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

2 comments: said...

Just posting for posterity what I tweeted, facebooked, and will surely mention soon on Only prouder person right now is Georgia State coach Ron Hunter... Dave Murray doesn't just have a great series in March for National Reading Month, he also honored me as the only author on the list twice (as yet). Take that, Mary Lou Retton! Thanks, Mets Guy in Michigan and 1973.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

You're too kind, Matt! Love your work!