The 1962 Mets are infamous for being one of the worst teams in baseball history. That year, they were baseball’s worst batters (average), worst pitchers (ERA), and worst fielders (percentage), leading to the league’s worst record of 40-120. They had the most losses in baseball since the 1899 Cleveland Spiders went 20-134. In this article, I’ll give a bit of historical context and share a few of my favorite Mets baseball cards from the 1962 and 1963 Topps sets.
The Dodgers and Giants left New York for Los Angeles and San Francisco after the 1957 season. So New York didn’t have a National League team. So, a few years later, on October 17, 1960, MLB established the New York Mets (and Houston Colt 45s), giving them a little time to sign free agents and develop minor league affiliations.
An interesting factoid is that the Met’s colors are orange and blue through the merging of Dodgers blue and Giants orange to appease the remaining Dodgers and Giants fans in the city. On March 6, 1960, the Mets got their membership certificate from Warren Giles, the National League President.
Then, on October 10, 1961, in the NL’s first expansion draft, the Mets spent $1.8M to draft 22 players.
They went on to play their first game on April 11, 1962, an 11-4 Loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Their performance was abysmal. As I wrote, they finished 40-120, 60.5 games behind the Giants. They lost their first nine games and had other losing streaks of 17, 11, and 13 straight.
What’s great, though, is that despite their awful play, they still drew decent attendance, good for 6th in the NL, while playing at the Polo Grounds (Shea Stadium was under construction).
Al Jackson was their best pitcher (among those with over 50 IP) with a 4.40 ERA. Roger Craig led the team in both wins and losses (10-24) while allowing 35 home runs. Ken MacKenzie was the only pitcher with a winning record (5-4). Reliever Craig Anderson played in a team-high 50 games but went 3-17 with a 5.35 ERA.
Frank Thomas led them in the most significant batting categories other than average, which Richie Ashburn led (at age 35). Ron Kanehl, a utility fielder, made 32 errors.
Now, let’s move on to baseball cards. For their 1962 set, Topps got a few photos featuring players with Mets uniforms but had to airbrush many others to align with their release schedule. The 1962 Topps set ended up having 24 different cards previewing Mets players. The back of the cards discusses player expectations or intended role with the team. Here are a few of my favorites:
1962 Topps #85 Gil Hodges
The back says, “Gil can still powder the ball, and the Mets expect much mileage out of the first baseman this year.”
1962 Topps #464 Al Jackson
Jackson’s card says, “The Mets are counting on Al to serve them as a starter this year, and his early spring showings reveal that he wouldn’t disappoint them.” I guess he didn’t disappoint with, as I wrote, a team-leading 4.40 ERA.
1962 Topps #29 Casey Stengel
Topps wrote that “the Mets will benefit greatly while they play under the skilled hands of Casey Stengel.” So maybe they would have lost 130 without him, though he was said to have fallen asleep on the bench quite a bit.
1962 Topps #572 Bob Miller
Frankly, I love the airbrushing job on Miller’s cap. He went 1-12 with a 4.89 ERA in 1962 over 21 starts and 33 games. He moved on to the Dodgers for the 1963 season.
The 1963 Topps set highlighted the players’ 1962 performances, and Topps featured the Mets on 34 different cards; here are a few you might get a kick out of.
1963 Topps #59 Craig Anderson
Anderson lost 17 games during the 1962 season, and you have to admire Topps for trying to paint his performance in a less negative light by saying, “The big youth lost many heartbreaking decisions last year.”
1963 Topps #111 Al Jackson
Al Jackson’s 1963 Topps All-Star Rookie card explains that he led the Mets pitching staff and was 2nd in the NL with four shutouts, overlooking his 20 losses.
1963 Topps #174 Larry Burright
“During the first half of the 1962 campaign, Larry was one of the NL’s top 10 batters.” His second half must have been awful since he finished the year with a .205 average!
1963 Topps #473 Mets Team
I like the look of the front of the Mets team card in 1963. The back highlights their 40-120 record with abysmal performances against Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
The Mets were lovable losers from 1962-1966 before the team made a few key acquisitions in 1967 (Tom Seaver, Jerry Grote, and Bud Harrelson). Then they brought Gil Hodges on as manager and added Jerry Koosman to the pitching rotation. They also brought in Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee for the 1968 season. It all came together in 1969, their “miracle” season, when they defeated the Orioles to win the World Series.
Despite their abysmal early performances and comical cards in Topps’ first sets featuring their players, the Mets eventually found success. And hobby fans know they had a bunch of star players over the years like Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, David Wright, and Jerry Koosman; happy collecting!