History of the New York Mets
The history of the New York Mets began in 1962 when the team was introduced as part of the National League's first expansion of the 20th century. The team's history includes two World Series championships and four National League pennants.
- 1 Franchise history
- 1.1 Founding of the Mets
- 1.2 (1962-1966) the lovable losers
- 1.3 Tom Seaver
- 1.4 (1969–1971) The Amazin' Mets: The Gil Hodges era
- 1.5 1973: "Ya Gotta Believe!"
- 1.6 1974–79 The Midnight Massacre and Dark Ages
- 1.7 The Doubleday Era 1980–1985
- 1.8 The "Party Hard; play harder" Mets
- 1.9 1989–1990
- 1.10 1991–1993: The Worst Team Money Could Buy
- 1.11 1994 strike-shortened season
- 1.12 1995–1997
- 1.13 1998–2004: Piazza, the Subway Series and 9/11
- 1.14 2005–2010: Minaya, collapse, Citi Field and injuries
- 1.15 2011–present: Alderson and a new direction
- 2 References
Founding of the Mets
In 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocated from New York to California, leaving the largest city in the United States with no National League franchises. Two years later, on July 27, 1959, attorney William Shea announced the formation of a third major baseball league, the Continental League. He tried to get several existing clubs to move, including the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds, but no National League club was interested.
One of the Continental League's five charter members was a team in New York City. Majority interest was held by Joan Whitney Payson and Charles Shipman Payson, former minority owners of the Giants. The second largest stake was held by George Herbert Walker, Jr. (uncle of the future President George H. W. Bush), who served as vice president and treasurer until 1977. Former Giants director M. Donald Grant became chairman of the board. Grant and Joan Payson had been the only members of the Giants' board to oppose the team's move west.
The existing leagues, which had considerably more autonomy at the time, responded with plans to add four new teams, two in each league. One of the new National League teams was to be in New York. The NL offered this new franchise to the CL's New York group, provided that they commit to building a new park. Shea told New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. that he had to personally cable every National League owner and guarantee that the city would build a new facility.
The new team required a new name, and many were suggested. Among the finalists were "Bees", "Burros", "Continentals", "Skyscrapers", "Skyliners", and "Jets", as well as the eventual runner-ups, "Empires" and "Islanders." Although Payson had admitted a preference for "Meadowlarks", the owners ultimately selected "Mets," because it was closely related to the club's already-existing corporate name, "New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc.", it hearkened back to "Metropolitans", a name used by an earlier New York team in the American Association from 1880 to 1887, and because its brevity would naturally fit in newspaper headlines. The name was received with broad approval among fans and the press.
From the beginning, the Mets sought to appeal to the large contingent of former Giants and Dodgers fans. The Mets' team colors reflect this: orange (and, more recently, black) from the Giants, blue from the Dodgers. Coincidentally, orange and blue are also New York City's official colors. Thus two rival fan-bases with 19th-century origins were largely united in support of the new club.
For the first two years of its existence, the team played its home games at the historic Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan, which it shared with the New York Jets. In 1964, both teams moved into newly constructed Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens, where the Mets stayed through the 2008 season. In 2009, the club moved into Citi Field, located adjacent to the former site of Shea Stadium.
During their history, the Mets have won two World Series titles (1969 and 1986), four National League pennants (1969, 1973, 1986, 2000), and five National League East titles (1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 2006). The Mets also qualified for the postseason as the National League Wild Card team in 1999 and 2000. The Mets have appeared in more World Series — four — than any other expansion team in Major League Baseball history. Their two championships equal the tally of the Toronto Blue Jays and Florida Marlins for the most titles among expansion teams. The Mets are the only expansion team to have won two World Series championships at home, as the Blue Jays and Marlins each won one on the road. (Blue Jays in 1992 and Marlins in 2003)
The Mets held the New York baseball attendance record for 29 years. They broke the Yankees' 1948 record by drawing nearly 2.7 million in 1970. The Mets broke their own record five times before the Yankees took it back in 1999.
No Met pitcher had ever thrown a no-hitter until June 1, 2012 when Johan Santana no-hit the Cardinals. The franchise's hurlers had gone more than 7,800 games without pitching one — longer than any other Major League franchise. On several occasions, potential no-hitters by Met pitchers have been broken up in the late innings. Tom Seaver twice pitched 8 1⁄3 innings without allowing a hit for the Mets — in one of those games, against Chicago in 1969, Seaver only needed two more outs for a perfect game before Jimmy Qualls singled – while in recent years Tom Glavine, Pedro Martínez, Mike Pelfrey, Matt Harvey and John Maine all lost their no-hit bids in the 7th or 8th inning.
(1962-1966) the lovable losers
In October 1961, the National League held an expansion draft to stock the rosters of the Mets and the Houston Colt .45s with players from other clubs. Twenty-two players were selected by the Mets, including some with notable previous success such as Roger Craig, Al Jackson, Frank Thomas, and Richie Ashburn. But rather than select talented young players with future potential, Mets management preferred to sign faded stars of the Dodgers and Giants to appeal to fans' nostalgia. Legendary Yankees manager Casey Stengel was hired out of retirement to lead the team, but his managerial acumen wasn't enough to overcome the severe deficiency of talent among the players.
