Mets Merized Online » Rob Silverman http://metsmerizedonline.com Fri, 02 Dec 2016 22:21:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.16 Roberto Clemente: The Legend Behind the Award http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/09/roberto-clemente-the-legend-behind-the-award.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/09/roberto-clemente-the-legend-behind-the-award.html/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2016 19:25:56 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=224139 St. Louis Cardinals vs Pittsburgh Pirates

Throughout Baseball’s glorious history there have been hundreds of players idolized in their hometown. Occasionally, but seldom, does a player come along whose greatness extends beyond the city where they play.

And then there’s Roberto Clemente, the first ballplayer to be revered on two continents.

On the final day of the 1972 season, September 30th, Roberto Clemente doubled off Mets rookie Jon Matlack. It was the 3,000th hit of his illustrious career, a watershed mark only reached by ten others. People across North America and Latin America cheered. Three months later, Roberto Clemente died. People across North America and Latin America cried.

He was the first Latin player to win an MVP and the first Latin player to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He was also the first Latin player to win a World Series MVP.

He retired with a .317 career BA, 240 HR, and 3,000 hits. He was an MVP, a four-time batting champ, 15-time All-Star, and winner of 12 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1961-1972.

Roberto Clemente was born August 18, 1934 in Barrio San Anton, Puerto Rico, the youngest of seven. To help his struggling family, Roberto worked alongside his father loading and unloading trucks in sugar fields. But he always had his eye on the game he loved.

Upon turning 18, he was signed by Pedrin Zorilla for the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League. He played some games at SS but mostly rode the pine. The following year, playing full time and batting leadoff for the Santurce Crabbers, Clemente batted .288. He was offered a contract by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Clemente followed in the footsteps of another trailblazer, Jackie Robinson, and played for the Triple-A Montreal Royals. Due to language difficulties, prejudice and ethnic clashes, Clemente struggled mightily and hit a disappointing .257. He was picked up by Pittsburgh in the rookie draft in November of 1954. Five weeks later, his older brother, Luis, died tragically on New Year’s Eve.

Roberto made his Pirates debut on April 17, 1955 and encountered much of the same prejudices he faced in Montreal. He was a Latino who spoke little English. He was of mixed-African descent. Just eight years removed from Jackie Robinson, Americans were still adjusting to breaking the color barrier. The Pirates were only the 5th team in the NL with a “minority” player. The young Clemente expressed frustration about racial tension, both coming from teammates and the Pittsburgh media. To lessen the impact of having a “foreigner” on their team, Pirates announcers called him Bobby Clemente.

Stress got to him throughout his career, manifesting itself in chronic insomnia. He once stated, “If I slept better I could hit .400.”

In his rookie season, Clemente managed a meager .255 betting average, but his defensive prowess caught everyone’s attention. Part of the reason for the lower than anticipated BA was that during that summer, Clemente was nearly killed when his car was plowed into by a drunk driver. He injured his back. It would plague him the rest of his career.

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Pittsburgh sought out former Hall of Famer George Sisler to work with their young phenom. It paid off. The following year, 1956, Clemente batted .311. In a game against the Cubs, he became the only player in history to hit a walk-off grand slam inside-the-park home run.

1958 saw the Clemente-led Pirates finish over .500 and produce a winning season for the first time in a decade.

Each winter, Clemente returned home to play winter ball, reconnect with friends and to work with multiple charities. Except in ’58. That winter, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves and spent six months training at Parris Island.

In 1960, Clemente’s Bucs won the pennant for the first time in 33 years. They upset the heavily favored Yankees in a classic 7-game series. That season, Clemente batted .314 and was elected to the All-Star Game for the first time. There would be 14 more.

In 1964, Clemente led the NL in batting (.339) and hits (211) along with 40 doubles and scoring 95 runs. After the season he returned home with fellow countryman Orlando Cepeda where he was greeted by 18,000 adoring fans at the airport. The following month, as he and his bride Vera Zabala exchanged wedding vows, thousands cheered them outside the church.

The 1960’s saw some of the games’ most dominant pitchers ever, especially in the NL. The decade was controlled by legends such as Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn. But don’t tell that to Pittsburgh’s star right fielder. From 1960-1971 Clemente averaged .331 at the plate.

Clemente had it all. He played with the flair of Willie Mays, the swagger of Mickey Mantle and exuded the quiet confidence of Hank Aaron. His batting stance, the way he’d uncoil on a pitch like a cobra, was a sight to behold. The manner he rounded the bases with long loping strides, elbows and knees everywhere, was unforgettable. The way he’d wait in the on-deck circle on one knee and crane his neck hard to the right and left was mimicked by young kids on ball fields and backyards across America. He possessed one of the strongest and most accurate arms the game had ever seen. Vin Scully said of him, “He could catch a ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania.”

On July 24, 1970, the Pirates played their final game at Forbes Field, their home since 1909, and moved into Three Rivers Stadium. Management also decided to honor their greatest star since Honus Wagner with “Roberto Clemente Night.” It was an emotional evening for number 21. “I spent half my life here,” he said. He received a scroll of over 300,000 signatures from his native Puerto Rico. Clemente used the opportunity to put forth a plea for businesses to donate to local charities. They did.

In 1971, the Pirates won 97 games and captured the NL East crown. They defeated the Giants in four games in the LCS and faced the defending World Champion Orioles, winners of 100 games and fresh off a 3-game sweep of the up-and-coming young Oakland A’s. Before game one of the Fall Classic, the confident Clemente stated to a reporter, “Nobody does anything better than me in Baseball.” After losing the first two, Pittsburgh won 4 of the next 5 and captured the Championship. Clemente batted .414 in the series, made numerous stellar defensive plays, and hit a decisive home run in Game 7 that gave Pittsburgh the 2-1 win.

Age, however, was beginning to take its toll. In 1970, he amassed just 412 AB. In 1972, at age 37, he missed 54 games with nagging injuries, but in what would be his final season, Clemente still batted .312.

The man who once said, “I’m convinced God wanted me to be a ballplayer” would never again play baseball.

CLEMENTE

On December 23, 1972, less than 3 months after recording his 3000th hit, a massive earthquake rocked Managua, Nicaragua. Aid was not reaching the victims as supplies were being stolen by the corrupt Somoza government. People were dying. People were hungry. People were scared. And the man who tirelessly worked with charities his entire life refused to sit back and watch.

Roberto Clemente believed his presence and reputation would put an end to the pilfering of Nicaragua’s leaders. He chartered a flight from Puerto Rico to personally deliver aid. On December 31, 1972, the Pirates’ legend helped load a plane, just as he had helped his father load trucks decades earlier. He was assisted by an Expos pitcher named Tom Walker who happened to be playing winter ball. Walker wanted to assist Clemente with delivering aid but Clemente wouldn’t let him. Walker was single. Clemente told him to go out and have fun. It was New Years Eve after all.

The Douglas DC-7 had a history of mechanical problems and the flight crew was inexperienced. The plane was overloaded by more than two tons and shortly after lifting off, it fell to the ocean just off the coast of Isla Verde.

As fans in the US and across Latin America mourned the untimely tragic death of the greatest Hispanic player to ever play the game, Clemente’s teammates gathered for his funeral. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said in his eulogy, “He gave the term ‘complete’ a new meaning. He made the word ‘superstar’ seem inadequate.” The following season, Major League Baseball began bestowing the Roberto Clemente Award to the major leaguer with outstanding skill who is also heavily involved in charitable work and active in the local community.

Noticeably absent from the funeral was Clemente’s longtime teammate and best friend on the Pirates, catcher Manny Sanguillen. Rather than attending the service, Sanguillen flew down to Puerto Rico and spent days searching underwater for his friend’s body. It was never found.

Roberto Clemente left behind a wife, three small children, millions of fans and an indelible mark on the game God wanted him to play.

He played 16 years at Forbes Field and two at Three Rivers. Now, outside PNC Park stands a statue of Clemente where old and new generations of fans can see and appreciate Roberto the man, Roberto the player, and Roberto the legend.

The Expos pitcher, Tom Walker, who Clemente talked out of joining him on that fateful night, would eventually marry and have a family. His son… Neil Walker.

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The Other Side of Neon: A Painfully Honest Look at Baseball in the Desert http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/09/the-other-side-of-neon-a-painfully-honest-look-at-baseball-in-the-desert.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/09/the-other-side-of-neon-a-painfully-honest-look-at-baseball-in-the-desert.html/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 20:00:39 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=222242 las-vegas

It was spring 1982 when this 16 year-old fan heard the worst news imaginable from his parents: “We’re moving to Las Vegas.” Who could’ve imagined that three decades later, the Mets, to a small degree, would follow me here. With the recent announcement of a 2-year extension in Las Vegas, I decided to blog about the Baseball landscape in the desert and hopefully offer some insight many of you may not be aware of.

Baseball debuted here in 1983 with the Las Vegas Stars, the Padres’ affiliate. Since then, Vegas has served as AAA home to the Dodgers, Blue-Jays and, starting in 2013, the Mets.

Simply put, Las Vegas is NOT a sports town. It’s a sports betting town.

Fan support for all sports is apathetic at best. In the 1980’s and early 90’s, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, led by Jerry Tarkanian, was the hottest ticket in the city. The 18,000 seat Thomas and Mack Center was sold-out every game. However, since the Runnin Rebels became a mediocre team in the mid-90’s interest has waned and attendance dwindled. The Rebels typically now play to a stadium 60% empty. The UNLV football team has been on life support for decades and there are frequent grumblings that the university should just discontinue the program altogether. They play at the Sam Boyd Stadium where you’re lucky to fill 8,000 seats in a 35,000 seat arena.  Even college students who are given free tickets don’t attend.

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Over the years Vegas has been home to indoor football, indoor soccer and the Continental Basketball Association. All were short lived. In the late 90’s the Las Vegas Thunder were a hugely popular IHL team. However, when their contract expired, Thomas and Mack didn’t renew, forcing the much beloved Hockey franchise to move elsewhere. The fact that minor league baseball has survived—not thrived–is due primarily to the power of the National Pastime.

The list of major leaguers who’ve come through here is impressive. Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, John Kruk, Matt Kemp, Kevin McReynolds, Carlos Baerga, James Loney, Benito Santiago, Ozzie Guillen, Derrek Lee, Eric Gagne and Hall of Famer Robby Alomar all played here. The first HR hit at Cashman Field came off the bat of current Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Yet, minor league baseball remains this city’s best kept secret.

Case in point: In the inaugural season, 1983, the Las Vegas Stars averaged 4878 fans per game. The population of the city back then was just over 500,000.

In 2016, the Las Vegas 51’s averaged 4882 fans per game. The population of Las Vegas is currently 2.2 million.

In other words, while the population has increased over 400 percent, average attendance has remained flat.

There are 16 cities in the Pacific Coast League, many with lower populations than Las Vegas such as El Paso and Omaha. Yet, Vegas remains at or near the bottom in annual attendance year after year. In the last 5 seasons, Vegas has finished 14th, 13th, 16th, 14th and 15th.

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The question is why?

Granted, Cashman Field is not in the best of areas. Located 2 miles north of downtown it’s directly across the street from Potter’s Field and a stone’s throw from a homeless shelter and several tent cities. However, the ballpark itself is beautiful. Don Logan and company, I’m sure with help from the Mets, have made attending a game enjoyable. Parking is cheap ($5), ushers, vendors and attendants are pleasant and always courteous. Tickets are very reasonable and food is relatively inexpensive. Between innings there are the usual shenanigans and gimmicks that have existed at minor league games since the dawn of time. I mean, hey, who wouldn’t love to race Cosmo, the 51’s mascot who survived a UFO crash and spent time at Area 51, around the base paths?

las-vegas-mascot

The answer is simple.

The casinos which rule this city and control all aspects of life here view every other business as competition. Each dollar you spend at a ballgame is one less dollar you can lose at a Craps table. If you want to go to a movie here you must walk into a casino. If you want to go to a rock concert you must go to a venue on The Strip. And many of you may be surprised to learn we have no lottery here. Think about that for a moment. No lottery in a state that survives solely on gambling. Whenever Powerball climbs to the hundreds of millions, there’s a mass exodus of locals driving to Arizona and California to purchase a ticket.

If you drive around the city you see no billboards promoting the 51’s. You rarely see a commercial on TV, hardly ever hear one on the radio. 51′s games are not televised. On the local news, the sportscaster gives a score. And that’s it. “Out at Cashman tonight, Las Vegas defeated Albuquerque, 7-2.” No highlights. If time permits you’ll get a quick four second snippet of an unnamed player hitting a HR. Maybe. I don’t ever recall hearing or seeing 51’s players involved in the community at all. I’m sure they do but it receives no attention from the media. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen someone wearing a 51’s t-shirt or a 51’s cap. A good friend of mine from Illinois is an avid Baseball fan who lives and dies with the Cubs. He lived in town over a year before even realizing we had a AAA team.

You may have heard that the NHL recently awarded Las Vegas a hockey franchise. This, however, is yet another example of how everything here is based around the casinos. The still unnamed team will play in the T-Mobile Arena which is located dead-center on the Las Vegas Strip. Locals go to The Strip about as often as New Yorkers go to the Statue of Liberty.

How often would you go to Citi Field if it was located on Fifth Ave. in the heart of midtown? And had to drive since Vegas, unlike New York, has no subway system and a bus system that’s a joke. This wont be a Hockey team for locals but rather yet one more tourist attraction, something to do if gamblers need a break from slot machines or were unable to get tickets to Carrot Top.

True, a AAA game is nothing like a major league game. An August showdown between the Mets and Nats is obviously more intense than the 51’s hosting the El Paso Chihuahuas. (Yes, that’s really their name.) Still, it always feels like the game on the field is secondary, almost irrelevant. Michael Conforto gets no more cheers stepping to the plate as does a third string catcher. “Fans” are more enthused when Cosmo launches t-shirts into the crowd than when Brandon Nimmo steps to the plate with the tying and winning runs in scoring position. The biggest crowd is usually on $1 beer night. Fans typically start filing out by the 6th inning no matter what the score is.

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I went to a game a couple weeks ago and silly me, I was actually watching the game and yes, keeping score. A little to my left were two guys my age who spent five innings discussing the pros and cons of various golf courses in town. To my right were two twenty-something women who gave up good seats to go sit in the grass beyond the LF wall because the sun was brighter and “we can get a better tan out there.”

A few rows behind me a fella wearing a Dodgers hat, drunk before the end of the National Anthem, yelled and cursed at the pitcher for Salt Lake, former Giant Tim Lincecum. Directly in front of me sat two middle-aged couples. In the bottom of the first, one asked, “Who’s playing?” The answer “The Mets minor league team and…someone else.” “Who should we root for?” The first person shrugged. “I don’t know. How about those guys in blue?”

The very concept of AAA Baseball is unique. Rosters are filled with players rehabbing, longing to get healthy and get back with the parent club. Veterans at the end of their careers are trying to impress someone—anyone–that they still have what it takes for one more shot. Young kids are hungry to achieve their childhood dream and make it to The Show. The one constant is that no one wants to be here.

And in the case of Las Vegas, truer words were never spoken.

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A Father’s Day Tale: Heroes Don’t Always Hit Home Runs http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/06/a-fathers-day-tale-heroes-dont-always-hit-home-runs.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/06/a-fathers-day-tale-heroes-dont-always-hit-home-runs.html/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2016 13:00:50 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=215222 johnny bench tom seaver

It was my first baseball game. And it was almost my last.

In the summer of 1972 I was pushing Tonka trucks around the floor in a one bedroom apartment in The Bronx. I noted the wide range of emotions my Dad went through watching a 2 ½ hour baseball game. Happiness, frustration, cheering, despair. I’d casually glance up at the Zenith B&W. Slowly my toys became secondary and I found myself sitting on the sofa next to my father.

There were the multi-colored sport jackets of Lindsey Nelson, the malapropisms of Ralph Kiner and the velvety cadences of gray-haired red-faced Bob Murphy, who my dad said was, “As smooth as a duck’s tuchus.” That made me laugh.

But my dad was the one who taught me baseball. He explained the game to me, the game within the game, the intricacies. And I got hooked. I watched, I listened, I learned

The following season, with some apprehension, he decided to take me to my first game. Watching on TV was one thing, but would this seven year old become distracted and grow restless and impatient? After handing over some change to park our Plymouth Scamp, we got out of the car.

My chin hit the asphalt. I was blown away. The stadium was huge, enormous. It was like the Roman Coliseum and it was right here in Flushing.

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Clusters of people–older, younger, boys my age and icky girls–were all walking toward something in unison, moving together as one cohesive unit. For the first time in my life I became a part of something bigger, something that extended far beyond my bedroom and my classmates. I was now one of tens of millions of baseball fans.

With Dad’s hand on my shoulder, he guided me between the throngs of fellow Mets fans, passing blue and orange panels hanging from cables on Shea’s exterior. Dad handed over our tickets to an usher wearing an orange jacket and blue slacks.

“Enjoy the game, son.”

I was too busy gazing around in awe when dad nudged me. “What do you say to the man?”

“Uh…Let’s Go Mets.”

Dad laughed. “Anything else?”

“Oh, yea, thank you.”

Seconds later I was bequeathed something in a wrapper. Whoa, cool! A real authentic plastic Mets helmet. Did they give these out every day? Or maybe just to me since it was my first game. Christmas in April. Little did I realize it was Helmet Day. I tore open the packaging, placed the item on my head…and my lips quivered. It was too big. Dad adjusted the interior settings and now it fit perfectly.

He saved the day.

Before heading to our seats, we walked through the passageway in the Loge level. My eyes bulged out of my head, my heart leapt in my chest. Watching on WOR didn’t do it justice. I couldn’t grasp how gigantic the field was. It went on forever. The scoreboard was colossal. I’d never seen grass so green. The grounds crew watered down the infield, causing brown dirt to contrast strikingly with pristine white bases.

Thwack.

Thwack.

Baseballs, like little round missiles, were rocketing all over the place as players took batting practice. Yeah.., I could get used to this.

“Daddy, daddy!” I shouted, jumping in place nearly wrenching his arm out of his socket. “There’s Rusty!!!”

rusty staub square

Rusty Staub was my favorite Met. I don’t know why I took to him. I had yet to grasp the significance of confusing stats and complicated numbers. I didn’t quite comprehend batting average or Earned Run Average and didn’t know if Rusty was good or not. Maybe it was his unique hair color, or his strange batting stance which was upright and stiff with his backside sticking out. Maybe it was the fact he and I shared the same initials or perhaps it was simply due to his cool nickname, Le Grande Orange.

Yea, I definitely could get used to this.

We watched BP for a while before heading to our seats. We went inside the stadium and took the escalator up. And up. And up again. And up some more.

