- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

It’s no contest, this ‘62 Mets vs. ‘03 Tigers argument. The Mets were a much better bad team — in every way. They had more interesting personalities, stranger on-field occurrences … they were just flat-out more memorable, as the future will certainly show.

Of course, I’m biased. I grew up on Long Island, and the ‘62 Mets were one of the teams of my youth. In fact, I can tell you exactly where I was when the Mets played their first regular-season game (an 11-4 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis). I was sitting in the dentist’s office, listening to the play-by-play over the radio (the dentist’s, not mine).

That whole first season was like a trip to the dentist — that is, after awhile, you began to feel numb, giddy almost. A hundred and 20 defeats (and a mere 40 wins) will do that to you. Cardinals 15, Mets 1? Hey, who got the ribbie? Dodgers 17, Mets 3? At least we held ‘em under 20. Houston Colt .45s 16, Mets 3? Well, what did ya expect? They had the first pick in the expansion draft.

Speaking of which, after the Mets drafted their first player — catcher Hobie Landrith, previously the property of the Giants — manager Casey Stengel explained, “You’ve gotta have a catcher or you’re gonna have a lot of passed balls.” How could you not love a club steered by such sagacity? (And people said Casey was no longer on top of his game!) You know how the Ol’ Perfesser solved the problem — one that would have vexed many a skipper — of having two Bob Millers on the ‘62 team? He simply called one of them Nelson.)

I scan the Tigers’ current roster and, frankly, I’m underwhelmed. Nobody has a batting average as high as Richie Ashburn’s .306 with the ‘62 Mets. (Alex Sanchez was tops at .287 before last night.) Nobody has as many homers as Frank Thomas’ 34. (Dmitri Young’s 28 was the best.) Nobody has as many wins as Roger Craig’s 10. (Mike Maroth led the way with eight.) And nobody strikes me as a future U.S. congressman. (The ‘62 Mets had “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, who represented a Mississippi district for several terms.)

But enough small talk. Why don’t we just take it position by position?

At first base, the Tigers have Carlos Pena. The Mets had “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, the Miller Light icon, who once forgot to step on first and second while trying to leg out a triple. (And get this: Pena needs four runs batted in to match Marv’s total of 49 — in almost 100 fewer plate appearances).

At second base, the Tigers have Warren Morris. The Mets had “Hot Rod” Kanehl, who was an even worse fielder than the legendarily lousy Throneberry. Kanehl made 32 errors at four different positions in ‘62. His fielding percentage in 30 games at third base (.873) makes you wonder if he was wearing a blindfold instead of a glove. On the plus side, he did hit the first grand slam in Mets history.

At shortstop, the Tigers have Ramon Santiago. The Mets had Elio Chacon, who played in the ‘61 World Series for Cincinnati and scored the winning run in Game2, the Reds’ only victory.

At third base, the Tigers have Shane Halter. The Mets had Felix Mantilla, who later made the All-Star team with the Red Sox and had 30 homers in ‘64 and 92 RBI in ‘65.

In the outfield, the Tigers have Sanchez, Bobby Higginson and Carlos Monroe. The Mets had Ashburn (a future Hall of Famer), Thomas and Jim Hickman (who would become an All-Star with the Cubs). Thomas tied two records in ‘62 — the major league mark for most times hit by a pitch in an inning (two), and the National League mark for most homers in three games (six). Hickman, meanwhile, combined with Choo Choo Coleman to tie another major league mark when both pinch-hit home runs in the same game.

At catcher, the Tigers have Brandon Inge. The Mets had Joe Pignatano, who as a coach with the Mets in the late ‘60s and ‘70s became famous for planting a tomato garden in the bullpen.

On the mound, the Tigers have Maroth, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Cornejo and Adam Bernero. The Mets had Craig (who later managed the Giants to the World Series), Jay Hook (who had a master’s degree in thermodynamics), Al Jackson (who went 9-4 with the World Series champion Cards in ‘67) and Craig Anderson (who won both games of a doubleheader in relief on May 12 of ‘62 — and then never won another game in the bigs, dropping his last 19 decisions).

See? It’s not even close. And we haven’t even gotten to the benches, haven’t talked about Don Zimmer’s cameo appearance with the ‘62 Mets — or that of Gus Bell, who spawned the first three-generation family in major league history (Buddy is his son, and David and Mike are his grandsons). Gil Hodges, Gene Woodling, Jim Marshall (future manager No.4), Joe Christopher (a .300 hitter in ‘64) … now there was a team.

The ‘62 Mets’ first game was rained out. In their last, Pignatano hit into a triple play in his final big-league at-bat. The Tigers might break their record, find a way to lose three more games, but that’s mere bookkeeping. The ‘62 Mets are eternal — to some of us, anyway.

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