When I see Lucas Duda hitting another long home run, or Justin Turner playing second base like he was in the seventh game of the World Series, or Dillon Gee on the mound making me think of a young Tom Seaver, I realize that 2011 is not another lost year at all: it is more like 1968 all over again. For those of you too young to remember that, it was a turning point for the Mets organization. I believe this year is pretty much the same thing.
Like the 1968 Mets, the team got a new manager. It is interesting to compare Terry Collins with Gil Hodges, whose managerial styles seem similar. In fact, Hodges took over a dismal team and made the players think they could win; Collins has done pretty much the same thing this year.
The 1968 Mets were 73-89 for the season, but this was an internship for most of the young players and, just like the 2011 Mets, there were quite a few of them on the team. The elder statesman in ’68 was Ed Charles (35), but the rest of the players like Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, and Ed Kranepool were in their mid-twenties. Seaver was 23 and clocking in with a 16-12 season. Gee will probably end with a better winning percentage this year, but the similarities are striking.
There was also the most salient aspect of life for the 1968 season: Hodges wanted those kids to go out and have fun. In the process they were learning, sort of on the job training, and the same thing is happening with the 2011 Mets. The current team is 67-69 and may just end with a better record than their 1968 counterparts, but the foundation is being established by Collins for next year, just as Hodges did in 1968.
The 1969 Mets would be what legendary announcer Lindsey Nelson would describe as “a new breed of Mets.” The team would post a 100-62 record, take the division, and then the pennant from the Hank Aaron led Atlanta Braves, and then impossibly take on the legendary Baltimore Orioles and defeat them in the World Series.
I am not saying that the 2012 Mets will accomplish this, but the groundwork is being done for next year’s team to be really big. If you watch the fireworks going off on the field, you will see the energy level this team is bringing out of the dugout. While the players could get comfortable and just play out the remaining games, Collins has them pushing hard and playing like it matters, and in a way it does matter, even more so than if the team were locked in a pennant race.
This is a win-win for the team and its fans. The games at Citi Field are exciting because the players are going out, having fun, and winning some games and losing some, but all the while the fundamentals are present and Collins is responsible for this culture of positivity. The team definitely thinks it can win any game against any opponent, and that will go a long way with the fans for the rest of this year.
Next year the Mets will be stronger; perhaps they will add a big bopper (just as the 1969 Mets added Don Clendenon) who can get that three run homer when they need it most. All the ingredients are coming together now thanks to the way Collins has churned the pot. Don’t be surprised if next year the Mets will have the recipe for success, and we will have master chef Collins to thank for it.
Terry Collins – AP
Gil Hodges – centerfieldmaz.com