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The Holy Books Get a Makeover

Greg has always appreciated The Holy Books — my three binders of baseball cards, with each Met represented by a single card organized by the year of their Mets debut — while making simultaneously gentle and pointed inquiries about their administration. His biggest objection? It’s been that The Holy Books are organized alphabetically within each year — Ashburn to Zimmer in ’62, Carson to Valdespin in ’12. Wouldn’t it make more sense, he finally asked, to have the Mets in simple chronological order?

I believe he first made the suggestion years ago, in the middle innings of some dull affair during which something neglected at Shea Stadium broke and Jason Phillips did something inept. I don’t know that for sure, but it seems like a good bet on both accounts, and how best to organize binders full of old Mets cards is the kind of thing one logically turns to during such games.

My initial objection was that without play-by-play information for early games, I couldn’t figure out the true chronology. (And, really, you need pitch-by-pitch data.) But Retrosheet [1] and Greg’s own digging took care of that one.

Then I argued that alphabetical order was important to being able to find someone, which we both knew wasn’t true. (Quick, what year was Nolan Ryan’s debut? Cleon Jones’s? Terry Leach’s?)

Finally, I quit dodging and offered the real reason: It made more sense, but it was just too much damn work.

But shortly before his 50th birthday, Greg sent along a massive Excel spreadsheet — there were the Mets, in perfect chronological order. And though he presumably didn’t know it, he’d caught me at the right time.

My kid is now 10. That means Joshua is old enough to be perform moderately delicate manual labor and keep track of a spreadsheet. Yet he’s too young to have an adult’s perspective on time and money — he thinks he has oceans of the former and he would like more of the latter. So I offered him a deal: $50 to convert The Holy Books to my co-writer’s long-desired format.

I also had a hidden agenda. Joshua is dangerously close to breaking up with the Mets, for which I can’t blame him: His favorite player was Jose Reyes, who won a batting title and was allowed to walk. He got interested in R.A. Dickey’s story, exulted when he won 20 and the Cy Young Award, and then … well, you know. The kid’s had it. We all have, except he’s 10 and he has other things to do with his life.

On the one hand, this is fine. When I turned 10, the Mets were two years into their nadir as the North Korea of the National League. I stuck it out for another year and half before walking away during the strike, and didn’t return until I started hearing about Straw and Keith and this amazing young pitcher named Dwight Gooden. That might not be too far removed from what will happen to this incarnation of the Mets. I survived it, finding my love of baseball and my team quick to rekindle.

On the other hand, it’s not fine at all. Joshua lives in a Mets house, and some of my fondest memories of parenthood have centered around him learning the game and the team and the players, both from me and from his mother. I don’t want to lose that and risk not getting it back amid the many distractions of busier-than-ever youth.

And so I thought this might help — a project that would double as a Mets history lesson.

We’ve worked side by side. I remove a year’s worth of cards. He puts them in chronological order. I read the Prince spreadsheet and he checks. He puts them back in the pages. I check again. And while we’re doing this, we talk Mets.

As you probably figured, revisiting the early years has been simultaneously exasperating and entertaining. Joshua’s early questions centered around whether such-and-such player had been good, and he grew a little perplexed at the fusillade of nos. Elio Chacon? No. Charley Neal? No. Gus Bell? Not any more. Jay Hook? No. Choo Choo Coleman? No. Harry Chiti? Goodness no.

But those nos had some amusing asterisks.

Elio Chacon wasn’t any good, but he also didn’t speak English and kept crashing into Richie Ashburn on pop-ups. So Richie learned how to say “I got it” in Spanish. It’s “Yo la tengo.” So there’s a pop-up, and Chacon runs out…

The Mets acquired Harry Chiti for a player to be named later. Harry Chiti proved so bad as a catcher that…

Richie Ashburn was actually pretty good. Good enough that he won a boat. Except Richie lived in Nebraska, and…

Jay Hook had studied engineering, and he could tell you why a curve ball curved. But…

The two Bob Millers aren’t the same person. There was Bob G. Miller and Bob L. Miller. The traveling secretary was worried how hotel switchboards would figure out which one a caller wanted. Then he had an idea…

Joe Pignatano came to the plate in the eighth inning of the final game of the ’62 season. He didn’t know it was the last at-bat of his career. There were two men on and nobody out…

And so on we’ve gone, through the Larry Burrights and Hawk Taylors and Danny Napoleons and Lou Klimchocks of the early Mets, leavened with questions about Gil Hodges and Yogi Berra and Warren Spahn and even the occasional flash of hope from Ron Hunt and Tug McGraw and Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver. I’m not going to say it’s saving my kid’s fandom — that would be a lot to put on David Wright, let alone Joe Moock. But it’s been fun, and it’s been a bit of light in the darkness — and in a winter of greater-than-average discontent, I’ll take it.

Greg tells the Joe Pignatano story — and a whole lot more of them — in very entertaining style in Volume 1 of The Happiest Recap [2]. Go get yourself one!