A film treatment by
The film opens with the courtroom scene from Oh, God! in which George Burns tells the questioning attorney that miracles are “too showy,” that his “last miracle” was “the 1969 Amazin’ Mets.”
Religious music plays while Biblical language about the Promised Land and other acts of God are depicted. This morphs into a swank Sinatra tune as the scene manifests itself into a wrecking ball destroying Ebbets Field. Various shots of crying Giants and Dodgers fans are shown, as the two New York teams move to California.
This is replaced by various scenes of the comically bad New York Mets of the 1960s, and their clown act manager, Casey Stengel asking “Can’t anybody here play this game?” The poor quality of the Mets is contrasted to visions of Yankee glory.
The scene shifts to a packing crate car in Fresno, California, 1962. 17-year old Tom Seaver sweats through 100-degree heat. Snakes and spiders jump out of the crates, scaring him half to death. We follow Seaver as he joins the Marines and suffers its indignities, then returns to Fresno City College, suddenly three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. Considered no prospect in high school, he suddenly possesses an explosive fastball.
Seaver and his lovely girlfriend Nancy move on to USC, where we see shots of his development as a man and baseball player, his drafting by the Mets, and ascension to the big leagues with the New York Mets.
Seaver becomes a star on a bad team, but the Mets hire a new manager, Brooklyn hero Gil Hodges. A sense of professionalism is infused to the team, but Hodges has a heart attack. In Spring Training, 1969, Seaver and his teammates; Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Bud Harrelson, Tug McGraw and Nolan Ryan, fish in St. Petersburg, Florida and discuss their high hopes for the season. Hodges recovers.
The season opens and Seaver is hit hard by lowly Montreal. He is beaten by St. Louis and Chicago. The Cubs’ manager, Leo Durocher, orders his pitchers to hit Mets hitters, intimidating them, but in late May and June a series of incredible games are played, all with breathtaking, game-saving plays that propel the team to an 11-game winning streak and surprise contention.
Two incredible games are shown: a comeback over the Cubs followed by a one-hit shutout by Seaver in which the fans implore him to be their knew hero, the latest in a long line of great New York sports stars. Visions of past stars – Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Gifford, Namath – seem to welcome Seaver to this new, mythic status.
This is followed by a big letdown, and all seems lost. The team begins to argue, and resentment over Seaver’s status and his showy wife start to fracture the club. Against Houston, Hodges removes Cleon Jones for failing to hustle, but this spurs a winning streak.
Against the Cubs at Shea Stadium, a black cat emerges in front of the Cubs’ dugout. The Mets go on to win, and capture the division. Individual players emerge as heroes in the city. Seaver and Nancy are bigger than rock stars. Mayor John Lindsay attaches himself to the team, hoping to revive a flagging campaign. Crime goes down as New Yorkers stick to their TVs to watch the Mets. An entire city revives and comes together, but in new ways.
The Vietnam War plays as backdrop; Nixon’s “secret plan” is shown in scenes from the White House, and soldiers fighting the Viet Cong. It is an unstable world in which the Mets appear to be the only ray of hope.
The play-offs open and the contract between New York and Atlanta, socially and in every way, is exemplified. The Mets, despite poor performances by Seaver and Koosman, prevail. Next come the Baltimore Orioles, who symbolize Goliath to their David. After Seaver is beaten in the first game, all hope seems lost, but just like the Jets, who beat the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl, the Mets’ engineer a thrilling upset. Scenes of utter chaos and disbelief in New York accompany the win, which propels Lindsay to a Mayoral victory and has anti-war activists believing that if the Mets can win the series, the Vietnam War can end, too.
The sense of unreality pervades the city; its citizens are less jubilant sports fans and more like children entering Heaven in awe of what they see. Seaver is elevated to the highest place in our society, but the concluding scenes show that success went to their heads; Seaver achieved greatness but was never had a halo like in 1969; Vietnam went on for several years and 100 million died under Communism; New York almost went bankrupt, but revived in later years.
