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Nothin’ Could Stand in Our Way

EDITOR’S NOTE: To help us through these troubled times, today we dig into the Faith and Fear archives and share posts that some of our longtime readers might get a kick out of seeing again or our newer readers might enjoy checking out for the first time. This one originally ran on November 10, 1980, part of an annual series [1] we still publish to this day [2].

So, when did you know or at least have an inkling? That day in May when we blew one to Cincinnati only to suck it right back? A couple of weeks later when we went into shall we say overtime to skate away with a cup of satisfaction? You couldn’t deny it come the middle of June. By then, it was obvious. It poked its head into our faces most of the rest of summer, and even peeked out at us from behind clouds as September closed.

But you knew it was there. You could practically feel it in your hands. You could hold it close to your bosom, certainly in your heart. In your head, maybe you were never so sure, but this isn’t about the head. It was only a little about cold, hard statistics.

It was all around us, though. It defined us. We embraced it and embodied it. Hell, we were “we” again, and it made us want to go “wheeeeee!”

That’s why Faith and Fear in Flushing has selected The Magic as the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Mets Player of the Year — an award dedicated annually to the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or transcends the year in Metsdom — for 1980. The Magic was, indeed, Back. And if it wasn’t “better than ever,” it made things around here as good as it could have possibly gotten under the circumstances.

You know The Magic. You were introduced to it by brand name in April, via a series of newspaper ads, and you’re pardoned if the first thing you did was smirk. “The Magic is Back,” they said. “What Magic?” you asked. Weren’t these the same Mets we suffered through in 1979, give or take Richie Hebner for Phil Mankowski and Jerry Morales? We were supposed to be excited that Abner Doubleday’s great, great, grandnephew or whatever he is bought the team? That the guy who ran the Orioles when we beat them in legitimately Mets-magical 1969 was the new GM? Really…what Magic?

The ads said something about the “New Mets” being “dedicated to the guys who cried when Thompson connected with Branca’s 0 and 1 pitch” (and, yes, the ad misspelled Bobby Thomson’s last name; consult the Baseball Encyclopedia, why don’tcha?). I don’t know what ancient Brooklyn Dodger complaints have to do with the New Mets (and doesn’t our orange “NY” imply maybe some Mets fans have fond Giant memories?). At first glimpse, it was a swing and an I don’t know what. The TV commercials were a little on the weird side, too. Whistling “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and reminding us that long ago the Mets were good.

This was the Magic were selling?

Yet you can’t say the Madison Avenue phrasing didn’t catch on. The back page of the Post, over a picture of a mostly empty Shea Stadium snapped while the Mets and Expos were busy playing, captured the early reaction to the campaign: MAGIC GARDEN. Ha-ha. Let the record show that the Mets defeated Montreal, 3-2, in front of 2,052 souls on the afternoon of April 16, no matter what the Post wanted to poke fun at. I listened to that game on the radio. I would have been there had it been possible. So would have you. We didn’t need selling. At most, we needed a ride.

Let the record also show that that game was our first come-from-behind win of the year. It wasn’t a terribly dramatic comeback. We were down, 1-0, to Bill Lee when we cobbled together four singles in the third to create three runs (and then not blow it). It was a 1980 Mets kind of rally, more effective than showy, yet it showed anybody who was watching or listening that maybe the Mets didn’t have to stay buried when behind — and that they could be good company.

Still, The Magic was mostly a punch line. The Mets were telling people it was Back when the baseball part of the equation (the 1980 version, not 1951 or whenever) wasn’t cooperating. On April 16, we were 3-3. By May 13, we were 9-18 after losing in Cincinnati. Final score: Reds 15 Mets 4. The Reds scored eight runs in the fifth inning. Ray Knight hit a pair of home runs…in that inning. Ken Griffey hit one, too. Going to the library and looking up those box scores all these months later makes for a frightening experience, and that’s before glancing at the covers of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. Never mind the hitting or lack thereof. Who gives up fifteen runs to the Reds? Burris. Pacella. Kobel. Bomback. Glynn. Hausman. Weren’t we a team always known for our pitching?

