By Glen Sparks
New York Mets starter Jerry Koosman fired the first pitch to St. Louis Cardinals lead-off batter Lou Brock at 8:11 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 1974, at Shea Stadium in Flushing, N.Y.
Seven hours and four minutes later, at 3:15 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 12, Redbird reliever Sonny Siebert struck out the Mets’ Jon Milner to end this 25-inning marathon.
The Cards knocked off the Mets 4-3. Only one National League game has ever lasted more innings than this one. The Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves played to a 1-1 tie over 26 innings on May 1, 1920, at Braves Field. (In the American League, the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers endured a 26-inning battle on May 8-9, 1984, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.)
The Cards-Mets contest ended not on a dramatic home run blasted deep into the New York night, or a ringing double ripped to the wall with a man on second. No, St. Louis speedster Bake McBride, from Fulton, Mo., scored the winning run following a single and two New York errors. Well, it was time to go home, anyway. Though, Cardinals outfielder Reggie Smith warned his teammates: “There’s no way that your wives are going to believe you guys were out playing baseball all night.” Just one more wild night in the Big Apple.
New York sent 103 men to the plate, an all-time record; St. Louis sent 99. The teams compiled 175 at-bats and hit a collective .194. That puny batting average doesn’t tell the entire story, though. The pitchers gave up 19 walks, but they stranded 45 runners, another record.
Each team scored a run in the first inning. The Cardinals’ Joe Torre rapped a single to left-field that brought in Ted Sizemore, who had walked with one out and advanced to second after Koosman also walked Smith. New York tied the game 1-1 following Milner’s RBI double off Cardinals starter Bob Forsch. Cleon Jones, safe on a force out, sprinted home.
Jones, a 32-year-old veteran outfielder, made it 3-1 in the fifth inning. He blasted a two-run homer off Forsch. Ken Reitz added a two-run home run of his own, off Koosman, in the top of the ninth. That round-tripper ended the scoring for the next 15 innings.
St. Louis skipper Red Schoendienst called on six pitchers to provide 19 innings of outstanding relief. Claude Osteen, a veteran lefty near the end of his career, came into the game with one out in the 14th for St. Louis and hurled 9.1 scoreless innings. Mets manager Yogi Berra called on five relief pitchers. Jerry Cram tossed eight innings of shutout baseball.
Sizemore went 1-for-10 for St. Louis, Brock 1-for-9. Both McBride and Reitz enjoyed 4-for-10 games. Among New York hitters, Milan went 4-for-10 and Jones ended up 3-for-9. Light-hitting shortstop Bud Harrelson put up an 0-for-7 goose egg. No one, though, suffered though this epic clash quite like Wayne Garrett did. The infielder failed get a hit in any of his 10 at-bats (He did draw a first-inning walk, though.)
Each team had its chances. The Mets loaded the bases with two outs in the 23rd, for instance. Jones, though, flied out. Both teams loaded the bases in the 24, but could not score.
Berra sent in Webb to pitch the 25th. The New York native was making his first appearance of ’74 and the ninth of his career. McBride led off the final frame with his base hit. Then, he nearly got thrown out. Webb’s pick-off attempt, though, sailed into right field; McBride rushed to second and kept going.
Milner, the New York first baseman, ran to the ball and threw it home as McBride rounded third. Mets catcher Ron Hodges caught the toss, but dropped it before he could apply a tag. And, an estimated 1,000 or so fans out of the original 13,460 watched and groaned. Siebert set the Mets down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
Following the game, the oft-quoted relief pitcher Tug McGraw (who sat this one out in the bullpen) said: “The only thing I regret now is that all the eating places are closed. I’ll have to go home and make myself a baloney sandwich.” New York, it seems, is a city that does indeed sleep.
The Cardinals improved to 75-68 with the victory. They were in second place in the National League East at that point. They’d finished the year in second, at 86-75, 1 ½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Left-fielder Brock, 35 years old, set a major-league record (since broken) with 118 stolen bases.
