The first run they ever scored came on a balk. They lost the first nine games they ever played. Rumor has it they picked the name of the best pitcher (Tom Seaver) in their history out of a hat on April Fools’ Day.
They were supposed to be the replacement for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. They could have been the New York Continentals, Burros, Skyliners, Skyscrapers, Bees, Rebels, NYB’s, Avengers or even Jets (all runner-up names in a contest to tab the National League team that began playing baseball in 1962).
But as the press release dated May 8, 1961, announced, the name was “METS…just plain Mets.” They have never been anything to their fans but amazing – the Amazin’ New York Mets.
In 1960 Casey Stengel managed the New York Yankees to a first-place finish as the team recorded a .630 percentage winning 97 games and losing 57. By 1962, Stengel was in place as the skipper of the New York Mets. They finished 10th in a 10-team league. They finished 60 1/2 games out of first place, losing more games (120) than any other team in the 20th century.
Richie Ashburn batted .306 for the Mets that season and then retired. He remembered those days.
“It was the only time I went to a ballpark in the major leagues and nobody expected you to win.”
Once they were losing a game12-1, and there were two out in the bottom of the ninth inning. A fan held up a sign that said: “PRAY!” There was a walk. And ever hopeful thousands of fans started shouting at the Polo Grounds (where they played while Shea Stadium was being built) “Let’s Go Mets!!” A bumbling collection of castoffs, not quite-ready-for prime-time major league players, paycheck collectors and callow youth, the Mets underwhelmed the opposition. But Casey loved the young players on the team who he called “the youth of America.”
They had pitcher Jay Hook who could talk for hours about why a curve ball curved (he had a Masters degree in engineering), but couldn’t throw one consistently.
They had “Choo-Choo” Coleman, an excellent low-ball catcher. The only problem was that the Mets had very few low-ball pitchers. They had “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry, a Mickey Mantle look-alike in the batter’s box, and that’s where the resemblance ended.
Day after day Casey Stengel would watch the Mets and be amazed at how they could find newer and more original ways to beat themselves. In desperation – some swore it was on the day he witnessed Al Jackson go 15 innings yielding but three hits only to lose the game on two errors committed by Marvelous Marv – Casey bellowed out his plaintive query, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
They were 100-1 underdogs to win the pennant in 1969 and incredibly came on to finish the year as World Champions.
There are some who think it will happen again soon.
There are many who think it will not happen until new ownership is in place.
One thing all agree on is that the Mets are no longer Amazin’.
BOOKENDS: CAP IN HAND by Bruce Dowbiggin ($32.95, 240 pages, ECW Press) is an argument made about how salary caps in pro sports have a highly negative effect and why the free market could save them.
About Harvey Frommer
One of the most prolific and respected sports journalists and oral historians in the United States, author of the autobiographies of legends Nolan Ryan, Tony Dorsett, and Red Holzman, Dr. Harvey Frommer has been a professor for more than two decades in the MALS program at Dartmouth College, Frommer was dubbed “Dartmouth’s Mr. Baseball” by alumni magazine. He’s also the founder of www.HarveyFrommerSports.com. Frommer books may be ordered directly from the author: http://frommerbooks.com/