I recently presented a paper at a Hofstra University conference spotlighting the 50th anniversary of the New York Mets. My subject was “The Mets in the Movies” and I chronicled the various celluloid references to the Amazins, from Bill Mazeroski, the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer, hitting into a triple play against the Mets in the screen version of Neil Simon’s THE ODD COUPLE to Billy Crystal’s wearing a Mets baseball cap while running with the bulls in Pamplona and herding cattle in CITY SLICKERS.
There is nothing profound about any of this. But while researching, I did recall one of the more unusual and telling Shea Stadium references. It is found in, of all films, ALICE IN THE CITIES, a 1974 West German production directed by Wim Wenders. The following analysis of the sequence, written by Scott Jordan Harris and published last year in World Film Locations: New York, grabbed my attention. Harris writes:
“We hear it before we see it. ‘Sounds like an organ,’ says our protagonist, a travelling German journalist... ‘That’s... Shea Stadium,’ he is told. We cut to the famous sports ground. A baseball game is in progress. The players, tiny and bright in their white uniforms against the grey grass are part of a team, but their smallness and their regimented distance from each other emphasizes each man’s isolation. The camera pans towards the crowd. The spectators are busy and noisy, but the dark grey spaces between them-- the empty seats-- suggest the loneliness that comes in crowds.”
I must add here that, whenever I attend a baseball game, I find myself exhilarated. I never feel isolated. Instead, I find myself bonding with the crowd, sharing the communal experience of cheering for the favored team. It’s the same feeling I have in a movie theater, if those present are collectively connecting to what is unfolding onscreen rather than texting or discussing where they will have dinner after the show.
Finally, just for the fun if it, I want to cite a film that was released in 1956: six years before the birth of the Mets. Its title is THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT. Gregory Peck stars as Tom Rath, a harried suburbanite and World War II veteran who commutes into Manhattan every workday. One day, while passing time on the train, Tom’s mind wanders and he recalls an incident from a decade earlier-- and a world away from the peacetime America of the 1950s-- in which he killed a young German soldier. Then, in an instant, he is thrust back into the reality of 1956 when the man sitting next to him grimly declares, “There’s no use trying. I just can’t get used to it.”
“Used to what?” Tom asks.
His fellow commuter responds, “The idea of the Brooklyn Dodgers as world champions.”
I would bet my Topps Tom Seaver rookie card-- if I owned one-- that if THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIThad instead been made in 1970, the year after the Mets ended their dismal inaugural decade with a surprise World Championship, that line would have been: “The idea of the New York Mets as world champions.”
And it would have been just as credible.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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