Pitcher Matt Harvey of the New York Mets appeared recently on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the "Dark Knight of Gotham" and the best young pitcher in baseball. Harvey is the lone bright spot in a Mets season that is already all but over, and after seeing the cover, Mets fans let out a collective groan: "don't ruin the one good thing we have going."
The Sports Illustrated cover jinx is well documented, even by the magazine itself. SI defined the jinx as "a demonstrable misfortune or decline in performance following a cover appearance" in a 2002 cover story on the 913 "jinxes" in SI history.
The Mets, a team familiar with failure, have suffered mightily at the hands of SI. In fact, the team has a disproportionately high percentage of "jinxed" covers at a 62.5% rate - well above the most recently reported SI average of 37.2%.
Click for the history of the Mets SI jinx, categorized by a focus on manager, pitcher, position player, and team.
Red covers signify a "jinx", green covers are safe. Click on each cover for its story and outcome.
The team's first SI cover featured managers Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra of the Yankees in the "Baseball Battle for New York." Writer William Leggett described the competition between the two organizations:
"The last-place Mets, already drawing nearly as many spectators as the first-place Yanks, have a spanking-new stadium Just a stone's throw from the nation's biggest 1964 attraction. Now the battle to capture New York's baseball fans enters a critical phase."
What's more, writes Leggett, is that "the rich, powerful Yankees are losing," praising Shea stadium, fan attendance, and the relatable "human frailties" of the Mets. While they may have beaten their crosstown rivals in the attendance records, the team went 53-109, finishing last in the National League, while the Yankees went on to face the Cardinals in the World Series.
Writer William Leggett revisits the Mets in 1968, this time characterizing the team as "on the verge of abandoning the theater of the absurd and starting to play something that closely resembles big-league baseball." Leggett was correct - the Mets would win their first World Series the following year, in 1969 - but cover boy Swoboda never lived up to his supposed hall-of-fame potential.
When the article was published on May 6, the outfielder had recently been tied for the major league lead in homers and runs batted in, and Swoboda himself had predicted that he would break Roger Maris' home run record. He would go on to hit three total home runs throughout the months of June, July, August, and September combined to finish with a mere 11 on the season, along with a 40-point drop in batting average from the prior year. Although the Mets were headed in the right direction, and Swoboda would actually be an important part of the 1969 World Series, the outfielder would finish a career .242 hitter with 73 home runs over nine seasons.
"Now the Ones to Watch are the Mets" reads William Leggett's headline in his follow-up to the team's 1969 championship season. Their chances of repeating were good, wrote Leggett, largely due to star pitchers Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, the latter of whom graced the cover of this issue. Their stardom turned out to be true: Seaver went on to become the only Met voted into baseball's Hall of Fame, in 1992, while Koosman was a two-time All Star who would win 222 games by the end of his career. Nevertheless, while Leggett claimed the Mets were too good to return to mediocrity, they did just that, finishing just above .500 in 1970 and the following two seasons as well.
The September 1970 fold-out cover featured the managers of three teams competing for the NL East: the Cubs' Leo Durocher, the Pirates' Danny Murtaugh, and the Mets' Gil Hodges. Locked in a division race since early July, writer William Leggett examined the potential playoff landscape before the last week of the regular season, observing that "With the end just a week away, all the games are tough as the Cubs and Mets do their best-sometimes their worst-to overtake the straining Pirates." The Mets were swept by the Pirates and split a four game set with the Cubs to end the season and finish third in the NL East, missing the playoffs after winning the World Series just a season before.
In May of 1972, the Mets picked up future Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays. At 41 years of age, wrote William Leggett, "fastballs he once was able to hit with his eyes shut go by him more often than he wants to admit." Nevertheless, the team was off to the most impressive start in Met history, ahead in the National League East by three games. According to Leggett, the acquisition of Mays reaffirmed the team's confidence:
"The Mets were buying some insurance for the pennant they devoutly believe they will win."
New York was playing better than .700 ball in early June, but soon fizzled, going 54-62 over the next five months of the season to finish third in the division, 13.5 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mays finished the season batting .250, over 50 points lower than his career average, with eight home runs. He would hit .211 with 6 home runs in 1973, his final year in the league.
