The ’69 Miracle Mets’, Art Shamsky
"Being on the 1969 Mets was one of the most wonderful things that happened in my life. I played 13 years in the Majors and nobody ever talks about the other 12."
When someone asks Art Shamsky what he’s up to these days, he sounds more like a millennial than a grizzled baseball lifer. He talks about his new podcast, The Art Shamsky Podcast, and his most recent book, After the Miracle. He’ll mention Spotify and iHeartRadio and urge fans to follow him on Twitter. He directs fans to his website, www.artshamsky.com, where you can learn about his speaking engagements, personal appearances, and mentoring and consulting endeavors among other things. And of course, he’s ready for Major League Baseball to get started so he can root for his Mets.
Shamsky will turn 79 in October and at a time when his teammates and contemporaries are slowing down, Shamsky is working hard on his newest and latest ventures.
The beloved outfielder from the 1969 Amazin’ Mets joins BallNine for this week’s edition of Spitballin’.
Shamsky played just 406 games as a Met, roughly the same total as Danny Heep.
Like Heep, who was a key pinch hitter on the 1986 Mets, Shamsky’s lofty spot in Mets history was cemented with a World Series ring.
There are only 43 Mets who ever played in and won a World Series for the franchise, so even if he wasn’t a member of the Mets as long as David Wright, Ron Swoboda or Mike Piazza, no version of the team’s history is complete without Art Shamsky’s name.
Shamsky may never have been an All-Star, but if you listen to any Mets fan talk about the 1969 season, you’d swear he was a Hall of Famer.
When it came time to name Robert Barone’s dog on Everybody Loves Raymond, writers chose to name him Shamsky – not Seaver, Carter or Mookie. There’s just something that resonates with Mets fans about Shamsky.
It could be that for a 35-game stretch through the dog days of the 1969 season, Shamsky batted .343 to help keep the Mets afloat before they made their historic run to an improbable pennant. It could also be that he led the franchise to their first World Series by batting .538 in the NLCS that year, outhitting Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda and everyone playing that October. His Jewish faith also likely played a role considering New York City’s large Jewish population. Most likely though, it’s just Shamsky himself.
He was born in St. Louis and came up with the Reds, so he’s not a native New Yorker like John Franco or Frank Viola. However, when a call from Shamsky comes through to someone today, the caller ID will show New York’s 917 area code. Once Shamsky came to the Big Apple and won with the Mets, he became a New Yorker for life.
Shamsky is a busy man, ready to run off to another podcast with a sports legend or personal appearance, so let’s get right to it and go Spitballin’ with the Amazin’ Art Shamsky.
Thanks for joining us for this week’s edition of Spitballin’. As a huge Mets fan, it’s always an honor to talk to a member of the ’69 team. How are you doing in all of the craziness of the world we live in today?
Like everybody else, it’s been a crazy last four months. We’re all worried and apprehensive, but what I’m trying to do is stay connected and keep busy. I started The Art Shamsky Podcast and that’s keeping me busy. I’m trying to make sure my friends are OK and trying to stay healthy myself. We’re all going through the same thing and we’ll have to rely on each other to get through.
What have been your thoughts as you watched Major League Baseball try to get themselves up and running again? Those were some pretty contentious labor negotiations.
The negotiations were really ugly. The optics of it from both sides were really bad. You had people who were laid off, ill, or out of work who were really going through some tough times and they did not want to read about guys on both sides making a lot of money fighting about it. That really left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths. I’m always gonna be on the side of the players in labor negotiations. When I was playing, I went through the strike in 1972 that laid the groundwork for the guys to make the money that they do today, so I understand the players’ situation.
There’s always been a strong apprehension between the owners and players, and I don’t know if that’ll ever be corrected. The players do not trust the owners. The main reason is that the owners won’t open up their books. They argue that’s their right, but I think that’s one of the reasons the players are so apprehensive. They’re told all of these things, but there’s no verification and no proof that what they’re saying is true because the owners won’t open their books. Now next year when the owners and players have to sit down again and talk about the collective bargaining agreement, it’ll be real interesting.