I don’t know what happened, don’t know if the guy who sold dad the tickets gave us the wrong seats. But we were sitting in the very last row in the grandstands, the upper deck. The grating was against our backs. Miles beyond my shoulder was the NYC skyline with the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers that had just opened two weeks earlier. It felt like I was closer to the cement sidewalk four levels below than to the field. Planes landing at LaGuardia were practically on eye level. The players were tiny. I couldn’t tell who was who. Which one is Rusty?

The seats in the stratosphere, however, was secondary. The date was April 21, 1973. It was cloudy, overcast, there was a crisp bite in the air, the wind whipped around with gale force ferocity. Baseball was played in the summer but winter seemed reluctant to release its grip. My hands were shoved deep in my pockets, my feet growing numb, my teeth chattered. I knew the words to the song but right now I didn’t want anyone to buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks. I just wanted a hot chocolate.

Dad lit up a cigarette. (Hey, it was 1973) “You okay?”

“Ss-ss-sure, da-da-daddy, this is gr-gr-great.” I may have been fighting frostbite but I didn’t care. I was at my first ballgame.

Moments later, he tapped my shoulder. “C’mon.” He took my hand and led me down the steep steps. On the walkway he approached an usher. My dad was a salesman and went into selling mode. “Look,” he began pleasantly, “This is my son’s first game. And if I bring him home with pneumonia, my wife will kill me. She’ll never let me take him to another game and you’ll lose a fan for life. You gotta get us into better seats.”

The usher pointed to a different usher a few sections over. That guy told us to speak to someone else. The third guy directed us to someone in an office. We went inside the concourse and hurried to this other guy. My little legs had difficulty keeping up with my dad’s long loping strides.

This new guy informed us we’d need to discuss it with someone different.

Organ music emanated from massive speakers as Jane Jarvis began the opening notes to Meet the Mets.

Along another concourse we went. My dad now jogging, me running alongside.

Shea Stadium 1969

The voice of the PA announcer boomed across Flushing like the voice of God. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls. Welcome to Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets.”

A roar went up. Fans cheered. But my dad and I were running around like Matt Damon would be forty years later in the final twenty minutes of “The Adjustment Bureau.”

Dad picked up the pace. “C’mon, Rob!”

We went into another office. This guy in a white shirt and tie directed us to an office on the second level.

We took off again.

“We ask you to remove your hats and please rise for the singing of…”

“Daddy!” I shouted.

“What?!” he clipped, understandably frustrated.

“It’s the National Anthem.”

He gave me a look, then couldn’t help but laugh

Oh, Canada, Glorious and Free….

“What’s that?” I asked, scrunching my face.

“We’re playing Montreal. That’s the Canadian National Anthem,” he explained.

“They have a different one than us?”

Moments later, the more familiar, Oh, say, can you see…

I stood motionless, respectfully removing my brand new helmet, patriotically placed my hand over my heart and sung.

And the home of the brave.

And off we went again.

“Here are today’s starting lineups and batting orders. First, the visiting Montreal Expos.”

Boo!

“Daddy, the game’s starting!” I cried out, gasping for air. My short legs ached, I had sticking pain in my side from running so hard and so fast. I liked running. I was one of the faster boys in my second grade class. But even this was getting excessive.

There was no one around, everyone already in their seats. We bulleted around a corner and were dashing down a wide ramp full speed.

My side was stabbing but not from running so hard. Instead it was cause of my Dad. He was really old, the ripe old age of thirty and I’d never seen him run before. I tried to keep up but was giggling so hard, I pulled up short and angled forward, laughing uncontrollably.

The hilarity of the moment quickly turned to tears when my helmet slipped off my head, hit the concrete and fractured.

Twenty yards ahead, Dad turned, came back and took a knee by my side. He sympathetically lifted my splintered helmet and embraced me. “I’ll get you another one,” he whispered while hugging away the tears.

I’m not sure how he did it but somehow he made sure everything worked out.

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With mere seconds to spare before the first pitch we ended up in our own private press box Reporters from local newspapers and TV stations close by. Three booths to our right were the Mets play-by-play announcers. Lindsey’s jackets were even brighter in person. “There’s Ralph,” Dad pointed reverentially, even at thirty somewhat awed by the presence of Kiner’s greatness.

I learned a lot that day.

During the middle innings, Expos manager Gene Mauch got ejected for arguing a call. Dad wasted no time in pointing out, “See what happens when you don’t respect authority.”

The Mets had a pitcher named Tom Seaver who was supposedly pretty good. Dad had stated repeatedly, “He’s gonna wind up in Cooperstown one day.” I guess if you’re good you go to Cooperstown, whatever that means. But Seaver didn’t pitch that day. Neither did Jerry Koosman who was on the mound when the Mets won their only championship four long years ago in 1969. It wasn’t even the lanky fella named Jon Matlack. Toeing the rubber this day was spot-starter Harry Parker.

But that didn’t matter.

My guy, Rusty, didn’t get any hits, but walked three times and scored twice.

But that didn’t really matter.

willie mays

I got to see some guy wearing number 24. He was supposedly pretty good, too, probably also going to that Cooperstown place. He used to play here in NY with a team called the Giants a long time ago and made some catch in a World Series. Willie Mays went 0-for-3.

But that didn’t really matter either

I got to see my first Home Run, a two run blast in the 8th off the bat of John Milner, The Hammer. The Mets defeated Montreal 5-0. Harry Parker pitched 7 shut-out innings before Tug McGraw recorded the final 6 outs

But no, that didn’t matter either.

What did matter was not the specifics–who won, who lost.

Over the next several decades I was privileged enough to see first-hand many great players. Some like Seaver, Mays, Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Mike Piazza wore a Mets jersey. Others I saw like Mike Schmidt, Don Sutton, Willie Stargell and Pete Rose did not.

I saw Seaver and Rusty go away, only to return years later. And I saw Tug McGraw and Gary Carter go away, never to return.

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I went as a 7-year old with my dad. I’d go with my uncle, with friends from school, with buddies from college, with girlfriends and with wives. I saw one of Mookie Wilson’s first games and one of Jesse Orosco’s last. I went from eating chocolate and vanilla ice cream in little cups with wooden spoons to drinking beer. I saw Shea go from a ‘state-of-the-art’ modern sports venue to an archaic outdated relic. I saw rallies in the bottom of the 9th, bench clearing brawls, grand slam home runs, walk-off home runs, inside the park home runs, championships won, a no-hitter and I even caught a foul ball. I got to see Hank Aaron hit two of his 755 Home Runs.

But honestly, none of that mattered either.

What did matter is that this was my first Major League Baseball game. And despite seats up in the ether freezing my tuchus off, fighting frostbite, and my very first article of Mets attire breaking after only thirty minutes, my dad made it something memorable, something I’ll never forget, something I’ll always cherish. My dad saved the day and made everything better.

Sometimes heroes are not the guys who hit 700 Home Runs or get 4,000 hits.

Footnote:

I still have that same helmet forty three years later. It’s in a box, alongside yearbooks, scorecards, programs, old Mets caps that are frayed and tattered with age, my old glove, a signed Baseball by Davey Johnson—all stored away with memories of my childhood. Despite my dad’s offer to get me a new helmet, I refused. I wouldn’t change a thing from that blustery April day and if I could, I’d go back in time and relive it all over again, relive that very first baseball game I went to with my father.

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A Tale of Two Pitchers http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/05/a-tale-of-two-pitchers.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/05/a-tale-of-two-pitchers.html/#comments Mon, 30 May 2016 13:00:34 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=213280 strasburg-harvey

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Sports Illustrated called it “The most hyped pitching debut the game had ever seen.” Retailers couldn’t keep his jersey in stock due to demand. And when Stephen Strasburg made his debut the 21-year-old phenom did not disappoint. He compiled a 2.91 ERA. In 68 innings he fanned 92 batters while walking just 17.

And then, like a meteor blazing across the sky, Strasburg flamed out. Tommy John surgery. He would not pitch again for 18 months.

In 2012, the Nationals at  98-64, had the best record in Baseball and were heavily favored to win it all. But manager Davey Johnson and team execs faced an agonizing decision: Shut down their ace his first year back or risk injury in an attempt to win the first championship in franchise history, a history that began over four decades ago in Montreal.

It was decided that with 159 1/3 innings under his belt the gamble to become champions wasn’t worth risking the possibility of a career ending injury. Strasburg was shut down.

Washington promptly got knocked out in the first round.

Meanwhile, in New York, fans were chomping at the bit anticipating the arrival of our own young phenom, Matt Harvey. Not since Gregg Jefferies had a Mets rookie undergone this much hype. In 2012, pitching in AAA, Harvey was erratic. Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins insisted Harvey would not be brought up anytime soon.

Then, they had a change of heart.

Johan Santana got injured, the fan base was in a malaise, there were plenty of empty seats at Citi Field. Despite the Mets going nowhere and being 11 ½ GB in late July, the earlier decision was negated and Harvey was called up.

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Like Strasburg two seasons earlier, Harvey was the face of a bright future, the tip of a sword. And like Strasburg, Harvey didn’t disappoint. He fanned 70 batters in 59 IP and compiled a 2.73 ERA.

In 2013, Harvey continued his dominance, but the innings were piling up. At 24 years-old he was not just the ace, but the workhorse of the staff. By the time he started the All-Star Game at Citi Field in July, Harvey was on pace to toss 235 innings, the most by any Mets starter since 1990.

Then it happened… Matt Harvey, The Dark Knight of Gotham, the new face of the franchise, the guy who packed the ballpark during every home start, the most electric Met starting pitcher since Dwight Gooden toed the rubber, the heartthrob who appeared in magazines and on late night talk shows, and most importantly, the pitcher who had a 2.27 ERA and whiffed more than one batter per inning for a team looking for a new identity…suffered a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament.

Like Strasburg, Harvey would undergo Tommy John.

Despite the arrival of Jacob deGrom and the surprise of Bartolo Colon the next season, the Harvey-less Mets would finish under .500 for the sixth straight year, 17 GB.

In 2015, impelled by young power arms and a one-man wrecking crew named Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets found themselves in a pennant race for the first time in almost a decade. All the while Harvey, first year back from Tommy John, was again piling up innings.

We all remember the back and forth, the he-said-he-said that ensued between Scott Boras, Terry Collins, Dr. James Andrews and Sandy Alderson. And Matt Harvey, lightning rod for bloggers and fans alike, was caught in the middle. It was unwinnable predicament.

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If he decided to sit out and put his health above the team’s wants, it would fly in the face of the tough guy image he’d personified since his debut. The mixture of love and hate he’d gotten over his brief career would lean towards the latter. Fans would scorn him as a sham, all talk and no action. The media would tear the guy to shreds. Yet, if he kept pitching, he would put his career and future on the line, a career where he likely could earn hundreds of millions of dollars.

Like the Nats years earlier, the Mets now faced a similar dilemma: Shut down their star his first year back or risk injury trying to win the first championship in almost thirty years. Unlike the Nats, the Mets allowed Harvey to keep going, despite already tossing over 189 innings.

To digress for a moment, I will state I personally never was a fan of Harvey. Yes, he was good, damn good. But he knew it. Unlike Tom Seaver or Doc Gooden who understood their ability but remained professional about it, Harvey seemed to relish his own hype and delight in his arrogance how talented he was. Yet, all things considered, what had he accomplished? He never won a Cy Young or Rookie of the year like Seaver and Doc, he never won a championship like Seaver and Doc. I viewed him as a lot of bluster. And his prima donna attitude surely didn’t help.

But in the World Series, I jumped on the Matt Harvey train. In 40+ years of watching this game Harvey’s actions going to the top of the 9th in Game 5 was something I’ll never forget. The guy acted like an ace, like a star, like a true competitor. The guy has balls.

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Terry Collins reneged his earlier decision to pull his ace and allowed Harvey to take the mound with a 2-0 lead in a must-win game. Harvey, first year back from Tommy John surgery and with 216 innings under his belt, the most any pitcher in history ever tossed after coming back, walked the lead-off batter, Lorenzo Cain.

And Terry Collins didn’t budge.

The rest is history.

Seven months after losing to Kansas City, Harvey is yet again in the crosshairs of controversy. He is having the worst year of his career, many insisting he voluntarily request to be sent down to work on his mechanics. Some feel that blowing the 2-0 lead in the 9th got in his head. Donnie Moore and Mitch Williams, two great closers in their day, were never the same after allowing crushing post-season home runs. Is Harvey the latest casualty?

Fans are quick to blame him. And granted, his prima donna attitude and now, avoiding the press after a terrible outing doesn’t help. Yet, no one blames Terry Collins for sticking with him for too long. No one blames Lucas Duda for making an errant throw that allowed Hosmer to score and cement the Mets World Series loss. All the finger pointing is at Matt Harvey.

Maybe it is in his head.

Or maybe the fact that Harvey, with the Mets’ blessing, threw more innings than anyone ever had after TJ surgery, has reinjured himself. The fact that his stats are awful two months after throwing 216 innings is not a coincidence. He put his team ahead of his career, ahead of his livelihood, ahead of his own health. And is now suffering the scorn of a livid fan base and damning media.

A few years back, Washington looked long term and put the health of their ace ahead of the wants of their fans. Since returning from his surgery, the highest ERA Strasburg has recorded is a very respectable 3.46. Currently, he is 8-0 with a 2.79 ERA. He is averaging 11.4 K’s per 9 innings.

On the flip side Matt Harvey is 3-7 with a 6.08 ERA.

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You know things are bad when Bryce Harper, widely regarded by many as the biggest jerk in the game, upon hearing Harvey booed by Mets “fans” actually stated he “feels bad” for the guy. A new low. Opposing players are now pitying our one-time ace.

Washington recently awarded Strasburg with a 7-year deal worth $175 million. While Nats fans are thrilled to see Strasburg pitching for them until 2022, Mets fans are apprehensive about Harvey starting on Monday.

Last year Matt Harvey was pushed more than any pitcher in history. And now we are seeing the results. The man who represented the hope of the future may very well have his best days in the past. Was it worth it?

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MMO Hall of Fame: Tug McGraw Believed When No One Else Did http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-hall-of-fame-tug-mcgraw-believed-when-no-one-else-did.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/mmo-hall-of-fame-tug-mcgraw-believed-when-no-one-else-did.html/#comments Tue, 22 Mar 2016 13:00:22 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=208026 Tug-McGraw1

Someone once said “A baseball team is a living breathing thing.” If that’s true, Tom Seaver is our heart, Gil Hodges our brain, Gary Carter our lungs (he breathed life into the Mets in Game 6), Bob Murphy our voice, Keith Hernandez our eyes. And Tug McGraw? Tug would be our spirit.

America has changed dramatically since Tug last pitched for the Mets. In 1974, a new car cost $3,750, a gallon of gas .55 cents. The biggest hit that year was Barbra Streisand’s ‘The Way We Were,’ the top grossing film was ‘Blazing Saddles’ and the highest rated TV show was ‘All in The Family.’ The nation was reeling from a president resigning in disgrace and tiring of troops in Vietnam.

Yet, despite the passage of four plus decades, we still feel Tug’s presence.

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Those of us who were lucky enough to see Tug pitch are getting older. And perhaps, as it often does, memory embellishes things. But watching Tug perform his craft was a sight to behold, a privilege. It didn’t matter if the Pirates were down by a run with the bases loaded with Willie Stargell windmilling his bat. It didn’t matter if the Reds had the tying run in scoring position with no outs and due up was Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.

When you saw number 45 bounding out from the little bullpen cart and taking the mound, you knew—you just KNEW—everything would turn out okay. And three outs later, with Shea erupting in cheers, Jerry Grote walking to the mound shaking Tug’s hand and Tug shouting victoriously while slamming his glove against his leg, our thoughts were confirmed. Our fears alleviated. Tug made us feel better. Tug made us feel larger than life. Tug made us feel alive.

But his ascension to this level did not come overnight. It was a long arduous trek.

Frank Edwin McGraw was born in Martinez, CA on August 30, 1944. His mother nicknamed ‘Tug’ due to his “aggressive nature when he was breast-fed.” Immediately after graduating St. Vincent Ferrer High School in Vallejo, he was signed by the Mets on June 12, 1962. He was 17.

He spent one year in the minors, being used as both a starter and reliever and went 6-4 with a 1.64 ERA. The following year he made the Mets roster out of Spring Training, bypassing AA and AAA.

Tug was 0-1 with a 3.12 ERA in relief when on July 28 he made his first Major League start. The team was the Cubs, the location was Wrigley Field and the wind was blowing out. He lasted just 2/3 of an inning, giving up 3 ER before being hooked. The Mets lost 9-0.

Ya Gotta Believe!  ~  Tug McGraw

Ya Gotta Believe! ~ Tug McGraw

During that summer, the Mets were in Houston. America and Baseball was changing. For the first time ever the national pastime was played indoors in a stadium that resembled a UFO on the Texas prairie. Grass couldn’t grow inside so the game was played on a specially designed synthetic material called Astro-Turf. When a reporter asked Tug if he preferred grass or Astro-Turf, he replied, “I don’t know, I never smoked Astro-Turf.”

His second start was a complete game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea. It was his first win in the big leagues. His 3rd start had him facing Sandy Koufax. Tug defeated Koufax, 5-2. It was the first time the Mets ever defeated the Dodger legend.

Tug finished 1965, both starting and relieving, with a record of 2-7 and a 3.32 ERA. He tossed 97 2/3 innings, whiffing 57 but walking 48. Decent numbers for a rookie on a team that went 50-112 and finished 47 GB.

That September, with war in Southeast Asia escalating, Tug, a US Marine, reported to Parris Island. He became a rifleman, adept at firing the M14 and M60. He later reported to Camp Lejeune where he became, as he humorously said, “a trained killer.”

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In 1966 he couldn’t regain his mediocre form. Still being used both as a spot-starter and in relief, Tug went 2-9 with a 5.52 ERA.

In 1967, he made 4 starts, going 0-3 with an embarrassing 7.79. Despite the Mets being an awful club and well on their way to another 100-loss season, even Tug couldn’t find a spot on the staff. He spent much of ’67 and all of 1968 in the minors. His career was on life support, his dream of being a big league pitcher hanging by a thread.

Early in 1969, Jerry Koosman got hurt. Manager Gil Hodges gave Tug a chance and put him in Kooz’s spot. This was Tug’s big opportunity. He could now prove to himself, a doubtful fan base and his manager that he deserved to be here.

Tug failed. He went 1-1 but his ERA was well over 5.00.

When Koosman returned from the DL, Tug was banished to the pen. He found his home.