Writer Ron Fimrite opened his cover story on the 1973 World Series by poking fun at the history of "buffoonery" behind each team, the Mets having entered the Series with the worst won-loss record (82-79) of any team in history, and the A's with their eccentric owner and occasional bizarre behavior:
"Low comedy usurped high drama in the opening stages of the World Series as the Mets and the A's traded victories-and absurdities."
After spending most of the season in last place, New York won the NL East for the only time in the 1970s after a hot month of play in September. After splitting the first two games, the A's would go on to beat the Mets in seven to capture the title.
Met Tom Seaver and Oriole Jim Palmer were featured on the July 21, 1975 cover as Baseball's Toughest Pitchers, players who had each suffered injuries and played their poorest major league seasons the year before. At the All-Star Break, Palmer and Seaver were leading or approaching the lead in most pitching categories.
Seaver, who already had three 20-win seasons, two Cy Young Awards, and a 1969 World Series championship under his belt, would go on to win another Cy Young in 1975. The all-time Mets leader in wins, Seaver was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.
Tom Seaver appeared once again on the cover of Sports Illustrated eight years after his 1975 Cy Young season, this time with the headline "You Can Go Home Again" and less fortunate results.
Seaver, a hero of the 1969 World Series team, was traded from the Mets to the Cincinnati Reds in 1977. After a six-year exile from New York, Seaver was traded back to the team before the 1983 season, and would, according to writer Steve Wulf, "delight an Opening Day crowd by pitching six strong innings in a 2-0 win."
Despite the strong start, the 38-year-old pitcher would go on to have his only losing season as a Met. New York finished last in the NL East, and Seaver would join the Chicago White Sox the following season.
Daryl Strawberry appeared on the April 23, 1984 cover of SI as a 22-year-old Mets outfielder. Coming off an up-and-down 1983 season in which he earned National League Rookie of the Year honors, Strawberry faced high expectations for the rest of his career, even drawing comparisons to Ted Williams:
"Ted Williams is an awful large order," says former Met manager George Bamberger, "but if someone asked me, 'Who coming up will be another Ted Williams?', well, I'd have to say Darryl Strawberry. I've compared ballplayers to other ballplayers but never to Ted Williams. Fifteen years from now this kid will turn out to be one of the greatest ever to play the game."
Strawberry was written up as an up-and-coming star in Major League Baseball and the future leader of the Mets. Despite some controversial behavior off the field, Strawberry played for 17 seasons and helped the Mets to their second World Series championship in 1986, and would go on to win three more with the New York Yankees in 1996, 1998, and 1999. He was voted to the All-Star game eight times, seven as a Met, and joined the exclusive 30-30 club in 1987 when he hit 36 home runs and stole 36 bases.
Another young Met star appeared on the September 24, 1984 cover of Sports Illustrated, this time 19-year-old pitcher Dwight Gooden. At the time of publication, Gooden had set a major league rookie record of 251 strikeouts in 202 innings, and was 16-8 with a 2.72 ERA.
Writer Steve Wulf documented the Cy Young award contenders, notably Gooden and his national league competitor Rick Sutcliffe of the Cubs. Despite his phenomenal season, the cover got the best of Gooden, and Sutcliffe would take home the award for most valuable pitcher (although Gooden was able to bounce back and win the award the following season).
The August 25, 1986 SI cover featured Ron Darling, one of four Met starting pitchers in the midst of a historic season.
"The Mets are home free in the NL East," wrote Ron Fimrite, "thanks to a quartet of stellar starters."
Darling, Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez, and Bob Ojeda made up a pitching staff that invited comparison to the best in history. At the time, only eight teams since 1900 had finished a season with four pitchers with 15 or more victories apiece and winning percentages of .667 or better; a month left to play, each Met starter had at least 11 wins and a winning percentage over .700. New York spurned the jinx and finished the regular season with a franchise-best 108-54 record to win the NL East division title, and would go on to defeat the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series for their second title.
