Archive for November, 2009

The Mets Have to Do The Museum Right

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

By now you should have read this weekend’s press release:  Mets Expand Club Presence at Citi Field

This is, of course, important news for all of us who have been waiting to see if the team was going to respond to one of the most significant reasons for fan discontent with the new stadium.  It is good news to hear that the history, heritage, and symbols of the Mets will no longer appear to have been intentionally excluded from Citi Field.

As anyone familiar with my blog and books will anticipate, I won’t thank the Mets for commemorating important figures in Mets history by naming VIP entrances after them.  The VIP entrances still stick in my craw.  I don’t care what they call them.  They can name one the M. Donald Grant VIP Entrance, another the Bernard Madoff VIP entrance, and the third the FOX News Fair and Balanced VIP Entrance for all I care.  Since I will never spend more than $100 (in 2009 money) for a ticket to a regular season baseball game, I will be forever excluded from the status of a VIP when I go to Citi Field.  I could live to be 110 and be the last person to remember the first Mets game, I could write 10 books about them, and I will not be a VIP.  I will never be anything more than a P.  

I do thank the Mets for naming the bridge by the old home run apple the Shea bridge.  That’s nice.  I am also jazzed (doesn’t take much to jazz me but it takes something) by the fact that those dreary staircases are going to be painted blue and orange and by the fact that there are going to be full-color banners and logos all over the place.  That could be wonderful and it could drown out or at least compete with all the visual noise from the ads that have grown out of the attractive little stadium like alien fungi.

The really important news, of course, is that there is going to be a Mets museum.  Not just a Hall of Fame, which we’ve been promised for a while, but a Hall of Fame and Museum.   This is crucially important.  And it is crucially important that the Mets do the museum right.

They might do it right and they might not.  Those of us who care about such things need to watch what happens carefully.  One reason I am hopeful is that Gary Cohen and Howie Rose have been put on “The Mets Hall of Fame Committee.”  If I had to choose two individuals to serve as the custodians of the history and heritage of the Mets, it would be Gary and Howie.  I trust these guys to make sure that Mets fans get something meaningful, rather than something corporate or cliched.  What has me a little worried is that although the press release refers to the “Mets Hall of Fame and Museum,” all it talks about is the Hall of Fame.    Talking about the Committee, Jeff Wilpon is quoted as saying:

“The re-formation of the Mets Hall of Fame Committee is central to our concerted efforts to better connect our present and future to our past,” said Wilpon. “It reinforces the organization’s and our fans’ shared desire to recognize our greatest players. With our 2010 opening of the Mets Hall of Fame & Museum at Citi Field, now was the time to bring this group together.”

The Mets should honor their greatest players, with information, memorabilia, sculpture, etc.  I look forward eagerly to seeing a vital Mets Hall of Fame.  But the Mets need to realize that if they just have a Hall of Fame commemorating important Mets, they will not have done enough.  A museum needs to be more than a hall of fame.  It needs to honor not only our heroes, but the experience of the millions of people, alive and dead, who have given a chunk of their lives to following the exploits of these heroes and all other kinds of players the Mets have had as well.   The Mets are not the heroes.  The Mets are the bond between the millions and the Mets, heroes and non-heroes.  This is what needs to be commemorated in the museum.  It has to tell the story not just of the Hall of Fame greatness of Seaver’s pitching and Piazza’s hitting.  It has to tell the story of the people who hung the banners and marched with them on the field on Banner Day.  It has to tell the story of the people who ran onto the field in the sixties, who knew it was spring when Bob Murphy’s voice told them it was, who stuck with the team when there was no rational reason to do so.  It has to tell people about the Curley Shuffle, Jane Jarvis, the Sign Man, and Doris from Rego Park.  It has to honor our songs and chants and apples and baseball-headed mascot.  It has to remind us or teach us about the moments that will never be forgotten:  Seaver’s almost-perfect game, Jones dropping to his knees, Tug’s September of Belief, the ball that found its way through Buckner’s legs, the Grand Slam single, Endy’s catch, the final ceremony at Shea:  the moments that took our breath away and never gave it back.  If the museum does not do this, it will not have done its work.  Citi Field will still not be able to tell us who we are or why we’re here. 

Please don’t just give us what used to be in the entrance area of the Diamond Club.  Please don’t just give us statues and trophies.  Please give us the history and the poetry of the Mets.  Please give us the sense that we’re still the New Breed, we’re still the loudest most emotional fans of all, the ones who made the Upper Deck of Shea feel like an earthquake.  Give the museum enough space.  And fill it with care, emotion, and imagination.

