When Art Shamsky was traded by the Cincinnati Reds to the New York Mets in the winter of 1967, he wasn’t happy. One minute Shamsky was playing alongside guys he considered his family, then next, he was told he was being sent to one of the the worst teams in baseball.
“It was a shock,” said Shamsky. “I spent eight years between the minors and the major leagues with the Reds and you have friendships with guys that you start out with. So I was disappointed, but then when I heard it was a Mets, I wasn’t crazy about New York. I really never went out of the hotel much as a visiting team. I grew up in St. Louis, but New York was just overwhelming.”
Two years later, in 1969, Shamsky was a member of the World Series champions; he appeared with his teammates in Las Vegas, on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dick Cavett Show and on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar magazine.
“I fell in love with the city,” said Shamsky. “The city is such a vibrant place. I’ve made so many great friends. So it was a great opportunity for me and a great break to come over to the Mets.”
Shamsky shined in the 1969 National League Championship Series, going 7-for-13 (.538) as the Mets completed a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves.
He joins the MetsRewind podcast to talk about his latest book, After the Miracle. He shares his memories of Tom Seaver, the 1969 season and the pivotal games that led the Mets to a World Series champion.
CONDENSED INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
MetsRewind: First. Congratulations on the success and hard work required to move a book from. Idea to print. It’s really no small feat. Thank you very much, John. And thank you for asking you to be on the show. Uh, yeah, it was really a labor of love. It was my second book. I wrote a book called the magnificent seasons back in 2004, talking about.
Art Shamsky: That was a book that Erik Sherman and I decided to write in regards to the 50th Anniversary. It was a great opportunity to write something about the day-to-day things that happen during the season. But I wanted to talk about the the camaraderie and the friendships that developed over the years with all of us. That nucleus still remains very close. It was a wonderful group of guys. I just didn’t want to write a book that was just another remembrance of that year.
For me it’s been such a thrill to be able to talk to people about it and reminisce and talk about things that maybe wasn’t about what happened that particular game … I just wanted to get more of a feel about how close we were as a team and how much we cared about each other. It was a wonderful experience to be able to write that book.
MetsRewind: I was intrigued because this book offers so many interesting — and sometimes really comical stories. That’s what made it so relatable … It reminds me a lot of ways of another one of my favorite baseball books in general, which was called The Teammates written by David Halberstam, where a group of former red Sox players traveled across the country to go see Ted Williams one last time. The premise of this book starts with you preparing to go to see Tom Seaver. How did that all come together?
Shamsky: David Halberstam is a terrific writer and I actually interviewed him for my first book. It was a wonderful look at the friendships that they had with that Boston Red Sox team and just a terrific book.
The reason that we wanted to go out and visit Tom Seaver was that we knew we were going to do some interviews over the phone or in person with guys that were still around. But I thought I just didn’t want to do an interview with Tom over the phone. I just thought that it would be much more personal.
The logistics of it were really difficult. He had been ill for a while and we knew that he wasn’t doing much traveling. When I talked to him, Tom and he said, well, it’d be great. I’d love to see you. Nancy said to me you guys might come out here and he’s not feeling well all the time. You might get out here. And all of a sudden he might not be well enough for you to sit down with them and spend some time with them. Eric and I decided that we were going to take a chance, roll the dice and we decided to take three other players: Ron Swoboda, Buddy Harrelson and Jerry Koosman. Realistically, we could have taken any three teammates with us because we were also close, but it just worked out that way.
The logistics of it were that we had to get a Ronnie in from New Orleans and Jerry from Minnesota and Buddy, I met at Kennedy Airport and made sure he got dropped off and make sure he didn’t wander away and kept an eye on him.
As fate would have it, I called in the morning and she said get over here as soon as you can. She said he’s feeling pretty good. He’s looking forward to seeing you. As it turned out, we were able to spend eight or nine hours together, it was just a glorious time for all of reminiscing. It was just unbelievable. For me, on a personal level, just being out there and spending time with him, it was the wisest decision we could have made, but realistically somebody was watching over us because everything had to fall into place.
When we left it was bittersweet for me because we got a chance to spend some time with them and it was wonderful, but when we left I just had this eerie feeling that we might not see him again.
As we all get older, we have these, these kind of moments where friends that you’ve been been friends with all these years and we all get up in age that we might not see each other again. I think all the guys that went out were so thrilled.
