London Series 2024 Primer: Low down on the New York Mets

For four years, the biggest city in the country was without an NL team until the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club came into existence in 1962 to replace the departed Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, who had both moved to California.

This was the same year that the Houston Astros (then named Houston Colt .45s) also joined the league.

If you think back to our Phillies low down, then the Mets are young whippersnappers compared to the oldtimers from Philadelphia who were formed in 1883.

For the first two years in the league, the Mets played at the Polo Ground in Upper Manhattan before moving in 1964 to the newly constructed Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens. The stadium was named in honour of William Shea, who was chiefly responsible for bringing National League baseball back to New York.

Whereas it had taken 97 years for the Phillies to win their first World Series, the Mets did it in eight with a 4-1 series victory over the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. Legendary starter Tom Seaver threw a 10-inning complete game in Game 4 which the Mets won in extra innings.

What followed was an inauspicious couple of decades for the Mets, who were sold in 1980 to a group headed by Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon for $21 million – the highest amount ever paid for an American sports franchise.

1984 saw a resurgence, with the team finishing first or second in the division in seven straight seasons and making two postseason appearances, including a memorable Game 7 win over the Red Sox in 1986. Trailing 0-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Red Sox had an 88% win probability until lead-off hitter and British fan favourite Mookie Wilson scored to start the comeback.

In 1991, the Mets signed Bobby Bonilla to a five-year deal, making him the best-paid player in the National League. However, the deal didn’t work out as planned, and he was traded to the Orioles in 1995.

Three years later, the Mets traded for Bonilla, but within a year, they released him. Instead of paying him the $5.9 million they owed, it was deferred for over a decade, and now they pay him $1.19 million each year from 2011 to 2035 (that’s nearly $30 million if you can’t do the math).

This extraordinary payment scheme was designed to enable the Mets to invest even more money with billionaire fund manager Bernie Madoff. Mets owners Wilpon and Katz already had over 500 accounts with Madoff and calculated that the double-digit returns they could get would outweigh the amount they would have to pay Bonilla.

Madoff’s investments were uncovered as a giant Ponzi scheme with an estimated fraud value of $50 billion. Mets ownership had over $500 million invested with Madoff, so the next few years saw incredible cost-cutting just to keep the lights on in their new 41,800-seater Citi Field stadium.

Six losing seasons followed, but the crowds kept coming, with an average of 2.4 million fans watching in Queens each year. Coincidentally, in a non-scientific poll conducted by Tom Pringle, it was discovered that the New York Mets were the third-most supported team in the UK.

The London Series will represent the sixth & seventh games for the Mets outside of the USA or Canada, having played in MLB’s very first non-domestic game when they faced the San Diego Padres in a three-game series in Mexico in 1996.

The Mets’ second foreign excursion was a split two-game series against the Cubs in front of a combined total of 110,000 fans in the Toyko Dome in Japan in 2000.

Also that year, the Mets participated in a unique interleague doubleheader in which they faced the Yankees at Shea Stadium in the afternoon and then in the Bronx that same evening. The Mets lost both games.

In September 2002, by losing to the Marlins, the Mets established a new National League record with their 15th consecutive home defeat. At the end of the season, long-term Mets manager Bobby Valentine was replaced by Art Howe, the disgruntled manager of Billy Beane‘s Oakland Athletics.

In 2012, R. A. Dickey became the first knuckleball pitcher to win the NL Cy Young Award, and was followed a couple of seasons later by the flamethrowing Jacob deGrom, who clinched the award in two successive years.

Pitching has always been a strength of the Mets, but somehow it hasn’t turned out as planned. Take 2017, for instance, when deGrom was joined by Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler for an unbeatable rotation. Unfortunately, the non-deGrom quartet only managed 50 starts between them instead of a possible 120. Pitching injuries always seem to curse the Mets.

And so to the present day; an era of immense optimism fuelled by the limitless cash at the disposal of new owner Steve Cohen.

Cohen, one of the richest people in the world, bought the club in 2020 with an ambitious aim to bring the World Series to Queens within five years. He quickly discovered that winning in baseball is not as straightforward as simply throwing money at it, with a series of disastrous non-playing issues ranging from appointing Carlos Beltran as manager (who was forced to resign before taking charge of one game due to his links to the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal) to executives like Jared Porter, Mickey Callaway, Joe DeVito, and Ryan Ellis for allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

Life has been tough in Queens recently, with only two winning seasons over the last seven years, despite being involved in some of the biggest contracts. They are currently paying Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and James McCann a total of $65 million to play against them. By comparison, the Oakland Athletics, who have an identical winning record this season, are paying $61 million for their entire roster.

It’s not all bad news

Since breaking into the lineup in 2015, Pete Alonso, two-time winner of the Home Run Derby, has connected with more home runs than anyone else. With 204 homers, he is significantly ahead of closest rivals Aaron Judge and Matt Olson.

In Francisco Lindor, the Mets have one of the most engaging players in baseball. The shortstop agreed to a 10-year, $341 million deal to stay in Flushing until his 38th birthday. It is the longest contract in Mets history, and nearly three times as lucrative as David Wright‘s contract, which was the team’s previous largest deal.

With Jett Williams, Drew Gilbert, Luisangel Acuña, and Ryan Clifford in the minors, the Mets have four of MLB’s most talented prospects who will look to become baseball superstars over the next few years.

But, in the end, it all comes back to money. In a world of 8,000,000,000 people, only 90 have more cash than the Mets’ owner, so you can expect that what Steve Cohen wants, Steve Cohen gets. It just might not be on the same timeline that you want.

Featured image of Pete Alonso by Luke Hales/Getty Images

Make sure you check out the rest of our London Series 2024 primers

Article by @GavTramps. Look out for the Bat Flips & Nerds crew in London. We have Tom and Darius backstage getting content you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Puppet master John will pull the strings with incisive interviews and bamboozling vocabulary. Russell will bring world-class analysis into the discussion, Rachel (#properjournalist) is providing coverage for nationwide outlets, while Rob, Ben and the rest of us will be mingling with the crowds in Stratford and Trafalgar Square. Come and say “hi”.

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