Donn Clendenon- 1969 World Series MVP: The Mets Years: 1969-1971

Donn Alvin Clendenon was born July 15th, 1935, in Neosho, Missouri. His father Claude, a math teacher, passed away from leukemia at 32 years old, when Donn was just six months old. He was raised in Atlanta, by his mother who worked for the Scripto Pen Company.

When young Donn was six years old, his mother remarried to Nish Williams a restaurant owner in Atlanta. Nish was also a former Negro Leagues ball player & would have a strong influence on Donn's life.

Nish would also have many retired black ball players at his restaurant & even had Cool Papa Bell along with Sad Sam Jones practice with the young Donn at a local ball field.

MLK Jr: Clendenon attended Morehouse College where he was mentored by his assigned "big brother" Martin Luther King Jr. who was also a graduate of the school. Clendenon developed a close friendship with King family.

Clendenon's initial interest in sports was in football, basketball & track. At a 1956 banquet where he was awarded College Athlete of the Year in Atlanta, he met guest speakers Jackie Robinson & Branch Rickey. Rickey convinced Clendenon to have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates as football was more prone to career ending injuries.

At the tryout, a mix up had him go back to Atlanta without an offer. When back home, he found Branch Rickey at his school waiting for him offering him with contract in hand. Clendenon also had offers from the Cleveland Browns & Harlem Globetrotters, but he chose to play baseball.

MLB Career: Clendenon debuted with the reigning World Champion Pirates in September 1961, batting .314 in nine games that month. He would spend eight seasons with the Pirates playing in 982 games, batting .280 with 986 hits 192 doubles 106 HRs 488 RBIs & a .755 OPS in those years. In those years Donn was a teammate of Hall of Famers, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell & Bill Mazeroski. His Pirate teams finished a best third place twice in that time as well.

Early on in his career he sought advice for playing first base, from Gil Hodges whom Jackie Robinson had spoken highly of to Clendenon. At the time Hodges was manager of the Washington Senators & when the two paths crossed, Hodges helped Donn with some advice.

Off the Diamond: In the off season, Clendenon worked for Mellon Bank, then the Pittsburgh D.A. Office as well as an Allegheny detective working with juvenile delinquents. He later took a job at Pittsburgh Giant, US Steel where he was encouraged to earn a law degree. He enrolled at Harvard & commuted there in the off season.

1968: Although he drove in 87 runs, 1968 was a rough season for Donn, as he batted .257 & led the NL in strike outs. He started hearing boos from the hometown fans at Forbes Field, which frustrated him. That year his stepfather passed away from Colon cancer, his mentor Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the family restaurant was struggling & Donn had to drop out of law school. He then took a job at the personal department of the Scripto Pen Company in the off season.



Trade Drama: That season Gil Hodges had taken over as manager of the New York Mets.
Clendenon was picked by the Montreal Expos in that year's expansion draft. But he was quickly traded along with Jesus Alou to the Houston Astros in order to bring Rusty Staub to Montreal. Staub aka "Le Grand Orange" was promoted as the Expos first star player & appealed to the French Canadien fans.  

But Clendenon didn't get along with Astro manager Harry Walker whom he played for in Pittsburgh & who had a bad reputation in dealing with black players. Donn refused to report to Montreal, choosing to retire instead. MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in making sure the Astros received compensation for the Staub trade. They got cash, as well as two players including pitcher, Jack Billingham. 

After a sit-down meeting with Kuhn, along with other baseball owners & a visit from former Negro League / NY Giants player, Monte Irvin who was working in MLB's front office, Clendenon eventually agreed to play in Montreal.

Trivia: That season Topps issued two baseball cards for Clendenon, one with Houston, then an updated one with Montreal.

Clendenon had missed Spring Training & was out of shape when he arrived at Park Jary. After 38 game he batted .240 with 4 HRs & 38 RBIs. At the June 15th deadline he received a call to his room that was supposed to go to the Expos GM. It was from the Mets GM Johnny Murphy who along with Gil Hodges, wanted to bring Clendenon to New York to add some offense to a weak hitting team with outstanding pitching. 

