Twice upon two times, magic would dramatically alter the fortunes of baseball’s New York Mets.
First, there was 1969.
The Mets phoenixed from last place to win the World Series.
The “Cinderella Team,” they were dubbed. It was pure magic.
The second time would be 1983.
Shea Metski would celebrate his twenty-first year. Same as the Mets.
Well, better than delve into the complexities of cultures as yet unimagined, let’s just say that Shea Metski is something like a misguided gremlin. That is, where other gremlins take naturally to chaos and havoc, Shea Metski, naturally, creates order.
Who do you think created the batting order in 1969?
If Shea is treated kindly—with dignity and sensitivity—his magic waxes enchantingly.
But trammel his sensibilities and Shea will put a batter “out of order.” “Not working.” Know what I mean?
It all depends on his state of self. If Shea is not feeling up to snuff, his magic could get upset, much as a manager’s stomach in the midst of a losing streak. But ah, if he’s feeling strong and loved, as he did when he was seven, watch out—his magic becomes mythical and takes on a winning way.
Shea Metski was seven in 1969.
Same age as the Mets.
Shea lived in a condominium under second base at Shea Stadium. “Chez Shea,” he called it. His neighbors were a potpourri of unimaginable magical creatures. Each was possessed of unique mischievous talents. One, “Gourock,” as he was called, could capture bits of cosmic dust and in the crack of a bat, fashion a pebble and place it to get a ground ball to run amuck.
Another, Maeldrang, could literally talk up a storm, thus creating violent air currents that could make the flight of a fly ball as inconsistent as a myopic, home-plate umpire’s calls.
And there was Horsehid who could make a baseball vanish, in the sun or in the lights or right under your very nose.
And Laimarm who could take a strong pitching staff and, with his patented “bullpen blast,” render their flippers flaccid.
And Calide who’d polarized players negatively and positively, then zap the field magnetically. Ouch!
You name the weird flaws inherent in the goings-on on a baseball diamond and you’ll know how many cohorts Shea had for each and every facet.
Shea Metski was miffed. And he had been so for a dozen years. If you put your ear to the ground directly beneath second base, you would have heard his chant. “Mutter and stew, mutter and stew, no gold nor ring; what are we gremlins to do?”
It wasn’t as though they didn’t need it and hadn’t earned it.
As President of the Gremlin Tenants Association, Shea had waged a six-year campaign to raise money to upgrade the condominium’s heating system. When he got the inspiration to use their magic to win the Mets World Series, he called a special meeting of the G.T.A. He addressed them thusly: “If you’ll help me win the World Series for the Mets, we’ll take the World Series gold and make our condo all toasty warm when upstairs it gets cold. This winter when the cruel winds toss and churn us, we’ll be basking in the glow of our brand new furnace.
Shea’s eloquence won the day. Gurock, Maeldrang, Horsehid, Laimarm, and Calide, to a gremlin, agreed to reverse their magic and give seven-year-old Mets a World Series win. And they did, in 1969.
The share was never allotted. The gold, never paid. And the months melted away. And the years tumbled. While Shea Metski, cold and haunted, cussed, muttered and grumbled.
Shea’s past grumblings were strictly bush-league compared to his own reaction upon hearing that “The Magic is Back” was to be the promotional theme for the Mets’ 1982 season.
He didn’t hit the ceiling; he creamed it. Second base registered 6.9 on the Richter scale.
Hackles, ganders and feathers stood up and ruffled. With clenched mitt and in a frenzied fit, he spit out these words. “It’s tragic, so tragic, that mortals think they can make magic.”
Once again, the G.T.A. was convened. Shea took the rostrum. “They’ve done it this time, they’ve gone too far.” It’s time to show the Mets’ management just who and what we are. Okay, gremlins, go be yourselves. It’s time to take our mayhem off those dusty shelves. And until they decide that they are going to pay us, we’ll wreak oodles of havoc and batches of chaos. They won’t know what hit them, their misfortunes will soar. We’ll leave them twenty-seven games out and flat on the cellar floor. We’ll leave glow-notes to tell them exactly what’s in store. Their hitters will hatch goose eggs; their pitcher’s wings wax sore.”
