XM Fan : How about your road to the majors, beginning in high school?
Ron : I played on a pretty decent high school team in Baltimore County, at Sparrows Point High School. I believe we won the Baltimore County Championship my senior year, which involved only playing maybe eight or twelve games.
The way I developed any ability to attract professional scouts was by playing for two people. The first was an amateur team in Baltimore named Gordon Stores, which was a cleaning company that no longer exists. The guy who managed that team was a fellow by the name of Sterling “Sheriff” Fowble. This was a team for sixteen-year-olds that played in several leagues in the city, and we played a pretty high caliber of ball. If your team did well you played in a tournament that ended up having a championship game in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, which is where the Orioles used to play.
The team that really made the difference for me was a couple of years later when I played on a team called Leone’s (Boys Club), which was a sixteen to nineteen team. I played for them one year, and we played at least eighty or ninety games – I don’t remember the exact number – but during the summer you played two and a half months of everyday baseball.
We’d usually play two games on a Sunday, and of course lots of practice. I played for a guy named Walter Youse, who was a scout for the Orioles. He was really professionally oriented about the way you played, along with the way you were expected to dedicate yourself to the game based on the professional model. I played every day in the summer and believe that this concentrated program is what really helped me to sign a professional contract.
We played in the Johnstown (AAABA) Tournament in Johnstown, PA, which still goes on today. This was one of those places where you’d play and the scouts would come and see you. Interestingly enough, when it came to signing a contract, “Sheriff” Fowble was a bird dog scout with the New York Mets and brought to the tournament a regular scout named Wid Mathews. Wid Mathews was the scout who signed Stan Musial back when he was working for the Cardinals.
Wid came to our house and offered me a number. So I signed with the New York Mets, who were my original team.
XM Fan : How about a young twenty-year-old’s impression of Casey Stengel?
Ron : Probably what’s most amazing to me is when I first met him in 1964. He was already in his early seventies and it was my first Spring Training. You know, there is something so amazing… I may end up using the word “amazing” more often when talking about Casey Stengel, because he was truly amazing… The fact that he was still in the game. He was bent over, had a big knot in his leg where he’d gotten hit by a taxicab, walked bowlegged and a bit stooped over. He had this face that looked like it came off of Mount Rushmore. But with all the wrinkles and crinkles of age, his eyes were very blue and very young. His face was prone to all kinds of expressions – mostly he was smiling.
He was an incredible character to be around. I suspect he was more of a character with the New York Mets than he was with the Yankees during the forties and fifties, winning all those American League Pennants and World Championships. He had to become more of a character with the Mets, because he realized that expansion teams back then were going to struggle to develop themselves into something. There was no free agency or other paths to find the more instant success. You would have to grow your own players, and your system was going to have to work. So my first time around him I considered him to be a delightful character. He understood the process, and I think he may have “hammed it up” a little more because his job was to entertain the media and keep them from turning on the franchise. He knew the team was not going to be successful for a while.
So in a sense, while he was doing his job for the Mets I think he was
eroding his legend as a great manager. Unfortunately people tend to remember him as the clown, which he did play occasionally. As smart and savvy as he was, he did play that clown part a little bit as the Mets Manager. You tend to forget he was a pretty damn good manager of some pretty damn good teams while wearing the Yankee pinstripes.
XM Fan : Many people believe the Mets started to turn the corner right around ’67, with the addition of Tom Seaver to the roster.
Ron : When Tom Seaver came to the Mets I don’t remember there being any transition from a young, inexperienced pitcher to the guy people quickly recognized as being on track to the Hall of Fame. It seemed like he came out of the box fully formed and was able to pitch and compete at a very high level. Incredible. And he was able to maintain that level – I believe his ERA was over 3.00 just once during his first ten years in the big leagues. That level of consistency and success was just incredible.
Kellia Ramares : Happy 62nd!!
Happy Birthday, Rocky!
Former Mets right fielder Ron Swoboda is 62 today. But as my friend and fellow Mets fan Lucy said after she saw him at Shea several years ago, “he’ll always be 24 to me.” His 9-year major league career, which included a stint with the cross-town rival Yankees, never achieved the level a lot of people, including Casey Stengel, had hoped. Rocky had trouble with curve balls and stuck out alot. (647 Ks compared to 642 hits and 299 BBs). Some folks, including my father, thought Swoboda was brought up from the minors too soon.
Nevertheless, he has a ring. Ron Swoboda was part of the 1969 World Championship Mets team, as our fellow blogger Brooks Robinson probably remembers all too well. In the 9th inning of Game 4, Swoboda took an extra-base hit from Robinson with a stunning diving catch that was all the more spectacular for the fact that Rocky wasn’t known for that sort of thing. Casey Stengel had said of Swoboda, “Amazing strength, amazing power – he can grind the dust out of the bat. He will be great, super even wonderful. Now, if he can only learn to catch a fly ball.” Rocky sure caught that one and the catch helped prevent the Orioles from breaking open that game. Stengel, doing newspaper commentary in New York for the Series was very proud and named Swoboda the hero of the game.
Rocky batted .400 (6/15) in that Series. He hit a double that drove in the fourth run in championship-clinching Game 5. That run broke a 3-3 tie and proved to be the gamer as the Mets won 5-3. The RBI is featured in the MLB highlight video of the Series. Click here and look for the 1969 clip.
I had just started high school when the 1969 World Series took place. Latin was required in freshman year, and I was having trouble. Latin not only has verb conjugations but noun declensions. Thus, the nouns change endings as well as the verbs, depending on what case the noun is in. It’s all rather complicated. Since the Romans did not have ESPN, FOXSports or MLB.tv, sports in Rome, such as chariot races, gladiator matches and Lions vs. Christians interspecies wrestling, were all live events. So the spectators didn’t have much to do after a day at the Coliseum except eat, have orgies, and develop complicating nuances to their language. I couldn’t grasp the details until I used Swoboda’s name as a mnemonic for the first declension, and when that proved successful, I found other Mets names for second and third declensions. As my high school paper noted when word got around that I was doing this, “Looks like Julius Ceasar has finally MET his match.”
Latin Nouns – First Declension
When Swoboda was traded to the Expos in 1971, I was crushed. I remember seeing a man on the subway reading a newspaper that bore the backpage headline :
” End of an Era — Swoboda Traded “
That headline made the trade real to me. But unlike now, where my team “loyalties” are defined by whoever has Eric Byrnes, I remained a Mets fan. It was a different time.
After his playing days, Swoboda became a sports reporter and later a sports news director in New Orleans. I saw him on TV when I was in New Orleans in 1989.
Happy Birthday, Ron Swoboda! Thanks again for your part in the 1969 World Series…. and for the help with the Latin.