The Mets took the field for the first time on April 11, 1962 against the St. Louis Cardinals (the first game, scheduled for April 10, was delayed due to rain.). One apocryphal legend has it that in the first game, pitcher Roger Craig went into his windup with the Cardinals' Bill White on third—and dropped the ball. Craig was charged with a balk, scoring White from third with the first run ever against the Mets. Despite Gil Hodges hitting the first home run in New York Mets history that day, the Mets went on to lose that game. It would be the first of nine straight losses to start the season en route to a 40–120 record. Their .250 winning percentage was the fourth worst in major-league history, and the third-worst of the modern era (since 1901). Throughout major league history only the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20–134) lost more games in a single season than the 1962 Mets. It wasn't until 2003 that the record would be threatened by the Detroit Tigers, who finished the season at 43–119. The ineptitude of the Mets during their first year is chronicled in colorful fashion in the 1963 book Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?, written by New York columnist Jimmy Breslin.
Beloved by New York fans despite—or perhaps because of—their losing ways, the Mets of the early 1960s became famous for their ineptitude. Journeyman players like the ironically nicknamed "Marvelous Marv" Throneberry became icons of athletic incompetence. Ex-Dodger and Giant pitcher Billy Loes, who was selected by the Mets in the 1961 expansion draft, was credited with the ungrammatical "The Mets is a good thing. They give everybody jobs. Just like the WPA." Even the Mets proved to have standards, however. In 1962, Cleveland Indians catcher Harry Chiti was purchased by the Mets for a player to be named later in the season. After only 15 games and a .195 batting average, the Mets sent him back to the Indians; he never played another major league game. Chiti was the first player ever to be sent back to his original team in a trade in Major League history.
The 1963 Mets featured a pitcher, Carlton Willey, who was having a great year, pitching four shut-outs, when he incurred an injury and finished with a 9–14 win-loss record.
On May 26, 1964, in Chicago, they played like champions (at least for one game) and pummeled the Chicago Cubs, 19–1. According to legend, later that day a fan called a New York newspaper to get the score. He was told: "They scored 19 runs." There was a long silence, then the fan asked: "Did they win?"
Also in 1964, the Mets, who played their first two seasons in the old Polo Grounds, the former home of the Giants, moved to the newly constructed Shea Stadium, a 55,300-seat multipurpose facility built in the Flushing neighborhood of the Borough of Queens, adjacent to the site of the 1939 and 1964 New York World's Fairs.
One high point of Shea Stadium's first season came on Father's Day, when Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jim Bunning threw a perfect game against the Mets, the first in the National League since 1880. For perhaps the only time in the stadium's history, the Shea faithful found themselves rooting for the visitors, caught up in the rare achievement, and roaring for Bunning on every pitch in the ninth inning. His strikeout of John Stephenson capped the performance. Another high point was Shea Stadium's hosting of the All-Star Game. Unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight in the final hectic weekend of the 1964 season, the Mets relished the role of spoiler, beating the Cardinals in St. Louis on Friday and Saturday (keeping alive the hopes of the Phillies, Giants, and Reds) before succumbing to the eventual National League and World Series champions on Sunday.
The Mets' image as lovable losers was wearing a little thin as the decade progressed, but things began to change slowly in the late 1960s. In 1966, the Mets chose catcher Steve Chilcott as the first overall selection in the amateur draft. He became the first number one draft pick to retire without reaching the major leagues. The second pick that year was Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. That year, the Mets went 66-95, the first season they did not finish with 100+ losses.
The Mets acquired top pitching prospect Tom Seaver in a lottery and he became the league's Rookie of the Year in 1967. Even though the Mets remained in last place, Tom Seaver was a sign of good fortune to come. He was originally signed by the Atlanta Braves in February 1966 out of the University of Southern California, but his contract was voided by Commissioner William Eckert on the basis that the USC season had already started when Seaver signed. In order to resolve this issue, the Mets, Indians, and Phillies were all placed in a hat since they were the only teams willing to match the Braves offer, and the Mets were fortunate enough to win the drawing. In addition to Seaver, two other young players were catcher Jerry Grote and shortstop Bud Harrelson. This trio of youth formed a new, determined clubhouse nucleus that had no interest in losing, lovably or otherwise. By the 1968 season, Wes Westrum would be replaced as manager by Gil Hodges. Pitcher Jerry Koosman joined the staff and had a spectacular rookie season in 1968, winning 19 games. Left fielder Cleon Jones developed as a batter and exciting center fielder Tommie Agee came over in a trade. But although much improved, the 1968 team still finished the season in 9th place.
(1969–1971) The Amazin' Mets: The Gil Hodges era
The Mets began the 1969 season in a mediocre way: an opening day home loss of 11–10 to the expansion Montreal Expos was followed by a record of 21–23 through the end of May. On April 10, 1969 Tommie Agee became the only player ever to hit a home run to the small area of fair territory in the upper level of Shea Stadium. A painted sign on the stands nearby commemorated the spot at Shea. By mid-August, the favored Chicago Cubs seemed safely on their way to winning the first ever National League East Division title (and their first postseason appearance of any kind since 1945). The Mets sat in third place, ten games behind; but Chicago went 8–17 in September, while the Mets, with outstanding pitching from their young staff, piled up victory after victory, winning 38 of their last 49 games. They took first place for good on September 10, and finished in first place with a 100–62 record for the season, their first winning year ever, a full eight games over the Cubs. The Mets finished with a team ERA of 2.99, and a league leading 28 shutouts thrown. Tom Seaver led the way with a 25–7 record, with lefty Jerry Koosman behind him at 17–9 record, while Cleon Jones finished with a .340 batting average. Seaver's best game occurred on July 9, at Shea Stadium, where he came within two outs of a perfect game, but gave up a one-out, ninth-inning single to the Cubs' Jimmy Qualls for the only hit in the Mets' 4–0 victory.
The "Miracle Mets" or "Amazin Mets", as they became known by the press, went on to win a three-game sweep of the strong Atlanta Braves, led by legend Henry "Hank" Aaron, in the very first National League Championship Series. The Mets were considered underdogs in this series despite the fact that they had a better record than the Braves, the first place team in the National League West.
