50th anniversary: Mets first game

Fifty years ago today, the National League reclaimed its portion of New York City. On April 11, 1962, the New York Mets played their first game.

As anyone who knows baseball history should be aware, that first season for the Mets was not the stuff of wonder and glory. Boy, is that ever a nice way of putting it. That Mets team was the worst of the 20th century, posting a horrible record of 40-120.

The only team with more losses was the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who went 20-134. That team hardly counts, though, as their owners bought the St. Louis franchise in the 1898-99 offseason and concentrated all the quality players in the larger St. Louis market, leaving only the dross in Cleveland. Among real teams, the ’62 Mets are the all-time loss leader.

True to form, that first game was a loss. Playing on the road in St. Louis, the Mets were crushed by the Cardinals, 11-4. It started well for the Mets as pitcher Roger Craig retired the first batter the franchise ever faced. Then things immediately went downhill, with Craig allowing three consecutive singles. Then he balked. Thus, for a brief moment, the Mets had more balks in franchise history than innings pitched.

That set things off on the wrong note for the Mets, and they lost each of their first nine games. That stretch included an extra-innings loss to their fellow expansion team, the Houston Colt .45′s.

As it happens, at the same time the Mets were off to their horrible start, the Pittsburgh Pirates set a record by becoming the first NL team in history to begin the year 10-0. Between their hot start and the Mets’ dismal debut, the Mets were 9.5 games out of first before they ever won a single game. As it happens, when they finally did win a game, it was over those high-flying Pirates. New York’s 9-1 win over Pittsburgh on April 23 ended both squads’ streaks.

That win would be an aberration, as the Mets dropped 16 of their first 19 contests, putting them 13 games out of first place less than a month into the season. It would be a long year for the Mets, indeed. To be fair, immediately after that horrible start, the Mets had their best stretch, winning nine of their next dozen games. Then again, aside from that stretch, the team was 31-117 on the year so—OUCH!

Looking just at the game that took place a half-century ago, the Mets set the following team firsts:

First batter: Richie Ashburn, who flew out. Later in the day, he scored the team’s first run.

First pitcher: Roger Craig. He also recorded their first out, allowed the team’s first hit, surrendered the first run, got called for the first balk, and struck out the first opposing batter.

First hit: Gus Bell got it, in the second inning.

First walk drawn: Felix Mantilla.

First RBI: Charlie Neal drove it in during the third inning. During this game he would also commit the first Mets error.

First home run: Former Brooklyn Dodger hero Gil Hodges swatted it.

First 1-2-3 inning by a pitcher: Reliever Bob Moorhead did it in the fourth, as Craig only lasted three innings. In the fifth inning, Moorhead gave up the first walk in Mets history.

In all, 14 Mets played in that game, seven of whom are still alive: Craig, Mantilla, Don Zimmer, Frank Thomas, Jim Marshall, Hobie Landrith, and Ed Bouchee.

Also, four of the men who played in that game for the Mets later became managers. Hodges won a world title with the 1969 Miracle Mets. Craig won the pennant while helming the 1989 Giants. He defeated Zimmer’s Cubs in that year’s NLCS. The Cubs were one of four teams Zimmer managed. Marshall managed a team nearly as bad as the 1962 Mets, the 1979 A’s, who went 54-108.

At any rate, the Mets got their start in the majors, exactly 50 years ago today on April 11, 1962.

Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better items in bold if you’d prefer to skim the list.

Day-versaries

4,000 days since Shawn Chacon makes his big league debut.

4,000 days since Geoff Jenkins gets two home runs, giving him a total five in two games.

5,000 days since Mike Oquist of the A’s has kind of a bad day. His line: 5 IP, 16 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 3 BB, and 2 K for a Game Score of –21. Yes, negative 21. That’s the worst Game Score by any pitcher in decades.

5,000 days since Kevin Mitchell appears in his last big league contest.

5,000 days since Houston hurler C.J. Nitkowski hits three consecutive batters in the eighth inning versus Florida.

6,000 days since MLB signs a $1.7 billion deal with Fox, NBC, ESPN, and Liberty Mutual for broadcast rights to their games.

7,000 days since the Tigers sign free agent Kirk Gibson. It’s a return for him.

9,000 days since Dale Murphy hits his 300th career home run.

9,000 days since Andre Dawson enjoys his second straight two-home run game. It’s his fourth multi-homer game of the month and eighth of the year. (It’s his MVP season in 1987).

