When the New York Mets took the field for the first time, America was awash in a tidal wave of promise. The year was 1962—John Glenn had become the first American to orbit the Earth, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had taken viewers on an unprecedented televised tour of the White House, and Dodger Stadium had marked a new standard for ballparks.
Respect eluded the nascent Mets, however. Inheriting the Polo Grounds and the interlocking NY logo from the Giants—who abdicated New York City for San Francisco after the 1957 season—the Mets lost their first game. It was, indeed, an inauspicious beginning for the National League squad bearing Dodger Blue and Giant Orange as its colors. At the end of the season, the Mets’ tally read 40 wins, 120 losses.
Subsequent seasons followed a paradigm of mediocrity. It shifted in 1968, when Gil Hodges took the reins after managing the Washington Senators for five seasons—the Mets went from 61-101 in 1967 to 73-89 in Hodges’s first year at the helm.
In 1969, the Mets exorcised their ghosts. With a 100-62 record, the “Miracle Mets” defied expectations with a World Series upset of the Baltimore Orioles, thereby securing 1969 as a season of glory; Mets fans get wistful at the mere mention of the year.
Lost in the nostalgia is the decade after the miracle—the 1970s Mets were, for the most part, a formidable team often overlooked in accounts of baseball in the Me Decade. Surely, the Yankees drew more attention with three consecutive World Series appearances resulting in two championships, not to mention drama of Shakespearean proportions.
In Oakland, the A’s—also known as the Mustache Gang—carved a dynasty with three consecutive World Series titles, later suffering a shattered team when owner Charlie Finley broke it up.
In Cincinnati, the Big Red Machine set the bar high for National League power, with a lineup including Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Johnny Bench.
But the Mets, consistent rather than dominant, compiled winning seasons from 1970 to 1976, except for 1974. Further, the Mets battled the powerful A’s in the 1973 World Series, falling to the fellas from Oakland in seven games. Gil Hodges, unfortunately, did not live to see that second grasp at a World Series—he died from a heart attack right before the 1972 season.
At the New York Mets 50th Anniversary Conference hosted by Hofstra University in 2012, the impact of Hodges’s death on the 1970s Mets was a point of discussion on a panel populated by Ed Kranepool, Art Shamsky, and Bud Harrelson—all agreed that if Hodges had survived his heart attack, they would be wearing a few more World Series rings. More importantly, perhaps, Hodges might have been able to prevent the darkest point in Mets history.
Tom Seaver won the Cy Young Award three times—all in the 1970s. When the Mets traded Seaver to the Reds for four players in 1977, fortunes plummeted. After an 86-76 record in 1976, the Mets closed out the remainder of the 1970s with losing seasons:
- 1977: 64-98
- 1978: 66-96
- 1979: 63-99
In contrast to the optimism permeating Shea Stadium at the beginning of the decade, frustration became an unwanted friend as the Mets piled on loss after loss. This streak continued into the 1980s, finally reversing with a 90-72 record in 1984.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 7, 2016.