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Queens Chronicle

Our hometown heroes for 50 years — Part VI: 1979-1982

A New York Mets anniversary special

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Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 1:25 pm, Thu Jul 19, 2012.

What can you say about the Mets between 1979 and 1982? Not much. Maybe that they avoided losing 100 games a year — though the only time they didn’t come close was 1981, when a strike canceled nearly a third of the season. But a couple signs of the future appeared: Fred Wilpon as part owner, in 1980, and Mookie Wilson as a promising rookie, in 1981.

1979

Record: 63-99, sixth in National League East.

A combination of weak hitting and pitching dooms the Mets to their third consecutive last place finish. Ed Kranepool plays in his 18th and final season with the club. Lee Mazzilli bats .303 with 79 RBIs and becomes the first Met to hit a home run in the All Star Game. Craig Swan wins a career high 14 games; Neil Allen saves 8 games, all in the second half of the season.

The Mets lose 33 out of 40 games from mid-August to late September to fall to 57-99; they’re spared 100 losses by winning their last 6 games, 4 of them in St. Louis. Attendance falls to a dismal 788,905 and following the end of the season, the Payson family announces that the club is for sale.

1980

Record: 67-95, fifth in National League East.

On Jan. 24, book magnate Nelson Doubleday and real estate developer Fred Wilpon buy the Mets for the then-exorbitant price of $21.1 million dollars. Wilpon becomes team president, and Frank Cashen, architect of the powerful Baltimore dynasty of the late 1960s and early 1970s, is hired as general manager.

After a 9-18 start, the Mets play well for much of the summer, going 47-39 from early May to mid-August with several exciting wins. Mike Jorgensen’s walk-off grand slam gives the Mets a 6-2 win over Los Angeles on June 11, and a few days later, Steve Henderson’s walk-off three-run homer caps a five-run ninth in an unbelievable 7-6 win over San Francisco.

As of mid-August, the Mets are 56-57, and just 7 1/2 games out of first — but then they lose 38 of their last 49.

Mark Bomback leads the staff with 10 wins, and Allen emerges as a top-flight reliever with 22 saves. Doug Flynn wins the Gold Glove at second base; Mazzilli leads the club with 16 homers, 76 RBIs and a .280 average. With an eye to the future, Darryl Strawberry is drafted out of Crenshaw High in Los Angeles. Shea Stadium undergoes extensive renovations and the Home Run Apple makes its debut.

1981

Record: 17-34 first half, 24-28 second half, 41-62 overall, fifth in National League East.

The strike season sees the Mets begin the rebuilding under Cashen. Dave Kingman (22 homers) and Rusty Staub (.317) are reacquired; while rookies Mookie Wilson (.271, 24 stolen bases) and Hubie Brooks (.307) show promise for the future.

Allen saves 18 in just 43 games and ties Pat Zachry for the club lead in wins with seven. Joe Torre is fired as manager at the end of the season.

 

1982

Record: 65-97, sixth in National League East.

The rebuilding is now in full swing, as the Mets start to stockpile tremendous minor league talent that will eventually bring success back to Flushing. But on the major league level, the losing continues. Though the Mets get off to a very respectable 27-21 start under new manager George Bamberger, they go 38-76 the rest of the season.

Kingman becomes the first Met to win a home run title, leading the league with 37 while driving in 99 runs, despite batting just .204. Slugger George Foster, acquired from Cincinnati, is a big disappointment. Wilson is the bright light of the season, stealing 58 bases and scoring 90 runs. On the mound, Swan (11-7) enjoys a fine comeback, while Allen, despite missing most of the second half due to a colon infection, saves 19.   

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