50 Key Events in 50 Years of New York Mets Baseball

Tony Marcano@@dctonymarcanoContributor IApril 14, 2012

50 Key Events in 50 Years of New York Mets Baseball

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    On April 11, 1962, the newly enfranchised New York Mets took the field for the first time. They lost.

    Then they lost again. And again. And again and again and again and again and again and again.

    The Mets went 0-9 to open the 1962 season. After they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates for their first-ever win, they lost three more. By the time the season had ended, they'd chalked up 120 losses, a Major League record.

    In the 50 years since, the Mets have climbed from laughingstocks to champions. They've suffered long periods of mediocrity, followed by exhilarating but usually short-lived returns to the top.

    The roller-coaster ride for the team and its fans has been dizzying. Great managers, clueless ownership, phenomenal pitching, sulking has-beens and dumb luck have all contributed.

    Here are 50 key events, by season, that brought the Mets from the basement to the penthouse, and back again.

1962: The Beginning

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    The Mets were bad from the get-go. The inaugural team lost its first nine games, then lost three more after recording its first victory. At the end of April, the team's record was three wins, 13 losses.

    The Mets responded by trading for a player who became a symbol of their futility.

    On May 9, 1962, the Mets acquired Marvin Eugene Throneberry from the Baltimore Orioles. Marvelous Marv, they called him. The marvel must have been that his career lasted as long as it did.

    He spent a couple of unremarkable years with the New York Yankees before they shipped him off to the Kansas City Athletics. The A's, unimpressed with his .238 batting average, unloaded him on the O's. The O's, unimpressed with his .208 BA, dumped him on the Mets, undoubtedly laughing as they did so.

    Mets fans laughed, too, as Throneberry stumbled his way through two seasons before going on to capitalize on his own ineptitude.

    The Mets went on to lose a Major League record 120 games. How Marvelous.

1963: Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?

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    Casey Stengel was quick with a quip.

    Here are a few choice quotes from his years as manager of the Mets. He was optimistic to start.

    "The Mets are gonna be amazin'."

    Then he was bewildered.

    "Been in this game one hundred years, but I see new ways to lose 'em I never knew existed before."

    Then he posed a simple question.

    "You look up and down the bench and you have to say to yourself, 'Can't anybody here play this game?'"

    Turns out the quote was apocryphal. Author Jimmy Breslin made it up and used it for the title of his 1963 book. That didn't make the question less relevant.

    The answer was no. The 1963 Mets ended the season with a record of 51-111. No doubt Stengel reiterated another of his famous quips after that:

    "Don't cut my throat. I may want to do that later myself."

1964: Brand New Stadium, Same Old Team

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    The Mets took up residence in their new home in Queens in 1964. It was adjacent to the site of the 1964 World's Fair. Considering that the Mets were world-class losers, perhaps the choice was appropriate.

    Shea Stadium was named for William A. Shea, a New York lawyer who fought to bring National League baseball back to New York after the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants decamped in 1957.

    A former law partner of Shea's once said, “He had an opinion on every pitch and every catch."

    The 1964 Mets ended the season with a record of 53-109. Wonder what Shea's opinion was about that.

1965: Last of the Lovable Losers

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    Not much changed on the field for the 1965 Mets. They still couldn't hit; the team's batting average was .221. They were still in 10th place. They still couldn't scrape together 60 wins.

    But there were two notable dates in Mets history in 1965.

    On June 8, Major League Baseball held its first amateur draft. The Mets had the second pick. Their choice was a lefty pitcher named Les Rohr.

    Thought we were going to say Nolan Ryan, didn't you?

    It's true that he was selected by the Mets in 1965, but there were a few rounds of selections between him and Rohr.

    Ryan went in the 12th round, with the 226th pick. Rohr pitched two seasons for the Mets before succumbing to injuries. Ryan lasted a bit longer, needless to say.

    The other significant date  was August 30, when Casey Stengel stepped down as manager. He had suffered a broken hip a month earlier and his doctors feared for the 75-year-old legend's health.

    Casey lived another 10 years. Take that, docs.

1966: Out of the Cellar

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    In the 10th round of the 1965 draft, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired the rights to George Thomas Seaver, a fireballer from Fresno, by way of USC.

    Tom Seaver wanted $50,000 to sign with the Dodgers. Negotiations were arranged with a scout named Tommy Lasorda. He offered Seaver $3,000. Seaver, a pre-dental student, declined.

    "Good luck with your dental career," Lasorda said.

    Seaver went back to USC. In the winter draft on Jan. 29, 1966, he was selected by the Atlanta Braves and signed a $40,000 contract.

    At the time, college ballplayers could sign pro contracts only before the spring season had started. USC had started its season before Jan. 29. Contract voided.

    Commissioner William Eckert ruled that Seaver could be signed by any club willing to match Atlanta's offer. Three teams were willing—the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cleveland Indians and the Mets. On April 2, Eckert put the names of the three teams in a hat and drew out a card that said "Mets."

    Incidentally, there was another historic event for the Mets in that Jan. 29 draft. With the first overall pick, the Mets selected a high school catcher named Steve Chilcott. The Oakland A's had the second pick. They chose an Arizona State slugger named Reggie Jackson.

1967: Devine Guidance

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    In the 1960's, Bing Devine was baseball's pre-eminent architect of champions.

    He brought Lou Brock, Curt Flood and Bob Gibson to the St. Louis Cardinals. They brought two National League titles and a World Series trophy to St. Louis.