The Mets, coming off a National League championship season, fell to 65-75. They were in fourth place in the East and dropped to fifth by season’s end, finishing 71-91. This was the year that two-time Cy Young winner Tom Seaver pitched through an 11-11 (3.20 ERA) off-season at age 29.
Of note, St. Louis and New York played another marathon contest years later, this time at Busch Stadium. The Mets won 3-1 in 18 innings on July 19, 2015. Time of the game: 5 hours, 55 minutes. At least it didn’t go 25.
By Glen Sparks
Nolan Ryan put in some time as a paper boy while growing up in southeast Texas. That leads to all sorts of speculation.
How hard do you think young Nolan could fling a copy of the Houston Chronicle? Did he always throw the fastball, or did he like to mix in a 12-6 curveball?
Ryan started delivering newspapers at the age of eight. That was one way to build up arm strength. Supposedly, Ryan could hurl a softball 100 yards by time he was in junior high, 30 yards or so farther than any other kid in Alvin.
Not surprisingly, just a few years later, scouts crowded into Alvin High School to check out the Yellow Jackets’ right-hander. The kid went 19-3 as a senior. He pitched in 27 games and struck out 211 batters, many of whom were likely afraid for their lives.
That was in the pre-radar gun days. So, the argument began: Just how hard was this teenager throwing?
The New York Mets selected Ryan in the 12th round of the 1965 major league amateur draft, the first one ever held. So, 294 players were chosen before Ryan. What happened? The story goes that the Alvin baseball coach, upset at the team’s mental mistakes, put his players through one wind sprint after another. The next day, he told Ryan to take the mound. Still tired, the pitcher suffered through a bad day. Teams took notice; Ryan’s draft position plunged.
But, boy, did Ryan rebound to his old form. From 1965-67, he struck out 445 hitters in 291 minor-league innings. New York brought the kid with the golden right arm up to the majors in April 1968. In his first major-league start on April 14, 1968, against (appropriately enough) the Astros, Ryan tossed no-hit ball for five innings and left the game after 6.2 innings and eight strikeouts. In another early start, he struck out 14 Cincinnati Reds. The rookie was good, very good. Orlando Cepeda even declared that Ryan was the best young pitcher he’d ever seen.
Ryan spent five seasons in New York. He missed the 1967 season due to a military commitment and also suffered from finger blisters. Oh, and he walked a lot of batters. Nolan Ryan, with a fearsome fastball and no real control over it, was the very definition of an “uncomfortable at-bat.”
Over his Mets career, Ryan pitched 510 innings and struck out 493 hitters. He also gave up 344 walks. But, he only surrendered 244 hits. All that led to a 29-38 won-loss mark and a 3.58 ERA (98 ERA+). What exactly did the Mets have in Lynn Nolan Ryan? Would he ever join an outstanding Mets rotation that already included Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Gary Gentry?
In the end, the Mets decided they couldn’t control Ryan’s wild side. On Dec. 10, 1971, they sent him all the way across the country, to the California Angels, along with Frank Estrada, Don Rose and Leroy Stanton, for Jim Fregosi.
Fregosi, a six-time All-Star in Orange County, didn’t do a whole lot in Flushing, Queens. He lasted a season and a half, battled some injuries and got into just 146 games. He hit five homers and batted .233 before being shipped to the Texas Rangers.
Ryan, meanwhile, came into his own in southern California, playing just one freeway exit away from Disneyland. He made 39 starts in 1972 and finished 19-16. Over 284 innings, Ryan struck out 329 hitters. And, despite walking a league-high 157 hitters, he posted a 2.28 ERA (128 ERA+). It helped that he gave up just 166 hits.
In 1973, the Ryan Express went 21-16 with a 2.87 ERA (123 ERA+). He also struck out 383 hitters, beating Sandy Koufax’s single-season record by one and doing it Sept. 27 against the Minnesota Twins in memorable fashion. He punched out Steve Brye for No. 382 in the eighth inning. Tied 4-4 after nine innings, the game went into extra innings. Ryan fanned Rich Reese in the 11th inning for the record, and the Angels won 5-4.
