One afternoon five years ago, I'm walking by a desk occupied by a writer for the magazine I was editing in those days.
“Hey,” the writer asks amid several sheets of legal pad paper (none of which have anything to do with the magazine we're supposed to be producing), “which uniform number would you guess has the most homers in Mets history?”
Immediately thinking Darryl, I reply, “It's not 18?”
“18 is up there, but there one's that higher.”
“Uh,” going from career Met home run champ Strawberry to single-season Met home run champ Hundley, “9?”
“Good guess. 9 is up there, too, but that's not it.”
“Hmmm,” the wheels grinding so as to add HoJo plus Agee plus current unfortunate occupant Jeromy Burnitz, “20?”
“Yup, 20. More Met home runs have been hit by players wearing 20 than any other number.”
So forgive me if I'm not blown away when I open Mets By The Numbers to page 107 to learn that the three most powerful numbers in Mets history are 20 (384 homers through 2007), 18 (377) and 9 (314). It's not because I had the sneak peek five years ago, though — it's that I think about this stuff, albeit in a less specifically numerical way than does the book's co-author, Jon Springer. He is my former co-worker and a longtime friend but someone with whom I would feel a baseball kinship even if I'd never actually met him because of the way he writes about our team.
But don't for a second think that I'm not blown away by this book, Mets By The Numbers, because it is perhaps the most incredible repository of Mets data, Mets trivia and Mets Zeitgeist you will ever find between two covers. And, in all sincere immodesty, if someone like me can be blown away by this kind of Mets book in this manner, I can only imagine the absolute tsunami effect it will have on Mets fans who are every bit as committed as I am, maybe just not as…let's say obsessed.
We speak often in this space of our regard for the Web site Mets By The Numbers. When Jon told me he and Matt Silverman, author of last year's excellent Mets Essential, were going to create a book based on it, I was excited at the potential outcome but just the least bit wary. The site was already the blue and orange standard. How could a book, static in nature, compete with that?
Answer: It doesn't. It somehow exceeds it. Jon and Matt have burnished the best of MBTN and built on it. All the vital info is there, but so are new stories and fresh perspectives. It's part almanac, part encyclopedia, part bible for Mets fans. If you love the Mets the way I do, it's practically the Komiyama Sutra.
Why? Because it gets it. It totally gets what being a Mets fan is about, even though it is not specifically about the Mets fan experience. Every word, however, is informed by the Mets fan experience, and Jon and Matt are experienced Mets fans, falling inside that blessed demographic that came along when the franchise had already taken root but not too late to absorb most of its history already in progress. Like Jason and me, they listened to Bob Murphy and fastened their seatbelts. They've been along for the wild ride of Mets baseball for more than 30 years and now they steer us across more than minutiae. It may as well be a way of life.
Theoretically, the publishers could have hired two crack researchers and said “go find who wore every Mets number” and a handy reference guide might have resulted. But that wouldn't be this. That wouldn't have 1/58th (58 for Luis Rosado, natch) the soul that Mets By The Numbers brings to the Picnic Area table. That's why I love this book as I've loved few Mets books. It was so obviously written by Mets fans. It's not cheerleading, mind you. It's one loving but clear-eyed micro-biography of one Met after another, and if that Met disappointed, Jon and Matt don't pretend he didn't. If, on the other and rarer hand, he ignited, he thrilled, he lit our candle, then he gets his due.
And we find out what number he wore, and why, and why it was important. Let's not lose sight of the mission of the book. You don't need a book to tell you Mike Piazza wore 31…you may not even need to be reminded Mike Vail wore 31 (I mindlessly place him in 23 for his incandescent rookie hitting streak)…but it sure is sweet to have it all in one place. It's explosively gratifying to open to a chapter titled “#10: THEY BROUGHT THE FUNK” and think without even thinking, “Shingo Takatsu!” It would be too much in any other setting to read “#19: HE'S CRAFTY” and wonder, “Beastie Boys…Bobby Ojeda…right?…right?” but not here. Would it be too much to expect an in-depth examination of the Willie Mays/Kelvin Torve controversy or the evolution of the patches on the Mets' sleeves or which numbers have been worn by the most catchers?
Nope, not here. That's what you get in Mets By The Numbers. There isn't a Mets fan alive (certainly not among Faith and Fear readers) who won't be happier because they read this book. Honestly, you would be poorer to live without it.