports and elsewhere, that afternoon will always chart in my personal top 5.

  • Anonymous

    Joe,
    Thanks for providing your stream of insights on the events with which many of us have no more than third-hand familiarity, particularly through the 40th anniversary thread of Flashbacks. I like what you say about not suffering, though I imagine the 737 losses in the first seven seasons had to seem like a bit of a burden.
    Then again, look at how the burden was thrown off.
    That period of which you speak was unique in New York sports annals, I'm guessing, because it was so underdog-friendly. The Mets and Jets were if not anti-establishment then not what you'd call the establishment, and the Knicks were, for the first time since the early '50s, coming into their own. I got the same vibe from the ABA Nets and the first Islanders teams that tasted success. Most of that sense would disappear by the late '70s, and underdog (save for the occasional out-of-the-blue run by a '79 Rangers or an '07 Giants) was just a synonym for loser in this market.
    In that regard, I'm glad I came along when I did.

  • Anonymous

    So it's not my imagination that 40 years isn't nearly as long as it sounds?

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely not, Greg, it's only unbelievable to comprehend that 40 years has passed because it still seems almost like yesterday.
    On the other hand, after one sees everyone other than Wayne Garrett sporting grey hair, bald spots or pot bellies does one recognize that time has caught up with you, no matter how young one might still feel emotionally.

  • Anonymous

    40 (years) is the new 30 (seconds).

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    When we began winning I didn't see New York teams as underdogs. I just felt great that New York had become the sports capital of the country, the way it had been.
    Prior to 1965, New York was on top all year round. The Mets were losers only in the standings, the Yankees were the most dominant team in sports and the Giants were most always in the NFL playoffs. Then suddenly all our teams became bad at the same time.
    The Mets were still lovable but the Yankees were pathetic, the NFL Giants one year finished 1-11, the AFL Jets had yet to make the playoffs, the Knicks were non-competitive and outside the small, loyal group of hockey fans there was little interest in the Rangers (in 1965 Ranger radio broadcasts consisted of Bill Mazer doing play-by-play of the third period only).
    It was a depressing few years until 1968 when the Knicks and Jets first made the playoffs, more people began having interest in the Rangers, Fran Tarkenton became a Giant, the Yankees finished in the first division for the first time in four years and, most importantly, the Mets showed rapid improvement by winning 73 games behind a talented young pitching staff.

  • Anonymous

    Coincidentally, I went to Comic Con here in NYC this weekend. I had never been to one of these events before, despite being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Battlestar Galactica/etc fan my whole life. Why did I go? I had free admission and Yogi Berra and Doc Gooden were to sign autographs.
    So I dug out my programs of the 1969 WS (given to me by a family friend along with a Gil Hodges drink tray and other memorabilia shortly before he died) and of the 1986 WS (bought from… well, me, since I was a vendor selling these things that year). I brought them to Pier 94, saw the original Batmobile and what may have been the Delorean from “Back to the Future”, and lots of sci fi and comic fans.
    Doc Gooden started signing at 11am, so I wandered around to see some of the other special guests. Where else could you see Loretta Swit sitting across from Lou Ferigno, Julie Newar sitting with Adam West, with one of the convention administrators mistaken for Burt Ward? Gorgeous Playmates and WWE Divas with Carol Cleveland of Monty Python fame? Peter Brady and his wife? Vincent Pastore of “The Sopranos” and Danielle Staub of “Real Housewives of NJ”? (Question, if she is so rich and high class, what the bleep is she doing signing autographs for money at Comic Con? – insert “Big Pussy” joke here)
    So 11am rolls around, Doc Gooden starts signing. I walk up to him, he sees me and gives me a big open grin and warm handshake. He's surprised to see a WS program instead of the pictures hawked by the hosts, and his grin got even wider. It's always nice when you meet a sports hero and he turns out to be even more pleasant than you hoped.
    Unfortunately Yogi couldn't be there because of the playoff game later that night. Why this information couldn't have been made available earlier, I have no idea, the game was set a week or so earlier. But Yogi is of an age, and I'm happy to give him any slack he needs. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to have him sign it another day.
    Lastly, Pete Rose was there, along with Ric Flair, George “The Animal” Steele and Bruno Sammartino. Between those three and the Jedis, Klingons and Number Sixes wandering the place, he had the “How the hell did I end up in the Star Wars cantina?” look on his face. I wasn't going to get his autograph, but I saw a picture for sale I just HAD to have him sign: One of the iconic Mets moments, the fight with Bud Harrelson!
    So I bought the photo and had him sign it. Now Pete Rose has a prickly reputation, but he couldn't have been nicer in that moment. He was engaging and wrote a nice message on the picture. Maybe it was because I was one of the few people costumed as a person from Earth circa 2009, but he was still great. I still have immense problems with his betting on baseball, but having met him I have to at least admit that it's not the whole story of his life.
    So now I have to get Bud Harrelson to sign the other half of the picture, and when I do, maybe at a Ducks game next summer, I'll have a prized possession to put on my wall. That's a long story about an autograph of a coach from the 1969 Mets that I never got, but what the heck?

  • Anonymous

    Great report! Hope Buddy's wearing his Superman t-shirt when you track him down.