Every right-thinking Met fan misses Shea Stadium. Not a lot of good has happened to this franchise in the five years (five years!) since old Shea closed, and the old dump looks rosier with every passing year. For Sports on Earth, I dug into the history of Shea's construction, when New York City sold itself out to build a space age stadium that would be obsolete within a decade—signs of a city suffering stadium fever, a malady that continues to afflict the nation more each year.
Tales of Love & Lasers opens tonight—dear god, tonight!—and as I explored yesterday, this has left this playwright with little to do. Rather than twiddle my thumbs, I turned my attention to something that has kept playwrights amused since the days of Aristotle: the statistics report offered by Final Draft, which gives all sorts of information about scene counts, word counts, and profanity counts. How can a sabermetrically-inclined playwright make use of this raw data? I ran the numbers and tried to find out.
(Before we get into this silliness, do remember that you can buy your tickets here.)
Tales of Love & Lasers is 5.206% about baseball.
This, I think, is a safe amount. Although the baseball-chatter in the play is concentrated, heartfelt and important to the plot, there's not so much of it that it might overwhelm the sensibilities of the baseball-adverse. By setting these three short plays in the early '70s—a spaceship-heavy version of the early '70s—I'm able to resist my natural urge to chatter infinitely about the New York Mets. Instead, I rely on memories (not my own) of the New York Giants, achieving something closer to universal interest than any of my Metsian blabberings. So, if we were to break this down further, I'd say this play is probably 1% Mets, 4.206% New York Baseball Giants. This is a playwright demonstrating restraint.
Tales of Love & Lasers is 72.498% science fiction.
This feels like a bit of a cheat, since I've been promoting the play as straight sci-fi comedy. The fact is that, while not every moment in the play is death rays and turbolifts, on balance it is a piece of science-fiction. The remaining bits…well, you'll have to come see and find out what they are. Some are real world-ish, some are more fantasy, and some have the air of a Robert Louis Stevenson acid trip. You know—your standard theatrical experience. If I wanted to improve the play, would I look to increase or decrease the sci-fi percentage (SFP)? Rather than up this base number, I would look to improve the sci-fi density in the 72.498%—adding lightsabers and Klaatus and frivolous Rod Serling-type characters, who wander around the background intoning about the grave doings that have been presented for your approval.
Tales of Love & Lasers features two "bullshits," ten "damns," and fifteen "shits."
Again, a special thanks to Final Draft for providing the endlessly amusing profanity report. Special recognition to Stella Starlight—our oft-mentioned queen of space—who is the only character who gets to say motherfucker. (That's according to the script, anyway. Once they get out on the stage, I can't control them any more.) A slightly less special mention to Wayne, who has the less satisfying distinction of being the only character to say "Crap"—not because he's so special, but because it's simply not a very popular curse word. While shit is the most common Final Draft-approved swear in the play, the 24 variations of the word "Fuck" beat it out. Those 24 words make up just .194% of the play, but I promise they'll be your favorite part.
Tales of Love & Lasers is only 12,370 words long.
Playwrights don't think a lot about word count. We may scramble to get under a certain page count, or snip tiny bits from our stage directions so that the phrase The End doesn't appear, forlorn, on its very own page. But we seldom get so nitpicky as to worry about the raw number of words. This is good, since we don't actually write that many of them. It had been a while since I ran a word count on a play, and I was startled by how short it is. 12,370 words? The New Orleans murder story I wrote for Narratively in March came in around 5,000 words, and took only a couple of weeks (and a month or so of research) to turn out. Writing plays, on the other hand, takes fucking forever. Perhaps if the public libraries were good enough to corral all the information I need for one and put it on microfilm, I'd be able to churn through them faster.
Tales of Love & Lasers is 1.083% sword fights.
As far as words on paper, the swordplay segments of Tales of Love & Lasers occupy just under a page. In an art form where you only need 12,370 words to make up an evening of theater, some words count more than others. While uhs, ands and mmms can be dispensed with in a moment, those pesky words "They fight" can eat up quite a bit of stage time. When I started working with the good women of Squeaky Bicycle on this production, my only request was that we shell out for a fight choreographer. We got a good one, and it shows. That 1.083% of the play will hopefully stick in your memory more than the stage direction itself sticks on the page.
