50 years ago, 'Ya gotta believe' became the Mets' rallying cry

January 14th, 2023

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the National League pennant-winning 1973 Mets, we're looking back at several of the notable players on that roster.

NEW YORK -- Left-hander Tug McGraw was more than just a quality closer for the Mets and Phillies; he was a colorful character to say the least. Anytime he made a key out, McGraw would get hyper by slapping his glove on his right leg or celebrate in the dugout by jumping up and down.

But it’s the phrase “Ya Gotta Believe” that became McGraw’s calling card. In fact, he first used the phrase 50 years ago this summer, and it looked like the remark would come back and haunt him.

Going into a game against the Astros on July 11, 1973, the Mets were in last place with a 36-46 record in the National League East, 12 games behind the first-place Cubs. It didn’t help that key players such as Cleon Jones, Bud Harrelson and Jerry Grote had missed a significant amount of time because of injuries.

Before the game, the Mets held a team meeting. M. Donald Grant, chairman of the Mets board of directors, gave a pep talk to the players and said they could turn the season around if only they believed in themselves.

Suddenly, McGraw jumped up, interrupted Grant and said, "Ya Gotta Believe. That’s right!” Grant suddenly ended the speech and looked upset when he left the clubhouse. He thought McGraw was mocking him, but roommate Ed Kranepool knew better.

"Mr. Grant wasn’t used to people interrupting a meeting and his speech, and he looked at Tug kind of strange," Kranepool said. "I thought this was not a good ending, because Grant walked off annoyed. I went over to Tug and said, 'Tug, I think you better apologize to Grant. He is not used to people screaming uncharacteristically.' McGraw said, 'No, no, I'm just rallying the players. I meant nothing by it.' So I said, 'Let’s go over and let him know that, because I don’t want the team to trade my roommate.'"

McGaw and Kranepool went into the player’s lounge and spotted Grant. Kranepool did most of the talking because he knew Grant dating back to his rookie season in 1962. Kranepool explained McGraw's outburst, and Grant understood that McGraw was just rallying the troops.

"Grant wasn’t upset at that point," Kranepool said. "Grant and Tug shook hands and everything was good. Grant was glad that Tug was getting behind him."

The rallying cry didn’t work right away. As late as August 30, even with Jones, Harrelson and Grote back in the lineup, the Mets were 61-71 and in last place, 6 1/2 games out of first place. But the Amazin' Mets went 21-8 in the final 29 games to finish 82-79 and wound up winning the division on the last day of the season in Chicago.

"Grant took credit for his speech, and Tug got the slogan in there. Everybody made a big to-do about it and it was our rallying cry. A lot of players jumped in on it," Kranepool said. "It was a great thing to have. It was great timing."

It looked like the slogan would help take the Mets all the way to the World Series title. They upset the Reds in the NL Championship Series and advanced to the Fall Classic against the Athletics, the defending champions.

With a 3-2 lead in the Fall Classic, the Mets were a game away from the title, but manager Yogi Berra made a fatal mistake that cost them the series, according to Kranepool. Berra started a tired Tom Seaver instead of a well-rested George Stone, who was having a career year, going 12-3 with a 2.80 ERA. Seaver, pitching on short rest, lost the game, 3-1, and the A’s won the series in seven games.

"That was Yogi picking the wrong pitcher -- Seaver. He shouldn’t have pitched that day. There was no reason to ask Seaver to pitch. He was never going to turn the ball down," Kranepool said. "George Stone should have pitched, but he never pitched. If you look at his record, he was one of our best pitchers. Why shortchange short-rest Seaver?

“We didn’t have to win Game 6. Yogi couldn’t understand it. He thought the Mets had to win. The Mets had to win Game 7. Game 6 didn’t mean anything. There was no pressure on George Stone. He was very good coming down the stretch. If we lose, we would come back with Seaver and nine other pitchers.”

Stone spoke to Mets historian Jay Horwitz a few years back and didn’t express any bitterness about not pitching in Game 6.

"Sure, I wanted to pitch Game 6," Stone said. "Who wouldn’t want to have the chance to close out a World Series? I understood the situation though. There were a lot of pressure on Yogi to pitch Tom because of who he was. I just told Yogi I would do whatever he wanted me to do. I was there to help.

“I know through the years, guys have told me they should have rested Tom and pitched him if we went to Game 7, and pitched me in Game 6. I appreciate the faith in me, but if you look what happened, Tom didn’t pitch badly. He only gave up two runs in seven innings. It was just one of those things.”