Apologies in advance if a technical matter temporarily disappears this post. We’re still in the process of switching blog platforms, and I was going to wait on any further posting ’til it’s done, but I wanted to continue to get the word out about the following project…plus snow is falling on Long Island like pop flies on Luis Castillo’s head, and I need to stop staring out the window.
Back when Bob Costas was an up and coming broadcaster whose every other utterance was cheekily charming (as opposed to now, when he comes off as curmudgeonly condescending), he made a characteristically cute remark about wanting to follow the Gideons into hotel rooms so he could place the Elias Baseball Analyst alongside their Bibles in every hotel room in America.
That’s how I feel about The Miracle Has Landed. If I could, I would put this Good Book that details like no other the mitzvahs committed by the 1969 World Champion New York Mets in the hands of every single Mets fan. I can’t, but I can urge every citizen of Metsopotamia to bless himself or herself — as well as a loved one — with a copy. The Miracle Has Landed is undoubtedly the definitive Word on the definitive moment in the Genesis of the modern Mets.
This book is a near-religious experience. I preach its Gospel to the village elders who remember first-hand the Old Testament of Casey Stengel, and I preach its Glory to the Met-aphorical child Who Does Not Know How To Ask. For the wise and mature Mets fan, The Miracle Has Landed offers depth that outdistances even the 410 feet between home plate and deepest center field at the late, lamented Shea Stadium. For the youngster among us who wonders why such a fuss continues to be fomented over a team from forty years ago, The Miracle Has Landed provides an answer that could have been brewed straight from the Maxwell House Haggadah:
It is because of what the almighty Gil Hodges did for us when we left ninth place.
I could continue to get spiritual with you about this book, but better you should know what’s actually in it so you’ll be suitably convinced to secure it.
It has everything.
It has everything you could possibly want to know about the 1969 Mets. It is a most friendly encyclopedia on what stands, still, as the most improbable championship baseball has ever known. It is a library of biography, a repository of history, a stream of curiosities and a stage for eternal drama. It is a parade of perspectives. It is an endless sense of wonder.
It is 1969 come to life and come to stay. Invite it in to your home and to your heart.
Me, I invited Matt Silverman to tell me a little more about it.
The Miracle Has Landed offers not one voice but dozens of full-throated articulations of what made 1969 the incandescent year it remains. The Society for American Baseball Research, under whose auspices the book was produced, had the good sense to seek out an expert conductor to turn the choir into a vocal symphony rather than a cacophony. That would be Matt, an experienced sports author and editor, particularly where the Mets are concerned. SABR asked Matt to put this project together in 2007, and he would spend the next two years of his life devoted to its cause and deadlines. It took a lot of work, but Matt saw a bright side, particularly in the past year. See, while the rest of us were mired in the misery of the disabled and the diminished, Matt got to take frequent side trips to a happier, more miraculous place.
Matt tells me he’d be watching a game last summer, would see the Mets fall behind some random opponent 4-1, feel the deficit widening and adjourn to his office to work on captions or one of the many sidebars he personally contributed. “What a wonderful escape from 2009,” he says.
Any year is a good year to journey back to 1969. “It’s the touchstone,” Matt believes. “It’s the Met moment. It’s when they really became a franchise.” It’s also when The Franchise earned the only World Series ring he’d ever wear. “They really made Tom Seaver’s career,” Matt says. “They made everybody’s career.” After living with them for more than two years, the editor takes a step back and marvels at his subject matter.
“Whenever I look at the ’69 Mets,” Matt says of their statistics, “I still ask, ‘how did this team win?’ Even if pitching is 90% of the game, the Mets didn’t even have enough hitting for the other 10%.”
Seaver would go on to approximate his 1969 performance several times. Nolan Ryan would famously exceed what he accomplished, while Jerry Koosman would later win 20 games twice and Tug McGraw would become one of the game’s top closers. But, to Matt’s point, that’s basically it. “Most of those guys would never have another year like 1969,” Matt notes. Most of them never had a year like it before 1969. For instance, “Art Shamsky had had one great week with the Reds,” recalling his four home runs in four consecutive at-bats in 1966. “Otherwise, he was just good.” Yet Art (a .538 hitter in the inaugural NLCS) and his 1969 Met teammates, together, became immortal.
Matt draws one overarching conclusion for why it all merged so miraculously: “Gil Hodges made all these pieces work. Even when he got Donn Clendenon, he still platooned him with Ed Kranepool, who at that point wasn’t the most reliable player the Mets had except that you knew he’d be on the roster every year.”
They’re all champions now, just as they were all champions then, and you’ll read about each of them in The Miracle Has Landed. You’ll read about everybody who had something to do with 1969, from Seaver the Cy Young and Clendenon the World Series MVP to the bit Mets who exist less in memory than agate type. All 35 men who were 1969 Mets are profiled. That includes Amos Otis, then a young man who failed a couple of tryouts (before being shipped off to stardom in Kansas City in exchange for the doomed Joe Foy); Al Jackson, a 1962 refugee who redeparted as the miracle was finding its footing; Kevin Collins, an ultimately lost component of the pre-’69 Youth of America; and Jessie Hudson, who threw exactly two innings for the Mets in his only major league appearance on September 19, 1969. The bio of Clendenon is spectacularly epic. The bio of Hudson is relatively brief. But all of the biographies are lovingly and carefully crafted.
Silverman’s all-volunteer army of writers came from diverse baseball backgrounds. Some (like yours truly, who contributed two original pieces) were high-voltage Mets fans. Others were baseball historians who recognized a good story when they saw it. A couple came at it from the perspective of not being happy the miracle in question was pulled off. Everybody took the assignment at hand to heart. “The guys hit it pretty well,” Matt agrees, happily adding the writeups “didn’t have that cookie cutter feel.”
In addition to the player bios, there are profiles of Hodges, his coaches, the owner and front office poobahs (even M. Donald Dastardly) and articles/sidebars galore on every aspect of ’69. For example, did you realize that in the midst of widening their September lead over the Cubs and, four days from clinching the first-ever National League East crown, that the Mets were no-hit in the last no-hitter ever thrown at Shea? That the Mets were inundated by rain early in the schedule when they were yet to gel and had to play a boatload of doubleheaders later, when they were perfectly coalesced? That a roll of film from a Seaver start at Wrigley Field — the week after Jimmy Qualls made himself infamous — lay undeveloped for forty years, until it was developed for this book?
You’ll see the pictures. You’ll read the stories. You’ll step out of the path of the black cat so he can go haunt the visitors from Chicago. You’ll find yourself lost in a year like no other. “It’s your team,” Matt says to every Mets fan who harbors any doubts about what made 1969 so incredibly Amazin’. “There will never be another team like it.”
And there may never be another book quite like this.