I was still seven months away from being born when the Mets’ 1983 season kicked off at Shea Stadium on Tuesday, April 5th against Philadelphia. Even though I don’t have memories of that season or the six horrendous ones that preceded it, I’m a student of the team’s history. Adding to the knowledge I’ve gained of the Mets squads that played before my time, are the moments I’ve experienced as I’ve followed the team over the last 29 or so years (26 of which I have memories of, ranging from vague to crystal clear). What I’ve come to believe is that the 2013 Mets may be a lot like the 1983 edition. Somewhat in terms of the product on the field, but mostly due to the people in charge, the mood surrounding the team, and the exciting future you can almost reach out and touch.
Both the 1983 and 2013 clubs were coming off multiple losing seasons. Like the ’83 team, this year’s Mets will likely play the majority of their games in front of a half empty, indifferent ballpark (even though I view the talent level and potential of the 2013 Mets as head and shoulders above that of their 1983 counterparts).
Both had astute general managers who were brought in to clean up the mess of the previous regime (Frank Cashen who was hired in 1980, and Sandy Alderson who was hired in 2010). Like the 1983 Mets, the 2013 edition is pitching rich in the minors. Zack Wheeler is on the horizon, and many other high upside arms are charging through the system.
The manager of the Mets in 1983 was George Bamberger, who wasn’t retained after the season. The manager of the 2013 Mets is Terry Collins, who may or may not be at the helm when the Mets are expected to turn the corner in 2014. If Collins isn’t retained, it’s possible he’d be replaced by Wally Backman or Pedro Lopez, one of whom would have risen through the Mets minor league ranks to reach the majors (just as Davey Johnson did in 1984).
The Mets’ 1983 slogan was “Now the fun starts.” That slogan would turn out to be laughable, as the ’83 Mets slogged to a 68-94 record. Incredibly, that was their highest win total since 1976. In the six seasons between 1977 and 1982, the Mets won 64, 66, 63, 67, 41 (strike shortened season), and 65 games respectively. Adorning the cover of the 1983 yearbook were John Stearns, George Foster, Neil Allen, returning hero Tom Seaver, Mookie Wilson, and Dave Kingman.
The Mets’ 2013 slogan is “Great time. Great place. Great memories.” It’s basically an admission from the marketing department that the team doesn’t expect to seriously contend. We won’t know until next week who will be on the cover of the 2013 yearbook, but it’s safe to assume that David Wright, Jonathon Niese, and Ike Davis will likely make an appearance if the Mets throw some players on there.
As was noted above, even though there are a plethora of comparisons that can be made between the 1983 Mets and the 2013 Mets, the talent level of the players on the respective big league rosters aren’t where the major similarities lie. Of the players who opened the year with the Mets in 1983, only three (Wally Backman, Jesse Orosco, and Mookie Wilson) made a significant impact on the 1986 Championship team. Touted rookie Darryl Strawberry made his debut shortly after the season began.
None of the starting pitchers who would help lead the Mets to their title had reached Shea by the time ’83 began. In addition, the ’83 squad had yet to make the acquisition (Keith Hernandez) that would help make the team legitimate. The 2013 Mets already have that player in David Wright.
When you look at the pitchers who are likely to be on hand during player introductions at Citi Field a week from today, you’ll notice that three of them who may be in the rotation when the team hoists its next World Series trophy will be there: Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, and Dillon Gee. Additionally, top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler is expected to debut during the middle of the season. That’s where the 2013 squad has a major leg up on their 1983 brethren: most of the impact arms are either already here, or only months away. As noted above, one of the players who’s expected to be a main offensive contributor to the next title contender (David Wright) is already on board. Ike Davis has a chance to be a key piece as well, as does Travis d’Arnaud (who will open in Las Vegas, but shouldn’t be long for AAA).
So…if the rosters aren’t that comparable, why is it again that 2013 and 1983 are similar? Circumstances.
With the team coming off four consecutive losing seasons, most fans are either incensed or indifferent. Sandy Alderson, like Frank Cashen before him, was brought in to clean up a disaster. Like Cashen, Alderson has refused to purge his farm system in an effort to find a quick fix and appease the fans. Instead, he’s built that farm system to the point where its pitching prospects are the envy of nearly every other team in the game.
With a slow rebuild, though, comes fan angst. Fan angst brings media scrutiny. Media scrutiny in turn angers the fans even more. It’s a vicious cycle, but one that should be coming to an end relatively shortly.
I have the ability to look back at 1983 and know that the seven seasons that came after it were a Golden Era for the Mets. Although they only had two playoff appearances between 1984 and 1990, the Mets were damn good for seven straight seasons. Unfortunately, the Wild Card didn’t come into play until the 1995 season. If there had been a Wild Card between 1984 and 1990, the Mets would’ve made the Playoffs every one of those years.
There’s no way to guarantee that 2013 will be like 1983 – a season that ushers in seven or more years of tremendous Mets baseball. However, it’s much more fun to envision a bright future when the alternative is looking back and bemoaning things that can’t be changed.