After losing their first eight Opening Day games, an extreme unto itself, the Mets have mastered Opening Day games like no other franchise. Their Lazarus gun-lap performance in 1973 and their unbecoming crash at the end of the 2007 season were historic. The franchise neither pitches no-hitters nor brings home MVP hardware, and only one man has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame based primarily on his accomplishments as a Met. But of course, he, Tom Seaver, received the strongest mandate ever. Who knew The Franchise was an extremist?
As they mark their 50th anniversary of their first home game Friday, the Mets have yet to produce a season of moderation; they never have had a .500 record. And when they came closest -- their record was 82-79 in 1973 -- they finished one victory shy of a World Series championship.
Amazin'! And amazin' isn't too far from extreme.
It was their first manager who characterized them as "amazin'" which begged the question, "Amazin' at what?" A half-century later, the assessment made by Charles Dillon Stengel goes undisputed. "Amazin' at everything," was how Tug McGraw saw it, an extreme view, if you will.
Stengel, himself, was an extremist, the game's greatest character -- a standing confirmed during his 3 1/2-year tenure with the team he single-handedly marketed as "Metsies, Metsies, Metsies." Casey was extremely successful with the Yankees and extremely unsuccessful with the fledging Mets, but extremely intelligent, captivating and funny with both New York teams. The Old Perfessor is eternal, and eternal isn't far from amazin' either.
The Mets gave Nolan Ryan his start and twice employed Dave Kingman, the Mark Reynolds of his time. Has the game produced a pitcher of greater extremes (most strikeouts and most walks, lethal fastball and serial-killer curve) than Ryan? Kingman was the embodiment of all or nothing at all -- distant home runs into the dark beyond Shea Stadium or strikeouts by the score.
And to bring such matters up to date, Jon Rauch, hired to pitch from the Mets' bullpen this season, is the tallest player in big league history. (He also may have more square acreage covered by tattoos than any other player, past or present.) All that's missing from the Mets' nth degree resumé is a pinch-hit at-bat by Eddie Gaedel, Bill Veeck's Lilliputian attraction, and the surname Saltalamacchia, the longest ever in the game. They did employ Doug Mientkiewicz though. And Joe Foy and Jae Seo are merely one letter longer than Ed Ott.
All of it -- the best and worst, the longest and loudest, the strangest and strongest, the weirdest and wildest, and yes, the most amazin' -- has created an image that flies best in the city of extremes. New York embraces the superlative, positive or negative, as no other market. It revels in being the biggest and baddest, richest and coolest, most crowded, most diverse and most narcoleptic. It is the damndest place, isn't it?
The city's most favored suffix is est, three letters that, by the way, make up a good portion of the word Mets. Amazin'!
In a mere half-century, far less than half the life of the National League, the Mets have created a distinct and powerful image. They began as "the people's team" and never have relinquished that title. In many ways, their uniqueness came from the people. The stands of the Polo Grounds, their first home, created "Let's Go Mets" and made the daily and nightly summer get-togethers games of chants. No other franchise has had anything like it.
The Mets have an extremely creative fan base. The club created Banner Day, resurrected this year. But it was the people who first brought painted bed sheets to the ballpark to express support, affection, humor and, occasionally, angst. The K Corner -- not to mention its many wonderful derivations -- had its genesis in the upper deck in left field at Shea Stadium when Dwight Gooden was doing for K what Zorro had done for Z. Would Philadelphia have given birth to the (Randy) "Wolf Pack" if Shea Stadium hadn't first been a meeting place for the (David) Coneheads?
The Mets are a 50-year-old franchise with roots that seem significantly deeper. Their first game came shortly after Glenn's three orbits and Wilt's 100 points, but their birth seemed to coincide more with Lindbergh's flight and Babe's 60. They have played more games in Queens than the Dodgers played in Ebbets Field or the Giants played in the 46-year incarnation of the fifth Polo Grounds.
