Mets Merized Online » John Strubel Wed, 23 Jul 2014 05:38:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 July 4, 1985: No End in Sight Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:00:42 +0000 Thousands of baseball books have been published. Millions of baseball stories have been told, every one of them starts with the same basic understanding: two teams, nine innings, balls, strikes, runs, hits and errors. Along the way there are various twists and turns ending in perfect games, no hitters, walk off home runs and everything in between.

No two games are the same, but many are alike. They all come back to the final out. Strike three. Game over. But what happens when a game goes on and on and on … with no apparent end in sight? Then, when the moment seemingly arrives, hope is dashed by improbability. There was a major league game like this. It was played on July 4 (and July 5), 1985. This is the story, as told by those who played, reported, broadcast, watched and witnessed it.

Extra innings changes everything. The game of baseball is redefined. To score is to win. To err is to lose. Strategy is discarded. Position players become relief pitchers and relief pitchers are pinch runners, and occasionally hit home runs.

On Independence Day 1985 at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves played 19 innings, the equivalent of two baseball games (plus one inning) including two rain delays totaling two hours, five minutes, 29 runs, 14 pitchers and 43 players, 155 official at bats, 115 outs, 615 pitches, 46 hits, 23 walks, 22 strikeouts, five errors, 37 stranded base runners, six lead changes, a cycle, two players were ejected and 25 years later the most memorable moment was recorded by the losing pitcher Rick Camp.

Camp was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1974. He grew up on a farm in Georgia, went to school and played ball in Georgia, drove a pickup truck and the team agreed to give him a tractor as part of his deal. Now he was going to pitch for his hometown team. Camp was close to living his dream.

Rick Camp

“To hit a home run in the big leagues — that was my dream,” said Camp. Prior to signing with the Braves he hit a lot of home runs, all of them as a designated hitter at West Georgia University where he attended college.

By July 1985, the odds of Camp seeing his dream come true seemed gone. He had 10 hits and a career batting average of .060. “He couldn’t hit his way out of the cage when he’d take BP,” said former teammate Paul Zuvella.

Camp had been moved to Atlanta’s bullpen. The chances of him even getting an opportunity to bat would take, I don’t know, maybe a couple rain delays, a lot of pitching changes and extra innings. Good luck with that.

The Mets arrived in Atlanta on July 4th weekend, grumpy. The team was slumping, winning three of their previous 11 games when rookie Len Dykstra dug in to lead off the game after an 84-minute relay delay. Most of the sellout crowd was still in the ballpark.

Sporting a golf ball size wad of tobacco in his left cheek, Dykstra choked his pine tar covered bat about six inches from the handle. He weighed 155 pounds according to the Mets 1985 media guide. He was 30 at-bats into his major league career.

Back in New York, Mookie Wilson, the Mets regular center fielder in 1985 was watching from a bed in Roosevelt Hospital, one day removed from arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder to repair torn cartilage.

Dykstra dropped a bunt past Rick Mahler. Glenn Hubbard charged from second and bare-handed the ball to Bob Horner at first. Dykstra, in typical hard-nosed style, stumbled over the base, nearly colliding with umpire Jerry Crawford before being called out.

After Wally Backman legged out an infield dribbler, Keith Hernandez stepped to the plate. Mahler fired to first. Backman slid back safely. Mahler persisted, trying again … and again … and again …

Pete Van Wieren doesn’t own a Ouija board. He has no psychic powers. He has never been to a tarot card reading, but he does have an amazing sensory perception on matters related to the diamond. “At the rate this game is going the big 5th of July fireworks show will be presented right after the contest,” he said as the pickoff attempts continued like a broken record.

Mahler finally caught Backman leaning too far. As Crawford signaled Backman out, the Met second baseman slowly climbed to his knees and stared out at Crawford from underneath his helmet. The long give-and-take seemed to last longer than the 84-minute rain delay.

After Hernandez lifted the next pitch into left-center field for a double, Gary Carter grounded a single into centerfield. The ball took two hops and stopped dead in the rain-soaked outfield grass. Braves centerfielder Dale Murphy raced through puddle, scooped up the ball and fired it back to the infield. After a Darryl Strawberry single, advancing Carter to second base, and a George Foster walk to load the bases, Mahler struck out Ray Knight to end the inning.

doc-goodenA tall, thin, 20-year old Dwight Gooden was on the mound for the Mets. He was pitching on three days rest for the first time during the 1985 season. He would go on to win 24 games with a 1.53 ERA in 276 innings pitched. In 35 starts, Gooden pitched 16 complete games. His season performance cinched the Cy Young Award, claiming 120 votes, almost twice as many as John Tudor of the St. Louis Cardinals, who finished second (21-8).

Claudell Washington led off the Braves first inning with a triple. The 44,947 in attendance were on their feet. One pitch later, Rafael Ramirez grounded out to shortstop, scoring Washington. It took the Braves four pitches to tie the game.

Gooden followed by walking Murphy on four straight pitches, prompting Carter to zip halfway out between home plate and the mound to settle Gooden down.

Gooden walked Horner on four pitches; eight straight balls.

Terry Harper dug in and Gooden shoved a fastball on the inside corner at the knees for strike one. He sent Harper back to the bench on three pitches. It was as if Gooden pushed some internal on/off button.

“Just three years ago he was pitching to high school kids,” said the late Skip Caray. “My goodness, just think what that must have been like?”

Rick Cerone had missed three weeks due to a sore shoulder. He was activated two days earlier, but hadn’t played in a game since his return. His first at-bat came after a long rain delay against Gooden. Could the cards be any more stacked against the 31-year old Cerone?

“He probably said, ‘Thanks a lot!’ when he saw Gooden out there,” said Caray sarcastically. “He hasn’t played in a month.”

Cerone slashed the first pitch from Gooden to Mets first baseman Hernandez. The ball caromed off his midsection and he bare-handed a sidearm throw to Gooden covering first to end the inning.

“Back in the ‘70s, Atlanta had one of the worst infields in baseball – but there were a lot of bad infields in the old days,” said Hernandez. “I never liked fielding in Atlanta because it was so hot and everything baked. I always had to do a lot of gardening there, but by the ‘80’s, it was a very good infield.”

The rain returned in the third inning and Terry Tata stopped the game. Two nights earlier in San Francisco, Tata was informed by Major League Baseball he would the acting crew chief for the series in Atlanta, replacing Harry Wendlestedt, who was ill (Wendlestedt did not return to umpire until July 18).

“I took a redeye off the west coast and arrived in Hartford, Connecticut, spent some time with my wife and then took a flight from Bradley Field and arrived in Atlanta at 5pm,” remembers Tata. By the time he arrived at Fulton County Stadium it was already raining.

The Atlanta Braves employed two full-time groundskeepers and an estimated 25 part-time employees to help on game days. Sam Newpher, now the groundskeeper for Daytona International Speedway, was the head groundskeeper at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium in 1985.

Newpher stayed in close contact with the National Weather Service at the Atlanta airport. The weather service could pinpoint the time and location of the incoming storm and its relation to the stadium.

In the press box the media were already playing weatherman. “Everyone working at the ballpark lives in different parts of the city, so it’s not at all uncommon for someone to call home and see if it’s raining in that part of town,” said Van Wieren. “Then you start hearing, ‘well it’s not raining in Dunwoody!’ Then Skip will say, ‘Well, let’s go up there and play.”

Newpher watched as the second rain storm soaked the tarp.

“All of the drainage was surface drainage which drains off to the outside edge (of the field) into two surface drains,” he said. “It was a turtle shell type mound with the center of it being about 25 feet behind second base. Keep something in mind, if a tarp is on the field and you dump the tarp, you’re taking a couple thousand gallons and just going plop in one spot,” he said.

Van Wieren watched the rain fall from the Braves press box. He glanced at his scorecard, then the stadium clock and back to the field. He took a deep breath and exhaled, well aware of how late this game was going to end.

“The team wasn’t very good and sellout crowds were very rare,” said Van Wieren. “We had a sellout crowd that night and the team would do everything in their power to get that game in so they could get the gate.”

When play resumed 41 minutes later, Mets manager Davey Johnson announced he was taking Gooden out to avoid risk of injury. It marked the first time in 27 starts dating back to Aug. 11, 1984 that he had failed to go six innings. Gooden, unhappy, retreated to the Mets clubhouse and began drinking.

The Braves took their only lead of the game, 8-7, scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. But the Mets tied it in the ninth. By the time the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves began extra innings the calendar read July 5. Still, fans moved to the edge of their seats. Not in anticipation of a win, but the post-game fireworks.

When the Mets came to bat in the 12th inning, Hernandez was a single away from the cycle. He had doubled in the first off Mahler, tripled in the fourth off Jeff Dedmon, homered in the eighth inning Steve Shields.

Hernandez would be facing Terry Forster. He needed his brother, who was home in San Francisco. Hernandez dashed back to the Mets clubhouse, called the operator and asked for an outside line.

“He was my good luck charm,” said Hernandez. “He always came down on West Coast trips. When we left San Francisco he’d come with me to San Diego and L.A. – and I always killed San Diego and L.A.”

Ironically, eleven years earlier on September 11, 1974, as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, Hernandez pinch hit against the Mets in a 25-inning game at Shea Stadium. “That was my first year,” remembered Hernandez. “I pinched hit in the ninth off Harry Parker and Dave Schneck robbed me of a home run.”

keith hernandezThe Cardinals eventually won, 4-3, after seven hours, four minutes and 25 innings. The Mets went to the plate 103 times and the Cards with 99 plate appearances and a major-league record 45 runners left on base. The game ended at 3:13 a.m., the longest game played to a decision without a suspension.

Hernandez singled off Forster to complete the cycle. Superstition rules.

Van Wieren stared at his scorebook. Nothing good could come in the 13th inning, maybe that’s why most scorebooks have 12 innings he thought. “Once you run out of innings in your scorebook it’s improvise time,” he said.

The Mets took a 10-8 lead in the 13th inning. Finally the end was in sight – finally. To his left, Van Weiren’s wife Elaine and two sons (Jon and Steve) sat, waiting for the fireworks.

All Tom Gorman needed now was three outs. After a leadoff single by Rafael Ramirez, the Mets left hander struck out Dale Murphy and Gerald Perry. One more out. Gorman zipped two strikes past Terry Harper. One strike left. Let the fireworks begin. Harper obliged, lining a two-run homer off the left field foul poll to tie the game again.

“I just looked over and they had their head down like, ‘we’re never gonna get out of here,’” remembers Van Wieren.

“You wondered where it’s going to end,” said Caray, remembering Harper’s home run in an interview years earlier. “When (Rick) Camp hit his (in the 18th inning), you figure, we’re going to go on forever. Once is amazing. Twice is incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life and I never think I will.”

The Braves broadcasters weren’t the only ones wondering.

Paul Zuvella was called up just a couple weeks before the July 4th game. His high school buddy Chris Hopson flew in from Milpitas in the Silicon Valley, south of San Jose, California to visit Zuvella and catch a game.

“That was the first game he had come to,” said Zuvella. “Poor guy, he was one of the very few remaining at the end.”

Zuvella was inserted in the sixth inning and faced five different pitchers in seven plate appearances – sidearm pitcher Terry Leach, Jesse Orosco, Doug Sisk , Gorman and Ron Darling – going 0-for-7.

“That, I do remember,” he said. “I remember hitting the ball hard. I hit some line drives right at people. I’m thinking, ‘How unfair is this?’”

“Pitchers tend to have an advantage in that type of game,” said Zuvella. “That’s why they keep throwing the zeros up. It gets a little tougher offensively as the game goes on. You start to think, is this game ever gonna end?”

Both teams put up zeros in the 14th, 15th and 16th innings. In the 17th inning, with nerves frayed, Tata called strike three on Strawberry. As he walked away, Strawberry “had some choice words” and Tata ejected him. “I still see the pitch today when they show it on ESPN Classic. It didn’t look like a bad pitch.”

As Strawberry walked back to the dugout, Mets manager Davey Johnson jogged toward Tata. The argument heated quickly.

“When Davey Johnson gets in my face and I turned my hat around backwards so I could get right in his kisser,” remembers Tata. “As I am looking over his shoulder there’s a digital clock along the first base line and it reads two – five – seven. It’s 2:57 in the morning and I say to Johnson, ‘It’s three o’clock in the morning, everything looks like a strike.’”

