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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Years Some Things Change

Year Books (as opposed to the Official Yearbooks available at concession stands or by sending $1.50 to Shea Stadium, Flushing, NY, 11368) are designed to easily entice historically minded readers. The formula makes sense on its surface. Something happened; something else happened; another thing was going on at the same time, too. You measure your thread, you tie your events/trends together, and — presto! — you have something potentially profound. That’s the idea, anyway, whether your focus is a year in baseball or a year examined within a wider sociological or cultural scope.

Someday I want to write a book titled or maybe just subtitled The Year Nothing Changed, though I don’t know what year it will refer to. My goal is to declare for the record that not “Everything Changed” in a given twelve-month span simply because a cynical editor or publisher thought pretending it did would goose non-fiction sales in the here and now. But to be fair, some things inevitably change if you give all things 365 days to strut their stuff. The world almost never succeeds at playing freeze tag.

Hmmm…maybe I should revise my concept to The Year Nothing Much Changed.

However much actually evolves or is of resounding consequence or just happens to be fun to relive when you limit a book’s field of vision to January 1 to December 31 (or, if it’s baseball, the end of the previous year’s World Series to the end of “your” year’s Fall Classic), then you need to make your raw material live up to its billing. I’ve read authors contort themselves in their attempts to convince their readers that this year in this here book encompassed everything you could possibly want from a year. If it snowed, it was a storm that blanketed everything in sight. If it rained, the ground never grew wetter. If it did neither, then the days were uncomfortably parched as [POLITICIAN] ran for office, [SONG] played on jukeboxes, [SLUGGER] swung for the fences and gas cost [COMPARATIVELY LITTLE] a gallon. The gymnastics to make it all work coherently can be positively frightening.

I’m pleased to report Matthew Silverman generally sticks his landings in Swinging ’73, which carries the ambitious subtitle Baseball’s Wildest Season and then makes sure to add another subtitle so we’re persuaded in advance that it was “The incredible year that baseball got the designated hitter, wife-swapping pitchers, world champion A’s, and Willie Mays said goodbye to America.”

Matt — my friend of several years and companion at many Mets games, so there’s your full disclosure — had me at “’73,” but I understand why a surfeit of information was loaded onto the cover. Not everybody lived through the 1973 major league season or the months immediately surrounding it. Not everybody was 10 years old as I was, forming impressions that have lasted a lifetime. Not everybody had a significant chunk of their worldview formed in 1973.

Wild times, indeed.

Wild times, indeed.

I did. But if you didn’t, you have Matt, and he’s an able and affable tour guide to what you might have missed. It probably helped his cause that he’s just a wee bit younger than I am and freely confesses to not having paid attention to 1973 while it was in progress (whaddayawant from the guy — he was eight). Matt learned the basics in the years that followed but grew mighty curious to dig at what lay beneath them. That sense of personal discovery does the tone of Swinging ’73 good, allowing the author to implicitly share his delight at all that he’s found.

Was 1973 wild? I would have said so coming out of it on my eleventh birthday (12/31/73) and Matt’s book didn’t change my mind. The non-baseball portion attests to the vibe in the air — a vice president was resigning, a president wasn’t far behind him and then came Maude — while our grand old game definitely included some unprecedented twists. Like the first DH, Ron Blomberg. Like the innovative Fritz Peterson-Mike Kekich exchange of families. Like the ominous arrival onto the scene of George Steinbrenner. Like the tearing down of the House That Ruth Built and the imminent toppling of the home run record the Bambino set.

Geez, and that’s just the Yankee angle — and the Yankees fell out of their race in August (to at least one chum’s dismay). They’re not even the focal point of Swinging ’73 but Matt was sharp enough to make them one of his prisms. They always did know how to make news. The real baseball heroes of his story, however, are the eventual world champion Oakland A’s and, to our parochial interests, the National League Champion New York Mets.

Matt treats both entities with enthusiastic reverence, stressing the A’s credentials as all-timers and soliciting the thoughts of a cache of Met players for whom 1973 was their career pinnacle. The A’s deserve their praise, even if they earned it at the expense of our second world championship in five seasons. When you read Matt’s World Series account, you will come to truly admire this opponent from Olympus.

