If there was ever a night in which a sports team first earned respect & recognition as a true contender, it was July 9th 1969. It is one of the most important nights in Mets regular season history as well as one of the greatest Mets regular season games.
The Mets were an expansion team in 1962 and lost a record 120 games. The team consisted mostly of washed up veterans & below average young players who never had a chance to develop. By 1969 they had finished last all but one year, but had some good young players who came through their system as well as some of the best young pitching arms in baseball.
By July 9th 1969 the Mets were playing the best baseball in their short history under manager Gil Hodges. The Mets were taking on the first place Chicago Cubs, whose manager was the old New York Giants legendary Manager Leo Durocher. The Cubs were the best team in the NL at that time, with Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins & Billy Williams, as well as slugger Ron Santo, former Met Jim Hickman (21 HRs) Todd Hundley's dad Randy Hundey & 20 game winner, New Jersey's own Bill Hands.
But the Mets were creeping up to the Cubs in the standings, surprising everyone & were the talk all around baseball. The Cubs didn't take them seriously and many others outside of New York also thought they were a farse. On July 9th 1969 that all changed. The night before Jerry Koosman beat Fergie Jenkins putting the Mets just 3 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the standings. Going into the seond game of the series 51,000 fans piled into Shea Stadium to witness Tom Seaver go up against Ken Holtzman.
In the Mets line up that night was Tommie Agee CF- Bobby Pfeil 2B- Cleon Jones LF- Donn Clendenon 1B- Ed Charles 3B- Ron Swoboda RF- Jerry Grote behind the plate & Al Weis at short stop as Bud Harrelson was in the Military Reserves.
The Mets wasted no time as Tommie Agee led off with a triple & Bobby Pfeil doubled to score Agee. The Shea fans were up & excited right away not knowing the treat they were in for. In the 2nd inning the Mets got two base runners on errors at short & third base. Tom Seaver helped his own cause with a single to right & Agee then doubled home Al Weis; 3-0 Mets. Cleon Jones added a solo HR in the bottom of the 7th as by this time the crowd was going crazy.
Tom Seaver said he felt like he could throw the ball where ever he wanted that night, hit every corner & have every pitch go exactly where he wanted. His fast ball was over powering, he struckout the lead off batter Don Kessinger in the first. In the second inning he blew away the side and just rolled along from there. That night Cubs hitter Al Spangler struk out three times, Ernie Banks, Kessinger, & Ted Abernathy all went down on strikes twice each. Seaver did not allow any hits nor any walks along the way & was going into the 9th with a perfect game.
In the 8th inning he struck out Banks & Spangler for K's #10 & #11. In the top of the 9th with the Shea crowd on their feet, Randy Hundley led off & cowardly attempted to bunt for a hit, but was the ball was played cleanly for the out by Seaver. The next hitter was a guy named Jimmy Qualls.
Qualls was playing in just his 18th game & Seaver wasn't familiar with him. Seaver was a genius in knowing the hitters, thier weakness & ho to get them out. But with Qualls he had never faced him nor had any scouting reports. Qualls singled to centerfield ruining the no hit bid as well as the bid for a perfect game. Seaver just slapped his glove as the Shea crowd gave him a huge standing ovation. The next batter popped out & Don Kessinger flied out to Cleon Jones for the third out to end what became known as "The Imperfect Game".
The Mets Fell as far as ten game back on August 13th but on September 9th they took over first place & never lost their lead. The Amazing Mets went on to win the 1969 World Series as one of the best underdog stories in baseball history.
Tom Seaver won his first Cy Young Award that Year leading the league in wins (25) going 25-7 with a .781 winning %. He struck out 208 batters (tenth in the NL), the first of a record setting nine straight seasons with over 200 strike outs. He posted a 2.21 ERA (4th in the NL) with 18 complete games (7th in the NL), five shut outs (6th in the NL) 273 innings pitched & 36 starts. This was the first of five one hitters thrown by Tom Seaver & the third in Mets history up to that point.
As for Jimmy Qualls, he would play in 43 games in 1969 batting .250 (30-120) with no HRs 5 doubles 3 triples & 9 RBIs, posting a poor .266 on base %. He would get traded to the Montreal Expos in April 1970 & play most of the year in the minors. He played in just nine games getting one hit in nine at bats. He spent the next two years in the minors while getting traded to the Chicago Whites Sox where he played eleven games in 1972 going 0-11. Qualls ended his career in the minors in 1973 as Tom Seaver went on to win his second Cy Young Award. Qualls was a lifetime .223 hitter.
JULY 4TH 1972
On the Fourth of July 1972 the Mets were in second place just one game behind the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 43-27 record, the third best record in the NL. Yogi Berra was the teams manager just three months after Gil Hodges suffered his fatal heart attack in Spring Training.
That day Shea Stadium was filled with an excited Holiday crowd for a double header with the Mets & San Diego Padres. The Padres sported their bright yellow uniforms & were in last place in the West under manager Dom Zimmer, an original 1962 Met.
That day the great Willie Mays was batting leadoff & playing centerfield for New York with Bud Harrelson at short, Wayne Garrett at third, John Milner (the rookie slugger) in left field & batting cleanup, Jim Fregosi was at third base (just a few months after being acquired in the Nolan Ryan trade) Ed Kranepool at first, Teddy Martinez in right field & Duffy Dyer behind the plate as Seaver's battery mate.
