by Tom Pedulla –
Wayne Coffey was 15 years old and Shea Stadium hot dogs cost a quarter when the Amazin’ Mets went from perennial laughingstock to World Series champions in 1969.
Coffey, now a best-selling author who lives in Sleepy Hollow, brings back a flood of memories in his latest gem, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done: The ’69 Mets, New York City and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History.
Coffey devoted two-and-a-half years to the book, which will be released by Crown Publishing on March 26. He traveled to Mission Viejo, California, to interview outfielder Rod Gaspar, to Osceola, Wisconsin, to spend time with lefthander Jerry Koosman, and to Mobile, Alabama, to visit outfielder Cleon Jones, among other destinations.
“Pretty much, I tracked down everyone I could,” he said, estimating that he might have covered as many as 20,000 miles.
He did not stop with members of the roster. Two former bat boys provided interesting material. Former players of the Chicago Cubs opened up about a late-season collapse that paved the way for the Mets’ shocking late-season rise. Members of the Atlanta Braves recalled being swept in three games in a best-of-five National League Championship Series. Former players for the Baltimore Orioles remembered their startling World Series defeat.
“Sometimes the best stuff comes from the periphery, people who may not have been a star of the team or a high-profile player but have an interesting story to tell,” said Coffey.
The author honed his reporting skills during a 30-year career with the New York Daily News. He has written more than 30 books, the most recent a string of best-selling collaborations with former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, ex-Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, soccer star Carli Lloyd and former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer. The Boys of Winter, a New York Times bestseller, is a defining work about the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team.
Coffey needed to go it alone in writing They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, drawing deeply from his memories. His grandfather, Frank, took him to his first baseball game in 1962 at the Polo Grounds, to watch a bumbling Mets team that would finish 40-120. That made it all the more special when the two were on the edge of their seats for clinching Game 5 of the 1969 World Series.
“I ran on the field like other lunatics,” Coffey said. “I got my little patch of Shea Stadium sod.”
Of all the teams and all of the seasons he has chronicled, nothing was quite like 1969.
“The appeal of this story and what makes it so uplifting is that here is a team that was not just bad but historically horrible,” Coffey said. “The first year, 1962, right out of the chute they are 40-120, still the worst season of any team in modern baseball history. The first seven years, they lost 737 games. They were as bad as you can be.”
Although the 50th anniversary of the Amazin’ Mets provides compelling material, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done brought up certain issues.
“It’s challenging when you are a reporter and you are asking someone to go over something they’ve talked about a lot,” Coffey said. “It’s very easy to get canned responses and push-button answers. The challenge was to do enough research and to try to approach it in a different way so you can get fresh material. I found a lot of fresh stories.”
Coffey will share some of those stories during an appearance at Warner Library on May 2, a date worth saving.