Welcome to Flashback Friday: I Saw The Decade End, a milestone-anniversary salute to the New York Mets of 1969, 1979, 1989 and 1999. Each week, we immerse ourselves in or at least touch upon something that transpired within the Metsian realm 40, 30, 20 or 10 years ago. Amazin’ or not, here it comes.
Let others, for now, stew over what would be the worst World Series outcome possible. A Phillie repeat? A Yankee return? One is a kick in the head. The other is a kick in the groin. The key word here is kick; the key result is pain. Don’t sweat it. Perspire, instead, over this baseball conundrum:
Which was the worst Mets season ever: 1979 or 1993?
Why ask? Besides, “Why not?” Well, as part of this year’s salute to the way Met decades have ended, I’ve intermittently alighted on 1979, inevitably pointing out its seemingly limitless depths of despair. The bottom line with ’79 is always that it represented the bottom of the barrel. Yet I know it shares that barrel bottom with another Mets season, 1993, a year whose chronic shame I’ve managed to recurringly harp on with and without the impetus of an obvious Flashback angle. I’ve been pissed off at both of them for ages. Hence, to me and to history, 1979 and 1993 go together in dreggy fashion the way that 1969 sits alongside 1986 at the top of the Met heap.
Yet I see no point in choosing between world championships to determine which one of those was better. They’re both great, they’re both awesome, they’re both unsurpassed — even by one another. When you only have two world championships, there’s no point in slighting one to honor the other. They’re like our kidneys. I don’t want to do anything to damage either.
Worst on the other hand…I know either ’79 or ’93 must take the dishonors, I’m just not sure which. That’s what we’re going to try to determine here today.
Those years are our only two choices, by the way. This is not an open-ended question like Jason’s September query regarding most disappointing Mets season. I’m not looking for nuance here. I don’t seek to delineate disappointing from devastating. I’m not looking to calibrate my definition of worst. When I say worst, I mean worst, as in so thuddingly bad you don’t have to think about it.
And there are only two candidates. There’s 1979. There’s 1993. That’s it. There can be no other.
Not grisly 2003.
Not mortifying 2002.
Not dismal 1996.
Not wretched 1992.
Not godforsaken 1982.
Not abominable 1977 (treacherous, but at least Seaver was around for some of it).
Not hideous 1967 (dispiriting, but at least Seaver was around for all of it).
Not the 40-120, 51-111, 53-109, 50-112 quadfecta of 1962-65.
No, not even 2009, a six-month Met nightmare whose misery only Mets fans could find a way to extend without the benefit of actual playoff participation.
2009 continues to be the essence of crummy. I hated it. You hated it. We all hated it. The wounds are too fresh not to still be ruing. Yet 2009 was the bleepin’ Catalina Wine Mixer when juxtaposed with our loathsome finalists. 2009? We were in first place in May. We were a game out in July. We entertained vaguely plausible Wild Card hopes as we entered August.
Don’t give me 2009. Don’t give me 2003. Don’t give me 1992. Don’t give me 1977. And I won’t accept anything from before 1969.
Y’know why? Because no Met years compare to 1979 and 1993 for utter badness, total despair, relentless hopelessness and a crystal-clear indication that the end time was nigh. You could compare and contrast 1979 and 1993 with other losing propositions, and maybe some other season would sneak ahead on points and make a case as worse than the Dyspeptic Duo…but that’s won’t be necessary, for I’ve done my own unique brand of intensive research to narrow down our choices to two.
Here is what was involved:
1) I lived through 1979 as a Mets fan.
2) I lived through 1993 as a Mets fan.
3) I survived.
I know about Worst Teams That Money Could Buy. I know about Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman being traded. I know Grant Roberts, Mark Corey and Tony Tarasco were allegedly high on everything but performance. But those are early-round losers from my perspective. They were bad, but they weren’t super bad. They weren’t 1979 bad or 1993 bad.
Only 1979 and 1993 answer to those fetid descriptions.
Saturday Night Live once did a game show sketch called ¿Quién es Mas Macho? in which the object was to determine which Latin leading man was the most manly. Por ejemplo, Ricardo Montalban or Fernando Lamas? It is in that spirit that we now present our own take on the concept: ¿Cuál es Mas Mal?
That is to ask, which is more bad: 1979 or 1993?
We wish both our entrants the worst possible luck.
