The Brotherhood's Revolt and Baseball At The Pyramids

I'm back on Deadspin today, with a bit of forgotten baseball history that I've been digging into for the last few months. It's got it all: moustaches, old-fashioned racism, and a cloak-and-dagger labor war. What more could you want?

The bulletin was posted on the evening of February 8, 1889, in the lobby of Cairo's Hotel d'Orient:

Base-ball at the Pyramids. The Chicago and All-America teams, comprising the Spalding base-ball party, will please report in the hotel office, in uniform, promptly at ten o'clock to-morrow morning. We shall leave for the hotel at that hour, camels having been provided for the All-Americas and donkeys for the Chicago players, with carriages for the balance of the party. The Pyramids will be inspected, the Sphinx visited, and a game played upon the desert near by, beginning at 2 o'clock.

Around the notice huddled 20 travel-weary ballplayers, baseball missionaries brought by Albert Spalding to spread the national pastime around the globe. They had traveled from Hawaii to Australia, from Ceylon to the Suez, exhibiting their game—and Spalding's sporting equipment—whenever they got the chance. In Australia they had played for thousands, but in Cairo they were curiosities who passed their time like all American travelers: shopping in the bazaars, screaming at beggars and complaining about the food. Tomorrow would come an exhibition that nobody asked for, which remains one of the strangest in the history of American sport.

Among them was one whose mind was not on sightseeing. John Montgomery Ward—shortstop, lawyer, and president of the nascent players' union—was transfixed by a short item in the American newspaper, the first he had seen in months, which said that the National League had taken advantage of his absence to enact a salary cap that would cut his income in half. As his teammates prepared to greet the Sphinx, the most remarkable mind in baseball was taking the first steps to a revolution.

Does Anybody Want A Play About The Mets?

Ain't no pathos like Stengel pathos.

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?”