Former New York Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda spoke Friday at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum.
Not too many people expected much from the 1969 Mets.
The Mets were created in 1962 and promptly lost 120 games. Through 1968, New York had never finished better than ninth or won more than 73 games in a season. They were woeful and Swoboda, who played right field for the Mets, noted they earned their reputation.
The ’69 Mets started the season playing five games below .500 over the first 41 games. Despite playing well over the middle part of the season, winning over 60 percent of their next 72 games, the Mets were still 9.5 games behind the National League East-leading Cubs onAugust 13.
Swoboda, who currently broadcasts New Orleans Zephyrs games, noted the Mets had solid pitching behind future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and veteran lefty Jerry Koosman. Seaver won 25 games and posted a 2.21 ERA and Koosman went 17-9 with a 2.28 ERA. Rookie Gary Gentry won only 13 games for the Mets, but ate up a lot of innings as the third starter with 233 innings pitched.
“Without Seaver and Koosman, we would have never won the World Series,” Swoboda said.
The Mets bullpen was also good with Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw, the father of country singer Tim McGraw, providing a strong righty and lefty combo late in the game. Taylor led the team with 13 saves and a 2.72 ERA. McGraw, throwing from the left, added 12 saves and finished with a 2.24 ERA. They also had a young right-hander in the pen – Nolan Ryan – who won six game, saved one, started 10 games, and struck out 92 batters in 89 innings.
“Everybody caught the ball well and threw strikes to first base,” Swoboda said. I thought we needed some more offense.”
Tommie Agee led the Mets in homers and RBIs in 1969, with 26 homers and 76 RBIs. Cleon Jones hit .340, but only had 12 homers and 75 RBIs.
The offense came late in the season with the addition of Montreal veteran first baseman Donn Clendenon, who hit .252 over the last 72 games of the season with 12 homers and 37 RBIs.
“We were a lot better offensively after the All-Star game,” Swoboda said. And the Mets were red-hot over the last two months of the season, finishing the last 49 games with 38 wins to not only overcome the Cubs’ 9.5-game lead, but to open an eight-game advantage by the end of the season, or a 17.5-game turnaround.
“It was the easiest baseball I’ve ever played,” Swoboda said. “It was the most heady experience of my life.”
The Mets would go on to sweep the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship series and beat Baltimore in five games in the World Series. Although Swoboda, who hit nine homeruns and drove in 52 RBIs in a platoon situation with Art Shamsky, did not play against the Braves, the Baltimore native made a diving catch of a Brooks Robinson’ one-out liner to right in the top of the ninth that would preserve a 1-1 tie and send the game into extra innings, with the Mets winning 2-1.
The late Yogi Berra was a base coach for the Mets. Swoboda hit a ball that hit the wooden wall on top of the brick centerfield wall and dropped to the ground.
“The beautiful thing about the time I played were the characters,” Swoboda said.
His first at-bat was against legendary Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale.
“I was not ready for that,” he said. “Inside I was trying not to pass out. I hit a line drive off Don Drysdale.”