SWOBODA stretches for a line drive by Brooks Robinson, makes
a miracle catch
and discovers it's the career-making event of his life in baseball.
with some baseball greats
By MAURY ALLEN
The smell of the
grass. The hot dog wrappers snapping in the gentle breezes of
Florida, Arizona and California. The beer bursting out of cans.
The sound of a round bat hitting a round ball, sometimes thrown
at 100 miles and hour.
Spring training, the greatest invention since the wheel. Baseball
It starts with all 30 teams tied at 0-0 and hope spilling over
in every training camp. Yes, we can, they shout. Reality sets
in during early April. One stands alone in late October.
Then the seasons are relegated to history. The memories are always
The 1914 Braves, from last to first. The 1927 Yankees, Murderers
Row, the best ever. The Gashouse Gang. The Yankees of Ruth, Gehrig,
DiMaggio and Mantle. The 1961 Yankees of the M and M boys, Maris
and Mantle. The 1967 Boston Red Sox Impossible Dream Team. The
1975 Cincinnati Big Red Machine. The 1998 all-winning Yankees
and the 2004 end of the Curse of the Bambino in Boston.
And the 1969 Miracle New York Mets.
The Mets started in business in 1962 with 120 losses in their
first memorable season. Seven years later they won a championship.
It is 40 years later and the New York baseball season really
began the other day as the memories of that 1969 victory were
applauded at a New York high-spirited luncheon.
Four of the players on that team--Art Shamsky, Ed Kranepool,
Bud Harrelson and Ron Swoboda--showed up to represent the 25
players who made that summer historic in New York sports history.
Some of them are gone now, manager Gil Hodges, coach Rube Walker
and players Donn Clendenon, Don Cardwell, Cal Koonce, Tommie
Agee and Tug McGraw, but all were named and represented that
afternoon on a cold February day.
I remember when I broke in during that 1962 season,
recalled Kranepool. I was only 17 years old. We lost over
100 games and I thought we lost that many in a row. I wondered
if that was the way my career would go.
He lasted long enough to win a championship in 1969 and hit a
World Series homer and even come back for another try in the
1973 World Series, an event made famous by Willie Mays
incredible fall from grace in centerfield.
Swoboda said he played nine years in the big leagues and all
anybody could ever remember about him was The Catch. That occurred
in the fourth game of the 1969 Series when Swoboda dove full
out like a swimmer going for the 100 meter freestyle record,
caught Brooks Robinsons line drive off his shoe tops and
kept the Baltimore Orioles from breaking open a close game later
won 2-1 by the Mets.
Whenever I see Brooks I always tell him how grateful I
am that he didnt hit the ball straight at me, Swoboda
told an excited crowd of Mets fans. If he had I would have
missed it. Then nobody would have ever heard of me.
A broadcasting career still going strong in New Orleans where
the Baltimore native now lives really happened because of The
Bud Harrelson, who first reported to the Mets spring camp at
137 pounds after a reserve tour of duty with the Army, was the
one, irreplaceable shortstop anchor of that team despite the
attention paid to a great pitching staff of two future Hall of
Famers, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, and a half dozen other clutch
pitchers including Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Don Cardwell,
Jim McAndrew, Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw.
In the next playoff in 1973 I wish I was 300 pounds,
said Harrelson, still skinny at 64. Thats when I
had that fight with Pete Rose. I took care of him though. I hit
his fist with my right eye.
Shamsky hit four home runs in a row for Cincinnati over two games,
one of the most outstanding baseball hitting streaks and was
later traded to the Mets in 1968.
I think when some of the Mets players heard the team had
made a deal with the Cincinnati Reds they thought they were getting
Pete Rose or Johnny Bench, Shamsky said. It was only
He hit .300 during that championship season and batted .538 in
the playoff against the Atlanta Braves of Hank Aaron. Not bad.
It was a delightful February luncheon just before another baseball
season. The stories were warm, the memories were sharp and the
nostalgia carried the day.
Another baseball season. More warmth, more joy, more laughter,
more nostalgia, tons of fun.
Take Me Out to The Ball Games.
©2009 by Maury Allen.
The Maury Allen caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. he photo
is courtesy of The New York Daily News. This column first
posted Feb. 9, 2009.
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