Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Zisk Book Corner by Steve Reynolds

Let me get this confession out of the way immediately— I’m a sucker for lists. I’ve done a couple of articles based on lists in these pages over the years, as well as doing my own Top 20 list-based music fanzine for 18 years. I used to transcribe what Casey Kasem counted down each week on American Top 40 and only stopped once I learned he didn’t want to do a dead dog dedication.

In any case, my fondness of lists doesn’t make me the best person to review two new books about the Mets—100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die by Matthew Silverman and Mets by the Numbers by Jon Springer and the same Matthew Silverman. Yet I think that even folks who write off lists as nothing but a cheap way to fill space would dig these fascinating books.

100 Things lines up the well known moments, people, places, events, games and records that hard core Mets fans probably have ingrained in their brains and adds a healthy dose of the obscure. Everybody knows the Bill Bucker ball (which is first on the list) and the Miracle Mets, but who knew that there was another Murphy besides Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob at the team’s inception? (Um, not me.) And #70 on the list (dubbed “Lost in Translation”) is a must read as it lists the 44 players who have played for the Mets and have also — like the fake moustache-wearing Bobby Valentine — spent time hitting or pitching in Japan.

Silverman excels at bringing these same quirky items from the team’s history to light in a very easy to read, conversational style of writing that sounds like one smart fan who happens to sit next to you at a ballgame, and not like some drunk wiseass who claims he knows why Aaron Heilman pitches like hell every other game. (Oh, wait, that’s every person at Shea this season.)

Speaking of Shea, Silverman spends his final 10 points talking about the ballpark the Amazin’s have inhabited for the past 44 years—and somehow makes it sound a whole lot better than my ass and my back have been experiencing since 1985. The stadium has seen its share of criticism over the years but Silverman puts a nice face on the dump, um, I mean ballpark with an insightful guide to the best seats, the best tailgating and the other greats who have called Shea home. (The Beatles anyone?) 100 Things isn’t essential for the over-the-top Mets fan, but it’s a perfect introduction for someone just learning the joy and agony that being a Mets fan entails.

Silverman teamed up with Jon Springer, the head honcho of the great Mets site called Mets By the Numbers, for the book that carries the same name. While Silverman’s other book of this year can be enjoyed by the casual Mets fan, Mets by the Numbers is a must read for anyone who’s lost sleep over a Willie Randolph move, a Doug Sisk pitch or an appearance by the immortal # 51, Mel Rojas. This book breaks down the team’s history by uniform number and brings up name after name that I thought years of abusing my body had made me forget. Kane Davis? (#48) Esix Sneed? (#23) Roberto Petagine? (#20) From the biggest stars down to the one day minor league call-ups, all the players are in here along with who produced the best stats while wearing each number. It’s a fascinating way to dissect a team’s history and give it a fresh spin.

Simply put, Mets by the Numbers is the best book I have ever read about my favorite sports team of all time. After you finish Zisk, head to your favorite local, independent book store and track down a copy. And you too will know the greatest # 40 in Mets history. (Trust me, that’s not really high praise for that number.)

Steve Reynolds is the co-editor of Zisk, and his favorite number is 24, like, um, that ballplayer named Mays.

No comments: