Shockingly enough, the Mets lost. They started feebly, offered a little spurt of purposefulness, then rolled over and died.
Which was actually an improvement from the night before, when they expired in a fashion that should have been gut-wrenching but instead was just numbing. Not so long ago, the Mets losing on a game-ending error would have left me fuming for hours on end. Last night, it barely registered. And tonight? I barely remember tonight.
At Amazin' Tuesday I was chatting with folks about whether or not 2009 is the most disappointing season in Mets' history. It's a subject worthy of exploration, in the same way that it can be fascinating to see exactly what's under that dirty scab oozing green stuff.
Mets history being what it is, there's certainly no shortage of data to sift through. What the heck, let's peel that scab.
The Mets began their existence with a seven-year run of hideous baseball, only failing to lose 100 games twice during that span. Granted, that wretched baseball childhood has been sentimentalized by the passage of time and recast as a prologue to 1969. But even then, disappointment implies a fall from some level of higher expectations, and no such expectations existed for the original crop of Mets fans. There was the giddy joy at having National League baseball back in New York, of getting to see half the game's stars again in an era when out-of-town players weren't available for viewing on SportsCenter or YouTube, of getting a state-of-the-art park in 1964.
I was but a babe when the Mets won in 1969, while Greg was a child just awakening to baseball's possibilities. So I turned to our esteemed commenter Joe D. for a sense of what those years were like, and he graciously agreed to share some memories.
“I felt no disappointments those early years because our expectations were modest,” Joe says. “WHN summed it up best when it opened every 1965 Met broadcast with a jingle that concluded, 'when Met fans say go, what they mean we don't know, we've got no place to go…. but up!' ”
OK, Joe admits to some disappointment about 1965, which started out with Warren Spahn pitching well and Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda leading a hitting attack, only to end with a ghastly 30-83 stretch. And 1967 was a setback. The Mets had escaped the cellar in '66 and entered the year with a seemingly promising lineup — Don Bosch and Bud Harrelson setting up Ken Boyer, Tommy Davis, Cleon Jones, Swoboda and Kranepool — but that team lost 101 games. Still, it had Tom Seaver, and hope for the future.
“Unlike today, nobody ever wanted those early seasons to end,” Joe says, adding that “losses were accepted as much as the occasional win was celebrated.” (I'll leave it to Joe to explain about the postgame clips of Casey Stengel on WOR. They're awesome.)
So I think those seasons are out of the running, awful though they were. I think the need to have fallen from something also strikes from consideration most of the Mets' three later fallow periods. Yes, 1977 through 1983 were utterly ghastly years (though Greg waxes sentimental about the second half of '81), but for most of that time, the Mets being bad wasn't a surprise. I remember the sublime hideousness of 1993, with its LBJ-esque 59-103 record, but it wasn't hard to see that one coming. I actually hated the 2003 Mets in a way I hope never to feel again, and I will always wish Roberto Alomar ill. But the Mets of that era were too awful to disappoint even the most pessimistic fan.
As I see it, there are five contenders for Most Disappointing Season.
1974: The Mets had just taken the Oakland A's to Game 7 of a World Series they may well have won if not for the idiocy of Yogi Berra. But 1974 made their crazy, gasping run to the pennant look like a brief respite from injuries and bum luck. 1974 came with elements of suck that will be eerily familiar to us. The team was undone by injuries to Seaver, Tug McGraw and George Stone. It was saddled with loads of bad press, from Buddy and Cleon fighting in spring training to Seaver lambasting Yogi and Jon Matlack calling out his teammates as gutless. It had a front office that looked variously cheap and stupid: The Mets passed on making deals for Jimmy Wynn and Ron Santo, and kept Harrelson on the roster as a pinch-runner despite having his broken hand in a cast. They finished at 71-91.
1977: The Midnight Massacre. Tom Seaver becomes a Red on June 15, with Dave Kingman gone as well. M. Donald Grant's place in Hell is instantly and forever assured. (Don't speak ill of the dead? Fuck that and fuck M. Donald Grant.) I will always remember seeing the paper the next day and staring at it, first in shock and then in panic that anything so awful could happen. The Mets lost 98 games and would be the laughingstock of the National League until resurrected by Fred Wilpon, Nelson Doubleday, Frank Cashen and Davey Johnson.
1991: The Mets are 15 games over .500 on July 13, 2.5 games behind the Pirates, but trouble is brewing. Darryl Strawberry has been replaced by Vince Coleman and Hubie Brooks. The Mets seem determined to have all their players, many of whom are stone-gloved in the first place, play out of position. Buddy Harrelson's dealings with the press remind fans of Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now,” if Brando were 150 pounds lighter and even worse handling late-inning defense. The pitiable Gregg Jefferies makes a fool of himself with an open letter to fans read by the jackals on WFAN. (Bizarrely, Ron Darling then does the same thing.) Kevin McReynolds exists. After July 13 the team goes an ungodly 28-50. I remember watching the wires that summer and simply laughing in disbelief, like I was flipping a coin that would only come up tails.
1992: The Worst Team Money Can Buy. Vince Coleman. Bobby Bonilla. Eddie Murray. Jeff Kent. (Extra demerits for the presence of the feckless Al Harazin and Jeff Torborg.) There has never been a more noxious collection of human beings wearing Mets uniforms at the same time. Daniel Murphy may have his problems at first base, but I have faith that he will never injure a two-year-old girl with a quarter-stick of dynamite. In addition to being terrible people, this bunch was supposed to make the second half of 1991 a distant memory. Instead they went 72-90, the start of a six-year slide.
2009: Haunted by memories of two final-day washouts, we get picked by SI to win the World Series. Instead we get a run of injuries that would have made Pharaoh let Moses & Co. go a few plagues early. Owners with financial losses we're left to guess at. A player-development chief tearing off his shirt and challenging minor-leaguers to fight, followed by a GM apparently losing his mind. Salary dumps and skinflint draft signings. A pitching staff that specializes in bases-loaded walks, and a team that can't hit home runs. Doctors you wouldn't trust to give you an aspirin. Missed bases, dropped pop-ups, unassisted triple plays. It's sucked … and we're not done yet.
I dunno, folks, how would you rank these?