Ya Gotta Believe: 1973 Mets Reunite at Shea

In August 1973, the New York Mets were last in their division and faith was dwindling. At a meaningless team meeting called by chairman M. Donald Grant, reliever Tug McGraw tried to encourage his fellow players by repeating a phrase Grant had coined in his speech, one that fans still use to this day. With a rallying cry in place, the Mets (82-79) recovered to qualify for the postseason and win the National League pennant before finally losing a close Game 7 to the Athletics in the World Series.

Thirty years later, "Ya Gotta Believe" made a comeback at Shea Stadium on July 13 prior to the 1:10 p.m. game against the Phillies. Fans received a replica of the original 1973 yearbook as they entered the gates and were later treated to a 15-minute team reunion on the field.

Tom Seaver, the organization's all-time leader in wins (198) and earned run average (2.57), headed the list of special guests. Left-handers Jerry Koosman and George Stone, the team's No. 2 and No. 4 starters in the rotation, attended the event as well.

1973 everyday regulars Bud Harrelson, Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub, Felix Millan, Wayne Garrett, Don Hahn, and Jerry Grote were also present, joining utility men Ken Boswell, Ed Kranepool, George Theodore, and Duffy Dyer.

Noticeably absent were Willie Mays, the outfielder who drove in 25 runs in 66 games that season, and Yogi Berra, their manager.

McGraw, the team's emotional leader, was the final player introduced. He made his entrance from beyond the center-field fence, riding aboard a baseball-shaped golf cart topped with a blue Mets cap. The cart, driven by current team captain and set-up man John Franco, dropped McGraw off near the home dugout, and he walked to the mound to throw out the game's ceremonial first pitch to Grote, his former battery mate.

McGraw, 58, was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year and had a tumor removed in March. His family released few details after his surgery at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, but Dr. Steve Brem said the pitcher's chances for recovery were "excellent". At the initial diagnosis, McGraw had been told he had only three weeks to live.

McGraw's appearance at Shea was his first since the operation. The crowd of 31,630 gave him a standing ovation. Highlights featuring McGraw were later shown to the fans.

Throughout the game the team presented magical moments from the 1973 season on the Diamond Vision screen in left-center field: the retirement tribute for Mays held on Sept. 25; the division-clinching victory over the Cubs on the last day of the season; and Harrelson's spirited brawl with the Reds' Pete Rose in the National League championship series.

Although they lost to Reggie Jackson and the A's, the 1973 Mets overcame the odds and gave Queens residents a reason to celebrate. Their legacy, and the sight of No. 45 banging his glove against his thigh after every save, will be never be forgotten. You gotta believe that those 1973 Mets were one of a kind.

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