The Beauty of Losing, The Browns, and the Original New York Mets

There were smiles as Mets owner Mrs. Joan Payson and Mets manager Casey Stengel met before the season opener at Shea Stadium. April 12, 1965. (Photo by William N. Jacobellis/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
There were smiles as Mets owner Mrs. Joan Payson and Mets manager Casey Stengel met before the season opener at Shea Stadium. April 12, 1965. (Photo by William N. Jacobellis/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images) /

We all wanna win. Cleveland Browns fans were deprived of that winning feeling for more than two years. Now, they are jubilantly reaping the reward of their long, agonizing weeks of losing. Losing makes winning fun. What’s winning like without losing? The freakishly dominant Yankees of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s shed light on the answer to that hypothetical. When the New York Mets appeared on the scene 1962 they gave the city the strange thing it craved: a loser.

Losing sucks. On Thursday night, the Browns won a football game for the first time more than a year and a half. 635 days to be exact. Cleveland’s rabid sports fans, still recovering from the loss of LeBron, were so starved for something good that the single regular season victory was met with the type of reaction typically reserved for a championship win. ESPN cut to shots of city bars and streets filled with manic crowds, Bud Light unlocked their famous “Victory Fridges,” and Browns fans everywhere laughed, cried, and drank the night away. 

It feels like a night that will be remembered for years. But how could a regular season win be so special? The answer is obvious: because it had been so long. If winning is like eating cookies, Browns fans were freakishly dedicated dieters who hadn’t had a carb in two years, while Patriots fans are a spoiled baker’s child whose kitchen counter is perpetually stocked with snickerdoodles. The moment that disciplined dieter breaks his streak with his first Oreo since Obama was president is one of ecstasy – that’s what happened to Browns fans Thursday. 

There is no direct correlation between a team’s objective accomplishments and the way their fan base feels about them. Even winning can get old. 

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The Birth of the New York Mets

In sticking with my cookies analogy, the New York Yankees fans of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s were a hopelessly addicted teenage boy who downs a box of Oreos a day. In the 18 seasons  between 1947 and1964, Yankees won the AL pennant 15 times and won 10 World Series rings. 

This extended run of dominance is unmatched in the history of American professional sports. You might think that New Yorkers were on cloud 9 for 18 years, but the appearance of the New York Mets in 1962 tell a different story.

That first season, the Mets lost 120 games, the most of any team in a single season in MLB history. They finished in last place in each of their first four seasons, the closest they came to first place in that time was 40 games in 1964.

Despite their comic ineptitude and the presence of a crosstown juggernaut, New York City fell for the Mets. Amazingly, the Mets eclipsed the Yankees in total attendance for 11 straight seasons between 1964-1975. 

Yes, there was a sudden and shocking turnaround in 1969 when the “Miracle Mets” won 100 games and the World Series just one season after going 73-89-1 (yep, there were ties back then). But, prior to that, the Mets were bonafide losers and apparently that was exactly what New Yorkers were in the mood for.

Their manager was a wonky, mid-70s version of Casey Stengel, their stadium was from another era, the decrepit Polo Grounds, and their team a “motley mix of veterans cast off by established teams and raw newcomers without much potential.” Ken Burns’ Baseball  (an absolute masterpiece) features a beautiful 6:45 segment on these most lovable of losers.

The segment, titled ¡Yo La Tengo!  (have you heard of that really cool indie band of the same name? yep – this very clip was their inspiration) ends with a wonderful monologue by the American writer Roger Angell, who came of age during the Mets infamous infancy.

"“Everybody thinks New York only cares about champions, but we cared about the Mets. I remember going to some games in June that year and they were getting walloped, they were getting horribly beaten. But the crowds came out to Polo Grounds in great numbers and people brought horns and blew these horns. After awhile I realized that this was probably anti-matter to the Yankees who were across the river and had won for so long. Winning is not a whole lot of fun if it goes on. But the Mets were human and that horn I began to realize was blowing for me because there’s more Met than Yankee in all of us. What we experience day to day in our lives, there’s much more losing than winning, which is why we love the Mets.”"

So there it is, it isn’t all about winning. As we approach the final weeks of the regular season, perhaps the 1960s Mets can come as a consolatory reminder of the beauty of losing to those fans whose teams have lost their way out of playoff contention.

Next. Conforto the Mets offensive MVP. dark

Winning without losing is boring and makes a fanbase bloated. Losing is essential and the potential for metaphor and life lessons here are endless. Being thankful for losing seems crazy to most. But without it,  winning is just bland and boring.