It's been a fun trip to Met Hell, especially because we can leave it anytime we want. But the Mets aren't about hell. They're about something higher.
Today is the second anniversary of a terrible loss and the beginning of a bad year for luminescent Met presences; two would wind up wind leaving us. I couldn't help but think of both last spring when I was considering the man who died two years ago today as the No. 7 Greatest Met of the First Forty Years.
One pitched. One talked. No, check that — both talked, but only one got paid for it, technically speaking.
In 2004, the Mets' soul absorbed two body blows delivered by the deaths of Tug McGraw in January and Bob Murphy in August. The genuine sadness that greeted their departures was so deep that it had to go further than proper respect for two people so associated with one ballclub.
It came from this: For the better part of the fortysomething seasons that the Mets have existed, the optimism and limitless possibilities expressed long ago by McGraw and continually by Murphy were articles of faith for fans who saw past won-lost results that would discourage more rational folks.
Tug and Murph, in their own fashions, told the Mets faithful to ignore mere statistical and empirical evidence. Forget the Games Behind column. Don't worry about the score if it's not in our favor. Good things can always happen.
The essential nature of the Mets fan accepted this throughout the tenure of Tug and right up to the end of Murph's days. By the early 2000s, operating in a city overrun by Yankees and a division controlled by Braves, Mets fans, the hardest core of us, dug in and unfurled miles and miles of hope, nightly and yearly.
A singular sentence uttered by Tug and the consistent tone set by Murph goes a long way toward explaining our perpetual state of delighted delusion. Whatever brought them to their own brands of hopefulness and their impulse to share it, each was infectious.
Behind a mike or leaping off a mound, they channeled Churchill: Never give in…never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy…not even down two in the tenth with two out and nobody on or 6-1/2 back and behind five teams at the end of August.
While the modern-day Mets marketing department churns out obtuse come-ons like “Catch The Energy” for sub-.500 goods, Tug caught the zeitgeist of the Mets fan in 1973 and tossed it back to us for safe keeping. “You Gotta Believe” was a simple enough directive. Echoing down the decades, it spoke to Mets fans then and later. We can do it, said Tug — I'll pitch, you persevere and together we'll figure this thing out. It worked in 1973, as the Mets rose from a late last to a furious first, and it cobbled its way into the Met DNA.
Every unlikely scenario since, whether it's gone in the Mets' favor (the Buckner affair, the grand-slam single) or not, has played out under Tug's rule.
Murph's game, meanwhile, wasn't just a game of inches, as the cliché allows, but more universally, “a game of redeeming features.” In more cynical times, his reliable forecast that the sun'll come out tomorrow — breaking through a few harmless, puffy, cumulus clouds — would qualify as shilling. But for Bob Murphy, it was natural and, by all accounts, real. Thus it resonated.
What sold McGraw's and Murphy's chin-up admonitions was their audience's desire to buy them, hold onto them and never let them go. It became the Mets fan's nature to, yes, believe. No season was so far gone until mathematical elimination struck that you couldn't. No game was beyond the reach of one of Murph's happy recaps until the third out of the final inning was recorded. If the Mets lost, the recap may have been less giddy, but it was never morose. In a game of redeeming features, redemption is only a day away, all you need is belief.
That and a bitchin' scroogie.