Day 13 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews in 2021: Before this gets any messier, let’s go Metsy … no, really, can we just move along …

“So Many Ways to Lose: The Amazin’ True Story of
The New York Mets – The Best Worst Team in Sports”

The author:
Devin Gordon

The publishing info:
400 pages
Released March 16, 2021

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At the author’s website
At The Last BookStore in L.A.

The review in 90 feet or less

In your best Seinfeld voice, ask yourself the question: So what’s the deal with the New York Mets?

You may have seen how Thursday they managed a wonky walk-off. Guy leans into a strike-three pitch, barely gets nicked, dupes the ump and forces in the winning run. Teammates mob him. To actually … celebrate?

There are only so many ways to legitimately win a baseball game, and this isn’t one of them. And here, with “So Many Ways to Lose,” such as the team did on Opening Day as chronicled by the New York Times,  Devin Gordon brings us up to speed as to why none of this should be surprising, even for the baseball gods looking to balance some karmic conflict resolution.

What makes a Mets fan so “Metsy,” as Gordon writes, is to acknowledge the history of a franchise that came about to replace the void left by the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers moving west and have always been the anti-Yankees in the New York Metropolitan area.

It’s also why, other than those focused on The History of The Yankees, there are at least a few books that come out each spring in hopes of capturing more disposable income of fans from Queens who can’t get enough stabbing pains in the groin.

Despite a “miracle” championship in 1969, less than a decade after their birth and 120-loss season, plus other post-season successes that fans of other teams might sell their souls for, the Mets are an entity that, before “So Many Ways To Lose,” those of us on this side of the coast might not actually care to even muster feigning interest.

Almost immediately into this, you gotta believe that Gordon, a lifelong Mets fan who targets the 2006 team as his favorite, sharpened his knife for this master carving class with previous writings for the New York Times, the Atlantic, Newsweek and ESPN The Magazine, as well as serving as executive editor at GQ.

Pounding out the prose from past to the present in trying to document how a franchise originally purchased by former N.Y. Giants fan and heiress Joan Payson now seems to ignore her contributions to every degree of blissful ignorance, once we see how the messy list includes the incarnations of Casey Stengel, Marv Throneberry and Bernie Madoff, twice letting franchise star Tom Seaver go away to achieve immortality, giving away Nolan Ryan (to the Angels for a miscast Jim Fergosi), Mackey Sasser’s yips, the annual Bobby Bonilla payments for not playing, Bernie Madoff (worth mentioning again as he has Chapter 17 to himself under the headling “Bernie Madoff Stole This Chapter”) … Vince Coleman throwing M-100 firecrackers at fans in the Dodger Stadium parking lot … Robin Ventura hits a grand slam walk-off single … hiring Carlos Beltran as a manager and firing him before the season ever starts …

It makes perfect sense that this is the team with a fan base of a “murders’ row” of comedians: Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel …

And Gordon fits right in.

“There is no such thing as a funny winner,” he sums up.

Which leads to more comic relief, such as:

= “We are the phoenix that rises from the ashes, only to light ourselves on fire and go right back to ashes again.”

More reason for Mets optimism: A new shortstop, recently signed to a 10-year, $341 million deal.

= “When you choose to plant your franchise in a place called Flushing Meadows, you can only outrun your own destiny for so long. And then the Mets doubled down by building a stadium shaped like a latrine. … Over the course of seven decades, Flushing Meadows had gone from a swamp to an ash heap to a garbage dump to a giant fairground and now, finally, the land was fertile for humankind to till, the groundwork laid for a masterpiece of modern engineering, a monument to a transformational period in the history of New York City, but instead they built Shea Stadium.”

“The Home Run Apple … was nine feet tall, weighed 582 pounds and was made of fiberboard – which is every bit as flimsy as it sounds … and as the years passed, the apple began to rot … and when it worked, it struggled a bit climbing out of the hat like Willie Mays’ last days patrolling center field for the 1973 Mets.”

And that’s just in the first several chapters. Before he even gets to feast on a personal end game of the existence of Endy Chavez and the several mispronunciations of his name.