Tata ejected four managers, coaches or players in 1985, two of them within 60 seconds.

“The one thing you don’t put in your mind is the hope that it will end,” revealed Tata. “It will end naturally. You can’t root for a guy to hit a home run or driving in the winning run. You’ve got to block that out of your mind and concentrate on the game. Once you start hoping for that it’s going to detract from your overall sense of the game and your job.”

The Mets regained the lead, 11-10, in the 18th inning on a sacrifice fly by Dykstra.

Again, all Gorman needed was three outs. Again, he retired Perry. This time he shut down Harper. One out remained – pitcher Rick Camp. Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre was taking nothing for granted and paid Gorman a visit. Stottlemyre warned Gorman about Harper now he was warning him, don’t make the same mistake. Don’t take Camp for granted.

Gorman registered two quick strikes on Camp. One strike left. Let the fireworks begin – please let the fireworks begin. Gorman fired a forkball on 0-2 and, like Harper five innings earlier, Camp obliged, hitting one over the left field wall to tie the game.

“As soon as it left the bat you knew it was gone,” said Tata. “That just cut your legs off at the knees.”

“That certifies this game as the wackiest, wildest, most improbable game in history!” yelled John Sterling, then a Braves broadcaster on WTBS.

“You’re really certain it’s going to end with Rick Camp at the plate,” said Van Weiren. “When Skip talked about it he said he never saw me get animated in the booth. But when that ball was hit I literally jumped out of his seat and put my hands on top of my head and said, ‘you gotta be kidding me!?’”

Jay Horwitz joined the New York Mets as public relations director in 1980. He was in his fifth year with the team. “I was in the press box,” said Horwitz, who watched most of the extra innings with then Mets scouting director Joe McIlvaine. “I had my binoculars, and I remember looking at the expression on Danny Heep’s face, it was the most incredulous look I’d ever seen. I remember thinking, ‘this game is never, ever going to end.’”

One year later, in 1986, the Mets were involved in a 16-inning marathon game against the Houston Astros, a game that decided the National League Championship Series.

When Billy Hatcher homered off the foul poll in the 14th inning at the Houston Astrodome to tie the game, Horwitz started having flashbacks of Atlanta. “It was the same kind of feeling,” said Horwitz. “You think you have the game won, you’re going to the World Series, they tie the game. We had enough fortitude to come back and win that game. But outside of the rain delays it was almost a duplicate game.”

Jonathan Leach grew up in metropolitan Atlanta and had been a Braves fan since 1973, captured by the Hank Aaron chase. He was home from college for the summer. He fell asleep as the game weaved through extra innings until “the early morning hours, when my brother burst into my room and woke me up to tell me they were still playing,” said Leach. “I saw Rick Camp’s home run which may be the most improbable event in the history of baseball.”

Hundreds of miles north in New Rochelle, New York, Jonathan Falk arrived home from a party at 10 p.m. and turned on the television. “I turned on TBS to find out how they’d done, figuring if I was lucky I might catch an inning,” wrote Falk, a lifelong Braves fan. “They were still playing. I was glued to the set. The Rick Camp homer was probably the single most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in 43 years of baseball watching.”

“That was the most unbelievable part. No one expected that,” said Ken Oberkfell, a Brave in 1985 and the Mets Triple-A manager today. “I mean, I have a better chance of flying an airplane than he (Camp) did of hitting a home run, and there it went. I remember I was in the clubhouse figuring the game was over, but when I saw the home run I came running back to the dugout.”

When asked now if he remembers the pitch Camp said, “I would say it was a fastball. I mean, heck, I had a zero point something batting average. There wasn’t anyone else to hit. I was just trying to make contact.”

As he rounded third, Camp was smiling as he met Tata halfway between home and third base. “You SOB, I was only kidding,’” said Tata.

“Even after I got out of baseball, every time I’d see him he’d just point to left field and laugh,” said Camp.

The Mets scored five runs off Camp in the top of the 19th inning.

“When you’re involved in a season like that and you get into one of those games you really don’t have the same concern over who wins,” remembers Van Weiren. “If you’re in a pennant race you do. If you’re 30 games out, you don’t really care. Sure you’d like to win the game, but if they don’t it’s not going to impact the pennant race. So when you get to a point in a game like that you’re just ready for it to end.”

Not the fans. As the Braves mounted another rally in the bottom of the 19th, scoring two runs, the fans began to chant, “We want Camp!”

“If we have to rely on me to hit a home run to win a game, we’re in bad shape,” said Camp. “I’ll always remember the homer, but it was a hard thing for me to do that and then go out and suck up a loss.”

“Go ahead hit another one out, we’ll pay ‘til noon,” said Tata.

This time Camp was facing Ron Darling, the Mets seventh pitcher of the game. Darling hadn’t made a relief appearance since his freshman year at Yale. The Mets were so certain Camp would not hit another home run, they began untying their shoes in the dugouts, equipment was being packed away.

“I remember the last pitch,” said Camp. “It was a high fastball I swung and missed. Struck out. You get a fastball from here up (motioning from his chest to eye level) it looks like a watermelon. I was trying to kill it.”

Strike Three. Game Over.

“This was the greatest game ever played – Ever,” said Howard Johnson.

“That was the greatest thing I’d ever seen,” added Bruce Benedict, Braves’ catcher, ” The tough thing about it was that there were a lot of lifetime memories in this game and we lost it. It’s hard to put those things in perspective. It was embarrassing.”

“That was the most bizarre game I ever played in – bizarre and fascinating, depressing and great, thrilling and boring,” said Darling. “It was all of those things mixed in. It would have been a story but Rick Camp made it a big story. I’m just glad I got my name in the box score.”

“I thought we were going to win it after that,” said Dale Murphy. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget that home run. I’ll never forget this game. I can’t explain this game. I’ll be feeling this for the next week.”

Gary Carter “Thrilling,” “fascinating” and “great” didn’t describe the experience for Carter, who was playing his first season in New York. He caught the entire game, handling seven New York pitchers and catching 305 balls.

“The game took a toll on me,” said Carter. “It was worse than catching both games of an afternoon doubleheader because of the rain (delays). My body was aching and throbbing.”

“Do you know what it’s like to be playing baseball at 3:30 in the morning?” asked Dykstra after the game. “Strange man. Real strange.”

“I saw things that I’ve never seen in my major league career,” added Hernandez.

Like Camp hitting a home run … or Knight who left 11 runners on base in his first nine at bats, including three times with the bases loaded.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no other continuous game in major league history had ended so late. Prior to July 4-5, 1985, the previous latest game was completed at 3:23 a.m. in Philadelphia when the Phillies beat the Montreal Expos 6-1 on Aug. 10, 1977.

Rick Aguilera never saw it, any of it. Aguilera was sent home in the 13th after Johnson’s go-ahead home run. ”When I got to the room, I turned on the TV and saw the game still going,” he said. “I thought it was a delayed broadcast. I couldn’t believe it when they said it was tied.”

Aguilera went to bed. His roommate Sid Fernandez arrived a few hours later and Aguilera asked if the Mets won. ”He said we did,” remembers Aguilera, “but he also said I wouldn’t believe it.”

“When the game ended we were all so exhausted we were just thinking, we gotta get out of here and get ready for tomorrow … I take that back, we gotta get ready for today.”

Gorman was credited with a win. It was then that Gorman found himself in a save situation with the Mets ahead 10-8 in the 13th inning. He lost that lead. And then another.

“To give up a homer to the pitcher in the 18th inning is totally embarrassing,” Gorman told the media a couple hours later. “I learned I can’t take anything for granted. I felt like I saw it all tonight. I should have saved the game; I should have won the game; I should have lost the game. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”

”There’s not one thing you can say you feel at that moment,” added Gorman. “It’s not like pitchers don’t hit home runs; they do. I’m not trying to take anything away from Camp, but you know if you hit the ball good here, it’s going to go out. I’d never pitched at three in the morning, but guess they’d never hit then either.”

Newpher and the grounds crew headed back to the field after arriving at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium at 8am. “One of the very few people left in the stands was my wife,” he said.

“What are you still doing here?” he asked.

“I came to see the fireworks,” she said.

Fireworks? It’s four in the morning. But the Braves were in no position to negotiate. There were 8,000-10,000 people still in the stands, delirious and jacked up on coffee, waking up their children for the fireworks. Then, there was WTBS, who sold sponsorships for the July 4th fireworks show.

“There was a great concern about whether the fireworks show would or would not go on,” remembers Van Weiren. “Ted (Turner) had gotten the station (WTBS) to sell a separate post-game that would include the fireworks. Once the game ended there was going to be a commercial break, we’d come back on the air and televise the fireworks.”

Braves television broadcaster Ernie Johnson was beside himself about the whole concept. Fireworks on TV? Come on, who’s going to watch that.

“We kidded about that,” said Van Weiren. “Ernie (Johnson) said ‘what are we supposed to say when the fireworks go off? Do we just sit there and go ‘Ooooh! Ahhh!?’ It was going to be a strange deal.”

Van Weiren said as the game went deeper into the night, there were a lot of questions about “whether they were going to do the fireworks,” he said. “We got the word that the fireworks were gonna go because this was a sold program on TBS and they were going to get the sponsored money.”

So, at 4:01 a.m. on July 5 the July 4th fireworks display began. For nearly 10 minutes the skies over Atlanta thundered. Bright colors lit up the night followed by the sounds of massive explosions. The roar hit a crescendo with a finale so intense, Atlanta resident Vivian Williams jumped from her bed.

Like many others living in the Atlanta suburbs, Williams believed the city had come under attack. The phones lit up at the police station. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution later reported “residents of Capitol Homes and other areas near the stadium called the police to complain that their neighbors, the Braves, were disturbing the peace.”

Williams told the police “setting off fireworks at 4 a.m. is inappropriate and ill-advised.”

Meanwhile, calls were pouring in to the Braves public relations office. Some came from fans who left before the end of the game and were angry that the fireworks display was not postponed until another date, he said. Other calls were from neighbors of the stadium who called the Braves to complain about the noise.

“We went back to the hotel and the USA Today was already under the door,” remembers Horwitz. “That’s always a bad sign, when the USA Today beats you there.”

Chip Caray, then home on college break, remembers his father stumbling in as the sun rose. He figured it was a late night with the guys.

“It’s the latest I’ve ever stayed out in my life and not done something I was ashamed of,” Skip said.

MMO footer

]]> 0
Bowties and Rings Mon, 30 Jun 2014 19:44:42 +0000 Frank Cashen, who served as Mets general manager from 1980 through 1991, died today at age 88. Cashen was regarded by many as the architect of the last Mets World Series championship team in 1986. The following was originally written about Cashen and current Mets GM Sandy Alderson, shortly after Alderson assumed control in 2010.

cashenFrank Cashen arrived in Flushing with an impressive resume; two World Series rings, a drawer full of bowties and patience.

Throughout Spring Training and most of April 1980 Cashen watched Joe Torre’s team sputter. There were no trades, nor firings. Not a single transaction. The Mets front office was quiet.

“When is the man going to make a move?” Mets catcher John Stearns boldly asked the media. “He’s had 90 days and nothing has happened.”

The new Mets GM didn’t break a sweat. He didn’t blink. Cashen’s first player transaction didn’t come until June, it was barely a twitch. He acquired Claudell Washington from the White Sox for a minor league pitcher. That same week Cashen used his No. 1 draft pick to select a tall, skinny kid out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. His name: Darryl Strawberry.

Cashen made minor trades, signed free agents and put together a patchwork teams during 1981 and 1982. “I was looking for cosmetic things to try to make the Mets look decent until I could rebuild them,” Cashen told Peter Golenbeck in Amazin’.

Sandy Alderson was introduced as the new general manager of the New York Mets at Citi Field last week and, for better or worse, the organization is going through a rebirth.

Alderson adopts a mediocre major league roster and a minor league system that’s been labeled and assessed by baseball analysts as “fair,” “poor” and “a disaster.”

Like Cashen, the Mets new GM has a philosophical track record that is tied to player development. Alderson sold himself to the Mets on this very foundation, hence the four-year contract. There’s no quick fix when it comes to building long-term success.

