It’s been an up-and-down season so far for the New York Mets, but at least for one weekend, their loyal fans are enjoying a celebration of the team’s past.
The weekend of June 29-30 marks the team’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Miracle Mets of 1969, who shocked the baseball world in true last-to-first fashion.
The Amazins’ captured the franchise’s first World Series title that year by beating the Baltimore Orioles four games to one.
Several former players were scheduled to be on hand to relive the old but not for- gotten memories — like the infamous black cat incident, or the rally started by the shoe-polish ball, or unbelievable World Series catches by Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda, or finally Cleon Jones taking a knee in left field at Shea Stadium to record the final out.
The weekend celebration is a reminder, though, that time has taken its toll on a handful of the iconic members of that team.
News broke in March that the ace of the pitching staff, Tom Seaver, was diagnosed with dementia. Meanwhile, it took two years for utilityman extraordinaire Ed Kranepool to undergo a kidney transplant
— albeit a successful one. For perennial fan-favorite shortstop Buddy Harrelson, living with Alzheimer’s disease for the past few years has been a challenge.
However, it will take much more than Alzheimer’s to erase his memories of the 1969 season.
Until recently, Derrel McKinley “Buddy” Harrelson was a fixture every year at The Tablet’s annual Bishop’s Golf Classic. Diocesan golfers thoroughly enjoyed hearing his stories, which tended to last as long as the round of golf itself!
Yet nobody complained, because hearing the firsthand accounts of what Gil Hodges was like as a manager or what it meant to be Seaver’s teammate was the kind of experience any sports fan would relish.
“Seaver’s like a brother to me,” said Harrelson, 75, a native of Hayward, Calif., who spent 16 years in the big leagues and another 11 as a coach and manager. His stellar defense at shortstop was just as important to the team’s success as the pitching arms of Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and Tug McGraw and the potent bats of Jones, Agee and Donn Clendenon.
After his playing days came to an end, Harrelson served as the third base coach for the 1986 Mets, making him the only person in uniform for both World Series titles in franchise history.
He said he will never forget the Miracle Mets’ late-season run in 1969 en route to a World Series title victory on Oct. 16, 1969. No knock on the 1986 team, but Harrelson said the 1969 team’s pitching staff would be
a tough matchup for the likes of Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson.
“I always say the ’69 team would beat the ’86 team,” Harrelson said. “Because I have to — I played on the ’69 team!”
For more than a decade, Harrelson has served in a variety of roles for the Long Island Ducks of the Independent League of professional baseball. In addition to being the team’s part-owner, he’s served as senior vice president for baseball operations, man- ager, first base coach, bench coach and over-all ambassador — constantly signing autographs and ensuring kids at the ballpark have smiles on their faces.
Despite his diagnosis, he has remained involved with the Ducks and recently joined the board of directors of the Alzheimer’s Association of Long Island. Given his scrappy makeup as a ballplayer, Harrelson is battling his disease head-on, just like he did in his dust-up at second base with Pete Rose in 1973.
He was the definition of a grinder, and he’s now doing his best to keep grinding against Alzheimer’s.
For Harrelson and the other members of the Miracle Mets, memories of that sea-
son aren’t going anywhere, regardless of any ailments. That season is forever engrained in the ballplayers once known as the “Lovable Losers.”
But those “Lovable Losers” achieved what many thought was impossible: a World Series title back in the National League in New York City.
We send our continued thoughts and prayers to Harrelson and his family.
Alzheimer’s disease is a formidable opponent, but so were the 1969 Orioles — and we all know how that ended up!
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.