The New York Mets, who had never finished higher than ninth place (next-to-last) nor won more than 73 games in a season since joining the National League in 1962, were not highly regarded before the 1969 season started. In fact, the best that could be said for them was that because the National League was being split into two divisions that year (as was the American League), the Mets were guaranteed to finish no lower than sixth place. The fact that the Mets began the season by losing 11–10 to the then-expansion Montreal Expos seemed to confirm this. With three weeks to go in the season, the underdog Mets stormed past the Chicago Cubs, who had led the Eastern Division for most of the season, winning 38 of their final 49 games for a total of 100 wins and capturing their first National League Eastern Division crown. Third-year pitcher Tom Seaver won a major-league-leading 25 games en route to his first Cy Young Award; the other two top Mets starting pitchers, Jerry Koosman and rookie Gary Gentry, combined to win 30 more games. Outfielder Cleon Jones hit a (then) club-record .340 and finished third in the National League batting race, while his lifelong friend and outfield mate Tommie Agee hit 26 home runs and drove in 76 runs to lead the club; they were the only players on the team who garnered more than 400 at bats. Manager Gil Hodges employed a skillful platoon system not unlike the Yankees of the Casey Stengel era, in which Ron Swoboda and Art Shamsky became a switch-hitting right fielder who hit 23 home runs and drove in 100 runs, and Ed Kranepool and Donn Clendenon added up to a switch-hitting first baseman who hit 23 more homers and knocked in another 95 runs. Everyone on the bench knew what their role was in the platoon—nobody felt that they'd ever lost their jobs. Almost to a man, the 1969 Mets were united in their praise of their manager's skill. In the first League Championship Series, the normally light-hitting Mets, once again considered underdogs despite having a better regular-season record than their opponent, put on an uncharacteristic power display by scoring 27 runs in sweeping the favored Atlanta Braves in three games.
The Baltimore Orioles, by contrast, were practically flawless and featured stars at almost every position. They breezed through the 1969 season, winning 109 games (until 1998 the most games won since the advent of divisional play) and brushing aside the Minnesota Twins in three games in the ALCS to win their second pennant in four years. The Orioles were led by star sluggers Frank Robinson and Boog Powell, who each hit over 30 home runs and drove in over 100 runs; third baseman Brooks Robinson, perhaps the best-fielding hot-corner player in baseball history; and pitchers Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Jim Palmer, who combined for 63 victories. It was felt that in the face of such statistical comparisons, only the most reckless gambler would put any money on the Mets.
NL New York Mets (4) vs. AL Baltimore Orioles (1)
With this win, the Orioles looked to be proving all the prognosticators right, as it was a dominant performance. Don Buford hit Tom Seaver's second pitch of the game for a home run, which just evaded Ron Swoboda's leaping attempt at catching it. The O's then added three more runs in the fourth when, with two outs, Elrod Hendricks singled and Davey Johnson walked. Mark Belanger then singled in a run, followed by an RBI single by pitcher Mike Cuellar. Buford would cap the inning off by doubling in Belanger.
The Mets got their run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by light-hitting Al Weis.
Despite the opening-game loss, nobody on the Mets seemed discouraged. Tom Seaver – the game's losing pitcher – said years later "I swear, we came into the clubhouse more confident than when we had left it. Somebody – I think it was Clendenon – yelled out, 'Dammit, we can beat these guys!' And we believed it. A team knows if they've been badly beaten or outplayed. And we felt we hadn't been. The feeling wasn't that we had lost, but Hey, we nearly won that game! We hadn't been more than a hit or two from turning it around. It hit us like a ton of bricks."
At this game, Bud Selig negotiated a deal with Max and Dewey Soriano to purchase the Seattle Pilots for $10.8 million. The purchase was finalized in April 1970, and the team was moved to Milwaukee and became the Milwaukee Brewers.
Mets pitcher Jerry Koosman pitched six innings of no-hit ball, trying to match Don Larsen's World Series no-hit feat. Donn Clendenon provided him a slim lead with a home run in the fourth.
However, Koosman would lose both the no-hitter and the lead in the seventh as Paul Blair singled, stole second, and scored on a single by Brooks Robinson. But, that would be it for the Orioles' offense. The Mets pushed across a run in the top of the ninth on back-to-back-to-back singles by Ed Charles, Jerry Grote, and Al Weis, scoring Charles.
Koosman had trouble finishing the game, as he issued two-out walks in the bottom of the ninth to Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. Ron Taylor came on to retire Brooks Robinson for the final out and earn the save.
Agee led off the game for the Mets with a home run off of Jim Palmer, then saved at least five runs with his defense. With two out in the fourth and Oriole runners on first and third, Agee raced to the 396-foot sign in left-center and made a backhanded running catch of a drive hit by Elrod Hendricks. In the seventh, the Orioles had the bases loaded with two out, but Agee made a headfirst diving grab of a line drive hit by Paul Blair in right-center.
Ed Kranepool added a home run and Jerry Grote an RBI double for the Mets, while Gary Gentry pitched 6 2⁄3 shutout innings and helped his own cause with a second-inning two-run double. Nolan Ryan, making what would be his only World Series appearance in his 27-year career, pitched the final 2 1⁄3 innings (benefiting from Agee's second catch) and earned a save.
