This week marks the 50th anniversary of the inaugural New York Mets season. The Mets played their first major league game on April 11, 1962, which makes them officially a 50-year-old franchise.
When I was growing up in southern Connecticut, which was kind of an honorary extension of New York City, the Mets were newbies not to be taken seriously. They were a team made up of has-beens and peculiar draft choices to fill a National League void left in America’s biggest city by the departure of the Dodgers and Giants to the West Coast. They weren’t going to convert any Yankee fans.
Their first couple of seasons, as anyone with a working knowledge of baseball knows, were disastrous. The 1962 Mets still hold the record for the most losses in a season - 120! They probably could have added two more losses to that column, but those rained out games were never made up.
The Mets had a few things going for them, though. They were managed by the now-doddering Casey Stengel, who a decade earlier had been the genius manager of the Yankees and their 5 consecutive World Series titles (1949-1953), followed by two more in 1956 and 1958. Revered as the Yankee skipper, by 1962 he was “washed up” in Yankee-land, but took his job with the Mets in stride. He talked all-things “Metsie”, even when he was confusing his players names and being misquoted as saying “Can’t anybody here play this game!?”
The Mets were owned by Mrs. Joan Payson - the first woman to ever purchase a baseball franchise with her own money.
Gil Hodges, a huge star with the Brooklyn Dodgers in his prime, was brought back from the West Coast to play first base.
And, the Mets, in addition to their flashy orange and blue colors, had the best theme song (still do).
Sportswriters, gamblers and champions of the underdog (many of whom seemed to live in the newly minted suburbs of Long Island and southern Connecticut) loved the Mets. They made a good story. When they won, they won big. They were proof that not everyone in the New York metro area wants a “sure thing” all the time (the Yankees).
In 1969, after years of “cellar dwelling” and never finishing better than second to last place, a miracle occurred. The Mets won their division, the league championship and the World Series in 5 games over the Baltimore Orioles! They were the Miracle Mets, yes indeed!
My father went to one of the World Series games that year. He’s a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but at World Series time, if the Cards aren’t in it, he roots for the National League team. This meant that he was pulling for the Mets.
Whenever I see this photo, I think of my Dad’s good luck at scoring a ticket to this historic World Series, even though it was Game 4 he went to, not the miraculous Game 5.
As a lifelong Met fan, this has always been one of my favorite photos of the team. No doubt taken by a professional photographer just moments after the Mets win the World Series, it looks like it was snapped with someone’s Instamatic. It perfectly captures what I remember about all of the Mets’ big games at Shea Stadium. Hotdog wrappers on the field, a crazed fan (or two) caught up in the pandemonium (note the one in the rust-colored pants coming in from the outfield), the sheer unbelievability of it all. Guess what, guys? To be a real winner, you have to know what it’s like to lose.
Note: If you know the real source of this photo, please let me know. I’d like to give credit to the photographer and maybe find out more about their experience of taking such an amazing shot.