Jun 14, 2019

50th Anniversary of The 1969 Mets: Donn Clendenon Arrives On the June 15th Trade Deadline

50th Anniversary of the 1969 World Champion "Amazing Mets"

June 15th 1969: On this day, the New York Mets added the final piece to their championship puzzle on trade deadline. Mets GM Johnny Murphy's decision that the Mets were going for it & that they were true contenders, had him negotiate for Clendenon in the final hours before the deadline. This decision changed the course of Mets history.

The New York Mets were in second place, 9 ½ games behind the Chicago Cubs at the time, but were starting to attract some attention. They had great young itching and some good hitting but lacked a strong power threat & run producer.

They found their man in Donn Clendenon.
Clendenon had a controversial year prior to his arrival in New York. In January 1969, he was left unprotected by the Pittsburgh Pirates and got selected in the expansion draft, by the Montreal Expos. He was quickly traded to the Houston Astros for Rusty Staub. But Clendenon wasn't happy about going to Houston, he had had a falling out with then manager, Harry Walker back in their Pittsburgh days. 

Instead of going to Houston, Clendenon announced his retirement. He was to work as an executive for the Scripto pen Company. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in and told the teams to work something out. Mostly due to the fact, that Montreal had promoted Rusty Staub as the face of their new organization to their French Canadian fans. 

In the end the Expos sent Jack Billingham and Skip Guinn to Houston and Clendenon continued to play for Montreal. It took a sit down meeting with former New York Giants Hall of Famer, Monte Irvin, who was working for the Commissioner's Office at the time, to convince Clendenon to come back to play. $14,000 for his troubles, certainly helped. 

Clendenon's tactics of retiring instead of accepting the trade was the first of its kind. In a changing baseball landscape of the late sixties, this was another advantage for the players. Soon after, "The Hawk" Ken Harrelson & Curt Flood would do similar actions.

When he returned, he was out of shape & struggled at the plate. In 38 games he hit .240, with 4 HRs & 14 RBIs. The Expos decided to trade him & this time Clendenon didn't balk at the idea. 

On June 15th, 1969 Clendenon was traded to the New York Mets for Steve Renko & Kevin Collins. As soon as he arrived in New York he made a difference, scoring runs in his first two games. He would hit 12 HRs with 37 RBIs in 72 games, platooning at first base with Ed Kranepool. 

Quotes- Donn Clendenon: " I don't see how a lifetime .280 hitter who has knocked in a lot of runs should be sitting on the bench of an expansion team which is losing."

Clendenon was happy to play for Gil Hodges who he called his idol. Clendenon gave the Mets power against lefties and more strength off the bench. They overcame the 9 ½ game deficit, and on September 24th Clendenon's three run HR helped the Mets clinch the NL East title.

In the 1969 World Series, Clendenon was the Series MVP. He set a record with three HRs in a five game series, and his home runs in Games Two, Four and Five meant the winning run each time. He hit .357 with 3 HRs, a double, 2 walks, and 4 RBIs.

In retrospect his teammates raved about his presence on the club: Tug McGraw said "he was probably the key to our whole season,". Wayne Garrett called Clendenon the last ingredient the team needed. Art Shamsky called him the catalyst and Bud Harrelson, said "We never had a three-run homer type of guy, yet he was humble, never cocky, our MVP.”

Trivia: Tom Seaver remembers his wife spotted Clendenon in the hotel lobby when he joined the team."I know who you are," Nancy said. "Donn was wearing an island shirt and vest, he turned to her and suavely kissed her hand. Nancy thought Donn was charming; he knew she was my wife and put on a little show.

Donn Clendenon said- "It's great to be a Met".

1 comment:

kathy.cavanagh said...

Donn Clendenon has always been my favorite Met -- I got to meet him in person in 1971. He was so polite and gracious. There should be more remembrances of him at CitiField -- after all, he was our first World Series MVP. He should be recognized accordingly by the Mets organization.