Craig Anderson’s greatest day

Thanks to the 162-game schedule, if a ballplayer sticks with a team all season, he will probably have at least one good day to remember. In fact, the less distinguished the career, a day that stands out will be much more obvious than it would be in a more distinguished career. I offer the example of pitcher Craig Anderson.

Anderson was the first Lehigh University alum (Class of 1960) to play in the major leagues. He still holds two school records for strikeouts (18 in one game, 289 in one season). Before the 1960 season, the Cardinals signed him to a three-year guaranteed contract and sent him off to Double-A Tulsa.

As a 22-year-old rookie with the Cardinals in 1961, he compiled a 4-3 record with a 3.26 ERA in 38.2 innings. I think most teams would be satisfied with such a debut. They would likely include such a young pitcher in their plans for the following season. But 1962 was an expansion year and not everyone could be protected.

So on Oct. 10, 1961, four days before his wedding, Craig Anderson was picked in the eighth round (for $75,000) of the expansion draft by the New York Mets. The Cardinals were a team on the rise with a lot of young talent and Anderson was on the cusp.

One of the advantages of expansion is it provides opportunities for players who might otherwise get lost in the shuffle. We’ll never know how much opportunity he would have had with the Cardinals, but he certainly was given plenty of opportunities (131.1 innings) with the Mets in 1962. Whether he failed the Mets or the Mets failed him is debatable. Actually, there was enough blame to go around.

Somehow Anderson managed to avoid the loss column during the Mets’ nine-game losing streak at the beginning of the season. But after the Mets’ first win (a 9-1 complete game victory by Jay Hook at Pittsburgh on April 23), Anderson got his first loss of the season. In classic Mets fashion, the loss was a singular achievement. Anderson was taken out after the first inning with the Mets behind 4-0. The Mets had plenty of opportunities to get him off the hook, however. Sammy Ellis, the Reds’ starting pitcher, walked 11 men in five innings, but the Mets could score no more than three runs.

Anderson’s first victory was just around the corner, however. On May 6, 1962, he pitched four shutout innings in relief at Connie Mack Stadium, earning the win in a 7-5, 12-inning victory over the Phillies.

The Mets were well on their way to making their inaugural season a monument to underachievement. Anderson’s first month, however, was relatively uneventful. He had a 1-1 record and the Mets were 5-17 as of the dawn of May 12.

That day the Mets were to host the Milwaukee Braves in a double-header. The Braves were no longer the National League juggernaut of the late 1950s, but compared to the Mets, they were world-beaters. A sweep by the Braves would have surprised no one. A split would have been a good day for the Mets. The least likely outcome was a sweep by the Mets. Yet that is what happened. And how it happened was even more amazing.

In the first game, Anderson entered in the eighth inning with the Mets behind 2-1. In the bottom of the ninth, Hobie Landrith launched a two-run pinch-hit homer, giving the Mets their first-ever walk-off win. How strange to look at the box score and see Craig Anderson with the (W) and Hall of Fame left-hander Warren Spahn with the (L). You have to wonder what was going through Spahn’s mind as he watched the left-handed hitting Landrith trot around the bases. Spahn led the league with 22 complete games in 1962, but this was one he would have gladly done without.

In the second game, Anderson came into the game in the ninth inning of a 7-7 tie. He came on in relief of Vinegar Bend Mizell, who was making his first appearance for the Mets after being acquired from the Pirates. Surely, Anderson did not want to see extra innings on top of the 18 already played. He kept the Braves from scoring, but could the Mets pull out another victory in the bottom of the ninth?

Could and did. It was their second walk-off victory of the day—and again it came on a home run. This time the hero was Gil Hodges, who had entered the game earlier after Marv Throneberry had been removed for a pinch-runner. Again, Anderson got the victory.

Imagine the euphoria felt by the 19,748 on hand at the Polo Grounds. Inexplicably, the Mets won three double-headers in 1962, including another against the Braves in Milwaukee just eight days later. Braves manager Birdie Tebbetts must have been beside himself.

For the record, the other double-header victory was over the defending NL Champion Reds on Aug. 4 at the Polo Grounds. Reds’ manager Fred Hutchinson, renowned for his temper tantrums, must have been a sight to behold.

But those double-header sweeps could not match the May 12 twin victory for sheer drama. Arguably, that double-header victory was the high point of the Mets’ season. As it turned out, the same was true of Craig Anderson’s career. The difference is that as bad as the Mets were the rest of the season, they did win a few more games. The same could not be said for Craig Anderson.

At the close of business on May 12, Anderson’s record was 3-1. He could not have guessed that at the end of the season he could count his 1962 victories on one hand… even if that hand belonged to Three-Finger Brown. Yet he would need all his fingers and most of his toes to count his losses.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

After his red-letter day on May 12, Anderson proceeded to lose 12 in a row. One more and he would tie Dutch McCall, the last hurler to lose 13 in a row, who did so in 1948.

