The Mets have played exactly half their schedule. Congratulations to all of us on surviving. Let’s reward ourselves by having fun with halves. Let’s explore Mets history by way of our first halves, our second halves and the asterisky segments of seasons during which two halves haven’t necessarily fit neatly together.
Yes, this is my idea of fun. C’mon, halve some with me!
The 2018 first half wasn’t fun, we’ve noticed, but it could have been worse if we use other Met first halves for precedent. Our current record of 33-48 is ghastly on sight and even worse when you learn that the only other first half record that matched it exactly belonged to the 1979 Mets. Nineteen Seventy-Nine has its own shorthand: Mettle the Mule, Richie Hebner, Lorinda de Roulet, 788,905 customers paying their way into Shea when announced attendance jibed with turnstile count. It was all as awful as we remember and, 39 years later, we are on pace with it.
Having fun yet? Well, here’s a tidbit to make you feel if not better, then not quite worse — 1979 and 2018 have not produced the worst first-half records in Mets history. There are a whole mess of Mets lagging behind these two avatars of atrociousness (did we pick a great franchise to root for or what?).
Let’s go bottoms up. The worst of the worst first halves occurred right away, in 1962, a 23-58 test drive. The Mets liked the model so much, they went back to the dealer two years later and traded it on another just like it. The 1964 Mets ran their odometer to 23-58 after 81 games, too. Fast starts just weren’t in our DNA.
It never got worse coming out of the box, but it would come close roughly three decades later. Your friends on the 1993 Mets went 25-56 in prematurely burying all hope, taking down their manager in May and GM in June. It sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? Except we still have our skipper, lucky us. Mickey Callaway notwithstanding (and not getting out of the way), our quarter-century tribute to the godforsaken 1993 season approximates the choppy lyrics accurately, but even the 2018 Mets can’t replicate that atonal melody.
Hey, you didn’t think we were done with the early days, did you? Don’t be thrown off by 1993 crowding its way into the rear of the train. Both 1965 (28-53) and 1963 (29-52) boarded long ago. The training wheels were still on and, judging by healthy attendance figures, the charm of lovably losing had yet to completely wear off. Still, what a way to start a baseball team.
And then we get to the mold dust twins of 1979 and 2018, right? Wrong, Mettlebreath! Other lousy first half team are gonna have their say in this discussion.
• The 1983 Mets were super subpar in their first half of play, compiling a record of 30-51. No shock a suddenly traded Keith Hernandez allegedly cried in the shower at the thought of joining the so-called Stems.
• The 1977 Mets, having cleverly rid themselves of their premier pitcher and stellar slugger, arrived at the halfway point in 31-50 style.
• And the 1967 Mets tripped all over themselves (and even their rookie pitcher Seaver), stumbling to a first-half mark of 32-49.
That’s the same record the 1995 Mets had after 81 games, but this is where we must get asterisky wit’ it, for the 1995 season was only 144 games long, and its halves thus measured 72 games apiece. Since you’re wondering, the 1995 Mets were 27-45 in their first half*, or a prorated 30-51, since I know you were also wondering about that.
Now? Yes, now we can slot 2018’s remake of Superbad where it belongs — not far from, yet not in the franchise basement. The first 81 of ’18 can look itself in the mirror and believe itself when it utters its mantra of self-affirmation. 2018’s not good enough, it’s not smart enough and none of us likes it…but nine Mets teams have been worse after their first halves.
It would be ten if we were counting 1981, but as I hope you recognize, 1981 is the most asterisky of all major league seasons, the only one split into two, albeit as a contingency plan after a lengthy labor dispute. There wasn’t so much a “first half” of 1981 as there was a retroactively conceived First Half, and in that first version of 1981, the Mets were 17-34. By the time an 81st game of ’81 was played, it was already the Second Half or second season or, for all intents and purposes (except individual statistics), another season. Confused yet? Don’t worry. However you count it, the first half of 1981 was also worse than the first half of 2018.
Before 2018’s first half gets too full of itself, it should be fully aware of the ignominy it has brought up on itself. After 81 games, not only are the 2018 Mets precisely as putrid as their infamous 1979 predecessors, they have failed to be as good as 1979’s somewhat less toxic neighbor 1978. Those Torreadors rushed to a 34-47 record. Olé! Quite the hat trick we’ve pulled off, settling halfway into a season that recalls, spiritually as well as statistically, the most depressing three-year stretch in Mets history.
