Mets Merized Online » tug mcgraw Wed, 15 Feb 2017 22:02:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 MMO Hall of Fame: Tug McGraw Believed When No One Else Did Tue, 22 Mar 2016 13:00:22 +0000 Tug-McGraw1

Someone once said “A baseball team is a living breathing thing.” If that’s true, Tom Seaver is our heart, Gil Hodges our brain, Gary Carter our lungs (he breathed life into the Mets in Game 6), Bob Murphy our voice, Keith Hernandez our eyes. And Tug McGraw? Tug would be our spirit.

America has changed dramatically since Tug last pitched for the Mets. In 1974, a new car cost $3,750, a gallon of gas .55 cents. The biggest hit that year was Barbra Streisand’s ‘The Way We Were,’ the top grossing film was ‘Blazing Saddles’ and the highest rated TV show was ‘All in The Family.’ The nation was reeling from a president resigning in disgrace and tiring of troops in Vietnam.

Yet, despite the passage of four plus decades, we still feel Tug’s presence.


Those of us who were lucky enough to see Tug pitch are getting older. And perhaps, as it often does, memory embellishes things. But watching Tug perform his craft was a sight to behold, a privilege. It didn’t matter if the Pirates were down by a run with the bases loaded with Willie Stargell windmilling his bat. It didn’t matter if the Reds had the tying run in scoring position with no outs and due up was Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.

When you saw number 45 bounding out from the little bullpen cart and taking the mound, you knew—you just KNEW—everything would turn out okay. And three outs later, with Shea erupting in cheers, Jerry Grote walking to the mound shaking Tug’s hand and Tug shouting victoriously while slamming his glove against his leg, our thoughts were confirmed. Our fears alleviated. Tug made us feel better. Tug made us feel larger than life. Tug made us feel alive.

But his ascension to this level did not come overnight. It was a long arduous trek.

Frank Edwin McGraw was born in Martinez, CA on August 30, 1944. His mother nicknamed ‘Tug’ due to his “aggressive nature when he was breast-fed.” Immediately after graduating St. Vincent Ferrer High School in Vallejo, he was signed by the Mets on June 12, 1962. He was 17.

He spent one year in the minors, being used as both a starter and reliever and went 6-4 with a 1.64 ERA. The following year he made the Mets roster out of Spring Training, bypassing AA and AAA.

Tug was 0-1 with a 3.12 ERA in relief when on July 28 he made his first Major League start. The team was the Cubs, the location was Wrigley Field and the wind was blowing out. He lasted just 2/3 of an inning, giving up 3 ER before being hooked. The Mets lost 9-0.

Ya Gotta Believe!  ~  Tug McGraw

Ya Gotta Believe! ~ Tug McGraw

During that summer, the Mets were in Houston. America and Baseball was changing. For the first time ever the national pastime was played indoors in a stadium that resembled a UFO on the Texas prairie. Grass couldn’t grow inside so the game was played on a specially designed synthetic material called Astro-Turf. When a reporter asked Tug if he preferred grass or Astro-Turf, he replied, “I don’t know, I never smoked Astro-Turf.”

His second start was a complete game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea. It was his first win in the big leagues. His 3rd start had him facing Sandy Koufax. Tug defeated Koufax, 5-2. It was the first time the Mets ever defeated the Dodger legend.

Tug finished 1965, both starting and relieving, with a record of 2-7 and a 3.32 ERA. He tossed 97 2/3 innings, whiffing 57 but walking 48. Decent numbers for a rookie on a team that went 50-112 and finished 47 GB.

That September, with war in Southeast Asia escalating, Tug, a US Marine, reported to Parris Island. He became a rifleman, adept at firing the M14 and M60. He later reported to Camp Lejeune where he became, as he humorously said, “a trained killer.”


In 1966 he couldn’t regain his mediocre form. Still being used both as a spot-starter and in relief, Tug went 2-9 with a 5.52 ERA.

In 1967, he made 4 starts, going 0-3 with an embarrassing 7.79. Despite the Mets being an awful club and well on their way to another 100-loss season, even Tug couldn’t find a spot on the staff. He spent much of ’67 and all of 1968 in the minors. His career was on life support, his dream of being a big league pitcher hanging by a thread.

