Fandom is often a thankless hobby that can be either enjoyable and rewarding, or painful and torturous. Being a fan means much more than simply owning merchandise from a sports team and hoping really hard that they win as frequently as possible. To be a true fan, a “diehard” as they say, one’s mood must truly hinge entirely on the success of their team. That success, both on and off the field, has the amazing capability to affect a fan’s day to day life, causing joy and excitement or frustration and anguish. Most teams tend to give their fans a fair ratio of joy and agony. One team however has become somewhat notable for their ability to break the hearts of their fans. This team, the New York Mets, have transformed from world beaters to clowns in 22 months. But first, let’s take a look at the history of humiliation that the Mets franchise has to its name.
In the year of their inception, the New York Mets were the definition of pathetic. Losing more games in a season than any team in MLB history, the Mets were a laughing stock. The first Mets game ever scheduled, perhaps a poor omen for the team’s future, was rained out. When they finally played their first game, with runners on first and third for the opposition, Mets pitcher Roger Craig dropped the ball for a balk, allowing the first run ever scored against the Mets to do so in embarrassing fashion. The 1962 Mets ended up with a win-loss record of 40-120, the most losses ever by a team in an MLB season. While the team was a complete and utter failure on the field, they were able to capitalize on the Brooklyn Dodger and New York Giant fans that had been abandoned when the two teams moved to California. In one of the best examples of the hilarity that was the 1962 Mets, first baseman “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry was caught day dreaming while playing in the field, and let a pick-off throw sail into right field while the winning run scored.
Despite fielding the worst team in modern MLB history, the Mets were able to acquire a substantial amount of young talent through the MLB draft and otherwise. Acquiring young prospects such as Jerry Koosman, Tom Seaver, and Jerry Grote, the Mets actually began to show signs that they may eventually be a winning team. However, the team may well have foregone an even greater level of talent when they drafted catcher Steve Chilcott as the first overall pick in the amateur draft. Chilcott became the first ever #1 overall draft pick to retire before ever playing a game in the Major Leagues. The second pick in that draft was Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
However, despite their propensity for losing, the New York Mets won a World Series in 1969. By combining young stars Seaver, Koosman, Jerry Grote, and others with the veteran leadership from players like Donn Clendenon, and Don Cardwell. The team, which had an incredibly high level of talent, played average baseball for much of the year, but managed to overcome a 10 game Chicago Cubs lead in mid-September. Following this up with a sweep of the powerhouse Atlanta Braves in the first ever NLCS, and a 5 game series win over the highly favored Baltimore Orioles, the Mets had actually put their losing ways in the past, and become the winners that New York fans could truly root for. However, it would be just 10 years later, original owner Joan Payson passed away, and left the team to her husband. Unfortunately, Ms. Payson’s family had no interest in baseball, and left baseball operations in charge of then Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant. Grant, however, never became known for turning the team into winners. He became known for one thing, for trading away homegrown star and future hall of famer Tom Seaver.
One thing the Mets have done repeatedly over the course of their history is trade away young and talented pitchers. Nolan Ryan, one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history was in just his second season when the Mets won the 1969 World Series. He was just a reliever for that team, and could never manage to consistently find the strike zone. Frustrated by his lack of command, the Mets dealt him to the California Angels for 6 time all-star Jim Fregosi…who never once made an all star team with the Mets. In 1979, because of a supposed contract dispute, M. Donald Grant traded away Tom Seaver, the ace of the Mets 1969 World Series Championship team, for a group of mediocre players, in what became known as the Midnight Massacre. Even as recently as 2004, the Mets traded away highly touted pitching prospect Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, a pitcher who wound up pitching in only 39 games for the Mets. In hindsight, Ryan became the all time MLB leader in strikeouts and threw 7 no hitters. Seaver was one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation and received the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes of any player in history. Kazmir has become the ace of a young Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff, and makes Mets fans shudder at the mention of his name to this day.
Finally, in the mid 1980’s, the Mets seemed to finally have a team that would win, and win consistently for years to come. With veteran stars such as Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez, and young talent such as Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, the Mets appeared to be set as the team to beat for years. They ran away with the National League in 1986 en route to a World Series Championship. However, that team never fell apart. Between the drug addiction that ruined the careers of both Strawberry and Gooden, and the inability of the team to play up to their ability, the team never again made it to the World Series, eventually giving way to a team of mediocrity that New York had come to expect.
