THE Review: “When Shea Was Home”

Most Mets fans do not look back on the mid-to-late 1970s fondly. Let’s face it — they were not a very good team, so most of us do not look back at all. So much of what happened has been forgotten. But there is one season that should be remembered — 1975. Not necessarily for what happened on the field of play, but for that field of play itself. “When Shea Was Home” by Brett Topel tells the story of when Shea Stadium hosted four teams in the same year.

Shea was already home to the Mets and Jets. But when Yankee Stadium was undergoing its ill-fated renovation, the Yankees called Shea home in 1974 and 1975. The Giants, sick of playing all the way in New Haven, Connecticut in 1974, joined the party for the following season.

Topel does a nice job explaining how Shea Stadium, just a decade old at that point but already feeling much older, wilted under the strain of holding so many games — virtually every day during the baseball season, then every Sunday during the football season.

Groundskeeper Pete Flynn said that season was “the death of me.” And with good reason — he was in charge of making sure the grass stayed green all year. He lost that battle as 1975 came to a close, unable to keep up with the constant barrage of cleats. The Jets and Giants were left to play on dirt.

Mets fans will love this book; the bulk of it is about our favorite team from Flushing. The Yankees get a nice review, but the Jets and Giants get a bit of a short shrift. But that was okay with me!

Topel also does a good job telling us what was going on in local history in 1975. New York City was in the doldrums — the city was a pigsty, crime was rampant and President Ford was busy telling the city to “drop dead.”

If I have one criticism, it’s that Topel fell into a trap that seems to ensnare many of the authors I have read recently — repetition. For example, here’s what he wrote about Mets broadcaster Howie Rose:

Page 6:
“… said Howie Rose, the foremost authority on Mets history, who has been a Mets broadcaster in one capacity or another for nearly thirty years.”

Page 32:
“… said Rose, who has been a Mets broadcaster for more than twenty years and is considered the foremost authority on Mets’ history.”

Page 46:
“… said Howie Rose, the Mets broadcaster who knows more about Mets history than anyone else…”

Page 55:
“… Mets broadcaster and historian Howie Rose said.”

Page 72:
“… including current Mets broadcaster and unofficial team historian, Howie Rose.”

Yeah, we get it — Howie Rose is a Mets broadcaster and knows everything about the team. Tell us once at the beginning, and maybe once later. But we do not need to hear it five times in a relatively short 169 page book. I might be nitpicking, but this is becoming a trend that really bothers me.

Other than that pet peeve, “When Shea Was Home” is a very readable, very enjoyable book that is a nice addition to any Mets library.

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