If your mind suddenly starts wandering in the other direction, it must be Flashback Friday at Faith and Fear in Flushing.
Chronic purchasers of the annual media guide probably come across “And The Name Is… ” and no longer blink. This year it’s on page 3. As we commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Original Mets, it’s probably worth revisiting why they were the Original Mets and not the Original Something Elses Altogether.
The name Mets was judged by club owner Mrs. Joan Payson as the one that best met five basic criteria:
1) It met public and press acceptance;
2) It was closely related to the team’s corporate name (Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc.);
3) It was descriptive of the Metropolitan area;
4) It had a brevity that delighted copy readers everywhere;
5) It had historical background; referring to the Metropolitans of the 19th century American Association.
Hence, it was declared, “the name is Mets…just plain Mets,” even though the media guide is kind enough to note some of the runners-up.
Other names considered included Rebels, Skyliners, NYBs, Burros (for the five boroughs), Continentals, Avengers…as well as Jets and Islanders, names that would eventually find their way into the New York sports scene.
That’s the intriguing part. What if Mets hadn’t carried the day? What if Mets hadn’t met criteria and met public and press acceptance? What if Mets met indifference or disdain? What if the public of the Metropolitan area met something they liked better? What if the owner of the Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc. vetoed one favorite in favor of another favorite…her own?
The name is indeed Mets…just plain Mets. But what if it weren’t? Copy readers and headline writers and fill-in-the-blank fans would have dealt with it. And the joint-ownership-pillaged New York Mets of the 19th century would rest in peace.
There was no team at all, of course, prior to 45 years ago this week, not one that existed in the record books. Boy would those Mets exist in the record books. On April 11, 1962, the Mets played their first game. They lost. Two days later, on this very date (also a Friday the 13th…figures), the Mets played their first home game. They lost. They lost on the 14th of April, the 15th of April and, after regrouping on an off day, lost on the 17th of April. And the 18th. And the 19th. They left town on the 20th, only to the lose on the 21st. And the 22nd.
The Mets were 0-9 in their young lives, though 0-9 will age you pretty fast. And the Mets were pretty darn old to begin with. George Weiss was 65. Casey Stengel was 71. Men run for president in that age range today, but nobody’s as old as they used to be. In 1962, 65 and 71 were up there — in stark contrast to the Mets, who have yet to altogether recover from the deep, deep depths of their 0-9 start.
We were buried for all eternity in 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967 and (despite its turn toward a better tomorrow) 1968. We will never be a winning franchise in the all-time statistical sense. You start 0-9, continue on to 40-120 and wind up your first seven seasons at 394-737, you’re in the hole. And you don’t easily dig out.
With last night’s win over the Phillies, the Mets — world champions twice, league champions four times, playoff participants on three other occasions — climbed to a total regular-season mark of 3,414 victories and 3,745 defeats, putting us a mere 331 games under .500 lifetime.
That’s all the early years’ doing.
Even allowing for the DeRoulet debacle and the Torborg torpor and the Howe howler, we’ve been a winning team since 1969: 3,020 and 3,008. Twelve whole games over! If we can triumph in at least 79 of our final 153 contests in 2007, we’ll be able to say we’re a winning team since 1968…one game over in a 40-year span if the Mets finish 85-77.
And still a million miles from .500 forever. By any name, that’s sighworthy. It will take a full decade of 98-64 records — ten 1985s — for us to have more wins than losses as a franchise by Opening Day 2017.
Your breath, it should not be held.
But you’re used to that if you’ve followed this team since before it was a team. Six months in advance of the 1962 Mets beginning their big dig, they were out pricing shovels at the National League expansion draft. Said Weiss after selecting 22 players deemed unworthy of protection by the eight existing franchises, “We did as well as we expected to do, maybe a little better, but please don’t think this will be our starting club on opening day. We plan to purchase many more players and have some deals in mind.” Weiss wasn’t kidding: Only 21 of the 22 expansion selections played for the ’62 Mets (Lee Walls turned the legendary mastermind into a technical truthteller).
If the collection of draft picks and later pickups didn’t exactly gel as inaugural Mets, is it remotely possible they would have launched any better as something else? As anything else? Would have a lidlifting lineup of Richie Ashburn, Felix Mantilla, Charlie Neal, Frank Thomas, Gus Bell, Gil Hodges, Don Zimmer, Hobie Landrith and Roger Craig not lost 11-4 to the Cardinals 45 years and two days ago? Would a higher tone have been set if each and every one wasn’t a Met? Was instead a Skyliner, a Burro or a Rebel?
No. The ’62 Mets were wilted roses by any name. But consider the alternatives anyway…because lots of people did.