Early in 1969, Jerry Koosman got hurt. Manager Gil Hodges gave Tug a chance and put him in Kooz’s spot. This was Tug’s big opportunity. He could now prove to himself, a doubtful fan base and his manager that he deserved to be here.

Tug failed. He went 1-1 but his ERA was well over 5.00.

When Koosman returned from the DL, Tug was banished to the pen. He found his home.

Tug pitched exceptionally well, going 9-3, posted a career best to that point 2.24 ERA and fanned 92 batters in 100 IP.

However, he was erratic, streaky. And when the Amazins’ found themselves in the post-season for the first time ever, Hodges knew what was at stake. McGraw was too inconsistent to be trusted. He pitched just once, a game 2 slugfest, where he went 3 innings, allowing just 1 hit and 0 ER. He did not pitch again that October.

Tug would later say that 1969 was the turning point in his career. Although he had no impact on the post-season, he felt motivated by what the team did. “We were Goddamned Amazin!”

Quicker than a Nolan Ryan fastball and mastering his signature pitch, the Screwball, Tug became one of the premier closers in the league. He was respected by opponents, valued by teammates and adored by fans. He became arguably the most loved player ever to wear a Mets jersey. Tom Seaver was ‘The Franchise,’ the guy you’d enjoy sitting down and discussing Baseball with. But Tug was the guy you’d want to hang out with.

When he pitched in a game, Tug threw left-handed. However, when he loosened up in the bullpen prior to the game or played catch in the outfield with teammates, he threw right-handed. Fans frequently wondered who was that guy wearing Tug’s jersey.

The game was different back then. Closers didn’t come in to face just one batter. They earned the save. They stayed on the mound. No one cared about pitch counts. In 1970, Tug appeared in 57 games while tossing 90+ innings. He went 4-6 with a 3.28.

The following year, he went 11-4 with a 1.70 ERA, threw 111 innings in 51 games and recorded 109 K’s. Tug continued his dominance in 1972. He went 8-6, again posted a 1.70 ERA and set a team record of 27 saves, a mark that would stand until Jesse Orosco broke it in 1984. ’72 saw Tug picked for his first All-Star Game. In 2 innings of work he fanned 4 batters—Reggie Jackson, Norm Cash, Bobby Grich and Carlton Fisk—and picked up the win.

Tug McGraw had merited his spot amongst the greats of the day. And now, it was 1973.

Shockingly, once again, the Mets closer was erratic, unreliable and inconsistent. He found himself reduced to co-closer with Harry Parker.

On August 30, Tom Seaver suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in 10 innings to STL. The Mets fell into last place and were 61-71. And although they were just 6 ½ GB, they’d need to leapfrog 5 other clubs.

M. Donald Grant held a closed door meeting with the players.

He endeavored to motivate the team that’d been playing run-of-the-mill ball most of the year. Not much heart. He said they needed to believe in themselves, believe in each other and believe in their abilities.

Of all people to echo Grant’s generic speech Tug seemed the least likely. After all, he was 1-6 with an ERA north of 5. If anyone should sit there and keep his mouth shut, it was McGraw.

But not Tug. He began jumping around exuberantly, shouting and screaming, “Ya Gotta Believe! Ya Gotta Believe!” Some teammates chuckled, others rolled their eyes. Grant was offended and felt McGraw was mocking him. It was Tug being Tug.

Most likely no one really did believe. Perhaps Tug didn’t either.


The very next day, August 31, the Mets won a thriller over STL in extra innings and rose out of the cellar. Winning pitcher? Tug McGraw.

It was one of those strange pennant races that seemingly no one wanted to win. As the Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Cubs and Expos beat up on each other, the Mets beat up on everyone. Slowly but surely, the players started to believe. Fans started to believe. The Mets went 19-8 in September, Tug went 3-0 with a 0.57 ERA and recorded 10 saves in a month.

Number 45 took us on one hell of a ride.

Tug’s dominance continued into October. In the LCS he tossed 5 innings, scattering just 4 hits and allowing no runs. In the World Series against the A’s, he pitched in 5 of the 7 games, fanning 14 in 13 2/3 IP. It was Tug who picked up the win in crucial Game 2, a 12-inning affair that brought the Series back to NY deadlocked 1-1.

It was not to be. Despite falling short of another miracle, 1973 remains a true testament to the Mets will, drive and to believing.


The following year, the defending NL Champion Mets struggled all season. They hobbled across the finish line going 71-91. Tug also struggled, going 6-11 with a 4.16 ERA.