So, Tales of Love & Lasers is 5.206% baseball, 72.498% sci-fi, .194% fuck, and 1.083% sword fighting. That adds up to a scant 78.981%. What makes up the remaining 21.019%? You'll have to come tonight and see for yourself.
Two hours before first pitch, Brad Tammen combs his stadium for peanut shells. He sees one wedged into a seat back, and points it out to a staff member, who prises the stubborn, seemingly-fossilized shell out with his fingernail.
"I swear, I thought we had every one of them," says the general manager of the Nashville Sounds. It's peanut-free night at Herschel Greer Stadium, which means no peanuts, Cracker Jacks, or (oddly) Dippin' Dots. Tammen has faith in his grounds crew getting the stadium clean. He's worried about the sky. "I don't need another thunderstorm," he says. "We don't need any more rain."
Not bad stuff, eh? I bet you want to find out what happens next, eh? Well click up there! Click click click!
I've had some other odds and ends run in the Classical this month, all quite heartfelt. The first is an appreciation of the most wonderfully verbose-named video game I've ever played: World Soccer: Winning Eleven 7 International. Just rolls off the tongue, don't it?
It was not a functional relationship. I gave and gave, time and energy and effort, and got nothing back but hurt. But we do not always have a say in such things, and the video game that stole my heart was Winning Eleven, a mid-2000s soccer franchise that was, for all its mastery over me, as awkward as my fifteen year-old self.
Its cover was ugly, its graphics were bland, and its generic team and player names ranged from forgivable (Merseyside Red, for Liverpool) to absurd—meet Ruud Von Nistelroum, star striker for, um, Trad Bricks. Even the name was clumsy, as the European Pro Evolution Soccer 3 was rebranded as World Soccer: Winning Eleven 7 International.
And yet, as with many early-life relationships, I saw something in the object of my affection that was, maybe, not there. It was janky and goofy and unconvincing, but beneath the surface was one of the smartest soccer games of all time. I have found healthier relationships since then, in life and on various gaming platforms, but I still believe that bit to be true.
If so inclined, you can enjoy that beauty here.
And last, out of fear that the Mets ace radio partnership was on its way to being broken up, I wrote a plea for continuity in an organization that has none.
What's the best season to need crutches? Look out your window at the blackening New York slush, and it seems reasonable that, if one absolutely must spend three weeks Rear Windowing inside a walk-up apartment, January would be the ideal time to do it. Why waste summer sweating in your bandages, staring out at clear blue skies and aching to be in a park? Only a fool, you’d think, would prefer crutches in July.
Unless that fool was backed up by Howie Rose.
Crutch-bound for three weeks last summer, I left my apartment only four times. Once was for lunch, when a foolish attempt to crutch my way to a nearby park left me feeling like I'd attacked my arms with a meat tenderizer. The other three excursions were for baseball. I'd slide down the stairs, crutch to the bench in front of my building, and spend three or four hours breathing and smiling, the Mets chirping from my transistor.
A person on crutches wants to vacate the body, head floating off cramped shoulders and away into the blue. Sports, at their best, make that possible—and nothing can deliver us from our blighted physical form quite as well as good sports radio. In the world of good sports radio, I know of no pairing so transporting as Josh Lewin and Howie Rose.
This post is not a joke. Bronx Bombers closed Off Broadway Saturday, and though it was been dismissed as (big surprise!) hagiographic pap, it is on its way to Broadway come January. This play, which centers vaguely around the 1977 Bronx Zoo, but features ghostly cameos from Ruth, Jeter and all the rest of the fresh faced Yankee heroes, is not a play for people who care about plays. It is probably not really a play for people who care about baseball, either, since those in the know understand that the only important lesson to be drawn from the sport is how to deal with heartache, 162 games at a time. There is no possibility of heartache in a Yankee story, and so (it seems, anyway, to me) no possibility of real drama.
But there is heartache in Flushing. Permanent, asinine, endlessly churning heartache. A cycle of disappointment and false hope and disappointment that has gone on for some time now—climaxing endlessly, like a bad piece of organ music or a particularly drawn-out high school break up. I speak, as I do too often, of the New York Mets—a team bad enough, beautiful enough, interesting enough, to deserve a spot on the stage.
