October 28, 2009

Mets win World Series in 1969. (The Associated Press)

’69 ‘Miracle Mets’ Make World Series History

1969 was a year of incredible news events: the first man walked on the moon, a music festival called Woodstock became a lasting cultural event, and the New York Mets — a hapless, if not outright incompetent, baseball team — pulled off an unbelievable World Series triumph to the amazement of baseball fans everywhere.

In a stunning series of victories, the “Miracle Mets” managed to capture the National League pennant and win the World Series, becoming the first expansion team to claim victory in the Fall Classic.

The Mets — short for Metropolitans — were regarded as ne’er-do-well upstarts, compared unfavorably to the legendary New York Yankees. The team was added to Major League Baseball during its 1962 expansion. With manager Casey Stengel at the helm, the perennial bottom feeders set the standard for modern-day losses during their first season with 120 — a dubious distinction that still endures. Subsequent seasons were not much better — until that golden summer of ’69.

Though the “lovable losers” had improved by the beginning of the 1969 season, by mid-August the third-place Mets were trailing the Chicago Cubs by nine games in the National League East. Then the team’s fortunes suddenly turned. They went on a tear, winning 39 of their last 50 games to capture the division. They finished with a regular-season record of 100-62.

But the best was yet to come.

The Mets swept “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron and the Atlanta Braves in the National League championship series. Next was the World Series, where the Mets faced a Baltimore Orioles lineup that featured larger-than-life legends Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson. The Mets had future stars on their roster — Donn Clendenon, Al Weis, Jerry Grote, Ed Kranepool, Bud Harrelson, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, Ron Swoboda and Tug McGraw — who came through in a big way.

The Mets lost Game One but won the next three. They entered Game Five with a chance to win it all at Shea Stadium. The Orioles took an early lead, but Clendenon crushed a two-run home run, and Weis launched a solo shot to tie it. The Mets pulled ahead in the eighth inning. Starter Jerry Koosman walked O’s slugger Frank Robinson at the top of the ninth and retired the next three hitters to cap an improbable World Series victory.

Pandemonium broke out when Jones caught a long fly for the final out. People literally ripped off pieces of Shea Stadium for souvenirs of the unlikely triumph. 

The press and their fans added the “Miracle” prefix to the team’s name and revived another nickname — the “Amazin’ Mets” — which Stengel reportedly had coined years earlier when they became infamous for their poor play.

The Mets came close to winning the World Series again several times before their 1986 victory against the Boston Red Sox. In 2009, the team opened the season in a new stadium, Citi Field, where they struggled, despite a talented lineup. In August, the ’69 team was honored in a ceremony at Citi Field. The memories of 1969 still linger.

Learn more about baseball’s winners and losers and other great sports news in the Newseum’s 25-minute documentary “Press Box: The History of Sports Reporting,” now playing in the Sports Theater. TheNews Corporation News History Galleryfeatures historic front pages of notable sports events.

“Athlete,” a new exhibit featuring the photography of Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss Jr., is now open.

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