When New Year’s Eve, a.k.a. my birthday, falls on a Sunday, as it does this weekend, I am put in mind of the Sunday birthday I celebrated when I turned 10, a scant 45 years ago. It was the day I discovered the year-end countdown, specifically the Top 79 songs of 1972 as offered up by Miami radio station WFUN-AM. It was truly one of those moments when I could feel my plates shift, for a year-end countdown was perhaps the greatest thing I’d ever encountered, and all I wanted to do from there on out was listen to Top 40 radio and make lists based on what I’d heard. The last time my birthday fell on a Sunday, eleven years ago, I explored the phenomenon in depth. My linking is still off, but here it is if you’re interested:
I’ve since expanded my own Top 500 Songs of All-Time countdown into a Top 1000. Helen Reddy’s “Peaceful” is No. 501, Better Than Ezra’s “Rosealia” is No. 1,000. Please send a SASE if you’d like to know the rest.
Instead of counting down songs for you on this birthday, I’ll count down Mets seasons. There’ve been 56 of them, or one more than I’ve had birthdays, so I’ll rank the Top 56. This is a more or less objective effort as opposed to merely playing favorites.
• World championships are better than pennants.
• Pennants are better than playoff appearances.
• Playoff appearances are better than winning/contending seasons.
• Winning/contending seasons are better than losing seasons.
• Nuance informs the rest.
The list has been marinating for a while, but the details will be derived from stream of consciousness. Casey Kasem prepared for countdowns much better, but my birthday is in the on-deck circle, I have a stubborn head cold and, on the edge of 55 years old, I can only riff so much regarding Orel Hershier, Shawn Estes and the less distinguished Met wearers of 55. (Hi, Neil Ramirez!)
Leading off, from the bottom of the order…
56. 1979 (63-99; last place)
The Mets all but ceased to exist in 1979. That’s the determining factor in shoving 1979 into the basement. 788,905 was the home paid attendance. That’s a full home season, mind you. No strikes, just no desire by New York to visit its threadbare National League franchise. Lee Mazzilli provided a touch of adolescent excitement, hindsight would reveal Jesse Orosco was a very good pickup, but the Mets, their mule and their clueless ownership (I mean really clueless) might as well have been invisible except to those of us with special orange-and-blue glasses.
55. 1993 (59-103; last place)
Really, 1993 shouldn’t finish ahead of any Mets season, but at least you knew they were on the scene for a while. A trainwreck makes noise. The line I’ve used often is a book referring to “the worst team money could buy” came out in April, condemning 1992 as the be all of all bad, and it was out of date by July. Nineteen Ninety-Three surpassed its predecessors. Except for 1979. At least we had false hope entering 1993. We really thought the Mets were gonna be good. There was no hope in 1979. No illusions. No nothing. We had to wait a few weeks to get brought down by 1993. Otherwise, it’s a spiritual tie.
54. 1977 (64-98; last place)
They traded Seaver, and that pretty much covers it. It’s not behind 1979 because 1979 was the logical result of trading Seaver. Why should anybody come to see your ballclub after you’ve traded Seaver?
53. 1965 (50-112; last place)
Four years into their existence, the Mets shouldn’t have been backsliding. They were. Second-worst record ever. The debuts of Tug McGraw, Bud Harrelson and Ron Swoboda hinted at the talent that would someday coalesce, but what a slog.
52. 1962 (40-120; last place)
I elevated 1962 as high as I could for as long as I could. I understand and treasure its legend, how happy we as a people were to have National League baseball back, that Casey Stengel was spinning a one-of-a-kind yarn, that the stories will live forever. But I can’t get past the 120 losses — 80 games below .500 — nor the 60½ games out of first. So much losing. Consider how much losing we experienced in 2017 and then tack on approximately another 30 percent. That’s a massive amount of anybody here can’t play this game.
51. 1963 (51-111; last place)
Only the 1963 Mets could have netted a 10-game improvement and still lost 111 games. There were moments that year. A whole week of them in June: Tim Harkness’s 14th-inning walkoff homer; Jimmy Piersall’s backwards trot; the snagging of the first Mayor’s Trophy. The ’63 Mets made the best of a bad lot. It was a bad lot, but they were getting marginally better. Worse wasn’t a conceivable option.