The G.T.A. meeting exploded into a hubbub of affirmative manifestation as the gremlins carried Shea Metski on their shoulders out into the Spring night.
Pete Flynn, Head Groundskeeper for the New York Mets found the first glow-note. He had been raking the mound in preparation for the Friday, July 28th night game between the Mets and the Pirates.
It was a little piece of folded stuff wedged betwixt the rubber and the mound. It looked like fat paper but glowed and felt warm and like tingly but inside you. There were no words on it, but the tingle went right to your brain and you know what the message was. Just like that.
When Pete brought the thing to John P. McCarthy, the Shea Stadium Manager, they both knew the message simultaneously. It went like this:
A stiff-armed flinger will win tonight
Cause we’ll charm his arm to be peppy and light.
And all you’ll get is one lonely run
But also eight big K’s.
That should show ya who we are and that
We always mean what we says.
The glow-note quickly went from McCarthy to Cashen to Thompson. Frank Cashen was the Mets’ General Manager and Laurel Thompson Executive Secretary to the man they stood before, Nelson Doubleday, Publisher and too, Chairman of the Board of the New York Mets. A hasty meeting prompted these decisions. To keep the existence of the glow-notes strictly intra-Mets, no press, no police; to find out what the hell this stuff is made of; and to find out, for sure, who this joker is.
After the game, that night, George Bamberger, the Mets’ Manager, had this to say, “I can’t say much about tonight’s game. I thought we played alright. It was just a matter of Robinson.”
He was talking about Don Robinson, the Pirate right hander who had limited the Mets to seven hits and struck out eight.
“I felt a little stiff and sore in the first inning but after that I felt great,” said Robinson who had undergone three operations on his pitching shoulder in the last four years. Actually, Robinson couldn’t quite believe what had happened to him in the first inning. He had been sitting in the dugout, massaging his shoulder. “Suddenly,” he said, “my arm felt like it was bathed in a warm bath of well-being and strength. That’s the only way I can describe it. It was over in a moment, but when I returned to the mound, my arm had a life of its own. I mean my curve was a combination of sarsaparilla and sunshine.”
It was no wonder. Laimarm had simply given Robinson a retro-bullpen blast.
The glow-notes kept appearing intermittently and the Mets kept losing consistently. On the morning of August 1, Pete Flynn found another one.
For the first five innings,
Mark our word,
No New York Met will get past third.
For the next five innings
We’ll lead you on
Then Madlock will mash one…
Going, going, gone.
That afternoon the Mets were 13½ games out of first. They had won only six of their last 24 games. They had left 11 men on base, 10 in the first five innings. None of those had advanced past second. The Mets lost in the 10th on a Madlock homerun.
On August 3, another.
Three, you’ll get both outs and hits
And a bird will drop you deeper in the pits
And only one ball will be hit with enough sass
To make it through the outfield grass.
That afternoon, the Mets lost their 32nd game out of their last 50, 5-0 to Chicago. In one rare moment of precision baseball, the Mets made their first triple play in 16 years, Bailor to Backman to Kingman. They got three hits off Doug Bird. All were singles and only one got past the infield. Only five games separated the Mets and the cellar-dwelling Cubs.
The dog days of summer nipped at the Mets’ heels, driving them deeper into the nether regions of the standings. They lost 24 out of 29 games in August. Injuries were almost an everyday occurrence. Collisions, both on the base paths and in the field, became commonplace. Ground balls darted away from defensive Mets, and fly balls continuously sliced way from the fleetest feet, the stickiest mitt. Mets’ Management became believers. But they were determined to keep the story from the press and police. They had no choice. Who would believe them? The glow-notes totally, mystifyingly evaporated, leaving not a trace, whenever someone outside the Mets family came close enough to seek to witness their existence. Videotape and film failed to capture an image. There was no other way. Mets’ Management, to a man, voted to call in the Baseball Intelligence Agency.
