The 1969 Mets: The Greatest Cinderella Story in Baseball History

Associated Press
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Given the many, many variables which go into building a baseball team, and given how long it takes to build a winner, there aren’t all that many true Cinderella stories in the national pastime.

Baseball has had its share, of course. The 1914 “Miracle Braves” may have been the prototype “where the heck did THEY come from?” story in professional sports. The 1950 “Whiz Kids” Phillies are often mentioned as a Cinderella team. In recent years we have seen our share of worst-to-first clubs, most notably the 1991 Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins. But while there are several teams one can talk about as a Cinderella story in Major League Baseball, there can be no doubt that the greatest Cinderella story in the history of the game is the 1969 Mets.

An expansion team in 1962, the Mets set the standard for baseball futility right out of the gate by going 40-120 in their first season. They’d lose more than 100 games the next three seasons after that, 95 in 1966 and another 101 in 1967. In 1968 their loss total was down to a “mere” 89, but they still finished in ninth place out of ten teams in the National League and no one considered them a competitive team entering 1969. No one at all. Even after seven seasons as a franchise, the Mets were most famous for their former manager, the great Casey Stengel, and his habit of giving his team humorous backhanded compliments. As a point of conversation they were laugh-inducing. As a baseball team they were a laughingstock.

The 1969 season started as usual, with the Mets digging themselves a nine-game hole by the end of May. Their record — hovering around .500 — was a bit better than it had been in recent years, but they still stood in fourth place, scaring no one. Then, suddenly, manager Gil Hodges’ men began to make a move.

Young outfielder Cleon Jones heated up and talented young starters Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman came into their own. Seaver more than came into his own, actually. He began to dominate. Thanks to contributions from rookie starter Gary Gentry, outfielder Tommie Agee, and a stronger-than-expected bullpen, anchored by Ron Taylor, Tug McGraw, Nolan Ryan, and Jack Dilauro, the Mets began to climb up the standings. By early June they were still a good distance behind the first place Chicago Cubs, but they had jumped two teams and were ensconced in second. Throughout July and August, the Mets would wax and wane, climbing to within four games at one point, then falling back to ten behind, raising eyebrows but never seeming able to find that extra gear.

In late August the Cubs began to crumble, however, and the young Mets caught fire. New York overtook them for first place on September 10. They’d never fall out of first again. After defeating the Atlanta Braves in the first League Championship Series in history, the Mets had won the National League pennant.

The pennant was nice enough, but most didn’t think they stood a chance against the American League Champion Baltimore Orioles, who had won 109 games that year and featured the most impressive array of talent in all of baseball. Many of the Orioles players were still around from when they  won the 1966 World Series and most of them would be on the club when it would go on to win the World Series in 1970 and another pennant in 1971. But the Amazin’ Mets — a nickname given to them as a joke by Stengel when they were far from amazing — would not be denied. They took true ownership of the “Amazin'” moniker and beat the fearsome Orioles in five games, becoming the stuff of legend. Truly, and without question, baseball’s greatest surprise in history. It’s greatest Cinderella story by far.

I’m talking about baseball’s greatest Cinderella story for a reason today. Over in the English Premier League, soccer fans are bearing witness to what may not only be the greatest Cinderella story in EPL history, but perhaps the greatest Cinderella story in the history of sports. Leicester City was one of the worst clubs last year, just barely avoiding relegation. Entering the current season, oddsmakers made them 5000-1 long shots to win the league title. I would guess that not even the 1962 Mets were such long shots, let alone the 1969 Mets. Leicester City’s odds of their being relegated? Far, far more likely. Yet here they are now, nearing the end of an astounding season, positioned to win it all. It’s truly a fantastic story.

A lot of baseball fans also follow the English Premier League. The seasons are complementary goods, with English soccer coming to the fore when baseball goes to sleep for the winter and the season ending just as MLB is heating up. Those of you who do are getting quite a treat this year. You’re watching a club that, even if it’s not your rooting interest, you will always remember. A club about which NBC’s Premier League play-by-play announcer Arlo White has said, “If they manage to seal the title, they may well be the most universally popular Champions in Premier League history.” That’s high praise indeed.

You might even say it’s . . . Amazin.’ Maybe even amazin’ enough that you too will want to jump on the Leicester City bandwagon.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.