Tug pitched exceptionally well, going 9-3, posted a career best to that point 2.24 ERA and fanned 92 batters in 100 IP.

However, he was erratic, streaky. And when the Amazins’ found themselves in the post-season for the first time ever, Hodges knew what was at stake. McGraw was too inconsistent to be trusted. He pitched just once, a game 2 slugfest, where he went 3 innings, allowing just 1 hit and 0 ER. He did not pitch again that October.

Tug would later say that 1969 was the turning point in his career. Although he had no impact on the post-season, he felt motivated by what the team did. “We were Goddamned Amazin!”

Quicker than a Nolan Ryan fastball and mastering his signature pitch, the Screwball, Tug became one of the premier closers in the league. He was respected by opponents, valued by teammates and adored by fans. He became arguably the most loved player ever to wear a Mets jersey. Tom Seaver was ‘The Franchise,’ the guy you’d enjoy sitting down and discussing Baseball with. But Tug was the guy you’d want to hang out with.

When he pitched in a game, Tug threw left-handed. However, when he loosened up in the bullpen prior to the game or played catch in the outfield with teammates, he threw right-handed. Fans frequently wondered who was that guy wearing Tug’s jersey.

The game was different back then. Closers didn’t come in to face just one batter. They earned the save. They stayed on the mound. No one cared about pitch counts. In 1970, Tug appeared in 57 games while tossing 90+ innings. He went 4-6 with a 3.28.

The following year, he went 11-4 with a 1.70 ERA, threw 111 innings in 51 games and recorded 109 K’s. Tug continued his dominance in 1972. He went 8-6, again posted a 1.70 ERA and set a team record of 27 saves, a mark that would stand until Jesse Orosco broke it in 1984. ’72 saw Tug picked for his first All-Star Game. In 2 innings of work he fanned 4 batters—Reggie Jackson, Norm Cash, Bobby Grich and Carlton Fisk—and picked up the win.

Tug McGraw had merited his spot amongst the greats of the day. And now, it was 1973.

Shockingly, once again, the Mets closer was erratic, unreliable and inconsistent. He found himself reduced to co-closer with Harry Parker.

On August 30, Tom Seaver suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in 10 innings to STL. The Mets fell into last place and were 61-71. And although they were just 6 ½ GB, they’d need to leapfrog 5 other clubs.

M. Donald Grant held a closed door meeting with the players.

He endeavored to motivate the team that’d been playing run-of-the-mill ball most of the year. Not much heart. He said they needed to believe in themselves, believe in each other and believe in their abilities.

Of all people to echo Grant’s generic speech Tug seemed the least likely. After all, he was 1-6 with an ERA north of 5. If anyone should sit there and keep his mouth shut, it was McGraw.

But not Tug. He began jumping around exuberantly, shouting and screaming, “Ya Gotta Believe! Ya Gotta Believe!” Some teammates chuckled, others rolled their eyes. Grant was offended and felt McGraw was mocking him. It was Tug being Tug.

Most likely no one really did believe. Perhaps Tug didn’t either.

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The very next day, August 31, the Mets won a thriller over STL in extra innings and rose out of the cellar. Winning pitcher? Tug McGraw.

It was one of those strange pennant races that seemingly no one wanted to win. As the Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Cubs and Expos beat up on each other, the Mets beat up on everyone. Slowly but surely, the players started to believe. Fans started to believe. The Mets went 19-8 in September, Tug went 3-0 with a 0.57 ERA and recorded 10 saves in a month.

Number 45 took us on one hell of a ride.

Tug’s dominance continued into October. In the LCS he tossed 5 innings, scattering just 4 hits and allowing no runs. In the World Series against the A’s, he pitched in 5 of the 7 games, fanning 14 in 13 2/3 IP. It was Tug who picked up the win in crucial Game 2, a 12-inning affair that brought the Series back to NY deadlocked 1-1.

It was not to be. Despite falling short of another miracle, 1973 remains a true testament to the Mets will, drive and to believing.

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The following year, the defending NL Champion Mets struggled all season. They hobbled across the finish line going 71-91. Tug also struggled, going 6-11 with a 4.16 ERA.

If you were a fan in the 70’s, you remember–vividly and painfully–the tortuously slow disassembling of the club piece by piece. Seaver, Koosman, Jon Matlack, Rusty Staub, Cleon Jones, Buddy Harrelson, Jerry Grote, John Milner. All sent away.

But it was number 45 who was the first to go.

On December 3, 1974, Tug, along with outfielders Don Hahn and Dave Schneck, were traded to division rival Philadelphia in exchange for Del Unser, John Stearns and Mac Scarce. However, the trade was nearly voided.

The Phillies accused the Mets of sending ‘damaged goods.’ New York had been tightlipped about McGraw’s shoulder problems during the ‘74 season. The Phillies quickly discovered the arm issue was a due to a simple cyst. The cyst was removed and the trade went through. The Mets believed that at 30 years-old McGraw’s career was probably over.

He’d pitch another ten years.

Stats show that Tug actually put up better numbers in Philly than NY. They, too, grew to love their new closer and for the last half of the decade, as the Phillies appeared in numerous post-seasons while the Mets floundered and flirted with 100-losses annually, Tug established himself as one of the best of his era.

In 1980, Tug saved 20 games and cemented the Phillies first Championship in history. Before a sold-out Veterans Stadium, he whiffed Willie Wilson for the final out of Game 6, did a quick dance on the mound like Rocky and was hugged by teammates like a conquering hero returning home.

Tug turned 40 in 1982 and although putting up respectable numbers, found himself in a set-up role for closers Ron Reed and Ed Farmer. It was time for Tug to step aside and let the national pastime move on without him.

Tug remained in Philadelphia as a sports reporter for WPVI through much of the 1980’s and ’90’s. In addition to sharing his knowledge with young prospects and penning several books during his career, he wrote a syndicated comic strip entitled “Scroogie.” Scroogie was a screwball pitcher who pitched for a team named The Pets. The Pets star pitcher was a refined guy named Royce Rawls (a clear-cut tribute to Tug’s former teammate Tom Seaver,) The Pets broadcaster, Herb, wore loud multi-colored sports jackets, a homage to Lindsey Nelson.

It was while working as a special instructor to the Phillies during Spring Training in 2003 when Tug realized something wasn’t right. He’d been getting headaches, forgetting names of players he worked with daily. Occasionally he’d arrive at the ballpark at the wrong time. Sometimes he showed up and the stadium was empty, having forgotten the Phillies were across the state playing elsewhere. A trip to a doctor, then an oncologist and a battery of tests revealed that Frank Edwin McGraw had a brain tumor.

He was operated on and the outcome was labeled a “success.” Chances of full recovery were “excellent” and Tug, we were told, should “live a long time.”

However, the tumor was not excised completely. It metastasized and returned to a part of the brain that was inoperable.

Tug McGraw was dying.

His final public appearance came on September 28, 2003. It was the last game ever played at Veteran’s Stadium and before a sold-out crowd, Tug stood on the mound and recreated fanning Willie Wilson for the final out of the 1980 World Series.

A little over three months later, January 5, 2004, Tug McGraw passed away. He was 59.

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“Tug was one of the greatest characters in the game,” former teammate, friend and roommate Tom Seaver said. “But what people overlook was what kind of competitor he was on the mound. No one competed with more intensity than he did.”

Mike Schmidt said, “His passing is hard to take because his presence meant so much to people around him.”

Battery mate and close friend, Bob Boone, the first man to embrace Tug after that strikeout in 1980, stated, “He got more living out of his 59 years than anybody.”

Tug left behind 4 children and 2 step-sons. In 1966, he had, according to him, “a one night stand” with a woman named Betty D’Agostino. A son, Tim, arrived. But Tug didn’t accept the child as his own until Tim turned 17. Tug McGraw died in the Nashville home of his son. Both Tim and his wife, Faith Hill, were with him at the end.

Almost five years later, 2008, with Veterans Stadium gone, Tim McGraw walked to the pitching rubber at Citizens Bank Park prior to Game 3 of the World Series. He knelt down and spread some of his father’s ashes across the mound. Two days later, the Phillies won their second Championship.

Congratulations to Tug McGraw who joins Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, Keith Hernandez, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden, Cleon Jones and David Wright in our Metsmerized Hall of Fame.

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Book Review: “The Closer” by Mariano Rivera http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/book-review-the-closer-by-mariano-rivera.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/book-review-the-closer-by-mariano-rivera.html/#comments Sat, 27 Feb 2016 03:54:42 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=206892 mickey_mantle_JAY_62-846x974

I’m not sure if it occurs in the first, second or third trimester. But some time while we’re in the womb, all Mets fans—actually all New Yorkers who are fans of NL Baseball—receive the gene that makes us hate the Yankees.

However, maybe once every generation, a player dons the pinstripes who we hate…but who we also kinda love.

My grandfather grew up in The Bronx but bled Dodger blue. He hated the Bronx Bombers–Except when it came to Joe DiMaggio. Ya just had to love The Yankee Clipper.

My dad was born in The Bronx and like his father, grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. Like his dad, he also bled Dodger blue.

I, too, spent the first several years of my life close to The House That Ruth Built. I fell in love with Baseball in the early 70’s. As I studied the game’s glorious history and read about the three great center fielders who all played in NY during the 1950’s, I asked my father one day, “Dad, was Mickey Mantle better than Duke Snider?” He smirked. “Oh, please. Mickey couldn’t carry the Duke’s jock strap.” (I then asked my dad what a jock strap was.) But I could tell my dad was embellishing. The Duke was his favorite player as a young boy but…Mickey? Well, he was The Mick.

In the late 70s’, I watched the Mets struggling to avoid 100 losses while Reggie Jackson’s legend grew to mythical proportions. I hated Mr. October…but yea, ya kinda had to love the guy.

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DiMaggio, Mickey, Reggie. Then came guys like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Yes, they were Yankees. Yes, they were good. And yes, we hated them. But at the same time, we kinda loved ‘em. We respected their ability.

Anytime we read a biography or autobiography, we hope to learn something about the individual. Get a feel for them. Get a sense that we know them. I recently read “The Closer” by Mariano Rivera, co-authored by Wayne Coffey. Sadly, after 265 pages, I knew nothing more about Mo than when I started. The book was a major letdown.

The first 65 pages or so were powerful, moving, and touching. Extremely personal as Mariano opened his heart and went into great detail. Born in Panama City, Panama, he grew up in Puerto Caimito, a small fishing village. He, his parents and three siblings lived in a 2-room cement house at the end of a dirt road. No electricity. No running water. They used an outhouse.

It’s hard to imagine that Baseball’s All-Time Saves leader and the greatest closer in post-season history, the fella who was always calm, cool and collected on the mound, was a bad kid. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade. His father, an alcoholic, abused him physically and verbally. He was nearly killed twice, once out at sea on his father’s fishing boat and a second time when a classmate chased him with a machete. Mariano Rivera, the guy who recorded 1,173 strikeouts in 1,283 IP, posted a career ERA of 2.21, a 13 time All-Star who holds the post-season record for saves (42) and lowest post-season ERA (0.70) hated math and didn’t have a head for numbers.

He expressed his feelings about being a young prospect in the Yankees system and living in a country where he didn’t speak the native language. The scene in which he described his initial tryout was extremely stirring.

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When he made the Yankees, his life changed. When he made the Yankees, the book changed, too.

Suddenly, by about page 65, the personal touch was gone. The book went from being an autobiography to a biography. It appeared written not by a guy who pitched for the Yankees for 19 years and won 5 championships but rather by an outsider, an observer.

Each chapter was a different season. However, it read not like a first-hand account, but rather like the Wikipedia page for the 1997 Yankees, 1998 Yankees, 1999 Yankees, and so on. Remote and detached.

Each chapter/season read like bullet-points without any emotion:

“We started the season 8-3, then slumped in late April. We had a good May and early June, then hit a rough spot in late June. At the All-Star Break, we were 48-39, 2 games behind Boston. I had 21 saves and a 1.97 ERA. After the break, we went to the west coast and won 5 out of 8. But then we lost 4 of our next 6 against Detroit and Chicago.”

That’s not exact but you get the gist. The post-seasons were written with the same isolated, disconnected style.

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If you’re a Yankees or Mets fan, the 2000 World Series was special. It was the first subway series since 1956. It was the first time many of us experienced that. The city was spirted, energetic and alive. Yet, in “The Closer,” Mariano gave no more pages to defeating the crosstown Mets as he did to defeating the San Diego Padres.

Mariano spent his entire career in The Bronx. For many years he had the same teammates. However, he shares not one personal story, not one anecdote. I found that very peculiar. I wasn’t looking for a tell-all book, no juicy gossip. But he never allowed the reader an inside look at the Yankees on a personal level. He never shared a narrative about going to dinner with Derek Jeter. Maybe something funny Tino Martinez said during batting practice. Perhaps a story about shagging fly balls with Bernie Williams. Nope, nothing. Toward the end of the book, Mariano expresses his sadness when hearing his best friend, Jorge Posada, was retiring. Whoa, what? For 250 pages Mariano made no mention of having anything to do with Posada other than him being his catcher. The reader has no idea they are friends. Did they go to dinner often? Did their wives hang out? Did their kids play together? Who knows? We were never told anything about their friendship until they were going separate ways.

Joe Torre was manager for most of Mariano’s time in the Bronx. Yet, we’re told of only two conversations between them, both very short, both just one page. Longtime pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre is mentioned only once. George Steinbrenner, love him or hate him, is arguably the most charismatic, most controversial owner of the last half century. Yet, by reading this book, it seems like the owner and his legendary closer were virtual strangers. We’re told of one brief conversation during the 2000 World Series that lasted three paragraphs. That’s it.

“The Closer” is also, in my opinion, over-the-top in political correctness. Mo pitched from 1995 through 2013, the height of the steroid era. Yet, he never really discussed his thoughts other than basically saying, “Cheating is bad.” He never allows us a sense of what he was feeling, what he was thinking. Mariano glosses over the infamous incident between Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza. For the most part he never shares his insight about the time when Don Zimmer charged the mound and was brushed aside by Pedro Martinez.

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What was it like when he passed Trevor Hoffman as All-Time Saves Leader? What did it feel like to walk through the bullpen gate to “Enter Sandman”? What goes through your head when you’re on the mound for the final out after winning a World Series? On the flip side, what did it feel like when Luis Gonzalez came through in Game 7? Perhaps strangest of all was that when Boston became the first team to come back from down 0-3 and shock the Yankees, this historic comeback was completely omitted from “The Closer.”

One final thing—and I’m going to tread lightly here—is the religious aspect of the book. I was unaware of the degree faith played in Mariano’s life. That was eye-opening to me. But, at times, it felt like I was, no pun intended, being preached to.

Approximately every 8-12 pages, the story comes to a halt so Mariano can explain what role his faith played in regards to a particular event: injuries, the cut-fastball, an altercation with an irate fan. Everything that happened in his life is part of a Master Plan. If something good happened to Mariano, he is blessed. If something bad happened, it was the Lord’s way of teaching him a lesson in humility. I applaud the man’s faith, but if you choose to read this, keep that in mind. I found “The Closer” not so much a book about a ballplayer who was very religious, but rather a very religious man who just happened to be a ballplayer.

I’ve read numerous books about Baseball and baseball players. This one, to me, was very weak and disappointing. If you want to read a good book about Baseball, I suggest any of the following:

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Out of my League by Dirk Hayhurst

Doc: A Memoir by Dwight Gooden

Pedro by Pedro Martinez

The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman

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Remembering Gary Carter… http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/remembering-gary-carter.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/remembering-gary-carter.html/#comments Wed, 17 Feb 2016 03:46:33 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=206328 gary carter

Remembering Gary Carter on the four year anniversary of his death. He was a great baseball player, a tremendous family man, and the best friend anyone could ever have. Most of all, he will always be remembered as The Kid to all who knew him because of his passion and enthusiasm for life and for baseball. We miss you, Gary…

Keith Hernandez flied out to center for the second out of the inning. A tomb-like silence fell over Shea. Fans stared in disbelief. The 108 regular season wins plus six more in the post-season meant nothing. Vin Scully announced Marty Barrett was chosen player of the game.

And then…Number 8 stepped to the plate.

In a career that spanned nearly 2,300 games and 8,000 at-bats over 19 seasons, there are many memorable moments. However, the defining moment of his hall-of-fame career, what typified Gary Carter, was something that happened OFF the field.

“The Mets are still alive,” said Scully as Carter lined a 2-1 offering into left.

In Spring Training 1974, Expos teammates Ken Singleton and Mike Jorgensen chided the exuberant rookie. 19 year old Gary Carter was trying to win every sprint, hit every pitch over the wall. His childlike enthusiasm for the game prompted them to call him ‘The Kid.’

As a late September call-up, “The Kid” made his major league debut. He caught the back end of a double header against the defending NL Champion Mets. He went 0-for-4.

Baseball is and always will be a game of stats. But sometimes even that, no matter how impressive they may be, do not accurately measure the impact of a player. Sure, Gary was an 11 time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, two-time MVP of the All-Star Game and winner of 3 Gold Gloves. He hit 324 career home runs and batted in 1225. But that did not define him.

“And the Mets refuse to go quietly,” said Vin Scully, after Kevin Mitchell singled and Carter moved to second.

The road to the Championship began in 1983. In May, the Mets brought up highly touted rookie Darryl Strawberry. Just weeks later, Frank Cashen sent Neil Allen to STL in exchange for former MVP and proven winner Keith Hernandez. 1984 saw the debut of rookie phenom Doc Gooden. But still, something was missing. The crème de la crème came in December 84 when Gary Carter joined the Mets. “He was the final piece of the puzzle,” explained Keith.

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On April 9, 1985, one day after his 31st birthday, Gary made his debut with the Mets. He hit a solo HR in the 10th off of Neil Allen to give the Mets a 6-5 Opening Day victory. With that blast, Gary won the hearts of Mets fans everywhere. But that moment did not define him.

Gary had an infectious smile. He was the media darling, always willing and ready to give an interview or answer a question. Some referred to him in a derogatory way, calling him ‘Camera Carter,’ accusing him of being the ultimate self-promoter. Gary was not that. He was, however, the consummate professional.

During his tenure with the Mets there were plenty of fist raising curtain calls. Even when he struck out, he’d walk back to the dugout, looking down, shaking his head twice, disappointed with himself but most likely already planning how to adjust in his next at-bat. But the curtain calls and raised fists did not define him.

Let’s be honest. That 1986 team were not exactly boy scouts. They were a bunch of brawling, boozing, hell raisers. Gary, however, was a boy scout. Hell, he even did a commercial for Ivory Soap! But yet, in spite of the fact that Gary may not have fit in with the recklessness of Keith, Darling, Ojeda, Knight, and Darryl, he was still loved by the fans and respected by his teammates. (anyone remember Gregg Jefferies?). However, this was not Gary’s defining trait.

