Sep 11

September 11 Remembrance

Certain historical events are remembered simply by the date. September 11, 2001, is one. December 7, 1941 is another, as is June 6, 1944. I have been to the World Trade Center, both the original and the Memorial. I also visited Normandy, France, and the United States cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach might be the most sobering thing I have ever seen.

I hope someday to visit Pearl Harbor.

Like many who remember where they were when the Kennedys were shot, when Elvis died and John Lennon was murdered, I know exactly where I was when the planes hit. I was covering the Yankees at the time and moving from Maryland to Connecticut. I just passed the Philadelphia exit on the Jersey Turnpike when the first plane hit.

Any doubt it was an accident was dispelled when the second plane hit. Of course, it was a terrorist attack. Anybody could tell that instantly. Those who still don’t believe have the same mentality as those who doubt the Holocaust. Then again, there are those who probably believe the Earth is still flat.

Our movers were volunteer NYC firemen. They told us the river passages would soon be shut down and they had to hustle to get over the George Washington Bridge. So, they left our truck at a rest stop and took off. My ex-wife and I knew we’d never make the bridge, figuring there would be massive traffic delays at that exit. We kept driving north – we actually saw a sign for Montreal – then turned and headed south into Connecticut. What took usually four hours lasted 11.

All the while, without television, I was glued to the radio, the way most of America learned of Pearl Harbor and D-Day. Our stuff came two days late. I plugged in the TV and that’s when I saw the images for the first time. I’ve seen them a thousands more, including too many to count this afternoon.

i knew it would be days before I covered another game. I kept waiting for the official announcement from Bud Selig, but it didn’t come for hours until after the NFL cancelled its schedule for the upcoming week. Security was tight at Yankee Stadium when it was opened for a practice. I remember the team gathering at the mound before talking with us and shared their stories of meeting with emergency personnel and those who lost family and friends.

Thankfully, I didn’t know anybody who was killed, but felt I had when I visited the Memorial years later and saw the photos and read the tribute letters. Family and friends of the murdered brought their loved ones alive for the world to get to know.

Both the Yankees and Mets were gracious in visiting firemen, the police and family members of those killed. The Shea Stadium parking lot was turned into a staging area. Nobody will ever forget Bobby Valentine and his Mets loading trucks.

Both teams were unified in their support of the city. Publicly, they acted as champions. What was disturbing was when players from each team took verbal swipes at each other as to what organization did more the city. It goes to show there’s always pettiness, even in the midst of graciousness.

Mike Piazza’s homer in the first game played in New York after the attacks, and the coming together of the Mets and Braves on the field that day created one of the most memorable scenes in New York sports history. More such stirring moments came from the Yankees during the World Series. While the grand moments are easy to remember, there was some things that get lost in the shuffle. Such as the bald eagle making his entrance into the Stadium, President Bush throwing out the first pitch with a perfect strike, and the singing of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch, something that has become a New York tradition.

There was also the last Series game at the Stadium, when the crowd chanted for Paul O’Neill.

The Yankees returned in Baltimore, and the press box at Camden Yards was where I saw Piazza hit the homer. From there, it was on to Chicago. I never felt safer on a plane than I did on that flight. I’ll always remember a sign at the new Comiskey Park that read. “Hate the Yankees; Love New York.”

The Yankees, normally booed, were treated kindly the rest of the season on the road.

A lot of those memories came flooding back today as they do every year. So do the feelings, ranging from anger to frustration to patriotism to sadness.

They’ll return again next year.

 

 

 

 

Apr 05

Mets Summer Of 1973: The Birth Of “Ya Gotta Believe.”

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TUG McGRAW: Coined one of the best slogans ever.

As far as team slogans go, the 1973 Mets’ rallying cry “Ya Gotta Believe’’ may not rank with Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper,’’ but it stood the test of time, lasting far longer than Reingold beer’s “Ten Minute Head.’’

Had it been a movie, the late and great Roger Ebert would have given it a thumbs down for it’s corniness.

Going into the season, the 1973 team was arguably more talented than the 1969 Miracle Mets, with the additions of Rusty Staub, Jon Matlack, John Milner and Felix Millan. This was a team to be feared and sprinted out of the gate at 4-0, and was in first place by late April. However, overcome by injuries, the Mets nose-dived into the cellar, 7 ½ games behind by July 26. They dropped to 12 games below .500 with 44 games to play on August 16.

Even so, they were still within shouting distance in the mediocre National League East. It would be tough, Mets Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant thought, but there were all those tickets to home games in September that needed to be sold.

MCGRAW: You win with heart, too.

MCGRAW: You win with heart, too.

Grant addressed the team and told them not to quit because there was time to turn things around. After all, he had had recent history to fall back on as the 1969 team overcame an eight-game August deficit to the Cubs.

That’s when closer Tug McGraw stood up and shouted, “that’s right, we can do it, Ya gotta believe.’’ It was a moment of “was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor,’’ exuberance that stuck with those Mets.

The Mets, Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs tripped over each other for much of September, but Yogi Berra’s team was the most consistent, and had to be considering the ground it had to make up.

The Mets won 24 of 35 games to make up those 12 games and move into first place on Sept. 21, with a 10-2 rout of Pittsburgh behind Tom Seaver.

It was a fragile lead as only 2 ½ games separated them from fifth-place Chicago.

“We’ve been hot,’’ Berra said at the time. “But I have to say it’s still wide open.’’

The Mets swept a two-game series with St. Louis and split a two-game series with Montreal before heading into Wrigley Field that final weekend with a one-game lead. On Friday the Mets were rained out, but Montreal beat Pittsburgh. The scenario repeated itself on Saturday.

By now, St. Louis leapfrogged Pittsburgh and trailed by 1½ games going into Sunday. The Mets split a double-header to go to 81-79 while the Cardinals were 81-81.

That set up another double-header for Monday with the Mets needing a split to win the division title, which Seaver gave them by winning the first game.

This might have been the Mets’ grittiest team, and it’s soundtrack being McGraw screaming “Ya Gotta Believe,’’ as he slapped his glove on his thigh.

Although McGraw repeated the slogan with the 1980 Phillies, and Philadelphia fans tried to resurrect it several years ago, it didn’t have the same impact as it did when it woke up New York, the team and the city, during the Summer of 1973.

ON DECK: Jeremy Hefner and lineups.