clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The best turnaround seasons in Mets history

Three of the Mets' most memorable non-playoff years.

Omar Minaya, Pedro Martinez, and Willie Randolph.
Omar Minaya, Pedro Martinez, and Willie Randolph.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

It’s great to have the Mets in a pennant race in September again after all these years. There’s nothing better for fans than when the lights finally go on again after an extended period of darkness. It brings to mind some of the best seasons of renewal that the Amazins ever had. Putting aside 1969 as its own special one-time-only fairy tale event, let’s talk about three years when the team didn’t win it all, or even make the playoffs, but showed significant improvement. An atmosphere of hope was left lingering in the air for the seasons to come next, the thrill of the turnaround season.

1. 1984 — 90-72, 2nd place, +22 wins over 1983

Something good was starting to build up in 1984. All Mets fans could feel it. I got swept up myself in the "Gooden Revolution" of ’84, as well as, I suspect, many others of us who are now around age 40 who became Mets fans for life that summer. The Mets were taking over the New York City area from the Yankees under the leadership of General Manager Frank Cashen and first-year field manager Davey Johnson.

You could feel the electricity in the stands during any Dwight Gooden start, as the 19-year-old phenom struck out 276 batters on his way to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year. Shea Stadium was the place to be to see the impressive home runs swings of a young Darryl Strawberry, or the brilliant defensive plays of Keith Hernandez.

The Mets were no threat to catch a better, more experienced Cubs team, finishing 6.5 games behind, but the tide was turning. With a couple more years and a few more pieces of the puzzle, the championship dominance of 1986 was just around the corner.

2. 1997 — 88-74, 3rd place, +17 wins over 1996

Bobby Valentine had taken over as manager at the end of 1996, and things were beginning to turn around after six straight losing seasons. In the front office, Steve Phillips took over for Joe McIlvaine as General Manager on July 16. On the field, Todd Hundley followed up his peak 41-homer season of ’96 with 30 more dingers.

These were the days of John Olerud, Carlos Baerga, Rey Ordonez, Edgardo Alfonzo, Bernard Gilkey, Lance Johnson, and Butch Huskey. Starting pitchers included Bobby Jones, Rick Reed, Dave Mlicki, and Mark Clark, while John Franco still held down the closer role with 36 saves.

Mlicki, despite going only 8-12 on the year, had the signature moment of the Mets’ season with a shutout of the Yankees in the first-ever interleague game between the two teams on June 16 at Yankee Stadium. It was Mlicki’s only complete game of the year, one of only two shutouts in his 10-year MLB career.

Another great 1997 Mets moment is the September 13 game at Shea vs. the Expos. The Mets rallied from a 6-0 deficit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth—featuring a game-tying grand slam by Carl Everett off Ugueth Urbina—and won in the 11th on Bernard Gilkey's three-run walk-off homer.

While these Mets were not quite ready to compete with the dominant Braves, or even the wild-card Marlins, who would sneak up and win the World Series that fall, they hung around and stayed in contention almost to the end. The team showed promise, and with a few more big additions (Al Leiter and Mike Piazza), the Mets would be ready to make the playoff runs of 1999 and 2000.

3. 2005 — 83-79, 3rd place, +12 wins over 2004

It was Mike Piazza’s last year with the Mets at age 36, with only 19 homers and 62 RBIs in 113 games, but while Mike was finishing, something new and exciting was beginning in Flushing. After three losing seasons, Omar Minaya had been hired as GM, and Willie Randolph had been hired as manager. Pedro Martinez had been signed from the world champion Red Sox, and he delivered 15 wins.

2005 was David Wright’s first full season in the majors, with 27 home runs and 102 RBIs. Jose Reyes had 17 triples and 60 stolen bases. Carlos Beltran, signed as a free agent, added 16 homers and 78 RBIs in his first season in Queens. Cliff Floyd was a major contributor, with 34 homers and 98 RBI. Floyd had one of most memorable moments of the season with this walk-off home run on June 11 against the Angels.

The 2005 squad was a fun team to watch. Although the team finished tied for third, seven games behind the Braves, things were definitely headed in the right direction for the Mets. The Mets were just one year away from winning 97 games and reaching Game 7 of the NLCS, the last postseason appearance for the team to date.