[Originally an email response to Chris Shillock and friends]
Thanks for passing that along! (A phrase I very rarely use for emails, or hepatitis.) Chris, you already knew that Seaver was on of my childhood heroes, along with Jerry Koosman, from the ’69 Mets’ pitching roster. But not Nolan Ryan for some reason.
And they were all dwarfed by my idol, Ron Swoboda — the greatest hitter in the history of the game, and the greatest fielder as well. Sometimes, Swoboda would get tired of Seaver’s inaccuracy or Ryan’s lack of heat, and throw 99 mph strikes — from right field. Watching Swoboda, Nolan Ryan learned to throw a 98 mph fastball, just 1 mph less, but of course, also from a much shorter distance. When I was a kid, the moon was round and smooth; all of those craters came from Swoboda home runs. The smaller pockmarks aren’t from baseballs, though. Swoboda liked to golf, too.
The “Summer Of Love” in 1969 saw young people across the country joining together in peace and love, specifically, the love of the New York Mets, and to celebrate the mighty victories and ponder the ethical philosophies of Ron Swoboda. It was a strange and different time, especially thanks to Gil Hodges’ successful synthesis of LSD using stuff that was just lying around the clubhouse.
Meanwhile, the war the Yankees had started in Vietnam continued to rage, and the sensitive and caring Mr. Swoboda found himself pondering how something as wonderful as baseball could produce a team so evil, so twisted, so greedy. Later that year, the Yankees longtime manager, Charles Manson, left to start a band, meet some California girls, manage the nascent (but already promisingly evil) Oakland As and tell some people to kill some other people because he liked the Beatles a lot. Yankees owner Richard Nixon was so upset he more than doubled the bombing in Vietnam, and wanted to give Richard Speck a shot at the job. Unfortunately, Speck was already locked up in Peoria for stabbing some nurses to death, which, ironically, meant that the only team he could manage would be the Mets, since they didn’t really need a manager. Or luck. Or shoes. Finally, Nixon settled on a system of rotating managers, using Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Hells Angels leader Sonny Barger, putting together a dream team that would work together so well that they decided to put on a free concert after the regular season. But they didn’t invite Nixon, who, out of sheer frustration, began bombing way the fuck up into Cambodia, killing Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper and Marlon Brando.
But the season wasn’t over for the Mets, yet. They had to beat the Baltimore Orioles, who were also good and righteous men, who were also heroic players with skills beyond those known to ordinary humans, who were also getting blasted on hash brownies and dropping liquid mescaline between innings. (1969 and all that.) They were, in fact, almost sort of kind of nearly as good as the Mets, but not quite. The Mets courteously let the Orioles take the first game, which was difficult because God kept intervening on behalf of the Mets. This was a touchy situation, because, as manager, Gil Hodges felt that he was good at his job, and he didn’t like God, as owner, interfering with his decisions. Finally God got peeved, and swore never to direct any miracles the Mets’ way from then on out. God kept his word, and it later had disastrous consequences for Darryl Strawberry. Especially when Strawberry would try to go through rehab, and couldn’t ask God to help out. Darryl Strawberry ended up in the Yankees. So don’t do drugs after 1969, or you could end up like him — in baseball hell, with a tarnished reputation; getting bossed around by the ghost of Richard Nixon AND an all-too-alive George Steinbrenner; middle-aged; multiply divorced and black. It could happen to anyone. Luckily, since Strawberry left the Yankees, he has been doing good works, including a lot of work for autism. This shows that, through a lack of contact with the Yankees, all things are possible.
The series continued, with Swoboda at one point having to run the bases backwards at faster-than-light speed to reverse time, because he felt the Mets were just embarrassing the Orioles at that point. Everyone felt sort of bad for the Orioles, since even without God offering up miracles, the “Miracle Mets,” as they were now known, still had (literally) fantastic playing skills. And, of course, Ron Swoboda still had complete control over all matter, energy, time and space. [This is how the Mets got their name: Matter Energy Time Space -- dig?] Naturally, the Mets won the Series, and even though the Orioles only won that first game, they garnered much respect. The kind of respect we give to the brave few who refuse to back down, no matter what the odds or obstacles. The respect we reserve for the fanatically, heroically stupid.
After winning the ’69 Series, Swoboda, Seaver and Jerry Koosman became the first men to land on the moon. Swoboda was, of course, the first one to set foot on the lunar surface. And I’ll always remember being a kid in 1969, watching the Moon landing on a flickering black and white TV, and being enthralled by his first words as he jumped onto solid land that was not on Earth: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. And Thurman Munson, go fuck yourself.”