“I’ve always had a preference for holding on to our own talent and seeing how far it can go,” Alderson told the media last week at Citi Field. “If it succeeds and realizes its full potential, we benefit. If it doesn’t, I think we’ve still made the right decision in terms of our fan base.”

Like it or not, Mets fans are going to get the opportunity to see if Ruben Tejada is a major league second baseman; if Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy will blossom into serious offensive threats; if Lucas Duda is ready to play every day at the major league level; can Josh Thole hit consistently and command the respect of the pitching staff; is Jenrry Mejia ready to pitch at the major league level? How about Dillon Gee? Aberration or the real deal? Brad Holt: Ready or not? Will the real Mike Pelfrey please stand up?

Go ahead, take the entire 2011 season to assess the situation. Alderson – and whomever is given the job as Mets manager – will beta test, conduct fire drills and in season simulations to determine the answers to these and other questions.

One thing is for certain, you won’t find the Mets brass in a bidding war for Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford this winter. There will be no repeat of the multi-year, multi-million dollar press conference player introductions Mets fans have become accustomed to.

“I think we’re going to be busy, but that’s first and maybe ultimately only to assess the market,” Alderson said. “We don’t really know what’s out there. We need to be actively engaged in finding out what’s available to us, who has interest in some of our players … we’re going to be out there fishing.”

In the meantime, if the fish aren’t biting, the clock will be ticking on the contracts of Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Carlos Beltran, a potential $30 million payroll reduction post-2011.

Alderson, a military man, is brilliant at working the media to his advantage. He won’t tip his hand. He won’t point directly at a player. He won’t offer specific details on any single issue. In fact, he has the uncanny ability to speak in riddles – and get away with it in front of a room full of New York media.

At last week’s press conference, Alderson was asked about player contracts, the free agent market and the team’s direction. He responded:

“One of the reasons that fans like baseball is because it provides a certain consistency and continuity in their lives that maybe doesn’t exist otherwise. It’s important to recognize that. But, at the same time, I think fans enjoy change.”

Fans like “consistency and continuity,” but “fans enjoy change.”

He’s not being evasive, but deceptive. Alderson is intentionally non-committal. He teaches marketing. He know the value of working the media. Alderson has a gift. It’s the art of the pick-off play from the GM’s seat.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War states deception provides a competitive advantage. It forces your competition to second-guess your next move. The unknown poses a psychological threat to the competition.

In public Alderson would offer this translation: “I don’t think we’re going to go out actively trying to move anybody. But, at the same time, let’s see what’s out there. So, to that extent, I don’t think anybody is untouchable.”

Before he begins dangling his roster to the league like carrots on a stick, Alderson must first hire a manager, where there’s been no shortage of debate on who is best suited for the job. What does Alderson think? He offered little at the press conference.

“The manager is a very critical part of the overall leadership structure,” he said. “I can appreciate a fiery manager. I also think it’s important for a manager to be somewhat analytical … We’re looking for somebody that fits intellectual requirements, but also intuitive and emotional ones.”

That narrows the available field to roughly 15-20 candidates. Vegas and the New York press have Bob Melvin, Terry Collins or Clint Hurdle as odds on favorites. Keep guessing.

Three decades and five general managers removed from the Cashen era, Sandy Alderson arrived in Flushing with an impressive resume (including two World Series rings) and patience. Sound familiar?

All that’s missing are the bowties … and the next Darryl Strawberry.

MMO footer

]]> 0
Alderson Outsmarts NY Media Tue, 13 May 2014 12:39:20 +0000 alderson-sandy

Sandy Alderson’s disappearing act on Sunday was brilliant.

The New York Mets made a miraculous comeback to avoid being swept by the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, capped off by a walk-off single by Ruben Tejada, who has been struggling for, well, all of 2013 and the first six weeks of the 2014 season. The team has lost 8 of 10 games and have fallen from second place to last place.

Fans are calling for Terry Collins‘ head. Mets fans on Twitter are begging the Wilpon family to sell the team. Marketing strategies are blowing up in the organizations face. The bullpen is imploding nightly. Even Don Draper threw away his Mets pennant during a recent episode of Mad Men.

Confidence and winning are at a premium these days and Alderson knows that; he also knows the power of New York’s media. They had the potential of turning Sunday’s come-from-behind win from confidence builder to question marks. So, after Sunday’s uplifting win, Alderson spoke with his manager Terry Collins and promptly exited stage left.

Adam Rubin of ESPN New York suggested Sandy Alderson “ducked” interviews; the New York Post reported, Alderson “declined multiple media requests Sunday to explain what is going on with his team.” Call it what you will, it’s great psychology.

While the media and fans have questions — What will become of Jenrry Mejia? Will Dice-K be in the rotation? Does Ruben Tejada get another chance to win back his job at shortstop? Will the Mets promote Rafael Montero? Will Jeurys Familia be the closer? — Alderson has other priorities: the New York Yankees.

Without Alderson, those questions had to wait. The media had no choice but to focus their stories on the Mets uplifting win. In the meantime, the Subway Series began on Monday night: two in the Bronx, followed by two in Queens.

That’s exactly what happened. When the Mets beat couldn’t get answers they moved to Plan B — the Subway Series — and Collins followed the script:

“The energy in the Subway Series is an animal of its own. But to go in on a positive note is big, especially to get us off what’s happened here in the last six days. We were a ground ball or a base hit away of winning four of those six, so to get us going again was big. Our guys relish the challenge in front of them.”

Alderson rolled into Yankee Stadium, boldly answered all the questions with a flurry of surprising moves, the Mets go onto delivering another dramatic win and the Subway Series stole today’s New York sports headlines. You can thank Sandy Alderson for that.

Presented By Diehards

]]> 0
Ruben Tejada: Stage Fright? Thu, 13 Mar 2014 15:59:49 +0000 During a commercial break on my sports talk show a well-known New York sportswriter said to me, you know what’s wrong with Roberto Alomar? He has stage fright.

It was July 2002. The New York Mets were in the middle of a free-fall. Alomar was being booed relentlessly. Stage fright? I thought as I put my headphones on for the next segment. Then, I forgot about it — until now.

What the reporter was referring to — at least my sense of it — was that Alomar was suffering from the pressure of playing in New York. It’s no secret that playing professional sports in New York is a pressure cooker. For some, it’s the kiss of death. But not Roberto Alomar? At the time the man was 33 years old. He had hit over .300 nine out of the previous 10 seasons before being traded to New York. He played in the World Series for Toronto — twice. I was certain he, and the Mets, would snap out it and right the ship. I was wrong.

Over the next year Alomar’s skills diminished. With every error and every strike out the booing intensified; his body language morphed into a hunchback. Finally, the Mets traded Alomar to the White Sox for three minor league pitchers. I later came to the realization that despite all his talent, Alomar was not prepared to play in New York. The city, the media, the fans consumed him.

He was washed up.

He didn’t play hard (sound familiar?).

That’s what was said, anyway.

”I didn’t really feel comfortable with the situation,” said Alomar. ”Sometimes, teams don’t work for you. Sometimes you put too much pressure on yourself in New York, and maybe I did that. I think the New York Mets weren’t the right team for me.”

”I’ve seen a lot of players have a tough time in New York,” added then White Sox manager Jerry Manuel. ”New York is a tough place.”

Imagine that? Jerry Manuel saying New York is “tough.” How is that for irony?

New York Mets Spring Training at their Minor League practice facility located within Tradition Field in Florida

Alomar, even Manuel, are history, but the New York experience has reared its ugly head again this spring – and it’s on the hunt for Ruben Tejada. One promising season (2012) followed by one dreadful season (2013) and the Mets shortstop is fighting for his baseball life in New York – at age 24.

Sandy Alderson may not want to place his young shortstop under the microscope, but that hasn’t stopped it from happening. Tejada’s every move has been scrutinized this past week. His work ethic has been questioned. His replacement — Stephen Drew, Wilmer Flores, Nick Franklin, Omar Quintanilla, Ervin Santana – have been discussed.

Wait, go back. Ervin Santana … the pitcher? Yes, the New York media will consider every angle to keep the shortstop debate on life support.

This is not an issue that will just disappear, wrote Anthony DiComo. On roughly a weekly basis, Alderson has given press conferences to reiterate his lack of interest in Drew. But as long as Drew remains available … questions will persist.

From the small sample of spring games, Tejada appears rattled. Once again, he’s struggling to make the routine play. There is pressure, naturally. Tejada is human.

Wally Backman told

“He’s under the gun. There’s no way he doesn’t know it. Everyone knows what’s going on, with who’s out there. He doesn’t say anything about it.”

But David Wright added a finer point:

“When you get off to a slow start, it becomes kind of a mental thing — a lack of confidence. It’s a mental challenge. That’s the difference between guys that establish themselves and have long, successful careers and those who can’t quite get it figured out. It tests you.”

Are we watching another major league baseball player’s career unravel – in slow-motion – right before our very eyes? Is it stage fright?

Tejada may not talk about it, but over the next few weeks he will answer the question on the field.

Presented By Diehards

]]> 0
Featured Post: It’s No Laughing Matter Sun, 16 Feb 2014 19:03:30 +0000 sandy alderson

For Sandy Alderson, Twitter isn’t serious business. The social media platform is like Monday’s “open mic night” at the local comedy house. He will fire a two-thumb, 140-character zinger every, oh, 60 days or so but, for the most part, the laughs are few, the comedy is amateur and the room is dormant.

Hey, is this thing on?

If history is any indication we should be getting another Alderson classic … right … about … now.

Last February @Mets GM tweeted:

… And, we all remember this knee-slapper from February 2012:

Hey, give him a break; it’s either laugh or cry. Alderson chose the former.

Three years ago when Alderson accepted the job as Mets GM he inherited a weak product and a fat payroll: sixth-largest in the league ($142,229,759) including Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, Jason Bay and Francisco Rodriguez. The team was coming off their second straight losing season, finishing 14th in the in the National League in on-base percentage and 12th in slugging percentage. It was no laughing matter.

He told the media: “It may sound a little cliché, but we are going to work hard. We’re going to work smart, I think. We’re going to try to exploit all of the ways that players can be acquired, developed, retained. We’re going to strive for consistency, but above all, excellence.”

So, when fans read about Alderson’s past success and heard words like “consistency” and “excellence,” there was a sense of hope. The ticks related to the late-season collapses of 2007 and 2008 dissipated and fans got a whiff of confidence. It felt good – for the moment.

The Mets are beginning year four of “the plan” and no one’s laughing. The New York Mets have not had a winning season since 2008. While we’re on the subject, let’s be clear about the phrase winning season. That simply means playing .500 or better (81+ wins). In short, the product has improved by a total of four wins since the 2009 season.

This is not funny.

Attendance has dropped from 4,042,045 in 2008 (the last winning season for the Mets) to 2,135,657 last year; almost 50% fewer fans despite opening a new stadium. According to Alderson, the Mets will spend more on payroll when fans starting supporting the team at the gate. Wait, that’s another funny, right? No.


I have no opinion on how much money the New York Mets spend. I am uninterested in how much more the New York Yankees payroll is. Free agent signings are not the antidote to post-season baseball. What does get my heart rate up is winning baseball games.

I am patient and willing to accept “the plan” of building long-term success through the farm system. I get it. There’s not a Mets fan in the world that wouldn’t prefer a five-year run of success with the real chance at winning a World Series over a one or two year playoff contender followed by more attrition.

So, here we go: Spring Training 2014.


Presented By Diehards

]]> 0
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Stick Thu, 26 Dec 2013 15:30:02 +0000 There are a lot memories, a lot of history, being left at Candlestick Park. Willie Mays recorded his 3,000th hit at The Stick; Bill Walsh won his first NFL game and O.J. Simpson played his final game at Candlestick; a massive earthquake rocked the Bay Area and the 1989 World Series; um, Jerry Rice (enough said); and Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and the miraculous “Catch.”

These are good times in San Francisco sports history, and what sports fan doesn’t have a soft spot in their heart for the glory and goosebumps that accompany Candlestick Park? The Stick is part of our collective sports past. During Monday Night Football, potentially the final game in Candlestick history, ESPN reminded us of the greatness in name and performance that now represents the hallowed ground. But don’t be fooled by the drama and romance. The truth is, Candlestick Park has long been thought of as miserable.


