‘Yells for Ourselves’ gets up close and personal with the NY Mets

Sports stories — and especially baseball stories — are written at certain altitudes, as it were. Some are written from 30,000 feet, taking a wide overview of what’s happening across a broad span of time. Some cruise along at a lower altitude, focusing on a particular team or player but still encompassing a number of years, or vice versa. And still others, like Yells for Ourselves: A Story of New York City and the New York Mets at the Dawn of the Millennium (2019, Quill) do their best work at ground level, up close and personal with a particular team at a very specific point in time.

In the case of Matthew Callan’s historical recounting, the team is the New York Mets and the time is 1999 and 2000. Callan writes with the enthusiasm of a fan but the skill of a journalist. His primary source appears to be his personal observation of the seasons in question, and his only secondary sources are quotes from contemporary news accounts. As such, the book is somewhat lacking in the kind of historical grounding that I think Callan intended, that could only be achieved by revisiting the key figures in the story to get their perspective from today. He does do a good job of placing the team within the context of New York City’s history and its battle for the city’s affections with the New York Yankees, perhaps the most famous sports franchise in any sport. As Callan tells it, the Mets ascended in attention and affection when New York was going through tough times in the 1970s and 1980s, battling high crime and bad press. In those days, the Mets were symbolic of the scrappy blue-collar underdog identity to which the city’s residents related most strongly. As the city righted itself in the 1990s (albeit under somewhat questionable law enforcement policies) its identity tilted more toward Wall Street and the Yankees, with their illustrious history of world championships and timelessly “classic” look, once again leaving the Mets on the outside looking in.

Even more than those analogies between baseball and economics, however, Yells for Ourselves is primarily a nearly day-by-day accounting of two seasons of the New York Mets, with all the ups and downs that devout followers find so agonizing. The sheer detail might be overwhelming to any but the most avid Mets fans. More general baseball enthusiasts should find the reminders of familiar players and events a pleasant trip down memory lane, along with a glimpse behind the curtain of events they only viewed from afar. Casual fans and those who do not follow baseball at all may well find themselves turning instead to something a bit less meticulously detailed.

For all that Yells for Ourselves seems to be a labor of love by a lifelong Mets fan, the writing is professional and far from a slog. It is well written and edited, and does not suffer from a confusion of timeline or purpose. In that Callan has more than done his favorite team justice, even as he despairs at their foibles.

Literary links

Bronze Link” by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s a hot summer holiday weekend, and for me that usually means curling up in an air-conditioned safe space with a book. Maybe you prefer to turn the pages while lounging poolside or at a cabin by the lake. Wherever you’re going to be this weekend, here are some reading-related articles that caught my eye.

Wired

I’m not gonna lie: Microsoft’s Ebook Apocalypse Shows the Dark Side of DRM by Brian Barrett sent chills down my spine. I read a lot — I mean, A LOT — of ebooks because I’d much rather carry around a compact e-reader than a pile of books that get scuffed and battered and weigh down my tote bag. I never bought a book from Microsoft’s ebook store (truth be told, I never knew Microsoft had an ebook store, which might be partly why it failed) but it doesn’t take much imagination to see how easily this could happen elsewhere, including at Kobo Books, my preferred e-tailer. So I guess I have a new task for this holiday weekend: Making sure I’ve got all my ebooks downloaded onto my computer’s hard drive so even if they disappear from the Great Internet Cloud they will still exist.

The Guardian

Oliver Twiss? Nickelas Nickelbery? The Penny Pickwick? What in the name of Charles Dickens is going on here? Just a little 19th century plagiarism, according to Alison Flood’s recent article, Oliver Twiss and Martin Guzzlewit – the fan fiction that ripped off Dickens. It’s all down to a fellow named Edward Lloyd, a prominent press baron of the time who capitalized on the immense popularity of Dickens’ serialized novels by publishing his own ripoff versions.

In some ways the plagiarisms could be seen as the original fan fiction, as they took familiar characters and did different things with them.

Professor Rohan McWilliam

By all accounts, the author of A Tale of Two Cities was mad as the Dickens (oof, sorry) about the whole situation but a judge said he had no recourse to force Lloyd to stop publishing. You can read more about Lloyd’s appropriation and his other influences on Victorian Britain in a new book of essays edited by McWilliam and Sarah Louise Lill, Edward Lloyd and His World: Popular Fiction, Politics and the Press in Victorian Britain (Routledge, 2019).

The Atlantic

Next week is Major League Baseball’s All-Star Break, when the theoretically best (or at least most popular) players in MLB gather to compete in a Home Run Derby and an American-vs-National game that thankfully no longer counts for anything. Since you’re not going to have any actual games to watch for four long days, why not take some time to read The New Science of Building Baseball Superstars, an article by Jack Hamilton that reviews a new book, The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Noncomformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players (Basic Books, 2019) by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik.

Hamilton makes a thoughtful analogy to the rise of the steroid scandal in the 1990s with the more-or-less simultaneous popularization of “sabermetrics” an advanced form of player analysis encapsulated in Michael Lewis’ now-classic Moneyball.

The steroid and stat revolutions have unfolded very differently so far, but they arose from a common source: a desire to deploy scientific methods to improve the way baseball is played. Steroid use focused on player enhancement, whereas analytics focused on player value. To put it polemically, one was a revolution driven by labor, and the other by management, which is probably one of many reasons the latter has been more readily accepted.

Jack Hamilton, The Atlantic

There are other nuanced takes throughout the article, as Hamilton casts a skeptical eye on some of the claims made by Lindbergh and Sawchik about this new era of “Betterball.” Far from discouraging me from reading the book, I’m more eager than ever to check it out see for myself whether The MVP Machine is firing on all cylinders or running on fumes.