When I first started identifying as a Mets fan, fifty years ago late this summer, you couldn’t have convinced me the Mets could do wrong. There was no evidence to support the assertion. The Mets mostly won. The rare defeat, such as that experienced by the Mets in Baltimore to open the World Series, was compensated for immediately and lavishly. They were perfect to me.
Soon I’d learn every Met year hadn’t been 1969 and that perfection was hardly the Metsian rule. I would read about a banner that appeared at Shea Stadium somewhere along the road to ’69: “To error is human; to forgive is a Mets fan.” I got it. The Mets that existed before I found them lost a lot. A whole lot. Imperfect though they might have been, the people who were “we” before I was one of us loved them just the same.
It didn’t take long for me to grasp that every year after 1969 wasn’t going to be 1969. I’d have preferred world championship upon world championship, but I got that sports didn’t work that way. Not that I needed more persuading, but the lack of readily repeatable success served to reinforce how special 1969 had been. In that sense, as the Mets drifted further and further from the standard they set in ’69, their championship season grew only more special for its singularity.
Nineteen Sixty-Nine made me a Mets fan. Nothing that followed could pry me from them, yet everything that followed recalibrated my expectations. The Mets would err. And I’d forgive them. They weren’t perfect, but what did that have to do with anything? I loved them. At times I couldn’t stand them, but I loved them.
The construct holds true to this day. That’s Mets fandom. My Mets fandom, at any rate. You are welcome to yours. Mine allows me to fully comprehend what they are doing wrong yet not let it detract from my appreciation when they get things right. It’s a skill that comes in handy on days like Saturday.
Saturday the Mets got right the fiftieth anniversary of the 1969 Mets …with a pair of facepalming exceptions that were impossible to ignore if you noticed them. But if you did notice them, you had to have noticed everything else, all of which was magnificent.
The magnificence was everywhere at Citi Field, extending out to Seaver Way, where the Mets re-created, in miniature, the ticker tape parade the champions received upon their conquest of the world. There was no ticker tape, and the adoring throng was basically a thronglet, but the passion for the players who had grounded the Orioles in five was no less tangible.
Doing right by the 1969 Mets — and the fans who cherish them — has been an organizational preoccupation in 2019. From the moment in February that Art Shamsky, Cleon Jones and Ed Kranepool were welcomed to Port St. Lucie as revered village elders, the Mets showed they were treating this fiftieth anniversary as a milestone that transcends chronological convenience. In case you didn’t realize how remarkable a perennial doormat of a franchise raising the roof of Major League Baseball was, the Mets have enthusiastically filled in the blanks. For those of us who’ve never forgotten who and what the 1969 Mets were and are, the Mets were more than happy to amplify our collective memory.
The good work showed Saturday afternoon inside the ballpark. With Howie Rose (who else?) conducting, the Mets gave us a 1969 overture to the regularly scheduled ballgame for the ages, and, perhaps, the final fully orchestrated 1969 coda for the men who made that year a year we continue to marvel at a half-century later.
Up in Promenade, alongside my friend Jeff, who ran home from the bus stop on October 16, 1969, to catch the final few innings of Game Five, I watched and listened as Howie crafted context, rekindled emotions and introduced everybody the Mets were conscientious enough to invite. Living 1969 Mets players, of course. Family members of 1969 Mets figures no longer with us, as has become custom, to a certain extent, too. The Mets extended the custom this year. For example, we are accustomed to seeing Joan Hodges and Gil Hodges, Jr., represent the manager at these events (and we are honored by their presence and commitment), but the Mets decided a day like this also called for the families of Gil’s coaches to be on hand. Yogi Berra, Eddie Yost and Rube Walker are no longer with us, but somebody was there for each of them. Joe Pignatano couldn’t travel to join the players, but his son was on hand.
Likewise, we met the wives and children of 1969 Mets we’ve lost too soon and Mets who, for whatever reason, were not able to attend, an incredibly thoughtful touch. Cleon Jones has said more than once that long before the 1979 Pirates discovered Sister Sledge, those Mets were family. You could really feel it on Saturday. We in the stands felt it because we saw it on the field and we felt it because we are this family, too. We were the youngest brothers and sisters of the 1969 Mets. Like the players and their immediate kin, we’ve grown older as well; I noticed far more gray than usual among the orange and blue as I waited for my Woodside connection at Jamaica. We took this family reunion just as seriously as the players. Fifty years on, we also don’t know how many more there might be.
