Win or lose, the New York Mets are beloved here in Queens. And lose is what they often did early on, dropping more than 100 games a year but drawing record crowds to Shea Stadium soon after it opened in 1964. Last week in Part I of my series, “Our hometown heroes for 50 years,” I recapped their first year, 1962, along with recalling some of the team’s high and low points throughout the past five decades. This week recaps the 1963 through 1966 seasons.
The Mets by the years: 1963
Record: 51-111, 10th in the National League.
In their second and final year at the Polo Grounds, the Mets’ losing ways continue. The young club endures 22 straight road losses and losing streaks of 15 and 13 games.
Al Jackson leads the pitching staff with a 13-17 record, while Carl Willey goes 9-14 with a fine ERA of 3.10. Roger Craig loses 18 in a row en route to a 5-22 record. Rookie Ron Hunt leads the club with a .272 batting average; Jim Hickman leads in homers with 17 and Frank Thomas leads in RBIs with 60.
The first Mayor’s Trophy Game between the Mets and Yankees is won by the Mets 6-2 at Yankee Stadium; the club also introduces Banner Day. The season is highlighted by two walk-off grand slams: Tim Harkness’ base-clearing shot in the bottom of the 14th gives the Mets an unbelievable 8-6 win over Chicago on June 26, and on Aug. 9, Jim Hickman’s slammer in the bottom of the 9th gives the Mets a 7-3 win, also over Chicago, to end Craig’s losing streak.
On Sept. 18, the Polo Grounds plays host to its last baseball game as the Mets lose to Philadelphia 5-1. Jim Hickman hits the last home run, and Ted Schreiber is the last batter in the storied park. He hits into a double play.
Record: 53-109, 10th in the National League.
Shea Stadium opens for business and plays host to the All-Star game, won by the National League 7-4. The Mets’ Ron Hunt is the starting second baseman in the game.
Other memorable games include a double header loss to San Francisco on May 31, with the second game going 23 innings, starting at 4:05 and ending at 11:28. Three weeks later, Philadelphia’s Jim Bunning pitches a perfect game at Shea, winning 6-0.
Jackson again leads the Mets staff in wins with 11; Tracy Stallard leads in ERA at 3.78, while going 10-20. Charley Smith leads the lineup with 20 home runs; Hunt at .303 and Joe Christopher .300 give the Mets a pair of .300 hitters — Christopher hits 16 home runs and drives in 76 runs. Roy McMillan, acquired early in the season to play shortstop, helps tighten the defense.
Despite their losing record, the Mets draw a whopping 1,732,597 fans to Shea Stadium, second only to the defending World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and more than 400,000 more than the pennant-winning Yankees.
Record: 50-112, 10th in the National League.
The Mets finish last for the fourth year in a row. No pitcher wins 10 games; Al Jackson, at 8-20 and Jack Fisher, at 8-24, tie for the club lead in wins while finishing first and second in the league in losses. Rookie Ron Swoboda leads the club in home runs with 19.
The Mets figure in one of the year’s most memorable games on June 14 in Cincinnati, as Jim Maloney holds them hitless for 10 innings, striking out 18, before Johnny Lewis’ home run in the 11th gives the Mets a 1-0 win. Jim Hickman hits three homers in St. Louis on Sept. 3, in a 6-3 win, and a July 29 14-0 win over Chicago is the Mets’ most one-sided shutout ever.
In August, legendary manager Casey Stengel suffers a fractured hip and is forced to retire after more than 50 years in baseball. Wes Westrum, a former New York Giants catcher, takes over the job.
Record: 66-95, ninth in the National League.
With Westrum as manager, the Mets avoid the cellar for the first time, and also avoid 100 losses for the first time. Dennis Ribant enjoys a fine season, going 11-9 with a 3.20 ERA, backed up by Bob Shaw (11-10) and Jack Fisher (11-14). Ron Hunt, in his last year with the Mets, leads the club with a .288 average; Ed Kranepool hits 16 homers and veteran Ken Boyer has 61 RBIs. The Mets set a New York City attendance record of 1,932,693.
Next week: Miracles do happen.