Contrary to the tiresome claims every modern-day sportswriter makes about rooting for stories over teams and having no rooting interest otherwise, Oscar Madison of the New York Herald clearly had a favorite ballclub. If he didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve or in his widely read columns, his allegiance was evident on his head. We could read who Oscar loved by reading Oscar’s cap…a Mets cap.
The cap said it best, though when we had the opportunity to listen in on Oscar’s conversations, whether with his fussy roommate Felix Unger (a talented photographer, portraits a specialty, who didn’t seem to much care about sports) or anybody else, we would hear the Mets come up occasionally as well.
He might tell a Little Brother he and Felix were mentoring that he — Oscar Madison, a columnist and not a coach — taught Tom Seaver how to throw a curveball.
He might lament to Felix that he never aspired to own the Mets as much as he did a racehorse, but would settle for this sleek greyhound named Golden Earrings (which was all well and good, unless you lived at 1049 Central Park West, which didn’t necessarily seem like an ideal kennel for the pup, no matter the shape of Oscar’s room).
And like anybody who loves the Mets, he could be brutally honest about their failings. He went on his short-lived radio show, Oscar Madison Talking Sports, and felt compelled to criticize the team. Things got so heated that a couple of Mets fans came to his apartment and expressed their displeasure with his analysis the best way Mets fans knew how before Twitter: by swatting him with their caps.
Yet with true verve and panache (to borrow a phrase found in one of Oscar’s rare theatrical reviews…well, it ran under his byline, at any rate), Oscar kept his Mets cap on around the house, kept a Mets pennant hanging limply from his wall and even framed a photograph of Wes Westrum for inspiration. Oscar was so matter-of-fact about his affinity for the Mets, that it got to a point where you almost didn’t notice it.
But years later, as the news has come down that Oscar Madison has, regrettably, finally accepted his buyout package from the Herald, we pause to properly tip our cap to Oscar’s cap. We appreciate that he wore it so regularly and so jauntily — particularly from 1970 to 1975 — that he made it seem natural. We looked at Oscar’s cap and thought, almost without thinking about it, that yes, of course, a Mets cap…why wouldn’t a person wear one of those? Oscar made the Mets cap so much a part of the landscape that not wearing one is what would’ve made a person look like an oddball.
Oscar wasn’t odd. He was ours. And as we dig out his old columns and marvel at his versatility (did you know he once organized a wrestling match that fostered better Sino-American relations?) let alone his flair for living (when not chronicling sports from his living room typewriter, he followed his gourmet muse to create the nouvelle cuisine dish goop melange), we honor him by inaugurating a new Faith and Fear in Flushing accolade in his name.
It is called the Oscar’s Cap, and it is given annually — starting now — to those shining examples in the concluding year’s popular culture anywhere the New York Mets played a featured or supporting role. Oscar’s Caps are awarded in film, television, music, theater, literature…any medium we come across in 2012 where we weren’t expecting the Mets to appear…yet they did.
There are two categories of Oscar’s Caps: Contemporary — given to those works that appeared on the popular culture horizon for the first time during the year in question; and Retro — given to those works that were created in the recent or distant past but, for whatever reason, came to our attention for the first time during the year in question. Essentially, we had to suddenly see something about the Mets or hear something about the Mets or notice something about the Mets or be clued into something about the Mets pertaining to their presence within the popular culture from before 2012. Why we didn’t know about those appearances and incidences before 2012 and only stumbled into them over the past twelve months is hard to fathom, but as we’re often busy thinking about the Mets in the sporting culture, we can’t necessarily catch everything the first time around in the popular culture.
That, after all, is why they sometimes run repeats of the best stuff into perpetuity.
In the realm of Contemporary Popular Culture, 2012 Oscar’s Caps are awarded to the following:
• ABC’s The Middle, which used vintage footage of Shea Stadium under construction to help evoke mom Frankie Heck’s excitement that Super Bowl XLVI was coming to Indianapolis, not far from the Hecks’ home in Orson, Indiana.
