Wayne Coffey Book

Metsellanous: Joey Wahler On The Mets -- New Tales Galore In Coffey’s ’69 Mets Book

April 18, 2019 - 5:26 pm
Categories: 

By Joey Wahler

When the Mets shocked the Orioles, winning the World Series with a 5-3 victory on October 16, 1969, Wayne Coffey, a sophomore at John Glenn High school in East Northport, Long Island, sat in field box seats along the first base line with his grandfather.

When left fielder Cleon Jones squeezed Davey Johnson’s game ending fly ball into sports legend, Coffey said, “I’m going to go out there, Gramps,” joining the masses celebrating one of baseball’s most iconic moments. Coffey grabbed a chunk of Shea turf, planting it in his parents’ backyard in Huntington.

Nearly 50 years later, Coffey brings that season back to life in his new book, “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done: The ’69 Mets, New York City, And The Most Astounding Season In Baseball History.” It’s a project close to the heart of the acclaimed author and former New York Daily News sportswriter.

“It would be hard for me to find a more meaningful project, a project of deeper passion for me than this,” Coffey said. “The ’69 Mets were, and are, almost a part of my DNA. I grew up with them, I worshipped them. I lived and died pretty much with every game that whole summer.

Traveling nearly 20,000 miles conducting interviews, “It was very much a labor of love,” Coffey said. “And it took me back to the sweetest possible memories of my adolescence.”

For research, Coffey reviewed games on youtube and watched episodes of Kiner’s Korner, then the Mets post-game show on Channel 9, hosted by their late broadcaster, Hall of Famer, Ralph Kiner. Long-time Met voices Howie Rose and Gary Cohen were valuable resources.

Coffey re-watched Tom Seaver’s July 8th “Imperfect Game” against the Cubs. The Hall of Famer settled for a one-hitter when light hitting outfielder Jimmy Qualls ended his perfect game bid with one out in the ninth inning of a 4-0 Mets win at Shea, which Rose attended.

Of Rose, “He called it the night the Mets were Bar Mitzvah’d, even though they were only eight years old,” Coffey joked. “It was the symbolic arrival after all these years of all these losses and years in the baseball wilderness.”

The book’s audio version is narrated by Cohen, then a boy from Queens who got up at midnight when Met postseason seats went on sale. “And spent the night outside Shea Stadium by himself at 11 years old to get playoff tickets,” Coffey said.

The two most prominent figures from those ’69 Mets were Seaver, now suffering from dementia, and late manager Gil Hodges. Being unable to interview them tested Coffey’s journalistic resourcefulness.

“Sometimes when that’s not possible, it makes you just work harder to try to get other perspectives,” he said of interviewing those close to Seaver and Hodges, like Gil Hodges, Jr., a kid regularly in the dugout that year.

“He told me some great stories about growing up with Gil, what he was like as a father,” Coffey said. Centerfielder Tommie Agee has died, “So I went down to Whistler, Alabama and I was with his brother, Joe,” Coffey added.

Indeed, Coffey found gems surrounding Agee’s glove and Mets infielder Al Weis’ bat. Coffey visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which displays Agee’s glove from his two spectacular catches in that ’69 Fall Classic. “If you looked at his glove it was a Johnny Callison model,” Coffey said of the Phillies outfielder.

Weiss was a career .219 hitter with seven homers in ten major league seasons, who had a deal with Louisville Slugger, which supplied his bats. A representative from their competitor, Adirondack, handed Weis one of their bats before Game One against Baltimore.

“And got up in BP before the World Series and he loved the way it felt,” Coffey said. “And so he said, ‘You know, I’m going to use this bat,’” despite protests from Louisville Slugger’s rep. Weiss led all hitters with a .455 series average, including his tying, seventh inning homer in decisive Game 5.

Even ’69 Met batboys, Bobby Sacca and Bill Curtin, were tracked down by Coffey. With the team drawing increasing media and celebrities before games, Sacca was ordered to prevent outsiders from taking anything from the dugout. Thus, when Sacca once saw a man in a fancy suit holding two baseballs, he quickly reacted.

“So he goes up to the guy and he takes the balls right out of his hands and says, ‘You can’t take these,’” Coffey said. Then the boy learned the man was Nelson Rockefeller. “So here is Bobby Sacca from Jamaica, Queens, ripping baseballs out of the hands of the Governor of New York,” Coffey said.

Among over 100 Coffey interviewees was lefty starter Jerry Koosman, 17-9 with a 2.28 ERA in ’69. Looking back using a stopwatch, Coffey realized Koosman typically took just over ten seconds between pitches. So glancing into his piercing blue eyes, Coffey asked why Kooz pitched so quickly.

“And he said, ‘I could never figure out nothin’ to do between pitches,’” Coffey said, laughing.

Met attendance in ’69 was nearly 2.2 million, Coffey notes, which led baseball by far, more than doubling the Yankee gate. That was the summer of Woodstock, the music festival that drew more than 400,000 in upstate New York. Rose told Coffey, “Every night at Shea was like Woodstock.”

Looking back on that ’69 team, “My motivation was to just try to capture the wonder and the charm of this whole miraculous run they made,” Coffey said. “If you didn’t live it, it’s really hard to appreciate.”