KENOSHA — I have no earthly idea what the rest of the 1969 New York “Miracle” Mets are up to these days.
Some, of course, have passed away. Others are in declining health.
I do, however, know what one member of that team — one of the most iconic in baseball history — is doing.
You do, too.
From the team’s inception in 2014, Duffy Dyer has managed the Kenosha Kingfish. Like any, the team has had its ups and downs on the field — the most notable up coming in 2015 when it won the Northwoods League championship — but Dyer, at 73 years old a man who’s spent virtually a lifetime in baseball, is there every day to help college players realize their dreams.
He certainly realized a dream at just 23 years old in his second season in the majors.
I was not around in 1969, but I know that nobody predicted the Mets to do anything of significance when spring training started that year.
The team lost a record 120 games in its inaugural season in 1962, and from 1962 to ‘68 averaged an astounding 105 losses per season.
Then, in 1969, well, a miracle happened.
The Mets went 100-62, chased down the Cubs to win the National League East title — sorry, Cubs fans, I realize that season was not so much a miracle for you — swept the Atlanta Braves, 3-0, in the NLCS and defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 4-1, to win arguably the most improbable World Series title in baseball history.
Dyer was a backup catcher on that team and didn’t see a lot of action, appearing in 29 games and accruing 79 plate appearances.
It doesn’t matter, though. Anyone who played on that team, from Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver to a backup like Dyer, is a legend among Mets fans.
And that team turned 50 this season.
Last weekend, Dyer took a leave from his post with the Kingfish to travel to New York City to participate in a 50th anniversary celebration honoring the 1969 Mets.
On June 29, the attending players were given a re-enactment of the 1969 World Series parade before the Mets played the Atlanta Braves. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gave members of the team a key to the city, and they were honored on the Citi Field turf before the Mets-Braves game.
Dyer was back in Kenosha on Friday, overseeing batting practice at Simmons Field prior to Kenosha’s game against the Lakeshore Chinooks.
I was fortunate to get some time to chat with Dyer about the 50th anniversary celebration and that miracle 1969 season.
I wanted to know if, after everything he’s done in baseball since, it still feels like that season was yesterday.
“Oh, yeah,” said Dyer, followed by a wry smile. “I’m telling everybody I think that was really only the 25th anniversary.”
Dyer talked more about the day.
“It was great to see the guys again, to see some of your teammates,” he said. “It was also a little emotional, because there (were) quite a few that weren’t there, that (have) either passed away, or quite a few of the guys have some severe health problems that couldn’t make it.
“But overall, it was a great experience to see the other 14 guys that did make it. Of the deceased that weren’t there, their wives were there, so it was nice to see them again, or their sons and daughters. So it was just great to get together, and to be honored on the field at Citi Field was very nice. It was a very nice event that the Mets put on for us.”
Another topic surrounding that team was how it brought New York City together.
Of course, 1969 was not the calmest year in American history. The country was mired in the Vietnam War and facing bitter opposition at home. Racial strife gripped many of the nation’s largest urban centers. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had both been assassinated in 1968.
It seemed as if the country was coming apart.
Now, I’ve never been one to believe a professional sports franchise winning a championship can heal such deep wounds as those. But at least for some fleeting moments, it can bring people and cities together.
Dyer said he began to realize what that 1969 team had done for the city after the ride was over.
“I realized it after it was all over and we had had our parade and got all the (accolades) and everything, all the thank yous and everything and the key to the city and all that, and everybody just saying how the fans and everybody were coming together to help New York,” he recalled.
“For about a year period there, New York was hot, because the Jets had won the Super Bowl (in January 1969) and the New York Knicks had won the NBA (title in 1970). So New York was hot there for about a year, and that certainly did help the attitude in New York. And New York runs just about everything in the country, so when they’re going good, it helps the nation, that’s for sure. Yeah, I do think it changed the attitude of New York.
“I didn’t realize it until, I’d say, near the World Series and it was over, when I took a deep a breath and realized, ‘Hey, this did help bring a lot of people together.’”
Sometimes I wonder why Dyer still does what he does today. Riding buses on long road trips. Coaching kids two generations younger. Showing up early to the ballpark and staying late from late May until the middle of August during the NWL’s rigorous schedule.
Shouldn’t he be sitting by a pool somewhere?
For one, he loves Kenosha. Dyer resides in Phoenix for most of the year, but he’s close friends with former Kenosha Twins president Bob Lee. Dyer managed the Twins to the Midwest League championship in 1985, so Kenosha has always been special to he and his family.
But I think there’s a more profound reason that Dyer is still in the game.
Last summer, while waiting to do interviews prior to a game, I meandered out to the Simmons Field concourse as Dyer was warming up to throw batting practice.
Though it’s gone totally white, Dyer doesn’t appear to have lost a strand of hair, something I can’t identify with at just 36 years of age. Like a man who himself was about to go six or seven innings, Dyer loosened up his arm and began throwing strikes into the batting cage.
He had plenty of velocity still.
And in the mid-afternoon sun of that summer day, he had a smile on his face.
Fifty years ago, Duffy Dyer was part of something that very few athletes have ever experienced.
Today, he throws batting practice to college kids as if the vagaries of time and age don’t exist.
Fifty years after being part of a miracle, I’d say it’s a miracle that Duffy Dyer can still do something he loves every day.