When New York Mets pitcher Jesse Orosco struck out Boston’s Marty Barrett to win the 1986 World Series, he stretched deliriously into the air before falling back on the mound and heaving his baseball glove skyward. On television, fans saw the Mets pile onto Orosco, but the glove never landed.
An installment at the Queens Musuem of Art’s new exhibit, “The New York Mets and Our National Pastime,” asks visitors to imagine what became of the venerable hurler’s mitt. The responses are posted next to a videotape of the famous moment.
The installment is unique in the exhibit because it focuses on the only relevant piece of Mets memorabilia that QMA does not have on display in “The New York Mets and Our National Pastime,” a stunningly original fusion of baseball history and art in black-and-white and vivid orange and blue.
The exhibit was assembled in a year and a half by curators Thomas Soloman and Carlo McCormick after QMA Executive Director Tom Finkelpearl gave birth to the idea two years ago. There is currently a sister exhibit, “The New York Yankees and the American Dream,” at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, which similarly chronicles the poetry and history of the most recognizable franchise in sports.
The Mets are New York’s blue-collar team, picking up where the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left off, and that spirit is reflected in the exhibit. Yankees fans love to win; Mets fans just love the Mets. A two-story-high painting of Cliff Floyd tossing away his bat after a strikeout at a sparsely attended homegame is as likely to inspire Mets pride as Lee Mazilli’s 1986 World Series title trophy.
The trick, for Finkelpearl, has been to draw both baseball fans and art lovers to the museum, in Flushing Meadows Park, without alienating the other group. “To promote this exhibit, we had to ask ourselves, ‘How do we get out of business as usual?’” he said.
The Mets have done their part, publicizing the exhibit on the Jumbotron at every home game, and the media has been generous with praise. It’s not hard to see why.
From a historical standpoint, the exhibit boasts an unparalleled catalogue of Mets artifacts, including the ball Mookie Wilson hit through Bill Buckner’s legs during the 1986 World Series, which continued the Amazin’s dream run to a title. There’s also Tommy Agee’s famous “shoe polish ball” from the 1969 World Series, Anthony Young’s glove from his record 27-game losing streak, Dwight Gooden’s 100th home run ball and possibly the last bat ever used by Willie Mays.
The items, on loan from private collections and the Hall of Fame, are presented against extraordinary photos, mostly taken from the archives of the New York Daily News, and three decades worth of sports comics from legendary Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo.
The most striking part of the exhibit, though, is the seamless mix of art, nearly all of it commissioned, with baseball’s heirlooms. Some of the art is instantly recognizable. William Wegman’s portrait of a Weimaraner, one of hundreds of similar works Wegman has produced, is a classic: the portrait of a dog, dressed head-to-toe in Mets gear, with the sullen look of a manager about to make a pitching change.
Outside of Adam Cvijanovic’s gargantuan installation of the Floyd strikout, the most ambitious piece in “The New York Mets and Our National Pastime” is Phil Frost’s untitled work. Frost, a die-hard Mets fan and graffiti artist, sacrificed dozens of baseball cards, signed photographs and vintage newspaper clippings to create a 10-foot-high Mets collage that defies description. It is one of the finest pieces of abstract baseball art ever, painted solely in white-out, and its value is both artistic and literal. The memorabilia in the installation, not defaced, would be worth thousands of dollars.
The intergenerationl nature of baseball is the crux of the Subway Series room, where all 14 intra-city World Series matchups are revisited, including the classic Giants-Yankees and Dodgers-Yankees tilts and the 2000 Yankees-Mets showdown. There is even a seat from the Polo Grounds, the upper Manhattan ballpark that was the permanent home of the Giants and the first home of the Mets.
It’s also where Willie Mays made one of baseball’s signature plays in game one of the World Series, an image that unites baseball fans to this day. “You didn’t have to be alive to watch Willie Mays make his over-the-shoulder catch to appreciate it,” said David Strauss, QMA marketing director.
Much of the exhibit, though, is about the Mets’ home for the last 40 years. Unbeknownst to many, Shea is designed to resemble the Coliseum in Rome and was anointed with water from the Gowanus Canal and Harlem River to honor the city’s departed franchises when it opened in 1964. The Mets’ interlocking NY is also a tribute to the Giants, as is their orange; the Mets’ uniform script and trademark blue memorialize the Dodgers.
With so many influences, the Mets have still toiled under the Yankees’ radar for decades. Ernest Hemingway sang Joe DiMaggio’s praises over 50 years ago, but the Amazin’s have never received their just due. Until now.
“The New York Mets and Our National Pastime” runs through October 24th. Admission is $5 for adults, $2.50 for seniors and children and free for members and children under five. QMA, located in Flushing Meadows Park (follow signs for Queens Museum) is open 1-8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday through September 5th. For more information, call 718-592-9700 or visit queensmuseum.org.