    Nonetheless, the Cardinals fired him in the middle of the 1964 season. Devine joined the Mets as a special assistant to GM George Weiss, who had built a few championship teams himself with the Yankees in the 1940s and '50s.

    In 1967, Devine succeeded Weiss. He emphasized pitching. Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and Jim McAndrew joined the organization during his watch.

    Devine didn't stick around long enough to see what he had built. The 1967 Mets were a disaster, and he was lured back to his beloved St. Louis.

    But he did see one seed sprout. In 1965, Devine convinced a skeptical Weiss to enter the lottery for the rights to Tom Seaver. In 1967, Seaver was named National League Rookie of the Year.

1968: Emergence of Champions

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    The key event for 1968 was also a key moment in Mets history.

    Gil Hodges was back. Not as a player, but as manager. As history shows, he lit the spark that showed the Mets the way out of a dark cellar.

    The offseason brought Tommie Agee and Al Weis to the 1968 Mets roster. The lineup that would lead the Mets to a championship a year later was largely in place.

    The Mets won 73 games in 1968. Jerry Koosman out-aced ace pitcher Tom Seaver by recording 19 wins and a 2.08 ERA.

    Hodges dragged the Mets into ninth place in 1968. It was only the second time in team history that the team wasn't dead last.

    No doubt, Hodges knew that the fans hadn't seen anything yet.

1969: Amazin' Amazin' Amazin'!

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    The Chicago Cubs were supposed to be the Cinderella story of the 1969. The Mets stole the slipper.

    For most of the season, the 1969 Mets looked like the ugly stepsister. They went 9-11 in April and 12-12 in May. By mid-August, despite their best season ever, the Mets were in third place, 9 and a half games behind the Cubs.

    Suddenly, the Mets became Amazin'.

    They won 39 of their last 50 games, including 23 of the 30 games they played in September. The Mets finished the season eight games ahead of the Cubs.

    The turning point was the acquisition of first basemen Donn Clendenon from the Montreal Expos. Go back and look at the box scores for September 1969. You'll find Clendenon's mark all over the them.

    You'll find it all over the World Series box scores, too. Clendenon annihilated the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles. He batted .357 with three home runs and four RBI, and was named the World Series MVP.


1970: Oy, Foy!

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    The celebrations following the miracle '69 season went on for months afterward. Maybe that explains the deal the Mets struck with the Kansas City Royals on Dec. 3, 1969. The front office must have still been drunk.

    The Mets shipped Amos Otis and pitcher Bob Johnson to KC. Fair enough. Teams often trade promising young players in exchange for quality talent.

    Except in this case, the Mets ended up with the eminently forgettable Joe Foy.

    In fairness, Foy did show some promise early in his career. But by the time he was added to the 1970 Mets roster, he was already on his way to ignominy.

    Foy lasted one season, and was out of baseball for good a year later. Otis went on to be a five-time All-Star.

    The laughter from Kansas City still echoes in New York.

1971: Meet the Mediocre Mets

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    Bob Scheffing was named Mets general manager in 1971 after his predecessor, Johnny Murphy, died suddenly in 1970.

    That might have been a big deal, had Scheffing actually made any big deals.

    He at least had the sense to retain most of the '69 stars. The 1971 Mets roster still included Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee. Gil Hodges was still the manager.

    Ron Swoboda, a fan favorite, was gone. On March 31, 1971, Scheffing dealt him to the Montreal Expos for an unremarkable center fielder named Don Hahn.

    It was one of many deals that transformed the Miracle Mets to the Mediocre Mets. The worst was yet to come.

1972: Loss of a Leader

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    The 1972 Mets suffered two losses prior to the season that they felt for years to come.

    On Dec. 10, 1971, GM Bob Scheffing announced a blockbuster trade that sent four Mets to the California Angels in exchange for an All-Star infielder.

    The Mets got Jim Fregosi. The Angels welcomed Frank Estrada, Don Rose, Leroy Stanton ... and Nolan Ryan.

    Scheffing's nickname was Grumpy. He should have been called Dopey.

    It took a while for the impact of that boneheaded trade to be felt. A much more immediate and devastating blow came two weeks before the start of the regular season.

    Manager Gil Hodges and three of his coaches had just finished a round of golf when Hodges collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was 48 years old.

    Perhaps in tribute to Hodges, the Mets responded with a sizzling start to the season. They eventually succumbed to injuries and slumps by key players.

    Fregosi, in case you're wondering, batted .232. As for Ryan...that's too painful to talk about.

1973: Ya Gotta Believe!

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    Here are the won-loss records and National League East standings for the Mets of the early '70s:

    1970: 83-79. Third place.

    1971: 83-79. Third place.

    1972: 83-73. (Six games cancelled during players' strike.) Third place.

    1973: 82-79. First place. NL champions.

    In a perfect world, the 1973 Mets would have ended up in third place again. But they had one more miracle up their sleeves.

    They were four games under .500 on Sept. 11, 1973, but owing to the general stink of the NL East, they still had a chance. Ten days later, they took over first place with a .500 record.

    That wasn't so much a miracle as a lucky break. The miracle was that they beat Cincinnati's Big Red Machine to get into the World Series.

    The Oakland A's, featuring the likes of Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando and Joe Rudi, proved too much for the Mets. Still, it was a much more entertaining series than the blowout that was expected. The barely respectable Mets took the mighty A's to seven games. Not too shabby.

    And wasn't it cool to see Willie Mays get into one last World Series?

1974: General Mismanager

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    While the Mets really weren't a world-class team in 1973, the 1974 Mets could have ridden the momentum of the National League championship and a competitive World Series to improve the team.

    They didn't.