50. 1964 (53-109; last place)
The top-ranked of the First Four Seasons by my reckoning. Best record, newest stadium, hotshot young All-Star named Ron Hunt, a little scare thrown into the eventual NL champion Cardinals on the final weekend. One step forward, a ton back, but progress had to start somewhere. It started in Flushing.
49. 2003 (66-95; last place)
The most underrated awful year in Mets history in my estimation. Pick any facet of the operation and you wanted to hide under your seat. Art Howe was a disaster. Year Two of Roberto Alomar was misguided and mercifully curtailed. Mike Piazza’s shift to first base couldn’t have been handled worse. Bob Murphy Night was hastily arranged and sad. Jose Reyes, the one shining hope of the organization, got hurt at the end of a game in August. It was as if the good times of the late ’90s and early ’00s had never happened.
48. 2009 (70-92; next-to-last place)
The year everybody of note — Reyes, Wright, Delgado, Beltran — missed time. Not Castillo. He was out there every day, yippee. Citi Field couldn’t have been christened less fortuitously. Extra demerits for that Domino’s Pizza uniform patch.
47. 1967 (61-101; last place)
They promoted Seaver, and that explains the extra couple of notches 1967 receives. Otherwise, it was a mess that seemed to wipe out the tentative climb upward that had occurred the year before. Fifty-four players were Mets that year. Only one of them was Seaver.
46. 1982 (65-97; last place)
A sneaky bad season. The Mets traded for George Foster, raised our expectations, got off to a pretty strong start (27-21) and then just morphed into a total morass for the next four months. There was a 15-game losing streak straight out of the Polo Grounds at one juncture. George Bamberger was miscast as manager and, for that matter, Lorn Brown was not the man to pair with Ralph Kiner.
45. 1978 (66-96; last place)
Logically this should be buried down with 1977 and 1979, but there were a few minutes when it felt like we were getting somewhere. We held first place briefly in April. Everything felt fresher. Trim on the uniforms; Willie Montañez styling around first; John Stearns stealing bases; Craig Swan winning the ERA title. That said, they won two more games than the year before and vanished from view with the August newspaper strike (whereas New Yorkers managed to hear about their other team loud and clear into October).
44. 1992 (72-90; next-to-last place)
I think it’s illustrative of what so many of our 56 seasons to date have been like that a year that inspired “The Worst Team Money Could Buy” is judged as better than a dozen other years in this survey. Process of elimination, mostly, plus a good start (21-15). I ranked these granularly as I could, which is to say I remembered the good and the not-so-good as best as possible. There was a little good in 1992. It evaporated, but it happened.
43. 2002 (75-86; last place)
A decent facsimile of 1992, which is to say a winter makeover and a promising launch (18-11) eventually went to hell. But as with ’92, the ’02 bunch, unlikable for the most part, actually hung in there to August. They were over .500, the Wild Card was still in play…and forget it from there.
42. 2017 (70-92; next-to-last place)
Hey, we know this season! It was the most recent season we lived through. With about 90 days’ perspective, I can honestly say I remember almost nothing good about it. It could have been worse, as Seasons 56 through 43 demonstrate. Perhaps someday we’ll want to revise its standing to reflect it was the year Amed Rosario debuted and didn’t he turn out to be something? Let us hope.
41. 1974 (71-91; next-to-last place)
A precursor to 2017, expunging the goodwill from an unlikely ascent to the postseason the year before by the All-Star Break. Also little to recommend it. Whereas the 2017 Mets replaced their manager, the ’74 corps axed its GM, after which the new guy made a slew of moves, a few of which weren’t terrible. Still waiting on the slew in advance of 2018, but that’s for another year.
40. 1996 (71-91; next-to-last place)
Also terrible in every way that can be conjured, but three individual performances — Todd Hundley’s 41 homers, Lance Johnson’s 227 hits and Bernard Gilkey’s all-around offensive prowess — gave us something to keep track of as the rest of New York got itself distracted by playoffs and stuff.
39. 2013 (74-88; third place)
This wasn’t so long ago that you’ve forgotten it was probably lousy, yet here it is, ahead of seventeen of its compatriots. My god, what a franchise. Bonus points for the Harvey Day phenomenon, the All-Star Game finally coming back around and a pleasant midsummer surge (22-14) that briefly made me believe something good might come of something.
