In 1989, I attended a reading of baseball stories at Symphony Space in NYC, organized by Roger Angell and A. Bartlett Giamatti.
They had an exchange I’ve never forgotten. Giamatti asked, “Why does baseball appeal to writers so much?”
Angell gave a full answer, which you can read transcribed here but essentially he noted the similarities between reading and baseball. Angell said, memorably:
They are occupations for people who are not afraid of being bored.
Somehow this serves as an introduction to the object of today’s interview, Greg Prince, hail fellow of Faith and Fear in Flushing fame. There’s a tagline to Greg’s blog, co-written with Jason Fry, that reads like a warning shot over the bow: “The blog for Mets fans who like to read.” Greg tends to write (and talk!) at length: that either scares you or it doesn’t. Proceed accordingly.
Oh, look! Here’s Greg now. Let’s begin . . .
A little background here, we first crossed paths on an AOL Mets Message Board, back in the early days of call-up modems. My guess is ’94, ’95. This was before the hordes overran the internet. The days of “IPP” — Izzy, Paul, and Pulse — and the dream of soon-to-come dominance. Then we watched them fall, one by one, like dominoes. What did you learn from that, other than TINSTAAPP.
IPP! Haven’t seen Generation K grouped as such in ages! Izzy, Pulse and Paul, in whatever order you like, was a bracing experience. I think their cumulative effect turned me off from relying on Next Big Things where the Mets are concerned. Other bloggers get excited about the farm system. I don’t, whatever the reports are. At most I’m encouraged when there’s a Harvey or an Ike in the pipeline, but the last time I was over the moon about a prospect was Reyes. Then again, I’ve been a much more cynical Mets fan since the collapse of 2007. It’s like I don’t want to be told something great is going to happen, because somehow I know it won’t.
Insane as it sounds today, there was also a heated, long-running debate about which young, NY shortstop was better: Jeter or Ordoñez? Were you in the “But Rey saves a bazillion runs a year!” camp?
Yeah, probably. I don’t know that I took it to any projections, but I really loved watching Rey go into that little slide to scoop up grounders…and go back like nobody’s business on fly balls…and lunge from his position to make force plays at second. I don’t think I realized just how inept a hitter he was and I don’t think I cared. Rey-O exists in that once-in-a-lifetime space the way Dave Kingman did as a player who did one thing so sensationally well that I didn’t really care about his shortcomings.
Honestly, I don’t think I was all that aware of what Jeter was up to in his rookie year, just that he was said to be better than Ordoñez — and surely that was impossible. I turned around a couple of years later and the world is at that guy’s feet and we’re still waiting for Rey to put down a bunt against the Braves.
I actually believe that the Mets made the 2000 World Series partly in thanks to Rey’s injury. We got Mike Bordick from the Orioles, who was terrible for us, and got better. Addition by subtraction. But I was a Rey-hater.
Bordick plus Abbott in the World Series instead of Rey-O. I can’t see Luis Sojo’s 147-hopper getting between Rey and Fonzie. But who knows? It’s only been twelve years, so maybe I’ll stop replaying it.
I had no real quibbles with the All-Time Mets team, but I thought Gil Hodges should have been named manager over Davey. You?
That was such a tough call. Emotionally it has to be Gil, but when you look at the totals, you can’t go against Davey. Gil, in my mind, will always be the manager of the Mets, I suppose. I was pretty surprised when a panel that talked so glowingly about Gil picked Davey. But Davey transformed a hopeless team every bit as much as Gil did and, by circumstances nobody could control, did it longer. It’s appealing to think that a Gil Hodges who lived longer would have kept the Mets on the straight and narrow. We just don’t know. I don’t think it’s fair to penalize Davey because he’s up against someone who is as close as this organization has to a sainthood figure.
By the way, my partner in blogging, Mike, was at Shea for the game of Gil’s long, slow walk out to LF to yank Cleon Jones. What a moment for a manager, what a message to a team.
