New York's ‘Other Baseball Team’
(Part 1) 1962–1985
It goes without saying that the New York Mets have not had anywhere near the success achieved by their cross-town rival, the New York Yankees. Since their first year in the league (1962), the Mets have had only 26 winning seasons and 33 losing seasons. And they’ve reached the post-season in only nine of their fifty-nine seasons.
The Mets have had six seasons in which they lost more than 100 games compared to only three seasons in which they won 100 or more games, the last coming back in 1988. The team has made it to the World Series five times, winning twice, the last coming in 1986 (perhaps their best team ever).
“As a lifelong Yankees fan, you might assume that I take delight in watching the Mets lose year after year. But that’s not true.”
I’ve never had any dislike towards “the other” New York team. And no one rooted for them more than I did in the 1986 World Series when they defeated our arch-rival Boston Red Sox. Besides that, my wife and her family are Mets fans, and I feel some measure of sympathy for them.
So rather than bash them and mention all the wrong decisions the organization has made over the years (like trading Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver), I’m going to focus on their World Series appearances. We’ll start with the 1969 team.
After seven dismal seasons in a row, there wasn’t much reason to think 1969 would be different for the Mets. Although the team did show improvement in 1968 with a quality pitching staff that included Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, and Tug McGraw, they still finished with a losing record.
And hope faded quickly at the start of 1969. By May 27th, the Mets were 18–23, but then, the team reeled off eleven wins in a row.
However, as good as the team was playing, the first-place Chicago Cubs were playing even better. By August 14th, New York sat ten games behind Chicago. Still, most Mets fans felt satisfied that the team would likely finish in second place and have their first winning season in their eight-year history. There would be next year, and 1970 looked promising.
But then a miracle happened. The Mets won 24 of their next 32 games, while the Cubs lost 17 of 25. New York finished in first place with a 100–62 record and would face the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.
The Mets continued their winning ways with a three-game sweep of the Braves and were now on their way to the World Series, facing the powerful Baltimore Orioles.
Baltimore had breezed through the regular season with a 109–53 record and made short work of the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS. The Orioles had three future Hall of Fame players on their roster — third baseman Brooks Robinson, outfielder Frank Robinson, and pitcher Jim Palmer. Prognosticators had Baltimore as the heavy favorite, but they underestimated the Mets, who had gone 27–8 in their last 35 games.
With great pitching, timely hitting, and some fantastic defensive play, the Mets pulled off an upset, beating the O’s four games to one. They became known as the “Miracle Mets.”
The next three seasons proved to be disappointing as New York failed to reach the playoffs, finishing third in their division all three years. Then, 1973 got off to a tragic start when Manager Gil Hodges died of a massive heart attack on Easter Sunday, just two days before his 48th birthday. Coach Yogi Berra took over as the new manager.
The Mets had added some young, proven stars to the team, including Jon Matlack, Rusty Staub, John Milner, and Felix Millan, but–in a season filled with injuries–the Mets found themselves twelve games below .500 by mid-August, with only 44 games left to play.
“Then, just like they had done in 1969, the team got hot when it counted most, winning 30 of those 44 games. They finished the season with a sub-par 82–79 record. But with no other team in their division posting a winning record, it was good enough for first place.”
Their opponent in the five-game NLCS would be the Cincinnati Reds, who had finished the season with 99 wins and 63 losses. That record, combined with the fact that they were the defending National League champions, made Cincinnati the heavy favorite. The Reds had so many talented players, including catcher Johnny Bench, infielder Joe Morgan, and outfielders George Foster and Pete Rose.
New York produced only three hits in the first game and lost 2–1, but, once again, the Mets shocked the baseball world by winning three of the following four games. Now it was on to the World Series to face the defending champion Oakland Athletics.
The Mets were the heavy underdog, and with good reason. The team’s .509 winning percentage was the lowest of any pennant-winner in modern history. Oakland had proven just how good they were by winning 94 games in the regular season and then defeating an outstanding Baltimore Orioles team in a five-game series. They had also won the World Series in 1972. The Athletics had a great pitching staff with starters Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Vida Blue, and reliever Rollie Fingers. They also had perhaps the best power hitter in the game, Reggie Jackson.
But the “Amazin” Mets were not about to roll over for anyone. They gave the A’s all they could handle and led the seven-game series 3–2 after five games. In Games Four and Five, the Mets pitching staff held the A’s to just one run in 18 innings. “Ya Gotta Believe” was the rallying call for the underdog Mets.
But in one of the very best World Series ever played, Oakland prevailed, winning four games to three, with two games going into extra innings. It was a disappointing end for New York, but they could take solace in proving what kind of heart they had. They had brought the defending champions to the brink of defeat, something no one could have predicted.
The future looked bright, but a series of bad trades and terrible front office decisions led the Mets down a losing path for the next ten years. They posted just two winning seasons and made zero playoff appearances.
Things finally turned around in 1984 when the team won 90 games and placed second in their division. In 1985, the team posted its second-best record in franchise history with 98 wins. Unfortunately, they still finished in second place as the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals won 101 games.
In Part 2, I’ll continue the story about New York’s “other” baseball team.