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Bad Beyond Belief
Steve Rushin
May 25, 1992
Thirty years ago, the newborn New York Mets made baseball history of the most dubious kind
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May 25, 1992

Bad Beyond Belief

Thirty years ago, the newborn New York Mets made baseball history of the most dubious kind

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You want funny? The New York Mets celebrated Old-Timers' Day before their game against the Dodgers on July 14, even though the franchise was four months old. Who were they supposed to bring back—Harry Chiti?

You want funny? After 5½ innings of the main event that day, the Mets trailed the Dodgers 17-0. "We were bad," says Galen Cisco, and he didn't even join the Mets until September. "If you could just win one game out of a series with the Dodgers or the Giants, you were good for the week. We weren't expected to win. We had a horse——team. There were a lot of clubs we just couldn't beat. We were as bad as our record."

And so they were. Two weeks before their Old-Timers' Day loss to the Dodgers, the Mets were no-hit by Sandy Koufax in Los Angeles. Koufax struck out the first three Mets he faced that afternoon on nine pitches on his way to the first of his four no-nos.

The Mets didn't go bad, like lunchmeat. They were bad from the beginning. Wire-to-wire bad. But on the glorious first Saturday of August, they did sweep a doubleheader from the Reds at the Polo Grounds. This rendered Cincinnati manager Fred Hutchinson so distraught that he remained alone in the visitors' dugout for a full half hour after the second game had ended. "If you were playing the Mets you had to win four," explains Don Zimmer, who was traded from New York to Cincinnati in May. "Winning three of four wasn't good enough."

It was in another series against Cincinnati that summer that Ashburn pursued a fly ball to shallow left centerfield. Now, the Mets' Venezuelan shortstop, Elio Chacon, recklessly laid claim to every ball hit in the air. So before this game, Ashburn had asked bilingual teammate Joe Christopher how to say "I got it" in Spanish. "Yo la tengo," he was told.

So here comes the fly ball, and sure enough, here comes Chacon to invade Ashburn's airspace. "I see him whipping out from shortstop like a little kid on a scooter," says Ashburn. "So I yell, ' ¡Yo la tengo! ¡Yo la tengo!' And Elio puts on the brakes." It was at that precise moment that leftfielder Frank Thomas, a native of Pittsburgh, ran headlong into Ashburn and knocked the ball loose.

There is no i in team, but there is an e or, in the case of the Mets, 210 of them. That's how many errors they committed in 1962. Their team ERA was 5.04. Their team batting average was .240. They crafted separate losing streaks of 11, 13 and 17 games and generally gave the Cleveland Spiders, who finished 20-134 in 1899, a run for their money.

But the most remarkable statistic from that season is the 922,530 unshakable fans the Mets drew to the Polo Grounds even while, minutes away, the Yankees were fielding what would be their ninth world-champion team in 14 years and drawing 1,493,574. So before their final home game, against the ninth-place Cubs on September 23, the Mets thanked their public. Each player was given a lettered placard to hold, and when the team assembled on the field, they spelled out WE LOVE YOU METS FANS TOO. Stengel then moved to the end of the line as an exclamation point.

"We had a big meeting in the clubhouse before the game about whether we should do this," says Craig Anderson. "Most of the guys were saying it was bush-league and we weren't going to do it. We were major leaguers. We weren't doing this. Then Stengel came in and made a 15-minute speech that began, 'You guys don't have to do this.' Fifteen minutes later we ran out there with our placards. I don't know what the hell Casey said, but we did it."

Because the Mets were to move into their new Queens ballpark, named for the parade-pooping Shea, at the start of the 1963 season, this was to be the last ball game at the historic park beneath Coogan's Bluff. So at the end of the Mets' 2-1 win over the Cubs, the Polo Grounds' public-address system played Till We Meet Again.

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