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NY Post
New York Post
21 Oct 2023

NextImg:Mets’ Yogi Berra-Tom Seaver misery of 1973 is the ugly side of October magic

It’s not just the glories of October that we miss when there is no October around here. It’s the miseries, too. It’s the times when the natural anxiety that accompanies big games is augmented by the agita when something bad — manager’s choice, pitcher’s hanging slider, baserunner sloppiness — happens.

Phillies fans are feeling the whole gamut these days. There is the remarkable party at Citizens Bank Park — where they’re undefeated so far — and then there are the decisions by Rob Thomson in Games 3 and 4, doubling down on both Craig Kimbrel (understandable and somewhat defendable) and Orion Kerkering (inexplicable).

It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel alive as a baseball fan.

Fifty years ago this week, Yogi Berra made what has turned out to be one of the most second-guessable decisions in New York’s vast baseball history. That’s not to say Yogi’s choice was wrong — even if it turned out not to work. It was just a choice he made, and had to live with the rest of his days, same as Mets fans have had to live with it.

Here’s what happened:

Tom Seaver, pictured in Game 3 of the 1973 World Series, couldn’t clinch the title for the Mets in Game 6.

On Oct. 18, 1973, the Mets shut out the A’s, 2-0, Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw holding the powerful Oakland lineup to just three hits. That gave the Mets a 3-2 lead heading back to California for Game 6 of the World Series, and it also put a couple of hole cards up Berra’s sleeve.

He had Tom Seaver he could throw at the A’s to try and lock the door in Game 6, and in 1973, Seaver was by consensus the best pitcher in baseball, a few weeks away from winning his second Cy Young Award. He’d been brilliant in Game 3, striking out 12 Oakland hitters, including Reggie Jackson three times, moving Jackson to famously say of Seaver: “Blind men come to the ballpark to hear him pitch.” The A’s had touched Seaver for a couple of late runs and then they’d beaten Harry Parker in extra innings to win the game, but that hadn’t diminished Seaver’s stature one bit.

So that was one option.

The other was more complicated, especially in 1973.

The Mets had been one of the first teams to install a five-man rotation, a choice they could make thanks to an abundance of solid stating pitching. Seaver’s whole career, with rare exception, he pitched every fifth day. This would require just three days’ rest — which he had done before, as recently as Game 5 of the NLCS against the Reds, and he’d been fine. But that was an elimination game. This wasn’t. And Yogi had a good option: George Stone had been an ultra-dependable 12-3 that year.

Then-Mets manager Yogi Berra, pictured around the 1975 season, opted to have Tom Seaver pitch Game 6 of the 1973 World Series.
Focus on Sport via Getty Images

So the careful and conservative choice would have been this: start Stone with house money in your pocket, and worse comes to worst you have Seaver on full rest in Game 7, with Jon Matlack ready to serve as a bridge to McGraw if necessary.

Part of the mythology of this decision that has grown over the years is that the Mets headed west without Yogi making a choice, and that somewhere at 30,000 feet Seaver pleaded his case to Yogi, and Yogi caved.

But two things refute that. Most tellingly, all the New York papers the day after Game 5 made it clear: the Mets needed one more win for a second title in four years, and Seaver was getting the ball. Period.

In the next day’s Post, Yogi said: “Now we’ll give the ball to Tom and try to finish this thing.”

Also: 30 years later, before Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, Marlins manager Jack McKeon faced the exact same choice Yogi had and he did what Yogi did: he sent his ace, Josh Beckett, out against the Yankees on three days’ rest. Before the game, Yogi was talking to a small crop of reporters, and ’73 came up.

Phillies manager Rob Thomson has made NLCS pitching decisions that have backfired.
Getty Image

Deadly serious, Berra asked, “You have the best pitcher on the planet on your side and you’re not going to pitch him? It wasn’t that hard a choice.”

McKeon’s faith was rewarded; Beckett threw a five-hit shutout.

Seaver pitched well in Game 6 on Oct. 20, 1973 — seven innings, six hits, two earned runs, six strikeouts. But Catfish Hunter was better, the Mets lost 3-1, then dropped Game 7 when Matlack allowed early home runs to Bert Campaneris and Jackson. It was Reggie who beat Seaver with a pair of RBI doubles, both with two out.

Afterward he said: “That wasn’t the same Seaver we saw in Game 3, except in heart and fortitude.”

Years later Seaver called that game “my greatest disappointment.” But he also said, “If Yogi asked me today, I’d take the ball again.” And there’s little doubt: Yogi would have given it to him.

It was 40 years ago this month that the Mets made Davey Johnson their manager, which is exactly the kind of home-run hire they’re looking to make now. This week, Johnson was nominated for the Hall of Fame, and the bulk of the reason is 595 wins, .588 winning percentage and the 1986 World Series ring he assembled here.

Davey Johnson, pictured talking to umpires around 1988, was hired as Mets manager 40 years ago this month.
Getty Images

The first 20 or so minutes of Brandon Tierney and Sal Licata’s show on WFAN on Monday was a refreshing reminder of the very best of what sports talk radio can be in this town — a spirited and passionate debate about sports, and nothing but sports. Fun stuff.

Fordham this week became the first college program to join in the Coach Knapp Stair Climb, honoring Greg Knapp, the quarterbacking guru who was killed not long after he began working for the Jets by a distracted diver while he was biking. Several pro teams, including the Jets, run the stairs on game days to raise both money and awareness. And now Fordham has added its name to the cause as well.

Godspeed Burt Young, a son of Corona and, lately, a pillar of Port Washington. Paulie made him a star, but he’ll always be Bedbug Eddie to me.

Scott Hartung: I guess you forgot to mention that Louisville’s championship was vacated. If you want see how an upstanding and honest program is run, go over to Piscataway some time.

Vac: Louisville is a part of Rick Pitino’s permanent record. It’s why you’ve yet to see a column I’ve written since he was hired that doesn’t have the word “Louisville” in there somewhere.

Rick Pitino’s national championship at Louisville in 2013 was vacated.
Getty Images

Ken Schlapp: Could you at least throw the NY Ironworkers at No. 13 on Richter scale for New York champions? They are NY’s most recent champions, in Major League Rugby.

Vac: Ma Vac didn’t raise a fool: I will always stay on the good side of rugby players. Done.

@mz11378: I’m a Jets fan since they were the Titans. I can’t remember many games ever gifted to them — many the other way of course. As Mel Allen used to say “How about that.”

@MikeVacc: Not sure you could ever get a better game off or week to have a bye week. Lots of savoring for Jets fans this week.

Bob Weinstein: I live in Cherry Hill, a Philly suburb. I am Bronx born and Long Island raised, so you can imagine my angst and disgust at their current success. I told my daughters when they were growing up, they could root for any Philly team they wanted. When the will is read and they are not in it, they’ll know why!

Vac: Not all heroes wear capes.