38. 2010 (79-83; next-to-last place)
We have reached the first season which was undeniably bad yet sprinkled with just enough good to allow a person to gin up an iota of nostalgia. But just one. The Mets, buoyed by Ike Davis, Angel Pagan and R.A. Dickey, were fighting for first place in late June, a legitimate Wild Card contender as the second half got going. Then they sleepwalked (sleptwalked?) off a cliff and into their usual abyss. They were over .500 in the middle of September. Jerry Manuel was fired anyway.
37. 2011 (77-85; next-to-last place)
The Terry Collins epoch commenced. Again, a sub-.500 season, but we wouldn’t have been surprised had it been sub-.400. Things spiked for a spell. They were four games above break-even in late July, but new GM Sandy Alderson was taking the long view, trading off Beltran and Rodriguez, which wasn’t the wrong thing to do. Brad Emaus was offed early. Jose Reyes won the batting title late (and then vamoosed to Miami).
36. 2004 (71-91; next-to-last place)
Discouraging sum of its miserable parts doesn’t indicate the pretty good segment that kept things interesting into July. The Mets went from 9-15 to 43-40. They should’ve quit there. Howe was no help. Reyes kept getting hurt. Kaz Matsui was not an answer. Young David Wright was a bright spot. So was imported center fielder Mike Cameron. But the plan in general was to throw everybody at the wall and hope the wall doesn’t crack. It did.
35. 1991 (77-84; next-to-last place)
Know that feeling when you’re coming down with a cold? That was the New York Mets, summer of 1991. They were being their usual contending selves, fifteen games over, Pirates in their sights, and then they started having the sniffles. It took them six years to recover. Manager Buddy Harrelson both deserved better and needed to go. An inappropriate end to a valiant Mets career.
34. 2012 (74-88; next-to-last place)
Overall as dismal as its demographic cohort, especially the last couple of months, but oh those highlights! Johan and the first no-hitter. Twenty victories and the Cy Young for Dickey. David’s sixth-place MVP finish and surpassing of Ed Kranepool for most hits in a Met career. Seven games over as the All-Star break approached. Even Jordany Valdespin was a revelation. Some years we should take Warren Zevon’s advice and enjoy every sandwich.
33. 1966 (66-95; next-to-last place)
The Mets not finishing in last place and not losing a hundred games was the frigging pennant. Bonus points for Cleon Jones becoming an everyday player.
32. 1983 (68-94; last place)
Best last-place season the Mets ever had. Make no mistake: they finished last on merit. They were dreadful for definitive stretches. But they made changes and the changes began to show some payoff in late summer. Orosco blossomed into a top closer. Strawberry came up and eventually slugged to notices. Keith Hernandez was stolen from a passing locomotive. Tom Seaver pitched on Opening Day in those new racing stripe unis. It’s a hindsight delight to realize what was coming together. On the other hand, 94 losses and last place were written in unerasable ink. Fortunately the franchise (if not the Franchise) had some kind of future ahead of it.
31. 2014 (79-83; tied for second place)
Gonna show a touch of recency bias here based on the year or two that emerged after 2014, which I still remember like it was a year or two ago. Some seeds were being planted. Others were taking root at last. Jacob deGrom emerged. Juan Lagares ran everything down. Duda went deep 30 times. Murphy went to the All-Star Game. Wheeler…Familia…d’Arnaud…Flores. A very decent September, which was unusual. We still kind of sucked, but maybe we wouldn’t suck forever.
30. 1994 (55-58; third place)
We are entering what I shall call the context years. You had to be there to appreciate what a freaking great year 1994 was, which is to say you had to be in 1993. The Mets played 49 fewer games because of the strike yet lost 45 fewer. It was the truncated summer of Rico Brogna, which was enough to keep me going through the nuclear winter of go-nowhere labor-management negotiations.
29. 1995 (69-75; tied for second place)
Another partial season, another modest triumph. Not at first. The season started late from the strike and the Mets forgot to show up, but almost without warning young talent showed its stuff: Edgardo Alfonzo; Carl Everett; Jason Isringhausen; a sneak peek at five-tool sensation Alex Ochoa. We didn’t know who would do what down the road, but we saw genuine improvement, from a 35-57 start to a 34-18 finish. The strike was over, the Mets were fun, the horizon was detectable.