What do you think baseball is going to look like when they get started up again next week?
It’s a flip of the coin to make sure the season is going to go through. Every day we’re reading about guys testing positive and opting out. I don’t really know how the quality of baseball is going to be. You might have a lot of guys who really aren’t big league players playing in the big leagues because so many are opting out or getting sick. Hopefully they’ll get it off the ground and they’ll get a season in. A lot depends on health issues and it really does mean a lot to fans who really want to see baseball again. But a lot of it is about dollars and cents in terms of advertising money, TV money and everything else. They want to get the season in and the playoffs and World Series.
When you have chops like Shamsky’s, your team can perform Miracles too
Before we get into some memories about your career, can you tell us about The Art Shamsky Podcast?
Well, I went for a real original name and called it The Art Shamsky Podcast. What I really wanted to do was mix sports and entertainment. There are so many sports podcasts out there and there’s so much to talk about in the sports world, but I didn’t want to just limit it to that. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to be informative and make sure people enjoy what I say.
I’ve had some great guests. I interviewed Joe Namath, Ed Kranepool, Bob Costas and others. It’s been real fun for me. The people I interviewed in the sports world who were well known, I wanted fans to learn something about them that maybe they didn’t know before. As an example, when I interviewed Joe Namath, I don’t think people realized that when he was in high school, he was a great baseball player too. He had a chance to sign a professional contract but decided to go to college because his mother and brother wanted one member of the family to go to college. I thought that was an interesting take on Joe Namath, who is still one of the faces of the NFL. I wanted to do those kind of things.
I had an interview with Phil Rosenthal, who people might not know by name. He was the creator and executive producer and one of the writers of Everybody Loves Raymond. They named the dog on the show after me, so I wanted to ask him about that. I wanted to get some entertainment on there too, something different. The podcast is on all the major platforms like Spotify, iHeartRadio and Apple iTunes. The best way to get to that and anything else is to go through my website, www.artshamsky.com. It’s been fun to stay busy, be creative and do something for the fans. The Bob Costas is great. I’ve known Bob for many years, and we were very candid with each other. His viewpoints are always very interesting.
That’s great stuff. You’ve really been connecting with fans and I know people appreciate being able to interact with someone as successful as you have been, especially on Twitter.
Yes, I love it. People can follow me on Twitter, my name is real simple, just @ArtShamsky. I really enjoy Tweeting out some informative things and some viewpoints of mine because I feel like I’ve experienced a lot. As an example, I’m so disappointed the minor leagues have been cancelled. I spent five years in the minor leagues in the Reds organization and made some wonderful friends. I came up with some great players like Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tommy Harper to name just a few.
That’s a great point. Let’s talk a little more about that. Can you expand on your thoughts about the cancellation of the minor league season?
Cancelling the season affected so many lives, and not just the players. You have the people who work in the ballpark, the fans who go to the games in those cities and small towns. It’s been a really tough year for many people, and this is one thing more that adds to the sorrow of what’s happening this year.
The way the game is set up having so many minor league teams, the opportunities to be seen are so great. Without that, guys can get lost. When I signed a contract way back when, there were only 16 teams. Then in 1962 baseball expanded up to 20 and now today there’s 30. The opportunity to be seen is so much greater today and a lot of that is in the minor leagues. Players really develop relationships and learn how to play the game in the minors. For the guys to not get the opportunity to do that, they’re losing a year off their baseball life and who knows what’s gonna happen next year. It’s devastating to have that happen to them. It’s sad.
You mentioned your own experience as a minor leaguer and playing with all those great players. It’s hard to believe, but you were all just teenagers playing that first season in the minors in 1960. Did you think you would all turn into what you did?