The Mets we hear from here form a somewhat different crew from those whose recollections you usually read in books like these. Matt gives us Matlack and Theodore and Capra and Staub and Hodges (Ron) plus a bit more Garrett than commonly comes up in a Metsian consideration of the Age of Miracles. It was a keen call on Matt’s part. Though only four years separated 1973 from 1969, a genuine interpretation gap exists between the two sensational surges. The Mets most strongly identified with 1969 who endured to make it to 1973 never seem all that excited to talk about the year when they almost won it all. When Tom Seaver announced Mets games, he gave me the impression that he basically went on hiatus after striking out 19 Padres in 1970. That’s how little he brought up 1973 (and how much he talked about 1969). Similarly, if you’re fortunate enough to spend a few minutes chatting with a Koosman or a Jones or a Kranepool, which I have, their calling card is the time they won the World Series, not the time they dazzled a city just to get there.

It’s an understandable impulse on their part, but that leaves roughly half a roster for whom 1973 was it in terms of World Series, not to mention playoffs. Those Mets have compelling stories and Swinging ’73 provides a wonderful forum for telling them. Reading the book and hearing Matt discuss it on multiple occasions was like being granted a seat at the 40th anniversary commemoration the Mets couldn’t be bothered to arrange for this team that worked undeniable wonders.

Wonders deserve our awe. So do the men who forge them and, yes, the years in which they are forged. The Mets apparently require reminding of that basic fact of fandom.

The Cardinals, whatever your opinion of ’em as they’ve played on this autumn, didn’t become the Cardinals by dint of an online survey or a sophisticated algorithm. They simply never stopped being the Cardinals. The winning is no small thing but they were the Cardinals even when they weren’t regularly going to playoffs and they always saw fit to underscore what being the Cardinals meant. There’s probably some connection between how the Cardinals present their heritage to their fans and how their fans see themselves as that heritage’s co-guardians. Nobody loves dressing in red enough to do so without a proprietary feeling for what the act epitomizes.

And nobody out Cardinal way stopped revering their tradition because some Octobers ended sooner than others.

Perhaps it’s because the Mets have come to process the majority of their October experiences as a matter of how far they didn’t go, but this organization’s decision to tacitly dismiss 1973 in particular as something markedly less sacred than 1969 or 1986 represents a lack of appreciation for and understanding of what actually happened four decades ago. Never mind that the Mets didn’t beat the A’s. The 1951 Giants didn’t win their World Series, but neither then nor now have those entrusted with tending that team’s legacy doctored Russ Hodges’s call so it blares, “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! BUT THEY FAILED TO SECURE THE OVERALL CHAMPIONSHIP! SO LET’S EVENTUALLY BARELY ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR INCREDIBLE ACHIEVEMENT!” The Giants, thousands of miles removed from the spot where Bobby Thomson’s ball landed, eternally toast the Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff.

The Mets determined handing out a sponsored deck of playing cards covered their obligations to remember the tidal wave of Belief that washed over Flushing on its 40th anniversary.

The Cards deal in heritage. The Mets deal playing cards.

The Cards deal in heritage. The Mets deal playing cards.

The final two games of the 1973 World Series were played over a three-day weekend that no longer exists. Veterans Day, long observed on November 11, had been transformed, Armistice date be damned, into a Monday holiday in 1971 and would stay as such through 1977. Because we had off from school on the fourth Monday in October, my parents took my sister and me to the Raleigh Hotel in the Catskills the preceding Friday. It was there that I watched as much of Games Six and Seven as I could. Technically I was heartlessly forbidden from tuning in — punishment I was receiving for not packing my fancy sports jacket as explicitly instructed —but the ban ultimately proved unenforceable (not that I haven’t found myself haunted by the threat). I was definitely watching when the ninth inning of the seventh game of our second World Series reached its armistice.

I don’t recall if it was because not repeating the feat of 1969 disturbed me to the point of sleeplessness, but I awoke the morning after uncharacteristically early. My older sister, with whom I was sharing a room, was up and at ’em, too, so with little left to do at the Raleigh until my parents were awake and ready to check out, Susan and I did what guests in the Catskills did when there were no meals being served. We went to sit in the lobby.

It was empty downstairs for quite a while, save for us and the desk clerk. Eventually, however, we were joined by a stack of that morning’s Daily News, the extremely thin edition shipped north to towns like South Fallsburg. I bought a copy and flipped through the sports pages, stopped cold by Bill Gallo’s cartoon. It showed Yogi Berra changing a few letters in a sign bearing a very familiar topical phrase while Basement Bertha looked on in sympathy.

“What’s ‘bereave’ mean?” I had to ask Susan, who had already taken the SATs.

“It has to do with being sad,” she explained.

