Sunday, March 29, 2015

March is Mostly Mets Reading Month: 'The Happiest Recap' and shameful streaks

We're running out of days in March is Mostly Mets Reading Month. But today's entry reminds us that even the least-legendary Mets can create a memory of a lifetime.

The Happiest Recap, First Base: 1962-1973 by Greg W. Prince
Published 2012

Every game the Mets win is a treasure to behold.

Some are extra special, like the pennant clinchers or the two historic games that allowed the team to claim the title “World Champions.”

Some are also special, but not for obvious reasons.

Greg, who is celebrating the 10th anniversary the glorious “Faith and Fear in Flushing” blog he co-writes, is telling us about 500 interesting victories in the Mets storied history.

And as Greg explains in the book – the first of four in a series – the games he’s looking for could be highlighted for introducing us to a new character, be marked by an amazing team or individual effort, or “games that left behind images that defy erasure.”

The title, as any veteran Mets fan will recognize, comes legendary broadcaster Bob Murphy’s post-game summary when things went well. And because it’s Greg, you know it will be well-written and enjoyable and hit any true Mets fan right in the heart.

Alas, there was a long, dark stretch where there were no happy recaps for me, at least when I saw the Mets play in person. How long, and how dark, you might ask? Try a 17-year span between the July 21, 1991 victory over to the Dodgers at Shea to a momentous July 20, 2008 win over the Reds in Cincy.

It was heartbreaking and nearly unbearable. I’d watch the Mets lose at Shea and on the road, in Subway Series games at both New York Stadiums and Opening Day in Miami. I saw them get clobbered by the Tigers 14-0 at one Detroit stadium and 15-7 in another.

I saw them lose from a perch in the press box in Cincy and the upper deck at Wrigley.

This became known as “The Streak of Shame,” a period to be debated and chronicled. Pretty much, if I showed up, the Mets lost – for 11 straight games.

Finally, the streak came to its end in an unlikely place at the hands of an unlikely player.

The Baseball Truth gang got together for our annual baseball road trip on July 19, 2008, again in Cincy with the Mets in the house. The Mets lost of course, 7-2.

That was a Saturday night, and the Mets were in town the next day for a Sunday afternoon game. I decided to grab a ticket and attend, then make the six-hour trip home to Grand Rapids.

Unlike nearly all the other games, I didn’t attend with friends or family. This was just me and the Mets.

The team went ahead early, up 4-1 in the fourth inning. Of course the Reds tied it up, and then went ahead in the sixth. The familiar gloom was setting in.

But the Mets tied it up in the seventh, and the game marched into extra innings.

Perhaps few of us remember Robinson Cancel, the Mets pudgy third-string catcher and pinch-hitter of last resort.

He led off with a double.

Jose Reyes dropped a sacrifice bunt to get him to third and beat the throw.

Few of us remember Argenis Reyes, a light-hitting backup infielder. He tapped a grounder that the Reds threw away, allowing Cancel to score. The first and more familiar Reyes later came around to score on another play.

To say I was excited doesn’t do justice to the pacing and weeping that was going on as Billy Wagner stepped to the mound.

Billy struck out the side, lifting his hands in the air and an enormous weight off this fan’s back.

I know the July 20, 2008 7-5 win over the Reds won’t make a future volume of Greg’s book, but it was the happiest recap for this fan.

Streak of Shame 1991-2008
1991 July 21, Mets 9, Dodgers 4
1993 April 18, Reds 3, Mets 2
1995 July 26, Cardinal 3, Mets 2
1995 Sept. 24, Marlins 4, Mets 3
1997 June 17, Yankees 6, Mets 3
1997 June 30 Tiger 14, Mets 0
1999 April 5, Marlins 6, Mets 2
2007 June 10, Tigers 15, Mets 7
2007 Aug. 4, Cubs 6, Mets 0
2008 April 21, Cubs 7, Mets 1
2008 June 28, Yankees 3, Mets 2
2008 July 19, Reds 7, Mets 2

2008 July 20, Mets 7, Reds 5

Your reading list:

March 5: "Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century" by Marc Okkenon
March 4: "Clemente! The Enduring Legacy" by Kal Wagenheim 
March 3: "Mets by the Numbers" by Jon Springer and Matthew Silverman
March 2: "Faith and Fear in Flushing" by Greg W. Prince

Saturday, March 28, 2015

March is Mostly Mets Reading Month: 'New York Mets, The First Quarter Century' as one author but many writers

Some books start out great and get even better. Today's March is Mostly Mets Reading Month entry in a way features many, many writers.

