By: Matt Ederer
Welcome to a study of the last 50 years of champions, draft picks, draft busts, ups, downs, triumphs, scandals, the drugs that both enhanced and detracted from performance, the troubling brain injuries we ignored for generations, the athletes who ran-on more aggressively than this sentence, and if we have time, soccer.
This is 1969 In Sports.
January 9, 1969 – American Football – Quarterback Joe Namath makes an appearance at the Miami Touchdown Club, personally guaranteeing the New York Jets’ victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Jan 12 – Superbowl III – Despite being 18-point underdogs, the New York Jets (AFL Champions) defeat the Baltimore Colts (NFL Champions) by a score of 16–7. Joe Namath is named Superbowl MVP. This remains the best and only good moment in New York Jets history.
Jan 20 – THE WORLD – Richard Nixon is sworn in as the 37th President of the United States.
Jan 26 & 27 – Tennis – Margaret Court and Rod Laver win the 1969 women’s and men’s Australian Open respectively. Most notably, Rod Laver’s semi-final match vs Tony Roche lasted four hours and was played in 105-degree heat, with both players reportedly putting wet cabbage leaves in their hats to help keep them cool. Do they do that in Australia? I stand in reverence of your fine tradition.
Jan 28 – American Football – With the 1st pick of the 1969 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select OJ Simpson, Running Back, USC. There is absolutely nothing more to this story, let’s move on.
Jan 30 – THE WORLD – The Beatles give their final public performance, from the roof of Apple Records in London, England.
February 11, 1969 – Professional Wrestling – Dory Funk Jr. defeats Gene Kiniski for the NWA Heavyweight Wrestling Championship in Tampa, FL. Fake sports are sports too.
Feb 17 – Baseball – 1969 MLB Spring Training Boycott. On the eve of 1969’s spring training kickoff, some 400 MLB players had still not reported to their teams. The professional unrest stemmed from the 1968 MLBPA/Owners labour negotiations, which were the first of their kind. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: the owners refused to increase their contribution to the players’ pension plan, despite the rapidly increasing revenues from television broadcasts.
That TV revenue. It’s a tough pie to split. The MLB Players’ Union called on players to refuse to sign their contracts or report to their teams until the issue was resolved. After the first week, only 11 players who initially boycotted had reported; those who did report were mostly fringe players, uncertain of their futures with their teams. Meanwhile, the owners were being pressured by the television companies—with one NBC executive reportedly saying that his company “would not pay major league prices for minor league games”. The long stand-off begins.
Feb 25 – The long stand-off ends. MLB owners give in to most of the players’ demands: a higher contribution of approximately $5.45 million annually, an earlier age at which players could begun drawing pensions, a wider range of benefits and less playing time required for eligibility, and a chip on their shoulders that would last to this day. By the end of February, all boycotting players had reported to spring training.
March 1, 1969 – New York Yankees CF Mickey Mantle retires from baseball, ending his Hall of Fame career.
Mar 2 – Hockey – Boston Bruins centre Phil Esposito becomes the first NHL player to score 100 points in a season, in a 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Mar 20 – Hockey – Chicago Blackhawk Bobby Hull breaks his own record for goals in an NHL season, scoring his 55th goal in a 5-5 tie v. the Boston Bruins. Bobby would finish the season with 58, easily setting a new mark. In the same game, Bobby Orr breaks Flash Hollet’s (BEST name) record for goals by a defenseman in a single year, with 21. The all Bobby-hour.
Mar 24 – Basketball – The 1968-69 NBA Season ends.
- And it was an awesome season! To recap:
- This marked the first season that Wilt Chamberlain played with the LA Lakers (the Lakers having swung a trade with the 76ers in the summer of 1968, uniting Wilt with incumbent Lakers stars Elgin Baylor and Jerry West), and the last season that Bill Russell played in the NBA, serving as player-coach of the Boston Celtics.
- The New York Knicks also swung a major offseason trade, moving PG Howie Komives and star centre Walt Bellamy to the Detroit Pistons for the White Kawhi, Dave DeBusschere (probably an insult to Kawhi, but I’ve used DeBusschere on 2k games, man is a monster).
- 1968-69 was the first season that then-St. Louis Hawks played in Atlanta, as well as being the first year for the expansion Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks franchises.
- Other teams included the San Diego Rockets, the San Francisco Warriors, the Cincinnati Royals, and of course, the Seattle Supersonics.