A quarter of a century has now passed since that fateful Game 6 but yet we all remember it like it was yesterday. It was our beloved number 8 who started not only the greatest rally in Mets history, but quite possibly the most amazin’ comeback ever in a World Series.

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In the top of the 7th, Boston took a 3-2 lead and was threatening for more. Rich Gedman singled through the left side and Jim Rice rounded third base. Mookie Wilson fired a rocket to the plate and Carter executed a perfect tag on Rice to keep the Mets within one. Had Carter not made the tag things would be very different. In the 8th, it was Gary’s Sac Fly that tied the game at 3-3. But these were not his defining moments either.

This, however, did define Gary. When Ray Knight singled, Carter raced home, bringing the Mets to within a run . He stepped on the plate, defiantly pointed at on deck batter Mookie Wilson. As Gary entered the dugout, he high fived several players, took a breather. And what did he do then? He looked around for his catching gear!

The Mets were trailing 5-4, two outs bottom of the 10th. But yet, in spite of being behind, Gary was preparing to come out for the 11th inning. The entire 86 season, the entire never-say-die attitude of that ’86 club, was captured right then and there. What must Boston have thought when they saw that? That one simple act, something Gary did while not even on the field, not only summed up the Mets attitude that year, but more importantly the eagerness of The Kid. He still wanted to play more baseball.

Mookie Wilson said, “Gary was one of the happiest guys in the world.” “I relied on Gary for everything when I was on the mound,” stated Doc Gooden. “He was a warrior on the field.” Battery mate Ron Darling said, “Gary was everything you wanted in a sports hero; great talent, great competitor, great family man and a great friend.”

However, it was Gary’s manager, Davey Johnson, who perhaps summed it up best. “I loved him very much.” We all did, Davey. And always will. Gary may have only worn the blue and orange for only five seasons, but his memories will last a lifetime.

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Greed is Good… Except If You’re A Baseball Fan http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/greed-is-good-except-if-youre-a-baseball-fan.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/greed-is-good-except-if-youre-a-baseball-fan.html/#comments Sun, 31 Jan 2016 14:25:47 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=205417 wall-street-douglas

If you’re Gordon Gekko greed is good.

If you’re Bernie Sanders greed is bad.

If you’re a baseball fan you wonder if MLB’s greed has a direct impact on winning the World Series.

Although none of us like to admit it Baseball is a business. But what happens when the desire to make a buck intrudes on the integrity of the game we all cherish? Case in point: The post-season.

I applaud MLB’s effort to prolong fan interest by adding first one wildcard, then a second. Stadiums that would be barren much of September are now filled as spectators cheer their team into a post-season berth. But as a longtime fan I feel October baseball is greatly lacking.

I became a fan in 1973 when making the playoffs meant something. It meant you were good, damn good. But that prestigious honor has lost its luster.

Casey Stengel Holding Drawing for New Baseball Uniform

The addition of the Mets and Colt 45’s in 1962 brought the total of professional teams to 20. Two 10-team leagues. No playoffs. You won your league, became league champion and played in the World Series. 20 teams, just 2 made the post-season.1 out of 10.

Baseball expanded in 1969, adding the Padres, Royals, Expos and Pilots and launched divisional play. Two divisions per league with each division winner meeting in a best-of-5 to determine league champion and earn the right to appear in the Fall Classic. 24 teams, 4 made the playoffs. 1 out of 6.

The addition of the Blue Jays and Mariners in 1977 brought the total to 26 clubs. But the powers-that-be kept the format the same. 26 teams, 4 made the playoffs. 1 out of every 6 ½.

The message was clear and this is what separated Baseball from other sports where seemingly mediocre teams faced off in the playoffs, playoffs that went on and on and on and on. To make Baseball’s post-season, you had to fight for it. Mediocrity wasn’t rewarded.

After the cancellation of the World Series, and in an attempt to return fan interest, it was decided to have three divisions and one wildcard. This was immediately after baseball expanded into Denver and Miami. A few years later, clubs were added in Phoenix and Tampa. 30 teams, 8 made the playoffs. Almost 1 out every 4 were now in the post-season.

When the second wild-card slot came along a few years back that brought the total of teams eligible to 10. 10 out of 30. 1 in every 3 teams now make it.

The 21st worst team in Baseball has now ‘earned the right’ to possibly call themselves World Champions.

Or to look at it differently, in the last 22 years MLB added 4 teams while adding 6 post-season slots.

Granted, fans hand over cash in late September they normally wouldn’t and tune in when they’d usually be watching something different. Everyone makes a buck. Everyone’s happy. But should a team who plays just average baseball for 5 ½ long months be worthy of winning it all if they get hot at the right time?

Play solid baseball for 3 weeks in early May, no one notices. Play solid baseball for 3 weeks in October, you get a trophy.

I believe the question that begs to be asked is this: By adding so many levels to the post-season, does MLB’s greed have a direct bearing on who wins it all?

Baseball’s a streaky game. Superstars like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Buster Posey or Yoenis Cespedes can get hot, put the team on their back and carry them for a couple weeks. Clayton Kershaw can turn into Sandy Koufax for a month and go 5-1 with a 0.85. We’re all familiar with the expression ‘You can’t turn it on and off.’ Yet that’s what MLB now expects. In the post-season, a number 3 starter, for example, can conceivably go 10 days between taking the hill.

In 2010, the Rangers were clicking on all cylinders and defeated the Yankees in the LCS. They then had to sit around 5 days waiting for the NL to finish. Texas lost the World Series in 5.

The 2012 ALCS saw the hot-hitting Tigers crush the Yankees in 4 straight. They now waited 6 long days before facing the NL Champions. It was then Detroit who got swept by the Giants.

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This past year saw the Mets stun the heavily favored Cubs, sweeping them in 4. The Mets had a 6 day layoff and when the World Series ended, the Mets lost in 5.

In the LDS, Daniel Murphy went 7-21 (.333), 810 slugging percentage with 3 HR’s and 5 RBI’s. In the LCS, Murphy stayed hot, going 9-17 (.529), slugging at 1.294 and hit 4 HR’s and knocked in 6 RBI’s in 4 games.

After almost a week layoff, Murphy went 3-20 in the World Series, (.150), a .150 slugging percentage. 0 HR’s 0 RBI’s.

When I was younger I’d make a point to watch every playoff game I could. I knew that not only was I seeing the best of the best, but also there weren’t too many games. The LCS was 3 out of 5, the Series 4 out of 7. At the most I could watch 17, just 10 if all rounds were sweeps.

With today’s format, the post-season will go, at the very least, 26 games. Perhaps as many as 43.

There’s no sense of urgency to watch a playoff game today because you can watch one tomorrow, or two or three or sometimes four tomorrow.

How many of you tuned in to non-Mets games last October? Maybe you watched an inning here and there, but did anyone watch the entire Rangers/Jays series? I’m guessing only a few.

Psychologists refer to Cognitive Dissonance as a disorder where an individual can hold two contradictory beliefs, ideas or values at the exact same moment. I’m starting to wonder if the powers-that-be atop MLB’s food chain should seek out help.

For years now, owners and commissioners have looked into ways to alter the very fabric of the national pastime and speed up the game, to make the game shorter.

Meanwhile, as they look into speeding up pace of play, they continually make the season longer. Longer, and less meaningful.

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On October 16, 1969, Davey Johnson flied out to Cleon Jones and the Mets won their first championship. On October 16, 2015, the Mets were still 24 hours away from the first game of the post-season. When Johnny Podres was the winning pitcher in game 7 for Brooklyn’s one and only title the date was October 4, 1955. Sixty years later, October 4, 2015, the regular season hadn’t even ended.

The 2015 post-season continued for nearly a full month, beginning on October 6 and running through November 1st.

Nothing will change anytime soon. Everyone’s making money and everyone’s happy. But is that what’s best for the game? There’s even been some scuttlebutt that some higher-ups were kicking around the idea of adding yet a third wild-card spot. Or expanding the one game wildcard to a best of 3 series.

The pinnacle of the season is always the World Series. It’s called the Fall Classic for a reason. It’s the mountaintop, the exclamation point on an arduous 162 games. It’s a chance for the 2 best teams to be showcased and battle it out for the world to see.

But has this also become anticlimactic?

The LCS, like the World Series, is 4 out of 7. One could almost argue that the LCS is a National League and American League World Series.

I feel that the wildcard should remain one game, the LDS 2 out of 3, the LCS 3 out of 5 and the World Series – the culmination and high point – remain 4 out of 7.

“Baseball must be a great game to survive the fools who run it.”

Hall of Fame First Baseman Bill Terry

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Mike Piazza and the Return of Our National Pastime http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/mike-piazza-and-the-return-of-our-national-pastime.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/mike-piazza-and-the-return-of-our-national-pastime.html/#comments Wed, 06 Jan 2016 21:45:11 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=203697 mets braves september 21, 2001

The Mets. The Braves. Late September. This is what a pennant race is all about. It was the 148th game that season and the defending NL Champion Mets were surging. We’d cut the lead from 13 ½ to just 5 ½ and now the first place Braves were coming to town. At least, that’s what a pennant race should be about.

But on this September night there was not the usual electricity in the air that accompanies a crucial ballgame. Instead there was a sadness. A feeling of fear, uncertainty, confusion. Tears were mixed with anger. Disbelief intertwined with vulnerability. As the Mets took the field, just eight miles away, in what was becoming known as Ground Zero, rescue workers were sifting through debris and clearing away rubble through the still billowing smoke.

For the first time in our nation’s history our mainland was attacked. For the first time in our nation’s history American citizens, regular people, were targeted by a cold hearted enemy. For the first time in our nation’s history, the game of Baseball was put on hold due to terrorism.

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The Mets/Braves game on September 21, 2001 was the first sporting event that would ever be held in NY in a Post 9/11 America. From this point forward everything would be different. President Bush and others urged us to go back to our everyday life. The best way to show these gutless terrorists that a few planes could not destroy America or alter democracy was to get back to our daily routine. But how could we? Everything was different.

During the pre-game memorial, PA announcer Roger Luce exclaimed, “We now return to our National Pastime.” Easier said then done.

In spite of the Mets fighting long time rivals Atlanta in a huge series at Shea, there was a calmness in the air. Mets and Braves players exchanged hugs on the field before the game. The expression on the faces of Mets players was not one of determination to defeat Atlanta but instead, eyes were glossy, teary. Swallowing was a little harder. Diana Ross sung God Bless America before the game and Liza Minelli brought the Shea faithful to their collective feet with a powerful rendition of New York, New York. Even our mayor, avid Yankee fan Rudy Giuliani, was cheered at Shea.

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For years, going to a Mets game meant hearing planes. We fans grew so accustomed to that familiar roar the sound of the jet engines didn’t even faze us anymore. This night, however, we glanced skyward when we heard planes overhead.

The game on the field seemed almost unimportant. We all questioned our own importance, our own place in life and for the first time realized that our shores were not impenetrable. These things only happen somewhere else, in a foreign country thousands of miles away. This only happens to strangers, not to family and friends, not to New York’s finest.

In the overall scheme of things, in the big picture, with the future of our country being questioned, did it really matter who won a meaningless baseball game in Flushing? Did anyone really care if Barry Bonds would break McGwire’s HR record? Was the farewell tour of Cal Ripken jr truly that important?

For seven and half innings Shea was eerily quiet. Sure, there were a couple chants of ‘Lets Go Mets’ that broke out but clearly, New York was not ready to cheer. All of that, however, ended in the bottom of the eighth.

Trailing 2-1 and with pinch runner Desi Relaford on first, Mike Piazza stepped to the plate.

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Piazza hammered an 0-1 offering from Steve Karsay into the night. A monstrous blast that reached the camera platform beyond the wall in straight away center field. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this stuff. Like Roy Hobbs, Piazza circled the bases. The only thing missing was the fireworks from the blown out light tower.

The Mets won 3-2 and cut the Braves lead to 4 ½. But the game meant more then that.

Americans had been urged to return to their every day life. It seemed a daunting task—until Piazza hit that shot. Cheers were heard in New York for the first time in over a week. Joyous screams filled the air from Flushing to downtown Manhattan. Things would now return to normal—slowly, but at least the days of darkness were ending. There was a light on the horizon. Once again, Barry Bonds’ HR chase DID matter. Cal Ripken’s farewell DID mean something.

But more important, the simple fact that a guy hit a baseball 400+ feet signified that New York was back. Baseball was back. And yes, America was on its way back.

shea stadium post 9-11 game

Although one can argue there’s never been a bigger Home Run in team history, Piazza’s blast reached far beyond the box score of one game. It carried with it a significance that extended beyond Shea. It meant something, not just to a team, but to an entire city. An entire city now began to heal. And Mike Piazza gave us the medicine we needed.

In lower Manhattan rescue workers worked feverishly to clear the rubble of what had once been the most significant part of our world famous skyline. The symbols of American capitalism and the most symbolic office buildings in our city had been destroyed. Two buildings, 110 stories each that reached to the heavens, now lay in a smoldering pile of twisted metal and broken glass and within it, almost 3000 Americans.

A few miles to the north of where the WTC once stood another monument of a different kind also once stood. This one was called The Polo Grounds. Just 12 days after Piazza brought a city back from its knees, October 3, 2001 marked the 50 year anniversary of Bobby Thomson’s famous HR that handed the pennant to the NY Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Unlike Thomson the hit by Piazza did not clinch the pennant and send a team to the World Series. However, in the same tradition of Thomson, Piazza’s HR carried great meaning, both on and off the field. In more ways then one, it was yet another ‘Shot Heard ‘Round The World.’

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Staying On Top Is More Difficult Than Getting There http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/staying-on-top-is-more-difficult-than-getting-there.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/staying-on-top-is-more-difficult-than-getting-there.html/#comments Wed, 06 Jan 2016 18:22:52 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=203496 jesse-orosco-winning-1986-world-series

When Jesse Orosco fanned Marty Barrett my dad and I instantaneously flew off the couch. This wasn’t the man who taught me how to ride a bike, how to drive a car and (tried to) teach me math. There wasn’t 23 years between us. Instead, at this frozen moment in time we were both two little kids, jumping up and down, relishing the fact our team was World Champions. I was too young to remember 1969 and after losing my dad nearly five years ago, this would be the only championship we’d share as father and son.

After my mom turned in he and I reminisced until sunup about the season that just concluded. We drank coffee, my dad smoked. And although I was a college senior and a few weeks shy of turning 21, I was still too embarrassed to light up around him. My smoking—of all kinds—remained on campus. My dad commented, “Now, we (the Mets) have to go home, rest up all winter and prepare for next year. We’re champions and everyone’s going to be coming after us.”

Wow! My dad seemed almost Yoda-like. Wise, knowledgeable. After all, he was the ripe old age of 44.

Today the Mets are not World Champions but NL Champions. And in 2016, 14 other clubs will once again be coming after us. Are we ready?

One thing that makes Baseball the greatest game ever devised is that it remains the most unpredictable sport there is. I, my fellow MMO bloggers, the best Baseball minds, the nation’s top sportswriters and the most ardent fans spend all winter theorizing, hypothesizing and conjecturing. Then comes the first pitch on Opening Day and it all goes out the window.

Coming into 2015, who would have imagined a player that had largely floundered for much of his career in Baltimore, Jake Arrieta, would emerge Cy Young Winner? Or that some guy named Dallas Kuechel would win only one less game than Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander combined?

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While many expected the Mets to be competitive and possibly reach 500, who expected a NL pennant? In 1969, the Mets were 100-1 underdogs. On the flipside, in 1985 and 2007 they were picked to win it all. That’s what makes this a beautiful game.

To digress for a moment I now apologize to Sandy Alderson. Almost from day one I’ve been extremely and perhaps unfairly harsh to the Mets GM. I preferred the approach of his predecessor. Big names, big bucks. I falsely blamed Alderson for the last several seasons of futility. After winning the pennant, I realized he can only do so much with what he is given. Blaming Alderson for several season of sub-500 baseball is like me blaming my boss for the fact I drive a Toyota and not a Lamborghini.

It is on his watch the Mets have developed a starting staff that is the envy of 29 other clubs. As good as Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard were in 2015, they will only get better. These young pitchers not only survived their first pennant race and post-season. They thrived. They excelled. Performing on Baseball’s biggest stage did not rattle the nerves of our young inexperienced staff.

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I’ve often said pitching allows you to compete, but pitching, in and of itself, does not win. From 1969 through 1976, the Mets had arguably the best 3-man rotation in the game. Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman teamed first with Nolan Ryan and then later Jon Matlack. Add Tug McGraw in the pen and it’s easy to see why for 8 years the Mets were always in the thick of things, always in a pennant race and always had a legitimate shot. Yet, during that 8 year span, despite the stellar staff, we captured just two pennants and one Championship. Good, not great. Not exactly a dynasty.

The Mets Achilles Heel in 2015 was offense. They say good hitting is contagious. On July 30, the Mets were 52-50, 3 GB of Washington. Then, Yoenis Cespedes arrived. The Mets caught fire, went 38-22 and left Washington in the dust.

Cespedes didn’t don a Mets jersey until July 31, yet finished 5th on the team in RBI’s (44), 3rd in HR’s (17) 2nd in BA (287) and 1st in slugging (604.) And when Cespedes cooled in the post-season, it was Daniel Murphy who put the team on his back and almost single-handedly carried them to the Promised Land. The Mets homegrown second baseman became the first player in history to go deep in six consecutive post-season games and joined Lou Gehrig as the only player ever to have a hit, run scored and RBI in seven straight post-season games.

This winter Mets ownership made a token effort to retain the two biggest offensive weapons a team with very little offense possesses in the first place.

In all fairness to the owners, I can understand their reluctance to open their wallets. After all, they forked over almost half a billion dollars—billion with a “B”—to Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Billy Wagner, Johan Santana, Jason Bay and Francisco Rodriguez and came away with just one post-season appearance. Not exactly a Bernie Madoff return on your investment.

The Mets are now on the cusp of becoming the dominant team in the game for the next 6-8 years, maybe longer. But money will need to be spent. Not for the sake of spending, but spent wisely. If ownership is reluctant to spend big bucks now, what does this say when it comes to retaining the pitchers we have? Are the Wilpons simply avoiding spending now and saving up for big contracts coming down the road? Or are we seeing a glimpse into the future?