The Mets were given very little chance in the 1969 World Series, facing a powerful Baltimore Orioles team that had gone 109–53 in the regular season and included Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, and Jim Palmer as well as future Mets manager Davey Johnson, who would make the final out of the Series. Before the series began, pundits predicted Tom Seaver might win the opening game, but that the Mets would have trouble winning again in the World Series. As it turned out, just the opposite occurred; Seaver was roughed up, allowing four runs in the opener, which he lost — but the Mets' pitching shut down the Orioles after that, holding them to just five runs over the next four games, to win the World Series 4 games to 1. Seaver got his revenge in game four, pitching all 10 innings of a 2–1 victory.
For longtime Mets announcer Ralph Kiner and many fans, the turning point in the team's season, came in the third inning of the second game of a July 30 doubleheader against the Houston Astros. When left fielder Cleon Jones failed to hustle after a ball hit to the outfield, Mets manager Gil Hodges removed him from the game — but rather than simply signal from the dugout for Jones to come out, or delegate the job to one of his coaches, Hodges left the dugout and slowly, deliberately, walked all the way out to left field to Jones, and walked him back to the bench. For the rest of that season, Jones never failed to hustle.
The Miracle Mets magic wore off as the 1970s began. In subsequent years, Mets pitchers generally excelled but received lackluster support from the hitters with mediocre finishes the result. Efforts to improve the offense backfired with blunders such as trading Amos Otis for troubled infielder Joe Foy after the 1969 season as well as young pitcher Nolan Ryan for infielder Jim Fregosi after the 1971 season. Once out of the glaring New York spotlight, Ryan became one of the best pitchers in history, spending 22 more years in the majors and entering the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 as a Texas Ranger. Fregosi battled injuries and played just 146 games for the Mets over a season and a half. Meanwhile Otis became a star with the Kansas City Royals while Foy lasted only one season in New York.
The team was thrown into confusion and shock prior to the 1972 season, when Manager Gil Hodges, who had led the team to the World Series victory in 1969, suffered a sudden heart attack at the end of spring training and died. Coach Yogi Berra succeeded Hodges.
1973: "Ya Gotta Believe!"
Berra's Mets found themselves in last place with a 61–71 record at the end of August 1973, but they recovered behind relief pitcher Tug McGraw and his "Ya gotta believe!" rallying cry (the team has since trademarked the phrase), winning 21 of their last 29 games. Berra also coined his most famous Yogiism that year: "It ain't over till it's over!" Their final record of only 82–79 was good enough to win the division while five better teams missed the postseason. Despite the second-worst winning percentage ever by a division winner (until the 2005 San Diego Padres), the Mets then shocked the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds "Big Red Machine" in the NLCS. Their record remains the worst of any pennant-winning team but they managed to push the defending World Series Champion Oakland Athletics to a seventh game. Their near-miracle season ended with a loss to Ken Holtzman in the final contest.
This was the only NL East title between 1970 and 1980 that wasn't won by either the Philadelphia Phillies or the Pittsburgh Pirates. Those two teams reigned exclusively as NL East champions during that span (Pirates from 1970–1972 and won the 1971 World Series, 1974, 1975, and winning the 1979 World Series, Phillies from 1976–1978 and winning the 1980 World Series).
1974–79 The Midnight Massacre and Dark Ages
As the 1975 season ended, owner Joan Payson died, leaving the team to her husband Charles. While Joan Payson had been the driving force behind the Mets, her survivors did not share her enthusiasm. Charles delegated his authority to his three daughters, who left control over baseball matters to club chairman Grant. Contract disputes with star pitcher Tom Seaver and slugger Dave Kingman erupted in 1977. Both players were traded on June 15, the trading deadline, in what New York tabloids dubbed "The Midnight Massacre." The Mets received six players in the two deals, but none had any lasting impact. Attendance fell, to the point where Shea Stadium was nicknamed "Grant's Tomb." Coincidentally, the Yankees began their resurgence at roughly the same time, further eroding the Mets' fan base.
The team finished in last place yet again in 1978. By this time, it was obvious that Grant had mismanaged the team and failed to invest in its future. Charles Payson himself fired Grant at the end of the season. The Mets continued to struggle, and did not become a competitive team again until the mid-1980s, marking the first time that both New York teams were competitive at the same time, both on the field and at the box office.
The Doubleday Era 1980–1985
In January 1980, the Payson heirs sold the Mets franchise to the Doubleday publishing company for $21.1 million. Nelson Doubleday, Jr. was named chairman of the board while minority shareholder Fred Wilpon took the role of club president. Wilpon quickly hired longtime Baltimore Orioles executive Frank Cashen as general manager to begin the process of rebuilding the Mets.
Cashen's positive impact on the organization took some time to be felt at the major league level. He began by selecting slugging high school phenomenon Darryl Strawberry as the number one overall pick in the 1980 amateur draft. Two years later, hard-throwing hurler Dwight Gooden was taken as the fifth overall selection in the 1982 draft. The pair rose quickly through the minors, winning successive Rookie of the Year awards (Strawberry in 1983, Gooden in 1984). Cashen's mid-season 1983 trade for former MVP Keith Hernandez helped spark the Mets' return to competitive contention. In 1984, new manager Davey Johnson was promoted from the helm of the AAA Tidewater Tides and led the Mets to a 90–72 record, their first winning season since 1976.
The "Party Hard; play harder" Mets
In 1985, the Mets acquired catcher Gary Carter from the Montreal Expos and won 98 games, but lost the division title to the St. Louis Cardinals in the final days of the season in a memorable series. The Mets began the series three games behind St. Louis and won the first two, but faltered in the third game, allowing St. Louis to remain in first place.