“The New York Mets, the First Quarter Century” by Donald Honig
Published in 1986.

I’m not sure which autograph came second. But the first came from my Mom.

“The New York Mets, the First Quarter Century” was a Christmas present from my parents in 1986, and Mom inscribed the first page.

In the nearly 30 years since, the book has been a constant companion to ballparks, spring training complexes and anywhere else I might encounter a current or former Mets.

It started with when we lived in Connecticut in the late 1980s, when baseball card shows started popping up with regularity and players appeared to sign autographs for a fee.  It was pretty reasonable at the time. For a couple dollars, you had the opportunity to meet Keith Hernandez, or Tommie Agee and have them sign a ball or photo.

I figured it would be neat to have players sign the book, which, as you can guess from the title, is the story of the team’s history, released during the 1986 season.  It’s branded the “official 25th anniversary book” and has lots of nice photos.

I started asking players to sign some of the title pages in the front, and it’s filled up over the years. Tom Seaver has a place of honor, and was the only one asked to personalize the signature.
Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, HoJo and other many others
are in the book.
Some pages have been reserved for special events. Members of the 1969 championship team appeared at a show on a pier in Manhattan, and a large number of players from the 1962 original Mets were at a show in a New York hotel.

After seeing the behavior of some of the professional autograph hounds at the ballgames, I liked bringing the book with me to spring training, when it seemed less imposing to approach players.

I actually met one of the former players in the stands in St. Lucie.

I noticed a gentleman standing behind the dugout during batting practice. I noticed that several coaches and team execs would come to the dugout, shake hands and chat with the guy.

I suspected he might be someone important, and slinked over with my Mets history book. I slipped a peek at the credential hanging around his neck, and saw this name.

"Are you Jay Hook, as in first-Mets-win Jay Hook?" I asked.

His face lit up, seemingly pleased that someone recognized him. He said he’d be happy to sign my book. We found a spot to sign, and I recalled that show with the 1962 team and wondered if he was there.

Hook said he didn’t recall such a show, and together we turned to the page and he went down the list, reading the names and talking about his former teammates.

When he realized for sure that his name wasn’t on that page, he said, "Well, we’d better take care of that!" and signed that one, too.
The 1962 page with both Bob Millers, "Marvelous Marv" and
other heroes from that inaugural year.
I’d guess there are more than 200 signatures in it now, from Hall of Famers like Gary Carter, Warren Spahn, Duke Snider and Richie Ashburn. It’s got owners Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon – met at a spring game in Vero Beach – and general managers, managers, coaches and broadcasters.

But some of my favorite signatures are the players whose time in the Mets universe was brief, Brent Mayne, Eric Cammack, Jorge Sosa and Scott Hairston. They’re all a part of our Mets history and in the book.

The rest of your reading list:

March 5: "Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century" by Marc Okkenon
March 4: "Clemente! The Enduring Legacy" by Kal Wagenheim 
March 3: "Mets by the Numbers" by Jon Springer and Matthew Silverman
March 2: "Faith and Fear in Flushing" by Greg W. Prince

Friday, March 27, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 10: 'Presto,' 'Power Windows' and taking time to play all the songs

Will and I are continuing our countdown to what will be an epic Rush concert in June by ranking Rush albums from the least-glorious release to "Moving Pictures." Our selection of "2112" as pick number 11 was not well-received, Let's see what happens with No. 10.

No. 10: “Presto”
Released in 1989

Highlights: “Presto,” “The Pass,” “Superconductor”

Least-glorious moment: The last four seconds of “Chain Lightening.”

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:

“The evening plane rises up from the runway
Over constellations of light
I look down into a million houses
And wonder what you're doing tonight "
-- "Presto"

It’s so easy to skip through songs these days.

I think that ability might affect the way we listen to, and relate to, albums.

It used to be that I would think of music in terms of album “sides” instead of individual songs.

