Saturday, March 07, 2015

March is Mostly Mets Reading Month: Sometimes, you can tell a book by the condition of its cover

Bouncing back to the Mets for today's selection for March is Mostly Mets Reading Month, with a treasured volume.

March 7: “The New York Mets, Revised Edition” by Leonard Koppett

Published in 1974

Sometimes, you can tell a book by the condition of its cover.

My copy of “The New York Mets” is battered, with the cover taped together in two places. 

It shows the signs of being pulled repeatedly from a place of honor on a boy’s shelf, a process repeated often after being packed up and moved to Missouri dorms, two Connecticut apartments, two Michigan apartments and two Michigan homes.

The condition would be described accurately as “well-loved.”

There were many books about various Mets seasons or players while I was growing up, but I don’t know of another that chronicled the team from its humbling but colorful beginnings to the world championship of 1969.

This version is actually a revised edition, updated in 1974 after the World Series loss to Oakland.

I loved this book.

It’s been established that I can’t sit still and watch television. I usually had a book of some kind in my hands. Today, it’s the laptop or iPad.

But I’d faithfully watch Mets games on Channel 9, flipping through my young collection of yearbooks and programs – and this book -- absorbing the facts and studying the photos.

If you showed me only the photo, I’m confident I could effortlessly recite the caption. It helps that they are short: “McGraw arrives, McGraw delivers."

Koppett, who died in2003, wrote for the New York Times and is a member of Baseball's Hall of Fame's Writers Wing. He was an old-school sportswriter.

That means we get gems like this, after describing how Davey Johnson’s deep fly to left lands in Cleon Jones’ glove:

“And so, at 3:14 p.m., Easten Daylight Time, October 16, 1969 A.D., at 40 degrees 45 minutes North Latitude, 73 degrees 50 minutes West Longitude, on the third planet of the solar system in the spiral arm of one of the uncounted billions of galaxies, the New York Mets became baseball champions of the whole expanding universe.

“At least, as far as we can tell.”

He also described the impact of the championship earned by the upstart Mets.

“When you come right down to it, myths aren’t told, they’re felt. In the intricate mythology that America had created around baseball, fashioning it so lovingly that for more than a century, the Mets had produced a submyth of transcendent power. A cascade of interpretation inundated their victory; they represented the power of faith, love, the common man, the underdog uplifted, democracy in action; they had unified the soul of a city rent by dissention, had justified America, glorified sport, ennobled youth, deified the team spirit, enriched the quality of life; redeemed mankind – whatever the particular editorialist decided to extol was attributed freely to the Mets. Perhaps the one great contribution a mass-amusement athletic team can make to a culture is to turn itself into such a lightning rod for the ambient idealism adrift in the system.”

Koppett also wrote a book called “The Thinking Man’s Guide to Baseball,” which won’t surprise you after reading that paragraph.

The only mystery about the book is the cover. Aside from the very basic title, the typography is very much a reflection of its early ‘70s time period. But the colors – the Mets are famously blue and orange. The designers here chose bright yellow, red and green.

Not that it mattered to me as a kid. This was a favored Christmas gift at the time, and remains on a prominent spot on the main family bookshelf today.

Here is 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

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