It’s funny you should ask that because that team played in the New York-Penn League way back in 1960. That team was myself, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and a lot of guys who were really good players. We were actually so bad as a team that we got the manager fired! We weren’t prospects, we were suspects at the time. It’s really interesting about Pete, when you saw him in 1960, he really couldn’t do anything except run hard to first base on a walk. He couldn’t really field, throw or hit on that level at first. He really wasn’t a prospect. He grew up in Cincinnati, so the Reds signed him and he joined the Geneva Reds, where I played, and we became best of friends.
The next year they moved me up to B ball, which was in Topeka, Kansas and they kept Pete and Tony [Perez] back in D ball another year. A lot of people don’t realize that Pete played two years of Class D baseball. The third year in the minors we were back together in Macon, Georgia of all places. Some transformation happened with Pete. He developed his skills and led the league in hitting and the year after he was Rookie of the Year in the National League and went on to the career he had. Tony Perez was always going to be a good player, but none of us really thought we were gonna make it to the big leagues at that time, let alone have the careers we did. Out of the three of us, I had the lesser of the career of the other two, but I still did OK for myself.
Along the way, I met great players in my minor league days. We formed relationships and bonds that remain today. Just having gone through that period of wanting to get to the next level before finally making it to the big leagues in the mid-60s was great and I never looked back. Back then it was harder to make it to the big leagues because there were fewer teams. The fact remains though that the minor league years were some of the best times of my life and those strong friendships remain. The competition level was great too. It was so tough to get to the Majors, that you had a lot of great players stuck in the minors. Consequently, the baseball was so good, and it forced you to become a better player or you got lost in the shuffle.
You were Pete Rose’s roommate in the minors too, right? What was that like?
Yes, I was. It’s one of those things where some stories you can tell and some you can’t. Pete has the reputation of being a hard-nosed player and he was a tough-as-nails guy. But when we spent time in the minor leagues, all we did was talk baseball. We had our fun, but we always talked baseball. Nobody was making any money in the minors back then, but we lived together and formed this bond. I talked to him a couple months ago. There’s all these questions about whether or not he should be in the Hall of Fame. My feelings are probably different than a lot of people, but a lot of people I talk to say he should be. I think people’s minds have changed because his issues are the lesser of the things that are going on with the Hall of Fame now. There was a time where everyone was adamantly opposed to him getting in, but I think the feeling has lessened a little bit. I think guys are getting in now that people are questioning. I don’t know if we’ll see it in our lifetime, but he certainly has the qualifications.
You made your Major League debut with the Reds and played three seasons there before moving over to the Mets. Did you ever look at The Big Red Machine of the 1970s and wonder what it would have been like to be a part of that?
Well, I was there for the beginning of The Big Red Machine. A lot of the guys on the mid-1970s Reds were guys that I came up with. It would be easy for me to say that I wish I was a part of that, but remember, in 1969 before The Big Red Machine even happened, I was on that Mets championship team. I look back on that trade to New York and I was disappointed when I first learned it happened. The Mets were a bad team and I didn’t really like New York. But when we won on October 16, 1969, that all changed my life and I have been in New York ever since.
Do I wish I was a part of The Big Red Machine? I would have loved to be on that Big Red Machine, but nothing will take away from being on the Miracle Mets. A lot of good things have happened in my life because I was part of the 1969 Mets.
Nevermind the Big Red Machine… Art was a Miracle Met!
I’m sure it applies most places, but once you win in New York, you’ll always remain a legend. What do you think of looking back at your place in history?
Being on the 1969 Mets was one of the most wonderful things that happened in my life. I played 13 years in the Majors and nobody ever talks about the other 12. The reality is that when people meet me, they don’t even realize I played 13 years and in a few other places. It’s always about 1969. I’m thankful I was on that team. I look back and last year was the 50th anniversary of that team and we were lucky it wasn’t this year because it would have been wiped out. I’m thankful we got it in last year and the Mets did a great job putting it all together.
It’s one of the few teams that 50 years later is still celebrated. The legacy of that team has been passed on from generation to generation. I meet kids who weren’t even born who know about that team from their parents or grandparents. I probably met 100,000 people that told me they were at that final game in October of the ’69 World Series. Well, Shea only held about 53,000, but it doesn’t make any difference. They were there in spirit.