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My concern is that when a team gets oh-so-close, when they get a taste of October Baseball, they ratchet it up. The 2014 Royals returned to the World Series for the first time in almost three decades. They came within one hit of winning it all. That winter they resigned Eric Hosmer, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and added Alex Rios. And we all saw what happened in 2015. The Giants, after winning 3 times in 5 seasons, fell short in 2015. This winter they spent $210 million for Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and now have the best staff in their division. Last off-season, after handing over $88 million to Hanley Ramirez and $100 million to Pablo Sandoval, Boston went out and finished last. Yet, they didn’t become gun-shy. This winter they signed David Price for $217 million.

And while Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera are nice additions and Michael Conforto can be a major asset, do you feel that, as of now, the Mets are better or weaker than the team we had on August 15? I’m not saying ownership should spend just for the sake of spending, and yes, I know we can trade a half dozen prospects next trade deadline. I am saying, however, that money will need to be spent eventually. As the saying goes, you can pay me now or pay me later. What kind of signal does this send to our young aces? If management is hesitant to reward Cespedes and Murphy for their accomplishments, will our pitchers be rewarded for theirs? And with anemic hitting and lack of run support, will our big three—and Matz–wind up as nothing more than a bunch of .500 pitchers? In time, the agents for our young stud pitchers will come calling? And when they do, will ownership pick up the phone?

The only thing more difficult than getting to the top is staying there.

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Commissioner Manfred Needs to Lift the Ban, But Not on Pete Rose http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/12/commissioner-manfred-needs-to-lift-the-ban-but-not-on-pete-rose.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/12/commissioner-manfred-needs-to-lift-the-ban-but-not-on-pete-rose.html/#comments Sun, 20 Dec 2015 13:00:32 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=202803 He was arguably the greatest natural hitter of his generation. He was idolized by hometown fans and feared by those he competed against. He was the one guy opposing pitchers vowed not to be beaten by. His batting stance was copied in ball fields and backyards across the country. He was a World Series champion. He even had a cool nickname.

Am I talking about Charlie Hustle or Shoeless Joe?

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On Sept 11, 1985, Pete Rose became Baseball’s all-time hit leader, shattering a record many experts believed would stand forever. By the time he retired he was first in hits, singles, games played, AB and had appeared in 17 All-Star Games. But despite being perhaps the greatest hitter to walk onto a diamond Pete Rose is not in the Hall of Fame.

Days ago, in the face of growing support to have Rose’s lifetime ban lifted, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred upheld the 1989 decision in the Dowd Report. Manfred stated Rose was “misleading” in a recent meeting.

“Rose initially denied betting on baseball currently and only later in the interview did he ‘clarify’ his response to admit such betting,” Manfred wrote in his decision.

I applaud the Commissioner’s verdict to not be swayed. In the face of growing pressure, Manfred put the integrity of the National Pastime first.

In 1989, Rose agreed to a permanent inclusion on Baseball’s Ineligibility List, claiming there is “a factual reason for the ban.” In 2010, at a function attended by several former teammates, the hard-edged Rose openly wept, acknowledging he had “disrespected baseball” and promised to never do it again.

In 2004, he confessed to gambling on baseball. Attorney John Dowd who’d been retained by Commissioner Bart Giamatti revealed that Rose bet anywhere from $2000 to $10000 per game from 1985 through 1987 while managing Cincinnati. In ‘87 alone he bet on nearly one-third of all Reds games, games that as manager he had a direct impact on. Although Rose maintained he only bet on his team, never against them, there is no discrepancy in Rule 21 section D:

Any player, umpire, or club, or league official, or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

Men enshrined in Cooperstown’s hallowed halls are there for what they did on the field, not off the field. The Hall of Fame includes racists, bigots, anti-Semites. If character was a judge of baseball brilliance there’d be plenty more wall space.

Granted, we are a forgiving society. But Baseball has always governed itself. And Pete Rose broke those rules.

Like Reggie Jackson or Pedro Martinez or Bryce Harper, Rose was one of those guys you loved to hate. Still, for us fans who witnessed the legends’ fall from grace in 1989, it was damn heartbreaking. Twenty five years ago the thought of Rose even being considered for eligibility was inconceivable, especially when you recall Commissioner Giamatti died only eight days after handing down his decision.

If Rose was to be enshrined does this open the door for more rule breakers to receive the same honor? A generation from now, as time passes, will the public be clamoring for others to be immortalized? Will people look back on the 90’s and laugh at the overreaction to steroids?

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How would you feel bringing your children or grandchildren to Cooperstown one day and seeing Roger Clemens’ plaque alongside Tom Seaver’s? Or seeing Alex Rodriguez a few feet from Ralph Kiner? Would you be able to explain why Rafael Palmeiro is enshrined and Gil Hodges is not?

The tide is turning. More than 60% now feel Rose’s ban should be lifted. He worked as an analyst during the post-season on FOX and was granted permission to participate in All-Star Game activities this past year in Cincinnati.

Personally, I’m against Rose being respected alongside iconic heroes like Mickey Mantle and Cal Ripken and Willie Mays. However, if Rose is one day included in this elite brotherhood I feel that another player must be enshrined first.

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Rose was found guilty of betting on Baseball for at least three full seasons. Joe Jackson was accused of accepting bribe money for 8 games and subsequently banned for life.

Life. He died more than 60 years ago.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox were one of the greatest teams in baseball’s young history and were expected to crush the NL Champion Reds. As we all know The Black Sox lost 5 games to 3.  Eight players were in on the fix. However, unlike Rose, who admitted his guilt in gambling, Jackson’s involvement is cloudier.

His .375 BA in the Fall Classic was the highest of any player on either team. He hit the Series’ only home run. He handled 30 chances in the OF without incident or making an “error.” He threw to the correct cut-off man every time. The film Eight Men Out argued the point that Jackson, who was illiterate, did not comprehend what he was getting involved in, going so far as to argue he only consented after teammate Swede Risberg threatened Jackson’s family.

Jackson himself asserted that on two occasions he refused to accept the $5,000 bribe, despite the fact it was more than double his annual salary. Teammate Lefty Williams, who was in on the fix, flung the cash onto Jackson’s bed in a hotel room and walked out just prior to the first pitch of Game One. Shoeless Joe tried to contact Sox owner Charlie Comiskey to advise him what was going down. Comiskey refused to speak with his star player.

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It seems unlikely that Jackson, who rivaled Ty Cobb in prominence, would tarnish his own legacy. This was a man who averaged an unheard of 397 over his first three seasons in the majors. By Game One of the 1919 World Series he was just 32 years old and had averaged 331 over his previous 3 seasons. Unlike co-conspirator Chick Gandil this was not an aging player with diminishing talent in the twilight of his career. Jackson’s lifetime BA of 356 is third best in history, behind only Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.

The eight men in question were acquitted of any wrongdoing. Yet, Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis overruled the courts and banned the players for life.

Years later, the seven men out disclosed Jackson was never present in a single meeting with gambler Arnold Rothstein. In 1951, Jackson had agreed to “finally set the record straight” in an exclusive interview. Sadly, as arrangements for the tell-all were being ironed out, Shoeless Joe died of a heart attack. He was just 61.

If Rose, who admitted his mistake, is granted access to the game’s Holy Land, then shouldn’t Joe Jackson, whose guilt is questionable, be honored first?

In 1920 eight men were forever excoriated with fixing the World Series. Commissioner Landis wrote the following:

Regardless of the verdict of juries…no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will never play professional baseball.

If Landis’s statement was good enough for Shoeless Joe, isn’t it good enough for Charlie Hustle?

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A Most Crucial Off-Season for the Mets Begins Today http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/11/a-most-crucial-off-season-for-the-mets-begins-today.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/11/a-most-crucial-off-season-for-the-mets-begins-today.html/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 15:00:19 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=199549 CASEY-STYLE FAREWELL

Over their first seven years the New York Metropolitans had not exactly set the baseball world on fire. From 1962 through 1968, they compiled a record of 394-737 and finished a combined 288 ½ games back. In seven seasons, they’d finished 10th five times and 9th twice.

Coming into 1969, there was some cautious optimism. Gil Hodges, the teams fourth manager, was in his second full season and young pitchers Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman had some potential. Maybe we could finish at .500 if we were lucky. That spring, the manager of powerhouse and heavily favored Cubs, Leo Durocher, was jokingly asked by a reporter what he thought the Mets chances were to win the pennant. Durocher snickered and said, “I think we’ll put a man on the moon before that happens!”

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On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

As we all know the Mets would win 100 games that season, finish 8 games up on Durocher’s Cubs, outslug the heavy hitting Atlanta Braves and after losing the World Series opener to Baltimore, win four straight. That 69 club went 7-1 in the post-season, better than any other Mets team ever. Their four-game World Series winning streak unmatched by the teams of 73, 86, 00 and 15.

Fans were shocked what they witnessed that glorious summer. More shocking, however, was when looking back we see that 1969 was only the beginning.

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For the following 7 years, led by stellar pitching along with solid defense and timely hitting, the Mets were always in the thick of things. True, there’d only be 1 more pennant. But in the 8 year period of 1969-1976, the Mets finished over 500 every season but one, only finished lower than third one time. We were always, year in and year out, in a pennant race.

Fast-forward 30 years.

The 2006 Mets were similar in many ways to the ’86 club. They had that swagger, that confidence. We had the perfect blend of young players like David Wright and Jose Reyes intermingled with the big bats of Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran along with the fiery competitiveness of Paul Lo Duca and Pedro Martinez.

Losing the NLCS in seven games to the Cardinals was an unexpected shock. We were supposed to win. We should have won. We were the better team.

But yet, as October passed by and the days grew shorter and the weather grew colder, we told ourselves that 2006 was only the beginning. This team had the make-up to be in the hunt for the next several years. Sure, we may have been upset in 06. But 07 and 08 and 09 and 10 would be ours. We’d be back!!!

No one ever imagined at the time it would take almost a decade to get back. 2006 was supposed to be the beginning. In hindsight, it was the end. The ‘dynasty’ lasted one abbreviated post-season.

There is no doubt the Mets starting staff is the envy of Major League Baseball. These guys are good. Very good. They are young studs with blazing fastballs, a desire to win and a long career ahead of them.

Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard didn’t just show they can handle the pressure of October baseball. They seemed to thrive. They seemed to excel under the spotlight.

I became a fan in 1973 at age 7. And over that time I’ve had the pleasure—and that’s what it’s been, a pleasure—of watching, first-hand, guys like Seaver, Koosman, Gooden, Leiter and Martinez. But I can honestly state I don’t ever recall a more gutsy, more ballsy, more heart-filled post-season start than Matt Harvey in Game 5.

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To quote that well-known philosopher from Los Angeles, Axl Rose, “Where do we go now? Where do we go?”

The organization is at a crossroads. This is perhaps the most critical off-season in decades, perhaps ever. The owners and the GM have some big decisions to make.

They don’t need to shell-out big bucks. We know all too well large contracts do not mean Championships. Jason Bay anyone? Max Scherzer? How’d the 2015 Red Sox do after handing over $100 million to Pablo Sandoval? Sandy Alderson does not need to make big moves. He needs to make the right moves.

On Opening Day 2016, Daniel Murphy will most likely be elsewhere, Curtis Granderson will be 35 and David Wright a very old 33.

However, with the plethora of young arms the Mets possess, they can truly be the perennial NL powerhouse for the next 10 years.

Years from now, people will look back and see that the Royals defeated the Mets in five games. Unless they dig deep, they won’t realize how close the 2015 Series actually was. A few hits here, a few less errors there and that parade could have just as easily been in Manhattan.

MLB: World Series-Kansas City Royals at New York Mets

For much of 2015, the Mets hung close to Washington like a pesky gnat. It wasn’t until the addition of Yoenis Cespedes that the bats came alive and the Mets roared passed the Nationals. The team gelled. The defense stepped up.

In the Fall Classic, however, the things that haunted the Mets much of the season once again reared its ugly head. Poor defense, an inconsistent bullpen and anemic hitting.

As painful as it was, we learned something this October. We learned the difference between being a good team and being a Champion. Credit the Royals. They exploited our weaknesses. They ran the bases aggressively. They took advantage of every one of their 27 outs. They scraped, crawled and battled for every 90 feet of real estate on the base paths. They threw to the right base and their bullpen shut us down when they needed to. They taught us a valuable lesson.

It’s now up to the front office to take those lessons to heart and employ them as they construct the team that will hopefully get us back to the big dance next season. 2015 was fun, but we want more. We have an opportunity to create something special and something lasting. The hot stove season begins today at Boca Raton, Florida where the GM Meetings will take place. Here’s their big chance. To a memorable and productive offseason…

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Why This October Will Feel Different http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/why-this-october-will-feel-different.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/why-this-october-will-feel-different.html/#comments Sun, 04 Oct 2015 01:22:10 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=195330 bruce springsteen

Like all fathers, my dad gave me a hard time about driving too fast as well as “that crap” I listened to. And like most kids, I never listened. Except today. This particular afternoon I was in no particular hurry to get to my destination, nor was I in any frame of mind to listen to Bruce Springsteen or Van Halen. I preferred to be alone with my thoughts.

mmo feature original footerIt was spring but for the first time in almost forty years of being a Baseball fan I had as much as interest in the Mets as I did in singing along to ‘Jungleland’ or playing air guitar to ‘Unchained.’ It just didn’t matter.

I parked, and with heavy footsteps I flicked my cigarette into the ashcan and shuffled my feet inside.

The foyer was decorated to resemble a 5-star hotel. The collection of chairs and sofas in the center were occupied with sullen family members whose expressions were laced with both helplessness and hope, despair and desire for a miracle. To my right was an alcove with books. A withered, frail looking woman sat listlessly in a wheel chair, an open book perched unread in her lap, with her head down, an oxygen tank at her side. To my left the ‘front desk.’ This was no 5-star hotel. This was a care center, a convalescent facility or whatever the 21st century euphemism was for a nursing home. Never had I imagined being here.

I made my way to the ‘front desk’ and gave my father’s name. I showed my ID, wondering why the heck someone would be here unless they needed to be. She scribbled the room number on a piece of paper for me. I proceeded through the labyrinth of corridors toward a remote corner of the facility.

The hallways were filled with an antiseptic aroma and metal carts of slop that was evidently dinner. The rhythmic beep-beep-beep of heart monitors and other medical devices wafted gingerly from rooms. I kept my head up, eyes forward. Or tried to. Scanning the room numbers to verify I was heading in the right direction, curiosity got the best of me.

My eyes scanned a room here and there. Some beds were occupied by infirmed forms, small and outwardly defenseless, emaciated souls. Other beds were empty. Somewhere I heard the steady drone of someone flat lining followed by the hurried footsteps of RN’s.

I continued on.

It was March, a time normally my dad and I–and fans everywhere—were filled with optimism about the forthcoming season. Under normal circumstances, we’d banter back and forth about the Mets. My dad would typically be laced with unbridled optimism whereas I figured we’d be lucky to finish 500.

Perhaps this year, however, things would improve. We had a new GM and a new manager. Surely, Jason Bay would bounce back, Carlos Beltran would be healthy, Jose Reyes, in the final year of his contract, would likely put up good numbers and Mike Pelfrey would improve on his 15 wins the previous year.

But at this moment, I didn’t give a damn. I wasn’t thinking of the 2011 Mets.

I also wasn’t thinking of the 1973 Mets.

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It was my first season being a fan and after my parents and I relocated from The Bronx to Queens, my time in third grade was off to a bad start. I bolted through the doors at 3pm, ran down the sidewalk darting between classmates, ran into traffic without waiting for the crossing guard and raced home as fast as my little 7 year-old legs would take me. As soon as I arrived, I fell against my mom sobbing.

My classmates—my new classmates—were picking on me, teasing me, ridiculing me for being a Mets fan. It was September 1973 and my team was in fifth place. How embarrassing! My tears eventually stopped and I asked my mom to please not tell dad I cried. After all, I’d be turning 8 soon. Only little kids cried.

Naturally, as soon as my dad got home, she told him. During dinner I denied sobbing, throwing my mom under the proverbial bus. My dad eventually got me to come clean.

He explained that even though we were fifth, “We have ‘em right where we want ‘em.” He enlightened me. Every day someone in front of us will lose. If we win, we’ll pick up ground. All we had to do was win. And keep winning. “We have Seaver, Kooz, Matlack and Tug in the pen. How many games you think we’ll lose these next three weeks? Not many.” He paused. “And what does Tug say? C’mon, what does Tug say?”

“Ya gotta believe.”

“Right, ya gotta believe,” dad repeated. “Nothing to worry about. Now, go finish your homework.”

I walked away from the kitchen feeling confident.

Out of the room now, my mom asked my dad, “You really think they’ll win?”

My dad lit up a cigarette, sipped his coffee and shook his head. “Nah, no way. They’ve got no chance. They’re too far back.”

“What’re you going to tell Rob when they lose?”

My dad shrugged. “I’ll worry it about then. But at least he feels better now.”

The Mets of course won the pennant and came within one swing of winning the World Series. And somehow, as a little kid, I wondered if my dad truly had something to do with that. After all, he said we’d win the NLE. And we did.

But this was 201l as I continued through the hallway amidst the steady din of moans and wails of declining souls.

I wasn’t thinking of 1974 when my dad secured us two seats in the press box two booths down from Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner. I wasn’t thinking of 1975 when we went to a game we weren’t supposed to, sat in a section we never did and my dad caught a foul ball, the only one he ever would in a lifetime of going to both Shea and Ebbets Field. I wasn’t thinking of 1976 when my dad consoled me, explaining that Baseball was not a game but a business and tried to get me to understand why my team would trade away my favorite player.

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It wasn’t June 15, 1977 when this 11 year-old ran out of his bedroom and told my dad I just heard on TV we traded Tom Seaver. Nor was it exactly six years later when this 17 year old drove home, two days shy of graduating high school, walked in and saw my dad beaming from ear-to-ear. “We signed Keith Hernandez!”

I wasn’t thinking of 1986. Jesse Orosco fell to his knees and my dad and I jumped to our feet, hugging and dancing around the living room like little kids. At that moment, we weren’t father and son. There wasn’t 23 years between us. And since I was too young to remember 1969, this would be the only Mets championship we got to share.

I wasn’t thinking of 1988, a day when my new wife invited her new in-laws over for dinner and my dad had to weigh between a good father-in-law or watching game 4 of the NLCS. After Mike Scioscia hit that damn HR neither my dad nor I had much of an appetite.

I wasn’t thinking of 1998 when my parents were vacationing in Hawaii and forgetting—or perhaps not caring about the time difference—picked up my cordless phone, woke my dad in the early morning to advise him we signed Mike Piazza. I wasn’t thinking of 2005 when he called me on my cell to advise me we signed Pedro Martinez.

