“It shut up a lot of people at once. Anybody that thought he was the limp-wristed John Lindsay, who won’t protect you from the blacks, the crimes, this and that, it shut everybody up.”
Then Golda Meir visited. The American-raised Israeli had become prime minister on St. Patrick’s Day and was a New York folk hero in the greatest Jewish city in the world. “The event that meant most to me was when Golda Meir came to New York City,” said Mr. Kriegel. “She is the pope for the Jewish community.”
Mr. Lindsay and his staff knew that she was set to come to the city. She would be coming in the early fall, right after Yom Kippur, and he wanted to plan a Sukkoth.
“Golda Meir is coming, we should build a sukkah and welcome Golda Meir to a state dinner run by John Lindsay,” said Mr. Davidoff. “So I’m looking at John Lindsay, this big WASP, and I’ve got to go and explain a sukkah to John and Mary Lindsay. Mary was very formal in a lot of ways, but when it came to stuff like that, she was like a diplomat’s wife. She understood that a state dinner should be at Lincoln Center.”
The Lindsay people understood that the Jewish middle-class Brooklyn and Queens base that felt so alienated by Mr. Lindsay, could be turned around. They would throw a lavish dinner for Golda Meir and it would be hosted by Mr. Lindsay. But Mr. Davidoff knew that if it were indoors at Lincoln Center, significant Jewish leaders wouldn’t come. So they planned a lavish affair in the parking lot behind the Brooklyn Museum.
“Every prominent and influential Jew from New York was there,” said Mr. Aurelio.
More than 2,000 people were invited to the event; Mr. Lindsay walked in wearing a yarmulke. He stood right next to her.
“There were thousands and thousands of people outside the Brooklyn Museum that night,” said Mr. Davidoff. “Afterwards, the sukkah was available for the public, and we put out a booklet explaining the sukkah … and we had John Lindsay write the prologue.”
Ms. Meir was up on the dais and did everything but endorse John Lindsay. “They didn’t say it, but they didn’t have to say it,” said Mr. Davidoff.
A few days after she spoke, the Mets would play their first playoff game.
THE METS WERE born in 1962, the laughably disastrous team that tickled the broken heart of New York National League baseball after the Dodgers and Giants moved west in the late 1950s. They lost and lost and lost.
“Being traded to the Mets in those days was not a good option,” said Al Weis, a Mets utility infielder who became a hero of the ’69 series. “I was with the White Sox and we were always in contention. The Mets were a last-place club.”
“In ’69, I thought we would take the next step forward,” said Ron Swoboda, the Mets right-fielder. “I thought we’d be a little better than we were in ’68 … around .500, a little above, a little below.”
And for the most part that’s how the Mets played for most of the year, around the .500 mark. But on June 15, the Mets brought in a veteran first baseman.
“Donn Clendenon was a lawyer who engineered a deal that got him traded for the Mets,” said Ron Swoboda. “He physically engineered the deal. There weren’t many baseball players who were lawyers! The Pirates were trying to trade him to the Expos, and he told them that ‘I’ll give you a couple teams I’ll go to, but one of ’em ain’t the Expos; otherwise, I’ll go be a lawyer.’ And they believed him and traded him to us.
“When he walked in, everything changed,” said Mr. Swoboda. “He was a veteran thumper, a real hitter. He rode everyone in the clubhouse, he could get everyone in the clubhouse. … He was to me the missing link. When he came in here, everything changed.”
The Mets surged in the summer. They had Tom Seaver, the Mets Franchise, who had a career-high 25 wins; Jerry Koosman became one of the most sure-handed No. 2 men in baseball. And Gil Hodges, the manager, was a cool hand who, like Joe Torre now, had universal respect.
“Gil was a very good manager, an honest manager, I’ll tell ya,” said Yogi Berra, who was the Mets first base coach in 1969. “When we started in spring training and we were doing signs, I said to Gil, ‘Want me to help them teach the signs?’ He said, ‘No, if they don’t know the signs by now, they get fined. And if you give them the signs, I’ll fine you.’ But everyone appreciated it, I’ll tell you. He did a great job and he was a good manager.”