Coming from where we did to win it with a bunch of young guys, I think people remember that. It was also a time of great despair in this country, much like today. The war in Vietnam was tearing this country apart and lots of bad things were happening. We kind of made people feel better about their lives and I think people remember that and pass that on. I meet people all the time who say they were going through a really bad time, or people say they were ill or that they were in Vietnam. They’ll tell me that the Mets made them feel better about themselves, even if it was for a brief period of time. That makes me feel so good because anytime you can affect somebody’s life in a positive way it’s really special.
You had a book out too last year in conjunction with the 50th anniversary. Can you tell us about that too?
Yes, I had a book out called After the Miracle, which was a New York Times best seller. It was about the team and the camaraderie that developed and how we remained friends afterwards. One of the reasons that team has remained close is because we came from nowhere to win it. If we had come close the years before, it wouldn’t have been the same.
That team and those guys were just so special. It’s because it wasn’t just about Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tommy Agee and Cleon Jones. It’s about guys like Kenny Boswell, Al Weis and Ed Charles. It’s about Wayne Garrett, [Donn] Clendenon, [Ed] Kranepool and [Jerry] Grote. Guys like JC Martin and Duffy Dyer, [Ron] Swoboda, Rod Gaspar, [Jim] McAndrew, [Nolan] Ryan, I can go right down the list. All the pitchers, [Don] Cardwell, [Cal] Koonce, Ron Taylor. They’re so vivid in my mind and I think it’s important that people always know those names.
Shamsky (middle) with Cleon Jones and Ed Kranepool
Your book After the Miracle deals a lot with your trip to see Tom Seaver, who is in poor health. Can you talk to us about that trip and what that was like?
I wanted to write a book with Erik Sherman, who is a terrific writer with a number of good books, including a few on the Mets. He wrote some great ones on Davey Johnson and Mookie Wilson. I didn’t want to write a book about the day-to-day things that happened that year because there’s been more books written about that team than just about any sports team ever. I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to do an interview over the phone with Tom, so I figured the best thing to do was to go out there and visit him in person.
I knew we were rolling the dice because he wasn’t feeling great. I talked to his wife and she said, “You might come all the way out here and he might not be feeling up to it.” We decided to do it anyway and we took Jerry Koosman, Buddy Harrelson and Ron Swoboda with us. We got there on a Friday and it was too late in the afternoon to see him. I talked to his wife and she told us to try tomorrow and hope that he’s feeling OK. The only day we had to see him was the Saturday because the next day we had to fly back.
We lucked out. Someone was watching over us because we sat down with him at his house and then went to lunch for about eight or nine hours. It was just remarkable spending time with him and reminiscing. We all had stories to tell and even Tom had stories about each one of us. We talked about Gil Hodges and how he managed the team and influenced our lives. So, the book really was about the trip out there and signified how close we were as a team. The people I have talked to who read the book had great things to say because it brought back memories that they had forgotten. That’s incredible stuff. Tom and his family are definitely in the thoughts of all of us as he continues to battle with his health.
OK, so a question about the 1969 series that I always wondered myself. The Orioles won the first game and hit Seaver around pretty good. Game 2 you come back to tie the series on Al Weis’ clutch hit and then you beat Jim Palmer to take a 2-1 lead in Game 3. In your mind, what was the bigger game?
Getting things even in Game 2 or beating Palmer in the first game at Shea to take the Series lead? You’ll get conflicting views on that, even from some guys on the team. But I definitely believe Game 2 was the key game. I made the last out in Game 1. I didn’t start the game because I was in a platoon with Swoboda. I was the tying run and had a chance to be the hero, but I grounded out to second. I tell people I think of that at bat every day of my life. I made the last out in the only game we lost.