In 1999, the Mets were a playoff contender again. Their season came down to a one game playoff against the Cincinnati Reds, with the winner going on to the postseason. The Mets won the game, and advanced to play the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS. After a Todd Pratt series clinching Home Run, the Mets seemed to have momentum on their sides facing the Atlanta Braves, a long time rival, in the NLCS. After falling behind 3 games to 0, they forced a Game 6, thanks to a dramatic Grand Slam by Robin Ventura(where he was stopped before reaching 2nd base, later coining the term Grand Slam Single), the Mets fought valiantly, taking the Braves to extra innings in Game 6. However, in excruciating fashion, Kenny Rogers walked in the series ending run, ending the Mets dreams of reaching the World Series against the cross-town rival New York Yankees.
In 2000, the Mets got their wish. Going up against those same Yankees in the World Series, albeit with a far inferior team, fans had hope that they might finally gain bragging rights over the Yankee dynasty, if only they could pull of this one upset. However, Yankee superstar (and alleged steroid user) Roger Clemens created a spectacle in game 2 by throwing a shard from a broken bat at Mets star Mike Piazza. 3 games later, despite having ended the Yankees all time record 14 game World Series winning streak, as well as handing Orlando Hernandez (previously 8-0) his first ever postseason loss, the Mets bowed out quietly, as their star, Piazza, hit a fly ball that appeared to be headed for the stands settled quietly into the glove of Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams. With just a whimper, the Mets had allowed the Yankees to maintain their supremacy, allowing Yankees fans to forever torment Mets fans with the memory of a loss in such a special series.
In the mid 2000’s, the Mets attempted to use the Yankees’ strategy of paying huge amounts of money for aging superstars, hoping that success similar to that the Yankees had seen would come with it. However, after acquiring past all-stars such as Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, and Jeromy Burnitz, none of them played a role in a single Mets playoff game, resulting in 6 years of high priced mediocrity. The one thing that no Mets fan realized was that these teams, with low expectations, would at the very least be unable to break their hearts. The years that would follow have been filled with little more than despair and dejection.
In 2006, the Mets seemed to be destined to win at least a National League pennant, if not the World Series. They had young superstars in Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. They had veteran leadership in Cliff Floyd, Carlos Delgado, and Tom Glavine. Through the regular season they ran roughshod over the entire league, winning the division by more than 10 games. After sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, they were taken to the limit by the Saint Louis Cardinals. After not playing nearly as well as they had all year, the Mets rebounded from a series deficit and forced a game 7 to be played at home in Shea Stadium. In what was a very close game, the Mets played their hearts out. Mets outfielder Endy Chavez made one of the most spectacular plays in MLB history to rob Scott Rolen of a homerun, and every Mets fan in New York truly believed that their team was undoubtedly going to follow that up by scoring a run or two, and shutting down the Cardinals en route to the World Series. However, the Mets bats went to sleep. Disgruntled reliever Aaron Heilman surrendered a homerun to Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, and despite loading the bases in the bottom of the 9th, Carlos Beltran watched a called strike three end his team’s season, breaking the hearts of every Mets fan, who moments before had believed they were destined to be champions.
In 2007, the Mets hoped they could build on their playoff experience from 2006. They finished the month of May with a 4 ½ game lead, and it seemed as though they would once again run away from the pack en route to the playoffs. As the calendar turned to June however, the Mets began slumping, losing six straight series against teams with winning records, the last four series part of a stretch of 18 straight games against 2006 playoff teams, facing the Tigers, Dodgers, Yankees, Twins, Athletics, and Cardinals, becoming the first team in MLB history to play six consecutive series against six different teams that made the playoffs the previous season. This stretch started poorly for the Mets, as they lost 9 out of 12 to the Tigers, Dodgers, Yankees, and Twins. However, they turned it around and won 5 out of 6 against the Athletics and Cardinals to finish this stretch. The Mets entered the All-Star break with 48 wins and 39 losses, with a slim lead over the second-place Atlanta Braves. However, despite playing basically .500 baseball through much of the second half of the season, the Mets held a 7 game lead with 17 games remaining. Down the stretch, the Mets played poorly including losing five out of six games with the fourth-place Washington Nationals. They lost on September 28th to fall into second place for the first time in over four months but pulled back into a tie with Philadelphia on September 29th. On September 30th, the Mets faced the Florida Marlins with hopes of winning the NL East or at least forcing a one-game playoff. Unfortunately, Tom Glavine surrendered 7 runs in the first inning as the Mets fell 8-1. The Phillies capped their miraculous comeback with a 6-1 victory over the Washington Nationals to win the National League East. The 2007 Mets collapse is arguably one of the worst in baseball history, and has been compared to "the Phold" of 1964, where the Phillies lost a 6.5 game lead in the last twelve games. Having completed one of the biggest collapses in the history of Major League Baseball, Mets fans were in a state of complete and utter shock.