At first, skipping a song I didn’t care for required getting up, carefully picking up the needle on the spinning record, looking for the groove for the next song and carefully placing it down to avoid scratching the disc forever.

With the advent of cassettes, it meant clicking the “fast forward” button, guessing when it might have skipped through enough tape to get to the next song, then rewinding or fast forwarding again until I hit the beginning of the song I wanted.

Here's an amazing live version of "Presto."

But CDs require just a tap of a button on the stereo -- especially in the car, where I can flip through songs with my thumb on the steering wheel console. IPods demand even less effort after I’ve adjusted the playlist to stack the songs I like best up front.

In retrospect, the extra effort resulted in listening to songs that might not have appealed at first. You get to know them a little better through the repeated plays. Some songs required a little extra time to grow on you and allow their magic to shine through.

That might be one reason many of the 1980s era Rush albums are bunched in the top half of our countdown. And maybe I would have enjoyed later releases like “Vapor Trails” had I been forced listen to all the songs before skipping to “Earthshine.”

I think “Presto” was the last Rush album that I listened to primarily on cassette, and it’s not a surprise that I know all the songs well and like them a bunch – especially since my favorite song is all the way at the end of Side One.

Some of my new friends in The Rush Forum were aghast not only that we ranked “2112” at No. 11, but that we also both ranked it below “Presto.”

It’s a quirky transitional album, to be sure. There’s more of Alex’s guitar and less synths. It might not have many great songs, but it has a lot of really, really good songs.

There are some deep themes – “The Pass” deals with tragedy of teen suicide – but overall it’s a lighter feel than “Grace Under Pressure.”
"Presto" on cassette!
There is some interesting experimentation, too. “Scars” sounds like the boys were listening to some Frankie Goes to Hollywood. “Superconductor” is a rocker with a soaring synth chorus and I don’t understand why it’s not a concert staple today.

Even more surprising is that the title cut, which I think of as the centerpiece for the entire album, wasn’t played live until the 2010 “Time Machine” tour. It’s an amazing song; probably in my Rush top five. I was overjoyed to finally have a live version.

It’s a little different lyrical structure for Neil. He’s not telling a story or making a point, but instead offering a series of little, first-person vignettes that don’t seem to be connected. You see them all above because I couldn’t pick a section I liked best. Alex alternates acoustic and electric guitar parts, and Neil cracks the snare with loud snaps seemingly at random in some parts.

It all comes together in a special way, kind of like the album as a whole – as long as you take the time to listen to it and not skip ahead.

And Will joins the discussion:

Well, if they find it shocking that we have it above 2112, they'll really be shocked when they see my how the rest of my list shakes out. Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, I don't have it at No. 10.

No. 10: Power Windows
Released in 1985

Power Windows came out just as my departure from Rush began. It was the first album I didn't buy after Moving Pictures. I was already off Rush a bit from Grace Under Pressure, and when The Big Money hit MTV, and it sounded just like Distant Early Warning (or at least enough in my mind at the time), I said buenas noches, mein froinds!

Here's a killer live version of "Grand Designs" from "Power Windows."

In 1989, I was living in the suburbs of Chicago and slowly coming back to life after a brutal breakup the summer before. I had next to no money, so what little I had to spend on music had better be to my liking.

I couldn't afford to throw away $7 on a cassette tape, let alone $17 for a CD. (Records were gone from the suburban record stores.)

I was in Musicland one day when I saw that Rush--yes, they still were around after all--had released a live album: A Show of Hands. I perused the song list carefully and saw a few things I recognized: Witch Hunt, Closer to the Heart and Subdivisions. I also saw a lot I didn't, so I put the tape back down ... that day.

Not long after that, I really was in need of new music. All my favorite bands were dead, and what was going on with the rise of folky alternative rock, like 10,000 Maniacs and Fine Young Cannibals and Edie Brickell &New Bohemians, did nothing for me. I needed ... something!

So I went back to Musicland and bought A Show of Hands. What the heck: I'd gone to the live album well with Rush and it paid off each time. What could be the worst that happened? I'd have a live version of Subdivisions, one of my most favorite songs. It could be worse.

