1969 New York Mets: An Amazin’ World Series Title

Since their founding in 1962, the Mets had done nothing but lose. In fairness to them, expansion franchises were put behind the eight-ball a lot more than they are today when it comes to building a roster. But the hard numbers told you that in New York’s first seven seasons, they lost at least 100 games four times.

The hiring of Gil Hodges as manager in 1968 brought some improvement—the 73-89 record was the franchise’s best to date. But that was still only good for ninth place in a 10-team National League. The 1969 New York Mets were truly a team that came out of nowhere when they won one of baseball’s most famous World Series championships.

Major League Baseball took a big step towards making the postseason a little easier in 1969. The addition of four more teams led to a landmark decision to split each league into an East and West division. While still considerably more rigid than today—you had to finish in first place to qualify for the playoffs—’69 would be the first year that the League Championship Series round would precede the World Series.

New York would share the NL East with the Montreal Expos (today’s Washington Nationals) and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the cusp of becoming this new division’s most consistent team in the decade to come, were a part of it. The other two teams in the NL East were there by a strange quirk–the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs were slotted in the East, while the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves went West.

Whatever you want to say about the geography, this had a big impact on the field—the Cardinals were the defending NL pennant winner, and the Cubs would be a strong contender in the year ahead. It was one more reason not to get too excited about the Mets’ prospects for ’69.

The everyday lineup didn’t stand out. They had a handful of notable seasons, but not much beyond that. Centerfielder Tommie Agee hit 26 home runs, but no one else broke the 20 threshold. Cleon Jones was the leftfielder and he hit .340. Other than Jones and part-time outfielder Art Shamsky, no one else batted .300 and only second baseman Ken Boswell, at .292, really got close. No one had more than 76 RBIs.

The Mets did have depth—other than 21-year-old third baseman Wayne Garrett, no one’s offensive numbers were really awful. Everyone from catcher Jerry Grote to first baseman Ed Kranepool to shortstop Bud Harrelson to outfielder Ron Swoboda had their moments. And even the youthful Garrett started to come up with big hits in the season’s biggest games. But New York still finished ninth in the 12-team National League for runs scored.

It was the pitching that would make this Met team truly amazing. The great Tom Seaver was just 24-years-old and he ripped off a 25-7 record with a 2.21 ERA and won the first Cy Young Award of his Hall of Fame career. Jerry Koosman was a 17-game winner with a 2.28 ERA. Gary Gentry was a reliable third arm, making 35 starts and posting a 3.43 ERA. Don Cardwell and Jim McAndrew each started 21 games and had ERAs in the low 3s.

Hodges had a young fireballer named Nolan Ryan who spot-started and worked out of the bullpen. The 22-year-old finished with a 3.63 ERA. The bullpen was led by Ron Taylor (2.72 ERA) and Tug McGraw (2.24 ERA) and included quality work from Jack DiLauro who posted a 2.40 ERA. Cal Koonce’s ERA was up there at 4.99, but he logged 83 innings. Met pitching was the second-best in the National League.

There was nothing in the season’s early going that indicated something special was afoot. The Mets were swept at home by both the Cardinals and Cubs in April. They went to Wrigley and lost two of three to Chicago and dropped a series to eventual NL West champ Atlanta. With a record of 18-22 on Memorial Day, New York wasn’t playing badly by the low standards of their first seven years of existence, but they were still nine games out of first and on no one’s radar.

It was in June that the Mets began to become amazing. Coming out of the holiday weekend, they reeled off 12 wins in 16 games in a home-and-home sequence with West Coast teams from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. New York took three of four from Philadelphia. And the Mets grabbed three more wins in a four-game set with the Cardinals.

Moreover, they made a move to upgrade the offense. June 15 was the trade deadline in this era. While Donn Clendenon wasn’t a star, he was still a reliable bat at first base. In 72 games as a Met, Clendenon hit 12 homers and slugged .455. And he erupted in October.

By July 8, New York was 45-34. They were in second place, 5 ½ games back of Chicago. St. Louis had fallen and would not get up. An improbable two-team race between the Mets and Cubs was taking shape as Chicago came to Shea Stadium.