In 2009, the new stadium opens in New York with a 40-year celebration of th ’69 Mets.
It is the biggest city in the world. “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” as the Frank Sinatra song goes. But by 1969 New York City and all it represented was in disarray; criminally, politically, athletically.
“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” sang Simon and Garfunkel. Then a modern Lancelot rode forth to lead the New York Mets to heights above and beyond all glory, before or since. It was the biggest sports story of the twentieth century.
This film tells the complete, unvarnished story of the greatest, most improbable tale in the history of American sports: the 1969 “Amazin’ Mets” World Championship season. The Mets were led by that rarest of all American heroes, the true New York Sports Icon. In a city that produces not mere mortals but sports gods, Tom Seaver represents the last of the breed. His deeds, his times, his town; it was part of a vanishing era, an era of innocence. In 1969, six years after John Kennedy’s assassination, Seaver and the Mets were the last grasp at idealism before free agency, Watergate, and cynicism.
Seaver’s great status was that of half rock star, half political figure. Seaver and the Mets are a metaphor for a changing society, the “Age of Aquarius” confluence between black and white during racially divided times, set against a backdrop so perfect it appeared to have been guided by the hand of destiny.
Now, we can reflect on the political, religious, sociological and racial views of the 1960s, all imbued by 40 years of experience in America during her most challenging times. It was Seaver and the Mets who stood astride issues such as Vietnam, free agency, the “new breed” of black athletes.
The Mets rode the whirlwind of fame and celebrity after the triumph of 1969, but many teammates were unable to maintain a steady course in their life and career. Here, for the first time, America learns the unvarnished truth about human beings elevated to ultimate hero status in New York City, a town that builds them up only to tear ‘em down. Incredibly, Tom Seaver never was torn down, staying at the top for twenty years, retiring to the broadcaster’s booth where his caramel rich voice, smooth intellect and veteran experience made him a popular, admired character to generations beyond his playing days; but his teammates and team met less kind fates.
This is also a nostalgic look back at the hero machine that is New York City. There remain a tiny handful of ultimate sports superstars who stand out in the Big Apple above all others. This tells the story of how they got there, stayed there, or fell from grace. As times changed, it became virtually impossible for others to follow with Seaver in the footsteps of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath.
When mythic Hollywood movie star Marilyn Monroe returned from a tour of Korea in the 1950s, she declared to husband Joe DiMaggio, “Joe! Joe! You never heard such cheering.”
Joe D. coldly replied, “Yes I have.” This exchange encapsulates something unique in America and in the world. In so doing it summarizes why this is the quintessential New York story
In today’s world, celebrity is cheap and comes in many varieties, courtesy of cable TV, the Internet and the scandal sheets. Hollywood has a refined process of producing, assembly-line style, its celebrities. But beyond this kind superficiality lies true celebrity status. No living movie star attains it. Few ever have, even beyond the grave. It is something beyond celebrity. Call it greatness. This kind of person, while not solely American, remains a historical figure in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries who, aside from Winston Churchill, can only be a larger-than-life figure in a country as big and full of swagger as America.
There are those lauded for their greatness in Mt. Rushmore style; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, perhaps John Glenn. But beyond national heroes – Presidents during great crisis, generals in a desperate struggle, and astronauts embodying Cold War pride – there is one very select group of uniquely American celebrity-heroes.
This is that tiniest, most elite group known as the true New York Sports Icon. Even this gaudy title does not tell the true story, for many athletes who play in New York City are superstars, but do not rise to the heights of the true, recognized-by-history New York Sports Icon. To live in this rarified air one must have achieved things above and beyond the mere mortal. They must have done so in the most crucial manner possible, and risen to a place in the spotlight - The Arena as Theodore Roosevelt called it – that minimizes all other accomplishment.
