On the surface it appeared to be a typical summer day for the Mets. As usual, we were going nowhere, floundering in the second division, struggling to reach .500. When all was said and done, however, it turned out to be a crucial turning point in the history of our club.
Mets GM M. Donald Grant made a rare appearance in the Mets clubhouse and gave the team a pep talk. The gist of his speech was that they are not playing up to their potential and that they need to ‘believe’ in themselves. Always animated, Tug McGraw began bounding around the clubhouse, screaming ‘Ya Gotta Believe!’
First place is now within our reach and as we fans do, we are cautiously hopeful. We’re trying not to expect too much at this point. And we shouldn’t. But whenever we see our Mets in a pennant race, we cant help but wonder if this will be another 69 or 86.
When I look at this 2010 club, I DON’T see 69. The 69 club seemed to be a team of fate, of destiny. Crazy things happened all season: Black cats. Shoe polish. 19 Mets being fanned in a single game–but winning the game anyway. Ron Swoboda, nicknamed ‘Rocky’ for his fielding ineptitude, making one of the greatest catches in World Series history. 69 was called a ‘Miracle’ for a reason.
When I look at this 2010 club, I DON’T see 86 either. The way we played that year, it seemed almost predetermined that we’d win. A coronation. We all knew the 86 club would win. It was just a matter of how. Anything short of a championship that year would have been deemed a failure.
When I look at this 2010 club, I DO, however, see 1973. Unlike 69 and 86, the 73 club was not that good. Most of 73 was an awful season. On this date, June 17, 1973, the Mets were 28-29, 7 games back. Defensive stud Jerry Grote missed 2 months with a fractured arm. Rusty Staub played injured all year, nursing a shoulder injury but still managed to end the season as team leader in RBI’s (76). John Milner was our big HR threat. He hit 27 but only batted 239. Only one Met (Felix Millan) hit over 280. Wayne Garrett led the team in steals with a whopping 6. Two of our three big gun starters, Koosman and Matlack, would end the season with more losses then wins.
On August 15th, with just 44 games remaining, the Mets were in last place,53-65, 7 ½ games out. Oh–and that guy making all the ruckus in the clubhouse, Tug McGraw? His ERA stood at 5.27, unacceptable for a closer.
In spite of this, the Mets went 20-8 in September to win the division before upsetting the defending NL Champion Reds in a 5 game war. We opposed the defending World Champion A’s and fell short in a hard fought 7 game series, even though we managed to get the tying run to the plate in the 9th inning of game 7.
That 73 club was not nearly as good as their 69 or 86 counterparts. But they may have had more heart. They did more–and went further–with less.
The 2010 Mets, like the 73 team, still are not sure how good they are. They are learning–as are we fans. Three months ago, did we really think we’d be where we are now? No pitching. Reyes coming back from missing most of 09. David coming back from a concussion. Beltran out…indefinitely and being replaced by Angel Pagan??? A manager and General Manager on borrowed time. Our home stadium feeling like anything but ‘home.’ We all wondered if Mike Pelfrey would even win 10 games all season.
When Tug began screaming ‘Ya Gotta Believe’ it was originally meant for his teammates, NOT for the fans. But since then we have used that slogan. Even in our darkest hours, we have hung our hopes and dreams on those 3 words. However, it now seems that perhaps it’s just not us fans who are really starting to believe. But more importantly, just like in 1973, the players are.
You have to lose–and lose a lot–before you can appreciate winning. This is why our 2 championships mean more to us then the 27 that other team has won. In 69, we suffered for 7 years before winning it all. In 84 and 85, we lost gut wrenching pennant races to the Cubs and Cardinals before prevailing in 86. History is once again repeating itself. Yadier Molina’s HR in 06, followed by monumental collapses in 07 and 08 only to be followed by a plague of injuries last season have caused us years of heartbreak, suffering and tears. Enough with the losing. I think we’ve suffered enough recently. It’s time.
From the bottom of my heart, I echo Tug’s words: Ya Gotta Believe.