PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Everyone knows the glorious end of this story.
Ron Swoboda made The Catch to save the Miracle Mets in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series. The Mets won in the 10th inning on a throwing error and went on to capture their first world championship the next day, October 16, against the Orioles.
To fully tell that miraculous tale, Swoboda, 74, digs through his locker at Mets Fantasy Camp on Friday to pull out The Glove that made The Catch.
The leather shows all the wear and tear of 50 years, but just like the man himself, the Rawlings glove remains strong, reliable and there is that miraculous webbing, where Brooks Robinson’s line drive settled after a backhanded dive by Swoboda.
Swoboda softly touches the webbing, knowing it is the place where dreams land.
“When I broke on the ball I knew I got a good jump,’’ Swoboda told The Post. “But 95 percent of the way in I thought I’m not getting there. You just do a full layout and the degree of difficulty there is extreme. Then I felt it hit in my web. There’s a lot of snag in that web. The leather is different on this glove. Unlike any other glove I ever had, even if the ball hit you in the palm of this glove it would stay. That gave me the confidence to dive backhanded.’’
The Orioles tied the game on the sacrifice fly, but the Mets won one inning later. Swoboda saved the day for Tom Seaver and the Mets.
“There’s something noble about doing the best you got and you don’t know what that is,’’ Swoboda said. “What was [poet Robert] Browning’s line? ‘A man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?’ That’s a great line.’’
Swoboda’s manager Gil Hodges played no favorites. Hodges was ahead of his time and played percentages, implementing a platoon system. If you needed to come out for defense, you came out.
“You know what it was about,’’ Swoboda said of his motivation for all the extra outfield work he put in that season with coach Eddie Yost. “I was trying to get Hodges to stop putting Rod Gaspar in for defense in the ninth inning. And I did. I accomplished that.’’
Swoboda was out there in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game with one out, Frank Robinson on third and big Boog Powell on first when Brooks Robinson hit that screaming line drive.
An entire city held its breath. Swoboda believed.
Swoboda, like all those Mets, is a competitor. This week at Fantasy Camp, camper after camper approached Swoboda congratulating him for being the championship winning manager. There’s the Swoboda Rule now. A few years ago Swoboda drafted a camper who happened to pitch at Rice University.
“He pitched 40 of the 49 innings in the week,’’ Swoboda said with a smile. “We don’t win it without him. They made a rule this year, you can only pitch seven innings a day.’’
Warriors age, but they still want to win. Swoboda continues to work some minor league games as a broadcaster in New Orleans. During our conversation he made a phone call to his wife Cecilia, who overcame Stage 4 cancer. They have been married 53 years. They remain a wonderful team.
Swoboda just finished a new project. He wrote “Here’s the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More.” The book goes on sale this June.
In spring training of 1969 Hodges was hopeful his team could win 85 games. All the players thought that was an overshoot.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘Us?’ Swoboda explained.
When the Miracle Mets got it together, though, they never looked back, winning 100 games, while Leo Durocher’s Cubs fell back and not just because of the path taken by a black cat.
“When they messed up, Leo and even [Ron] Santo, they turned on those guys who messed up,’’ Swoboda said of the Cubs. The Mets stayed together.
“Things were said in their clubhouse that would never have flown in ours. Leo thought he invented baseball,’’ Swoboda said.
Hodges easily won the battle.
“Hodges went to war with the Marines,’’ Swoboda said of his manager’s tremendous leadership skills, noting Hodges should be in the Hall of Fame. “Leo, meanwhile, was dating starlets.’’
Hodges’ players produced their miracle, thanks, in large part to The Catch. Fifty years later it remains the most noble of accomplishments.
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