Does the horrifying futility of the New York Mets make them a more worthy baseball team than the Yankees? Of course not. Although at this point I'm more comfortable with a losing franchise than a winning one, I'm not Stockholm syndromed enough to suggest that failure is superior to success. (Though some May nights I think it may be.) But as far as tragedy goes, the Mets are Death Of A Salesman . The Yanks are a second rate middle school Thanksgiving pageant.
Bronx Bombers has a good shot at a long, healthy Broadway run. There are enough fans out there of inspirational codswallop to keep the theater lit up. And the longer it reigns on Broadway, the sharper acid reflux will hit theater-minded Met fans, who expect the offseason to be a time when Mets and Yankees are equal, and will instead be confronted endlessly with nightmares about the pinstriped minstrel show on 50th Street.
So it seems right to even the score. The Mets don't need a play on Broadway, and they certainly don't deserve it. But somewhere in New York there is a 99 seat theater perfect to host a play about misery and meaningless failure and ceaseless anxiety which is a good thing only because it keeps us from worrying about the real problems that life has a habit of tossing our way. The potential topics are endless. Some pitches:
120: A riff on crinkly-faced Casey Stengel and his 1962 Mets, who lost more games than any team in modern history but won the city's heart.
SATURDAY NIGHT MASSACRE: While the boys of the Bronx Zoo were jibing and jawing and winning championships, the Mets imploded, trading Tom Seaver for peanuts after a nasty Dick Young column soured him on the city.
THE COLLAPSE: A collection of 162 vignettes, telling the story of the Mets' epic 2007 collapse. Or maybe just an hour in the life of a family watching Tom Glavine implode. (Couldn't find a clip of that, so enjoy this vintage Carlos Beltran.)
THE PASSION OF JOHN MAINE: A moment in the life of declining Mets prospect John Maine, whose fastball deserted him just two years after a near-perfect game at Shea Stadium. Based on an article by Patrick J. Flood.
LET'S GO METS—A TRAGEDY: A fantasy based on one of my recurring nightmares, when I'm at a stadium but can't find my seats or see the field. So it's the Inferno , but set on the escalators of crumbling Shea Stadium.
I'm not interested in putting famous sports heroes on stage. What could be more boring than a not-quite-portly-enough Broadway star trying to cigar chomp his way through an impersonation of the magnificent appetites of Babe Ruth? I'm interested, as ever, in the fringe players, the grounds crew, the sportswriters and the fans, whose stubborn refusal to quit on a lousy franchise—badly run, badly managed, badly owned—is a testament to all that is great and stupid about mankind.
This is not something I want to write on spec. But if there are any Met fan/theater producers out there, or directors, or actors, or anyone who's interested in providing some counterprogramming to Bronx Bombers, drop me a line. We can bat around ideas, come up with an outline, get started on a workshop. I like to write about the universality of sports pain, the sadness that comes even in success, the pleasant futility of the whole mess of corporate nonsense. I think it could make for a cathartic night at the theater.
This play is not meant to be self-flagellation. Met fans love to harp on their failures, picking at them like old scars, but most of us understand that this is how most fans feel, most of the time. Most people, even. Like Jimmy Breslin asked in 1962:
“The Mets lose an awful lot? Listen, mister. Think a little bit. When was the last time you won anything out of life?”
I've returned to you, good people of the Internet, and not a moment too soon, I'm sure. What was I doing while I was away? Well, mostly, thinking about baseball.
In a Mediterranean country, not very long ago, my sunburnt family chugged its way through pasta and a €7 jug of rosé and I banged my head against a foreign wifi connection, struggling to tune in New York’s sports radio station WFAN. This was not a good look, maybe, but Matt Harvey was considering throwing a no-hitter and everyone at the table understood. By the time the connection crackled to life, it was clear from Howie Rose's gutpunched tone that something Metsian had happened, and another near no-no was gone.
So: deep breath, and back to vacation mode. Harvey has carried three no-hitters into the seventh this year, and looks sure to throw one at some point this season. Of course, I thought the same thing last May about R.A. Dickey, before Johan Santana’s duct tape shoulder beat him to it, suggesting that Flushing may yet be due for a Shaun Marcum perfect game. What worried me, as I returned to slurping pink wine and slapping away high-class European mosquitos, was the name of the man on the mound. Not his stuff, which flattens hitters like a boulder does Wile E. Coyote. Not his future, which appears bright enough to confound every pessimistic Mets fan urge imaginable.