I don't remember the day, but I remember the song: Marathon. The song, of course, comes right after Subdivisions, so it was easy to just let the tape run through and ... hey, this is a pretty good song. I started listening to the Subdivisions-Marathon pairing a lot. From there, I decided to go deeper into the tape. Then I found Mystic Rhythms.

Woah! This was a Rush I'd never heard before: mysterious, atmospheric with a world beat underneath. I loved it. Mystic Rhythms became the song of the summer of 1989 for me.

Completing the trio, appropriately, was Manhattan Project. Rush was three-for-three on songs I'd never heard before from Power Windows, and when Presto, Dave's selection here, came out, I bought it almost instantly.

The next summer, my brother asked if I wanted to see Rush--more accurately, he asked if I wanted to see Rush from the 10th row at Cooper Stadium. This was a huge deal. At the time, Columbus, where I grew up, just wasn't getting anybody. In 1988, Pink Floyd went to Columbus and played Ohio Stadium, which was as big as anything I'd ever recalled happening to my hometown. (Naturally, it caused much consternation for folks who were outraged that some heathen rock band was going to trod the same hallowed ground where Saint Woody used to don shirtsleeves in the snow in November while beating That Team Up North. I kid you not.)

Rush at Cooper Stadium? 10th row? Hell yeah I'll go! The Boys started with Force Ten while the June sun was still high in the sky, so you couldn't see any lights or videos. It didn't matter. I was 50 feet from Alex Lifeson, and I was going nuts. Four songs in, they played Subdivisions followed by ... Marathon! It was the same pairing that I was loving a year before, the same pairing that drew me back in to Rush. My love of Rush was reaffirmed and, from then on, unwavering.

So, why isn't Power Windows higher? I never went back and listened to the rest of the album for one thing. (I happen to like the other albums better for another.) It was only on the last tour that I heard Grand Designs and Territories for the first time. But Power Windows birthed the songs that rekindled my love for Rush in a summer when I was struggling to find myself, so it always will hold a special place in my heart.

Our countdown so far:
No. 15: Fly by Night (Dave) and Counterparts (Will)

No. 16: Vapor Trails (Both of us)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 11: Truth or blasphemy? Half of classic '2112' just hasn't aged well

This will be a startling development for may Rush fans.
No. 11: "2112"
Released in 1976
Highlights: “2112”
Least-glorious moment: “Twilight Zone”
Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment
“We’ve taken care of everything
The words you read
The songs you sing
The pictures that give pleasure to your eye
One for all and all for one
Work together
Common sons
Never need to wonder
How or why”
-- Temples of Syrinx

I don’t think “2112” – the album, not the song -- has aged well.

There, I said it.  Here’s where I start getting in big, big trouble.

A big question when you compile a historical countdown is whether you rank the albums on how much you love them now, or fully place them in the context of their times.

My process when starting this was to rank the albums, then go back and play them again. Some albums I fell in love with all over again, others I just remembered fondly, bringing back memories, like flipping through a photo album.

That required me to keep adjusting the rankings, with some albums moving up, forcing others down. “2112” started higher than No. 11.

“2112” is the album that saved Rush. Legend has it that the label wasn’t happy with the disappointing sales of “Caress of Steel” and wanted the boys to return to shorter, more accessible songs.

Here's a clip of a classic performance "Overture" and "Temples of Syrinx."

The band instead doubled down with the prog rock elements, with a seven-part, side-long epic about an Ayn Rand-inspired dystopian society.  The first two parts, especially, are Rush classics that have been played on most tours since.

It was the band’s commercial breakthrough, and without “2112” there would be no “Moving Pictures,” “Permanent Waves” or any of the other great works to follow.

The first side still sounds wonderful, and as long as Geddy, Alex and Neil are on a stage, there will be demands for “Overture” and “Temples of Syrinx” before they are allowed off. The band played all seven sections for the first time on the “Test for Echo” tour, and I – and everyone else at The Palace of Auburn Hills on that magical night – went nuts.  The first live version is the highlight of “All the World’s A Stage.”

The second side, not so much. “A Passage to Bangkok” still appears in shows once in a while, and it’s the band’s only overt stoner song.  “Twilight Zone” sounded like filler then and now. “Lessons” and “Tears” are OK, though “Something for Nothing” still packs a punch.