- Speaking of sweet teams! The Baltimore Bullets came from last place in their conference to win the most games in the regular season, going 57-25. The Bullets were led by rookie centre Wes Unseld, and his rebounding, scoring and revolutionary outlet passing. Wes Unseld was named not only the Rookie of the Year, but the NBA’s MVP for 1968-69.
- Some all-time NBA theatre to come in the Finals.
Most Valuable Player: Wes Unseld, Baltimore Bullets
Rookie of the Year: Wes Unseld, Baltimore Bullets
Coach of the Year: Gene Shue, Baltimore Bullets
All-NBA First Team:
Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles Lakers
Wes Unseld, Baltimore Bullets
Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 76ers
Earl Monroe, Baltimore Bullets
Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals
NBA All-Defensive First Team:
Dave DeBusschere, New York Knicks
Walt Frazier, New York Knicks
Bill Russell, Boston Celtics
Jerry Sloan, Chicago Bulls
Nate Thurmond, San Francisco Warriors
Mar 30 – Hockey – The 1968-69 NHL Season ends.
- And it was an awesome season!! To recap:
- This was the 2nd year of the NHL’s original expansion. The league went from 6 to 12 teams in the preceding season, ending Toronto’s relevancy in the sport of hockey for the next 52 years.
- Prior to 1968-69, no player had ever scored 100 points in a single season. This year, three players do it: Phil Esposito sets a new regular season NHL scoring record with 125 points, but Bobby Hull (107) and Gordie Howe (103) also break the mark.
- Bobby Orr, in his age 21 season (!), sets the then-records for goals and points in a single season by a defenceman, with 21 and 64 respectively. Orr played 67 of a possible 76 games in 1968-69, pretty solid. Stay tuned for 1970 In Sports, where Bobby Orr absolutely fucking obliterates both of his own records and becomes arguably the greatest hockey player to ever live, Gretz included.
- Technically happened a year prior, but it’s got to be noted for sheer WTF-ness: in June of 1968, the league held its inaugural Miss NHL pageant. There were twelve contestants in the pageant, one from each of the twelve NHL teams. The winner would be named Miss NHL 1968 and would be the NHL ambassador for the 1968–69 season. Lynn Marie Stewart aka Ms. Minnesota North Stars won the prestigious award]. Video evidence of this appears not to exist anywhere, unfortunately.
Guy Lapointe, Montreal Canadiens
Tony Esposito, Montreal Canadiens
Brad Park, New York Rangers
Pat Quinn, Toronto Maple Leafs
Doug Harvey, St. Louis Blues
Pierre Pilote, Toronto Maple Leafs
Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP) : Serge Savard, Montreal,
Hart Trophy & Art Ross Trophy (Reg Season MVP // Reg Season Points Leader) : Phil Esposito, Boston,
Lady Byng (Most gentlemanly player): Alex Delvecchio, Detroit
Calder (Rookie of the Year):Danny Grant, Minnesota
Vezina (at the time, lowest .GAA) Glen Hall & Jacques Plante, St. Louis
Norris Trophy (Best defenseman): Bobby Orr, Boston
(Also,not pictured, but – retroactive Rocket Trophy = most goals in the NHL reg season) – Bobby Hull – 58 Goals
April 2, 1969 – Basketball – The New York Knicks defeat the (#1 seeded) Baltimore Bullets 4 games to 0 in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Apr 4 – The Boston Celtics defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 4 games to 1 in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Apr 5 – The Los Angeles Lakers defeat the San Francisco Warriors 4 games to 2 in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Apr 6 – Hockey – THREE first round NHL playoff series end in sweeps on the same day, because the NHL has apparently never ever ever not once done anything in a way that makes sense: Montreal Canadiens over NY Rangers, Boston Bruins over Toronto Maple Leafs (lol), and St. Louis Blues over Philadelphia Flyers.
Apr 7 – Basketball – The Atlanta Hawks defeat the San Diego Rockets 4 games to 2 in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Apr 7 – With the first pick in the 1969 NBA Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select…Lew Alcindor, C, UCLA! Best Milwaukee draft pick until Giannis. Also, why was the NBA draft during the NBA playoffs? Especially a draft as huge as that one? Even if it wasn’t televised (it wasn’t), still stands to reason to have that draft be it’s own event, separate of the NBA season, no? The NHL actually managed to get something right that the NBA had missed.
