Monday, October 26, 2009

An Amazin' Anniversary

It was 40 years ago this month that the New York Mets — known to history as the "Amazin' Mets" — shocked the sports world by beating the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

What made the Mets "amazin'," to use a word that was popular in the press at the time (it seems to me that Casey Stengel originally came up with the moniker), was the fact that they had only been in existence since 1962. And their first seven seasons were dismal.

But, with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman anchoring the pitching (incidentally, the pitching staff also included a young Nolan Ryan) and Cleon Jones leading the batters with a .340 average, the Mets took control of the National League East in early September and never looked back, sweeping Hank Aaron's Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series and then topping the Orioles in five games.

I was in elementary school that fall. Like most boys my age, I collected baseball cards, and, also like most boys my age in central Arkansas, I tended to follow the St. Louis Cardinals. It was Cardinal games we could get on the radio in those days — cable TV and nightly broadcasts were still in the distant future — but the Cardinals didn't come close to making it to the postseason that year, finishing 13 games behind the Mets.

I remember that most of my friends were supporting the Orioles in that World Series — and, as I say, they were the heavy favorites. Baltimore won slightly more than two–thirds of its games in 1969, and its roster had three future Hall of Famers — Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer — as well as several other talented players. The Orioles won their division by 19 games and swept their opponents, the Minnesota Twins, in the American League Championship Series.

But I was backing the Mets. The only reason for that, I think, is the fact that I read an article in a Sunday newspaper supplement magazine about Seaver a month or so before the World Series. Maybe the fact that my father always liked supporting underdogs played a role as well.

My friends were stunned when the Orioles lost. Strangely, I was not. I guess I was too young at the time to appreciate how far they had come in so short a time.

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