• The Broadway revival of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, whose penultimate musical number, “Come Back To Me,” includes the lyrics “Don’t get lost at Korvette’s/Or get signed by the Mets.”
• NBC’s 30 Rock, whose guest stars included Mr. Met in two episodes (“The Tuxedo Begins” and “Meet the Woggels”) and which dressed a wedding party in 7 Line gear because Mets t-shirts are what the bride and groom told Liz Lemon they were wearing “when we Met”.
• John Grisham’s novel, Calico Joe, whose title character, 1973 Chicago Cubs first baseman Joe Castle, gains a fan in Paul Tracey, “the young son of a hard-partying and hard-throwing Mets pitcher” named Warren Tracey.
• The film Men In Black 3, in which Griffin watches the final out of the 1969 World Series unfold and explains to Agent J and Agent K that “this is my favorite moment in human history,” for “a miracle is what is not possible but happens anyway.”
• DJ White Owl’s “Kings From Queens,” a name-checking, hip-hop ode to the 1986 Mets that recalls the days “before Johan threw that no-hit game/before David Wright brought the Mets that fame/before Citi Field, Ike Davis, Jason Bay/we were glued to the tube watching every double play.”
• Joshua Henkin’s novel, The World Without You, whose characters include Lily, a Mets fan since 1986 who “has no patience for Yankees fans, especially the newly minted New Yorkers, the arrivistes,” and a dog named Kingman.
• Wayne Wilentz’s jazz piano composition, “A Song With Orange And Blue,” a 50th-anniversary musical tribute that swears “It’s no lie/Tommie Agee could fly” and celebrates (among others) “Choo Choo and Charlie/Valentine, Darling/the Hammer, the Doc and the Straw.”
• HBO’s The Newsroom, whose senior producer, Jim Harper, spends a portion of a Sunday night party watching the Mets-Phillies game of May 1, 2011, on his laptop, before word leaks that Osama Bin Laden’s been killed; later, ACN executive Reese Lansing admonishes News Night’s brain trust that the show’s ratings have tumbled “from second to fifth place in the course of five days, a feat I previously thought was only accomplishable by the New York Mets.”
• CBS’s Elementary, whose Dr. Joan Watson is a Mets fan who won’t go out until she sees the outcome of a Mets-Reds game that has reached the ninth inning, despite being informed by Sherlock Holmes that, based on all available evidence, the Mets will lose, 3-2.
• Fox’s The Simpsons, whose titular family’s trip to the Big Apple is advocated by Bart, who informs Homer, “But you love New York now that your least favorite buildings have been obliterated: old Penn Station and Shea Stadium!” (to which Homer shakes his fist and grumbles, “lousy outdated relics…”); later in 2012, Homer downloads the Lenny Dykstra’s Prison Break app to his MyPad.
• ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, which portrayed “young Jimmy Kimmel” in a Mets t-shirt in a flashback exploring the late-night host’s Brooklyn upbringing.
• NBC’s Saturday Night Live, whose Fox and Friends segment included a slew of on-screen “corrections” that rolled by rapidly, including one that made clear “Mr. Met has never announced a preference for any religion over the other”; earlier in 2012, SNL aired a commercial for the Charles Barkley Postgame Translator App, which translated David Wright’s benign thoughts regarding a tough loss to “I don’t know why they’re celebrating beating the Mets — everybody beats us!”
• Fox’s The Mindy Project, on which Dr. Danny Castellano has on his office wall a framed, matted portrait of Shea Stadium.
• Adam Sandler, who, during the 12-12-12 concert that raised funds to aid victims of Superstorm Sandy, reworked the lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to include his selective-memory assessment that “the Mets have sucked since ’86”.
