Sixty years after '62 Mets, Hobie Landrith and Frank Thomas remember that first season
As soon as this week, the Mets plan to announce the return of Old-Timers’ Day for a late August date, according to a source.
It’s the 60th anniversary of the franchise. The Mets were born as an expansion team in 1962 and that club went 40-120, still the most losses in modern baseball history.
The Mets under owner Steve Cohen plan to honor every era of their history this season. Assuming the lockout ends and the pandemic abates, Old-Timers’ Day will be back for the first time since 1994.
To honor the past, you have to start at the beginning, and that means the Original Mets from 1962. The losingest team ever assembled holds a special place in the hearts of the men who played on it and the fans who supported it.
"Even to this day, I still get autograph requests," former catcher Hobie Landrith, 91, said on Friday from his home in Sunnyvale, California.
Landrith was the Mets’ first pick in the expansion draft on Oct. 10, 1961, to stock the new New York franchise and the Houston Colt 45s (later Astros).
After the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left in 1957 for California, fans were happy just to have a National League team back in New York, and 922,530 of them came out to see the games at the Polo Grounds. (That was the sixth-highest total in the NL. The Yankees, coming off a World Series appearance, drew just under 1.5 million.)
"They sure did come out," former slugging outfielder Frank Thomas, 92, said Friday from his Pittsburgh home. "They went out there whether we won or lost because New York was back in the National League again to play baseball."
(This is not the Frank Thomas who was nicknamed ‘’The Big Hurt.’’ This Frank Thomas was nicknamed ‘’The Big Donkey.’’)
The day before the Mets’ first home game, New York City threw them a ticker-tape parade. Colorful, quotable, lovable Casey Stengel stole the spotlight as the first manager in club history.
Because of the current lockout, the answer to the question "who was the last player to sign with the Mets?" is easy. It’s Max Scherzer, who officially joined the club on Dec. 1, hours before the owners locked out the players to begin the current labor dispute.
The line to Scherzer began with Landrith, who is recognized as the original Original Met.
The Mets selected 22 players in the expansion draft, 21 of whom played for the club in 1962 (22nd pick Lee Walls was traded to the Dodgers on Dec. 15, 1961, for infielder Charlie Neal).
Along with Landrith, the list includes fan favorites such as Choo Choo Coleman, Al Jackson and Gil Hodges, the latter of whom had only 127 at-bats in 1962 but went on to manage the 1969 World Series-winning Mets team and finally was elected to the Hall of Fame last month.
Landrith said he was "very disappointed" when he learned he had been selected from the San Francisco Giants.
"I wanted to stay with the Giants," he said. "But it turned out well. I enjoyed my time in New York."
It wasn’t a long stay. Landrith was traded to Baltimore on June 7 to complete a deal for "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry.
None of the players picked in the expansion draft signed a contract with the Mets until the following January.
The first player the Mets actually signed was infielder Ted Lepcio, on Oct. 25, 1961.
The following January, Lepcio appeared at a news conference with Stengel and said he was "very happy to play under a manager like Casey Stengel. I’ll play anywhere Casey asks me to play."
Alas, Casey didn’t ask him to play anywhere. Lepcio was released five days before the season opened.
So that brings us to Thomas, whom the Mets acquired in a trade with Milwaukee on Nov. 28, 1961, for a player to be named and cash.
There was no doubt Thomas was going to make the roster, as he had hit 27 home runs the year before.
Asked 60 years later how he felt about being traded to an expansion club, Thomas said: "Things like that happen in baseball. You accept what it is. It was a great era in baseball. It was a great experience for me being in a big city."
Thomas hit a team-best 34 home runs in 1962, good for sixth in the NL, and drove in 94 runs.
Seventeen of the 45 men who played on the 1962 club are still around and will be invited to Old-Timers’ Day. The festivities will include an Old-Timers’ game.
Asked if he plans to attend, Thomas said: "Oh, yeah. I won’t be able to play, though. I could bunt."
Living members of the 1962 Mets:
Player, Pos. Age
Craig Anderson, P 83
Joe Christopher, OF 86
Galen Cisco, P 85
Cliff Cook, IF 85
Roger Craig, P 91
John DeMerit, OF 85
Rick Herrscher, IF 85
Dave Hillman, P 94
Jay Hook, P 85
Ed Kranepool, 1B 77
Hobie Landrith, C 91
Ken MacKenzie, P 87
Felix Mantilla, 2B 87
Jim Marshall, IF 90
Bob G. Miller, P 86
Joe Pignatano, C 92
Frank Thomas, OF, 92
Source: NY Mets