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In Baseball or in Life -- Win or Lose, You've Got a New Game Every Day

September 23, 2003|Jay Hook | Jay Hook played professional baseball with the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets from 1957 to 1965.

I was the starting pitcher for the 1962 New York Mets, a team that holds the worst record in modern-day baseball.

We won only 40 games that year, lost 120 and were rained out twice on our road to ignominy. No club has ever lost that many games.

By the end of the '62 season, when I would leave the ballpark after a game, I felt that I had better focus on grad school because my baseball career was beginning to throw me a curve.

Now our record is being challenged. The Detroit Tigers this season have won 38 and lost 117. And they still have seven games left to go.

Needless to say, I've begun to follow this saga closely. As I listened to a Tiger game against the Twins recently, the announcer from Detroit said, "We are losing games every way possible." His words sent me back 41 years.

At the time, the Mets were a new baseball club, returning National League baseball to New York after the city was jilted by the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. There were many National League fans waiting for our arrival.

About a month into the season, we had two 6-5 extra-inning victories, within 24 hours, which set off an explosion in Mets' popularity.

It pretty much went downhill from there, but the fans were terrific even as we began setting records for losing. In fact, I think the Mets outdrew the Yankees in attendance. At least it was close.

The Mets manager was Casey Stengel, a 70-year-old Glendale resident who had been retired by the Yankees after bringing home 10 pennants. The team was made up of many veteran players, such as Richie Ashburn, Gil Hodges, Gus Bell, Don Zimmer and Frank Thomas, many of whom were close to retirement, and many young fellows on their way up.

As the man said, we lost games every way there was to lose them. Our pitching was weak, the hitting was spotty and the fielding was not too good either.

Yet one of the great things about baseball is that there is always a new game tomorrow -- at least until the season ends. The Mets may have been the supreme optimists because, as a team, we always believed we were going to win the next game out.

We may have lost, but we were never defeated.

Sure, it's easy to learn to like winning. But being at the bottom of the scoreboard, well, that's a different ballgame altogether. We were the right team at the right time to get on the wrong side of the record books.

Unlike Casey Stengel -- who, let's face it, had nothing to lose even with a losing team -- the Tigers' Alan Trammell is in his first year as a major league team manager. Trammell was a terrific player and is a guy who knows how to win.

It would be a shame to start his managerial career with a record number of losses.

As a team, the Tigers are in a rebuilding phase and have many young, inexperienced players. Yet these guys had to be winners at some point in their careers or they wouldn't be playing at this level. Many of them will go on to be winners in the major leagues. They deserve a better start.

No matter what happens, though, I hope each of them remembers what 1962 taught us: It's a new game every day. Some of us will be successful at baseball, some at engineering, some at medicine or whatever.

I've had three careers, one in professional baseball, one in business as an executive in the automobile industry and one in what I call social service, including being a professor, president of the trustees of a United Methodist seminary and a leader of a community college foundation.

Many of my teammates from 1962 also have gone on to lead successful lives. And the Mets went on to win a world championship in 1969.

Mary Pickford expressed her philosophy as follows: "Today is a new day. You will get out of it just what you put into it.... If you have made mistakes, even serious mistakes, there is always another chance for you. And suppose you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose. For this thing we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down."

The 1962 Mets lived through the losses, but it sure didn't end there.

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