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In 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocated from New York to California, leaving the largest city in the United States with only one major league franchise. Two years later, on July 27, 1959, attorney William Shea announced the formation of a third major baseball league, the Continental League. He tried to get several existing clubs to move, including the Philadelphia Phillies, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Cincinnati Reds, but no National League club was interested.

One of the Continental League's five charter members was a team in New York City. Majority interest was held by Joan Whitney Payson and her husband,Charles Shipman Payson, former minority owners of the Giants. The second largest stake was held by George Herbert Walker, Jr. (uncle of the future President George H. W. Bush), who served as vice president and treasurer until 1977. Former Giants director M. Donald Grant became chairman of the board. Grant and Joan Payson had been the only members of the Giants' board to oppose the team's move west.

The existing leagues, which had considerably more autonomy at the time, responded with plans to add four new teams, two in each league. One of the new National League teams was to be in New York. The NL offered this new franchise to the CL's New York group, provided that they commit to building a new park. Shea told Mayor of New York City, Robert F. Wagner, Jr. that he had to personally cable every National League owner and guarantee that the city would build a new facility.

The new team required a new name, and many were suggested. Among the finalists were "Bees", "Burros", "Continentals", "Skyscrapers", and "Jets", as well as the eventual runner-up, the "Skyliners." Although Payson had admitted a preference for "Meadowlarks", the owners ultimately selected "Mets", because it was closely related to the club's already-existing corporate name, "New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc.," it hearkened back to "Metropolitans", a name used by an earlier New York team in the American Association from 1880 to 1887, and because its brevity would naturally fit in newspaper headlines. The name was received with broad approval among fans and the press.

From the beginning, the Mets sought to appeal to the large contingent of former Giants and Dodgers fans. The Mets' team colors reflect this: orange from the Giants, blue from the Dodgers (and even a reference to the Yankees via home pinstripes). Coincidentally, orange and blue are also New York City's official colors. Thus two rival fan-bases with 19th Century origins were largely united in support of the new club.

For the first two years of its existence, the team played its home games at the historic Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan, which it shared with the New York Jets. In 1964, both teams moved into newly constructed Shea Stadium, where the Mets stayed through the 2008 season. In 2009, the club moved into Citi Field, located adjacent to the former site of Shea Stadium.

During their history, the Mets have won two World Series titles (1969 and 1986), four National League pennants (1969, 1973, 1986, 2000), and five National League East titles (1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 2006). The Mets also qualified for the postseason as the National League Wild Card team in 1999 and 2000. The Mets have appeared in more World Series — four — than any other expansion team in Major League Baseball history. Their two championships equal the tally of the Toronto Blue Jays and Florida Marlins for the most titles among expansion teams.

The Mets held the New York baseball attendance record for 29 years. They broke the Yankees' 1948 record by drawing nearly 2.7 million in 1970. The Mets broke their own record five times before the Yankees took it back in 1999.

No Met pitcher had ever thrown a no-hitter until June 1, 2012 when Johan Santana no-hit the Cardinals. The franchise's hurlers had gone more than 7,800 games without pitching one — longer than any other Major League franchise. On several occasions, potential no-hitters by Met pitchers have been broken up in the late innings. Tom Seaver twice pitched 8 and 1/3 innings without allowing a hit for the Mets — in one of those games, against Chicago in 1969, Seaver only needed two more outs for a perfect game before Jimmy Qualls singled – while in recent years Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Mike Pelfrey, and John Maine all lost their no-hit bids in the 7th or 8th inning.

In 1998, the Independent Budget Office of the city of New York published a study on the economic effect of the city's two Major League Baseball teams. The study included an analysis of where fans of both the Mets and the Yankees resided. The study found that 39% of Mets fans lived in one of the five boroughs of New York, 49% in the tri-state area outside the city and 12% elsewhere. Mets fans were more likely to be found in Queens, Staten Island, and the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk, whereas Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, New Jersey, Connecticut, and the counties of Westchester and Rockland, as well as the upper Hudson Valley and the upstate New York region, leaned more towards the Yankees — this despite Manhattan's one-time association with the Giants, one of the Mets' predecessors.

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