Candlestick Park opened in 1960. According to Jonathan Fraser Light, author of the Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, the ballpark was named for the “tall trees and jagged rocks in the nearby area known as Candlestick Point.” The ballpark received rave reviews when it opened. Candlestick Park was touted as the first American stadium to be built entirely of reinforced concrete, and included state-of-the-art features. Fans would be treated to radiant heating under the seats and first modern baseball scoreboard.

“This will be one of the most beautiful baseball parks of all time,” said then vice president Richard Nixon, who made history throwing out the first pitch.

One year later Major League Baseball hosted the All-Star Game at Candlestick, an opportunity for the entire nation to experience Candlestick, warts and all. The game was marred by reports of heat prostration — or hear exhaustion — a condition brought on by intense or prolonged exposure to heat, characterized by profuse sweating with loss of fluids and salts, pale and damp skin, rapid pulse, nausea, and dizziness, progressing to collapse. Final score: National League – 5, American League – 4, Heat exhaustion – 95 cases.

Hey, take me out to the ballgame? Sounds like fun.

In 1962, San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli — the “King of Torts” — filed a lawsuit against the Giants in an attempt to get a refund of his season tickets claiming “breach-of-warranty” and “fraudulent misrepresentation.” He accused Giants owner Horace Stoneham of not turning on the radiant heating under the seats. During the trial Belli wore a winter parka and called an Abercrombie and Fitch salesperson to testify on “outfitting arctic groups with cold weather gear.” Belli eventually won his lawsuit and was awarded $1,886.59 for his pain and suffering. The Giants responded by putting a disclaimer in their game scorecards.


The Giants finally decided enough was enough, enclosing the stadium in 1971. Architects and team owners believed the modifications would serve to accommodate the 49ers while diminishing the powerful winds during the baseball season. To no avail.

Twenty five years after Nixon called Candlestick Park one of “the most beautiful baseball parks of all time,” the Sporting News labeled The Stick “baseball’s worst ball park.”

The Giants played their final game at The Stick in September 1999, losing 8-4 to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers; coincidentally, the final out was recorded at 4:35 p.m., the same minute the final out was record at the Polo Grounds.

“When we left Candlestick in 1999 for AT&T Park, it was very much a bittersweet feeling,” said San Francisco Giants owner Larry Baer. “There are memories there that will not leave. Willie Mays patrolling center field, Juan Marichal’s high leg kick on the mound. I think people are able to separate out the wind and the conditions from the memories.”


Try and convince former St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog that. “Sitting in the dugout [at Candlestick Park] is like sitting in the bottom of a toilet,” he said. “All that tissues blows in, and no one flushes it.”

Or, Dwight Clark, who experienced his greatest professional moment at Candlestick Park. “It was a dump,” he said. “But it was our dump.”

button ballgame

]]> 0
Life Under the Big Top Tue, 10 Dec 2013 13:00:32 +0000 The Houston Astrodome is coming down as we speak. The following is just one of the memorable games the New York Mets played at historic dome.

legends-lindsey-nelsonThe original New York Mets were more often described as a circus act than a competitive professional baseball team. Fans flocked to the Polo Grounds, and later Shea Stadium, to catch a glimpse of Casey Stengel, or maybe Marv Throneberry miss touching a base running from first to third. Fans reveled when Jimmy Piersall opted to round the bases in reverse.

Everywhere Mets fans looked, they were delighted and surprised by the offbeat characters on and off the field. Lindsey Nelson, one of the Mets play-by-play announcer, was no exception. His wild and colorful blazers were conversation pieces. His analysis was sharp and colorful and, on occasion, reached new heights – literally.

On April 28, 1965, Nelson, the “daredevil” of all the Mets broadcasters according to the New York Times, and executive producer Joel Nixon became the first (and only) baseball announcers to broadcast from a gondola, dangling 208 feet above second base, the equivalent of 18 stories, the highest point of the Astrodome.

“There I was, swinging back and forth like a monkey in a cage,” Nelson described in the opening chapter of the 1966 book Backstage at the Mets. “The ballplayers looked like animated pushbuttons. At the moment I didn’t have foggiest notion what they were doing, where they were going, or why. It was the perfect spot for a New York Met announcer.”

This was all Joe Gallagher’s fault. From the moment he saw the gondola, Gallagher was obsessed, asking questions throughout the first game of the series in Houston.

Can you get up there?


Is it safe?

I guess so.

How many people will it hold?


Can you broadcast from it?


That’s all Gallagher really needed to hear.

He spent the next day making arrangements to send Nelson into the air, and on the air, in the gondola to broadcast the game. Nelson hesitated, but agreed to do it. That evening the Astros lowered the gondola until it hovered over second base, about 12 feet off the ground.

The “flying saucer,” as it was described in newspaper reports, took 45 minutes to descend. Nelson, Nixon, members of the Astros organization and Yogi Berra watched and waited.

“You really going up in that thing?” Berra asked Nelson.

Nelson nodded uncomfortably.

“What are you nuts?” asked Berra.

Nelson and Nixon climbed in with a pair of walkie-talkies, a microphone, binoculars, a scorecard and a couple locker stools. As they climbed into the box, Nelson asked an Astros engineer, “Have you ever been up there?”

“Up there?” he asked back.

“You think I’m nuts?”

The gondola cables jerked Nelson and Nixon back and began its ascent over the next four minutes. When they reached their destination, Nelson peered over the edge, “hanging on for dear life.” He later described the scene saying, “At first I couldn’t see anything except a lot of tiny figures. Everybody looked the same height, everybody looked short. You couldn’t tell a line drive from a pop fly.”

Murphy, Ralph Kiner and Gallagher tried to communicate with Nelson using the walkie-talkie, only one problem: the two-way device was on the same frequency as a local Houston cab company. Murphy’s messages were randomly interrupted by street intersections, hotel names and frustrated cabbie which were equally confused by the ballpark sound effects.

“The confusion that resulted from all the racket in the gondola would have given an ordinary man the screaming-meemies, but I’m not an ordinary man,” wrote Nelson. “I’m a Met fan, wish us Mets fans confusion is a way of life. So is cacophony.”

Nelson held steady through the early innings. He refused to stand, refused to wave to fans, refused to keep score (fearing he’d drop his pencil on a player). The sixth inning was torture. The Mets and Astros combined to score eight runs, four apiece. Nelson called play-by-play for the seventh and eighth innings.

Bob Hope sat in the crowd and watched, both the game and the gondola in fascination. The Astros eventually beat the Mets 12-9, a game that officially lasted three hours and 24 minutes.

For Nelson and Nixon it felt like an eternity. After the game, Hope was invited back to Hofheinz apartment inside the stadium. He asked to wait a moment to see if Nelson and Nixon made it down safely as the gondola lowered before his eyes. As the gondola came to a stop, just feet from the diamond, Nelson took a deep breath and climbed out of the container while fans hooted, hollered and cheered the Mets broadcaster like a hero.

Like the circus clown, Nelson understood his role: Another city; another show; another smile; another night under the big top.

Presented By Diehards

]]> 0
Keep Dreaming Kernan Thu, 21 Nov 2013 16:06:58 +0000 robinson-cano3-540x422Robinson Cano is not the answer to the New York Mets problems.

A 31-year old free agent, Cano’s sticker price is somewhere around 10 years/$300 million. In fan speak that’s somewhere in the nosebleed section.

Which Major League Baseball organization is ready to invest in a player who will earn $30 million per season (assuming he earns $30 million per year) at age 38, 39, 40 and 41. The New York Yankees won’t. The Los Angeles Dodgers learned their lesson on trying to buy a championship; they’re not interested in Cano at that price. The Mets? Comical.

The dinner meeting between Jay Z, and Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is nothing more than hype. In fact, baseball insiders suggest the Mets are pawns in an attempt to get the crosstown Yankees to respond. No such luck.

The Mets are in no position to make an offer to Cano and here’s why: According to COT’s, the 2013 New York Mets payroll was $93,684,590. As reported, Cano is asking for $300 million over 10 years, or the equivalent of the Mets entire 25-man payroll over three years.

This is the “dream” that New York Post columnist is Kevin Kernan suggests fans and the organization buy into, both literally and figuratively? If so, recent history suggests such investments can quickly turn into a nightmare.

The Mets have to get into major buy mode … Dream along with me for a little bit more. Could you imagine if the Mets had Cano and Wright in the same lineup and how that would turn this town upside down … The Mets need to find a way to wipe away the face of failure that has been with them every day for years.

Two years ago, at age 31, Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The deal was loaded with incentives above and beyond the $240 million guaranteed deal.

In 2001, Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. During his three years in Texas the team won 73, 72, and 71 games, finishing in fourth place every season. Rodriguez produced but the Rangers didn’t.

When the contract was signed, there was a lot of concern among not just Major League Baseball, but all sports for the dollars that were involved. In terms of what was going on in the economy and everything else five or six years ago, it really changed the economics across all of sport in a pretty dramatic way. What’s the real value of a player? — Harvey Schiller

The organization realized one player, regardless of his output, does not make a winner. Rodriguez — and his massive contract — were traded to New York.

I am certain the Mets human resources department is familiar with the residual effects of overpaying. Remember Bobby Bonilla? You should. He’s on the Mets payroll until 2035. Mind you, he hasn’t played in a major league game in more than a decade.

How about Prince Fielder? He signed a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2012 season. Two years, zero rings and a lingering feeling in Detroit that this was a bad deal. As Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports noted in the aftermath of another disappointing post-season:

$46 million he made this year and last, and for the $168 million he will earn over the next seven seasons, and almost always the amount of money a player receives and the level of vitriol toward him for October letdowns are correlated … He is Prince Fielder, he signed the fifth-largest contract in baseball history and he will keep catching hell if he doesn’t start hitting.

Kernan added:

Remember the excitement when Mike Piazza was traded to the Mets from the Marlins. Imagine if the Mets could somehow pull off a deal to acquire someone as talented as Carlos Gonzalez or Giancarlo Stanton. The Mets would be a big-market team again.

Has Stanton made the Marlins a contender? No. In 2012 he was surrounded by Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison, Jose Reyes and Carlos Lee. The Marlins were loaded with great starting pitching: Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Carlos Zambrano and Anibal Sanchez. The Marlins finished in last place in the National League East — behind the beleaguered Mets.

Don’t misunderstand. The Mets would be a better team with Gonzalez, Stanton or Cano, but at what price? Let’s face it, it’s highly unlikely the Mets will be playing for a playoff spot in 2014. Will one high-profile player put them over the top? No. The Mets need a handful of young, major league ready talent, not an aging veteran or an overpriced big ticket free agent. Improve the overall team, get competitive — quickly — then add the final pieces, either by free agent or trade.

Robinson Cano would not make the Mets a “big market” team again. The Mets are a big-market team, performing at a minor league level and operating on a small market budget.

]]> 0
Featured Post: Breaking Backman Mon, 16 Sep 2013 19:55:28 +0000 Breaking BackmanPassion is a powerful force. It reveals the extremely fine line between good and evil; friend and foe; master and slave. Passion turned Walter While, your average high school science teacher into Heisenberg, a maniacal drug-dealing assassin in khakis and a pork pie hat. Passion is Walter Wayne Backman’s worst enemy — and slim hope.

Backman’s 14-year major league career ended two decades ago, but his passion for the game of baseball has not died, In fact, it’s living in Las Vegas. The former New York Mets second baseman has been kicking and screaming – literally – as a minor league manager since 1997. Backman has served eight years between the Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks organizations and another seven years in Independent League baseball.

His managerial track record has been marked by great promise and devastating heartbreak. Backman’s passion to win is his greatest asset. Ask his New York Met teammates in the 80s. He was a hard-nosed player, loved to win and, deep down, he and his Mets teammates in the 80s enjoyed sticking it to the opponent.

“When we lost a game, we took it personally,” Backman told Peter Golenbeck for Amazin’, the Mets oral history. “We never expected to lose. We were cocky, arrogant.”

Backman’s neck is thick and his waistline has expanded. Now, at age 53, his salt-and-pepper hair suggests maturity. The cocky, arrogant attitude of the 80s has been replaced with experience and sage advice for young, hungry baseball players. Baseball is a game. Wally Backman no longer takes losing personally, right? A loss is an opportunity to learn, right?

Wrong … and wrong. Backman is still possessed by winning. Passion consumes him, transforming an otherwise stable person into a zealot. His combustible nature reveals a track record filled with suspensions, temper tantrums, ejections and poor judgment.

