Maury Allen Going by the Book
Maury knows the
Amazin' Mets quite well,
but the new book about
them barely breaks
the surface of their story
Avoid this disappointing
new book on The Mets
By MAURY ALLEN
The most emotional day I ever spent in a ball park was June 15, 1977, the day the Mets traded The Franchise.
Thats what we regular sportswriters covering the Mets called Tom Seaver when we didnt refer to him in print by his other nickname of Tom Terrific.
Seaver had changed the Mets all by himself. This was a joke team until he showed up in 1967, won 16 games at the age of 22, won 16 again the next year under new manager Gil Hodges and won the Cy Young award and led the Mets to their first World Series in 1969 at the age of 24.
By the time free agency reared its ugly head in 1976 and 1977, M. Donald Grant, Chairman of the Board of the Mets, was growing weary and jealous of Seavers connection with the team and the town. Salaries were escalating and Grant, a fiscal Neanderthal, wouldnt go for a new contract for his star pitcher or an extension that would tie him to the team for years.
The tension around the team grew. Seaver wanted a better deal in light of the big bucks being made by new free agent Reggie Jackson, across town with the Yankees, and old teammate and pal, Nolan Ryan, now with California.
New York Daily News columnist Dick Young, whose son-in-law, Thornton Geary, worked for Grant and the Mets, bitterly attacked Seaver in print as an ingrate. He also suggested Seaver was jealous of Ryans standing and success in California. At the time, Young placed the blame for the tension around the team on Seaver and his wife, Nancy, allegedly jealous of the gold and glory Ryans wife, Ruth, was achieving around California.
In those days, I was the New York Post columnist fighting Young every step of the way. I attacked the Mets for their stinginess and Young for his slanted reporting.
In a blistering hot Atlanta clubhouse, with over a hundred media members squashing into that old field, the deal to trade Seaver was announced as Seaver ducked out to avoid the furor and flew home to Greenwich, Ct.
I had only been the manager of the team a couple of weeks and all of this fell on my head, laughed Yankee manager Joe Torre, as he sat in the Stadium dugout the other day. That was one of my toughest days in the game.
Peter Golenbocks new book, Amazin:The Miraculous History of New Yorks Most Beloved Baseball Team (St. Martins Press, $27.95), misses most of this drama. Golenbock is a wonderful recorder and typist.
On page 186 of this oral history of the team Golenbock writes, Of all the moves that Bing Devine made, none was more important than convincing George Weiss to change his mind and pay the $50,000 for Thomas George Seaver, one of the finest pitchers ever to play the game.
The old journalistic line says, Say anything you want about me but spell my name right.
Golenbock spelled it right but got it wrong. The pitchers name is George Thomas Seaver and those writers around the team for years often kidded Seaver by calling him George, a name he detested.
When Seavers wife, Nancy, wanted to chide him she would often call him, George. He blanched.
The emotion packed into that June 15, 1977, evening when Seaver was traded away was almost immeasurable. Seavers standing with the Mets and their fans was equal to the standing Babe Ruth had when he moved on to Boston in 1935.
The Babe played another 28 games. Seaver played another 10 seasons.
In collecting this oral history of the Mets in their 40th anniversary season, Golenbock got some wonderful reminiscences from long forgotten Mets players but put it all together with little sense of connection.
The Mets of 1962--when the team first took the field--were a collection of has-beens, never-will-bes, former Dodgers and former Giants, fringe big leaguers and discards.
The other owners simply wanted to soak the Mets and collect big bucks for New York visits.
With the magic of Casey Stengel, underplayed in Golenbocks collection of recordings, the team caught the imagination of the fans. I had some bitter days with Dick Young. I have to give him this one. Casey Stengel created the Mets. Young made them lovable to the public.
Golenbocks book reads like an accountants survey of the expense accounts of the traveling executives. Just the facts, maam. His recording of the early days captures little of the joy of the return of National League baseball to New York and the uniqueness of this team.
While the Houston Colt 45s, the other NL expansion team when the Mets came in, were just horrible and boring the New York team immediately became a national institution.
Part of the success depended on the players understanding their roles. Around the Polo Grounds in that first year, there was no more important contributor to this than Richie Ashburn. He gets short shrift in this work.
Golenbock also has this annoying habit of quoting dead people (maybe he sees dead people) consecutively with live people, an awkward transition for anyone interested in examining the chronology of the work.
He also devotes the last 65 pages or so of his book to the glory of pitcher Al Leiter who speaks for the pennant winning Mets of 2000. Leiter is interested in politics. He may be running for something after his fastball leaves him. Golenbock may be applying for his job as press spokesman.
One last thing about all of this: I dont even know where Rod Kanehl, an early Mets hero, is living these days or what he is doing or has done 40 years after leaving the team. Kanehl used to greet sportswriters after each game as they moved to his locker to question him about certain plays by shouting, You saw it, write it.
Golenbock clearly didnt see it and certainly didnt write it.
© 2002 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel.
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