In his first two seasons Seaver won 32 games for New York and was twice selected to pitch in the All-Star Game. Anyone who came in contact with him quickly realized that he was not only an exceptional pitcher but an exceptional young man. Bing Devine, who worked for the Mets for three years before returning to the Cardinals as general manager, once said of Seaver, "In every aspect of his life and career, Tom Seaver is well organized. You don't meet many like him; they just aren't around."
Other fine pitchers followed Seaver to the Mets, and in 1968 that pitching staff impressed anyone who watched baseball. Koosman won 19 games. Jim McAndrew came out of Lost Nation, Iowa with a degree in psychology and enough ability to forge a 2.28 earned run average. Nolan Ryan, a 22-year-old who had once struck out 387 hitters in 261 minor league innings, came to the majors and had blister and arm problems but now seems to have recovered from both. Gary Gentry arrived from Arizona State with a one-year college record of 17-1. Tug McGraw, only 25, moved into the bullpen and pitched very well. With the experience, advice and know-how of three veterans—Don Card-well, Ron Taylor and Cal Koonce—the Met staff was working and learning at the same time. By last Sunday evening they had not given up a single home run in 181 innings covering 18 games, and they were facing clubs with good power—San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Montreal and Pittsburgh.
The team also had some hitting at last. Cleon Jones, despite two recent injuries, was the league's leading batter. Tommie Agee had hit 26 homers and knocked in 73 runs and was on his way to the National League's comeback of the year award following a 1968 season in which he hit five homers and drove in only 17 runs. Second Baseman Ken Boswell, a youngster who should eventually become one of the better hitters in the league, batted .473 during an 18-game stretch before leaving the team last weekend for his regular turn of military duty. Obviously, too, the Mets had the manager of the year in Gil Hodges, who has fitted his players together so well that everyone feels he is a part of the team.
When New York arrived in Pittsburgh last week Hodges was without Jones, Boswell and Art Shamsky, a .303 hitter who observed the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. But the Mets won three of four anyway. Sitting on a table in the New York clubhouse after beating the Pirates by virtue of Swoboda's home run, Tom Seaver said, "I've always read that in September baseball comes down to pitching, and that it is harder to play once you are in first place and not trying to catch up. I really haven't had the time to think about that because everything has happened so quickly. It has all been so fantastic. On Friday we won both games of a doubleheader 1-0 when the pitcher drove in the winning run in each game. Has that ever happened before?"
Nobody has come up with the answer to that yet. And probably nobody will. By the time this season is over, though, the Mets—despite playing six fewer games at Shea against the Giants and Dodgers because of divisional play—will go over two million in home attendance. The explanation is simple enough. First, they are loved—which is not really anything new. The difference is that, entering the final two weeks of the season, they are undeniably # UN too. They have, baby, come a long, long way.