Life began Breaking Backman in Birmingham. A decade ago, as the 2003 Chicago White Sox were spinning out of control, losing 10 of their last 18 regular season games and the AL Central, Wally pumped his fist in approval hoping then-manager Jerry Manuel’s loss would win him a MLB managerial job. When the Sox caught wind of the news that Backman was openly rooting against the organization, he given a pink slip.

Off-the-field, Backman’s personal life was quietly self-destructing. He was convicted of DUI (2000), pled guilty to harassment charges (2001), accused of spousal abuse (2002) and filed for bankruptcy (2003). No one paid much attention to Backman’s transgressions – until November 2004. After leading the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Class A Lancaster JetHawks to the California League title, Backman was named The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year.

His success earned him major league interviews with the Mets and Diamondbacks. On November 1, 2004, the Diamondbacks named Walter Wayne Backman manager. Three days later, on November 4, he was fired. His dream of being a major league manager came true, and in the blink of an eye, was wiped out.

Backman spent the next two years broke and out of baseball. His name, destroyed for the time being. In 2007, Backman returned to manage the South Georgia Peanuts to the South Coast League. He won a championship and lost another measure of credibility. Backman allegedly physically attacked a minor league broadcaster for critical comments he made after one of Backman’s on-field tantrums.

Five years later, in 2012, Backman was back in New York – Buffalo, New York – managing the Mets Triple-A affiliate, where he publicly exploded again. This time, Backman attacked Tony Beasley, the opposing manager, accusing the skipper of stealing signs. In 2013, he was suspended for two games by the Pacific Coast League for his participation in a bench-clearing brawl.

Backman has paid his dues, some say. He is loved by players and fans for his passion and will to win. He knows the pressure of playing in New York. But is that enough? Not for Mets general manager Sandy Alderson. He trusts Backman about as much as Jesse Pinkman trusts Walter White.

Friends and colleagues have debated Wally Backman, a lot, over the last couple years. You can read their most recent thoughts here, and here, here and here. Save your words. The debate is over. Like it or not, as long as Alderson is leading the Mets, Backman will not be in consideration to manage the major league team.

Is there another major league team interested in hiring a 53-year old man with no major league managerial experience and a reputation for instability on and off the field? That answer is about as predictable as Heisenberg.

]]> 0
Joel Youngblood: No Respect Sat, 10 Aug 2013 17:20:16 +0000 New York Mets History: August 4, 1982Former New York Met Joel Youngblood became the first player in Major League history to get a base hit for two different teams in two different cities in the same day. He started the day as a New York Met and collected a two-run single off Ferguson Jenkins in the third inning at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. Youngblood was notified he was traded to the Montreal Expos in the fourth inning. He grabbed his bats, left the ballpark and caught a flight to Philadelphia in time for the Expos-Phillies game. He pinch-hit in the seventh inning and singled off Steve Carlton.

youngblood_joel_10Joel Youngblood played for six teams over his 14-year Major League Baseball career – including two in one day. It happened 30 years ago today on August 4, 1982; Youngblood’s longest, and in an odd way, his most productive day, as a major league player.

It started as a seemingly “normal” day in the life of a professional ballplayer. Youngblood woke up on that Wednesday morning in Chicago, a member of the New York Mets. This was 1982, before Wrigley Field installed lights. So the Mets and Cubs were scheduled to start at 2:10 p.m. Youngblood was at the park taking batting practice at 9:00 a.m. When then Mets manager George Bamberger posted the lineup card, Youngblood perked up when he saw his name starting in centerfield.

Starting was a day-to-day proposition for Youngblood during his six-year tenure in New York. It didn’t  matter who his manager was — Joe Torre or Bamberger — Youngblood would find himself at second base one day, right field or third base another and pinch-hitter the next day. He played six different positions during his time with the Mets. Youngblood hated the role. To him, utility meant uncertainty. But, for Torre, Youngblood was “a manager’s dream.”

“Don’t tell me, ‘You’re too good to start,’” Youngblood told Torre. “I don’t want to hear it. “What do I have to do? I’ve sat on the pine before. I want to play.”

Youngblood became so proficient as a utility player he was named to the National League All-Star team in 1981. Of course, that decision was out of necessity because, as All-Star rules go, each team has to have at least one representative. While Youngblood was not a regular in the Mets 1981 lineup he was the best of an otherwise slim crop of talent.

“Everybody talks about mental preparation in this game,” Youngblood told Sports Illustrated before the 1982 season. “Well, for so long I didn’t know where I was playing, what I was playing, if I was playing. So I told Joe I didn’t want to play third. I’m not comfortable at that position. I don’t even want balls to be hit to me when I’m in the infield. Joe said, ‘O.K.’ And he said I wouldn’t get to play very much.”

And, so it was. On Opening Day 1982 Youngblood was on the bench and rookie Mookie Wilson was in right field.

Youngblood suffered from poor timing. He arrived in the smallest of three infamous “Midnight Massacre” trades on June 15, 1977 included three trades: Tom Seaver to Cincinnati for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson and Dan Norman. The second: Dave Kingman to San Diego for Bobby Valentine. The third: Mike Phillips to St. Louis for Youngblood. His exit from New York was equally as awkward.


Youngblood then started in center field in place the injured Mookie Wilson. In the third inning, Youngblood singled home two runs off Ferguson Jenkins, giving the Mets a 3-1 lead in a game they would go on to win 7-4. Meanwhile, Frank Cashen was 750 miles away in Little Falls, New York, trying to complete a trade that would send Youngblood to the Montreal Expos.

”We hoped to make the deal by game time,” Cashen told the New York Times the day after the trade. ”But there was a phone circuit problem, and we couldn’t complete it. Bamberger asked me what to do with Youngblood, and I told him to go ahead and start him, we’d take a chance on his getting hurt.”

With the Cubs batting in the bottom of the third, and Youngblood patrolling centerfield, Cashen called the visitors dugout at Wrigley Field. When the inning ended Bamberger cornered Youngblood and told him he’d been traded to the Expos.

Youngblood packed his bats and left Chicago.

Youngblood arrived at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia as the Expos and Phillies game was starting. He was inserted in the lineup in the seventh inning against Steve Carlton and delivered a pinch-hit single in the Expos 5-4 loss. The day started at 9:00 a.m. in Chicago and ended 14 hours later, at 11:00 p.m., in Philadelphia.

“With a flight, two games, it was a really long day,” Youngblood told the New York Daily News year later.

Youngblood became only the third player in history to play in two games with two different teams on the same day, but he also became the first and only player in major league history to play in two games in two cities and collect hits for both teams. Youngblood put an exclamation point on the feat by collecting hits against two future Hall of Fame pitchers (Jenkins and Carlton).


]]> 0
For the Birds Wed, 10 Jul 2013 12:37:11 +0000 HitchYou’re late.

My (bloodshot) eyes dropped, not in shame, but in search of explanation. My iPhone read 10:54 a.m.

Where have you been?

No excuses, I thought. I am sorry. I flat out overslept. I was up until 3:45 a.m.

Are you sick?


Why were you up so late?

You wouldn’t understand.

Amuse me.

OK. You have passions outside of work, right? Baseball is mine. Last night I began watching a baseball game that started at 10:00 p.m. The first nine innings lasted two-and-one-half-hours, but the game was extended seven extra innings which tacked on another three hours. I remember shutting the television off at 3:42 a.m.

I knew what my employer was thinking: It’s easy. Shut off the television and go to bed. Act like an adult. Be responsible.

But it’s not that easy. As baseball fans, Mets fans, we understand that West Coast road trips are difficult. A game that begins at 10:00 p.m. (ET) requires commitment. It really separates the fan and the fanatic. Extra innings on the West Coast, well, that’s when our passion begins to blur. Our love of the game – our passion — is often mistaken, and misinterpreted, as a form of psychosis. There is always some madness in love; but there is also always some reason in madness, wrote Friedrich Nietzschie.

Monday night in San Francisco was different. When the game went into extra innings, then deeper into extra frames – 13, 14, 15, 16 – we knew, as fans, this game is, and was, reaching historic proportion for the franchise (and the game). With each passing edge-of-your-seat, pitch-by-pitch, nail-biting inning I could feel myself chasing dawn.

When will this game end? How will this game end? I can’t – I won’t – shut off my television. Not now. No way. For those of us awake and watching the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants from first pitch to Eric Young Jr. to the bizarre Alfred Hitchcock-like sight of seagulls dipping and diving in front of the television cameras and Bobby Parnell’s final pitch in the 16th inning, this was no longer a baseball game: This was an investment. Each of us owned a piece of this game now.


Later, I replayed the explanation in my mind and asked, “What would you think?” Baseball at 3:30 in the morning? Angry, crazy birds? Passion? Investment? The entire story sounded like some wild dream. Was it? Who could make something like that up? There are much better, more plausible, excuses you could use.

It’s really hard to find a single word to describe the look I got. It was one of those I-have-no-idea-what-you’re-talking-about looks. Bewildered? Puzzled? Confused? Disappointed? Are you out of your mind? My wife didn’t understand, how could I possibly explain this to my employer? I couldn’t – effectively — as I was witnessed by watching my employers body language.

Thank you for being honest.

Here it comes, I thought.

Don’t do it again.

I won’t – be late, that is – you have my word. Watching baseball at three in the morning? I’m not making any promises.

]]> 0
Featured Post: Harvey’s Good, But Not Good(en) or Terrific — Yet Sun, 07 Jul 2013 23:38:26 +0000 Where there's smoke, there's Matt Harvey's fire.

Where there’s smoke, there’s Matt Harvey’s fire.

By the time I arrived at Shea Stadium in mid-June, a Dwight Gooden start had become a New York event. I had been watching Gooden baffle opponents on television over the first two months of the 1985 season. The first month he shut out the Philadelphia Phillies twice and the Cincinnati Reds. From May and early June he pitched into the seventh inning in all seven of his starts. He was four days younger than I was for goodness sakes. It was time to see this with my own eyes, in person.

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper (like I said, a Gooden start had become an event). More than 51,000 packed Shea Stadium on this Wednesday night. The mild evening was near perfect for baseball as Bob Murphy, the soundtrack of summer, piped through the car stereo. “Not a cloud in the sky. It’s a perfect night for baseball,” his voice echoed from car-to-car as the Mets prepared to face then National League East rival Chicago Cubs. The first official day of summer was still two days away but you could already feel it in the warm air as we listened to the first inning on the radio, smell it in the breezeway and up the ramp to our seats in the upper deck behind home plate and throughout a stadium bracing for greatness.

The Mets manufactured a fourth-inning run and that was it. My stained scorebook says Gooden struck out Thad Bosley to end the game. A complete game, 1-0, six-hit shutout; Gooden was as good as advertised. I don’t know, maybe it was the fact that it was the first time I’d ever been to Shea Stadium when it was close to sold out (on a Wednesday night!), maybe it was the fact that the Mets were actually in contention, but seeing Gooden pitch – live – in 1985 was like no other experience I’d ever had at a major league ballpark.

He would go on to win 14 consecutive decisions, including No. 20 against the San Diego Padres (which I still have the WOR feed recorded on VHS) and 18 of his final 19 decisions of the season, including two shutouts and a complete game over the final three weeks of the season. Gooden finished 1985 with this line: 35 starts, 24-4, 1.53 ERA, 276 IP, 268 K, 16 complete games, 8 shutouts.

dwight gooden game faceI have never personally experienced a pitcher more dominant than Dwight Gooden was in 1985. That’s not to suggest a pitcher, even a New York Mets pitcher, hasn’t flirted with the same level of excellence.

Case in point: George Thomas Seaver, “The Franchise,” 1971. You could argue he had better years statistically, but it would be hard to challenge his performance that season. Seaver finished 20-10 in 36 starts with a 1.76 ERA. He pitched 286 innings, recording 289 strikeouts, including 21 complete games and four shutouts.

Take a closer look at the games Seaver lost; they are deceiving. In the 10 games he was tagged with a loss it was by a total of 16 runs combined – 3-1, 5-4, 3-2, 2-0, 6-4, 5-3, 2-1, 3-2, 1-0 and 3-0. The Mets scored a total of 17 runs in Seaver’s 10 losses (which included a loss in a relief appearance in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds). In half of the games the Mets scored one or no runs, including three shutout losses.

