A week ago Rising Apple’s Rich Sparago wrote about how we as Mets fans should see 2013 not as a “punting” year but as a year to develop pieces for the future, just like the team did in 1968. He noted how next year the team will have extra money to spend on bringing in a big bat, just like in 1969, when the Miracle Mets put themselves over the top by bringing in today’s subject on “Glory Days:” Donn Clendenon.
Dateline: July 28, 1970. One game behind Pittsburgh in the NL East standings, the Mets play host to Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants. Donn Clendenon is batting cleanup and playing first base. He has been on the team for a little over a year after being brought in from Montreal at the 1969 trade deadline. His impact was immediate on the upstart Amazin’s, who went 70-36 after Clendenon’s addition, winning their first division crown. Nowhere was Donn’s impact felt more than in the World Series, where he hit three home runs against a vaunted Baltimore staff and took home series MVP honors after leading the Mets to the championship.
In his first full season calling Shea Stadium home, Clendenon is having the season of his life, hitting .321 with an .899 OPS through 64 games. His impact in this game is felt almost immediately: after Jim McAndrew sits the Giants down in order to start the game, Tommy Agee leads off a single in the bottom of the 1st. Bud Harrelson then brings the first run of the game home with a triple off Rich Robertson. After Ken Singleton gets on with a single, Clendenon sends a sacrifice fly into center field. Harrelson races home to beat the throw from an aging Mays, and just like that the current New Yorkers have a 2-0 lead on the former New Yorkers.
In the bottom of the 3rd, Harrelson starts another rally with a one-out double off Robertson. Singleton walks to bring up Clendenon, who blasts off with his 11th home run of the year. 5-0 Good Guys, and with McAndrew cruising the game appears in the bag.
But as Willie Mays’s (extremely) distant cousin Billy would say, “But WAIT, there’s more!” In the very next inning the Mets would put it away for good. Jerry Grote sliced a leadoff single and McAndrew drew a walk. Robertson was relieved in favor of Mike Davison, and after Agee’s right field flyout put Grote on third, Bud Harrelson gave him a warm welcome home with an RBI single. Singleton flew out to bring up Clendenon, who played “anything you can do, I can do better” with himself and launched another three-run homer. 9-0 for the boys in blue.
San Francisco finally got on the board in the 6th inning with a couple runs, but New York responded in the 7th and 8th with three runs of their own, including a solo home run from another World Series hero, Ron Swoboda, in the 8th. Behind McAndrew’s excellent complete game, the Mets made their 50,174 adoring fans at Shea happy with a 12-2 triumph. Clendenon’s final line on the day was his best as a New York Met: 2-3, 2 HR, 7 RBI.
While Donn’s power surge would stay with him the rest of the season (he hit 10 more home runs after July 28), his average took a dive and he hit only .254 the rest of the way. He still finished 1970 with more-than-solid numbers, batting .288 with an .863 OPS, 22 HRs, and 97 RBIs. He finished in the MVP voting for the first and only time in his career, ranking 13th the year Johnny Bench took home his first such award. As for Clendenon’s team, the Mets battled with the Pirates and Cubs through the rest of the summer, tying for the division lead as late as September 14, but a 5-10 stretch in their last 15 games dropped them six games back in the final standings.
The 35-year-old Clendenon would play one more lackluster season with the Mets before being released after the 1971 campaign. He finished out his career in St. Louis, playing in 61 games in 1972 before being released in August. While his time on the Mets was brief, it was far from ordinary, and is still celebrated to this day. If Rich Sparago turns out to be right, and 2014 does turn into another 1969, the only question will be who becomes the next Donn Clendenon?
July 28. A good day for Dick Ellsworth in 1963 (becomes only pitcher to strike out Stan Musial three times in a game) and George Brett in 1983 (his “pine tar” home run from July 24 is ruled legal by AL President Lee MacPhail). Also a good day for peace activists in Northern Ireland in 2005 (Provisional IRA ends its 30-year armed insurrection in the North). A bad day for young Americans in 1965 (President Johnson announces a troop surge in Vietnam) and French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre in 1794 (executed by guillotine during the Reign of Terror, of which he was an architect). A great day for Donn Clendenon in 1970.