Seeing as how we’re all good and depressed, how about something to lift our spirits? Let’s talk about great first halves. Let’s talk about the 1986 Mets and their champagne-sparkling 56-25 record. Let’s talk about 1988, when another set of vintage Mets went 52-29. Those are the only Met years wherein half-a-hundred wins were collected by the halfway point. Good stuff, right? You do that well, you know you’re gonna play more than 162 games.
You do almost that well, you’re probably in luck. Witness the 2006 Mets and their 48-33 record, the inverse of 2018 (although both editions have included a Jose Reyes, if not nearly the same one). The other 48-33 first-halfers are the reason we say “probably” regarding postseason. The 1990 Mets went 48-33, then home after 162. Great starts, alas, aren’t everything.
Oh, but they’re sometimes something. The 1969 Mets’ first-half mark of 47-34 was a revelation, especially when you consider the chronological proximity to some of those years we mentioned a few paragraphs ago. The ’69ers built quite a platform for what was to come in the second half, a feat unfortunately not duplicated by the three other Mets clubs who also finished 81 games at 47-34: 1984, 1991 and mini-asterisk bunch 1972. Nineteen Seventy-Two encompassed a 156-game schedule by de facto design, with the first six games lopped off by strike. Since you’re asking nicely, I’ll let you know that after their actual first half of 78 games, the 1972 Mets were 45-33, or comparable to what they’d be after 81 games (yet I wouldn’t have forgiven myself had I not been as specific as possible).
Shouldn’t being on pace for a 92-win campaign after half-a-season get you to the playoffs? One in four 46-35 Mets clubs says yes, namely the 2000 club. Sadly, three in four — 1971, 1985 and 2007 — say nay. Some perfectly fine starts (1999’s 45-36) proved ultimately more useful than some other perfectly fine starts (1970, 1997 and 2010 each launched with the same record as ’99). Sometimes 44-37 will lead you to just-missed heartache (1998); sometimes 44-37 will pave the road to oblivion (2012); and sometimes 44-37 will allow your ass to avert the jackpot and see at least a little of the bright lights of October (2016).
By now you should have developed an inkling that a robust first half is essential to forging an entire full season. Inkle away, but it ain’t necessarily so. How about those 2015 Mets and their so-so 41-40 first half? Theirs was the same record after 81 games as that fashioned by the 2004 and 2011 Mets. Let me know if you can find the National League pennants for the latter two. Oh, and how about those 36-45 Mets who were all but done for the year at the halfway juncture of their years? We’ve had six clubs post that highly unimpressive record after 81 games. Five (1966, 1974, 2001, 2003, 2013) are not represented along the left field Excelsior facade. But one is — 1973. Nineteen Seventy-Three gave us the worst first-half record of any Met postseason entry. It also gives us every reason to cling the slightest shred of belief that a team with as many as 46 defeats in its first 81 contests, particularly if it’s competing in a shall we say fluid division, can build upon the thinnest of successes once the second half gets serious.
Too bad the 2018 Mets have lost 48 games, otherwise we could kid ourselves just a little longer.
Fifty percent of precincts reporting often tell us all we need to know. No Mets team had a better record in its first half than 1986 and no Mets team had a better record when all was said and done. No Mets team was worse in its first half than 1962 and no Mets team had a worse record when all was said and done. But as you’ve likely noticed, some solid starts have been for naught. For example, dig that mention of 2010’s 45-36 start. Yeah, that didn’t last. Nor did the 44-37 ways of 2012, to say nothing of 1991 rocking the 47-34. You’ve just been introduced to the worst second-half thudders in Mets history.
The 1991 Mets plummeted without a net, going 30-50 in their second half (one game was cancelled when the roof fell in on Olympic Stadium, a pretty intense metaphor in the moment). It wasn’t the worst second-half record in Mets history — that, not surprisingly, belongs to 1962, at 17-62 — but it represented the worst second-half differential. The second half of 1991 finished 16½ games behind the first half of 1991, which makes our contemporary 11-1 turning into 33-48 seem almost humane. The 2012 Mets, despite the presence of a pitcher knuckling his way to twenty victories, plunged nearly as badly, losing 51 of 81, a fourteen-game swing in the decidedly wrong direction.
