In 1973, the Mets won the National League pennant despite a mediocre 82-79 record. They did so with a light-hitting catcher in Jerry Grote (.256, 1 HR, 32 RBI), a first baseman (John Milner) who led the team in home runs but left a lot to be desired in the batting average department (.239, 23 HR, 72 RBI) and a 29-year-old with multiple All-Star Game appearances (Rusty Staub) who led the team in doubles, RBIs and on-base percentage. They also played musical chairs in the outfield, with only one player (Staub) collecting more than 400 at-bats.
On the pitching side of things, the Mets had that year's Cy Young Award winner on their starting staff (Tom Seaver) who led the league in strikeouts and complete games. Unfortunately, they also had a bullpen that left a lot to be desired, as closer Tug McGraw's ERA was near 4.00 (a high number for that era) and six other relievers had ERAs north of 6.00.
The team did not do much to improve their roster that off-season, despite obvious flaws with the offense and bullpen. As a result, the 1974 Mets faded miserably, finishing the year with a 71-91 record - their first losing mark since 1968 and their first 90-loss campaign since Tom Seaver's rookie season one year earlier.
Although the Mets recovered to post two winning seasons in 1975 and 1976, the cracks were clearly visible on a team that had won two pennants and one World Series championship over a five-year stretch. The death of Joan Whitney Payson and the rise of M. Donald Grant to power ushered in a dark era in Mets baseball that lasted for almost a decade.
Why is this important now in 2012? Because if the Mets aren't careful, history could repeat itself in 2013.
Like their 1973 counterparts (minus the pennant, of course), the 2012 Mets employed a light-hitting catcher (Josh Thole), a first baseman who led the team in homers but had a low batting average (Ike Davis) and a 29-year-old All-Star who paced the team in a number of the major offensive categories (David Wright). In the outfield, only one player (Lucas Duda) reached the 400 at-bat plateau. Similarly, the 2012 Mets also produced the Cy Young Award winner who led the league in strikeouts and complete games (R.A. Dickey) and had a bullpen that left a lot to be desired (you name him, he probably sucked).
Let's look at the 1973 and 2012 Mets, position by position, to see the eerie similarities in their production:
Jerry Grote: .256, 1 HR, 32 RBI, .294 OBP
Josh Thole: .234, 1 HR, 21 RBI, .290 OBP
John Milner: .239, 23 HR, 72 RBI, team leader in strikeouts
Ike Davis: .227, 32 HR, 90 RBI, team leader in strikeouts
Felix Millan: .290, 3 HR, 37 RBI, .332 OBP
Daniel Murphy: .291, 6 HR, 65 RBI, .332 OBP
Bud Harrelson: .258, 0 HR, 20 RBI, .348 OBP
Ruben Tejada: .289, 1 HR, 25 RBI, .333 OBP
Wayne Garrett: .256, 16 HR, 58 RBI, team leader in stolen bases
David Wright: .306, 21 HR, 93 RBI, team leader in stolen bases
Cleon Jones, Don Hahn, Rusty Staub, Willie Mays (combined stats): .254, 34 HR, 170 RBI
Jason Bay, Andres Torres, Lucas Duda, Scott Hairston (combined stats): .233, 46 HR, 169 RBI
Starting Pitcher (Ace)
Tom Seaver: 19-10, 2.08 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 251 Ks, Cy Young Award
R.A. Dickey: 20-6, 2.73 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 230 Ks, Cy Young Award
Starting Pitcher (Next Three)
Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, George Stone (combined stats): 40-34, 2.96 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 438 Ks
Jonathon Niese, Johan Santana, Dillon Gee (combined stats): 25-25, 3.99 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 363 Ks
Tug McGraw: 25 saves, 3.87 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
Frank Francisco: 23 saves, 5.53 ERA, 1.61 WHIP
Pretty similar in many categories, huh? The 1973 Mets were fortunate to play in one of the weakest divisions of all time and used it to their advantage. The 2012 Mets were not as lucky, as they were stuck in the same division as the team with the best regular season record in baseball (Washington) and the top wild card team (Atlanta).
After coming within one win of their second World Series title, the Mets went into the 1974 season with high expectations but the same players. Almost all of them underachieved.
John Milner had fewer homers and RBIs in 1974 even though he had 57 more plate appearances. Wayne Garrett's numbers went down across the board, except for his strikeouts, which went up by 30%. Rusty Staub's batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage all decreased from his 1973 numbers. No starter hit higher than Cleon Jones' .282, and Felix Millan was the only other starter who hit higher than .258. The team finished last or next-to-last in the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored, hits, doubles, triples and stolen bases. In other words, they stunk more than the swamp Shea Stadium was built on.
|Even during the 1973 World Series, John Milner could tell that things were going to stink in 1974.|
Because of the lack of hitting, Tom Seaver finished with his first non-winning season, going 11-11 despite a 3.20 ERA and his standard 200-plus strikeout season. Jon Matlack tossed seven shutouts and had a stellar 2.41 ERA. All that got him was a 13-15 record. The bullpen was atrocious, with Harry Parker and Tug McGraw combining to pitch 61 games in relief. They finished with seven saves and 23 losses.
The combination of weak hitting and subpar relief pitching caused the Mets to go from the penthouse to the outhouse in the span of one season. The 2012 Mets were nowhere near the penthouse. However, they only won eight fewer regular season games than their 1973 counterparts with a lineup and bullpen that was eerily similar to the pennant winners.
The 2013 Mets won't begin their season for another four months, but already there are rumblings that the team will go through another losing season. The front office has to improve the offense. They also have to put together a relief corps that will at the very least be serviceable instead of the human land mines that trotted out to the mound in 2012.
The 1974 team was a portent of things to come. The 2013 team can't repeat history. It's already been a dark first four seasons at Citi Field. The light switch has to come on sooner or later (preferably sooner).