Here’s the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More by Ron Swoboda
2019 marks the 50thanniversary of the 1969 New York Mets’ World Series Championship. The Amazin’ Mets, a team that went 40-120 just seven years earlier, beat the Baltimore Orioles to win their first World Series. With the anniversary come several memoirs and books covering the 1969 season in detail. Art Shamsky recently released his magnificent memoir called After the Miracle (co-authored with Erik Sherman), followed by Wayne Coffey’s They Said It Couldn’t Be Done. Now we have Here’s the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More by Ron Swoboda. In his memoir, Swoboda writes about his upbringing, his family, his playing days under the tutelage of Casey Stengel, and the famous catch he made off of Brooks Robinson in the 1969 World Series. Swoboda’s memoir is one of the more endearing, poignant, and hilarious memoirs to come out this year about the ’69 Mets.
I’ve met Ron Swoboda several times at baseball card shows and he’s always struck me as a humble man with a dry sense of humor. His memoir confirmed that impression. The first thing that I was struck by in his memoir was how talented of a writer Swoboda is. He manages to tell insightful stories about his career without droning on and on about them. His attention to detail, along with the humorous anecdotes that he peppers throughout the book, grabs a hold of the reader’s attention as if to say, “Well you can’t stop reading now, you have to see what happens next!” It is evident that Swoboda wrote his memoir with the same level of precision and care that a pianist uses when playing Beethoven.
Swoboda takes his readers to Baltimore, Maryland where he talks about his grandfather’s terrible driving skills, his middle-class upbringing, his uncles who worked at a morgue, and how he broke into baseball. The stories he tells about his family are riddled with funny stories that made me put the book down while I laughed. With that humor though came stories of sadness and fear. One of the stories Swoboda told was how Casey Stengel, who always called him “Saboda,” once reduced him to tears because of his less-than-professional behavior during a game. Baseball is filled with hundreds of stories about crying players, but this was the first time that I felt like crying along with the author. The way Swoboda was able to write about the incident, prefacing it with a reference to A League of Their Own “There’s no crying in baseball!” followed by specific details on how the incident unfolded, left me feeling almost as bad as Swoboda did back then. It’s these stories that exemplify Swoboda’s amazing abilities as a writer. In fact, Swoboda’s humor reads like the brilliantly funny cutaways that people in this time period would laugh at on the Mary Tyler Moore show when the Mets weren’t playing.
Another aspect of the memoir that I appreciated was in how he talked about his trip to Vietnam to visit U.S. troops during the war. Swoboda talks about close calls he had with the Vietcong, his meals with General Creighton Abrams, and the numerous soldiers he met who gave him a fresh perspective on the war and renewed his appreciation for their service. He writes about soldiers who vented to him about the madness of the war, soldiers who gave him their medals, and soldiers so wounded from combat that they could barely acknowledge him when he visited them in the hospital.
Swoboda leaves no rock unturned when it comes to discussing the amazin’ 1969 season, detailing the Mets’ battles with the Chicago Cubs leading up to the World Series, along with the series itself against the Orioles. He reflects on the strong bonds he developed with other teammates like Ed Kranepool and Tug McGraw. He talks about the at-times difficult relationship with manager Gil Hodges. And of course, Swoboda talks about what is arguably the greatest catch ever made in the history of the World Series by an outfielder. In fact, like any good writer, Swoboda dives right into (no pun intended) that game in his prologue, ending that first section of the book describing how he dived for the ball.
Writing about one’s life is a very challenging endeavor. Our memories change over time, and we remember them differently as we age and mature. It’s hard enough to reflect on our emotions, especially the bad ones. While that does not mean that it can’t be done, doing it in a way that allows the reader to feel the same emotions is perhaps the most intimidating challenge of all. In his most recent book Working, Robert Caro, author of the award-winning series on Lyndon Johnson, explains how he tried to convey Johnson’s emotions to the reader through his writing. “…that gigantic stage lit up by the brilliant sun, the façade of the Capitol—that place—showed him that. Showed him that, and if I could write it right, would show the reader as well.” Caro was writing about the challenge in trying to show a subject’s emotions, actions, and thought through writing, which can feel like trying to eat soup with a fork. While this passage shows how hard writing can be even for a Pulitzer Prize winning author like Caro, I have to admit that Swoboda’s style almost makes it look easy.
Ron Swoboda manages to recapture the laughs, tears, frustrations, and cheers in a way that’s unlike most other baseball memoirs. Swoboda’s style of writing will leave readers feeling like they were a personal part of his journey through the big leagues. They’ll feel like they were sitting on the bench with him when Stengel would butcher his last name. They’ll feel the same flinches that Swoboda felt when the Vietcong attacked the place he was visiting in Vietnam. They’ll even feel the wind zipping across the Mets’ uniform emblem as Swoboda dives for Robinson’s hit to right field. In Swoboda’s Here’s the Catch, baseball fans will discover new reasons to appreciate the game Swoboda clearly loves with all his heart.
Review by R. Zachary Sanzone
May 22, 2019