If you were a fan in the 70’s, you remember–vividly and painfully–the tortuously slow disassembling of the club piece by piece. Seaver, Koosman, Jon Matlack, Rusty Staub, Cleon Jones, Buddy Harrelson, Jerry Grote, John Milner. All sent away.

But it was number 45 who was the first to go.

On December 3, 1974, Tug, along with outfielders Don Hahn and Dave Schneck, were traded to division rival Philadelphia in exchange for Del Unser, John Stearns and Mac Scarce. However, the trade was nearly voided.

The Phillies accused the Mets of sending ‘damaged goods.’ New York had been tightlipped about McGraw’s shoulder problems during the ‘74 season. The Phillies quickly discovered the arm issue was a due to a simple cyst. The cyst was removed and the trade went through. The Mets believed that at 30 years-old McGraw’s career was probably over.

He’d pitch another ten years.

Stats show that Tug actually put up better numbers in Philly than NY. They, too, grew to love their new closer and for the last half of the decade, as the Phillies appeared in numerous post-seasons while the Mets floundered and flirted with 100-losses annually, Tug established himself as one of the best of his era.

In 1980, Tug saved 20 games and cemented the Phillies first Championship in history. Before a sold-out Veterans Stadium, he whiffed Willie Wilson for the final out of Game 6, did a quick dance on the mound like Rocky and was hugged by teammates like a conquering hero returning home.

Tug turned 40 in 1982 and although putting up respectable numbers, found himself in a set-up role for closers Ron Reed and Ed Farmer. It was time for Tug to step aside and let the national pastime move on without him.

Tug remained in Philadelphia as a sports reporter for WPVI through much of the 1980’s and ’90’s. In addition to sharing his knowledge with young prospects and penning several books during his career, he wrote a syndicated comic strip entitled “Scroogie.” Scroogie was a screwball pitcher who pitched for a team named The Pets. The Pets star pitcher was a refined guy named Royce Rawls (a clear-cut tribute to Tug’s former teammate Tom Seaver,) The Pets broadcaster, Herb, wore loud multi-colored sports jackets, a homage to Lindsey Nelson.

It was while working as a special instructor to the Phillies during Spring Training in 2003 when Tug realized something wasn’t right. He’d been getting headaches, forgetting names of players he worked with daily. Occasionally he’d arrive at the ballpark at the wrong time. Sometimes he showed up and the stadium was empty, having forgotten the Phillies were across the state playing elsewhere. A trip to a doctor, then an oncologist and a battery of tests revealed that Frank Edwin McGraw had a brain tumor.

He was operated on and the outcome was labeled a “success.” Chances of full recovery were “excellent” and Tug, we were told, should “live a long time.”

However, the tumor was not excised completely. It metastasized and returned to a part of the brain that was inoperable.

Tug McGraw was dying.

His final public appearance came on September 28, 2003. It was the last game ever played at Veteran’s Stadium and before a sold-out crowd, Tug stood on the mound and recreated fanning Willie Wilson for the final out of the 1980 World Series.

A little over three months later, January 5, 2004, Tug McGraw passed away. He was 59.


“Tug was one of the greatest characters in the game,” former teammate, friend and roommate Tom Seaver said. “But what people overlook was what kind of competitor he was on the mound. No one competed with more intensity than he did.”

Mike Schmidt said, “His passing is hard to take because his presence meant so much to people around him.”

Battery mate and close friend, Bob Boone, the first man to embrace Tug after that strikeout in 1980, stated, “He got more living out of his 59 years than anybody.”

Tug left behind 4 children and 2 step-sons. In 1966, he had, according to him, “a one night stand” with a woman named Betty D’Agostino. A son, Tim, arrived. But Tug didn’t accept the child as his own until Tim turned 17. Tug McGraw died in the Nashville home of his son. Both Tim and his wife, Faith Hill, were with him at the end.

Almost five years later, 2008, with Veterans Stadium gone, Tim McGraw walked to the pitching rubber at Citizens Bank Park prior to Game 3 of the World Series. He knelt down and spread some of his father’s ashes across the mound. Two days later, the Phillies won their second Championship.

Congratulations to Tug McGraw who joins Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, Keith Hernandez, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden, Cleon Jones and David Wright in our Metsmerized Hall of Fame.


