Of all possible feats in the wonderful world of modern sports, being a lovable loser dwells right next door to impossible. This thought occurred to me in the wake of manager Willie Randolph’s ejection into the old can-eroo this week by the New York Mets.
Randolph’s firing was hardly unexpected, but the way it was done — in the dead of night after the man had rotated in the wind for weeks while his team lost ugly — only reinforced the notion that the Mets have long shed their old, extremely rare association with losing with grace, humor and, yes, charm.
Now, I’m not laying anything on the Mets that isn’t shared by other teams in any major sport in this age when obscenely paid athletes can’t be bothered to actually hustle, but the franchise’s history makes it a bit of an exception. To fully appreciate what I mean, you probably have to be older than ESPN and a lifelong New Yorker.
The Mets came into this world as perhaps the ultimate lovable losers. Every expansion team is granted a grace period, but the Mets had the good fortune of being born in the perfect storm of goodwill, patience and tolerance that included New York’s joy at the return of National League baseball, a certain disaffection for the cold and perpetually-winning Yankees, and manager Casey Stengel’s goofily iconic status, plus a memorable cast of characters.
If you’re going to lose, it really helps to have a funny, quotable manager and bad players with names like Marvelous Marv Throneberry, Choo Choo Coleman and Hot Rod Kanehl. That legendary inaugural squad in 1962 set the gold standard for ineptitude, losing 120 games in a grand comedic style that forged the franchise’s early identity and was brilliantly captured by Jimmy Breslin’s hilariously droll classic for SI entitled Worst Baseball Team Ever.