Playing these songs in the car this week, I realized I had not played this side in years – lots of years. It was fun playing them again, instantly transported back to my teens, buying vinyl at The Wax Museum record store in downtown Massapequa Park and blasting Rush out of my bedroom speakers. But it might be a while before I play them again.

It now is dawning on some Rush diehards that I’ve ranked some of the late ‘80s and ‘90s albums, which are not always beloved, ahead of the certainly loved “2112.” But hey, we’re in the middle of the countdown, and there are no bad Rush albums. The higher we go, the tougher the choices get.
And Will says:
Dave, you ignorant slug. How could you possibly, POSSIBLY place this hallowed album so low on your list?

Sigh ...

Which leads me to MY next selection, ahem:

No. 11: 2112

Released in 1976

Yes, dear Reader--or even Readers--Dave and I have Rush's most important album, for reasons Dave mentioned, in exactly the same spot and for almost entirely the same reasons. For what it's worth, I also started my list with 2112 higher before moving it down upon closer consideration.

I yield to almost no one in my admiration of the song, "2112." It isn't my favorite song of all time or even my favorite Rush song of all time. It was in my top 100, No. 96 to be exact, and that's saying enough as is. On a very short list of absolutely breath-taking concert moments is the instant in November 1996 at Your Name Here Arena in Cleveland when I realized that not only was Rush not stopping after playing Temples but that ... OH MY GOD, they're going to play the WHOLE SONG ... as Alex lerxst into Discovery. When it was over, with the final feedback drenched notes fading off above the cacophonous crowd, in jubilation I turned to my now-ex as the boys headed off for a break and said, "Aw, let's just leave now." We were only halfway through the concert, but no way anything else was going to top hearing "2112" all the way through. It didn't, and, of course, we didn't leave.

So why isn't this album higher? It's for the same reasons as Dave cited, but I'll do so more succinctly: “2112” is only half an album. If we were doing album sides, “2112” Side 1 might be No. 2 on my list behind only “Moving Pictures” Side 1. I never owned 2112 when I had a record player, but if I had, I'm certain I would have worn a groove in Side 1 while Side 2 remained almost as pristine as the day I would've pulled it from the sleeve that featured a picture of grown men wearing kimonos. (Google the Dave Grohl HOF induction speech for the quintessential description.)

Here's the Dave Grohl induction speech Will mentions. It's a classic!

Don't get me wrong: It's Rush, and “A Passage to Bangkok” is good, but, well, you have to have more than one epic album side and one good song to make it into my top 10. Obviously, Dave and I are of one mind on this, and I offer no apologies.

Our countdown so far:

No. 15: Fly by Night (Dave) and Counterparts (Will)

No. 16: Vapor Trails (Both of us)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

March is Mostly Mets Reading Month: 'Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72' and real-life adventures with Hunter S. Thompson

I must have the early 1970s on the brain. After yesterday's look at the baseball world of 1973, we can step back a year and the wild world of Hunter S. Thompson.

“Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72” by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Published in 1973

This was actually required reading for one of my college journalism classes. 

Hunter S. Thompson is the legendary Rolling Stone writer famous for “gonzo” journalism that blurred the lines between fact and exaggerated truth.  And I say blurred, because it appears much of what transpires in a Thompson story occurs through a haze of booze and drugs, all thoroughly documented by the author.

That’s because the main character in a Hunter S. Thompson story is usually Thompson, with the stories being a first-person account of his adventures on the campaign trail.

When Thompson is “on,” he’s incredibly insightful and biting, and no one escapes his pointed wit, especially his colleagues in the media. And when he’s not, he’s still very entertaining. There are parts of this book that are hysterical, difficult to read because of the laughing it provokes. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Thompson takes his role too seriously, or not seriously at all.

“Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72” is a collection of Rolling Stone stories from the presidential election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, who Thompson describes as a good man who was over matched when the party establishment took over his campaign.

Among the things we learned is that Thompson had a running feud with straight-laced NBC News anchor John Chancellor.

