The impact of major league baseball’s worst team, the New York Mets, rising to capture a World Series title and the imagination of the New York metropolitan area and country nearly 50 years ago, is historical, according to Art Shamsky, who played on that championship squad.
“Teams that affected a city, affected a country, there are only four,” Shamsky said at Temple Israel of Lawrence on April 7. “The 1927 Yankees, the 1947 Dodgers, the 1968 Detroit Tigers and the 1969 Mets.”
Seniors to children, who were not alive during that time, attended Shamsky’s talk, where he also signed copies of his books “After the Miracle, the Lasting Brotherhood of the ’69 Mets” and “The Magnificent Season.” Warren Heller from Living Legends Memorabilia & Collectibles in Rockville Centre sold Mets and other sports items.
After the Miracle, co-authored with noted journalist Erik Sherman, was published last month, and is considered a “fond remembrance of a legendary baseball team and the teammates who kept in touch throughout the ensuing decades,” by Kirkus Reviews.
Shamsky recounted how he, Bud Harrelson, Jerry Koosman and Ron Swoboda visited Tom Seaver in California. Seaver, who had been suffering from dementia, announced his retirement from public in March and Harrelson has been enduring Alzheimer’s disease since 2016. “It was one of the best day’s of our lives,” said Shamsky, adding, “those home runs that just got over the wall became 500-footers.” The audience roiled with laughter.
Shamsky began his baseball career in the Cincinnati Reds organization. He was traded to the Mets in November 1967. He played 13 professional seasons, eight in the major leagues. Besides being on the ’69 team, his other claim to fame is tying a MLB record by hitting a home run in four consecutive at-bats, Aug. 12 to 14, 1966. The first three homers were in game he joined in the eighth inning as part of a double switch. He homered in the bottom half of that frame and then homered in his next two extra-inning at bats, extending the game each time. The feat made Shamsky the first player in Reds history to hit two home runs in extra innings one game. He is also the only player in major league history to hit three home runs in a game in which he did not start. The fourth was as a pinch hitter in the next game. The bat is in the Hall of Fame.
Touching all the bases, Shamsky spotlighted manager Gil Hodges’ leadership, believes that the slugging Brooklyn Dodger first baseman and excellent field general belongs in Cooperstown and said he had the “best of both worlds playing with and against some of the greatest players of all time.”
Matt Winnick, the assistant director of public relations for the Mets in 1969, was also there. Like Shamsky, Winnick noted that the Mets rise from losers to winners was a pick-me-up in the same year that the Jets won the Super Bowl, men landed on the moon and later the Knicks began their run to a title all under the shadow of the Vietnam War and civil unrest.
“What this team did for the city and country, there was a lot of bad happening and this city being a National League city was cheering for the Mets,” said Winnick, explaining why the team is remembered.
Austin Lefkof, 8, who plays Little League in Williston Park, said he will take the hitting advice from Shamsky to heart and attended, “Because I wanted to meet a player from the past,” he said. That past seems rooted in the present.