Regarding the rest of the all-time team, I was kind of delighted that Tug pulled the upset over Franco for lefty reliever. I thought there was a clause in the Mets’ covenant somewhere that said John Franco’s contributions always had to be largely overstated. And, to be fair, the man was around longer and piled up more saves. But we watched Franco. He was the template for every aggravating closer to come, except he didn’t throw hard. Tug on the other hand was Tug. I’m glad he got the nod. (I did think McDowell over Benitez for righty closer was, per Dick Young, horsespit, however.)
Agreed on the relievers. But I never found the hot foot all that hilarious, frankly. You started blogging in 2005. That’s impressive, since most blogs flame out after 3 months. Do you have any sage advice for us newcomers?
Do it as long as you’re having fun. That’s how Jason and I have approached it, essentially. It often saddens me to watch promising blogs fizzle out because of the author’s lack of interest or commitment or whatever. I think our motivating factor is we’d be writing back and forth to one another about the Mets anyway, why not keep doing it in this forum we’ve set up and people seem to enjoy?
Yeah, well, having fun, that might be a problem. We got into this for the money.
When you find it, let us know.
Do you think blogging has changed you as a fan?
Yes, in several ways. I’m usually thinking on some level about what I might write when I’m watching a game or going to a game or reading about the Mets or seeing somebody on the street wearing a Mets cap. My fandom feels more all-encompassing. There’s also a sense of obligation to the craft and our readers. It is our policy that we “cover” each game, which means we have written something after every game since the start of the 2005 season. You get to August of these non-competitive years and you think you’ve run out of ways to express your discontent with the current state of affairs. But we keep finding a way to say, in so many words, “The Mets suck, but we still love ’em.”
The other big change is the behavior of the Mets toward the blogging community (which is a loosely defined entity). In 2010 they decided to reach out to some of us and treat us like quasi-media. We get an invite once a month to come out for BP, maybe get on a conference call with the GM or the head marketing guy. It’s helpful for the insights it provides — both for our own edification and for the chance to tell our readers how something works — but it’s also a little odd in that our thing is writing as fans. Neither of us ever wanted to be a sportswriter, yet here we are dealing with media relations and what’s on or off the record. At times it’s become a bit of a second job without compensation. But the opportunity it presents as a Mets fan to go deeper than you can from the stands is too good to pass up. I think as long as we continue to be who we are and not worry about “access,” we’ll be doing ourselves and our readers a favor. Overall, Faith and Fear reminds me of life before and after The Simpsons or the Internet. It’s as if I can’t remember what life was like before those things. I can’t imagine being a Mets fan who doesn’t write about the Mets after every game.
We’ve never met, but I was really happy for you when you published Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets. It seemed like a dream come true.
I truly appreciate that, especially since the first inkling I had that I wanted to write a book that would tell the Mets fan story — mine, obviously, but something that would represent all of us — started coming together in those AOL days. One of my favorite seasons ever, pound for pound, was 1997, and after a particularly exhilarating series I remember posting something about how much this kind of out-of-nowhere year meant, and I got such nice feedback from several people on our board. That was the kind of thing that made me want to pull those types of feelings together into a book and explore what it meant to be a Mets fan across a lifetime, what it meant to take this kind of thing as life and death (without being overly severe about it) and, at the same time, tell the Mets’ story in the first-person.
There’s a chapter in there, “Virtual Reality and Rico Brogna,” devoted to the bleak period preceding 1997 that serves to explain how this particular Mets fan got amped up by the chance to meet other Mets fans via the Internet for the first time, Jason being the prime example; that’s something I still relish doing through the blog and other online outlets. I’m probably not a blogger or an author without that AOL experience. As for the dream come true, certainly. I’m a writer and I’m a Mets fan. What could be better than having written a Mets book? I’m very grateful to those who have thought enough to read it and respond to it. The book came out in the spring of 2009, and to this day I receive correspondence from Mets fans telling me I touched something in them. There’s no greater compliment.
