Clendenon, 1969 World Series MVP, dead at 70

Updated: September 17, 2005, 10:08 PM ET
Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Donn Clendenon, the power-hitting first baseman who was the most valuable player in the New York Mets' 1969 World Series victory, died Saturday after a long fight with leukemia. He was 70.

A spokesman from the George Boom Funeral Home confirmed the death.

Donn Clendenon
AP PhotoDonn Clendenon earned World Series MVP honors for his offensive performance against the O's.

Clendenon hit three home runs and had four RBI in the Mets' five-game victory over the Baltimore Orioles. He hit .274 with 159 home runs and 682 RBI in 12 seasons in the major leagues with Pittsburgh, Montreal, the Mets and St. Louis.

"He was a true gentleman and an integral part of the 1969 team. We knew he had been sick a long time, and on behalf of the Wilpons and the entire Mets organization we send our condolences to his entire family," Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said.

Clendenon spent his first eight seasons in the majors with Pittsburgh, began the 1969 season with Montreal and joined the Mets in a midseason deal.

"The one thing I remember was hearing that he could have been a pro athlete in three different sports -- baseball, football or basketball. He was that gifted of an athlete," former Pirates pitcher Steve Blass said Saturday night. "He was a prototypical first baseman. He was big with a big reach and gave you a big target."

In the 1969 World Series, the Orioles were ahead 3-0 in Game 5 when Mets manager Gil Hodges emerged from the dugout to argue that a ball thrown by Baltimore's Dave McNally hit Mets outfielder Cleon Jones in the foot.

Hodges grabbed the shoe-polish smudged ball and proved that Jones was indeed struck, setting the stage for Clendenon. The first baseman stepped to the plate and hit a two-run homer, and the Mets eventually went on to win 5-3.

"When we got him, we became a different team," said Bud Harrelson, shortstop for the '69 Mets. "We never had a three-run homer type of guy.

"He was always humble, never cocky. We were still young kids in that era. He was a veteran that came in and made us better. When you threw him into the mix with the rest of us, we became a dangerous force. We knew we had a good team with him, but we didn't know quite how good. Gil thought we were better than we were.

"He was the MVP -- a very dangerous player."

Clendenon recounted the 1969 season in his book, "Miracle In New York," in which he also talked about growing up in Atlanta, earning his law degree and battling drug addiction as he neared his 50s.

After retiring from baseball in 1972, Clendenon earned a law degree and moved to Sioux Falls in the summer of 1987. He said in a 1987 interview that he worked at law firms in Washington, D.C., and Chicago before "getting tired of the big cities."

Clendenon, born in Neosho, Mo., told The Associated Press in 1989 that he has used his varied experiences to help young people.

"I like working with kids," Clendenon said. "I've played major league baseball, I'm a lawyer, I've had an education, I'm an addict, so I can related to them."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press