1986: World Champions again
Before the 1986 season, Doubleday sold his publishing company to Bertelsmann AG, and used the proceeds to buy the Mets in his own name. He then sold a half-stake to Wilpon, making them full partners.
Unlike the league champion Mets of 1969 or 1973, the 1986 Mets broke away from the rest of the division early and dominated throughout the entire year. They won 20 of their first 24 games, clinched the East Division title on September 17, and finished the year 108–54, which tied with the 1975 Cincinnati Reds for the third highest win total in National League history, behind the 1906 Chicago Cubs (116) and the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates (110). The relative lack of excitement during the regular season was more than compensated for by the spectacularly suspenseful and dramatic post-season series.
In the National League Championship Series, the Mets faced their fellow 1962 expansion team, the Houston Astros. Unlike the Mets, the Astros had yet to win a pennant, but had former Mets pitchers Mike Scott, the league's Cy Young Award winner, and fireballer Nolan Ryan leading their pitching staff. The Mets took a two-games-to-one lead with a come-from-behind walk-off home run by Lenny Dykstra. In Game 6, the Mets turned a 3–0 ninth-inning deficit into a sixteen-inning marathon victory to clinch the National League pennant and earn their third World Series appearance. The Astros would have to wait until 2005 to finally win their first pennant.
In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, the Mets faced elimination leading into Game 6. The Red Sox scored two runs in the tenth inning and twice came within one strike of winning their first World Series since 1918. However, the Mets rallied and would come back in typical Amazin' Mets fashion, as the game became one of the most famous games in baseball history as the Curse of the Bambino appeared to be alive and well. In fact, it was in this series that talk of this curse began.
With two outs and down two runs, three consecutive singles brought the Mets within 90 feet (27 m) of knotting the score. Hitter Mookie Wilson ran the count to 2–1, then fouled off 3 consecutive pitches. With the count 2–2, pitcher Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch that Wilson had to leap out of the way of. Boston catcher Rich Gedman made a wild stab for the ball but it went to the backstop. Pinch hitter Kevin Mitchell scored from third base, tying the game.
Now facing a full count, Wilson fouled off two more pitches. On NBC, Vin Scully then called a play that would quickly become an iconic one to baseball fans, with the normally calm Scully growing increasingly excited:
|“||So the winning run is at second base, with two outs, three and two to Mookie Wilson. (A) little roller up along first... behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!||”|
Scully then remained silent for more than three minutes, letting the pictures and the crowd noise tell the story. Scully resumed with:
|“||If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words, but more than that, you have seen an absolutely bizarre finish to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The Mets are not only alive, they are well, and they will play the Red Sox in Game 7 tomorrow!||”|
The Mets went on to win their second World Series title by taking Game 7, also in dramatic fashion, overcoming a 3 run deficit while scoring a total of 8 runs during the final 3 innings. The final score was 8–5 with Mets' pitcher Jesse Orosco ending the game by striking out Marty Barrett. Orosco then threw his glove high in the air and dropped to his knees while catcher Gary Carter ran to the mound to embrace him. This scene was captured on film and would become an iconic image, taken by Mets photographer George Kalinsky, in Mets baseball history and in all of baseball. The Mets remained the only team to come within one strike of losing a World Series before recovering to become World Champions, until the St. Louis Cardinals did it in 2011. The Mets winning this World Series is the highest-rated single World Series game to date. The Mets were also the first team to win a World Series in a potential clinching game delayed by rain, as Game 7 was postponed by one day.
While the team around the 1986 championship was strong, they also became infamous for off-the-field controversy. Both Strawberry and Gooden were youngsters who wound up burning out long before their time because of various substance abuse and personal problems. Hernandez's cocaine abuse was the subject of persistent rumors even before he joined the Mets, but he publicly acknowledged his addiction in 1985 and made a successful recovery. Lenny Dykstra's reputation was recently tainted by allegations of steroid use and gambling problems. Instead of putting together a winning dynasty, the problems caused the Mets to soon fall apart. Despite Darryl Strawberry's numerous off-the-field mishaps, he remains the Mets' all-time leader in home runs and runs batted in.
This World Series championship by the Mets had a strange twist: Lou Gorman, the general manager of the Red Sox, was vice president, player personnel, of the Mets from 1980 to 1983. Working under Mets' GM Frank Cashen, with whom Gorman served with the Orioles, he helped lay the foundation for the Mets' championship.
After winning the World Series in 1986 the Mets declined to re-sign World Series MVP Ray Knight, who then signed with the Baltimore Orioles. Also, they traded the flexible Kevin Mitchell to the Padres for long-ball threat Kevin McReynolds. But the biggest shock since the Midnight Massacre of 1977 was when Mets' ace Dwight Gooden was admitted to a drug clinic after testing positive for cocaine. But after struggling in the first few months of the 1987 season, "Dr. K" would come back, and so would the Mets. It was during the tough times that the Mets made a great long-term deal, trading Ed Hearn to the Kansas City Royals for pitcher David Cone. They would surge to battle St. Louis for the division title. They would have two tough losses to the Cardinals. The first came on Seat Cushion Night where Tom Herr hit a walk-off grand slam. But the worst loss came on September 11 in a game against St. Louis, 3rd baseman Terry Pendleton hit a homer to give the Cardinals a lead, and eventually the NL East title. One highlight of the year was Darryl Strawberry and Howard Johnson becoming the first teammates' ever to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season.
