Was the Miracle Mets’ 1969 World Series Victory a Hoax?
It has been a miserable year for the Mets, both on the field and in fantasy. The entire team has only 85 homers. On Saturday, David Wright joined Gary Sheffield as the only two players to reach double figures in homers in a Met uniform this season.
But the 1969 Miracle Mets had only 109 home runs, with only one player hitting more than 14. Meanwhile, the 1969 Baltimore Orioles hit 175 homers. The Orioles won 109 games in the regular season. Yet the Mets easily defeated Baltimore in the World Series that year.
If you attempt to duplicate the result using statistical models, good luck. There is a reason they are called the Miracle Mets. But maybe there is another reason why it is so hard to simulate the 1969 World Series. Maybe it never happened.
According to a recent “Mythbusters” episode on the Discovery Channel, 20% of Americans today believe that the moon landing was faked. That got me to thinking: What if the summer of ’69 was also the summer of hoaxes? If we could fake a moon landing, why couldn’t we fake one of the most unlikely World Series victories ever?
Baseball was in crisis in 1969. The previous season had been the “Year of the Pitcher.” Detroit’s Denny McLain won 31 games and Bob Gibson of the Cardinals had an ERA of 1.12. But most fans want to see lots of runs, not 1-0 pitching duels. 1968 was also the last season for perhaps the most popular player in baseball – Yankee superstar Mickey Mantle.
Going into 1969, there was a void in baseball – and a void in New York. It was a void that a miracle team could fill.
In 1969, incumbent mayor John Lindsay was defeated in the Republican primary and had to run as a third-party candidate on the Liberal line. Lindsay managed to get into the middle of every Met celebration, and some say it helped him pull off his unlikely reelection. Mayor Lindsay had ample motivation to help pull off the Miracle Mets hoax.
By now, you are probably thinking that while nobody outside of the participants witnessed the moon landing in person, 57,000 people filled Shea Stadium on a nightly basis during the 1969 Mets’ march to the title. But at its peak, the Apollo program employed 400,000 people. The bigger the hoax, the bigger the conspiracy.
In the spirit of “Mythbusters,” I took a closer look at such famous images as the black cat that ran in front of the Cubs’ dugout during a key September game and the ball with a shoe polish smudge that turned around the last game of the World Series. I came up with some tests to determine if these things really could have really happened, or whether the grainy footage had been faked.
But just as I was going to test out my conspiracy theories on the Shea Stadium field, the stadium was torn down. How convenient.
Recently, however, I attended a celebration of the 1969 team at Citi Field. Players and coaches from that year attended or were represented by spouses and/or children, though the shoe polish ball and any descendents of the black cat were conspicuously absent. But the evening did resolve another mystery – Nolan Ryan really had been a Met at one time.
I never believed that even the Mets could trade away the man who would pitch seven no-hitters and become baseball’s all-time strikeout king. Yet there was Ryan, wearing a Met jersey for the first time since he was traded in 1971. If the Mets could deal Ryan as he was just about to start reaching his potential and only get back a fading Jim Fregosi, anything was possible. Even the miracle championship of 1969.
Now if only the 2009 season will turn out to be a hoax.
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Photo by ShellyS.
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