A fun fact about the NBA Drafts of the time: the 1st overall pick was determined via a coin flip between the worst team in each of the two conferences. Here’s a video about the Lew Alcindor coin flip, from the perspective of the team that didn’t get him.
April 7 – Baseball – MLB SEASON STARTS OMG. The 1969 MLB Season is arguably the first modern MLB season (it even began with the first modern labour dispute), and is indisputably one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. This was the National Pastime at the height of its glory.
- First of all, if the words “Miracle Mets” mean anything to you, you are in for a treat here.
- The modern MLB logo was first used in 1969. In fact, the season was celebrated as the 100th anniversary of professional baseball, in honour of the first professional touring baseball team (the Cincinnati Red Stockings). Truly the first example of modern marketing in MLB history. #MLB100
- In an effort to curb a trend of low-scoring games and pitcher dominance, Major League Baseball adopted two measures during the December 1968 Baseball Winter Meetings. The strike zone was reduced to the area over home plate between the armpits and the top of the knees of a batter. Also, the height of the pitching mound was reduced from 15 inches to 10 inches, and it was “recommended” that the slope be uniform in every park. Which is a little like how it’s recommended that drivers follow the speed limit, but still. Big steps.
- The first ever ALCS and NLCS are played! Before 1969, there were no MLB Playoffs to speak of. The regular season AL champion met the regular season NL champion in the World Series, and *checks notes* *goes fuck himself* yep that’s it. From 18-whatever to 1968 there was no inter-league play (still none in 1969 to be fair), no playoffs, no divisional races, and certainly none of that “fun” nonsense. Just a daunting 162 game schedule vs the same 6 to 9 teams over and over, with only one of you moving onto the big dance. Could you imagine some of those games between sub .500 teams in like, late July? Two months left to slog through. No end in sight. Those same fucking jerseys staring back at you. Open, almost joyous racism cascading through the stands. Rough times for everybody. Thankfully baseball games only lasted two hours in the 60’s.
- MLB adds four teams, going from 20 to 24. The American League expands to 12 teams, adding the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots, and the National League expands to 12 teams, adding the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres.
- With that, MLB expands outside of the United States.
- This also began what is referred to as the “Divisional Era”. where the 12-team AL and NL were first divided into two divisions of six teams each, with each divisional winner moving onto a playoff.
- A save became an official MLB statistic to reward relief pitchers who preserve a lead while finishing a game. If roto baseball had existed in 1969, this would be huge fan service (alternate joke: Goddamn’d advanced analytics ruining our game! I remember when a relief pitcher was a jug that you pissed in between starting both legs of a doubleheader! *Bullies Billy Beane for inventing efficiency in sports*)
- (I’ve certainly lost everybody with that last one ok sorry, moving on)
Apr 13 – Hockey – The Los Angeles Kings defeat the Oakland Seals 4 games to 3 in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
Apr 14 – Baseball – Montreal Expos outfielder Mack Jones hits a three-run coup de circuit in an 8-7 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. This is the Expos’ first home victory as a franchise at Jarry Park, and Jones’ home run (COUP DE CIRCUIT IS FRENCH FOR HOME RUN, YOU SEE) represents the first MLB HR ever hit outside the United States.
Apr 18 – Basketball – John Havlicek hits a series-winning shot to propel the Boston Bruins past the New York Knicks 4 games to 2 in the NBA’s Eastern conference Final.
Apr 20 – Hockey – The St. Louis Blues defeat the Los Angeles Kings 4 games to 0 in the NHL’s West Conference (?) Final.
Apr 20 – Basketball – The Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Atlanta Hawks 4 games to 1 in the NBA’s Western Conference Final. Sadly, LA misses out on the Kings-Lakers April 20th 1969 double victory 🙁 . WOULD THE CITY EVER RECOVER !??!
Apr 24 – Hockey – The Montreal Canadiens defeat the Boston Bruins 4 games to 2 in the NHL East Conference Final.
May 4, 1969 – Hockey – In a repeat of the previous season’s final, the Montreal Canadiens defeat the St. Louis Blues 4 games to 0 to win the 1969 Stanley Cup. It is Montreal’s 16th Stanley Cup. MTL’s coach was Claude Ruel, their captain was Jean Beliveau, and the playoff MVP was Serge Savard.
