The year 2016 has been celebrated all year as the 30th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion Mets. But 2016 is the 50th anniversary of another Met team, the 1966 Mets. While not nearly as successful as the ’86 club, that ’66 team did notch a few milestones.
The Mets had played four seasons before 1966, and every one of those teams had lost at least 100 games. In their first season of 1962 the team recorded 120 losses, in ’63 there were 111 losses, in 1964 (the first year at Shea Stadium) it was 109 losses, then 112 for 1965. But 1966 was different.
The Mets improved their record to 66-95 that year. Their starting pitching made strides, Dennis Ribant was 11-9 with a 3.21 ERA, and Bob Shaw was 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA. This was the first time the Mets ever had a starter with a winning record, let alone two, and another starter, Jack Fisher, was decent with an 11-14 record and a 3.68 ERA.
The offense showed improvement too, including a few players who would make some noise in 1969. Cleon Jones became a starting outfielder in ’66, and he batted .275 with 16 stolen bases. Ed Kranepool smacked 16 homers to lead the team, and Jerry Grote took over as the catcher. Ron Swoboda played some outfield, and a young Bud Harrelson put in time at shortstop.
The Mets not only had less than 100 losses for the first time, it was also the first Met team that did not finish 10th. Somehow this team finished ahead of the Chicago Cubs, who ended with a 59-103 record. The Cubs had three future Hall of Famers as everyday players, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams. All had good years, and in Santo’s case it was an outstanding year. The Cubs even added future Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins during the season via trade with Philadelphia, and he pitched very well. That Cub team has to be one of the great under achievers of all time.
One other point about the 1966 season. Incredibly the Mets finished higher in the standings than the 1966 Yankees. The Yanks, who had won pennants from 1960-1964, had dropped to sixth place in 1965. But nobody expected them to tumble all the way to tenth in 1966, but they did.
Even better days were on the horizon for the Mets. Ribant, however, would not be around for the glory days to come. He was traded, along with Gary Kolb to the Pirates for Don Cardwell and Don Bosch. The Mets would add Tom Seaver in 1967, Jerry Koosman in 1968, and amazingly, a World Series banner in 1969. Lets go Mets!