Archive for Your Baseball Library

The Bat Boy

Many moons ago, MBTN supporter Ed A. mailed me a copy of this book and for whatever reason I dug it out and read for the first time.

The book, published in 1967, is a first-person account, aimed at teen readers, describing what it was like to be a Shea Stadium bat boy (and ball boy) mainly in 1965 and ’66. It’s quirky and personal, and there are a ton of photographs. We learn not only Dom’s close-up observations about baseball, but about his Beatles records, his prom date, his misadventures camping, and some enlightening thoughts on draft-card burners (Dom’s 1966 season is interrupted as he reports to the US Air Force). There’s no real uni-number content (ball boys back then literally wore no numbers) but I learned the following things:

1.There was a hierarchy to the “boy” employees: back then at least, you started as a ball boy, graduated to visiting bat boy, then became home bat boy.

2. The ball boy along the third-base line is stationed in the visiting clubhouse; and the first-base ball boy in the home clubhouse. This makes sense but I never gave it any thought before.
3. Pay was about $5 a game
4. The Mets would take the bat boys on 1 road trip a year. Amazin’.
5. Ron Hunt never wanted to receive a bat by hand; he preferred to pick it up off the ground himself.
6. Jerry Grote ate black licorice rather than chaw, but wouldn’t share the game stash he kept in the dugout.
7. Casey Stengel was aloof and distant, had a separate dressing room for himself and his coaches, and the players didn’t like him (I knew some of that). Wes Westrum moved the staff in with the guys and was more personable.
8. Rob Gardner, who was a pitcher, preferred his bat stay cool when he hit, so he had his stored behind the water cooler instead of in the bat rack.
9. Dennis Ribant was called “Weasel” by teammates because he couldn’t sit still. Ron Hunt was known as “Pig.”
10. The author comes off as a strong believer in his co-workers but even his wild optimism has him imagining the Mets as a “first division” unit “in five years.”
All good stuff, right? It’s a little dated and by this I mean, it’s a lot dated, but there’s so little pretension that it serves as a nice little artifact of the perspective of a teen on the verge of cultural and baseball revolution.
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The Name of the Game

As disappointed as we all are to learn the start of the baseball season has been delayed as part of the economic wreckage of incompetent U.S. preparedness for the coronavirus, perhaps there’s a silver lining in not immediately experiencing how dumb it’s going to be when new rules requiring relief pitchers throw to at least three batters takes effect. And the March 26 opening date seemed obscenely early anyway. I don’t often bother to show up in Flushing until May, given that place is guaranteed to be 20 degrees colder and twice as damp as anywhere else in the five boroughs, but let’s hope they get it going by then.

How are we going to pass the time though? I’d been suffering through the Islanders season and now that’s done too. So we’re rewatching The Wire on the stream, and reading some books.

Around here we care primarily about the number on the back of the jersey but much of what needs to be said about the letters above them is addressed with wit, insight and just the right mix of respect and humor in HALL OF NAME, a new book coming out any day now from D.B. Firstman.

I’ve known D.B. primarily through SABR and the Twitterverse for some time now, and they were gracious to offer an early copy, which I’d been eating piecemeal for a few weeks.

That’s in fact one of the cool things about this book: You can open it to any of its 312 pages and find something fun and interesting. The book includes short biographies, trivial facts, anagrams and vague sound-alikes for 100 of baseball’s “most magnificent monikers” from Boof Bonzer to Coco Crisp to Joe Zdeb.

Even more precisely than numbers, D.B. notes, names lend a uniqueness to the game’s characters that’s part of the fun; but what I enjoyed the most was the revelation of a little bit more than just the stats accompanying those names that would make you briefly pause and admire while thumbing through the Baseball Encyclopedia (Rivington Bisland, Jennings Poindexter, Orval Overall); uncommon commons revealed in a pack of Topps cards (Mark Lemongello, Greg Legg, Biff Pocoroba); or references that never fail to elicit a giggle (Johnny Dickshot, Rusty Kuntz, and Pete LaCock, the latter all lovingly written up in a section helpfully called DIRTY NAMES DONE DIRT CHEAP).

There’s a little Met content too, with J.J. Putz, Lastings Milledge, Angel Pagan, Razor Shines, Ambiorix Burgos and Xavier Nady among those featured.

You’re stuck at home with no baseball? Go out and get a copy or have your bookstore deliver one, like I said it’ll be out any day now. And in honor of the book’s publishing, here’s my list of the Mets All-Time Name Team. They may not win much, but you’ll never forget them:

1B: Marv Throneberry

2B: Chin-lung Hu

3B: Pumpsie Green

SS: Adeiny Hechavaria

OF: Darryl Strawberry, Don Hahn, Prentice Redman

C: Greg Goosen, Taylor Teagarden

P: Wally Whitehurst, Ken MacKenzie, Vinegar Bend Mizell, Patrick Strange, Bartolome Fortunato, Roadblock Jones, Al Schmelz

How are you going to make it through? Who makes your all-name club?