You wouldn’t have guessed things were about to get better. You wouldn’t have been thinking about The Magic, either. Maybe you still weren’t the day after, not in the bottom of the ninth, when — with Craig Swan on the hill and a 6-2 lead feeling as secure as Linus Van Pelt does when clutching his blanket — it all began to slip away again. Driessen doubles. Knight singles him in. Reardon enters and, not too many pitches later, Harry Spilman blasts a three-run homer to tie it at six.

Harry Spilman? Good grief!

Before we could all line up at Linus’s sister Lucy’s booth with our nickels out for Psychiatric Help, the Mets of all people gave us aid and comfort in the top of the tenth. John Stearns doubled. Jerry Morales (thanks, Hebner) singled. We led, 7-6. Then Jeff Reardon made up for that messy ninth-inning Spil by quickly picking up for his mistake. by retiring three dangerous Reds — Concepcion, Foster, Driessen — with a bounty of tidy relief. It felt like a save, because the Mets had saved their dignity, but rules are rules, so Jeff was awarded the vultured win. Somewhere, Phil Regan smiled.

Can you feel the excitement? Only in retrospect, for the Mets were 10-18, and a good day in Cincinnati maybe gets you to Columbus. But it’s November now, and we have the benefit of hindsight. We know The Magic was bubbling under the surface. Or the ice, if you will. On May 24, like any good Long Islander, I was switching back and forth between the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Finals on Channel 2 and the thirty-sixth game of the Mets season on Channel 9. They both went into extras. They both wound up 5-4 in favor of New York. Admittedly, what was going on in Uniondale was a bigger deal than the events unfolding in Flushing — the Islanders had finally won a Stanley Cup — but if you couldn’t see the parallels between Bobby Nystrom scoring at 7:11 of overtime and Elliott Maddox driving in Lee Mazzilli in the tenth inning, well, you just weren’t trying.

But the Mets were. They were trying and they were succeeding. Maybe the crowds at Shea could only fill half of Nassau Coliseum, but word was getting out that the Mets were not only not always losing, but they were making a little bit of a habit of winning. That Saturday we beat the Braves in ten came after a Friday night when we beat them in nine and before a Sunday when we shut them out in regulation. We swept a three-game series! Since when do we sweep three-game series?

Since when do we speak in terms of “we”? Have we always been so first-person pluralistic about our team, or did we take a hiatus sometime after 1973? Let William Safire track trends in language. In 1980, we felt anew that the Mets were ours.

That was The Magic in action in ways you couldn’t see. Soon, however, we’d have plenty of evidence in ways we could reach out and touch like the phone company only wishes we would (when we’re not busy calling Sportsphone for Mets updates, that is). Soon, The Magic was on the line. You couldn’t put it on hold any longer. And calling in from Hollywood, it was Casey Kasem to tell us that climbing the charts was the song about to serve as soundtrack for our surge.

You have to believe we are magic
Nothin’ can stand in our way

“Magic” by Olivia Newton-John entered Billboard’s Hot 100 on May 24, the same day Maddox and Nystrom cast their respective spells on the Braves and Flyers. It would hit American Top 40’s airwaves on June 14. By then, the Mets would be reaching for the stars and we’d have trouble keeping our feet on the ground.

Ah, June 14. We’ll get to that soon enough, but let’s enjoy the ride that lifted us there for a moment or two. Let’s remember what it was like to take off toward a place that felt at once both familiar unattainable. Let’s linger at Shea for a week-and-a-half. Was it a real-life Xanadu (the mythical destination, not that awful movie)? Was it a slightly less suds-intensive version of Schaefer City (surely we were sitting pretty)? Or was it enough that it was Shea Stadium? Whatever it was, we hadn’t had that spirit there since 1969.

June 5: Swannie throws nine innings of one-run ball. Swannie, how we love you, dear old Swannie, but we and the Cardinals are tied at one. In the bottom of the inning, against George Frazier, Steve Henderson — remember that name — singles. He steals second. Joel Youngblood walks. Alex Treviño bunts and reaches. The bases are loaded. Doug Flynn is supposed to be up, but Joe Torre sends Mike Jorgensen in to pinch-hit. Jorgy singles to win the game. Jorgy, we love you, too!

June 6: We’re down, 1-0, in the second facing Bert Blyleven and the Pirates. By the time it’s the third, we’re up, 8-1, and Blyleven is no longer pitching. The defending world champions didn’t make any errors and we didn’t hit any home runs, but we scored eight runs in an inning en route to winning, 9-4. Olivia Newton-John may have been onto something.