They were classmates of the Astros, nee Colt .45s, products of the first round of NL expansion. They are markedly more accomplished than the Texas team that will jump to the American League next year with more no-hitters and NL MVP Awards, but more than likely, with merely one pennant and not a single miracle or parade down the Canyon of Heroes.
The Mets are extremely deceiving as well. For a franchise with an overall losing record, they are quite accomplished. Since the year of their inception, they have produced three 100-victory seasons. Among NL franchises, only the Braves and Cardinals have more in that period. Only the Reds, Phillies and Giants have as many. The Mets have participated in the postseason in five straight decades and have eight years left to extend the streak to six. That may qualify them as odd or extremely consistent.
They were the first 10th-place team in NL history (the second, third, fourth and sixth as well). In 1969, as the first expansion team to win a pennant and a World Series, they also were winners of the first NL playoff series.
The terms '62 Mets and '69 Mets are touchstone phrases in the national lexicon like '57 Chevy, the Seven Dwarfs and the '68 Democratic Convention, evocative pairings of numbers and nouns. No team without a championship has so strong an identity as the Mets of 50 years ago. They carried the flag for haplessness. The '86 team, somewhat less iconic despite its grand success, left distinct footprints in our memories as well.
The Mets played 45 years at Shea, the first of the cookie-cutter parks and the first big league ballpark to want to hold the hand of rock and roll. It remains the only arena to host a perfect game (Jim Bunning, 1964) and an Imperfect Game (Seaver five years later). Extremely rare.
When LaGuardia's jets took off, usually during batting practice and the first two innings, Shea was the loudest place in the game. When the ball passed through Bill Buckner's legs, it was even louder. Jesse Orosco established a postseason record there -- for highest glove toss following the final out of 1986. Before the lighting was improved in 2003, Bill James determined that Shea was the darkest park in the big leagues and attributed some of the Mets pitchers' strikeout totals to that. Darkest is an extreme.
Once Shea had the worst drainage and the oddest wind currents. Even Willie Mays identified center field at Shea as the most challenging center in the NL. Worse than Candlestick! That definitely is an extreme.
Such are the broad strokes of what began as the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club Inc. and now is
Sterling Mets, LP.
The fine strokes are the men and occasional adolescents -- 918 through Thursday -- who have attired themselves in uniforms of orange and blue, the colors the Mets borrowed respectively from the Giants and Dodgers after they fled for the West Coast. A most colorful bunch, for sure -- from Casey to Collins, from Terrific to Marvelous, from Yogi to Yates and Tommie to Tug, from Le Grand Orange to Red Murph and from the Hammer to Nails. From Kid to Kong, from Darryl, Doc and Darling to Davey, David and the Dude. From Mex and Maz to Montanez and Matlack, from Izzy to Ishii and Pulse and Piazza. And from Franco to Franco and Franco.
The Mets' all-time roster is filled with characters and calamities, All-Stars and all thumbs, students and occasional studs, darlings and dunces -- many of them extremists. On what other franchise's all-time roster might you find Keith Hernandez, defender nonpareil at first base, and Dr. Strangeglove, Dick Stuart? What other club has employed 6-foot-8, 315-pound Frank Howard and 5-foot-6, 157-pound Matt Galante to do the same job: coach third base? The Mets had Jerry Grote, grumpy to the max, and eternally happy Gary Carter as catchers.
The Mets have given us extremely versatile Kevin Mitchell, extremely volatile Carl Everett and extremely virile Kevin Elster. Super Joe McEwing was extremely polite, and El Duque was extremely old. Cliff Floyd was extremely cool, Butch Huskey extremely wide. Marvelous Marv was extremely clumsy, Bobby Ojeda extremely lucky -- twice. Brian Bannister was extremely bright and John Olerud extremely dry. Cleon and Agee were extremely tight. Maz wore his uniform pants extremely tight, Derek Bell wore his extremely baggy. John Pacella lost his cap extremely often.
Seaver was extremely successful. Anthony Young found the opposite extreme.
And Lenny Dykstra was extremely extreme.