A deal was made sending youngsters Kevin Collins & Steve Renko, as well as a pair of minor leaguers to Montreal in exchange for Donn Clendenon.

Mets Career: As soon as Clendenon arrived in New York he made a difference, giving the club a power hitting slugger & RBI man they desperately needed. Clendenon gave the Mets power against left-handed pitching & more strength off the bench when not starting. Although he was an everyday player, he was used in Gil Hodges strict platoon system at first base along with Ed Kranepool. Hodges believed in playing the percentages & alternated many of his position players in this type of platoon.

Trivia: Tom Seaver remembers his wife spotted Clendenon in the hotel lobby when he joined the
team. 
"Nancy Seaver said to Donn "I know who you are." "
Donn was wearing an island shirt with a vest; he turned to her & suavely kissed her hand. Nancy thought Donn was charming." Donn knew she was Tom's wife and put on a little show." Tom would always make it a point to remind Clendenon that he was his first MLB strikeout victim.

Clendenon was now 34 years old & was one of the oldest players on the young Mets ball club. He assumed the role of leadership to the young players & kept things loose by being a jokester. But things may have never worked out if he didn't set an example by his hitting.

Mets Debut: On June 17th, Clendenon made his Mets debut at Philadelphia, in the second game of a double header split with the Phillies. After striking out in his first two at bats, then grounding out, he got his first Mets hit singling off Grant Jackson in the 9th inning.

On June 22nd, in his first game at Shea Stadium, he singled off the Cards Steve Carlton bringing in his first Mets RBI. He then drew a pair of walks in a 5-1 win in the first game of a twin bill sweep over St. Louis. 

Multi-RBI Game: On June 29th, he collected two hits & three RBIs against his old Pirates teammates, helping Tom Seaver to a 7-3 victory. In the 1st inning, he collected an RBI base hit off Bob Veale & in the 3rd inning, a two run double breaking the 2-2 tie putting the Mets ahead for good.

From July 1st to July 6th, Clendenon went on a five-game tear collecting nine hits & 11 RBIs.  He drove in runs in each game with four multi-RBI games, as the Mets began a seven-game win streak getting to within three games back of the first place Cubs.

In the night cap of a July 1st double header loss to the Cardinals, Donn drove in two runs. In the four-game series he drove in five runs while collecting six hits.

Multi-RBI Game: On July 6th, he had a season high four RBIs in an 8-7 win at Pittsburgh. In the 1st inning he started the scoring with an RBI double off Luke Walker. In the 6th inning, he hit his first Mets HR, a three-run shot off Chuck Hartenstein which turned out to be the game winning runs.

Tom Seaver's Imperfect Game: Legend has it that when Tom Seaver's imperfect game was broken up by the Cubs Jimmy Qualls in the top of the 9th inning, Clendenon came to the mound telling Seaver "You f-ed up Tom." Seaver who took his pitching very seriously, gave him a raging stare back saying, "I f-ed up!?" Donn then encouraged him telling him how proud he was of him & that he needed to get the next two outs which he did, collecting the one hit hut out. Donn was 0-4 in that game.

On August 5th, in the second game of a double header at Cincinnati, Clendenon hit a three run HR off the Reds Gerry Arrigo, in a 10-1 Nolan Ryan complete game Mets victory.

From August 26th through September 5th, Clendenon hit five HRs driving in eight runs, batting .393 over a seven-game stretch. 

On August 26th in the first of a twin bill sweep San Diego, Donn hit a two run HR off the Padres' Dick Kelle in an 8-4 Mets win. The wins brought the Mets up two games up in the standings from 5.5 games back to 3.5 games back.

On August 30th in San Francisco, Clendenon hit a top of the 10th inning HR, off the Giants Gaylord Perry, breaking a 2-2 tie, leading the Mets to a 3-2 win. 

