MetsPlus Throwback: 11 Questions with Art Shamsky

This past week, I got the chance to speak with 1969 New York Met champion Art Shamsky. Art Shamsky played in the major leagues for 7 seasons, and throughout his prestigious career, he became a member of the National Jewish Hall of Fame, an entrepreneur and of course, a World Series Champion. Here is my interview with this New York Met legend.

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Niko:
In 1968, you were traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the New York Mets. What is the difference of playing in New York than in other “small market” cities?

Art:
Well, I was apprehensive for a couple of reasons. First of all, the Mets were not a very good team, and coming from Cincinnati which, while I was there, hadn’t won any World Series or pennants but certainly was a very good baseball team,the Mets were known as the “Lovable Losers”, and quite honestly if you did not win two out of three games, it was not a good series. I wasn’t crazy about New York as it was so big; I had grown up in St.Louis, Missouri, and Cincinnati was a good size of a city, but New York was so big. When I came here as a visiting player, I found it overwhelming, the city was very different for me. When I first heard about getting traded, not only was it sad for me since I was leaving friends, I thought it wasn’t the right place for me. However as fate would have it, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened because we won the World Series.

Niko:
The “Miracle” Mets of 1969 won the World Series. Could you please describe the experience of the World Series?

Art:
The World Series is every kid’s dream, I can’t begin to tell you what a thrill it is to not only play on a team that’s in the World Series, but to be on a team that wins the World Series. I don’t know if you know this, but I made the last out in Game 1 of the World Series, and that was the only game we lost, and I was very disappointed, and it was a situation in the game where the tying run was at second base. A lot of people following the Baltimore Orioles thought we were going to lose four in a row. However, we won the next game with Jerry Koosman pitching in Baltimore, and we came back, and the rest is history. We won the next three in New York. Again, for me to be in the World Series, and to play on a winning team, is the best thing a kid could want growing up and playing baseball .To be on that team, and to experience all the things that we did, the team was known as the “Lovable Losers” the very first years and no one expected us to win. And when we did win, the city went crazy. We were the second team in New York to win a championship in 1969, the Jets won in February and the Knicks won in 1970, and all for the first time, which was pretty exciting.

Niko:
What are the differences between the World Series of 1969 and the World Series of 2014? –

Art:
Well, it’s still the Fall Classic, that people call it. A lot of people believe the Super Bowl of football is the biggest sporting event, but the World Series have always been very special, history has shown it. The series this year with the seven games was very exciting, but I don’t know how much difference there is from the World Series of then and now. I know that the way they pick who is the home team is different now, but mostly it’s a thrill for anybody to be part of a team that gets to the World Series, and to win it was just incredible. However, I’m not sure how much of a difference there is once the game starts, it’s still that classic best of seven series, against the teams that most likely deserve to be there. The playoff system, as witnessed by a Kansas City team that went all the way, and into the finals and the seventh game, if you just make the playoffs now, you have a chance to go all the way. Back then, my first year, it was the winner of the American League versus the winner of the National League. In 1969, they decided to go to Division Play, with two divisions in the American League and two divisions in the National League. We beat Atlanta, in three games in a row, in a best of 5, which was the first year of division play, and then we went on to the World Series. And that’s the difference of the World Series between then and now.
And thats what I’ve come to love about the sport. It all comes down to these 7 Games. It’s all about what happens between the white lines, whether if its good pitching or good hitting, that was the secret of the 1969 Mets. And that came together it was the catalyst for us to win in 1969.

Niko:
During your four years with the Mets, what was one of your fondest moments? ( Besides the World Series Championship)

Art:
The overall experience of the Mets was just incredible, once I got over to the team, and lost that apprehension of that team not being good, and I remember coming to New York and renting a house in Queens, and didn’t know what to do after the season, this was in 1968, and after the season was over, I moved into the city with my two young daughters in Manhattan, and fell in love with the whole aura of New York City. And I think that experience of playing on that championship team was so special, and the interesting thing about all of this is, when people talk to me, now I played thirteen years professionally, no one really talks about the other twelve, for all intends and purposes, but that year with the Mets was so special. There were some things I did in Cincinnati that were very special, like hitting four home runs in a row, and I’ve been on some good teams, yet, for the most part, they want to know about 1969. All of the interesting things that happened that year. Being on a team that was in 9th place in a division with only 10 teams, and a half game out of last place my first year, and going from that to winning the World Series the next year, when no one expected us to do it. Turning around, and winning 100 games in the regular season, sweep a very good Braves team, and winning against an incredible team in the Baltimore Orioles. The ultimate experience anybody could have.