June 7: The Pirates are up, at various times, by scores of 2-0, 4-1 and, most distressingly, 5-4, distressing because that last score is in the middle of the eleventh inning. Grant Jackson is on for the save. Instead, he grants us a stay of execution with a single and a walk. Chuck Tanner takes out Jackson and brings back Blyleven from the night before. Blyleven again gets his team in Dutch. Youngblood doubles home Treviño to tie the game and, after an intentional walk to Maddox, Doug Flynn is again pinch-hit for. Doug’s a Gold Glove second baseman for sure, but let’s say Torre knows his bat. The pinch-hitter is Ron Hodges, whose spirit we’ve had here since 1973. Ron awakens it long enough to single to right and bring home the winning run.

June 8: This time, in the first game of our Banner Day doubleheader, we jump in front. This time, Mike Easler hits two home runs to put us behind (like this is news?). Yet another time, we roar from behind. In the seventh, it’s Frank Taveras driving in Doug Flynn (sometimes Joe lets him hit) and Henderson brings home two more. In a Flushing flash, Ed Glynn comes on to put away the Pirates in the eighth and ninth. Put that on your banner, Buccos!

June 10: We didn’t sweep the aforementioned twinbill, but we had something more definitive in mind for the week ahead. The Los Angeles Dodgers came to town and got rained out on Monday. They’d get used to felling all wet. This night, a Tuesday, saw the former Brooklynites give back a four-run lead they’d built on three home runs in the fourth (Pat Zachry didn’t care for the power display and knocked down Ron Cey; we’ve all felt like knocking down Ron Cey at one point or another). The Mets evened matters up with three singles, two walks and two sac flies. And, perhaps, The Magic. It’s OK to invoke it in the early innings and long as some is left in store for later. In the bottom of the sixth, Doug Flynn drove in what proved to be the winning run of a 5-4 Met victory. Is it The Magic that got into Dougie’s Louisville Slugger all of a sudden or was it just hard-earned confidence from his manager?

“Magic?” Torre had rhetorically responded to reporters a couple of days before. “I’ve told you all before that’s just for public relations. I don’t care what they do upstairs. If we keep playing like this, that’s all I care about.”

June 11: The Mets keep playing like this. That’s all we care about. Treviño and Swan knock in runs with singles. Baker and Garvey get even with homers. We went to the tenth, loaded the bases and this is for the guys who cried when Jorgensen connected with Rick Sutcliffe’s last pitch. Tears of joy in Brooklyn and all nearby precincts these days, no doubt. Queens product Jorgy (a Frances Lewis graduate, you know) launched a grand slam to win the game, 6-2. Upstairs, downstairs, all round the Shea, everybody’s coming down with Mets fever.

June 12: Monday’s rainout was made up for on Thursday night. With no advance sale to speak of, you’d assume another MAGIC GARDEN sized crowd. But that’s only if you’d been snoozing since the middle of April. This was June. This was the month of The Magic. If you doubted it, you weren’t among the 19,501 — it would have sold out the real Garden — who witnessed the Mets taking it the Bums one more time. Of course the Mets fell behind (5-0). Of course the Mets came back (6-5). This is how The Magic works. Not quite 20,000 sounded like about three times that many. “The fans help,” Torre said. “I haven’t seen crowds like this since I came in here with another club.”

He ain’t seen nothing yet.

June 14: Flag Day. Wave it high. Wave it proud. That’s what we can imagine doing with a flag we’ll win someday. We imagine such a lofty goal and valuable piece of cloth because of nights like that of Saturday, June 14. It’s a date which will live in the opposite of infamy. I would bet all the nickels we no longer had to pay Lucy for counseling that we will remember June 14, 1980, for decades to come…that if I bring it up to you, I don’t know, some chilly spring day forty years from now when maybe things in the world aren’t going as we wish, its events will still feel as fresh and hopeful as it did when they transpired.

We talk a lot here about June 14, 1980. Why wouldn’t we? As this past season progressed, it was the cloud we floated on when maybe The Magic wasn’t so visible and it was the force that elevated us when we were down in the dumps. It was a more reliable conveyor of our upward aspirations than the escalators at Shea were (will those stupid things ever be fixed)? But because June 14, 1980, is our orange & blue-letter date, it’s worth diving back in yet again.