In 1972 Tom Seaver was 21-12 (second in the NL in wins) with 249 strikeouts (second in the NL) & a 2.92 ERA. It was the only season in a four year span Seaver did not win the NL ERA title or the NL strike out title. Although that season he had the league's best strike out per nine inning ratio (8.53). He pitched 262 innings (7th in the NL), threw three shut outs with 13 complete games (8th in the NL).
In the 4th of July 1972 game Seaver began blowing Padre hitters away early on, as he had six strike outs in the first four innings. In the bottom of the 3rd inning the Padres helped out Seaver, after Bud Harrelson singled, Kirby walked four straight batters giving the Mets a 2-0 lead. That's all Seaver would need as he rolled along into the 9th inning with 11 strike outs and a no hitter in tact. It was the second time Seaver took his no hitter into the 9th inning, the first since that classic night in July 1969.
Previously in the top of the 8th, Seaver allowed two walks and had a close call when Derrell Thomas a line drive to right, but it was caught by Teddy Martinez. Martinez was an infielder & only played 54 career games in the outfield. In the top of the 9th inning the Shea Fans were on their feet & going wild with every pitch as Seaver went after history. The first batter Dave Roberts grounded out to second base and Leron Lee came up next.
Lee singled up the middle to centerfield spoiling the no hit bit. The next batter Padre slugger Nate Colbert (who was second in the league with 38 HRs that season) grounded into a double play to end the game. Seaver did earn the win his 11th of the season, going 11-4 at that time, lowering his ERA to three. It was the fourth one hitter thrown by Tom Seaver who was just 27 years old at the time & the ninth in Mets history.
The spoiler that night Leron Lee, played eight years in the major leagues. He was with the St. Louis Cardinals (1969-1971) San Diego Padres (1971-1973) Cleveland Indians (1974-1975) & Los Angeles Dodgers (1975-1976). He was primarily a reserve outfielder playing in 614 career games, batting .250 lifetime with 404 hits in 1617 at bats. He hit 31 HRs 83 doubles 13 triples with a .307 on base % & 152 RBIs.
In 1977 Lee went to Japan & became a star player for the next decade. He led the league in HRs & RBIs in 19777 & won a batting title in 1980. He hold one of the highest all time batting averages in Japan. Lee revolutionized Japanese baseball, before he arrived most American players were past their prime when they went to play there. He changed their view of former American players coming over to play the game there. Leron Lee was the Oakland A's batting coach in their 1989 Worlds Championship season. Leron Lee is the uncle to current MLB player Derek Lee.
SEPTEMBER 24th 1975
On September 24th at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Mets were 11 games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates in third place with 1 80-78 record. Roy McMillan was the Mets interim manager after Yogi Berra had recently been fired. Tom Seaver took on the Cubs pitcher Rick Reuschel who was 11-17 on the year leading the NL in losses. The Cubs were in fifth place 17 1/2 games back and their manager was former Met Jim Marshall.
That season Seaver was to win his third Cy Young Award, leading the league in wins going 22-9, leading the league in strike outs (243) & was third in ERA with a 2.38 average. That year Seaver pitched 280 innings with 15 complete games (both third best in the NL), he threw five shut outs (4th in the NL) & made 36 starts (7th in the NL).
On that Wednesday afternoon the Mets line up had Del Unser in CF- Felix Millan 2B- Mike Vail -LF, Rusty Staub -RF, Dave Kingman -3B, Ed Kranepool -1B, Ron Hodges catching, & Mike Phillips -SS for the injred Bud Harrelson. Seaver shut the Cubs down going into the 9th inning, not allowing any runs nor any hits. It wasn't the usual Seaver game where he was blowing hitters away, as he had only six strike outs going into the 9th. Seaver was attempting to make Mets history in front of less than three thousand Cub fans, taking a no hit bid for the third time in his career.
As the 9th inning began at Wrigley Field Seaver looked better than he had maybe the whole game, he struck out Don Kessinger & Cubs slugger Rick Monday. Then came the the rookie outfielder Joe Wallis who was playing in his 15th career game. Wallis singled to right field breaking the hearts of Seaver & Mets fans everywhere. With Jose Cardenal up, Wallis stole second base. Cardenal was intentionally walked & Seaver struck out one of the best Cubs hitters; Andre Thorton.
Unfortunately, Rick Reushel wasn't throwing a no hitter but was shutting out the Mets on just four hits himself. The game went to extra innings, Tom Terrific started the 10th inning and got the first out. He them gave up a single to Manny Trillo & double to catcher George Mitterwald. Trillo was nailed at the plate as Gene Clines threw a relay to short stop Mike Phillips who then threw home to Ron Hodges who stood his ground & tagged out Trillo. The Mets went hitless against reliever Ken Crosby in the 11th. In the bottom of the inning Skip Lockwood came on to pitch for New York, relieving a tired Seaver.
Lockwood allowed a single to Monday then a walk to Joe Wallis. Cardenal bunted over the runners & Andre Thorton was intentionally walked. Then Lockwood walked Bill Madlock (the 1975 NL batting champion) to force home the winning run. As Bob Murphy would say "Oh What a wild one at Wrigley.... It was the fifth & final one hitter thrown by Tom Seaver. It was also the twelfth of thirty five one hitters in Mets history.