2008 was supposed to be the big year for the Mets. They had acquired arguably the best pitcher in the MLB, Johan Santana. They had the majority of the team that had been in contention for the playoffs in 2006 and 2007 still on board. And on top of all that, they had additional motivation, with the imminent closing of the stadium they called home, Shea Stadium, at the end of the season. However, nearly halfway through the season with a win-loss record of just 34-35, the Mets created a fiasco by firing manager Willie Randolph after the first game of a California road trip, at 3 am EST nonetheless. For days, the Mets were a laughingstock, for their inability to reasonably handle such a situation. While many agreed that Randolph should be fired, the way that the move was handled portrayed the organization in a negative light, and cast a shadow over the team. Once new manager Jerry Manuel took over, the team went on a 49-25 run, players who had struggled like Carlos Delgado were suddenly swinging hot bats, and the team had a 3.5 game lead over the Phillies with just 17 games remaining, but they again choked down the stretch, leading to another early offseason. By far the most obvious weakness of the team was the bullpen, which blew 29 games for the Mets. Amazingly, had baseball games been played over only 8 innings, the Mets would have won the division by 12 games, rather than losing the division by 2.5 games. Another choke had left many fans so disappointed that they threatened to never again root for a team with such a propensity for traumatic failure. This despair was only made worse when the Philadelphia Phillies, the team that Mets fans hated so much, that had just knocked the Mets out of a playoff spot again, won the World Series, the prize that Mets fans had thought would be theirs for 3 straight seasons.
2009 is a season that seems to have just begun. However, upon a closer look the Mets have found even newer and more disastrous ways to lose games and cause their fans distress. Through just 3 months of the season, the Mets have lost 9 starting players to the disabled list. Amazingly, for most of this time, the Mets had managed to stay in relative competition. However, as the injuries have begun to pile up, and the ugly losses mount, the team has begun to wear thin to the point of being plain pathetic. A game against the Dodgers in May was lost when Ryan Church managed to miss touching third base while scoring the go ahead run. Then, in the bottom of the inning, the Mets committed three errors, allowing the Dodgers to win. Another game, this one against the Yankees, was supposed to be a key win, as the Mets held an 8-7 lead in the bottom of the 9th inning. There were 2 outs, and the Mets, after having scored a run against the invincible Mariano Rivera, appeared to have won when the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez popped up to shallow right field. However, in typical Mets fashion, Luis Castillo botched the easy play, allowing 2 runs to score and the Mets to lose. This game, described by many as “the worst regular season loss [I’ve] ever seen”, began a poor stretch of play where the Mets have just been unable to even play solid fundamental baseball, culminating just the other night when the Mets, trailing the Yankees by just one run, managed to walk in a run, with Yankees closer Mariano Rivera (who had 2 career at bats before this game) at bat, blowing any hope of coming back to win, and losing ground on the division leading Phillies, falling to just 37-38, an even worse record than what had caused previous manager Willie Randolph to lose his job. It is at this point in the season, having lost 13 of 21 games that many Mets fans including myself are beginning to put this history of failure together, and wondering just why our beloved Mets cannot seem to win.
Curse. It’s a dangerous word to use in sports. Curses are said to dictate the reasons why certain teams, such as the Cubs and Red Sox just can’t win. The difference, however, between the Cubs and Red Sox(pre-2004), and the 2009 Mets is that the Mets have gone just 23 years without winning a championship. However, if you look at the overall track record, the Mets have won just 2 World Series Championships in 47 seasons. They have lost young superstars to stupid trades, and drug habits. They have blown seemingly insurmountable division leads, and allowed opponents to overcome long odds to beat them at almost every turn. So, just what is it that is keeping the Mets from winning? It’s not a lack of talent, as they have one of the highest payrolls and some of the most talented players in the MLB. It’s not a lack of desire, as players like David Wright and Jose Reyes play with such large amounts of passion; it’s difficult to imagine that they don’t want to win. Which may leave the Mets with just one reason for their extended suffering, a string of bad luck. While it seems way too dramatic to consider the Mets franchise cursed, there’s no denying that an extended string of misfortune has fallen upon the team. The team’s misfortune however has caused a significant amount of their (lesser) fans to abandon the team they root for. By managing to find such soul-crushing ways to lose, the Mets have tortured their fans for nearly all of their 47 years of existence. It would be an exaggeration to say that the team is cursed, but there’s no denying the pain that the team’s failures have caused their fans. Fans have begun to fear the worst, to abandon the team when they most need support, and sadly enough, to long for the days where we at least knew how bad the team was. To long for the days with no expectations. Because at least then, they never broke our hearts.