Can it be 35 seasons since the Jets, Mets and Knicks simultaneously stood atop the sports world? And 35 seasons since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the trial of the Chicago Eight and the election of Richard M. Nixon as President? Hard to believe!
The Magnificent Seasons, written by Art Shamsky with the aid of Barry Zeman, evokes the memory of that 16-month period when, against a backdrop of civic and national strife, three professional sports teams representing New York City consecutively won championships. By making reference to events that were contemporaneously occurring outside of sports, Shamsky conveys how dispiriting a time this was for so many Americans, and in particular for New Yorkers, who were on the cusp of their fiscal crisis of the mid- 1970’s. The impact of the string of world championships was accentuated by their having occurred in an era so marked by death — the Vietnam War, the Kent State Massacre, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. These victories diverted a growing group of sports fans and lifted their spirits, which is why these teams continue to have an iconic identity.
Adding to the drama of victory in the unscripted world of sports, all three of these franchises enjoyed first-time successes. Underdogs all, their history of mediocrity made their achievements all the sweeter. The teams were populated by personalities who returned their fans’ affection. They were headed by strong leaders who were different from one another, yet all demonstrated respect for their players and their sport, a keen sense of fairness, and an insistence on dedication and unselfishness. Shamsky, having been a member of the Amazin’ Mets, provides an insider’s view, but his account of the Jets’ and the Knicks’ seasons is equally entertaining.
Reliving “history” 35 years after an era sharpens one’s insights because memories, seemingly forgotten, suddenly reappear. For example, when Shamsky reminds us of the baseball players in 1969 who missed games because of military obligations, one cannot help but think about how our professional sports landscape has changed. He recreates an era that was unique, in part because the players were not so different from the fans they represented, albeit more talented athletically. For the sports fan who wants to remember or learn about a simpler time, when athletes were community heroes because of their accomplishments and loyalty, The Magnificent Seasons is an entertaining investment of time.
This book would be an even better read if it had been more skillfully edited. However, this is not intended to fault the author, who has written an enjoyable book that gives the fan a chance to relive the excitement of an unprecedented municipal winning streak.