No. This was 2011. I approached my dad’s room, all the memories—a lifetimes’ worth in what now felt like the blink of an eye—didn’t matter. I was about to enter a dreary chamber in the far corner of a nursing home where a lifetime of smoking had caught up with him. I didn’t give a damn about Seaver or Hernandez or Orosco or Piazza or any of them. I just wanted my dad better. And out of this place.

I took a deep breath, steeled myself as best I could, and crossed the threshold.

“Hey, dad!” I said with enthusiasm I didn’t feel.

He drew his eyes back from the partially closed verticals and the setting sun. He looked gaunt, tired, and defeated. He readjusted his thin gown but not before I realized how skeletal his collar bone appeared. “Hey, Rob.”

Pulling a chair over I asked, “How ya feeling?” Stupid question.

He shrugged. And then asked me something that threw me for a loop. “Did we sign anyone today?”

I was appalled, stunned, shocked. “Huh?”

“Alderson make any moves?”

I may have rolled my eyes. I may have smirked. I truly don’t recall. What I do recall was utter astonishment. My dad should’ve been fighting. He should’ve been thinking about chemo, radiation and beating this damn thing. Instead he was thinking about the Mets??? “I have no idea, dad.”

I stayed as long as I could, kissed him on the head and eventually went home. As I retraced my earlier steps, I couldn’t shake it. Why the hell—how the hell—could he be thinking about Baseball at a time like this? The end was coming and he was asking about the stupid Mets?

It didn’t hit me until weeks after I lost him.

He knew what was pending, knew it was inevitable. But yet, he was hoping, longing, yearning for just one more summer, one more chance. He was craving a sense of normalcy in his life. Like every spring starting in 1949 he was asking for one more season, one more summer, 162 more games with hopefully a few more tacked on in October.

I still have the same sofa I did in 2006 where we sat side-by-side watching the last post-season game the Mets played. When Endy Chavez made that catch my hands clasped my head like Ray Knight rounding third. I looked right. My dad was stoic until saying, “He caught that?!”

“Oh my God! Oh My God! Yes! That’s better than Agee’s or Swoboda,” I shouted in disbelief.

My dad arched an eyebrow. “Calm down.” The ’69 club always held a special place in his heart. “David Wright?” he said numerous times. “Nice kid, but he’s not The Glider.”

An hour later I managed to pull my eyes away from the TV as Carlos Beltran took that called strike. My dad kept looking straight ahead, trying to cope with 2006 ending the way it did.

In less than a week the Mets will return to the post-season. This time, however, there’s an empty space on the sofa. I won’t be looking right this October. Instead I’ll be looking up, a bittersweet smile, thinking, “Dad, you missed a hell of a year.”

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How Will The Matt Harvey Saga Ultimately Play Out? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/how-will-the-matt-harvey-saga-ultimately-play-out.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/how-will-the-matt-harvey-saga-ultimately-play-out.html/#comments Sat, 12 Sep 2015 13:45:26 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=192758 ty-cobb-sliding

Between innings Ty Cobb would sit on the bench sharpening his spikes. Then, on the base paths, he would take an extra ninety feet sliding spikes up. He once nearly choked an umpire to death before his teammates pulled him off. He beat up a fellow Tiger who shared his hotel room because the other player took a bath before Cobb.

“You don’t understand! I have to be first!” Cobb shouted as he pummeled the guy. In 1912, he climbed into the stands and battered a fan who’d been taunting him. Nearby spectators shouted at Cobb, “He’s got no hands!” Cobb screamed back, “I don’t care if he’s got no feet!” and continued the beating.

The Georgia Peach is probably the most despicable player in history. Yet, in Detroit he was beloved.

From the 1960’s through the 1980’s no player in the NL was more disliked than Pete Rose. Yet, in both Cincinnati and Philadelphia, Charlie Hustle was worshipped. Barry Bonds has become the poster boy of the Steroid era. His bulging muscles was the picture of what was wrong with Baseball for many years. Yet, in San Francisco and Pittsburgh he remains idolized.

These controversial players were hated by many fans. Yet, their hometown fans adored them.

Enter Matt Harvey, a controversial figure who has been lambasted and ridiculed by fans of the very team he pitches for. Why are Mets fans so quick to blame one of their own and to attack one of their own? Especially when they don’t even know all the facts?

And when did things change?

In Game 1 of the 1973 World Series, Felix Millan allowed a routine grounder to scoot under his glove a la Bill Buckner 13 years later. Millan’s gaffe allowed two unearned runs to score. Oakland won game one, 2-1. Millan’s error clearly cost the Mets the opener. And possibly the World Series. Had Millan made the play, the Mets conceivably would have won game one. They did win Game 2 and would have returned to New York up 2-0 with Tom Seaver on the hill.

However, no one ridiculed or chastised Millan. We loved him no matter what.

Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS saw the Mets blow a 4-2 lead when Doc Gooden gave up a 2-run homer in the ninth to Mike Scioscia. LA would win in extra innings and instead of the Mets holding a commanding 3-1 series lead, we were deadlocked. True, at the time people questioned Davey Johnson’s decision to leave Doc out there. However, no one called for Johnson’s head. No one implored GM Frank Cashen to get rid of that bum Gooden. Why? Because no matter what we loved Doc and Davey.

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Game 5 of the 2000 World Series saw Al Leiter give up two runs in the top of the ninth. In the bottom half of the frame, facing elimination, our HR leader stepped to the plate representing the tying run. Yet, when Mike Piazza flied out to end the game, the series and the year, no one called Piazza a choker. No one wanted Leiter shipped away. We loved them no matter what.

This unnamed Mets player scored 127 runs, setting a team record. His 41 HR’s is tied for the most in team history. His 116 RBI’s is third highest since 1962. He also hit 38 doubles, slugged at 594 and stole 18 bases in 21 attempts. Pretty damn good.

Yet, most people only remember Carlos Beltran’s 2006 season for taking a called third strike. The fact that without Beltran’s impressive stats the Mets don’t even get to that seventh game, much less the post-season, was overlooked. Many fans simply condemned Beltran for taking a pitch, a textbook curve ball that would’ve made Ted Williams’ knees buckle, a curve ball thrown by a rookie named Adam Wainwright who would go on to become one of the top pitchers in the league.

THAT’s when things changed. For some reason, fans now began looking for a goat, looking to point a finger at someone, finding some poor sap to blame everything on.

The castigating Matt Harvey received over the weekend is just the latest trend. Add his name to the growing list of players who seemingly every year takes the blame for the Mets not winning.

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Eleven months after the famed Beltran AB, when the Mets collapsed, many fans now turned their verbal assault rifles from Aaron Heilman and Beltran to Jose Reyes and Willie Randolph. Despite the fact Reyes had 191 hits and set a Mets record for SB’s, people blamed him for having three bad weeks in September. The following summer, notwithstanding being the second winningest manager in team history, Randolph was fired and replaced by Jerry Manuel.

Manuel took over. The Mets started winning. Manuel was treated as if he was the second coming of Gil Hodges. Two and half years later, after two sub-500 finishes, Manuel was treated as the second coming of Art Howe.

It continued. Year after year, fans seem to have this irresistible longing to malign one of our own. Jason Bay. Jordany Valdespin. Oliver Perez. And when we ran out of players, we looked to the front office.

Omar Minaya, despite bringing the Mets back to relevance and having us in three straight pennant races while fortifying the farm system that is fueling the team’s run in 2015, was run out of town. When we ran out of players and GM’s, fans began blaming team physicians, hitting coaches, pitching coaches. And yes, even our stadium. Citi Field was not conducive to our team. A new low. All the problems with the Mets was now the fault of a structure.

I will say I’ve never been a fan of Matt Harvey the person. But I am a fan of Matt Harvey the pitcher. Should he have handled this differently? Absolutely. On one side he has his agent, on the other side his employer and in front of him the potential to earn hundreds of millions over the next decade.

Harvey is in a tenuous predicament where he seemingly can’t come out unscathed. Had he stated in spring training he would NOT pitch in the post-season, the media storm would have begun in April and grown into a tsunami. And yes, while Harvey wants to win and yes, while fans want to win, one can understand where he is coming from. And where Scott Boras is coming from.

Let’s be honest. Mets history when it comes to handling pitchers definitely leaves something to be desired. We have a long track record of pushing young pitchers too hard, too much, too early. From Craig Swan in the late 70’s to Tim Leary in 1980. Gooden was a shoo-in for Cooperstown. Granted, he battled inner demons but the fact that Gooden tossed 10,000 pitches before turning 21 definitely had an impact.

There was of course Generation K. Pedro Martinez, in his autobiography, alluded to the fact that the Mets may have shortened his career a few years. And of course, there was Johan Santana. On his way to tossing the first no-no in team history after shoulder surgery, Santana threw 134 pitches, the most of his career. After the no hitter, he was for all intents and purposes finished. That shows what can happen when you put the team first. And perhaps these are things that Harvey and Boras considered.

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Two years ago The Dark Knight was larger than life, a huge young star who captured the hearts of Mets fans not unlike Doctor K three decades earlier. Now, however, he’s become arch enemy number one to many.

Perhaps it’s due to his own actions or that of his agent. But Harvey needs to be perfect down the stretch. If the Mets make the post-season, he damn well better turn in a Bumgarner-like October.

If the Mets fall apart in the next few weeks, miss the post-season by one game and sometime this month Harvey has the audacity to lose once who do you think fans will blame? Assuming the Mets make the playoffs and perhaps get knocked out in the first round or the second round and Harvey takes a loss or perhaps skips one start to save his career, who do you think fans will blame? And if Harvey happens to be on the mound when the Mets get eliminated? Wow, think of the hell he’ll endure from fans and the media.

In just three months, Harvey and the Mets begin the process of the right-hander’s first year of arbitration. In the not too distant future, Harvey will be eligible for free agency and there’s already whispers of potentially trading him. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports just wrote that no team is monitoring the Mets and Harvey more than the New York Yankees.

“It’s worth noting that the Yankees do love Harvey’s enormous talent and his usual moxie (this last week notwithstanding).”

Scott Boras would just love to stick it to Sandy Alderson and the Mets. The two have had an acrimonious relationship where each seemingly take turns lobbing insults at each other. Will he thwart any chance the Mets might have to re-sign Harvey, especially when teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, or even the Nats would love to snag a guy like him?

And finally, who knows how Matt Harvey himself is feeling about the team and his future after all that’s transpired? After having so many fingers pointed at him, will The Dark Knight get the last laugh and give a finger back to the Mets?

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Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom: Baseball’s Next Great Dynamic Duo? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/matt-harvey-and-jacob-degrom-baseballs-next-great-dynamic-duo.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/matt-harvey-and-jacob-degrom-baseballs-next-great-dynamic-duo.html/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:30:47 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=191534 IMG_20150511_150631-e1431459969935

We’re all familiar with the many unique aspects that make Baseball the true National Pastime. The game can conceivably go on forever. It’s the only sport where the defense has the ball. The team trying to score is outnumbered 9 to 1. My personal favorite is that it’s a team sport based around a collection of one-on-one match-ups.

In 2014, after 6 weeks of spring training, 162 games spread out over the course of six months, one month of post-season games and more than 750 players from 28 different cities, the entire year came down to Madison Bumgarner standing 60 feet 6 inches away from Salvador Perez.

Players are part of a team that strives to bring a championship to their fans and their city. But there is still that part of them that burns deep inside, a natural born competitiveness. They’re not just competing against other clubs but in a way against each other.

Over the game’s long and glorious history, some players are eternally joined. Ruth and Gehrig. Koufax and Drysdale. Mantle and Maris. Harvey and DeGrom?

A closer look at these unique pairings indicates that not only did these players join forces to bring greatness to their respective teams and push each other but they had completely opposite personalities.

New York Yankees Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth - 1932.Baseball.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig alone combined for 1,207 home runs, 4,208 RBI’s and 5,594 hits. When Gehrig retired, he and Ruth held the top two spots on Baseball’s All-Time HR list. Yet, these legends could not be more different.

The Bambino was larger than life, both literally and figuratively. More than 80 years have passed since he took his final AB and yet he remains the most iconic figure in the history of American sports. He was loud, rambunctious, flamboyant and exciting. He drank and partied.

The Iron Horse, by contrast, was quiet, reserved and modest. When the Yankees traveled, Ruth had women in every town. Gehrig, on the other hand, was frequently accompanied by his mom on road trips.

Sandy koufax don Drysdale

The most potent 1-2 pitching duo in history was Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. For half a decade they dominated the pitching landscape like never before. Koufax was a skinny Jewish kid from Brooklyn who feared pitching inside, and worried he would end someone’s career with his fastball.

Drysdale, born in California, stood at 6’6 with broad shoulders and movie star looks. Twin D once stated “I hate all hitters. I start a game mad and stay that way until it’s over.” He also loathed intentional walks, claiming, “If I hit a guy that only takes one pitch. Why waste four?”

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In 1961, two teammates were assaulting Ruth’s single season HR record of 61. Mickey Mantle was adored, worshiped and idolized. He played hard but lived harder and excelled  under the media glare and pressure of NY. He remains one of the games’ most loved stars. Roger Maris, however, was quiet, sullen and withdrawn. He detested the attention,  became physically sick and began losing his hair as he closed in on Ruth’s mark.

Thurman Munson was the tough, gritty hard-nosed captain of the Yankees in the 70’s. Then along came Reggie Jackson who was the media darling and seemingly always rose to the occasion. These two diametrically opposed teammates single-handedly brought the Bronx Bombers back to relevance after more than a decade of ineptitude. During one post-game interview after a Yankee victory, a reporter asked Munson a question. He sourly clipped, “Go ask Mr. October.” The name stuck.

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However, one doesn’t have to look at other teams. The leaders of the Mets in the 1980’s were Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter. “Mex” epitomized the “Live Hard, Play Harder” approach of their take-no-prisoner attitude. He smoked (sometimes in the dugout) and had a history of drug use. “The Kid” lived a clean life, loved his wife and children, was religious and frequently thanked Jesus Christ after something good happened.

An injury to Johan Santana in 2012 forced Sandy Alderson’s hand. Sooner than he hoped, he recalled Matt Harvey from Buffalo.

The 23 year-old did well in his debut season, compiling 70 K’s in 59 1/3 innings and recording a 2.73 ERA. It was just the beginning.

In 2013, The Dark Knight of Gotham began drawing comparisons to Curt Schilling and Justin Verlander. Doc Gooden called him ‘The Real Deal.’ In April, Harvey was named Pitcher of the Month fanning 46 batters in 40 IP, a 1.56 ERA and .153 Opponents Batting Average. In May, despite a persistent nosebleed Harvey retired the first 20 batters he faced.

Finally, after all these years and all these promises, the Mets just may have found ‘The Next Tom Seaver.’

Like The Sultan of Swat, The Mick and Mr. October, The Dark Knight relished the media spotlight. He loved New York and New York loved him. He appeared on magazine covers. He did skits on late night TV. Not since Doctor K nearly three decades earlier had a pitcher with this much greatness and potential toed the rubber in Flushing.

The last time the Mets hosted an All-Star Game was 1964. Gas was .25 cents per gallon, the government was sending troops to some place most Americans never heard of called Viet Nam, the price of a Rolls Royce had climbed north of $16,000, people wondered if four long-haired mop-tops from Liverpool were just a passing fad, and the surgeon general reported for the first time that smoking may be hazardous to your health.

Now, in 2012, the Mets were again hosting the Mid-Summer classic. And Matt Harvey was the starter. In two innings he fanned three batters and allowed just one hit. 22 of his 33 pitches were strikes. It was the largest crowd ever at Citi Field.

Then, later that summer, it all came crashing down. A partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow ended his season. And the next one as well.

As Harvey rehabbed and came back from Tommy John surgery, someone else materialized.

The 272nd overall pick in the 2010 draft, Jacob Anthony DeGrom was originally slated to work out of the pen. As the year progressed, it became clear that there just may be a new ace in town. Seaver had Koosman. Koufax had Drysdale. Harvey had deGrom. Or maybe deGrom had Harvey?

After posting a 9-6 record with 144 K’s in 140 IP and a 2.69 ERA, lower than Harvey in his first year, deGrom became the first Met to win a Rookie of the Year award since Dwight Gooden in 1984.

And just like that, The Dark Knight found himself behind DeGrom.

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Like many other celebrated duos, DeGrom and Harvey are very different. Harvey maintains a robust physique whereas DeGrom is wiry and lanky. Harvey gets into twitter spats with Yankee fans, argues with the front office and is photographed extending his middle finger. Although both take their pitching seriously, Harvey comes off as brooding, serious, almost as if he is battling inner demons to be the best.

DeGrom, on the other hand, has fun on the mound a la Tug McGraw, enjoying the stardom but with an awestruck boyish charm.

At the start of 2015, it became clear there woulde be no sophomore jinx. While deGrom came out quick, Harvey pitched tenuously as he battled back from elbow surgery. We all watched—nervously—to see if the Dark Knight would be okay. Initially he took a back seat to deGrom. But now Harvey’s coming on strong.

After a June 10 loss to the Giants, Harvey’s ERA was at 3.86, the highest of his career since August 3, 2012 – his second start ever. Since then, however, he’s turned it up. Possibly for himself, possibly for the team, possibly to reclaim his status as Mets ace and possibly for a pennant.

Since then, he’s lowered his ERA more than a full point. In 74 1/3 IP, he’s fanned 59, allowed just 54 hits and posted an impressive 1.61 ERA. His teammate meanwhile has allowed just 54 hits over his last 79IP, averaging more than a strikeout per inning and maintaining a 2.41 ERA.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter who the ace is. As someone once said, “My number one is the guy on the mound today.” But if Harvey pushes DeGrom to be better and DeGrom pushes Harvey to be better, the biggest benefit will be to the Mets and their fans while the NL may just have to sit back and deal with a 21st century tandem equivalent to Koufax and Drysdale.

2015 may just be the beginning.

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Ron Swoboda Makes The Catch http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/ron-swoboda-makes-the-catch.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/ron-swoboda-makes-the-catch.html/#comments Sat, 15 Aug 2015 15:07:54 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=173959 1969 moon landing apollo 11

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged America. He insisted that by the end of the decade, we put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth. Kennedy’s idea was outlandish and considered completely and utterly impossible. However, on July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface of the moon.

Almost equally as impossible was the Mets winning a World Series. In 1962, the Mets set the modern day record for baseball futility by losing 120 games. The thought of this team winning it all by the end of the decade was also considered completely and utterly impossible.

On July 21, as Apollo astronauts Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin surveyed the lunar landscape, the Mets were 53-39, just 5 games back. The ’69 season was filled with strange plays, unlikely stars and a black cat. As the underdog Mets shocked the baseball world and ran down the Cubs to win the division, fans wondered how long would our luck last.