]]> 0
Mets Locker Room Real Estate Values: Past and Present Mon, 11 Feb 2013 18:38:14 +0000 MetsYou can learn a lot about a baseball team from its locker room. The clubhouse is where relationships form, character is revealed and leaders speak out (or not). For the major league rookie, clubhouse real estate is valuable — sometimes priceless. Imagine being the rookie who spent eight months out of the year next to Sandy Koufax? Roberto Clemente? Lou Gehrig? Tom Seaver? These were model athletes, wise and humble men, who used their talent to teach.

Danny Frisella and Tug McGraw were in heated competition for fame and fortune from the outset of the 1972 season. The late Gil Hodges remembers both pitchers begging for their manager to pick them when he signaled to the bullpen. If Frisella was selected, and won the game, McGraw would give Frisella the “cold shoulder.” If McGraw got the nod (and won) Frisella would mimic the gesture.

There is no evidence whether or not the Mets clubhouse manager made an intentional effort to put Frisella and McGraw side-by-side in the locker room, but their adjoining lockers created more fun and competition. The two Mets pitchers would sometimes switch the locker nameplates to appear that the other won the game.

While Frisella and McGraw jockeyed for their manager’s affection, that same season a rookie named Jon Matlack was granted locker space between Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. Matlack was named 1972 Rookie of the Year, winning 15 of his 32 starts. He compiled 244 innings pitched, eight complete games and a skinny 2.32 ERA. Coincidence? Possibly. Seaver will tell you, for certain, it meant nothing then and means nothing now.

“Where you lockered really wasn’t that important,” Seaver told the New York Times in 2008. “It didn’t make any difference. Just your own little space; it could have been anywhere.”

For Seaver, locker space was irrelevant. It was a place – and space – where he took out his frustrations after a poor start. “When I make a mistake and beat myself with a bad pitch, then I get kicking mad and go after stools and water buckets,” Seaver told People Magazine.

Other times, Seaver used his locker as a prop. After getting off to a slow start in 1974, a Mets beat writer asked him if he had lost his fastball. Seaver paused, then started rummaging in his locker muttering, “Where are you, fastball? Are you in there somewhere?”

Seaver didn’t need sabermetrics to figure out the 1975 New York Mets were in for a long year. The Mets, a team renowned for their pitching stock, found themselves lacking. That spring, Seaver sat on a stool in front of his locker and looked up at the adjoining lockers. SEAVER. KOOSMAN, MATLACK.

Who are the rest of these guys? Seaver thought. “That’s Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Where are 4 and 5?” He rolled his eyes in frustration.

He knew, if something doesn’t change (and it didn’t), the Mets would not compete. The Mets were within four games of the lead in the National League East on September 1, 1975; then the bottom fell out on the season. They finished in third place 10 ½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Seaver’s real estate at Shea Stadium was the site where many of the organizations proudest moments were celebrated. He sprayed champagne over the heads of his teammates in 1969 from that “little space.” Seaver helped the Mets win another National League title from that hole in the wall. He encouraged and mentored Matlack, Jackson Todd, Bob Myrick, George Stone and many others within earshot.

In one respect Seaver is right; a locker isn’t important. There’s nothing glamorous about an athlete’s locker. It’s literally a hole in the wall. For the common man, a locker is a lot like an office cubicle, a place to store your personal effects while you go take care of business. But, location is valuable, sometimes educational.

“I learned an awful lot from having my locker room stuck between Koosman and Seaver,” said Matlack. “”It was a very, very good location to be in.”

Seaver’s locker was physically unique, well, maybe for its modesty. Former Mets beat writer Marty Noble described the space this way: “there was no locker to the immediate left, just a three-foot-wide panel. A trash can was placed there.” Seaver’s “little space” was nondescript. Seaver, himself, was so Seaver was so impervious to his surroundings that, to this day, he is unsure whether he had the now famous locker space his rookie year of 1967.

Over time, Seaver’s locker took on a life of its own. After he we traded in June 1977, Bud Harrelson asked if he could move in. Not happening, said Mets equipment manager Herb Norman. The locker would be assigned to Seaver’s successor, Pat Zachry.

Seaver returned home, and to his “little space” in 1983, then, Ron Darling assumed the space from 1984-1991, followed by David Cone (July 1991-August 1992), John Franco (1992-2003), Steve Trachsel (2004-2006) and Aaron Heilman (2007).

