Met's 'magic': grand allusion was Cobb really No. 1?

When baseball's Mets were born in 1962, New Yorkers were just happy to have a National League franchise back in town. The Dodgers and Giants had fled to the West Coast and the town was hungry for more baseball -- even the bumbling variety played by the early Mets. Nearly two decades later, however, New Yorkers want and expect a better product than the one that finished last the past three seasons.

The new Met owners know they can't produce a winner overnight, but they're determined to "sell" the team to the city. "Exhibit A" was the full-page ad that ran in the New York Times before the Mets' Shea Stadium opener. Taking up most of the page was a photo of heartbroken Ralph Branca, the pitcher who served up Bobby Thomson's famous pennant-winning home run. The headline below read: "This is dedicated to the guys who cried when Thomson connected with Branca's 0 and 1 pitch."

The idea is to sell New Yorkers on the magic that major league baseball can produce -- the sights, sounds, and memories. Consequently the team has chosen as its 1980 slogan: "The new Mets. The magic is back."

Actually very little is new about the current Mets, particularly on the field , where most of the same players return. The team's biggest stars are Lee Mazzilli and Craig Swan, which tells you something about how anonymous the rest of the roster must be. The new owners didn't come on board in time to sign any heralded free agents, so what "newness" there is consists of cosmetic changes to Shea Stadium and a fresh marketing approach. There's no doubt the latter is necessary. Last season the Met's attendance dipped to an all-time low of 788, 905. Revealing hitting analysis

Without question, Ty Cobb, with a .367 lifetime average, was baseball's greatest hitter, or so concludes Reed Browning in a thoughtful statistical study appearing in Sports Illustrated's special baseball issue. Browning dispenses with the difficulties that arise in comparing players from different eras by getting to the key statistic: how a hitter compared with the average hitter of his day. This makes it possible to forget about changes in the rules or relative liveliness of the ball.

Looking at the combined batting average of all players in any given season, then calculating how many percentage points above or below it a player was, gives a good picture of that player's batting ability. During the course of his career, Cobb batted an average of 102 points higher than the American League season aggregate. No other player has ever broken the 100-point barrier, with Joe Jackson's plus-96 placing him second behind Cobb. The only postwar players to make the top 10 of the "Career Average Margin" chart are Ted Williams (sixth with plus-80) and Rod Carew (ninth with plus-78).

The use of aggregate batting averages makes for some very interesting discoveries. For example, viewed absolutely, Carew's .333 average in 1978 was considerably better than the .301 mark Carl Yastrzemski produced to win the American League batting title a decade earlier. Relatively speaking, however, the averages are virtually identical, since Yaz hit 71 points higher than the lowest league aggregate in history, while Carew was 72 points ahead of the 1978 figure.

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