Most baseball teams suffer some level of failure, disappointment and heartache, but some franchises seem to generate more than their fair share.
Over the course of 49 years, the NY Mets have specialized in alternately fielding great, entertaining teams, with episodes of tantalizing almost-greatness, botched opportunities and outright wretchedness.
This is a salute to those calamities.
As part of MLB’s first expansion, the ’62 Mets were a famously, even charismatically, awful team; a collection of aging veterans who were mostly never that good to begin with, and young players who by all rights should’ve been playing in the minor leagues.
The original Mets came within one loss of having three 20-game losers on their pitching staff, and finished in last place, an astronomical 60.5 games behind the Giants.
After an exhilarating 15-inning win in Game 5, the Mets went to Atlanta for Game 6 facing elimination.
Although the team rallied from deficits of 5-0 and 7-3 to lead late in the game, their bullpen imploded.
Relievers John Franco and Armando Benitez blew leads in the eighth and 10th innings, respectively. Then the Mets sent out the ever-dicey Kenny Rogers to pitch the 11th inning.
Rogers had been particularly awful during that postseason, but his Game 6 performance took the cake.
After intentionally walking two batters to load the bases, Rogers unintentionally walked Andruw Junes to end the game, the season and his Mets career. It was baseball's first, and only, postseason walk-off walk.
On July 24, 1993, Mets lunk-head Vince Coleman tossed what was essentially a quarter stick of dynamite out of a car window in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium, as a crowd of fans stood 20 feet away waiting for autographs.
A 33-year-old woman, an 11-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl were subsequently treated for injuries at local hospital. The two-year-old suffered corneal damage.
Five years removed from winning 100 games and almost getting to the World Series, the Mets were a pitifully bad and unlikable team in ‘93, and this incident seemed to symbolize the ugliness of that era: a team full of miscreants on their way to losing 103 games.
This one didn't provoke the backlash that the Tom Seaver trade did, because Seaver was dealt in his prime, and Ryan was traded before he became great.
And there is certainly merit in the argument that the deal looked reasonable at the time: Fregosi was an All-Star shortstop and Ryan had a live arm, but he was wild and inconsistent.
In the rear-view mirror, however, forget it. This trade sucked way worse than the Seaver deal.
Fregosi quickly became a sack of potatoes, and Ryan went on to conquer the world. The only upside to this story is that the couple of innings that Ryan threw in the 1969 World Series were the only ones he would ever pitch in his career.
After an underwhelming 1987 season, the ’88 Mets fulfilled a lot of the promise of the championship ’86 team by winning 100 games, and they were poised to storm back into the World Series, late 80s Mets style, with a lot of mouths and guns blazing.
They met up with an inferior LA Dodger team in the NLCS, and the series went to seven games. Mets pitcher Ron Darling started Game 7 and went up in flames, giving up six runs in the first inning on the way to a 6-0 loss.
For those Mets fans that lived through them, these were the years in the wilderness.
The team averaged a mind-numbing 97 losses per year during this period (If you extrapolate the strike-shortened ’81 season to 162 games).
There was precious little to root for during this era, except for the occasional sideshow like first baseman Dave “Kong” Kingman, who slammed 37 home runs and struck out 156 times in 1982.
It’s worth noting that future Yankees managing-legend Joe Torre was at the helm during five of these seven years, where it seemed he was incapable of being fired.
These two homegrown stars came up to the big leagues a year apart from each other in the early 80s, and together they were the axis upon which Mets world rotated throughout the decade, when the Mets were one of the best and most entertaining teams in baseball.
Both players were supremely talented, and both of them sparkled in the early part of their careers. And they became the charismatic icons of those upstart, freewheeling teams.
But it did not end well for either.
Strawberry left New York as a free agent in 1990, and after a few productive years, he hit a downward spiral of drug use, arrests and a struggle with cancer.
Gooden played until 2000, but was never much of a pitcher after 1991, and he too struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, and run-ins with the police.
It’s been a sad postscript for these two wayward, prodigal sons.
Two months after winning the 1986 World Series, the Mets traded hugely talented and hot-headed Kevin Mitchell to the San Diego Padres for boring and much less-talented Kevin McReynolds.
Mitchell went on to hit 47 home runs, win the Most Valuable Player award and lead the San Francisco Giants to the pennant in 1989.
It was the first of many moves where the team rid itself of ballplayers who were deemed problematic, while trying to replace them with solid citizens. In terms of improving the team, the strategy was a failure.
After losing the 1988 NLCS to the Dodgers, Cashen struck again.
Between June and December of 1989, the Mets traded away Lenny Dykstra, Roger McDowell, Mookie Wilson and Randy Myers.
All but Mookie were considered problem children.
Pitcher David Cone, after he was traded to the Blue Jays in 1992, nailed it when he called the move: “The end of the arrogant Mets, the end of the mid-'80s, flourishing Mets. Well, yeah, the heart and soul was bred out of it……."
Of the 23 players to appear in the 1988 NLCS, 10 were gone by the end of the next year. They took their personalities with them, and left Mets fans with a team of bland oatmeal.
During an acrimonious disagreement about his salary in 1977 that was stoked by vitriolic columns written by the New York Daily News’ Dick Young decrying the player’s greed, Mets’ ownership traded iconic Mets pitcher Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds for Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Dan Norman and Pat Zachry.
That they received such mediocre players in return was a testament to management’s incompetence and the fact that, after Seaver demanded to be traded, they had little leverage.
The deal infuriated Mets fans, and helped usher in a period of ineptitude and futility that lasted seven years.
In perhaps the most bizarre incident ever in a World Series game, Roger Clemens gave in to some toxic combination of suppressed revenge and steroid rage when half of Mike Piazza’a broken bat flew out to the pitching mound in the first inning of Game 2 of the 2000 World Series.
The back story was that Clemens had been enraged that he was cast as the villain after he planted a fastball into Mike Piazza’s helmet three months prior at Yankee Stadium, and Piazza had refused his subsequent apology.
In that context, it seems possible that an amped-up Clemens thought Piazza had intentionally thrown his bat at him, and he heaved the jagged bat shard directly at Piazza as he ran up the base path.
After the incident, Clemens proceeded to mow down the Mets, who seemed spooked that Clemens and his 95 per-hour fastball might turn psychotic again. He allowed just two hits over eight innings. The Mets were never in the series after this, and lost in five games.
The Mets entered the final three weeks of the 2007 season with a 7.5 game lead in the division with 17 games to go, about as close as you can get to a sure thing in baseball.
But then things started to go horribly wrong, and Mets pitchers in particular completely fell apart.
And no one was worse than Tom Glavine, who got hammered three times during that final stretch, culminating in his masterpiece of misery: seven runs in a third of an inning on the final game of the season, where a win would have forced a one-game playoff.
There are few things more unsatisfying in baseball than ending a game on a called third strike, and Carlos Beltran wrote the most unsatisfying ending to any Mets season when he froze while watching St. Louis Cardinals Adam Wainwright’s hellacious curveball drop in for strike three, ending the 2006 NLCS.
It marked the third-straight Mets’ loss in the NLCS, as well as the end of the mid-aught Mets as championship caliber pretenders.