Sadly, Donn Clendenon passed away earlier this week. Clendenon was the big hitting first baseman on the 1969 "Miracle" Mets team. He was the World Series MVP. He hit three home runs in the series against the Orioles, including a two-run shot to get the comeback rolling in the decisive game five. The '69 Mets were underdogs in the World Series that was sort of a microcosm of the underdog story of the young franchise in general. Clendenon provided offensive punch to the line-up. The team he helped lead to the Championship is one of the most iconic teams in sports history and will always remain an inspirational story for anybody fighting against tremendous odds.
Here's Tom Watson:
Often, he hit clean-up, right behind Cleon Jones. In the series, had had 5 hits in 14 at-bats for a .357 batting average, 4 runs batted in and 4 runs scored. His three home runs and 15 total bases set records for a five-game World Series. Life after baseball was up and down: he became a lawyer and worked for several firms, but became addicted to cocaine at age 50. He beat the addiction, moved to South Dakota, and practiced law quietly. He battled leukemia for the last decade...After winning the Series MVP, Clendenon's quote was telling: "there is no most valuable player on this team - we've got lots of them."
And here's Mike Lupica:
There is so much to remember about the '69 Mets, and that World Series they weren't supposed to win from the Baltimore Orioles. There will always be so much to remember. There was Agee catching everything in the outfield, and Ron Swoboda catching everything that Agee didn't. Always, there was the great Tom Seaver, still the greatest Met of them all. What not enough people remember was that Donn Clendenon, the old Pirate who had come over to play first base at Shea during that '69 season, was the MVP of the World Series.
In that golden time for New York sports, in the time of Willis Reed and Clyde and DeBusschere and Bradley, in the time of Namath and Matt Snell and George Sauer Jr. and Don Maynard, Donn Clendenon had his own innings, gold-plated. On one of the most famous teams in history, here or anywhere else but especially here, Clendenon, in all ways, stood tall.
But Donn Clendenon, who grew up in Atlanta, who would battle drug addiction later in his life, who would get a law degree later in his life, somehow made all the difference in that Mets batting order. He gave them a presence. Gave them stick. The Mets were nine games out when they got Clendenon for Steve Renko. They ended up winning the NL East in a two-division world by eight games. Do the math on that. Here is the math on Donn Clendenon from 1969. He played 72 games after the Mets got him and hit 12 home runs and knocked in 37 runs. On that team, those 12 home runs were a lot.
Life was not easy for Clendenon after that. It works that way sometimes when the cheering stops. He talked openly about being an addict and getting clean. He was proud of his law degree. He worked in law firms in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. In all his obits last night, he was quoted as saying that he finally got tired of big cities and moved to South Dakota.
He heard the cheers once. All those Mets did. He owned this city one October, along with the rest of his teammates. He was a Miracle Met, MVP of the Series. Donn Clendenon was the big man at first, in the biggest time in sports New York ever had. He died yesterday. The year, 1969, never dies.