Niko:
You were involved in a lot of transition periods in Baseball. (Mound height changing, further expansion teams, introduction of the CS series) If you could make another rule change to Major League Baseball, what would you change?

Art:
I would really try to find a way to speed up the game, I know it’s difficult now because they have to do a lot of commercials during the game. I know that sometimes, in between innings, they have to put some additional commercials, it seems as if when I watch the game now, they are so long, and they are very difficult for fans to sit through a whole game. It seems like every at-bat is at least 5 to 10 Minutes. I’m used to getting in there and swinging at the first pitch. Now, all the hitters work counts, they want batters to not swing at that first pitch. I wonder sometimes because with runners on scoring position and less than two outs, I’ve always believed the name of the game is to get that run in. I see batters take pitches right down the middle of the plate, and swing at pitches in the dirt and at their heads and fall behind 0 and 2. I would try to find a way to speed up the game, I think the game is too long. If possible, they should do something to shorten the game, there is a lot of money in the game, salaries are high, it’s kind of like a Catch 22. They want the commercials, and they want to speed up the game. I think the game has changed in that respect. They want the fans to pay for parking and tickets, but I’m not sure if they care if you watch the game anymore. The owners want you up in the restaurants, memorabilia stores and the clubs, and no one really keeps score anymore with the scorecards. Fans need to get more involved in the game. Keeping score is becoming a lost art, you see all of these empty seats, and it makes you wonder what the owners expect out of the fans.

Niko:
The Mets are currently built around their farm system, in a way, like the 1969 Mets. What are the similarities between the two clubs? –

Art:
Well, I don’t see a lot of similarities, between the teams as of yet. I do know that the Mets have some good young pitchers and thats how the 1969 Mets were like. They developed some good pitchers within the organization and made some good trades. Tommie Agee came over in 1968 and was a terrific center fielder, Cleon Jones was great as well. Ed Kranepool, Buddy Harelson was a terrific shortstop, Ken Boswell was great too. The pitching was amazing with Seaver, Koosman, Ryan among others. I see the Mets, to some degree, being able to do that with the good young pitching. You just have to hope that they stay good and remain healthy. That was an asset of the 1969 Mets, we always stayed healthy for the most part.

Niko:
Any predictions for the 2015 New York Mets?

Art:
It’s hard to predict, I know that they have to do something in the free agency. They have signed some players, and kept some of the older players. It’s hard to predict because you don’t know what the roster will be like at this point. If you can just make the playoffs, you will have chance to win, because anything can happen in the playoffs in a short series. I think that is the way to approach the game now. These things could happen, but the goal is to stay in the playoff mix. If you can get to that mix, you can build some confidence and momentum, then you have a shot and anyone can win.

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Niko:
You wrote an amazing book titled “The Magnificent Seasons”. Would you mind sharing a brief synopsis of the book?