The Mets strove to acknowledge everybody who was a tile in the 1969 mosaic, paying an extra helping of homage to Seaver Way’s inspiration. It was tough to gather this brood, glance toward its table’s head and not see Tom Seaver pouring the wine, but his presence was undeniable, from the signs on the street where the Mets live, to his grandsons who threw out four first pitches, to his name coming up in the 1969 retelling again and again.
Of course everybody’s name comes up when you talk 1969. That’s what it made special then and keeps it special now: the definitive team effort. Nobody knew who among that bunch might be a Hall of Famer. Everybody figured out that as a unit they were all achieving immortality. Gil Hodges figured it out first, the rest of us caught on eventually. As Howie began to introduce the players who returned to Flushing on Saturday, we dug all over again how it worked.
Two by two they emerged on golf carts from center field. Pitcher DiLauro and pitcher/doctor Taylor. Rookies Pfeil and Gaspar. McAndrew of Lost Nation, Ia., and backup catcher Dyer. Backup catcher Martin (who, Howie reminded us, could “lay down a bunt”) and kid third baseman Garrett. Swoboda of the improbable catch and Jones of the final catch. “Tough as nails shortstop” Buddy Harrelson, waving to a crowd that by Rose’s reckoning returned his greeting with a group hug 40,000-strong, and Art Shamsky who slugged the bejesus out of Braves pitching in the first NLCS. Jerrys Koosman and Grote, the battery charged with definitively unplugging the Oriole machine. And, to put a period at the end of the sentence, “Ladies and gentlemen, your 1969 world champion New York Mets,” the Met who arrived on the page first.
Ed Kranepool was the ideal choice to be appointed Met of Mets in this procession of memory. You couldn’t have Seaver, confined to California by his battle with dementia. Nobody else who wasn’t the Franchise was an obvious choice. Had Nolan Ryan chosen to visit, he had the career credentials to draw focus, but the supporting-role reliever from 1969 did not join his teammates Saturday. Based on all we know, Gil Hodges wouldn’t have been presumptuous enough to accept a shred of spotlight from his players (or coaches), but nobody — nobody — connected with the 1969 Mets believes the 1969 Mets would reconvene to popular acclaim if not for their manager. Gil’s been gone since 1972. His legacy grows larger all the time. The only place that hasn’t quite heard enough is located in Cooperstown.
Thus, Eddie. Ideal Eddie. Not only because Kranepool arrived on the Mets in 1962, the year whose exploits created the type the Mets of 1969 would play so emphatically against; and not only because Kranepool stayed longer continuously than anybody else from 1969, all the way to 1979; but because he’s Eddie Kranepool. From James Monroe High School in the Bronx. The bonus baby. The great Met hope. The hope stagnated. “Is Ed Kranepool over the hill?” another Shea banner asked concerning a man in his early twenties. Gil Hodges had played with Ed Kranepool, but he wasn’t married to him when he managed him. The onetime All-Star receded from the forefront of the Mets’ strategy by 1968, yet Gil didn’t stick any of his players all that far to the rear.
Eddie was as important as any 1969 Met. He was as important as DiLauro and Taylor, Pfeil and Gaspar, Martin and Garrett, who were as important as Swoboda and Jones, Harrelson and Shamsky, Koosman and Grote. Kranepool was as important as Donn Clendenon. They both started at first base, one primarily against righties, one mostly against lefties. Hodges called on Clendenon to pinch-hit against ace Chicago righty Ferguson Jenkins on July 8, 1969, with Ken Boswell on second and one out at Shea, the Mets trailing the Cubs by five in the National League East and two in the bottom of the ninth. Clendenon doubled. Jones doubled after him to tie the game. Three batters later, Kranepool singled home the winning run. It was the first Huge Game the Mets ever played and won. In the last set of them the Mets played in 1969, a.k.a. the World Series, Clendenon started four times and socked three homers. In the one start Kranepool received, Eddie homered.
Together, everybody was as important as anybody else. Seaver may have been the best of them, but Tom would likely affirm the team effort. It sufficed on June 29, 2019, to think of the 1969 Mets as Team Kranepool. As Howie noted, the “miracle” theme with which we associate 1969 fits Ed’s story now as then. Eighteen months ago, we learned Eddie badly needed a kidney and that he considered himself utterly estranged from the team to whom he gave eighteens seasons of his life. Fast-forward just a bit, and here’s Eddie Kranepool, with a kidney, inside the adoring confines of 41 Seaver Way, the Met rolling in royally on his own golf cart.