New York was granted an expansion franchise on paper on October 17, 1960. Four months later, you couldn’t yet — as Casey would later indicate he was hearing from tots all over town— call it Metsie! (Metsie!), because it still had no official name. The Sporting News made the mystery its front-page story on February 15, 1961. Under a headline declaring, ‘Name That Team’ Newest N.Y. Pastime, Joe King wrote:
When they begin to talk of christening, it’s a bet the baby is breathing, bouncing, squirming, kicking and about to impress his fond parents and others unavoidably detained in the immediate area. That’s how it is with the baseball organization which will bring back — as alive as is permitted — the National League to New York in ’62. Sorry we can’t pin a name on the club. It seems that can’t be done as fast as you say diaper. That’s a problem now. The pin, not the diaper.
The baby didn’t lack for possibilities. According to the World Telegram & Sun, club officials received some 1,500 solicitations for names, yielding 468 potential choices. Well, some were more potential than others. Nobody was going to call the successor to the Giants and Dodgers the Hearts, Heroes or Humbles. Nor would they be Hailstones or Hustlers. Slumlords? Swains? Addicts? Beatniks? Faithful? Fairest? (Hey, those last two might have clicked with a little work!)
The public spoke all of those, if not altogether seriously. The list of genuine prospects was trimmed pretty quickly. Hundreds melted away. Others lingered, if only in the pages of The Sporting News or a few fans’ imaginations.
• Prodigals? Nice thought, post-1957 departure of our two senior-circuit forebears.
• Comets? Very space-agey.
• Bobcats? Wouldn’t want to tangle with one of those.
• Goths? We would have had black uniform tops well before 1998.
A frontrunner, however, emerged.
It was Empires.
Empires? The New York Empires? Let’s Go Emps? Coulda been if the early results had panned out. On March 1, The Sporting News reported that “the thing is wide open,” but Empires led among all choices submitted from prospective Empire enthusiasts. It had 27 votes. Second was Skyliners with 24 (implying 51 voters took pride in tall and local things). There may or may not have been geographic-stickler hockey fans voting, but 11 years before a same-named team dropped its first puck, Islanders drew 19 votes for the baseball team that was eventually headed to Queens. One ballot behind and tied for fourth with Continentals — as in the here-and-gone Continental League — was Mets.
Fourth? Were the Mets already blowing their first contest? The Mets were the pre-existence favorite, in Rollinsesque terms, the team to beat. King insisted in The Sporting News much of what lives on in the media guide to this day:
Why, anybody with any brains at all knows there is only one logical name for the Paysons, and that is the Mets.
Traditional, you know.
In fact, the club’s corporate title is shown on its letterheads as Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc.
The Mets were the first team to put New York on the baseball map, with a pennant in ’84. The Giants didn’t make it until ’88, and they had to borrow from the Mets to do it. They had the Mets’ manager, Jim Mutrie, and the Mets’ pitching star, Smiling Tim Keefe, who set the all-time record of 19 consecutive wins for them.
Nothing at all to this thing, when you apply a little cool, common sense. Of course it’s the Mets. Who’s excited?
Ultimately, just enough of the right people. The new club’s decisionmakers weren’t going to altogether leave their identity to the hoi polloi. Burros or BOROS or 5 Boros even, reported Leonard Koppett in his team history The New York Mets, was viewed internally as “not truly representative of New York City in its present sense, and there is doubt that it will catch on.”
Rebels? “Misplaced geographically.”
Jets? “It describes the present age but could be outmoded in a few years.” (R-O-N-G! RONG! RONG! RONG!)
Avengers? “Too long for headlines and cannot be shortened. Will mean nothing after the first year or so.” (Probably R-I-T-E!)
Members of management seemed to like Continentals (“has many things in its favor”) and Skyliners (“no apparent weakness”) more than they liked Mets (“has a flat sound and does not lend itself to emblems or insignia”) but Mets, already appearing in headlines (brevity!) even as the New York N.L. team was still generic, won the final count, edging Skyliners by one vote, 33 to 32.
Don’t know if the 33rd vote was Joan Payson’s, but Koppett said she liked Mets. She also liked Meadowlarks, perhaps for Flushing Meadows, perhaps because, as The Sporting News noted, “everything’s a lark” for “New York men-about-town”. If Mrs. Payson had whimmed one way instead of the other, we could be Let’s Going Larks all this time. But we’re not.
The name is Mets…just plain Mets…as in the just plain awful Mets who won their first game in their tenth try on April 23, 1962.
They wouldn’t do a lot of that 45 years ago (comparisons of the 2007 Nationals, currently 2-8, to the 1962 Mets should not be made lightly)…
…and they wouldn’t put an 82 under the W column inside a single season until September 9, 1969…
…and every span of sustained success (+51 wins from ’69 through ’76; +200 wins from ’84 through ’90; +87 wins from ’97 through ’01; +39 wins since 2005) always manages to be overshadowed by a corresponding stretch of failure (-207 wins between ’77 and ’83; -98 wins from ’91 to ’96; -60 wins from ’02 to ’04)…
…and their all-time record will never fully recover from 0-9, 40-120 and 394-737…
…but Mets it is.
We’ll take it.
Next Friday: Long gone long.