There is a consensus among baseball experts that the 1962 Mets were the worst team to ever step onto a baseball field. One look at their 40-120 record, which caused them to finish sixty and a half games out of first place that year, makes it obvious that the 1962 Mets were one bad ball club. Just what was it that made the 1962 Mets the poster boys for abject failure in the national pastime? Much of it was due to the fact that when the 1962 Mets were put together through an expansion draft, their management decided to stock the roster with castoffs and has-beens that had been former Giants, Dodgers, and Yankees, in an attempt to appeal to the public’s sense of nostalgia. Not a good idea.
The Giants and Dodgers had headed west out of New York in the late Fifties, leaving the Big Apple with only one team when they had had three for over 50 years. This void was filled because of the plan by a New York attorney named William Shea. Shea was in the process of founding a new league, with the plan to put a team in New York and in seven other cities around the nation. Major League Baseball reached a compromise with the Continental League, allowing for the formation of four new teams; two in the American League and a pair in the National League. The Continental League then went away before it ever played a game. The 1962 Mets were born, as were the Houston Colt .45s, the team that would become the Astros by the end of the decade. In the American League, the California Angels and the Washington Senators were added in 1961; the original Senators had just relocated to Minnesota and had become the Twins.
The 1962 Mets did draft some players who were accomplished major leaguers. Richie Ashburn, the former Phillie who would gain entrance into baseball’s Hall of Fame, was one of the 1962 Mets. So was Frank Thomas, a slugging outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Roger Craig, a former Brooklyn Dodger, became the ace of the staff for the 1962 Mets, but as you will see, his team leading victory total is not the first thing you notice when you look at his record.
At the plate, the 1962 Mets were dismal. They had a team batting average that ranked last in the National League at .240. Only the other expansion team, Houston, scored less runs than the 1962 Mets did. Only the Cubs struck out more than the 1962 Mets and New York was last in the league in hits and doubles. The 1962 Mets did have some power bats in their lineup, as they out-homered four other NL squads.
Frank Thomas had by far the best year of any hitter on the 1962 Mets. He hit .266, with 34 home runs and 94 RBI, which is amazing considering the lack of talent around him. Thomas, who knocked in over 70 runs in a season 8 times and over 100 runs twice, had his last good year for the 1962 Mets. Without him, it is conceivable that the 1962 Mets could have lost even more contests. Richie Ashburn, who had won a pair of batting titles as a Phillies’ outfielder, actually hit .306 for the 1962 Mets, playing in 135 games. Ashburn wisely made his year with the 1962 Mets his last in baseball, retiring after the season at the age of 35.
Jim Hickman also played in the 1962 Mets outfield, contributing 13 home runs and 46 RBI. Hickman stayed with the Mets until 1967; in one of the strange statistical oddities that you can find in baseball, Jim Hickman knocked in 115 runs for the 1970 Chicago Cubs. His previous high had been 57, and his next best year after that was 64! Alongside Hickman in the 1962 Mets outfield, which was vast considering they played their home games in the Polo Grounds where the centerfield fence was over 500 feet away, were Thomas and Ashburn. This was not a Gold Glove outfield that the 1962 Mets had on their hands, as this trio committed 22 errors between them.
Compared to the fielding and hitting of the infielders, the outfield of the 1962 Mets was far superior. At first base was “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, a former Yankees’ back-up who hit 16 home runs but also made 17 errors at first in only 116 games. Marv had come to the 1962 Mets from the Orioles, and was out of baseball by 1964. Gil Hodges, the former Dodger great, backed up Throneberry, but he was 38 and 3 years removed form his last good season. However, Gil Hodges would lead the 1969 Mets to their improbable World Series triumph over Baltimore as their manager.
