A tale of two teams in New York Mets history

The 1974 and 1999 New York Mets are a tale of two different teams in Mets history.

Mike Piazza #31
Mike Piazza #31 / Al Bello/GettyImages

The New York Mets have had many ups and downs over the years. Some seasons have had some exciting finishes while others have been downright exasperating. There are two seasons in Mets if we go back 25 years ago and even 50 years ago, which exemplify the range of emotions the team can bring upon the fans.

The New York Mets were wrongfully thought to be vying for a World Championship 50 years ago

The 1974 New York Mets were coming off a season what really might have been more of a miracle than the 1969 team. The only difference was that the ’69 team won it all. The ’73 team took it to a deciding 7th game and fell just short. Some say that they didn’t even deserve to be there in the first place. But that’s another story.

The ’74 Mets returned a lot of the same players that were there the year before. Of course, Willie Mays had retired, but he played a very small role during his two-year Mets career. But Manager Yogi Berra pretty much paraded out the same starters – catcher Jerry Grote, first baseman John Milner, second baseman Felix Millan, shortstop Buddy Harrelson, third baseman Wayne Garrett, left fielder Cleon Jones, centerfielder Don Hahn, and right fielder Rusty Staub.

The starting rotation of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, and George Stone…back again. The ’73 folk hero Tug McGraw…yup…still there.

So what happened?

Honestly? It was actually painful to watch. They just weren’t good. And the guys were still all young…in their primes…but they just didn’t perform up to their capabilities. Seaver…TOM SEAVER…went 11-11…hampered by nagging injuries for the first time in his career, while Koosman led the staff with 15 wins. Matlack actually led the staff in ERA at 2.41 but still had a sub .500 record of 13-15. And Stone? He went from 12-3 and 2.80 ERA in 1973 to 2-7 with a 5.03 ERA in ’74.

You want to talk about painful? McGraw…the anointed folk hero…Ya Gotta Beelieve!...remember him? He has probably the worst season of his career finishing at 6-11, a 4.16 ERA, and only three…THREE…saves.

Just about the entire team had a down year. Nobody played…nobody hit or pitched…to expectations or potential. No improvements had been made in the offseason. No additions. No reinforcements. Typical M. Donald Grant nonsense. It was a recipe for disaster. The Mets finished with a record of 71-91…good enough…or bad enough…depending on how you’re looking at it…for fifth place (out of six teams) in the National League East.

And they were definitely not even fun to watch.

Interesting facts from 1974? Benny Ayala makes his Major League debut and hits a home run in his very first at bat. Exciting? He didn’t last very long. And Mets first round draft choice Rich Puig (remember him?) also made his Major League debut and went 0-10 and he, too, didn’t last very long. In fact, he didn’t make another appearance.

I bet that all made a big difference in everyone’s life. So let’s move forward 25 years.

It was 25 years ago that the New York Mets probably had the most exciting club in team history

The 1999 New York Mets would be the opposite of that ’74 club. The ’99 team would turn out to be one of the most exciting offensive and defensive teams that the Mets have ever had.

The fact is that the Mets, with very few exceptions, were never an offensive club. Oh there were some pretty damn good offensive players, even when the Mets were truly bad. But the team was never in the same league as the Pittsburgh Lumber Company or the Big Red Machine. The 1999 season afforded that to the fans.

But just like those Pirates teams and those Reds teams discovered, wielding those big bats does not always yield a first place finish, or a World Series championship. Sure, the Pirates won a couple and the Red, too, won a couple, but they quite often found themselves as also rans. Because they lacked pitching. And for the 1999 New York Mets, the pitching just wasn’t there.

The 1999 club was truly enjoyable to watch offensively. How could it not be? They were led by Mike Piazza who hit .303 with 40 home runs (most of them of the “monster” variety) and 124 RBI. Rickey Henderson…yes…RICKEY HENDERSON…hit .315 with a .423 on base percentage and 37 stolen bases. And his OBP and SB did not even lead the club? The stolen base king was second to Roger Cedeno who swiped 66 bases while hitting .313 with an OBP of .396.

How about John Olerud…who led the Mets in OBP at .427 while hitting .298 with 19 home runs, 96 RBI, and he walked 125 times. The rest of the infield? Edguardo Alfonso “chipped in” with a .304 batting average, 27 HR, 108 RBI, and . 385 OBP. Robin Ventura hit .301 with 32 homers and 120 RBi. And Rey Ordonez, the acrobatic shortstop hit .258.

But the infield, as efficient as it was at the plate, was even more efficient in the field. The infield of Olerud at first, Alfonzo at second, Ordonez at short, and Ventura at third was lauded as the best fielding infield ever and was featured – in the iconic black jerseys – on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The Mets had a team batting average of .279. The New York Mets with a batting average of .279 and an OBP of .363? And with the fielding prowess? It was definitely a fun team to watch.

But geez…the pitching. Some great players on that starting staff including Al Leiter, Orel Hershiser, Kenny Rogers, and even Octavio Dotel (who would go on to be a pretty good reliever elsewhere)…but not a single starter had an ERA under 4.00. With the defense that was behind them, you would think that they would achieve some level of success. But it just didn’t translate the way you would expect.

The bullpen had Armando Benitez, John Franco, and Turk Wendell. It just wasn’t enough.

The team, led by Bobby Valentine, would have to wait until next year to reach the promised land and face the Yankees in the 2000 World Series. But the 1999 team finished with a record of 97-66 making it to the post-season, falling just short, but would prove to be one of the most exciting teams ever taking the field in Flushing.

Interesting facts from 1999? Some guy named Pat Mahomes had a nice season for the Mets going 8-0 with a 3.68 ERA out of the bullpen. Turns out his kid has a better arm than he did. Fan favorite Bobby Bonilla returned for a second tour of duty with the Mets and appeared in 60 games and hit .160.