Sixty years ago this week, a huge chunk of the Mets’ origin story was born — and another fascinating sliding-door version was debated, and left alone … for the time being.
The summer of 1961 was the last time the Yankees had New York City to themselves and they were making the most of it. When players gathered in San Francisco on July 11 for the first All-Star Game (they played two from 1959-62; there was another in Boston a few weeks later) the Yankees were the talk of the sport.
Much of that focused around the M&M Boys, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, who’d combined for 62 homers at the break (33 for Maris, 29 for Mantle); both seemed like reasonable bets to make a run at Babe Ruth’s beloved record of 60 in a season. The Yankees were playing terrific ball at 53-29, but trailed the first-place Tigers by a half game.
But even as the players and the coaches and the managers migrated west, the Other New York Baseball team was making news. There, in black-and-white, in the pages of the July 10, 1961 edition of The Post was a stunning two-part headline:
METS ARE AFTER STENGEL –
AND THEN THERE’S HODGES
Now, we can fast-forward 60 years and understand what an intriguing news story that was. The Mets, after all, have only retired four numbers in their history; two of them belonged to Stengel (37) and Hodges (14).
The Post’s Leonard Schecter (a few years later he gained lasting fame as Jim Bouton’s co-author on “Ball Four”) had the story cold: George Weiss, recently named the first GM in Mets history, had gone out to the California a few days before the Midsummer Classic and taken Stengel to lunch.
Together they traveled to San Francisco where, on Tuesday night, July 11, Stengel threw out the honorary first pitch. And Weiss offered the 71-year-old Stengel the job as the Mets’ first manager. It made perfect sense. Together Weiss and Stengel had won 10 pennants and seven World Series with the Yankees from 1949 through 1960 before both men were unceremoniously dumped following the Yankees’ 1960 Series loss to Pittsburgh.
Still, 71 was 71. And Stengel was never thought be exactly be a youthful 71.
“I have time to think about it,” Stengel told Schecter, and that was that until he revealed his plan in a national magazine that September. Stengel had yearned for a chance to get back at the Yankees, and what better way than this? Of course, according to Marty Appel’s definitive bio, “Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character,” the immediate reaction of Stengel’s wife, Edna, was: “Casey, how could you? You’ve got nothing to gain and everything to lose!”
(You could argue Mrs. Stengel knew her stuff, since Ol’ Case’s final chapter as manager yielded a 175-404 record overseeing some of the sorriest baseball teams in history. Stengel, though, escaped with his reputation intact and spent the rest of his days as the Mets’ highest-profile ambassador.)
It’s the second part of that headline that’s really intriguing. Though Stengel didn’t make it official for two months, both he and Weiss figured reunion was inevitable. But what if it hadn’t been? What if the ’62 Mets had been skippered by 38-year-old Gil Hodges, who instead hit the final nine of his 370 career homers for the ’62 Mets?
Even as early as that July, it was clear the Mets were going to make it a priority to bring Hodges back to New York in the expansion draft. And, again: We know, thanks to our omniscient view of history, that when Hodges was hired to manage, after the 1967 season, it was as seismic a transaction as the Mets have ever made.
But what if he’d gotten the job five years earlier (and before establishing his own track record as a manager by leading the equally woebegone Washington Senators to five losing seasons from 1963-67)? It isn’t hard to imagine 40-120 would’ve been avoided. But those Mets were awful for a reason. Would the team have stuck by Hodges even through 600-plus losses in six years? Would he have still been around when Seaver and Koosman and Cleon and Clendenon and the rest finally showed up?
Sixty years ago this week, the Mets grabbed their first meaningful headline. It was a doozy.
Every ruling tennis player of the moment has days when they look utterly untouchable.
But I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like Novak Djokovic on a roll.
Go back and watch the video of the rookie pitcher from the Padres, Daniel Camarena, hitting the grand slam off Max Scherzer the other night. You watch that enough times you can talk yourself into believing baseball is actually Manfred-proof.
I realize it only did what a good trailer is supposed to do. But, man, after watching that two-minute preview of “The Many Saints of Newark” I am ready to jump back into Soprano-land with both feet.
Whack Back at Vac
Vito Pesce: In my book, Roger Federer was the best ever. He played tennis like it was a ballet — so smooth, so regal. Now he is clearly not what he was. He owes me or the game nothing. He has given us enough great moments. I want him to quit now, he deserves to go out with a little dignity.
Vac: When you’ve been that good at something, I can only imagine how difficult it is to say goodbye for good.
Kevin Bryant: At least companies that decrease the volume of contents in their packaging but keep the price the same do so before you buy. Rob Manfred’s coming to your home to take a percentage of the product back after you’ve already made the purchase.
Vac: It’s like the worst “Ocean’s 11” sequel ever.
@WHronis: How about Carlos Beltran as a special assistant to GM or bench coach for the Yankees? I know the scandal has hurt his reputation. But others have returned to game. Redemption?
@MikeVacc: The notion that Beltran has essentially taken the hit for the whole sport while far worse actors have been allowed back in the game is egregious. He deserves back in, and the Yankees and Mets are the two most obvious vessels.
Michael Keneski: While we all know the old saying, “Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make,” we can add in the case of the New York Mets that, “Sometimes the best free-agent acquisitions are those you don’t acquire.” Looking at you, Trevor Bauer.
Vac: That wasn’t just a bullet the Mets dodged, but the whole cavalry.