There may not be much to celebrate with the Mets these days, but as the team heads into its fiftieth anniversary year, the New York Daily News has put out a new book that reminds us that, throughout its history, the team has had many memorable moments and characters.
The Mets: A 50th Anniversary Celebration was written by current Daily News Met beat writer Andy Martino and Daily News sportswriter Anthony McCarron. (Disclosure: Squawker Lisa and I used to work at the Daily News on the website, but we did not know either of the writers.)
The book is in hardcover and is arranged decade by decade, offering a running narrative of the Mets' story. The most famous years in Mets history, 1969 and 1986, get thorough coverage, but do not get their own chapters. However, that's just as well – most Met fans are quite familiar with those seasons and might even own books devoted just to them. This book takes a wider view.
The book includes over 200 images from the Daily News, from photos to front and back covers of the newspaper. The images set this book apart from other histories of the Mets. Along with numerous shots of Met players in action, there are other photos that offer a unique look into the world of the Mets.
I consider myself a very knowledgeable Met fan, but I had no idea that Olympic legend Jesse Owens worked for the Mets as a running instructor in spring training in 1965. But there's a picture in this book of Owens, wearing a Mets shirt, hurdling a bat held up by George Weiss, Mets GM at the time, and none other than Yogi Berra, who finished up his playing career that year with the Mets.
Another tidbit new to me was that the host of the Mets pre- and postgame radio shows in the mid-1960s was Howard Cosell, not yet a national figure but already outspoken enough to refer to Mets manager Casey Stengel as old and racist.
Other photos from the Mets’ early days include Stengel giving instructions to Shea Stadium "usherettes" in 1964 and Bud Harrelson playing guitar in the Mets clubhouse in the early 1970s.
Speaking of the Mets’ shortstop, one of the most memorable shots in the book comes from his famous fight with Pete Rose during the 1973 NLCS. Rose, his face contorted in rage, heads toward Harrelson, his left hand already forming a fist. There are two followup photos as well of Rose and Harrelson going at it.
Along with the numerous shots of the 1986 Mets, there is one of Fred Wilpon presenting President Reagan with a Mets warmup jacket as Lee Mazzilli and Dwight Gooden stand behind Reagan on either side.
The book also includes the Daily News front page when Gooden was suspended at the start of the 1987 season. GOODEN K’D BY COCAINE was the headline, with a somber cartoon by Bill Gallo.
The Daily News factored in another dark day in Mets history – the infamous Tom Seaver trade on June 15, 1977. Daily News columnist Dick Young's vicious attacks on Seaver played a role in the Franchise's bitter departure. The book details how Young went after Seaver and how the Daily News switchboard lit up with calls from fans angry at Young after Seaver was traded. Pete Hamill wrote a column in the News ripping Young for being "a hit man for Mets management."
One of the later photos in the book looks a lot different to me now than when it was taken. It shows Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan leaping in the air together to celebrate a Mets victory.
As the book heads toward the present, there is currently no happy ending. But there’s fifty years of history, some of it good, some of it bad, and all of it compelling to the diehard Met fan.