Apr 10, 2009

New York Mets First Opening Day 1962

On April 11, 1962 the New York Mets played their 1st game in their history at Sportsman Park in St. Louis, losing to the Cards 11-4. Their manager was “the old professor” Casey Stengel. Stengel was 72 years old in 1962 and had been a successful player & manager.

A lifetime .284 hitter who went on to win seven World Series titles as a manager. He was one of select few to have played and or managed all four NY baseball teams.
He played & managed the Brooklyn Dodgers, played for the NY Giants, and managed both the Mets & the other NY team. Stengel was a walking Mets public relations machine, giving them the moniker “The Amazing Mets”. As Stengel once said “when a baby Mets fan is born his first words aren’t mommy or daddy its Metsie”. Stengel is a member of the baseball Hall of Fame & his #37 is retired by the Mets.

Ritchie Ashburn came to bat in the top of the 1st inning as the 1st batter in Mets history. Former Cincinnati Red Gus Bell got the first Mets hit in the 2nd inning, a single off St. Louis pitcher Larry Jackson. Future Mets manager Gil Hodges hit the 1st HR in Mets history in the 4th inning; (also off Jackson), later second baseman Charlie Neal hit the second one.

Neal had the best day of all the Mets hitters going 3-4 with a HR, and 2 RBIs. Neal would also make the first error in Mets history when he booted a grounder in the sixth inning, helping the Cards score four runs in the inning.

The Mets Opening day starter in 1962 was Roger Craig. In that 1st Mets game, Craig would be done by the 4th inning, giving up 5 runs on 8 hits. He recorded the 1st Mets K by striking out Cards catcher Gene Oliver. The 1st Mets reliever to come out of the bull pen was Bob Moorehead.

The Cards Julian Javier got the 1st hit and scored the 1st run against Mets pitching and none other than Stan the Man Musial drew the 1st walk. The Mets would lose their first nine games before winning on April 23, at home in the Polo Grounds. The 1962 Mets went on to lose a record 120 games while winning only 40.

The 1962 coaching staff consisted of Rogers Hornsby, Cookie Lavagetto, Red Ruffing, Solly Hemus, & Red Kress.

Mets lineup for that historic day in 1962:
1. Richie Ashburn, CF
2. FĂ©lix Mantilla, SS
3. Charlie Neal, 2B
4. Frank Thomas, LF
5. Gus Bell, RF
6. Gil Hodges, 1B
7. Don Zimmer, 3B
8. Hobie Landrith, C
9. Roger Craig, SP

Ritchie Ashburn: Ashburn was a longtime Phillies legend playing his last season in 1962. A life time .308 hitter, and winner of two NL batting titles. A five time All Star who made the Hall of Fame in 1995. Ashburn was a longtime Phillies broadcaster (1963-1997), his #1 is retired by the team and Ashburn Alley is named in his honor at Citizen Banks Park. In 1997 he died of a heart attack in New York after broadcasting a Mets Phillies game at Shea Stadium.
Felix Mantilla: Mantilla was Hank Aaron roommate with the Milwaukee Braves & was a member of their 1957 World Championship team. With the 1962 Mets he had 11 HRs 59 RBIs and hit .275. He was sent to Boston the next season where he had some good years including a 30 HR 1964 season, & a 92 RBI 1965 season. Mantilla is 74 & resides in Puerto Rico.

Charlie Neal: Was a member of the Brooklyn/ Los Angeles Dodgers who had his best season in 1959. He made the All Star team, won a gold glove, batted .287, scored over 100 runs & led the league in triples. He hit .260 for the 1962 Mets with 11 HRs & 9 triples playing a solid defense, he would be traded to the Reds the following season. Neal passed away in 1995 at age 64.

Frank Thomas: Thomas would hit 34 HRs in 1962, a Met record until Dave Kingman hit 37 in 1975. Thomas was a journey man outfielder who hit 266 career HRs, including 12 straight years in double figures. He was 2nd in the NL with 35 HRs in 1958 & appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Thomas who had studied to be a priest before baseball was on the top 40 HR list when he retired. He was on hand for the closing ceremonies at Shea in 2008. He will turn 80 this June.

Gus Bell: Bell was a four time All Star who had hit over .290 six times in his 12 previous seasons. Bell was a power hitter who hit over 20 HRs 4 times & had four 100 RBI seasons as well. A team mate of Ralph Kiner with the Pirates & then a hero in his hometown Cincinnati area. Gus only hit .149 in 30 games with the 1962 Mets and was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. Gus is the father of a rare three generation baseball family, his son Buddy Bell was a long time player & manager, and his grand children David & Mike were also MLB players. Gus passed away in 1995 at age 67.

Don Zimmer: Zimmer went on to a successful baseball career as a manager, coach, & player. He was a member of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodger championship team & the 1959 LA champions, playing utility infield. Never a good hitter Zimmer batted .235 lifetime and only hit .077 in 14 games with the 1962 Mets, before being traded to the Reds. Zimmer is currently a coach with the Tampa Rays st 78 years old.

Hobie Landrith: Landrith was the Mets 1st pick in the 1961 draft, manager Casey Stengel justified the choice saying "You gotta have a catcher or you're gonna have a lot of passed balls. A career backup catcher who bounced around with seven different teams batting .233 lifetime. In 45 games with the 1962 Mets he hit .289 before going to Baltimore in a trade for Marv Throneberry. Hobie turned 79 in March 2009.

Roger Craig: Craig was a former Brooklyn/L.A. Dodger who was a member of the 1955 & 1959 Championship teams. In the ’59 season he went 11-5 with a 2.06 ERA. He would spend two seasons with the Mets losing 20 games both years. He would have success years later as manager of the Padres & San Francisco Giants taking them to the 1989 Earthquake World Series. Craig recently turned 78 years old.

Bob Moorehead: Moorehead would spend two years with the Mets as well, never winning a game going 0-3. In 1962 he went 0-2 giving up 118 hits in 108 innings.

Of course Gil Hodges had a spectacular career as a Brooklyn Dodger & then a sucessful magerial career with the Washington Senators & New York Mets.

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