28. 1981 (17-34 first half, 24-28 second half; next-to-last place first half, fourth place second half)
Let’s set aside the crummy first half. MLB certainly attempted to, dividing its prestrike results from its poststrike possibilities and jiggering together something called the split season, something the Mets were brilliantly suited for, given that it slotted them at 0-0 on August 10. They were weird circumstances, but the Mets made the most out of them into late September, crashing a pennant race for the first time in an eternity. It didn’t go anywhere, and an overdue overhaul (bye-bye, Joe Torre) was undertaken. But I swear those six weeks of contending felt like the real thing.
27. 1980 (67-95; next-to-last place)
You probably know the story. New owners (Nelson Doubleday, Fred Wilpon), new GM (Frank Cashen), abysmal start of 9-18, a continuation of the bad times from the late ’70s. Then, as if an ad campaign came to life, the Magic was Back. The Mets reeled off 47 wins in 86 games, enough of them of the come-from-behind variety to make a person believe everything had changed. First place could be seen from Shea. Ultimately, it was a mirage, attested to by the 11-38 skid that ended 1980, but what a Magic summer, what a shot of good will.
26. 1968 (73-89; next-to-last place)
The most sainted losing season in Mets history. Not only an improvement of a dozen games (and an exit from the cellar), but for the first time, there was talent on display: Seaver the sophomore star; Koosman the rookie sensation; decorated receiver Jerry Grote; Cleon Jones flirting with .300 in a year when nobody hit. It was Gil Hodges’s get-acquainted year. He got the Mets acquainted with achievement. More would come.
25. 1971 (83-79; tied for third place)
I keep coming back to a description Leonard Koppett offered as 1971 being the season the Mets presented themselves as a resolutely ordinary baseball team. I was in only my third year of rooting, but I could feel the blahs. The hitters didn’t hit. Seaver pitched like crazy down the stretch, and there was some ace relieving from Tug McGraw and Danny Frisella, but the Mets felt light years removed from the division champion Pirates despite dueling them at midyear. On the other hand, we’re talking winning records here and from here on out.
24. 1976 (86-76; third place)
Kind of an odd duck. The won-lost was the best it had been since 1969 and the best it would be until 1984, but this wasn’t a particularly solid edition of the New York Mets. Koosman won 21 and Kingman hit 37 home runs (he was on pace for a lot more before making the mistake of attempting to field with his hands), but they fell way behind the Phillies fairly early and were not a factor in the NL East race. Joe Frazier managed, Mickey Lolich pitched, Roy Staiger played third…it’s not surprising that 1977 came next.
23. 1972 (83-73; third place)
Another ten-over-.500 finish to consider, with six fewer games played thanks to the April players strike. Nineteen Seventy-Two shaped up as potentially the best Mets team to date and they certainly started ablaze (25-7), but the injuries took a toll, hitting went AWOL and it was all these Mets could do to finish the season. On the plus side, Jon Matlack was Rookie of the Year, John Milner was the Hammer, ex-Expo Rusty Staub was exactly what the Mets needed, his broken hand notwithstanding, and Willie Mays came home. Less sunnily, Jim Fregosi was a bust and nothing could have been more damaging never mind tragic than the death of Gil Hodges.
22. 1989 (87-75; second place)
We reach the tier of teams that contended, that honestly had a shot, that finished with respectable records, yet were kind of a drag. Welcome to 1989, the year 1986 checked out for good. We eschewed Wally the preceding December We traded Lenny in June and Mookie by August. We’d bid adieu to Keith and Gary before the tarp grew cold for autumn. We got Juan Samuel and stuck him in center. Still, we were in it in September, not far off the pace set by the Cubs, but just couldn’t get it done. We’d learn as the ’90s unfolded that 87-75 second-place finishes were nothing to sneeze at, but this one was an enormous disappointment to have lived through.
21. 1975 (82-80; tied for third place)
One of those years a fan remembers fondly if he happened to be twelve while it transpired, but Yogi Berra was fired, Cleon Jones was let go and the Mets tripped all over themselves at every opportunity to get serious about winning. The closest they came to a lunge at first was early September at Shea, pulling to within a few of Pittsburgh, Tom winning No. 20, striking out his 200th along the way. Rookie Mike Vail collected a hit every game for a while. Dave Kingman appeared from San Francisco and broke our home run record. Rusty crossed the 100-RBI barrier. Felix Millan was in the lineup literally every day. Many pleasant elements to hold fondly, even if you weren’t twelve. But not much to show for it in real time.