Remember that entering that Saturday night, we were 26-28. That was because after coming back on the Dodgers on June 12, we had edged to within a game of .500 at 26-27. This itself was a dream almost come true. No flags are issued for .500, but c’mon. You know where we’d been lately. 64-98. 66-96. 63-99. When Torre told Dave Anderson in the Times before the season began, “I think this club could play .500 ball if everything goes right,” it could have been chalked up to lip service (just call him Joey Chapstick). We’d lost 99 games the year before and improved our immediate prospects with Phil Mankowski and Jerry Morales, albeit subtracting frigging Hebner in the process. After reaching 3-3 on April 16 in front of that small gathering versus Montreal, the lip service read as delusion. Yet nearly two weeks into June, Torre was almost right. We were almost .500.

On June 13, we fell back slightly when Vida Blue outpitched Ray Burris and the Giants beat us, 3-1. (“I didn’t encounter any Mets magic,” the long-ago Oakland phenom sniffed.) Close, but no cigar. It would become a theme, but we didn’t know it yet. All we knew was we had gotten a taste of winning, and it would sure be nice to take regular bites. Toward that end, Frank Cashen, the old Oriole general manager who decided he needed a challenge and thus became ours, finally made a move. He got us Claudell Washington during that June homestand. Not a bad idea, given Washington’s ability to occasionally hit a home run. Jorgensen’s grand slam notwithstanding, we didn’t do very much of that…or didn’t you read that insulting little box every morning in the Daily News? No, we were no match for Roger Maris. Mike’s big shot off Sutcliffe was our twelfth home run of a season that was already a third gone. You don’t have to be Roberto Duran or Sugar Ray Leonard to know that’s a few pounds shy of lightweight.

Were the Mets concerned they couldn’t punch above their class? Not when they had The Magic at their back. No less a reliable source than Steve Henderson, who was batting .340 — yet had confined his slugging thus far to doubles and triples — dismissed the notion that a lack of power constituted a Met drawback. “Home runs,” Hendu declared, “are overrated.”

On Saturday night, June 14, the Mets tested their offensive theories against John Montefusco and the Giants before 22,918 at Shea. If anything appeared provable, it was that maybe Mets Magic was overrated, or at least Northern California teams were less susceptible to it than their rivals who’d transplanted themselves to the south twenty-two years earlier. Montefusco was having just as easy a go of things as Blue had. The Mets’ hit count versus the Count was easy to count through five innings. They had zero…which is just about what Mets starter Pete Falcone had in the way of stuff. The Giants jumped our Brooklyn boy for four in the first (three on a Rennie Stennett home run) and another in the second before Torre pulled Pete in favor of Mark Bomback. The man known as Boom-Boom — an unflattering reference to his penchant for surrendering the long ball — mostly tamed the Giants, but did give up an additional run in the fifth, deepening the Mets’ deficit to 6-0 by the time they batted in the home sixth.

The Mets guaranteed they’d avoid being no-hit when Flynn led off with a single. They guaranteed they wouldn’t be shut out when Washington drove in Flynn from third to make it Giants 6 Mets 1. Doug had arrived on third after a one-out error by Stennett and a bunt base hit from Taveras. That’s how we were building our runs in June 1980.

Glynn replaced Bomback in the seventh and kept the Giants off the board for another two innings (all the better to increase hot dog sales). In the bottom of the eighth, another Met rally that would meet Henderson’s approval was generated. Mazz singled to center. Taveras scratched out an infield hit. A Washington grounder forced Frankie at second, but moved Lee to third. Henderson hit one to short and beat the play at first as Mazzilli scored. Another homerless uprising, another run. Giants 6 Mets 2. Reardon pitched a scoreless ninth, giving the Mets one last chance in the bottom of the inning.

With Greg Minton having replaced Montefusco, the Mets didn’t get off to an auspicious start when Elliott Maddox grounded out to shortstop Johnnie LeMaster. But Flynn bunted his way on. Another grounder to LeMaster, this one by Jose Cardenal, moved Flynn to second. Doug was in scoring position, but there were two out. Mazzilli singled up the middle to score Flynn and cut the Giants’ lead to three runs. Minton then walked Taveras before allowing a single to Washington (so new to the Mets that his No. 15 uniform conspicuously lacked a last name). Mazz came home on the hit and suddenly it was a 6-4 game.

