It was at a baseball card show in Dec. 2000, a few months after New York’s first subway series since 1956.

I had the opportunity to speak with Tug McGraw.

The father of one of my students, Becky Hisler, ran the show. The theme was, of course, the subway series.

Almost all the players signing autographs had been or were still on the New York Yankees or the New York Mets.

My son, Scott, wanted Doc Gooden’s autograph. We went into a large room where Gary Carter, Doc Gooden, and Tug McGraw were signing.

While we were waiting, Tug stood up and told a funny joke about the Yankees.

I don’t remember the joke, but the crowd, almost all Mets’ fans, roared with delight. Everyone was in a good mood so I decided to defend the Yankees, or at least tell a joke at the expense of the Mets.

“Tug,” I shouted. “Did you hear about the custody battle about the little boy who didn’t want to live with either his mother or father?”

Tug smiled. He said that he hadn’t but that he would like to hear about it.

“Okay. The judge asked the little boy why he didn’t want to live with his mother.

‘My mother beats me.’

The judge asked him why he didn’t want to live with his father.

‘My father beats me.’

The frustrated judge then asked, ‘With whom do you want to live?’

The little boy replied, ‘I want to live with the Mets because they don’t beat anybody.'”

The crowd booed me worse than the Yankees used to boo Mickey Mantle before he won the Triple Crown.

After the show, I spoke with Tug McGraw about his iconic cry, “You gotta believe.”

Doc Friend : Thanks for not holding my joke against me.

Tug McGraw : No problem, except you had it wrong. The kid wanted to live with the Yankees.

Doc Friend : The New York Mets were having a tough time of it in 1973, but the thing that struck me was that there was no dominant team in their division. Many people believed that when the injured players returned, the Mets would have a shot.

Tug McGraw : You’re right. We suffered a lot of injuries, but we thought that if we could stay close, we would win the division.

Doc Friend : How did “You gotta believe” start?

Tug McGraw : It was the day that Bud Harrelson came off the disabled list. I was kidding around with the fans before the game on July 9 when I heard that Donald Grant, the chairman of the board, wanted us in the clubhouse for a meeting.

Grant, general manager Bob Scheffing, and Yogi, of course, were there.

Grant told us that Harrelson was back, and that Jerry Grote, who had broken his wrist, was returning the next day. Grant said that we had to believe in ourselves.

I shouted, “You gotta beeleeve.” The players looked at me, and Seaver winked. I don’t know if Grant saw it, but I wasn’t taking any chances. After the meeting, I went up to Mr. Grant to tell him I wasn’t making fun of him. I really did believe.”

Doc Friend : What happened in the game?

Tug McGraw : Well, we were in last place, 12 games behind the Cubs. We were playing the Houston Astros, who always gave us trouble.

Seaver started against Don Wilson, but Lee May hit a home run in the seventh inning and Yogi pinch hit for Seaver in the bottom of the seventh.

In the bottom of the ninth, Jim Beuchamp singled home the tying run with two outs, and we won it in the 12th when Felix Millan singled home Willie.

Doc Friend : I remember that game, and even though the team still trailed the Cubs by 11.5 games, I had the feeling that this game was a turning point.

Tug McGraw : It was a big win, but we knew that we had a long way to go.

Doc Friend : What happened to “You gotta believe?”

Tug McGraw : The papers printed the story about the clubhouse meeting the next day, and “You gotta believe” started to get a life of its own.

I really think that it helped us to win. I remember that after we beat Oakland in the fifth game of the World Series to lead them by a game, the newspapers all wrote that everyone in New York really believed.

Doc Friend : How did 1973 compare to 1969 for you?

Tug McGraw : I’ll always remember 1973 as a year that we won, but nothing compares with 1969.

Doc Friend : How would you feel about the comparison if the Mets had won the seventh game in 1973?

Tug McGraw : That’s a great question.

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