One is tempted to believe that the Mets own the complete collection of every man under 25 who ever pitched a 17-inning shutout and maintained a won-lost percentage over .850 in American Legion or high school ball. To accumulate so many beautiful young soup-bones, says Mets General Manager Johnny Murphy, "you have to be lucky."
Murphy's own pitching career with the New York Yankees of the '30s and '40s should make Koosman (3-4, 1.81 so far this year) wonder whether the Depression wouldn't have been worth it. In 1937 Murphy was 13 and 4 with an ERA of 4.17. Altogether he won 93 games and lost 53 with a lifetime ERA of 3.50. Granted, Murphy's were hitters' years, but one would think that a man with a record like that would get his boys some batting help, if only out of personal atonement. Murphy, however, insists that the Mets' preponderance of pitching came about "not by design." For instance, the Mets were inclined to draft a nonpitcher first this year. Most teams do, he says—only seven of the 24 first-round picks were pitchers—"because they want somebody who will be out there seven days a week for them." But Sterling was just too good to pass up.
It is certainly true that the Mets' remarkable success with young pitchers is a result of something other than wise and careful scouting. Seaver, Rookie of the Year in 1967—and the man without whom nobody would ever have heard how superb the Mets' pitching staff was—came out of a hat after the Braves signed him illegally in 1966. The commissioner's office ruled that all other teams desiring to meet his contract could draw for him, and the Mets won. At 10 and 3, he actually has the only outstanding won-lost record on the club this year and his 2�-year lifetime ERA is a cool 2.46. Seaver looks more like a college fraternity president than a big-league pitching staff's senior partner, but there is no doubt that he is the Met most likely to become a 20-game winner.
Koosman, who last year had a better freshman season even than Seaver but lost out by one vote to the Reds' Johnny Bench as Rookie of the Year, was another gift. The Mets signed him out of the Army in 1964 after his service-team catcher, the son of a Shea Stadium usher, touted him to the player-development department. Gentry, this year's candidate for rookie honors with a 5-5 record, looked over at Seaver this spring as though he were Warren Spahn and said, "If I can learn to use my head the way he does, I'll have it."
Gentry is a ropy young man of 175 pounds who cocks his wrist pronouncedly and throws as hard as any of them. "You start talking about Seaver's, Koosman's and Ryan's fastballs," says Jerry Grote, their primary receiver, "and throw Gentry's in there, it's hard to choose." Gentry has been in and out this year, but he has an engaging mixture of boyishness and ill will, a sort of blend of David Eisenhower and Sal Maglie, that makes him a stayer. He is the first Met draft choice to become a regular starter. They chose him after he had turned down the Orioles, Astros and Giants, mostly because his father wanted him to continue college.
So the Mets are rich in pitchers, thanks largely to good fortune. Next year, probably, they will have to deplete their store in order to pick up some hitting strength. Then they could become a pennant contender for real, and an era would end. As it is, they are in the sort of danger that E. B. White once warned James Thurber away from. Thurber tried to improve upon his inspiredly crude cartooning style by adding such refinements as cross-hatching and perspective. "If you ever got good," White cautioned, "you'd be mediocre."