The most simple measurement is to look at wins and losses. The ’79 club went a horrendous 63-99, the worst Mets mark since 1967, when the Mets could still be reasonably excused for being at the tail-end of their expansion mode. The ’93 team went 59-103, worst Mets mark since the last of the original (if pardonable) dark days of 1965. As a bonus, the ’93 Mets sank from 8-7 to 21-52 at one point, never winning as many as two consecutive games — that’s two months of 13-45 baseball, a clip worse than Casey Stengel’s first Mets club registered for all of 1962. Records don’t say everything where awfulness is concerned. No record was worse than 1962’s and I’m told, all things considered, it wasn’t so bad. The records sure as hell say something here.
Mas Mal Record: 1993
The 1993 Mets were actually considered a contender in the National League East that spring. The conventional wisdom was they were hamstrung by injuries in ’92, and all their high-priced talent would surely bounce back from what had to be an aberrational annum (you might want to file that sort of appraisal away for when you start hearing it from men named Wilpon and Minaya this winter). There was nothing but doom predicted for the 1979 Mets. They were awful in ’78, they’d be at least just as bad. Hence, one team lived down to its perceived capabilities, one crashed versus expectations. Maybe it’s a personal preference, but I’d rather have a little false hope going into April. I can always get depressed later.
Mas Mal Outlook: 1979
After an exhilarating 10-6 win on Opening Day, the Post‘s back page snorted that the Mets were in first. Ha-ha, big joke. The Mets would climb to 2-0 and stay tied for the top spot. After five games, they were 3-2, a game behind the front-running Expos. And that would be that for winning records in 1979. Before another victory could be chalked up, a six-game losing streak would ensue. The die was cast for another lousy season. Fourteen years later, the Mets had their way with the brand new Colorado Rockies to start 1993. Their 2-0 start was spoiled when they were swept at home by the Astros. Well, those things happen. The Mets went to Denver, took two in a row and appeared righted. They lost the finale, but couldn’t beat the Rockies like a drum forever. Two wins in Cincinnati was more like it. The Mets were 6-4…and would never be as many as two games over .500 again. It took 17 games to establish a losing record, 22 games (8-14) to signify something was really off about 1993. They had the same mark the ’79 Mets had at the same juncture.
Mas Mal Sagging Start: Push
You knew it was going to be dreadful in 1979 when Charles Shipman Payson, widower of Joan, declared he’d had enough and planned to sell the team out from under his daughter Lorinda. Why, you might wonder, was that dreadful? Good Mets fans everywhere prayed for new ownership. The dreadful part was that Charles, who was uninvolved in operation of the team, revealed he was a Red Sox fan. Good bleeping god, the guy who technically sort of owns the team doesn’t even root for the team. More tangibly, the Mets played games of fourteen, eleven and twelve innings versus Montreal in early April and lost each of them. Over in 1993, while Bobby Bonilla was etching his personal aesthetic onto the schedule by threatening to show Worst Team co-author Bob Klapisch one borough or another, Eddie Murray was grumbling early and often that umpires were out to get him. They were indeed ejecting him at home plate for arguing and not getting out of his line of sight at second base when he requested. Eddie Murray had come to the Mets the year before with a reputation as one of the revered players in the game. Now he couldn’t get a break from the men in blue. If a surefire Hall of Famer couldn’t be cut slack, what Met would be?
Mas Mal Signal Events: 1993
The 1993 Mets were loaded with credentials coming out of St. Lucie, even if those credentials had been cheapened in 1992. Murray, Bonilla, Coleman, Saberhagen, Gooden, Johnson, Franco, good old Sid Fernandez, newly minted Met Tony Fernandez, even ancient Frank Tanana — All-Stars every one of ‘em…some even recently. The 1979 Mets were built on the cheap. How cheap? So cheap Joe Torre wasn’t permitted to keep his own Tanana, Nelson Briles, who came with a price tag of $60,000 — which wasn’t a lot, not even then. Forget your extravagances, Joe: It’s rookies and perpetual prospects for the ’79ers. Even Dick Young mentioned in print and on TV how cheap the Mets had gotten. Dick Young!
Mas Mal Roster Philosophy: 1979
The 1993 Mets fired their manager in May and their general manager in July. The 1979 Mets honored Pete Rose in April. Jeff Torborg and Al Harazin deserved what they got. Pete Rose did not.
Mas Mal Apocalyptic Episode: 1979
The 1993 Mets became a local joke early and a national joke late. There was all the losing. There were all the hijinks, most notorious among them Vince Coleman’s firecracker. There was more losing. There was record-setting losing. At the point when they should have faded into obscurity, David Letterman debuted his CBS show and made the Mets his go-to punchline. Jay Leno, meanwhile, had Anthony Young on to commemorate the end of his losing streak. The 1979 Mets, on the other hand, disappeared quickly. Nobody expected a thing out of them and they delivered. Call me a masochist, but I prefer existing, even horribly, to completely evaporating. Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for keeping your losing to yourself.
