This story ties together two inescapable traditions: a journalist finding relevance because of important events that took place in a neat, even number of years ago–and a baseball obsessive’s greatest comfort: nostalgia for better, simpler times.
Yes, the Yankees and the Mets have stunk this year. I’d use a stronger word, but this is a family newspaper. They’ve made us fans angry, disenchanted and miserable. So, forget 2023.
We can find happier times by escaping to the past. Both the Yankees and the Mets can rejoice in years ending in “3.”
Twenty years ago, light-hitting third baseman Aaron Boone led off the bottom of the 11th inning of a 5-5 game 7 versus the hated Boston Red Sox. https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=aaron+boone+homers&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8#fpstate=ive&vld=cid:60153444,vid:MrMfEEUObPE
Boone smashed a home run to left field off the first pitch delivered by knuckle-ball specialist Tim Wakefield to lift the Yankees to the World Series. The Yankees had earlier struck Boston ace and Yankee villain Pedro Martinez, possibly best pitcher of his generation, for three runs in the eighth inning to tie the score.
I have watched that video countless times and I always get great pleasure from it. John Sterling and Charley Steiner, the Yankees radio announcers, delivered an iconic call. Yankee Stadium was jubilant. The Yankees players looked like Little Leaguers as they mobbed Boone, who with one massive swing suddenly became the hero of the night.
Isn’t that what sports is supposed to do? Make us feel young!
Ya Gotta Believe
Then there were the Mets of 1973. Four years after the Miracle Mets won the World Series for the first time in franchise history, Met fans had nothing to cheer about, except when Tom “The Franchise” Seaver took the mound and delivered the goods as the best pitcher in baseball.
For most of the 1973 baseball season, the Mets were awful, languishing near the bottom of the division with a losing record. Then, the team started winning games; Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and George Stone pitched great games on an almost nightly basis. Closer Tug McGraw got the last outs. In the division nobody seemingly wanted to win, the Mets were suddenly in contention for the top spot in the division and a ticket to the playoffs.
McGraw, the witty and charismatic Met mainstay (and yes, the father of country music star Tim McGraw, by the way), condensed the feelings of the fans in three words: “Ya Gotta Believe.” It was as inspiring a slogan as it was ungrammatical.
Sure enough, the Mets qualified for the 1973 playoffs with the worst regular-season record to win a division in history, 82-79, and clinched their spot on the last day of the regular season in Chicago. (Remember in that pre-wild card era, you had to finish first in a divison or go home.
The Mets had the formidable task of playing the Cincinnati Reds, nicknamed The Big Red Machine for its powerful lineup, in the playoffs. The Mets pitching held up. When Reds star Pete Rose slid hard into Mets shortstop Buddy Harrelson at second base during game four at Shea Stadium, the benches emptied. Bullpens emptied. Met fans threw garbage on to the field. A whiskey bottle flew past the head of Rose in left field causing Sparky Anderson to momentarily pull his team from the field and the Mets, under threat of losing by forfeit, sent a contingent consisting of Willie Mays, Tom Seaver and others to left field to calm the angry crowd. Rose to his credit, won the game for the Reds with an extra-inning home run. I can still see an image of Rose rounding the bases while raising a finger to the sky in triumph.
But the Mets won the decisive fifth game, also at Shea, and they made it to the World Series, where they faced the defending champion Oakland A’s. The A’s won the last two games and captured the series in seven games. But all was not lost, for “Ya Gotta Believe” has deservedly become a watchword in New York sports.
Ya want one more relevant memory? On Oct. 2, 1978, forty-five years ago, so still a milestone event, Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent hit an unlikely home run in Fenway Park and the Yankees defeated the Red Sox, 5-4, in a one-game playoff.
So, you see, we New Yorkers do have a lot to feel good about, even though our baseball teams are now the pits. Through a little nostalgia trickery, we can still celebrate baseball in New York! Thank heavens...