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As we pass through January on our way to February, the baseball season seems to be inching closer and closer. For me, that's a great thing. Heading into the 2008 season, the New York Mets have three very peculiar distinctions. One is very well-known, while the other two are slightly surprising. In other words, the 46-year history of the Metropolitans, these things have never happened.
No Met Has Ever Won the MVP Award
Despite having a history of players that include Darryl Strawberry, Mike Piazza, Keith Hernandez, Lee Mazzilli, Tommie Agee, Rusty Staub, Rey Ordonez (ok, that was a bad joke, but I couldn't resist), and Gary Carter, no Met player has ever won the NL MVP. The closest a Met player has finished has been second, which has happened 3 times in Met history. In 1969, Tom Seaver of the Miracle Mets finished just behind actual winner Willie McCovey (the final tally had McCovey beating Seaver 265-243, with both players receiving 11 1st-place votes). In 1984, Hernandez was a distant second behind runaway MVP choice Ryne Sandberg, as Hernandez received just one 1st-place vote. 1988 saw Kirk Gibson capture the MVP, while Strawberry come in second and teammate Kevin McReynolds finish third. This past season, David Wright, despite notching a 30-30 season, among other accomplishments, only finished 4th in the MVP voting, garnering no 1st-place votes and receiving 182 points, well behind winner Jimmy Rollins (353 points), second-place finisher Ryan Howard (336), and even the third-place Prince Fielder (284). While I firmly believe that Wright was the 2007 MVP, there's no question he was hurt by the fact that his team collapsed down the stretch and missed the playoffs altogether.
Which brings me to my next point...
The Mets Have Never Won Back-To-Back Division Titles
The Mets have been to the playoffs seven times in their history. Of those seven years, two of them (1999 and 2000) were via the Wild Card. The other five were by virtue of winning their division. None of these were in consecutive years.
The first year the Mets won the NL East was in 1969, the year of the Miracle Mets, when they went 100-62 on their way to the Mets' first World Series title. In 1969, the Mets pitching was spectacular, as they gave up the second-fewest runs of any team in the National League (only the St. Louis Cardinals allowed fewer runs than the Mets, allowing 540 to the Mets' 541). The next year, the Mets finished in third place, 6 games out of first, with a record of 83-79. Despite finishing 1st in runs allowed in 1970, the Mets actually allowed 89 more runs than the previous year. This was indicative of all of the National League, as every team's runs allowed increased from 1969 to 1970. However, by comparison, the division-winning Pittsburgh Pirates only allowed 12 more runs in 1970 than in 1969, and the 2nd-place Cincinnati Reds allowed only 13 more runs than in the previous year. This lead to the third-place finish for the Mets.
The next time the Mets won their division was 4 years later, in 1973. That year, the Mets only finished a game and a half ahead of the second-place Cardinals, with a record of 82-79. The next year, the Mets fell off the table and only managed a 71-91 record. In 1973, the Mets scored 608 runs and gave up 588, which lead them to a respectable 82-win season. However, in 1974, they scored 572 runs and gave up 646, which means that the Mets went from outscoring their opponents by 20 runs to being outscored by 74 runs. Looking at the run differentials, it's easy to see why the Mets were unable to repeat as division champions.
1986 was the next time that the Mets were NL East Champions. That year, the Mets were a juggernaut, finishing with a 108-54 record and winning the division by an astounding 21 and a half games. They had the best offense and best defense in the National League, and the team breezed through the regular season in what is certainly the best season in Mets history. In 1987, however, the Mets finished second to the Cardinals, 3 games out of first place. Despite not winning the division, the Mets still posted a very good 92-70 record. I'd venture a guess that the Cardinals' first place finish was due more to their vastly improved offense (in 1986, they finished dead last in runs scored, but in 1987 the Cardinals had the second-best offense in the National League) than to any deficiencies on the part of the Mets.
In 1988, however, the Mets returned to the top of the division, winning the NL East and falling one game short of the World Series. For the 3rd time in their history, the Mets managed 100 wins (100-60) and ran away with the division, finishing 15 games in front of the second-place Pirates. Just as in 1986, the Mets were first in both runs scored and fewest runs allowed, and from May 3rd on, the team was never out of first place. In 1989 the Mets once again failed to repeat as division champions. They managed 13 fewer wins, finishing 6 games out of first. This can be partially attributed to the Mets pitching, which allowed 63 more runs than in 1988, as well as to the fact that the division-winning Cubs scored 42 more runs and allowed 71 fewer in 1989 than in the previous year.
After an 18-year hiatus from the top of the NL East, the Mets triumphantly returned to the top of the division in 2006, finishing with the best record in the majors at 97-65. They rolled through the National League and finished 12 games ahead of the second-place Philadelphia Phillies. The Mets' sterling record could be attributed to balance, as they ranked 3rd in both runs scored and fewest runs allowed. In 2007, the Mets seemed well on their way to finally winning consecutive division titles. However, as we all know, the Mets imploded in September, finishing with a disappointing 88-74 record and missing the playoffs by one game.
And now we come to the most well-known of these...
No Met Pitcher Has Ever Thrown a No-Hitter
Everybody knows about this one. This is mainly here to give me a chance to rant. (Also, it would be kind of lame if I only had two things to write about.) The Mets have had several pitchers throw no-hitters either before or after they leave the Mets. Some of the higher profile pitchers to do this are Tom Seaver, David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Kenny Rogers, and of course, Nolan Ryan. I think it's just fantastic that the all-time leader in no-hitters spent the first 5 years of his career with the Mets, and yet couldn't throw one of his seven no-hitters while with the team. What a bastard.
I've also noticed that the Mets like to torture me with the near-no-nos. For instance, while the 2007 Mets were nearing the end of their epic self-destruction, John Maine decided that the next-to-last day of the season was the day to give me hope. That Saturday afternoon, Maine came within 4 outs of a no-hitter, only to give up a 20-foot dribbler down the 3rd-base line. My frustration doubled a day later when Tom Glavine gave away the Mets' chances to play in the postseason. Not only was I excited that the Mets might have had a no-hitter, but Maine gave me hope that the Mets would find a way to make the postseason. Again...what a bastard.
Looking forward to 2008, it's possible (but certainly not probable) that 2 of these three distinctions could be fixed. I mentioned above that I think David Wright should have won the 2007 MVP, but Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are also viable MVP candidates. Obviously, the Mets can't win 2 consecutive division titles in 1 year, so that will have to wait. And let's be honest, the Mets are NEVER going to have a no-hitter. Let me rephrase my earlier statement. The Mets may be able to rectify one of these dubious distinctions.