“That locker did have history; more than any other in that place,” said Franco. “Nobody made the kind of history here that Tom Seaver made. It doesn’t matter how long anyone had it, it was always Seaver’s.”

“It doesn’t matter [who preceded Seaver],” added Darling. “It’s his.”

In some ballparks, because of some professional athletes, lockers can become hallowed ground. When Lou Gehrig died, his locker was sealed and sent to Cooperstown. Before Shea Stadium was demolished after the 2008 season, Seaver’s locker was preserved and put on the block for a cool $41,000.

That’s some valuable real estate.

In 1984, the New York Mets were on the rise. Jesse Orosco and Doug Sisk anchored the Mets bullpen on the field, roommates off the field and lived out of adjoining lockers during the team’s championship run in the 80s.

“We’re just a couple of ordinary guys who get along, and have no professional jealousy,” said Sisk. “We’re both fairly serious, but we have different personalities. But we’re not rivals. You can’t be rivals. It won’t work.”

When it does work, the team benefits – at least that’s what Mets manager Terry Collins hopes will happen by placing Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey side-by-side in Port St. Lucie. Collins told the media he intentionally put Harvey, 23, and Wheeler, 22, at adjoining lockers to give Wheeler the opportunity to ask questions and “soak up” the experience like Harvey did last season.

“Having lockers next to each other, we’re both baseball players who have the same mindset,” said Harvey. “Getting along, I don’t think, is going to be very tough.”

Wheeler has prime real estate in Port St. Lucie. Like Harvey in 2012, he will receive a valuable education a lot by watching and listening. Harvey described the experience as “eye-opening.” Last spring he watched Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee prepare for a major league baseball season.

“That’s something that I’ve never seen,” Harvey told “Watching the preparation that those guys had in order to throw 200 innings … Sometimes it’s stepping back and realizing, ‘Hey, this is a long process. Throwing until the end of September is a long time from now.’”

Let’s be honest here, Harvey is still learning too. Collins hopes the location will be the seed to a long-term successful relationship between his two future stars.

Spring Training, which officially starts today, is always an intriguing place for reporters to take stock in how and where players are positioned. The nameplates begin to disappear as February turns to March and the minor league players are dispatched for reassignment. The last days of March mark the time for final cuts. The veteran invited to spring training is playing his heart out and biting their nails in one corner of the clubhouse while the fresh-faced 20-something is bouncing off the walls hoping this will be his year.

As Opening Day creeps closer, locker room real estate values will increase.

]]> 0
Ya Gotta Believe # 45 Needs To Be Retired First Mon, 25 Jul 2011 03:38:02 +0000 Earlier this season we all heard the gut-wrenching news that our beloved Gary Carter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. As the tears dried and the reality began to settle in, a discussion ensued. The Mets need to retire #8 for Gary. Others countered that if #8 is retired, then #17 for Keith must be retired as well. The debate raged on about who had more of an impact on the Mets: Keith or Gary?

Safe to say without either one of them there is no Championship in 1986.

However, I feel that there is a Met who needs to have his number retired before both of these players. Someone who, like Keith and Gary, can be referred to by a single name: Tug.

I am not at all diminishing what Gary and Keith meant to this club and this organization. The acquisition of Keith turned us from losers into contenders. And then Gary put us over the top. Hell, if I could, I’d retire the number of almost the entire 86 roster.

Noted sports columnist Tom Verducci was once asked how does he decide who to vote in to the Hall of Fame. Verducci replied he considers if the game was better off after the individual in question retired. He looks not just at stats but what the player meant to Baseball.

Using this logic #45 should be retired. Tug was the heart and soul of this franchise. He taught us to “believe,” that miracles do happen in Flushing. And to never ever give up on the Mets. He displayed leadership both on and off the field. He was charismatic, funny, clever, clutch. And so damn good.

Keith wore a Mets jersey for 6 ½ seasons. Gary for just 5. Tug wore his for 9 years. Over that time he tossed 792 IP, more then any other RPer in team history. He has appeared in the 3rd most games of any pitcher on our staff (361.) Over that time he compiled a solid 3.17 ERA . During a 5 year span he surpassed 100 IP 4 times–and was only on the DL once–for 3 weeks back in 74.

