There have been a few books released this year on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Miracle Mets: Wayne Coffey’s outstanding They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, Art Shamsky’s well-received After The Miracle and Rod Gaspar’s less heralded but by all accounts fine Miracle Met among them. But for many fans, the most ingrained memory of that team is not Tom Seaver’s 25 wins, Cleon Jones’s .340 batting average or even Tommy Agee’s five-run-saving catches in game three, though those are all integral parts of the championship run. The most lasting thing is—simply—“The Catch.”
The diving, backhanded, Game Four, ninth inning grab by Ron Swoboda lives on for baseball fans as one of the pivotal plays in the series, and is the hook for the right fielder’s entry in the set of anniversary tomes, Here’s the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin Press, 228 pps, $27.99). Swoboda, after highlighting some of the moments that brought him to 1969, including taking the blame for run-ins with manager Gil Hodges that almost kept him out of his career-defining game, details the season from the perspective of a right-handed platoon player on a team that for one shining season overachieved, leading to that critical moment for which his name will forever be remembered.
It’s a straightforward, introspective look by a player that, but for one single play, would be thought of in the same vein as, perhaps, Mariano Duncan, Luis Arroyo or Kevin Mitchell—guys who contributed to New York championships but whose careers otherwise were largely undistinguished. And though “The Catch,” immortalized in the grainy TV video and a famous New York Daily News photo, didn’t even win the game outright, or even prevent the tying run from scoring, it’s generally agreed that it likely prevented the go-ahead run from scoring and an additional run from being in scoring position, making the prospects of a Mets victory that day significantly less likely.
In the folky style that has made him a popular figure in New York as well as his adopted home in New Orleans, Swoboda isn’t afraid to turn the criticism back on himself, offering reasoning why his career may not have filled its initial promise and ultimately came to a close at age 29 after two and a half nondescript seasons with building but still mediocre Yankees teams. A final spring with Atlanta ended in the kinds of feud with management that Swoboda deems to have curtailed his career.
But the real triumph of Here’s the Catch is its ability to take fans into the Miracle season, in Swoboda’s own voice, and while it’s far from a Ball Four-type tell-all, there is a taste of the insecurity of a man trying to live up to previous expectations as well as hold on to a career he can see slipping away.
The catch itself, Swoboda notes, was largely the result of the hard work he and Eddie Yost, who hit him countless fungos to improve his outfield play. Details like that make the book a good read for not only Mets fans but any baseball fan looking for that inside perspective on a once in a lifetime, never to be lost moment and the man who made it happen.