The win column is equally deceiving. Seaver pitched two complete game shutouts (technically) and didn’t get a decision in either game. He pitched nine shutout innings against the Reds and left the game with a no-decision. On August 11 Seaver pitched one of the finest games of his career: 10 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 14 K, 2 BB and a no-decision. The Mets eventually lost the game 1-0 in 12 innings on a throwing error by Jerry Grote.

Seaver finished second to Ferguson Jenkins in the 1971 Cy Young Award vote. Why? I am not sure. Seaver was better – much better – on paper. Jenkins won 24 of his 39 starts and pitched 325 innings that season, but he also had an ERA of 2.77, one full run/game higher than Seaver. He also gave up 304 hits and allowed almost twice as many runs as Seaver (100, Jenkins/56 Seaver). Still, Jenkins received 97 votes to Seaver’s 61. But I digress.

Tom Seaver 1This scenario began germinating in my head last week after a co-worker asked me this question: If the Mets were playing in Game 7 of the World Series and you could pick any pitcher in team history to start the game (assuming they were at the peak of their pitching career), who would you pick? Tom Seaver? Dwight Gooden? Matt Harvey?

Did you say Matt Harvey? I nearly spit out my $5 Starbucks Caramel Macchiato coffee.

What’s so funny?

The idea that anyone would put Harvey in the same conversation, the same sentence, the same question with Gooden and Seaver – that’s what’s so funny.

Before I write one more word let me be perfectly clear: one day, not too far from now, barring injury, I believe, Matt Harvey will have earned the right to share in this hypothetical discussion, but not right now.

Harvey has the talent, the “makeup” and he is quickly earning the respect of hitters from all corners of the Major League Baseball map. But, my goodness, Matt Harvey has won 10 major league games. To put that in context he only needs to record 301 more to match Seaver and a mere 184 more wins to equal Gooden. Seaver won four Cy Young Awards and Gooden one. Let’s get Harvey through his first All-Star Game, in his first full season, in the majors.

Success leads to fame and fame leads to expectation, and when it happens this quickly (in this case, three months) it’s scary, and to some degree unfair, to heap that much pressure on a young man (in New York, no less). Can Harvey do it — what his predecessors, Seaver and Gooden, did in New York? There is every indication by his performance and maturity that he will, but it will require time — seasons — before we will be able to drop Harvey’s name in the same conversation with Seaver and Gooden.

(Photo Credits: USA Today, Sports Illustrated)

]]> 0
Days Like These Mon, 01 Jul 2013 04:56:50 +0000 zack wheeler 4When the day arrives, and it’s clear Zack Wheeler has “figured it out,” this will be the day he will appreciate most. New York Mets fans will prefer to reflect on Wheeler’s first MLB start, six shutout innings vs. Atlanta, but Sunday will be one of those starts that will educate the Mets rookie most as he moves forward.

The Mets and Wheeler were roughed up by the Washington Nationals 13-2 Sunday at Citi Field. It was Wheeler’s third MLB start. His final line: 4 2/3 innings pitched, five earned runs, six hits, five strikeouts, two walks, two home runs allowed and one wild pitch. He threw 89 pitches (54 strikes).

Wheeler’s four-run second inning was difficult to watch. Mets fans squirmed in their seats and flinched on social media, screaming for Terry Collins head, calling for Dan Warthen to be fired on-the-spot and begging for relief from the bullpen. The knee-jerk reactions are entertaining but off base. After the game, Collins delivered his typical defensive, hyperactive press conference. It was a blur — as usual.

“Blah, blah, blah, he pitched well his first start … blah, blah, blah, there’s screaming, screaming, screaming that he’s tipping his pitches … Blah, blah, blah, all of a sudden he has to change everything … Blah, blah, blah, it’s not very fair … Blah, blah, blah …”

Then, Washington Nationals (and former Mets) manager Davey Johnson spoke. Good time to start listening closely. “You’ve got to like his arm,” he said. “Good fastball and breaking stuff. But it’s command. It’s always going to be command up here, no matter how hard you throw.”

Johnson guided Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling through their rookie seasons in New York. He’s seen the ups and downs. Johnson witnessed fans throwing a grapefruit at Darling after getting routed 10-0 by the Montreal Expos. He knows the pressure New York places on a 21-year old young man.

How did Johnson handle the situation? He marched Darling right back out to the mound five days later. The Mets 12-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies and Darling’s final line: five innings pitched, six earned runs, nine hits, one strike out, three walks and one home run allowed. Today, those numbers are irrelevant, but the game is significant to Darling. It shaped who he became as a pitcher. In fact, of all the games Darling could have chosen to reflect on during his 13-year career as a major league pitcher, he chose this one for his 2009 book, The Complete Game.

As Wheeler wobbled through the second inning of Sunday’s game, I thought of what Darling wrote:

How a pitcher manages a difficult inning can be one of the biggest determining factors in his makeup. It’s not just about stuff. It’s about what you do with that stuff when the other team seems to have you figured out … it’s how you navigate these initial rough patches that determines the course of your career.

The thought was as relevant to Wheeler’s 2013 start as they were for Darling in 1984 and Matt Harvey in 2012. He suffered through a similar start last season, ironically his third major league start, a 7-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. Harvey’s final line: five innings pitched, five earned runs, eight hits (seven extra base hits), five strikeouts, one walk and two home runs allowed. He struggled with control. After 81 pitches, Harvey was off to the showers. His day was over but the game was not forgotten.

For Harvey, his struggles provided education and understanding. They are necessary, just as they were for Darling. In the midst of the Phillies knocking around Darling for five runs in the second inning, Johnson — not Mel Stottlemyre — visited the mound.

“Just to be clear, you’re not coming out of this game,” Johnson told Darling. “We’ve got bullpen issues, but it’s not just about the bullpen. You need to learn how to pitch your way out of sh*t. I don’t care how many runs you give up. I don’t care how hard these guys hit you. I suggest you start getting some outs so you don’t ruin the back of your baseball card.”

Darling realized it was sink or swim. He wasn’t getting a life preserver. He finished the inning, added three more shutout innings and went on to win 12 games his rookie season, 99 as a New York Met and 136 career wins.

Lesson learned.

]]> 0
A Perfect Father’s Day At Shea Sun, 16 Jun 2013 12:00:20 +0000 bunning

In celebration of Father’s Day, Metsmerized Online takes a look at the most memorable Mets-related Father’s Day games in team history. On June 20, 1964 Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Jim Bunning threw a perfect game against the New York Mets in the second game of a doubleheader at Shea Stadium. With his wife and children in the stands, here’s what happened …

By the eighth inning 32,904 Mets fans were cheering for the Philadelphia Phillies, for pitcher Jim Bunning. On Father’s Day 1964, the Phillies pitcher was just a handful of outs away from a perfect game.

Met fans rooting for the Phillies? This would never, under any circumstances, happen today.

But these were simpler days for Met fans. By the Sunday doubleheader at Shea Stadium in June 1964, the Mets were already firmly planted in last place (20-45) in the National League, 21 games back.

Winning a division title was nowhere in sight – nor did it matter – in 1964. Mets fans celebrated wins, and losses, and the first year in their new Flushing home, Shea Stadium. Life was good. National League baseball was back in New York.

“Nobody realized it was a perfect game until the fourth or fifth inning,” former Phillies pitch Dennis Bennett told Bill Ryczek, author of The Amazin’ Mets. “You know that it’s taboo to talk about it, but Jim was talking about it.”

Bunning was reportedly very vocal about what was developing. According to catcher Gus Triandos, he’d never seen Bunning acting so animated. “He was jabbering like a magpie,” he said.

Only one other time over the first 10 years of his career did Bunning feel the same command and control of his slider. It was six years earlier (1958), as a member of the Detroit Tigers when he tossed his first career no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox.

Galen Cisco, who was playing for the Mets, said Bunning “just wasn’t missing. Everytime he tried to keep the ball away, it was away. When he got two strikes, he was throwing the ball off the plate, and we were swinging. We just weren’t very patient.”

Perfection was in jeopardy in the fifth inning when Jesse Gonder hit at line drive toward right field. Phillies second baseman Tony Taylor dove to his left, knocking down the ball and threw out Gonder at first base.

Former Met Hawk Taylor said Bunning had “won over the umpire, who was starting to widen the strike zone for him … not that he needed a lot of help, but I remember the strike zone was substantially enlarged.”

Joe Christopher added, “When you’re making good pitches and the umpire is in your corner, it’s two against one.”

Bunning had retired 24 consecutive batters when Charlie Smith stepped in to lead off the ninth inning. Smith made No. 25 easy, hitting a foul pop up to third base that was squeezed by Cookie Rojas.

Mets manager Casey Stengel pinch hit George Altman, who felt he had the advantage against Bunning, who threw side-armed. “Lefthanders got a good look at him,”

Altman told Ryczek, “He’s the kind of pitcher you love to hit off. To me, it was a lot better than facing Koufax or someone like that … of course he wound up handling all of us.” Altman hit a long foul ball into the seats then promptly struck out.

Mets pitchers Tracy Stallard and Bill Wakefield, members of the fraternity, were emotionally split. Stallard wanted to see the Mets break up the perfect game, while Wakefield privately changed allegiances. “You always want to be professional, you always want to root for your team, but it wasn’t a situation that was going to cost us the pennant, or even a position in the standings.”

Stengel sent another pinch hitter to the plate, Johnny Stephenson. The Mets rookie was 2-for-27 in his major league career. Bunning fidgeted nervously on the mound as Stephenson came to the plate.

His first two pitches to Stephenson were strikes, the first swinging, the second a called strike. Bunning missed with the next two pitches. Stephenson watched a 2-2 pitch drop into the strike zone. Bunning was perfect, throwing 86 pitches (69 strikes).

“He threw me all sliders, which were hard to pick up, the way he fell off the mound,” remembered Stephenson.

Surrounded by teammates, Bunning disappeared into the visitor’s dugout at Shea Stadium. After a few minutes of standing ovation fans launched into a chant of “We want Bunning! We want Bunning!”

When the Phillies pitcher stepped back on to the field for a post-game interview with Ralph Kiner, Mets fans exploded in cheers. Moments later, Bunning’s wife, Mary, and his eldest daughter—he has seven children—came out of the stands to kiss and hug Dad.

Ryczek wrote, “… through mid-1966, Bunning made seven starts in Shea Stadium. He had seven wins, seven complete games and four shutouts. Bu early 1967, he had allowed just three runs to the Mets in 72 innings.”

Bunning became the first pitcher in major league history to throw a no-hitter in both the American (July 20, 1958 vs. Boston) and National leagues.

]]> 0
Who Carried The Mets Lunchpail In May? Sat, 01 Jun 2013 16:32:35 +0000 daniel murphy

Daniel Murphy’s college coach called him Joe Lunchpail; a blue collar guy who, for his age, “… knows as much about hitting as anybody out there,” said Terry Alexander, Jacksonville University Dolphins. “He wants to take it to a science.”

Murphy hit .317 during the month of May, including 10 doubles. He is second in the league in two-base hits. New York Post beat writer Mike Puma adds this impressive stat: Murphy had 12 two-out RBIs, ranking him first on the team. Unlike previous seasons, month-to-month, Murphy has been is playing like an All-Star; steady and consistent. This didn’t just happen overnight. Murphy has been “obsessed” with being a professional hitter since college. If he wants to take it a “science,” Murphy’s halfway to Einstein already.

In his Mets Confidential report in today’s Post, Puma states Murphy is the team’s Most Valuable Player for May. He wrote:

Daniel Murphy got rolling in the middle of the month and has emerged as the most dependable bat in this anemic Mets lineup. He is also the player the Mets want at the plate with the game on the line. Ideally, manager Terry Collins will keep Murphy in the No. 2 hole, but with Tejada on the disabled list there’s a chance Murphy will have to become the leadoff hitter for an extended period. Nobody had bigger hits than Murphy in the Mets’ four-game Subway Series sweep.

Do you agree?

Despite the Mets struggles in May, the team had a few bright spots which created some stiff competition in consideration for the monthly honor.

Bobby Parnell has stepped in and snatched the closer role. In May, he was 3-1 with seven saves (a perfect 7-for-7) and a 2.08 ERA. He has allowed eight hits in 13 innings pitched during the month. Opponents are hitting .182 against Parnell. When needed, he’s been almost flawless.

