The battle of the bad
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

New Yorkers love to believe they're the absolute best. But there's one notable exception -- the 1962 Mets, which New York fans clearly, dearly want to hold on to as the absolute worst team of all time.

Unfortunately, that claim will soon, in all likelehood, belong to the 2003 Detroit Tigers. But you know what? Mets fans, circa 1962, still have a lot to be proud of, because at least the Amazin's put on a show. Technically, the Tigers out-bad the '62 Mets. But taking the intangibles into account, the Mets still rank as the best losers of all time. A comparison:

Category 2003 Tigers 1962 Mets
Team slogan "We Come to Play" -- created by the Tigers marketing staff, to make sure the fans knew that even though they knew the fans knew the players stunk, they would still try hard.
"Break up the Mets!" -- first uttered by catcher Joe Ginsberg, after the Mets finally won their first game (they lost their first nine). It became a season-long rallying cry.

Pythagorean W-L* 44-113 50-110
Longest losing streak 11 (Aug. 13-23) 17 (May 21-June 6)
Longest winning streak
4 (May 4-7)

3 (twice)
Worst loss Twice, the Tigers lost by 10 runs -- On July 30, 13-3 to Seattle, and on Sept. 10, 15-5, to New York. On July 8, the Mets lost to the Cardinals 15-1.
It seems impossible, but ... Believe it or not, the Tigers are outdrawing a likely playoff team (the Marlins) The Mets were 9 1/2 games out of first place after their first nine games.
Alan Trammell: 39-118 career record

Casey Stengel: 1905-1842 career record, 10 AL pennants, 7 World Series titles
Manager's nickname "Howdy Doody" "The Old Perfessor"
Ballpark Comerica Park, capacity 40,000, opened 2000 Polo Grounds, capacity 55,000, opened 1911
Attendance 1,309,195 (26th out of 30 ML teams) 922,530 (12th out of 20 ML teams)
Games out of first 49 60.5
Games out of next-to-last The Tigers are 27 1/2 games behind Cleveland. The Mets finished 18 games behind the 9th-place Cubs, and 24 games behind fellow expansion team Houston.
Worst everyday player
24-year-old shortstop Ramon Santiago is hitting .221 with two HRs and 25 RBI. Santiago has real problems away from the cozy confines of Comerica -- he's hitting .189 on the road. Bobby Higginson (.236, 13 HR, 50 RBI) could also take the prize. Of 78 players eligible to win the AL batting title this season, he's ranked 77th.