Not that we’d confuse this at all with the 1993 book, “The Worst Team Money Could Buy: The Collapse of the New York Mets” from Bob Klapish and John Harper that dissects the collapse of the team’s 1992 season, Gordon’s comic relief of history leads us to the doorstep of realizing there is far more to come.

As long as Steve Cohen’s portfolio is in play.

As much as currents Mets’ followers are hedging their bets with the hedge fund guy who says he has legitimate claim to billions of dollars and will crank the team up to new heights, it’s too bad none of them can read.

In the 2018 gem, “Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street,” by Sheelah Kolhatkar, there leave little doubt about the integrity of Cohen, at one point revered as one of the greatest stock traders who ever lived but had that all blown open when hiss fund, SAC Capital, became the target of a seven-year government investigation. Cohen was never charged but he was barred from doing business for two years. He had fixed it that way in the process of doing his business.

Cohen, a proclaimed life-long Mets fan, offered to buy the franchise for $2.6 billion in January 2020. Then he withdrew when he didn’t like the conditions left by the Wilpon family. Then COVID hit. Then the 2020 season ended, and Cohen came back, bought the team for less than the $2.6 bil he originally offered, and Mets fans rejoiced. And now Cohen has set high expectations.

Don’t worry. Gordon seems well aware of the ultimate letdown. As he writes on page 367 about how the unfound pomp surrounding the COVID-laced 2020 season ended in misery:

“We won’t stop being the Mets. We’ll get back to our roots before too long. We’ll keep finding new ways to lose and thanks to Steve Cohen’s bottomless billions of dollars, no one can stop us now.”

How it goes in the scorebook

A major “W,” if “W” stands for Worst. Which means Best.

(You provide your own punchline).

If hilarity always seems to ensue, why not have a group of comics – Seinfeld, Kimmel, etc. – do the book’s audio version?

More to cover

== An excerpt of the book in the Atlantic under the headline: “The Best Losers in America: Forget the Lions or the Clippers or even the Knicks. No team in all of American sports is better than the Mets at being the worst.”

More newish books on the Mets

* “Tom Seaver: A Terrific Life,” by Bill Madden (Simon & Schuster, $28, 304 pages, released Nov. 24, 2020)

One morning, I walked toward the desk of my home office and the sun  as just coming through the east window. The room was otherwise dark, except for this beam of light that hit a stack of books on the corner of the desk. That book at the top of the stack – the stack of new baseball books that I have piled up for reviews – was this one about Tom Seaver.
It was a moment to pause and reflect.
First, there may never be a better photograph of a person in a baseball biography than the one used here.
And the job done by Bill Madden to capture the essence of the Hall of Fame pitcher who died on his Napa winery in late August, just a few months before the book’s publication, after withdrawing from public life because of dementia. His cause of death was from COVID-19 complications.
When we reviewed last year’s “Tom Seaver And Me” by Pat Jordan (also Simon & Schuster/Post Hill Press, $28, 192 pages, released May 2020), we could sense how Seaver trusted Jordan and gave him plenty of insight over the years about how he processed the game and life.
Madden’s book takes it an extra terrific step.
An excerpt of the book’s first chapter here.

* “Terrific: Tom Seaver 1944-2020,” by the New York Daily News ($16.95, 128 pages, released Nov. 10, ’20)

* “Amazin’ Upset: The Mets, the Orioles and the 1969 World Series,” by John Robertson and Carl Madden (McFarland, 194 pages, $35, to be released June 2, 2021). Robertson is a private tutor and sports historian who lives in Canada. Madden operates an escape room, also in Canada.

* “Mount Rushmore of the New York Mets: The Best Players by Decade to Wear the Orange and Blue,” by Brett Topel (Simon & Schuster, to be released May 18). From the PR blurb: “In 2015, Major League Baseball announced its decision for each team’s Mount Rushmore. For the Mets, voters chose Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza, Tom Seaver, and David Wright. No one would argue that Tom Seaver is on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore. He was, after all, “The Franchise.” Some might even argue that the Mets’ Mount Rushmore is Tom Seaver four times! However, that not-withstanding, when it comes to rounding out the other three players, did MLB get it right??”

2 thoughts on “Day 13 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews in 2021: Before this gets any messier, let’s go Metsy … no, really, can we just move along …”

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