Please.  Mets fans deserve this.  All of us.

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Please come and hear me read from The Last Days of Shea on:

December 1 at 7 pm at the Hillside Library in New Hyde Park, LI

December 2 at 11:30 am at the Hofstra Bookstore in the Hofstra Student Center

I’d love to meet you.

Did The Yankees Buy a Championship? Is Baseball Fair? Am I Fair?

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

For those of you who don’t want to read the long post that follows, I will tell you that the short answer to all three questions is “No.” 

The Yankees didn’t buy a championship because you can’t buy a championship.  They deserve a lot of credit for what they accomplished this season, the Steinbrenners deserve a lot of credit for their dedication to winning championships, and yet … and yet … when to get out of the house to avoid even the possibility of turning on the TV or computer to learn anything about their ticker-tape parade, I ended up going to get my hair cut and beard trimmed and found myself confined to a a barber’s chair within a few feet of a big screen TV broadcasting that parade, I felt as if I was a detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

Baseball, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is not fair.   The success of a baseball team depends upon the actions of unelected individuals who are granted absolute control over a chunk of millions of lives by a monopolistic system masquerading as free enterprise.  It is, of course, nothing of the sort.   The main virtue of capitalism is supposed to be that it allows people to become rich by satisfying the needs of others.  In a monopoly like baseball, the unelected despots become rich without having to give any thought to the needs of the millions who root for a team. 

And I am most certainly not fair, when it comes to experiencing emotions about baseball.  I know this and I struggle with it.  To illustrate my irrationality, and my self-consciousness about it, I offer these quotations from my book, The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan:

p.89:  “After reading the Mitchell Report and venting my outrage at the rotten eggs who had tried, by cheating, to alter the competitive balance of baseball, I turned my attention to the efforts of the Mets to trade for Johan Santana, a pitcher who would deserve and receive the largest contract ever offered to a pitcher.”  Note the irony directed at myself.  I have a problem with people who alter the competitive balance of baseball with an injection, but I don’t have a problem with my team altering the competitive balance of baseball with a massive amount of money?  Yes, I would have been bothered if the Yankees had signed Santana.  No, I don’t think this is consistent of me.

p.200-201  ”Isn’t it corrupt of me to love an underperforming team with one of the biggest payrolls in baseball?  Isn’t it disingenuous of me to try to pretend that the Mets still have anything to do with the colorful underdog image the New York hype machine manufactured for them back in the 1960s?     …    Whenever my analytical mind penetrates all the way to the deepest absurdities of my baseball fandom, my poetic mind pushes back and says, see, there’s something extraordinary here, because you don’t like irrational belief, and here you are irrationally believing in something.”  What you find here is a contemptuous self-consciousness about something I write about a great deal in my book.  Baseball is a place where I allow myself all sorts of primitive thrills I don’t allow myself in ANY other aspect of my life.  I believe myths I know are not true.  I feel tribal identification.  I hate people and abstractions that don’t deserve to be hated.  I become deeply attached to home turf and I scorn the home turf of others.  The only reason I can accept morally the fact that I do these things when I root for the Mets is that I am always fully aware that the myths are not true, the enemies are not enemies, and that the tribe is an arbitrary community that demands nothing from me.   In baseball, all of the emotions that have made human history so wonderful and so horrible are turned into a game where they may be enjoyed in brackets, where they don’t hurt anybody.

All of this is to say that if I want to fucking hate the Yankees, I’m going to fucking hate the Yankees. 

I understand and sympathize with the puzzlement that some articulate responders felt when they read my previous misty-mythical-Metsy blog entry about how we’re better than they are because we don’t think we’re entitled, but someday the fates will send a small shaft of light down to lift our humble misery to the heavens, and blah, blah, blah.   I can’t satisfactorily answer the astute and challenging questions posed by JD and Kiko.   They are right when they say that the Yankees are doing nothing wrong and are not in fact buying championships.  They are right that the Mets are morally no better and are mainly less competent.  They are right to point out that the owners who stiff their fans by taking a profit and not investing in their team deserve to be criticized more than the Steinbrenners.  But nevertheless I feel about the Yankees the way I feel about the Yankees.  They are the not-me and I cannot root for them.  To root for them because they are of New York, and New York is the place I identify with more than any other place in the world, would make them part of me.   And I don’t want the not-me to be part of me.  I don’t want that.  To root for the Phillies, a worthy team that is merely a rival, seemed to me to pose less of an existential threat in this last World Series.  I don’t defend this.  I have never defended it.  In my piece about how Mets fans should root for the Phillies, I made the point of comparing the Mets to Cain and the Yankees to Abel.  Unpack this.  Cain’s resentment of Abel was legitimate.  He didn’t understand why God accepted Abel’s sacrifices but rejected his own.  It wasn’t fair of God, but it was the way it was.  I’m not saying that Cain was right to hate Abel so much that he killed him.  But I am saying that when I see Alex Rodriguez riding on top of a limousine receiving cheers and cascades of shredded paper from the buildings that line the canyon of heroes, I want to kill him.

