By Marty Appel
When baseball shuffled its half-century order of 16 teams in the early 1960s, no one was quite sure what to expect. Would “expansion teams” be accepted? Were they doomed to failure? Would old National League fans embrace a new franchise in New York?
After the American League expanded in 1961, the National League followed in ’62 with a team in Houston, and the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club – the Mets! – in the nation’s biggest city. They would play their first two seasons in the old Polo Grounds, where John McGraw had managed.
And now, 50 years later, they remain one of the most successful expansion teams any sport ever brought forth. And for their 50th anniversary the team is being honored at the 2012 annual dinner of the Baseball Assistance Team – B.A.T.
The original Mets went 40-120 despite stocking the roster with veteran players, many of whom had Giants or Dodgers backgrounds. It remains a futility record, but they managed to turn losing into a loveable art form, something few have ever managed before or since. A lot of it was attributed to the hiring of Casey Stengel as manager, and as good as Casey had been in winning ten pennants in 12 seasons with the Yankees, his salesmanship with the Mets may have been his finest performance. The Mets set an attendance record despite finishing last. Casey managed to divert attention away from the daily losses, extolling the “youth of America” who he wanted to root for, and play for the “Metsies.”
As awful as the original Mets were (they lost their first nine, and ended the season hitting into a triple play), few saw the miracle that was developing at their new park in Flushing. Doormats almost every season and the regular butt of Johnny Carson jokes, in season eight – the first year of division play – they shocked the nation by winning the National League East, the National League pennant, and the World Series. Only Ed Kranepool remained from players who appeared in ’62, and when Ed circled the bases with a home run in the ’69 Fall Classic, it was a triumph of patience and fortitude – and great pitching. The fans shared in the joy as much as the players did.
1969 set the bar high for the “New Breed” of lively New York baseball fans, and through the years there were more highlights and lowlights than any one team could expect. The highlights were certainly the ’73 pennant, improbable again, simply because they only managed 82 victories in the regular season – the ’86 world championship, which included perhaps the most famous game in World Series history (think Mookie, think Buckner), and then another improbable pennant in 2000, when they enabled New York’s first “subway series” since 1956.
And between those four proud flags flying over Shea came a cast of characters with no shortage of faithful fans and stories that followed, and “amazin’” occurrences like the day Robin Ventura hit a grand slam single.
They’ve never had a no-hitter, never had an MVP winner, but they’ve won the hearts and minds of fans who never know what a day at Shea – or now, a day at Citi – might bring.
Fifty years! Who would have imagined Marv Thronberry and Choo Choo Coleman would lead to Jose Reyes and David Wright.
“East side, west side, everybody’s coming down, to meet the M-E-T-S Mets of New York town!”
Let’s Go Mets!