Like I said, ideal.
It was moving enough simply to realize how far Ed Kranepool had come without ever going anywhere. It got more emotional in Promenade once he addressed us (on the heels of a vivid video presentation in which the ’69 Mets reflected on the perfectly logical miracle they created). Ed Kranepool’s playing career disappeared without fanfare after 1979. There was no David Wright-style “kiss today goodbye and point me toward tomorrow” ending to it. What Ed Kranepool did for love and money just ended. The Mets, transitioning from the deRoulets to Doubleday/Wilpon, let him get lost in the shuffle. They eventually made amends, inducting him into the team Hall of Fame in 1990, a decade beyond his baseball retirement. Things ran warm and lukey thereafter. There was always a lingering sense that Ed Kranepool, Ur Met, wasn’t quite accorded the reverence Ed Kranepool rated. Not so much for his statistics or even his longevity. Just for being Ed Kranepool.
Nobody else might understand what that means, but Mets fans do. Surely we did on Saturday when we were all thrilled to hear Eddie tell us one more time how amazing 1969 was and is, how amazing his teammates were and are, how much we, the kid siblings, figured into the family portrait. Let’s just say that behind selected pairs of glasses in Promenade, a rain delay erupted early.
The perfection that didn’t elude the 1969 Mets on October 16 was inaccessible this June 29. Perfect would have been Gil Hodges surviving long enough to have enjoyed at least a couple of these reunions, maybe long enough to have built up a managerial ledger Hall of Fame committees couldn’t miss. Perfect would have had golf carts ferrying Charles and McGraw, Agee and Cardwell, Koonce and Clendenon to an expanded podium. Perfect would have been Weis, Boswell, Gentry and Ryan able and/or willing to attend Saturday’s festivities. Seaver was already so close to perfect on July 9, 1969, that it would be hard to imagine asking more out of him fifty years later, but gosh, how perfect would have Tom’s being there been?
But it was as perfect as it had to be for a Mets fan who started in the late summer of 1969 and has never stopped. And it was ever so slightly Mets enough to underscore that perfection and the Mets, unlike black cats and Leo Durocher, infrequently cross paths.
As part of the program, the Mets asked for a moment of silence to remember the 1969 Mets players, coaches and manager who were no longer with us. Their names and faces streamed across the video board. That their respective appearances weren’t surprising didn’t make their absences any less sad. Agee. Berra. Cardwell. Charles. Clendenon.
Then Kevin Collins, which was a surprise, not for his mortality (he died in 2016), but for his inclusion here. Kevin was first a Met in 1965, but played only sixteen games for them in ’69. He is best remembered as being part of the four-player package that brought Clendenon to New York. I don’t remember him ever having been brought back to Shea in 1979, 1989, 1994 or 1999 to take a bow for his sixteen games’ worth of 1969, nor was he spotlighted in 2009 at Citi Field. This was a nice little surprise.
Same could be said for the next name invoked among the dearly departed, Danny Frisella. Frisella was the first 1969 Mets player to pass, in a dune buggy accident on New Year’s Day 1977. He was only thirty years old, still playing ball. Most of Frisella’s big Met moments came after 1969, particularly as Tug McGraw’s righty relief complement in 1971 (his ERA was 1.99 over 90.2 innings), but he was indeed a 1969 Met. It was for three appearances in July, just as the world was waking up to these Mets being contenders. Pam Frisella, Danny’s wife, was a special guest at the 1969 Mets’ tenth-anniversary reunion in ’79, but otherwise I really couldn’t recall his name coming up at one of these commemorations since. Another nice little surprise.
The next name on the In Memoriam reel belonged to Jim Gosger. Jim Gosger is still alive.
The name after Gosger’s was that of Jesse Hudson. Like Jim Gosger, Jesse Hudson is still alive.
These were surprises that weren’t so nice and the missteps couldn’t be written off as little. These were the cause for the pair of facepalms. Or as I said to Jeff as the presentation continued accurately, “The Mets just killed two guys.”
Our smartphones make it possible to confirm or correct our instincts instantly. A touch of Google informed us that, unless something terrible had occurred in the preceding minutes, Messrs. Gosger and Hudson were alive and hopefully well.