Any other book projects in the pipeline?
So glad you asked! I’m about to release, via the CreateSpace publishing platform, the first volume in a four-volume series called The Happiest Recap: 50 Years of the New York Mets as Told in 500 Amazin’ Wins. It’s an outgrowth of a 50th anniversary series I did on the blog in 2011 and its goal is to tell the story of the franchise the way a fan remembers it — in the third-person this time — through the prism of the wins that really defined the Mets as we know them. That means historical games, momentous games, fantastic games, legendary games, obscure games that should be legendary, curious games, the games you swore you’d never forget when they were over, but in many cases have probably mostly forgotten because that’s just the way life goes. Unless you’re inclined to be historically obsessive about the Mets, as I am.
Really? Historically obsessive? You? I hadn’t noticed. Quick: What’s the name of Bobby Pfeil’s 3rd grade teacher?
I’d love to say, “Read the book if you wanna find out,” but I’m afraid that information eludes my obsession’s grasp (like Sojo’s ground ball getting by Kurt Abbott). But not much else does, I’m more proud than ashamed to report.
Dude, you need to get over the Sojo thing. Seriously. Back to the book!
The first volume, or “First Base,” covers 127 wins from 1962 through 1973, the “Mets classic” period as I’ve come to think of it. You get the whole gamut there: the Mets as baby bumblers (but they did manage to win in memorable ways occasionally); the Mets as toddlers (bringing up the first Youth of Americans, you might say, not all of them who would grow big and strong); the Mets as sudden champions in their eighth year (the greatest story ever retold, to my thinking); then into their sometimes sullen pre-adolescence in the early ’70s and, finally, the pennant of 1973. I’ve spent time with every winning box score in Mets history to get here and done a ton of research to find the details that time has swept away. In one of the introductory passages, I liken this to “your family history” and myself to the well-meaning uncle determined to write it all down for posterity. It’s one game after another, almost like 500 bedtime stories for Mets fans, but from it an organic narrative forms and you can feel the ebb and flow of the franchise.
Obviously you’ll read about the postseason wins and the dramatic home runs and the like, but you’ll also get what I’ll call the “Gary Rajsich game,” to borrow a phrase a guy I knew thirty years ago used when he told me, “I was at the Gary Rajsich game!” You might remember Gary Rajsich was the minor league home run king for the Tidewater Tides during the strike of 1981, thus the biggest name in baseball for the heart of a summer. He makes the Mets in 1982 and the magic is gone, but on one night, he has the game of his life: Makes a Ron Swoboda-like catch and hits a big home run, and suddenly Gary Rajsich is a big deal again, back page of the Daily News, we’re penciling him in for 30 home runs a year the way we tend to do. Then, ultimately, he’s not a big deal. But his is a story that preoccupied us for spell, and that’s what I’m looking to capture for posterity. That and the kinds of stories that have otherwise faded in addition to the ones you’ve read about plenty.
One more example: Every time Jim McAndrew pitched, Murph, Ralph or Lindsey would talk about how McAndrew came up in 1968, pitched great for a bunch of starts but got zero run support.
I used to imitate McAndrew’s windup as a Little Leaguer. He did that weird wrap-around leg thing. Awkward. I fell down a lot.
McAndrew was my go-to “43” for decades when I’d go through the Mets numerical alphabet. You know: 1, Mookie; 2, Bobby V; 3, Harrelson…and so on. But R.A. has bumped Jim at last. Not that McAndrew didn’t have problems from the moment he arrived in the big leagues. It was the Year of the Pitcher, and the Mets couldn’t hit as it was. So McAndrew wins his first two games by 1-0 shutouts — over Steve Carlton and then Fergie Jenkins, two future Hall of Famers. It’s an incredible first month probably unmatched anywhere and it tells us about the kind of pitchers the Mets were bringing up, the kind of offensive blues that was their burden just ahead of 1969, what baseball was like then…and it’s just a fascinating story — Jim McAndrew of Lost Nation, Ia., the psychology major who must be dreaming he’s on the mound naked or something given how little support he has to clothe himself in — that I thought needed to be brought back into the light.
