day 24: sham

Today is 24 days, which is three weeks and three days of the omer: tiferet she’b’netzach.

You better believe that a Jewish baseball player in New York City is always a BFD, almost no matter how he plays. And when that player was a member of the 1969 “Miracle Mets,” madness must ensue. Indeed, outfielder Art Shamsky says, “There isn’t a day that goes by that someone doesn’t want to talk to me about the 1969 Mets.”

Shamsky gets at the real heart of fandom when he adds, “I’ve talked to a lot of people over the years, and probably 150,000 have told me they were at the last game on October 16, 1969, when we won the World Series. And I think Shea Stadium at the time probably held 53,000 at most. And either they were there in spirit, or they were there in person — it doesn’t make any difference. Because I just think, you know, they were there.”

Right now, you can watch that game on YouTube, part of MLB’s sharing classic games while the season is suspended. It’s such a fun game, the perfect capstone to a season that saw the Mets win their first division title with a 100-62 record, then defeat the Braves 3-0 in the NLCS and the heavily favored Orioles in five games.

To answer the most important question one has to ask of any Jewish ball player: Shamsky didn’t play on Rosh Hashanah! He sat out two of the best Mets pitching performances in a double-header, against the Pirates on September 12, 1969, Erev Rosh Hashanah, while the Mets were racing toward the division title.

And those two games were wild. In the first, Jerry Koosman pitched a nine-inning, three-hit, 1-0 shutout and drove in that one run, a 5th-inning RBI single. In the second, Don Cardwell pitched an eight-inning, four-hit, 1-0 shoutout and drove in that one run, a 2nd-inning RBI single. Also? The first game took 2:19; the second, just 2:02.

Shamsky also missed the next day’s game, on Rosh Hashanah, when the Mets beat the Pirates again, 5-2. He did, however, play on Yom Kippur 10 days later. But in the 11 games after Rosh Hashanah, Shamsky batted .306 with a homer and six RBI — with the Mets losing just three times with him in the lineup (and one of those defeats came after the Mets had clinched the division).

Interestingly, a sportswriter for the New Jersey Jewish News reported in 2004 that Shamsky didn’t play on Yom Kippur that year, but that’s Sham’s faulty memory. Ron Kaplan wrote, “People still approach him — parents and grandparents of today’s young fans — to share their memories about his decision not to play on Yom Kippur in 1969. ‘The funny thing was, the Mets won both ends of a double header’ that day, he cracked” — obviously referring to the games on Erev Rosh Hashanah. On Yom Kippur in 1969, Shamsky went 1-4 with 1 RBI in the Mets’ 3-1 win over the Cardinals.

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I think there are probably lots of reasons that Shamsky is a good fit for today’s sefirot, “endurance that manifests as beauty.” But I am focusing today on events that occurred over the last few years. Last year he co-authored a book about that WS Champion team, based in part on Shamsky’s organizing a reunion of some of the teams’ players, in the shadow of the declining health from Alzheimer’s of both Bud Harrelson and Tom Seaver. In 2017, Harrelson and Shamsky, along with Koosman and Ron Swoboda, went to visit Seaver at vineyard in Napa. They managed to get there on one of Seaver’s “good days,” according to Seaver’s wife, and the men were able to talk and reminisce for hours. Seaver also gave everyone a tour of the estate, explaining the details of the business of wine-making. But on the last day of their visit, after lunch, it was clear that Seaver was having one of his not-so-good days. After he got home, Shamsky started working on After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the ’69 Mets. Early last year, Seaver’s family announced that he would no longer be making public appearances.

For demonstrating the beauty in lasting relationships, let’s count Day 24 in honor of the kid from St. Louis whose Jewish mother just wanted him to go to college and become a doctor.

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