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Birth year is rare similiarity for Mets, Astros

Birth year is rare similiarity for Mets, Astros

We should have concluded something was up in 1962 when the new National League franchise in Houston won its first three games, two by shutout, and the new franchise in upper Manhattan lost its first nine. Moreover, the Mets lost 11-4 on 4-11 to delight the pallandromics of the world and provide some insight into the team's immediate future.

Remarkably, before the one-team replacement for the Dodgers and Giants won for the first time, it already trailed its expansion sibling by 4 1/2 games. Perhaps that juxtaposition is what prompted Mr. Stengel to characterize his team as "amazin'," a modifier that has stuck. Casey's first managerial counterpart, Harry Craft, a man of more modest resumé and vocabulary, called his guys the Houston Colt .45s.

This baseball afternoon was about a different uniform number, a number one less than the one Roger Craig wore during most of his two-year tour with the Mets. (He tried No. 13 briefly in 1963 to change his luck as his losses mounted). This was about No. 37. Mr. Stengel wore the Mets' 37 from April 11, 1962 through July 24, 1965, the day he broke his hip and ended his career. It has been in mothballs ever since. The club retired it in his honor that Sept. 2 -- the club had retired no other at the point -- and it now hangs beyond the new wall in left field at Citi.

We all should have recognized right then that these clubs hardly were identical twins. They began their lives in the same season, 50 years ago, but they weren't even born on the same day. The .45s had a 1-0 record as night fell in on the eve of the Mets' debut.

What has happened in the half-century interim is compelling evidence that the DNA readings of the New York Mets and Houston Astros (nee Colt .45s) have little in common. The franchises have lived in the same universe, but, for the greater parts of their histories, they have not led parallel lives. And now the Astros are in position to change league affiliation, to become some sort of a second cousin once removed.

In their time, the Mets have proved to be extremists, capable of losing 120 games and winning a World Series in an eight-year span. The Astros have routinely driven the middle of the road, some highs, some lows, some detours, but seldom have they been excessive.

The Mets have won two World Series, one that surprised because of the outcome, the other that stunned because of how victory was achieved. They lost two others, each against an American League dynasty. The Astros' lone World Series participation was a resounding defeat against a team, the White Sox, that had played in one Series -- lost in six games -- since the color of its stirrups was dyed black in 1919.

Mets vs. Astros
Teams Colt .45s/Astros Mets
World Series titles 0 2
NL pennants 1 4
Years in playoffs 9 7
Record 21-35 43-31
Head-to-head 2 4
Games 7,974 7,963
Record 3,946-4,028 3,814-4,149
Winning pct. .495 .479
First-place finishes 4 5
Last-place finishes 4 12
Head-to-head .457 .543
Longest win streak 12 11
Longest loss streak 11 17
No-hitters 10 0
Cycles 7 9
30-30 seasons 2 5
Triple plays 9 10
MVP Awards 1 0
Cy Young Awards 2 4
ROY Awards 1 4
Manager of the Year 2 0
Hall of Famers 0 1
Managers* 16 18
Players 762 923
62 OD starter Bobby Shantz Roger Craig
Foremost player Craig Biggio Tom Seaver
Most games Craig Biggio Ed Kranepool
Biggest 'character' Dave Smith Casey Stengel
N. Ryan wins/K's 106/1,811 29/493
D. Gooden wins/K'S 0/1 157/1,875
J. Kent H/HR 306/49 510/67
vs. S. Carlton 13-33 36-30
vs. Larry Jackson 18-6 2-21
Knuckleballer J. Niekro R.A. Dickey
Famous initials J.R. (Richard) J.C. Martin
Famous monogram HBP (Biggio) GTS (Seaver's cabernet)
Key number 34 (Ryan) 41 (Seaver)
Retired numbers 10 4
Best No. 5 Jeff Bagwell David Wright
Crayola color schemes 1 0
Colt St./Polo Gr. Mosquitos Rats
Astrodome/Shea Rats LaGuardia jets
Minute Maid/Citi Sun/shadows Chop shops
Key redheads Rusty Staub Rusty Staub
Ballparks 3 3
Current CF gimmick Tal's Hill The Apple
Transfers to AL 1** 0
* = Art Howe and Terry Collins have managed both teams.
** = Pending.

