In Bizarre Baseball Culture 2.0, I take an updated look at some of the more unusual places that I previously covered where baseball has reared its head in pop culture and fiction. In the process, I clean up some mistakes of mine and add some more perspective.
Note: The original version of this post can be found here. It has some mistakes and out-of-date information that has been corrected in this post, but remains up for posterity.
As the latest Spider-Man film continues to break records, there is perhaps no better way to start up Bizarre Baseball Culture 2.0 than by renovating one of my old posts about the web-slinger. Now, ole’ Web-Head is no stranger to Bizarre Baseball Culture, having had shown up on several occasions (including fighting Doctor Doom alongside Billy the Marlin), but those were generally promotional comics that happened to feature Spider-Man. Peter Parker Spider-Man (Volume 2) #33, by contrast, is canon. It happened in the main Marvel Universe and presumably could be referenced by any writer working in those stories today. This issue from 2001 is about Peter Parker’s relation with his late Uncle Ben, and how baseball was a bond between them.
Now, before we begin, I’d like to write a bit about Spider-Man in general. What made the Marvel characters different when they first started appearing in the 1960s was that they were, in general, more relatable and flawed than the DC counterparts and the Marvel superheroes that had been created in the 30s and 40s. The Fantastic Four was often bickering with each other (like an family does), the X-Men were shunned by most of society (Stan Lee has said that being a mutant is basically meant to be a stand-in for being a minority), the Hulk was shunned by basically all of society… and Spider-Man, for lack of a better term, was a loser.
Okay, maybe not a loser, but definitely the closest thing there had been up to that point: an unpopular kid with no parents, only one family member of any sort (Aunt May) and little money. To make matters worse, when supervillains weren’t coming after him, the press and/or the police were. If things could go wrong for Peter Parker, they probably have. Parents? Dead. Uncle? Dead. Aunt? Perpetually sick. First true love (Gwen Stacy)? Murdered (and, amazingly, never came back to life). Second true love (Mary Jane)? Marriage magically annulled in a story far too stupid to talk about. At one point in the not-that-distant past poor Peter Parker evensaw his body body-snatched by Doctor Ocopus while he was forced to die in “Doc Ock’s” cancer-ridden body (don’t worry, he got better). But all of this pales in comparison to the greatest, most horrible fate to ever fall upon Spider-Man:
Being a fan of the New York Mets.
This story was written by Paul Jenkins and drawn by Mark Buckingham. Jenkins got his start in the 1980s as an editor for Mirage Comics, where he edited and helped negotiate licensing deals for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before moving to the Big 2, where we wrote horror comics, the “Marvel Knights” imprint of Marvel, and an Eisner-Award winning mini-series about Marvel’s Inhumans. Since this issue, the most notable thing he’s done was likely Origin, which was the first comic to finally tell the full origin of Wolverine.
Buckingham, meanwhile, is best known for his work outside of the Superhero genre, although he has also done plenty of superhero stuff as well. Among his works (both before and after this issue) include Fables, The Sandman and Miracleman.
What’s amazing, given the subject matter of the book, is that both of them are British. One has to wonder if perhaps their favorite soccer teams growing up were like the Mets.
We begin with Spidey hanging around New York on top of the Chrysler Building, reminiscing about his Uncle Ben, since today is the toughest day of the year for him: the day his Uncle Ben died.
After a brief reminder about that day, great power/great responsibility, and a brief scene of Aunt May laying a flower at Ben’s grave, we see Peter prepare for his own special tribute: going to a Mets game.
Peter, while taking the subway, talks about sights and sounds of a strip to the ballpark, and reminisces about how Bill Buckner‘s error and the Mets victory in 1986 was just a blip on the radar and that they still stink most of the time, which in some ways is okay, since it makes them more rank and file, unlike a certain team that Peter says more represents the the rich part of town (see below). This is a major point in why Peter is the quintessential Mets fan: he’s not rich, he’s not successful, whatever success he does have is ultimately temporary, and he’s a man of the people. In other words, he’s the exact opposite of the New York Yankees.
We go back in time to Peter Parker’s first big-league game, and how he fell in love watching the Mets play what appears to be the Braves. At least, it probably is the Braves, for trademark reasons a lot of the uniforms and logos are different. However, they are shown to have a “b” on their cap so I presume it is the Braves. He remembers being indoctrinated into the superstitions, being thrilled as the Mets took a big lead and, of course, having his soul crushed as the Braves hit a 9th inning grand slam to pull ahead and win it.
Now, just for kicks, I looked up whether there ever was a game where the Braves took a lead in the ninth at Shea Stadium with a grand slam. Alas, it appears there were not. In fact, the only game-winning grand slam against the Mets from the era that I searched to ever come in the top of the ninth was in 1998, which wouldn’t fit with the timeline of where in life Peter was as well as how old he is in this comic.
Despite the loss, Uncle Ben has a lesson for Peter about how you can’t win them all:
So, we then cut through the years, as he and his Uncle Ben engage in the “Annual Kiss of Death Tour”, as the Mets lose every single game they go to. One year, the Mets would give up nine runs in the first inning (this also seems to have never happened). In another, the closer blows it to a pinch hitter (stuff like that has happened plenty of times). But then, there is… “The Mascot Incident”.
What is “The Mascot Incident”? Well, it all began with the Mets down by 24 runs (something that never happened) when a foul ball bopped Peter on the head. As he lay unconscious, an unusually talkative and just-different-enough-for-copyright-reasons Mister Met came over to calm things down. This then happened:
After being bonked on the head by a foul ball and scared half-to-death by Mister Met, Peter still stays at the game like a trooper. But the Mets, of course, losing in so humiliating a way that I am going to just link to what the comic says.
So, a year after that, he’s not feeling Mets fever anymore. He doesn’t want to go to their yearly game, and he definitely doesn’t want to hear Uncle Ben’s speech about how losing builds character and every season has wins and losses.
So, of course, this happens:
Of course, this is Spider-Man, so there is a big “but” here:
Jeez, the Mets finally win for Peter and it’s THREE DAYS BEFORE UNCLE BEN DIES.
Great going, Mets. Even in triumph, you are associated with great despair.
Back in 2001, the Mets have lost, although Pete takes solace in knowing that they have an all-star catcher (Mike Piazza, presumably). He also is glad about the fact that while they didn’t win during his trip that day, well…