An Amazin’ Era

The cover to An Amazin' Era. The images were also used on the promo poster and the tape was also available in Betamax. Yes, Betamax.

When I decided to recount my memories of the Mets’ 1986 season, I thought that I would spend some time on various games I had either watched on television or attended and my experience of being a fan 25 years ago when the team won its last World Series.  It seemed to be going all right, or at least I had some memory of the first home game of the season.  But as I began to leaf through my ’86 Mets stuff, I began to realize that I actually don’t have a lot of memories of that year.

It’s not that I wasn’t a fan or didn’t watch the team on television.  It’s just that I was nine years old and when I wasn’t spending my days playing with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toys, I was watching maybe one or two cartoons each night before going to bed at 8:00.  I got to stay up later on Friday nights, but that was probably until about 9:00 or 9:30, which meant that if Channel 9 was showing a Mets game, I’d only get a few innings in before I was sent off to bed.  There were quite a few nights when I was rushed off to bed in the middle of the fourth with runners on base and Ed Lynch or Dough Sisk trying to get out of yet another jam (Doug Sisk, btw, was one of those pitchers you tried to imitate because he had this crazy overhand delivery … it was the polar opposite of Dan Quisenberry, and every time you tried to “Sisk” a pitch in baseball or wiffle ball, the ball landed a mile behind the catcher). Sure, there were Sunday games, but only if my mother wasn’t making me go outside and do something.

I did, however, have my fair share of Mets merchandise by this point, including a video that would prove as important as the 1985 pennant race in cementing my love for the team.  An Amazin’ Era is a one-hour documentary created to commemorate 25 seasons of Mets baseball, telling the story of the team from its very humble beginnings in 1962 to the anticipated title run in 1986 (it took me a while to figure that out, by the way, because the 25th Anniversary logo said 1962-1986 and if you do the math, that’s 24 seasons but considering that there is no “season zero” that’s actually correct).  It was released in early 1986 and I am pretty sure that I got it for my ninth birthday from either my parents or my Uncle Lou along with Donald Honig’s 25th Anniversary book and the Amazin’ Era poster that had been hanging in the video store and my dad had purchased and had mounted and framed (this poster, btw, would hang on the wall of my bedroom all the way up until the time I left home when I was 22 … it may be in my parents’ attic or basement, I’m not sure).

The tape itself–which I still have sitting in a storage box in my basement among old copies of movies–is a bit of a marvel because it’s like some sort of odd relic.  The box is what was called “clamshell” packaging, meaning that instead of the usual cardboard box that the tape “slipped” into and out of (and that more than likely was crushed because someone stepped on it), the tape came in a plastic box that opened like a book.  The only other tapes I ever owned with this sort of packaging were Disney movies, and while I knew this wasn’t a kids’ movie, I always loved popping open the case to reveal the black tape with the silver 25th Anniversary Mets decal.

What’s also interesting is that the tape feels heavier than your average tape.  It doesn’t weigh more (at least it didn’t weigh more than my copy of There’s Something About Mary because they both clocked in at 1/2 a pound), but it definitely feels heftier.  Maybe 3M/Scotch was doing something different than, say, TDK or BASF when they were making tapes?  Who knows.  I do have to say, though, that despite this tape’s age, it holds up remarkably well and I had no problem playing it in my VCR.

The actual tape. It feels heavier than it is.

The video–which has that 1980s “shot on video tape” softness about it except when old Super 8 or 16 MM footage of the team’s games was used–goes chronologically through the team’s history and actually begins five years before the Mets, in 1957 when the Dodgers and Giants both left New York for the west coast.  Well, that is after a video montage set to the song “New York City Rhythm” by Barry Manilow, who was either still popular enough in the mid-1980s for people to care; or needed the money and licensed the rights (probably the latter) wherein we hover around New York City, including the Twin Towers, and then wind up at Shea where the title comes at us in 1980s video fashion (the production value is probably slightly higher than a porno, to be honest).

