Remembering the Most Crucial Clincher the Mets Ever Played in October

1973 Mets Getty Images

It was a special Monday, one autumn in Valley Stream.

The Mets had a crucial game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

If they won, they would clinch their division in what had become the unlikeliest of Mets seasons. Weeks earlier, they had been in last place. But when some of their key players returned from injury, and back to form, the club began winning.

It was 1973, and one more New York National League “miracle” seemed in the offing.

I was eleven. And baseball is always best when you’re a kid.

But this game was starting during school hours, right around lunch time, on Oct. 1.

This wonderfully pivotal game. Of course, our parents wouldn’t let us stay home from school to watch baseball.

But then, some of us were lucky enough at Howell Road Elementary School to have James Harnett as our teacher. Harnett was a legend, the kind of teacher you knew about, years before you were anywhere near entering his sixth-grade domain.

Harnett particularly excelled with his brighter students, but he was also the kind of guy who’d take part of an afternoon to show us how to make and fly a kite. Twenty-plus kids happily running around the asphalt in back of the school.

That morning, as I recall, he had feigned grumpiness.

But suddenly, at the appointed—and anointed time—at least once we got back from the cafeteria, he wheeled a television into our classroom. You know, one of those old black and white ones, carried on top of a huge (five feet, six feet?) rolling cart.

Some of the kids didn’t seem pleased. But thanks to Mr. Harnett, we got to watch the start of one of the best ballgames of our youths.

The regular season was supposed to have ended already. But rainouts in Chicago on Friday and Saturday had led to back-to-back double-headers on Sunday and Monday. The Mets were competing against the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the N.L. East. If the Mets won just one of the two games that Monday, the division title was theirs. Yogi Berra, who just passed last week at age 90, was in his second year as Mets manager. As he said at the time, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”

That October day in Chicago was drizzly and foggy, and only a reported 1,913 fans filled the seats at Wrigley Field.

But back in New York, who knows how many tens of thousands were watching it on the old WOR, Channel 9?

It was the last great time of Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack and George Stone and Jerry Grote and Ed Kranepool and Ken Boswell and Felix Millan and Bud Harrelson and Wayne Garret and Duffy Dyer and Cleon Jones and Rusty Staub and Tug McGraw. They were all together, and so they would remain, for the better part of the next few weeks.

Thanks to our elementary school teacher, my friends and I were among the faithful gathered in front of a TV.

And Harnett wasn’t even a baseball fan.

James H. Burns is a writer/actor living in Franklin Square. He has written for Gentleman’s Quarterly, Esquire, Heavy Metal, Twilight Zone, The Village Voice, The Sporting News, CBS-NY.COM, and The New York Times.