Multi-HR Game: On September 2nd, during the same West-Coast Road trip, in Los Angeles, he had his first multi-HR game of the season, hitting a pair off the Dodger's Don Sutton leading the Mets to a 5-4 win. 

The next day Clendenon hit a two run HR off the Dodgers, Claude Osteen in a 5-4 Mets loss.

On Tuesday September 9th, Tom Seaver pitched a five hit, one run victory over Fergie Jenkins & the fading first place Chicago Cubs, bringing the Mets within a half game of first place in front of a madhouse sellout at Shea Stadium. Clendenon lead the offense, with a two run HR off Jenkins in the 3rd inning of the 7-1 win.

Mets Clinch NL East- Multi HR / RBI Game: On September 24th, the New York Mets made history, clinching their first NL Eastern Division title. In that game, Clendenon hit a 1st inning, three run HR off the Cardinals Steve Carlton, in front of a wild capacity crowd at Shea Stadium.

In the 5th inning, Clendenon added a solo HR off pitcher Dave Giusti for his 15th HR of the year. Clendenon had his second multi-HR game matching his season high four RBIs, while driving in four of the six Mets runs, as Gary Gentry shutout St. Louis 6-0. 

Two days later, Donn hit another HR while driving in two more runs, leading the first place Mets to a 5-0 win over the Phillies. 


Overall, for the 1969 Amazing Mets regular season, Clendenon batted .252 with 51 hits, 5 doubles 12 HRs, five doubles, 31 runs scored & 37 RBIs. He struck out 62 times with 19 walks posting a .321 on base % & .777 OPS in 72 games with 202 at bats. Defensively he posted a .985 fielding % in 82 games at first base making ten errors.

1969 Post Season-NLCS: Clendenon saved his best hitting for the 1969 postseason. Amazingly enough, Donn did not play in the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves because of Gil Hodges strict platoon system. Hodges went with the left-handed hitting Ed Kranepool against the Braves right-handed pitching. The Mets swept the three-game series.

1969 World Series: Clendenon started out the World Series with two hits in the Game #1 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore. Clendenon hit a 4th inning double & a 7th inning single, both coming off O's pitcher Mike Cuellar. 

After the loss, he addressed his team in the locker room, telling them although the Orioles had beaten the league's best pitcher in Tom Seaver, they didn't dominate the game. He told his team they had much better pitching & threw harder than the Baltimore pitchers did. He told them not to get down, that if they played their type of game, they would win it.

Before Game Two, he told Paul Blair at the batting cage that the Mets were going to send the Orioles home with their heads between their legs. 

In Game #2 he led off the 4th inning with a HR off Dave McNally, ending a post season 23 inning scoreless streak, giving New York the 1-0 lead at Memorial Stadium. He went 1-4 as Jerry Koosman pitched a 2-1 two hit victory evening the series. 

Clendenon did not play in the third game at Shea Stadium, as Kranepool got the start. Kranepool homered in the game highlighted by Tommie Agee's two spectacular catches in centerfield.


In Game #4 at Shea Stadium, Clendenon led off the 2nd inning, with a HR off Mike Cueller. That was the only run the Mets scored until the 10th inning, when they won the game on J.C. Martins bunt single that scored Rod Gaspar from 2nd base. 

Catcher Elrod Hendricks fielded the ball then threw to first base & hit Martin with the throw getting charged with a throwing error. 

In this game, Tom Seaver pitched ten innings allowing just one run, earning his only World Series victory. Ron Swoboda also made his famous diving catcher in right field.

In Game #5 the Mets needed one more win to pull off the improbable World Series victory. In the 6th inning with the Mets down 3-0, Manager Gil Hodges argued that Cleon Jones had been hit by a pitch on the foot. 


His proof was showing home plate umpire Lou Dimuro, a shoe polish smudge on the baseball that had rolled into the dugout.