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Buy My New Book!

So I owe a quick update: As we know Corey Oswalt was up., down and now back: He made his MLB debut the other night in No. 55. Gerson Bautista in the meantime has also come and now gone, having left behind a few ineffective relief appearances. Bautista as we know wore the dreaded 46.

The Mets have me worried, and it has little to do with how disappointing Harvey and Matz have been (actually I was expecting that). It’s the hitting, or lack thereof, that’s really been the problem lately. We need to get Cespendes and Bruce going, Conforto needs to start collecting some extra-base hits, we need to play Brandon Nimmo more, which may mean moving Jay Bruce to first base, and we really ought to go get a catcher who can hit.

In personal news, you may know I have written a new book on baseball, but it’s not about numbers, or the Mets.

ONCE UPON A TEAM tells the forgotten true story of the worst team ever to play major league baseball, the Wilmington Quicksteps of 1884. I know, it’s a really obscure topic so you figure, this would never be published if there weren’t a pretty remarkable story there: There’s drinking, contract disputes, arguments, treachery, guys falling down elevator shafts, cuthhroat business decisions, baffling racism and at the center of it all a very good minor league baseball team caught up in crazy circumstances that thrust them briefly and tumultuously into the ranks of the highest levels of the sport where they left behind a virtually unassailable mark for futility.

It’s a story how baseball was played and consumed in 1884, and how much — and how little — has changed. It’s also a cautionary tale about business risk and the high costs of pursuing one’s dreams.

If you’d like a copy it should be in bookstores May 1 and online. Let me know if I can get you an autographed copy!

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Put It In The Books

mbtn-cover1Quick reminder that the all-new, totally updated METS BY THE NUMBERS hits physical and virtual bookstores any day now, and we’re kicking off the festivities officially on Tuesday, June 14 with a reading, Q&A and book signing at Word Books, conveniently located near MBTN Headquarters in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Word is located at the corner of Franklin & Milton streets — a short walk from the Greenpoint Ave. stop on the G train.

The event starts at 7 p.m. NBC Sports and Rotoworld’s D.J. Short will host, and guests include yours truly along with Greg Prince, author of the magnificent Faith & Fear in Flushing blog and the newly published fan chronicle of the 2015 season, AMAZIN AGAIN. We’ll have beer and Crackerjacks on hand and plans to head to a local watering hole to catch the Mets on TV afterward.

MBTN the book, again with contributions from Matthew Silverman, has been completely updated from the first edition which published in 2008, with details and history of more than 300 new players, all new photos, stats and sidebars including a history of the Mets uniform. Order now and get it in time for Father’s Day. Order extra ones in case it rains.

Facebook events page here.

16Hey, how about a big hand for returning hero Eric Campbell, who got the “lucky dog” promo for today’s double-dip in Pittsburgh? No? How about congratulating Rene Rivera for seemingly wrestling the No. 1 catching duties from struggling (again) Kevin Plawecki? New third baseman Wilmer Flores? New center field stud Alejando De Aza? Summer’s getting warm.

 

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Would You Buy a Book from this Man?

That’s a request, not a rhetorical question. As many of the readers here know, Greg W. Prince, who co-authors the outstanding Mets blog Faith & Fear in Flushing, has come out with a new book, also called Faith & Fear in Flushing and aptly subtitled An Intense Personal History of the Mets.

I will contribute a full reveiw when I’m finished reading it (I’m up to 1987 now, congratulations on meeting your wife, Greg) but thought now would be a good time to replay my explosive two-part interview with Greg that ran in this space last year. I was way out ahead of the market in declaring Greg a Big Shot then.

I had a fair amount of self-interest in doing this: In addition to pushing my own book, I was also hoping to understand how the heck he does it. The answer: He just does.

Here’s Part 1

Here’s Part 2

Enjoy!

* * *

I consider it good news that Freddy Garcia has agreed to extended spring training and/or a minor league assignment. He obviously wasn’t pitching up to his standards, but perhaps at some point he will, and with the kinds of starts the Mets pitchers have been turning in lately, depth is going to be an issue over the course of a long season. Valerio de los Santos was released and Rule 5er Rocky Cherry — I was rooting for that guy — went and signed with Boston.

* * *

Thanks to those who showed up my chat last night in Roslyn; and to Victor and Rosemary for helping to set it up; and to my sister Jennifer for putting me in touch with them.

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