Meet the Man Behind That Weird-Ass Story About Mookie Wilson and Dinosaurs
Charlie Rubin on the joke that bewildered the internet
Earlier this week, an old newspaper clipping began circulating around sports Twitter. It featured a quote from Mookie Wilson, the beloved 1980s New York Mets outfielder, about the power of dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs. It reads, “When I’m in a slump, I comfort myself by saying if I believe in dinosaurs, then somewhere they must be believing in me. And if they believe in me, then I can believe in me. Then I bust out.”
The image was first put up by editor Alan Scherstuhl, but it then spread in cropped form all over the place. People thought Wilson’s bizarre beliefs were another thing that made him amazing. They also thought they were a reflection of a different era in baseball, when certain substances were used much more freely, and when the World Champion Mets were particularly indulgent.
What many people didn’t realize among the thousands of retweets is that the quote was fake and part of a larger comedy piece that The Village Voice ran in 1986 titled, “Favorite Dinosaurs of the New York Mets.”
The author of the article was Charlie Rubin, who went on to write for TV comedies including Seinfeld, In Living Color and MTV’s The John Stewart Show. Later he switched things up, spending five seasons on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and starting the television writing concentration at N.Y.U.’s Tisch School of the Arts. He still continues to work in TV.
MASS APPEAL spoke with Rubin about where this idea came from and the beguiling charms of Mookie Wilson.
MASS APPEAL: How did this story about the Mets’ favorite dinosaurs even happen?
Charlie Rubin: I was a playwright in residence at Playwrights Horizons, and I wrote a big flop. It was the book for a musical, and the guy who wrote the music was really talented; and frankly, the guy who wrote the book was really talented. It was called America Kicks Up Its Heels. It’s about a soup kitchen in the Depression. It just never cohered, and one night something did cohere. Two editors from the National Lampoon came [that night] and they said, “You know, the way you write is the way we write. Have you ever thought of doing prose humor?” I said, “Well I have done it, I love doing it,” so I went to work for the National Lampoon.
While I was at the Lampoon, they were doing their sports issue and they had a hole. They asked me, “Can you come up with something and write it overnight?” I wrote a piece called, “Where Were You on the Day Thurman Munson Died?” It was a parody of all those Jim Bishop books that were so big a thousand years ago: The Day Lincoln Was Shot, The Day Kennedy Was Shot. They pretty much put it in without a word change and that made me at the Lampoon. Any time you had a funny idea, you could call someone up and say, “Can I write this?” They’d said, “Sure!” They would pay you 40 cents a word, which paled beside Playboy‘s two dollars a word, or the New Yorker‘s one dollar a word, but 40 cents, man, that was okay.
That’s okay today.
I know it is. [The Lampoon] always wanted to be wild, and it helped me with all kinds of writing. The people I worked with were terrific. Then everyone got fired, or quit.
After that I worked for Spy, and then I worked for The Village Voice. They had seen a couple of those things I had done at the Lampoon and they said, “You know, we don’t have anybody who writes funny stuff about sports. No one thinks it’s important.” I never said it was important, by the way. They said, “Do you want to write something like that for us?”
Somewhere in there, I ripped myself off. “Favorite Dinosaurs of the Mets” is a little bit like “Where Were You on the Day Thurman Munson Died?” That was funny, the fake oral journalism.
By the way, pause, “Favorite Dinosaurs of the Mets” is totally fake. My wife sent me something where someone was saying, “The last one by Lenny Dykstra, I think that one’s real.” None of them are real. There isn’t a real element to it. Some people think that the dinosaur stuff had to do with this crazy player who destroyed his career with his craziness, named Carl Everett, who came seasons later. Carl Everett would go around saying, “Dinosaurs don’t exist, because no one saw them.”
Do you watch the show Hard Knocks on HBO where they follow an NFL team through pre-season? Last year they did it on the Rams and there was this thread about William Hayes who also doesn’t believe in dinosaurs.
