A Newcomers Guide

April 11, 1993

Back in the spring of 1962, an 11-year-old boy who was a bit of a statistical smart aleck looked at the roster of the first-year New York Mets and let himself dream. After all, Richie Ashburn, Roger Craig and Gil Hodges had each produced some impressive seasons. Why couldn't this team be a winner right out of the box?

The boy's father, looking at the same collection of players, was unimpressed. "That's a .250 team," he announced. "Nothing more, nothing less."

Troubled by his father's assessment, the boy figured out that over 162 games a team couldn't finish at .250:40 wins and 122 losses would be .247; 41 wins and 121 losses, .253. He said to his dad, "I'll bet you the Mets aren't a .250 team." His father, standing by his instinct, took the bet.

The Mets went on to win 40 and lose 120. One game was canceled by rain, one ended in a tie. Final winning percentage: .250.

Forewarned is forearmed: Expansion seasons are unpredictable. By their mere presence the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins, the two new National League teams, will change some things.

Getting Even

If the 1962 New York Mets, with their 40-120 record, reside in the expansionists' basement, the Los Angeles Angels live in the penthouse. The '61 Angels had the best first-year record ever, 70-91 (.435), and their 86-76 mark in '62 is still the best by any of the 10 expansion teams in any of their first four years of operation.

A look at the collective record of the 10 expansion teams suggests that fans of the Rockies or the Marlins best be prepared to wait until the next millennium for their team to win more games than it loses; the average expansion team has taken 10 years to reach the .500 mark. Even so, improvement has been steady (left). And while only the Angels and the Royals finished with a winning record in any of their first six seasons, just three of the 10 teams went a full decade without finishing above .500 once. Two of those three (the Astros and the Expos) surpassed .500 in their 11th season; the Mariners didn't make it until their 15th.

More Hits For Most

Expansion has usually been associated with an increase in offense (chart, above). That connection began in 1961, when the New York Yankees' Roger Maris (above, left) hit 61 home runs in the first 162-game season.

It has not always been a simple case of more bad pitchers serving up more gopher balls. Maris, for instance, did not take advantage of substandard pitchers in his record year. Consider his 1961 batting statistics against pitchers who had made at least 25 starts or had 10 or more saves in the preexpansion season of '60: a .343 (57 for 166) average with 23 home runs. Compare that with his average of .241 against all other pitchers. Had he hit home runs against all pitchers with the frequency he did against the experienced group, he would have had 82 that year.

In 1969 and '77 there were extenuating circumstances that suggest the offensive surge was due to more than just expansion. Not only was 1968 the worst offensive season of the live-ball era, but also a rule change lowering the pitching mound from 15 to 10 inches in '69 certainly contributed to the batting boom. As for '77, anyone who pitched during that season will insist that a livelier baseball was used.

Fewer Hits for Some
Whatever the causes of the offensive fireworks in expansion seasons, it is clear that the expansion teams' hitters themselves have not been a contributing factor. No player on a first-year expansion team has ever driven in 100 runs in a season; Frank Thomas (above) of the '62 Mets holds the record with 94. His 34 home runs that season are also the high on a first-year expansion team; no one else has reached 30. And while first-year teams have produced a pair of .300 hitters (Rusty Staub for the Expos in '69 and Bob Bailor for the Blue Jays in 77), we're still waiting for the first .300 hitter on an expansion team in the U.S.

Ballpark Atmosphere

The Rockies and the Marlins play in stadiums that are familiar to NFL fans: Colorado's Mile High Stadium, home to the Denver Broncos, and Florida's Joe Robbie Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins.

It remains to be seen if Mile High will be as kind to the Rockies as it has been to the Broncos, who have the NFL's best regular-season home record since 1980. During the last 10 years the Broncos' neighbors, the Nuggets of the NBA, have played .693 basketball on their home court, compared with .293 on the road—the greatest disparity between home and away records in the league. If, as it seems, NFL and NBA visitors have difficulty acclimating themselves to Denver's altitude, will baseball teams, too?

Every National League team could have trouble adjusting to the environment in sometimes-soggy Miami. If Florida had joined the league last year, five home games would have been rained out in the first half of the season alone. A similar meteorological pattern this year would mean the Marlins could single-handedly bring back a baseball anachronism: the doubleheader (that's two games in one day, for you younger fans).

Statistics Compiled by The Elias Sports Bureau

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PHOTOWIDE WORLD PHOTOS PHOTOHERB SCHARFMAN ILLUSTRATIONAT MIAMI'S JOE ROBBIE STADIUM, RETRACTABLE STANDS MAKE ROOM FOR LEFTFIELD
Not for Sale
Not for Sale
330
345
404
ILLUSTRATIONTO MAKE MILE HIGH HOMEY FOR THE ROCKIES, STANDS IN LEFT WILL BE MOVED BACK 145 FEET
335
370
423

THE BEST OF THE WORST
On average, expansion teams have not reached a break-even season until the 10th year (figures prorated for 162 games).

AVG. WINS

AVG. LOSSES

AVG. PCT.

1st Year

59.2

102.8

.366

2nd Year

64.5

97.5

.398

3rd Year

65.3

96.7

.403

4th Year

66.7

95.3

.411

5th Year

70.6

91.4

.436

6th Year

72.0

89.1

.450

7th Year

76.0

86.0

.469

8th Year

76.1

85.9

.470

9th Year

80.6

81.4

.497

10th Year

81.6

80.4

.504

11th Year

83.4

78.6

.515

12th Year

80.1

81.9

.495

13th Year

77.1

84.9

.476

14th Year

81.5

80.5

.503

15th Year

82.0

80.0

.506

16th Year

77.9

82.1

.481

WHERE THEY STAND
First-season records of expansion teams.

TEAM

YEARS

W

L

PCT.

Los Angeles Angels

1961

70

91

.435

Kansas City Royals

1969

60

93

.426

Houston Colt .45s*

1962

64

96

.400

Seattle Pilots**

1969

64

98

.395

Seattle Mariners

1977

64

98

.395

Washington Senators***

1961

61

100

.379

Toronto Blue Jays

1977

54

107

.335

Montreal Expos

1969

52

110

.321

San Diego Padres

1969

52

110

.321

New York Mets

1962

40

120

.250

*became the Astros in 1965
**became the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970
***became the Texas Rangers in 1972

EXPANDING NUMBERS
Average statistics per team in the years before and after expansion (prorated for 162 games).

TEAMS

AVG.

HR

RUNS

ERA

E

1960 AL

8

.255

143

711

3.87

137

1961 AL

10

.256

153

733

4.03

150

1961 NL

8

.262

156

733

4.03

153

1962 NL

10

.261

144

725

3.94

155

1968 AL

10

.230

110

552

2.98

137

1969 AL

12

.246

137

663

3.63

139

1968 NL

10

.243

89

556

2.98

138

1969 NL

12

.250

122

657

3.60

146

1976 AL

12

.256

94

649

3.52

144

1977 AL

14

.266

144

734

4.07

142

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)