Anatomy of a Franchise: The New York Mets, Pt. 2—Lost in Space
In case you missed Pt. 1, check it out here.
The 1960s, among many other things, were known for the next level of television programming. If the '50s were the “Golden Age of TV”, then the 1960s were “The Teenage Years.” Oh my God!
I was a big Star Trek fan. I wanted to be Lincoln Hayes from the Mod Squad and Colonel Gallagher from 12 O’clock High. I didn’t watch the show that lent this article it’s name, however.
I was told it was about a family that was lost in space. It had an old guy (no interest there), a whiny kid (oh yeah, just wonderful), and a talking robot that Spock would have said was interesting but totally illogical.
Not for me by a long shot.
My high school years over, I spent most of that summer watching the inaugural New York Mets team lose game after game after game. Seriously, the best part of really the first seven seasons was watching some of the greatest players to have ever played the game showcase their skills at the Polo Grounds.
Case in point, I’m really not sure if it was 1962 or 1963 and the St. Louis Cardinals were in town to play the Mets. It was about a zillion feet to dead center field and Willie's catch off Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series was still being talked about in the stands eight or nine years later.
Lou Brock was a dead red fastball hitter. His strike zone was from his ankles to his eyeballs and nobody I had ever seen or even have seen to this day could actually “tomahawk” a ball 550 feet with a swing from his eyes.
That is exactly what Brock did that day and the ball landed about 15 rows up just to the right of dead center field. To this day it was the hardest hit ball I have ever seen. Awesome doesn’t describe it appropriately.
1963 to 1968 were the years that the Mets were literally "Lost in Space." The team totaled 51 wins in 1963, In their first year (1964) at the new home of the Mets and New York Jets they won 53. 1965 produced 50 wins, actually three less wins than the previous year. 1966 was the first year that the Mets didn’t lose more than 100 games.
Wes Westrum replaced Casey Stengel in 1965, and Bing Devine of St. Louis Cardinals fame became the General Manger in 1967. So, now was the time to move ahead right? Wrong. In 1967 the Mets took another step backwards and lost 101 games again.
There were some good moments during those years but mostly more of the same from Year One. There was a game in Chicago that they won, 19-1, setting up the events that eventually led to the "Black Cat" in 1969. But more on that in part three. . .
The shiny red apple was unveiled at Shea Stadium in 1964, and every time a Met would hit the ball out of the park, the apple would rise from ground and the fans would go wild. It got stuck no fewer than five times that summer, continuing the futility of this team.
My boyhood hero Duke Snider signed with the Mets in 1963. Believe me, his better days were behind him, but oh, that swing!
I could imitate it perfectly, and in my own mind, that was the reason I made the Freshman Baseball Team at Northeastern University in the Spring of 1963. I played second base, had deceptive speed for a chubby guy, and could turn a mean double play.
In a game that spring against Boston University, in front of a rowdy crowd of about, oh, 59 fans, a guy about a foot taller and 30 pounds heavier than me tried to break up a double play and ploughed right into my rather ample gut.
He knocked himself out cold.
I turned the double play, we won the only game of that rain shortened season, and it took seven teammates to carry me off the field.
This was definitely the highlight of my college career.
That spring the Mets signed Jimmy Piersall, a true nut case whose life and antics reached the big screen in a fine baseball movie called “Fear Strikes Out,” starring our even more famous nut case Anthony Perkins; Psycho anyone?
These lost years also brought to the team the makings of, unbeknownst to all of us, the Miracle Mets. Bud Harrelson and Ron Swoboda came in ‘63. In '64, it was Tug McGraw, Jerry Koosman.
In 1965, Nolan Ryan signed, and the Mets traded Houston for Jerry Grote. Duffy Dyer and Jim McAndrew came in 1965, along with Ken Boswell, too.
For the 1966 season, Danny Frisella, Amos Otis, Ron Hunt, Jim Hickman, and Don Cardwell came to town.
However, the best acquisition in New York Mets history happened when The Mets' team name was picked out of a hat, giving the Amazins the first pick in the Amateur Draft. That pick turned into a strapping pitcher named George Thomas Seaver.
For me to think that Tom Seaver could have just as easily become a Brave or a Philly makes me shudder; it would have changed the course of the Mets history, as well as mine.
In 1967, pitchers Gary Gentry, Cal Koonce, Jon Matlock arrived, and perhaps the key to the championship season to come came with the arrival of Tommy Agee along with Art Shamsky.
The lovable losers finally seemed to be going in the right direction.
My life was like a roller coaster, going ahead and seemingly backwards at the same time. In June of 1964, I lost my Dad. We had talked that spring about going to some games that summer at the new Shea Stadium, which had just opened a few months prior.
I had to leave Northeastern that year because my responsibilities and priorities were forced to change.
An interesting sidelight to those events that spring: about two weeks before my Dad succumbed to a massive heart attack on his 50th birthday, I had talked to him about changing my major to Journalism and pursuing as career as a sports journalist.
It never happened.
My baseball career ended as I broke an ankle in 1964 and my world class speed evaporated in the lobby of the Brooklyn Paramount Theater which was the gymnasium for Long Island University, which became my home for the next three years.
At least I was home to see many games at Shea and a couple of road games in Philly at Connie Mack Stadium.
Vietnam and “The Draft”, and I don’t mean the baseball draft, were on the horizon. Hippies had arrived, protests raged at college campuses, and my heroes of the '60s were gone.
The day after June 5, 1968, my best friend Teddy Blecher and I camped out all night in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the city and waited for the casket of Bobby Kennedy to arrive.
I had walked the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant with Bobby in 1966 when he ran for Governor of New York. For me, it was a loss of the greatest magnitude.
On Aug. 25, 1968, at the ripe old age of 23, I got married to a beautiful blue-eyed blonde from the city. She was not a Mets fan. She liked the Yankees.
I should have known it wouldn’t last.
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