How bad were the 1962 New York Mets? Let Jimmy Breslin count the ways. The Gotham City columnist tells the story of the baseball team's inaugural season in this 1963 book that left me with a few laughs and a sour taste in my mouth.
Breslin here is like the best man at a wedding who does the dinner speech about the groom's sexual misadventures, who keeps going after everyone else realizes he's spent too much time polishing his act at the bar. Breslin can't get enough of telling you how bad the team is, telling stories of questionable veracity in order to serve his need for cruel punchlines about this or that player's total ineptitude. It's a one-note performance that gets tiring long before this short book is over, but Breslin never notices.
One Met in particular draws Breslin's notice so much it makes you squirm. "Marvelous Marv was holding down first base. This is like saying Willie Sutton works at your bank." "Marvin Throneberry's teammates would have given him a cake for his birthday except they were afraid he would drop it." Or quoting Ralph Houk: "If he ever played that way for me, I'd of killed him with my bare hands."
There aren't a lot of quotes in "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?" and those you get seem suspiciously jewel-cut as zingers for one of Breslin's stories. I'm not saying the guy made it all up. The Mets did lose 120 games in 1962, a modern major league record that still stands, and they did so in some mind-boggling ways, several of which Breslin no doubt got right. But there's a validity that's missing here.
Breslin never gets past the ridicule to get at the heart of what the Mets were about that first year, why they drew nearly a million fans to the disintegrating Polo Grounds and inspired such bizarre and merry glee. The best Breslin manages to offer is they're like the chipped table you wouldn't trade for a new one because you're used to it already, never mind in 1962 the Mets were the new table, chipped or not.
Another problem with the book is that it is written almost exclusively for New Yorkers of the early 1960s, who already knew the story and didn't need to have the facts established. He doesn't bother explaining who Joe E. Lewis was, or Toots Shor, because you're supposed to know. They weren't Mets, by the way, but nightlife figures Breslin was friendly with and wanted to say hello to by giving each a page in his book.
Occasionally he says something funny, or poignant. Breslin tends to do this when he rambles long enough, and his declamatory-as-a-slammed-door prose certainly has readability and bite. He offers a terrific strand of thought on how following baseball makes you realize how fast time passes as you get older, noting his surprise about how fast Gil Hodges went from promising rookie to broken-down legend. There's good information about the Mets' origin after the Giants and Dodgers left New York City, and I enjoyed Breslin calling Walter O'Malley to account for his mendacious greed.
But for the most part Breslin's targets aren't the wealthy or powerful; but a band of luckless journeymen who discovered winning wasn't everything when it came to creating a legend for their fans. It's a story worth telling; unfortunately Breslin can't get past roasting them for easy yucks and leaves the human factor out of the equation.
Like every other baseball team, the New York Mets have fielded their fair share of squads revered by their fans, teams which struck a note with followers more than any of the others. They've been to the World Series four times, so those teams certainly have plenty of fans, and their effort in 2006 won over many people too because the Mets showed character and talent even as they ended up on the losing end of a classic NLCS series - the seventh game in that series is still the best baseball game … more
Reading is my way of eavesdropping on a thousand conversations, meeting hundreds of new and fascinating people, and discovering what it is about the world I enjoy most. Only after a while, I lose track … more
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