John Thorn: On the Mets at 50 years

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on April 30, 2012:

Last week I delivered the keynote speech at a Hofstra University conference marking the 50th anniversary of the New York Mets. This is a somewhat abbreviated version of that talk. 

When George Weiss hired Casey Stengel to become the manager of the expansion New York Mets in September 1961, the Ol’ Professor declared to reporters, “It’s a great honor for me to be joining the Knickerbockers.”

Now, Casey had been around New York baseball forever. He broke in as an outfielder with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1912, starred with the New York Giants in the World Series of 1923, and created an unsurpassed record at the helm of the New York Yankees, only to be fired after losing the 1960 World Series in the final inning of the final game. But the Knickerbockers? Casey did not cavort with Alexander Cartwright and Doc Adams on the Elysian Fields of Hoboken before the Civil War, but in his misstep he was on to something.

Casey’s infant Mets owned the oldest name in New York baseball. Dating back to 1857, the height of the game’s amateur era, the first Metropolitan baseball club predated the Giants, Dodgers, or Yankees. Established as a professional nine in September 1880, the Mets and their one-armed pitcher, Hugh Daily, played baseball at a park known as the Polo Grounds because their Central Park field was initially leased for playing … polo. As champions of the American Association (at that time a major league), the 1884 Mets took part in baseball’s first world championship series (losing to the Providence Grays). Baseball ended at this first Polo Grounds when the city built 111th St. through center and right fields in the fall of 1888. The initial home of the expansion Mets was the fourth incarnation of these original Polo Grounds.

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Originally published: April 30, 2012. Last Updated: April 30, 2012.