Giants manager Dave Bristol had seen enough of Minton and brought in Allen Ripley, the former Red Sock. Do you remember Ripley from before June 14? Ripley was essentially the sixth starter in Don Zimmer’s five-man rotation during the 1978 season when pitching-rich Boston held such a large lead in the American League East that — believe it or not — Zimmer bemoaned having little opportunity to use the rookie righty. Despite some flashes of promise, Ripley was sent down midsummer and wasn’t around for the Sox’ epic collapse. After not impressing in the second half of ’79, Boston sold him to the Giants just before the 1980 season commenced. A 5-0 record at Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League won him a promotion to the big club in late May. Bristol had used him out of the bullpen three times in the previous three weeks before calling on him to face the next Met batter, the guy who had no use for home runs, Steve Henderson.

I know it never leaves our consciousness, but let’s have a recent ancient history lesson. June 14 was one night shy of the third anniversary of June 15, 1977. Talk about days of infamy. Henderson became a Met that night. So did Flynn, Zachry and perennial prospect Dan Norman. They were acquired for merely the best player we ever had, Tom Seaver. (Cashen gave up Jesse Anderson to get Claudell Washington, so he’s already ahead of Joe McDonald in the GM category.) It was the Seaver trade as much as anything that depleted all remaining reserves of magic from Shea’s confines. The breach of faith in trading a pitcher known as The Franchise is what drove attendance to historic lows in the late ’70s, though the undeniably dismal play of the home team didn’t provide any great advertisement for rushing to Flushing.

Nevertheless, there is no guilt by association for Henderson, who earned our admiration with an outstanding partial rookie campaign in ’77 (he finished second to Andre Dawson in N.L. Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing only 3½ months) and his all-around hustle. We may still miss Tom Terrific, but neither that fact — nor Hendu’s complete and total lack of home runs through a third of the 1980 season (with none since July 13, 1979) — stopped us from rooting hard for Stevie Wonder.

Henderson, who had struck out three times against Montefusco before singling to LeMaster in the eighth, stepped in against Ripley. Ripley started him off with a curve, which fooled Steve for strike one. Hendu called time to gather his thoughts. He was looking fastball and berated himself for feeling “tight” and not concentrating properly.

Ripley gave him something to concentrate on: a fastball under his chin, one that knocked him off his stride, but focused his energies completely. “I try to keep my temper,” the left fielder said, implicitly teaching Ron Cey a thing or two about baseball decorum, “but when somebody does something like that to me, throwing too close, I sort of turn into a monster.”

Sort of? One can judge by the results just how monstrous Steve Henderson can get when two pitches later, on a two-and-one fastball, he unleashed the fury within.

Or was it The Magic?

I can’t tell you how, but I managed to track down recordings of what what happened next sounded like on both the radio and TV. I think they usually erase these things, but I got lucky.

Bob Murphy, on WMCA:
“Steve Henderson takes a deep breath, trying to relax himself in a very tense spot. Ripley makes the one-second stop at the belt. And the pitch. And a high fly, to right field, it’s very deep, going back…it may go…”



Steve Albert, on Channel 9:
“It is going…it iiiissss…”


Murphy:
“HOME RUN!

Albert:
“GONE! THE METS WIN! The Mets have won! Unbelievable!”

Murphy:
“The Mets have won the ballgame!”

Albert:
“What an incredible finish! The Mets win seven to six on a three-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth by Steve Henderson! Here’s another look, off Allen Ripley, to right-center field! And into the bullpen!”

“Listen to the crowd!” Murph advised after a 21-second pause to let the mass ecstasy pour through the AM speakers.

“They’re carrying Steve Henderson off the field on their shoulders. Five runs in the last of the ninth inning. A three-run homer by Steve Henderson landing in the right field bullpen. The Mets defeat the Giants seven to six. They were behind six to nothing!”

Albert, delighted to note Henderson’s opposite-field home run was caught by reliever Tom Hausman, added that the Mets “have come from behind once again, for the seventh time on this homestand, to win a ballgame!”

