Rich Reminisces: The 1973 Mets

By Rich Klein
Recently I heard the sad news of George Thomas Seaver (we know him better as Tom) beginning his long goodbye as his great mind is slowly becoming less active and he is suffering from Alzheimer’s. This news comes just as the New York Mets begin to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their “Miracle Mets” season. Let me assure you, if you were in the NY Area in 1969, that was truly a miracle season. So many things occurred that year which were a confluence of events never to be repeated or duplicated.  When this 1969 Topps card was released the Mets were just starting to roll a bit towards their successful conclusion.  Thankfully for collectors without deep pocketbooks there is no “White” last name version of this card. If there were, the 1969 Master Set collection cost would have grown by a decent chunk of change.

Because baseball was so important in ’69 and the Mets were such a great story,  with them located in New York and having had such a short history at the time, there were countless books written about the team during the next few months. I believe I read every single one of them. Yes, there was actually a time where reading print in all forms was how we garnered information, and in my cas,e put the information into my muscle memory, which when my turn comes to forget everything but the past, will be remembered much easier than what I had for lunch yesterday! (Grilled chicken sandwich with sautéed mushrooms, grilled jalapenos and grilled onions and a side salad).

But the real point is that those books were able to talk both about the days when the Mets were lovable loser. In fact, the Mets had books written about their beginning when the great newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin penned a tome about the 1962 team. Since New York was a major media capital back then, and the team was so bad they were good (yes Marv E. Throneberry we’re thinking of you), a detailed tome about their debut season was a first as far as I know.

Image result for jimmy breslin can't

So 7 years later was the year we first walked on the moon, and since all things seemed possible, why not have a baseball team do something we thought was impossible?  We have tons of material about the 1969 Mets, but what we don’t have very much about is a Mets team which four short years later almost completed an even greater miracle.

The 1973 Mets had many of the same key players of the 1969 team, but the team was carried by their pitching staff led by Tom Seaver. They also featured Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw as their key pitchers, and some of the same position players including Ed Kranepool, Cleon Jones, Ken Boswell, Wayne Garrett, Bud Harrelson, and Jerry Grote.

If you look carefully enough you can see Yogi Berra 5th from the left on the second row and Tom Seaver two people to his left and Cleon Jones directly to Seaver’s left.  We’ll let other sleuths identify the rest of the team, but remember this is a photo of the 1972 team. And based on not seeing Willie Howard Mays, I’d say this was produced in 1972 spring training.

The reason this team was such as miracle was because as late as August 30th, 1973 the Mets were mired in last place, but the NL East race was so bunched up that every team could have a hot streak and become competitive. Although the Mets were in last place in the six-team National League East Division, they were only  6 1/2 games out of 1st place.Now remember, in 1973 there were no wild card spots, so you won the division or you went home.

The team that went on the run was the Mets. The story goes that General Manager M. Donald Grant went to give the team a pep talk and Tug McGraw was reacting sarcastically and stated, “You gotta believe!” Well, those three words became the mantra for the team in September, and they went on to win their division with an 82-79 record.

The “Tugger” would run with the publicity he garnered from this run and became quite the media darling. He helped to co-author a daily comic strip which you can still find a compilation of in book form:

Image result for tug mcgraw comic

September was when the school year begin in New York, but all kids big and small were too entranced by the events going on. There was a play against the Pirates in which the baseball had about a one percent chance of ricocheting off the wall in a way which would it would go back to the fielder. The miracle bounce occurred and lives on forever thanks to youtube.

A few days after that, Willie Mays, who had returned to New York the previous season to finish out his career, finally announced he would be retiring from baseball. As he said he knew it was time for Willie to say goodbye to America. The Mays Tribute Night part of this video begins at approximately the 12:45 mark.  Today, the Mets would have figured out a way to do that on a sunny Sunday afternoon with tons of publicity. Believe it or not, there was not much advance notice for the Mays ceremony.

Finally, on a rainy day in Chicago, the Mets clinched the division and the weather was so bad that the second game was never played. The game might have been played if it mattered to the pennant race, but since it did not, why risk injury to any of the players? Here is restrained way the Mets clinched the National League East.

The Mets would then go to the playoffs and defeat the Cincinnati Reds, who were just beginning to evolve into the Big Red Machine. The highlight was a brawl instigated by a fight between Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose. Many fans then already did not like Pete Rose because of the 1970 All-Star game collision with Ray Fosse, so this just added to the hatred of Rose in New York.

That is a video of their kerfuffle. Big Bad Pete Rose versus Bud Harrelson. who by that point in a season might not have even weighed 150 pounds.

The Mets would then go deep into the World Series against the Oakland Athletics and force the series into a 7th game to be on the precipice of winning a second World Series. However, the A’s, led by their pitching staff, proved why they would be able to win three straight World Series in the 1970’s. Thanks to Topps practice at the time of showing pictures from each World Series game we did get one last 1974 Willie Mays card out of our packs. Now I realize Topps did certain things in those days to appease the target audience of kids, but the lack of a 1974 Mays card ranks right up there with other players who never received a final tribute card.

Off the top of my head such cards as a 1964 Stan Musial, 1967 Sandy Koufax and 1977 Hank Aaron would have been great for the kids then and the adults today. I’m convinced one reason the 1969 Mickey Mantle is so beloved is because he did not formally retire until March 1969 and Topps had already planned his card. Thus he got the last cards those other greats missed.

And as for Tom Seaver, as he heads into the long goodbye. he would pitch for more than another decade and amass more than 300 career victories, as well as gaining a first ballot selection by the BBWAA to elect him into the Hall of Fame on the 1st ballot.

This is just a cool modern card of “Tom Terrific” so we can all remember him as he was.

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