Each week during the off-season, I will be selecting a random, former Met to highlight. This will be taking place of our usual Friday segment, Rising Apple Player of the Week, until the regular season starts back up in April. If you have a former Met that you’d like me to highlight, please contact me at [email protected] and title your email: Rising Apple Off-Season Player of the Week suggestion.
This week’s off-season player of the week is the second of what was two submissions from our reader, Kathy C. Donn Clendenonis another World Series MVP for the Mets that the organization doesn’t recognize at Citi Field, and it puzzles me. Without him, we may as well have not been able to talk about the ’69 Miracle Mets the same way. The burly first baseman hit .357/.438/1.071 in his 14 at-bats against the Orioles in the Fall Classic, belting 3 homers and 4 RBI. His long balls came at critical times as well; he went deep in games two and four, giving the Mets a 1-0 lead, then hit a two-run bomb in game 5 to pull New York within one as they eventually clinched their first World Championship with a 5-3 victory over Baltimore at Shea Stadium.
The pride of Atlanta, Georgia, Clendenon began his professional career by signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 1957 as an amateur free agent following his days at Morehouse College. He made his MLB debut as a September call-up in 1961 and after he posted a .302/.376/.477 line in 1962 and coming in second place for the NL Rookie of the Year, Pittsburgh traded away incumbent first baseman Dick Stuart to make room for Donn to grow as a starter in the Bigs.
He spent eight productive seasons with the Pirates, but the organization left him unprotected for the 1968 expansion draft because of Al Oliver, a promising young first base prospect, and he was scooped up by the Montreal Expos. Clendenon was then traded to the Astros in January 1969, but refused to report because the current manager in Houston (Harry Walker) and him didn’t get along. So, he ended up getting dealt back to Montreal, where he struggled for close to 40 games before he was sent to the Mets in June of that year. He appeared in 72 games for the Mets in that magical season, and put together a .252/.321/.455 line with 12 homers and 37 RBI. After not appearing in New York’s three-game sweep of Atlanta in the NLCS, he made his mark in the Fall Classic en route to earning his one and only World Series ring, forever endearing himself to Mets fans that had endured nothing but losing since their inception in 1962.
One of the best seasons of his career came in 1970 as he hit .288/.348/.515 for the Amazins with 22 homers and 97 RBI, the third and final time he reached the 90-RBI plateau. However, Clendenon saw himself slump back down to a .247 average in 1971; Ed Kranepool was having a great year, and with younger first base options ready to contribute at the MLB level, the Mets released their World Series MVP just two years after he was hoisting that precious trophy. He caught on with the Cardinals and struggled through 61 games played before calling it a career after 12 seasons in the Majors.
There are plenty of professional baseball players that wonder what they will do when they’ve swung the bat for the final time or have thrown their final pitch. What did Clendenon do? He attended law school at Duquesne University, earned his J.D. in 1978 and settled down to practice law in Dayton, Ohio. He relived the glory days in a book he wrote talking about the Miracle Mets, but also struggled with drug addiction, which landed him in rehab. It was in rehab where he learned he had leukemia, which eventually took his life at the young age of 70 in September 2005.
So, here’s to you, Mr. Clendenon. I’m sorry your accomplishments with the Mets organization weren’t properly recognized during your lifetime, but hopefully something will be done to help your legacy live on at Citi Field. Thanks for giving my grandfather and my mother fond memories and stories to share with my family about the ’69 season.