Book Review: A Magic Summer

In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the 1969 World Champion Mets the folks at Skyhorse Publishing have re-released Stanley Cohen’s A Magic Summer. (Kindle version available here.) The book tells the story of the of the team from spring training through the last game of the series. Though the book originally came out 20 years ago I had never read it before. I was very happy that I had the opportunity to read it now.

Cohen, an award winning journalist, tells the story and relays a great amount of information without ever getting dull or boring. The narrative is interspersed with background information and interviews of many of the players who played for the Mets that year. Among the players highlighted in these interludes are Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Duffy Dyer, Ed Kranepool, Gary Gentry & Rod Gaspar. One of the highlights for me was the interview with Nolan Ryan. We all know that Ryan turned out to be one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. But in 1969 he was young and still trying to find his way.

One of the things I learned through the book is how so many of the players who were on that team dislike the word ‘miracle’ used to describe their feat. The book discusses (and the interviews confirm) that there was a quiet but strong shift during the 1968 season where the 1969 team was beginning to take shape. By the end of the 1968 season there was a great mix of young, very talented players and experienced veterans that would serve as the core of the 1969 team. The attitudes of the players took a dramatic uptake as the 1968 season went on despite being a last place team because they all thought that they had what it took to be a winner.

The book also discusses the role that manager Gil Hodges played in the championship season and highlights the differences of approach between him and his former manager with the Dodgers and 1969 counterpart with the Cubs Leo Durocher. Hodges silent but strong approach contrasts dramatically to Leo the Lip’s in your face approach.

I was born in 1970 and so was unable to experience the magic as it transpired. Thus all of my exposure to the 1969 team has all been second hand. Stories told to me by people who were older than me. An occasional article in a magazine or newspaper. This was the first time I read a comprehensive summary of the season and I was not let down. Cohen gives a game by game accounting of the season jam packed with information about the players, the games and the times without ever losing the reader. I’m a slow reader who really needs to be turned on by the writing in order to get through a book and I was able to complete the book in just three weekends while enjoying it tremendously.

If you’re a Mets fan who is too young to have been there or if you’re just looking to remember good times I highly recommend this book.

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