To understand this status, one must understand that very few non-New York athletes achieve this level. In Boston, Ted Williams took years to rise to this place in history, while Bill Russell, Carl Yastrzemski and Roger Clemens never did. In California, Sandy Koufax did what Willie Mays and Barry Bonds did not. Most of the legends are regional in nature: college football stars at Southern California or Oklahoma; Tony Gwynn toiling away in obscurity in San Diego; Hank Aaron breaking records in comparable silence. A Michael Jordan, a Joe Montana; these kinds of figures achieving their bona fides without benefit of the Big Apple’s stage are rarities. In fact, it is usually only when they are recognized by New York – cheering crowds at the Garden, “The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame” at the Polo Grounds, or on Madison Avenue – that the imprimatur comes to them. But The New York Sports Icon achieves status in an almost religious manner; their moments in the sun say what words fail to accomplish. Theirs is a truth which, when witnessed in an American arena, is never misunderstood.
Who are these gods of the New Greece, gladiators of the New Rome? In the biggest city, on the biggest stage, the list is oh-so-short. As Christ says in the New Testament, “many are called, few are chosen.” The Chosen Ones are Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Gifford, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath and Tom Seaver.
It is the list of those who are so close, yet do not make the cut, which makes this group all the more impressive. John McGraw, Bill Terry, Mel Ott, Willie Mays, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, O. J. Simpson, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Reggie Jackson, and Derek Jeter are just a few of the all-time greats, the Hall of Famers who have toiled in New York City and New York state; achieved fame, fortune and honor; yet remain ever-so-slightly below the hallowed shrines of these eight players (Mathewson, Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Gifford, Mantle, Namath and Seaver).
The last of these represents the crux of what makes this book so unique, so compelling, such a nostalgic memory of a town, a team and a time that is no more. Gone like the wind, like the Old South, is the age of the superstar. Lost to free agency and player strikes. Records still get broken, but somehow the heroes of yesteryear stand above and beyond their successors, untarnished by steroids or, at least in the comparable mind’s eye, greed. All that is left is the last of the true New York Sports Icons.
This is a story about not merely their one superstar, but a team that was one big, collective superstar, a term bandied about on Broadway that very year by virtue of the rock opera Jesus Christ: Superstar! Never had any single Yankee, Dodger or Giant team captured the imagination of the “city that never sleeps” as did the 1969 Mets. It has never come close to happening in all the years since. Never have the “stars been aligned” as they were that magical, miraculous summer and fall of 1969.
The Yankees folded and a proud city bowed down. It was the late 1960s. The sports landscape was egalitarian, with champions spread throughout the Fruited Plain: Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston, Baltimore, Green Bay and points beyond. In New York a famous stadium suddenly was old, decrepit, its Bronx neighborhood overrun by crime. Drugs, prostitution, promiscuity and racial division now sprung forth, replacing the old veneers of respectability. This monied metropolis was in debt, its citizens racing to the suburbs in what was known as “white flight,” the old neighborhoods quickly deteriorating into a Martin Scorsese film noir. A terrible war tore at the fabric of a great society that just a few years before had enough hubris to call itself the Great Society.
Enter into the mix a stand-up comedy act called the New York Mets. In a city where only the sports version of Caesar’s triumphant return from Gaul was considered worthy of public admiration, the fumble house Metsies were so bad New Yorkers laughed at ‘em, but even this was a predicament telling of a city’s downfall. Was this the level New York had fallen to?
But a stadium was built which by 1960s standards was modern. Slowly but surely the Mets’ front office began to come around to the idea that, in order to built a lasting fan base past the anybody-but-the-Yankees Brooklyn crowd, which mostly lived out on Long Island by now anyway, actual on-field accomplishment must be attained.
In reality, it looked like the old Soviet “five-year plan.” In 1969, it seemed the most anybody could reasonably expect would be contention by 1974. A World Series seemed an impossibility, something that might happen some time between a decade and a century from that point in time, if ever. It was a preposterous idea.
The Mets were “new breed” all the way. People were talking about the “new breed” among the black athletes. The “old school” black athletes were generally quiet, Christian family men who did not “rock the boat.” The “new breed,” symbolized by St. Louis ace Bob Gibson, were proud, outspoken and articulate.
