On a sprinkly, humid, very bad-hair September 1999 night at Shea Stadium, on the field before a game against the San Francisco Giants (and their loyal fan Steve Hochman was so torn in his allegiances that night…), I had a charming chat with Robin Ventura, a very nice lad, by all accounts the class act of the Mets (and this season, apparently the class clown as well—witness his entertaining dugout cutups on his nights off or during rain delays—especially the hilarious impersonation of power catcher and good bud Mike Piazza, during the Yankee Stadium series), about whom even cynical sportswriters use unaccustomed words like "selfless" and "stoic", soft-spoken and courteous (rather like Jim himself), and just cute as a bug.
We talked about music and Jim and baseball and books, and why young Robin (all of four years old when Jim died) had picked on my beloved consort to provide the team soundtrack (he just liked the song, thought it was fun, that it got things moving—also he had recently seen the second Austin Powers movie and had mojo on his mind; closing pitcher John Franco promptly made the connection to "Mr. Mojo Risin’ " and the rest is now Mets history).
After Robin went back to batting practice, a sports reporter came over to me and started to ask questions; then all of a sudden about fourteen microphones were in my face and TV cameras (point those things somewhere else!) were rolling. Now, between my own books and that damn Doors movie, I’m hardly a media virgin—but never before had I ever been gang-interviewed. The guys were very nice, but it was rather disconcerting, because I honestly hadn’t been expecting it and I was completely on my own. I felt like Marcia Clark (big Jim fan, by the way—has a poster of him in her law office, true story, how weird is that) during the O.J. trial—but I did my best to be quippy and (perhaps out of professional courtesy to a former fellow journalist) the writers were uniformly chivalrous and amusing about it next day in print ("Mrs. Mojo Risin’ at Shea!").
Which will be, I confidently predict, the only time in my life I will EVER make the sports pages—there was even a ’graph in Sports Illustrated. (My brothers were so proud…even the Yankee fan one.) The team lost 7-4 the night I was there, alas, though I do like to think that the Mojo presence was responsible for getting them out of a 3-zip hole to take the lead 4-3 in the eighth—and some of the sportswriters graciously said as much. Being the Mets, of course, they couldn’t manage to hang on; too bad, it would have been great fun to have heard Jim exulting for the win (which, actually, I have by now heard for myself, in person, and several times too—hi, honey!); and after the victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks the team even expanded the playlist, blasting "Love Her Madly" in the champagne-drenched clubhouse along with the usual Mojo loop. As well they might!—but no, I don’t think they meant me…
But that was still to come. During the losing streak that bedeviled the team a fortnight after our state visit, Ken Dashow ran into John Franco at a charity benefit. Naturally, they immediately started talking game and Mojo, and Ken mentioned our acquaintance—to which Franco (a fine Brooklyn boy!) suggested that Dasher tell "Robin’s witch" that "she might want to go to Plan B, ’cause Plan A’s sure not working out."
So Jim’s witch did. And, what a surprise, just LOOK at what started happening then…
Do You Believe In Magic?
Do the math. The Mets don’t make it to the playoffs for, what, eleven years?, and their 1999 season is headed down the usual tubes, and then they start playing Jim Morrison’s music for inspiration, and all of a sudden they start winning, and then Jim’s witchy woman gets seriously interested in their fate, and then every time the team is left for dead not only do they not perish miserably but they rise from the grave in triumph, and break on through to the postseason after a string of spectacular last-stand victories, and claw their way back from three games down to get two games away from the World Series against a (oh, all right!) very tough team that had written them off on at least three separate occasions?
And people actually wonder if magic’s REAL???
Not for a nanosecond do I mean to bogart the Mets’ incredible achievement. They’re not called Amazin’ for nothing, you know: they did it all—dogged and dissed every step of the way, guys playing on half an arm and one knee, with concussions and pounded thumbs and hammered shoulders (half the team went in for MRIs the day after they got back from Georgia, and half of those needed immediate surgery)—and they should be very, very proud.