After out-slugging the Braves in the first ever League Championship Series, the Mets faced a much more daunting task – the mighty Baltimore Orioles. Although many fans hoped the Amazins’ season would continue, the experts were skeptical and saying a best case scenario would be the Mets holding their own and not being too embarrassed by the much more superior Orioles.

Baltimore had won 109 times during the season and captured the AL East by 19 games. The Mets were quickly brought back to reality. On just the second pitch of Game One the Mets were trailing 1-0 after Don Buford took Tom Seaver yard, and they would go on to lose the opening game 4-1. However, the Mets captured Game 2 by a score of 2-1 and now the two teams would head to Shea Stadium  – the house of miracles – tied one game apiece.

The Mets won Game 3, 5-0, highlighted by Tommie Agee’s catches and baby-faced Gary Gentry out-pitching Jim Palmer and shutting down the O’s vaunted offense.

Ron+swoboda+(25)Game 4 was next and that would be one for the ages. The right fielder for New York that day was Ron Swoboda. Five seasons earlier, on April 12, 1965, 20-year old Swoboda made his major league debut. He hit two home runs in his first four at-bats and would go on to hit 19 for the year, a Mets record for rookies at the time. Overly optimistic Mets fans quickly pointed out that was more homers than Mickey Mantle had hit in his rookie season. People also began drawing comparisons between Swoboda and Babe Ruth. After all, BOTH were born in Baltimore.

Although well loved, Swoboda would never be destined for greatness. There would be no all-star games in his future and no induction in Cooperstown. He was a mediocre hitter at best. But he played with heart. He was not blessed with blinding speed or natural ability. He had no special gift. But his all out play and the fact that he gave it his all and made the most of his limited talent endeared him to fans. It was once said of Ron, “He’s got the heart of a lion.”

Ironically, his greatest weakness was his inept fielding. He would frequently circle under routine fly balls seeming unsure and confused. A popup to right field was always an adventure and resulted in fans holding their collective breath. Teammates nicknamed him ‘Rocky’ as a tongue in cheek way of chiding him for his lack of defensive prowess.

However, Swoboda played his part in that miracle season. In September, Cardinals ace Steve Carlton set the MLB record by striking out 19 batters, but still lost the game, 4-3, thanks to a pair of 2-run homers by Swoboda.

Pivotal Game 4 featured Tom Seaver (25-7, 2.21 ERA) opposing Mike Cuellar (23-11, 2.38 ERA). Both would go on to win the Cy Young Award that year. In everything that World Series pitching match-ups should be, but seldom are, Seaver out-pitched Cuellar. With the expression ‘pitch count’ not in anyone’s vocabulary, Seaver went to the top of the 9th clinging to a 1-0 lead.

With their backs to the wall, Baltimore battled back. With one out, Frank Robinson and Boog Powell both singled. Baltimore had the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on first. Future Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson stepped to the plate. He hit Seaver’s first delivery to right-center. The white baseball began sinking against the bright green grass. There was no player in sight. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the poor-fielding Swoboda appeared. Using all of his limited speed, he dove and stuck out his glove. Completely parallel to the grass and fully extended, just inches from the ground, he snared the sinking liner. The initial response was one of disappointment. After all, Frank Robinson scored easily from 3B on the Sac Fly and Baltimore tied the game.

However, seconds later, the reality of Swoboda’s catch began to sink in. Had the ball gotten by him it would have easily rolled to the wall and given the Orioles a 2-1 lead, most likely a victory and guaranteed a return trip to Baltimore. Swoboda’s catch kept the game tied at 1-1 and the Mets would win the game in 10 innings. The next day Jerry Koosman would take the mound for Game 5. Game, set, match. The Mets had shocked the world.

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Swoboda’s catch is an iconic image, not only in Mets history but in World Series history. At the time, it was considered by many to be one of the best catches, if not the best, in the history of October baseball.

On March 31, 1971, 26-year old Swoboda was sent to Montreal in exchange for Don Hahn. Later that year, he returned to NY but was wearing pinstripes. In 1973, however, as the Mets battled toward their second World Series, the Yankees released Swoboda. He attended spring training in 1974 with the Braves but did not make the team.

Although he attempted a brief comeback with the Mets in 1976 (he attended spring training but didn’t make the cut), Rocky decided to hang ‘em up and retire from the game.

His career stats are unimpressive. In six seasons with the Mets, he batted just .242 and collected 536 hits, 304 RBI, and ironically, 69 Home Runs. However, when Met fans remember Swoboda, his career stats are meaningless to us. Home runs and RBIs can be measured, but intangibles like heart, can not. And that is one area where Swoboda is unsurpassed.

When one looks back at the history of the turbulent 1960’s, there are certain unforgettable images that come to mind. You will remember those old photos of John Kennedy in the Oval Office, or his brother Bobby tousling his hair. You can see Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

You will recall photos of The Beatles and their screaming throngs of fans. And Jimmy Hendrix playing a guitar like no one ever had at Woodstock. You can count on seeing helicopters dropping bombs in the jungles of Vietnam and the image of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon. And in addition to all that iconic imagery, Met fans will always have that unforgettable memory of Ron Swoboda sliding across the green grass of Shea and saving the day.

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The Final Piece Of The Puzzle http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/07/the-final-piece-of-the-puzzle.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/07/the-final-piece-of-the-puzzle.html/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 14:29:29 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=186232 donn clendenon

The ’69 World Series saw Jerry Koosman pick up the W in 2 of the 4 Mets victories. His ERA was 2.04 and he allowed only 7 hits in 17 2/3 innings pitched. Ron Swoboda hit .400 and made arguably one of the best catches in Series history. Tommie Agee outdid his teammate and made 2 unforgettable catches which will live forever in Mets folklore.

However, none of these men would win the World Series MVP. That honor went to a man who was not even on the Mets opening day roster that year. A man who, in March of 1969, announced his retirement from Baseball.

Donn Alvin Clendenon was born 7/15/35 in Neosho, Missouri. He was only 2 years old when his father died of Leukemia and his mother moved the family to Atlanta. Baseball was the farthest thing from his mind. He was an intelligent young man who displayed athletic gifts at a young age.

His mother wanted him to be a doctor but Donn wanted to be a lawyer. His step-father, Nish Williams, had played in The Negro Leagues and pushed the boy to play baseball. However, being a black man in the deep south in the 40’s and 50’s, Clendenon realized he would not have an easy go of it no matter which road he chose. Clendenon recalled, “I knew if I didn’t play baseball, I wouldn’t get my allowance.”

So to placate his father he played. They agreed that he would pursue a baseball career as well as getting a degree. This way, if baseball did not work out, he would have something to fall back on. Growing up it was commonplace for some of his dad’s friends from the Negro Leagues to stop by and talk baseball. It was routine for Donn to chat about the game or have a catch with the likes of Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson or Roy Campanella.

Clendenon attended Morehouse University in Atlanta. It was a top notch school geared towards African-American men. Freshmen were assigned ‘Big Brothers’ to help them acclimate to college life. Donn’s ‘big brother’ was Morehouse alumnus, Martin Luther King Jr.

Although he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns of the NFL as well as The Harlem Globetrotters, Clendenon accepted the offer put forth by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He debuted with the Bucs in 1961 but did not become a regular until 63. The big first baseman put up solid numbers. From 63-66, he averaged 289-17-78. But he was constantly overshadowed by 2 teammates who possessed more talent. Their names were Stargell and Clemente.

In spite of having a fluid, smooth swing, Clendenon led the NL in strikeouts twice. In 67 and 68, his numbers dropped off. Pittsburgh left him unprotected and he was picked up by the expansion Montreal Expos.

Donn was less than thrilled to be going from the powerhouse Pirates to the first year club. But he was determined to make the best of it. However, the Expos quickly traded him to the hapless Houston Astros. Not wanting to return to the deep south and face racism, Clendenon, at age 33, instead chose to retire. Ultimately, he was talked out of it by Expos brass and commissioner Bowie Kuhn. But he was still unhappy in Montreal.

donn+clendenonIn June of 1969, Clendenon accepted a trade to the Mets. The New York team had been a laughing stock since their inception, but they were starting to open some eyes. On June 15, Donn was sent to NY in exchange for Steve Renko and Kevin Collins.

“When we got him,” said SS Buddy Harrelson years later, “we became a different team. We never had a 3-run homer type of guy. He was always humble, never cocky. We were still young kids. He was the veteran that came in and made us better.”

Harrelson added, “When you threw him into the mix, we became a dangerous force.” Tommie Agee said of his acquisition, “He was the final piece of the puzzle.” “Until he showed up,” explained Ron Swoboda, “we had no chance of winning anything.”

Clendenon’s first game wearing the blue and orange was June 17. The Mets lost to the Phillies, 7-3, and fell  7 ½ back.

The Mets had the pitching. The Mets had the defense. Now the Mets had the power. He came to be known as “Clink” or “Big Clink.” Standing at 6-4 and 205 pounds, the big 1B with the big glove and bigger bat led the Mets down the stretch. He hit 12 HR’s the rest of the way.

On September 24, 1969, when the impossible happened and the Mets clinched the NL East, it was Clink who was in the right place. The Mets shelled Steve Carlton for 5 ER in one-third of inning. Clendenon was 2-3 with 2 HR’s and 4 RBI’s.

In Game 5 of the Fall Classic, Clendenon was once again at the right place at the right time. The Orioles were trailing 3 games to 1 but the momentum was shifting back their way. 20 game winner Dave McNally was dominating the Mets, completely shutting down the offense. The Orioles were leading 3-0 and were threatening to take the series back to Baltimore.

In the top of the 5th, Jerry Koosman threw one inside. Frank Robinson dropped his bat and began walking towards 1b. However, home plate umpire Lou DiMuro claimed the ball hit the bat, NOT Robinson. Robinson argued. O’s manager Earl Weaver argued. However, DiMuro stuck by his decision. The replay, in fact, showed that the ump blew the call. It was obvious that Robinson got hit.

In the bottom of the 6th, the Mets were still trailing 3-0 and seemed clueless as to how to figure out McNally. Cleon Jones stepped to the plate. McNally threw one low and inside. The ball hit Cleon’s shoe and conveniently rolled into the Mets dugout. Cleon insisted the ball hit him. Once again, Lou DiMuro insisted it did not. Cleon protested.

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Then Mets manager Gil Hodges slowly walked from the dugout to home plate. Stoic as always, Hodges held out a baseball with a small smudge of shoe polish on it and displayed it for DiMuro. The ump examined the ball. And then reversed his decision, awarding Cleon first base .

Earl Weaver went ballistic. When order was restored, it was Donn Clendenon who stepped to the plate. Just like all season,  Clink was at the right place at the right time. He promptly deposited a McNally offering into the Orioles bullpen. Shea erupted like it never had before. The Mets were within striking distance, now trailing 3-2.

With one swing of his bat, Clendenon brought the momentum back to the Mets. It clearly showed the miracle was in full swing. Although we still trailed by a run, you could just tell we would win. One hour later, champagne was being sprayed in the clubhouse. Donn Clendenon was aptly named Series MVP. He hit three homeruns, the most ever in a five game series, until the record was tied in 2008 by Ryan Howard.

Clendenon returned to the Mets in 1970. He would set a Mets record for most RBI’s in a game (7) and also the most RBI’s in a season (97). After the 1971 season, however, the Mets released the aging star. At 36, Clendenon signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, but retired in 1972.

He now fulfilled his other childhood dream. Clendenon earned his Doctorate degree from Duquesne University and became a lawyer. In the mid 1980’s, as he approached 50 years old, the Series MVP became addicted to cocaine. He battled his drug habit for a while and it ultimately cost him his job with the law firm.

In the 90’s, still battling the demons, Clendenon was in a rehab facility in Utah. During a routine physical exam, it was determined that #22 had Leukemia. It was the same disease that both his father and grandfather died from. He straightened up, got his act together and conquered his addiction. Donn moved to Sioux Falls, SD. He once again began practicing law and also became certified as an addiction counselor where he helped young adults conquer their own demons.

On September 17, 2005, at age 70, Mr. Clendenon died at his home in South Dakota. In the book, “Miracle in New York,” which was a look back at the 69 season through Clendenon’s eyes, he talked about his illness. “Every day I wake up now is a blessing. I will eventually die from it. It will eventually take me, I know. But I keep fighting.”

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Little Roller Up Along First… Behind the Bag! It Gets Through…Hernandez? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/07/little-roller-up-along-first-behind-the-bag-it-gets-through-hernandez.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/07/little-roller-up-along-first-behind-the-bag-it-gets-through-hernandez.html/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 16:21:30 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=186504 red-sox-celebrate

October 25, 1986: Boston:

It took 68 years for the Red Sox to end the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ and they did it in historic fashion in front of a sold-out Fenway Park.

The heavily favored Mets, winners of 108 regular season games, turned to Bob Ojeda in hopes of forcing a game 7. Trailing by a run heading to the home half of the eighth, Boston tied the game at 3. The Mets seemed destined to win when they scored two in the top of the tenth for a commanding 5-3 lead.

However, the bullpen could not close it out. After Jesse Orosco retired the first two batters, Boston rallied for an unprecedented three runs in the bottom of the 10th. Several times Boston was down to their last strike but the Sox were amazin. Roger McDowell allowed the tying run to score on a pitch in the dirt that Gary Carter couldn’t handle.

Tied 5-5 and with the winning run on second base, centerfielder Dave Henderson hit a slow roller along the first base line. Somehow, the ball skipped below the glove of Keith Hernandez, and Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs raced home, hands atop his helmet in disbelief, and into the arms of his teammates.

In other Baseball news, Pirates young slugger Barry Bonds appears to be getting bigger…

Okay, okay, you’re all wondering what I’m smoking and where you can get some. I admit to taking some literary license and rewriting history. Or am I? Game 6 did not end this way. But it definitely could have had Bud Selig been commissioner back then.

Beginning in 2003, Commissioner Selig, along with approval from the Player’s Union, decided that the winner of the All-Star Game would have home field advantage in the World Series. And just like that the National Pastime’s two greatest institutions, the All-Star Game and the World Series, would be forever altered. Both had remained relatively untouched since their inceptions in 1933 and 1903 respectively. And then along came Bud.

The reason was simple. Viewership for the Midsummer Classic was down. Interest was waning. The powers-that-be believed the game should now carry significance. For seventy years the All-Star Game was by and large an exhibition put on for the fans. It gave us a chance to see the best and brightest from each league. Now that’s changed. And not for the better.

Since 2003, the league that won the All-Star Game has gone on to win the World Series 8 out of 12 times. In other words, an ‘exhibition game’ in July has direct influence over the Fall Classic in October. It also can–and has–changed the history of the game.

In 1986, the Mets returned to Shea where they rallied to win games 6 and 7. However, had Selig’s rule been in place then, it’s likely 1969 would be the Mets only championship season. The AL won the 1986 All-Star Game. Boston would have had home field advantage, not us.

In 2005, the White Sox won the Series in 5 games. It was their first championship since 1917 when they were led by guys named Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte and Buck Weaver. The victory, however, was bittersweet for Chicagoans. Had the home field advantage rule not been in place, the Sox would have been home for games 3, 4 and 5, not on the road. Their first championship would have—and should have—been in Chicago, not Houston.

Game 6 of the 2011 World Series was arguably the greatest post-season game ever played. Facing elimination, the Cardinals returned to STL needing 2 wins. They went to the HOME half of the 8th inning of game 6 trailing 7-4. They scored 1 in the bottom of the frame, two more in the HOME half of the ninth, twice more in the HOME half of the 10th and finally won it in the HOME half of the 11th. The following day they won Game 7. Had the old format been retained and home field alternated year-to-year, Texas would have hosted games 6 and 7 and most likely would have won their first Championship in team history.

San Francisco Giants win the 2012 World Series

San Francisco fans waited more than half a century to see their Giants win it all. Yet, despite the fact their club has won 3 titles in the last 5 years, all series clinchers have come on the road. Once again, had the original alternating format been in place, the NL club was scheduled to host 4 of the 7 games in even years. The Giants would’ve won 2010 and 2012 at AT&T Park, not in Texas and Detroit.

The All-Star Game now carries major importance. Yet, it still maintains that Exhibition Game feel. If the point is to win—and it clearly is—why does every team need to be represented? Why does the manager need to stress about making sure every guy gets in as much as he stresses about winning? We are NL fans. We want the NL to win. Therefore, I want the best guys out there for 9 innings. I want to see Max Scherzer pitching to Buster Posey for all 27 outs. I want Paul Goldschmidt to have at least 4 AB’s.

Why should ONE game have such a huge bearing on the Fall Classic? Since there’s interleague games daily, why not just look at the best head-to head records throughout the season? Whichever league wins more over the course of 6 months, not one night, gets home field advantage. After all, as it stands now, how many of us really care when the AL Mariners play the NL Rockies?

As a kid growing up in the 70’s, watching the All-Star Game was one of my favorite times of the year. Being a NL fan, the biggest stars in the AL were just names in a box score. The Mid-Summer Classic gave me a chance to see my Baseball cards come to life. I could actually see a Nolan Ryan fastball rather than hearing about it. I could witness Harmon Killebrew uncoil from his crouch. I could watch Rod Carew change his stance on each pitch depending on the count. It was a wonderful thing.

Even before these recent changes, the luster of the ASG has diminished. MLB Network, ESPN, YouTube, etc…obviously weren’t around back then. Seeing Mike Trout every night on the highlight reel is nothing special. Seeing Al Kaline Saturday afternoon during an episode of “This Week in Baseball” was.

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No shock here but the first player to ever go deep in an All-Star Game was Babe Ruth. When returning to the dugout, The Bambino said, “Let’s show these NL bums how we play.” From 1933 through the early 90’s, there was indeed a rivalry between the leagues. That, too, is now gone. Players have no qualms about switching teams, much less switching leagues. The biggest free agents last winter—Max Scherzer, Pablo Sandoval and James Shields—all changed leagues. And hey, if entire franchises can switch (Houston to the AL, Milwaukee to the NL), why shouldn’t players?

Ironically, despite the Commish’s best efforts to increase interest, it’s failed. The 2002 ASG, the final one without ‘meaning,’ was watched in 10 million homes. In 2013, just 7.5 million tuned in, a drop of 25%.

Keeping in mind I am a traditionalist, I feel it’s imperative that this ‘experiment’ be put to rest. Let’s have the All-Star Game mean exactly what it was designed for: a chance to take a breather for a few days, sit back and watch the best players in the game display their talent.

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When America Needed A Miracle… http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/07/when-america-needed-a-miracle.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/07/when-america-needed-a-miracle.html/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 16:51:38 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=186230 1969 miracle mets

In the 1977 classic film “Oh, God,” Jerry Landers (John Denver) is speaking with God, played by George Burns. Landers asks God about miracles and He replies, “The last miracle I did was the ’69 Mets. Before that you have to go back to The Red Sea.”