When September rolled around, the Mets had a two-game series with the Cubs at Shea, and they were trailing by 2.5 games. People began to say that the Mets had magic.
“Everything didn’t come to a head until the latter part of the season,” said Al Weis. “We were plodding along winning a few ball games, and then all of a sudden we got into a hot streak.”
“The turning point was when we played the Cubs right there at the end,” said Wayne Garrett, the Mets red-headed rookie third baseman. “It was a series that really meant something. That’s when we really played well.”
They also had Black Magic. During one of the games, a black cat came out from the stands at Shea, circled the Cubs’ third baseman, Ron Santo, walked in front of the Cubs dugout, and then ran back underneath the stands. The Mets never looked back and took the division.
“There were cats all over that stadium,” said Mr. Garrett, the Mets rookie third baseman. “It was a freak accident. It happened to be a black cat, too! There were probably a few rats underneath that stadium, a few cats. They would come out on the field once in a while. They would come out momentarily and run back underneath he seats. It happened half a dozen times.”
The New York Mets clinched the division, swept the Braves and went to the World Series. The city was in disbelief.
Above all, there was the one magical moment that symbolized the Miracle Mets. In Game 4, with the Mets leading the heavily favored Orioles two games to one, the Mets had their ace in the hole: Tom Seaver. And, after a rough start in Game 1, he was brilliant again. Through eight innings, he was pitching a shutout. But there was trouble in the ninth.
There were runners at the corners. The Orioles’ superstar Frank Robinson was at third, and the Orioles tank of a man, Boog Powell, was at first. This was before the days of bringing in the closer; it was the era when the starter, an ace, was his own stopper. And the Mets were coming dangerously close to disaster. If the Orioles could bring home two runs, they would take the lead, the Mets momentum would be dead, and they wouldn’t be able to clinch the Series at Shea Stadium.
With late-afternoon shadows eating up home plate, Tom Seaver delivered a beautiful pitch to Brooks Robinson. It was a two-seam fastball, and it sank hard. But Robinson, always known for his glove, was a man who knew how to hit in the clutch. He hit a screaming liner to right center field. It was hit with such laser-beam precision, it looked like it could go into the gap, and if Mets center fielder Tommie Agee didn’t cut it off, it could score Boog Powell.
Worse, it was going in the direction of Ron Swoboda, a solid hitter who was a mess in the outfield. He went in the wrong direction. Balls bounced over his head. He’d twist his body left and right, head pivoting and twirling like a screw top. Robinson hit his liner to right.
For years, Swoboda had been practicing fly balls. He was learning when a ball was hit and you couldn’t judge it, you waited a second. He learned which way to put out his glove, and which way to turn his head.
He cleared his mind, he conjured up nothing, he didn’t think, he reacted.
“I just broke immediately and I had a great jump on it,” said Mr. Swoboda. “When he hit it I said, ‘Oh shit! I got nothing to do but to run after this one.’ You want to intercept the ball at the earliest point. I realized I’m going to have to lunge at this sucker and it hit right in the web of the glove, which is the best place. I made a perfect break, I never stopped, I never faltered and I caught it back-end, fully laid out and kept rolling and I came up and threw into the infield.”
All who saw it agreed: one of the great catches ever. By the time Swoboda wound up, his cap fell off, and he got the ball into the infield, Frank Robinson tagged up and had scored the tying run. But it didn’t matter. Anyone who saw that play knew the Mets were going to win the game.
By the time the bottom of the 10th inning rolled around, the Mets had it won, and the next day, Cleon Jones fell to one knee and then bedlam broke loose. The New York Mets were the World Champions of baseball.
“I was running in clear space, and I was never sure I was going to get there,” said Mr. Swoboda. “I dove at it. It was clearly an example of your reach exceeding your normal capabilities—your reach exceeding your wildest dreams. Wasn’t that true of 1969 in every way?”
“I’ve seen replays of Cleon dancing up and down and all the players jumping up and down, but I got into that dugout and the clubhouse as fast I could,” said Al Weis. “Most of the players got off that field fast.”