One of a great city’s functions is to serve as a repository of memory. We need to be a place that preserves not just happy times and grand buildings, but those memories that affect us on the deepest level.
—Francis Mirrone, New York historian
Monday’s night’s March Metness championship game was an affair to remember, from the bows taken by the distinguished Mets alumni — Don Aase, Rick Sweet, Larry Elliot, Tom Filer, Ken Sanders, Sammy Taylor and Sammy Drake — who loaned their good names to the festivities all the way to the presentation of awards at tournament’s end.
And in between?
The Metropolitan Championship Game
Let’s Go Mets (1) vs The Happy Recap (1)
Does it get any more Metsian than this? The cry of Mets fans and the voice of Mets fans. Nothing could be any more quintessentially Miraculous, Magical, Believable or Amazin’. But one has to be a bit more so than the other. That’s why they hold March Metness
Surprisingly, we see the action unfold with a display of drawbacks by each entrant. Flaws? These two? Hard to fathom, but they are on record.
Bob Murphy: Unbridled optimism in the face of a stretch of 64-98 seasons could get to you a little…in later years he blew fly balls, had them being caught when going out and going out when being caught…he blew smoke in his partner’s face, not a good thing for either of them…once referred to Al Leiter as Larry Dierker…hosted Bowling For Dollars, though that could be taken as a plus in some quarters.
Let’s Go Mets: Bastardized by other, unworthy teams in other sports and other leagues…occasionally corrupted via four-syllable mispronunciation by younger generation that has taken its cues from bad “Let’s Go” examples set elsewhere…too often foisted on Shea crowd by electronic means when it’s best left to arise organically from Shea crowd itself…co-opted for use in “Let’s Go Mets!” song and video — a.k.a. “Let’s Go Mets Go!” — though that could be taken as a plus in some quarters.
Yet those foibles did not stop either LGM or THR from being seeded in the No. 1 slots in their respective regions and it certainly didn’t slow them down as they raced through five matchups apiece to arrive at the Metropolitan Championship game. When you get right down to it, there is no way any true blue and orange Mets fan can find any real fault with either of them. There is only good to be had.
The Happy Recap is, to be precise, what Bob Murphy promised following a Mets win. He didn’t make a big thing of it. He never teased it through the broadcast, didn’t say “wow, the Mets are up seven to one, so you know there will be a Happy Recap when this game is over.” Can you imagine Murph being that self-serving? The fans and the game were his constituency. If the Mets lost, there was no mention of a Happy Recap. If they won, there would be a quick word that we (“we,” not “I”) would be back with The Happy Recap after this message. When Murph returned from commercial, it was all about what Cleon Jones or Jerry Koosman or Del Unser or Craig Swan or Steve Henderson or The Man They Call Nails Lenny Dykstra or David Arthur Kingman or Ronnie Darling or John Olerud or you name him did. It was about the players and the Mets and the final score here at Shea Stadium, the New York Mets seven, the San Diego Padres one; our next broadcast will be…
That was it. That was The Happy Recap. A short summation, the runs, the hits, the errors and a signoff. Yet that little tail applied to the end of an afternoon or evening became a signature like nobody else’s in Mets broadcast history. Nobody ever played up The Happy Recap per se. We all just knew about it. We tapped it out like Murph Code. For forty-two years those were our words to root by, our goal to strive for. And when Bob Murphy stopped announcing for good in 2003, they stayed with us.
That’s the power of the local announcer, the local radio announcer. Murph did TV, too, from 1962 through 1981, rotating back and forth between booths with Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson, Steve Albert and, briefly, Art Shamsky, but it was Frank Cashen’s genius to assign him to permanent wireless duty in 1982. It was seen as a demotion of sorts in those days. From the invention of television, television was the glamour medium of our time. Stars were on TV. Home run-hitting, Cadillac-driving Ralph Kiner was on TV.
But somebody forgot to tell baseball. Baseball never stopped being at its best on the radio. We were realizing that all over again in the 1980s as a generation that had grown up smuggling a million transistors under a million blankets told its stories. Television could show us much. Radio could tell it all. That was Bob Murphy’s genius. He painted the word picture, the best picture you could have for a baseball game. The man didn’t conduct a talk show from behind a WHN or WFAN microphone. He told you what was going on on the field. He told you who was warming up in the bullpen. He told you who the manager had left on his bench. He did it in a way that kept you engaged when the game was dragging and in a manner that kept you riveted when the game was bursting at the seams. He never discounted the possibility of a Mets comeback, which was darn thoughtful of him.
Bob Murphy clicked with a mass of New Yorkers despite — no, because — he was most un-New Yorkish. Forty-two years on the job and he never picked up a vocal inflection to indicate this was home for more than half his life. Blessedly he never betrayed an ounce of the native cynicism either. Whatever negative thoughts Murph may have brought to the ballpark he put aside when the light went on. Bob Murphy knew he wasn’t granted hour after hour of airtime to air his grievances. He was there to bring us Mets baseball.
To bring us hope.
And weren’t we a most receptive audience for his signal?
