New York Mets
THE METS BY THE DECADE
Born from the ashes of the departed Giants and Dodgers of the late 1950s, the Mets made history out of the gate in the worst way by losing a record 120 games; nevertheless, they were fully embraced by a young wave of fans who came to see rusting New York baseball icons (led by aging manager Casey Stengel) giving it one last shot. The flood of losses flowed unabated until a crop of top young pitchers (Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman) turned the Mets into an overnight rags-to-riches success in 1969, ‘amazing’ the baseball world with 100 wins and a world title over the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles.
The Mets remained competitive if not dominant in the early 1970s, as solid pitching continued to make up for a tin offense. They rose from a deadened start in 1973 and took advantage of a decrepit NL East with a first-place 82-79 mark, stunning heavily-favored Cincinnati in the NLCS before taking Oakland to seven games in the World Series. The front office’s stubborn refusal to embrace free agency late in the decade led to a meltdown on the field, especially once Seaver was dealt away midway through 1977.
New management restored confidence in a bitter fan base, aggressively seeking free agents while developing two plum prospects—slugger Darryl Strawberry and wunderkind pitcher Dwight Gooden—who paid instant dividends. The blend of talented youth and all-star veterans hit a towering peak in 1986 when a raucous, cocky team of destiny took the National League by storm and produced a dramatic comeback in the World Series, triumphing over the beleaguered Boston Red Sox.
The Mets flamed out for much of the decade, as Strawberry and Gooden collapsed under the weight of drugs, alcohol and numerous other run-ins with the law, while a new wave of high-priced free agents failed to reprise the magic of their predecessors from the 1980s. Only late in the decade did a turnaround finally develop with the arrival of veteran stars Mike Piazza and John Olerud, as well as the (albeit brief) emergence of catcher Todd Hundley and third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, leading to the Mets’ first playoff appearance in 11 years in 1999.
Making good on their second straight wild card call, the Mets took the NL flag in 2000 but lost a confrontational Fall Classic to the crosstown New York Yankees best recalled by Roger Clemens’ bizarre head games with Piazza. The team slumped at mid-decade before quickly seeing a revival through genuine homegrown talent in David Wright and Jose Reyes, but suffered through a succession of collapses down the stretch that kept them out of the postseason. After 45 years at Shea Stadium, the Mets finally christened a new home in 2009 with Citi Field.
The new ballpark was expected to further lift the Mets’ fortunes, but owner Fred Wilpon ran into major financial and legal troubles after being victimized in (and, some allege, associated with) Bernie Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme. The resulting soap opera nearly bankrupted the Mets and had a deafening effect on the team, which struggled to stay relevant despite the presence of gifted young guns Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard; a brief spring to the top did lead to a NL pennant in 2015.
Wilpon sold out to Wall Street whiz Steve Cohen, who wields unparalleled financial resources and hardly hides in the shadows with his occasional use of social media to deliver casual messaging. But despite an increased payroll and the presence of star power (led by multiple Home Run Derby champ Pete Alonso), the story remains the same at Flushing Meadows—with late-season/postseason collapses, silly tabloid moments and a rabid fan base that remains vocal and hardbitten as ever.
Highlights of the Mets’ History on This Great Game:
1969: The Amazin’ Mets The New York Mets, perennial laughingstocks of the 1960s, perform a stunning about-face to end the decade.
1973: Take My Division, Please In one of the closest—and mediocre—pennant races in history, the 82-79 Mets emerge on top of the NL East, then show extraordinary gains in the postseason against powerhouse opponents Cincinnati and Oakland.
1986: An October for the Ages An unforgettable postseason offers up sensational comebacks, spirited performances and the making of baseball’s most celebrated goat since Fred Merkle in Bill Buckner, whose legendary defensive gaffe highly benefits the Mets.
2000: New York, New York The first Subway Series in 44 years is spiced with antagonism thanks to an ongoing feud between Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza.