June 30 – Happy Birthday Ron Swoboda
If you followed Big Apple baseball during the sixties, you don’t forget when a 21 year old kid from Baltimore made the 1965 Mets roster out of spring training and started hitting home runs with a frequency no other Met had hit them before. By the time the 1965 All Star break rolled around, Ron Swoboda already had 15 round trippers. NL pitchers then stopped throwing him fastballs and Swoboda hit just four more home runs the rest of the season. Still, his 1965 total of 19 stood as the Met rookie record until Darryl Strawberry hit seven more than that in 1983.
The New York sports media made a huge fuss about Swoboda in his first year. He was the one bright spot in a season when the Amazin’s lost 112 times. Objectively speaking, Swoboda was not that good a player. In addition to striking out too much, he was a pretty shaky fielder. But Met fans who had so little to cheer about, loved their “Rocky.”
His most famous big league moment took place during the fourth game of the Mets first World Series in 1969, against Baltimore. New York, behind Tom Seaver, had taken a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning when the Orioles mounted a rally. With one out and runners on first and third, Brooks Robinson hit a shot to the gap in right center. Somehow, Swoboda got to the ball and with his body parallel to the ground made one of the greatest catches I have ever seen. The runner at third tagged and scored on the play but if Swoboda doesn’t make that catch, the runner at first would have scored and Baltimore would have taken the lead. New York ended up winning the game in ten innings and I was at Shea Stadium for the fifth and final game of that Fall Classic to see Swoboda knock in the winning run in what would be one of the greatest sports thrills of my lifetime.
In 1971, the Mets brought up Kenny Singleton and Swoboda was shoved out of New York’s outfield. He was traded to the Expos just before the ’71 season started for a guy named Don Hahn. He had played just 39 games for Montreal that year, when he was traded to the Yankees for outfielder, Ron Woods. Swoboda spent the final two and a half seasons of his big league career in pinstripes. His last year was 1973. He hit a total of 73 home runs during his nine seasons in the Majors. If you didn’t know better and judged his career by only the numbers, you’d never understand or appreciate the huge impact he made on New York City big league baseball during the first half of the 1965 season and those four glorious games he played against the Orioles in the fall of 1969.