Matthew Silverman’s New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History is a hefty work. I mean that in an entirely literal fashion – the thing is freaking huge. You’re sure as hell not bringing it on the subway with you. Amazon claims the shipping weight is about 3 pounds, but I suspect that figure was recorded on the Moon. The weight, however, is necessary: there are over 300 pictures packed inside, and the cover features a tab that, when pulled, changes the pictures visible in four windows the front cover. As the subtitle may imply, it is a sensory experience; it’s also a coffee table book.
That is not a disparaging comment. I know “coffee table book” can be used pejoratively, but there’s a real history of the Mets in this thing. (Also, I say this because it’s only going to fit on your coffee table.) All five decades of the team’s existence are covered, plus a ten page prologue about their prehistory, with far more than a cursory look taken at everything. As a younger Mets fan, there was a decent amount of information about the ’60s and ’70s teams that I found helpful. For example: Every spring training picture from the 1960s appears to be staged — I did not know that until picking up this book. One such image shows Tom Seaver, frozen mid-windup somewhere near second base, as his pitching coach and manager look on from about two feet away.
Serious question: Did they even play spring training games back then, or did the players just pose for a few awkward photos and then play golf for six weeks? Is this one of those moon landing things? The Cold War has been over for a while now, guys. You can tell me.
Though I learned new — well, old, but new to me — things about the Mets, The Complete Illustrated History isn’t exactly Herodotus or Halberstam. My favorite books, baseball or otherwise, aren’t the ones that recount what happened, but rather those that dig deeper into what it all means. That is not what this book does, but it’s also not what is intended. To put it in terms of the subtitle, it’s more history than illustrated, but not significantly more. Much of the appeal comes from the nostalgia — I loved the section on the late-90s Mets — and not necessarily the content in and of itself.
But again, it’s a coffee table book; it succeeds admirably in that aspect. The New York Mets: A Complete Illustrated History brings to life the goofy fun of fifty years of Mets baseball. It’s not going to change your life, but it is baseball for baseball’s sake, which is more than enough. If you feel overly pretentious putting art books on your coffee table, or if you’re looking for a gift for Mom or Dad, you might want to check this one out.