The first two games of the 1986 World Series went to the Boston Red Sox, and the October 27 SI cover featuring Jim Rice scoring behind Met catcher Gary Carter appeared to be the nail in New York's coffin.
The Mets had reached the championship in dramatic fashion, defeating the Houston Astros in six games to win the National League pennant. In game 5, New York survived a two-hit, 12-strikeout gem from Nolan Ryan for nine innings to win on Carter's run-scoring single in the 12th inning. Game 6, the clincher, saw the Mets rally for three runs to tie the game in the ninth before winning 7-6 in the 16th inning, the longest ever postseason contest at the time.
Against Boston, the Mets would win games three and four and lose game five, but would rally back at home in Shea Stadium to win the final two games of the World Series, the team's second title and last championship to date.
Ron Fimrite captured the drama of the 1986 championship in his World Series recap:
"The Mets, one strike from defeat, staged a couple of remarkable comebacks to deny the Red Sox their first World Series in 68 years."
Pictured on the cover is Ray Knight, whose Game Seven home run helped New York clinch the title. Knight was also involved in one of the most infamous plays in baseball history one game earlier, scoring on Boston first baseman Bill Buckner's error to win Game Six. Knight was named World Series MVP after Game Seven.
Just when this cover seems to have done the Mets no harm, the team turns its attention to the offseason. New York General Manager Frank Cashen is unable to come to terms on a contract for Knight, who signs with the Baltimore Orioles before the 1987 season, the first player ever to join a new team after winning the World Series MVP award.
Darryl Strawberry, in the midst of his second cover appearance as a Met, was feuding with his teammates as things went sour for New York:
"Last week, Jesse Orosco asked to be used more often or be traded, Ron Darling pitched his 14th consecutive winless start, teammates rapped Strawberry, Strawberry rapped his teammates and said he wanted out when his contract expires in '89, Gary Carter was booed for the first time in New York, club president Frank Cashen called Dwight Gooden on the carpet, Mookie Wilson asked to be traded and the whole team generally played baseball like it ought not to be."
The question posed by writer Steve Wulf is thus: will the Mets right the ship or continue to sink into a post-championship funk? The cover appearance once again did the team no favors, as they continued to struggle and missed the playoffs entirely one season removed from winning the World Series.
A Met appearance on the cover of SI's July 24, 1989 issue appears to be coincidence, as the article focuses not on New York baseball but on the use of wooden bats in the MLB.
"The crack of the wooden bat is being replaced by the ping of aluminum," wrote Peter Gammons, predicting that "by the end of the next decade, the ping is likely to be heard in the majors."
Greg Jeffries, shown on the cover shattering a wooden bat, avoided the SI jinx - he finished the season with a .258 batting average along with 12 home runs and 21 stolen bases, good enough for third in Rookie of the Year voting.
In the nine years since his last cover appearance in 1984, Dwight Gooden had gone from "Phenom To Phantom," a one-time Rookie of the Year who was now a shell of his former self. Still only 28, the March 22, 1993 article tracked Gooden in spring training as he entered a new phase in his career.
Feeling the effects of arm trouble and personal issues, Gooden did not expect to be exactly the same as he was when he debuted at 19:
"The strikeouts," he says. "I'll never be that pitcher anymore. I can't. But maybe I can be back at that level in other areas."
Gooden was never again a successful pitcher for the Mets. In 1993 he posted a losing record for only the second time in his career with a career-high 15 losses. In 1994, Gooden had a 3-4 record with a 6.31 ERA when he tested positive for cocaine, leading to a suspension for the 1995 season and an end to career with the Mets after spending his first 10 seasons with the team.
Another seemingly coincidental appearance by a Met on this May 23rd, 1994 cover took its toll both on the game of baseball itself. Outfielder John Cangelosi, in his only season in New York, is shown falling victim to a tackle by Charlie O'Brien of the rival Atlanta Braves. The cover story focused on just that - the increase of fighting in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.
"Tough new rules are needed to end the ugly, too frequent brawls in baseball and the NBA," wrote Jack McCallum.
Just three months later, in August, the infamous players strike ended the baseball season early, and the MLB became the first professional sport to lose its entire postseason due to a labor dispute. Cangelosi had been released by the team in July.
