Interview with the author of Mets Complete Illustrated History

Via email, some Q & A with the author of the awesome New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History Matthew Silverman.

1. The book is amazin’. What was your inspiration? How long did it take to complete? Were the Mets helpful and supportive?

First, MVP Books actually contacted me through my site, metsilverman.com. They’d done some football illustrated histories, including the Giants. Those were nice but it was their fantastic Twins history that really made me want to ramp up the effort. I think we beat ‘em.

Second, the research and writing was done over about six months. I looked up as much information as I could–especially concerning things that happened before I hitched myself to the Mets deathwagon as a kid. I did a few interviews, but there really wasn’t room for them and doing the kind of complete team history I wanted.

Third, next question.

2. The book starts with more than I’ve ever seen about the proposed Continental League. You mention the AL was going to expand into New York (!) and then trade New York to the NL for one of the Pennsylvania teams. Any idea if those pesky Phillies might be in the AL East in some parallel universe?

I read stories in the Times dating back to just after the Dodgers and Giants left in 1957, and all different sides said all kinds of things. What might have really happened no one can say. Bill Shea is the first person I mention in the Acknowledgments page because he played his cards so close to the vest, I think everyone firmly believed he would have brought in the Continental League if the NL hadn’t backed down. The whole AL Phillies thing was about the craziest thing I came across, but they were one of the teams Shea tried to hijack to New York, so they may have actually been in play–at least as far as a chip in the whole expansion poker game. It was during a possible relocation meeting with the Phils in the 1950s that Shea realized that he was trying to talk them into doing the thing he would never do. So he tried expansion, and when the NL said they didn’t need New York, he came up with the Continental League and a made the still cantankerous Branch Rickey the president. The major leagues caved, and the Angels, Rangers, and Astros also owe Shea a thank you.

3. Did the 1969 NLCS really take place? I never see video of it and there don’t seem to be many photos out there in the wild.

I worked on a book a couple of years ago that covered every aspect of the 1969 season, The Miracle Has Landed, and even we mentioned it briefly. There are at least a dozen regular-season games that are more memorable than anything that happened in the first NLCS in history. There’s a cool Topps card set of it, but every picture is just of Mets. I did find a photo of Wayne Garrett hitting a homer in the clincher, and in that shot, you can’t tell what team the catcher behind him is on. So maybe it was staged in a World’s Fair acreage back lot–like that year’s moon landing.

4. Enjoyed seems the wrong word to use, but the section about Gil’s death – there was lots of stuff in there I didn’t realize, like that the Opening Day game was the same day as Gil’s funeral, Gil’s body flew on the same plane as the Yankees, and that the Yankees canceled their game. If blogs existed then this would be a feeding frenzy. Is that when the bad karma started for this franchise? It’s fairly easy to argue that it is.

You could even argue that the bad karma started when Gil started smoking again–I think it was late in 1970. He smoked about four packs a day when he had the heart attack at the end of ’68. He didn’t smoke at all in ’69. I think he started again late in 1970, when the Mets were right there and just couldn’t stay with the Pirates. The last words from Joan Hodges when she went north in March of 1972: “Watch the cigarettes.” The Mets really handled the whole situation of his death badly. It was around this time when M. Donald Grant’s devil horns started showing. They had a press conference to announce Yogi as new manager and the Staub trade at the same moment Gil was being buried. The beat guys who’d covered the Mets from the beginning were just sickened by it. A lot of the players were, too, and they were technically on strike. Hodges was like a father to the Seavers, McGraws, Koosmans, and more.

5. I love reading about the Mets drawing two million in the early 70′s – back when they counted fannies in the seats. New York has been at least twice a “Mets Town.” We’re now in year 15 or so of Yankees Town – do you think the Mets could ever own the city again, or are they doomed to be the Jets/Islanders/Nets?

I don’t want to insult those of other faiths, but if the Mets started going to the playoffs every year and the Yankees kept screwing up over and over again in management, spending, and player evaluation–sort of the reverse of now–then the Mets would rule again. People I know who had been “diehard” 1970s and early 1980s Yankees fans were rooting hard for the mid-’80s Mets. And they were back on the Mets-hating bandwagon 10 years later. New York likes a winner. Give them one, Mets. Please.

6. I have to of course talk about uniforms. The picture of Seaver on p.40 in his beautiful road flannels..the way the blue pops on the gray..it’s beautiful. What’s your favorite look for the team?