    Perhaps GM Bob Scheffing thought that since the Mets won a title the year before, the lineup was just fine. His off-season activity consisted of three transactions: trading pitcher Jim McAndrew to the San Diego Padres for Steve Simpson, sending pitcher Buzz Capra to the Atlanta Braves for cash and releasing utility player Jim Beauchamp.


    The Mets ended up with a record of 71-91. It was their worst season since 1967.

1975: The Kong of Queens

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    Coming off a horrendous season, the 1975 Mets needed a catalyst.

    GM Joe McDonald got a guy from the San Francisco Giants who could knock the ball a country mile. He also whiffed enough times and with enough force to power a wind turbine.

    Dave Kingman had two settings: going yard, and going down on strikes. His 36 home runs in 1975 were a Mets record. He struck out 153 times. Tommie Agee struck out 156 times in 1970, but he batted a respectable .286. Kingman's BA was .231.

    True, the Mets did get better in 1975. They finished 82-80.

    Nevertheless, it was a heartbreaking year for many fans. McDonald began dismantling the 1969 Miracle Mets. Yogi Berra, a Mets coach in '69, was fired as manager. Backup catcher Duffy Dyer was traded. Left  fielder Cleon Jones, who snagged the final out of the '69 World Series, was released.

    Also gone: Tug McGraw, traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Guess McDonald didn't believe.

1976: Good Bye, Mrs. Payson

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    If the Mets had a fairy godmother, it was Joan Whitney Payson.

    Once a minority shareholder in the New York Giants, Payson vowed to bring baseball back to New York. In 1962, she became owner, co-founder and president of the Mets.

    She was no absentee owner, and her team was no mere investment. Joan Whitney Payson was in it for the love of the game.

    She could have ensconced herself in the team offices. Instead, she could be seen in the field-level stands at Shea Stadium, wearing one of a multitude of hats, mingling with the fans and occasionally chatting with the players.

    Joan Whitney Payson died on Oct. 4, 1975.  The 1976 Mets were the final legacy of her era as owner. The team finished with a respectable 86 wins. 

    The subsequent years were more error than era.

1977: Midsummer Massacre

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    The 1970s was a bad time for people who used an initial as a first name. E. Howard Hunt. G. Gordon Liddy. H.R. Haldeman. M. Donald Grant.

    Grant, the Mets chairman, assumed much of the responsibility for team operations after owner Joan Whitney Payson died in 1975.

    Her death came just as free agency was about to be born. Grant's crosstown rival, George Steinbrenner, responded by offering millions to baseball's top stars. Grant kept his checkbook closed.

    Grant's top stars argued for comparable pay. Grant, a high-falutin' stockbroker by trade, didn't believe mere ballplayers were worth millions, no matter how much income they generated for the team.

    He responded by trading Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds and Dave Kingman to the San Diego Padres. The fans responded by staying away from Shea in droves.

    The 1977 Mets ended the season in dead last with a record of 64-98. Fortunately, there weren't too many people around by then to see it.

1978: Grant's Tomb

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    There was no one key event for the 1978 Mets. It was all bad, all the time.

    The only good news for Mets fans that year came right after the season ended: Chairman M. Donald Grant was fired.

    Grant's efforts at building a team on the cheap because of his objections to free agency demolished the Mets. While stars were playing across town for the Yankees, the Mets fielded a team of journeymen and cast-offs.

    Unsurprisingly, Yankee Stadium filled up and Shea Stadium emptied out. The fans and the media dubbed the bleak ballpark "Grant's Tomb."

    Look on the bright side. The beer lines were short.

1979: Cellar Dwellers

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    Of course Joe Torre was one of the best managers in New York Yankees history—he had exhausted all of his bad luck as manager of the Mets.

    How bad were the 1979 Mets under Torre? Just as bad as the 1978 Mets under Torre. Same for 1977, when Torre took over the Mets in mid-season.

    The Mets went 64-98 in '77, 66-96 in '78 and 63-99 in '79. The team hadn't seen that level of futility since its infancy. Attendance in 1979 dipped to 788,000, the lowest by far in Mets history. Even the bumbling teams of the '60s regularly drew more than a million fans.

    Torre was stuck in the middle as the Mets tried to regain their magic. While the 1979 season was a disaster, one offseason transaction was notable. Jerry Koosman, the last of the '69 Mets pitchers, was traded to the Minnesota Twins for a player to be named later. In February 1979, the Twins sent over pitcher Jesse Orosco in return.

    With the exception of Ed Kranepool, the Miracle Mets were history. With the addition of Orosco, the Mets of the mid-'80s were born.

1980: New Ownership

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    There were two game-changing events in 1980 for the Mets.

    The first came on January 24. Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon announced that they and a group of investors bought the Mets for $22 million, then a record price for a baseball team. (Hear that, Magic Johnson?)

    The second came on June 8. By virtue of their mega-lousy 1979 season, the Mets got the first pick in the amateur draft. The new GM, Frank Cashen, wisely chose a tall, lean outfielder from Los Angeles named Darryl Strawberry.

    The new ownership pledged to break open the Mets' piggy bank to acquire quality players. Eventually, they lived up to their word.

    None of that helped the 1980 Mets, however. For the fourth straight time under manager Joe Torre, the Mets lost more than 90 games.

1981: Under Construction

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    You couldn't see it in 1981, but the Mets were laying the foundation for an amazin' project.

    The 1981 Mets season itself was nothing to get excited about. The season was split by a players' strike. Manager Joe Torre led the Mets to yet another losing season.

