The 2019 season marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most memorable, improbable and truly amazing World Series in baseball history.
In October of 1969, the Baltimore Orioles were heavy favorites over the New York Mets. The Orioles’ lineup and roster featured stars and future Hall of Famers. The Mets’ lineup featured a few strong arms and lineup of position players who were mostly platooned during the season.
And yet, the Amazing Mets not only surprised their fans by winning the National League pennant that year, but they would also shock the baseball world by winning the ’69 Series in five games.
Let’s look back at the New York Mets of 1960 and some of the key factors that made 1969 an unforgettable year…one that was simply amazing.
A history of losing…and losing big.
Heading into 1969, the New York Mets, an expansion team, had been in existence for seven years and had never had a winning season. More than that, they were considered a laughable team, a joke, their first few years. This was their record in those days:
1962 40 wins 120 losses
1963 51 wins 111 losses
1964 53 wins 109 losses
1965 50 wins 112 losses
1966 66 wins 95 losses
1967 61 wins 101 losses
1968 73 wins 89 losses
They finished last or next to last each season (9th or 10th place). However, the 1969 team, managed by second-year manager and former Brooklyn Dodgers great Gil Hodges, had a complete turnaround season.
1969 100 wins 62 losses
Hodges the hero.
Most everyone agrees that Gil Hodges was the primary reason for the Mets’ big turnaround. Tom Seaver, a star on that ’69 team, says that Hodges brought a winning attitude and a winning frame of mind to the team. Many people think that Hodges should be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his achievement with the Mets. In just two seasons, he took a perennial loser to the World Series and won, with a team of mostly unknown and unheralded ballplayers.
Hodges wasn’t new to managing. He had managed the Washington Senators from 1963 to 1967. In ’68, he had managed the Mets to their best record and led them the following year to the World Series. He was a true leader, a man of strong character, and he got the team to believe in themselves. Before the start of the ’72 season, he died of a heart attack at the age of 47 and was later replaced by Yogi Berra.
Here was the Opening Day starting lineup for the 1969 Mets:
- Tommie Agee – Center Field
- Rod Gaspar – Right Field
- Cleon Jones – Left Field
- Ken Boswell – Second Base
- Ed Charles – Third Base
- Bud Harrelson – Shortstop
- Jerry Grote – Catcher
- Ed Kranepool – First Base
- Tom Seaver – Pitcher
The pitching was strong, with a Cy Young winner.
The rotation included starting pitchers Seaver (who won the Cy Young Award with a record of 25-7), Jerry Koosman (17-9), Gary Gentry (13-12), Don Cardwell (8-10) and Jim McAndrew (6-7). The rest of the staff included pitchers who’d have more success in later years—Tug McGraw and a young fireballer named Nolan Ryan.
The Mets were slow out the gate but got super hot a few times during the season. They were under .500 over the first 40 games but not long after won 11 straight and stayed hot the rest of the season on their way to 100 wins.
1969 was the first year of postseason playoffs.
Major League Baseball added four new teams in 1969, two in the National League and two in the American, and because of that, the Leagues were split into two divisions—the NL East and West divisions and the AL East and West divisions. The Mets were in the NL East, along with the Cubs, Pirates, Phillies, Cardinals and the new Montreal Expos.
They finished strong while Chicago collapsed.
The Mets didn’t look as if they were going to make the playoffs. The Cubs were in first place in the new NL East in mid-August—it looked like the same old story for the Mets. But then the Mets got hot, and the Cubs lost 10 of 11 games in early September, blowing a 9 1/2-game lead. The Mets, amazingly, finished eight full games ahead of the Cubs—a 17-game turnaround.
The World Series.
The first four teams to play in the inaugural League Championship Series were the Braves and Mets in the NL and the Orioles and Twins in the AL. The Mets swept the Braves in three, and the Orioles swept the Twins—setting up the Mets versus the Orioles for the 1969 World Series.
The powerful Orioles were heavy favorites to win. They had swept the Dodgers in the ’66 World Series, and everyone was amazed the Mets were still playing, with their no-name lineup.
The Orioles had stars on their team, including Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell and Don Buford. The had won 109 games during the season and won their division by almost 20 games. They also had a strong starting pitching staff of Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar (both 20-game winners), Jim Palmer and Tom Phoebus.
And yet…they lost the World Series to the Mets in five games. The Series started in Baltimore for Games 1 and 2.
Game 1: Orioles 4, Mets 1.
Tom Seaver got the start and gave up a homer to leadoff hitter Don Buford. The Orioles got three more in the fourth inning and went on to win, 4-1. Cuellar got the win.
Baltimore is up 1-0 in the Series.
Game 2: Mets 2, Orioles 1.
It was Koosman versus McNally on the mound for Game 2. Koosman took a no-hitter into the seventh inning with the Mets up 1-0, but the Orioles tied it. The Mets got a go-ahead run in the ninth. Koosman went 8 2/3 innings, and the Mets won.
The Series is tied 1-1.
Game 3: Mets 5, Baltimore 0.
The series moved to Shea Stadium in New York, where it was Gentry versus Palmer. Agee set the tone with a leadoff homer, and the Mets won in a shutout, 5-0. Agee also made two spectacular plays that prevented multiple runs from scoring: He caught a hard drive at full speed at the wall to end the fourth, and in the seventh he made a diving, inning-ending catch with the bases loaded. Nolan Ryan came in to get the save, his only World Series appearance in a 27-year career.
Mets lead the Series 2-1.
Game 4: Mets 2, Orioles 1.
Seaver and Cuellar were back on the mound for Game 4. This game is famous for what’s known as “the Catch.” The Mets were up 1-0 in the ninth, the Orioles had Frank Robinson and Boog Powell on the basepaths, and with one out Brooks Robinson hit a sinking liner that looked like a sure double, but Ron Swoboda made a diving, rolling catch. Frank Robinson scored to tie the game, but Powell was left stranded. The Mets scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th.
Mets lead the Series 3-1.
Game 5: Mets 5, Orioles 3.
The Orioles scored three runs in the third and took a 3-0 lead into the sixth. In the sixth inning, Cleon Jones claimed that a low inside pitch had hit him on the foot—the umpires called it differently. Hodges called for the ball and showed the umpire a streak of shoe polish. Jones was awarded first and came home on Donn Clendenon’s two-run home run. The Mets added a run in the seventh and then took the lead for good with two more in the eighth to earn a 5-3 victory and an “amazing” World Series title. Koosman pitched a complete game victory in front of the Mets’ fans.
The New York Mets take the 1969 World Series over the Baltimore Orioles, four games to one.
- The 1969 Series started on October 11th and was over by October 16th.
- The Mets lost the first game and took the next four.
- For the Series, Baltimore hit just .146.
- It is today considered one of the biggest upsets in sports history.
Resources: Josh Leventhal: The World Series. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Fall Classic. Tess Press. 2007; 20th Century Baseball Chronicle: A Year-by-year History of Major League Baseball; Publications International, Ltd. 1992; Baseball-reference.com; en-wikipedia.com; wsj.com/articles/basking-in-baseballs-summer-of-69; baseball-almanac.com/ws/yr1969ws; usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/1969-world-series-amazin-miracle