On May 15, 1973, at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Ryan did what everyone probably thought he would do one day. He tossed a no-hitter. Ryan struck out 12 Royals and walked three. And, he wasn’t done.
The man with a 100 mph heater tossed a second no-hitter in 1973, on July 15 at Tiger Stadium. That time, he fanned 17 and walked four. Ryan retired after the 1993 season with seven no-nos, three more than Koufax. Ryan also threw 12 one-hitters, tied with Bob Feller for the most.
In his epic 27-year career (with the Mets, Angels, Astros and Texas Rangers), Ryan went 324-292. He struck out 5,714 batters, more than anyone in baseball history and almost 1,000 more than No. 2 Randy Johnson. (Ryan also is No. 1 on the all-time walks list with 2,795, nearly 1,000 in front of runner-up Steve Carlton.) The writers elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1999 with 98.8 percent of the vote.
He put together one of the most spectacular careers in the history of baseball.
By Glen Sparks
Happy Say Hey Day. Willie Mays, the fabled Say Hey Kid, turned 85 years old today. The Hall of Famer remains one of the greatest players in baseball history. That will never change. Talents like Willie Mays do not come along every century.
Mays played 22 seasons in the majors (1951-52, 54-73), for the Giants (both in New York and San Francisco) and, at the end, the New York Mets. He belted 660 career home runs (fifth all-time), drove in 1,903 runs (11th all-time), batted .302 with a .384 on-base percentage and made every MLB All-Star team from 1954-1973. Mays collected 3,283 hits and still ranks 11th on the all-time hits list.
“I can’t believe that Babe Ruth was a better player than Willie Mays.” – Sandy Koufax
Born in Westfield, Ala., not far from Birmingham, Mays starred in basketball and football at Fairfield Industrial School. Fairfield didn’t field a baseball squad, so Mays played on a semi-pro team, alongside his talented dad, William “Cat” Mays.
Roy Campanella, the Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, saw a 17-year-old Mays play in the Negro League World Series in 1948. Campy begged the Dodgers to sign the young man. A scouting report ended any chance of that. “The kid can’t hit the curveball,” according to the report.
The New York Giants swopped in. Mays began his big-league career by going 1-for-26 (.038). He wasn’t hitting the curveball, the fastball, anything. Soon, things began to change. Mays won the National League Rookie of the Year award in ’51. He smacked 20 home runs and batted .274 in 121 games.
Mays missed much of 1952 and all of ’53 due to military service. Then, he really began to make life miserable for opposing pitchers. The right-handed batter slugged at least 30 homers in 11 seasons and topped the 40-home run mark six times. He belted 50-plus home runs twice, in 1955 (51) and 1965 (52). Mays led the league in homers four times.
Over his career, Willie Howard Mays finished in the top six in the MVP voting 12 times, including every season from 1957-66. He even stole 338 bases and led the league four times.
He did all this, and he made all those great plays in center field, most famously against the Cleveland Indians’ Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series. Mays collected a dozen Gold Gloves, an award not given out until 1957.
Mays was, in the opinion of many, baseball’s most perfect player.
“If he could cook, I’d marry him,” – Leo Durocher
“They throw the ball, I hit it. They hit the ball, I catch it.” – Willie Mays
By Glen Sparks
The greatest 62nd round draft pick in baseball history has a date in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer.
Baseball writers voted Mike Piazza into the Hall of Fame on Jan. 6. The reception in Cooperstown for him should be large and enthusiastic. Piazza played much of his career only 200 miles away from the hallowed Hall, as a New York Met.
The former catcher will stand on an outdoor stage, near some of the game’s immortals. Tom Seaver, the HOF Mets pitcher, will surely be at the ceremony. Maybe Sandy Koufax, Johnny Bench and Hank Aaron will be there, too. Joe Morgan is a regular.
Following a speech, with the requisite stories of a boyhood dedicated to his love for the game, Mike will hoist his Hall of Fame plaque into the air. On that plaque will be a summary of his career, along with his portrait, created for baseball eternity. He’ll go into the Hall of Fame, he insists, as a Met.
