Of the writing of baseball books there is no end. Of the writing of good baseball books there is not nearly enough. For every The Glory of Their Times or Ball Four or The Boys of Summer or Baseball’s Great Experiment, there are hundreds and hundreds of instantly forgettable hack jobs, clip jobs and ghost jobs.
So as a baseball fan – and more important, a Mets fan – it was with much pleasure that the Monitor recently devoured a book by Dana Brand, a professor of English and American literature at Hofstra University, titled, with perfect appropriateness, Mets Fan (McFarland & Company).
It’s a slim (201 pages including the index), soft-covered volume with a hardcover price ($29.95) – and it’s the best exploration yet written about what it means to be a Mets fan, about the all too many lowlights and all too few highlights of Mets history, and about the profound emotional and psychological differences between Mets fans and Yankees fans.
Some selections to savor on a cold winter day and, if you’re a fan of baseball and fine writing, to whet your appetite for the rest of the book:
“There is no good reason why I should care about the New York Mets,” writes Brand in his first chapter. “Like all baseball teams, they are a business. I should care no more about their success than I care about the success of a movie studio or television network. Yet I choose to care, deeply and powerfully. I have cared about the Mets for 45 years and probably will for the rest of my life. I enjoy my loyalty. I enjoy the irrationality and intensity of my loyalty.”
Of the “Meet the Mets” theme song Brand writes, “It is so sweet and so tacky. So Mets. This isn’t a song with which you charge to the top of the standings, or celebrate triumph or a glorious tradition. It is not a song for champions. They must have figured this when they wrote it. You can hear in the song an understanding that an expansion team in 1962 could not get away with taking itself too seriously. It would need to get by on charm. It could not compel your respect or admiration. It would just have to be nice and a little corny. You would come and meet the Mets the way you would come and meet a nutty neighbor who put out a bowl of pretzels and a bottle of soda on a coaster on a table with too many magazines. You knew the line about ‘knocking those home runs over the wall’ was, well, not true.”
Here’s Brand on that strange breed of fan who claims to like both of New York City’s big league baseball teams:
“You can’t root for both the Mets and the Yankees because each team offers a different portal into the pleasure of baseball. If you want what the Yankees will give you, it doesn’t make sense to root for the Mets. They’re failures, no fun. In order to root for the Mets, you have to renounce any desire you have for the monotony of dominance. You have to think it’s absurd to get excited about, or have your heart broken by, a team that has won so many times. You have to cherish triumph because it is unexpected and rare. When John Sterling screams ‘The Yankees win! The YAAANNNNNKKEEEESS WIN!!!!!!’ you have to enjoy the contempt you feel for the idiocy of his exuberance.”
Brand’s tale on Ed Kranepool, a Met for 18 seasons, longer than any other player and a symbol of lovable futility: “Eddie didn’t do anything like he was supposed to. He was like a grouchy robot that a kid can’t get to operate…. So the Yankees had Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and we had Eddie Kranepool. How come theirs worked and ours didn’t? Ours even had a weird name…. He never became a power hitter. He was an okay first baseman. One year he hit .280 and then there was a year when after all the smoke cleared, there was a .323 next to his name and no one could figure out how it got there…. Eddie was more the Mets than anyone else. He was a beloved disappointment. An incompetent who became indispensable.”
Finally, Brand plumbs the psyche of Mets fans: “The pleasure of being a Mets fan is that hitting the jackpot still feels the way it should. You hope. You lose. You lose some more. And someday you win. And you remember the pleasure of winning all your life…. I hope the Mets never become like the Yankees. I want my baseball to be like real life, seasoned with failure and disappointment, ennobled by hope, and studded with just a few spectacular moments of pure joy.”