There was the ‘69 Miracle, the 108-game-winning, World Series team of 1986 and quite a few other successes.
Let’s be clear about that. But there is something about the Mets that make all their off-the-wall incidents just as memorable.
This season has included Pete Alonso’s record-breaking home run performance but also Yoenis Cespedes fracturing an ankle by stepping in a hole on his ranch and the hiring of Phil Regan, a well-respected, though 82-year-old, pitching coach.
In the latest incident, Manager Mickey Callaway had harsh words for a reporter, and pitcher Jason Vargas then threatened to beat up the reporter. In the clubhouse. In front of other reporters. The next day Callaway made a non-apology and then had to go back to reporters and try again with a more unequivocal apology.
Of course, the Mets are not the only team with some dysfunctional history. The Yankees have enough Billy Martin stories to fill a sports section. Darryl Strawberry never climbed into the stands and beat up a fan with no hands, as Ty Cobb of the Tigers once did. Perhaps they are be victims of the hypercompetitive New York media market, with so many reporters and news outlets providing the brightest of spotlights.
Still, there seem to be an awful lot of, well, strange, incidents involving the Mets. .
If you don’t regularly follow them, here’s a look:
The Early Years: Trouble on the Field
The Mets joined the National League in 1962. They won just 40 games and lost 120, the most in major league history. The Cleveland Spiders of 1899 (20-134) had a worse winning percentage, and immediately went out of business. The Mets soldiered on.
Trouble started early. On Opening Day in St. Louis, the Mets went down 1-2-3 in the first. In the bottom half of the inning they gave up two runs, aided by a Roger Craig balk. Things went mostly downhill from there.
On the good side, the season produced one of the game’s classic quotations, allegedly said by Manager Casey Stengel. “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Stengel supposedly asked. It’s not clear whether Stengel actually said this.
The next year wasn’t much of an improvement, ending with a 51-111 record. At least there was a moment of comedy when Jimmy Piersall hit a home run and decided to round the bases backward.
The talents of two future Hall of Fame pitchers, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver and league championships provided saving graces in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Of course, Ryan was traded to the Angels for Jim Fregosi in 1971. Seaver was sent to the Reds for Pat Zachry in 1977. Together they won 370 games as ex-Mets.
The Middle Years: Trouble in the Clubhouse
Just a few years after the joy of the 1986 triumph, things turned sour for the Mets, who cranked out consecutive losing seasons from 1991 to 1996. Those years also produced some of the weirdest incidents.
Locker room strife dated to the supposed glory years. Darryl Strawberry took a swing at his teammate Keith Hernandez on team picture day in 1989. Fittingly perhaps, Strawberry failed to make contact.
The team’s ace was Dwight Gooden. So it was a concern in April 1993 when he hurt his shoulder. The incident took a turn for the bizarre when it emerged how the injury occurred.
It seemed outfielder Vince Coleman had a new set of golf clubs and decided to try one out. In the locker room. One locker over from Gooden. The resulting inadvertent whack meant Gooden’s start that night was canceled. Thankfully, Coleman’s swing wasn’t true, and Gooden returned the next night.
A couple months later, Coleman was back in the news when he threw a firecracker from a parked car at Dodger Stadium, leading to injuries to three fans, including a 1-year-old.
That same season, a pitcher, Bret Saberhagen, fired a water gun loaded with bleach at reporters. His excuse was that he was actually hoping to hit a Met employee. Saberhagen also tossed fireworks at reporters that season.
And it’s not hard to find plenty of verbal confrontations over the years (though this is true of many teams). Bonilla most memorably warned a reporter in 1993, “I’ll show you the Bronx.”
Before the ’90s ended, another clubhouse incident made headlines. The Mets had turned around their fortunes and in 1999 returned to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. The team trailed the Braves by three games to two in the National League Championship Series and was fighting to extend its season. In the late innings of Game 6, Rickey Henderson and Bobby Bonilla, both removed from the game, were mysteriously not seen on the bench rooting on their teammates. Instead it emerged that they were playing cards in the locker room. The Mets went on to lose in 11 innings.
That was also the year that Manager Bobby Valentine was ejected from a game, then returned to the bench area while wearing eye-black stickers as a false mustache.
The Later Years: Trouble on the Ledger
In 1999, the Mets worked out a final contract for slugger/card player Bonilla, who was coming to the end of his career. You could argue it was a savvy business move, creative accounting, or the best play in a bad situation. But the result was one of the most mocked contracts in sports history.
Bonilla stopped playing in 2001. But under the terms of the deal, the Mets kept paying him. And paying him. A check for $1.2 million every year, checks that will keep going out until 2035. It’s a contract that has provided fodder for comedians of various quality on sports talk radio, television and now Twitter.
At least the Wilpon family, which has owned the Mets since the early 1980s, found a good safe place to keep some of their money: with Bernie Madoff.