The Summer of ’69 may have been one Bryan Adams sang about, but that song was written from a very different perspective than mine.
On July 20, 1969–40 years ago today–the historic moon landing took place, mid-summer in the last year of the turbulent decade of the ’60s. Those who weren’t born then no doubt know our country was embroiled in a war in Vietnam, with a new president in the White House who’d been inaugurated that January.
Baseball season in 1969–the 100th anniversary of professional baseball–saw several changes in the MLB. Two expansion teams, the San Diego Padres and the Montreal Expos, were added to the National League. Two more, the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Pilots, were new franchises in the American League. Because of the fact more teams were now competing, 1969 marked the first time each league was split into two divisions, the East and the West. Baseball’s Rules Committee also decided to lower the pitching mound from 15 inches to 10 inches, in an attempt to spur more offensive output throughout the game.
For me, at age 9, this summer was special. I attended my first major league game–the Dodgers vs. the Padres–at San Diego Stadium. I bought my first pack of baseball cards. I began to learn who a lot of the players were.
It was an era of brand-new multi-purpose stadiums, a lingering time of the last few years before free agency would rear its (fill-in-the-blank) head.
But on July 20, the eyes of the nation were diverted from our national pastime to an unprecedented occasion–the landing of three men on the moon. I remember our family barbecuing dinner, then coming indoors that evening to watch this exciting event on TV–a color TV set, which we, probably the last family on the block to have a color TV, had just gotten a few months earlier. Our closest family friends joined us, and everyone shared the moment and celebrated with ice cream.
I recently acquired an audio tape of the Dodgers game vs. the San Francisco Giants played in Candlestick Park that same night, in which Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully giddily announced that “The Eagle has landed.” In the midst of a division race between these two bitter rivals, both took a back seat to the space race. “Can you believe it,” exclaimed Scully, “here we are talking about the Dodgers and the Giants, and there’s a man on the moon!”
The All-Star Game that year was held just a few days later, on July 23, in Washington, D.C. (The NL won, 9-3.)
The Giants’ Willie McCovey was the National League MVP, and Ted Sizemore of the Dodgers was the NL Rookie of the Year.
The New York Mets, perennial losers in their first seven years of existence, would go on to win the World Series, upsetting the favored Baltimore Orioles, becoming the darlings of the sports media and shocking the world. The Mets’ improbable dream season was led by the stellar pitching of future Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. Seaver would win the Cy Young Award.
One of my dad’s favorite players, Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, would cap off his Hall of Fame career that summer. So too did Yankees great Mickey Mantle retire. Stan “The Man” Musial, forever a Cardinal, and Roy Campanella, forever a Dodger, were inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame that summer.
But for me, the summer of 1969 was all about the beginning of a love affair–my love for baseball, still in its infancy, but which would blossom to fullness over the next four decades.