Dimuro agreed & Cleon Jones was awarded first base. Hodges move proved to turn the game around, as the Mets rally began. 

Next up, Clendenon blasted a two-run HR off pitcher Dave McNally, his second Series HR off McNally. This brought the Mets right back in the game & down by just one run, getting the sellout crowd to go wild as they began to feel the Miracle Championship was in near.



The Mets tied the game in the next inning as the usual light hitting Al Weis hit a HR. Weis had hit just two HRs all season & seven in his ten-year career. 

The Mets then went ahead in the 8th, when Cleon Jones doubled & Ron Swoboda drove him in with a double off Eddie Watt making it 4-3. Then Jerry Grote's doubled as well-off Watt, giving the Mets an insurance run in the 5-3 victory. Jerry Koosman went the distance & the Amazing Mets were the World's Champions.

World Series MVP: Donn Clendenon was voted the World Series MVP, setting a record (at the time) with three HRs in a five-game series. Overall, he hit .357 with 3 HRs, a double, two walks, and four RBIs.

Just as important was his professional veteran presence on the club, making a huge impression on his teammates
.

Quotes- Tug McGraw: "Don was probably the key to our whole season.”

Quotes- Wayne Garrett: "He was the last ingredient the team needed."

Quotes- Bud Harrelson"When we got him, we became a different team. We never had a three-run homer type of guy. He was always humble, never cocky. We were still young kids in that era. He was a veteran that came in and made us better. When you threw him into the mix with the rest of us, we became a dangerous force. He was the MVP, a very dangerous player."


Quotes- Donn Clendenon:
After winning the 1969 World Series MVP Award Donn said "there is no most valuable player on this team - we've got lots of them. 
It was just spectacular to see these young kids mold themselves into winning combinations, those kids did not believe they could lose.''

For his efforts he was awarded a brand new 1969 Dodge Challenger with a sunroof.

He appeared with his World Champion Mets on the Ed Sullivan TV Show singing You Got to Have Heart. He & six of his teammates also performed in Las Vegas.

Unfortunately, fans broke into his apartment & tole anything of any value. He was put up at the penthouse of The Marriot Essex House on Central Park South. During the ticker tape parade, he left early due to exhaustion & was fine $500 from manager Gil Hodges.

After the Championship: On Opening Day 1970, Clendenon came to bat as a pinch hitter in the top of the 11th inning at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh with the score tied 3-3 & two outs. He singled off Joe Gibbon driving home Ron Swoboda & Mike Jorgenson with the two game winning runs. 

Multi- Four RBI Game: On April 19th Donn had a big day, driving in four runs, highlighted by a three run HR off the Phillies Bill Wilson in big 10-2 win at Shea Stadium. He also drew a bases loaded walk off Chris Short in the Mets six run 5th inning.

On April 26th, he homered off the Dodgers Sandy Vance helping Tom Seaver in a 3-1 victory at Dodger Stadium. 
In 14 games in the month of April he drove in eleven runs & hit three HRs.

On May 1st, Clendenon drove in both runs of a 2-1 Mets win in San Diego, with a two-run single off Al Santorini helping Tom Seaver in another victory, as he bested his record to 5-0. He would hit three HRs in the month & go into June batting .290.

Pinch Hit HR: On June 22nd, Clendenon came into a 5-5 tie at Wrigley Field, as a pinch hitter with two men on & no one out facing reliever Hank Aguirre. He blasted a three run HR leading the Mets to an 8-5 win over the Cubs.

Later that week he hit another three run HR, coming off the Expos Dan McGinn in a 7-4 victory at Montreal.

From July 2nd to July 8th, he drove in runs in seven straight games, with a total of nine RBIs that week. 

Pinch Hit Game Winning Hit: On July 3rd in Philadelphia, Donn came to bat in the top of the 9th inning as a pinch hitter, with two men on in a 2-2 tie. He singled off Lowell Palmer driving in Ken Boswell & Ken Singleton with what would be the game winning runs. 

