Tuesday, April 02, 2002

The Zisk Book Review by Steve Reynolds

Amazin’: The Miraculous History of New York’s Most Beloved Baseball Team
by Peter Golenbock

Baseball books have always been a tricky proposition, for both author and reader. If an author gets too bogged down in the details, you’ll be putting people to sleep like Bill James; too little detail and insight and too much windbag-like opinion, and you might be Mike Lupica. For the reader…well, let’s just say this: carrying a six-hundred and fifty-four page book on the New York City subway system can be backbreaking and can attract a fair share of people you’d prefer to never talk to, especially when they get a glimpse of the cover.

Sample conversation:
Smelly guy with thick glasses and greasy hair:
Hey, uhhh, is that a Mets book?

Me: Yes. (cough, cough)

Smelly guy: Wow. Are you a fan?

Me: Yes. (turning blue due to holding breath)

Smelly guy: So does it have anything about the ’86 World Series in it?

Me: Yes. (slowly blacking out)

Smelly guy: You know, I never liked Ray Knight. Hojo was a much better guy. You know I once sold coke to Darryl and Doc in the same night—is that in there?

Me: (8 stops from home) Excuse me, this is my stop.

In any case, Amazin’ is well worth the heavy load you’ll carry in your bookbag. Author Peter Golenbock has a solid baseball book background, even if he wrote books with some of my most hated Yankees like Graig Nettles (Balls), Sparky Lyle (The Bronx Zoo) and the biggest prick of them all, the late Billy Martin (Number 1). Golenbock has done an astonishing amount of research on the New York Metropolitians, the first edition of which started play back in 1883(!). The first few chapters give a great overview of National League ball in the New York area from 1900 until 1957. Golenbock lays out the ups and downs and the battles between the Giants and Dodgers by utilizing tons and tons of interviews with players and the reporters that covered the two teams. Especially invaluable are the quotes from longtime Newsday sports writer Jack Lang, who spells out all the behind-the-scenes dealing that broke one borough’s heart.

Lang’s tales help set up what, for me, is the unknown and most interesting history of the Mets—how they came to existence, and how the power of Bill Shea helped make it happen. Golenbock deftly puts all the pieces together (the help of old-time Dodger executive Branch Rickey, the competing league Shea and Rickey formed just to bring N.L. baseball back to the city and Major League Baseball desperately guarding its antitrust exemption) and creates a fascinating look at not only the birth of this team, but of the times and people that made it happen.

Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the book is a treat too. It’s a scream reading how players on the ’88 division winning team blamed Greg Jeffries for them not going to World Series just because he was management’s golden boy. Amazin’ is nothing if not a great chronicling of some of baseball’s biggest egos, in their own words. In-depth interviews with everyone from Ron Swoboda to Gary Carter to Al Leiter paint a humorous picture of life inside the clubhouse. My only complaint is that Golenbock (or perhaps his editor) didn’t make these interviews easier to read. The butchering of grammar and the English language by some of the old-time players made me want to get out my editing pen (if I owned one).

Amazin’ is a must read for any true Mets fan. Just avoiding reading it on the subway.

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