No, just: he’s Matt Harvey, alias Matt, alias Harvey. Nothing more. No nickname, nothing for short. Full stop.
How can we solve this great player's nickname drought? Read on, at the Classical.
And now it's Friday, it's four o'clock, it's hot as hell in my apartment—I'm gonna take a nap and then make something yummy to drink. Happy weekend, all!
Continuing my tradition of breaking news, last week I covered the shocking development that it is no fun to be cold at a baseball game. Seriously, though, it was goddamned freezing:
How cold was the stadium on Sunday? The weatherman says 54 degrees with winds gusting as high as 44 miles-per-hour. To get a sense of how that felt, try this: encase your genitals in ice, dangle them in front of a battery of leafblowers, and see if you feel like watching Lucas Duda stumble after fly balls.
Despite the gale, the upper deck was crowded, because the Mets had spent the week giving away tickets on Twitter. No strings attached—follow @Mets on Twitter, get a ticket to watch the actual Mets play the Marlins. The unpaid crowd got its money's worth. Dressed for a sunny spring day, they found instead that they had joined the Shackleton expedition. Children shivered through plastic hats full of ice cream. Whirlwinds of garbage swirled ghostly across the infield. Pigeons fought to stay aloft. It was baseball in April, and that is what it’s like.
Check it out if you want to shiver a little. Amazingly, as cold as that game was—and it really was awful, the coldest I've ever been at a sporting event—the Mets are currently a bit chillier. They nearly got snowed out in Minneapolis last week, and are now in Colorado, a famously warm place. Last night they got snowed out, today they might get snowed out, and if they are able to play at all, it could get down to as little as 9°. Jeepers!
Five Decades On, "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?" Is Still The Best Chronicle Of History's Worst Team
The nice thing about writing for a weekly paper is that your work is featured for more than the Internet's customary fifteen seconds. Since last Wednesday, I've been smiling about the fact that the twenty or thirty people silly enough to buy a copy of the New York Observer at the newsstand held in their hands a few hundred words I wrote about my greatest affliction: the New York Mets. Specifically, a few hundred words about Jimmy Breslin's Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?, a slim, bracing story of the Mets' 120 loss first season. It came out five decades ago this week, and remains (I assert) a must-read, not just for Mets fans, but for anybody who's ever failed at anything. A sample:
In the summer of 1962, New York fell in love with a man named Marvin Throneberry. A subpar first baseman who had washed out with the Yankees, he was sliding toward early retirement when he was rescued by the fledgling New York Mets. As thanks, he played worse than ever before—once getting called out on a triple for failing to step on first andsecond base—but each time “Marvelous” Marv came to the plate, the city chanted: “cranberry, strawberry, we love Throneberry!”
It was a third-rate chant for a third-rate player, but in the Mets’ first season, it didn’t take much to make the fans cheer. The team was on its way to 120 losses—a baseball record that stands to this day—but with the Dodgers and Giants five years gone, New York was desperate for something to scream about. Throneberry’s Mets were more than lovable losers—they were spectacular. “Name one loyal American,” writes Jimmy Breslin, in Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? (Ivan R. Dee, 128 pp., $12.95) “who can say he does not love a team which loses 120 games in one season.” Published 50 years ago this week, this beautiful little book remains the ur-text for Metsian blundering. Here is the franchise’s origin story, writ in Mr. Breslin’s trademark barroom prose and cast with enough devils, heroes and clowns to fill out a pantomime of Faust. They are gamblers, toughs and crusty baseball lifers whom Mr. Breslin rallies in opposition to “the era of the businessman in sports,” when America’s postwar success led to a “dry and agonizing” focus on the bottom line.
Even in 1963, Mr. Breslin’s style was a throwback, a nostalgic echo of sportswriters who were chomping cigars and torturing metaphors before he was born. His New York is deliberately larger-than-life, as though he is trying to mold the modern city into a Damon Runyon story, and his prose is sweet enough to make the ’62 debacle an American epic.