Future volumes will cover 1974-1986; 1987-1999; and “2000 and beyond” (which is to say I’m fudging the “50 Years” rule to maybe get a pitching performance or two from the 51st season in under the wire). And, as you might guess from the title, I’d like to believe the spirit of Bob Murphy informs the whole project.
My very good friend Jim Haines collaborated with me as the book’s designer. He did a wonderful homage to the 1974 Mets yearbook as the first volume’s cover, which I hope draws some readers in when they see it on Amazon, et al. It should be out in plenty of time for online holiday shopping. We’ll have plenty of details at Faith and Fear in short order.
I love reading baseball books — please check out our “Two Guys-Approved” Essential Baseball Library in the blue banner up top. I have a decent collection at home, though I haven’t particularly specialized in Mets-related books. One thing that strikes me is that there’s been so few really first-rate books about the Mets. There’s some real hack jobs out there.
Actually, I think this has been something of a renaissance period for Mets books. My friends Jon Springer and Matthew Silverman wrote an instant classic with Mets By The Numbers, based on Jon’s pioneering web site. Matt also did a wonderful coffee table 50th anniversary history that kicks the ass of anything else in that genre. My late friend Dana Brand wrote two essential books: Mets Fan and The Last Days of Shea. William Ryczek wrote an incredible pre-1970 history a couple of years ago called The Amazin’ Mets, 1962-1969 (and I don’t know him from a hole in the head, lest you think I’m just cheerleading for friends). And from doing the research for The Happiest Recap, I’m reminded of what a readable team this has been from its inception: Jimmy Breslin, Jerry Mitchell, Leonard Shecter, Leonard Koppett, George Vecsey, Joe Durso….I don’t think any other team was written about with such passion, humor and joy before it turned twelve as the Mets were.
Okay, buckle up. Lightning round: Five favorite all-time Mets players?
1) Tom Seaver; 2) Dwight Gooden; 3) Edgardo Alfonzo; 4) Jose Reyes; 5) Rico Brogna.
Which player hated being a Met the most?
Worst season ever?
1979 and 1993 in a flat-footed tie.
Biggest thrill at the park?
October 3, 1999, Melvin Mora scoring on Brad Clontz’s wild pitch to clinch a tie for the Wild Card on the final day of the season.
One game, one batter: which Mets pitcher gets the ball? And from which year?
Tom Seaver, 1971.
Reverse it: One at-bat, everything on the line. Who do you send up to the plate?
Keith Hernandez, 1985.
Whose book is better, Keith’s, Ron’s, or Art Shamsky’s?
Keith’s, if you mean If At First, though in that genre, I’d write in Screwball by Tug McGraw (and Joe Durso).
Who is the biggest name on the Mets that you think will get traded this off-season?
I have a hunch it’ll be Daniel Murphy. Can’t imagine it being Wright or Dickey. Can’t say Jason Bay anymore, either, assuming his name was still considered big before he and the Mets got out of each other’s way.
He’s a big Niese of the puzzle, whatever that puzzle might be.
I know you’re not a big guy on prospects. But anybody down on the farm got your interest?
Let’s just say if Zack Wheeler isn’t the real deal that he’s universally agreed to be, I want Carlos Beltran back. Now.
Thanks for your time, Greg. It’s funny, since we’ve never met in person, it’s like we’ve not known each other for nearly 20 years — that’s a kind of friendship, I suppose. I’ll be sure to pick up The Happiest Recap as soon as it hits the remainder table. To express our gratitude, we’ll be sending you a free set of steak knives in the mail.