Actually, both the road grays on that page and the Seaver home uni from the 1960s are what the Mets should wear every day. Gimme the ’60s threads. I’m still annoyed that in ’09 they wore what have to be the ugliest Giants facsimile uniforms I’ve ever seen–and they wore them against the damned Giants!?! Maybe it’s just me, but a little ’69 throwback look for turning 40 might have provided some class in ’09. Jeff Francouer would have been easier to take if he’d been channeling Ken Boswell in classic pinstriped #12 while sparing us the realism of a name on the back.

7. You spend a few paragraphs on the Yankees at Shea. This is the history of the Mets so I wouldn’t expect you to dwell on the Yanks, but I rarely see any photo evidence of the Yankees at Shea. Did you come across much in your research?

The Yankees surely try to block it out, like living with a poor relation after a fire at their palatial estate. My personal research on the subject goes way back… The first two times I went to Shea were against the Yankees, I think. One was a day camp trip–our seats were in the far reaches of the mezzanine shadows and I was not into baseball, believe it or not, so I can only go with a hunch that it was a Yankees game because the people running the camp were Yankees fans. The next year I was totally into baseball and my dad got free old-timer’s day tickets for the Yankees at Shea. Boog Powell hit the first homer I recall while wearing a hideous all-red Tribe uni. My dad took me to a Mets game a few weeks later and my soul was saved. Everyone’s a little conflicted about the Yankees at Shea. The only Yankees art at Shea I hadn’t seen before was the Yankees yearbooks cover at Shea, but we didn’t use them. Like you said, it’s a Mets book. Yankee go home.

8. Let’s talk about what I have been calling “Mr. Met 1.5″ – Why do I have no memory of this? I remember the original – at least I think I do, when did the original disappear? And what about Mettle the Mule? He deserves a picture.

Oh, God, that Mr. Met picture. That’s the only thing in the book that made me sink a little when I saw it. Because of all the research, I ended up being a couple of months late–and I only saw one set of proofs. I wrote long notes about many things, especially why this Mr. Met had to go. I even asked Mark Simon of ESPN.com, who was a Shea tour guide during the surrealistic pillow ’94 season, about his recollections of that Mr. Metstrosity were sort of blocked out as well. In the end, that picture wasn’t swapped out, but that’s the only design issue I had out of 400 or so images. As for Mettle the Mule, he’s written up in the book but you’ll note Lee Mazzilli’s photo is in that spread instead. And whose face would you rather see?

9. Lee Mazzilli is of course on your list of Top 50 Mets. What went in to making the list? Any tough cuts?

There were. And in the end I used heart and hardware as a dividing line. World Series MVPs Knight. Clendenon, and Weis (Ruth Award) got in based on those awards. Rick Reed made Bobby V.’s team–and mine–on guts. There are guys who played three years who made it and others who played longer and had better stats who didn’t. Would you rather have Wayne Garrett or Armando Benitez? Exactly. To twist around the words of Tina Turner (she’s not on the list): What’s WAR got to do with it?

10. 50 years…what’s your favorite moment?

I. The one I’d list as best for the franchise was the 1969 title. Without that moment, the Mets are the Astros. ’69 remained the guiding star through many tough times over the next 15 years, but a team that could win the ’69 Series had to have redeeming qualities.

II. Best I’ve experienced from afar: Game 7 of the World Series. Game 6 was a life-changing moment and all, but I remembered the 1975 Series and how the Red Sox pulled out Game 6 and lost Game 7. I was crushed in ’75. They lost this Game 7 and I’m still glad.

III. Best I’ve seen in person: Lenny Dykstra’s game-winning home run in Game 3 of the 1986 NLCS . I was just writing this up as part of a very long post that’ll be on metsilverman.com on St. Patrick’s Day, but even if I hadn’t just written about it, that moment is always with me.

IV. One that felt almost as good: The Grand Slam Single. I had just been promoted, was moving, had a toddler, and was months behind on a major book project, and there I was for almost six hours in the rain with my friends at Shea. Where else would I have been?

V. Purely personal: Two games in the summer of ’75 with my dad, who was not a baseball fan but went then and countless other times because of me. So now I’m supposed to let some rel estate guy’s money troubles dampen my enthusiasm about the Mets? Wright.

….

I find it interesting that Mark Simon at ESPN has blocked out Mr. Met 1.5 too.  I will have to contact Mark on my own and see what he can remember if anything.

Thanks to Matt for the Q & A.

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