20. 2001 (82-80; third place)
This baby was ticketed for 1974/2017 territory until late August. Then the defending National League champs remembered how to win. They won like crazy for weeks on end. They pulled themselves to within wishing distance of the Braves. And they came closer than is generally remembered. A pitch here or there, and it’s quite possibly the Mets who give New York something to get lost in come October of 2001, just when it needed a distraction most. A transcendent Shea moment on the third Friday night of September would have to do.
19. 2005 (83-79; tied for third place)
The forest recalls this season being a low-level blast, an authentic turnaround from a bad stretch, big names coming to the fore, enthusiasm building. The trees remember it as a frustrating mess much of the year. The Mets had fallen to five games below .500 in the middle of September and appeared to be plummeting back to the Howe old days. But Willie Randolph’s crew — Beltran, Martinez, Reyes, Wright, Floyd, the last belts of Mike Piazza — made one final push for respectability and it drove them to the edge of 2006. The best Septembers that don’t lead to Octobers at least point you in the desired direction.
18. 1970 (83-79; third place)
My first full year as a Mets fan, and even I knew it wasn’t 1969 anymore. Still, there was an aura around the team from That Championship Season that didn’t melt so easily. But Seaver wasn’t quite the Seaver he had been, only Agee and Clendenon came through with any consistency at bat, and maybe the team as a whole was hungover. Can’t blame them after the year they had the year before, I suppose. Somehow stayed with the Pirates until the talent gap finally showed.
17. 1998 (88-74; second place)
This is the best possible advertisement for the concept of Next Year, because 1998’s ending needed to be thoroughly wiped away. Through 157 games, it was a mostly exhilarating season. We got Piazza. Leiter was a wizard. Reed was an All-Star. Olerud hit .354. There was always a hole in the dike that kept the Mets from rising comfortably above sea level in the Wild Card race, but it looked like we’d make it. We got to the final week in position to return to the postseason for the first time in a decade. Then we lost the last five, let two teams pass us and that was that. Except there’d be another year in 1999. Thank goodness.
16. 2007 (88-74; second place)
Yeah, I know. Yet in the vein of our standards — winning record, contending team, spring and summer of excitement — 2007 measures up, or beyond a whole lot of Met seasons. Insert Mrs. Lincoln reference here.
15. 2008 (89-73; second place)
Splitting hairs to rank this above 2007. Perhaps we were better braced for what would become of the ending. I also recall the gratifying push into first place when we took nothing for granted. Randolph was gone, Manuel was in, Shea was closing and it looked like the Mets might understand what they were supposed to do. They did go 40-19 from early July to early September. Maybe they should have called for a strike. Lack of depth killed us down the stretch. No Wagner, no Maine, no Tatis, very little Easley. What a bullpen. But the main four guys — Reyes, Wright, Delgado and Beltran — were mostly sensational and you can’t say enough for Johan on September 27. Distance has allowed me to not snarl at 2008 on the order I snarl at 2007.
14. 1987 (92-70; second place)
Nineteen Eighty-Seven was a 162-game headache, yet there we were, over 90 wins, a couple of swings from a final-weekend showdown for first place in St. Louis. The talent was remarkable in those days. That the Mets could survive the loss of all of their starting pitching for chunks of the season tells you they could hit (also that we had Terry Leach). Carter and Hernandez were commencing their decline but they were picked up by Strawberry, by HoJo, by McReynolds. Basically, they did all they could to not win a division title and almost won it anyway.
13. 1997 (88-74; third place)
Pound for pound this may be my favorite season, but this isn’t about personal preferences. It’s about recognizing turnings of corners and changings of guards and whatever cliché you care to add. Bobby Valentine’s first full year was the bright red line separating a decade of debacle from an era of ebullience. Olerud, Reed and Alfonzo all broke through. Todd Hundley was still a slugging threat. Bobby Jones pitched like he really was from Fresno. Bobby V pounded in spare parts you never heard of and the engine purred. Matt Franco one minute, Steve Bieser the next, a little Jason Hardtke or Roberto Petagine later. Not being out of the race was different. Winning more than losing was different. Getting to September with a puncher’s chance at the Wild Card was a boost to our collective self-esteem. We didn’t reach our destination, but there was no turning back.