But all focused energy helps, and I wasn’t the only one using the Force—or whatever —on the Mets’ behalf. Heck, I’m not even the only witch on the case, and everybody else is working just as hard. (Be afraid, Atlanta…) The team seemed to pick up on it, too: Mike Piazza mused as to how it sure felt like something magical was going on (Michael, you should only know…); starting pitcher Al Leiter theorized that maybe the team had its own psychic 800 line going; even pragmatist manager Bobby Valentine (whose wife did her own bit, with novenas and candles as her weapons of choice) declared that "good forces are out there working for us."
They were righter than they knew—or could have known. Baseball players are extremely ritualistic—borderline obsessive-compulsive, maybe not even borderline—and the Mets are no exception. Relief pitcher Turk Wendell has an intricate protocol for betaking himself onto and off the mound, and sports a startlingly shamanic necklace fashioned from the teeth, claws and fangs of animals he himself has hunted (and if that’s not Big Magic I don’t know what is—though I wonder does Turk know what Big Magic it is…); Leiter eats an unvarying chicken and pasta meal before each game he starts; Cuban shortstop Rey Ordoñez blows smoke on the bats, from a cigar held with the lighted end in his mouth (more Big Magic, and I bet Rey knows all about it…). Other guys on other teams wear the same shirt the entire season—washed between games, we do so hope—or sit in the same place in the dugout or take the same route driving to the stadium.
Given all this attention to detail (some would call it superstition, I would too but I find it not only not the least bit weird but just plain common sense), a little touch of Mojo in the ninth (or eighth, or fifth, or first), judiciously risen and properly aimed, can help a lot. And we who are into this sort of thing have a very technical word for it: we call it MAGIC.
You can’t panhandle the cosmos: but I like to think that all those candles with the Mets’ names carved into them—not to mention all those other candles, the ones with the names of the Mets’ opponents carved into them (oops oh dear did I say that?)—and the little mojo bag I gave Robin, full of herbs and crystals, and the power chanting that other fans were (and are) doing, and all the rest of the good fu, also helped. No curses. No pins in dolls. (Well, I say no curses, what’s a curse really, maybe one pin here or there...) (Be VERY afraid, Atlanta…)
Because in an infinite universe filled with infinite possibilities, everything happens somewhere. And if it’s going to happen somewhere, then why the heck not here?
In any case, whether it was Mojo or muscle, magic or management, the Amazin’s were finally winning amazin’ly. At long last, it was time to dance: the boys from Queens had reached the playoffs. They sent the Arizona Garter Snakes slithering back to their terrarium like the reptiles that they are, and prepared to go marching through Georgia, to put the frighteners some more on the Atlanta Braves.
Yeah, yeah, I know, they lost. Bummer. But first the Mets fought their way out of a three-game deficit deathtrap with two unbelievable comeback games, and came thisclose to taking an even greater third. (And if the third, then without question the fourth. Believe me when I tell you this.) So, though our lads may have lost, they were not defeated: if those store-bought droids from the piney wood hills think they drove a stake through the Mets’ hearts, they might want to stop whingeing and seriously think again.
Besides, considering that Ted Turner has apparently sold his soul (if he had one) to the Devil (if there is one), that the field so modestly named for him is obviously the Hellmouth, that he turned Hanoi Jane Fonda into a simpering Stepford wife (never mind the tits, Janey, how about a brain implant?), considering all this, any team/fanbase that so arrogantly disses Native Americans (calling itself Braves, warbling their little Tonto Doom Chant, doing their pathetic tomahawk chop) should itself be tomahawk-chopped into bitsy pieces and strewn across their steamy Southern backwater of an infield.
Such a team deserves to lose the World Series. Again. And we haven’t even started talking about the Giant Goober, the Great Bumpkin John Rocker…Maybe the Boston Red Sox, still being karmically clobbered for trading Babe Ruth, can’t win the Series, or even get there very much—the Curse of the Bambino—but the Braves get there all the time and they STILL can’t win—the Curse of Atlantino.
(Oh, Atlanta, there is a way to break the curse but it’s not in the Mets’ interests that you should and I wouldn’t tell you how if you held a gun to my head. And, Boston, ’fraid you’ll just have to wait until the hundred-year statute of karmic limitations has run its course…)