Thursday, December 28, 2017
The American League Mets
TRIVIA QUESTION: Which one of the original New York Mets went on to manage the Washington Senators finishing a five season run without a winning record?
ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: In 1964 when the Cardinals won the pennant, Ken Boyer drive in 119 runs to lead the league in RBI. It was his second straight 100-plus RBI year, clocking 111 in 1963. A clutch hitter, in six other years he drove in at least 90 runs, twice putting up 98 RBI in a season. In a 15 year career he drove in 1141 runs or 76 per season.
When expansion came to the major leagues at the start of the 1960's most of the focus was on the National League where the New York Mets debuted and would go on to become the losing-est team in major league history. While the Mets were floundering in the NL, over in the AL the team representing the nation's capitol was holding court with equal risk.
The Washington Senators proved to be as inept as their counterparts in government. While the Senators on Capitol Hill were struggling with a changing population and an explosion of an advancing America, the Senators on the ball field were just trying to find a way to win a game.
In an unusual situation the two leagues expanded in consecutive years. The Senators opened their franchise playing in 1961. New York would have to wait until 1962 to see the Mets try to replace the NL Giants and Dodgers who had moved on four years earlier.
While the Mets would lose 120 games under Casey Stengel in the first season, the Senators would lose 100 under Mickey Vernon. New York was saddled with players who would never reach the plateau they so wanted in the bigs. Names such as Elio Chacon, Charlie Neal, Rod Kanehl and Choo-Choo Coleman would send as much fear into the opposing pitching staff as would the Senators Gene Green, Coot Veal, Willie Tasby and Billy Klaus.
Each team had it's fading stars. Gil Hodges, Richie Ashburn, Frank Thomas, Roger Craig and Clem Labine were big time players in the 1950's. So were Dale Long, Danny O'Connell, Dick Donovan and Mike Garcia who twice won 20 games with Cleveland.
The fact would remain of the young players on those two rosters only two players, one from each team, would have much of a future as it were after the 1962 season. The Mets Ed Kranepool, a top and highly touted signee would only play in 17 games in the clubs inaugural season and bat .167. He would be a member of the 1969 Amazing Mets World Series winning team. Big Ed would hit .261 in parts of 18 seasons and drive 118 of his hits into the bleachers.
On the AL side, the Senators had a 21 year-old left-hander named Claude Osteen. Osteen only pitched 18 innings, starting three games and splitting two decisions. His ERA was 4.91 but he showed promise. Signed by the Reds in 1957 he was traded in September of 1961 to Washington for Dave Sisler. He would pitch well enough for the cellar dwelling Washington club but he was a key figure in a much bigger trade in 1964.
The Senators sent him along with John Kennedy and $100,000 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a player to be named later, Frank Howard, Ken McMullen, Phil Ortega and Pete Richert. The Dodgers sent Dick Nen (December 15, 1964) back to Washington to complete the trade.
Osteen would go on to win in double figures nine times for the Dodgers, twice winning 20 (1969 ad 1972) and won a total of 196 games. He was a much better pitcher than his 195 losses would indicate. In the World Series he fashioned a five-hit shutout against the Twins in Game 3 of the 1965 classic.
When the dust had settled on those first seasons few players would stick around. Garcia who won 142 games in his career failed to win even one for Washington and retired after the season. Gene Woodling, Washington's best hitter at .313, was sold to the Mets halfway through the 1962 season. After the season Washington's home run leader with 18, Gene Green was traded to Cleveland in a four player deal for Jimmy Piersall.
In New York, while Jay Hook lost 19 games, Al Jackson and Roger Craig both lost 20. Craig dropped 24, Jackson lost 20. Not to feel too bad about the opening season, Craig hung around and lost 22 the following year. Jackson would wait until 1965 to duplicate the same season with a record again of 8-20.
Mets Slugger Frank Thomas had his second highest homer total with 34, one shy of his final year in Pittsburgh in 1958. He hung around a couple more seasons while Ashburn's only season with the Mets was his last one and a good one at that. The former Phillie Wiz Kid batted .306, retired and later became a broadcaster. He even stole 12 bases at age 35.
Through the clubs first four years the Mets would drop 452 games. The Senators during the first four years lost 407. Such ineptness may never be seen again. By the time the 1972 season rolled around the Senators would leave Washington for the friendly confines of Arlington, Texas, having never won more than 86 games. They closed out the decade in 1969 with the clubs only season where they won more than they lost, finishing with a .531 winning percentage.
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