    The doldrums on the field were in sharp contrast to the excitement in the front office. By 1981, soon-to-be key players started to take the field.

    Mookie Wilson, in his first full season, led the Mets in stolen bases. Kevin Mitchell was signed in the offseason. Rusty Staub signed as a free agent and returned to the Mets. In the June amateur draft, the Mets selected a scrappy infielder, Lenny Dykstra.

    They also drafted Roger Clemens in the 12th round, but didn't sign him. He still ended up in the 1986 World Series.

1982: Darling Boy

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    Reconstruction continued in 1982.

    With a few promising players in the field, the Mets' front office set their sights on the mound. At the start of the season, the Mets acquired pitchers Ron Darling and Walt Terrell from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Lee Mazzilli, one of the few fan favorites of the late '70s.

    Then came another quality pick in the amateur draft. On June 7, the Mets used their first-round pick to select Dwight Gooden. Perhaps mindful of their failure to sign Roger Clemens a year earlier, the Mets signed Gooden three days later.

    It was another nod to the future to GM Frank Cashen. The 1982 Mets were another horrendous team. Manager George Bamberger led the team to a 65-97 finish.

1983: Tom Terrific Returns

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    Mets GM Frank Cashen had spent three years building toward the future. But the fans' patience was wearing thin.

    Not counting the 1981 strike season, the Mets had lost 95 or more games every year since 1977. Their overall record during that period was 366-547.

    Cashen knew he had to keep his eye on the future and appease the fans. He found his solution in the 1969 Mets.

    Tom Seaver was reacquired, six years after he was lost to the Saturday Night Massacre. Shea Stadium was packed on Opening Day.

    Even Seaver couldn't boost the 1983 Mets out of the swamp. He ended up with a record of 9-14, the Mets ended up with a record of 68-94, and it was the last that the franchise would see of The Franchise.

    It was also the first year the franchise saw Daryl Strawberry take the field for the Mets. The future was still intact.

1984: The Doctor Is in

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    Tom Seaver had every intention of pitching for the 1984 Mets. GM Frank Cashen figured no other team would lure him away from the Mets and left Seaver off the protected list.

    Lesson: always protect your Franchise. Seaver was claimed by the Chicago White Sox in a free agent compensation draft in January 1984. Seaver could either pitch for Chicago or retire. Seaver decided to pitch.

    That left a hole in the 1984 rotation for new manager Davey Johnson. He didn't know it at the time, but he had a rookie ace up his sleeve.

    Dwight Gooden made his debut on April 7, 1984. He was 19 years old.

    Along with Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez, who had been acquired in the offseason from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gooden was the key to the Mets' reversal of fortune. They won 90 games for the first time since 1969 for a second-place finish.

    Gooden was named NL Rookie of the Year. There were smiles at Shea once again.

1985: A Man Called Kid

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    GM Frank Cashen's construction project was almost complete.

    The pitching staff gelled around Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez and Ron Darling. Keith Hernandez, acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1983, and Howard Johnson, acquired in the offseason from the Detroit Tigers, anchored the infield corners. Darryl Strawberry was christened The Straw That Stirs The Drink.

    But the Mets still needed a cornerstone. They imported it from Montreal.

    On Dec. 10, 1984, the Mets traded Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans to the Expos for Gary Carter. The move changed Mets history.

    With Carter's bat added, the 1985 Mets racked up 98 wins—still not enough to surpass the powerhouse St. Louis Cardinals, but enough to give the Mets a leg up for the near future.

    Gary Carter died on Feb. 16 of this year. For Mets fans, he will always be the Kid.

1986: A New Miracle

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    Lots of nicknames conjure up images of the 1986 Mets.  Doc. Straw. Kid.

    But really, who are we kidding? If you want to talk 1986 for the Mets, you need just two words.

    Bill Buckner.

    Every momentous event that brought joy back to Metsville would have been for naught if Mookie Wilson's grounder hadn't scooted under Buckner's glove in Game 6 of the World Series.

    The team-record 108 regular-season wins would have made a World Series defeat that much more disappointing. The epic 16-inning Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros would have been a mere footnote. The streets of Flushing would have been flush with tears.

    The Boston Red Sox were just one out, one strike, away from their first world title in 68 years. In the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6, Mookie Wilson dribbled a slow grounder up the right side. Buckner stood ready. Boston held it's breath, and...

    Billy made a boo-boo.

    You know the rest. Ray Knight scores. Mets win, taking the series to Game 7. Mets win again. Buckner becomes a swear word in Boston. New York holds a parade for their heroes.

    Even Yankee Stadium got into the act. For the next 18 years, Yankees fans taunted Boston by chanting "NINEteen-EIGHTeen" during games against the Red Sox.

    After Boston finally won a World Series in 2004, Buckner was more or less forgiven. If there are any Red Sox fans out there who still hold a grudge against the ball, you can buy it. And maybe bury it.

1987: Fight to the Finish

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    Victory is sweet. Naturally, the 1987 Mets wanted more.

    Even after building a championship club, GM Frank Cashen was still tinkering with his creation. Just prior to the start of the season, he sent three unremarkable players to the Kansas City Royals for David Cone, a promising but unproven right-hander.

    His first season with the Mets wasn't bad (5-6, 3.71 ERA). But Cone wasn't in the same class as the top pitchers on the roster.

    The Mets could have used the help. Gooden went into rehab and missed the start of the season. Bob Ojeda had surgery and was lost for a big chunk of the season. The Mets ended up in second place, three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Still, the acquisition of Cone turned out to be a steal. Just not for 1987.