Mas Mal Unwanted Attention: 1993
Lee Mazzilli was the only Met regularly exceeding expectations in 1979. Thus, we shuddered when Dan Norman ran smack into him and Lee required a stretcher. Nothing terrible came of it, fortunately (except for the realization that that was the hardest hitting Dan Norman would ever do as a Met). In 1993, Vince Coleman’s backswing of a golf club in the clubhouse (well, it is a clubhouse) nailed Doc Gooden in the ear. Tony Fernandez missed time with a kidney stone. He was traded for Darrin Jackson, a dependable outfielder in other stops. With the Mets, he contracted a thyroid condition called Graves Disease, an affliction made famous by Barbara Bush that same year. Those were the kinds of things that happened to 1993 Mets, who played like former First Ladies — though perhaps without as much guts.
Mas Mal Freak Injuries: 1993
788,905. For as long as I live, I will know the 1979 Mets home attendance. I had time to count it. The 1993 attendance was respectable on paper (seven figures, anyway) because it was the first year the N.L. used the phony A.L. method counting tickets sold. Lots of tickets sold to Shea Stadium in 1993 went unused. Somebody told me her temple was having a charity auction. When four box seats to a Mets-Dodgers came up for bid, there was awkward silence then nervous laughter. The ’93 Mets weren’t even a good charity case. But somebody actually bought those tickets in the first place, even if nobody wanted them later. No religion would have blessed the 1979 Mets, not even the really compassionate ones.
Mas Mal Desolation: 1979
Variations on “Mets suck, you suck” were well in vogue before 1979. Like we didn’t realize that. It stung more in high school than it would in adulthood. It was said in more polite terms among adults, but the 1993 comprehension that the Mets sucked all over again and, that on some level, we would have to bear the brunt of their suckiness was not welcome. As a grown-up, I was more pitied than mocked. Plus the Yankee thing was just revving up in ’93. In ’79, they were coming off two world championships. Did I mention high school?
Mas Mal Peer Pressure: 1979
ICON OF AWFULNESS
Richie Hebner didn’t want to be a 1979 Met. He made it clear in advance he didn’t want to be a 1979 Met. So the Mets went out and traded for him. He never stopped not wanting to be a 1979 Met. His words and deeds affirmed it. Vince Coleman didn’t want to be a baseball player or a responsible citizen from the looks of how he behaved. He would have been a vile presence on any team. Throwing the firecracker at a girl in the Dodger Stadium parking lot was the last straw. He was whisked from active duty and eventually released. Richie Hebner gave Mets fans the two-armed salute when booed. He was maintained for the balance of the season before being traded to Detroit. Boy, this is a tough one. Both were incredible a-holes. I’d say nobody got literally burned by Hebner, but that doesn’t take into account psyches. Honestly, this is like choosing between the Phillies and the Yankees in the thus-far hypothetical 2009 World Series.
Mas Mal Icon Of Awfulness: Push
Frank Tanana couldn’t break glass. Eric Hillman couldn’t crease Saran Wrap. Mike Maddux simply couldn’t get anybody out. But when you’re talking pitching on the 1993 Mets, you’re talking Anthony Young, 1-16. Yes, a hard-luck 1-16, but it couldn’t all be luck. Sometimes you make your own luck. AY manufactured 27 consecutive losses over two seasons. He had a hand in them, certainly. In 1979, Pete Falcone compiled a 6-14 record, as we learned he had concentration problems on the mound. I wonder what else he had to think about besides the batter and the three runners he put on base. Still, he won six games; Wayne Twitchell won five; Dale Murray, the master of disaster, won four. How could Anthony Young not win even one for almost two years?
Mas Mal Horrible Pitcher: 1993
EMBLEM OF EMBARRASSMENT
The 1979 Mets gave the world Mettle the Mule. He was paraded around the warning track before the games and was supposed to deliver clean baseballs to the umpires during games. As if those baseballs would have remained clean had this harebrained scheme actually been implemented. The de Roulet daughters, promotional geniuses behind Mettle, actually wanted to use batting practice balls in games. Would have saved money, never mind that it wasn’t up to code. The 1993 Mets did not bother any animals, except when Bret Saberhagen filled his toy rifle with Clorox and pumped it in the direction of a pack of beat writers. Hey, maybe Whitney and Bebe could have bleached the used balls white!
