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Book Review/Author Interview: The Amazin' Mets 1962-1969

One of the best Mets books I've read is The Amazin' Mets 1962-1969 published earlier this year by the small, specialty publisher McFarland, and I highly recommend it if you're looking for a holiday gift for a Mets fan.

The best thing I could say about this book is that I wish I had written it. The author, Connecticut-based finance professional William Ryczek interviewed more than 100 former players from that era, and went well beyond the basic stories that you may know about each season. Each chapter is thoroughly researched, informative, and entertaining. Every season is covered in thorough detail and every bit of Mets minutiae you could hope for is included. The writing style is ideal for a quick, comfortable read. Basically what I'm saying is: Buy the book :)

I had the chance to exchange e-mails with the author and got his thoughts on this book and the team. Here's his take:

* What made a finance professional, who has previously written about baseball in the 1860s and 70s, want to write about the 1960s Mets?

I grew up in the 1960s, and I think most sports fans retain a great attachment to the teams and players they followed in their youth. The first year I began watching baseball was 1962, which was the first year the Mets played baseball.

* You did 100+ interviews with former players and such. What is the book-writing process like for you? Are there any interesting stories about trying to find a former player?

My writing process is somewhat haphazard. I research and write simultaneously, and don’t generally do an outline in advance. Since this book followed a timeline, the sequence was relatively predictable. I write big chunks and then fill in with additional information I gather along the way.

The final step is revision after revision after revision to get the book to flow and read the way I want it to read. I always write on spec, as I enjoy what I do, and don’t want the pressure of a deadline to detract from the enjoyment. I like to know that if I don’t feel like writing some nights, I don’t have to. I’m a disciplined person and don’t need a deadline to spur me along.

My most interesting Met non-interview story involves Tim Harkness. It’s too long to relate here, but you can read about it in the Introduction. (Interviewers note: It's about Ryczek mailing an autograph request and waiting a LONG time for a response.)

I contacted former Yankee pitcher Tom Metcalf for an interview for my book on the Yankees of the early ‘60s. He said David Halberstam contacted him for an interview for October 1964 and Metcalf blew him off, not knowing who he was. When he found out who Halberstam was, he was highly embarrassed. He told me he didn’t want to blow me off because he thought maybe I was famous, too. That’s two instances of poor judgment.

* A lot of people know about the 1962 Mets and a lot of people know about the 1969 Mets. What made the teams in-between those years so interesting?

I don’t think any of the other editions of the Mets are as fascinating as those two. There are many interesting players, such as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Joe Christopher, Bob Shaw, Ron Hunt, Ron Swoboda, etc., but none of the teams really stand out in my mind. They weren’t spectacularly bad like the ’62 Mets or miraculous like the ’69 club. They were just bad.

* I know that when I've interviewed some of these former players, memory sometimes counters the facts. Did you run into any funny or interesting instances of that?

I had a few instances like this, but I’d rather not go into them, since it might be embarrassing to the player. Don Cardwell insisted that his elbow injury (which happened in 1967) took place when he was with the Pirates. He had every other detail correct, but the wrong year and team. On the other hand, J. C. Martin may have had the most accurate recall. Everything he told me checked out perfectly in every detail.

* Have to ask, since this is a walk-offs blog...Did you compile any good walk-off stories? Other than Game 6 of the 1986 WS, do you have a favorite walk-off?

Probably the most famous walk-off from the ‘60s was the end of Game 4 of the ’69 Series when J.C. Martin’s bunt was thrown away by Pete Richert. I interviewed Martin, of course, and Rod Gaspar, who scored the winning run. In my opinion, the most interesting early Met walkoffs were (i) the time Marv Throneberry came off the coaching lines to pinch hit a game winning homer, and (ii) the grand slam by Jim Hickman that snapped Roger Craig’s 18-game losing streak in 1963.

* What was the most interesting thing you learned, that you didn't previously know? Do you have a favorite story that a player told you?

Without question, my most unusual interview was with Joe Christopher. Joe is very loquacious and extremely opinionated on a number of topics, including hitting, religion, nutrition, medicine, the science of numbers, and pre-Columbian art.

Perhaps the most interesting and enjoyable chapter for me was "The Three Wise Men and the Two Bob Millers," and the interviews with Jay Hook, Craig Anderson and Bob Miller. I also found the Don Bosch interview very revealing and insightful. He discussed the difficult time he had in New York, how he was crushed by unrealistic expectations, and what he thought about it today. Finally, there were many interesting anecdotes about Casey Stengel.

* You call this "a book of digressions." Your chapter on pitching is a fascinating digression. Can you summarize that chapter?

I learned so many interesting things while interviewing pitchers and catchers that I decided to put them all together in one chapter. I grouped their theories about pitching into categories, such as location, knockdowns, control, relief pitching, the relationship between pitchers and catchers, complete games, etc. I was amazed by the diversity of opinion. Some stressed keeping the ball low, some said changing speeds was more important. Others said in and out was more important than up and down. A related digression is a lengthy discussion of the spitball in the chapter on the ’66 Mets.

* Lastly, what's your next book project?

Next July, McFarland is releasing the paperback version of Crash of the Titans, my book on the early days of the New York AFL franchise, which came out in a hardcover version in 2000. Next fall, McFarland will publish the third volume of my 19th century trilogy, tentatively titled: First Inning: The History of Baseball Through 1864. I am researching and writing a book called Baseball on the Brink, the story of baseball in 1968, which I believe is a critical point in the history of the game. I have a couple of other projects in the early stages, but the three I mentioned above are the ones nearest completion.


Anonymous said…
I think you just sold me. "Crash of the Titans," by the way, is brilliant, both for the proto-Jets and AFL history and for what was going on with the Polo Grounds between the Giants and the Mets.
Jon Springer said…
I should mention the first two books in his protohistorry, Blackguards and Red Stockings, and When Johnny Came Sliding Home, are full of interesting stuff and are among the books that inspired me to do baseball research.

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