After missing the playoffs in 1987, the 1988 Mets again won the division. Thanks to some stellar pitching from Gooden, Ron Darling, and David Cone as well as offense from McReynolds, Strawberry, and Howard Johnson, the Mets won 100 games for the 2nd time in 3 campaigns. In addition, Strawberry and McReynolds both lost the MVP to Kirk Gibson as they finished 2nd and 3rd in the voting, respectively. Despite this, however, the clubhouse was distracted by the presence of a young Gregg Jefferies who was just called up. The veteran players took a dislike to Jefferies, who had a habit of excessive bragging, prompting his teammates to saw his custom-made bats in half as a form of hazing. The Mets played the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1988 National League Championship Series in a season where they beat them 10 out of 11 times but, led by Orel Hershiser, the Dodgers continued their Cinderella story season by beating the Mets in seven games.
The Mets would get off to a slow start, thanks to an infamous Picture Day brawl between Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez, apparently because Hernandez told reporters that Kevin McReynolds should win the 1988 NL MVP over Strawberry (although Los Angeles' Kirk Gibson would beat both Mets for the award). Eventually, the Mets (as well as the Montreal Expos) would battle the Cubs for the division title in 1989, but Chicago would prevail, despite a career year by Howard Johnson and a deadline trade with Minnesota for 1988 AL Cy Young winner Frank Viola. Those high points were tempered by injuries to Gooden, Hernandez and Carter as well as an ill-fated trade that sent Dykstra and Roger McDowell to Philadelphia in exchange for Juan Samuel. After the season, Samuel, who hit .235 that season, would be traded to the Dodgers for Mike Marshall, who would hit .239 in 53 games for the Mets before being traded to Boston. Dykstra, however, would become an All-Star in Philadelphia and help lead his team to a pennant in 1993.
That offseason, the Mets had a mix of triumph and tragedy. They would receive All-Star closer and native New Yorker John Franco in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, and Strawberry, in legal trouble as well, would check into an alcohol rehabilitation center and miss the start of the season. They would also lose key veterans Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez as they left for the Giants and Indians, respectively. The next season, the Mets would surge again to battle the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Pittsburgh's "B-B Guns" (which included Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Jay Bell and Wally Backman) led the Pirates to their first NLCS since 1979. In that campaign, general manager Frank Cashen fired Johnson from his managerial job and replaced him with former shortstop Bud Harrelson. Although he led them to a good finish in 1990 (Strawberry's last with the Mets, as he went on to sign with the Dodgers in the offseason), the Mets fell to 5th place in 1991. Before the 1991 season the Mets signed Vince Coleman to a $2 million contract after failing to sign defending batting champion Willie McGee. This was the first of what would lead to many bad free agent signings and trades that would doom the Mets during the mid-1990s.
1991–1993: The Worst Team Money Could Buy
During the 1991 season, the Mets were actually in contention for most of the first half of the season, closing to within 2.5 games of the front-running Pirates at one point. However, during the second half, the bottom completely fell out and Harrelson was fired with a week left to go in the season, replaced by third base coach Mike Cubbage for the final games. Jefferies was once again a distraction as he released a controversial statement to be read on WFAN radio: "When a pitcher is having trouble getting players out, when a hitter is having trouble hitting, or when a player makes an error, I try to support them in whatever way I can. I don't run to the media to belittle them or to draw more attention to their difficult times. I can only hope that one day those teammates who have found it convenient to criticize me will realize that we are all in this together. If only we can concentrate more on the games, rather than complaining and bickering and pointing fingers, we would all be better off."
This was seen as the end for Jefferies in New York as he would be traded to the Kansas City Royals in the offseason. The season ended on a high note, however, as David Cone pitched a one-hit shutout against the Phillies at Veterans Stadium, in which he struck out 19 batters, tying the National League regulation game record (first set by former Met Tom Seaver).
With all of the personal problems swirling around the Mets after the 1986 championship, the Mets tried to rebuild using experienced superstars. They picked up Eddie Murray for over $3 million, Bobby Bonilla for over $6 million. They also traded McReynolds and Jeffries for one-time World Series hero Bret Saberhagen and his $3 million contract, along with signing veteran free agent pitcher Frank Tanana for $1.5 million. The rebuilding was supported by the slogan, "Hardball Is Back".
The experiment of building a team via free agency quickly flopped as Saberhagen and Coleman were soon injured and spent more time on the disabled list than on the field, and Bonilla exhibited unprofessional behavior towards members of the press, once threatening a reporter by saying, "I'll show you The Bronx" . At the beginning of the 1991 season, Coleman, Gooden and outfielder Daryl Boston were named in an alleged sexual abuse incident against a woman near the Mets' spring training facility; charges were later dropped. Meanwhile, popular pitcher David Cone was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays during the 1992 season for Ryan Thompson and Jeff Kent. While the move was widely criticized by fans of both teams, the Jays went on to win the 1992 World Series. Their descent was chronicled by the book The Worst Team Money Could Buy: The Collapse Of The New York Mets (ISBN 0-8032-7822-5) by Mets beat writers Bob Klapisch and John Harper.
The lowest point of the experiment was the 1993 season when the Mets lost 103 games. In April of that year, Coleman accidentally hit Gooden's shoulder with a golf club while practicing his swing. In July, Saberhagen threw a firecracker under a table near reporters. Their young pitching prospect Anthony Young started the '93 season at 0–13 and his overall streak of 27 straight losses over two years set a new record. After Young's record-setting loss, Coleman threw a firecracker out of the team bus window and injured three people resulting in felony charges that effectively ended his Mets career; the Mets placed him on paid administrative leave for the remainder of the season, and announced less than a month before the end of the season that he would never play for them again. Only a few days later, Saberhagen was in trouble again, this time for spraying bleach at three reporters. The meltdown season resulted in the worst record for a Mets team since 1965. In addition, two of the three remaining links to the '86 team, Howard Johnson and Sid Fernandez, departed after the season via free agency.
