Saturday, April 12, 2008

“Mets by the Numbers”

My longtime friends will be astonished when they read this, but this past Sunday, this lifelong Yankee fan journeyed down to a cavernous Irish sports bar called Stout, on West 33rd Street, for a party that combined watching a Mets game with a book signing.

The longtime animosity between Yankee and Mets fans brings out a certain Rodney King feeling in me. You know: “Can’t we all just get along?” And nowhere did this come to the fore more than in the faceoff between the Mets and their longtime loathed rivals, the Atlanta Braves.

It’s a part of Yankee lore how the sound of the Braves celebrating in the Yankee visitors’ locker rooms after going ahead 2-0 in the 1996 World Series annoyed the Bronx Bombers so much that they proceeded to give the Braves the drubbing of their lives. Yet the Braves remain unaccountably cocky, though why they should remain so is beyond me. Yes, yes, I know about the unprecedented 14 postseason appearances, but for all that they only won the whole shebang once during that run, and last year they finished out of the money completely.

In the pitchers’ duel on Sunday, I was rooting for the Mets’ new ace, Johan Santana, against the Braves’ wizened John Smoltz. Santana certainly showed his stuff, consistently stifling the Brave bets and displaying fine athleticism in spearing some sharp drives up the middle. Unfortunately, his team’s support was weak, and the Mets had nothing to show for it but a 3-1 loss.

The silence of the Mets bats allowed me to concentrate on why I’d come down to Stout in the first place—the book signing. Which brings me to the reason for this post:

For all my regular readers—yes, both of you!—I want you to dig deep into your wallets, then run to your local Barnes & Noble or Borders Bookstore, or, indeed, wherever fine books are sold (yes, Amazon.com counts), and purchase
Mets by the Numbers: A Complete Team History of the Amazin’ Mets by Uniform Number, by Jon Springer and Matt Silverman.

The book, a spinoff of “
The Mets Website that counts,” tells the history of the crew from Flushing in a unique way: those who wore particular uniform numbers. Those uniforms can’t talk, but they’ve found their Homer and Virgil in Messrs. Springer and Silverman.

I had the honor of meeting Matt, a very genial fellow, for the first time on Sunday. As for Jon, he and and his wife Heidi were work colleagues of mine more than a decade ago and have remained friends ever since. Well aware of my real rooting interests, Jon still invited me to this soiree, making him, most definitely, a good sport.

In his 9-to-5 existence, Jon toils as a reporter for a trade magazine. Yet I have long known—and this book proves it with every line—that inside him beats the heart of a sportswriter. As a daily blogger, I know a fellow-obsessive when I see one, and this book represents a labor of love for him and Matt. I tip my hat to them.

The book is structured around each succeeding number and all the individuals associated with it, with one person chronicled at greatest length in the chapter and the others summed up more quickly, depending on their contributions. (Given their encyclopedic knowledge, Jon and Matt could undoubtedly have written far more than they have on the ancillary players, but if they did you’d need a whole CD and have to spend more of your hard-earned cash than you could afford.) And oh, the tales Jon and Matt tell of players’ graciousness, superstitiousness, arrogance, individual heroism, and all-too-frequent collective futility!

I had not realized, for instance, that #6 is the most-often-issued number in team history (thirty-three different times, if you can believe it); that the one nonnegotiable item catching great Gary Carter had to have before approving the deal that brought him to Flushing was #8 (it represented both his birthday and wedding day); and that No. 37, belonging to first manager Casey Stengel, is “the only number to be issued once and only once in team history.”

This book is way too much fun to be a reference book, so there are not only tons of details like the above, but also plenty of succinct yet often cheeky player summaries of the glorious (the classy Mookie Wilson displayed “aggression at the plate, speed and daring on the base paths, range in center field, and an enthusiasm worthy of his number”) to the inglorious (Vince Coleman is “remembered best for throwing an M-100 firecracker from a car outside Dodger Stadium in 1993, injuring three bystanders, including a two-year-old girl”).

Jon introduced me to a fellow blogger, Greg Prince, whose unique creation bears the intriguing title of “
Faith and Fear in Flushing.” From what I have perused of it so far, it’s every bit as good as Jon said. I’m not only bookmarking it, but heartily recommending that you do the same.

Now, you could go out to any bookstore (or log onto the aforementioned Amazon) and purchase your copy of Jon and Matt’s fun book. But why not get a signed copy for yourself and/or a loved one who happens to be a Mets fan?
Jon and Matt will be appearing at Bookends in Ridgewood, N.J., on Wednesday, April 16, from 6 to 8 pm. (The book signing will take place simultaneously with those of Mets great Gary Carter and the original “Mr. Met,” Dan Reilly.) Directions are here. Be there (or, if you can’t, get out to Brooklyn for their appearance at a Word Books Authors Event).

1 comment:

mtsmith said...

Good read, Mike. I forwarded it to a friend of mine who is a Met's fan