Frank Edwin ‘Tug’ McGraw was a relief pitcher for the New York Mets for 9 seasons. Over that time he compiled 85 saves with a 3.17 ERA. But he is best remembered for a phrase. In 1973, as the Mets were treading water in the NLE basement at the end of August, McGraw coined the slogan ‘Ya Gotta Believe.’
Fox ‘Spooky’ Mulder was a fictitious character played by David Duchovny on ‘The X-Files.’ Mulder firmly believed that the US Govt. was behind a huge conspiracy to deny or conceal the existence of UFO’s and aliens. His sister, Samantha, was abducted at a young age and Mulder dedicated his life to uncovering the truth. His office was located in the basement of the Hoover Building and in the corner of the office hung a poster with a UFO on it. The words underneath the UFO: I Want To Believe.
Four decades have now passed since Tug’s famous phrase. We fans have hung our hopes and dreams to those three simple words. When times look bad, when things are bleak, when it seems like the Mets are destined for another year without a post-season, we state proudly, ‘Ya Gotta Believe.’
And why shouldn’t we? Has there ever been a team that has produced the miracles that our Mets have? Sure, we don’t win a lot but man oh man, when we do it’s glorious. After the numerous miracles that have occurred throughout our history, how can we not put faith in Tug’s words?
Shea was The Place Where Miracles Happen. And why not? Black cats. Shoe polish. Miraculous catches. Leaving the Hall of Fame filled Orioles shell-shocked, sending them back to Baltimore wondering ‘what the hell just happened?’
Hits that seemed destined to be HR’s, bouncing on TOP of the wall in a crucial game against the first place Pirates in late September 1973. In the way little Buddy Harrelson stood up to the bigger Pete Rose, the Mets stood up to the Big Red Machine, upsetting them in 5. Then, coming within a base hit of knocking off the defending World Champion A’s in game 7. How can one not ‘believe’?
Is there anyone out there who doubted the fact that Endy’s catch would propel the Mets to find a way to solve Jeff Suppan? Or in the bottom of the 9th, trailing 3-1, we all just knew in our hearts that Beltran would come through. We believed.
Non Mets fans may laugh at us, at our blind faith. They don’t understand why we live and die with Tug’s expression. But our undying faith to ’believe’ can be summed up in 2 words: Game Six.
Ballplayers have their own beliefs. A pitcher who is tossing a no-hitter sits alone in the dugout between innings. Or makes it a point to hop over the baseline when returning to the dugout. Willie Mays would always step on 2nd on his way to center field. Jackie Robinson always walked to the plate by stepping between the pitcher and catcher rather then walking behind the catcher.
Fans also have rituals. Beliefs. Who among us doesn’t put on our lucky hat or lucky Mets shirt when we need a big win, no matter how dirty the shirt may be.
But now when we claim ‘Ya Gotta Believe’ do we really believe it anymore? Or do we just say it…well…because we have always said it? In 2006 after Yadier Molina brought our season to a premature close I watched the World Series. Cardinals and Tigers. Truthfully, I didn’t give a damn who won, but I watched anyway because…well, it’s something I do every October.
Personally, I am closing in on 40 years of rooting for the Mets. 40 years. Through the good and the bad, I claim ‘Ya Gotta Believe’. But the last few seasons the words seem shallow and without meaning. A catch phrase. The last 4 seasons have been the toughest of all.
Many of us still regurgitate Tug’s words. It’s become a Pavlovian response. But do we really believe it in our hearts?
As Tug McGraw said, ‘Ya Gotta Believe.’ As Fox Mulder said, ‘I want to believe.’ What kind of fan are you? Are you one who really does believe in the Mets anymore or simply one who wants to believe? Do you claim ‘Ya Gotta Believe’ cause it’s something you feel in your heart or cause it’s something you’ve always done?
The Truth is out there. I sure wish a pennant was, too.