Many people, especially New Yorkers, remember the 1969 Mets. Many remember Art Shamsky from that historic team. Shamsky was a vital member of that championship and is often run for his 4 Home Runs in a row during their run. But of all the athletes I have worked with and interviewed, Shamsky was more than his story; he is a passionate lover of the sport he played. We sat down on the Upper West Side of NY for coffee to discuss his love of baseball, its rich history and its exciting future.
1) The ’69 Mets were one of baseball’s historic teams. What are your memories of that run?
We were not the greatest team but we were certainly one of the most memorable. Part of it was the history leading up to that year. For six years we were the laughing stock of the league but then we turned it around. We had the great Tom Seaver who was one of the top three or four pitchers in the league and probably the greatest Met of All-Time. Our pitching made us competitive with guys like Seaver, [Tug] McGraw, Jerry Koosman and a young Nolan Ryan. You could just see Ryan’s potential early on.
2) ’69 was an important year and you wrote a book about it. Tell us more:
The book is called The Magnificent Season. I am actually writing a sequel. That year had a lot of significance and to have the Mets, Knicks and Jets all win was incredible. It put things into perspective. After the ’68 assassinations, the Vietnam War and New York being a tough place these teams made people feel better. It was a trifecta of greatness.
3) Did you ever take the Jewish holidays off?
I took Yom Kippur off. In fact it was a double header and we were in a pennant race in 1969. It was in Pittsburgh and one was a make up game. I was very torn. Our manager, Gil Hodges, was a tough and strong guy and I respected him. I didn’t know what to do. I asked Gil and he said “do what you think is best.” I couldn’t have asked for better advise. I was nervous that if we lost I would get hate mail. But we won both games 1-0 with out pitchers driving in the runs. When I got back to the clubhouse my teammates didn’t say a word. In my locker was a sign from the guys saying “why don’t you stay out for the rest of the year.” It was very funny and I am just glad we won those games.
4) Did you ever battle Anti-Semitism?
I never faced much Anti-Semitism just occasionally rowdy fans. But I was in the minors in Macon Georgia. At that time there were different hotels for the black players. I wish I would’ve said something back then it was just a different world, but I regret it.
5) You got to play with Pete Rose. Should he be in the Hall of Fame?
In every locker room there were signs about gambling so its tough,. He was a great guy. He never did anything wrong as a player only as a manager. In 1960 he was running hard to first base. He played the game harder than anyone, so based on playing and behavior has a player, yes. I wish people still played like him.
6) You have been involved with the Jewish National Fund. Tell me about that relationship.
I got to manage in Israel during its one season. I helped get the league off and running and managed Kibbutz Gezer. JNF is an amazing organization that has diversified interested including trees, water and Project Baseball. They are helping little league develop. I have even gone to Florida to help grow the game, raise awareness and build fields.
7) What was coaching in Israel like?
It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I got to learn about the State of Israel. I kicked of a pro league with players from all over the world. I was disappointed that it only lasted one year but it was the catalyst for the World Baseball Classic and I am happy to be a part of it. I also got an opportunity to manage which is something I took for granted when I was younger. Managing isn’t about stealing and bunting it is about dealing with people even at the end of the bench. There are lots of personalities and even the guys at the end of the bench think they are the best and should be playing. And you need to keep them involved because you will need them eventually to help you win.
8) What is the biggest thing you have learned from the game of baseball?
I tell people baseball is a great way to learn about life. You will fail seven out of ten times. It is how your deal with those seven failures that make you great. Regardless of whether you are in little league or the big leagues. And you will need others to help you succeed.
9) What is next for Art Shamsky?
Well I am writing the sequel to my book. I do lots of personal appearances, broadcasting and clinics. That is why I stayed in New York. New York always offered me the opportunity to meet people. Not a day goes by without someone wanting to talk about the ’69 Mets.