Here’s the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More, by Ron Swoboda, is the story of the 1969 Miracle Mets, published in time for their 50th anniversary. We know most Mets fans will love the insightful memoir, but what happened when we asked Shaq to do a book review?
Former New York Mets outfielder and one of the key heroes… of the 1969 “MIRACLE METS” World Series victory… at the age of seventy-five… looks back with a lifetime of wisdom and hindsight at his life and his career in this short (213 pages not counting the index)… introspective… relatively ego free… autobiography.
The first sign… that this is not the usual overblown egotistical salute to one’s own greatness… is before the reader even gets to the table of contents… where in a short nine- line salute to his parents… wife… and sons… the author’s final words are… (they) “MADE ME ONE OF THE MOST FORTUNATE SOULS WHO CAN SAY HE’S BEEN LOVED EVERY SECOND OF HIS LIFE.” That is such a straight from the heart… simplistic as far as quantity of words… but massive in the power of appreciation… from an athlete setting the ground rules of what’s important to him… before he even describes one pitch thrown or one batted ball hit.
It seems extremely important to the author from cover to cover.. that he believes the fame he did achieve… and the appreciation of fans… for a player… who other than his shining moment on baseball’s biggest stage… the 1969 World Series… he probably wasn’t even an average player. But the Mets fans loved him… because he came across as an “everyman”. The author of course goes into great detail on the Series that included one of… if not the best… catches… surely… the most hallowed and remembered in Mets history… and besides residing for eternity in all true Mets’ fans hearts… also will exist for eternity in a steel silhouette on the right-field entrance sign at Citi Field.
The storytelling follows Swoboda from Little League to high school to college to the minor leagues and the majors… and all the stops in between. And as entertaining as the stories about the “Old Perfesser” and legendary Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel is… and just as interesting is his current sorrow… for how he didn’t fully appreciate manager Gil Hodges baseball genius when he had the chance… and lives with the personal disappointment… that in Ron’s own harsh words that… “he couldn’t deliver… by conducting himself like a mature adult and helping the team win games. Period. That’s all he wanted from me, and I couldn’t f*****g deliver it.” This failure on Swoboda’s part haunts him to this day.
His friendships with… and respect for the likes of “Tom-Terrific” Seaver… Ed Kranepool… Art Shamsky… and the irrepressible Tug McGraw… among others are duly covered. But to be honest… the parts about his family life… were the most interesting and endearing to me. From his loving parents… to his “crazy” uncles who worked in a morgue… and among other things took the clothes off cadavers and either wore them themselves or gave them to Ron to wear. Their special morgue drinks… and lifestyle… were interesting and amusing. His Chinese Grandfather is another family story that is well received.
I must also give credit to Ron’s ghost writer/author… (and if he didn’t use one… then I am shortchanging Swoboda’s literary talent)… who periodically pumped some pretty slick literary prose into what otherwise would have been ordinary sentences. There are also some short insider looks at baseball icons such as… “Big D”… Don Drysdale… Sandy Koufax… Juan Marichal… Bob Gibson… and even a short reference to one of my family favorites… Sal “The Barber” Maglie. To share a well turned phrase or two… when he first was sent up to bat against “Big D”… “When things are cool, everybody is cool. I wasn’t cool, and I just hoped I wasn’t visibly shaking. Tense? If someone had slapped me, I would have shattered like a rose dipped in liquid nitrogen.” After a traumatic bus ride in Puerto Rico while playing in a winter league… he states… “IT WAS HARROWING. BECAUSE BASEBALL DOESN’T GET EASIER AFTER A NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE.”
As I am an Honorably Discharged Viet Nam Era Veteran… I must admit that it bothered me when Ron went into detail on all the contortions he went through to keep from being drafted and serving in Viet Nam. Yet to his credit he later wound up volunteering as a ballplayer to make two USO trips to visit the troops in Nam. And he also took time to give much deserved credit to a true patriot entertainer AND full-bird Army Reserve… and registered nurse specializing in field surgery… Martha Raye … movie star… singer… comedienne… who served in battle zones, treating the wounded. “SHE EARNED A PURPLE HEART FOR WOUNDS RECEIVED UNDER FIRE, WHICH SHE MADE LIGHT OF. TOTALLY WORTHY, FAR MORE THAN A USO ENTERTAINER, SHE IS THE ONLY WOMAN BURIED IN THE GREEN BERET CEMETARY AT FORT BRAGG.”
A totally class act by the author to make such magnanimous mention of this true hero.
To summarize the catch he made… and this book’s title references… he quotes poet Robert Browning:
“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, /Or what’s a heaven for?”
Reviewer: Rick “Shaq” Goldstein