One of my favorite baseball books was “The Year the Mets Lost Last Place,’’ a diary of a three-series stretch in July of 1969 when the Mets played two series with the Chicago Cubs and one with the Montreal Expos.
YOUNG: Fate finds obscure Cubs outfielder.
Dick Schaap was the author and book took the form of timeline, nearly to the minute, of those games.
One of those games came on this date in 1969 when the Mets beat the Cubs, 4-3, on the strength of Cleon Jones’ two-run double to support the strong pitching of Jerry Koosman. Jones’ double tied the game, and Ed Kranepool’s single off Ferguson Jenkins was the game-winner.
However, the emotional spin of this game centered around non-descript Cubs outfielder Don Young, who misplayed two balls to set up the Mets’ three-run ninth-inning rally. Balls get misplayed, that’s part of the game, but the twist came when Cubs star third baseman Ron Santo viciously blasted Young, first to his face in the clubhouse, and then to the media.
The next day, Santo called a press conference and apologized to Young, who played his last major league game in October of that year. He played sparingly the next two seasons and retired.
The Mets pulled within 4 ½ games of the Cubs with the victory and it was clear 1969 was shaping into a remarkable season.
We’re at the point of the season where much of the talk is about trades, so let’s look back on one of the Mets biggest deals.
CLENDENON: Big pick up for Mets.
On June 15 of 1969, Donn Clenenon was traded by Montreal to the Mets for minor leaguers Bill Carden and Dave Colon, Kevin Collins and Steve Renko.
The Mets were nine games back of the Cubs when the trade was made. Clendenon was hot down the stretch, hitting homers to beat Chicago and St. Louis, and continued to hit for power during the World Series, with homers in Games 2 and 4.
Clendenon played two more years for the Mets with limited success. On this date in 1971, his homer gave the Mets a 6-5 victory over Philadelphia in 15 innings.
Clendenon was released after the season, played in 1972 with St. Louis and was cut after that year.
Clendenon’s father was a mathematics and psychology professor at Langston University in Oklahoma, and education was a big part of his life. After retiring, Clendenon returned to school at Duquesne University and practiced law in Dayton, Ohio.
Clendenon died at 70 in 2005 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The Mets have hit four homers since May 22, a span of 17 games. On this date in 1967, the Mets and Cubs combined for 11 homers in the second game of a doubleheader, won 18-10 by Chicago. The Mets hit four that afternoon.
Bob Johnson, Jerry Buchek, Ron Swoboda and Jerry Grote all went deep for the Mets.
The Cubs broke the game open with seven runs in the third and scored in all but two innings.
Keith Hernandez wasn’t much of a home run hitter, but on this date in 1987, he went deep twice as the Mets pummeled the Chicago Cubs, 13-2, at Wrigley Field.
HERNANDEZ: So smooooth.
The game also featured four hits each from Gary Carter and Kevin McReynolds. Hernandez, Tim Teufel and Rafael Santana drove in three runs apiece, and Dwight Gooden pitched eight innings to earn the victory.
I always liked watching Hernandez play. Whenever I watched the Met from that era, Hernandez was always the guys I’d want at the plate when a clutch hit was needed. Darryl Strawberry was always feared for his power, but Hernandez was the one with the game on the line.
One question I’ll ask Hernandez when I see him next is whether he could have been a home run hitter if he tried to hit for more power. Wade Boggs always said he would hit more homers if that was his mindset, and I believe the same the same would have applied with Hernandez.
Defensively, he was superb, and along with Don Mattingly, New York was blessed to have two premier first basemen during the 1980s.
Hernandez was so smooth at the 3-6-3 double play, and, of course, making the throw to third off a bunt. Nobody made that play better than Hernandez.
SWOBODA: One of the Amazins.
There were signs prior to their showdown series against the Cubs that 1969 had the potential to be a breakout, if not special season.
The Mets always had their troubles against the Giants, and finding little ways to win was never their forte. However, on this day in 1969 the Mets completed a three-game sweep of San Francisco at Shea Stadium, winning 5-4 on Ron Swoboda’s bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning.
Swoboda signed with the Mets after playing one year at the University of Maryland, and debuted with the team in 1965. Swoboda hit 15 homers by the All-Star break, but finished the season with 19, then a Mets’ rookie record (broken by Darryl Strawberry in 1983).
For all his strength, Swoboda never became a big time home run hitter and finished his career with 73. He will always be remembered for hitting a pair of two-run homers off Steve Carlton, Sept. 15, 1969, and robbing Brooks Robinson of extra bases with a diving catch in right field in Game 4 of the World Series.
SWOBODA CAREER STATS