We’ve turned over to our 2019 calendar, and that means we are now in the 50th anniversary year of the remarkable, World Series winning 1969 Miracle Mets. This was a team that was little changed, with respect to personnel, from the ‘68 edition, a team which had finished in ninth place with a 73-89 record. That record was actually the best the Mets had ever posted up to that time in their seven years of existence.
The short answer to the title question is pitching and defense, with some timely hits thrown in, and adroit managing by skipper Gil Hodges. The overall team offense was not impressive. The ‘69 team scored a regular season total of 632 runs, ninth in the 12 team league, ahead of only St. Louis and expansion teams Montreal and San Diego.
The run differential figure was better for the Mets at +91, second in the league to Chicago, at +109. But even that decent differential number for the Mets was not very impressive compared to their World Series rivals that year, the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles, who had a run differential of +262.
As to the Mets pitching in 1969, Cy Young Award-winning Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and the under-rated Gary Gentry headed the pitching rotation, with Jim McAndrew and Don Cardwell rounding out the staff. Future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan was effective in a swing tole and the Tug McGraw was a lights out closer. The staff turned in a team ERA of 2.99, second in the league behind St. Louis at 2.94. Looking at other pitching stats, the Mets posted a team WHIP of 1.18, they held opponents to a .227 BA, and they had 28 shutouts. All these figures were best in the league, indicating the Mets had the best team pitching despite not having the best ERA.
The Mets only made 122 errors during the regular season, second in the league. There were no Gold Glove winners on that team, although CF Tommie Agee would win it the following year and SS Bud Harrelson in ‘71. Gil Hodges deftly managed the team, skillfully platooning players like Art Shamsky and Ron Swoboda in the outfield and Ed Kranepool and Donn Clendenon at 1B.
Many Met fans would have been happy pre-season with just a winning record in 1969, since the team had never turned one before. But they went on to win the division with an impressive 100-62 record by running away from a good Cub team in September. They then swept the Braves in the LCS.
The final hurdle was of course the AL champs, the Orioles. Baltimore was a heavy favorite over the Mets, people were saying that Oriole team was at least one of the best, or perhaps even the very best team ever, up to that time. They had a regular season record of 109-53, winning the division by 19 games, and they then demolished the Minnesota Twins in a sweep. They had a team ERA of 2.83 in the AL regular season, .41 ahead of their nearest rival. The O’s were stacked with Gold Glove winners like Brooks Robinson, Paul Blair, Mark Belanger and Davey Johnson. The team scored 779 runs in the regular season, second in the AL.
Yet, the Mets managed to prevail in the WS. They dropped the opener 4-1 as Mike Cuellar outdueled Tom Seaver, but the Mets then racked up four straight wins. They got highlight reel catches from outfielders Tommie Agee and Swoboda, and they got a Babe Ruth-like batting series from weak hitting utility infielder Al Weis, who had a BA of .455 with a homer and three RBI. Mid season acquisition Donn Clendenon had three HR and four RBI for the series. In the final game, game 5, they spotted Oriole ace Dave McNally a 3-0 lead before tying it up in the seventh inning. In the eighth inning, doubles by Cleon Jones and Swoboda combined with shoddy Baltimore fielding resulted in two runs. Koosman shut down Baltimore in the ninth, for a complete game win, and the Amazin’ Mets had perhaps the most unlikely World Championship win ever in MLB.