Oral history of 1977-83 Mets a timely volume

Though books chronicles losing seasons, fans will appreciate 'Seven Year Stretch'

Timing is everything in sports. It can also be crucial in writing about sports.

When Greg Prato conceived "The Seven Year Stretch: New York Mets 1977-83," his latest oral history of a Big Apple franchise, the team was in the doldrums, suffering from both losing records on the field and an image of a team in the country's largest market unwilling to spend what it took to compete.

As it was coming out, the Mets were coming on strong in the second half, creating drama with the addition of Yoenis Cespedes and the drama surrounding how many innings Matt Harvey would pitch, that culminated in a surprise trip to the World Series.

What's interesting is that the author chose to feature another unsuccessful period in team history, a time frame during which the Mets had nothing but losing records. One reason is that it also was a time during which several moves were made that led to the 1984-90 epoch during which the club finished first or second every season and won the 1986 World Series.

It also underscores that history really does repeat itself. Before the Mets put it all together down the stretch this season, ownership was widely perceived as keeping the payroll artificially low. They would probably get a kick out of reading how positive the reaction was when Nelson Doubleday Jr. and Fred Wilpon became co-owners in January 1980, taking over for the Payson family and M. Donald Grant.

"That was an exciting time," former pitcher Craig Swan says in the book. "I didn't know how long it was going to take, but I knew they were going to put some time and effort and money into it."

The first part of the narrative focuses on the doldrums that gripped the team in the early 1970s. The so-called Midnight Massacre when future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver was traded. The lack of talent manager Joe Torre had to work with. Against that backdrop, memories of the great New York City blackout of 1977, which abruptly halted play during a game at Shea Stadium, help illustrate the mood at the time.

Later, the tone shifts. Players -- plus Howard Stern producer/lifelong Mets fan Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate and journalist Steve Jacobson -- weigh in on the arrival of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden from the farm system, the trades that brought Cary Carter and Keith Hernandez, the hiring of Davey Johnson as manager.

The oral-history format has both advantages and disadvantages, especially after so many years. That allows for a certain now-it-can-be-told sensibility. Example: pitcher Brent Gaff reveals that pitching coach Bill Monbouquette warned him that the other starters shouldn't be considered starters, that he shouldn't be nice to his teammates because each one was trying to take his job.

There are downsides, too, however. The repetitive comments about what a "good guy" or "great teammate" so-and-so was becomes numbing after a while. And while there is merit to getting the unvarnished views of the people who were there, their biases may be hard to discern and their memories are imperfect.

Swan, for instance, didn't recall a 15-game losing streak in 1982.

"All the bad stuff, I try to forget," he said.

Prato lists 23 people who were interviewed for the book, and he presents a nice cross-section. Inevitably, though, some recognizable figures aren't included, like Seaver, Lee Mazzilli, Rusty Staub, Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson, Hubie Brooks and former general manager Joe McDonald.

In the final analysis, this is a volume targeted at hardcore Mets fans. And the timing of its release couldn't be better.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.