MetsRewind: You shared your feelings of losing a teammate in the book saying it’s like losing a family member. One of the questions I think every Mets fan asks me a lot and would like to know is, is how is Bud Harrelson? How is Gary Gentry?
Shamsky: Gary, unfortunately, he’s in assisted living or a nursing home. He’s had two or three strokes. He was not a well. I actually did talk to him and interviewed him in the book and that was three years ago. You could tell that he was just not all there, but I feel very glad that I got a chance to say a little bit with him and track him down.
In Buddy’s case, I saw him about three weeks ago and his ex-wife said something really interesting. She said, bring a glove because he might want to play catch with you. And I’m thinking, if he’s not well, why would he even think about playing catch?
So I, but I brought my glove and we went in and he grabbed the glove. We went out on the front lawn of his house and we played catch and I will tell you something, John. It was like we were warming up before a game. He had catching the ball. Granted we were only about 30 feet away from each other. He was like, nothing was wrong. I’m just amazed at somebody who’s going through that. It was a moment that I can’t even explain to you. I tweeted out and I must’ve gotten a thousand replies. But we just played catch for about 30 minutes and we didn’t say anything, but it was soft toss, but he caught the ball and threw it like we’re warming up to get ready to go out and play.
MetsRewind: You got traded to the Mets in 1967. You weren’t really excited about that deal. And when you put that in context, that’s understandable. The Mets were a last place team. But it got real exciting, pretty quick. Now, you love New York. I hear it in your voice.
Shamsky: It was a shock. I spent eight years between the minors and the major leagues with the Reds and you have friendships with guys that you start out with. So I was disappointed, but then when I heard it was a Mets, I wasn’t crazy about New York. I really never went out of the hotel much as a visiting team. I grew up in St. Louis, but New York was just overwhelming. But I fell in love with the city. The city is such a vibrant place. I’ve made so many great friends. So it was a great opportunity for me and a great break to come over to the Mets.
MetsRewind: Gil Hodges — if we plucked him out of that time and dropped them into 2020 — would he recognize today’s game? And would he want to manage in today’s game?
Shamsky: I don’t think he would like the fact that agents are even the front office would tell him who to play or how many pitchers, how many pitches of pitchers could pitch. I just don’t know if Gil would have wanted to manage under those circumstances. He was a manager that managed by feel. I just don’t think that he would have tolerated any kind of angst from any players who didn’t want to play a certain position because of whatever reason, they wouldn’t own a deal with agents. Maybe he would have adjusted, but, just in my personal opinion, he would have had difficulty managing and today’s game.
MetsRewind: Lawrence Reisman asked on Twitter. He heard on one of my previous podcasts that Gil Hodges was distant from players. So he asked the question, if so, what made him such a great manager in your mind?
Shamsky: That’s a really great question. When people say he was distant, he was just a very low key, quiet kind of manager. I think he learned that managing style from Walter Alston. In those years when he was with the Dodgers Walter would sit back, fold his hands and just make some decisions during the game. Never really saw him get into a big argument with anybody. I think players accepted things because he knew the game. You certainly put, it was a great player in his, his, his days with the Brooklyn Dodgers. I think we all had total respect for him while we might not have agreed with everything he did. I would never question him and never second guess him.
I think all of us had the utmost respect for him for those reasons. When we talk about him, not being the most friendliest guy, I don’t mean it in a bad sense. We accepted it because of the respect we had for him as a manager.
MetsRewind: Was there someone on the coaching staff who provided a leadership role on that team that enabled it to win this as a follow-up question from Lawrence Reisman.
Shamsky: We had a great coaching staff in Eddie Yost, Yogi was our hitting coach and our first base coach, Joe Piagnatano and Rube Walker, our pitching coach. Rube was a terrific pitching coach, even though he was a catcher in his playing days. But Rube was also a guy that was kind of a conduit for us to the regular players, who would, he would come over and talk to us.
MetsRewind: Another question from Twitter, from @MetsBob: I’d love to know his thoughts or stories about Tom Seaver’s near perfect game. That was a game you didn’t play in, but obviously you had eyeballs on it.
Shamsky: It was one of these marvelous, typical Seaver games, that anytime he went out there you knew he was capable of doing the great things. We were all kind of quietly pulling for this perfect game. I think it’s taken on a life of its own.
If you look back then so many unbelievable things happen that year in terms of the wonderful things for all of us who were part of that team because we had so many good things happened. And that was just an unbelievable game against a team that we had to beat, a great rivalry.