The Mets trailed Tuesday night’s opener 3-1 in the ninth inning. At risk of wasting a nice outing from Koosman, Boswell, Clendenon and Jones all doubled in succession. The game was tied. With two outs, Kranepool lined a single to center and New York had a 4-3 win.

Seaver pitched on Wednesday night and was dominant. Tom Terrific took a no-hitter into the ninth inning and got one more out before the Cubbies finally broke up the no-no. The Mets still won 4-0. Even though Gentry struggled in a 6-2 loss in a getaway Thursday afternoon game, New York had chipped away at Chicago’s division lead.

One week later, the two teams renewed hostilities on Chicago’s North Side. This was before lights were installed in Wrigley Field, so the Monday-to-Wednesday series was all in the daytime. Seaver tossed a five-hitter in the opener, but there was no run support. He dropped a 1-0 decision. But the bats got cooking the next two days. Utility infielder Al Weis hit a three-run bomb on Tuesday and Boswell homered. New York won 5-4.

On Wednesday, an Agee homer keyed an early burst to a 6-0 lead. Cardwell couldn’t get out of the second inning and the game quickly tightened to 6-4. But the Mets pulled back away. Shamsky had three hits, including a two-run homer. Weis went deep again. And Koonce’s five innings of shutout relief kept the Cubs in check. With a 9-5 win, New York took another series from their key rival.

The Mets went through a roller-coaster ride out of the All-Star break. On the good side, they won six of seven against the Braves. But that was given back by losing six games to the lowly Houston Astros (a National League team prior to 2013). New York fell ten games out on August 13. It looked like Chicago was home free, and the Mets would just have a nice season of improvement and look forward to next year.

But once again, playing the NL West proved the right tonic. New York won 15 of 20, then took three of four from Philadelphia. Chicago started slumping. By September 8, the Mets had closed to within 2 ½ games of the Cubs. And Chicago was coming to Shea for a monster two-game series.

Koosman and Seaver were lined up to pitch. In the opener, an early home run from Agee gave Koosman the edge he needed to produce a 3-2 win. Seaver matched up with Cub ace Fergie Jenkins in a juicy pitching showdown on Tuesday. It turned into a rout. Clendenon hit a two-run shot, Agee and Boswell had two hits apiece, Seaver tossed a five-hitter and the Mets won 7-1. The margin was down to a half-game.

Over the next six games against the Expos and Pirates, Met pitching went to another level. They allowed just five runs combined over that stretch and won each game. The Cubs couldn’t pull themselves out of a death spiral. New York moved out to a 3 ½ game lead.

There were still 2 ½ weeks to go, and the Mets stumbled when they dropped three of four at home to Pittsburgh. But that was just a blip on the radar of New York’s September surge, and Chicago wasn’t recovering in either case.

On Wednesday, September 24, there was one week left, and the magic number was down to one. The Cubs won at Wrigley during the day. The Mets took the field at home against the Cardinals. Clendenon ripped a three-run blast off St. Louis ace Steve Carlton in the first inning, part of a five-run eruption. The night would be one long party at Shea. Gentry tossed a four-hitter. When he got Joe Torre to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, the NL East was race over and the home crowd stormed the field in celebration.

There was more celebrating still to come. The League Championship Series was then a best-of-five affair, and both New York and Atlanta came out swinging. All three games of the 1969 NLCS were exciting, but all three had a common ending—the Mets ended up on top. Their improbable journey would continue.


The Baltimore Orioles were a 109-win team. Even though New York had 100 wins themselves, they were decided underdogs. The Mets lost Game 1. Surely, now was where this great story would finally end, right? Wrong. New York pitching completely shut down a great Baltimore lineup, the Mets won the next four games, Clendenon was Series MVP, and a magical ride to a World Series title was complete.


It was a journey that gave the team the deserved label of “The Amazin’ Mets.” And while this group of players would never be this good again, they still continued to play winning baseball in the years following—and won another improbable National League pennant in 1973.