Gooden and Strawberry appeared on their third SI cover each in a Mets uniform, this time together with the headline "The Dead End Kids: How it all went wrong for Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden." Writer Tom Verducci points out the similarities between the two players' careers:
"The career paths of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden began headed straight to Cooperstown. They both were National League Rookies of the Year. Before either one of them had turned 25, they were stars, millionaires and, in '86, world champions. How did those parallel lines wind up as twisted as those on a New York City subway map?"
The simple answer is that Strawberry and Gooden had lost prime years of their careers to alcohol and cocaine abuse. This cover story was less of a jinx and more of a sad acknowledgement of the two players' fading careers. Gooden would be suspended for the 1995 season after testing positive for cocaine during a previous suspension, and Strawberry would never again play a full season in the major leagues.
The 1999 Mets infield of first baseman John Olerud, second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, shortstop Rey Ordonez, and third baseman Robin Ventura made the September 6 cover of SI behind the question, "The Best Infield Ever?"
"A new man at third has dressed up the Mets' infield, turning a good defense into a great one - and New York into a playoff contender," wrote Tom Verducci in response to the arrival of Robin Ventura, at the time a five-time Gold Glove winner in the midst of a career year at 32.
The Mets finished second in the NL East, but won the NL Wildcard by defeating the Cincinnatti Reds in a one game playoff. After defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks in four games, New York would lose the NLCS series to the rival Atlanta Braves in six.
The Mets escaped the jinx in 2000 despite their team name being featured on the cover in anticipation of a showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League Championship. New York won the series 4-1, their first NL pennant since 1986, and would go on to face their crosstown rival Yankees in the World Series.
After the Yankees took the 2000 World Series four games to one, Sports Illustrated published a special commemorative issue with a cover featuring shortstop Derek Jeter scoring past Mets catcher Mike Piazza. Although the Mets have not reached a World Series since, Piazza continued his to play at a nearly Hall-of-Fame level, enough to prove an ability to avoid the jinx.
Five Mets were shot for the July 17, 2006 SI cover: Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado, and Jose Reyes.
"The Mets are the rare sports team that has found instant success after a nearly complete overhaul," wrote Tom Verducci.
Of the 29 players on the team's active roster at the time, 16 had joined the club since the end of the previous 2005 season. Nevertheless, the Mets had a 12-game lead in the NL East, proof enough for Verducci to endorse the team as "a franchise whose revival is way ahead of schedule."
New York maintained that lead to win the NL East, and would advance to the NLDS where they swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in three games. New York's playoff run would come to an end at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, losing 4-3 in Game Seven of the NLCS at home.
A group of Mets appeared on the Sports Illustrated cover again in 2007, this time with a focus on the General Manager. Orlando Hernandez, Oliver Perez, Endy Chavez, John Maine, Endy Chavez, and manager Willie Randolph appeared with GM Omar Minaya. Writer Gary Smith opened with the following:
"How did Omar Minaya, the major leagues' first Hispanic general manager, turn the Mets back into contenders? By welcoming one and all into his ever-expanding circle."
At the time of the June 18th publication, the Mets were playing competitive baseball, but the cover jinx would soon get the best of New York. The team lost a seven-game lead in the NL East with 17 games left to play on the season, one of the biggest collapses in baseball history. Minaya's supposed "contender" was called into question in the offseason.
Before the 2008 season, the Mets traded for two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana and signed the pitcher to a six-year, $137.5 million contract. Wrote Lee Jenkins in his cover story on Santana:
"Johan Santana has yet to throw a pitch for the Mets, but his arrival in camp has lifted the gloom from last season's historic collapse and given New York a reason to believe again."
It seemed unlikely that the cover jinx would strike again, but New York carried out yet another end-of-season collapse. This time with a three-and-a-half game lead with 17 games to play, the Mets completely lost control, scoring a total of five runs in the final weekend of baseball at Shea Stadium would ever host. Breaking fans' hearts yet again, the Mets had become the poster child for teams that break down in the stretch, and also for teams unable to defy the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.