He felt appreciated in the borough of Queens, he said. He felt loved.
Well, love can be a complicated thing. Surely, the Dodger fans embraced Piazza, who came up with the team in 1992 and stayed there until being traded, infamously, on May 15, 1998, to the Florida Marlins.
(Feel free to skip this paragraph. You probably already know the story. It’s mandatory to re-tell it, though, in any Mike Piazza post. Piaza grew up in suburban Philadelphia. His dad, businessman Vince Piazza, has known former Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda since childhood. Young Mike served as Dodgers batboy during the team’s stops at Veterans Stadium to play the Phillies. Later, the Dodgers drafted Mike as a favor to Tommy.)
The Mets dealt for Piazza one week after that trade to Miami. (Piazza played five games with the Marlins. Late in his career, he played one season with the San Diego Padres and one with the Oakland A’s.)
Officials from the Hall of Fame ultimately decide which cap a player’s likeness will bear on his HOF plaque. The smart bet is that Piazza will get his wish and go into the Hall as a New York Met. Loved? OK, he at least has an argument based on the numbers.
Piazza played more games with the Mets (972) than he did with the Dodgers (726). That simple fact makes his “counting” stats stronger as a Met:
RBI: Mets (655), Dodgers (563)
Hits: Mets (1,028), Dodgers (896)
Runs: Mets (532), Dodgers (443)
Piazza’s qualitative stats definitely favor his Dodger days:
Batting average: Dodgers (.331), Mets (.296)
On-base percentage: Dodgers (.394), Mets (.373)
Slugging percentage: Dodgers (.572), Mets (.542)
OPS: Dodgers (.966), Mets (.915)
OPS+: Dodgers (160), Mets (136)
This could go either way. If not for the 1994 and ’95 player strikes, the counting stats would be much closer. Clearly, Piazza was a more dangerous hitter as a Dodger. Jon Weisman in his excellent book 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die writes that “there might not have been a hitter as startling, as eye-popping, as fall-back-in-your-seats-in-amazement as Mike Piazza.”
Was Piazza like that as Met? Yes, at times. But, he did not destroy baseballs with such stunning regularity in New York as he did in L.A. On Sept. 21, 1997, he blasted a ball completely out of Dodger Stadium. (He is one of four players to accomplish that feat. The club at present also includes Willie Stargell Mark McGwire and Giancarlo Stanton. Stargell did it twice.)
Piazza acknowledges in his 2013 book Long Shot that “most of my best seasons” came while playing for the Dodgers. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1993 and finished in the top six in the MVP voting four times (twice as runner-up) in L.A. In New York, he finished in third, seventh and 13th place in the MVP vote.
In both New York and L.A., Piazza went to the postseason in two seasons. (He also went to the playoffs as a Padre.) Only while with the Mets, though, did he play in a World Series (losing in 2000 to the Yankees). Piazza also has said that playing for the Mets at the same time as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, strengthened his ties to the city. Understandable. He hit a home run against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium in the first game back after the attacks.
“It’s tough,” he said in the New York Post. “I get emotional thinking back to that moment.”
Ultimately, and maybe unfortunately, money plays a part in these things. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Piazza made just more than $19 million as a Met. He made more than $91 million as a Met. They “gave me the market-value contract that the Dodgers wouldn’t,” Piazza writes (or dictates to book author Lonnie Wheeler).
The whole contract squabble gets plenty of ink in Long Shot. Long-time Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley sold the club in March 1998 to a group led by media baron Rupert Murdoch. The Fox Group, as it was known, played hardball, as it were, with the best hitter the team had ever produced.
Fans turned on the superstar. Piazza blamed … wait for it … Vin Scully. “Scully was crushing me.”
Well, making the greatest broadcaster ever, and one much loved, into a villain, doesn’t place you onto the straightest path to sympathy. Piazza did it anyway. In any case, the ax finally fell.
“I’m with the Fishes,” Piazza, said to one teammate, according to Long Shot.