1988: Orel Treatment

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    Just as Bill Buckner defined the 1986 Mets season, Orel Hershiser changed the Mets' fortunes in 1988. Only this time, it wasn't for the better.

    The 1988 Mets pitching staff was largely back intact after an injury-plagued 1987. Dwight Gooden, back from rehab, was back to dominance. Ron Darling had yet another strong season.

    But David Cone was the most amazing of the Amazins' pitchers.  He posted a 20-3 mark in 1988 with a sizzling 2.22 ERA. Even more amazing, he spent the entire month of April in the bullpen.

    The Mets won 100 games and were heavy favorites over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. But then Coney got cocky.

    Writing playoff commentary for the New York Daily News, Cone dissed Hershiser and other Dodgers pitchers. The column appeared on the morning of Game 2, which Cone started. The Dodgers whipped him. (For the record, the columns under Cone's name were actually written by sportswriter Bob Klapisch.)

    After pitching in Game 1, Hershiser came back to start Game 3 on three-days rest. The result was the same as in the first game. The Dodgers lost. Maybe there was some truth the column.

    There wasn't.

    Hershiser, pitching in relief in Game 4, shut down a bases-loaded rally in the 12th inning for the save. Despite concerns about overuse, Hershiser took the mound again for Game 7 and shut out the Mets for the victory, and the championship.

    Cone now does commentary for the Yankees on the YES cable network. No comment.

1989: Storm on the Horizon

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    There wouldn't seem to be much need for the 1989 Mets to rebuild just a season after a strong run at the World Series.

    Mookie Wilson didn't think so. The longtime fan favorite requested a trade after it became clear that the Mets were preparing to clear the decks.

    Moving the deck chairs on the Titanic was more like it.

    Wilson was part of a Mets fire sale that took place on July 31, 1989. The Mets shipped five players, including pitcher Rick Aguilera, to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for pitcher Frank Viola.

    Mookie was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Jeffrey Musselman and minor-leaguer Mike Brady. Perhaps it would have been a more equitable trade if the Blue Jays had thrown in Carol, Greg, Peter, Bobby and a Brady to be named later.

    Manager Davey Johnson still got 87 wins and a second-place finish out of the '89 squad. Turned out not to be enough.

1990: Bye-Bye, Davey

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    If you look only at the stats, 1990 wouldn't seem like a bad year for the Mets.

    Season record: 91-71. Second-place in the NL East. A 19-win season for ace Dwight Gooden. Twenty wins for newly acquired Frank Viola.

    At the helm was Davey Johnson, the winningest manager in Mets history. (Trivia note: he still is.) The 1990 Mets got off to a slow, but not horrific, start. After 42 games, they were 20-22.

    So the front office, after years of brilliant moves, showed Johnson the door.

    True, the Mets hadn't managed to regain their 1986 glory. But by 1990, the '86 Mets were quickly fading. Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez were gone. Ron Darling and Bob Ojeda got off to slow starts and were relegated to the bullpen.

    Many of the core players were still there, and new manager Bud Harrelson led the Mets to a 71-49 record after Johnson was fired. Some said it was the result of a much-needed change in leadership.

    Statistics, as it turns out, can be deceptive.

1991: Bye-Bye, Buddy

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    Mets fans loved Bud Harrelson. Just not as a manager.

    A fixture on the Mets at shortstop during the 1969 championship season and beyond, Harrelson was a scrappy player. His fight with the much burlier Pete Rose during the 1973 National League Championship Series endeared him to the fans even more.

    Too bad, then, that he was put in charge of the 1991 Mets. Not much endearing there.

    It wasn't entirely Harrelson's fault. Most of the blame goes to GM Frank Cashen, who seemed to have lost his baseball brilliance.

    Cashen's main offseason moves were the acquisitions of 37-year-old catcher Rick Cerrone and center fielder Vince Coleman, who growled and sulked his way through three unproductive seasons in New York.

    The Mets also picked up shortstop Garry Templeton, another former star well past his prime. Tim Teufel was sent packing in that trade. Another 1986 alum, Ron Darling, was traded to the Montreal Expos for Tim Burke.

    Harrelson held on until late September, when he was replaced by Mike Cubbage. Cashen's deconstruction project continued to take its toll.

1992: The Worst Team Money Could Buy

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    The Mets of the late '80s died in 1992.

    A few players were still left from the '86 champions, but the spirit was gone. Dwight Gooden recorded his first losing season ever. The team's architect (and dismantler), Frank Cashen, stepped down as GM after the 1991 season.

    His replacement, Al Harazin, made these unforgettably forgettable moves:

    In: Jeff Torborg, manager; sour-puss free agents Eddie Murray and Bobby Bonilla (more on him in a moment); Willie Randolph, age 37; and unready-for-prime-time infielder Jeff Kent.

    Out: Kevin McReynolds and Gregg Jeffries, traded for pitcher Bret Saberhagen; Hubie Brooks, after a short-lived return to the team; and worst of all, future perfect-game hurler David Cone, unloaded for Kent.

    Meet the 1992 Mets—later the subject of a book by New York Daily News sportswriter Bob Klapisch called The Worst Team Money Could Buy: The Collapse of the New York Mets. Bonilla, who had signed for enough money to buy out heaven from God, took exception to the book and threatened Klapisch in the Mets clubhouse.

    Bonilla hit .249 in 1992. Twenty years later, the Mets are still paying him.

1993: Under the Basement

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    New York Mets, 1988: 100 wins, 60 losses.

    New York Mets, 1993: 59 wins, 103 losses.

    If you're going to turn from winners to losers, might as well go all out.