They believe that if no one witnessed it, it can’t be true. But that was not what the genesis was. The genesis was that is was 1986 and the Mets had an amazing team. Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter. They began kicking ass all over the league. Sports was starting to matter in a way that it hadn’t before. All of a sudden people were seeing big fanship in it. They were seeing people who were writing seriously about it, who weren’t just Roger Angell, whose work gives me a seizure.
Everybody was writing about the Mets, and they were examining these 25 or 30 poor souls. Even for people like me who love baseball and were so thrilled for the Mets, I just didn’t want to read the papers anymore. Now suddenly everything was just over-examined and boring.
I thought, “How can I write a parody of this?” What would be something that you wouldn’t expect the Mets would know something about, and could be over-examined by a newspaper reporter? I came up with dinosaurs because I knew something about dinosaurs. I’d written about them for a couple of other publications, I’d loved them as a kid like all kids. I just decided, what if the secret about the Mets is that they all have a favorite dinosaur? It really went over very well, and it has been forgotten now for 31 years by everyone including me. I know it’s in my closet, and I know that I was very proud of it at the time. I remember the drug jokes in the Keith Hernandez one, which was always my favorite.
The other big successful sports piece that I wrote was with the writer Warren Leight, called “Dick Young in Hell.” Dick Young was a famous old, reactionary, racist, anti-young people, anti-young writers sportswriter. He had his own style, and he changed sports forever. He was a prick. In the early 1970s, he would write, “Oh please Hank, don’t do it. The little kids in the street need the Babe.” He just didn’t want a black guy breaking the home run record. He always had opinions like this.
Warren and I wrote a piece called “Dick Young in Hell,” and we did it in the style of his “Clubhouse Confidential” column. The joke, of course, which everyone gets instantly, is that Dick is astonished by who is in heaven, who made it and who didn’t, because he doesn’t get that he’s in hell. That used to go up in bars all over New York City. That’s always been my motto, if you can’t write good, write for drunks.
What did the people The Village Voice think of the piece?
Everyone at The Village Voice loved the dinosaur piece. They bannered it at the top of the front page and used the wonderful art. Then a few weeks later I interviewed to be their next sports editor. I was the staff’s choice, but the owner, a prick named Schneiderman, told me, “I don’t like comedy about sports. Do you really think it’s that funny, sports? Because I don’t. What do you think is funny, the musical Damn Yankees? Because I don’t. Nothing in that makes me laugh. Tell me something in Damn Yankees that’s funny.” I said, “Well the song [that goes] ‘whatever Lola wants/ Lola gets.'” He goes, “Not funny.”
There we are, two of the only straight people at The Village Voice and we’re arguing about whether a musical comedy is funny. Schneiderman told me that he thought professional sports had betrayed America’s trust, and he wanted a section about that. Did I think I could give him that? Because he sure didn’t. He sure didn’t. As I left without the job that was going to let me get married, he yells after me, “There is not one funny moment in Damn Yankees.'” So I said, “You realize I didn’t write Damn Yankees?” He goes, “I don’t care if you wrote it or didn’t.” Oh Schneiderman, how I miss you.
You later wrote for Seinfeld, right?
No one writes for Seinfeld without having a co-author. My literal co-author was Ron Hauge, but everything on Seinfeld was co-written by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. Everything. I ended up with my name on [the episode] “The Marine Biologist.” It’s my story, if you know your Seinfeld. Where the idea came from, I used to write into my college alumni bulletin that I was a marine biologist. It was a good George Costanza story, because what I was was a failure. In my eyes and my grandparents’ eyes, if not perhaps my father’s eyes, that’s what I thought. Everyone was going into bank training programs and law school at that time. I was just making $25 from an article for The Village Voice. (Maybe that seems high, too.) I created a career for myself where I was an incredibly successful marine biologist.
What are your feelings towards Mookie Wilson?
He’s a great player. My favorite player on that team was Keith Hernandez, but I would say Mookie was my second favorite. Mookie hit the ball that bounced through Buckner’s legs. I was with a woman, we were watching it together, and then after the ball bounced through Buckner’s legs we started talking about whether we should get married. Really, really true. It was a big mistake, by the way. We didn’t get married, but we did get engaged for a century.