Piazza admits on Page, 343 of the book that he can be “hypersensitive.” He needs the appreciation. He needs the love. Love? After Piazza got traded, his friend Eric Karros, the Dodgers first baseman, wrote “The trade was like an earthquake. … It changed everything about the Dodgers.”
Piazza didn’t like everything about New York. He certainly didn’t like the pesky reporters, snooping around and asking a bunch of meddlesome questions about performance-enhancing drugs (PEDS) and all. He did like the fans, though. After a time. The Mets faithful, being fickle in their own way, booed Piazza plenty in his first season in Queens (even as he batted .348 and cracked 23 home runs in 109 games.)
Eventually, everyone made nice-nice. The man with the quick, violent swing (producing 427 career homers and a .318 batting average) will always be a Met. But, once, he was a Dodger.
By Glen Sparks
A Dodger scout named Tommy LaSorda drove to USC one spring day in 1965 to scout a Trojan right-hander named Tom Seaver. LaSorda liked Seaver well enough. He wrote in his report that the kid from Fresno displayed “good aptitude” and that he threw a fastball “with good life.” His already “good” curveball had the potential to get even better, LaSorda wrote. (Lasorda uses the word “good” eight times in his report. It’s a, eh, good report.)
Seaver posted a 10-2 record for USC in 1965. The Dodgers drafted him in the 10th round of the MLB draft. Seaver, who, according to LaSorda, “wants to beat you,” asked for $70,000. The pitching-rich Dodgers (Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, etc.) said “no.”
A year later, Seaver signed with the New York Mets following a convoluted mess. The Atlanta Braves had selected him in the first round of the June amateur draft. Baseball Commissioner Spike Eckert, though, ruled the contract null and void. Seaver signed the deal after USC had played a couple of exhibition games, Eckert pointed out. That violated Major League rules even though Seaver didn’t pitch in any of those games.
The Mets won Seaver’s rights in a draft lottery held soon afterward. The power pitcher with the distinct drop-and-drive delivery compiled a 311-205 won-loss record in a 20-year big league career (most memorably with the Mets, but also with the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox). He posted a 2.86 ERA (127 ERA+), struck out 3,640 batters (sixth on the all-time list) and retired with three Cy Young awards. In 1992, the baseball writers elected Seaver to the Hall of Fame with 98.84 percent of the vote, the highest percentage in history.
Below is a list of some Seaver’s career highlights. The great right-hander :
- struck out at least 200 batters for nine straight seasons (1968-76);
- led the National League in strikeouts five times and threw 61 career shutouts;
- struck out 19 consecutive Padres in one game, including the final 10;
- posted a 1.76 ERA in 1971 with 289 strikeouts;
- completes two seasons with WARs above 10 (1971 and 1973);
- helped the Miracle Mets of 1969 to a World Series title and the You Gotta Believe Mets of 1973 to an N.L. pennant;
- pitched a no-hitter June 16, 1978;
- won at least 20 games five times; and
- made 12 All-Star teams.
Bill James rated Seaver as the sixth-best pitcher of all-time in his Historical Baseball Abstract and wrote that “there is actually a good argument that Tom Seaver should be regarded as the greatest pitcher of all time.”
Happy birthday to “Tom Terrific,” born Nov. 17, 1944, in Fresno, Calif.
(I highly recommend Pat Jordan’s feature article about Seaver. This is not simply a great piece of sports journalism. It is an emotional story of two friends talking about life, success, a few failures and the pure enjoyment of growing grapes in the California sunshine.)
By Glen Sparks
The 1970 regular season ended Oct. 1, and Jim Fregosi looked like a decent Hall of Fame candidate.
Fregosi, the California Angels’ shortstop, had just completed another splendid campaign. He hit 22 home runs, drove in 82 runs and batted .278 with a .353 on-base percentage. The right-handed batter compiled a 7.7 WAR, the second highest of his career. (He put up a 7.9 in 1964). Additionally, as he did five other times in his career, he made the American League All-Star team.