Game 4 was mired in controversy. Tom Seaver's photograph was used on some anti-war Moratorium Day literature being distributed outside Shea Stadium before the game, although the pitcher claimed that his picture was used without his knowledge or approval. A further controversy that day involved the flying of the American flag at Shea Stadium. New York City Mayor John Lindsay had ordered flags flown at half staff to observe the Moratorium Day and honor those that had died in Vietnam. Many were concerned, including 225 wounded servicemen who were attending the game, and Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that the American flag would be flown at full staff at Shea for Game 4.
Tom Seaver atoned for his Game 1 ineffectiveness by shutting the Orioles out through eight innings. Once again, Donn Clendenon provided the lead with a homer in the second. In the third inning, after arguing ball-strike calls too strenuously with plate umpire Shag Crawford, Earl Weaver of the Orioles became the first manager since 1935 to be ejected from a World Series game.
In the top of the ninth, Seaver ran into trouble. Frank Robinson and Boog Powell hit back-to-back one-out singles to put runners on first and third. Brooks Robinson then hit a sinking line drive towards right that Mets right fielder Ron Swoboda dove for and caught just inches off the ground. Frank Robinson tagged and scored, but Swoboda's heroics kept the Orioles from possibly taking the lead. Elrod Hendricks then flew out to Swoboda to end the inning.
In the bottom of the tenth, Jerry Grote led off by blooping a double to left. Al Weis was intentionally walked, and Mets manager Gil Hodges sent J. C. Martin up to hit for Seaver. Martin laid down a sacrifice bunt, but Orioles reliever Pete Richert hit Martin in the wrist with his throw to first, and the ball went down the right field line. Rod Gaspar, running for Grote, came around to score the winning run.
Replays showed Martin running inside the first-base line, which appeared to hinder Richert's ability to make a good throw and Orioles second baseman Davey Johnson from catching it. Subsequent controversy focused on MLB Rule 6.05 (k), which says that a batter shall be out—with the ball dead and the runners returned to their original bases—if "...In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire's judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base."
The umpires' judgment was that Martin did not interfere.
Dave McNally shut out the Mets through five innings and helped himself with a two-run homer in the third inning. Frank Robinson homered in the inning as well, and the Orioles looked to be cruising with a 3–0 lead.
The Mets, however, would benefit from two questionable umpire's calls. In the top of the sixth inning, Mets starting pitcher Jerry Koosman appeared to have hit Frank Robinson with a pitch, but plate umpire Lou DiMuro ruled that the pitch hit his bat before hitting him and denied him first base. Replays showed, however, that Robinson was indeed hit first—the ball struck him on the hip, then bounced up and hit his bat.
In the bottom of the sixth, McNally bounced a pitch that appeared to have hit Mets left fielder Cleon Jones on the foot, then bounced into the Mets' dugout. McNally and the Orioles claimed the ball hit the dirt and not Jones, but Mets manager Gil Hodges showed the ball to DiMuro, who found a spot of shoe polish on the ball and awarded Jones first base. McNally then gave up Series MVP Donn Clendenon's third homer of the series (a record for a five-game World Series that was tied by the Phillies' Ryan Howard in the 2008 Classic) to cut the lead to 3–2.
However, the renowned "shoe polish" incident may not be such a simple, straightforward matter. On August 22, 2009, at the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Mets' 1969 Championship, held at their new stadium, Citi Field, Jerry Koosman stated in several media interviews that, in actuality, Hodges had instructed him to rub the ball on his shoe, which he did, and after that Hodges showed the ball to the umpire. Koosman's claim doesn't necessarily mean that the ball didn't strike Jones on the foot, nor does it even mean that the polish on the ball seen by the umpire was put there by Koosman—it's certainly conceivable that there was already a genuine spot of polish on the ball, which easily could have escaped Koosman's notice as he hastily created the fraudulent one. In any case, Koosman's allegation at the very least adds an intriguing layer of uncertainty and possible chicanery to an already legendary event. However, it should be noted that Koosman was known for his sense of humor, and his love of practical jokes when he was an active player. Therefore, his claim of having scuffed the ball against his own shoe could be a ruse. Because, there are other stories which have been told about that incident, by other players who were in the Mets dugout that day. One of those stories comes from Ron Swoboda, who said during an interview on the Mets 1986 25th Anniversary video, that when the ball came bounding into the Mets dugout, it hit an open ball bag under the bench, and several batting / infield practice balls came spilling out on the dugout floor. According to Swoboda, you couldn't distinguish the actual game ball from any of the ones that spilled out of the bag. Hodges quickly looked down, grabbed a ball that had a black streak on it, and walked it out to the homeplate umpire, who then awarded first base to Jones. In any case, this incident provided baseball with yet another entertaining legend, about which the absolute truth will probably never be known.
The Mets then tied the score in the seventh on a home run by the unheralded and light-hitting Al Weis. Weis only hit seven home runs in his big league career; this was the only home run he ever hit at Shea Stadium. Weis would lead all batters in this series with a .455 average.