And I will stand by what I said in Yankee Hatred.  Even if no one can reliably buy a championship, winning far more than any other team because you are always extremely well-funded and generally competently run takes some of the fun out of being a baseball fan.  I congratulate sincerely Yankees fans who can identify Horace Clarke or Danny Tartabull, but I warn Yankees fans who now have too much of the heroin of winning in their system.  You may be doing nothing wrong, but a time may come when you are doing nothing fun.   If the Mets ever win anything again, it will be a miracle and it will feel like a miracle, even if they have enjoyed every advantage in the world.  Yes, we will have more fun than you are having now.

As for the question of what is to be done, all I can say is this.  I don’t want a salary cap, which isn’t possible anyway, because owners will just use it to make more money for themselves.   It is my firm belief that the only way the problem of the games unfairness could be solved is if people somehow managed to get rid of the system whereby teams are owned by families and individuals.  I don’t know enough about the law to know what we could have, but I dream of a world, which we can probably never have, in which teams might be managed, on a non-profit basis, by boards of trustees accountable to elected officials in counties within specific metropolitan areas, where ticket prices are kept low in the interest of the fan, where the money made is divided among the players according to formulas that reward performance plus intangibles as determined in a fair, agreed-upon way, and where every team has as much of a chance of winning in a particular year as any other team.   Profits make sense in a system in which there is competition.  But they are not good things in a monopoly.  I can’t help but think that it would be a good thing if baseball were re-organized in such a way that it would only benefit the fans and the players.    This utopian suggestion, of course, won’t do as a proposal for an alternative.   I really don’t know what to say. 

I am waiting until next year.  And I am wrapping myself in the blanket of my myths and my antipathies.  My baseball universe isn’t happy at the moment, but it is coherent.  I know what I want.  I want to feel good about the Mets.  I want them to win.  I want that level of baseball excitement that I have only felt just a few times, that is so rare, so perfect, and so memorable that just a tiny amount gives the soul the sustenance it needs to hope, dream, and suffer through decades.

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Check out this recent interview with me, about my book and the World Series, with Frankie the Sports Guy on WGBB 1240 AM.

Come see me talk about and read from my book on at 7:30 on Tuesday, November 10 at the South Huntington (LI) Public Library.

Or come see me talk about and read from my book at 7:30 on Tuesday, November 17 at the Teaneck (NJ) Public Library.

And please check out Michael Kimmelman’s article “At the Bad New Ballparks” in the current issue of the New York Review of Books which features The Last Days of Shea.

The 2009 Season Is Over

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

You’ll never forget this season.  You never forget any season.  But this season will stay with you.  The anguish, the disappointment, and the humiliation are inside of you now and it will be a very long time before they are digested, or excreted.  Contrary to what Mets management may tell you, in jest, a season like this does not build character.  What it builds isn’t noble or special.  But it is what you are.

The season began as beloved Shea was ground to dust and rubble.  In its place, they built something that could not see us, and had no arms to embrace us.  We felt the disappointment of a child whose parents have replaced a dear pet with a fancy toy, and have convinced themselves that the kid is happier now than ever before.

The Mets were impotent in the new stadium.  It looked smaller, but miraculously, the walls were further away.  Muscles separated from bones, tendons snapped, scars grew.  The Mets were replaced by scrubs who were then replaced by others.  At the end of the season, there were strangers on the strange field, and there was no one in the stands. 

And then, long after you stopped caring, the Phillies won the National League pennant.  And the Yankees, plodding, bland, and inevitable, won the World Series in six games.  All of the worst things that could happen had happened.  With all the imagination, poetry, and class of Donald Trump, the Yankee colossus claimed the prize it knew it deserved, and New York was promised the biggest ticker-tape parade in history.

This is why you’re a Mets fan.  You are not celebrating.   They say New York is celebrating, but you know it isn’t.  You are a New Yorker because you are not what they say you are and you don’t do what they say you’re doing. 

It’s not as if you choose misery.  And it is not as if you have chosen anything that is particularly worthy.  We are no better.  But we are different.  We’ve chosen a fate that looks like fate, and not an outrageous distortion of it.   And some November, late and cold, we will know a happiness they will never know.