To paraphrase Vin Scully, it was 10:26 PM in the City of Angels, Los Angeles, California. And a crowd of 31,101 was sitting in on history. Claude Osteen had just shut out the New York Mets, 2-0, on July 28, 1967, dropping the visitors' record for the season to 39-57 and their lifetime franchise record to a staggering 299-604. Since their founding, the Mets had lost slightly more than two games for every one they won.
That night marked the end of ancient history. The next night is when modern history began, as that Dodger Stadium crowd saw the beginning of something bigger and better, at least where Mets fans were concerned. True, it was just another loss in another losing Mets season, 2-1 to Bill Singer. But, with ample hindsight, we can say our winning ways date back to July 29, 1967.
Starting with that defeat on 7/29/67, the Mets' record for the balance of 1967 would be 22-44, a typically unimpressive 22 below .500. But — and it's a humongous but — beginning in 1968 and running straight through to the end of 2008, the Mets have compiled a record that stands 23 games above .500, a nifty 3,264-3,241. Start the clock with those final 66 games of '67 and you have, over a span of 6,571 regular-season Mets games, an all-time mark of 3,286 wins and 3,285 losses.
In 1967, the Impressions recorded a single called “We're A Winner”. In 1967, we had yet to make much of an impression beyond a certain Rookie of the Year pitcher, but progress was and is progress. The Mets are forever a work in progress. A winning percentage that measures out to .50007609 over a span of not quite 41½ seasons after Casey Stengel's and Wes Westrum's troops came limping out of the gate at .3311849 is…well, if it's not impressive, it is sort of progressive.
We're a winner! From July 29, 1967 to September 28, 2008 we are! Other franchises may define their success by championships or whatever, but that's too much forest and not enough trees, especially after your first several seasons were comprised of acorns falling on your head. The New York Mets, as you probably know, began their existence 0-9 and 40-120. They followed that up in 1963 with 0-8 and 51-111, and it was considered a great leap forward. Going 53-109 in 1964 was posited, straight-faced, as the best record in team history — which it was.
So don't tell me there's not something magical about an almost 41½-season winning record, even if it's a one-game-above winning record, even if it encompasses part or all of eighteen losing seasons, most of them horrendous to have endured. Every win, like every one of Warren Zevon's sandwiches, should be enjoyed, savored and treasured. What the 1962 Mets wouldn't have given for one extra winning sandwich every month.
This line of thought is relevant because the Mets can do something very special in 2009. Statistically speaking, by one particular measure, they can stop being losers for the first time in their not-so-brief history.
The Mets posted losing records every year from 1962 through 1968. Then winning records for seven of the next eight seasons through 1976. Then they went off on a losing binge for seven years. They followed that Biblical famine with seven years of plenty…and followed that with a six-year, sub-.500 stroll through the desert. Winning returned in 1997 and hung around through 2001. Losing made its uninvited reappearance for three seasons after that, but starting in 2005, it's been, a couple of final days notwithstanding, nothing but peaches and cream.
Let me add it up for you: 47 seasons, 23 winning records, 24 losing records. After 2008, the Mets stand one winning record away — 82 victories without cancellations — from having as many winning seasons as losing seasons. After 48 years, they can be 24-24 in this regard.
I'd regard it highly. To rise up from, at various junctures, 0-7, 7-15 and 14-21 to make it to 24-24…I don't know if it would be Amazin' cubed, but it would be nice. We've had similar chances before, reaching 7-8 in '76 and 14-15 in '90, but there was always that darn backsliding into a state of un-Met-igated disaster. When the Mets land on disaster, they rarely just check in and turn around. They usually embrace it.
This is their chance to escape. This is their chance to be a .500 franchise.
They'll never reach that milestone in terms of individual wins and losses. Never, ever, ever, ever, not with that yoke they started building on April 11, 1962 and carried on their backs clear to July 28, 1967. To have fallen 305 games below .500 in just over 900 games' time and then need well over 6,500 games to supercede that level by exactly one game — Mets' all-time record, 1962 through 2008: 3,585-3,889, or 304 games below .500 — is to produce as shovel-ready a project as any stimulus package is ever going to find. The Mets dug a hole so deep by the middle of their sixth season that they could go thirty over .500 every year for the next ten years and still be under .500 forever after 57 seasons of operation.
I'm not counting on them to go 96-66 every season from 2009 to 2018. I'd take it, but I'm not counting on it. I'm not necessarily counting on 82-80 this year, actually, because I've learned to never, ever, ever, ever count on the Mets to do anything. But if this team, generally considered a contender for some reason, can do the bare good-team minimum and put up a winning record, then we can say — if so inclined — that we've had as many winning records as losing records in our sometimes triumphant, sometimes calamitous, always fascinating history.
And if we can do that, we can literally be, at last and for all Mets time, what the naysayers say we are.
Thanks to Will Leitch for citing something we had here regarding one of the less triumphant, more calamitous events the Mets have ever conjured and, in the process, introducing Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets to the readers of New York Magazine. And thanks to so many of you for having expressed your enthusiasm — via e-mail, comments and Facebook — at receiving your copy of the book (and seeming to be happy with what you've read so far).
If you enjoy it, please don't be shy about letting other folks on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers know about it by posting a review. I'm told they really help spread the good word. And if you haven't ordered your copy of FAFIF: AIPOTNYM, you can do so via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Powell's, Deep Discount, eCampus…what I'm saying is, there are lots of options, and all of them are presumably better than whoever's going to be our fifth starter.