The Astros have played in two of the most riveting National League Championship Series -- 1980 and 1986, but they lost both, the second to the Mets.

So what we have here, as each franchise marks its silver anniversary season in the big time, are two entities that have gone their separate ways. One hangs its shingle in "the Great State of" and in the shadow of high school, college and professional football. It sings "Deep in the Heart of Texas" during the home seventh-inning stretch.

The other conducts business in the Empire State and in the shadow of the Evil Empire. It sings "Meet The Mets" before its games and has been known to serenade its patrons with "The Curly Shuffle" and "Lazy Mary" before the bottom of the seventh.

The Astros played their home games under a roof for 35 seasons. Irritatingly loud jets departing LaGuardia Airport were the Mets' ceiling for 46 summers. The Astros have played on artificial grass for most of their existence; the Mets often have played on authentic banana peels.

The very names of the franchises, i.e., the nicknames of the teams, were quite different at the beginning. The New York franchise rejected "Burros (for the five boroughs of NYC), Jets, Islanders, Avengers and Skyliners to settle on Mets and delight the space-conscious headline writers of the city's tabloids.

In comparison, Colt .45s was a mouthful. And the name begged the question of what to call a singular player, a Colt? A .45? Had the club not changed its name, what might the suffix of its email address have become -- @.45s?

As it turned out, the Houston franchise also turned its back on Avengers as well as Colts, Generals, Hawks, Longhorns, Ravens, Spurs and Stars. The name Rebels was the favorite of the public. But the Houston Sports Association decided on Colts and then added the number to clarify the name stood for a gun, not a horse.

(Incidentally, research tells us that only the late Jim Umbricht wore No. 45 in the three seasons before the name Astros was adopted. Umbricht was No. 45 among the .45s in 1962. Then he switched to No. 32, the number that was retired as a salute to him following his death in 1964.)

Evidently, even Astros was too long for some folks around the game, who added punctuation and eliminated the first letter to produce 'Stros. And the new owner of the club, Jim Crane, considered a third name for the franchise when he purchased it in the fall. But he since has abandoned the idea.

* * * *

If the two franchises ever had a conspicuous common thread, other than their month and year of birth, it involved the ownership of the Mets. One of their initial owners was George Herbert Walker Jr., the uncle and grand uncle of two men with Houston roots who rose to prominence, the 41st and 43rd Presidents of the United States. George Herbert Walker Bush, an associate of Mets owner Nelson Doubleday, threw out the first ball at Shea Stadium on Opening Day, 1985, when he was vice president.

Of course, there have been other connections. Terry Collins and Art Howe have managed for both clubs. Gerry Hunsicker, the Astros' general manager for nine years, began his baseball executive career with the Mets. Yogi Berra coached each team. And Rusty Staub remains a most popular figure in each city from his years playing with the Astros and Mets.

Dwight Gooden made his debut in the Astrodome, Tom Seaver pitched his last National League shutout there, and Edgardo Alfonzo holds the Astrodome record for hits and runs in one game. He hit three home runs, a double and two singles in one game there. Moreover, the teams played a sensational four-game series in the Dome in mid-September, 1998. Extra innings were required in three games.

The teams played three others games that lasted 24, 18 and 17 innings.

The late Darryl Kile pitched his no-hitter against the Mets, and of course Nolan Ryan, a civic treasure in Houston as well as Arlington, Texas, and the patron saint of no-hitters, began his career with the Mets. Jerry Grote, the Mets' catcher in their first two World Series, came from the Astros. So did Mike Hampton, who won 15 games for the Mets in their most recent World Series season, 2000.Mike Scott, developed by the Mets, pitched one of the Astros' 10 no-hitters -- the Mets have thrown none -- won one of their two Cy Young Awards and almost scared the Mets hitless in the '86 NLCS. Of course, that series brought the teams together. They played six, extraordinarily tight games -- four decided by a run, a fifth by two runs. The Mets prevailed with Scott in menacing position to start Game 7.

And finally, it must mean something that the Mets have an all-time winning record against merely one team that existed in 1962. And it's the Astros.

Marty Noble is a reporter for