The topic was the 1962 Mets, the first Mets, Casey's Mets, the ones who perfected the gaffe, the ones who made us laugh and made themselves lovable by playing the game as poorly as it can be played. Or markedly worse. Stengel was providing insights as he slipped into uniform No. 37 and into the past.
"When you've done something people notice, you should want to keep it," he said as he discussed the record the Mets had achieved in their debut season. "My team was exceptional at finding ways to lose. You've got to think we found them all probably. You could say maybe we ought to get something for that."
Best as anyone could determine that afternoon, Stengel had expressed a hope that those sorry Mets would retain the distinction they had created in the first season of National League expansion. They had lost more games, 120, than any team. They were the best at being worst. And it seemed he had suggested the men responsible for record failure should embrace what they had done, if not revel in it.
Did they deserve that distinction? It was, after all, Stengel who, following the 160th and final game, said, "I couldn't have done it without my players."
Stengel spoke some 28 years before the 2003 Tigers seriously tested the Mets' previously unchallenged inferiority, some 35 years before the 2010 Orioles began the season at 23-52.
And now what? How should they feel now? Should a warning be issued? "The Orioles are coming. The Orioles are coming. The Orioles are losing."
The O's are chasing those Mets -- doing so as they move in reverse, of course. Their season is six games short of its midpoint, and they have already amassed 50 losses. Their losses numbered 50 before their victories reached 20. They already face a deficit of 24 games in the American League East. The Mets' standing could be in trouble, and some of them may find that troubling.
From time to time since 1962, some of Casey's soldiers have beamed, pushed out their chests and said, "Yep, that was us." They were comfortable sharing anecdotes about losing nine times before winning once, about losing 17 consecutive games and then, after a run of 26 losses in 37 games, enduring another streak, this one of 11 defeats. They shared tales of Marvelous Marv and Hot Rod Kanehl and the Old Man, Stengel, and the fan who wondered whether the Mets had, in fact, won after he learned they had scored 19 runs in a game. Stories about those Mets never required embellishment.
Proud of losing 120 games in a season? No, not really. But comfortable with being remembered? Sure, why not?
"We've lived with it this long," Kanehl said months before his passing in 2004. "What's the difference now? We were a pretty awful team. At least we'll be remembered."
So it is with some trepidation that some of his surviving temmates may view the current Orioles, a team that seemingly has too many thumbs and stubbed toes.
"That [Mets] team has a place in history," said Don Zimmer, who briefly had a place on that team.
* * *
Al Jackson was 26 years old in 1962 when his chance to pitch regularly came. He produced an 8-20 record and 3.97 ERA, the lowest by any qualifying Mets pitcher. He pitched the team's only four shutouts that season.
"We had a better chance when we shut 'em out," he said. "But you never knew. If any team could have lost a shutout, it was us."
Jackson still loves to talk about the monster home run Willie McCovey hit against him when he was pitching for the Cardinals.
"Nothing embarrassing about giving one up to Stretch. He hit 'em off everyone," Jackson said. "But losing 120 times was different. It was every day. And I'd never been with a losing team in my life.
"You'd wake up in the morning and say, 'We've got a chance tonight.' But you'd just be lying. We had no chance. It was dreadful what we went through. How could you wish that some other team suffered like we did?
"I know the Orioles are going through a tough time, but I don't think they can keep up with what we did. ... I don't want to hang onto [the distinction] necessarily. But I wouldn't wish it on anyone else. That was hard. It was misery."
|"I know the Orioles are going through a tough time, but I don't think they can keep up with what we did. ... I don't want to hang onto [the distinction] necessarily. But I wouldn't wish it on anyone else."|
|-- Al Jackson, who pitched four shutouts for the 1962 Mets|
"The team was bad. But the memories are good," Roger Craig said seven summers ago when the Tigers threatened to wrest away the Mets' distinction.
"Some of the guys, I think, want to hang on to it," Craig said. "It's like a pitcher who gives up a real long home run or a historic one. And he wants to be remembered it. He wants to be remembered for something."
Craig served as the Tigers' pitching coach in the early 1980s, but in '62, he was a refugee of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. He led the Mets in victories with 10 and innings with 233 1/3 and the league in losses with 24.
Long after he was gone from Detroit, the 2003 Tigers won five of their final six games to sidestep history and leave Stengel's Amazin's alone on the bottom of the New York, New York heap. The Tigers won three more games than the 1962 Mets, and they lost one fewer. Casey's team lost two others -- to rain.
"They probably would have won those two. Don't ya think?" Zimmer said through a smile a few years back. He was the Mets' Opening Day third baseman in 1962. But he was gone, traded to the Reds, 20 games -- and 16 losses -- into the season. He was batting .077 at the time.
"I did my share for the Old Man while I was there," Zimmer said. "Without me, they might have lost only 118."
Any members of the 1962 team who hope to retain the distinction can hold their uniformed descendants somewhat responsible for the developing jeopardy. The current Mets added three losses to the Orioles' record on June 11-13 during a three-game weekend series in Baltimore. Indeed, when the Mets bid farewell to Camden Yards, they left the Birds with a 17-46 record. Casey's Mets had the identical record after they lost their 63rd game, the first game of a doubleheader sweep by the Braves on June 20.
Keeping pace with the 1962 Mets will be a daunting challenge for the Orioles. By the time those Mets played their 63rd game, they were well past the 17 straight losses that left them 24 games behind after 48 games. But they had the 11-game losing streak in July and a 13-game streak in August. That left them 65 games under .500 and 50 1/2 games from first place. And they lost 17 of their final 22 games.
They finished in 10th place, 60 games behind the first-place Giants and 18 games behind the ninth-place Cubs. And Casey called them Amazin' before any of it.
With the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox playing well and the Blue Jays winning more than expected, the O's could lose fewer games than Casey's team but finish further from first place.
"For their sake," Jackson said, "I hope the Orioles win some and spare themselves the misery we had."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less