It's one thing when members of the original 1962 Mets depart to their heavenly reward, players I know only from reading Mets history books.
But when we start to lose members of the World Champion Miracle Mets, it means something entirely different. It means I’m getting old.
The 1969 team was still slightly before my time. I was in kindergarten when the Mets took the series from the Orioles in five games. My first game at Shea was Banner Day in 1971, I got my first baseball cards in 1972 and it wasn’t until the 1973 season that I leaped headfirst into that all-consuming fanaticism.
But a big chunk of that 1973 "Ya Gotta Believe!" team was holdovers from the first pennant-winners — guys like Tom Seaver, Jerry Grote, Jerry Koosman, Bud Harrelson, Kranepool — so I felt bonded to that version of the team, too.
We’ve already lost a number of people associated with the 1969 champs. An Oldtimers’ Day celebration would have some pretty big holes.
Manager Gil Hodges, of course, died in spring training in 1972. I’ll always wonder if the Mets in the mid-70s would have fared better under Gil's firm command.
Reliever Danny Frisella was appeared in just a handful of games in 1969, but was a contributor in the years before and after. He died in a crash in 1977.
Pitching coach Rube Walker died in 1992, just months after Tom Seaver praised him during his Cooperstown induction speech.
Tommie Agee, who made those amazing catches in centerfield, died in 2001.
And we lost charismatic Tug McGraw to cancer last year, as well as announcer Bob Murphy, whose voice was part of the soundtrack of my youth.
Donn Clendenon, who died from leukemia at 70 on Saturday, has been called the final piece of the Mets puzzle. His numbers overall weren’t that impressive — a .252 average with 12 homers and 37 RBI in 72 games after arriving in mid-season. But he was a veteran presence on a team of kids and anchored the lineup with a big bat.
But on a team with two future Hall of Famers — and Koosman, who falls just short — it was Clendenon who was the World Series most valuable player, hitting three homers in the five games.
I forget that these players get on in years after their playing days. To me, they are forever young on baseball cards and in yearbook photos. And when another slips away, as Clendenon did this week, it’s a reminder of how much time has really passed — 36 years — and that I’m getting older too.
I was fortunate to meet Clendenon at a late 1980s gathering of Miracle Mets at a baseball card show in Manhattan, the same one where I ran into Johnny Ramone. Agee was there, too, and he frequently appeared at shows around the New York area. He was always a friendly guy with a big smile.
It was a strange show because as the players were trying to talk to fans — how often does a guy like J.C. Martin get asked to one of those things? — the show promoter was screeching at them to sign these posters she wanted to sell. I remember a lot of eye-rolling among the players, and it kind of "stole the fun" -- my daughter's phrase -- from the fans who paid for a fleeting moment with their heroes.