In the family of Mets pennant winning teams, 1969 is the favorite son, 1986 is the badass-but-cool black sheep, 2000...well I'm not exactly sure where they fit in, and 1973 is the redheaded stepchild. Too close to 1969, with too many of the same players, there is simply no way even a conventional pennant winner could compare to the Miracle Mets. And the 1973 team was hardly a conventional winner -- the team was still dead last until August was almost over. With 82 wins, they had the worst record of any pennant winner, and had they won one more game in October they would have had the worst record of any world champion. Yet these flaws -- which were quite evident -- added to the team's charm. Yes, they only won 82 games, but they went 20-8 from September 1 on, passing the other teams like a race car somehow driving unscathed through a crash scene. To this day, this is the only team in franchise history to win the division in the final weekend -- and there were very few races as wild (if albeit unorthodox) as this one. (The 1999 and 2000 teams, of course, clinched the wild card in the last week, with the 1999 team requiring a one game playoff.) How wild? The day the season was supposed to end, a five way tie was still mathematically possible. Somebody had to win it, and the Mets were there when opportunity knocked. And along the way, they beat the top NL team of the decade in the LCS and nearly beat the top AL team of the decade in the World Series. It's high time to give this group of Dangerfields some serious respect.
This team started the season with eleven holdovers from the 1969 champions. (Actually, the answer to the trivia question is that were really twelve men who played for both teams -- Jim Gosger was a journeyman who was with the team briefly in 1969, left, and then returned briefly in '73. Just for laughs, there was even an Original Met besides Ed Kranepool. Bob Miller -- that's Bob L. Miller, aka Bob "Righty" Miller -- was acquired during the stretch drive and pitched one inning.) Jerry Grote was the catcher, with Duffy Dyer backing him up. Kranepool played first base as needed, but John Milner had taken over the regular job. Ken Boswell went from platoon second baseman to bench player after Felix Millan had been acquired from Atlanta in the off season. Bud Harrelson was still at shortstop. One season earlier, the Mets had traded Nolan Ryan and others to the Angels for Jim Fregosi, which was supposed to have put Wayne Garrett on the bench, but Garrett had a way of outlasting the team's annual third base import by season's end. Cleon Jones was in left, and Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jim McAndrew and Tug McGraw were still on the pitching staff.
As for the rest of the team, Willie Mays had returned to New York during the '72 season, but age 42, could not be expected to play every day. Don Hahn, a good field/no hit center fielder, was there to play when Willie could not. Rusty Staub had been acquired in spring training 1972, but was injured most of that year. (Another oddity -- in Hahn and Staub, there were two Original Expos in the outfield much of the time.) Teddy Martinez joined Boswell as utility infielder. An unlikely rookie named George (The Stork) Theodore, who looked like the last man to be chosen in just about any pickup game, had a hot spring training and made the team as a fifth outfielder, quickly earning a cult status far out of proportion to his actual talent. Jon Matlack had been named 1972 Rookie of the Year and was expected to continue his success. McAndrew, George Stone (who came in the Millan trade), Ray Sadecki and Harry Parker alternated between the rotation and the bullpen. Phil Hennigan and Buzz Capra pitched out of the bullpen.
The Mets started the season winning their first four games. This would be the high water mark for the season, although it would be matched at 12-8 on April 29 (their last game in first place until September) and again at 19-15 on May 18. Then the team sagged as the injuries mounted: Grote missed two months, Harrelson and Jones a month each. Mays was out for three weeks. On July 7, Hahn and Theodore collided in the outfield going for a fly ball. While Hahn only missed one game, Theodore broke his hip and would have only one more at bat for the season. (Ironically, he was replaced by Jones in Cleon's first day back from the DL.) After Seaver, Koosman and Matlack, the pitching became spotty. McGraw was doing so badly he was actually given two starts to figure out his problems. Hennigan did no better and was released, also on July 7. Fregosi was sold to Texas four days later, giving Garrett the full time job at third. By June 29, the Mets were in last place and, except for five games, would remain there through August 30.