Ah, but maybe the good offices of the Mets, in the course of due diligence, had learned something the rest of us didn’t know and were using this occasion to inform us. But no, that wasn’t the case, either. Definitely not where Jim Gosger — outfielder for the Mets in 1969 for ten games and sixty-four more in 1973 and 1974 — was concerned, because when we looked him up on Facebook, we saw that he had just a couple of hours before posted something about how he was feeling mellow.
Not so mellow that he needed to be checked for vital signs, though his blood pressure might have risen a point when word filtered to him through social media that the Mets pronounced him dead at the present time despite his status to the contrary. He alerted his followers that the Mets got in touch as Saturday unfolded and apologized. Hudson has maintained a lower profile since his lone appearance as a major leaguer, September 19, 1969, for the Mets versus the Pirates. If he heard the Mets erred in prematurely reporting his demise on June 29, 2019, one fervently hopes he has received a similar acknowledgement of inaccuracy from his former employer. All the 1969 Mets live on in our hearts — and all the 1969 Mets get to live as long as they can.
As someone whose curiosity about the team he started rooting for in 1969, also never stopped, I couldn’t help but be elbowed briefly out of my championship reverie when I took note of Jim Gosger and Jesse Hudson being declared dead. To the vast majority at Citi Field, these were two names and photographs from the distant past. Even the shall we say diehards may not be up to date on which reserves and September callups from fifty years ago are still with us. But I am. I keep track of many Met things. Mets being alive or not alive is one of my topics. No wonder, then, that when the ceremonies were over, concluded smartly to the strains of “Heart,” as performed by your 1969 world champions on The Ed Sullivan Show, I was left with two impressions:
1) Almost all of it was perfect.
2) The Gosger and Hudson errors were the diametric opposite. To error is human; to forgive is a Mets fan, absolutely.
But c’mon. You just killed two guys.
Both impressions led to me tweeting to anybody who might find it of interest the following  at 4:21 PM Saturday:
“The Mets included two apparently living players in their Dear Departed reel, but otherwise a beautiful 1969 ceremony. #LGM”
As I write this article, we are more than twenty hours removed from that moment. My tweet has been retweeted 181 times and “liked” 703 times. For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, this level of response, as measured by volume, is insane. Measured by sentiment…let’s just say nobody really paid much attention to the part where I said I thought the ceremony was beautiful, which was mostly what I thought.
Let’s also say there is a widespread inference among baseball fans — Mets fans especially — that this organization has yet to master the challenge of walking and chewing gum simultaneously, and learning from an an array of sources  that the Mets reported as dead two people who are still alive didn’t reverse that reputation.
Putting aside nuance being as elusive a commodity on Twitter as perfection is in general, it probably doesn’t help that most of the Mets’ past fifty years have not been not been mistaken for perfect. It really doesn’t help that the most recent sampling of Mets baseball has proven oodles less than ideal. The game that came attached to the beautiful 1969 tribute was horrific. It rained enough to halt play for ninety minutes. Later, an umpire got hurt and had to exit. The Mets blew a lead and didn’t get it back. In the end, it added up to a 5-4 loss, their seventh consecutive defeat , this one very much like the ones before it.
Chris Mazza  debuted by throwing four hardy innings in relief of soggy Steven Matz. Dominic Smith homered. Jeff McNeil as usual and Robinson Cano for a change delivered big hits. But, ultimately, Seth Lugo surrendered consecutive eighth-inning home runs to Nick Markakis and Austin Riley, transforming Mets 4 Braves 3 into Braves 5 Mets 4, unfortunately taking the edge off the symbolism inherent in a 1969 NLCS rematch.
Different relievers, different weather patterns, different final scores, same essential result. You can honor the greatest New York sports story ever told. You can hand out pretty pennants. You can never forget 1969. Nor should you. But you can’t look past how bad the present can get. Even my friend Jeff who dashed home from the bus stop fifty years ago appeared ready to run in the other direction from the Mets when this seventh straight setback was complete (though some of that had to do with catching a train). Jeff went to the Mets loss in Philadelphia Thursday afternoon and the Mets loss Friday night at Citi Field before meeting up with me for the Mets loss Saturday afternoon/evening. He’s still with us, though. As am I. As are you, I’m guessing.
We’re fans of the Mets. Who among us — Mets and Mets fans, living or dead — is perfectly divine all the time?