Coffey Hits Home Run with New ‘69 Mets Memoir

Wayne Coffey 1969 Mets

Acclaimed sports journalist Wayne Coffey’s new book – They Said It Couldn’t Be Done – about the ’69 Mets and their improbable run to becoming World Champions is a must-read for any fan of the Amazin’s, sports history, or underdog success stories.

What makes this book so special is the in-depth nature of the player backstories and their journeys to New York. In discussing the memoir with Coffey, I learned he traveled approximately 20,000 miles to conduct interviews and gather research. The dedication to his craft should come as no surprise as readers will find Coffey’s passion for this topic to be crystal clear. After all, he was at Shea Stadium with his grandfather to witness the Game 5 ’69 World Series clincher.

“I like to joke with people that my research [for this book] started 50 years ago,” said the New York Times bestselling author. The end result is a masterpiece that not only brings the players to life, but makes you feel as if you’re part of the team.

Reading in my living room, Coffey’s words had me vividly visualizing Agee and Swoboda’s Series-defining catches, the same way I recall the night Coco Crisp robbed David Wright at Fenway.

Connecting With The Team

Prior to They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, the only unique tidbit I had about the ‘69 Mets was that Art Shamsky was the inspiration for the name of Robert’s bulldog in the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (Shamsky is a pretty cool name for a bulldog, no?).

In all seriousness, I finished reading this book a few days before the Mets honored the ‘69 championship team with an on-field ceremony to commemorate their 50th anniversary. And I am glad I did. Even though the team was way before my time, I felt a much deeper connection to the roster and the magnitude of their accomplishment thanks to Coffey’s work. In fact, knowing more about their backstories – whether it was Jerry Koosman, ‘The Franchise,’ Cleon Jones or J.C. Martin – contributed to me getting emotional during the ceremony.

Hodges: A Fearless Leader

Coffey’s latest work also makes me appreciate the impact Gil Hodges had on this team more than any publication I’ve read before. And frankly, it has inspired me to find a way to help raise awareness for the Bronze Star Marine’s baseball accomplishments so that he can take his rightful place in Cooperstown. More on that in a future blog post.

“If I had any take away from spending a couple of years that I did working on this book, it’s just the absolute brilliance of the work that Gil Hodges did as manager,” said Coffey. “Not just from a strategic standpoint, but really much more so from a human standpoint and making every single player on that team involved [and] giving them ownership of what they were doing collectively.” 

Meet the ‘69 Mets

As I mentioned, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done is rich in player tidbits and backstories. There simply was not enough time to cover some of these stories with Coffey during our conversation. That said, here are a couple of highlights that readers will encounter on their journey with this book.

Donn Clendenon

While at Morehouse College, the ‘69 World Series MVP’s mentor and “big brother” was none other than Martin Luther King Jr.  He was also accidentally on the receiving end of the telephone when Mets General Manager Johnny Murphy reached out about acquiring the Expos slugger. Donn Clendenon’s response is classic.

As a total aside, hearing Coffey’s story about this acquisition and its importance to the championship run, immediately reminded me of the Mets trade for Cespedes in 2015.

Wayne Coffey discusses Donn Clendenon’s background and the exchange he had with Mets GM Johnny Murphy ahead of the 1969 trade deadline.

Cleon Jones

I’ll start by saying I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Cleon Jones in the SNY booth during the Mets-Braves game a few weeks ago. Hearing his stories and banter with Keith was absolutely worth watching.

It’s easy to identify Jones as the man who was at the center of the infamous “shoe polish play” and later caught the final out in the ‘69 World Series. However, I think readers will be more interested in learning about his upbringing in Africatown, Alabama. The small town is just outside of Mobile and is where the last slave ship to ever dock in the United States arrived. To this day, Jones can still be found doing great things in this community [you must watch this short clip to see him in action].

Listen to Coffey discuss Jones’ background and also the unique way he met Cleon in Africatown, Alabama.

Jerry Koosman

Part of the dynamic 1-2 punch with Seaver – and the man who eventually was traded for Jesse Orosco – Koosman never played baseball growing up. Even more intriguing is the way he winds up being signed by the Mets. Perhaps the most interesting fact for me was why he chose to wear the #36.

Wayne Coffey discusses Jerry Koosman’s backstory and the unique way he made it to New York.

The Bottom Line

I can’t recommend reading this book enough. An added bonus for those who prefer listening to books is hearing Mets broadcast legend Gary Cohen narrate the pages of this memoir.

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