Jerry Koosman was all alone, pacing back and forth in the
bullpen before the start of Game 5 of the 1969 World Series,
when he heard a soft, sweet voice call his name. It was Pearl
Bailey, the sassy performer and avid New York Mets fan who was
at Shea Stadium to sing the national anthem, and she offered
some soothing words to the trembling Koosman, a 26-year-old
lefthander from the small town of Appleton, Minn. "She said she
had ESP," recalls Koosman. "She saw the number eight and told me
I was going to win the game. Hearing her talk actually calmed me
down a little bit before I stepped onto the mound."
His nerves relaxed, the high-kicking Koosman tossed a five-hit
complete game, and New York beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-3
(eight total runs) to wrap up the World Series. Thus ended the
miracle season of the amazing Mets, who won 38 of their last 49
regular-season games to come from 9 1/2 games back in mid-August
and take the National League East. "It was a dream season," says
Koosman, 56, who now lives in Bonita Springs, Fla., with his
wife, LaVonne--the mother of their three adult children--and
owns a company that designs devices such as self-cleaning
soft-serve ice cream machines. "It was one of those years in
baseball that isn't likely to happen again."
How does Koosman think 1969 compares with last season, when the
public was mesmerized by the miraculous feats of Mark McGwire
and Sammy Sosa? "I honestly don't watch much of the game
anymore," he says. "It just doesn't appeal to me because most of
the young pitchers have no control. They're pitching up in the
strike zone. If I'd done that, I'd never have made the club."
Koosman relied on a lively fastball and an old-fashioned curve
that dropped from shoulder to knee. Mixing speeds on those two
pitches, Koosman put together a 222-209 record in 19 seasons
with the Mets, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and
Philadelphia Phillies. However, he never became a household
name, in part because he spent his best years working in the
shadow of New York teammate Tom Seaver, an eventual Hall of Famer.
Koosman was happy to let Seaver receive most of the attention.
"I was a farm kid pitching in the biggest media market in
baseball," says Koosman. "Imagine how a lifelong New Yorker
would fare on a farm, and that's how shocking it was to me. So,
no, I never minded missing the spotlight. I just wanted to win."
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR./GLENN PALMER-SMITH (COVER)
"It was a dream season," Koosman says of the Mets' miraculous
'69. "It isn't likely to happen again."