Finally, though his Mets commentary is generally unscripted and presented outside the realm of fiction, the 2012 Oscar’s Cap of Lifetime Achievement is awarded to Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show in recognition of his long having used his news & entertainment platform to articulate true Mets fan angst. Stewart’s work was best exemplified in his December 4 interview of R.A. Dickey, when Stewart asked his Cy Young-winning guest — who was then in protracted contract negotiations with the team — “How will the New York Mets screw this up?”
In the realm of Retro Popular Culture, 2012 Oscar’s Caps are awarded to the following:
• Any Wednesday, the 1966 film in which John Cleves (Jason Robards) and Ellen Gordon (Jane Fonda) are engaging in an extramarital affair and seeking a discrete night out. Ellen suggests, “Hey, you know what’d be fun? We could go to the Shea Stadium. The Mets are in town!” but John rebuffs her because he and his wife “had a season’s box right behind the dugout. The Mets shock easy.”
• East Side, West Side, the 1963-64 George C. Scott inner city drama on which Mets catcher Jesse Gonder hit fungoes to kids.
• Friends With Benefits, the 2011 romantic comedy romp during which a televised Jose Reyes home run at Citi Field and a 2010 “WE BELIEVE” pay phone advertisement featuring “ACE” Johan Santana appear.
• Bye Bye Braverman, the 1968 comic drama that yielded a couple of shots of Shea Stadium and World’s Fair relics in the background of scenes filmed at Cedar Grove Cemetery off the Long Island Expressway.
• Lawrence Block’s 2011 anthology, The Night and the Music, wherein Matt Scudder takes kids to a Mets game; Jon Matlack is rocked and the Mets lose, 13-4.
• Car 54, Where Are You?, which gave the Mets quite possibly their first pop culture mention when, on October 8, 1961, Officer Toody’s small talk that “they’re tearing down the Met” is answered by Officer Schnauzer’s rejoinder, “The new ballclub? They haven’t even played a game yet!”
• Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Morgan Spurlock’s 2011 documentary on product placement, which includes Citi Field in a montage of stadiums and arenas that are named for corporate sponsors.
• Paul Auster’s 1985 novel, City of Glass, which contains characters who discuss Dave Kingman and George Foster; its protagonist, Quinn, works under the pseudonym William Wilson and comes to realize that his fictional name is the same as the actual name of “promising young player” Mookie Wilson.
• Mo’ Better Blues, Spike Lee’s 1990 jazz-inflected drama, which features Giant (Lee), who bets against the Mets in the September 29, 1989 doubleheader versus the Pirates because “the Mets need some more black ballplayers” (the Mets swept both games); there is also a lengthy flashback scene that takes place on September 20, 1969, when Giant’s dad is watching Rod Gaspar bat against Bob Moose at Shea Stadium (Bob Murphy’s call of the eventual no-hitter is audible).
• Moscow On The Hudson, the 1984 Robin Williams vehicle in which Vladimir Ivanoff (Williams) meets a fellow Soviet defector who now sells hot dogs on the streets of Manhattan while wearing a Mets cap.
• Youth-leaning variety program Hullabaloo, during which, on April 4, 1966, Soupy Sales and his sons Hunt and Tony sang a rollicking version of “Meet The Mets”.
• Married To It, the 1991 film that attempted to explore the perils of matrimony through the eyes of three couples whose attempt to identify “the best day of the ’60s” led Leo Rothenberg (Ron Silver) to insist, “No contest. October 16, 1969, bottom of the ninth, Davey Johnson batting for the Orioles…” Leo and the other two husbands (played by Beau Bridges and Robert Sean Leonard) transition at once into reciting play-by-play details of Johnson’s fly ball to Cleon Jones, who catches it for the final out of the World Series — an event labeled in 2012’s Men In Black 3, it is worth reiterating, as at least one space alien’s “favorite moment in human history”.
Special thanks to Faith and Fear readers, Hofstra 50th Anniversary conference attendees and Crane Pool Forum compatriots for their help in compiling the 2012 Mets Pop Culture Review. And appreciation always to Jack Klugman for immortalizing Oscar Madison.