From the moon landing to Woodstock to the Stonewall riots, revolutionary change was in the air during the summer of 1969. That extended to sports, as well. These were heady months when laughingstocks like the New York Mets, which had never finished higher than ninth in baseball’s National League, suddenly were storming into the World Series.
Just in time for the 50th anniversary, a trio of books on the Mets’ miraculous 1969 championship season are out, along with several other baseball tomes.
The most comprehensive volume on the so-called Miracle Mets is Wayne Coffey’s “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done: The ’69 Mets, New York City, and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History.” Even ardent Mets fans will come across new nuggets of information in the 140 pages Coffey dedicates to the World Series. And he sketches portraits of the roster, especially the team’s African-American players – Ed Charles, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee and Donn Clendenon – who battled prejudice and injustice in their journeys from the Jim Crow South to the Big Apple.
A memorable image from the 1969 World Series is right fielder Ron Swoboda splayed on his side following his diving catch in the fourth game. Swoboda’s memoir, “Here’s the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More,” (out on June 11), centers on his career-defining snag. But the book is also a quirky, gruff, intermittently lyrical exploration of the life of a major leaguer.
Outfielder Art Shamsky’s memoir, “After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the ’69 Mets,” written with Erik Sherman, is two books in one: a rehash of the 1969 season, framed by an account of the trip Shamsky and several aging teammates took to Tom Seaver’s vineyard in California, two years ago. With the Mets ace Seaver suffering from dementia, the reunion feels like the last of its kind.
Regarding the Mets’ 1986 championship season, there’s Ron Darling’s “108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns, and the Darndest Characters From My Time in the Game,” written with Daniel Paisner – a collection of anecdotes from the former Mets hurler. Darling spills clubhouse secrets, but the stories sometimes come across as petty and pointless. More insightful is David Cone’s “Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher,” written with Jack Curry. Cone, a former Cy Young winner who threw for both the Mets and the Yankees, offers a probing account of what it takes – emotionally, psychologically and physically – to pitch in the major leagues.
In the best book of the bunch, “K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches,” Tyler Kepner spins a dense but readable story, devoting each chapter to an iconic pitch, from the fastball to the sinker. The concept works like a charm, educating readers on the full sweep of a moundsman’s craft.
Paul Goldberger’s “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City,” zooms through decades of major league history by focusing on stadiums. An architecture critic, Goldberger traces how stadiums shape and reflect American urban trends. “Ballpark” is more academic than most baseball books, but no less engaging.