ERIC: In 1964, the New York Mets were in their third season. The new team posted a 40-120 record in its maiden season, establishing the mark for the worst team in the history of the modern era of Major League Baseball, and the team is profiled in the book version of You Stink! The 1963 edition was somewhat better, but not much. The second edition posted a record of 51-111, but still finished dead last, 48 games behind the pennant winning Los Angeles Dodgers.
The ‘64 Mets won two more games, finishing 53-109, this time finishing 40 games behind the pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals pulled out the National League pennant at the tail end of the season after an epic collapse by the Phillies, who led the National League by 6.5 games with 12 to play, and then lost 10 in a row to finish third. On June 4, the great Dodger southpaw Sandy Koufax had twirled a no-hitter against the Phillies, with only rookie third baseman Richie Allen reaching base on a walk in the fourth inning. This was Koufax’s third no-hitter, and his second time flirting with a perfect game.
In spite of the no-hitter 17 days earlier, on Father’s Day, June 21, the Phillies were solidly entrenched in first place, and their ace, future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, took the hill against the lowly Mets in the first game of a doubleheader at Shea Stadium. The Phils were 36-23 coming into the game, and the Mets were 20-45-1. Bunning was on his way to an outstanding 19-8 record for the season, and went into the Father’s Day game against the Mets with a 6-2 record. Tracy Stallard started for the Mets.
Bunning proceeded to make history that day. It quickly became obvious that he had special stuff that afternoon when he struck out four of the first twelve batters to face him. In the fifth inning, popular second baseman Tony Taylor made a diving catch and strong throw from his knees to preserve the perfect game that Bunning was in the process of twirling. Bunning helped himself by driving in two runs with a sixth inning double. By the eighth inning, even the Mets fans were cheering for Bunning, recognizing that they were witnessing something truly special. When the Mets came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, Bunning had retired all 24 hitters he had faced, and had only gone to a three ball count on two hitters, so dominant was his pitching. Shortstop Charley Smith popped out to open the inning and then pinch-hitters George Altman and John Stephenson both fanned to end the perfect game, which ended 6-0.
Bunning, who had seven children, later said that his perfect game could not have come on a better day than Father’s Day, and he noted that his slider had been his best pitch that day, “just like the no-hitter I pitched for Detroit six years ago.” Bunning properly credited Tony Taylor for helping to save his perfecto: “It was a great play,” he said. “When he did that, I knew I had something special.” It had been something special indeed.
Bunning became the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter in both leagues, and he posted MLB’s first regular season perfect game since 1922, and the first in the National League in 84 years. It was a truly remarkable performance, one for the ages. Major League Baseball had not had a Father’s Day quite like 1964 before, and it has not had one quite like it since.
The Phillies won the second game that day, 8-2, behind a rookie righthander by the name of Rick Wise, who went on to pitch the Phillies’ next no-hitter in 1971.
And for the Amazin’ Mets, the embarrassment of their epic run of horrific baseball continued, with the Father’s Day perfect game being just the lowest point of many low points. Their misery continued. In 1965, they finished 50-112, 47 games out of first place. In 1966, for the first time, they climbed out of the cellar, finishing in ninth place (there were 10 teams) at 66-95, but they fell back to last place in 1967, ending up 61-101, 40.5 games out of first place. In 1968, they went 73-89, and ended up in ninth place, 24 games out of first place. And then, in 1969, the Miracle Mets won the National League pennant and then the World Series in only their eighth season.
However, over the course of their first seven MLB seasons, the Mets went a collective 394-737, for a winning percentage of .348, and finished a collective—and staggering—288.5 games out of first place over those seven years, for an average of 41.2 games out per year. That run of epic atrociousness, featuring the low point on Father’s Day 1964, has earned the Amazin’ Mets enshrinement in the You Stink! pantheon of the worst of the worst.
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