I look back at Game 2 and nobody was really down. The big reason was that we had Koosman pitching the next day. Even though he was facing Dave McNally, who was terrific, Jerry was also terrific. I felt like if we didn’t win Game 2 and came back to New York down 2-0, we were liable to lose in four; we could have been swept. But we won that game. Jerry was great and Ron Taylor got the save and Ed Charles made some great plays at third. So, we come back to New York 1-1.
Gary Gentry started Game 3 and Nolan Ryan came on in relief. Tommy Agee makes those two incredible catches and we win that game, so we’re up 2-1. Then Swoboda makes that great catch in Game 4 and by then it just seemed like our destiny. But I look back at Game 2 because of how important it was to come back 1-1, so in my mind, Game 2 was the most important game. Some people pick Game 3 because it was Gentry against Palmer and Palmer was such an overwhelming favorite, but I still stick with Game 2.
So, after you left the Mets you signed with the Cubs in 1972. Any good-natured fun about them blowing a 10-game August lead to you in 1969?
That was interesting. It was right after the strike in 1972. We came out of the strike and I end up signing with the Cubs. You know, you hate guys when you’re playing against them. There’s no doubt about that. We hated the Cubs. We hated [Ron] Santo and we hated Billy Williams and even Ernie [Banks] even though he was a great guy. Jimmy Hickman, Billy Hands, [Don] Kessinger and [Glenn] Beckert. We hated them because they were the enemies. But when I got over there, they were great guys. All of them. They were great teammates and I became friends with every one of them. Some have since passed away, but they were great guys.
Of course, they were always complaining to me from the other side about ’69. They would say, we blew it, you guys didn’t beat us. I would laugh at them. We were so far back in August and they just got tired. We played unbelievable baseball and just overran them. It wasn’t that they played bad baseball, we just played really great baseball. Getting over there to Chicago was a good experience and I was glad to say that we won, and you guys lost.
I only played one year in Chicago and got hurt, which was a problem over my career. I just couldn’t stay healthy. You gotta stay healthy and that cost me a lot of opportunity and a chance to get more years in for my career. But I’m really thankful for the opportunity I had.
I have one last question for you that’s somewhat outside of baseball. When you played, your Jewish faith was very visible among fans. You were obviously a fan-favorite among all Mets fans no matter what their faith, but it was different for Jewish fans. There weren’t as many Jewish stars to look up to in the sport. What role did your faith play in your career?
I must say, I am not the most religious player in the world. I looked at myself as a baseball player who happened to be Jewish. I went through some periods of time with some catcalls and things from fans, never from the opposition or teammates. But we all get through it. I am proud of things like being part of the New York Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2007, Ron Blomberg and I had the chance to go over and manage in the Israel Baseball League. It was baseball at its purest. It wasn’t great baseball and the fields were not in good shape, but it was the beginning of Israel wanting to get people involved in baseball. Subsequently, they went on to be involved in the World Baseball Classic and they would have been in the Olympics this year. I believe we were catalysts in their desire to develop the game.
You WISH you had a sitcom dog named after you like Art Shamsky
Mr. Shamsky, it was an honor to talk to you today. Although I wasn’t around to see the ’69 team in person, I feel like I was there considering how many times I’ve seen the highlights and how much I heard the names of all of the ’69 Mets growing up when my family was talking sports. Is there anything you’d like to leave our fans with as a final thought?
I am just so grateful that fans still remember that ’69 team. Even though they might not have been around, the fact that they remember or learn about it is so special. It was something so special in their parents or grandparents’ lives and it gets passed on. I sense that. I am thankful that the team lives on forever and I am thankful that there’s a nucleus of guys that are still around too. We lost 10 or 11 guys, but there’s still a lot around and I hope they’ll be around for a long time. It’s just wonderful to be able to talk to people like yourself who likes to talk about the team and write about it. That’s what’ll live on forever.
The Art Shamsky Podcast can be found across many media platforms and is accessible through his website, www.artshamsky.com. You can follow Art Shamsky on Twitter @ArtShamsky. His is also available for gust appearances and speaking engagements and that information can be found on his website as well.