1994 strike-shortened season
The following season was filled with some bright spots, but there was still trouble for the franchise, and for the team's franchise player. Gooden, who had a 3–4 record with a 6.31 ERA in the final year of his contract with the team, shocked not only New York sports fans, but baseball fans around the country by testing positive for cocaine and was suspended by Major League Baseball for 60 days. Shortly after he began serving his suspension for the positive drug test, it was announced that he had again tested positive for cocaine and was now being suspended by Major League Baseball for one year, thus ending his Mets career and nearly his life. The day after receiving the second suspension, Gooden's then-wife, Monica, found him in his bedroom with a loaded gun to his head.
Still, the 1994 season saw some promise for the troubled Mets, as first baseman Rico Brogna and second baseman Jeff Kent became fan favorites with their solid glove work and potential 20–25 home run power, Bonilla started to become the player the Mets expected, and a healthy Saberhagen, along with promising young starter Bobby Jones and John Franco, helped the Mets pitching staff along. In the strike-shortened 1994 season the Mets were in 3rd place behind first-place Montreal and Atlanta when the season ended on August 12.
When the strike finally ended in 1995, the Mets finally showed some promise again, finishing in 2nd place (but still 6 games under .500) behind eventual World Series champion Atlanta.
The 1995 season marked the emergence of pitchers Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen, and Paul Wilson. The trio were dubbed Generation K, a group of talented young hurlers who were destined to bring the Mets into greatness, much like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan did in the 1960s. However, all three players succumbed to injury, preventing them from reaching their full potential. Of the three of them, only Isringhausen would accomplish much of significance in the majors, but as a reliever, eventually reaching 300 career saves.
The Mets dismal 1996 season was highlighted by the play of switch hitting catcher Todd Hundley breaking the Major League Baseball single season record for home runs hit by catcher with 41. Center fielder Lance Johnson set single-season franchise records in hits (227), triples (21), at bats (682), runs scored (117). Johnson's 21 triples also led the National League, the highest amount by an NL player since 1930.
In 1997, they missed the playoffs by only four games, and improved by 17 wins from 1996. On June 16, the Mets beat the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the first ever regular-season game played between the crosstown rivals 6–0. Mets starter Dave Mlicki pitched a complete game shutout to pick up the win. In 1997, Hundley's great season was derailed by a devastating elbow injury and required Tommy John surgery.
Also, during the season, on April 15, the Mets hosted ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers before their game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Shea Stadium. During the ceremonies, Robinson's jersey number, 42, was retired by Major League Baseball. The Mets won the game 5-0.
1998–2004: Piazza, the Subway Series and 9/11
The Mets season in 1998 began with an unforgettable opening day game at Shea Stadium on March 31 against their division rival Philadelphia Phillies, marking the first time that a regular season baseball game was played in New York in March. Both of them were involved in the longest scoreless opening day game in the National League and the longest one in the MLB since 1926 when the Washington Senators beat the Philadelphia Athletics 1-0 in 15 innings. The Mets won the game 1-0 in 14 innings when backup catcher Alberto Castillo delivered a full-count, two-out, pinch-hit single to right with the bases loaded off Philadelphia closer Ricky Bottalico.
During the season, the Mets acquired Mike Piazza in a blockbuster trade that immediately brought star power and credibility to the Mets that had been lacking in recent years.
After the Piazza trade, the Mets played well, but missed the 1998 postseason by only one game. With five games left in the season, the Mets could not win a single game against both the Montreal Expos at home and the Atlanta Braves on the road. Following the 1998 season the Mets re-signed Mike Piazza to a seven-year, $91 million contract, the Mets traded Todd Hundley to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Trades netted the Mets Roger Cedeño, Armando Benítez, and the Mets signed free agents Robin Ventura, Rickey Henderson, and Bobby Bonilla.
The Mets started the 1999 season well, going 17–9, but after an eight-game losing streak, including the last two to the New York Yankees, the Mets fired their entire coaching staff except for manager Bobby Valentine. The Mets, in front of a national audience on Sunday Night Baseball, beat the New York Yankees 7–2 in the turning point of the 1999 season. Both Mike Piazza and Robin Ventura had MVP-type seasons and Benny Agbayani emerged as an important role player. It was a breakout year for Mets second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo and Roger Cedeño, who broke the single season steals record for the Mets.
After the regular season ended, the Mets played a one game playoff against the Cincinnati Reds, Al Leiter pitched the best game of his Met career as he hurled a two-hit complete-game shutout to advance the Mets to the playoffs. In the NLDS, the Mets defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 3 games to 1. The series-clinching victory included a walk-off home run by backup catcher Todd Pratt. The Mets would lose however in the 1999 National League Championship Series to the Atlanta Braves, in six exciting games which included the famous Grand Slam Single by Robin Ventura to win game 5 for the Mets. The Mets were at one point down 3–0 in the series.
In the 1999 offseason, the Mets traded Roger Cedeño and Octavio Dotel to the Houston Astros for Derek Bell and Mike Hampton. Todd Zeile was signed to play first base, replacing departing free agent John Olerud.
