Former 1969 Miracle Met needs another miracle

BY KEITH SHIKOWITZ

The last person from the original 1962 New York Mets to play for the team until his retirement in 1979, Ed Kranepool, is suffering from diabetes and is need of a kidney transplant. His plight and prayers were almost answered. They had a donor, and they were ready for surgery, but unfortunately, the donor’s health took a bad turn and the surgery had to be cancelled. So now it’s back to square one.

“I have had diabetes for over forty years.” said Kranepool. Adding, “After that long the body breaks down and the meds are not doing good.” His diabetes has caused other problems for him. He has had infections which have resulted in a few toes being amputated.

One major point against him is his age. He is 74 years old and that does not help his body to fight what is going on. His family is worried, but he assured an audience at the inaugural Newsday Live show at Newsday headquarters in Melville Long Island, along with Art Shamsky, on February 6, that he is not going to die anytime soon.

When asked about his diabetes by a fan in the audience Kranepool replied, “I have to really appreciate what Newsday has done for me over the last year I’ve had a couple of surgeries because of my diabetes for 40 years. I’ve had some foot surgery and of course now my kidney’s have failed. So I am soliciting an organ donor.”

Newsday has written a ton of articles about it and they’re still solicitating. “I had a donor, thought I was going to have some surgery in January. Unfortunately, it fell through. He didn’t pass his last test. We were down to the last stage where we were setting a date and he didn’t pass and he’s trying to get himself healthy now and if he does maybe we can do it.” Kranepool added.

As of the writing of this article, they are still looking for a donor.

The main event of the evening was the discussion about the 1969 Miracle Mets. The moderator for the evening was Dave Lennon. He opened the evening’s discussion with information that the NY Mets will are already in full gear with celebrating anniversary. There be more this summer obviously with the Mets at Citi Field in June.

“I guess the first question maybe just to kind of start off things a bit. Did you ever imagine your wildest dreams in nineteen sixty – nine when you won the world series that it would possibly resonate like it has to the state fifty years later?”

Ed Kranepool fielded the question first. “New York is great sports town no question about it but the winning in sixty – nine was unique to everybody. I mean you know we were in trying times in this country back in 69 a lot of things going on and that winning that year’s certainly different it really changed everybody’s life.”

After a round of applause subsided, he continued. “To still be here 50 years later celebrating and that people still love to reflect upon it is great. We’ve got great fans. I mean they’ve supported the mix all these years. I was part of the good bad and the ugly. So, we’ve had a couple of championships and they really celebrate this one and I’m really glad the Mets are getting behind the 50th anniversary, because this is the last hurrah for us.

He wants to have some fun with this anniversary because as he said, “We’re not going to celebrate, I don’t think 75. I hope we’re all there for it.”

Shamsky’s take on the excitement also focused on the fans’ reaction to the upward climb of the team. “I think when we started to win, from August on and people got all caught up in the excitement when I was in right field and I saw people running from the subway station out there to get to the to the game because they didn’t want to miss that first pitch. And halfway through the national anthem the crowd to get revved up and ready because it was such an exciting time.”

He agrees with Kranepool that when they won everything on October 16, 1969 their lives changed because they knew it was so special. “Fifty years later it doesn’t surprise me that we still have so many fans or caught up in what happened. I think we affected so many people in a positive way and they’ve passed that on from generation to generation and kids who weren’t even born (he pointed out a young boy sitting in the front row) know about how special that team was.”

Shamsky is not surprised about the excitement fifty years later because they were great fans and Mets fans have always been great. “I think we just we were part of a special, special team that kind of lives on forever.”

Lennon pointed out that Kranepool had and still has a unique perspective on the Mets having been signed at age seventeen right out o James Monroe High School in the Bronx, having survived the tough years form 1962 as an expansion team to 1969 when they won it all. “You said you know the good the bad and the ugly. How do you frame that from being a seventeen – year old kid, to living through that experience?”

“I graduated high school in two days later I was in the major leagues. My opening night sandy Kofax pitches a no hitter and strikes out 13. I said, this if going to be a tough career.”

The first seven seasons of the NY Mets saw the team lose 100 games each season. “That’s very frustrating. Winning’s contagious so is losing.” stated Kranepool. “We used to celebrate rainouts.” he added. During that time, the phrase “Wait ‘til next year,” became the Mets fans’ mantra in the hopes that the following year would be better. In 1969, after the first pitch of the season was a call strike, a fan in the seats held up a sign that said, “Wait ‘til next year.” Next year was to arrive sooner than that fan thought.

According to Kranepool, “It really gets tough to go to the ballpark you know when you’re eliminated at the all – star break. The second half of the year is a long year. When you turn it around and you’re part of a winning situation and end up playing in the World Series it changes your entire attitude. It’s your goal and your aspiration as a youngster. You always dream about getting into the World Series and you get there it changes everything.”