So anyway, “The Early Years” begins after Gene Shalit introduces the segment with a bunch of bad puns and we get the aforementioned departure of the Giants and Dodgers, complete with footage of a throng of people crying and holding up banners that say “Stay Team Stay,” then hear about how the late Bill Shea spearheaded the effort to get a new NL club in New York and went as far as to form an entirely new league, the Continental League, made up with teams from cities who would all get their own teams sooner or later (the teams were NY, Toronto, Houston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Denver).  I have always loved this part of Mets history (especially as it unfolds in Peter Golenblock’s book, Amazin’, which is worth a read) because not only did it lead to Shea Stadium’s name actually meaning something, but it meant that people really wanted another team in New York.  My second cousin used to give me shit for liking the Mets, saying that Shea had “no history” (guess which team he rooted for?) and I always took it in stride because the Mets did have history and there was something scrappy about being the kid who has to fight for respect.

Anyway, the section is filled with clips of early Mets’ futility including stories about people like “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry and the 40-120 debut season.  That’s a record, by the way, that still stands and I am not sure that anyone will ever break.  I know that the Tigers came close at one point, and as much as it would be interesting to see happen, I think there’s some point of weird pride that one of your teams holds the distinction of having the worst season on record.  Then again, I did live through 1993 and I know how bad that hurt so I don’t know if I want to be known for sucking.

Still, it’s a delight to hear old Mets players and sportswriters talk on the documentary, because it actually brings me back to family functions when old relatives I barely knew were still alive and would sit around and talk.  These guys’ thick New York accents and tales of baseball of long ago are so great that you can hear the scotch being poured and you can smell their cigars.  Or maybe that’s just the image I have in my head because I’ve been watching Mad Men too much lately.

We get our second montage in this section, one about Banner Day that is set to Petula Clark singing “Sign of the Times” and features the very famous shot of a beagle named Homer holding a sign that says “Let’s Go Mets.”  This is a tradition, by the way, that I think the team has done away with with its move to Citi Field (which I have yet to visit), although I’ve heard rumors here and there of it making a comeback.

And speaking of comebacks, the next section is 1966-1973, or “The Championship Years.”  The introduction for this is done by John Lindsay, who was the mayor of New York City at the time and is one of several mayors that were interviewed, including the then-current mayor, Ed Koch.  One of the early highlights of this segment is the team’s drafting Tom Seaver, whose story I always found interesting because the team basically picked his name out of a hat in a special draft (I think the other option was Reggie Jackson) and he would go on to be the star of that championship era.

During this time we’re also introduced to other famous Mets such as Tug McGraw, Jerry Koosman, Ron Swoboda, and Tommie Agee, whose names I would come to know like the back of my hand after watching this video many, many times.  And it would take a few years for me to realize that outside of maybe your average Mets enthusaist, they weren’t household names.  Maybe that’s probably because they weren’t Mantle, Maris, or any of the names my Yankee-fan cousins bandied about during the nadir of the Steinbrenner era when that’s all they had to cling to, crowing about “tradition” like they’re in the touring company of Fiddler on the Roof.

Speaking of that show, the montage following the 1969 series win is set to “Miracle of Miracles,” a song that I always associated with this video even when I saw a  production of Fiddler on the Roof in college.  That year is quite possibly the only year I would ever want to travel back to and live through so that I could see it play out.  Seaver’s near-perfect game (the closest any Mets pitcher has ever gotten, btw), the fans mobbing the field after clinching the NL East, Swoboda’s catch in the Series, Davey Johnson making the final out for the Orioles.  Oh yeah, and a man on the moon or something.  But seriously, I can only begin to imagine how electric that city was in 1969 … and again in 1973.

