New Jersey Jewish News
Mets’ star looks back on IBL experience
by Ron Kaplan
NJJN Features Editor
July 10, 2008
From day one, the Israel Baseball League was beset by problems. Poor field conditions, missed payrolls, poor marketing strategies, and the mass resignation of several board members were just a few of the challenges that may mean the inaugural 2007 season was perhaps also the last. (As of this writing, there were reports that the league would play a 20-game schedule with four teams beginning in early July.)
Despite the difficulties, you won’t hear a negative word from Art Shamsky, former major leaguer, member of the 1969 World Champion New York Mets, and manager of the IBL’s Modi’in Miracle.
Shamsky became a historical footnote on June 24, 2007, when his team beat the Petach Tikva Pioneers, 9-1, in the IBL’s first game. The Pioneers were managed by Ken Holtzman, another former big leaguer, who quit before the season was over. The Miracle enjoyed a successful season, losing to the Netanya Tigers — skippered by former New York Yankee Ron Blomberg — in the championship game.
“I will never say anything bad about the IBL,” Shamsky told NJ Jewish News in a telephone interview. “They gave me an opportunity to be part of this great experience.
“I was reluctant to go at first because my initial thoughts were that [the IBL] wasn’t going to work [and] that Israel was a dangerous place,” he said. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was an opportunity to see this wonderful, beautiful country and to really help baseball get going there.”
It was a host of “firsts” for Shamsky, who had never been to Israel or worked as a manager before. He said the lack of professional coaching experience was not a detriment to the three former major leaguers. “We had a lot of World Series rings between us, and we could back up what we said.”
Shamsky tried to instill in his players a philosophy of making the sport pleasurable for the fans by connecting with them before and after the game. “I hope that I was able to influence that in some way.”
Sure, the conditions weren’t always the best, but it was baseball at its purest, reminding Shamsky of his days as a minor leaguer. “You never know who’s watching these games.” While major league scouts might not be flocking to Israel to watch them, “somebody knows somebody who knows somebody else,” he said.
Shamsky had particular praise for those IBL players — representing seven countries — who took the opportunity to tour the country on off days, visiting various cultural and religious sites. “We were playing in the holiest of places; I thought it was an incredible feeling to do that.”
These days, Shamsky is busy working on a new book. His first, The Magnificent Season: How the Jets, Mets, and Knicks Made Sports History and Uplifted a City and the Country (Thomas Dunne), was published in 2004.
“It was such a special time, particularly because not only did we win, but the Jets won and the Knicks won [championships], all of us for the first time in our history,” Shamsky said. “And you put it in the context of what was going on in New York City and the country and the world — it was just an incredible period of our lives.”
Shamsky characterized each of the NY teams as “blue collar.” The Knicks, Mets, and Jets were all sizable underdogs to the Lakers, Orioles, and Colts, respectively. “Nobody gave us a chance. Everybody thought we were going to lose in four [games],” said Shamsky, who made the final out in the first game of the Series, the Mets’ only loss before reeling off four straight wins.
With Shea Stadium set to close at the end of the current season and 2009 marking the 40th anniversary of the ’69 accomplishment, Shamsky expects to be busy with speaking engagements. “Everyone’s reminiscing about the good old days,” he said. And while he appreciates the nostalgic sentiments, he can’t help but notice the irony. “I played 13 years, but nobody wants to talk about the other 12.”
For more information on what Shamsky is up to these days, visit ArtShamsky.com.