The 2000 season began well for the Mets as Derek Bell became the best hitter on the team for the first month. The highlight of the season came on June 30 when the Mets beat the rival Atlanta Braves in a memorable game at Shea Stadium on Fireworks Night. With the Mets losing 8–1 to begin the bottom of the eighth, they rallied back with two outs to tie the game, capping the 10-run inning with Mike Piazza's three run home run to put the Mets up 11–8, giving them the lead and eventually the win. The Mets easily made the playoffs winning the National League wild card. In the playoffs, the Mets beat the San Francisco Giants in the first round and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2000 National League Championship Series to win their fourth NL pennant. Mike Hampton was named the NLCS MVP for his two scoreless starts in the series as the Mets headed to the 2000 World Series to face their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees. The Mets were defeated in the much-hyped "Subway Series." This marked the first all-New York World Series since 1956, when the Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers. With the Cardinals sweeping the Braves in their NLDS series, it made the Mets' run to the World Series much easier, given that the Braves eliminated the Mets from the playoffs and/or playoff contention in 1998 and 1999.
The most memorable moment of the 2000 World Series occurred during the first inning of Game 2 at Yankee Stadium. Piazza fouled off a pitch which shattered his bat, sending a piece of the barrel toward the pitcher's mound. Pitcher Roger Clemens seized the piece and hurled it in the direction of Piazza as the catcher trotted to first base, benches briefly cleared before the game was resumed with no ejections. In July 2000, Clemens had knocked Piazza unconscious with a fastball to the helmet, Piazza had previously enjoyed great success against Clemens, with 3 crucial home runs in previous encounters.
In 2001, the Mets finished with a record of 82–80. After the September 11th terrorist attacks Shea Stadium was used as a relief center and then saw the first sporting event in New York City since the attacks, in a game vs. the Atlanta Braves on September 21. Before the game the FDNY, EMT, NYPD, and all rescue workers were honored, Diana Ross sang "God Bless America", the two teams shook hands to show that they were united in the face of tragedy, and Liza Minnelli sang "New York, New York" during the 7th inning stretch. In the bottom of the 8th inning the Mets were trailing 2–1 when Mike Piazza came to bat with a runner on first. Piazza dramatically sent Shea into a frenzy by crushing a home run to give the Mets a 3–2 lead and the eventual win. The game is considered to be one of the greatest moments in the history of the franchise. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Mets, as well as other teams in the league, wore Red Cross, FDNY,NYPD and PAPD hats. Unlike the other teams, the Mets wore these for the rest of the year, despite threats of fines by Major League Baseball.
In the following seasons, the Mets struggled mightily as the result of several poor player acquisitions, including Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, and re-acquiring former Mets Roger Cedeño and Jeromy Burnitz. These acquisitions were made by then-general manager Steve Phillips, who was fired during the 2003 season. Phillips was credited with building the 2000 World Series team, but also blamed for the demise of the Mets' farm system and the poor play of the acquired players. The Mets did have a few bright spots in 2002. Al Leiter became the first major league pitcher to defeat all thirty major league teams with a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, the Mets posted a 75–86 record, last in the NL East.
The team's 2002 difficulties reached off the field as co-owners Wilpon and Doubleday became embroiled in a bitter legal dispute over Wilpon's attempt to buy Doubleday's half of the team. Doubleday alleged that Major League Baseball attached an unrealistically low value to the team, thereby lowering the amount of money he would receive from Wilpon in the buyout. Wilpon sued Doubleday in federal court to force the sale. The purchase was finally settled and Wilpon became sole owner of the Mets on August 23, 2002. Wilpon, the founder of Sterling Equities, Inc., manages the Mets through his limited partnership firm, Sterling Mets.
The Mets' record in 2003 (66–95) was the fourth worst in baseball, and Piazza had missed two-thirds of the season with a torn groin muscle. His steady decline around that time mirrored the Mets' fortunes for the first half of the decade. José Reyes also made his debut on June 10, 2003.
In 2004, the Mets made more poor player acquisitions including signing Japanese shortstop Kazuo Matsui, who never lived up to his potential in two-and-a-half years with the Mets. General manager Jim Duquette acquired pitcher Kris Benson for third baseman Ty Wigginton at the trade deadline just before one of the worst trades in franchise history, sending highly touted pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for the disappointing Víctor Zambrano. On July 21, 2004, the Mets brought up third baseman David Wright. Since then, Wright and Jose Reyes have become the most outstanding products of the Mets' farm system since Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. Nonetheless, The Mets finished 71–91 in 2004.
2005–2010: Minaya, collapse, Citi Field and injuries
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After the 2004 season, Mets ownership made significant changes to their management strategy. With their television contract with the Cablevision expiring at the end of 2005, they announced plans to establish their own cable network to broadcast Mets games. This investment in what became known as SportsNet New York was coupled with an aggressive plan to upgrade the performance of the team on the field. Jim Duquette was replaced as general manager by former Expos GM Omar Minaya. Minaya, an ex-Mets assistant GM, had achieved notable success in Montreal by making bold player moves on a limited budget. With the Mets, Minaya was given substantial financial resources to develop a winning team.
Minaya began by hiring Yankee bench coach Willie Randolph as manager, then signed two of that year's most sought-after free agents — Pedro Martínez and Carlos Beltrán — to large multi-year deals. Despite an 0–5 start to the season, the team finished 83–79, finishing above the .500 mark for the first time since 2001. The 2005 season was also the last by Mike Piazza in a Mets uniform.
In 2006, led by a franchise record six All-Stars (Beltran, Lo Duca, Reyes, Wright, Tom Glavine, and Martínez), the Mets won the division title, their first in 18 years. In a runaway similar to 1986, the Mets led the division from April 6 on, and only spent one day out of first the whole season. The Mets finished the season 12 games ahead of the Phillies, and with the best record in the National League. The turning point for the season was a 9–1 June road trip. The 2006 season was also the first time that the Mets and Yankees each won their respective divisions in the same year and both teams tied for the best record in baseball.