On Independance Day, he hit his 10th HR of the season, coming in a 7-2 win at Connie Mack Stadium.

The next afternoon, his 7th inning RBI sac fly broke the 4-4 tie as he helped Jerry Koosman in the Mets 5-4 win.

On July 18th his single in the top of the 9th inning, tied up a game in Los Angles & put the eventual winning run on third base. Cleon Jones drove in that run as the Mets went on to a 4-3 win.

Mets Record- Seven RBI Game: On July 28th Clendenon set a Mets record that stood for 38 years, driving in seven runs in a single game. In a 12-2 win over the Giants at Shea Stadium in front of 50,000 fans, he hit a pair of three run HRs off pitcher Rich Robertson. Earlier in the 1st inning he collected an RBI sac fly to start his big night.

The next day Clendenon hit a two run HR in a Mets losing effort. 

In July, Clendenon had 19 RBIs, with a .414 on base %, 1.048 OPS & hit .350 raising his season average to .320 by the end of the month. As the Mets were heading into another tight pennant race, Clendenon was the teams main run producer in the months of August & September. 

In August he drove in 29 runs, with ten multi-RBI games, his highest monthly totals of the season. From August 23rd to August 31st, Clendenon the end of the month, he drove in 16 runs, collecting 12 hits with five extra base hits over an eight-game span.

Multi-Five RBI Game: On August 25th, he drove in five runs, collecting three hits including an 8th inning three run HR off Pat Jarvis. The Mets entered the inning down 7-0. In the 9th Clendenon added a two-run single to get the Mets within a run, although they took a 7-6 loss.

In September, Clendenon had another good month, driving in 21 runs & batting .325 on the month. He also drove in runs in 15 of the 28 games played. 

On September 22nd, he helped spark a Mets five run 6th inning at Philadelphia with a two-run single, reaching the 90 RBI mark for the third time in his career. On September 23rd he hit a two run HR off former Met Dick Selma in the top of the 8th inning in Philadelphia, leading to the 5-4 Met win. That week Donn had four multi-RBI games.

The Mets entered September just 1.5 games out of first place & tied the Pirates as late as September 14th, before going 5-9 the rest of the way to finish six games back.

Mets Single Season RBI Record: That season Clendenon set a Mets season record for RBIs driving in 97 runs. The record stood until 1975 when Rusty Staub drove in 105 runs.

Overall, in 1970 he hit .288 with 22 HRs 18 doubles 65 runs scored & three triples.  He struck out 91 times with 39 walks posting a .348 on base percentage & 863 OPS. His seven sac flies were 5th most in the league. He even received votes for the MVP Award.

1971 Season: At this point Donn was 35 years old & his production began to drop off. On Opening Day 1971, he had two hits & drove in the Mets first run of the season, leading to a 4-2 win. In his next two games he collected three hits in each game.

On April 16th at Shea Stadium, Clendenon drove in the only run of the game with a solo HR off the Pirates Doc Ellis, as Tom Seaver threw a three-hit shutout. On April 29th, he hit a three run HR off the Cards Chuck Taylor at Busch Stadium in a Nolan Ryan, Danny Frisella combined 7-0 shut out.

Multi HR Game: On May 17th he had his only multi-HR game of the season, hitting HRs off George Stone & Cecil Upshaw as he drove in all three Mets runs in a loss to the Braves at Fulton County Stadium.

Walk Off Hit: On May 22nd, the Mets & Braves went to the bottom of the 11th inning tied at 7-7. With Tim Foli on second base & two outs, Clendenon singled off Cecil Upshaw bringing in Foli with the walk off winning run.

Walk Off HR: On June 19th, Clendenon entered a 4-4 tie with the Phillies in the 9th inning as a pinch hitter. He doubled but the Mets couldn't bring him in to score. In the bottom of the 15th inning, he hit a walk off HR off Bill Wilson in a 6-5 win over the Phillies.