May 5 – Basketball – The Boston Celtics defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 3 to win the 1969 NBA Championship, then known as the Walter A Brown Trophy aka the WALTER A B.
This game and series was notable for a number of reasons. The Lakers were heavily favored due to the presence of what may have been the first ever NBA big 3: Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West. For their part, Boston was an aging team who finished 4th in the East Division, and were not expected to even make it to the finals. It also marked the first time in NBA history that an NBA Finals Game 7 was won by the road team. The Celtics’ NBA Finals victory – the last title of the Bill Russell dynasty – is widely considered one of the great upsets in NBA history.
Another historical note: “Mr. Clutch” Jerry West, with an average of nearly 38 points a game, won the Finals Most Valuable Player award, despite being on the losing team (He was also allowed to keep his nickname despite being 0-6 in Finals to that point, which is either truly proof of how good Jerry West really was, or maybe straight up 1960’s Caucasian favouritism, it’s hard to tell). This was the first year that a Finals MVP award was given, and to this day it remains the only time in NBA Finals history that the MVP was given to a player on the losing team.
And one final Finals note: with just over 5 minutes remaining and the Lakers trailing Boston 103–96, Wilt Chamberlain left the game with an injured knee. When Wilt informed Lakers Coach Bill Van Breda Kolff that he was ready to return, the coach infamously never put Wilt back in the game. With the clock waning, future hall-of-fame coach and big ol silly stoner Don Nelson put up his most famous NBA contribution as a player: a desperation 18 foot shot from the free throw line that hit the back rim, bounced high in the air and fell through the hoop. The Lakers never recovered, once again losing to Bill Russell’s Celtics in the NBA Finals. Van Breda Kolff was fired almost immediately.
May 28 – European Football – In the 1969 European Cup Final (precursor to the Champions League), A.C. Milan defeats Ajax 4-1. As of 2019, Milan’s Pierino Prati remains the most recent player to score a hat trick in a Euro Cup/Champions League final.
June 7 & 8, 1969 – Tennis – Margaret Court and Rod Laver win the 1969 women’s and men’s Australian Open respectively .
June 8 – Baseball – Mickey Mantle Day
It’s a superb ceremony as written and choreographed by Yankee PR head Bob Fishel. Watch Frank Messer’s superb turn as emcee (with a Bob Sheppard introduction) to the NINE minute(!) ovation given to Mickey after being introduced by Mel Allen (“How about that??”). And all telecast from the real and original Yankee Stadium. Sit back, enjoy, and even shed a tear for the Mick on this his greatest day (and he looks fantastic!). Pat Summerall is behind the WPIX microphoneFrom the description of the following video, via YouTube user YanksatShea)
June 11 – Hockey – With the 1st pick of the 1969 NFL Draft, the Montreal Canadiens select Rejean Houle, Winger, Montreal Junior Canadiens. Rejean Houle would go on to be arguably the most loathed and reviled general manager in Montreal Canadiens history. A anybody who has been a Habs fan since at least 1995 will agree, fuck Rejean Houle I hope he falls down the stairs 🙂
June 21, 1969 –
June 26 – Tennis – In an all-time classic Tennis match, 41-year-old Pancho Gonzalez defeats Charlie Pasarell in a first-round men’s singles match by a score of 22–24, 1–6, 16–14, 6–3, 11–9. At 112 games and 5 hours 20 minutes it was by far the longest match of the time, and led to the accelerated introduction of the tiebreak in tennis. The 112 games was a record that lasted 41 years, until the John Isner–Nicolas Mahut match at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships. Pancho Gonzalez was named to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1968, even though he still was playing.
July 4, 1969 – Tennis – Wimbledon – Ann Jones defeats Billie Jean King, 3–6, 6–3, 6–2 to win the 1969 Wimbledon Women’s Draw.
Jul 5 – Wimbledon – Rod Laver defeats John Newcombe, 6–4, 5–7, 6–4, 6–4 to win the 1969 Wimbledon Men’s Draw. This was Rod Laver’s 4th Wimbledon title.
Jul 16 – THE WORLD – Apollo 11, with Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins aboard, lifts off for the Moon.
Jul 20 – THE WORLD – At 10:56 pm EST, Apollo 11 lands on the surface of the Moon. An estimated 500+ million people worldwide watch Neil Armstrong take one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
Jul 21 – Baseball – Six years after San Francisco Giants manager Al Dark quipped, “They’ll put a man on the moon before he hits a home run”, Gaylord Perry hits the first home run of his career, mere hours after Neil Armstrong lands on the moon.