    No surprise that manager Jeff Torborg was fired after 38 games. Big surprise that pitcher Anthony Young stayed in the major leagues at all.

    There was no bigger symbol of the Mets' descent to the sub-basement than Young. Over a two-year stretch from May 1992 to June 1994, Young lost every start in which he had a decision. All 27 of them. Baseball had not seen such pitching futility since 1911.

    If nothing else, Young's story overshadowed yet another losing season for Dwight Gooden. And pretty much everyone else.

1994: The Doctor Is out

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    Everybody lost in 1994.

    Major League play ended for the season on Aug. 12. The players walked out and lost credibility with many fans. The fans lost their pastime. It took years for the sport to recover (and only when the game essentially went on steroids).

    The 1994 Mets also suffered a loss that took years to overcome. Dwight Gooden's longtime problem with substance abuse finally caught up with him. After opening the season with a record of 3-4, he was suspended for drug use.

    He never pitched for the Mets again.

    It was just one in a year of too many disappointments in baseball. For the love of the game had devolved into for the love of the money. There wasn't much love lost for a few seasons after that.

1995: Bye-Bye, Bobby

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    Two good things happened for the 1995 Mets.

    They ended the season tied for second place and they rid themselves of Bobby Bonilla.

    Two caveats, however:

    First, the Atlanta Braves were so thoroughly dominant in the NL East that every other team finished below .500. The Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies, with records of 69-75, ended 21 games out of first place.

    Second, the Mets got Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Bonilla. Ochoa had some decent years, but still, these are not exactly players you'll tell your grandkids about.

    The Mets would have been so much better off had they traded him for cash.

1996: My Grouchy Valentine

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    Mets fans had pretty much had it by 1996.

    Bad trades, horrible free-agent signings and a downtrodden clubhouse brought the 1970s back to mind. GM Joe McIlvaine kept up his track record by trading Jeff Kent away from the 1996 Mets for Carlos Baerga, yet another erstwhile star whose best years were in the past.

    Dallas Green had endured the worst of those years and was finally relieved as manager, and of his suffering, with 31 games left to go in the season. The Mets brought on one of their former players, Bobby Valentine, for the balance of the year.

    With a pitching staff decimated by injuries, Valentine picked up 12 wins in those 31 games. But by then, Mets fans had been used to saying "Wait 'til next year."

    It turned out that they did have something to wait for.

1997: 'Rud's on First

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    The Mets had chalked up some awfully foul trades in the 1990s. Imagine the excitement in New York when they finally pulled off one that goes down as one of the worst trades in another team's history.

    Prior to the 1997 season, the Mets traded mediocre pitcher Robert Person to the Toronto Blue Jays for first baseman John Olerud. The trade set the table for the next era on the upswing for the Mets.

    At 28 years old, Olerud was seasoned enough to be a leader, and young enough to lead the 1997 Mets into the future. He won the AL batting title with a .363 average in 1993, and he was good for 20 or more home runs a season.

    Olerud's first season as a Met was solid, but not up to those numbers. He hit .294 with 22 dingers and 102 RBI. With Edgardo Alfonzo and Lance Johnson both posting averages above .300, the Mets ended 1997 with their best record in seven years.

    More "bests" were yet to come.

1998: Mets Land a Big Fish

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    Mets GM Steve Phillips made a bunch of good moves in his first full year in the job in and after the 1997 season.

    John Olerud, a free agent after the '97 season, was signed to a lucrative contract. Pitcher Al Leiter joined the team through an offseason trade with the Florida Marlins. The 1998 Mets were solid, but they still weren't being taken very seriously.

    On May 22, Phillips made a move that showed he was serious about being taken seriously. He acquired Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins.

    There was some concern at the time about the Mets giving up one of their top prospects, Preston Wilson, to get Piazza. It didn't take Piazza long to make his mark. A .348 batting average will do that for you.

    (Side note: that would have been a team record had it not been for Olerud. He batted .354 in 1998.)

    The Mets made a serious run for the wild card in 1998, but lost their final five games of the season and lost the playoff spot by one game.

    Heartbreaking, but at least it was exciting.

1999: Mets Gone Wild

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    OK, let's get the groaner out of the way first: the 1999 Mets partied like it was 1999. (Heartfelt apologies to the man in purple.)

    They didn't go completely wild; even with 97 wins, they couldn't top the perennial division-winning Atlanta Braves. But wild enough for the Wild Card was plenty.

    The offseason had brought several key contributors to the club. Rickey Henderson, Robin Ventura and former nemesis Orel Hershiser were signed as free agents. Roger Cedeño came over from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade for Todd Hundley, (In a head-scratcher, the Mets also reacquired Bobby Bonilla, who was notable as a non-factor.)

    It was the year of the Sports Illustrated cover that proposed the infield of John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordóñez and Ventura was baseball's best ever.

    Debatable, but the season was the Mets' best in a long time. They won the National League Division Series matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks and met the Braves in the NLCS.

    Let's just stop there.

2000: Anybody Got a Token?

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    Remember the whole Y2K jitteriness? There were predictions of computer crashes, satellites falling from the skies, economies dashed, survivalists with guns, dogs and cats living together, etc. etc.

    In New York, 2000 was in fact the year the stars aligned. It was anything but apocalyptic.

    Not since the Yankees faced the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 had New York seen an interborough championship intramural. The 2000 Mets didn't seem likely candidates to change that.

    John Olerud was gone, having signed in the offseason with the Seattle Mariners. Rey Ordóñez was lost to injury. The Mets made only one important free-agent acquisition, signing Todd Zeile to replace Olerud.

