Following the American League’s lead, the National League expanded to 10 teams in 1962, adding to its fraternity of ball clubs the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s. While Houston finished eighth in the league with a respectable 64 victories, the Mets posted an embarrassing mark of 40-120, losing more games in the process than any other team in history. Nevertheless, New York fans were happy to have National League baseball back in the Big Apple – especially those followers of the game who previously rooted for the Dodgers and Giants.
With the addition of two new teams, the senior circuit extended its regular season schedule to 162 games. As it turned out, 162 games simply weren’t enough to determine the N.L. pennant winner in 1962.
The National League featured a three-team pennant race between the San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds fell out of contention during the final week of the season, leaving the Giants and Dodgers to battle it out for the right to represent the senior circuit in the World Series. With the Dodgers losing 10 of their last 13 games, the Giants caught their bitter rivals on the last day of the season, forcing a three-game tie-breaking playoff between the two clubs. As was the case 11 years earlier when the two teams last met in a three-game playoff to determine the league champion, the Giants beat the Dodgers in come-from-behind fashion, overcoming a 4-2 deficit in the ninth inning of Game Three to win the pennant. The Giants finished the campaign with a record of 103-62, just one game ahead of the Dodgers. The Reds finished third, only 3 ½ games back, while the Pittsburgh Pirates came in fourth, eight games off the pace.
The Giants possessed a considerable amount of talent, both in the field and on the mound. Right-hander Jack Sanford had the finest season of his career, placing second in the league with a record of 24-7 and throwing 265 innings. Billy O’Dell and Billy Pierce combined to win a total of 35 games. Juan Marichal had his first big year for San Francisco, finishing 18-11, with 262 innings pitched and 18 complete games.
Meanwhile, the quartet of Willie McCovey, Felipe Alou, Orlando Cepeda, and Willie Mays helped the Giants score a league-leading 878 runs over the course of the regular season. McCovey batted .293, hit 20 homers, and drove in 54 runs, in only 229 official at-bats. Alou hit 25 home runs, knocked in 98 runs, scored 96 others, and batted .316. Cepeda batted .306, scored 105 runs, and placed among the league leaders with 35 homers and 114 runs batted in. Mays earned a second-place finish in the N.L. MVP voting by batting .304, knocking in 141 runs, scoring 130 others, and topping the circuit with 49 home runs and 382 total bases.
With such an impressive array of talent, it should come as no surprise that the Giants gave the Yankees a difficult time when they faced them in the World Series. The two teams split the first six contests, with Yankee ace Whitey Ford seeing his five-game winning streak in postseason play come to an end in Game Six. Ralph Terry and Jack Sanford opposed each other for the third time in the Series in Game Seven, after they split their first two decisions. The contest proved to be a classic
pitcher’s duel that entered the bottom of the ninth inning with New York clinging to a 1-0 lead. A two-out double by Willie Mays put runners on second and third for the Giants, with Willie McCovey stepping to the plate for the home team. The tension-filled game ended when McCovey hit a scorching line drive right at Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson, who grabbed it for the final out. The Giants lost the Fall Classic even though their pitching staff held New York’s vaunted lineup to a team batting average of just .199 over the course of the seven games.
Although the Giants captured the National League pennant and Willie Mays had a sensational year for the league champions, Los Angeles shortstop Maury Wills ended up winning N.L. MVP honors. Wills batted .299, placed among the league leaders with 130 runs scored, 208 hits, and 10 triples, and established a new major league record by stealing 104 bases. Dodger teammates Tommy Davis and Frank Howard also had huge years. Davis earned a third-place finish in the MVP balloting by hitting 27 homers, scoring 120 runs, and topping the circuit with 153 runs batted in, 230 hits, and a .346 batting average. Howard slugged 31 homers, drove in 119 runs, and batted .296. Meanwhile, Dodger hurler Don Drysdale captured Cy Young honors by compiling an ERA of 2.83 and leading the league with 25 victories, 232 strikeouts, and 314 innings pitched.
Third-place Cincinnati had arguably the league’s best player in Frank Robinson. The reigning N.L. MVP hit 39 home runs, knocked in 136 runs, batted .342, amassed 208 hits and 380 total bases, stole 18 bases, and led the league with 134 runs scored, 51 doubles, a .421 on-base percentage, and a .624 slugging percentage. Vada Pinson also had a big year for the Reds, hitting 23 homers, driving in 100 runs, scoring 107 others, and batting .292. Bob Purkey headed Cincinnati’s pitching staff, compiling a record of 23-5 and an ERA of 2.81, and tossing 288 innings and 18 complete games.
Another of the league’s top performers was Hank Aaron, whose Braves finished fifth, 15 ½ games off the pace. Aaron placed among the league leaders with 45 home runs, 128 runs batted in, 127 runs scored, and a .323 batting average.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• April 10 – In the very first regular-season game ever at Dodger Stadium, the Cincinnati Reds spoiled the Los Angeles Dodgers' opening-day party by beating them, 6–3.
• April 11 – The New York Mets played the first official game in franchise history, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium by a score of 11-4. Gil Hodges and Charlie Neal provided bright spots for the Mets, hitting the first two home runs in the new franchise's history.
• April 13 – National League baseball officially returned to New York City, as the New York Mets played the first home game in franchise history. The Mets lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Polo Grounds by a score of 4-3.
• April 23 – The New York Mets earned their first win in franchise history, posting a 9–1 victory over the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
• June 30 – At Dodger Stadium, Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers no-hit the New York Mets 5–0.
• July 26 – Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves set the National League record for home runs by a pitcher when he hit his 31st round-tripper off New York's Craig Anderson. Spahn also dealt the Mets their 11th straight loss in a 6–1 Milwaukee victory.
• Jackie Robinson became the first black player inducted into the Hall of Fame.
• San Francisco’s Jack Sanford won 16 straight games.
• Pittsburgh’s Elroy Face saved a National League record 28 games.
• Chicago second baseman Ken Hubbs earned N.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• Hubbs set a new major league record for second basemen by handling 418 consecutive errorless chances.
• Paul Waner died.
• Sandy Koufax led the National League with a 2.54 ERA and struck out 216 batters in only 184 innings of work.
• Warren Spahn led the National League with 22 complete games.
- Billy Pierce, Bob Purkey, Bobby Richardson, Cincinnati Reds, Craig Anderson, Don Drysdale, Eddie Mathews, Elroy Face, Felipe Alou, Frank Howard, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Jack Sanford, Jackie Robinson, Juan Marichal, Ken Hubbs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Maury Wills, New York Mets, Orlando Cepeda, Paul Waner, Ralph Terry, Roberto Clemente, San Francisco Giants, Sandy Koufax, Tommy Davis, Vada Pinson, Warren Spahn, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey