Mets' 1969 reunion tour begins in Florida

Jones, Shamsky, Kranepool visit club at Spring Training

February 22nd, 2019

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For the first time since their playing days, Cleon Jones, Art Shamsky and Ed Kranepool suited up together in full uniform Friday for a trip to Spring Training. The three slipped on their white pinstriped jerseys and pants, then hung around the first-base line at First Data Field as current Mets players took part in a simulated game.

It was all part of the Mets’ 1969 reunion tour, which the team will highlight with a gathering of most living players from June 28-30 at Citi Field.

Friday, in a promotional appearance for that event, Jones, Shamsky and Kranepool delivered a secondary message as well.

“If not for Gil Hodges, we wouldn’t be standing here talking about the '69 Mets,” Jones said.

To a man, members of the 1969 team have been outspoken in saying the late Hodges should be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A .273 career hitter who swatted 370 home runs despite two years lost to military service, Hodges went on to manage nine years for the Senators and Mets before his death at age 47 in 1972. Three years earlier, Hodges led the Mets to their first World Series title.

“Gil was a tough, tough manager but everybody respected him,” Shamsky said. “He managed by feel but he got the most out of every player.”

He did not make it into the Hall of Fame on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s ballot, topping out at 63.4 percent of the vote in his 15th and final year of eligibility. Nor has Hodges been able to crack Cooperstown through alternate means. He’s next eligible when the Hall’s Golden Era Committee meets in 2020.

In the interim, Hodges’ former players will continue to champion his cause -- particularly this year, as they relive the 50th anniversary of their greatest triumph.

“We’re still living and dreaming about that team, and reaping the benefits from being part of that team,” Shamsky said. “It was so special. History will show that that team is one of the most inspirational, and whatever you want to say about them, one of the really great teams that really affected the game of baseball in a positive way.”

Simulated chaos

Friday marked the Mets’ final tuneup before their first Grapefruit League game, and they took the opportunity to prepare in a casual but instructive manner. Manager Mickey Callaway and his staff organized a simulated game for Mets hitters, who took their hacks off a pitching machine delivering 90-mph fastballs from about 50 feet.

On the basepaths, coaches set up specialized situations for runners, such as sprinting first to third or second to home. Behind home plate was a bunting drill station. And in the infield, bullpen catchers Dave Racaniello and Eric Langill officiated the proceedings dressed as basketball referees (complete with tight pants and whistles).

“We bought them on Amazon,” Callaway quipped.

The star of the day was infielder-turned-outfielder Jeff McNeil, who bashed a deep home run off the pitching machine and wore a broad grin afterward. Said McNeil: “That felt good.”

From the trainer’s room

Infielder Jed Lowrie returned to Mets camp on Friday, but he departed without delivering an update on his sore left leg. Asked multiple times about Lowrie’s injury, Callaway repeated the phrase “it’s nothing serious” multiple times. He did not offer details. A Mets spokesman later clarified that Lowrie is dealing with soreness in the back of his left knee.

Mets officials are insistent that the issue is, in Callaway’s words, “nothing serious.” They will ease Lowrie back into action as tolerated, but will not deploy him in Grapefruit League games until he’s back to full strength.

“We’re going to progress slowly so when he’s able to come back and play,” Callaway said, “he’s 100 percent.”