    Mike Hampton was added to the pitching staff, and his 3.14 ERA turned out to be the lowest among the starters.

    Forget the Yankees. Few expected the Mets to get past their NLDS opponents, the San Francisco Giants, particularly with Barry Bonds hitting enhanced home runs to the moon.

    The team must have watched "Damn Yankees" for inspiration. Throughout the playoffs, they came out of the clubhouse seeming like they had just belted out "You Gotta Have Heart." The Mets beat the Giants in four games, and the St. Louis Cardinals in five in the NLCS.

    The boys from the Bronx were just too dominant in that era. The Mets lost the Subway Series in five games.

    Damn Yankees.

2001: Cheers Ease the Tears

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    I don't believe much in writing in the first person in these slideshows. Forgive me while I do just that.

    All of my memories of New York on Sept. 11, 2001 are wrapped in a cloud of surrealism. My eyes were processing images that I just couldn't fathom. It was all too real, yet nothing seemed like it was really happening.

    After a week of that vague feeling of disconnectedness, I needed a dose of something normal. Anything at all.

    It turned out to be baseball.

    I cringe now at how corny this sounds, but the emotional impact of doing something as ordinary as going to see the 2001 Mets was cleansing. The Mets were long since out of contention. They were just ball games—but they also represented the drive and determination of New Yorkers. We damn well weren't going to let a band of murderous lunatics have anything that was ours, including something so trivial as a couple of baseball teams.

    Watch the video above to see what everyone was cheering about the night Mike Piazza rocked Shea Stadium. Then play again and just listen. Don't look. You'll hear what I mean.

    P.S. I'm not a Yankees fan, but since the Mets were done by October, I went to Yankee Stadium for a couple of AL playoff games, and for a World Series game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The feeling was...well, not to tease, but you had to be there.

2002: Up in Smoke

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    Shea Stadium PA announcer:

    "For the Mets, playing center field and smoking it, Tommy Chong."

    Kidding. Sort of.

    The 2002 Mets were deeply troubled. GM Steve Phillips was under heavy criticism for basically dismantling the team and rebuilding it from scratch after the 2001 season. Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn came in with big contracts and even bigger attitude, little of which was evident on the field.

    Owner Fred Wilpon was publicly feuding with his former partner, Nelson Doubleday. Headlines questioned Mike Piazza's sexual orientation. The team had a 12-game losing streak in August.

    Then, with the season about to end, came explosive allegations that at least seven players were regularly using marijuana. One of them, pitcher Mark Corey, admitted that he had toked up just prior to suffering a seizure in June.

    The Mets ended the season in last place. Bobby Valentine ended the season unemployed.

    The whole season was a bust. In a manner of speaking.

2003: Back to the Drawing Board

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    The Mets should be in the demolition business. Every few years, they decide to blow themselves up and start building again. They make a few good moves, only to have everything crumble again.

    The 2003 Mets are a case in point. Pitchers Tom Glavine and Mike Stanton were signed in the offseason. They didn't come cheap, and while they both had later success, neither pitched well in 2003. GM Steve Phillips also inexplicably brought back David Cone, now that he was 40 and had left all of his best stuff in Yankee Stadium.

    The season dragged on, and the Mets tried to readjust in midstream.

    Phillips was fired. Roberto Alomar was a bust and was traded to the Chicago White Sox for a collection of trivia question answers.  Mo Vaughn busted his already bad knee and evaporated. Armando Benitez, who could throw a zillion miles an hour but not in the strike zone, was sent across town to the Yankees for three more who's.

    Result: 95 losses, and another trip below the surface.

2004: Show Me Howe

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    New GM, new faces, new season. Same result.

    The 2004 Mets weren't as bad as the 2003 Mets—but they were as boring, if not more so.

    Manager Art Howe's lineup card could have sent Rip Van Winkle back to bed. Opening Day featured Mike Cameron, Ricky Gutierrez, Jason Phillips, Karim Garcia, Kaz Matsui and Ty Wigginton. Mike Piazza and Cliff Floyd were there, too, but they were poised for substandard seasons.

    Mets GM Jim Duquette further tantalized the fans by sending away one of his best prospects, Scott Kazmir, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Bartolomeo Fortunato and Victor Zambrano. Yeah, that went well.

    Credit where credit is due, though. Late in the year, with the season deep in the latrine, a couple of youngsters named Reyes and Wright came along. Thanks, Jim.

2005: Randolph Era Begins, Piazza Era Ends

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    The last time Willie Randolph donned a Mets uniform, he was an aging player on a bad team. In 2005, he became a relatively young manager on a bad team.

    Fool me once, as they say...

    Randolph took over a 2005 Mets club that bore little resemblance to the 2004 squad. Omar Minaya was the new general manager, and he was determined to remake the Mets.

    Minaya already had two budding stars to build a team around. Jose Reyes and David Wright began their collaboration on the left side of the infield.

    Minaya's first order of business was to bring in some well-established talent. He signed Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran to big contracts. The team made a dramatic turnaround, finishing tied for third in a very competitive NL East.

    As new stars came in, one of the most popular in Mets history went out. Mike Piazza played his final game with the Mets in 2005. The fans sent him off with cheers loud enough to drown out the jets roaring past from LaGuardia Airport.

2006: It Wasn't in the Cards for the Mets

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    Shades of 1999.

    The 2006 Mets bore a strong resemblance to the 1999 and 2000 squads. Same record: 97 wins. Similar team makeup: occasionally shaky pitching supported by a strong offense. Same result: Mets lose the NLCS.

