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How Bad (And Lovable) Were the 1962 Mets?


How Bad (And Lovable) Were the 1962 Mets?

The New York Mets lost a lot of games in 1962. One hundred and twenty of them, in fact. But it’s not the number of losses that makes their one-of-a-kind season special. Rather, it’s the anecdotes and facts behind that year—legendary now—that made their first season almost perfect in its unique way.

1962…that’s more than 50 years ago! Here is an array of facts and stories almost too good to be true. It will help you understand why the 1962 Mets were so darn lovable.

• The Mets’ record for 1962 was 40 wins and 120 losses. By comparison, the worst team in the Majors in 2015, the Cincinnati Reds, were 64–98. Only the 1899 Cleveland Spiders lost more games (134).

• The team lost its first game by a score of 11–4, but after taking both ends of a doubleheader on May 20, the Mets had a decent 12–19 record. Then they lost 17 straight. They had an 11-game losing streak in July and a 13-game skid in August. How about a winning streak? Their longest was three games.

• The Mets committed 210 errors on the season and allowed 147 earned runs. The other expansion team that year, the Houston Colt .45s, won 24 more games.

• The first-year Mets had unusual luck. They lost their first nine games but managed to be 9½ games out of first place. It ended strangely too. They finished 60 games out of first, but because the ’62 season ended with a playoff between the Dodgers and Giants, the Mets dropped another half-game behind in the standings after their season was over…finishing 60½ games behind.

• They had two pitchers on the team named Bob Miller. Manager Casey Stengel still managed to mess up, calling one of them “Bob Nelson.”

• The Mets enjoyed a ticker tape parade through the streets of New York in their honor…the day before their first home game. Richie Ashburn, the Mets centerfielder and team MVP that year, recalled civic leader William Shea speaking in front of eager fans—and the entire team—on the steps of city hall, where he asked fans for patience “until we can get some real ballplayers in here.” Shea played a key role getting a National League team back to New York.

• Speaking of Shea, the Mets were supposed to be in their new ballpark (eventually called Shea Stadium) in 1963. It didn’t happen. Their first two seasons, they played in the very old Polo Grounds…which the NY Giants had vacated before leaving for San Francisco. The Polo Grounds stadium was knocked down after the Mets left. The original New York Metropolitans Baseball Club had played in the Polo Grounds in the 1880s—that’s where the Mets got their name.

• Casey Stengel was the Mets’ first manager. He’d won five consecutive World Series titles for the Yankees (1949–1953) and seven championships overall, plus three American League pennants. He was “retired” by the Yankees after losing the 1960 World Series. He said he had been fired for turning 70 years old and that “I’ll never make that mistake again.” The Mets hired him, and Stengel reportedly said, “It’s a great honor to be joining the Knickerbockers.” He referred to the Polo Grounds as the “Polar Grounds.”

• In the four years that he managed the Mets, they came in last place each season. His winning percentage over that span was .302. With the Yankees over 12 years, his winning percentage was .623.

• Probably the most famous player on the team was “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, who was anything but. He had a decent season at the plate but committed 17 errors at first base and was involved in bizarre plays that turned him into a legend. Once he hit a triple but was ruled out for not touching second base. Manager Stengel went out to argue but the umpire said, “Don’t bother arguing, Casey…he missed first base too.” Did he? “We could all see from the dugout that Marv really didn’t even come close to touching first base,” said centerfielder Richie Ashburn. The next batter hit a home run—and the Mets lost by one run.

• Team executives thought it would be a good idea to bring back former Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants players. Many of them were past their prime. Gil Hodges, first baseman and former Dodger, was 38 years old. The average age on the team was almost 29 years old. The Mets front office spent only $600,000 on player salaries to field that first team. Some writers suggested, “They got what they didn’t pay for.”

• Their first home game was on Friday the 13th. Their very first road game a few days earlier was rained out. They lost their home opener.

• They had two 20-game losers on their starting rotation that year. Another Mets pitcher, Jay Hook, lost 19 games that season. Pitcher Craig Anderson had a 3–1 record at one point early in the season. He never won another game for the Mets, losing 19 times over three seasons with them.

• On June 30, Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax threw the first of his four no-hitters against the Mets. He struck out the first three batters on nine pitches, struck out seven of the first nine hitters and fanned a total of 13 over nine innings. The final score was 5–0.

• On the last day of that memorable 1962 season, the Mets had a rally going in the eighth inning. Joe Pignatano came up with two men on and no outs and hit into a triple play. The Mets lost.

• Joe Pignatano was a catcher, one of seven the team had on its roster during the ’62 season. In April, the Mets acquired catcher Henry Chiti in a trade with the Cleveland Indians for a Mets player “to be named later.” That player turned out to be…Henry Chiti. The Mets sent him back to the Indians in June. According to legend, the New York media suggested the Mets had been “fleeced in the Chiti-for-Chiti swap.”

Despite everything, the Mets made it through the ’62 season, creating a lasting legacy as one of the worst baseball teams—and probably one of the most beloved—of all time.

Their attendance of 922,530 was good enough for 6th place in the National League that year. Remember—both the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers had moved to California at the end of the 1957 season. National League fans in New York City, who weren’t about to cheer for the Yankees, loved having a new National League team to root on.
You can read more about the 1962 Mets in the best-selling book "Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?" by Jimmy Breslin.