Ah, YA GOTTA BEREAVE…yeah, I get it. Gallo’s humor seemed all too appropriate that mournfully quiet morning. But I didn’t bereave for long. Everything that preceded Games Six and Seven — the timely recovery from multiple injuries; the divisional deficit wiped away in a veritable blink; the legendary center fielder bidding his countrymen adieu; the muttery manager phrasing our odds awkwardly but accurately; the slight shortstop standing up for his smallish self; the indomitable pitchers who could barely be touched; the rallying cry heard ’round the Metropolitan Area; the astounding bounces that coalesced into an Amazin’ ball of virtual unstoppability — felt too life-affirming to allow a Mets fan to get bogged down in the grieving process over a pair of contests that didn’t go the Mets’ way. They were the only things that hadn’t since August 31.

The 1973 Mets won a division, won a pennant and, for how they attained those victories, won our faith forever after. Their loss of the World Series — legitimate George Stone flashbacks notwithstanding — veers to the incidental when considered in this context.

Or to put it in modern conference room parlance, 1973 built the Mets brand and imbued it with its key core equity. For those who don’t require a PowerPoint presentation, 1973 is why we Believe with a capital B. If Tug McGraw (whose spirit inhabits Matt’s book) had spouted a less relatable credo than “You Gotta Believe,” it wouldn’t resonate to this day every time a whisper of a hint of a chance pokes its head just barely above the surface of likelihood. Others might attempt to co-opt it, but it’s ours. The experience it stands for informs our soul like nothing else across the five-plus decades there have been Mets.

And it came from 1973. Due respect to Archibald Cox, Billie Jean King, Secretariat and Dark Side Of The Moon, that’s what definitely changed during that year, and for the likes of us, its ramifications were indeed wild. Tug and his teammates filed the copyright forms on behalf of all of us, whether we were around to Believe then or not. It was truly negligent of the Mets to not celebrate what it all still means to us in 2013. I’ve heard tell the folks in the counting house did a short-term cost/benefit analysis and decided a 1973 Day that went beyond the distribution of playing cards wasn’t a surefire draw, so they skipped it. I’d respond — in the kind of language they might grasp — that brand equity doesn’t activate itself.

I don’t know what will change in 2014, but I hope the Mets’ reluctance to fully embrace the Mets does.

16 comments to The Years Some Things Change

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    Could very well be that when Seaver, Koozman, etc. reflect now about those days, it really would be all 1969 – after all, as a fan I had great times during the years that followed but those remain a blur compared to 1969 – which after 44 years (and given a few minutes for my brain to warm up) I can remember not only in detail but almost as much in the emotion of any particular moment as if it was yesterday.

    I remember Bud Harrelson mentioning that the Mets did have a good team that deserved to be in the post-season because they had been devastated all season by injuries and it was only the last six weeks in which they were all healthy again and that was the team they were capable of being. Looking back at that, I do have to question how much of that was wishful thinking for we know the front office at that time felt enough confidence in their players that they stuck with whom they had rather than making any major changes that winter. We saw what then happened in 1974.

    And if we look back at 1972, when Rusty broke his wrist the entire season then went down the drain – because we did not have the overall strength to pick up for him. Jones had a bad year and Tommie was at the end of his rather short one. And we had an aging Willie who brought us joy at center but was no longer the say hey kid we still saw him as being nevertheless.

    So that might be why 1973 is not celebrated in the way it is by the players and even us fans – exactly because of the context of the seasons it is sandwiched in between of and that what we do savor is more or less limited to that miracle finish of that last month instead – which we knew also came with a lot of luck in the form of only one other team even having a .500 record.

    After all, how many fans in San Diego (not that there are many to begin with) look back at the 2005 Western Division Padres and their 82-80 record with the same esteem they do as for other years?

    • I can’t speak for San Diegans, Joe, but I can tell you that for the Mets fans who came along in the early ’70s, 1973 holds a place like no other, and left as much of a legacy as any team that didn’t quite go all the way could have (1974 notwithstanding). That combination is a potent one and deserves to be treated as such. The Giants honor ’51 and ’62. The White Sox honor ’59. The Twins honor ’65. The Red Sox honor ’67. The Mets, through 2003, honored the ’73 team on their 10th, 20th and 30th anniversaries.

      The fans are fine. It’s the organization that napped this year.

      • Joe D.

        Hi Greg,

        Oh, I agree the 1973 team holds a place in all our hearts, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of how the organization virtually ignored it this year – and in that you are correct – it was a shame. As an older fan, I was putting it more into perspective of how we viewed that season since it was not a first for us but also being older we thus saw the game from a more pragmatic point of view than younger fans like you (that is why I can look back at the 1962 Mets with such love – had I been older, the memories might have been different).

