Here’s the latest from Joe Guzzardi, who writes “Double the fun,” looking at one famous doubleheader every Saturday.
On Memorial Day, 1962 the transplanted Dodgers playing in Los Angeles returned to New York for the first time since the team left Brooklyn in 1957 to play a three game series against the woebegone New York Mets.
In an effort to fill up the disintegrating Polo Grounds with new fans, the Mets had loaded the roster with ex-Brooklyn heroes including Don Zimmer, Clem Labine, Charlie Neal, Joe Pignatano and Gil Hodges.
The effort to lure fans succeeded. The Mets drew nearly one million rabid rooters, many of whom soon crowed about the new franchise: “I’ve been a Mets fan all my life.”
For the May 30 double dip 55,704 Metropolitans’ rooters jammed the Polo Grounds to watch their beloved team take on their cross country rivals.
On paper, it didn’t figure to be much of a contest. The Mets, eventual losers of 120 games, are considered by most to be the worst team in modern baseball history. The Dodgers won 101 games and finished one game behind the National League pennant winning San Francisco Giants.
Unsurprisingly, since we are talking about the Mets, there’s a story behind the two New York starting pitchers. The Mets were the only team in baseball to ever have two players with identical names, Bob Miller. Naturally that led to considerable confusion.
To complicate matters even further, the Millers roomed together. Their teammates decided simply to call them “Lefty” Bob Miller and “Righty” Bob Miller. Manager Casey Stengel, for reasons known only to him, called “Righty” Bob Miller “Nelson”
In any event, “Righty” Bob, who faced the Dodgers that afternoon, lost his first 12 starts until on the next to the last day of the season, he notched a win against the Chicago Cubs.
As for Hook, since he earned a mechanical engineering degree from Northwestern University but notched only had a 12-34 record during his three Mets’ seasons, Stengel joked: “Hook can explain a curve ball but he can’t throw one.”
In the first game, Koufax was fortunate that the Dodgers spotted him a 10-0 lead through the top of the fourth. The 1962 Koufax hadn’t yet hit his Hall of Fame stride. Although Koufax struck out 10, the Mets battered him for 13 hits and six earned runs before succumbing 13-6.
To the immense delight of the crowd, one of the runs came off the bat of Brooklyn favorite Hodges when he homered in the fourth.
The nightcap was closer. The Mets shelled Podres, knocking him out in the seventh inning after he gave up five earned runs. The Mets outhit the Dodgers 9-5 including two more home runs by Hodges. Nevertheless, the Mets lost, 6-5.
For the season, the Mets went 2-16 against the Dodgers and fared only slightly better against the San Francisco Giants, 4-14. The Mets did however manage to break even against the Chicago Cubs, 9-9. The Cubs lost 103 games to finish in ninth place, ahead of only the Mets.
Although other professional sports teams have had more barren seasons, the Mets remain the benchmark for failure.
Yet the Mets remain synonymous with futility probably because they had players like Miller, Hook and of course Marvelous Marv Throneberry who, by the way, tapped a weak grounder to shortstop in his pinch hit and lone plate appearance that afternoon.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org