It is perhaps some cosmic coincidence that hope and Mets each contain four letters. You usually hear “four-letter word” and you think the worst. Not with hope and, 24 of 45 losing campaigns notwithstanding, not with Mets. The 46th year of New York Mets baseball has commenced and here we are once more, hopeful as ever, maybe more hopeful than we’ve ever been. We slip out of winter and into the season — the only season that counts — and we assume our identity all over again. We nurtured it as best we could without a game in front of us but that was theory. Baseball season in all its in-progress actuality is what reaffirms why we exist in the realm we choose to exist.
Why? To be in such a state that we are compelled to type or print or think or mumble or, most appropriately, scream from the top of our lungs and the bottom of our hearts, three words.
Three words. Our three words. There’s no taking them away from us. They’re hardwired in to the genes by now. Splice us and Let’s Go Mets will come pouring out.
On May 30, 1962, Roger Angell took in the Mets-Dodgers Memorial Day doubleheader at the Polo Grounds, Los Angeles having pulled ahead to a 10-0 lead after three-and-a-half. Mets first baseman Gil Hodges led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a home run, cutting the home team’s deficit to 10-1.
Gil’s homer pulled the cork, and now there arose from all over the park a full furious, happy shout of “Let’s go, Mets! Let’s go, Mets!”
Imagine if it had been 10-2.
Let’s Go Mets has been with us forever, just about as long as there have been Mets to go. Chronicling the early days, Leonard Koppett noted that “when President Kennedy landed at Frankfurt, West Germany, and in the crowd at the airport someone held up a “Let’s Go Mets” sign, it was effective indeed.”
Ich bin ein Mets fan? And hopeful amid a hundred and then some losses that were already piling up like dirty dishes? Koppett called it “part exhortation and part self-derision”. Perhaps a little of each, indeed, but perhaps a little more of the first than Koppett recognized from the press box. Anybody who has sat in the depleted remnants of an already sparse crowd on the wrong end of a wide score in the closing minutes of an agonizing Flushing night will recognize this scenario, as recalled by Stanley Cohen in his 1969 tribute “A Magic Summer”.
During one game in 1963 (the team’s last season at the old Polo Grounds), with the Mets trailing by thirteen runs in the bottom of the ninth, two out and no one on base, the New Breed sent up a chant of “Let’s go, Mets.” With each new strike on the batter, the cry grew louder and more insistent. It was a battle cry that needed no battle; it betrayed neither a glimmer of hope nor the sneer of derision. It was a simple and joyous act of defiance, the declaration of a will that would not surrender to the inevitable.
The New Breed — Mets Fans 1.0, if you will — was analyzed by Robert Lipsyte in The New York Times in 1963 as a classic underdog, one who understood the brilliance of taking down the overcat in those rare instances it occurred. Alas, “the pure Metophile is likely to disappear in a few years,” Lipsyte concluded. “Even now, more and more ordinary people go to the Polo Grounds to watch a baseball game. As the Mets progress from incompetency to mediocrity, their psychological pull will be gone.”
Lipsyte didn’t see the future that clearly. Maybe the Mets who pursued garden-variety ineptitude as the team shifted to Shea didn’t inspire anthropological dissection any longer (the Times famously posted correspondents to Africa, yet operated no bureau in Queens), but Mets fans were Mets fans, and as Cohen explained in 1988, a fan base’s memory is collective and enduring.
A team’s followers always outlast its players and even its owners. They do not get sold or traded, they do not retire or become free agents, they do not sell out to conglomerates, and they rarely switch allegiance. They represent a team’s truest continuity; they are the repository of its history. And Met fans, who for years had thrived on failed hopes and comic relief, were of a very special type.
The type that may have shed some of its Upper Manhattan excesses for its trip across the Triborough, but still the type to shout and twist its abdominal muscles into knots. The type that found its voice early and its motivation often. The type that never lost its sense of irony but, when given the slightest impetus, gained a true and awesome grip on hope.
That’s what Let’s Go Mets grew into. 1969. 1986. 2006. A few other almost as great years. A whole string of not-so-great years. A mess of the mediocre kind, too. Let’s Go Mets has always been there. Let’s Go Mets is our mantra, our haftorah, our throatiest admonishment, our most sincere and personal thought.
Our hope. Our Mets.
The Happy Recap is something we all want. Let’s Go Mets is something we will keep crying no matter what kind of recap the fates bestow on us. Let’s Go Mets is for good times, Let’s Go Mets is for times less than optimal but never not good, because any time we can shout it to the skies, it means we are being Mets fans, which is all we want to be anyway. Let’s Go Mets is the eternal expression of hopefulness that fuels each and every Mets fan, none of whom would ever let the lack of a silly commodity like the likelihood of a win get in the way of who he or she is.
Let’s Go Mets is the Quintessential Mets Thing, the winner of the Metropolitan Championship and the recipient of the Joan Payson Cup, the Mayor’s Trophy and a gleaming new 1970 Dodge Challenger. Bob Murphy himself would call a victory that celebrates Mets fandom itself worthy of nothing less than a happy recap.
So if you’ll excuse the gaucheness of electronic cheerleading, I want you to get up now. I want you to get out of your chairs and go to the window. Right now. I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell…