To paraphrase one of Eric Idleâ€™s more sarcastic Monty Python moments, anotherÂ season has come to an end, alas, too soon.
Unlike the situation after the sinking of the ill-fated Titanic, there are in fact enough lifeboats to carry every survivor of the wreck known as the 2009 Mets to the shores of another season. Whether this will be a good thing most definitely remains to be seen.
The early â€˜60s teams had little hope, as without free agency and rampant player movement, one could not build/buy a championship team in the rapid fashion of, say, the 1997 Marlins or 2001 Diamondbacks. Back then, player development and wise trades were the way it was done, and fortunately for the fans of those early years, this culminated in the legends of 1969.
The later â€˜70s and early â€˜80s teams were the result of basically deliberate mismanagement, as finances were the coin of the realm during those dark years, not winning or even being competitive.
The Art Howe years were the nadir of recent Met history (well, until now), with a team filled with youngsters who did not reach their promise, and veterans who simply did not have enough left.
So, when one picks through the detritus of franchise history, I think 2009 would have to stand sheepishly alongside the 1987 and 1993 teams as perhaps the three most disappointing years in Met history, albeit for far different reasons.
I think most Met fans had taken on some of the arrogance of the team after 1986. How often does a manager say he â€œexpects to dominateâ€ and then do exactly that from the outset? The â€™86 team started off 20â€”4 and coasted for five months. They then showed their ability to play the greatest clutch ball in franchise history, winning a pair of Game 6s for the ages.
Most of the team returned in â€™87, minus Knight and Mitchell, but with HoJo and McReynolds more than capably filling in. The offense largely duplicated the â€™86 squadâ€™s excellent performance, but the rampant injuries to the pitching staff were the teamâ€™s Achilles heel. Doc, Sid, and Aggie missed significant time, and Bobby O only threw 46 innings. These four arms, along with the healthy Darling, were certainly the backbone of the â€™86 champs. The team was 10 games out on July 22, but most definitely never gave up.
They roared back, aided by stretches of 10-1 and 10-2, and sat 1.5 games behind the Cards when the Redbirds visited Shea for a 3 game series in the second week of September. Game 1 saw the Mets up 4-1 in the top of the 9th, with Doc and Cone scheduled for the next two days. I think just about everyone felt that we were going to sweep the Cards, be 1.5 games up on Sunday night, and not stop until back-to-back championships had been achieved.
Terry Pendleton came up against Roger McDowell and hit a three-run homer to tie the game in that 9th inning, and the feeling of horror was literally palpable. I remember watching while in college in Vermont, and, unlike Tom Glavine, I was devastated. The Cards beat Jesse in the 10th, shelled Doc the next day, and after we salvaged Sundayâ€™s game, we sat at 2.5 back, but would never get closer than 1.5 again.
Then came 1988 and Orel Hershiser, followed by a decade out of the playoffs. Sciosciaâ€™s 9th inning homer off of Doc the next year in the NLCS was brutal, as were Molinaâ€™s homer off of Heilman in â€˜06, and Helmsâ€™ off of Schoeneweis last year. But for me personally, that Pendleton homer was the worst, as it really seemed to, in one swing, end a summer of watching the team steadily climb out of a 10-game hole, and instantly end the chance of repeating the glory of 1986.
The 1992 Mets lost 90 games, but had talent, and a decent mix of youth and veterans. It was hoped that Doc, Sid, Saberhagen, HoJo, and Vince Coleman would have better years in â€˜93, that Hundley, Kent, and Ryan Thompson would blossom, that Eddie Murray would provide veteran leadership, and that Bonilla would finally prove worthy of his gigantic free agent deal.
Fans old enough to remember will be given a moment here to stop laughing and/or wretching at the previous paragraph.
1993 saw a litany of off-field horrors that would vie with the overall on-field disaster in a very impressive competition to see whether this group was worse on the field or off of it.