Although well intentioned, the B.I.A. could do little to unravel the mysteries.
Spiritualists, seers and mediums also failed. Pete Flynn pointed out that he had been carefully grooming the mound since the first note was found. “There are no footprints. How can that be?” he pleaded.
On October 3, the last day of the regular season, another glow-note appeared.
The Carlton arm is really buzzin’
The Mets will whiff, a baker’s dozen,
No regular .300 hitter in their dugout sits
With all that Flushing power, we’ll grant you just four hits.
The Mets, who opened the season last April by beating Steve Carlton, closed it today by losing to Carlton and the Phillies, 4-1. It was the 23rd victory for Carlton, who pitched a four-hitter and struck out thirteen batters for a season total of 286, the most in the National League.
The Mets finished last with 65 victories and 97 defeats, their poorest record since 1979.
Only one pitcher won over 10 games. The defense made 175 errors. George Foster hit only 13 home runs. Dave Kingman batted .204 and struck out 156 times. The Mets made two triple plays. And lost both games.
Late on that same day, Pete Flynn spied the familiar glow at the pitcher’s mound.
As soon as the Mets Management meeting was called to order, the glow-note made its meaning clear.
Now you know how the ’69 magic came to be.
You left us no share
So, here’s a bill for our fee.
Leave eighteen thousand, three hundred and thirty-eight dollars and eighteen cents in gold all shiny and new
Or Shea’s Metski’s magic will continue to raise havoc
And ’83 will be more tragic than ’82.
Also, the golden ring is rightfully mine.
Place both on the pitcher’s mound by midnight of October nine.
After much discussion centering mostly on whether grown men and women could believe even what they’ve witnessed with their very eyes, the Mets’ Management, by a voice vote, decided to capitulate. Measures were implemented to leave a ’69 World Series ring and $18,338.18 in gold on the pitcher’s mound. Yes, the gold would be in place and so would 100 B.I.A. agents… waiting in the stands. They’d catch this joker red-handed.
At a quarter to midnight on October 9, Pete Flynn strode to the pitcher’s mound and placed the gold and the ring thereon. He retreated hurriedly to the stands where over a hundred B.I.A agents were strategically deployed. The entire Mets family were there, too. As the seconds snowballed into minutes, the soft Fall air became infused with expectation. Palms moistened with anticipation. Infrared binoculared eyes focused on the mound.
The scoreboard clock ticked toward twelve.
At midnight precisely, the pitcher’s rubber, as though hinged at its narrowest dimension, swung silently skyward. A mitted hand emerged from the maw, grasped the trove and returned from whence it had come.
It was over in a moment.
The stands erupted into a flurry of action as B.I.A agents stormed the mound.
But before even the fleetest rounded first base, the pitcher’s mound came to life in a whirr of dust and fire. It lifted, flying-sauceresque, hovered for a moment, then winged its way out of sight.
As the mortals stood transfixed, there in the space saucer’s wake was an afterglow-note, emblazoned in the autumnal sky.
“The Magic is Back” was strictly hack.
That’s no way to acquire winning ways.
Skill and will and spirit and pluck
That’s all you need to change your luck.
And now that you’ve relented and paid our fee
The cellar-swell-spell has been removed by me
And in its place “Real Magic” for the Mets in ’83.
Robert Liebler originally wrote this story in 1983. Born in Brooklyn, Liebler, now 88, lives in a century-old home in Wheeler with sweeping views of Onion Peak and Neahkahnie Mountain and Nehalem Bay. He’s lived there for more than 20 years. Over the course of his long and varied career, he has worked in the fields of journalism, advertising, and fashion.
While this story exceeds our word limit, we are posting it on Opening Day – so letting it go extra innings.