There’s been a lot of talk about October baseball in Mets circles these days, which after the six previous seasons is a much welcomed change. Some might say we’re a lock for the postseason, others say we’ll be a near miss, and others still say it would take another miracle.

Ironically, there are a few similarities between the 2015 Mets and the 1969 version that shocked the world. Perhaps most apparent is the top-flight pitching and the below average offense.

That ’69 team also had a lot of personality and swagger too, not to mention a tremendous manager and plenty of outstanding defensive players both in the infield and outfield. But there was so much more to the Miracle Mets and that turbulent, transformative and thrilling year.

To fully grasp what that Mets team meant let’s take a step back. Defeating the Orioles over a few days in mid-October meant much more then a World Series flag flying over Shea. It was more rewarding then the small amount of money collected by the winning team. It proved that anything is possible. That dreams, do in fact, come true. And when this nation needed it most, the Mets showed that Miracles can happen.

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There has never been a more tumultuous time in America as the 1960’s. This nation was turned upside down. The status quo was in question and authority was being second guessed. The fabric of America was in tatters.

Just three plus years into the decade the unthinkable happened when our own president was assassinated in broad daylight in Dallas. It took several years for hushed rumors to begin circulating that perhaps there was more to this than one lone gunman who acted alone. The word ‘conspiracy’ entered our vocabulary and for the first time ever we began to ‘question the government.’

But the murder of John Kennedy was just the beginning. In  April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death while standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis.

As if that was not enough for America to deal with, just weeks later another Kennedy was killed. Bobby Kennedy was attempting to follow in his brothers footsteps and rise to the highest office in the land. That dream ended in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles when he was brutally murdered in a hail of gunfire.

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Cities burned. Presidents, politicians and leaders were being killed on our own streets. For the first time since we had won our independence from England the future of our Republic seemed in doubt. Everything was changing.

By the end of the 60’s, there seemed to be no hope. We were embroiled in an ever deepening war in southeast Asia. A war that was now expanding beyond the borders of Viet Nam, a war that was seeing American casualties mounting, a war that had no end in sight. And for the first time in our nations history citizens were protesting against the government by the tens of thousands.

African-Americans had also reached their breaking point. They would no longer be content with sitting in the back of a bus, drinking from different water fountains and not being allowed to use ‘white restrooms.’ And while blacks were getting sprayed with water hoses and had to face the gnarling teeth of German Shepherds in the south, police in Chicago beat up and clubbed American students who were protesting outside the Democratic convention in 1968.

Women were also beginning to demand equal rights and equal pay. The sexual revolution was taking place. Slogans like ‘Make Love Not War’ were disconcerting to the powers-that-be.  Drug use was commonplace and in the open. Men grew facial hair and dressed in anti-establishment clothing. The man in the grey flannel suit was replaced by a ‘hippie’ in a tie-dyed shirt.

Comedian Lenny Bruce tested the limitations of ‘free speech’ and was arrested for using the F-word in his stand up routine. For the first time TV shows began showing married couples sleeping in the same bed.

Woodstock460

CBS-TV was fined after an appearance by The Doors on The Ed Sullivan Show when Jim Morrison sang the lyric, ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,’ an obvious drug reference. The Beatles classic album Sgt. Peppers was banned because of John Lennon’s line in ‘A Day In The Life’ when he sang, “I’d love to turn you on.”

In August 69, a concert in upstate New York attracted hundreds of thousands who listened to music, got high and made love in open fields.

On a fairly unpopular TV show entitled ‘Star Trek’ William Shatner kissed Nichelle Nichols, the first interracial kiss ever televised. Surely, the world was coming to an end.

Even the grand ol’ game of Baseball underwent major changes in the 60’s. A young outfielder in the Giants minor league system named Garry Maddox had to receive a special ok from the commissioner to grow a beard. Up until then ball players were prohibited from displaying any facial hair, but Maddox had been scarred while serving in Viet Nam.

There was now a domed stadium in Houston. Natural grass was replaced by something called ‘Astro-Turf.’ When a reporter asked Mets reliever Tug McGraw if he preferred artificial turf to grass, Tug replied, “I don’t know. I never smoked artificial turf.”

America was definitely in chaos. This nation was at a crossroads. Would things change? Could things change? Were we truly a nation of freedom? Was true change really possible or was it just some innate concept?

1969 mets

The Mets showed that anything–ANYTHING–was possible. Long before Rocky Balboa defeated Apollo Creed, long before Billy Chapel pitched an unlikely Perfect Game against the Yankees and then retired, long before the NY Giants shocked the world and defeated the undefeated Patriots, the ’69 Mets were true underdogs. Outside of New York names like Swoboda, Agee and Koosman were not known.

Just 12 weeks after man landed on the moon, the Mets landed on top of the baseball world. And if the Mets of all teams could win a World Series then anything was possible.

For seven years this club had been a joke, a laughing stock. But not any longer. No, Tommie Agee didn’t make those catches for America. Ron Swoboda did not dive across the grass at Shea for any reason other then to catch a sinking liner. The only reason Jerry Grote hoisted Jerry Koosman into the air was simply to celebrate a victory, not for equal rights or a war protest. There was no hidden agenda for Gil Hodges and that 69 club. They were not out there to make any kind of statement. But that is exactly what happened.

The victory of the Mets over the powerhouse Orioles, symbolizing David beating Goliath, signaled something different as the 60‘s came to a close. Things can change. America can become a better place. The war in southeast Asia can come to an end and certain groups can obtain equal rights and get equal pay. After all, if an unlikely team of nobodys like the Mets can win the World Series, then anything truly is possible. Miracles can happen.

we're number one 1969 mets topps

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Sometimes There IS Crying in Baseball http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/06/sometimes-there-is-crying-in-baseball.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/06/sometimes-there-is-crying-in-baseball.html/#comments Sun, 21 Jun 2015 05:00:41 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=184552 1434855887000

I looked up at my parents. My mom gripped my dad’s arm, patting his back lovingly. My dad stood, gazing down, dabbing his eyes. My family made the somber journey to the cemetery on Long Island a few times during the year, usually around the Jewish holidays and always on Father’s Day.

I followed my father’s sight-line, reading the inscription on the marble gravestones. I had no memory of my grandfather who died when I was just three, and only a fleeting remembrance of my aunt, my dad’s sister, who died a year later. I studied the dates. My grandfather lived until he was 67. Really old. My aunt succumbed to cancer at age 39. To a boy of 7, 8, and 9, even 39 seemed old.

My mom would sob. My dad would weep. I wanted to be an adult, a grown-up. I tried to cry. I even tried to fake it once or twice. But the tears wouldn’t come. To me, these people we were paying our respects to were little more than names and dates. And with the innocence, self-centeredness or perhaps naiveté of a young boy, I didn’t make the connection. I was unable to wrap my child’s mind around the concept that the man resting in peace was to my dad the same as my dad was to me.

Unable to locate the grief my dad felt, I sauntered off to find three stones—two larger ones for my parents, a pebble for me—to place atop the headstone. At least I could feel like I was doing something beneficial. I couldn’t cry so at least I could scour the grounds for rocks.

There are those times in one’s life when we remember precisely where we were and what we were doing. On a Tuesday morning in 2001, my wife crawled out of bed to answer the ringing phone. She returned a moment later, telling me her mom called and advised her a plane flew into one of the Twin Towers.

On April 19, 1995, I was at work when a colleague of mine began freaking out. She was from Oklahoma City and apparently a bomb had destroyed a building, killing and injuring hundreds in her hometown.

John Lennon

On Monday night, December 8, 1980, my mom was reading in bed. My dad and I were watching the local news waiting for the sports, hoping the Mets did something. After the break, Roland Smith appeared on the screen and informed his viewers of the big breaking news: Former Beatle John Lennon had been shot on the upper west side.

I thought nothing of it, told myself it was just a grazing. Surely, someone of John Lennon’s status couldn’t die. That only happened to us common folk…or to people who died that I had no memory of.

Just a few months later I picked up the ringing telephone, back when they were called telephones, not landlines. My grandmother was stammering, asking to speak with my mom. Something about President Reagan getting shot. It was the only time I ever heard my grandma cry.

Wednesday, June 15, 1977 is a day when all Mets fans remember exactly what they were doing.

It was almost 9:00 pm. My dad was watching Baa Baa Black Sheep, a show about a USMC aviator during WWII starring the very manly Robert Conrad. I meandered off to my bedroom and turned on the little 13 inch b&w RCA my uncle had given me. I adjusted the rabbit ears and prepared to watch Charlie’s Angels. I was a few months shy of turning 12 and was starting to realize that maybe girls weren’t so icky after all.

I’m not sure who it was or the exact words the sportscaster said. But the message was irrefutable. I raced from my room and shouted, “Dad, dad, we traded Seaver!”

My dad arched an eyebrow at me, then glimpsed my mom. I was a practical joker, a smart-ass even back then. But even I wouldn’t stoop to that level and speak such sacrilege. “They didn’t trade Seaver,” my dad smirked. “Wouldja stop.”

“That’s what they said.” I deflected blame, pointing down the hallway as if my dad had forgotten where my bedroom was located.

He stared at me, did a double-take at my mom. “Oh, please, they wouldn’t trade…” He didn’t finish the sentence. He couldn’t. His mind quickly flashed back on the recent turmoil between The Franchise and team execs. He looked at me again and asked haltingly, “Seaver?”

I pointed down the hallway a second time. “Yep.”

Always a die-hard Mets fan, always looking for a bright spot, and always hoping for a better tomorrow, he asked half-heartedly, “Who’d we get?”

I shrugged.

tom seaver.jpeg

Attempting to come to terms with the unthinkable, with trying to imagine a staff without Seaver, the man who guided the Mets to two pennants, one World Series, countless fond memories, and would probably be enshrined in the Hall of Fame one day, the man who would now look silly wearing a Reds jersey, the man who was the face of the 15 year-old organization, my dad shot glances between my mom and I.

Realizing I was not simply messing with my old man, my dad let loose. He stormed across the living room, angrily turned off the meaningless TV show and grabbed his Marlboro’s. I had to cover my ears during portions of those George Carlin specials on HBO, had to cover my eyes if a sex scene came on during some movie and never heard my dad use the F-word. Until June 15, 1977.

To this prepubescent boy, I recognized some things were as important in life as Baseball. I left my dad behind to deal with what the Seaver-less Mets would look like and returned to my room to look at Jaclyn Smith.

It was during the first commercial break when I remembered the rest of the story. I ran out of my room. “Hey, dad,” I began. “They traded Kingman, too.” I paused, paralyzed by fear. A feeling came over me I’d never felt before. A feeling I didn’t like.

My mom had her arm draped over my dad’s shoulders, her trembling hand tightly clutching his. There was a quiver in her words. “Are you having chest pains? Any shooting pain in your arm? Can you breathe?”

My dad was piggybacking cigarettes. The ash tray before him more filled than it had been twenty minutes ago. His right hand held a cigarette, his left hand pressed over his heart. With the speed of a Tom Seaver fastball, the F-word flew from my dad’s mouth, using it in conjunction with M. Donald Grant and Dick Young. “If Joan Payson was still alive, this wouldn’t have happened.”

My mom repeated her questions.

In tunnel vision, I watched the terrifying scene playing out before me. My lips became parched. My throat desert dry. I couldn’t speak and felt my wobbly legs carry me over to the sofa. I was 11 years old. My dad was almost 35. Pretty old…

I looked at my dad. But I thought of my grandfather on Long Island. I made the connection.

The pain in his chest passed. The pain of losing Tom Seaver not so much.

Four days later, June 19, was Father’s Day. We made our customary pilgrimage to the cemetery. I looked up at my parents. My mom gripped my dad’s arm, patting his back lovingly. My dad stood, gazing down, dabbing at his eyes. I looked at my dad—a little longer than usual. My eyes found their way to the name on the headstone. I swallowed down the rising lump in my throat. This time I didn’t need to fake the tears.

bench glove ball

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June 15, 1977: A Day That Will Live In Mets Infamy http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/06/june-15-1977-a-day-that-will-live-in-mets-infamy.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/06/june-15-1977-a-day-that-will-live-in-mets-infamy.html/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 16:37:49 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=184522 tom seaver.jpeg

There are certain dates in our nation’s history when Americans remember exactly where they were and what they were doing. One day that stands out for Mets fans is June 15, 1977. That is a day in our history which will live in infamy.

Tom Seaver, the face of the franchise, the heart and soul of the franchise, The Franchise, was traded away–no, was discarded–by the team he loved.

No player in the history of the Mets had single-handedly left such a void upon his departure. When Tom Terrific was traded, the short term effect was felt immediately. However, the long lasting effects would continue nearly a decade.

For the 8 year period from 1969-1976, the Mets averaged 84 wins per year. In the 6 years that followed (leaving out the strike shortened season of 81), the Mets averaged just 65 wins.

From 69-76, the Mets finished 1st twice, 3rd five times and 5th only once. After the trade, we finished in last place (6th) five times and 5th once.

The average attendance at Shea from 69-76 was 25,002. The average attendance at what came to be known as Grant’s Tomb dropped to 13,401 in the six years that followed. Or to put it another way, there were roughly 42,000 empty seats every game at Shea. (The current seating capacity of Citi Field).

There is no need to go over Seaver’s stats. We all know of his three Cy Young Awards, his Rookie of the Year award, his nine All-Star Games while wearing the blue and orange, his nine straight years of recording 200 K’s or more. And so on…There have been close to 900 players who’ve donned the Mets uniform and only one has been deemed worthy of having his number retired.

Seaver meant more to the Mets than just wins and strikeouts. Prior to his arrival, the Mets were a laughing stock, the proverbial doormat for the National League. With the arrival of No. 41, the Mets gained credibility.

At least every 5th day, we had a pretty good chance to win. He was the Mets first superstar. Long before David Wright was ‘the face of the Mets,’ that honor belonged to ‘Tom Terrific.’

After opposing Seaver in the 73 World Series, Reggie Jackson said, “Blind people come to the park just to listen to him pitch.” He was not just the best Mets pitcher. He was arguably the top pitcher in baseball in the latter half of the 20th century.

Whenever Seaver strolled to the mound, the game took on a different feel. You just knew you were witnessing greatness. You were experiencing something unique, something you could tell your grandchildren about.

In addition to the impressive stats, Seaver was a class act. An all-around good guy. As impressive as he was on the mound, he displayed elegance and distinction off the mound.

Teammate Cleon Jones said of Seaver, “Tom does everything well. He’s the kind of man you want your kids to grow up to be like. He’s a studious player, a loyal cat, trustworthy.”

On June 15, 1977, Mets fans were devastated when Tom was traded to the Cincinnati Reds.

Heartbroken. Grown men cried. It was the loss of innocence for many and served as a stark reminder that when all was said and done,

Baseball was a business. Not a game. There was no ESPN at the time. There was no 24 hour news channel. America had to learn what was going on in the world in a 30 minute nightly newscast by Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley. But yet, the news of Seaver being traded was so shocking, it was the lead story on the only three national networks at the time. It came to be known as ‘The Midnight Massacre.’

Baseball was very different in 1977. A controversial new concept called “Free Agency” was in its infancy. The Mets original owner, Joan Payson, had recently died and the club fell under the control of GM M. Donald Grant.

A businessman and strict disciplinarian, Grant was more concerned with Wall Street than Baseball. Slowly, the core of the Mets, players like Cleon Jones, Tug McGraw and Rusty Staub, were being sent away. But it was on this day in June when the foundation crumbled and the unimaginable happened.

Seaver was perturbed by management’s reluctance to enter the free agent market and their lack of willingness to improve the team and often chided the front office, questioning their commitment to winning. This did not sit well with Grant.

Seaver also wanted to renegotiate his own contract. Although he was the top pitcher in the game, he was being paid less than many other pitchers who were significantly less talented.

tom SeaverGrant refused to budge, accusing Seaver of ‘being motivated by money’ and recruiting the aid of noted Daily News sports columnist Dick Young to launch an attack campaign to smear Seaver and turn fans against him. The clock was ticking.

The always controversial Hound was a well known and a National figure in sports journalism. During the 1961 season, it was Young who first proposed the idea of an asterisk next to Roger Maris’ name. But in the summer of 77, on almost a daily basis, Young lambasted Seaver in the press with no mercy as the Mets front office watched with glee.

Then on June 14th, it happened. Grant and Seaver had finally reached an agreement. Tom Terrific would remain a Met.

However the jubilation was short-lived. The very next morning, Dick Young wrote a scathing column comparing Seaver to the much-hated Walter O’Malley, the man responsible for moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

Young wrote, “Tom Seaver is like Walter O’Malley. Both are very deceptive in what they say. Both are very greedy.”

Also in that same column, or better yet hatchet job, Young fabricated a story. He concocted a feud between Tom Seaver and friend and former teammate, Nolan Ryan.

Young claimed that Seaver’s wife, Nancy, had gotten in an argument with Ruth Ryan, Nolan’s wife, about the fact that Nolan was earning more. This was totally unsubstantiated and false. Upon reading the article, Seaver contacted the Mets, told them the deal was off and demanded on being traded. Later that day, Seaver was sent to the Reds. In 2007, Seaver said, “That Young column was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Bringing my family into it is not right. I had to go.”

Shea was aptly nicknamed Grant’s Tomb after Seaver was sent away. The same evening The Franchise was sent to Cincinnati, the Mets also traded their only legitimate Home Run threat, Dave Kingman. Later that year, Grant also got rid of Buddy Harrelson and Seaver’s batterymate, Jerry Grote. The following year saw Jerry Koosman leave for Minnesota.

But it was Seaver’s dismissal that sent the Mets into the abyss of the National League basement. Before Seaver arrived, the Mets were the doormat for the NL. After he left, they once again were reduced to that same position.

The Mets would occupy last place for 5 of the next 6 seasons and watch on as the torch of New York Baseball was passed to The Bronx. In the 6 years that followed, as the Mets played to an empty stadium every night, the Yankees went on win two World Championships and four pennants.

While Seaver pitched elsewhere, he recorded his 300th win and 3,000th strikeout. After all those years with the Mets in which he pitched a record five one-hitters and had three no-hitters broken up in the 9th, Seaver recorded the one and only no-hitter of his career. It came against the Cardinals, exactly one year and one day after he was traded.

Reds skipper Sparky Anderson once said of Seaver, “My idea of managing is giving the ball to Seaver and sitting down and watching him pitch.”

The Midnight Massacre was a turning point in Mets history. One that will never be forgotten by Mets fans.

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