Expectations certainly were not as high as 1987, but the group was expected to contend, and instead started off 8-14, and were an amazing 23-52 on July 1. Their only winning month was October (3-0), thanks to a sweep of the expansion Marlins.
WeÂ saw Bonilla threaten writer Bob Klapisch in the clubhouse. Bonilla called the press box to complain about scoring, and also later admitted wearing earplugs to drown out booing at Shea. This from the 30-million dollar man who had said at his signing that no one could â€œwipe the smile off my face.â€
Bret Saberhagen threw bleach at reporters in the clubhouse. Eddie Murray was incredibly surly, as far from a veteran leader as one could imagine, and he aggressively criticized then-Met broadcaster Tim McCarver for his completely justified lambasting of the teamâ€™s horrid play.
My personal favorite was Vince Coleman, he of the â€œDonâ€™t know no Jackie Robinsonâ€ quote. In a vehicle exiting Dodger Stadium, Coleman threw fireworks from the moving car, which exploded amidst several people, including a child.
Anthony Youngâ€™s 1-16 year was perhapsÂ the statisticÂ most representative of this team, but it really was the teamâ€™s fault more than AYâ€™s. His stats overall were in no way as bad as his record indicated, and unlike his more famous teammates, Young was a hard-worker and a class guy.
Not much more has to be said about 1993, except that it had 1987â€™s disappointment without the hope and huge expectations, and it had 2009â€™s disappointment, but withÂ awful and embarrassingÂ individualsÂ tarnishing the uniforms.
Coleman and Murray were gone in 1994, and Dallas Greenâ€™s first full year brought order to the team, which finished the strike-abbreviated â€™94 campaign at 55-58, a massive improvement over the disaster of 1993. The team would remain decidedly mediocre until Bobby Valentine helped lead it back to respectability with an 88-win 1997.
Ultimately, while 1987 may have been the most disappointing season considering the (very reasonable) expectations, I would still rank 1993 as the worst year in team history, while placing 2009 as the second worst. The 1993 group did not have the talent and thus the expectations of 2009, but neither did they have the injuries. However, they were a group of obnoxious, rude, apathetic, and childish players whose 103 losses are the most of any Met team since the first four years of the franchiseâ€™s existence. But the 1962-65 Mets were lovable. The â€™93 group was as revolting when they werenâ€™t losing as when they were.
After missing the postseason by one game the last two years, and seemingly totally fixing the disastrous bullpen last winter, many folks reasonably expected serious contention, if not a deep postseason run, from this yearâ€™s group. Some questioned the offense, some questioned the rotation, but ultimately, all of these debates were rendered irrelevant by the unprecedented injuries. Three of the top four starters, the setup man, the first baseman, the shortstop, and the center fielder all missed significant time, and the third baseman was seriously beaned. This toll makes the 1987 pitching injuries pale by comparison.
Perhaps this was somewhat caused by players being out of shape, maybe the oversized Met WBC contingent did not have enough time to properly prepare, or there could be some validity to the argument that the current medical and training staff does not have the capabilities needed to treat athletes at this level. In all likelihood, the situation is a combination of all of these factors.
For longtime and younger fans alike, 2009 was truly horrid, easily one of the most disappointing years in team history, especially from the all-star break onward. Despite shockingly sloppy play, the team did manage to stay in the hunt longer than could have been expected, but by August, the shorthanded roster took its toll, and the team sunk to the sad level where it finished.
Regardless, other than the strange saga of Tony Bernazard, we did not witness anything similar to the disturbing incidents which were commonplace in 1993.
Hence, the Met Misery Cup must still be possessed by the group from 1993 for at least another year. Like hockey champs, when they get together, Bonilla can wield the cup over his head and threaten nearby reporters, Murray can refuse to speak with anyone in the vicinity not proffering a check, Saberhagen can fill the cup with bleach, and Vince Coleman can pour it over the heads of some kids seeking autographs.
When looking at the overall picture–expectations, on-field play, off-field behavior, attitude, and accomplishments–congratulations must be offered to the 1993 group, still the very worst team in Met history.