The 1964 baseball season was both celebratory — and disappointing — for the New York Mets. The season began with the excitement and hope of a new ballpark in Flushing Meadows, but the season ended much like the first two in franchise history (53-109).
The new $25.5 million park seated 55,300 fans, according to the original marketing materials. The state-of-the-art facility included “wall-to-wall clubhouse carpeting in the clubhouses … and stadium escalators that linked fans to all three levels” of the venue. The new stadium renewed excitement as the Mets ranked second in National League attendance (1,732,597), edging out the crosstown rivals by nearly 400,000 fans.
On the field, the Mets began favoring youth over aging veterans. The first pieces of a future championship took the field at the team’s new ballpark. Ron Swoboda, Bud Harrelson, Ron Hunt, Ed Kranepool and Cleon Jones became prominent names in Queens while Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Warren Spahn, Roger Craig and Frank Thomas were being phased out (or already gone).
The first summer at Shea also featured its first no-hitter. On Father’s Day 1964, Philadelphia Phillies starter Jim Bunning baffled the Mets. Over the first 2+ seasons at Shea Stadium, Bunning made seven starts recording seven wins, all complete complete games, including four shutouts.
Shea Stadium played host to the 1964 All-Star Game. Ron Hunt made history, becoming the first Mets player to start an All-Star Game. The National League scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth, capped by Johnny Callison’s walk-off home run to give the senior circuit a 7-4 win.
1964 was also marked by the arrival of Karl Ehrhardt, affectionately known as the “Sign Man.” Ehrhardt, an advertising designer in Glen Oaks, attended home games displaying irreverent and entertaining signs. He was a part of the Mets culture through the 60’s and 70’s.
Third base was still a work in progress for the 1964 Mets. Charley Smith would commit 31 errors while seeing time at third, shortstop and left field. In late July, the team traded first baseman Tim Harkness to the Cincinnati Reds. Harkness took aim at his former manager Casey Stengel, saying:
“Casey has been a great man for baseball as far as publicity is concerned, but the game has passed him by. Some players he likes and some he doesn’t like. The players feel it and it isn’t too inspiring when the manager goes to sleep on the bench during a game.”
Jackie Robinson added that he thought Stengel was :too critical of his players and falls asleep on the bench.”
The Giants came to town in early August with the Mets 40 games under .500. The Associated Press reported that Stengel would be done as manager after the season. “They feel the club after three years of existence, all in the National League basement, has reached a stage in its young life where it must be developed on the field, as well as at the box office. And they agree, too, that a younger man is needed for the job – a man closer to the age of the Mets players.”
By August, the Mets roster took on a younger complexion. Frank Thomas was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and pitcher Frank Lary was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. In late August, the Mets won seven of eight games. New York was 12-12 with two games remaining in August but couldn’t pull off the first non-losing month in franchise history as the team dropped two straight to the Cubs.
The Mets finished the 1964 season with a 53-109 record. While the Yankees won a fifth straight American League pennant, the Mets outdrew the Yankees, with more than 1.7 million fans (2nd highest in the National League) coming to see the team at Shea Stadium.
The season recap published above (in bold) is written David Russell and published in his book, Fabulous to Futile in Flushing: A Year-by-Year History of the Mets. Do you love Mets history? Pick up this book online at your favorite bookseller and enjoy season-by-season historical recaps, Mets highlights and challenging trivia that will send you on a fun journey through the Mets rich franchise history.