Monday, July 05, 2010

The Mystery of the Mets and Massapequa

You have to realize that I read almost no fiction.

The Harry Potter books are the rare exception, but I guess I’d rather learn about something real. This is a character flaw and I know it, like drinking too much Diet Coke.

So there can be no reason to expect that I would have purchased the old copy of Rex Stout’s “Please Pass the Guilt,” a Nero Wolfe book my wife asked me to read this weekend.

“You might like it,” she said. “It’s got the Mets in it.”

Sure enough, the lure printed in the dust jacket reads: “A new Nero Wolfe mystery at last – after a gap of four years – and it will be a delight to all Stout fans. The story is set in the summer of 1969, during that memorable period when the Mets were battling for the pennant and bomb scares abounded in Fun City.”

Curious, I started reading. A character introduces himself as “Ron Seaver,” which Wolfe sidekick Archie Goodwin immediately realizes is a combination of Ron Swoboda and Tom Seaver.

Later, there is a scene in which Goodwin visits a character and their attention is diverted because a game is on the television, with the Mets losing to the Pirates 4-2.

There is mention of Ralph Kiner talking, Ed Kranepool batting, and a blooper hit to left-center chased by Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee – spelled incorrectly as “Tommy,” showing some proofreader was a slacker, or worse, a Yankees fan.

They talk about Jerry Koosman having a good inning, Jerry Grote hitting a double, Bud Harrelson beating out a bunt, and Ed Charles making an inning-ending out.

Later, we know that Bob Murphy had replaced Kiner in the booth, and Goodwin tells his host, “Thank you for letting me see Cleon Jones make that catch.”

I scanned Retrosheet to see if Stout used a real game for the scene. Alas, it came from his creative mind. There was one Koosman game on April 16 against the Pirates in which the Mets trailed 4-1 at one point, but never 4-2 and Grote had the day off, resting in favor of J.C. Martin, who did at least double. Charles didn’t play, but Agee, Jones, Harrelson and Kranepool all appeared.

Save for some other scattered references about trying to get out to Shea to watch batting practice, that’s it for the Mets references.

Nero Wolfe solves his mystery, of course, but he doesn’t solve mine.

The book used to belong to a library, and on the inside of the cover is that little pocket for the card on which the librarian would stamp the due date. This one has another stamp – “Withdrawn and discarded” – and printed is the name of the library:

Massapequa Public Library

Massapequa, New York

Pyramid 8-4607

The Massapequa Public Library was like a second home when I was growing up. I’d bike over to the branch at 55 Central Ave. several times a week to read the Sporting News and news and music magazines.

But it’s my wife’s book. She reads only fiction – non-fiction is too much like being at work – and she’s from Illinois.

Rex Stout is one of her favorite authors, and she’s collected his books since she was a teen-ager. She’s had this particular book since high school, and believes that either she or her father found it in a used book store somewhere in Illinois. Her other Stout books from that era came from libraries in Illinois and Baltimore.

What are the chances that a girl from Illinois will come across a book that gives the Mets a fair amount of attention and once sat on the shelves in a Massapequa library? And then tell me the chances that this girl will someday meet in Missouri -- and later marry -- a devoted Mets fan who happens to be from Massapequa?

Surely a master storyteller like Stout would cast aside such a plot twist.

But truth, it has been said, is stranger than fiction.

1 comment:

Edgy DC said...

Brilliant. Mets in fiction. One of my passions.