Let’s not forget Matt Harvey, who has caught the eye of every baseball fan. In 11 starts this season, Harvey is a perfect 5-0 with a skinny 1.85 ERA. he’s almost made Mets fans forget about Johan Santana, who is getting his share of press today while on the disabled list.

In May, Harvey is 1-0 with a 2.15 ERA in five starts, allowing just 26 hits in 37 2/3 innings pitched. He nearly threw a perfect game on May 7 against the Chicago White Sox, allowing one hit and striking out 12 — and didn’t get a win. Off the field he was the Sports Illustrated cover boy on May 14.

the dark knight matt-harvey

So, who is your Mets MVP for May? Daniel Murphy? Matt Harvey? Bobby Parnell? David Wright? Someone else? Cast your vote here.

]]> 0
This Week In Mets History: Forever Young Fri, 10 May 2013 16:11:04 +0000 anthony-young-disconsolateOn this week 21 years ago, Anthony Young started a streak he wished he hadn’t…

Don’t, OK? Save your breath – and Anthony Young’s time. Just get to the question. That’s right, the question; the inevitable query about losing. He won’t mind answering because, well, the reply is always the same.

“I pitched well during the stretch. It just happened. I don’t feel like I deserve it. I will be known for this forever. It was destiny.”

He accepts his place in history, yet, he reveals nothing about his true feelings.

What irks Young is the mind-numbing process; the back-and-forth, like some silly parlor game, between reporter and former athlete. The Q&A lingers. The questions turn to small talk. How do like coaching? What do you teach young baseball players? He takes a deep breath and exhales his frustration. Minutia, he thinks. Young’s mind is screaming: Ask the question!

Anthony Young has been living in baseball infamy for more than two decades for losing 27 consecutive decisions. The streak, which started on this day (May 6) in 1992, lasted 465 days, across 81 appearances and two seasons. The long slog finally came to a halt on July 24, 1993.

How can you tell when something bad is about to happen? There was nothing more than circumstantial evidence looking back at the aftermath of the New York Mets 5-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on May 6, 1992. Young pitched six innings, allowing five earned runs and six hits (including two home runs) in his first loss of the season. But it was OK. He won his first two starts. The Mets were 16-12.

“Take away two pitches (gopher balls) and it’s a different game,” Young told the media after the loss. “Those were about the only pitches I didn’t get where I wanted.”

A couple bad pitches led to a few bad games, a disappointing season, a long slump, a full-feature horror flick. The record has grown like an extra appendage to Young. As the losses piled up, Young held on to his confidence.

“I’m a good pitcher,” he said. “I believe in myself. The Mets believe in me, too.”

Young entered the 1992 off-season with a sense of hope. But Young had a four-month break – to think. Spring Training was a struggle. The media pressed him on the streak. After a relief appearance (2 IP, 4 R, 3 H) in a 7-3 loss against the Houston Astros, Young began to crack. Suddenly, the idea of breaking Cliff Curtis’ 23-game losing streak became a reality. There was enough negative momentum to not even Tony Robbins could save Young’s fragile state of mind.

As Young approached the record the stories turned downright laughable. No. 18 came on a walk-off hit to Mike Lansing of the Montreal Expos. Young, angered by his performance, attempted to kick a roll of toilet paper but missed, kicking a nearby porcelain toilet and nearly fracturing a toe.

Murphy’s Law seemed took over in June, adding fuel to the fire. Young appeared to be on the brink of snapping the streak in Chicago. He pitched six shutout innings against the Cubs; then Mike Draper and Mike Maddux surrendered eight runs in the final two innings. Young got a no-decision.

No. 22 was eventful. At Three Rivers Stadium, Young sneezed and snorted his way through seven innings in a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was later reported that prior to the game groundskeepers in Pittsburgh spread a drying substance on the mound to soak up rain. Young took the mound and suffered an allergic reaction to the substance. Apparently the old saying is true: When it rains … oh, nevermind.

Five days later Young tied the record thanks to four Mets errors that led to three unearned runs. He left after six innings and New York’s defense tightened up, causing former Mets pitcher Jeff Innis to comment: “Did you see the plays we made after he left?” he said. “When he goes out there, the whole team feels it. It’s intense.” Young left the Mets clubhouse that night wearing a tee-shirt that read: LIVE AND LEARN.

The tee portrayed a carefree, event hopeful, attitude on the outside, but inside, Young was terrified. “I’ve had four different managers in the three seasons I’ve been around,” he told the media. “Start? Bullpen? “Right now, I’m confused.”

By late June the Mets were buried in last place, 30 games under .500. They had lost four straight and Young was scheduled to start against the St. Louis Cardinals. The night before the game Young went to dinner with Gregg Jeffries, a former teammate. Let’s just get this over with. One way or another, he thought, break the record or break the streak. Less than 24 hours later, it was over. Young gave the 36,911 morbid Mets fans what they had come to see: a loss, and a piece of history. It was one for the record books. He owned the record: 24 consecutive losing decisions. Young was officially branded “a loser.”

The media presence was overwhelming. The Mets moved the post-game press conference to Dallas Green‘s office because of the media overflow. As they circled the perimeter and doorway, one member of a camera crew poked a hole in the ceiling, causing plaster to reign down on the media. Young shook his head in disbelief saying, “Everything is over with now. I broke the record; I’m in the record books. Now that I have the record, I hope you all can leave me alone.”

Not so fast Young man. It would be another month (and three more losses) before it was over.

Finally, on July 28, 1993, Eddie Murray drove in the winning run at Shea Stadium, giving the Mets a 5-4 victory over the Florida Marlins, ending Anthony Young’s infamous 27-game losing streak. Dallas Green popped the cork on a bottle of champagne. A fan sent roses. The Mets, and Young, celebrated.

“It wasn’t a monkey,” Young told reporters. “It was a zoo … the zoo had been lifted off of my back and we had just won the World Series.”

Two decades later and Young still has the shrapnel stored in his attic in the same box he kept them in at his locker at Shea; letters, cards and notes of encouragement and a videotape from his 1993 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In two-and-one-half seasons with the Mets he recorded five wins and 35 losses. Young was shipped off to the Chicago Cubs just days before Opening Day 1994.

“It was initially disappointing because I wanted to have a great season in New York,” he said years later. “Sure enough, Chicago hosted the Mets at Wrigley Field for Opening Day and Karl Rhodes connected on three homers off [Dwight] Gooden.”

It wasn’t all that bad. During one stretch, Young pitched 23.2 straight scoreless innings and over the one year and two-month stretch, he recorded 15 saves. There were moments – but not many.

]]> 0
Featured Post: Behind the Mask – Jerry Grote Tue, 23 Apr 2013 04:01:58 +0000 jerry koosman jerry grote ed charlesWinning was Jerry Grote’s bliss. In fact, his most joyous moment on the diamond was captured on film when teammate Jerry Koosman leapt into his arms after the final out of the 1969 World Series.

In 1976, Bob Myrick found out the hard way how Grote felt about losing when the Mets rookie pitcher beat his catcher in a game of Backgammon, causing Grote to explode, sending the board and its pieces across the room with a single swing of the arm.

“I just sat there staring at him – hard,” remembered Myrick. “He got up and picked up all the pieces, and we never had a cross word. He was a perfectionist.”

Grote’s desire to win led to unparalleled intensity on the field. During his 12-year career in New York, teammates labeled Grote surly, irascible, testy and moody. Then, there’s Koosman’s description: “If you looked up red-ass the dictionary, his picture would be in there. Jerry was the guy you wanted on your side, because he’d fight you tooth and nail ‘til death to win a ball game.”

Grote played with an anger and intensity that was, at times, intimidating to opponents, umpires, the media and teammates alike.

“When I came up I was scared to death of him,” said Jon Matlack, winner of the 1972 Rookie of the Year award. “If you bounced a curveball in the dirt, he’d get mad. I worried about him more than the hitter.”

“He could be trouble if you didn’t do what he said,” added former Met Craig Swan. “He wanted you to throw the pitches he called. He made it very simple. I would shake him off now and then, and he would shake his head back at me. If a guy hit a home run off of me, he wouldn’t let me hear the end of it.”

Grote had a special way of letting his pitchers know he wasn’t pleased with a pitch. “Jerry had such a great arm. He could throw with great control and handcuff you in front of your belt buckle,” remembers Koosman.

Grote would get incensed when Jim McAndrew was on the mound. “McAndrew would never challenge hitters according to where Grote wanted the ball; so Grote kept firing it back and handcuffing him in front of the belt buckle, and we would laugh, because we knew what Grote was doing,” said Koosman.

jerry groteThe tactic didn’t go over so well when Koosman pitched. During a game when Koosman was struggling to find his control, Grote began firing the ball at his pitcher’s belt buckle. Koosman called Grote to the mound.

“I told him, ‘If you throw the ball back at me like that one more time I am going to break your f—ing neck,’” Koosman told Peter Golenbeck in Amazin’. “I turned around and walked back to the mound, and he never threw it back at me again. We had great respect for each other after that.”

He took his frustration out on umpires too. Retired umpire Bruce Froemming claims Grote intentionally let a fastball get by him, nearly striking Froemming in the throat. Because they had spent the three previous innings in a non-stop argument, Froemming accused Grote of intentionally moving aside in hope that the pitch would hit the umpire.

“Are you going to throw me out?” snapped Grote.

“He made no attempt to stop that pitch,” Froemming thought. The home plate umpire fumed but realized he had no grounds to toss Grote from the game.

National League umpires were well aware of Grote, and his on-field demeanor. In fact, in 1975, the league was discussing physical contact between catchers and umpires. Jerry Crawford was queried about his unique style of resting a hand between a catcher’s hip and rib cage and he said, “I ask the catcher if it bothers him, and only Jerry Grote has complained.”

“The writers never respected Grote, but they guys who played with him could barely stand him,” said Ron Swoboda. “He was a red-ass Texan who loved to f— with people but who didn’t like anyone to f— with him. It was a one-way street. Grote is Grote, and we would not have been as good without him behind home plate.”

“Grote had a red-ass with the media, but he didn’t care,” added Koosman. “All he cared about was what he did on the field. If you didn’t get your story from what he did out there, you either talked to him nicely or he wasn’t going to give you any more story.”

Grote did not return calls or respond to multiple email requests for an interview for this story.

This is who Jerry Grote is – and the Mets knew it from the day they traded for him for a player to be named later in October 1965.

“When we got him, I don’t think anyone else had that big of an opinion of him,” said Bing Devine. “Jerry was withdrawn and had a negative personality, but he knew how to catch a ball game and how to handle pitchers, and maybe that very thing helped him to deal with the pitching staff. He was great. I know he surpassed our expectations.”

He was exactly what the Mets needed to manage a young, extremely talented pitching staff, but he was clearly a handful to manage too.

“If he ever learns to control himself, he might become the best catcher in baseball,” former Mets manager Wes Westrum told the media during Grote’s first season in New York.

Then, in 1968, Gil Hodges arrived. After being briefed on the Mets roster, Hodges said he “did not like some of the things I heard about Jerry. He had a habit of getting into too many arguments with umpires and getting on some of the older players on the club.”

Hodges, known for his firm, but fair, demeanor, took Grote into his office for an attitude adjustment. The Mets manager realized the importance of Grote’s talents and how it would affect the pitching staff. Hodges made his expectations clear.

“I hesitate to imagine where the New York Mets would have been the last few years without Jerry,” Hodges told Sports illustrated in 1971. “He is invaluable to us. He is intent and intense and he fights to get everything he can.”

Grote batted .256 in his 12 seasons in New York. He is a two-time All-Star (1968 and 1974). In 1969, Grote threw out 56% of baserunners. He ranks third on the Mets all-time list for games played (1235), 11th in hits (994), 15th in doubles and total bases (1413).

Grote fractured his wrist after getting hit by a pitch in May 1973. The Mets recorded three shutouts the first month with Grote behind the plate, four more shutouts over the next two months (May 12-August 11) without Grote behind the plate and eight more shutouts over the final six weeks of the season with Grote managing the staff. Grote caught every inning of every playoff and World Series game in 1969 and 1973. Here’s a statistic for you: In the 20 post season games between ’69 and ’73, the Mets used 45 pitchers and one catcher. Those were the only two post season appearances the Mets made during Grote’s 12 years in New York.