Fregosi was 28 years old and a 10-year veteran, one of the great all-around athletes to come out of northern California. He earned 11 varsity letters at Serra High School in San Mateo and turned down college baseball and football offers, signing instead in 1960 with the Boston Red Sox for $20,000.
Boston sent its top prospect to Alpine, Texas, a Class D squad. Fregosi promptly made the All-Star team. Class D ball is still far away from the Majors, though. The Red Sox left Fregosi unprotected in the 1960 expansion draft, held to stock the Angels and the new Washington Senators. The Angels selected Fregosi with the 35th overall pick.
Following a bit more seasoning in the minors, Fregosi debuted with the Angels as a 19-year-old in 1961. By 1963, he was the team’s starting shortstop. By the end of 1970, he had accumulated 45.1 WAR points. He received MVP votes in each of his eight full-season campaigns, finishing as high as seventh in 1967. At 6-feet-2, 195 pounds, Fregosi combined size, speed and a competitive fire.
Truth was, though, he was also beat up and worn out. He had a sore knee, and his struggles began. In 1971, Fregosi slumped to .233. He only hit five home runs to go with 33 RBI (0.8 WAR). Late in the year, the Angels made a concession to their star player’s battered body and moved him from shortstop to left field.
Rumors picked up that Fregosi, a leader on the field, would take over as Angels manager. Instead, the club traded him to the New York Mets for pitcher Don Rose, outfielder Leroy Stanton, catcher Francisco Estrada, and a 25-year-old fireballer from Texas who couldn’t hit the backside of a beer vendor from 10 paces. Nolan Ryan.
Up to that point, Ryan had been frightening batters in the Majors for five years. He had thrown 510 innings and had 493 strikeouts. He also had issued 344 walks. Nolan Ryan didn’t know where his 100 mph fastball was going. He was scary.
Soon enough, the Ryan Express got things a bit under control. Maybe, it was because he finally got some regular work. He won 19 games for the Angels in his first season and had a 2.28 ERA. He walked 157 batters in 284 innings, but he struck out 329. The following season, he won 21 games and fanned a record 383 hitters.
Ryan won 324 games in his 27-year career. He struck out 5,714 batters. He led the league in strikeouts 10 times and K/9 ratio 12 times. The guy who had 3.0 WAR points as a Met retired with 83.8.
Fregosi, meanwhile, added just 2.8 WAR points in his final seven seasons, retiring after the 1978 campaign. He spent several seasons as a manager, including a stint with the Angels.
The trade was one-sided, of course, a slam-dunk win for California. It’s important to remember, though, how much Fregosi meant to the early days of the Angels and, later, as the team’s skipper.
By Glen Sparks
The New York Mets muddled their way through a laughably bad debut season of 1962. The Big Apple’s new National League squad, put into play after the Giants and Dodgers moved west in 1958, floundered first and quickly foundered.
By season’s end, the Mets had sunk to 40-120, 60 ½ games behind the pennant-winning San Francisco Giants. No team had finished with a sorrier record than the ’62 Mets since the Cleveland Spiders of 1899 ended the year 20-134, caught in their own web of ineptness.
Roger Craig led the ’62 Mets with 10 wins. But, he lost 24 times. Al Jackson also lost 20 games. Craig Anderson finished 3-17. If you add Jay Hook’s 8-19 mark and Bob Miller’s 1-12 record into the mix (and, at this point, why not?), the five Met hurlers with at least 14 starts finished a combined 30-92. (Some of those losses did come in relief. Still …)
Offensively, Frank Thomas, no, not the guy who just went into the Hall of Fame, was one of the lone bright spots. He hit 34 home runs and drove in 94 runs, playing half his games at the Mets’ first home ballpark, the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan. Marv Thornberry (more about him in a minute) added 16 home runs, while former Philadelphia Phillies star Richie Ashburn hit .306 in 389 at-bats. This still didn’t stop opponents from outscoring the Mets by 331 runs.
Casey Stengel managed this crew. He took the job just a few months after getting dumped by the Yankees. Casey had won seven World Series in the Bronx, with players like Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra.
