In 1962, the Mets were conceived in laughter, with a roster made up of castoffs from other clubs and a front man, Casey Stengel, who at that point of his life and career was more of a standup comic than a field manager.
Nobody expected the ‚Äô62 Mets to win many games, and they lived up to the billing, losing 120 times that inaugural season, a benchmark for futility that still stands nearly six decades later.
But it was OK, because the tickets cost between $1.20 and $3.00 at the rickety old Polo Grounds, the first baseman was Marv Throneberry, snarkily nicknamed ‚ÄúMarvelous,‚Äô‚Äô and they had a backup catcher named Harry Chiti, who was acquired mid-season for a player to be named later. At the end of the season, they sent him back.
And with the Dodgers and Giants having abandoned the city five years earlier, everyone was just happy to have a National League team again.
It was all fun and games back then. For four seasons, Casey went on soliloquies that everyone laughed at but no one in his right mind could follow. Throneberry dropped baseballs. Jimmy Piersal hit his 100th home run as a Met and circled the bases running backwards. Struggling to make conversation with a laconic player on the postgame show, Ralph Kiner asked Choo-Choo Coleman, the starting catcher in 1963, ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs your wife‚Äôs name and what‚Äôs she like?‚Äô‚Äô
‚ÄúHer name‚Äôs Mrs. Coleman and she likes me, bub,‚Äô‚Äô came the response.
They called those Mets “The Amazins” for a reason. They were a riot. These Mets are a mess.
¬†Fifty-six years later, people are still laughing at the Mets, but the joke is no longer funny.
This weekend alone, the Mets gave away their closer, Jeurys Familia, for a couple of minor-leaguers no one has ever mistaken for Gleyber Torres. It was a straight salary dump with nothing much expected in return.
Their stud starting pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, went on the disabled list with hoof, foot and mouth disease, which sounds like something Groucho Marx treated as shady veterninarian Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush in ‚ÄúA Day at the Races.‚Äô‚Äô
And the player expected to carry their offense, Yoenis Cespedes, returned from a two-month stay on the DL with a hip injury, played one game, and promptly disappeared again, suffering from sore heels. The rookie manager, Mickey Callaway, was as surprised to hear about this from a reporter at the post-game press conference as Dan Coats was to learn that Donald Trump had invited Vladimir Putin to tea in the Rose Garden.
And who can ever forget the night last season when their ever-affable mascot, Mr. Met, flipped the bird to some fans as he left the ballpark after another loss?
If this were still 1962 and the tickets still cost a couple of bucks, this all might still be funny.
But it‚Äôs not. The Mets, like all Major League Baseball teams, are now big business. In April, Forbes valued the franchise at $2.1 billion and according to Cots Baseball Contracts, their payroll stands at $150 million, not far behind the Yankees $166 million. There is no longer any excuse for the Mets to be fielding a comedy act dressed as a baseball team.
But that is precisely what the Wilpons, father Fred and son Jeff, sole owners of the team since 2002, have been trying to fob off on you. Over those 16+ seasons, the Mets‚Äô record is 1,309-1,377. They have had six winning seasons, including a trip to the World Series in 2015 and to the NLCS in 2006.
And they started this season with 11 wins in their first 12 games, which turned out to be the cruelest kind of tease. Then again, any true Mets fan knew in April that it was way too good to be true. They have been so bad since that shocking start that even if they win 11 of their next 12 games, they will still be six games under .500.
Somehow, the Wilpons have managed to convince their fan base that such futility is to be expected, because, after all, they play in the small market of Flushing, Queens and can‚Äôt be expected to compete with that big bad evil empire that enjoys the bounty of that megalopolis in the Bronx.
And Mets fans being Mets fans are conditioned to expect that any good fortune falling upon their team is sure to be followed by utter catastrophe.
So it is that Syndergaard, who was doing a good deed over the All-Star break, visiting kids at a baseball camp, came away with a rather unpleasant illness that will sideline him for at least 10 days.
And Cespedes, who homered in Friday night‚Äôs 7-5 win over the much-hated and much-envied Yankees in his first game back since May 13, is once again on the shelf indefinitely.
If nothing else, Cespedes is keeping alive another great Mets tradition. He continues a decades-long streak of free-agent signings that have cost the Mets a bundle and netted them precisely nothing in return.
That list includes the likes of Jason Bay, who hit .234 with 26 home runs in parts of three seasons while collecting more than $60 million in Wilpon Bucks.
It includes Vince Coleman, the ‚Äúhighlight‚Äô‚Äô of whose three seasons as a Met was when he nearly maimed a two-year-old girl with a carelessly tossed M-80.
It includes Kaz Matsui, who came over from Japan with the reputation of a power hitter but managed just 11 home runs in three seasons as a Met, prompting manager Bobby Valentine to observe wryly, ‚ÄúThey sent me the wrong Matsui.‚Äô‚Äô
It includes Oliver Perez, who signed a three-year, $36 million deal ‚Äď and won all of three games over the next two seasons. And it includes Bobby Bonilla, the poster child for terrible free agent deals, who the Mets will be paying until 2035.
Cespedes was unable to play in Sunday‚Äôs finale of the three-game Subway Series against the Yankees, which was just as well, since an evening rainstorm washed out the game, which was rescheduled for August 13.
But with the brilliant Jacob deGrom scheduled to pitch Sunday night, the postponement also cost the Mets a chance to win their first series in more than a month.
If this was 56 years ago, such a turn of events might even be funny.
But there’s nothing Amazin’ about the 2018 Mets. Appalling is more like it.