The New York Mets are back in the World Series and while they’ve been there five times now, it’s the 1969 squad that longtime fans remember most.
In this year’s NLCS, the Mets used tight pitching and some fabulous hitting by Daniel Murphy to stun the Cubs. New York’s roster is a nice blend of youth and experience, and it mirrors the Mets’ first pennant winners. The Amazin’ Mets of 1969 had a solid pitching staff, veteran hitters acquired from other teams, and several players who came up through New York’s farm system.
The Mets won their first World Series title on October 16, 1969, beating the Baltimore Orioles 5-3 in Game 5 at Shea Stadium. Here is a look back at the Mets’ starting lineup in that game, with their rookie cards displayed here for some nostalgic emphasis. You will find that several players got their start on other teams. Some players had rookie cards in two different seasons. And two players were featured on two of the most sought after rookie cards of the 1960s.
It’s interesting to note that the Mets used only nine players that day.
Leading off and playing center field, Tommie Agee.
Agee played 12 seasons in the majors, breaking in with the Cleveland Indians in 1962. Traded to the Chicago White Sox in 1965, he had a breakout season in 1966 and was named the American League rookie of the year. Dealt to the Mets in 1968, he responded with a career-high 26 homers in 1969.
Although Agee batted just .167 in the ’69 Series, his defense was stellar. In Game 3, he made two great catches, snow coning a ball at the wall to save two runs, and making a skidding catch with the bases loaded in the seventh inning to bail out Nolan Ryan, who had just entered the game in relief of Gary Gentry. He also led off with a homer in the bottom of the first inning.
Agee’s first rookie card in the 1965 Topps set (card No. 166) paired him with George Culver, who would pitch nine years in the majors. You can find them on eBay for under $5. His second rookie card was from the 1966 Topps set. His White Sox rookie partner on card No. 164 was Marv Staehle, who played seven seasons with Chicago, Montreal and Atlanta.
Batting second and playing shortstop, Bud Harrelson.
Derrel McKinley Harrelson was born on D-Day in 1944, which was appropriate because his value to the Mets was on defense. He batted .248 in 1969 and a mere .176 in the World Series, but played solid defense throughout the regular season and playoffs.
Harrelson’s first Topps rookie card was a solo photo on No. 306 in the 1967 set. He is shown with his hands on his knees in the cliché posed photographs Topps was famous for during that era. It’s also an easy get for just a few bucks. More interesting is the Pete Rose-Harrelson fight photo from the ’73 NLCS.
Batting third and playing left field, Cleon Jones.
Jones clicked in 1969, batting a career-high .340. He trailed only Pete Rose (.348) and Roberto Clemente (.345), and drove in 75 runs. When he retired, Jones was the Mets’ all-time leader in hits, runs, RBIs and doubles, and was second in batting average.
In Game 5, Jones led off the sixth inning and seemingly skipped out of the way of an inside pitch by Orioles starter Dave McNally as the baseball bounced into the Mets’ dugout . Jones headed toward first but was called back by plate umpire Lou DiMuro.
Then, Mets manager Gil Hodges emerged from the dugout and calmly showed DiMuro the baseball, which he claimed had shoe polish on it. Therefore, Hodges reasoned, Jones should be awarded first base. DiMuro reversed his call, Jones went to first, and Donn Clendenon would homer on a 2-2 pitch to cut Baltimore’s lead to 3-2.
Jones hit .158 during the World Series, but will be remembered for scoring what would prove to be the winning run in the seventh inning, and making the catch for the final out of the game. Cleon genuflected and then raced toward the mound to celebrate. The ball was hit to the warning track by Orioles second baseman Davey Johnson, who would manage the Mets to their second World Series crown in 1986.
Jones actually had two different Topps rookie cards. His first was in the 1965 set, card No. 308, and he was paired with Mets teammate Tom Parsons. The right-hander stood 6-foot-7 and weighed 210 pounds, but Parsons went 1-10 in 1965 (his career mark was 2-13) and never pitched in the majors again. You can buy one for less than $10.
In 1966, Jones was on card No. 67 with pitcher Dick Selma, who had a much longer career than Parsons: 10 years and a 42-54 record.
Batting fourth and playing first base, Donn Clendenon.
Clendenon was the MVP of the 1969 World Series, batting .357 with three homers and four RBIs. His two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 5, moments after the shoe polish incident involving Jones, put the Mets back into the game and cut Baltimore’s lead to 3-2.
Clendenon began his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was featured on card No. 86 in the 1962 set, pictured batting in a standalone shot. It’s a $5-10 card at most.
Interestingly, in the 1969 Topps set there are two variations of Clendenon’s card (No. 208). The first one (and more valuable card) shows him in an Expos uniform, while the latter depicts him with the Houston Astros. The Expos card goes for about three times as much as the Astros version but neither is expensive.