12. 1990 (91-71; second place)
The notion of the Mets as dynasty could have proven true in 1990. They’d missed on a couple of their post-1986 opportunities, but the team that rampaged through June and well into July — Viola, Jefferies and Franco joining forces with remnants of the old gang — was as good a Mets team as I ever experienced for a month or so. Alas, it was a month or so, and the season lasts longer than that. Harrelson was the right man to right the ship at the right time, but injuries dragged the enterprise down and the Mets couldn’t quite sail through September. We had no idea that the Mets wouldn’t be this good again for a very long while.
11. 1984 (90-72; second place)
Davey Johnson took over. So did Doc Gooden. And here came the Mets, resembling nothing they had been in recent years. Only full disclosure compels me to note the Mets had the division in their grasp and let it go to the Cubs. They weren’t ready, but it was aggravating while they fell to second. Yet, geez, to fall to second after all those years of coming in second-to-last being viewed as an accomplishment? The good times were rolling. Hernandez became Hernandez that year. Darling started becoming Darling. Backman, too. There is no reason to remember 1984 as anything but beautiful.
10. 1985 (98-64; second place)
Let me stop you from saying what you might be thinking. The Wild Card didn’t exist. You can drive yourself bonkers by retconning it into the ’80s. If it had been around, the Mets would have been October regulars. Probably. We don’t know how schedules and transactions would have worked out. We also don’t know if some Wild Card team from somewhere that wasn’t Houston would have knocked us off in 1986. So just revel in what 1985 was: the best season the Mets could possibly ever have without making the playoffs. As in ’84, the title was theirs for the taking, only more so. They were in first place after a searing series at Shea versus St. Louis in September. The pedal came off the gas, and 98 wins proved a few too few. Oh well, we can say, considering what we know came next. Even before we knew it, though, we knew about Keith and Gary and Doc and Darryl and Mookie and Jesse and everybody getting it done until they could get done no more. I’ll take my chances with 98 wins every year for the rest of my life.
9. 2016 (87-75; NL Wild Card)
It wasn’t a beauty, but hey, it was all right when it mattered most. The 2016 Mets, one year removed from a pennant, were stuck in the swamps of Flushing three weeks into August. Then they thundered to a second consecutive postseason slot. It wasn’t that long ago, yet I find myself a little baffled that it happened. These were the Mets of two dependable starters, two unknown rookies filling out the September rotation, of scrap heap pickups holding down several positions…and they went 27-12 to clinch a Wild Card and home field advantage for its doomed one-and-done manifestation. Either Terry Collins did the best managing of his career or he didn’t get in the way of his players. However it happened, it was a thrill.
8. 1988 (100-60; NL East Champs)
I bristle at the memory of Mike Scioscia just like you do, but unlike you, I relish recalling how good these ’88 Mets were before the ninth inning of Game Four of the NLCS. I remember the 100 wins. I remember Coney going 20-3, Doc winning 18, Darling 17, Randy Myers establishing himself as a fierce closer, McReynolds nipping at Strawberry’s heels for MVP honors, Gregg Jefferies making all those rookie cards seem like a bargain, the slapping down of the Pirates at every inflection point. This was a wonderful team that ran into a better story. It happens. Some nights I don’t accept it, either.
7. 1999 (97-66; NL Wild Card, NLDS Winners)
Ventura. Alfonzo. Piazza. Henderson. Agbayani. Olerud of course. Al and Rick and Orel Hershiser and Masato Yoshii and young Octavio Dotel and a bunch of relievers getting a bunch of outs and Rey Ordoñez flying through the air with the greatest of ease and Bobby V almost fired and then winning 40 of 55 and how were you gonna fire him then? Nearly blowing the whole thing before rising from the dead over and over. The ride of a lifetime. They should have won two more games in the National League Championship Series and four in the World Series. Otherwise, they were everything we could have wanted. The postseason placard that hangs from the facade of Excelsior in left field needn’t list their accomplishments. It could just say “1999”. We’d all get it.
6. 2006 (97-65; NL East Champs, NLDS Winners)
The regular season was 1986’s Mini Me. The division was never in doubt. The first round of the playoffs was a relative breeze. Just a little more pitching. Then just a little more hitting. Then maybe one swing, if just to foul one off and stay alive. But my gosh, we knocked the Braves out in April, brushed the Phillies aside in June and romped for six months. I understand it’s a consolation prize, but it warms me still.