Mas Mal Emblem Of Embarrassment: 1979
Lee Mazzilli was the fleeting feelgood story of the ’79 Mets. His appearance in the All-Star Game was the year’s highlight: a game-tying home run off Ron Guidry, a game-winning walk off Jim Kern. And John Stearns was in attendance at the Kingdome to cheer him on. The ’93 Mets were represented at Camden Yards by Bobby Bonilla. None of us particularly cared if he ever came back.
Mas Mal All-Star Representation: 1993
DIMMING LUMINARY FROM A BETTER TIME
The ’93 Mets still had three ’86 Mets in the house: Doc, Sid, HoJo. Gooden, then 28, wasn’t what he was, but he was still pretty good considering his supporting cast: 12-15, 3.45 ERA. The only 1969 Met hanging in there in 1979, was Ed Kranepool. Eddie, 34, unwittingly played his last game on September 30, going out a .232 hitter and .162 pinch-hitter.
Mas Mal Dimming Luminary From A Better Time: 1979
YOUTH OF AMERICA
You couldn’t tell much from their first-year performances, but four 1979 rookie Mets would go on to make quite an impact, if not necessarily as Mets. Mike Scott would be a Met bane; Neil Allen would be Met bait that snagged Keith Hernandez; Jeff Reardon would become a first-class closer elsewhere; and young Jesse Orosco, pitching in relief Opening Day only because of how cheap the Mets were, would close out another season down the line and make one of the longest-lasting impressions in major league history. Some rookie 1993 Mets weren’t necessarily as futile as their veteran counterparts: future one-hitter twirler Bobby Jones, eventual contributor Butch Huskey and slugging outfielder Jeromy Burnitz (who, alas, slugged more consistently in other uniforms). The downside of the ’79 youth movement was shoving an underdone Kelvin Chapman into the starting lineup at second base. He’d return somewhat seasoned in ’84 and be of some value. 1993 not ready for prime timers Doug Saunders and Tito Navarro (91 plate appearances between them and exactly 1 RBI) never returned and nobody missed them.
Mas Mal Youth Of America: 1993
HIDDEN GEMS AMONG THE DROSS
Craig Swan never developed into the second coming of Tom Seaver, but he put up 14 wins and gave Joe Torre 251 innings in ’79, both career highs. After some early struggles, Jeff Kent began to emerge as one of the harder-hitting middle infielders in the National League in 1993, finishing with 21 homers and 80 RBI. Swannie, 28, we knew about, so it was hard to consider his quality season a diamond in the rough. Kent, 25 and already annoying his teammates, was indeed something of a revelation. Torre would also get better as a manager, but his improvement didn’t net us even as much as a washed-up Carlos Baerga for our troubles.
Mas Mal Hidden Gems Among The Dross: 1979
Early in the 1979 season, the Mets gave the Pirates their shortstop Tim Foli in exchange for Frank Taveras. Foli would win a ring — and was praised as the “glue” of the Pittsburgh infield ad nauseum throughout the postseason. I saw Taveras strike out five times on night in May. The big trading deadline move in 1979 was bringing in two veteran pitchers, Dock Ellis and Andy Hassler. They couldn’t have been of less use. Later, a deteriorating Willie Montañez was shipped to Texas for soft tosser Ed Lynch, a likable, articulate righty who nonetheless kept the Mets from winning their division in 1985 by duking it out with Mariano Duncan of the Dodgers in September and messing up his shoulder in the process. The ’93 Mets gave up on Tony Fernandez because Dallas Green thought he was jakin’ it. Tony Fernandez, like Tim Foli, was a World Series winner in the October that followed his trade from the Mets. It reflected badly on us, but it’s not like trading him was the reason we weren’t also in the World Series that October.
Mas Mal Pointless Transactions: 1979
Anthony Young was in line for his 28th consecutive loss on July 28 when Ryan Thompson rescued him in the bottom of the ninth by driving in the game-tying run against the Marlins, and Eddie Murray ended his misery at 27 straight defeats by banging a walkoff double to score Thompson. Final: Mets 5 Marlins 4 Young WP (1-13). You’d have thought the 1993 Mets had just won…well, maybe not the World Series, but for a second, you could imagine everything didn’t suck so resoundingly. The 1979 Mets established a club record by scoring ten times in one inning against the Reds on June 12. That was astounding and terrific, naturally, yet it’s always bothered me slightly that Sergio Ferrer was robbed by third baseman Ray Knight to end the barrage. Little Sergio, as Steve Albert called him, went 0-for-7 on the season, the final seven at-bats of his career. At least Knight would make it up to us down the road.
