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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Mets Stage Impromptu 1973 Tribute

You don’t gotta believe or anything crazy like that, but you gotta take stock of what’s been going on in the National League East since May 26:

New York 15-14
Miami 14-14
Atlanta 15-16
Washington 14-15
Philadelphia 14-17

If that’s not 1973 in miniature, I don’t know what is.

We bemoan the lack of a 40th anniversary tribute from the organization that directs our favorite baseball team. We cringe that they seem oblivious to the resonance of one of the most uplifting achievements in franchise history. We’d love to cheer those who blessed us and defined us and made us demi-miraculous, but at this point we’d settle for a commemorative logo emblazoned on a “Collector’s Cup”.

But the current players themselves — only one of them even born when Tug and Rusty and Tom and Wayne and Cleon and Jon and Kooz and Buddy and Willie and Ron (Hodges, of course) were making indelible history — have taken it upon themselves to stage an homage to 1973, assisted by four divisional cohabitants who have expertly played the proper supporting roles.

For those of you who haven’t committed partial National League East standings from four decades ago to everlasting memory, they looked a lot like the set above did, except these records were compiled after nearly five months of limp competition:

St. Louis 68-65
Pittsburgh 63-65
Chicago 64-67
Montreal 62-70
Philadelphia 62-71
New York 61-71

The names have changed (he says with a touch of lingering melancholy for what once was but hasn’t been for quite a while) yet the premise was largely the same: a division that could be viewed as vigorously contested…or a bunch of mediocrities who couldn’t get out of each other’s way. To the juncture at which the above snapshot was taken in 1973, through the action of August 30, the Mets hadn’t been in anybody’s way. Ten games below with thirty to go while stuck in last place would indicate a) a pretty lousy season just dying to get done and b) no hope whatsoever for what remained.

Ah, but look at what transpired from August 31 onward, as delineated by Baseball-Reference:

New York 21-8
Montreal 17-13
Pittsburgh 17-17
St. Louis 13-16
Chicago 13-17
Philadelphia 9-20

And when you added it all up once wet grounds and common sense postponed the second half of a makeup doubleheader at Wrigley Field on October 1:

New York 82-79
St. Louis 81-81
Pittsburgh 80-82
Montreal 79-83
Chicago 77-84
Philadelphia 71-91

That’s a division title right there. That’s as unbelievable as it gets when a short-term brushfire blazes through acres of mediocrity. And that, my brothers and sisters, is why we still remind one another that You Gotta Believe whenever we’re given the slightest morsel of evidence that our faith is merited.

Is it now? Probably not.

So is being the best team in their division for a month — the only one with a winning record, for Grote’s sake — more a comment on the indifferent performance of their N.L. East rivals than it is on how not bad they’ve been in this span if you forget the part where they lost ten of twelve, including five of five to the stupid Marlins?

Probably and who cares? The pesky overarching truth is that while the Braves, Nationals and Phillies have spun their wheels from late May up to now, the Mets look good mostly because they were buried in mud prior to May 26 and have only recently reached the wheel-spinning phase of their season. It would have helped the 1973 Reincarnated scenario immensely had the Mets not lost 29 of their first 46 games. Last I checked, those count, too.

But we already knew that. What we didn’t know was this particular edition of the New York Mets could make us tingle just enough to forget how implausible they are — and if you didn’t tingle in the shadow of a setting Colorado sun Thursday night, then you should get something in your soul checked.

The 1973 Mets burst into contention once their lost battalion of injury victims marched off the disabled list and into active duty. Conversely, the 2013 Mets have risen from dismal to whatever they are now by systematically eliminating a surprising proportion of players on whom they counted. Removed from the roster by choice or physical necessity since May 26, either temporarily or permanently:

Niese. Tejada. Davis. Turner. Duda. Baxter. Carson. McHugh. Cowgill. Atchison. Burke. Ankiel.

Miss them?

It’s an unfair question. First off, there’s a good bit of chronological overlapping where those guys and recent success — 8 wins in 12 tries most recently — are concerned. Second, when you win, the circumstances surrounding victory make all the sense in the world no matter how little sense they actually make. For example, the Mets won in Denver after Terry Collins chained David Wright to the bench for the first time all season. He didn’t start, he didn’t pinch-hit, he didn’t come in for defense. Third base was handed over for one late Mountain Time Zone afternoon to Zach Lutz, making him the 150th Met ever to man the hot corner (a count few bother to keep up since David, at No. 129, rendered the mythic “the Mets can never find a regular third baseman” narrative inoperable). With Zach Lutz in for David Wright, the Mets prevailed in stimulating fashion, 3-2. Thus, according to the reliable Zach [Squared] minus David [Rested] formula, the Mets are better off with Lutz over Wright.

Yeah, sure they are. But Zach didn’t hurt the Mets in his cameo, not even when he and Josh Satin teamed up on some comical pre-May 26 defense to help shove the Mets in a 2-0 hole early. Lutz didn’t look back a runner and Satin thought Lutz was covering left field. One could sense from two-thirds of a continent away the imminent rationalizations that it had been a good trip and this scheduling was very difficult and the important thing is we gave David a blow and whodaya think the Mets are, anyway — the best team in the National League East for the last month?