Jul 24 – THE WORLD – The Apollo 11 returns from its successful Moon landing. The astronauts are placed in biological isolation for several days, as it was worried that they may have brought back “lunar germs” (LUNAR GERMS!).
August 1, 1969 – Baseball – Willie Davis of the Los Angeles Dodgers begins his 31-game hit streak this day. Coming into this game Willie was batting .260 – by the time the streak ended Willie was batting .318. The 31 game hit streak was the 3rd longest in N.L. history and as of 2019 is still the Dodgers record.
Aug 8-10 – THE WORLD – The Manson Family murders begin in California, as seven people are gruesomely killed over these three days.
Aug 15-18 – THE WORLD – The Woodstock Music Festival is held to an audience of over 400,00 people on a 600-acre dairy farm near White Lake, New York.
Aug 16 – Baseball – On this date, the Chicago Cubs led the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals by 9 games. The Mets proceeded to win 37 of their last 48 games while the Cubs went 20–28 in the same time period, and despite the Cubs’ strong mid-season lead, the “Miracle Mets” ended up winning the division by 8 games. Poetically, the Chicago Cubs go down as the first team to choke away their division in MLB history.
Aug 31 – Boxing – Rocky Marciano, former World Heavyweight boxing champion and the only undefeated heavyweight champion in history, dies in a plane crash. He was 45.
September 4, 1969 – Baseball – Willie Davis’ hit streak ends at 31 games. 31 games in 35 days. Baseball is nuts.
Sep 8 – Tennis – Margaret Court defeats Nancy Richey in the Women’s Draw of the US Open, 6–2, 6–2. This was Court’s third Grand Slam title of the year, her third US Open title and her sixteenth Grand Slam overall.
Sep 9 – Rod Laver defeated Tony Roche, 7–9, 6–1, 6–2, 6–2 To motherfucking win the Grand Slam! This was the first ever Grand Slam in the Open Era. It was Laver’s 11th and last career Grand Slam singles title and his 2nd at the US Open.
Sep 22 – Baseball – San Francisco Giant Willie Mays becomes the first major league baseball player since Babe Ruth to hit 600 career home runs, as the San Francisco Giants defeat the San Diego Padres 4-2.
Sep 26 – THE WORLD – The Beatles release the album Abbey Road.
Sep 26 – THE WORLD – The Brady Bunch is shown for the first time on ABC.
Sep 28 – American Football – Minnesota Vikings’ Quarterback Joe Kapp throws for seven touchdown passes in a 52-14 win vs the Baltimore Colts. This feat would not be matched for another 44 years.
October 5, 1969 – THE WORLD – Monty Python’s Flying Circus first airs on BBC One.
Oct 6 – Baseball – The Baltimore Orioles sweep the Minnesota Twins 3 games to 0 to win the inaugrual ALCS.
Oct 6 – The New York Mets sweep the Atlanta Braves 3 games to 0 to win the inaugural NLCS.
Oct 16 – The New York Mets defeat the Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1 to win the 1969 MLB World Series. The Mets become the first expansion team to win a division title, a pennant, and the World Series, scaling the mountain in their eighth year of existence.
November 21, 1969 – Canadian Football – The Manitoba Bisons defeat the McGill Redmen 24-15 to win the 1969 Vanier Cup. Shouts to the Vanier.
Nov 30 – Grey Cup – The Ottawa Rough Riders defeat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 29-11 to win the 57th Grey Cup. HOLY FUCKING SHIT THE ROUGHRIDERBOWL. This was a rematch of the 1966 Grey Cup, also obviously a RiderBowl, I cannot begin to process this information, lets move on.
December 1, 1969 – THE WORLD – Due to the Vietnam War, the first draft lottery in the United States since World War II is held. Persons who were born on September 14 in the years from 1944 to 1951 would be the first to be summoned. On January 4, 1970, The New York Times will run a long article called “Statisticians Charge Draft Lottery Was Not Random”.
A time of great social unrest, when the rules of society and gravity itself were changing before people’s eyes. 1969 might be one of the most remarkable, strange, beautiful years in the history of humanity (probably not the Manson stuff) and certainly, In Sports.
If you made it to the end of this, thank you for reading and stay tuned for 1970 In Sports.