This video shows one of the most famous moments of the 1969 World Series – the shoe polish incident. It’s the bottom of the 6th inning in Game 5. New York trails Baltimore 3-0. Mets left fielder Cleon Jones gets into the batter’s box to face Orioles starter, Dave McNally. The first pitch of the inning, a curveball, bounces wildly toward Jones’s front foot.
Jones tries to jump out of the way, falling to one knee. The ball bounces sharply away and rolls into the Mets dugout. Jones gets back on his feet and slowly heads towards first base, thinking that the ball hit his shoe. But home plate umpire Lou DiMuro calls him back.
DiMuro says that the ball did not hit Cleon. It was DiMuro’s first time behind the plate in a postseason game. Just 10 minutes earlier, in the top of the sixth, he had ruled that a Jerry Koosman slider that appeared to hit the Orioles’ Frank Robinson in the thigh was actually a foul ball. But replays showed that the ball had hit Robinson’s hip, then bounced up and hit his bat.
Mets first base coach Yogi Berra starts to head toward the umpire to complain. Jones just stays where he’s at, halfway to first base. The Mets on-deck batter, Donn Clendenon, agrees with Berra that the ball hit Cleon on the foot.
DiMuro had a reputation for being a patient umpire who let players and managers state their case. Mets manager Gil Hodges comes out of the dugout. Hodges knew DiMuro from his playing days in the American League.
Hodges is carrying a baseball in his hand. He shows a black scuff mark on the ball to the umpire, who changes his call and gives first base to Cleon Jones. The reversed decision causes Oriole’s manager Earl Weaver to come out of the Baltimore dugout to argue.
Just the day before, Weaver had become the first manager to be ejected from a World Series in more than 50 years. So he’s not as fired up as he normally would be. When Weaver asks to see the scuffed ball, DiMuro tells him that he had already tossed it away.
It turns out to be an important play when Clendenon launches a home run off the auxiliary scoreboard in left. It’s his third homer of the series to cut Baltimore’s lead to 3-2. The Mets went on to a series-clinching 5-3 win.
Over the years, there have been several versions of what actually happened in the 1969 shoe polish incident. Starting pitcher Jerry Koosman says that when the ball rolled into the Mets dugout, Hodges instructed him to rub the ball on his shoe.
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However, outfielder Ron Swoboda has claimed that when the ball bounced into the Mets dugout, it hit an open ball bag causing several practice balls to spill out on the dugout floor. Gil Hodges looked down and just grabbed one that already had a black scuff mark on it.