The Mets swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2006 National League Division Series. In the 2006 National League Championship Series, the Mets lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, the eventual 2006 World Series champions. Game 7 featured one of the most spectacular plays in postseason history when left fielder Endy Chávez leaped over the 8-foot (2.4 m)-high left field wall in the top of the sixth inning and caught the ball with the tip of his glove to rob Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen of a two-run home run. Chávez then threw to the cutoff man second baseman José Valentín, who threw to Carlos Delgado at first base, doubling off center fielder Jim Edmonds for an inning-ending double play. Chávez's effort was in vain, however, as Yadier Molina's two-run home run in the ninth off of Aaron Heilman gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead and Carlos Beltrán took a curve ball from Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright for a called third strike in the bottom of the inning to end the Mets season.
After their success in 2006, there were high expectations for the Mets in 2007, and they started the season strong. The Mets then had a 7 game lead in the division with 17 games to go. The Mets, however, would lose 12 of their final 17 games enabling the Philadelphia Phillies to win the NL East by one game. The Mets were eliminated on the final day of the season as Tom Glavine allowed 7 runs to the Florida Marlins and only got through 1/3 of an inning in his final start as a Met. The Mets became the first team in baseball history to blow a lead of seven or more games with only 17 games to play.
In the 2007 offseason the team acquired two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Carlos Gómez and minor-league pitchers Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey.
The 2008 season marked the final season at Shea Stadium, the team's home for 45 years. Throughout the first half of the season, the Mets struggled, playing .500. On June 16, Omar Minaya fired Willie Randolph, Rick Peterson, and Tom Nieto. Jerry Manuel was named interim manager. The Mets improved under Manuel, highlighted by a 10-game winning streak in July. In September the Mets had 3.5 game divisional lead over the Philadelphia Phillies with 17 games left to play. However, the Mets lost 10 of their final 17 games. The Phillies went 13–4 during the same stretch and won the division (the Phillies went on to win the World Series). The Mets still remained in the NL Wild Card with the Milwaukee Brewers but on September 28, the final game played at Shea Stadium, the Mets were eliminated from playoff contention by losing to the Florida Marlins on the season's final day for the second straight season.
2009 season: Citi Field and the season of injuries
To improve the bullpen for the 2009 season, which was arguably the reason the Mets missed the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, the Mets signed free agent closer Francisco Rodríguez, who established a single-season major league record for saves (62) as a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2008. They also acquired setup man J. J. Putz from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for several players.
The 2009 season was the Mets' first season at Citi Field, a retropark following current architectural trends in stadium design. It follows the brick and steel-truss trend begun by the Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992. The exterior facade resembles Ebbets Field, former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Mets' first exhibition game at Citi Field was played on April 3, 2009 against the Boston Red Sox. The first regular season home game was on April 13, 2009 against the San Diego Padres, who spoiled the opener with a 6–5 win against the Mets. In that game, Jody Gerut of the Padres became the first player to open a new ballpark with a leadoff home run. On April 17, Gary Sheffield, who just days earlier was signed by the Mets as a free agent, hit his 500th home run against the Milwaukee Brewers. Sheffield became the first pinch hitter to reach this milestone, as well as the first to do it in a Mets uniform.
The 2009 season for the Mets was marred by numerous injuries suffered by its players, with 20 of them having been on the disabled list at one point or another during the season and losing star (and also replacement) players like J. J. Putz, John Maine, Óliver Pérez, José Reyes, Carlos Beltrán, David Wright, Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana, and Gary Sheffield. As a result, the Mets finished in fourth place, with a record of 70–92 and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the third straight season. Mets players spent more than 1,480 days in the disabled list in 2009, more than any other team in the majors. However, second-half turnarounds of Jeff Francoeur and Daniel Murphy helped the Mets finish the season with the best batting average in the National League, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Coming into 2010, the Mets were looking for a comeback after a sluggish 2009 season full of injuries. In their biggest acquisition of the offseason, the Mets signed outfielder Jason Bay to a four year, $66 million deal with a vesting option for a fifth year. David Wright came into training camp heavier because of muscle he built up during the winter. The Mets brought in Gary Matthews, Jr. to start in place of Carlos Beltrán because of Beltran's surgery in February 2010.
The team won their first game of the season, beating the Florida Marlins by a score of 7-1 on April 5. On April 17, 2010, the Mets beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2–1 in 20 innings. This was the fourth game of at least 20 innings in Mets history, but their first win. On April 28, the Mets defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-3 to complete a 9-1 homestand, tying a franchise record reached by the 1969 and 1988 teams. The Mets had two eight-game winning streaks in the first half of the season, but started the second half with a 2-9 West Coast road trip. They would never recover, finishing the season at 79-83, losing the final game of the season 2-1 to the Washington Nationals when Óliver Pérez hit one batter, then walked the next three to force home the winning run in the top of the 14th inning.
2011–present: Alderson and a new direction
After the 2010 season, the Mets announced that they declined to exercise an option on manager Jerry Manuel and relieved Omar Minaya of his duties. The Mets hired former Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres executive Sandy Alderson to be their new general manager and was formally introduced on Friday, October 29, 2010. On November 23, 2010, Alderson hired Terry Collins to replace Manuel as manager.
In 2011, the Mets had their third straight losing season at 77–85. During the season, the Mets made history in 2011 when Jason Isringhausen converted his 300th save with the team, the third player in franchise history to reach the milestone while with the organization behind John Franco and Billy Wagner. Also, José Reyes became the first Met in franchise history to win a National League batting title with .337 batting average, winning it on the final day of the season after a bunt single and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers going 0 for 4.
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