For those who are not familiar with the 1962 Mets, as an expansion club, they signed a lot of older players who were near the end of their careers. Looking back at his beginnings with the club Kranepool reminisced, “When I signed Casey (Stengel) was my manager he was 74 I think at that time maybe 75 and we thought he was an old man. I realize after all these years is that you get old fast. This is 50 years later and I’m right there.”

As bad as the NY Mets had it in those early years and many subsequent to those, others had tough times too. Kranepool’s first game saw the Mets get no hit. Shamsky’s first at bat was as a pinch hitter against Bob Gibson one of the best the game had at that time. “I got indoctrinated to the big leagues pretty quick. It was in Saint Louis where I grew up in front of my folks and I took the call third strike and it ended up striking out but then the next time I faced him I hit a home run.”

Shamsky has a different perspective from Kranepool about the Mets early years. “When you play against them as I did in the mid – sixties you always felt that if you didn’t win two out of three games against them it was a bad series.”

He tells everybody this story then when he got traded to the Mets. “My first reaction was in shock because it was the first time I got traded. My good friend over here, (smiling at Kranepool) always tells me this story that when he heard about a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, he thought the Mets are getting Pete Rose. He was so disappointed to find out it was me. We’ve stayed friends 51 years later.”

He feels that coming over to the Mets was the best thing that could ever happen to him he’s still in this area because of being part of that team. He’s still friends with Kranepool and all those guys on that team are all special to me. His tone saddened a bit when he recounted some of the people from the sixty – nine team that have been lost over the years. “Coaches and Gil Hodges and some of the guys really, really died way too young like Tug McGraw and Tommy Agee and on Don Clendenon.”

They have remained friends and he credits part of the reason to the fact that it’s such an important thing to remember about that team is that when you lose like they did and Ed was there for those losing years, winning becomes that much more important than that much more special. He added that he doesn’t think it would’ve been as special if the Mets the year before in 68 we would have been a .500 team for example, or we would have finished second or third but to come from as far back as we had that’s what made it so special.

“I don’t think I’ll embarrassing him but when he hit that home run and what game 3 right I was thinking that that was such a special moment for him to be able to hit a home run in the World Series when he was there in 62 and 63 in those early years when you did anything it was special back then right.” Shamsky said with a smile.

Kranepool and Shamsky went on to talk about Hodges’ managing style. He was great manager but he also was able to read people he was great leader and you had to earn the respect to the players and Gil certainly earned that I mean he was a disciplinarian as an ex – marine he didn’t take any nonsense you know and you played his way or hit the highway. There would no surprises with Gil Hodges. Gil wanted you to do that and you performed and you played as a team there’s no I in team and that’s were a great team 25 guys contributed that year.

What made the 69 Mets a solid team according to Kranepool was that, “Gil didn’t care whether you were the star player or the last guy on the team so called you treated everybody the same one set of rules for 25 guys.”

Both men feel the game has changed there’s no question about it they don’t know whether it’s good or bad. “Today you gotta deal with all these managers agents it’s not the players anymore the game is changed analytics since when does the guy up in the booth know when the pitcher’s tired, he’s thrown 88 pitches that were taking him out of the game, I mean some guys pitch better later in the game.” They agree that the game is slower and a lot of the things that happen like the many times a catcher goes out to the mound, or players stepping out of the box and the instant replays are some of the reasons this has happened.

“The game is definitely much slower now than when we played. Look at some old footage, like a right – hand batter step out of the batters’ box, takes one foot and is right back in the batters’ box. It was much, much quicker. Back in those days if it was Seaver against Gibson, you knew you were going to win in 2 hours, or lose in two hours, unless it went into extra innings. But that’s my biggest complaint about the game I will never knock the gamer. It’s still the greatest game in the world, it just seems to me it’s just too slow and very difficult to watch.” said Shamsky.

The players today according to Kranepool are lacking some of the basics like bunting.

“J.C. Martin does something that you are supposed to know how to do but current players don’t know how to bunt, he bunts, and we win a ballgame because he lays down a bunt.”

One fan asked how the men felt about a proposal that if a game goes into the 10th inning, they start the inning with a man on second.

Shamsky commented, “They’re so concerned with the length of the game now. They’re just grasping at straws to find something. I can’t imagine starting an inning with a runner on second base it’s just so counter to what we grew up with watching the game. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to do it because a lot of things don’t surprise me anymore.”

Kranepool summed up the 1969 Met’s season, “Without a good leader like Gil we don’t make it to the pennant. We’d have won more pennants if he doesn’t pass on.”

“We all had the utmost respect for Gil and as Eddie said, if he would have lived longer he would have brought more championships back to NY for the Mets. But it worked that year.” Shamsky added.