On June 25 I went to the Mets versus Oakland game with my buddy, Vinnie. It was what I call an “Oliver Perez Game” as it was over in two innings, at which time the Mets were behind 6-0. At that point it also started to rain, and expecting a rain delay, we decided to head to one of the Lounges quickly, before everyone went inside. We got a spot by a TV to keep an eye on the game. No delay came, but nothing compelling was happening on the field, and we settled in for a few minutes to finish our discussion.
Our topic was a question, “What is your favorite regular season Mets game of all time?” Vinnie, like me, has attended countless games, so we set a few extra ground rules. It couldn’t be a playoff clincher, or a game we had been at in person. Interestingly, even with these ground rules and the fact that we have attended over 2,500 Mets games combined, we both went with games from old Shea Stadium. Vinnie, ten years younger than I, picked a fabulous game on September 21, 1981, a contest won by a Mookie Wilson walk off home run. I will leave the rest of the details of that game for another day. Figure September 21. Today is not that day. It is, instead, the anniversary of the game I picked, July 9. For on that day in 1969 everything changed for me about being a Mets fan.
I have foggy memories of the Polo Grounds Mets, and starting with brand-new Shea Stadium in 1964 the memories become clearer. I have met a lot of people who have cited 1969 as the year they became a Mets fan. That sure makes sense, that team did not just captivate New York City, but they were a huge national story, a true miracle story. The Miracle Mets. But that miracle did not happen overnight; it started slowly, and grew and grew. Various huge moments jump out, Gil’s walk to left field being one for sure. But what made July 9, 1969, such a special day for me was it was a turning point for me as a fan. After seven years, when that game ended, I felt that my team, the Mets, was truly involved in a pennant race.
Growing up in the early 60s left me following two types of baseball. There were the important games, between teams such as the Giants and Dodgers, the Tigers and Twins, the Cardinals for sure, and for a few of the foggier years, the Yankees. It was exciting to watch these games from time to time on the Game of the Week, and to read about them in the Daily News. The culmination of this baseball season, of course, was the annual World Series, where I watched great players such as Willie Mays, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Sandy Koufax, Willie McCovey, and well, I could go on for a while here. It was interesting to follow.
Then there were my Mets. I could watch them on WOR every day, and better yet, we went out to the park all the time. Sometimes, depending on whom the Mets were playing, you got to see some of the players above. But the Mets were not part of this pennant race world, they were so bad and so far removed from it you didn’t even consider it. You knew from Day One of the season it was all about just enjoying the game for its own sake, and that the day you watched might just be a good contest. Nothing else than that was within reach.
In 1969 things were breaking a little differently. For the first time in team history, the Mets were winning more than they were losing, in fact they were in second place, when the first place Chicago Cubs came rolling into town on July 8. That night, a Tuesday night, over 55,000 fans passed through the turnstiles, and the Mets, the Miracle Mets, rallied with three runs in the bottom of the ninth against Cubs ace Ferguson Jenkins for a thrilling 4-3 win. The next day, the Mets ace, Tom Seaver, would pitch.
Now everyone already knows what happened that day. Tom Seaver was perfect until the ninth, and then Jimmy Qualls hit his flare and that was that. What most people do not know is that this was my friend Daniel Bowe’s fault. Here is what happened.
When the game started the whole family sat down in front of the TV to watch. I’m mildly surprised we did not head out to Shea, but we didn’t. I found myself watching with heightened interest; the events of the night before had me intrigued. Could the Mets be part of a pennant race? Three innings in, Seaver perfect and incredibly dominant, my mother made an important announcement.
And that was the closest anyone in the Geus family came to saying that Tom Seaver was throwing a no-hitter. We knew the rules. Inning by inning went by, and as the Mets had scored three early runs it started to become obvious there was only one thing left to be decided that night. By the time the Cubs were retired in the eighth, no one in our house had spoken for three or four innings. There was nothing to say, we all knew what we were watching.
And then it happened. The phone rang. Who the hell was calling now? Mom spoke first, loudly.
But it kept ringing, and it was 1969. There were no telemarketers, and no caller ID. My father got up and answered the phone. He looked at me and said, “It’s for you.”
For me? I was eleven years old; I had not yet received a phone call in my life. I grabbed the receiver.
“Michael, it’s me, Daniel. I wanted to make sure you were watching the game.”
Now, looking back, it was actually considerate of Daniel. His parents, casual baseball fans at the most, were watching with him and wanted to make sure he called me. It was well known what a crazed Mets fan I was, and they didn’t want me to miss history.
But I wasn’t thinking that way back then. Instead I screamed into the phone,
“Of course I’m watching the game! Are you crazy calling right now!”
And then he apologized, ha, and I said okay, but we need to get off the phone. And when Jimmy Qualls got his hit my mom looked me straight in the eye and said, “You understand that was Daniel Bowe’s fault.” A position she never fully moved off of. When Daniel moved out of the neighborhood four years later I was partially relieved for both him and me.
Now, I had a different reaction to that game than my mom. I was slightly disappointed when Qualls got his hit, but not very upset. Qualls’s single slightly marred what had been a fantastic game. A game, I suppose, that could have been the ultimate game. But I had experienced great games before, and I could live with this one not being the ultimate. Because I already got to experience something that night that I never had before. As the game developed, it became obvious to me that this was not all just a nice short run. Any doubt had been removed. I knew my team was now one of those teams, the teams that competed to be in the World Series. Koosman and the ninth inning heroics had me wondering if this could be true the day before. Seaver left no doubt.
In 1969, from then on out, every game was huge, and I was not surprised one bit when the Mets flew by the Cubs in September. The Cubs? I never had seen them playing in the important season.
And on October 12, 1969, I got the ultimate game and the ultimate season, all wrapped together.
That day the New York Mets became World Champions.