Monday, December 3, 2007

THE AMAZIN' 1962 NEW YORK METS

I've previously written articles about some of the worst sports teams in history, but the 1962 New York Mets have to rank right near the bottom. The only worse team I know of was the infamous Cleveland Spiders of 1899 who lost 134 games and, after a disasterous road trip, cancelled their late season home games because they were afraid to come home.

Several years after the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants abandoned New York City for the West Coast, Major League Baseball decided to expand by creating 2 new teams--the Houston Colt 45's (now the Astros), and the New York Mets.

The two new expansion teams had differing philosophies about how to proceed. The Houston team signed up many young, talented, inexperienced players in the hope of realizing their potential in a few years. (They eventually got to the World Series 43 years later, losing 4 straight to the Chicago White Sox, who had gone 88 years without a championship.) The Mets, on the other hand, decided to sign up faded stars of the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees to appeal to the nostalgic New York fans. They even brought in the legendary, long time Yankee manager Casey Stengel, over 70 years old, to manage the team. The result was good attendance at the games but a simply awful team.

Stengel may have been a fine manager, but ultimately the players on the field had to hit and catch the ball, and unfortunately, this team set records for its ineptitude in those areas. New York columnist Jimmy Breslin summed it up in the title of his 1963 book, Can't Anybody Here Play this Game.

The Mets started out the season by losing the first 9 games before beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-1, and then lost 3 more. They ended up the season winning 40 and losing 120 games. They had one tie--with Houston--and another game was rained out, which prompted a victory celebration. Their record against the Dodgers and Pirates was 2 wins and 16 losses against each. The Dodgers beat the Mets 17-8 in one game and 17-3 in another. Those scores might be respectable performances in football, but not in baseball. They did have some notable success against the Chicago Cubs, who also lost over 100 games, winning 9 of 18 games.

Some of their "better" players included their ace pitcher, Roger Craig, the former Brooklyn Dodger, who won 10 games. However he lost 24 games, leading the league in that dubious category. Slugger Frank Thomas hit 34 homers, leading the team. He was no relation to the former Chicago White Sox slugger of the same name of the
1990's and early 2000's although both were slow runners and mediocre fielders who could hit the ball a long way.

Center fielder Richie Ashburn, a former Philadelphia Phillies star (now in the Hall of Fame) was the leading hitter with a .306 average, almost all singles.

Among some of the other characters populating the team was former Dodger pitcher Billy Loes, who once lost a ground ball in the sun. He was quoted, "The Mets is a good thing. They give everybody jobs. Just like the WPA." Loes was cut from the team.

The Mets had 2 pitchers named Bob Miller--one right handed and the other left handed. They were both 6'2", and hopefully their mothers could identify them. The right handed Bob Miller won 1 and lost 12, while the left handed one broke even, winning 2 and losing 2 while posting an awful earned run average of 7.08 runs per game.

The rest of the pitching staff included Al Jackson who pitched 4 shutouts, while winning 8 games, but losing 20. Jay Hook, from Grayslake, Illinois, lost 19; and Craig Anderson won 3 and lost 17, but led the team with 4 saves. They didn't keep records of blown saves at that time.

Popular with the fans as lovable losers, were first baseman Marvelous Marv Throneberry and catcher Choo Choo Coleman who became famous for their incompetence in the field. Throneberry, a former minor league slugger, never quite made it with the New York Yankees, but hit 16 homers for the Mets that year.

Infielder Felix Mantilla, with 20 errors, was known for giving a good head fake at ground balls bouncing past him into the outfield. The colorfully named pitchers Vinegar Bend Mizell (later a Congressman), and Sherman "Roadblock" Jones posted inflated earned run averages over 7 runs per game. "Roadblock" didn't stop the opposing hitters and soon found himself back in the Minor Leagues. To paraphrase the Frank Sinatra song, if you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere.

The Mets traded with Cleveland for catcher Harry Chiti, giving up a player to be named later. That player turned out to be Harry Chiti himself. In effect, he was traded for himself. That was the story of the Mets' season. They had no players anyone else would want.

Nevertheless, the New York fans embraced the "amazin' Mets" and turned out to the ball park in droves to watch players the average guy could relate to.

KENNETH SUSKIN
12/3/07

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1 Comments:

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December 17, 2007 at 6:50 PM  

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