In 1965, he made a start, going up against Sandy Koufax. Koufax was 18-0 against the Mets but Tug out pitched Koufax and became the 1st Mets pitcher to earn a win against the Dodger legend.

Whereas Seaver was the heart of this team, Tug was our soul.

In 73, as the Mets floundered at the bottom of the NLE in late August, Tug’s war cry of ’Ya Gotta Believe’ began to take form. Ironically, McGraw should have been the LAST person to talk about believing. He was having the worst year of his career. His ERA was over 5.00. But Tug held fast to his belief. Soon, his teammates started to believe. Then, fans started to believe. And shortly thereafter, the rest of the NL started to believe.

In the last month of the 73 season, Tug went 3-0 with an 0.57 ERA. The Mets as a whole went 20-8 and walked away with a pennant.

Tug tossed a total of 8 IP in the 69 and 73 LCS. He never allowed a run.

He threw in 5 games during the 73 World Series where he went 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA. He also represented the Mets in the 72 All-Star Game where he fanned 4 of the 6 batters he faced and came away with a win.

It’s about more then the stats. Over 900 players have worn a Mets jersey and we’ve only deemed one worthy of having his # retired. 41 was retired not only due to Seaver’s accomplishments but what he meant to this club. He embodied the Mets for over a decade–Just like Tug.

Case in point: In the day when the Mets were dominated by one of the most feared starting staffs in baseball, we had one constant legitimate hitter during this time. But yet I don’t ever recall any discussion about retiring # 21. For 12 years, twice as long as Keith was a Met, Cleon Jones was our first offensive hero. His 340 BA in 1969 stood as the highest single season batting average for almost 30 years-And still remains 2nd highest in team history. It’s been over 35 years since Cleon played for the Mets. But in spite of that, he remains in the Top 10 of all hitting categories including RS, RBI’s, 2B and hits.

He was a fan favorite. But he didn’t leave the team with the legacy Tug did.

Tug displayed character, heart, He believed when no one else did.

For those of us lucky enough to see Tug pitch in his prime, it was a sight to behold. Seeing him warming up beyond the green RF wall in the 8th inning meant the Mets were just 3 outs away from victory. There was electricity in the air as he rode in from the bullpen, walked to the mound. We cheered as he aggressively pounded his glove on his right leg after recording an out.

The Mets used to pride themselves on honoring our past, our history. We need to get back to that again and secure the fact that no other player wears #45.

]]> 0
Tug McGraw or Fox Mulder? Which Kind Of Fan Are You? Mon, 20 Dec 2010 08:56:42 +0000 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.

]]> 0
Shades Of 69 And 86? No. Shades Of 73? Yes Thu, 17 Jun 2010 07:08:22 +0000 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.

]]> 0
Still Believin’ Tue, 07 Jul 2009 15:36:12 +0000 The story as I remember it, goes something like this: the 1973 Mets were struggling, they weren’t playing up to their potential, when general manager M. Donald Grant called a team meeting. At the end of the meeting Grant told the Mets “I believe in you guys”, at which point pitcher Tug McGraw yelled out “YA GOTTA BELIEVE!”. We all pretty much know what happened in 1973. The Mets went on to win the NL East, they beat a much better Cincinnati Reds ballclub in the NLCS, only to lose the World Series to the Oakland A’s. In 1974 we believed even more ( Ya gotta Believe More in ’74). Whether McGraw thought the speech was a bunch of nonsense is unknown, but a rallying cry was born.

There is still a lot of baseball left in this 2009 baseball season. The Mets still have eight more head-to-head matchups against the Phillies, its far, far from over. A key point we need to keep in mind here is that the Phillies have not exactly run off with the division. Remember the Phillies are the World Champions, the self proclaimed team to beat. This division is still very wide open. Heck, if you listen to the way some folks carry on about Nick Johnson and Adam Dunn, you could still almost believe the Nats have a shot. Right now the Marlins, Braves and Mets can all catch the Phils with a good week of baseball.

This past weekend’s series against the Phillies was important. Not only for the Mets, but for the Phillies too. Imagine if the Mets had swept the series, the Phillies would be a game behind the Replace Mets. They’d be screaming for Charlie Manuel’s job. The Phillies, the basically healthy Phillies, swept the the Replace Mets. They still only lead the Mets by 4 games.

