As the late Tug McGraw said, ya gotta believe. Yes, if you are a Mets fan ya gotta believe that in 2012, the Mets will celebrate their 50th anniversary as members of the National League, and the first of their next 50 years right here in Queens.
This is a team that has made its indelible mark on our national pastime. It is a team that came into existence only because Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Horace Stoneham, the owner of the New York Giants, decided that there was more money to be made out in California than in New York. It is a team that was created to fill the void left by the sudden and shocking departure of New York’s two National League teams. They were the brainchild of Bill Shea, the prominent New York attorney who spearheaded the committee created by Mayor Robert Wagner to bring a National League team back to New York. At the same time, they were owned at first by Joan Whitney Payson, a multi-millionaire who had been a part owner of the Giants and who had been the only board member to vote against the move to San Francisco.
This is a team that in its first seven years lost an average of 105 games a year, including 120 losses in 1962, and then in its eighth year, won 100 games en route to one of the most improbable World Championships ever, upsetting the Baltimore Orioles in five games. This is a team that in 1964, its first year at Shea Stadium, lost 109 games and still drew 400,000 more fans than the pennant-winning Yankees did across town in the Bronx. This is a team that won a pennant in 1973 with a meager 82 wins. This is a team that drew almost 2.7 million fans in 1970, fewer than 800,000 in 1979, more than three million in 1987 and 1988, and more than four million in 2008. This is a team that won 100 games three times and lost 100 six times. This is a team that in 1969 broke the heart of Chicago fans with a remarkable September that saw them overtake the Cubs to win the division, only to have the Philadelphia Phillies do the same thing to them in 2007. This is a team that pulled a stunning upset over the Cincinnati Reds to win the LCS in 1973, and lost the LCS in stunning upsets to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988 and to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. This is a team that had a 3-2 lead in the World Series in 1973, only to lose, and a team that trailed in the World Series 3-2 in 1986 only to come back and win.
Literally, the Mets have done it all. They have had some spectacular successes to go along with some horrible failures. They have had some Hall of Fame players, like Tom Seaver and some hall of shame players like Marv Throneberry. They have had such famous names as Seaver, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza and Jose Reyes, and some not so famous names, such as Ted Schreiber, Rich Puig, Bill Almon, and Phil Mankowski. They have been the lowly Mets; they have been the mighty Mets, but they have always been the Amazin’ Mets. Both in the regular season and in the post season, they have played some of the most memorable and unbelievable games in baseball history. Perhaps most significantly, they have developed a loyal and enduring fan base in New York City, perhaps the toughest city in the world, despite having to share the spotlight with the Yankees, a name synonymous with baseball excellence.
Yes, win or lose, they are our Mets. As Roger Kahn wrote in his immortal work, The Boys of Summer, “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”
Over the next number of weeks I’ll give you a brief recap of each of the first 50 Mets seasons. I have also added my all-time Mets team. Some of you, of course, can remember as far back as 1962, while others can only recall the past few years. Regardless of which category you are in, I hope this trip down memory lane will help you to appreciate one of the most unique franchises in the history of professional sports.
Record: 40-120, 10th in the National League. With Casey Stengel returning to New York as a manager, the Mets set a modern major league record of 120 losses.
After losing their first nine games, Jay Hook gets the club’s first win, 9-1 over Pittsburgh; the team goes on to endure losing streaks of 17, 11 and 13 games. Mets fielders commit 210 errors, and Mets pitchers allow 948 runs, 801 earned. Ken MacKenzie (5-4) is the only Met pitcher to post a winning record. Roger Craig leads staff in wins with 10, and the majors in losses with 24. Al Jackson leads staff with 4.40 ERA and 4 shutouts, while going 8-20. Hook goes 8-19. Craig Anderson leads with 4 saves, while going 3-17.
Offensively, Richie Ashburn leads the club with a .306 batting average. Frank Thomas leads with 34 homers and 94 RBIs; Marv Throneberry, acquired early on from Baltimore, hits 16 home runs while becoming the symbol of the club’s futility.
Despite the futility, the fans welcome National League Baseball back to New York, as the Mets draw 922,530 to their first home, the Polo Grounds.
Joseph Levy has been a devotedMets fan since 1969, sticking with them through their good times and their bad times.He practiced personal injury law for 20 years in Kew Gardens and Forest Hills, and is now embarking on a new career as a writer and speaker. He lives in Rego Park and has three children.In his spare time he enjoys karaoke, researching and speaking on Jewish subjects and, of course, following the Mets!