 In July he hit just one HR with six RBIs in 17 games played.

On August 7th, Clendenon collected three hits, hitting a two run HR off the Braves Steve Barber while driving in three runs in the Mets 20-6 blow out win at Atlanta. 

Multi-Four RBI Game: On August 28t he had a season high four RBI Day in a 9-2 Mets win, in the first game of a twin bill at Shea against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the 2nd inning, he hit his 10th HR of the season & later 

On September 23rd he hit his last career Mets HR, coming off veteran Juan Pizzaro in a 5-4 win at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The game also marked Nolan Ryan's last victory in a Mets uniform.

On the 1971 season the Mets finished third again, 14 games behind the World Champion
Pittsburgh Pirates. Clendenon batted .247 with 11 HRs 10 doubles 29 runs scored & 37 RBIs playing in just 88 games. He posted a poor .302 on base % & .713 OPS.


The Mets had Ed Kranepool coming off a great year, young Mike Jorgenson & a rookie slugger John Milner all waiting for a shot at the first base position. The 36-year-old Clendenon was released that October. 

Mets Career: In his three years with the Mets, Donn hit .267 with 230 hits 33 doubles 45 HRs 171 RBIs & 125 runs scored. He struck out 231 times with 79 walks a .328 on base % & .797 OPS.

1972: Clendenon signed with the St. Louis Cardinals but hit just .191 in 61 games & was released that August.

Career Stats: In his 12-season career, Clendenon played in 1362 games, with 1273 hits, batting .274 with 159 HRs, 192 doubles 57 triples, 574 runs scored & 682 RBIs.

Clendenon struck out 1140 times with 379 walks posting a .328 on base % & 771 OPS.

In 1200 games at first base, he posted a .988 fielding %, turning 1136 double plays while making just 146 errors in 11878 chances.

Retirement: After his baseball career Clendenon earned his law degree from Duquesne University in 1975.  He worked as an attorney with different law firms, lastly in Minnesota with Clendenon, Henney & Hoy.

He worked a businessman as well, for General Electric, Mead & as CEO of Western International Contractors.

In the mid-1980s he was enjoying his wealth but became addicted to cocaine. 

Quotes- Donn Clendenon: "I was 49 turning 50 & doing cocaine was kind of like a birthday present for me. I was hooked immediately."

He would get arrested for possession & forced to resign from the law firm. He sought treatment in Utah, then was diagnosed with leukemia, the same disease that killed his father. He kicked his drug habit & moved away from the big city, "I had to go to a place where I could change my environment, and everything else."

In 1987 he moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a small city that he grew to love. "It is a spiritual community.
People are friendly. It had a low crime rate and has a great school system for my daughter. I can be left alone to pursue my vocation outside of athletics."

Clendenon soon became a certified drug counselor. He supported many local charities & was known for bringing some of his baseball friends to promote events in little Sioux Falls. 

He would also attend various 1969 Mets events.

Family: Donn & his wife had one daughter & two sons.

Passing: Clendenon faced his leukemia bravely, saying "I will die from it or a side effect of it. It's going to eventually take me, I know. But I keep fighting." On September 17, 2005, he passed away at age 70. 

Comments

Irreplaceable Met said…
Great guy and one of the most underrated of what the Mets couldn't replace from the 1969 team : a right-hand hitting 1st baseman. The Mets have never had one like him since. He was released just before the Ryan trade, which could've been used to land a replacement for Donn instead of a washed-up shortstop to play 3rd base. As I continue to examine the destruction of the team/franchise post-1969,.what becomes increasingly apparent is the inability of the cheif culprits -Grant,Scheffing,McDonald- to rekindle the formula that brought the Mets to their zenith : build the team around youth, fill the holes with leaders like Clendenon. But the youth was wasted,not to acquire another like him, but Joe Foy,Jim Fregosi & Jim Beauchamp.

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