Previously, I have written about how I had sold part of my collection and have been working to rebuilding it. When I first spoke with the dealer who bought the collection, the first question he asked me was, “Do you have the bible?”. I was really didn’t know what he meant. What he meant was the 1962 Mets yearbook.
I’ve been thinking about that comment for a while now and I can see where a dealer would classify the team’s first yearbook that way. But to me, that’s not the case.
To me, The Year the Mets Lost Last Place, written by Paul D. Zimmerman and Dick Schaap occupies that spot.
I distinctly remember buying my copy at the drug store by the Massapequa train station. It probably cost $1.95. I bought it in 1970. The drug store is long gone just like the book’s cover. It chronicles the Mets rise to relevance during a one week time frame, July 8, 1969 to July 16, 1969. Its been on my bookshelf for over 40 years. Its got “x’s” next to selected passages: Like Donn Clendenon’s enjoying his relative anonymity during his early days with the Mets and how he could walk around Manhattan and not be bothered by autograph-seekers and how that let him spend time “thinking about the pitcher”. I highlighted a section where Ken Boswell shared an apartment with newly called-up pitcher, Danny Frisella and how they only used paper plates unless they had “company”.
Another “x’d-out” section, covers an article in Sports Illustrated about Ken “Hawk” Harrelson and how while playing for Gil Hodges with Washington in 1967, he found him to be “unfair, unreasonable, unfeeling, incapable of handling men, stubborn, holier-than-thou, and ice cold”. Hodges tells a reporter covering his reaction to the story, “no comment”. Hodges said that he “liked his job”. The book mentions how the team calls, Bud Harrelson (no relation to Ken) “Mini-Hawk”.
There’s another marked section which talks about the team’s batting practice pitcher, an ex-minor league pitcher, turned-chiropractor named Tom Fitzgerald. For $15.00 a night, Fitzgerald threw batting practice before home games and wore a Mets uniform; number 61. He didn’t do it for the money but because it made him feel like he was “part of something.” It kept him in the game.
When I look back on this book, I realize that this was my first guidebook in understanding and appreciating the team I’ve grown up loving. The players seemed more real after that book. Even the players that they played against seemed more real.
I don’t know if my writing now helps some fans gain a deeper appreciation of the team as it currently stands. In retrospect, it seems like these vaunted heroes from the 1969 team had issues long-glossed over; long-forgotten. The team we have today also keeps us vexed and perplexed at times. I can most assuredly say that just by looking at this book again, gives me hope that if the Mets could do it when I was a kid, they can do it again.