Marvelous Marv Throneberry. Sure, Marv could hit for power (16 HRs, 49 RBI), but it was his fielding that was amazin' -- he committed 17 errors in 98 games at first base. His baserunning gaffes also became legendary.
Worst regular pitcher Mike Maroth. The 26-year-old lefty recently became the first pitcher since Brian Kingman, 23 years ago, to become a 20-game loser. He's 8-21 with a 5.86 ERA. Craig Anderson. The 23-year-old righty finished 3-17 with a 5.35 ERA.
20-game losers If Jeremy Bonderman (6-19) loses his final start, he and Maroth will be the first teammates to lose 20 since Wilbur Wood (24-20) and Stan Bahnsen (18-21) for the 1973 White Sox. Al Jackson (8-20) and Roger Craig (10-24) paired up to give the Mets the first teammates to lose 20 since the 1936 Phillies. Jay Hook came close, finishing 8-19.
That's bad -- No, it's good! "You've got to be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games, because they have to keep giving you the ball," said Al Kaline, referring to Maroth. In fact, Maroth has gotten so much publicity that many think he's the Tigers best pitcher and a young prospect. Maroth is 26, and his ERA is more than a run a game higher than Cornejo, who's only 23. "I had to be pretty good for them to keep sending me out there enough to lose that many games," said Roger Craig. In fact, Craig was "pretty good," compiling a lifetime 59-52 record during the 10 seasons he didn't play for the Mets. Unfortunately, with the Mets, he went 15-46. Craig did parlay his pitching experience into a good career as a manager and pitching coach.
Over the hill gang Higginson. The 33-year-old might have some good seasons left, but this wasn't one of them. The $11.8 million right fielder is batting .238 with a (gulp) .688 OPS. Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn. Should-be Hall of Famer Gil Hodges. Former All-Star and all-time all-nickname teamer Vinegar Bend Mizell. Former four-time All-Star Gus Bell. The first original Met, catcher Hobie Landrith. (Casey: "You have to have a catcher, because if you don't, you're likely to have a lot of passed balls.")
Manager's advice To the press, explaining why they shouldn't blame Maroth for a loss just because he made a bad pitch. "We can't ever not make a good pitch and make up for it. We're not able to compensate." To the outfielders: "When one of them guys hits a single to you, throw the ball to third. That way we can hold them to a double."
Link to past losers Roger Craig, of the '62 Mets, was a spring training instructor for the Tigers Frank Thomas, of the '52 Pirates (42-112), was the Mets' best hitter in 1962, slugging 34 HRs and driving in 94 runs.
On the positive side The Tigers have grounded into the fewest double plays of any team this season. The Mets led the NL in hitter walks, with 616. They also set a then-record for highest home attendance by a last-place team.
Misleading omen In their first spring training game, the Tigers beat Florida Southern 19-2. In a March 23 exhibition game, the Mets beat the defending world champion Yankees 4-3. "It just shows you how easy this business is," said Stengel.
Accurate omen They gave up two runs to Florida Southern (and began the season 0-9, the first team to achieve that feat two years in a row). The Mets started 0-9, tying an NL record.
Best prediction "There is absolutely no indication -- none -- that this thing is getting better, going to get better, or even capable of getting better." -- Detroit News writer Tom Gage on June 20, after the Tigers fell to 17-52. In spring training, Stengel was asked, "Where do you think the Mets will finish?" "We'll finish in Chicago," he replied.
Worst prediction "They'll go 68-93 The fact is, the Tigers will be better because it'll be nearly impossible for them not to be." -- Detroit News writer Tom Gage on March 30, just before Opening Day. "Fifth place in 1962. This outfit is hungry, and it's going to win. They'll beat the Cubs, the Phillies and Houston for sure." -- Fan Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald.
Scandal On Aug. 10, Higginson and bench coach Kirk Gibson were fined and suspended for arguing balls and strikes with umpire Doug Eddings. Higginson had to pony up $2,000 for his misbehavior -- about a half-inning of pay for him. Stengel appeared in an ad for Rheingold Extra Dry, bunting while a fetching female standing behind him held a baseball. The caption underneath the photo read, "No, she's not Mr. Stengel's new shortstop; she's Kathy Kersh, our Miss Rheingold 1962." Commissioner Ford Frick fined Stengel $500, citing "a violation of baseball rules, which prohibit men in uniform from posing for alcoholic beverage ads."
Trade of the year Umm, Adam Bernero for Ben Petrick? On April 25, the Indians shipped Harry Chiti to the Mets for a player to be named later. On June 15, the Mets returned Chiti to the Indians, as the player named later.
No offense taken In the first inning of a close 0-0 game vs. Kansas City, Alex Sanchez attempted a delayed steal of home just as Royals catcher Brent Mayne threw the ball back to the pitcher. Cleanup hitter Dmitri Young was at the plate, but would, alas, lead off the next inning. Pitcher Brian Anderson threw out Sanchez easily. "We had him by plenty," said Anderson. In the first game of a doubleheader vs. the Cubs on June 17, Marv Throneberry hit a long blast and ended up at third base on an apparent triple. He was called out for failing to touch first. Stengel ran out to argue the call. "Forget it, Casey," ump Dusty Bogess said. "He didn't touch second either!"
Dee-fense The Tigers are next-to-last in the majors in errors. "I have a lot of errors, and I take each one of them personally," first baseman Carlos Pena said. The Mets ended the season with 210 errors, a mark that has only been equaled once since -- by the 1963 Mets.
Low show After an 0-2 start, the Tigers drew less than 9,000 in their third game of the season. On Friday, Sept. 28, the Mets lost to the Cubs 3-2. It was their 119th defeat, and was witnessed by only 595 fans.
The manager on his players Trammell has set some kind of record for refraining from criticizing his players. He did bench Pena, though, after the first baseman -- who thinks of himself as a potential Gold Glover -- committed three errors in a game. Said Trammell, in his mild manner, "This game is so much mental, and I think some of those mistakes were mental. In fact, I know one was, at least in my estimation." Don Zimmer had been an All-Star for the only time in his career in 1961. In 1962, he played the first month of the season for the Mets, hitting .077. "That Zimmer's the guts of your club, isn't he?" a reporter asked, before Zim was shipped off to Cincinnati. "Why, he's beyond that," Stengel said. "He's the lower intestine."
Hollywood ending Will Bonderman lose 20? Will the Tigers break the Mets' record? Stay tuned Trailing the Cubs 5-1 in their final game, the Mets started an eighth-inning rally. Sammy Drake and Richie Ashburn singled. Two on, no outs. Then Joe Pignatano, in his final major-league AB, hit a soft liner easily caught by Cubs second baseman Ken Hubbs. Both Drake and Ashburn had been sure it would fall for a single, and were easily thrown out for a triple play.

*What the team's record should have been, based on Bill James' Pythagorean theorem of baseball: Runs scored [squared] / (Runs scored [squared] + runs allowed [squared]). This formula was designed to relate a team's runs scored and runs allowed to its won-lost record.



Jeff Merron Archive

Diamond Mind: '62 Mets vs. '03 Tigers

Stark: World (Worst) Series

The List: Worst Pro Teams of All-time

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