I was a junior at Richmond Hill High School in 1962 and I was quite excited that Queens was getting its own baseball team. I grew up a Dodger fan and had my first slap of reality when the trucks left town.
It would have been hard enough to root for the Giants, but they left too. And becoming a Yankees fan was simply not an option.
A friend of mine told me that the Mets were holding tryouts at the Polo Grounds during their first road series. Coaches Cookie Lavagetto and Solly Hemus were left back to handle the mob, so I grabbed my third baseman mitt, hopped on the A train, and walked in with the rest of the kids. It seemed strange not getting on the A-22 bus on Atlantic Avenue to Brooklyn, but those days were over.
It also didn’t matter I was 15-years old or I wasn’t on the high school baseball team because I had to work every day after school. No, I just wanted my fair shot.
I think one high school player was signed from that and the rest of us all went home, but we had a baseball team to root for again!
General Manager George Weiss made the decision to sell seats rather than wins games. He chose Yankee legend Casey Stengel to be the manager, who brought along Lavagetto, Hemus, Rogers Hornsby, and Red Ruffing as coaches.
Next came the expansion draft, which took place on the same day another team (the Houston Colt 45s) were brought into the league. Houston chose to concentrate on ‘prospects’ and stayed away from the list of old war horses supplied by the other teams.
The Mets didn’t and continued to draft, trade, or sign “big names.” Ex-Dodgers Roger Craig, Clem Labine, and Gil Hodges were joined by household names like Richie Ashburn, Gus Bell, and Don Zimmer, but all were past their prime. The action served its purpose, generating a gate of 922,530 which was good enough for 7th in the National League that year.
It’s interesting to look back and see how much this game has changed. The Mets operated that year with four starters. Jay Hook (8-19, 4.84), Roger Craig (10-24, 4.51) and Al Jackson (8-20, 4.40) started 115 games. Bob L. Miller (1-12) started the majority of the others, but we always got him confused with Bob G. Miller, who was also a pitcher on this team. Mets fans in 1962 didn’t need more confusion.
The Mets finished the season 40-120. Houston came in at 64-96. Yes, we had a team back but it was our Dodgers that finished 102-63, one game behind the San Francisco Giants at 103-62.
The 1962 Mets. Seven years away from 1969. The only sign of things to come came on June 27th when the Mets signed amateur free agent Ed Kranepool.
The team also made a couple of decent trades early on. The traded a PTBNL to the Milwaukee Brewers for OF-1B Frank Thomas who went on to a 34-HR, 94-RBI season for the 1962 team.
How would you like to have Landrith’s legacy of being discarded by your original team in the expansion draft, playing for the world’s worst team, getting traded because you’re not good enough for even the worst, and the player you’re trade for turns out to be someone that made Ron Swoboda look like a Golden Glove candidate?
I still remember that first home game. I have some great photos of Choo Choo Coleman and Jackson and actually got then WABC-radio reporter Howard Cosell to say something to me. He walked in front of the gate I snuck up to in order to take the pictures and I said sarcastically “this is Howard Cosell…”. He looked at me and said, “Indeed, it is…” and kept walking.
You see, the thing is, we weren’t Mets fans yet. We still were ex-Dodgers and Giants fans trying to get it up for this new team playing in a miserable stadium. We thought this was going to be a good team because most of the starting team had been stars in the past. The reporters wrote that this was a dawn for New York baseball and there was no place to go but up, which, by the time the season ended, proved profoundly correct.
Those of us that lived in Queens followed the progress of Shea Stadium, a brand new stadium for our brand new team. No more 483-ft center field wall? The fact is no home run was ever recorded to have gone over dead center in the Polo Grounds. And, if you think that was bad, this was a cut back from a previous version of this stadium built in 1890 that had it as deep as 500-feet.
Look, 1962 was the bomb for kids that lived in Queens. We didn’t know that the team we now had down the block would win the whole enchilada in their 8th season ever, nor did we know they would only win it once more time until today. I haven’t lived in New York for 32 years and I’ve become an expert on what non-New Yorkers think of this team. General baseball fans believe this is one of the most proven unsuccessful teams in professional sports. How can you have a team in the largest city in the country with a population large enough for four teams and consistently come up this short?
I’m constantly asked why there is no heritage on this team. I’m reminded a large portion of the best players ever were mired in drug and alcohol abuse, while the rest were traded away so they could end their all-star career with someone else. They laugh when Mets blogs write about ‘The All Time Mets Team’, when none of these guys ever finish the race in Queens.
And, as someone reminded me this week… “here you go again, first Reyes and now, possibly Wright”.
There was no past in 1962, and the future was just that, the future.
New York City had a National League baseball team. What’s better than that?