My friend Matt told me this story: Understand that Matt is a major fan of the New York Mets. In 2009 he became a father for the first time, and one day he decided it was time to introduce his daughter, Satchel, to the fine sport of baseball and to his favorite team. So he placed Satchel down in front of his television during a Mets game and exclaimed "These are the Mets!" As if on cue, Satchel began to cry.
If his goal was to turn her into a Mets fan at an early age, I would say he succeeded.
The New York Mets have had an underdog mentality since they first drunkenly lurched across a baseball diamond back in 1962, and although they've been the most successful of Major League Baseball's expansion teams, they still have a daddy complex with the crosstown Yankees. In Amazin' Peter Golenbock tells their story through the players and owners who lived it. Well, some of them anyway. Amazin' is an oral history, and it's rife with plenty of interesting anecdotes about the little things. But there aren't many people there to tell their views. The full final six chapters, in fact, fly by with but a single voice – Al Leiter – telling you about the Mets. The lack of people to tell the story makes me wonder if Golenbock really put thought into Amazin' or if he was simply trying to rush through it so its release in 2002 could coincide with the Mets' 40th anniversary.
Golenbock goes through pains to develop a context at the beginning of the book. He writes his first chapter about the original New York Metropolitans, a team formed in the 1880′s which lasted only a few years. Afterward, he takes us through brief histories of the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, interviewing fans of both teams in order to give us an idea of how badly they were missed upon leaving New York City. We get a bit of the politics behind the creation of the Mets and an explanation as to why the early Mets were so bad: The National League owners were allowed to reshuffle their rosters before the owners of the Mets and the Houston Colt .45s drafted from their rosters.
After this, Golenbock takes us through a snoozefest of six chapters, consisting of over 70 pages just to introduce us to a small handful of players from those initial teams: Rod Kanehl, Ron Hunt, Ron Swoboda, general manager Bing Devine, and finally, Tom Seaver. Those looking to read more about the wonderful adventures of 60′s fan favorite "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry will barely even find his name in Amazin'. Fortunately, the book picks up again after this once the reign of Gil Hodges begins and the 1969 Mets make their run. Intrigues hits again as we get a detailed explanation as to why free agency killed any chance at dominance the Mets had in the 70′s, and how their old school owner couldn't adjust to the idea of players being able to go from one team to another. Golenbock spends a lot of time in the 80′s, but he really kind of rushes through the 90′s. Once Bobby Valentine arrives to manage the Mets, things really grind to a near-halt. And the only thing that kept me reading through the final few chapters was the fact that they were so close to the end of the book, and I wanted to do this job properly.
Golenbock also uses a bit more space than usual to write between his characters speaking.
With all of the characters who have played for the Mets over the years, the real disappointment of Amazin' is how vanilla the quotations Golenbock picked up are. Sure, the anecdotes are interesting, and some of the people do have flashes of personality. Darryl Strawberry has plenty to talk about, Dwight Gooden apparently nurses delusions of grandeur about how good he actually was (he accuses the Mets of disrespect when he whines about the 1986 team never being formally invited back to Shea stadium – this was before the 20 year reunion of the 1986 team – and about the Mets giving his number out to another player, which is ridiculous). A lot of the 1986 teamers, in fact, tell great stories. But a lot of the other people who are quoted in Amazin' carry the kind of image Hank Steinbrenner tries to force onto the Yankees: They really ARE aw shucks types. A lot of them are underdogs too, but you would not expect a book about the Mets to be full of people so bland. The Mets who came along in the early 60′s are just insufferable Tom Brady types. And Gary Carter's denial that he knew about any of his 80′s teammates drug habits feels ludicrous, especially in contrast to Jeff Pearlman's account of the 1986 team in The Bad Guys Won!
One of the things I loved about Bums, Golenbock's book about the Brooklyn Dodgers and quite possibly the best baseball book I've ever read, was that Golenbock pulled accounts out of Dodgers fans who had nothing to do with the workings of the team. Golenbock does this in Amazin' too, but only through the first few chapters! I love accounts from fans because it gives us an idea of the local color of the diehard followers and provides descriptions of a lot of the local makeup. But Golenbock seems to blatantly favor the Dodgers and Giants fans, because the chapters about the Giants and Dodgers are the only ones with accounts from fans. No wonder Amazin' comes off so milktoast. We are given nothing at all about the makeup and character of Queens, or Shea Stadium.
A lot of the inner workings of the Mets, for all Amazin' includes, are missing. We don't learn any little details that really humanize the players. There aren't very many accounts of rivalries, petty jealousies, pranks, controversies, or anything of that nature. Tom Seaver gets his his say about why he left for Cincinnati, and the prevailing divisive issue is free agency and money. This is a world away nowadays, in an era with astronomical salaries and people complaining that ballplayers need to be reined in. Only, again, the 1986 team has anything resembling characters or human beings.
All in all, Amazin' is decent. It certainly isn't up to the high level of Bums because Bums basically described a mindset, an entire world, and maybe it was wrong for me to hold Amazin' up to such lofty expectations. Amazin' merely describes the team. It isn't the worst gift for a Mets fan, but there's so much more that could have been told. A book about the 1962 Mets (which my father recently described as "the farm team of Major League Baseball) could probably be nearly as long as Amazin's 626 pages.