It would be great to take 4 of the next 6 this week heading into the All Star Break. A huge test is Wednesday night when the Mets could really use a quality start from Ollie Perez. It’s time for Ollie to come up big and help this team out in the second half with some solid performances.

The Mets also need to regain some confidence. Having a manager who says we need to play .500 baseball until everyone comes back, does not instill confidence. These are professional ball players. They know how to play the game, they just need a shot in the arm. Maybe a decent start form OP would be the shot they need.

If there were such a thing as a New York Sports Fan Dictionary, and if we were to look up the word “loyal”, the first definition would be our brothers, the New York Jets fans (for the record, I’m a GIANTS fan). The second definition would be Mets fans. I’m just as tired as you guys about this team’s struggles, the injuries, the bad fielding, and the oh-fer weekends. But it’s not too late, and it can still all change. Things can only be so bad, for so long. This week at Citi I believe it all changes… the Mets luck will change.

Ya Gotta Believe man, Ya Gotta Believe.

]]> 0
Shades of 62? Or Shades of 73? Fri, 19 Jun 2009 08:59:42 +0000 There have been seasons where everything seemed to fall into place. There have also been seasons when we just went through the motions of a seemingly irrelevant and rigorous 162 game schedule. But I cant recall a season as perplexing as this one.

We have played 64 games. The end of June is quickly approaching and before we know it, we’ll be at the All-Star Break. However, I have to admit, I don’t know what the hell to make of this team.

In some ways we have played incompetent baseball reminiscent of our very first season. The 62 Mets were a laughing stock. They were bad, awfully bad, but you had to love ‘em. Those 120 losses that season was the most in the modern era and the 2nd most in the history of Baseball. Only the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134) lost more. The 62 Mets dropped fly balls, missed bases, threw to the wrong base. And so on. It prompted Casey Stengel to say, “I’ve been in this game one hundred years but every day I see new ways to lose I never even knew existed.”

So far this season, we’ve seen Ryan Church miss 3rd. We’ve seen Mike Pelfrey balk repeatedly. We saw Luis Castillo drop a routine pop-up that handed the Yankees–the YANKEES–a come from behind victory and also gave Frankie Rodriguez his first blown save. Shades of 62?

We’ve been hit by a rash of injuries. But yet, somehow, someway, we are still in this thing. We are struggling to stay above 500 but yet the Phillies are still within our sights. Although much of our boneheaded play has stirred up painful memories of 62, I also see some similarities to 1973 when we won the NL pennant.

That 73 club was going nowhere quickly. They were okay, but not great. We’d had better teams. But yet, somehow, someway, that 73 team stayed close and got hot at the right time. On August 26, the Mets were 12 games under .500, 58-70, and sat in last place. Our closer, Tug McGraw, had been struggling all season and his ERA stood at an unheard of 5.14. But we got hot, we started to ‘believe’ and down the stretch we won 21 of our last 29 games. When all was said and done, we won the division. However, our stats were not impressive. Our #2 and #3 starters, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack, both ended the season under .500 and the SPer with the highest winning percentage that year was not Tom Seaver, but rather George Stone. In spite of winning only 82 games, we nearly went on to win it all. After winning a 5 game war over the heavily favored Big Red Machine, we lost to the defending World Champion A’s and even managed to get the tying run to the plate with 2 outs in the top of the 9th in Game 7.

Although this season resembles 62 in many ways, it also resembles 73. That year, just like this year, we flew under the radar all season long. That year, just like this year, no one ran away with the division. That year, just like this year, we muddled along all season–and then suddenly found ourselves playing into late October.

Right now, 2 of our 5 starters–40% of our starting staff–are injured. Our biggest HR threat is out and most likely wont return until late in the season. And even then we cant expect Carlos Delgado to immediately recover his potent bat. Our lead-off hitter, our table setter, has been out for a while and is still quite a ways from returning. Our set-up man is out for 2-3 months. However, somehow, someway, we are still in the hunt. Just like 1973, no one is running away with it. In spite of numerous key injuries, poor play much of the time and heartbreaking losses, we still have the Phillies in the crosshairs.

Yogi Berra is frequently remembered more for his ‘Yogi-isms’ than his remarkable career. Of the many quotes attributed to the Hall of Fame catcher, his most famous statement is, “It Aint Over Till It’s Over.” He said that during the 1973 season–when he was manager of the Mets.

It Aint Over Till It’s Over. Shades of 73?


]]> 0