Those 2010 Mets, soaring so high in the first half, fell by eleven games in the second half, playing 34-47 ball and forever obscuring their promising start and matching two other years that started reasonably well and ended in Metropolitan hell. The respectable 2004 Mets of a 41-40 first half morphed into the dreadful 2004 Mets of a 30-51 second half, while the Magic is Back illusionists of 1980 abra-ca-dabra’d from 39-42 to 28-53. Poof! Two seasons later, 1982 manufactured an eerily similar vibe: a first half of “maybe they’re not so terrible” (38-43); a second half of “ohmigod, I can’t believe I fell for this again” (27-54).
Ah, but second halves can be redemptive. You remember 1973 from earlier, right? That 35-46 cacophony got its act together and penned a 47-33 symphony, an improvement of 12½ games. Only one Mets team turned around its dreary first half more stunningly, albeit with no legacy to show for it. The 1995 Mets, worse than the 2018 Mets in their first half, were better than every Mets team when it came to making second-half adjustments, leaping from resolutely crummy 27-45 to relatively sterling 42-30. The miserable first half, the shortened season and the presence of the divisionally dynastic Braves obscured the breathtaking 15-game progress achieved in Flushing that forgotten summer.
Some great second-half swings were similarly for naught in the standings, but made themselves felt in real time. The 2001 Mets were one of those dismal 35-46 first-half units, but they found their pennant-defending groove and went 47-34 in the second half, nearly capturing a division title in the too-little/too-late process (and wouldn’t have that been sweet that autumn?). The 1983 Mets, those Stems with the 30-51 record after the first half, upped their fortunes by eight games in the second half, going 38-43, which wasn’t Amazin’ on its own merits, but it did provide a hint of what was to come in 1984, 1985 and 1986. An eight-game swing was also notched by those middling 41-40 first-half Mets of 2015, transforming themselves into a 49-32 outfit celebrated for being not only Amazin’, but Amazin’ Again .
Context is critical in measuring progress. The 2008 Mets were the epitome of blah at their halfway point (40-41). They improved by nine games in the second half (49-32), which put them on the cusp of extending Shea Stadium’s life, a noble crusade perhaps not fully appreciated at the time given that Shea died right on schedule — but nice try, 2008. The 1993 Mets were the epitome of EEEK! at their halfway point (25-56). They improved by nine games in the second half (34-47), which enhanced their historical standing not one iota. They were still the 1993 Mets.
How do I keep coming back to horror shows? I said we were gonna have fun with halves, so let’s have fun before we get on with the second half of 2018.
• Respect must be paid to the 1994 Mets, who never had a proper second half. After starting saggy, at 36-45, they surged to 19-13 before the strike came along and shut them down. Prorated, that projected to an approximate twelve-game improvement. We’ll never know just how good the second-half ’94 Mets could have been. Maybe all those other teams voted to strike because they feared Rico Brogna & Co. were just getting started.
• Although, as noted above, you can’t accurately inject inherently misshapen 1981 into any of this, it deserves pointing out that the Second Half Mets of that misbegotten year (24-28) were 6½ games better than the First Half Mets (17-34). It was a bush league setup, but we were kind of a contender that September, and it was a blast the several weeks it lasted.
• Lest they seem merely melodramatic in retrospect, those crazy 1999 Mets could play some ball on either side of the midway point. Not only were they superb in their first half (45-36), they were outstanding in their second half (52-30, including the one-game playoff that pushed them into a more formal postseason). How they found the wherewithal to lose eight straight in the first half and seven in row down the stretch of the second half makes them only more admirable. And crazy.
• Hail to the 1969 Mets, the best second-half club in Mets history! Their 53-28 finish was one game better than that filed by their 1985 and 1986 successors, a game-and-a-half better than the ’99ers. Hail as well to the 1986 World Champions, the only Mets to win at least 50 games in each of their halves, which helps explain the 108 wins overall.
• Finally, let’s raise a glass to the 1976 and 1998 Mets, consistent buggers each. 1976 First Half: 43-38; 1976 Second Half: 43-38. 1998 First Half: 44-37; 1998 Second Half: 44-37. Those are the only Mets teams to post identical records in their first and second halves. True, it’s not the goal of any given season, and it didn’t do either of those also-rans the slightest bit of good (especially the ’98 Mets, who really could have used one goddamn extra win in their final five games), but at least we could have projected exactly where we were headed recordwise had we simply sat back and doubled 81 games in their years.
Not that we’re particularly anxious to do that in 2018. Check back in a shade under three months and see how much fun we halved the rest of the way.