Second base was manned by Charlie Neal and Rod Kanehl, who combined to make 35 errors at the keystone. The pair did have 15 home runs and 85 runs batted in as a twosome, but their glove work was abominable. Both would be gone from the game of baseball within two years. Over at shortstop, the 1962 Mets had Elio Chacon. Elio hit .236 with 27 RBI; he also made 22 errors and his 118 games as a 1962 Mets shortstop were his last in the sport. When Charlie Neal wasn’t booting the ball at second, he would back Chacon up at short, where he kicked 12 more. Charlie did not discriminate, as he made 3 miscues at third in 12 games. The regular third baseman was Felix Mantilla, a former Milwaukee Brave who actually batted a respectable .275, with 11 homers and almost 60 RBI. But when Felix wasn’t at third, his replacements, including former Dodger player and future big league manager Don Zimmer, made 25 errors in his absence. The 1962 Mets infield was incredibly consistent, committing 39 errors at third and second, 38 at short, and 28 at first.
The catchers for the 1962 Mets were Chris Cannizzaro, who failed to hit a home run in 59 games and knocked in just 9 runs, and Sammy Taylor, who hit .214. Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman caught in 44 games for the 1962 Mets; in 462 major league at bats he hit a grand total of 9 homers. After a rare 1962 Mets victory, “Choo Choo” was asked his wife’s name. He responded, “Mrs. Coleman.”
The 1962 Mets catching corps did not have to worry about actually catching the pitches thrown their way, as many of them never reached their mitts. The 1962 Mets had 4, count ’em, 4 pitchers who lost 17 or more games. Staff “ace” Roger Craig, who had been somewhat successful as a Dodger, led the 1962 Mets with 10 wins. He lost 24. It was the most losses in one season in all of baseball since Ben Cantwell lost 25 for the 1935 Boston Braves, and only Jack Fisher, a member of the 1964 Mets, has equaled that mark since. To prove he was not a one year wonder, Craig would go 5-22 the next year. Craig had 13 complete games among his 33 starts for the 1962 Mets, and his innings pitched to hits allowed ratio was right about where the rest of the hurlers’ were. As a team, the 1962 Mets gave up 1,577 hits, the most in the National League. It is not surprising then that the mound corps was last in the league in ERA at 5.04, saves with only 10, runs allowed at 948, and homers given up, 192.
Craig was not alone in losing 20 games for the 1962 Mets, as Al Jackson, who cleverly left baseball before he could lose 100 games, with a 67-99 record, went 8-20. Jay Hook avoided 20 losses, but just barely as he went a wretched 8-19. Hook had managed to lose18 for the Reds two years earlier. Filling out the starting rotation that went 27-75 was Bob Miller, who posted a 1-12 season. Bob pitched one year with New York, and if you take away his 1962 Mets effort he has a winning lifetime record. Alas, that can’t be done.
Craig Anderson was the main relief for the 1962 Mets, which would be like drinking Tabasco sauce to relieve heartburn. He managed to lose 17 games, winning 3 and saving 4 by accident. He started 14 games, completing a couple. Ray Daviault chose 1962 to pitch his only year in the bigs, going 1-5 out of the bullpen with a 6.22 ERA. The 1962 Mets pitching staff could not stop hitters, and they couldn’t help their own causes either. Only Hook resembled a hitter at the plate, batting over .200. God knows he did not resemble a pitcher.
Presiding over this mess was none other than former Yankees’ manager Casey Stengel, who was coaxed out of retirement. Hopefully it was worth it for the “Old Professor”. His antics and quotes deflected attention from how bad this crew really was, but the people of New York were so happy to have a team back in the National League that the fans cut them a lot of slack. One quote from Stengel sums up his year at the helm of the 1962 Mets. “Don’t cut my throat; I may want to do that myself later.”
Only the 1899 Cleveland Spiders lost more games than the 1962 Mets, but they had taken their team apart, not put one together. The 1962 Mets’ opener was April 10th in St. Louis. The game was rained out, perhaps a sign from above that the 1962 Mets shouldn’t be taking the field. Ever.