Friday, July 18, 2008

I come not to praise Shea Stadium, but to bury it

Tacked on to the beginning of an article about a Billy Joel concert (which is just a rehash of the Chuck Klosterman he's-so-uncool-I'm-cool-because-I-like-him storyline), Dan Barry whips up some pre-nostalgia for Shea Stadium:

SOMEONE must sing a proper song of farewell for Shea Stadium, the nice try of a coliseum in Queens, as its dismantling draws near and a new ballpark rises just yards away. But that someone must be able to convey emotions specific to the place, emotions beyond the sadness of many lost Mets summers and the euphoria of two World Series championships. There is so much more.

In fact, "nice try" is a pretty good description for Shea. It's a Robert Moses project and, like his other civic disasters (the Cross-Bronx Expressway and huge tracts of public housing high-rises come to mind) it was built in the high hopes that great public works from on high would prepare New York City for a new era of progress.

Fittingly, it shares a lot of problems with the other Robert Moses projects of the postwar era.

As the Cross-Bronx tore a gigantic trench through neighborhoods without the least bit of consideration to pedestrians and neighbors, Moses stuck Shea under a flight path near LaGuardia Airport without any consideration to the fans who would have to sit through endless jet engine drone to watch a game.

As housing projects rose from blighted but human-scale blocks to the goals of Le Corbusier's desire for order and sterile spacial proportions at the expense of the comfort of people actually living in them, Shea was built as a pleasingly regular circle at the expense of shade and views.

A lot of people have great memories from the times they spent at Shea - myself included. But the stadium itself should be preserved, or at least left standing, as an example of an entire era of crummy stadia. The Vet and the old Busch Stadium are gone and the Astrodome may not be saved by preservationists, but there should be at least one example of how wrong we went in the sixties.

But back to the Amazins:

The romantic idealism and the yeah-right realism. The quickness to mock and to take offense. The need to prove oneself better than any Upper East Side twit and the guilt from having conceived such a hollow ambition. The restlessness, angst and ache of the striver. The Long Island of it all.

Get over yourself, man. There are plenty of UES twits who like the Mets. Even more twits liked them in the late '80s-early '90s when the Yankees had Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and a string of losing seasons. Every summer, big law firms load up million-dollar partners and Nobu-fed summer associates into black Town Cars bound for luxury boxes at Shea. Mets Nation is jealous, but they're by no means a particularly working-class bunch.

As for the losing thing, there are plenty of fans who wish their teams had it as good as the Mets. Since 1962, the Mets have won two World Series, one division title, two NL pennants and two wild card berths. Ask a fan of the Phillies, the Royals, Mariners, Indians, Tigers, Astros or Rangers if they wouldn't mind trading the records of the last 37 1/2 seasons with the Mets.

Yes, the inferiority complex started right off the bat in 1962, when the Mets came into this world as a piss-poor substitute for the Dodgers and Giants and proceeded to rack up the worst record in the history of the modern game.

Yes, they weren't favored in 1969.

No, that doesn't mean that the Kennedy-era hair shirt looks good on a fan of the team with the second-highest payroll in the league.

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