After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the '69 Mets by Art Shamsky and Erik Sherman.
After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the '69 Mets by Art Shamsky and Erik Sherman. Reviewed by R. Zachary Sanzone. The 50th anniversary of the New York Mets’ 1969 World Series victory is only a few months away, perfect timing for the release of Mets legend Art Shamsky’s terrific memoir, After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the '69 Mets. Shamsky’s memoir, co-authored with best-selling writer Erik Sherman, begins with a reunion with other Mets stars of that 1969 season including Bud Harrelson, Ron Swoboda, Jerry Koosman, and Tom Seaver (with Erik Sherman in tow) and details the magical 1969 season that saw the Miracle Mets win it all. Between Harrelson’s recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and Seaver’s battle with Lyme Disease, along with the fact that members of the 1969 team are well into their seventies and eighties, Shamsky and Sherman felt that it was time to write a book focusing on the 1969 Mets before it was too late.
Baseball memoirs are often a hit or miss, usually the latter. Shamsky’s memoir, written under a time constraint, avoided the inconsistency and confusion that can plague so many baseball memoirs. The first twenty pages of Shamsky’s memoir quickly assure readers that it is not a dull read. Readers will find themselves gliding through the book with great enthusiasm. While Shamsky is the primary voice in the book, as it is his memoir, Swoboda, Harrelson, Koosman, and Seaver are frequently quoted throughout the book, giving the reader the feeling that he is sitting with these legends and listening to their stories rather than reading them. This aspect is what sets the memoir apart from other books. It’s original in its approach, it grabs the reader’s interest and doesn’t let go until the final page, and leaves its readers with a fulfillment that future baseball memoirs will find challenging to match.
The book starts with Shamsky and Sherman planning the reunion. Harrelson and Seaver’s illness made it challenging to find a time for all those involved to get together, as Alzheimer’s Disease kept Harrelson from moving with the ability he’d once exhibited on the field, and Seaver’s Lyme Disease continues to have devastating effects on his short term memory; some days are better than others for him. These challenges meant that Shamsky and Sherman would accompany Harrelson out to California where Seaver owns an award-winning vineyard. After connecting with Koosman and Swoboda, the five of them flew to California and drove to Seaver’s home where Shamsky and his former teammates tease and rib each other, reminisce about former teammates who are no longer with them (including Ed Charles, who passed away last March), and reflect on how the 1969 season transformed the Mets into a World Series-winning team; this is the heart of the book.
The memoir itself stands a symbol of tight and focused writing. The detail with which Shamsky and Sherman tell the poignant story about the Miracle Mets is told with great care. It’s clear from the first page that Shamsky isn’t just talking about a single year of his career. He tells a story that conveys a sense of importance focusing on themes including brotherhood, selflessness, and teamwork. While it’s Shamsky’s story to tell, he makes it clear that the Mets’ successful season stemmed from impeccable leadership from manager Gil Hodges, along with the team’s recognition that if they wanted to win they have to work together. One of the shining aspects of the book is in Sherman’s brilliant ability to capture Shamsky’s voice. The insightful details that include stories about beating the Chicago Cubs in the playoffs, how Koozman came into his own as a pitcher, Shamsky’s initial start with the Mets, and Ed Charles’ status as a team leader and subsequent release, among other stories, would not show the level of gusto that makes the memoir so great, if it hadn’t been for Sherman’s ability to capture Shamsky’s unique and charismatic voice.
One of the book’s other strengths is its ability to tell anecdotes with consistent clarity. Stories about the team’s views on the Vietnam War, its fan base, their never-faltering respect for the late Gil Hodges, and the magical season that few believed they would ever achieve are told with a level of confidence that would capture any reader’s interest regardless of how much of a baseball fan they are. Anyone with a modicum of interest in American history and current events will find Shamsky and company’s views of the Vietnam War, as well as today’s political climate, engaging and insightful. They’re not simply “Here’s what I think,” stories as much as they answer the question “So what?” that many of us ask when we hear someone talk about political beliefs. Readers will understand why they are revealing their opinions, and how they connect to the 1969 season that is now a pinnacle in the lives so many Mets fans that remember that unforgettable season.
1969 marked the first time the Mets finished above .500 (.617 to be precise) but it wasn’t achieved easily. One of the things that make the season itself so remarkable is how the Mets overcame years of setbacks to beat the Chicago Cubs for a World Series birth. The Mets had to contend with the Cubs who had Hall of Fame greats like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Ferguson Jenkins on their roster, and who were led by the controversial manager Leo Durocher. Shamsky recalls in detail how the Mets not only had to contend with the Cubs’ talent, but rowdy Cubs fans, and the mouthy Durocher who would do anything to distract them from winning. The challenges that Mets like Shamsky, Swoboda, and Koosman faced weren’t limited to Wrigley Fiend and Shea Stadium though.
America in the 1960s saw the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Beatles invasion, Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, and the escalation of the Vietnam War. These events in our nation’s history are rarely, if ever, connected to their impact on sports. Ken Burns’ Baseball, as well as a handful of books released in the last few years go into some detail about the connections, but they are few and far in between, which makes After the Season such an important book for historians. Shamsky and Sherman’s ability to craft a narrative that flows like the champagne in the Mets’ locker room after their final win of the World Series allows readers to understand, with tremendous clarity and insight, the significance of their World Series victory. People who appreciate American history and politics will also appreciate Shamsky’s insight into the Vietnam War, as books documenting athletes’ views of such issues are as rare as an Al Weis home run.
After the Miracle will quickly become one of the better, if not one of the very best, baseball books of 2019. The clarity with which it’s told, its ability to engage readers and make them feel like they are a part of the magical history, and its powerful attention to detail not only gives Mets fans new insight into the history of the 1969 season, but also stands as a testament to how a motley crew of baseball players inadvertently bridged the political and social divides that were so commonplace in 1969, even if it was only for a few days in October 1969.