The very first Mets season, 1962, was a dreadful one. That team, which lost 120 games, is sometimes cited as the worst team ever in modern baseball history. But there is a case to be made for a different team to be the worst, specifically the 1945 Philadelphia NL franchise, which actually used the nickname “Blue Jays,” that year, instead of Phillies.
The ‘62 club set a record with all those losses, and they finished 60 ½ games behind the pennant winning Giants. They even finished 18 games behind the 9th place Cubs. The Mets scored 617 runs (ninth in the league, ahead of only Houston) and gave up a league worst 948 runs, which is a run differential of minus 331. The staff ERA was stratospheric 5.04. The team was charged with a total of 210 errors.
As to the ‘45 Philadelphias, their record was 46-108, 52 games behind the pennant winning Cubs, and 15 games behind seventh place Cincinnati. Their run differential was minus 317. The Phils managed to rack up 234 errors in a shorter 154 game season.
The discerning reader will note that the Blue Jays were not quite as bad as the Mets in most of the statistical categories, so why rank them lower? The answer is that although the teams played only 17 years apart, there was a world of difference in the level of play between 1945 and 1962.
MLB suffered a gradual attrition of players during the war years, with 1945 being the nadir. That was the year that one-armed Pete Gray played 77 games for the AL St. Louis Browns, and managed to bat .218. There were some great NL players in 1945 that were in military service. The entire Cardinal outfield, Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter and the excellent Terry Moore were in the military, as well as fourth outfielder Harry Walker. The heart of the Braves rotation, Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain (“pray for rain”) had been inducted, Spahn in particular was a much decorated battle veteran in the European theater. There were numerous other players, stars, prospects and depth pieces that were not available due to the war.
There was another significant group of excellent players that were not playing in MLB, since this was two years before the color line was broken. Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Jackie Robinson and many others were all playing in the Negro Leagues. The result was that play in 1945 was well below par of other years in the modern era, at least since the deadball era if not earlier.
As to 1962, It actually was a banner year for level of play in the NL. Pitchers like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson had great years, even the 41 year old Spahn was going strong (3.04 ERA). As to position players Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and Eddie Matthews were all in their prime years, and even 41 year old Musial could play well with a .330 BA and a .500 SLG in 135 games.
Although most of the individual Mets were not very good, Frank Thomas was an exception. He played 156 games and pounded 34 homers with a SLG figure of .496. In addition 38 year old Gil Hodges was a part-timer who slugged .472, and a 17 year old bonus player named Ed Kranepool had a cup of coffee at the end of the season. Hodges, as the manager, and Kranepool, as a useful platoon first basemen, were both important cogs in that amazing ‘69 team that won the World Series. The Phils, despite having been in the NL from before the beginning of World Series play, had to wait until 1980 for their first WS win.
The bottom line is that both the ‘62 Mets and the ‘45 Philadelphias were bad teams, but the huge gulf in the level of competition from 1945 NL to 1962 NL meant that the Philadelphia team, and not the Mets, have the dubious distinction of being the worst team of the modern era.