5. 2015 (90-72; NL East Champs, NL Champs)
We’re up to the pennant-winners, so I have to get out my hair-splitters to divide them from one another. I suppose 2015 could rank ahead of 1973 and 2000, or between them. I choose to slot it a tick or two behind them. It’s all good. It was all very good when Wilmer Flores shed a tear and Yoenis Cespedes lit the fuse and Harvey returned from Tommy John and Familia took over for Mejia and deGrom struck out the side in the All-Star Game and Thor and Conforto debuted as needed and David Wright flew in from stenosis purgatory and Daniel Murphy went undercover as Barry Bonds circa 2002. The 2015 Mets were actually pretty good to have hung on to late July (lest we forget the eleven-game winning streak in April), but that crew in August and September…it was if all those years under Collins were leading to something.
4. 1973 (82-79; NL East Champs, NL Champs)
The record isn’t deceptive if it’s your record; nevertheless, I think we learned that if the 1973 Mets had been at full strength for an entire season, they wouldn’t have needed a miracle finish to pull out the division. They were a terrific team full of very good players in their prime and, by September, they were healthy. Of course much goes into sorting out a division and partisans for the Cardinals and Pirates could say something similar. Winners get to write this history. We had Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Tug every damn day, Rusty, Cleon and Wayne on fire, Buddy holding it together, Felix turning DPs, Grote running the show behind the plate, 12-3 from George Stone, Ron Hodges getting the biggest moment of his 12-year career out of the way early, Willie Mays giving the benediction and Yogi understanding it wasn’t over. Eighty-two wins reads like a technicality. It’s also how many they won, which doesn’t matter since it was enough, but we are splitting hairs here.
3. 2000 (94-68; NL Wild Card, NL Champs)
Nineteen Ninety-Nine’s less glamorous sister nonetheless brought home a better report card, succeeding to the World Series and carrying the Bobby V era banner as high as it gets to fly in these rankings. No Mets fan fully adores 2000 when 1999 is in the room, but that 2000 team delivered a great deal. They put a stranglehold on a playoff spot in late July. They wrestled an NLDS from the favored Giants. They grounded the Cardinals. The final step of the journey wasn’t taken as we’d have cared for, but I never believed Piazza, Alfonzo, Leiter & Co. didn’t go down fighting. I give 2000 the edge over 1973 for having a better all-around season (and maybe because ’73’s era has a higher-stationed representative just up ahead) and the nod over 2015 on Fall Classic fine points. The 2015 Mets got beat. The 2000 Mets came up short. “When the fall is all that’s left, it matters very much,” I’ve heard.
2. 1969 (100-62; NL East Champs; World Champs)
If the New York Mets franchise could sign its name, the autograph would have to include 1969 written somewhere on that scrap of paper. That’s how much the signature season figures into the identity of the Mets, all for the good. Nineteen Sixty-Nine not only meant everything while it was going on, it reset perceptions ever more. The Mets who had never won anything had won it all. The Mets had shattered precedent, shredded expectation and gave heart to perpetual underdogs everywhere. They also stormed from far behind to win a division title, swept their playoff opponents and overturned the apple cart of a prohibitive World Series favorite. String the names together — Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, McAndrew, Ryan, Cardwell, Taylor, McGraw, Koonce, DiLauro, Grote, Dyer, Martin, Clendenon, Kranepool, Boswell, Weis, Harrelson, Pfeil, Charles, Garrett, Jones, Agee, Shamsky, Swoboda, Gaspar — and stick Gil Hodges at the front of line, and you see again that nothing is impossible.
1. 1986 (108-54; NL East Champs; World Champs)
Fifty-six years of Mets and fifty-five years of me in the books, and I can say confidently you get one 1986 in a lifetime. You get one baseball season when EVERYTHING goes your way. You lead and you keep leading and you’re so far ahead that you forget who you’re leading. Every day is thick with ticker-tape and every night is drenched in champagne. And that’s before you actually clinch anything. The pitchers pitch, the hitters hit, the fielders field. All of them do it better as a unit than anybody in sight. You can’t believe you’ll ever lose another meaningful game, certainly not in October. October attempts to bring you down to earth, and boy does it make its case for being an entirely different month from the six that preceded it, but no. This the year when EVERYTHING went our way. Once in a lifetime. A sequel would be sweet, particularly for those who weren’t on hand for the original when it was in first-run, but I can’t imagine any Mets year being any better.
I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, however. May your, my and our next year be the best yet.