        Even the league championship celebration by the fans seemed more of a pent up rowdiness waiting to explode more than one of jubilation as it was four years before that.

  • Well, first, thanks, for the Amazin’ and unBelievable review, though that isn’t the right word (and the Catskills reference makes it more like a revue!). But in any event, I left it on the field–like an ill Cleon Jones throwing up in the outfield during the arctic World Series in ’73–and put all I had into Swinging ’73. I am glad it made a connection and I continue to relive it with a “40 Years Ago Today” on metsilverman.com. Shameless plug nonetheless, I am still learning about 1973. Like the Veteran’s Day thing is new to me. I only remember Mom scrambling to find someplace for me to be on an unexpected off day when they went back to Vet’s Day on Nov. 11 in the late 1970s.

    And I could not agree more with your take on the team’s shameful decision to completely ignore 1973 (save for some playing cards I never got). When the Mets are good enough to ignore their great past because of their Amazin’ present, then I’ll be impressed. Until then I remain thoroughly disappointed with the whole product. And that they are content to sit back and let their great fans do their work for them with sites and books and conferences.

    Many said the Mets didn’t deserve the ’73 pennant when it happened. Well, those guys earned it by playing their asses off when it counted. The Mets we are stuck with now don’t deserve the ’73 pennant on their resume. And in the words of Forrest Gump–on a Ping Pong tour of the world in 1973, I believe–“That’s all I have to say about that.”

    • Joe D.

      Actually, it just occurred to me that the ignoring of the 1973 club – as it was the 50th anniversary of the original 1962 team – should come as little shock to us. Remember when Citi Field first opened in 2009? One would never have known they were entering the home of the Mets as they were a shrine dedicated to a ball club that left the city a half century before. Little connection to the Met history of the past.

  • 1 – Here’s my explanation for every PR snafu that blows up in the Mets’ faces and it’s pretty simple: the Wilpons own a team they don’t love & love a team they don’t own.

    2 – My very first Mets game was July 1973, when the Braves’ Ron Schueler took a no-hitter into the 9th. I didn’t know until I read “Swingin’ ’73” that it was a bare TWO DAYS before the phrase of our lifetimes was coined. I had no idea I had been THAT close to history… Oh, and I was 8, as well.

    3 – “Swingin’ ’73” is one helluva great book!

    4 – When is “Happiest Recap, 2nd Base” coming out???? We should have a launch party for it, like we did for part the first…

  • ljcmets

    To quote an old rabbinic folk tale: Two men are arguing, and they take their dispute to the rabbi. The rabbi tells them: “You’re both right.” A student observing asks the rabbi, “How can they both be right?” to which the rabbi replies: “You’re also right!” Greg and Joe D., you’re both Wright(er, right).

    Yes it’s true that the 1973 season to fans who were with the team from the beginning or almost the beginning is somewhat bittersweet. It ended with a loss, it is sandwiched between the disappointing seasons of 1972 and 1974, and in light of what happened just a few years later, it tends to pale in comparison to 1969. For a Mets fan, nothing can compare to 1969 – it was transcendent.

    But nothing that actually happened in 1973 on the baseball field – much of which was Amazin’ indeed – is as important as the iconic nature of “Ya Gotta Believe.” Greg, you are so right about this. That phrase, coupled with its natural partner, “It ain’t over ’till it’s over” are the essence of Metdom, but they resonate with everyone. Few people know, 40 years later, that both phrases originated from the Mets of 1973; if they are associated with the Mets at all, I’d bet most disinterested bystanders would say that they came from the 1969 season.

    Both phrases are now used so much that they tend toward the cliche, but they trip off the tongue naturally whenever a speaker wants to make a point about the importance of not giving up. I’ve heard them used in court, in politics, in medical contexts. I’ve even heard them used from the rabbinic pulpit. They are usually attributed to their creators accurately, but rarely are the Mets as a team mentioned. And by not highlighting the 1973 Mets, who are as worthy a team as any of the now 52 Mets teams of that honor, management blew a chance to remind the world that they have these rallying cries because of the New York Mets and for no other reason. They are as much a part of the DNA of Mets fans as “Let’s Go Mets!” but unlike that chant, they are resonant beyond the context of the Mets and of baseball.