There’s a scene from the GOP convention in Miami where Thompson is trying to infiltrate a group of young Nixon supporters as they are about to be ushered on to the convention floor for a celebration. All was going well until he spotted Chancellor in the broadcast booth above. Here’s an excerpt:

“They herded us out of the Ready Room and called a ragged kind of cadence while we double-timed it across the wet grass under the guava trees in the back of the hall and finally burst through a well-guarded access door held open for us by Secret Service men just as balloons were released from the ceiling. It was wonderful; I waved happily to the SS man as I raced past him with the herd and then onto the floor. The hall was so full of balloons that I couldn’t see anything at first, but then I spotted Chancellor up there in the booth and I let the bastard have it. First I held up my “GARBAGE MEN DEMANDS EQUAL TIME” sign at him. Then, when I was sure he’d noticed the sign, I tucked it under my arm and ripped off my hat, clutching it in the same fist I was shaking angrily at the NBC booth and screaming at the top of my lungs: ‘You evil scumsucker! You’re through! You limp-wristed Nazi moron!’

“I went deep into the foulest back-waters of my vocabulary for that trip, working myself into a flat-out screeching hate-frenzy for five or six minutes and drawing similes of approval from some of my fellow demonstrators. They were dutifully chanting the slogans that had been assigned to them in the Ready Room – but I was really into it, and I could see that my zeal impressed them.”

A true story? Who knows. But it’s a fun read, especially if you've ever covered one of these things.

Rich and I had the opportunity to see a Thompson appearance in New Haven, Conn. in the late 1980s. It was a surreal evening.

Thompson sat at a table on stage, wearing aviator sunglasses and a cheap, tan Yankees cap that had a visor decorated with ballpoint pen. A bottle of some kind of booze was there, too, and he kept refilling his glass. 

A local radio host sat at another table and served as the moderator, asking a number of political questions, and Thompson, sometimes mumbling, would reply. It was difficult to hear what he was saying, but it was clear he still didn’t like President Nixon.

At some point the moderator called for questions from the audience. After several political questions, an attractive – and I’m guessing rather drunk – girl asked Thompson if he could sign her shoe.

Thompson disappeared behind the curtain – much to the apparent shock of the moderator – and appeared a short while later with another chair and invited the girl to come sit with him at the table.

Questions resumed, with Thompson answering some questions and the girl answering others, especially after the questions were about her and Thompson’s intentions toward her. Any doubts about her sobriety were soon dashed.

This went on for a while before Thompson again got up and disappeared behind the curtain, apparently much to the surprise of the moderator, who, at this point, was barely controlling things. Thompson emerged a short time later with a large trash can, set it on one side of the stage, and proceeded to try to fling like a Frisbee his empty box of Canadian cigarettes. (Unlike American packs, smokes from up north are sold in boxes that are flatter and wider with stronger cardboard.) Thompson was pretty good at this, then started challenging audience members to come up on stage and do the same.

This, too, went on for a while before Thompson again abruptly disappeared behind the curtain, this time not returning.

“Well everyone, I guess that’s ‘Good night,” the bemused moderator said.

Looking back, I’m glad I went to see Thompson, because he’s a legend and the night was an unpredictable sideshow that always seemed about to careen out of control. But I probably wouldn’t have ever plunked down $11 to see him again. Perhaps what had once been a brilliant and sharp mind had become dulled. It was a night both fascinating and frightening.

The book, however, remains a good and very funny read.

Thompson certainly in't a role model as a journalist, though I absolutely know one who thinks he is the heir apparent. But he does show a different way of looking at things, especially the people we cover and how they cover them. 

Your reading list so far:

March 5: "Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century" by Marc Okkenon
March 4: "Clemente! The Enduring Legacy" by Kal Wagenheim 
March 3: "Mets by the Numbers" by Jon Springer and Matthew Silverman
March 2: "Faith and Fear in Flushing" by Greg W. Prince

Saturday, March 21, 2015

March is Mostly Mets Reading Month: 'Swinging '73,' a story of obsession and heartbreak

You knew there would be more Mets books this month. Today, we're headed back to 1973, where it all began.

“Swinging ’73, Baseball’s Wildest Season” by Matthew Silverman
Published in 2013

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a Mets fan. But I do remember when the Mets became an obsession. As a 9-year-old in 1973, I was hooked from spring training on.