The Mets' winning runs scored in the eighth as Game 4 defensive hero Ron Swoboda doubled in Jones with the go-ahead run. Swoboda then scored when Jerry Grote's grounder was mishandled by first baseman Boog Powell, whose throw to first was then dropped by pitcher Eddie Watt in an unusual double error. Jerry Koosman would get the win, his second of the series. With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Koosman faced Orioles second baseman Davey Johnson (who, ironically, would later manage the Mets to their second World Series championship in 1986). After taking a pitch of two balls and one strike, Johnson hit a fly-ball out to left field which was caught by Cleon Jones.
Karl Ehrhardt, a Mets fan known as "the sign man" at Shea Stadium, held up a sign that read There Are No Words soon after the final out was made. The sign would make an appearance in the Series highlight film. Immediately following the victory, thousands of fans rushed onto the field and the Mets were forced to retreat to their locker room. Bill Gleason, a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, alleged that this feat would not repeated again until Disco Demolition Night, an event which saw many people rush onto the playing field in Comiskey Park just before the second game of a doubleheader between the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers was scheduled to begin on July 12, 1979.
In all four Mets victories, their starting first baseman hit a home run: Donn Clendenon in Games 2, 4 and 5, and Ed Kranepool in Game 3. The expression, "Good pitching defeats good hitting", was never more evident than in this World Series: Baltimore collected only 23 hits for a .146 batting average, both team lows for a 5-game series. Boog Powell led the Orioles with five hits—but all were non-scoring singles. Don Buford collected two hits in the opening game, including a leadoff home run against Tom Seaver, but went 0-for-16 over the next four games. Paul Blair went 2-for-20, Davey Johnson 1-for-15 and Brooks Robinson 1-for-19. The vaunted Orioles offense, best in the majors in 1969, only managed four extra-base hits off Mets pitching in the five-game series, all in the first and last games.
The 1969 series was the second major upset by a New York team over a Baltimore team in a sport's championship event in 1969. Earlier in January, the Jets, led by Joe Namath, upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl, which also aired on NBC. Significantly, both the Jets and Mets called Shea Stadium home at the time. In addition, the New York Knicks eliminated the Baltimore Bullets from the 1969 NBA Playoffs.
There are several direct connections between the two Mets World Championship teams of 1969 and 1986. Orioles second baseman Davey Johnson flied out to Cleon Jones for the last out of the 1969 World Series; Johnson would later manage the 1986 Mets to their World Series title. The pitcher on the mound for the last out of the 1986 Series, Jesse Orosco, had been traded to the Mets for Jerry Koosman (the pitcher on the mound for the last out of the 1969 Series) after the 1978 season. 1969 Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson earned a second World Series ring as the club's third-base coach in 1986. However, Mets pitcher Tom Seaver was on the losing end in 1986, as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Also in 1986, the Mets' World Series championship was in conjunction with a Super Bowl win, this time by the New York Giants, who defeated the Denver Broncos, 39–20, to win Super Bowl XXI.
The Orioles would repeat as AL East champs the next season, when they won 108 games, one fewer than the previous year. In the ALCS, they swept the Minnesota Twins for the second straight year to return to the World Series, this time, they would be victorious in five games over the Cincinnati Reds.
Four years later, the Mets returned to the World Series despite an 82–79 record, but lost to the Oakland Athletics in seven games.
In a 1999 episode of Everybody Loves Raymond Big Shots, Ray and his older brother Robert travel to the National Baseball Hall of Fame to see a ceremony honoring the 1969 Mets. The episode ends with the brothers singing the Mets' signature song in the car.
This series is a major plot point in the 2000 film Frequency and is also a plot point in the 2012 movie Men in Black 3.
1969 World Series (4–1): New York Mets (N.L.) over Baltimore Orioles (A.L.)
NBC televised the Series, with Curt Gowdy sharing play-by-play commentary with Orioles announcer Bill O'Donnell (for the games in Baltimore) and Mets announcer Lindsey Nelson (for the games in New York). Tony Kubek served as field reporter and in-stands interviewer. Jim Simpson hosted pre-game coverage along with Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle. NBC Radio also broadcast the games, with Simpson splitting play-by-play with Mets announcer Ralph Kiner (for the games in Baltimore) and O'Donnell (for the games in New York).
Games 3, 4 and 5 of the 1969 Series are believed to be the oldest surviving color television broadcasts of World Series games (even though World Series telecasts have aired in color since 1955). These are master "truck feeds" preserved by NBC, which do not contain original commercials, but show a static image of the Shea Stadium field between innings. Also, the surviving copy of Game 5 as aired on MLB Network in late 2009 had noticeable drop-outs and tape-tracking errors for the first few innings. It is unknown if these artifacts derive from the original master-tape, or the copy used by MLB Network. All of Game 4, and part of Game 5 have been commercially released on DVD.
Games 1 and 2 only survive as black and white kinescopes preserved by the CBC, which aired the series in Canada using the NBC feeds. Copies of all five broadcasts circulate among collectors.