The Pirates had left Clendenon unprotected in the 1968 expansion draft and he was claimed by the Montreal Expos. In January 1969, Montreal traded Clendenon to Houston, but Donn refused to report because of his history of personality clashes with Astros manager Harry Walker, who had been his manager in Pittsburgh.
The two teams worked out another deal and Clendenon stayed in Montreal until June, when he was traded to the Mets.
Batting fifth and playing right field, Ron Swoboda.
Casey Stengel once observed that Swoboda would be “great, super, even wonderful.”
“Now if he can only learn to catch a fly ball,” Stengel cracked.
In the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 1969 World Series, Swoboda showed he could catch a fly ball in a crucial situation.
With runners at first and third and one out, Swoboda went completely horizontal to make a diving, skidding backhanded catch of a Brooks Robinson line drive to right-center field. While Frank Robinson tagged up and scored to tie the game, Swoboda’s catch prevented the Orioles from taking the lead. The Mets would win in extra innings on a controversial running out of the baseline play by catcher J.C. Martin, who had bunted.
Swoboda batted .400 in the World Series and drove in what proved to be the game-winning run in the eighth inning, cracking a double to left to score Jones and give the Mets a 4-3 lead. Swoboda scored later in the inning to give New York a 5-3 lead. The World Series victory was especially sweet for Swoboda, who was born and grew up in Baltimore.
Swoboda’s shares his rookie card (a high number, No. 533) in the 1965 Topps set with pitcher Jim Bethke (who went 2-0 in 1965, his lone major-league season) and outfielder Dan Napoleon. The fourth member on the card was pitcher Tug McGraw, who would save 12 games for the Mets in 1969 and also coined the slogan “You Gotta Believe” for the 1973 Mets squad that took the Oakland Athletics to seven games in that year’s World Series. It’s mainly because of McGraw and its presence in the high number series that you’ll pay $15 and up for a decent one. Swoboda’s second card, No. 35 in the 1966 set, is adorned with the Topps All-Rookie trophy.
Batting sixth and playing third base, Ed Charles.
When the final out was made in the 1969 World Series, TV cameras and newspaper photographers caught a jubilant Charles dancing a jig as he rushed in from third base to the mound.
It was the final game of Charles’ career, and he went out on top. It ended a long ride for Charles, who was signed as an amateur free agent by the Boston Braves in 1952 but didn’t make it to the major leagues for another decade.
His rookie season, when he broke in with the Kansas City Athletics in 1962, featured Charles on a high-numbered rookie card from that year’s Topps set. Sharing card No. 595 with Charles were Bob Sadowski (White Sox), teammate Marlan Coughtry and Felix Torres (Angels). Sadowski played from 1963 to 1966, Coughtry from 1960 to 1962, and Torres from 1962 to ‘64. These are available but a respectable examples are $25 and upon eBay.
Batting seventh and catching, Jerry Grote.
Grote spent 16 years in the major leagues, and had the misfortune of playing for horrible teams in Houston and New York when both were still new expansion teams. Grote played for the Colt .45s (1963-64) and joined the Mets in 1966, where he remained until 1977.
He batted .211 and drove in one run during the Series.
Grote’s rookie card comes from the 1964 Topps set. He is listed as “Gerald” on card No. 226, which he shares with pitcher Larry Yellen. Yellen played two years appeared in 14 games, but did not get a decision. His career ERA was 6.23. Grote’s rookie card is an easy one at just a few bucks.
Batting eighth and playing second base, Al Weis.
The unlikeliest Met (and perhaps player) ever to hit a home run in a World Series game, Weis’ seventh-inning smash in the seventh inning tied Game 5 In fact, Weis batted .455 with three RBIs in the Series.
Was this the reason that Weis’ rookie card in the 1963 Topps set (No. 537) is one of the hobby’s most sought-after cards? And also one of the hobby’s most forged cards? No. It probably had more to do with who Weis shared the card with — Yankees second baseman Pedro Gonzalez and Dodgers third baseman Ken McMullen.
Oh yeah, and a Reds second baseman by the name of Pete Rose. As such, an Al Weis rookie card will set you back at least a few hundred dollars but there are plenty on the market.
Batting ninth and pitching, Jerry Koosman.
The left-handed Koosman was the Mets’ pitching star in the World Series, winning a pair of games. He pitched a complete-game victory in Game 5, spotting the Orioles three runs before his eammates rallied for victory.
Koosman pitched for 19 seasons and four teams, compiling a 222-209 record. He struck out a respectable 2,556 batters, but it paled in comparison to the other member of that 1968 Topps rookie card (No. 177).
That other guy — Nolan Ryan — would pitch seven no-hitters, strike out 5,714 batters and win 324 games.
Ryan did his share in the World Series, pitching two games and picking up the save in Game 4.
The card featuring Koosman and Ryan is one of the top two baseball rookie cards from the 1960s. The argument could be made that the Rose rookie is more valuable, but the Koosman/Ryan card has been among the hobby’s hottest.