Noise still surrounded Bob on the radio, but like Hendu, Murph hung in there:

“Crowd clamoring for Steve Henderson! They’re demanding Henderson come out and take a bow! The crowd STANDING and CLAMORING. They want Steve Henderson. They want him to come out for a bow. Steve did not have a home run ALL year long. Playing in his forty-fifth ballgame of the year, two outs in the last of the ninth inning, the tying runs on first and second, the pitch by Allen Ripley, Henderson hit it, HIGH into the air, DEEP to right field, it just kept carrying, over the right field wall and into the bullpen. The most dramatic win of the year for the amazing New York Mets. Yes, the MAGIC is back.”

Whether we were at Shea on Saturday night, June 14, or not, we stood. We clamored. “They’re waiting for Steve Henderson to come back out,” Albert reported as the WOR-TV cameras focused on the Mets’ dugout. “Fred Wilpon, the president, just went into the clubhouse. It is delirium, pandemonium…here he comes!”

Henderson, that was. Not Wilpon, who, if you haven’t bothered to notice, is Nelson Doubleday’s minority partner (and the guy who seems to be the source of that well-advertised fetish for the Brooklyn Dodgers; no wonder he was thrilled the Mets beat the Giants). The slugger with one home run on the season took what amounted to a Broadway-style curtain call, slapping the club president’s hands in the air at its conclusion. A high-five, the kids call it.

Just “another magical moment here at Shea Stadium,” in Albert’s estimation.

Thanks to Stevie Wonder, everything was alright, uptight, clean out of sight, just like that fastball from Ripley. “I knew it was out,” Henderson said after belting the Mets’ thirteenth home run of the season, “and I loved it.”

“The ones over the Pirates and Dodgers were nice,” Flynn appraised the recent spurt of dramatic wins, “but this one was unbelievable.” As for the crowd and all their clamor, Torre said, “It’s really revving people up. Nobody left the park, even when they’re behind by six runs.”

Nobody left Saturday night, but seemingly everybody in town showed up Sunday afternoon. The Magic, after that 7-6 startler, was contagious. Because of ongoing stadium refurbishments, large chunks of seating were unavailable to potential paying customers. The homestand finale (a 3-0 loss to Bob Knepper) was played to a sellout crowd of “only” 44,910. So compelling were the Mets that management issued a public apology to the more than 6,000 people who had to be turned away from Shea’s gates because there were simply no more tickets to sell.

“We have a long way still to go,” that nice fellow Wilpon said, “but two months ago, I never anticipated that we’d get the public’s attention to this degree.”

Fred must not have thought much of the very marketing campaign he OK’d, but after Steve Henderson’s walkoff wizardry, nobody dared bring suit against the Mets for false advertising.

Eight days passed before the Mets won again. It would take three home runs from Washington in Los Angeles to ensure they’d break a vexing losing streak that pulled them far from the brink of .500, but The Magic would rear its beautiful head again before long. If nothing quite conjured the mystical properties of June 14, we’d come close. We took four consecutive one-run victories in late June, the last three of them from the eventual world champion (grrr…) Phillies. We’d wake up on the Fourth of July trailing the first-place Expos by only 4½ games, and we’d stand tall for America by taking two of the next three from the Canadians. We’d keep edging near .500, finally reaching the plateau of plateaus in Atlanta on July 15, reaching 42-42…and do it again on July 17 at 43-43. We’d brawl a little (just ask the Expos and Braves) and we’d keep fighting, often from behind.

In all, we won 31 games in come-from-behind fashion. That’s part and parcel of The Magic, I suppose, though it can’t help but make a Mets fan nervous. After back-to-back wins over the Astros, each of which were woven in the eighth inning at Shea, to start August, Steve Albert said, when we fell behind the next day, something to the effect that it was only fitting the Mets do it this way. I told Steve Albert, through the TV, to not say such foolish things (the Mets lost).

Still, Steve Albert’s overused word, scintillating, was an adjective that fit clear into mid-August. We were pitching. Not just Swan and Zachry, but Burris and Bomback and Pacella with the hat falling off and Roy Lee Jackson emerging from basically nowhere. We were relieving as if the Mets bullpen was a source of strength: Allen, Reardon, Hausman. We never did get around to homering much — 61 for us, 61 for Maris — but we were an exciting bunch. Mazzilli ran. Taveras ran. Flynn fielded. Youngblood threw. Stearns was Stearns until he got hurt. I’ll always love Steve Henderson.

