1887 Metropolitans: Death Comes To the Mets
In 1887, the Mets were coming off their second straight seventh place finish. Unlike in 1886, when management allowed a strong finish in 1885 to lull them into complacency, many changes were made in the team for the new season. Gone were longtime Mets Steve Brady, Chief Roseman, and Charlie Reipschlager. Veteran Candy Nelson was relegated to a utility role. Eight new players were signed over the winter, including former Met Dude Esterbrook. Paul Radford was purchased from the National League.
As they did every year, the Mets lost their first game of the season. However, this time they kept on losing until they were 0-10. Bob Ferguson soon resigned as manager and was ultimately replaced by O. P. Caylor, who had purchased an interest in the team over the winter. After playing more respectably for about three months, even winning 9 out of 12 in one stretch, the team fell apart in late August. An 11-game losing streak made their early season play seem superlative by comparison. Only two of the 11 games were at all close; over the final ten games of the streak, the average margin of defeat was over 10 runs. Internal dissension became public at this time. The team spent the rest of the season trying out new players, using 33 in total (as compared to 12 in 1883) and finished in seventh place, topping only newcomers Cleveland.
Ever since they joined the American Association, the Mets had been the subject of speculation regarding their continued membership in the league. In October 1887, the Mets’ demise finally arrived, when the team was purchased by the owners of the rival Brooklyn club of the AA. They took the Mets’ best players for their Brooklyn team, then sold the rest to Kansas City. Only 3 of the 1887 Mets played a significant role on the KC team, which finished last in 1888. Meanwhile, Orr, Darby O’Brien, Radford, and Mays helped Brooklyn climb from sixth place to second. Most of the ’87 Mets faded quickly into well-deserved oblivion. The following is a look at the season in more detail via the individual players.
Dave Orr collided with catcher Pete Sommers in the second week of the season, the first of several injuries for Orr. He was team captain and became interim manager after Ferguson resigned. He was immediately injured and couldn’t play for most of his term as manager. Later, he was replaced as team captain. As usual, when he was able to play, he hit very well.
As was true every year for the Mets, their previous year’s second baseman was quickly found wanting and lost his job. Meister was retained and briefly became the team’s centerfielder. His season highlight may have come when he sparked a two run rally in the twelfth inning of a game versus Louisville. The Mets acquired Joe Gerhardt from the Giants to play second. However, he was injured several times and didn’t hit any better than he had in the NL. He was one of several veterans who were released before the end of the season.
Dude Esterbrook started season as the regular shortstop, but hit poorly and fielded even worse. He was later tried for a few games at second and was released in July. Radford and Nelson filled the position for much of the season. Late in the year, veteran Sadie Houck was obtained to take over the spot, but he was quickly found wanting, and the job went to minor league journeyman Clarence Cross.
Frank Hankinson played third virtually all year and had what was probably his best season. He scored 5 runs in one game against the Browns, despite which, the Mets lost.
Radford started out as the right fielder, was moved to second, then shifted to short. He moved back to right after Mets acquired Houck. Due to his keen batting eye, with walks counting as hits, he maintained a batting average around .400 all year. This, combined with his speed, allowed him to score 127 runs in 128 games. While he was playing infield, the right field job went to Eddie Hogan, who hit and fielded poorly.
The team went through numerous centerfielders as Jon Morrison and Charlie Hall, who signed over winter, were quickly dropped. Even old-timer Lip Pike was tried for one game. They acquired Charley Jones from Cincinnati, which should have solved the problem, but he didn’t hit well and the pitchers complained about his fielding.
Darby O’Brien was the success story of the year for the Mets; the rookie who played regularly all year, some at first while Orr out, but mostly in left field. He hit very well, beginning a successful major league career.
The pitching staff was in disarray all season. Last year’s late season sensation, John Shaffer, was this season’s early season bust. Veterans Jack Lynch and Ed Cushman had poor seasons, while Al Mays suffered from overwork and lost 34 games.
Candy Nelson hit fairly well, using his keen batting eye to compile an official batting average of over .360. However, defensively he was shifted about, playing short, second, right and center fields. Despite being one of the best hitters on the team, he was released late in the season.
Caylor made a number of questionable moves as manager (although some of these may be attributable to the various team captains.) Seven times he started a pitcher on consecutive days, including once pitching Al Mays 3 days in a row. He also used the weak-hitting Mays in right or left field several times, even hitting him leadoff. Pitcher Stump Wiedman was also used in right field twice, while Candy Nelson sat on the bench. Caylor gave the cleanup spot in the lineup to Tom O’Brien, who finished the season with a .248 slugging average (not including walks), even when Dave Orr was in the lineup. As for Orr, who was considered slow even for a first baseman, and who suffered several leg injuries during the season, he was shifted to centerfield for a few games. Then Tom O’Brien, another first baseman, was moved to center. Caylor’s player judgment was poor, as he acquired several veterans who proved to be washed up, and gave roster spots to minor league rejects (although he denied having any say in many of these transactions). All in all, it was an ignominious end to a team that had topped the league just three years earlier.