Ah, but that’s stinkin’ thinkin’ of a pre-5/26 (or, really, pre-Decline of Western Civilization) mindset. The Mets were ill, not dead. Then they lived long enough to cobble together one of the slowest developing runs you’ll see in the course of a ballgame, as a Satin walk, a Lutz single, a beautiful Lagares bunt, a questionably conceived fielder’s choice on a Recker groundout and a Hefner non-DP got the Mets on the board. And oh, by the way, Jeremy Hefner is more or less the second-most dependable starting pitcher the Mets have these days, which, unimaginably, is not intended as a disparaging assessment of Mets starting pitching.

Hef went six. Forty-year-old LaTroy Hawkins — who we’ll infer cheered the Mets toward their 1973 pennant from his crib — took care of the seventh. Marlon Byrd did all the heavy lifting thereafter, first via a two-run homer (didn’t home runs used to be the norm at Coors Field?) and then via an absolute peg from right to nail a salivating Michael Cuddyer at second in the ninth. Scott Rice and Bobby Parnell assisted in the win as well. So did Daniel Murphy. And I wouldn’t discount Eric Young, Jr. Or Omar Quintanilla. Or anybody else on the Mets as we speak. Team ball. Team effort. Team with the best record in the National League East since May 26. Team that just won ballgames in four different cities away from Flushing and didn’t lose any of the series in which they were played.

Team clearly descended from the 1973 Mets, if just for a moment or a month.

You gotta believe that I was thrilled to join Jay Goldberg for the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse podcast Wednesday night and honored by the attendance of those Mets fans and readers who dropped by to hear more about The Happiest Recap. Jay has posted the interview and Q&A session that followed for your listening pleasure. And if you are enamored of this game of ours, be sure to visit Bergino when you’re in the vicinity of 67 E. 11th Street. You can even pick up a signed copy of First Base: 1962-1973 there!

21 comments to Mets Stage Impromptu 1973 Tribute

  • mikeL

    i for one am all the happier to drink this kool-aid when statistics back up my gut feeling that anything is possible – and that the possible outcomes are not all dismal.

    this may prove to be a stretch in time, but eric young’s arrival reminds me not so little of the arrival of keith in a more recent era of mets ascendance…when suddenly one new player seemed to make everything click and look easy.

    may this take hold!

  • Patrick O'Hern

    I am embarrassed to say I actually peaked at the standings today for the first time in weeks. 11 but 9 in loss column.

  • Hey, I’ll say it. Ya gotta believe!

  • On June 25, Matlack was 4-10. He wound up 14-16. Shaun Marcum isn’t Matlack, but if he goes 10-6 the rest of the way…..dreaming is in our DNA, isn’t it?

  • joenunz

    #DoSomethingElseThisSummer until a rain soaked doubleheader vs. Milwaukee on September 29 that will determine whether the Mets improbably squeak into the playoffs.

  • So, uh, are you lifting #DoSomethingElseThisSummer? I am definitely worried about you. Enjoy, but from a little bit of a distance. I still think they’ll win 80, which will qualify them for nada, but am enjoying seeing Wright, Harvey, Satin, Lagares, Wheeler, Murphy, Byrd, Young, Q, even Hefner is becoming enjoyable to watch.

  • Welcome to the New ’73 Mets (sort of like the New Main Street Singers in A Mighty Wind. Too esoteric a reference? Then get a load out of this.)
    Now playing Ron Hodges–Anthony Recker. Give the guy some starts, please. The Buck should stop here!
    Now playing Harry Parker–LaTroy Hawkins. I mean, what the hell.
    Now playing George Stone–Unless it’s Zack Wheeler, no Met other than Matt Harvey has a chance at 12-3. But the younguns have to be Seaver & Matlack.
    Now playing the role of John Milner–Marlon Byrd; he’s older, bolder, and an outfielder, but you can him laying down the Hammer.
    Now playing the role of Tug McGraw–We should stop now.
    Beyond out imagination, there will never be another 1973. There is proof.

  • mikeL

    ^^ wrong side of the diamond but omar-Q could be felix millan with some pop. and hell, after murph tried to deck the marlins catcher (and walked away looking very badass and mighty PO’ed) in the 20 inning affair he could sure as hell be our bud harrelson!

  • Steve D

    This team is hitting .229…they are probably the 3rd worst team in baseball. The Astros are worse and maybe the Marlins, who spanked us all year so far. Harvey pitched 169 innings last year and the Verducci Effect says he should not throw much more than 200, which is a nice round number. He will be shutdown mid-September. Odds of pulling a 1973 are exactly zero.

  • Lenny65

    My earliest baseball memories involve those 1973 Mets. They never get their due.

  • Ya gotta believe, just not now!

  • metsfaninparadise

    Aug 31, 1973 was the day I became a diehard. Before that baseball was on the periphery of my awareness. When they moved into 5th place and with their new battle cry, I found I needed to know ever day what they were doing. Since then they’ve probably been the greatest constant in my life, for better or worse. I still have the dirt from the field from the night they clinched in ’86. And my autographed photo of Le Grande Orange that I got that fall. I used to joke that I wanted my ashes scattered over Shea. And all thanks to…mediocrity?

  • […] anniversary of a little team that could despite most of a year in which it couldn’t — an anniversary that we hold dear even if the people who run the Mets aren’t interested in giving it its […]