That benchmark was on the line on Aug. 21 when the Mets themselves were riding a 12-game losing streak. Playing back-to-back doubleheaders versus the Pirates at the Polo Grounds, the Mets chose Anderson to go to the mound in the first game of Aug. 21. In classic Mets fashion, they botched it, but Anderson dodged the bullet. Pitching into the ninth inning with a 6-4 lead, Anderson got the first out. After an infield hit and a walk, Roger Craig was summoned from the bullpen. He walked Roberto Clemente, laoding the bases, and up came pinch-hitter Jim Marshall.

Jim Marshall was not the first man in baseball history who could call himself a former Met, but he was one of the first. The first man to be accorded this honor depends on how you define a former Met. For example, pitcher Billy Loes, who was acquired from the Giants on Oct. 16, 1961, was returned to them on March 2, 1962. He never played for the Mets, but Bobby Gene Smith did, and he was traded to the Cubs on April 26. So a case could be made for him.

For his part, Marshall had spent the first month of the season with the Mets and responded with a .344 average (11 for 32 and three home runs). This made him attractive to the Pirates, who acquired him in early May in exchange for Mizell. (This was truly one of those trades that failed miserably for both teams, as Mizell was released by the Mets three months later, while Marshall hit .220 in 100-at bats for the Pirates; neither played major league ball again.)

In his pinch-hit appearance, Marshall grounded to shortstop Felix Mantilla, who had a number of options. Ideally, he could get two by throwing home and then the catcher throwing to first after the force; another possibility would have been a 6-4-3 double-play. A force play at home or second would have been a decent consolation prize. Inexplicably, Mantilla threw to first—wildly. The Mets got no outs on the play, all three runners scored, and the Pirates added one more for good measure. The Mets failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, so the final score remained Pirates 8, Mets 6.

The baseball gods, who could have decreed that both Anderson and the Mets would lose their 13th straight game simultaneously, gave the former a reprieve. Instead, they decided that it was more important for Roger Craig to lose his 20th game of the season (he went on to lose four more). Anderson got a no-decision, but his streak was still intact.

No sense in delaying the inevitable too long, however. So on Aug. 26, Anderson and the Mets rose to the occasion. When Anderson came out of the game after 5.1 innings, he was behind 11-0, thanks to eight unearned runs.

When the 1962 season was history, Anderson’s losing streak was at 16. He finished up with a 3-17 record and a 5.35 ERA. Control was a big problem, as he walked 63 batters in 131.1 innings. His teammates did their part: 30 of the 108 runs scored against Anderson were unearned. He did lead the team with four saves, however. Of course, leading the 1962 Mets in saves is a textbook example of damning with faint praise.

One can imagine how glad Anderson must have been to put aside 1962 and get started in 1963. Little did he know his time in the majors was growing short. In 1963 and 1964, Anderson spent most of his time (155 innings each season) at Triple-A Buffalo.

In 1963, he was 0-2 with an ERA of 8.68 in just 9.1 innings with the Mets. He was around long enough, however, to go down in history as the last pitcher to lose a game at the Polo Grounds. He was the starting and losing pitcher in a 5-1 loss to the Phillies. Again, his teammates helped him out. Of the three runs scored against him, none was earned. A mere 1,752 were on hand to close out the Mets’ two-year tenure at the Polo Grounds.

In 1964, hampered by a broken hand suffered in spring training, Anderson was 0-1 with a 5.54 ERA in 13 innings. And that was the end of his major league career. As luck would have it, Anderson’s losing streak ended at 19—not with a victory but by the end of his tenure in the majors. He lingered in the minors for two more seasons. One suspects that May 12, 1962 often wafted through his mind during those remaining seasons.

Anderson, however, did not give up on baseball—far from it. He served as a pitching coach, among other positions, at his alma mater for 34 years. He was enshrined in the Lehigh Athletics Hall of Fame and retired to Florida in 2001.

Anderson likely paid close attention to Anthony Young’s career with the Mets. Young lost 27 straight games for the Mets covering 1992 and 1993. He really didn’t pitch that badly. His 4.17 ERA in 1992 isn’t so hot, but it isn’t deserving of a 2-14 record. His 3.77 ERA in 1993 should not have resulted in a 1-16 record, but against all odds, it did. Like their 1962 counterparts, the Mets were in the doldrums in those years.

Anderson had been there. Surely, he could have offered Young some advice. Or could he? After all, what can you say in such a situation? Don’t worry, kid, things will turn around.

They didn’t for Anderson.

Frank Jackson writes about baseball, film and history, sometimes all at once. He has has visited 54 major league parks, many of which are still in existence.
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This was an interesting feature on one of the early Mets’ pitchers.  Unearned runs came in record numbers for Casey’s Mets and Anderson was included in the parade of errors.  The team record for errors in the 20th century is 234 by the 1945 Phillies.  The 1962 Mets (210) and the 1963 Mets (208) challenged that record.  In 1962, the Mets’ infield had such skillet hands as Rod Kanehl (32 errors), Charlie Neal (28), Elio Chacon (22), Felix Mantilla (20) and Marv Throneberry (17); 96 errors just on this infield.  As Frank Jackson observes, there was enough blame to go… Read more »