This is a collaborative effort of words, numbers (Chris & Jon DeRosa) and original artwork (Ben DeRosa) dedicated to the memory of Joseph DeRosa, our grandfather, who pretty much hated every personnel move his beloved New York Mets ever made.
In Part 1: Meet the Amazins, we covered 1966-1971, the infancy of the Mets dynasty, as they consolidated their young talent and took one huge step forward, but two minor steps backwards in seek of their first world championship.
1972 1st Place NL East
Patience paid off the next year. Yogi Berra, taking over for the late and lamented Gil Hodges, committed a rotation slot to live-armed but underachieving 25-year-old right-hander Nolan Ryan. Ryan was another one of those great deals-not-made. Rumors at the time had him nearly traded to California Angels for 30-year-old shortstop Jim Fregosi. But with bats like Jackson, Otis, and Singleton’s in the outfield, the Mets decided they could take a chance on a light-hitting infield. The slumping Cleon Jones, who never really was a first baseman, lost playing time to John “The Hammer” Milner. And Ryan broke out with 17 wins and 311 strikeouts. The Mets won 98 games, defeated the talented Reds in the NLCS, and bested the Detroit Tigers in the World Series to bring New York City its first championship in a decade. Reggie was the series MVP.
1973 1st Place NL East
Led by four stars they’d nearly traded and one they won in a lottery, the 1973 Mets won 105 games and their second consecutive championship. The only stumbling block to this juggernaut was the spirited fight put up by the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs—a series made famous by Pete Rose taking out Bud Harrelson at second base in the fifth inning of Game 3, and the fight it sparked. Furious at Rose’s apparent bullying of the smaller Harrelson, Shea fans pelted the Cincy outfielder with barrage of the free Reggie Bars passed out at the gate that day. Sparky Anderson had to pull his team off the field. Mets players begged their fans to calm down while the grounds crew quickly cleared the field of the familiar orange-and-blue-wrapped confections. The Mets and their wild fans outlasted the Reds in five games, and it was on to the World Series against the game but overmatched Oakland A’s. Reggie added another Series MVP trophy to his regular season NL MVP Award.
Of course, ‘72-73 Mets were not merely a great team. They were the great team that ran the Yankees out of New York. If the Mets had somehow let this star-studded back-to-back championship team get away from them, would George Steinbrenner have gone through with his rumored plan to renovate the original Yankee Stadium? As it was, the prospect of playing second-fiddle in Shea Stadium to the city’s #1 team was distasteful enough, and with Mayor John Lindsay wearing his Mets’ cap everywhere, the Yanks were not in a position to hold up the city for a lot of help in the Bronx. Shortly after the series, Steinbrenner announced that the Yanks would move to a state-of-the-art facility in the Meadowlands in 1976.
1974 – 1st Place NL East (tie)
The Mets seemed to be on cruise control in 1974, winning 88 games to finish in a first-place tie with Pittsburgh. They snapped into crisp form in time, however, to win the special best-of-3 playoff with the Pirates, defeat a powerful Dodger team in the NLCS and finally get their revenge on the Orioles in the World Series. The series against the Pirates, with each team wining in their last at bat at home in all three games, is known as the greatest non-postseason series of all time. The bad blood that had simmered for years of ultra-close competition boiled over as the Pirates instigated a brawl during the Mets champagne celebration. To this day, the Pirates and Mets can’t fit in a three game series without a bench-clearer. By the time the World Series rolled round, the Mets were firing on all cylinders, which many attribute to the brawl. The punchless O’s couldn’t put any rallies together against Ryan, Seaver, and Matlack’s shutdown pitching. The series sweep drew comparisons to the Orioles’ own domination of the Dodgers in ’66.
1975 – 1st Place NL East
It seemed as if the Mets could just turn it on when they had to, and the team again edged their division rival Pirates in a close race with 93 wins. But winning on muscle memory wouldn’t work against Cincinnati’s retooled Big Red Machine, who swept New York from the playoffs and from their perch as the best team in baseball. Reggie gave a thoughtful, self-critical interview to Sport magazine taking all the blame for the NLCS collapse. “I’m the straw the stirs the drink,” he ruminated. “When we lose, it’s because I stirred it bad.” Teammates and reporters praised Reggie for his leadership and he inadvertently coined his own enduring nickname: The Straw.
Coming tomorrow… The icy hand of death gropes the dynasty, but not before one last lurch at victory, in Revising a Miracle, Part 3: Bridge & Tunnel.
Win Shares from Bill James & Jim Henzler, Win Shares (2002); ersatz Met stats derived from Baseball Reference’s cool neutralized stats feature.
To see more of Ben’s artwork, check out inkstink.