Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rant #794: Losing Their Way To Popularity

When a baseball team loses 100 games during a 162 game season, you have to rate it as pretty bad.

But what happens when a team loses 120 games in a season?

In 1962, the New York Mets--and expansion team in the National League--lost 120 games during their inaugural season.

Led by manager Casey Stengel, the Mets set the modern record for baseball futility, and today is the 50th anniversary of the team losing their 100th game of the season.

They played the Phillies, and lost 3-2, with their record standing at 34-100.

The team managed to win six of its next 26 games--two games weren't played due to rainouts--and the team's first season ended with 120 losses.

Made up of way past their prime stars and lots of young kids, the Mets were the exact opposite of their cross-town rivals, the Yankees.

The Yankees won seemingly every year, and they did that year too, winning the World Series against the Giants.

But these Mets were lovable losers. New York had been without a National League team since the Giants and Dodgers left New York for California at the end of the 1957 season, so five years was a long time.

Branch Rickey was devising a rival baseball league, and the linchpin for that league--the Continental League--was a New York franchise.

Major League Baseball got scared, and granted expansion franchises to New York and Houston, and the Mets and the then-named Houston Colt 45s started playing in 1962.

Old Dodger and Giant fans embraced the team, and even though they lost 120 games, their futility was almost a virtue.

During those years, you expected the Yankees to win, and you expected the Mets to lose. It was a corporate team versus a team of nobodies, and the Mets' fan base embraced their team perhaps like no other.

As the 1960s went on, things changed. The Yankees went through a period of losing that they had never seen, culminating in a last place finish in 1966 and 10 more years of futility.

The Mets were terrible, too, until 1969, when they fully captured the hearts and minds of baseball fans the world over with their improbable World Series win over the Orioles.

Of course, things have pretty much gotten back to "normal" in the intervening years.

The Mets have had a few good teams over the past 40 some-odd years--the 1986 team was one of the best New York teams ever--but basically as we look at 2012, the Mets are battling to stay out of last place and the Yankees are battling to stay in first place.

The more things change the more they stay the same, I guess.

Having been a Yankee fan my whole life, I have had an opportunity to look at the Mets from the outside looking in. Those rabid fans of the early days aren't much around anymore. The Mets have made many moves over the past decade that defy understanding, and they continue to be the second team in a town where the Yankees have ruled since the 1990s.

Mets fans demand more from their team, especially with a new ballpark and with ticket prices through the roof.

The 2012 Mets are far from that lovable bunch of yore.

But 50 years ago, they were something else, something else indeed.

Ashburn, Kanehl, Woodling, Christopher, Throneberry, Neal, Coleman, Hickman, Chacon, Hook, Craig ...

They were certainly "the gang that couldn't play straight," but they endeared themselves to New York like a bagel with cream cheese does.

But even that bagel with cream cheese doesn't taste the same in 2012 as it did in 1962.

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