    The 1973 season was played out under the cloud of this country’s worst political scandal. The NLCS with the Reds was concurrent with the resignation of Spiro Agnew and the start of the Yom Kippur War between Israel and its neighbors. By the time the World Series rolled around, baseball, even the Mets, took a back seat to the Saturday Night Massacre and the President of the United States proclaiming “I am not a crook”. There’s probably a dissertation lurking somewhere in the idea that “Ya Gotta Believe” struck such a chord in the population at that time, but I’m not the one to write it. However, I always identify 1973 as the true end of the 60’s, because idealism and, some might say, naivete, gave way to realism or even cynicism under the weight of what was happening in America. And yet “Ya Gotta Believe” is still with us, still iconic, and still powerful 40 years later. And that is all because a group of ballplayers led by a crazy southpaw screwballer created something truly special. How is it that no one in the Mets increasingly distant and out-of-touch front office could see that?

    • As the rabbi may have said, “Oy, so well-stated!”

      • Linda Cohen

        Thanks Greg; from you that’s quite a compliment.

        • Joe D.

          Hi Linda,

          Sorry so late chiming in on this but great composition – enjoyed reading it immensely for it was so deep and indeed reflective of what the changing experience was for all of us outside of baseball and how we were slowly growing from ideal innocence to perhaps idealistic cynics.

          We all have to be aware of the fact that we are still creations of our own times. But what you pointed out truly shows how much a difference in just a few years in one’s birthday can leave an altogether different impression of things compared to others.

          Great read again, Linda. Did you happen to go to Monroe H.S, BCC or Lehman?

          • ljcmets

            Joe,
            Thank you so much for the kind words. One of the great books I remember reading on the Mets was written by Leonard Koppett. It might have been written shortly after the 1973 season; in any event, it ended after that season, although there was, I believe, a short epilogue. The theme of the end of the book was along the lines of what I wrote here in the last paragraph, and the conceit was that after 1973 the Mets – and the Baby Boom generation – had finished growing up.

            1973 was a momentous year in my life as a 15-year old girl, and I do remember that sense of events just spinning out of control, with one thing after another going on in the space beyond my little world in Albany(and to answer your question, I never lived in New York, nor did any of my immediate family. My mother grew up in Albany, as did her parents, and my dad in Utica, as did his parents. I attended the Milne School in Albany.We were upstaters all the way).

            I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what you stated – how one’s perception of the world changes instantly depending on your age and where you are in life. Particularly this week, with all the retrospectives on the JFK assassination, I am feeling both my age and what I share with everyone else my age. I am on the late side of the baby boomer generation, and I was in kindergarten in November 1963, and I have forgotten everything else from kindergarten except that one moment when the loudspeaker came on, the teachers started crying, the janitor went out and lowered the flag to half-staff, and we were all sent home an hour early. As a five-year old, I was watching TV by myself when Oswald was shot, and I recall it vividly. And yet my husband, who is just three years younger than me, has absolutely no memory of any of these events. Sometimes moments just freeze time forever. To me, if you can remember when JFK was killed, and you were under 18 at that time, you’re a baby boomer, period. It doesn’t matter what the demographers say, it’s that you can’t remember a world in which the President was not in danger of being killed, in the same way that anyone born after 2001 cannot remember a world in which there were Twin Towers and they were going to be there forever.

            To get back to 1973 and the Mets for a minute, that year finally cemented an identity for the Mets beyond “lovable losers” and the Miracle Mets. The Mets were the team that Believed, and Mets fans were the fans that Believed. Like the JFK assassination, if you don’t remember where “Ya Gotta Believe” came from, you can be a great Mets fan but you’re missing a piece of the DNA. And here the Mets front office blew a chance to remind whole new generations of fans why they Believe. Newer Mets fans have their own unforgettable moments …Gets By Buckner, the Grand-Slam Single, Piazza’s iconic homer after 9/11, Johan’s no-hitter…but the 1973 Mets are a huge part of the reason all of those events fit into a consistent pattern. It was a great opportunity to cement that identity for younger and newer fans and connect it to these fantastic memories of theirs.

  • Donna Dee

    What a wonderful article. 1973 was a trying time for 11 year old me as my mother was recovering from breast cancer. The 1973 Mets will always hold a special place in my heart.

  • metsfaninparadise

    Miscellany….”Gallo’s humor”–love it. I’m sure the book also points out that the A’s were known as the “swinging A’s.” On the topic of Wayne Garrett, I never get tired of pointing out that he led the ’73 Mets in SB with 6, out of a grand team total of 27, which I had thought might be a record-low for a pennant winner, but I didn’t have to look further than the ’58 Braves (26) to disprove that.