Mas Mal Saving Graces: 1979
1993 gave us a no-hitter (against the Mets, in case you weren’t sure); a 17-inning 1-0 game won by Kenny Greer, who never pitched as a Met before or after that seventeenth inning; and a rain delay that was waited out in the bottom of the ninth of the 162nd game between the sixth-place Marlins and seventh-place Mets even though the score was 9-2 — even though there were 200 losses already on the field. But these bizarro occurrences had nothing on 1979, which saw 1) a game in April in which four strike-replacement umpires conferred for nearly half an hour before ruling that Jack Clark caught a line drive from Lee Mazzilli, reversing themselves twice in the process; 2) a game in May that was fogged out in the eleventh inning and ruled a tie after Bill Robinson literally couldn’t find a Joel Youngblood triple; and 3) a game in August in which Ed Kranepool left the field thinking it was over…but it wasn’t, because Frank Taveras had called time before what appeared to be the 27th out. The 1979 Mets went 2-0-1 in their weird-ass games. The 1993 Mets went 2-1.
Mas Mal Weird-Ass Games: 1993
The 1969 Mets reunited for the first time at 1979’s Old Timers Day. Fireworks Night came to Shea for the first time the same year. With the 1993 Mets, you were just happy somebody didn’t fling an explosive directly at you.
Mas Mal Promotional Events: 1993
The 1979 Mets needed to win all six of their final games to avoid losing 100 games. They somehow did it. The 1993 Mets mostly needed the season to end, but they, too, won their final six. In doing so, they avoided setting quite possibly the dumbest record ever: most losses by an established franchise in an expansion year. By going 59-103, the ’93 Mets were only as bad — not worse than — the 1962 Cubs. Of course by going 59-103, the ’62 Cubs finished 18 games ahead of the 40-120 1962 Mets. The ’93 Mets finished five games behind the expansion Marlins and languished in seventh place the only time a National League Eastern Division team could do so. I was happy we didn’t lose 100 games in 1979. I sort of hoped we’d set that expansion year record. It would have been fitting.
Mas Mal Fantastic Finish: 1993
Seven years after their respective debacles, the teams that had been the 1979 Mets and 1993 Mets were each in a World Series. Orosco became an ’86er; Franco and Jones made it to 2000. The Annus Horribilis of ’79 did get the team sold in 1980, to a group that rebuilt the franchise into a viable entity, contender and champion. The trauma of ’93 made ownership more image-conscious, if nothing else. Poor behavior was frowned upon and fan-friendliness — the institution of the DynaMets Dash and the return of Mr. Met — was in vogue. The team would improve on the field in ’94 and then alternately backslide and rise until ’97 when Bobby Valentine revved them up for a sustained late ’90s pennant run. Joe Torre’s succeeding Mets clubs fell well short of contention, as did George Bamberger’s and Frank Howard’s. It took five years and Davey Johnson to right the ship.
Mas Mal Long-Term Implications: Push
Which felt worse? In a way, 1979, hands down. The Mets were in clear descent through ’77 and ’78, yet ’79 — despite a record similar to its ungodly predecessors — felt several steps lower. There was just a barrenness to it that no other Mets year has ever evinced. They were expected to do nothing and they did it comprehensively. Fans from that era can recite the roster staples by rote almost: Mazzilli, Henderson, Stearns, Taveras, Flynn, Youngblood, Swan, Zachry. We rooted for them despite our better judgment. We indulge them in retrospect because they gave us our stripes for when better times came around. We try to forget the Hebners, the Elliot Maddoxes, the Jose Cardenals, the journeymen who didn’t seem thrilled to play for us. Then again, the 1993 Mets were pockmarked by guys like that: Chico Walker, Ced Landrum, Jeff Kaiser, Paul Gibson and so on. Less wattage, to be sure. Sadly, the Murrays, Bonillas, Saberhagens and Colemans gave off the same kind of light. Everybody was a journeyman in 1993, no matter how accomplished. The two years before ’93 were bad, but they in no way prepared us for the plunge we would take. It was a whole new kind of bad. Perhaps because a World Series wouldn’t be won anytime soon thereafter, it doesn’t seem as roguishly charming as ’79. In a way, it’s 1993, hands down, as feeling worse.
Mas Mal Vibe: Push
Conclusion? These were the two worst years the Mets have ever had. To say one is worse than the other is to implicitly pardon the one you don’t choose. Neither deserves to be remembered as better than any other.
But at least the Angels are still alive.
At last, the Daily News learns how to spell the name of a 300-game winner correctly — read Jesse Spector’s Q&A with Jason and me here.