By Lenn Robbins
The mystical, magical year of my youth was 1969.
As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I had suffered with the Mets, Jets, Knicks and Rangers. Make that Suffered. No, SUFFERED.
Then came ’69. While the nation roiled with protests against the war in Vietnam, cries for hiring African American faculty at universities across the country, and a city’s painful upheavel written in graffiti, the Gods of sports waved their wand over the Big Apple and voila’ – SUCCESS.
The Jets won Super Bowl III. The Knicks capped the 69-70 season by upsetting the Lakers for their first NBA title. Sandwiched in between was the Mets, Amazin Mets.
Ten games back in mid-August, the Mets went on a tear that landed them in the playoffs. Teachers at P.S. 115 put down their chalk and placed transistor radios on their desk. We hung on every pitch.
I had never been to a baseball game. We just didn’t have the extra money. Then one day my dad asked me if I wanted to go to a World Series game.
“Why sure, dad. I’d also like to tour with The Beatles, beam up to the Enterprise and grab a drink with Ursulla Andress, but I’ve got long division…”
It was no joke. One of his friends gifted him two tickets to World Series Game 4 – Oct. 15, 1969.
We sat in the upper deck in right field, two rows behind Maury Wills, the first sports star I approached for an autograph. He had this beautiful baritone voice that scared the spit out of me. He graciously signed my ticket stub.
The Mets took a 1-0 lead in to the ninth. Tom Seaver gave up singles to Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. There was one out. The mighty O’s were finally rising up. The magic was dissipating into the Queens sky. Tears were blurring my vision.
Brooks Robinson slapped a sinking line drive just over second baseman Al Weis into short right field. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Ron Swoboda bolt in from right and dive headfirst.
Did he catch it?! As I mentioned, my eyes were blurry. Yes! He caught it. He caught that ball a blade of grass above the grass.
The O’s tied it at 1-1 but the Mets won it, 2-1 in 10 innings and took a 3-1 hold on the series. That was my first Mets game.
“Ha,” laughed Swoboda on the other end of a telephone call. “Timing is everything, Lenn. Timing is everything, my friend. It can be good and bad but timing is everything.”
Swoboda says he doesn’t take a trip down memory lane every Oct. 15th. Two years ago was the 50th Anniversary of the Amazins triumph and he wrote a book, “Here’s the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More.”
Swoboda thinks more about the tumultuous times of the 60’s and what he sees taking place today than baseball. He is frustrated by the political divide that has fractured the nation, the backlash the Black Lives Matter movement, which he supports, is receiving, and the rampant spread of the coronavirus, which he believes has been handled poorly.
“I’m think I’m lucky in the sense that the catch itself ranks up there with great World Series plays,” he said. “But this isn’t that time of year and this isn’t that kind of year.”
Indeed it isn’t. With the 60-game MLB season scheduled to begin on July 23rd several players that are part of New York baseball lore will be available to chat with fans for free this Wednesday and Thursday on Wizard World Virtual Experiences (www.wizardworldvirtual.com).
Former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, and former Yankees stars Roy White and Jim Leyritz will be available on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Swoboda, Art Shamsky and Ed Kranepool will speak at 4 p.m. on Thursday. The chats can be accessed on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch. Fans also can book exclusive two-minute paid sessions with the players that includes an 8”x10” autographed photo.
Swoboda is one of the more insightful and opinionated people, not just players, you’ll have the pleasure of speaking with. In a far-ranging interview, here are his thoughts on:
Rob Manfred: I’m not the greatest fan in the world of our current baseball commissioner. I feel like he enjoys being commissioner a lot more than he enjoys baseball as a game because he does seem to want to monkey with it in many ways that I’m not sure make it a better game to watch.
Should PED-Users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens be in the HOF: Yes, I do. Most of those guys would have been in the Hall of Fame probably without performance enhancing drugs. Those guys should be in the Hall of Fame. I don’t admire their behavior but they should be in the Hall of Fame with an asterisk.
Should Pete Rose Being be in the HOF: Pete might be the one exception. What Pete did, and I’ve heard this from guys that played on his teams, when he was managing and betting on baseball they said you could tell by the way he managed the games whether he had the over or the under.
The Mets Winning It This Year: We’re in a totally strange and novel environment where you can’t look two months down the road and say with any assuredness what’s up, what’s going to be up? What’s happening? In that environment, there’s no reason the Mets, who have some talent, can’t win it.