With the Mets, he had Thomas, Ashburn, Craig and loose change. “Can’t anyone here play this game?” Stengel supposedly asked—pleaded?–on at least one occasion.
This may be the classic story that sums up the 1962 Mets: One time, Thornberry hit a triple. Or, so he thought. An umpire called Marv out for missing third base. Casey ambled out to argue. The second-base umpire ran over and told Casey to quit complaining. Marv missed that bag, too. (Thornberry also made 17 errors in ’62 … as a first baseman.)
Things were a little better in Houston. The Colt ‘45s, forerunner of the Astros, joined the Mets as an N.L. expansion team in 1962. The team played at Colts Stadium, a venue famous for holding both heat and humidity, welcoming vulture-sized mosquitos and offering Texas-sized hospitality to rattlesnakes that enjoyed lying in the outfield grass.
The Colt ‘45s claimed just one 20-game loser, Turk Ferrell 10-20. Of course, Turk put up an admirable 3.02 ERA (124 ERA+). So, he wasn’t half bad. Roman Mejiias, an expansion selection from the Pittsburgh Pirates, led the offense. The Cuban-born right-fielder hit 24 home runs, drive in 76 and batted .286. He put up a career-high 3.6 oWAR, remarkable because he retired with a 2.5 career oWAR over nine seasons. (That happens when you put up a season-long oWAR of 0.0 or lower six times.)
Houston actually started the year 31-36. Then, things fell apart. The Colt ’45s went 33-60 from there and finished 64-96 in ’62, good for eighth place in the N.L., 36.5 games out of first. (The Cubs at 59-103 neatly ended up in ninth place, between the Mets and Astros, 42.5 games behind San Francisco.)
So, expansion era baseball did not start well in the National League. Things were quite different when the American League grew by two teams in 1961, at least for one squad. In kicking off baseball’s expansion era, the A.L. introduced the new-look Washington Senators and the Los Angeles Angels (soon to be the California Angels, then the Anaheim Angels, then the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim).
The Angels finished a respectable 70-91 in their opening campaign. Even more impressively, they won 86 games the following year. Smartly, the team drafted young pitchers Ken McBride and Eli Grba (25 and 26 years old, respectively). Both men threw more than 200 innings in ’61 and both had an ERA+ of better than 100.
Dean Chance, another expansion-draft pick by the Angels, hit the baseball scene full-time in 1962. At age 21, he went 14-10 with a 2.96 ERA (130 ERA+). Two years later, the 6-foot-3-inch right-hander enjoyed one of the most overlooked seasons of the modern era. He finished 20-9 with a 1.65 ERA (200 ERA+) and a 9.3 WAR.
So, how did the Angels find so many good young pitchers in ’61, while the Mets were picking up 35-year-old Clem Labine and 32-year-old Roger Craig in ’62? Jack Moore writes on The Hardball Times web site that it wasn’t simply about scouting and good luck. Rather, he writes, the rules changed from one year to the next.
National owners decided they didn’t want the new clubs plucking off young pitching talent, as happened during the A.L. expansion draft. The Angels and Senators chose players from a much larger talent pool than did the Mets and Colt ‘45s.
“The new franchises were picking from the ranks of aging veterans, utility players and swingmen who would have certainly been released to make room for protected minor leaguers come December,” Moore writes.
The article is worth a look. Moore makes some good points. Things got so bad that the National League held a special draft in 1963 to help both New York and Houston. Even so, the Mets lost 100 games in five of their first seven seasons, and Houston didn’t enjoy a winning season until 1972.
Moore also shows some bias, political and otherwise. He also doesn’t mention that the Angels never really built on to their early success. The team didn’t make the playoffs until 1979 and didn’t win a World Series until 2002.
The Senators, meanwhile, playing under the same expansion rules as the Angels, flopped in their second go-round in the nation’s capital. They lost at least 100 games in their first four seasons, posted one winning season out of 11 in D.C., and played in decrepit RFK Stadium. That was more than enough. They left for the Dallas suburbs in 1972, becoming the Texas Rangers.
Maybe with those early Angels teams, it really was just a little bit of luck.