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.
HUNT: His card has to be worth more than two bucks.
The Mets will soon host the All-Star Game at Citi Field. However, on this date in 1964, Shea Stadium was home to its only All-Star Game, won 7-4 by the National League.
Second baseman Ron Hunt was the first Met to start an All-Star Game and went 1-for-3 with a single off the Angels’ Dean Chance.
Hunt played with the Mets from 1963-66, then went on to play with the Dodgers (1967), Giants (1968-70), Expos (1971-74) and Cardinals (also in 1974).
Hunt’s baseball legacy was summed up by this quote from him: “Some people give their bodies to science; I give mine to baseball.’’
He had a knack for being hit by pitches, and was plunked 243 times in his career (he had 1,429 career base hits). Incredibly, he was hit 50 times in 1971 while with the Giants. He led the league in that category for seven straight seasons.
Francisco Rodriguez, knowing how the game is played from the business side, is willing to accept a trade to a contender and work as a set-up reliever. He would waive the $17.5 million option that is to kick in after finishing 55 games this year for a contract extension.
Evidently, the same offer would apply to the Mets if they were to extend him by say, three years.
Of course, the Mets will need a closer after this season and there’s no guarantee Bobby Parnell will take to the role. Even so, as good as Rodriguez has been this year, I’m not willing to gamble with him, even at 29,
He’s pitching well, but to me too much of that is pitching for a new contract – or the option. He’s been a model citizen after last year, but three years is excessive. He still has the volatile motion that could make him vulnerable to injury and losing something off his fastball.
Yes, he’s pitching well, but if the Mets are lucky enough to escape his contract at the trade deadline, they’d be foolish to hang on to him. If they can run away from this, they should.
On this date in 1962, Rod Kanehl became the first Met to hit a grand slam homer in a 10-3 rout of the Cardinals in the Polo Grounds. Kanehl connected off Bobby Shantz.
KANEHL: A Casey favorite.
Kanehl played eight seasons in the minors with the Yankees and Reds organizations before getting his shot at age 28 with the Mets in 1962.
Kanehl became of favorite of Casey Stengel for his hustle and versatility, playing everywhere but pitcher and catcher. Reportedly, when Stengel died in 1975, Kanehl was the only former Met to attend the funeral.
Kanehl played in 340 games over three years and batted .241 with six homers and 47 RBI.
Kanehl died in Palm Springs, Calif., at 70, in 2004.
On this day in Mets history, outfielder Cleon Jones from Plateau, Alabama, was signed by scout Julian Morgan in 1962.
JONES: Catches final out of 69 Series.
Jones made his major league debut in 1965, but won the starting centerfielder job out of spring training in 1966 and finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Jones developed into a star in 1969, and was hitting .341 with 10 homers and 56 RBI and was named the starting left fielder in the All-Star Game.
According to several accounts, the turning point of the Miracle Mets’ season came several weeks later when manager Gil Hodges walked out to left field to pull Jones after failing to hustle.
Forty years later, Jones said Hodges was his favorite manager, and recalled the incident as a pivotal moment in that season. J0nes will always be remembered for catching Davey Johnson’s fly to left for the final out of the 1969 World Series.
Jones was inducted into the Mets’ Hall of Fame in 1991.