The Monitor tries to warm the winter cold with one baseball-related column a year, and what better time than now, with the Super Bowl over and pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training camps next week?
Jacob Kanarek, an accountant who lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, recently wrote a book about the Mets of the mid-1970’s – a team that went from five straight winning seasons and two World Series appearances between 1969 and 1973 to being a laughingstock of a franchise by the end of the decade.
Born and raised in Boro Park, Kanarek says he was one of the few kids in his class without a television, so he spent his childhood listening to games on radio. After learning in Israel he moved on to Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood and married a girl from Boro Park. After several years in kollel he decided to study accounting, passed the CPA exam and opened his own practice.
The Monitor recently spoke with Kanarek about his book.
What inspired you to write From First to Worst: The New York Mets, 1973-1977?
I have very fond memories of my childhood-teenage years. I began to scour the archives of The New York Times and the Sporting News, just to reminisce. Reading the articles not only brought back memories of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dave Kingman, etc., but in a way transplanted me back to Boro Park of the mid-seventies. Those good feelings, combined with the fact that no author had ever focused on those seasons, gave birth to the idea of the book.
Did your passion for the Mets and baseball cause any problems as you were growing up?
I can’t say I really had any major issues growing up as a sports fan in a mainstream yeshiva environment. Whatever yeshiva I attended, there was always a significant number of other students who were also into sports. I probably took more grief from Yankee fans then from the non-followers. Every so often we would hear from a rebbe who would decry our interest in the “groibe goy vois hocked a ball mit a shtecken.”
Do you follow the Mets as closely now as you did when you were younger?
As a father of eight children, the principal of a growing accounting firm and someone who keeps two sedorim a day, I don’t have the opportunity to follow sports like I did growing up. My sports-following activities are pretty much limited to listening to games in my car on my way to night seder and back, and if it’s a good game I’ll stay in the car longer. The game has also changed significantly since my childhood and not in a positive way – greed, steroids etc.
What most stands out in your mind about the Mets of the mid-1970s?
The contrast between their great pitching and lousy hitting. For example, you could have a game against Cincinnati where the Reds would have a starting lineup of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, George Foster, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, etc, or the Dodgers with Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith, etc., and the Mets would counter with Bruce Boisclair, Mike Vail and Roy Staiger.
Do you have a favorite Met from that era?
Jerry Koosman. Aside from being a great pitcher (whose numbers would have been a lot better if he hadn’t pitched for two seasons with an awful team behind him) he is known as a good guy – something I got to experience firsthand when he agreed to my request that he write the book’s foreword.
So what was it that caused the downfall of the Mets from a competitive team in the early ‘70s to a laughingstock just a few years later?
I think there were two people two blame for the collapse of the franchise – M. Donald Grant and Joe McDonald. Grant, the chairman of the team, essentially knew nothing about baseball and elected not to improve the Mets via free agency despite the fact that they were one of the league’s wealthier franchises. Grant felt signing high-priced free agents would promote jealously on the team, but the opposite was true. The players were not interested in playing on a non-competitive level and either requested to be traded or Grant ordered them dealt. At that point McDonald, the general manager, would do his damage by trading off the stars and not getting equal value.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org