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By Ron Kaplan
September 14 , 2004
Art Shamsky may not have been a Hall of Famer, but for Mets fans during their “amazin’” World Championship season of 1969, his legacy is no less meaningful.
With former Dodgers hero Gil Hodges at the helm and such talented players as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Cleon Jones on the roster, the wayward ball club eclipsed fans’ wildest expectations that season, winning 100 games and trouncing the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
Shamsky, who split time between the outfield and first base, batted an even .300 for the regular season, with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs in limited play.
“We had a terrific clubhouse,” Shamsky fondly recalled before a recent book-signing appearance at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, NJ. In a period marred by racial tensions, “there were never any black-white problems.”
Nor did he ever have a problem because of his religion. People still approach him - parents and grandparents of today’s young fans - to share their memories about his decision not to play on Yom Kippur in 1969. “The funny thing was, the Mets won both ends of a double header” that day, he cracked.
Shamsky came to the Mets after the 1967 season in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, where he showed some potential as a power hitter. But back problems kept him from fulfilling his promise, and he was out of baseball by 1971.
Originally, Shamsky said, he was unhappy at being traded to the hapless Mets. The St. Louis-born ballplayer was daunted by his new surroundings. New York City, he said, “…was really big. It was kind of intimidating.” Eventually he “…fell in love with the energy, got to know the city a bit. My life changed.” More than 30 years after his retirement, he still calls New York home.
Nowadays, Shamsky, 63, runs Bravo Properties in South Orange. In between buying and selling houses and catching up with old friends and teammates at memorabilia shows, he found time to reexamine that challenging era in his new book, “ The Magnificent Seasons,” written with Barry Zeman (Thomas Dunne Books).
During the three year period from 1968-70, New York fans enjoyed their finest era. The upstart Joe Namath Jets, representing the new hip generation, upset the old-school Baltimore Colts in the AFL-NFL World Championship Game (later called the Super Bowl). The Knicks, likewise considered underdogs, beat the mighty Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA title.
Then there were the Mets, perennial loveable losers since their debut in 1962. Prior to the championship ’69 season, they had never finished higher than ninth place in the then 10-team National League.
But not everything was all fun and games. New York was mired in financial and social problems, a fact that Shamsky engagingly recalls in his thoughtful book.
“I was caught up in my own world then as a ballplayer. I was amazed at all the things that I didn’t realize were going on,” such as teacher strikes, Vietnam War protests, and the events at Kent State, he said. He recounted the hours spent at libraries studying old newspapers and periodicals years later. “So much had taken place. And I was here - New York was the Mecca - but I didn’t realize the extent of what was going on.”+
He was proud of what the New York teams meant to the city. “Men could walk on the moon, [but] there was never any [other] good news that brought the city or the country up a little bit.” The special feeling about the 1969 Mets, he said, “made the little guy believe there was light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ron Kaplan is the sports editor for the New Jersey Jewish News and a staff writer for New York Sportscene.
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