“One of the advantages of playing for New York is that the big crowds at Shea Stadium help you tremendously,” Grote said in a 1971 interview with Sports Illustrated. “They make you want to give 115% all the time. In other places it cannot be the same for the players. Like in Houston, nobody seems to applaud unless the hands on the scoreboard start to clap. Once those hands stop, so do all the others. Real enthusiasm.”

Grote loved playing in New York, and New York loved his gritty style.

]]> 0
Tim Leary and the Subtle Danger of Talent Sat, 20 Apr 2013 17:32:40 +0000 On January 18, 1985 Tim Leary was quietly traded by the New York Mets to the Kansas City Royals. Leary was selected out of UCLA in the first-round (second overall) by the Mets in the June 1979 Draft. Less than two years later, at age 22, Leary made his major league debut. It lasted seven batters.

Life would have been better if no one said the phrase – ever — but it’s too late now. By the time Tim Leary first heard someone say it in his presence all he could do was go out and try to provide evidence to support the claims.

tim leary

Leary, a UCLA graduate, overpowered hitters with a 96-mile per hour fastball, then buckled their knees with a biting curveball. In 1980, his first season of professional baseball in the New York Mets organization, he was unhittable. Leary was named Most Valuable Player of the Texas League. Honestly, that only made matters worse.

The occasional mention became an everyday occurrence. Scouts, fans, analysts were singing a chorus of praises that always ended in similar refrain: Leary was going to be “the next Tom Seaver.”

Mets manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Bob Gibson watched his 22-year old prospect blow away major league veterans in the Spring of 1981. Torre told the media Leary was “overpowering.” The Mets manager wasn’t alone in his praise. ”You look at him pitch and know that someday he’ll be a super baseball player,” added St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog.

”I like that son of a gun on the Mets. What’s his name, Leary?” Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda told New York Times reporter Joe Durso. “He can throw the hell out of the ball.”

Torre and Gibson knew they’d have to convince GM Frank Cashen to get Leary on the 25-man roster. Cashen was staunchly conservative in his approach to promoting young, developing arms.

By the end of Spring, Leary made it difficult for Cashen to say no. The Mets GM gave in. Leary was in. He earned it. He pitched his way North. Leary would join a 1981 rookie class that included Cal Ripken Jr., Fernando Valenzuela, Tim Raines, Tony Pena and Mets Mookie Wilson and Hubie Brooks.

It was a typical cold, windy 46-degree Sunday at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It was a day filled with hope for the Mets. Hopeful that rookie Tim Leary would be all the things he was promoted to be, hopeful the 22-year old would not feel overwhelmed by the pressure, hopeful that they were witnessing the beginning of “the next Seaver.”

Leary struck out Ivan DeJesus swinging and Joe Strain looking at a called third strike. Two batters, two strikeouts and now hope was floating in the Windy City. Bill Buckner grounded out and Mets fans were confused. Was this Tim Leary or Tom Seaver?

In the second inning, after Steve Henderson lined out and Bull Durham struck out, Cubs third baseman Ken Reitz worked walked. Leary threw a wild pitch and Reitz moved to second. But Leary retired Scot Thompson on a fly ball to end the inning.

Did you see it? What … the wild pitch?

No. Leary felt “a searing pain” in his elbow as he worked to Reitz. Something was wrong, really wrong. “I felt some pain in my arm on the way north,” remembered Leary.

When the Cubs came to bat in the third inning it was Pete Falcone, not Leary pitching. Four days later he was placed on the disabled list. He wouldn’t throw a major league pitch for another 30 months. Cashen never forgave himself – or Torre – for what happened wrote Peter Golenbeck in Amazin’.

”Since I was 8 years old, I pitched hundreds of innings and was never hurt,” remembered Leary. “Now, I was hurt. Any time you even sit in a whirlpool, you get criticized. And I was taking whirlpools twice a day for months. When I went home to Los Angeles, I’d walk the beach. I became a loner.”

The whispers about being “another Seaver” faded – fast. Injury trumps all in professional sports. Being a “head case” is a close second and Leary was branded with both. Once a player is tagged, the climb to the majors becomes Mount Everest.

“The pressure is on in New York,” former teammate Terry Leach told Peter Golenbeck, author of Amazin’. “Some people can’t handle the attention, because they expect so much of you. Or you think they expect so much of you, so you try to do more than you’re capable of, and that’s not good. And that’s what happened to Tim Leary in New York. He was young, it’s hard to cope. You don’t know what it’s like until you play big league ball in New York. That is the big leagues.”

Leary reported to Spring Training in 1982, hopeful. He spent the winter exercising, strengthening his elbow. Leary pitched one inning against the Philadelphia Phillies and he was “roughed up.”

”Every time I threw, it hurt,” said Leary. “I couldn’t even pitch. I went back home, and didn’t do much of anything except walk the beach and worry. That was the low point.”

In June 1983 Leary visited Dr. Daniel Alkatis, a nerve specialist in New York. In minutes Alkatis diagnosed Leary with a pinched nerve. “I’d been lying around for eight months, he found it in five minutes,” he said. “I still had a long way to go, but my mind was finally free.”

Sure the modest crowd that peppered the box seats on the final day of the 1983 season was a far cry from the dreams Leary once carried on his right shoulder, but No. 38 was pitching again. The “next Seaver” comparisons were gone, maybe for good, but he was back in uniform, on the mound, in the major leagues at Shea Stadium. And that was all that mattered now.

Leary pitched nine innings and beat the Montreal Expos. It was his first victory in the big leagues.

1984 was an ironic convergence of the past and then-present. Dwight Gooden, Tim Leary and Frank Cashen arrived in Florida for Spring Training.

Gooden was wearing Leary’s 1981 shoes, Leary was “damaged goods,” a reclamation project hoping for a spot on the roster and Cashen was waxing, bordering on hypocrisy, to the media about the lesson he learned.

”We’re starting to hear Gooden used as a standard of comparison for other young pitchers,” said the Mets GM. ”The scouts are starting to say that so-and- so has a Gooden-type fastball. That’s a form of subtle pressure in a way, but Gooden doesn’t understand what subtle pressure is, while Leary did.

”Gooden is very phlegmatic. He’s not burdened with a lot of hangups. I don’t want to say that Tim Leary was emotionally immature, but he was like Cassius in Shakespeare. You know, ‘Young Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much.’ That can be dangerous.”

tim leary

]]> 0
42 – The True Story of an American Legend: Right Movie, Wrong Reason Fri, 19 Apr 2013 17:17:27 +0000 jackieIf you paid $10 to see 42, and you expected to see the story of anyone other than Jackie Robinson, one of two things likely happened:

  1. You went to the right movie, but for the wrong reason
  2. You missed a great movie … and that’s a shame

Maybe, both.

Coincidentally, sports media reporter Ed Sherman fell victim to both of those circumstances. In a column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University Sherman seemed disappointed by the fact that 42  “… hardly captures the totality of (Wendell) Smith’s role in integrating baseball and his overall impact on the life of the baseball legend.”

A quick refresher for younger generations who might be asking the question: Who is Wendell Smith? He was an African-American sportswriter who recommended Robinson to Branch Rickey. Smith was also a victim of discrimination like many working black men and women of the generation. He wasn’t allowed in the press box at Forbes Field and wasn’t welcomed in the all-white Baseball Writers Association of America but, like Robinson, he broke the color barrier in sports journalism, becoming the first African-American member of the BBWAA in 1948.

There is no question, Wendell Smith is a part of sports journalism history. Civil Rights history. Black history. Baseball history. Yes, Smith played a central role in creating an opportunity for Robinson, but this 128-minute movie is not about Wendell Smith or Branch Rickey or Rachel Robinson, it’s about Jackie Robinson. Sure, each of these people helped shape Robinson’s life but the story, the movie, is about Robinson. The tag line to the movie should give it away: The True Story of an American Legend.

Meanwhile, Eric Deggans, TV and Media Critic for the Tampa Bay Times, contributor to the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University and Sherman’s colleague, selfishly failed to understand 42. He confessed,  “… the journalist in me also wished we could have seen a bit more of the media story; namely, how Rickey and Smith managed the media to make Robinson’s quest look noble as possible to uneasy white baseball fans … it’s a bit of pipe dream to wonder what might have happened if Smith got more screen time — even if the intimate story of a quick-tempered Robinson and the activist sportswriter who helped sell him to the world might have been the different take critics were looking for.”

For the longest time there was a sense of frustration because no one could sell Jackie Robinson’s story idea to Hollywood. Not Spike Lee. Not Robert Redford. Then, finally, director Brian Helgeland comes along and gets it done. And what happens? Critics want equal screen (and story) time for Wendell Smith. If you plan on forking out your $10 for a ticket to see 42 this weekend please, remember, this is a movie about 42 — Jackie Robinson.

Mr. Sherman, Mr. Deggans, with all due respect, you missed a great movie.

]]> 0
Featured Post: The Boys of … Winter? Wed, 17 Apr 2013 21:01:51 +0000 RALPH-KINER-2

“On a cold night you have to hit the ball 25 feet farther. So, in other words, if the fence is 338 feet and you hit the ball 338 feet, you’ll be 25 feet short.” – Ralph Kiner, attempting to explain the effect of cold weather on the flight of a baseball.

The New York Mets and Minnesota Twins played last Friday night’s game in between snowflakes. According to Major League Baseball, the game time temperature was 34 degrees. Pitchers were licking their fingers and blowing hot air into their balled up fists. Infielders were wearing ski caps. The dugouts were filled with hoodies and heated benches. Toasty, right?

“But when you got outside the dugouts, it’s pretty stinking cold,” Mets manager Terry Collins told the media.

In April 1982 a massive snowstorm hit the northeast, wiping out games almost the entire first week of the baseball season in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit. The weather was so poor the Yankees returned to Florida while their scheduled opponent, the Texas Rangers, worked out under the stands at Shea Stadium. Meanwhile, the Mets beat the Phillies at Veterans Stadium, 7-2, in the season opener. It was all downhill sledding after that.

The Mets moved on to Chicago, where two snowstorms blasted the city just days before the Cubs scheduled opener. It was 34 degrees – and windy – at first pitch. The maintenance teams shoveled the snow into piles under the seats at Wrigley Field. Not a good idea.  Fans pelted Mets players with snowballs, prompting the Cubs public address announcer to appeal to the 26,091 fans: ”Please refrain from throwing snowballs on the field.”

Snow, in April, at the ballpark, isn’t new, but it certainly is unusual looking. David Wright looked like he was posing for a Christmas card …

The cold weather can be dangerous, too.

Former Mets catcher Rick Cerone remembers playing in Toronto in April 1977 as a member of the Blue Jays. The weather was so cold he suffered frost bite on his right hand and he never fully recovered.

”It snowed the first five innings,” said Cerone. “Ever since my hand got frostbitten that day, I’ve had bad circulation in it. Whenever it’s the least bit cold, I had trouble feeling the ball. I use heat packs to keep my hand warm. But that’s what cold weather can do. It’s not just how the cold affects you that day, it’s how it can affect the rest of your career.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Dave Winfield remembered how the cold weather nearly cost him his career. ”My junior year at the University of Minnesota, I was a pitcher as well as an outfielder. We were playing Michigan State in snow flurries and 30-degree weather, when I heard something pop in my elbow. For the next five months, I couldn’t throw a ball 30 feet. I thought I might be through, but lucky for me, my arm came back.”

mets rockies snowStanding in the snow, Sandy Alderson looked across the field searching for the infield diamond. He couldn’t spot it. Earlier in the day he was on Twitter suggesting the conditions were more football than baseball. So, he wondered out loud, if the Mets and Rockies might still play later Monday night?

“There isn’t a bright line test,” he said. “Is it 30 degrees? Twenty-eight? Twenty-six? I don’t know where you draw the line.”

The answer: No. We found our bright line. A winter storm warning means no baseball in Colorado. The storm will remain in effect until 6am Tuesday morning.

The Boys of Summer will attempt to play a day-night doubleheader Tuesday at Coors Field. The weather forecast: Cloudy with a chance of snow in the morning. A chance of rain and snow in the afternoon. Highs 37 to 43. Sounds like they’ll be walking a fine bright line again.

]]> 0