By Danny Torres
WOODBURY – The wives of Major League Baseball players have always played a significant role in America’s Pastime.
Last weekend, I was fortunate to attend my very first Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium and after conducting a few interviews with some prominent Yankee ballplayers, I glanced over at the wives who were seated in the dugout.
I think you’ll agree their late husbands were legendary figures in Yankee folklore history: Thurman Munson, Billy Martin, Catfish Hunter and Bobby Murcer.
At one time, throughout my 17 years as a sports journalist, I had the distinct honor of meeting three extraordinary women whose unbelievably talented husbands also played Major League Baseball – Mrs. Rachel Robinson, Mrs. Vera Clemente and Mrs. Maxcine Agee who I only met two years ago.
The commonalities they share are quite unique. Besides being the wives of former ballplayers, they have continued to honor their husband’s legacy through their own philanthropic efforts and appearances at baseball-related functions.
Yet, I must say the descriptive words that come to mind when I think about these phenomenal women are self-assurance, graceful, compassionate and devotion.
All three women would eventually meet and marry these unforgettable men whose lives were intertwined with baseball.
But, what captured this writer during my initial introduction to Maxcine Agee wasn’t just her elegance as she spoke to other invited guests at a charity function.
Honestly, it was her captivating eyes.
Her mouth didn’t utter a single word but her eyes were fixated on what I had to say. Furthermore, I was no longer gazing at the wife of 1969 World Series champion Tommie Agee but a Bronx native who made a difference within her community as a long-time educator in Harlem.
In 1983, Maxcine happened to meet her future husband inside a Queens bar he once owned. The lounge was located a short distance away from Shea Stadium where he made two unbelievable catches in the 1969 World Series. Since she wasn’t a baseball fan and wasn’t particularly impressed about his former life as a baseball player, they went on a few dates, went to the church where she sang and eventually began their courtship.
In 1985, they were married at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon and soon enough they would welcome their daughter, J’nelle into the world.
If you ask Maxcine about the similarities between their beautiful daughter and Tommie, she immediately pointed out certain characteristics with a huge smile on her face.
“Oh my goodness…it’s her personality, her memory, her interaction with people. They gravitate to her. She has a way of showing concern and showing interest in their conversation. Just like Tommie did because he could talk to anyone and so can she. It’s a unique personality trait,” said Maxcine about their only child who enjoyed strolling the city holding her loving father’s hand.
Not only did those hands miraculously snag two of the greatest catches in World Series history but Tommie Agee “caught” the perfect wife and held the gentle hand of the most precious baby girl two parents could have ever imagined.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 “Miracle Mets,” when you hear your late husband’s name mentioned by Met fans sharing their memories about that extraordinary group of ballplayers, what comes to your mind?
Well, first of all I wish Tommie was here so he can interact with the fans like we do – my daughter and I. It’s a unique situation that we are in because not only do we get the honor of not only having spent some time with Tommie and his teammates but we spend time with his fans especially those from his early days with the Mets. They have told us stories that we have never heard before and it’s a wonderful tribute to him and his interaction with the fans while he was playing and after.
In Tommie’s first year with the Mets in 1968, he was beaned by St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson and was hospitalized. Yet, the legendary Mets manager Gil Hodges (who the year prior was the Washington Senators manager) saw something in his outfielder and had total faith in his future leadoff batter to bounce back. Share what you know about Tommie during that trying period?
Tommie’s family were very religious. His father and mother were very strict. He believed he could do whatever he set his mind on. One of those things was to stay with the Mets. And persevere with all that he went through – especially when he was hit.
Both Alabama natives, share a bit about his relationship with his teammate and dear friend Cleon Jones?
They grew up together and were good friends. Cleon was always going back home whereas Tommie didn’t. They started a business together at some point ‘The Outfielder’s Lounge,’ (it was located on Astoria Boulevard) and Cleon’s focus was to go back home and contribute to the community and he is still doing it. Tommie was a gentleman who liked to stay at the forefront and doing things in the city. Their relationship was always built on their friendship even when Cleon moved back to Mobile. They would talk just about every day and now Cleon is my close friend – his family is my close friend. It’s a wonderful thing for me.
Other than Cleon, has there been another player on that 1969 team who shared some heartfelt stories they had with Tommie?
The closest one to me is Art [Shamsky]. He was still in New York. When Tommie and I were getting married, Cleon was going to be our best man. Everything was going very well and it was time for Tommie and Cleon to go to the front of the church and wait for me to arrive. Unfortunately, Cleon didn’t show up. And we were in a panic. Since Art also played the outfield Tommie said if Cleon doesn’t show up you’re my best man. Art said, ‘Of course I’ll be the best man.’ And we waited and I’m there waiting too considering I’m the last one to enter. Eventually Cleon and his wife arrived. Tommie said, ‘Where were you Clee?’ Cleon said, ‘Well I was giving you an opportunity to change your mind (laughs).’ So Art didn’t have the opportunity to be the best man but Cleon did show up and the wedding went as planned.
What can you tell me about your interactions and conversations with Mrs. Gil Hodges?
She and I are very close friends. We still talk. She always said how much confidence Gil had with Tommie. When Tommie was beaned, he lost his confidence. But, Gil never let him use that as a crutch. Tommie gravitated to Gil and he was so much of a father figure while he was in New York that Tommie did excel, worked hard and gained his confidence back. Those are some of the stories Mrs. Hodges shared with me about her husband. Our husbands, even though they were on different levels in terms of their responsibilities on the team, their friendship, their camaraderie, the lessons learned were unique.
When a fan of the 1969 Mets finds out who you are, what’s usually their immediate reaction towards you?
They would always say how they met him and shared an exact date when they met. He was always such a gentleman towards his fans. Some would also say he signed a piece of paper for my son. He even showed my son how to throw and catch a ball. Tommie took time with everyone. He would stop and interact with everyone he met. He loved children. He loved to talk about baseball and the Mets.
Other than Gil Hodges, who was that player who was instrumental in his life?
There were a couple of people but certainly I can begin with [Jim] “Mudcat” Grant who was Tommie’s first roommate. He is also J’nelle’s godfather because prior to J’nelle being born, we would call him and he would tell me to put the phone on my belly and he would sing to her. He’s been a consistent person in our life. He would tell us stories on how Tommie would come from Mobile and be wearing his white shoes, red socks, red shirt, and seersucker suit we would laugh at his interaction with Tommie. He would say, “Man, you can’t wear that. We got to buy you some different clothes.” There was also Jim Plummer who worked for the New York Mets. He was once a batboy. He went into promotions with the Mets. His family is now our family as well. Tommie and Jim were very close.
When we think of your husband, we will never forget the leadoff homer and those two extraordinary catches in Game 3 of the 1969 World Series. But, what really impressed me about your husband was what he said after the game. He said, “The homer meant one run, the catches saved me more than that.” That quote spoke volumes about the ballplayer. It was about the team. Again, what really stands out for you?
I think because remember I didn’t come into Tommie’s life when he was playing ball but the team embraced me as his Tommie’s wife and a member of the New York Mets. I was welcomed as Tommie’s wife and whatever I needed they were open to help me. When we started the annual Tommie Agee Foundation and Golf Outing, the foundation ran for 16 years. We helped so many people within the community. We helped the Heart Association, National Kidney Foundation, Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, provided educational scholarships and helped a variety of local organizations. We really enjoyed giving back. Tommie would have been so proud.
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