Friday, July 11, 2014

Is This the Worst That New York Baseball Has Ever Been?

The Yankees go into tonight's game just 1 game over .500, with 4 of their season-opening 5 starters on the Disabled List, with Derek Jeter playing his last season, with no more Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte, with Carlos Beltran flopping due to injury, and with a bullpen that brings back memories of Bob Shirley and Greg Cadaret (not good memories).

The Mets? Hell, they should be so lucky to have the Yankees' problems, and no more. At least the Yankees have money to waste on trying to solve problems.

Is this the worst time to be a baseball fan in New York?

Not really. From 1903 to 1957, there were 3 teams in New York. And while it seemed like there was always at least one New York team in the World Series, that wasn't always so. There were 21 times in that 55-season stretch when none of the New York teams won a Pennant.

Of course, it could be argued that the worst time in the history of New York baseball was August through October 1957. First the Giants announced they were moving to San Francisco. Then the Dodgers made official what had been rumored: They were moving to Los Angeles. Finally, the Yankees lost the World Series in a big upset (or so it was viewed at the time) to the Milwaukee Braves.

The Mets debuted in 1962, and the Yankee Dynasty came crashing down to Earth in 1965, beginning a 4-year stretch in which both teams were bad.

All 4 New York baseball teams had seasons with painful close-but-no-cigar finishes that may have felt worse than the years when they were never in the race at all. But at least there was hope.

Top 10 Worst Seasons In New York Baseball History

First, I took out every season in which a New York team so much as made the Playoffs, including season-ending replays:

Giants: 1904, 1905, 1908, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1917, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1933, 1936, 1937, 1951, 1954.

Dodgers: 1916, 1920, 1941, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956.

Yankees: 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.

Mets: 1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 1999, 2000, 2006.

I also took out the strike-shortened season of 1994, when the Yankees were on pace to make the Playoffs.

Then I added up the number of games each team finished out of first place, and divided by the number of teams (3 from 1903 to 1957, 2 from 1962 onward).

Here's what I came up with:

10. 1910. Although the Yankees finished 2nd behind the Philadelphia Athletics, they were 14 1/2 games out. The Giants were 13 games behind the Chicago Cubs, the Dodgers a whopping 40 back. The Giants, at least, had Christy Mathewson and some other great players. The Yankees had the disgrace of Hal Chase. The Dodgers weren't even that lucky.

9. 1993. The Yankees' return to glory was underway, although they still finished 7 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays. But the Mets, oy vey! They finished 38 games behind the NL East-winning Philadelphia Phillies, and with some heavily-paid, lightly-producing players. But that wasn't the worst of it. The worst was the juvenile delinquency. Bobby Bonilla threatening sportswriter Bob Klapisch, Vince Coleman setting off firecrackers that injured a small child, Bret Saberhagen squirting bleach at reporter Dave D'Alessandro. These Mets weren't just bad players, they included some bad people.

8. 1979. The Mets finished 35 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, and M. Donald Grant had traded away so many fan favorites that attendance plummeted, giving Shea Stadium the nickname "Grant's Tomb." But at least nobody died. The Yankees lost Captain Thurman Munson to a plane crash, and had lots of injuries that kept them from mounting a comeback similar to the one the year before. Plus, the 1979 Baltimore Orioles were not the 1978 Boston Red Sox: They didn't collapse, winning 102 games, 13 1/2 ahead of the Yankees.

7. 1966. The 5th season in Met history, and the best one to that point. They were 28 1/2 behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. For the first time, they finished in a higher place than the Yankees: 9th in the 10-team League, as opposed to 10th -- the Yankees' only last-place finish between 1912 and 1990. The Dynasty had completely collapsed. Even so, the Yankees were still closer to 1st, 26 1/2 behind the Orioles.

6. 1906. The Yankees -- still the Highlanders at this point, with Hall-of-Famers Willie Keeler and Jack Chesbro -- finished 2nd behind the Chicago White Sox, but not a particularly close 2nd: 13 1/2 back. The Giants, defending World Champions, were 20 games behind the Cubs, who set a National League record that still stands with 116 wins. Neither of these teams was especially bad. But the Dodgers, still known as the Superbas, were 50 games back! Let me put it this way: The Yankees and Giants could each have finished only 1 game back, and the Dodgers' pitiful performance would still have made this the 19th-worst baseball season in New York history.

5. 1944. Okay, World War II was on, and all 3 teams had depleted rosters. But everybody else had depleted rosters, too. You'd think the great farm systems developed by the Yankees and the Dodgers would have kept them respectable, and the Yankees did finish only 6 games behind the only St. Louis Browns team ever to win a Pennant. But behind the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants were 38 back, the Dodgers 42. Conduct unbecoming a ballplayer.

4. 1907. The Keeler & Chesbro Highlanders got old, and they finished 21 games behind the Detroit Tigers. That was still the best performance among the 3. The Giants finished 25 1/2 games behind the Cubs, the Superbas 40 back.

3. 1967. Tom Seaver was Rookie of the Year, and the Mets now had Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones. But there was still a long way to go, and they were 40 1/2 behind the Cardinals. The Yankees finished 9th, 20 games behind the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox.

2. 1909. Giants: 18 1/2 behind Honus Wagner and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Highlanders/Yankees: 23 1/2 behind Ty Cobb and the Tigers. Superbas/Dodgers: 55 1/2 behind the Pirates. Total games behind: A record 97 1/2.

1. 1965. The Mets' 4th season, and their 2nd at Shea, saw them finish 47 games behind the Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills Los Angeles Dodgers. And the Yankee Dynasty finally collapsed due to age, injury, and a farm system that had finally run dry after years of trading 3 or 4 prospects for 1 player who could win them a particular year's upcoming Pennant. They finished 6th, 25 games behind the Minnesota Twins, their worst performance in 40 years.

The symbol of the season? A Sports Illustrated cover showing an exhausted-looking Mickey Mantle, captioned: "NEW YORK YANKEES: END OF AN ERA." (Can't you just imagine a similar cover this year, with Jeter?) And nobody had any idea of when they would bounce back, or if the Mets would get respectable anytime soon. At this point, the "Miracle" of 1969 might as well have been 40, not 4, years away.

*

At their current paces, the Yankees will finish 8 games out of 1st place, but only 1 game out of the AL's 2nd Wild Card spot; while the Mets will finish 14 games out of 1st, and 13 games out of the NL's 2nd Wild Card. Total that up, and it's a combined 14 games out of the Playoffs.

Doesn't sound so bad now, does it? For all the bleakness both in the South Bronx and in Flushing Meadow, things not only could be a lot worse, they have been a lot worse.

Knowing that doesn't make either the Yankees or the Mets any better, though. Still, there is the Yankee Mystique, which seems to show up when you least expect it. And what are Met fans always saying? "Ya gotta believe."

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