Of course you wouldn’t know it by watching Tom Seaver on the video.  He has this look about him like they woke him up that morning and dragged him into the studio in order to ask him a bunch of questions.  I mean, for all I know, that’s his personality but man does he look like he doesn’t want to be there.  In fact, the only person who rivals that lack of enthusiasm is Nolan Ryan during the 1969 team’s performance of “You Gotta Have Heart” on the Ed Sullivan Show (during which Tug McGraw wears the shiniest belt buckle ever), a performance during which each player gets camera time and looks like he has just enlisted and is going off to do his civic duty.  Everything’s pressed, haircuts are short … it’s not exactly the hippie 1960s you think of.

The 1970s stuff, however, has the feel of the dark underbelly that was the 1970s.  After a great segment on “You Gotta Believe!”, several shots of the “sign man,” Karl Erhardt, and great archival footage of Buddy Harrelson’s brawl with Pete Rose and his not getting tagged but being called out in the 1973 series, “The Down Years” begin with a Rodney Dangerfield “I get no respect and neither did the Mets in the late 1970s” introduction.

I guess that if you’re a Mets fan, the less said about the shitty years of the team, the better and some of the years in the mid-to-late-1970s were really horrible.  But the video does its best to try and be honest about how bad the team was, first by showing the dismantling of the championship teams by having important players talk about being traded while David Bowie’s “Changes” plays and then covering The Midnight Massacre (the Seaver trade) before finding some silver linings like Lee Mazzilli and John Stearns (a catcher who seemed to make the All-Star team a lot but I think definitely gets overshadowed by Jerry Grote, Gary Carter, and Mike Piazza).

I guess you can be honest when the next segment is “The Comeback Years” and is all about how the team started winning again.  I rarely paid much attention to “The Down Years” when I was a kid anyway because the 1980s stuff was in my memory for the most part and that meant I could watch highlights of my favorite players.  But I did always pay close attention to the number “79 Men on Third” by Dick McCormick, in which he lists every single Mets third baseman up until that point in a style like that song “I’ve Been Everywhere” that was used in hotel commercials a few years ago.

The next song we hear (after an introduction from Glenn Close) is the 1980s version of the “Meet the Mets” song.  Now, I’ve always loved the old version of “Meet the Mets.”  It’s peppy, it has that sort of “old New York” feel and actually does make it feel like a piece of team history:

But the 1984 version?

I mean, if the extended saxophone solo at the beginning doesn’t have you laughing, then the “Long Island!  JERSEY!” will.  I almost want to sing, “It’s Eighties!  It’s cheesy!”

That part isn’t in the video and most of the 1980s in An Amazin’ Era is devoted to how Wilpon, Doubleday, and Cashen built the team during the early part of the decade and signed people like George Foster and Keith Hernandez (who also looks a bit dazed in this video but I’m not sure if that’s a result of his not wanting to be there or rehabbing from his coke habit), who as we all remember had said that he’d been traded to “The Siberia of Baseball.”

At this point, it’s highlights of awesome pitching, Darryl Strawberry actually hustling, and montages where the highlights so literally match the lyrics of the song (a Neil freaking Diamond song, no less) that I couldn’t help but look at the screen and say, “Really?!  REALLY.”  At the end of the video, Hernandez says that he thinks it’ll be the “1969 Mets, the 1973 Mets and the … ’86 Mets.”  I remember that every time I watched this video after the 1986 season I would proudly say, “It is!”

For all its obvious “marketing” of the team (I mean, it’s not exactly objective), the video definitely still holds a charm, especially when you get to listen to the older ballplayers talk because some of them still sound like kids, and really do seem to be very grateful for their time with the team.  I know that I’ve definitely been grateful as a fan these past 25 years.

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8 comments

  1. Wow great post man, I love the mets, my dad keeps telling me about their ’86 championship…Hopefully they can win another 1 within the next 20 years…

  2. In my household “Sisking” a pitch meant giving up a three run homer. Possibly with no one on. He began a line that grew stronger through the years with the likes of Armando and Braden…

    1. Armando? How dare you mention thee who shalt not be named! 😉

      There’s some interesting stuff about Sisk and his confidence (or lack thereof) in “The Bad Guys Won”

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