(Editor’s Note- This story was originally published in the Summer 2008 issue of Gotham Baseball Magazine – MH)
Living in New York City offers me the opportunity to continually reminisce about the 1969 World Champion New York Mets. There isn’t a day that goes by that someone doesn’t want to talk to me about that team. Over the years I have come to understand the significance of the “miracle” that took place in 1969. Reliving my days with that wonderful team reminds me just how special that time was. With that in mind, there is no way to describe the feelings I have when I receive the dreaded telephone call telling me another one of my teammates from 1969 has passed away. Now, I’ve gotten seven of those calls, the latest being Don Cardwell.
All of us receive sad news from time to time and each of us deals with loss in our own way. For me, having another teammate pass away is agonizing to say the least, as I feel my own mortality and the loss of someone special. But that is life and no one escapes this reality. These calls bearing the sad news tear at my soul and leave me not only at a loss for words, but feeling that another part of my youth has gone.
The first of these telephone calls came in the spring of 1972. It was from a sportswriter and like any other call I assumed it was for an interview. I had been traded to the St. Louis Cardinals over the winter. I was with a new team and new teammates, but my heart was still with the Mets. When the first thing that came out of this reporter’s mouth was that Gil Hodges had collapsed and died I couldn’t have been more shocked. Although, I knew that Gil had heart problems, he was still relatively young and I thought he was taking better care of himself. But, it was hard to believe that Gil had just died. After all, it had only been a couple of years since Gil led us all to the World Championship in 1969. This couldn’t have happened to our leader, the rock of that championship team and the person who guided us to that remarkable victory. But it did, and that was my very first telephone call of that nature.
There have been six calls since. First Gil, then Rube Walker, then Cal Koonce, then Tommie Agee, then Tug McGraw, then Donn Clendenon, and the latest, Don Cardwell who passed away recently in North Carolina after a long illness.
While it is true that death is in fact part of life I am still torn with the knowledge that one more special person in my life is gone. It takes from me someone who shared one of the most incredible sports stories in the history of our country. The 1969 Mets aren’t just another team who won a World Series. I always tell people that maybe the ’69 Mets weren’t the greatest team to win a World Championship, but they certainly are the most memorable. No team, unless perhaps the 1927 Yankees, have been idolized more or talked about over the years. To write about all the things that have taken place to individual players and the team collectively since October 16th, 1969 would take pages and pages. As an example, do you think I would have a dog named after me on the popular sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond and would have appeared on the show if I wouldn’t have been part of that World Championship team? How many other teams will celebrate a 40th Anniversary and fans remember every player on that team? Very few I would suspect. Yes, 2009 will be the 40th Anniversary and I will venture to say that 40 years from then fans will still be talking about and remembering the 1969 Mets. The legacy of that team will live on forever, passed on from generation to generation.
There is one very important thing to remember about the 1969 Mets. While we had a number of star players, it truly was a team where everyone contributed to our success. When you talk about the team, the conversation isn’t just about Seaver, Koosman or Jones. It’s about Agee, Boswell, Kranepool, Weis, Grote, Charles, Swoboda, Clendenon and all the others who were so important in that championship season. The one true thing about the team is that all the names will be etched in people’s memories forever. That memory of everyone is the true legacy of the 1969 Miracle Mets.
We weren’t just teammates. When we won the World Series in 1969, we collectively became something different. Besides the team itself being very special all of the players, coaches and manager became bonded in a way that is hard to describe. Teammates will always be teammates but when you win a championship like we did, in the way we did, at the time we did, in a city, country and a world in chaos and despair, there is a bond, a special camaraderie that goes beyond words. To this day most of us keep in touch. Whether some of us are at an appearance together or a conversation on the telephone, we stay connected and continue to be in touch. Just the other day I spoke to Ken Boswell my former roommate, and reminded him that he still owes me money for all the hotel room service charges I paid for on the road.
Now Don Cardwell is gone. He was very simply a good friend and a great teammate. There’s really no need to mention his records. The fact that he was part of that team insures his name will live on forever. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to one game in particular that stands out for Don in 1969. In September, in a doubleheader in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, Jerry Koosman started the first game and pitched a shutout and drove in the winning run in a 1-0 game. In the second game, Cardwell started, pitched 8 innings (Tug McGraw pitched 1 inning) and Don drove in the winning run in the second game that ended up 1-0 also. A doubleheader won by the Mets, both 1-0 shutouts and both starting pitchers driving in the winning runs. It had never been done before. It was great clutch performances and to this day I can still hear Koosman and Don arguing about whose base hit was hit the best. Great memories!
I hope it’s a very long time before the next dreaded telephone call.
Art Shamsky was a member of the 1969 World Champion New York Mets. Read more about Art at artshamsky.com