Let’s get this out of the way: Emma Span is a Yankee fan. This means that even though she seems like a very nice person (we’ve drunk beers together and spent an enjoyable subway ride talking baseball, sportswriting and book publishing), I wonder if I could really trust her in a foxhole, and fear that on some level her soul is dead.
But I’m going to let that ride. Because she has written a book that’s funny, heartfelt and wonderful — unfortunate allegiance and all. Opening 90% of the Game Is Half Mental, I nodded at the well-chosen quote from Roger Angell, then smiled at something in the third paragraph, then laughed out loud. I decided I would rearrange my schedule to read a couple of chapters. Halfway through the first one I’d chucked the schedule entirely, because I knew I wasn’t going to stop reading until I was out of book. By the time I got to the last couple of chapters, I was forcing myself to slow down, because I was sad that I was coming to the end. That’s about the highest compliment I can pay a book, and this one more than earns it. It’s that good.
She’s clear-eyed about the Yankees, not missing the loathsome sense of entitlement of a lot of their fans, the basic unfairness of the baseball deck being stacked for them, and their general Olympian air. Here’s her eventual acceptance of the new Yankee Stadium:
Yes, it’s too big, too proud of itself, pompous and over-the-top in places, the embodiment of the unhinged free market. But let’s face it: a lot of the time — and I say this with love — so are the Yankees.
Minus the “with love” part, that’s pretty much how I’d describe the Yankees too.
But this book isn’t just about the Yankees. It’s about the Mets too, and baseball in general. And Span gets the Mets. She admits to a sneaking fondness for them that comes off neither as patronizing pat-the-little-brother-on-the-head stuff nor as civic-robot rah-rah. Her discussion of “Our Team, Our Time” is hilarious and gets that the Mets have always had a weakness for dimwitted marketing, from Homer the Beagle to Mettle the Mule to, well, Dave Howard. And see if this doesn’t get to the raggedy but real heart of Shea Stadium:
What I liked about Shea, though, is that precisely because of all the many things wrong with it, there was really only one reason to go. It wasn’t much of a tourist attraction; it wasn’t a particularly big draw for businessmen or women trying to impress colleagues and clients; it wasn’t an architectural treasure or a hip place to be seen. And that’s what worked about it, perversely: you went to Shea only if you loved the Mets.
She’s smart and unsparing about being a sportswriter in the locker room (she covered the Mets and Yankees for the Voice), and best of all she’s wry and unafraid when writing about herself. Her book is funny, honest, wise and ultimately moving. As we say around these parts, it would make an excellent addition to your baseball library — or any library, for that matter.
I know, you’re still stuck on the Yankee-fan thing. Well, she admits that after enduring Derek Jeter’s book she wanted to kill him with a shovel. That has to count for something, right?