Anniversaries

1852 Cap Anson, the first man to get 3,000 hits, is born.

1877 Fred Thayer, the captain of the baseball team at Harvard, designs the first catcher’s mask. His teammate, Jim Tyng, will wear it.

1891 Clark Griffith makes his big league debut. He’ll win over 200 games and later own the Washington Senators for decades.

1907 On Opening Day, the Giants are forced to forfeit to the Phillies when fans reign snowballs down on the field. It’s the only Opening Day forfeit on record. The fans were an overflow crowd that led to some standing on the field, which led to 13 ground-rule doubles hit on the day by the Giants. In that same game, Giants catcher Roger Bresnahan wears cricket leg guards to become the first catcher to wear shin guards.

1907 Hughie Jennings manages his first game. He’s Detroit’s manager, and will stay there until 1920.

1912 Cincinnati’s Redlands Field opens. It’ll later be called Crosley Field and survive until the early 1970s.

1912 Buck Weaver, Black Sox third baseman, makes his big league debut. Also debuting in the big leagues on this day are Del Pratt, and Ossie Vitt.

1913 The Cubs sell James Samuel Tilden Sheckard to the Cardinals.

1928 Burt Shotton manages his first game. Sort of. Previously, he’d managed the Browns on Sunday when then-manager Branch Rickey would take off to keep a promise he made his mother never to play ball on Sunday. In this game, Shotton’s official debut, infielder Pinky Whitney makes his debut with Shotton’s Phillies.

1932 The Cardinals trade Chick Hafey to the Reds for Benny Frey, Harvey Hendrick, and cash.

1949 Joe DiMaggio’s heel acts up on him in an exhibition game in Texas, forcing him to leave. Heal problems will hamper him for much of the season.

1953 Kid Nichols, arguably the best pitcher of the 1890s, dies.

1954 St. Louis trades longtime star Enos Slaughter to the Yankees for Bill Virdon and two other players.

1955 Pedro Ramos, pitcher, makes his big league debut.

1959 Early Wynn wins his 250th career game. His record: 250-203.

1959 Don Drysdale becomes the only pitcher to homer in more than one Opening Day.

1959 Ernie Broglio makes his big league debut. He’ll be a 20-game winner with the Cardinals before being traded to the Cubs for Lou Brock.

1960 The Indians purchase Johnny Klippstein from the Dodgers.

1961 On Opening Day, the Angels win their first ever game, beating Baltimore, 7-2. The former Washington Senators play their first game as the Minnesota Twins, and beat the Yankees, 6-0, on the road. Many players make their big league debut, most notably future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, who replaces Ted Williams in left field for Boston. Two notable managers also make their debut on this day: Ralph Houk with the Yankees and Alvin Dark with the Giants. As it happens, they will face off in the World Series.

1963 Don Leppert becomes the first member of the new Washington Senators to hit three homers in one game.

1963 Warren Spahn passes Gettysburg Eddie Plank as the all-time winning lefty with his 328th win.

1964 Bret Saberhagen born.

1966 Baltimore releases former World Series star Don Larsen.

1966 Cincinnati releases veteran pitcher Roger Craig, whom Philadelphia signs that same day.

1966 Detroit purchases Mike Marshall from Philadelphia.

1966 Emmett Ashford becomes big league baseball’s first black umpire.

1967 Hall of Famer Rod Carew makes his big league debut. For that matter, Mustache Gang star Joe Rudi also debuts.

1968 Billy Williams gets his 200th career home run. He also gets No. 199, too.

1968 Pitcher Jack Billingham makes his big league debut.

1969 The Seattle Pilots debut, and fans can see them through numerous holes in the unfinished left-field fence.

1970 The Milwaukee Brewers win their first game, topping the White Sox, 8-4.

1971 Terry Forster, famously mocked by David Letterman as a big tub of goo, debuts.

1972 Jason Varitek, long-lasting Boston catcher, debuts.

1973 Sal Bando belts his 100th home run.

1973 Nolan Ryan lodges his 50th win.

1973 Jimmy Wynn hits his only leadoff home run.

1975 Atlanta releases veteran second baseman Davey Johnson.

1975 The White Sox sign free agent pitcher Claude Osteen.

1975 Hank Aaron returns to Milwaukee. Well, he plays for Milwaukee, though the game is in Cleveland. He gets an RBI in a 6-2 win over the Indians.

1976 Kelvim Escobar is born.

1977 For the only time in his career, Nolan Ryan issues a walk-off walk. He gives Oakland’s Mitchell Page a free pass with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 A’s win over California.