There's a whole lot more, and I'm pretty pleased with it. Check it out if you have the time. And if you don't, take in this anecdote about Babe Ruth. It's my favorite from the book, but because it has nothing to do with the Mets, I couldn't let myself force it in. Here it is, reprinted in full:
In fact, in eighteen years of being able to look at things and remember what I have seen, the only sports legend I ever saw who completely lived up to advance billing was Babe Ruth.
It was a hot summer afternoon, and the Babe, sweat dripping from his jowls and his shirt stuck to him, came off the eighteenth green at the old Bayside Golf Club in the borough of Queens and stormed into the huge barroom of the club.
"Gimme one of them heavens to Betsy drinks you always make me," the Babe said in his gravelly voice.
The bartender put a couple of fistfuls of ice chunks into a big, thick mixing glass and then proceeded to make a Tom Collins that had so much gin in it that the other people at the bar started to laugh. He served the drink to the Babe just as it was made, right in the mixing glass.
Ruth said something about how heavens to Betsy hot he was, and then he picked up the glass and opened his mouth, and there went everything. In one shot he swallowed the drink, the orange slice and the rest of the garbage, and the ice chunks too. He stopped for nothing. There is not a single man I have ever seen in a saloon who does not bring his teeth together a little bit and stop those ice chunks going in. A man has to have a pipe the size of a trombone to take ice in one shot. But I saw Ruth do it, and whenever somebody tells me about how the Babe used to drink and eat when he was playing ball, I believe every word of it.
Yes—I've already printed that once before. But it's my blog.
I fried my brain this month watching international baseball. I found myself cheering for men in a hideous USA jersey, only slightly wishing that American national teams would go back to the way they dressed in the '50s, and leave navy blue to rot. When the US got eliminated, I cheered for anybody else I could find. (And loudly—on Sunday night, I found myself yelling at Japanese men on my TV, "Come on! String a few hits together!" then muttering my traditional, affectionate, "fucking bastards." When I love a sports team, that's how I show I care. When I love a person, I'm much nicer.) So, as I do, I wrote about it—once again, for The Classical.
Before the rest of the people—who and how many remain unclear—who cared about Team USA learned it, every Mets fan knew it couldn't last. David Wright was on the big stage again, for the first time since Adam Wainwright's curveball to Carlos Beltran began its fateful, unhittable break in 2006, and he was playing like an Avenger. Square-jawed, muscle-bound, tongue stuck out like bush league bowler, Wright kept coming to bat in high-pressure situations, and kept delivering—none more fantastically than the grand slam that sent the United States into the second round. Articles were referring to Wright, the Mets' captain, as Captain America. Mets fans knew what was coming next.
For a long, happy moment, it seemed the last star of Flushing was about to do the impossible: get American fans interested in baseball's would-be World Cup. But because every superhero needs a weakness, Wright was playing hurt. For the entirety of the Classic, he had been nursing a rib injury: a lingering soreness that pained him not in play, but while he was sleeping and "just lounging around." When Wright was recalled to Camp Wilpon in Port St. Lucie on Friday of last week, the Mets medical staff—doubtless through a state-of-the-art application of leeches and a scientific bleeding regimen—decided that Wright should be encased in bubble wrap until after the start of the regular season. Wright's back has been an ongoing concern ever since he and Ike Davis ran into each other in 2011—an all time Metsian play—and Captain Flushing must not get hurt again. Mets fans always think the end is near. This time it happened to be true.
Have no fear, the rest of it isn't about the Mets. And unlike the article I posted below, which the Internet hated, people seemed to like this one. Good thing. It was hard, and I didn't get paid. Don't tell anybody—I'll watch baseball for free.
It should be no surprise to you, gentle readers, that I do not spend all of my time thinking about theater. I'd lose my mind. As a respite from the art form, I have a variety of hobbies, including mocking Smash, complaining about my cats, and thinking much too hard about baseball. Because I'm a weirdo, I don't mind watching sports on DVR, which means that during the baseball season, I will usually record the night's Mets game to watch the next day, while I'm working. Baseball season doesn't start until April, but this week I discovered an altogether weirder version of America's pastime, the World Baseball Classic, and wrote an essay on it for smartypants sports blog The Classical.
Spring Training is a tease. Baseball addicts survive winter's frosty void on a thin diet of trade rumors, "classic rebroadcasts," and Wikipedia biographies of old-timey players with funny names. (I see you, Ugly Dickshot.) The day pitchers and catchers report, we think, will mean the end of torment, as the most powerful opioid in sports begins to drip again. Invariably, we soon remember that spring baseball is like drinking salt water—it amplifies your thirst, and doesn't taste right, besides.
