“Ya Gotta Believe!” still resonates with Mets fans forty years after Tug McGraw coined the phrase. While today it may be said more with a sigh and a shrug of the shoulders as fans hope for better days in 2014, it was a rally cry in 1973 as the Mets launched themselves from last place in late August to the World Series in October. One of the key players was Mets Hall of Famer Rusty Staub, who spoke with the Rockland County Times about this memorable team.
“We got healthy at the end of August,” Rusty recalled as the offense improved when he recovered from a couple of hand injuries and players like Bud Harrelson and Jerry Grote returned to the lineup. The team also had excellent starting pitching with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, and George Stone to go along with closer Tug McGraw who starred at the end of the season. Staub chuckled as he recalled the opposing hitters who came into Shea Stadium hitting well but didn’t leave that way.
“No one took over the division,” Mets Hall of Famer recalled as he related crossing paths with his former teammates on the Montreal Expos in late August who were “chirping” about their chances and “belittling” the Mets at which point he reminded them which team had Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack.
Asked for a memorable game down the stretch of the season, the New Orleans native recalled the Mets 4-3, 13-inning victory on September 20 over the Pirates, when Dan Augustine’s bid for a two run homer hit the top of the wall, bounced back into play and instead became an inning ending out at home. “That’s a break… you get charged up,” Staub said. A half inning later, the Mets won the game and a day later they were in first place to stay.
Staub starred in the league championship series with three homeruns against the Cincinnati Reds and acted as a peacemaker in Game 3 when fans throwing debris at Pete Rose nearly caused a Mets win to become a forfeited loss. “We have to do something,” he told manager Yogi Berra. “We have to tell people to quit,” and he, Berra, Seaver, and Willie Mays walked across the field and calmed the crowd.
Staub’s wall-crashing, run-saving catch in Game 4 of the LCS cost him a chipped tooth, a partially separated shoulder, a concussion, and nearly the World Series. But after sitting out Game 1 of the World Series against the Oakland A’s, he told Berra, “Put me in rightfield,” and despite being injured, proceeded to bat .423, highlighted by a 4 for 4, five RBI performance in Game 4. Looking back at that night, Staub said he felt “Really at peace because I had done everything I could to help the team.”
Although the team fell short of its ultimate goal with the Oakland A’s winning the series in seven games, Staub said, “I was as proud as I ever was in baseball…we overcame so much adversity.” Speaking of his manager Yogi Berra, he added, “His strength was in his subtleties…He never gave up hope. Yogi believed when he said, ‘It’s not over until it’s over.’”
Amazingly, for someone who amassed 2,716 hits in his career, Rusty Staub’s greatest hits may have come since he retired from baseball in 1985. He started the Rusty Staub Foundation, which raises money for emergency food pantries, and in collaboration with Catholic Charities, distributed more than one million meals last year. He also founded the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, which has become an even more vital organization since September 11, 2001. Both organizations have their upcoming fundraising dinners this October 23 and 24, respectively.
Mike Piazza will be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in the season finale on Sunday, September 29. Speaking as a fellow inductee, Rusty Staub said, “It means a great deal. No one takes it nonchalantly.”