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Has it really been 50 years for the Mets?

RICK HERRSCHER, Utility Number: 6 Herrscher was a

Number: 6
Herrscher was a player to be named later sent from the Braves to the Mets in the trade that brought slugging outfielder Frank Thomas to Flushing. Herrscher's only Major League experience came in the last two months of the season. He hit .220 in 35 games.

Number: 12
Ginsberg caught for six other teams and was 35 years old before signing with the Mets in January 1962. The Manhattan native only played in two games and was 0-for-5 at the plate. He retired after the season.

BOB MOORHEAD, Relief pitcher
Number: 22
The Mets selected relief pitcher Bob Moorhead off the Reds roster in the 1961 expansion draft. He was brought into 38 games and finished 11. He closed out the season 0-2 with a 4.53 ERA — the lowest of any Met reliever that season.

Number: 27
Foss spent parts of two seasons in the big leagues, the latter of which came with the '62 Mets. He appeared in five games (four as a relief pitcher and one as a starter) and posted a 4.53 ERA.

WILLARD HUNTER, Relief pitcher
Number: 29
Hunter started the '62 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he finished it with the Mets. The lefty went 1-6 with a 5.57 ERA in 27 games (six starts) for the Amazin's.

RAY DAVIAULT, Relief pitcher
Number: 35
Ray Daviault from Montréal spent the only season of his big-league career with the '62 Mets. In 36 games, he was 1-5 with a 6.22 ERA out of the bullpen.

Number: 36
Sherman Jones went from pitching in the 1961 World Series for the Reds to pitching for the Mets — the losingest team in MLB history. Jones appeared in eight games for the '62 Mets and was 0-4 as a starter and reliever. He later served in the Kansas state House of Representatives and Senate.

BOB MILLER, Relief pitcher
Number: 36
A lefty reliever, Miller capped his five-year career with the '62 Mets. To distinguish the two Bob Millers on the team, manager Casey Stengel called Bob L. Miller "Nelson." This Bob Miller went 2-2 with a 7.08 ERA in 17 games that season.

Credit: AP

All things considered, a summary of the New York Mets' first 50 years would qualify as a happy recap. Really, only one thing needs to be considered and that is the fact the Mets were born to be different, and they have been succeeding since 1962.

They are distinct from the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, their National League ancestors, and they sure are different from the Yankees. In his book, "The Last Days of Shea: Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan," the late Hofstra professor Dana A. Brand explained it this way:

"The Mets, in the mythology of the Mets fan, are the other side of New York. We are the not-Yankees, the aspect of the metropolis that doesn't take itself quite so seriously . . . We who became Mets fans grew to love that nuttiness."

Meeting the Mets

At the start, the Mets weren't just bad, they were historically bad: 40 wins and 120 losses. But they were also endearingly bad, so much so that the phrase "1962 Mets" still has a distinct identity. So does "1969 Mets," which still instantly connotes one of the colossal surprises in the history of sports. When they won again in 1986, it wasn't a run-of-the-mill title, it was the product of high brinkmanship.

You could look it up, to quote Casey Stengel, who set it all in motion: The Mets won pennants as a major dark horse (1973) and a wild card (2000). When they had September collapses (2007, 2008), those were epic, too.

"Let's Go Mets"

Fans picked up on the theme right away, and fed it. They were different. "You can't overestimate the horror of losing the Brooklyn Dodgers and of wandering in the wilderness for four years," said Steve Aptheker, a 14-year-old from Canarsie in 1962 who would become a real estate lawyer on Long Island. "And four years when you're 14 is not like five years when you're 50. It seemed like forever."

For his part, Aptheker and buddies took a bed sheet, painted "Let's Go Mets" on it and paraded around the park for a Memorial Day doubleheader against the Dodgers. "The next day," Aptheker said recalling a newspaper story from his new, carefully chosen, office in Port St. Lucie, "it said there was a big cheer of 'Let's Go Mets' down the third-base line."

Thus, a chant was born.

An instinct for self-expression led to Banner Day, Karl Ehrhardt's signs in the third- base stands, the "K Corner" for Dwight Gooden and a quirky appreciation for the mascot Mr. Met and "Meet the Mets," arguably the most famous of all pro team anthems.

"I think the nature of the team, the way it was built around Casey Stengel and having a good time at the ballpark, created a mystique," said Ed Kranepool, a Met for a record 18 seasons.

Kranepool, 67, grew up a Yankees fan in the Bronx, but signed with the Mets in the pre-draft era because he didn't want to spend years in the minors, as Yankees prospects did in those days. "My goal was to make it to the major leagues. I did it in two days," said the man who made his Mets debut at 17. "That probably hurt my career in the long run."

But it didn't hurt his life. Not a day goes by without someone recognizing him as a '69 Met. He still is around the club and is part of its one-of-a-kind lore.

New York state of mind

To be sure, the Mets paid homage to roots: They took the Dodgers' blue and the Giants' "NY" logo. They played in the Polo Grounds and built a park to look like Ebbets Field. They acquired Duke Snider and Willie Mays. But the Mets always have gone their own way.

Who else can claim a groundskeeper like Pete Flynn, who tended the field in three home stadiums? Only the Mets can say that the two pitchers who got the final out for them in the World Series, Jerry Koosman and Jesse Orosco, were once traded for each other.

The Mets are Ron Swoboda's catch and Endy Chavez's catch and Luis Castillo's muff. They are Tom Seaver's almost-perfect game and Dave Mlicki's mastery in the first-ever real game against you-know-who. They are shoe polish and bleach and a fake mustache. They are Joe Pignatano's tomato plants rising from the bullpen soil and a big mechanical apple that popped

They are Jimmy Piersall rounding the bases backward to mark his 100th home run (Dallas Green was the pitcher) and Robin Ventura getting tackled by Todd Pratt before he could make it around the bases. They are Mookie Wilson's grounder through Bill Bucker's legs.

Mets fans rue the ones that got away: Nolan Ryan, Seaver, Darryl Strawberry, Jose Reyes. Yet they love the trades that worked: Donn Clendenon, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Mike Piazza.

Grim reality has had its moments: Gil Hodges' death, Gooden's drug problem, the Madoff scandal. Yet the Mets have been a refuge, too. While the city was roiled in conflict over Vietnam War protests, The New York Times' quote of the day one morning was from Tommie Agee (about his catches in centerfield). The Mets, and Piazza's home run, helped New York take a first step forward after 9/11.

"Obviously, we don't have the pedigree of the Yankees. But when this team wins, this town goes incredibly crazy for National League baseball," said David Wright, a Mets fan as a kid in Norfolk, Va. "When I was growing up, it was that kind of rowdy bunch," he said of his favorite franchise, "a bunch of different personalities, a bunch of different characters."

For the Mets, it is and always has been all in the differences.


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