Happy, happy 70th birthday to Davey Johnson, who leads all Mets managers with 595 victories and a .588 winning percentage. He also led the Mets to a World Championship in 1986, a feat that can be even better appreciated by looking back at his beginnings as Mets skipper.
The team Johnson was put in charge of in 1984 was largely the same cast as the one that won only 68 games the year before. He began the season with a starting rotation of an over-the-hill 37-year-old and a quartet of young arms with a total of 31 big league starts between them. Catching them most days was a 23-year-old rookie. The middle infielders were defensively challenged and had yet to prove they could hit major league pitching. In three previous seasons the third baseman had shown little power and the leadoff hitter struggled to get his on-base percentage above .300. A lot was expected of their All-Star Keith Hernandez; young, strikeout-prone slugger Darryl Strawberry; and the aging George Foster.
When Johnson’s managerial debut ended in an 8-1 drubbing by the Cincinnati Reds, fans could be forgiven for resigning themselves to an eighth straight losing season. But under Johnson’s leadership, both on the field and in the way he pushed GM Frank Cashen to make much needed player additions and subtractions, the team exceeded expectations. By winning 90 games, the 1984 Mets, who scored fewer runs than they surrendered, outperformed their Pythagorean won-lost record by 12 games and 74 percentage points — the ninth best differential in baseball history. It was also the Amazins’ third-best record to date and they remained in contention until the last week of the season.
We’re happy that Davey returned to the dugout in 2011 after a 10-year absence, and we congratulate him on his Nationals’ first place finish last season. But out of six divisions, why did he have to come to ours?
Outfielder/first baseman Nick Evans, who turns 27 today, must have felt more than a mile high when he made his major league debut in Colorado on May 24, 2008. He hit the first pitch he saw from Jeff Francis deep down the right field line for a run-scoring double and followed up with two more two-baggers, a second RBI, and a run scored. He went one for his next 23 at-bats, including nine strikeouts, before righting himself and finishing decently. After two years of shuttling between AA, AAA, and Citi Field, he was pretty much the everyday first baseman for the last two-plus months of the 2011 season, but failed to impress the Mets' brain trust. He is currently a non-roster invitee to the Dodgers' spring training camp.
The late Charlie Neal, who would have been 72 today, was one of the better players on the 1962 Mets. While that may be damning him with faint praise, the three-time Dodger All-Star did establish the Mets' club record for triples (nine) that was not broken until Mookie Wilson legged out 10 in 1984.
Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection
On this date in 1930, actor Gene Hackman was born, and in 1984 the Mets released slugger Dave Kingman. These two men orbit different planets, but they share a common bond. They are united, so to speak, by their ties to United Airlines. Hackman was the unseen but unmistakable spokesperson inviting us to “Fly the Friendly Skies” in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Sky King, during his first tenure with the Mets in the mid-’70s, appeared on camera, with a smile as big as his swing, extolling the virtues of United’s legroom and other amenities.