Art:
The book is really about 1969-70. Although, in reality it starts in 1968 with the New York Jets season. It’s really about the Jets, Mets and Knicks all winning championships for the first time. An unbelievable story of how all three teams in the New York area got though some very difficult times. About 20 years after I played in 1969 we did some shows, reunions. And I realized that this team the Mets was loved so much by the community. Not only did we win, but we won and brought people out of tough times. Then, I realized that the Knicks and Jets did the same thing. It was an awful time in this country, war in Vietnam, political unrest, it was a very very bad time. I realized I wanted to write about what these teams meant to the community all over the United States. It was such an unbelievable experience to write this book. I used timeline events to show what was going on in the country at the time, when we were winning, the Jets were winning, and the Knicks were winning. I did so many interviews from players to coaches to sportswriters. I wanted to get a broad spectrum of how important these three teams were. I got some help from Joe Namath and Bill Bradley and Tom Seaver. Bob Costas also wrote an intro to the book. I got paintings from LeRoy Neiman. I got so much help from so many famous people from that time. The championships from these three teams helped the area get through some really dark times. Each set of these teams had their great important people. The Jets had Joe Namith, and the rest is history, and we had Seaver and Koosman and Jones and McGraw and all the others on the team. The Knicks had Willis Reed and Walt Frazier among others. The thing that is really interesting is that they were all coached by really strong leaders. The Knicks with Red Holtzman, the Mets with Gil Hodges and the Jets with Weeb Ewbank, all strong determined and great leaders. It was a great experience for me to write the book. People today still want to read it and buy it.

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Niko:
I recently saw your name associated with an interesting product ‘Baseball Bat Walking Canes with MLB Team logos” How did that come about?

Art:
Teresa Taylor, a wonderful woman I live with,designs innovative healthcare products and was awarded a Major League Baseball license -she is the first women to combine MLB with Healthcare brands- She is launching her ‘Ball Park Healthcare Brand of Walking Canes with Team logos- and this Christmas season she is launching her ‘MLB’ Wheelchair Bags- just wonderful gifts for loved ones & fans who need products to lift their spirits. I am her spokesperson along with a few other great players.

Niko:
You were the manager of the Modi’in Miracle in 2007. How does your experience as a coach compare to that of a player?

Art:
I really enjoyed it. It was a new experience, it was a league that was started in Israel and it only lasted for one year, it was a great experience. I actually learned how to manage a little bit, the fields weren’t great, the players for the most part, were just trying to see if they could make it to the next level. I would call it the lowest classification of minor league baseball. It was great for me and baseball. But the experience to be in Israel for three months was really fascinating for me. Managing was not that difficult. They had seven inning games, a designated hitter. But I learned that managing isn’t just about, stealing or when to hit and run or when to make a move, but it’s about managing all the players on your team, I think we had 21 players on that team. It is about making a lineup with the nine best players on the team, and make them all feel like they are a part of the team. Everybody is playing places that maybe they are not familiar with. That is what I learned about managing there. Some were not happy that I didn’t play them enough.

Niko:
Among all of your esteemed accomplishments, (National Jewish Hall Of Fame, World Series Champion, Manager, Entrepreneur), which stands out to you as your favorite and why?

Art:
I can’t deny being on that 1969 team championship team isn’t the highlight of my career, I hit the four homeruns in a row in Cincinnati, and the hall of fame display because of the uniqueness of how that all happened but to play on a championship team when nobody expects you to win, that is very special. I realized at that moment of my life that all the time I practiced as a kid and played with my friends, all of those bus trips and station wagon trips and all of those times we got up early to practice at the ballpark, .,,and when I got up into the big leagues it was a thrill in itself. You always got to the ballpark early to practice more, worked out more. You spent all of these moments of your life to play in the World Series, and it’s every kid’s dream for that to happen.Being on that championship Met team is so special, and I’m so happy to be in the New York City area for that. I’m able to do things like I’m doing with you right now because of it and I’m very understanding and very appreciative about that. One of the teams people will be talking about for ever is the 1969 Mets. The 1969 Mets were the epitome of teamwork. The other day I saw a t shirt that said Together Everybody Achieves More or TEAM. It was really about a team effort and that was what was special about the 1969 Mets.

Thank you Mr.Shamsky you should be really proud of all of your accomplishments and your career. I’m both honored and grateful that you took time out of your day to answer my questions.
“If you are interested in Art Shamsky speaking to a group or making a personal appearance or purchasing memorabilia his book etc. please go tohttp://www.artshamsky.com.

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5 Comments

bravo niko!!!

Tune in next week to my blog when the Dodgers beat the Mets!

Yes, tune into their blog to see concise recap posts of the Dodger losses over the days!

Yeah I know. The Mets are a great team.

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