On August 13, as “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John sat for an extended stay at No. 1 on Billboard, we — the Mets — were 56-57. We’d been taking care of the Cardinals and Pirates on the road and were coming home to take on the Phillies just 7½ games from the top of the division. Granted, it was from the vantage point of fourth place and normally you wouldn’t think any of that looked close. But we’re not normal. We’re Mets fans. We remember the Mets were 9½ out in the middle of August in 1969. We remember the Mets were in sixth place at the end of August in 1973. We were primed for The Magic all along. We were about to make it sing.

You had to believe in magic. Nothin’ could stand in our way. Except for the Phillies — who would sweep the next five games from us in depressing Boston Massacre fashion — and, as much as I hate to admit it, our own lack of depth and general shortcomings. In early July, when we got close to enough to first to start making playoff arrangements in our head, I believed. In the aftermath of what turned into a horrid 11-38 finish and eerily similar to the previous few years 67-95 record, I can see I was sort of crazy.

But what was it Tug McGraw said? Not that part about telling New York we could take that championship he won with the Phillies and “stick it” (I forgive him his excitability). No, Tug said in 1973 that we gotta believe. Actually, he said “you gotta believe,” but he and we were in it together, and seven years later, we as Mets fans remain perpetually in such a state.

I was still there, together with the Mets, definitely in spirit if not at Shea, on September 29 (paid attendance 1,787) and September 30 (1,754). Those are dates that may not glimmer into the future as June 14 feels destined to, but they were worth spending time in Metwise. On the 29th, down 5-4 in the tenth, Youngblood cranked Met home run No. 59 in Met game No. 157, a two-run job off old friend Grant Jackson, to sink the Pirates, 5-4. On the 30th, after being behind 2-1, Jorgensen and Treviño each pushed a run across the plate in the seventh, supporting Falcone on his way to a complete game 3-2 win.

If we’re still cheering on behalf of the likes of Youngblood, Jorgensen and Treviño when late September isn’t so empty at Shea, that would be swell. But what I really like about revisiting those late-season box scores at the library is the presence of the literally new Mets. The newest at any rate: Mookie Wilson; Wally Backman; Hubie Brooks. Ed Lynch and Scott Holman came up and pitched some in September. Mike Scott is still young. Jesse Orosco is allegedly getting it together at Tidewater. Way down in the minors, we’ve got Darryl Strawberry, the No. 1 pick in the nation with a name that will never not be best in show. We don’t have to get too far ahead of ourselves here, but The Magic doesn’t only have to be about 1980, our wins not just the residual echoes of week-and-a-half in June.

Before Airplane! implied disco was dead, Cheryl Lynn had a big hit last year with “Got To Be Real,” and we do. We’re not necessarily one Dave Winfield or one Don Sutton from reversing 67-95 (sign both free agents, and maybe we can talk). We do need some more pop, probably. And pitching (seriously, weren’t we a team always known for our pitching?). Shea may have been refurbished in a year, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. We gotta hope Cashen knows what he’s doing and Doubleday and his buddy Wilpon don’t get in the way à la Steinbrenner. Someday soonish, when we face reality, we gotta believe it will take on the shape of Shea in June, when The Magic was real.

That kind of reality. What a concept.

Until then, I’ll wear my “The Magic is Back” t-shirt, pin it with my “The Magic is Back” button and proudly display my “The Magic is Back” bumper sticker. If the best of The Magic is what the Mets are selling, on this day [2] or any day, then, my fellow Mets fans, we oughta be buying.

FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS MANUFACTURERS HANOVER TRUST METS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

1962: Case Management
1963: The Old Yard
1964: Carousel of Progress
1965: Impatience
1966: Escalation
1967: The Rohr of the Crowd
1968: Heart
1969: The Miracle Workers
1970: Splashdown
1971: Voices of Our Generation
1972: Aches and Pain
1973: This Way Again
1974: Disbelief
1975: New Standards
1976: After Race Delight
1977: Dissolution, Disillusion, Desolation
1978: All the Trimmings
1979: 1969