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'Marvelous' trade made '62 Mets unforgettable

'Marvelous' trade made '62 Mets unforgettable

The identity of the Mets of 1962 became dramatically different on this date. Fifty years ago today, the team became the '62 Mets. The club acquired Marv Throneberry on May 9, and he became the primary figure in the trip, stumble and fall summer that followed in the team's inaugural season. The change in ID was more than semantic. The Mets of 1962 were a team, the '62 Mets were a phenomenon -- of futility.

To add distinction to the trade -- the Mets moved cash and a player to be named to the Orioles for Throneberry -- New York exported catcher Hobie Landrith to complete the deal June 7. Landrith had been the player of longest, though not long, standing with the Mets, having been the first player the club selected in the Expansion Draft on Oct. 10, 1961.

It was Throneberry, though, who made the trade infamous, and the team into one for the ages. His often-flawed performances became legendary before the 1962 season ended, partially because the Mets were such a poor team, and partially because his mistakes often were implausible. "Marvelous Marv" and the Mets became a comedy team of sorts. They and he were akin to Rob Petrie stumbling over the ottoman in the opening of the "Dick Van Dyke Show," a television program that debuted one week before the Expansion Draft.

Throneberry, who died at age 60 in 1994, had been a player of promise before his time with the Mets, signing with the Yankees in 1952, the same year his brother, Faye, broke in with the Red Sox. In his first big league game, on Sept, 25, 1955, Marv contributed a single, double, stolen base and three RBIs to a Yankees victory at Fenway Park. His brother was hitless with three strikeouts.

Marvin Eugene Thronberry -- his initials were MET -- led the American Association in home runs and RBIs in 1955, '56 and '57, and finally returned to the Yankees in '58 as a member of the Opening Day roster. A left-handed hitter, he was considered a good fit for Yankee Stadium, with its short right-field foul line.

The retirement of left-handed-hitting Joe Collins, a quasi-regular first baseman with the Yankees for seven of the previous eight seasons, afforded Throneberry his opportunity. But with the right-handed-hitting Bill Skowron batting .273 and driving in 73 runs, and the Yankees frequently facing left-handed starting pitchers at home, Throneberry appeared in merely 60 games. He batted .227 with seven home runs, 19 RBIs and 40 strikeouts in 150 at-bats.

His 1959 was marginally more productive. The Yankees wanted more left-handed power than Throneberry could provide, as well as a right fielder to replace aging Hank Bauer, so Throneberry -- and Bauer -- were included in a package that brought Roger Maris to the Bronx following the '59 season.

Throneberry didn't distinguish himself in 1 1/2 seasons with the A's, nor did he in 105 combined at-bats in 1961 and '62 with the Orioles. The '62 Mets needed everything, mostly left-handed power to complement Frank Thomas; hence the trade that brought in a player who hit 16 home runs, drove in 49 runs and batted .244 in 357 at-bats.

But the Marvelous One provided the Mets so much more -- or less, depending on point of view. He made unforgettable mistakes, and when his mistakes lacked distinction, he compensated with quantity. He started 89 games at first base. His innings there totaled merely 779 1/3, his errors 17. He prepared the Mets for the arrival, four years later, of "Dr. Strangeglove," Dick Stuart.

Dropped popups, misplayed ground balls and throws not handled were not rare for the '62 Mets. But no misadventure the club endured stood out so much as Throneberry's baserunning faux pas of June 17.

The Mets and Cubs played a doubleheader at the Polo Grounds that day. New York trailed, 4-1, in the first inning of the first game when Throneberry hit a ball into the right-center-field gap. Two runs would score, and he would reach third base.

Alas, he was called out for not touching first base. Manager Casey Stengel left the dugout to dispute the call but was advised by first-base coach Cookie Lavagetto that arguing would be fruitless. "Don't bother, Case," Lavagetto said, "he didn't touch second either."

Throneberry did have other distinctions. He was the first man to play for the Yankees and the Mets. His stance was quite similar to that of Mickey Mantle, and his comfortable Tennessee drawl was akin to Mantle's easy Oklahoma delivery. "That's why we traded Marv," Mantle said kiddingly in 1983. "People were always saying how much alike we were. I used to tell him, 'Jeez, I hope not.'"

Throneberry reveled in the similarities. "I couldn't even tell stories as good as Mick," he said. "But I could laugh as good as he did."

Laughter was part of his shtick when Throneberry became a pitchman for Miller Lite beer in the '70s. He laughed at himself while developing a significant income.

"If I do for Lite what I did for baseball, I'm afraid their sales will go down," was one of his lines. It worked.

His second commercial ended with this aside: "I still don't know why they asked me to do this commercial."

He knew. We all knew. Lovable losers, as those '62 Mets were, had a place in our hearts and evidently in a beer bellies as well. Mets fans should raise a bottle to the memory of the Marvelous One and try not to spill it.

Marty Noble is a reporter for
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