Casey Stengel always said the Mets would win when they put a man on the Moon. Both miracles happened in 1969.
The whole world didn’t stop on July 20, 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon. It just seemed that way.
For even as astronaut Neil Armstrong was landing on the powdery surface of the Moon that day, uttering 11 of history’s most famous words — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” — the sports world carried on.
That famous Sunday featured a full schedule of baseball games, with many teams playing doubleheaders as was the norm in those days.
In Montreal, Bobby Pfeil’s bunt single in the 11th inning scored Ron Swoboda and gave the Mets a 4-3 win over the Expos and a split of their doubleheader. Montreal won the opener, 3-2.
The Mets, who would go on to miracles of their own that October, fell five games behind the Cubs in the National League East. Chicago’s Ferguson Jenkins and Dick Selma both pitched complete games as the Cubbies beat the Phillies, 1-0 and 6-1, at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.
In Atlanta, Pat Jarvis pitched a six-hit shutout as the Braves maintained their one-game lead over the Giants and Dodgers in the NL West.
Orioles Rule AL East
Meanwhile, Syd O’Brien’s two-run triple in the eighth inning led the Red Sox to a 6-5 win over the Orioles. Despite the loss, Baltimore still led Boston by 11 names in the AL East.
And a shutout by Jim Perry, Gaylord’s brother, helped the AL West leading Twins to a 4-0 win over the Seattle Pilots and a four-game lead over Oakland.
The same day that Eagle landed on the Moon, Oakland left-hander Vida Blue, who went on to win the AL MVP and Cy Young award in 1971, was the losing pitcher in his major league debut. The A’s and Angels split a doubleheader that day.
In the Bronx, Gene Michael’s single drove in Roy White with the winning run as the Yankees beat the Washington Senators, 3-2, in 11 innings. Walk-off win was not yet part of the baseball vernacular.
This was the first year of divisional play in the majors. Four new teams — the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals in the AL and San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos in the NL — joined baseball in 1969.
On that Sunday, July 20, Rod Carew of the Twins at .364 and Matty Alou of the Pirates at .354 and were the batting leaders. Oakland’s Reggie Jackson led the AL with 37 home runs; San Francisco’s Willie McCovey was tops in the AL with 30. Atlanta’s Phil Niekro led the majors with 15 wins.
Jacklin Celebrates British Open Win
In other sports, Tony Jacklin was still celebrating his win in the British Open the week before, first by an Englishman in 18 years.
And in football, Joe Namath and the rest of the Super Bowl champion New York Jets were gearing up for training camp at Hofstra University.
That same weekend, a car, shown above, driven by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., plunged off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha’s Vineyard. Kennedy managed to escape the submerged vehicle, but his passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. (Kennedy subsequently pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a suspended two-month jail sentence.)
In 1969, the average family income in the United States was $8,389.00, and the price of gasoline ranged between 29 and 35 cents a gallon. A six pack of Coca Cola was selling for 59 cents and Hershey bar was .10 cents. The cost for a new Ford Mustang was a whopping $2,832.00 for a standard model.
Richard M. Nixon was President of the United States, Woodstock was on the horizon and man was on the Moon.
Standin on your mamas porch
You told me it would last forever
Oh the way you held my hand
I knew that it was now or never
Those were the best days of my life
Bryan Adams — “Back in the Summer of 69”
When I finally find the time to write my book, I’m going to frequent the wireless cabana aside the beach sunny day after sunny day and muse about 1969.
What a year! 1969. The crowning point of the Sixties, of peace, love and happiness….and war, riots and assassinations.
On May, 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy stood before a joint session of Congress and put out a bold challenge to the American public.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
A little more than eight years later, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, mission commander of Apollo 11, became the first man to set foot on the moon. The images of the lunar landing flickered across American television screens from coast to coast that hot summer Sunday.
“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind ” Armstrong proclaimed as he stepped off the landing module and onto the lunar surface
It happened. In 1969. Man on the moon.
Early on a Saturday morning that same weekend, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, the youngest of nine in the Kennedy family, was driving a car with Mary Jo Kopechne when he drove off a bridge near Chappaquiddick Island off Martha’s Vineyard. The Senator swam to safety, but Kopechne died in the car.
It happened. In 1969. Chappaquiddick On the same weekend that Armstrong set foot on the moon.
Ted Kennedy’s brother, President Kennedy, a man of vision, was assassinated in 1963, five years before his brother, Robert Kennedy met a similar fate.
Certainly, those were turbulent times. Malcolm X was killed in 1965; and then, in 1968, Martin Luther King was shot to death.
It was a time of racial disharmony, with riots in New York and Detroit and Los Angeles and hundreds of cities and towns across America.
In the third week of April, 1969, militant black students at Cornell University used force to take over a school building demanding a black studies program.
And later that year, in October, the Weathermen, a radical offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society, orchestrated the “Days of Rage” riots in Chicago.
Also in October, college students across the country marched as part of a protest against the Vietnam War. Some met with resistance.
It happened. In 1969. Radical times. Racial unrest. Riots. Peace marches.
And in New York that same October, the Mets completed their miracle season by beating the heavily-favored Orioles to win the World Series. After years of futility, baseball’s worst team throughout the Sixties was a totally unexpected champion.
It happened. In 1969. The Miracle Mets.
Earlier in the Sixties, February of 1964 to be exact, the Beatles arrived. The four young mopheads from England made their first American appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The British invasion had begun.
The next year, the Beatles toured the USA and played Shea Stadium.
Some five years later, in 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their famous Bed-in in Montreal.
And in the summer of 69, a tiny little town in upstate New York named Bethel hosted the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. Or just Woodstock. Three days of fun and music, and nothing but fun and music. A defining moment for rock and roll and the counter culture.
It happened. In 1969. Rock and roll. The counter culture. Woodstock.
In 1960, the American Football League kicked off it inaugural season, an alternative to the established NFL. Ridiculed at first, the AFL soon posed a financial challenge to the NFL, and the leagues eventually merged.
The first Super Bowl was played in 1967, and the Green Bay Packers throttled the Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers won again the next season, and the Baltimore Colts were huge favorites over the New York Jets in Super Bowl III in Miami.
Yet the Jets, led by quarterback Joe Namath, upset the Colts and took one giant step for the AFL.
It happened. In 1969. Joe Namath. Woodstock. The Miracle Mets. The Weathermen. Chappaquiddick. Man on the moon.
Richard Nixon. Charles Manson. The My Lai massacre.
And so much more…..in 1969.