I’m sure this was a result of a number of things. I had friends in school who were sports fans and when we weren’t talking baseball, we were playing it at Hawthorn Elementary, Brady Park or, most often, in the neighborhood streets. (To this day, I don't know how we didn't do more damage to houses, cars and ourselves. But I also can attribute my ability today to hit a softball up the middle of the field to the narrowness of Fitzmaurice and Van Buren streets.)

I also started reading the newspapers, studying the Daily News and Newsday from back to front each day and cutting out every photo of a Met, taping them in spiral notebooks. Sportswriters also were heroes, and the dream of one day working as a reporter was no doubt hatched at this time.

And, perhaps most importantly, I had a black-and-white television in my bedroom that became the conduit for Bob, Ralph and Lindsey and the adventures of the Mets every night on WOR. For those West Coast trips, I’d keep a small transistor radio on my pillow, drifting off to sleep as the Mets toiled against the Giants, Dodgers and Padres.  

The Mets were a colorful cast of characters then and I knew them all, flipping through my yearbooks, scrapbooks and baseball cards as the games progressed. Hammer, Tug, Buddy, Kooz, Willie, Rusty, Yogi, Duffy, Cleon, Krane, Felix – they were all flawless, larger-than-life figures. I can still probably recite the entire 25-man roster with little trouble. And, of course, at the center of it all was Tom Seaver, the knight whose armor shined the brightest.

Matt Silverman brilliantly takes us through the season, focusing on the Mets with an eye on developments in the Bronx, of which I at the time had only passing interest, and across the country in Oakland, where the A’s were a styling, brawling team that, had they not appeared in my packs of Topps cards, I would not have known existed. The American League was none of my concern.

Matt also walks through the America that existed outside of baseball -- the dramas of Watergate and Nixon and Spiro Agnew -- and how they all came together in the summer and fall of 1973.

The Mets of 1873 still had most of the strongest pillars of the 1969 championship team but were beset by a series of injuries. I vividly remember watching the epic outfield collision of George Theodore and Don Hahn.
Me in 1973: Say what you want about the pants, but that
belt buckle is awesome!

But somehow the team fought itself back into contention in the National League East, winning the division in the final series of the season against the Cubs. 

Of course it did. Every story a 9-year-old reads has a happy ending. Batman always escapes the Joker’s traps. The good guys always win.

I remember we interrupted a Cub Scout meeting to send someone in to check the score of Game 3 of the playoffs, with the entire den everyone spilling our living room to watch the brawl between Pete Rose and Buddy Harrelson and then Tom, Willie, Yogi and Rusty walking out to left field to ask the fans to stop pelting Rose with debris.

The World Series was a tough life lesson. We all learned about the A’s, with their funny jerseys and mustaches and ballpark that made it hard for Willie to see fly balls. And, the stupid umpire who called Buddy out at home when he was clearly safe – and I knew he was safe because Willie Mays said so. We learned about the A's players fighting with the owner and the player the owner tried to pretend was hurt and the ovation the player got at Shea because we support underdogs and have no tolerance for injustice.

And I remember the entire family gathered around the living room television for Game 7, and my grandmother saying late in the game that someone needed to go to Friendly’s to bring back some ice cream because the Mets, after falling behind, were not going to catch up. Grandma grew up in Brooklyn and had been an avid Dodgers fan. She knew a thing or two about World Series heartbreak.

And I remember being utterly shocked and dismayed – my little world shattered – when, somehow, the bad guys won. It’s not supposed to happen that way.

Of course, as a 9-year-old, I had no way of knowing  that this crushing disappointment would actually be the high point for the Mets until the middle of the next decade, with losing seasons and gut-wrenching trades that only continued to shock and dismay and shatter. The bad guys had quite a winning streak there for a while.

Silverman’s a talented and entertaining writer -- we could fill the entire month with his Mets books -- and this would be an enjoyable read for any baseball fan. But for me, it was a magical trip to a special time and a special place, with each page stirring up another memory.

Your reading list so far:

March 5: "Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century" by Marc Okkenon
March 4: "Clemente! The Enduring Legacy" by Kal Wagenheim 
March 3: "Mets by the Numbers" by Jon Springer and Matthew Silverman
March 2: "Faith and Fear in Flushing" by Greg W. Prince