This was a “new breed” of white and black players in an era in which more and more players were college-educated, hailing from the suburbs, many from California. These were athletes whose societal views were cutting edge.
They did not buy into the Mets’ clown reputation, forged in the early years of Casey Stengel, “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry, and “Choo Choo” Coleman. It was not funny to them. In 1968 things began to change as Seaver and Jerry Koosman starred and a young corps of talented players asserted themselves.
But there is no explaining 1969. In the film Oh, God! George Burns is asked what His last miracle was.
“The 1969 Mets,” He says.
It is not an exaggeration to state that the 1969 “Amazin’ Mets” or “Miracle Mets,” or whatever adjective is attached to the story, represents the most incredible, unbelievable, impossible story in all the history of sports. Nothing was more improbable, nothing more unexpected, nothing more unlikely to predict. They won the World Series. It was the greatest top-to-bottom upset ever; not just beating 109-win Baltimore in the Fall Classic, but the entire “rags to riches” tail from Spring Training to Game 5, when New York’s 5-3 win gave them the title before a world’s disbelieving eyes.
But the story is only half about an improbable team. The New York setting, the desultory fall of the Yankees, the still-smoldering loss of the Brooklyn Dodgers, all placed against the landsdcape of the Vietnam War, protesters, hippies, drugs, a battered but unbowed city, and a country changing at warp speed; this is what makes 1969 the year, the Mets’ story a compelling Hollywood drama. Furthermore, the 1969 Mets saved baseball. The game was dead, boring, unsexy before the Mets turned it into the Age of Aquarius.
Despite all the religious qualities of the 1969 Mets, however, their rise, in contrast, is straightforward. They did it with talent, work ethic, and a competitive streak second to none. Throughout baseball history, there have been few teams ever locked in like the Mets in the second of ’69.
The hoopla, the excitement, the sheer joy of 1969 has never been matched before or since. It was the greatest New York sports experience – and the most incredible baseball story - bar none. It was a time of utter legend. They rode the whirlwind of fame, celebrity and fanatical adoration more than any in the pantheon; Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, and the like. Only Namath, whose image is as much about those swingin’ times as it is his performance on the field, achieved such god-like status. However, Namath’s injuries prevented him from ever building much beyond the foundation of the New York Jets’ Super Bowl win over Baltimore.
The “new breed” Mets expressed outspoken opinions about the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, religion and politics during the turbulent times of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King Jr., and Watergate. When ballplayers read comic books, they read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
But the intellectualism, the All-American image and superstar status created problems. 1969 was a “fairy tale” season, but succeeding years were “real life. Without preaching, Tom Seaver’s avoidance of road temptations served as a silent example to teammates who, unable to resist their lustful desires, saw in Seaver something they could not be and resented him for it. It was an age of sexual infidelity, drug use, alcohol excess, and moral depravity. Free-wheeling teammates could not relate to a man so together in every aspect of life.
The Mets were tempered by a1960s awareness, an empathy for the poor, the working man, the downtrodden. Yet these were never “bleeding heart liberals.” Some felt the Mets “sold out” in succeeding years. When they were at their height, everybody wanted a part of them. There were those who tried to freeload off of them, their image, their reputation. Some resisted that, not always without damage.
Tom Seaver is alive to tell his story which, incredibly, has never been told before; not in its entirety. Not in the soft light of true reflection. There has never been a quintessential 1969 Mets book.
Travers grew up idolizing Tom Seaver. The 1969 Mets were a Holy Grail for Travers, who saw in Seaver all that he aspired to be. It was originally because Seaver had gone to USC that Travers became a huge fan of the Trojans, where he eventually graduated from.
Travers followed every aspect of aspect of Seaver’s great career. His life is known to him in thorough and great detail. He is the man to capture greatest highlight of that life, captured in the non-narrative style of Tom Wolfe, within the pages of this, the great Mets book everybody has long waited for.
Furthermore, as a former professional baseball pitcher himself, Travers will develop a rapport with the players he interviews unlike that of any other writer-sports subject.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism