BWhat do you do for a living? What business are you in?
If you answered that question too quickly, you probably only got it partially right. Because if you’re anything like Art Shamsky, you’re not just whatever you think you are. You’re actually in the business of hope.
Shamsky played right field and first base for the legendary 1969 World Champion New York Mets. He has just detailed his recollections of that magic season, along with a pilgrimage with teammates to visit the ailing Tom Seaver in Napa Valley, in his new book, After The Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood Of The ‘69 New York Mets (Simon & Schuster).
If you’re too young to remember, the late 1960s was an exceptionally fraught time in American history. The war in Vietnam raged on endlessly and, to an increasing number of Americans, senselessly. The nation was still in the grip of the collective shock following the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968. Riots left our major cities desolate and killed hundreds.
“The world was upside down,” Shamsky says.
And into that upside down world crept the 1969 New York Mets, an expansion team in 1962 and a doormat and punchline for the first seven years of its existence.
And then the Mets acquired former Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman (and ex-Marine), Gil Hodges, as their manager, and USC standout (and ex-Marine) Tom Seaver as the core of its pitching staff, which also featured a wild-throwing rookie you might have heard of, a guy named Nolan Ryan.
The Mets had come in dead last every year they played, with the exception of 1968, when they made it all the way up to ninth place in a ten-team league. And then everything changed.
“One day in Spring Training,” Shamsky recalls, “our manager, Gil Hodges, held a team meeting. He said that we were better than we thought we were. He said it was time for us to stop thinking of ourselves as lovable losers and start winning some of those one run games we had been losing over the years.”
The team listened, and something gelled. Early that season, the Mets reached the .500 mark for the first time in its entire existence, but that milestone was met with a collective yawn in the clubhouse.
“There’s nothing special about being a .500 team,” Seaver said. “We’re better than that.”
And they were. Before long, the Mets had stolen a march on the favorites, the veteran Chicago Cubs and, improbably, came back from a nine game deficit in August to move into first place in September. The Mets clinched the division on September 23rd in a game where Gary Gentry beat Steve Carlton and the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-0. The Amazins’ went on to sweep the Atlanta Braves with Hank Aaron in three games in the first National League Division Series, and then beat the vaunted Baltimore Orioles in five games in the World Series.
“While we were playing,” Shamsky says now, “we were fairly insulated from the fans. We knew something special was happening, but we mostly just talked about it in the clubhouse. It’s only in later years that people have come up to me and told me just what the 1969 Mets meant to them.”
Hope is a constant theme in After The Miracle. At a time when the country was reeling from riots in the cities and Vietnam, assassinations, and the rest of the gloom and doom of the late 1960s, the Mets might not have realized what they meant to New York and the etire nation. They thought they were in the business of baseball. Instead, they were in the business of generating hope.
“I’ve had the same conversation with fans thousands of times over the last 50 years,” Shamsky says. “They come up to me in the street, or at events, and they tell me that we changed their lives. Or the lives of their parents or even their grandparents.
“We brought hope. The Mets had been the lovable losers, but by winning the World Series, we proved that anything was possible. We might not have realized it at the time, but our team transformed the way people thought. Even Yankees fans got on our bandwagon—and for Yankees fans to root for the Mets, that’s no small thing!”
Shamsky recalls the electricity at Shea Stadium in those late season games, the crackling energy during the National Anthem, and then the fans he could see from his position in right field, literally running from the subway to the deck overlooking the field so they wouldn’t miss the first pitch.
“I’m not sure that a team could have that kind of effect on its community today the way we affected New York,” Shamsky says. “Things are crazy in the world now, but it’s nothing like the bleakness of that moment in American history. People were feeling despair about the war, the assassinations, the riots, all of it. But somehow, this group of guys brought hope.”
In the book and in a recent phone conversation, Shamsky speaks of the close bond between the surviving members of that team, the friendships and warmth of the clubhouse bonds, and a sense of wonder about a working class bunch of guys who came together and did the seemingly impossible.
“I feel very fortunate to have played in such an amazing time in baseball history,” Shamsky says, ever a student of the game. “Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Pete Rose, Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Hank Aaron, Willie Stargell. These are the guys I played with or against. Not to mention the guys on our team. But what makes the whole experience so meaningful to me is the fact that we brought hope to so many people.”
That’s why you might think that your occupation is teacher, or homemaker, or legislator, or sanitation engineer, or line cook at McDonald’s. But the reality is that others are watching us do what we do every day. And through our actions, by taking seriously and sincerely our responsibilities to our families, our team members and our communities, we effect a greater sense of change, progress, and, yes, hope, than we might have recognized.
Whatever business you’re in, whatever your occupation might be, like Art Shamsky, you are in the business of spreading hope. You might not realize it at the moment, and you might be feeling pretty hopeless about situations in your world or in the world at large that you cannot control.
But the one thing to always keep in mind is that whatever you’re doing, if you do it with intention and thoughtfulness and character, you will bring hope to those in your world. You may not get a World Series ring for that, but quite frankly, you don’t need to. Creating hope – for ourselves and those around us – is its own reward.