    But this time, it wasn't supposed to happen.

    The Mets had the superior record. Their NLCS opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, sneaked into the playoffs with just 83 wins.

    Maybe the Cardinals were after revenge for losing the 2000 NLCS to the Mets. They dragged the series out to seven games. Just like a seventh game is supposed to be, it was a cliffhanger. 

    Fortune seemed to favor the Mets. In the sixth inning, Scott Rolen hit a fly ball off Oliver Perez that was headed out of Shea Stadium. Leftfielder Endy Chavez leapt, extended his glove over the fence and reeled the ball back in.

    It wasn't enough. With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the ninth, Yadier Molina slammed a two-run homer off reliever Aaron Heilman to send the Cards to the World Series.

    It turned out to be the last playoff game ever played at Shea Stadium. It was also the end of yet another Mets era.

2007: How to Lose a Season in 21 Days

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    The 2007 Mets suffered two big losing streaks. One of them was fatal.

    Despite an aging and often injured pitching staff, the Mets came out strong and dominated the NL East until June, when they slumped in interleague play. They managed to recover and kept their NL East lead through the summer. By September 12, the Mets were 21 games over .500 and cruising toward a title.

    Five days and four losses later, the Mets' lead over the charging Philadelphia Phillies had shrunk to 2.5 games. Mets fans took solace in the schedule: six games were upcoming against the weak Washington Nationals.

    The Mets lost five of them.

    The Phillies pounced. The Mets dropped into second place, rebounded to tie the division, and lost to the Florida Marlins to end the season.

    The Mets had lost 12 of 17 games since mid-September. They also lost the division, the wild card and entire season worth of effort.

2008: The Last Days of Shea

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    Ah, Mets. What does it say about your team when the most exciting event in the final year of your longtime home is a Billy Joel concert?

    It says you didn't have the horses to make it to the home stretch.

    GM Omar Minaya made lots of moves in the offseason, but his most significant was the acquisition of pitcher Johan Santana. Also significant: Minaya didn't do much else to improve his creaky pitching staff.

    Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez were returning from injuries and seemed to be aging exponentially. Oliver Perez's arm couldn't match the image of a superstar in his head. The bullpen, largely held responsible the Mets' epic collapse in 2007, remained weak.

    The 2008 Mets remained competitive. But their streaky play in the first half of the season cost manager Willie Randolph his job.

    And yet ... they almost made the playoffs. With 89 wins, the Mets finished in second place, just three games behind the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Shea Stadium closed for baseball on Sept, 28, 2008. The Mets lost to the Florida Marlins and were bumped out of the wild-card playoffs, finishing one game back of the Milwaukee Brewers.

    Billy Joel played on July 16 and July 18. He knocked it out the park both times.

2009: Insane with the Pain

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    Welcome to Citi Hospital.

    Twenty players on the 2009 Mets spent time of the disabled list. Good thing their new home, Citi Field, has a bigger trainers' room. Among those hurt at one time or another were David Wright, Carlos Beltran, John Maine, Billy Wagner and Angel Pagan.

    Hard to win when you can barely find nine players to take the field.

    Harder to win when you lose your ace. The most devastating injury was sustained by Johan Santana. Arthroscopic surgery in late August ended the season for Santana.

    In the ultimate bit of irony, trainer Ray Ramirez was also injured. In June, he was in a car with injured shortstop Jose Reyes when they were rear-ended by a fire truck.

    Somewhere out there, someone with a team set of voodoo dolls and a thousand pins is laughing.

2010: Omar Gets Whacked

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    OK, Jerry Manuel, you can take a mulligan for 2009.

    With just about your entire lineup hurt, it was understandable that your team couldn't muster more than 70 wins. You can take a stroke off, too, Omar Minaya.

    For 2009. Not for 2010.

    Injuries still lingered, but Manuel managed to hold the team together through June. Then came the team's recent annual collapse, only earlier.  They started slipping in July, and never climbed back.

    When Jason Bay went down with a concussion after slamming into the left field wall at Dodger Stadium while making a spectacular catch, the 2010 Mets all but folded their tent. They went on to their second consecutive fourth-place finish.

    M & M paid with their jobs. Both were dismissed at the end of the season.

2011: B-B-B-Bernie and the Mets

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    In the greater scheme of things, Bernard Madoff's impact on the Mets is negligible.

    Many victims of Madoff's decades-long Ponzi scheme lost everything—homes, cars, nest eggs, you name it. Trusting charities went bust. Municipal coffers were threatened.

    By contrast, Mets owner Fred Wilpon is still rich. He still owns a major league baseball team. He won't have to work at McDonald's to survive.

    Speaking strictly in baseball terms, however, Wilpon's investments with Madoff could affect the team's fortunes for years to come. Wilpon was low on cash and had to rely on loans to keep the 2011 Mets afloat. Money to pay high-priced free agents dried up.

    All of that surrounded the offseason as new GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins tried to repair the damaged Mets. There was no replacing Johan Santana, out for the season after shoulder surgery in late 2010, with a pitcher of similar status. Pitcher Oliver Perez played so badly in spring training that the Mets essentially paid him not to play, throwing away more money.

    For third consecutive year, the Mets ended up in fourth place. To add insult to many injuries, the Mets couldn't compete in the Jose Reyes sweepstakes and lost him to the Miami Marlins.

    And there's still the Worst Contract of All-Time (Unless You're an Agent). As the Mets start their next 50 years, it isn't the curse of Bernie Madoff that haunts them. It's the purse of Bobby Bonilla.



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