1977 Toby Harrah hits the rare inside-the-park walk-off home run.

1980 Rod Craig enjoys the best known WPA game by a Seattle Mariner hitter. He goes 3-for-5 with a double, homer, walk, and five RBIs. Despite that, Seattle loses to Toronto anyway, 10-7. His WPA: 0.959.

1980 Fergie Jenkins walks the first batter of the game, something he last did in 1973. He’ll never do it again. That’s one lead-off walk in his final 311 starts. The batter he walks today is Willie Randolph.

1980 Mark Teixeira is born.

1980 Two notable relief aces make their big league debuts: The drug-addled Steve Howe, and also Dave Smith.

1981 Mike Witt, pitcher, makes his big league debut.

1982 Mike Moore, starting pitcher, makes his big league debut.

1984 Alvin Davis, Seattle first baseman who had a decent run for a while, makes his debut.

1985 Dave Kingman launches a ball that hits a support wire in the Kingdome. It’s caught for an out.

1985 Gorman Thomas hits three homers in one game and gets six RBIs.

1985 Roger McDowell, reliever, makes his debut.

1986 Dan Plesac, long-lasting lefty reliever, debuts in the big leagues.

1987 Matt Williams makes his big league debut.

1990 California no-hits the Mariners. Mark Langston starts and lasts seven innings, and Mike Witt finishes it off for the last six outs. California wins, 1-0. It’s Langston’s first game with California and Seattle is his old team. He walks four and California commits one error.

1991 Walker Cooper dies.

1992 Carlos Baerga gets six hits for Cleveland in a 19-inning game.

1994 The Ballpark in Arlington hosts its first Rangers game.

1994 John Olerud has one of the best games of his career, going 4-for-5 with two homers and a double. In his out, he reaches base on an error. He scores four times and drives four in as well.

1995 The Mets sign free agent Brett Butler.

1996 Roger Clemens loses his 100th game. His record: 182-100.

1996 Seattle’s Dan Wilson hits three home runs in one game.

1996 Greg Maddux loses, ending a streak of 18 consecutive road wins. He was 18-0 with a 0-99 ERA in 20 road starts since losing to Montreal on June 27, 1994.

1997 Mark Gubicza plays in his last game.

1998 Kevin Millar makes his big league debut.

2000 Opening Day presents new ballparks in San Francisco, Houston, and Detroit.

2000 Kevin Elster of the Dodgers gets three homers in one game.

2001 Greg Maddux and two relievers combine for a near no-hitter, allowing just one hit. That hit was a second-inning single by Todd Zeile that he barely beat out.

2003 Jeff Kent has the best WPA game of his career: 0.773 WPA. He 1-for-4, but the hit is a walk-off two-run homer with two outs in the ninth for a 3-2 Giants win over St. Louis. That swing is worth 0.897 WPA all by itself.

2003 Montreal plays their first “home” game in Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They win, 10-0, over the Mets.

2004 Mike Mussina joins the 200 win club. His record: 200-112.

2004 Benito Santiago plays in his final big league game.

2006 Derek Jeter enjoys his best game ever, according to WPA: 0.536 WPA. He goes 1-for-4, but the hit is a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth against Kansas City.

2006 Cincinnati’s Bronson Arroyo hits his second career homer. It comes just six days after his first homer. As it happens, both long balls are against the same pitcher, Glendon Rusch.

2007 Alex Rodriguez gets an extra-base hit in an 11th consecutive game. It’s part of a 23-game hitting streak. He’s 17-for-40 with six doubles and seven homers in this span with an OPS of 1610.

2008 For the third time in six years, MLB adopts a stricter steroids policy, one that calls for increased testing and more power given to outside administrators.

2009 For the seventh time in his career, Albert Pujols hits a grand slam. It’s the first of five he’ll get in 2009.

2010 David Murphy gets on base twice in one game via catcher’s interference. That’s only happened six times since 1920.

2011 Brent Lillibridge hits the 10,000th home run in the history of the White Sox.

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Comments

  1. Chris J. said...

    Quick correction I was informed of by a reader via email: the Hank Aaron game in 1975 was in Milwaukee. He played two games for Milwaukee on the road, but the 11th was the Brewer home opener.

  2. kds said...

    1972, Jason Varitek debut?  Well, he was born 40 years ago today, but I don’t think he started playing ML baseball that day.

    1969, Sicks’ Stadium dated from 1938, but was much too small for the Major Leagues.  The Pilots were supposed to finish expanding the park to c. 30,000 by opening day.  They were still installing seats as the game started, to get over 17,000.

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