Parched, bored and desperate for competitive baseball—where players clap when they win and pout when they lose, and where we aren't forced to watch back-up catchers run slo-mo sprints in the outfield during games—I turned to something I had previously been happy to ignore: the World Baseball Classic. Baseball's would-be World Cup, the Classic is an international tournament in a sport that has no true infrastructure for international play. It has only happened twice before, in 2006 and 2009, and both times I dismissed it as a meaningless contest, played by nobodies (or bored somebodies) and watched by no one. Who needs a World Baseball Classic when you've got a World Series?
Well, as it turns out, I do. The World Baseball Classic is flawed, goofy, slipshod, and everything the World Series is not. It's also pretty great.
There's much more where that came from. Read on, and be amazed!
As the baseball season wears on, hopefully I'll continue covering the sport for The Classical and whoever else will take me. Not only will it transform baseball tickets into a tax write-off, it will keep me from having to subject you to topics like my abiding love for Mike Baxter.
Even the sports-indifferent Internet is agog today at Deadspin's scoop. The story of Manti Te'o's imaginary girlfriend is only the first half of an already insane story—a star football player either got tricked into falling in love with an imaginary girlfriend, or made her up himself. The mainstream journalists who covered the story, including some at Sports Illustrated failed to factcheck because who would doubt a star athlete when he says his girlfriend is dying of cancer? What kind of journalist could be so cynical? In Deadspin's telling, the answer is, "a good one."
I smiled when I started reading this story, and got giddy as it went on—not because I'm happy about the darkness at its heart, but because I can't help but love a good hoax. Even the word is tantalizing—redolent of con men, snake oil salesmen, and the bygone days when the media was strong enough that, if a newspaper was fooled, the nation was too. This hoax has everything: sex, sport, death and mormons. It's even better than the hipster grifter.
For whatever reason, it made me think of Sidd Finch. Sidd, the mysterious yogi-cum-fastballer who threw 168 miles per hour, was lauded in an April Fool's Day Sports Illustrated as the greatest baseball prospect in history. Even if it weren't published on April 1, George Plimpton's story includes enough outlandish details that the prank should have been obvious. Finch pitched with one bare foot and one work boot; he carried a French horn everywhere; and he was the son of Indiana Jones:
Finch spent his early childhood in an orphanage in Leicester, England and was adopted by a foster parent, the eminent archaeologist Francis Whyte-Finch, who was killed in an airplane crash while on an expedition in the Dhaulagiri mountain area of Nepal. At the time of the tragedy, Finch was in his last year at the Stowe School in Buckingham, England, from which he had been accepted into Harvard. Apparently, though, the boy decided to spend a year in the general area of the plane crash in the Himalayas (the plane was never actually found) before he returned to the West and entered Harvard in 1975, dropping for unknown reasons the "Whyte" from his name.
But people believed it. In Plimpton's telling, the New York Mets kept their star prospect so under wraps, it was a struggle to even get the story. Every bit of information he finds only deepens the mystery, making the gawky young man a legend by the end of the first page. Well-faked quotes from Mets officials, other players, and people out of Finch's shadowy past give it credibility. (Mets brass was actually in on the joke, making me nostalgic not just for the days when the Mets would land a mythical pitching prospect, but also had a sense humor.) Find this story folded into what was then the home of sports journalism, and it would be easy to believe.
And, of course, that's what we want to do. Sports appeal to our sentimental side, the part of us that wants to believe that superheroes are real. We like it when normal people do things like this, and we get irrational when we find out they did it by cheating. Tell us a lie, and we'll believe it, just so long as it's amazing. Thankfully, Deadspin is wary of a story that's too good to be true. Google in hand, they would have blown the Sidd Finch story out of the water in a matter of minutes.
People are less bothered by a hoax when the media is in on it. The people responsible go down as scoundrels; the people who fell for it are mocked as rubes. The Sidd Finch hoax was more of a prank—it was April Fool's Day, for god's sake, and it was done in good fun. We need the media to be smarter than we are, and when we prank us, that superiority is reinforced. When the media gets hoodwinked, it's sickening.