Maybe everybody but me already knew this, but Avengers was once considered for the name of the team that became the Mets. This was back in 1961, two years before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby released the first comic book featuring The Avengers. It doesn’t seem like a great name for a baseball team to me—what are they supposed to be avenging?—but maybe that’s just because I already associate it with the comic book.
A jog through the New York Times archive shows that settling on “Mets” wasn’t as simple as picking the name out of a hat. A January 8, 1961 story quotes Mets majority owner Joan Whitney Payson—the Times was so old-fashioned/sexist at the time that the first woman to own a non-inherited major sports team couldn’t even get her own name used in the piece—on the importance of choosing the correct name:
That the fans already are deeply interested is manifested by the countless suggestions that keep pouring in daily. Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson, one of the principal owners in the franchise, is deeply interested. Right now she is working on a plan she hopes will eventually enable the best of these contributions to emerge.
As Mrs. Payson points out, “If you pick the wrong manager, you can correct that by paying him off. But when you pick a name, you’re stuck with it and it better be a good one.”
While we can quibble over whether “Mets” is a good name—I think it’s fine—Payson’s choice of a manager wasn’t so hot. She persuaded 71-year-old legend Casey Stengel to manage the team, but in almost four season he amassed a 175-404 record. Granted, any manager would’ve had a tough go of it with the expansion Mets, but there isn’t a world in which a .302 winning percentage is good.
A month later Arthur Daley took to the “Sports of the Times” column to give an update on the “increasingly urgent” search for a nickname. Daley notes that 1,500 people contributed 468 name suggestions, including “Addicts, Beatniks, Broads, Cousins, Dancers, Fairest, Faithful, Hearts, Heroes, Humbles, Juveniles, Keepers, Midgets, Mothers-in-laws, Muggers, Pets, Queens, Slumlords, Swains, Toughs, Uncles, and Zorros.”
More salient to our purposes, Daley reported on the 10 names up for final consideration: “Avengers, Bees, Burros, Continentals, Jets, Metropolitans, NYBs (pronounced Nibs), Rebels, Skyliners, Skyscrapers.”
The nickname search was such a big deal that Daley wrote about it the next week too, as besides the hundreds of letters a day fans sent to the Mets, some of them were being directed (for some reason) to the New York Times too. Here is a delightfully batshit one:
“Follow this chain of thought,” he writes, never warning that everyone should hold fast to the sled in order to avoid being tossed off at the first turn.
“The name of the Mayor of New York is Wagner; Wagner was the greatest player of the old Pittsburgh Pirates; Pirates recently captured the Santa Maria; Santa Maria was the flagship of Christopher Columbus; Columbus is the capital of Ohio. Ohio’s official tree is the Buckeye; Buckee is another name for horse chestnut; Chestnut in France is Castagnette; Castanets are so called because of their fancied resemblance to halves of chestnut shells.
“So why not call the New York teams the Castanets? They should be able to cast a net over the pennant almost every year.” Ouch!
Finally, on May 8, 1961, the team decided upon the Mets. Mets was the first choice of fans writing in, but the second and third place choices, Empires and Islanders, weren’t even among the ten up for consideration. The team eventually chose the Mets because of these five reasons, reports the Times:
- It has received public and press acceptance.
- It is closely related to the corporate name of the franchise holder.
- It is descriptive of the entire area from which fans will be attracted.
- It has a brevity that will delight headline writers.
- It has historical baseball associations. There was a team nicknamed the Metropolitans, or Mets, that played here from 1883 to 1888.
It is somehow comforting to know that, liked the University of North Dakota’s search to replace Fighting Sioux, the public has always been over-invested in naming their sports teams.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo via AP.