Mets Merized Online » Rob Silverman http://metsmerizedonline.com Sat, 25 Apr 2015 03:05:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.7 Lessons From My Dad… And Gil Hodges http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/04/lessons-from-my-dad-and-gil-hodges.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/04/lessons-from-my-dad-and-gil-hodges.html/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:00:33 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=179743 gil-hodges-aims

It was one of the most memorable games in team history. And I had the luck of good timing (or maybe bad timing) to be in the stands.

No, it wasn’t June 1, 2012 when Johan Santana hurled the Mets first no-no. It wasn’t October 19, 2006 when Endy Chavez defied the laws of gravity and robbed Scott Rolen of a home run. It wasn’t October 25, 1986 when Mookie Wilson hit that slow roller. And it wasn’t April 9, 1985 when newcomer Gary Carter won the hearts of fans with an opening day walk-off HR in the tenth inning.

Nope, none of these. It was May 10, 1981, the day when Hubie Brooks tied a modern day record by committing three errors in one inning.

My dad and I were seated in Loge Section 5 amongst the Shea faithful that Sunday afternoon. With Mike Jorgensen batting cleanup (sad, isn’t it?), Randy Jones was outpitching Bob Welch.

The Mets were up 2-1 over LA going to the top of the 4th when my dad mentioned he was going to run below and get us a couple of ice creams. I was a teenager but still loved those little Breyer’s cups that were half vanilla/half chocolate and came with a wooden spoon that in retrospect was probably a choking hazard. It was a big deal because my father was entrusting me with the monumental responsibility of maintaining the scorecard in his absence.

When he returned, he asked, “What’d I miss?”

“Dad!” I wailed. “Hubie made two…”

A collective gasp of abhorrence rose from the stands as our third baseman fumbled an easy double-play ball.

“Make that three! Hubie made three errors!” I held up three fingers for effect. A fella sitting a few rows behind us disgustedly tossed his scorecard in the air and cried, “Bring Back the Glider!” Worse than the 3 errors and 4 walks that inning was the fact LA batted around, everyone’s worst nightmare when scoring a game.

Hubie stepped to the plate in the 6th, his first AB after bumbling his way into the record books. He received a standing BOO-ation. Catcalls rained down upon the field. Taunts. Insults. Jeers.

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I was 15 years old and carving out my path in life. I’d sprouted some chest hair. I’d started shaving my face (twice a week anyway). I’d be learning to drive soon. I started cursing (though not around my parents.) I was cool cause I now smoked behind the Grand Union in Bay Terrace with my buddy Adam.

With my pal Doug I tried a different kind of ‘cigarette’ that made me laugh…and munchy. I progressed from listening to Elton John and Wings to AC/DC and Van Halen. (‘Unchained’ had replaced ‘Crocodile Rock’ as the greatest song EVER!!!)

Second Base wasn’t just the position Doug Flynn played. It was also how far I’d gotten with a girl I knew named Tracey. I didn’t need my old man anymore. I stood and joined in with the cavalcade of sneering. “You suck Hubie!!!!” I shouted.

I glanced left. Despite the facial hair, deepening voice and smoking, I saw my dad giving me ‘The Look.’ I immediately shut my mouth and sat my ass down.

“What the hell are you doing?”

I stammered. I deflected blame and waved my arm dismissively. “Everyone else was booing, too!”

“That’s their problem. They’re idiots.”

“But dad,” I moaned. “Hubie made three errors!” I again held up three fingers to emphasize my point. “Three. He sucks! He should be booed!”

“They hear enough of that booing s**t on the road. They don’t need it at home, too. How would you like it if 22,000 people booed you every time you answered something wrong in school?”

“But…but…”

My dad then told me a story about the team he rooted for as a kid.

In 1952 his beloved Dodgers were embroiled in a heated pennant race with the hated Giants. Slugging first baseman Gil Hodges went hitless in the last 4 games but Brooklyn managed to hold off NY.

“Did they boo him?”

“No.”

In the World Series, the Dodgers as always faced the Yankees. And as always, the Dodgers fell short, losing in 7 to Mickey Mantle’s club. Hodges’ hitting woes continued. Number 14 went an unheard of 0-for-21 in the Fall Classic. Had Hodges just gotten one hit perhaps Brooklyn finally would’ve gotten that pinstriped monster off their back.

“Did they boo him?”

“No.”

When the 1953 season opened, his slump persisted. Had the 29 year-old slugger forgotten how to hit? What was going on?

“Did they boo him?”

“Boo him?” my dad said. “Hell, no. It was Gil Hodges. They cheered louder.”

“Huh?”

No matter what Hodges did, Brooklyn fans rose to their feet. If he struck out, they clapped. If he popped out, they cheered. If he hit some weak fly to short right field, they applauded. Fans sent him cards and letters, encouraging him to keep his spirits up.

Father Herbert Redmond of the St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn requested his flock to “say a prayer for Gil Hodges.” Journalist Thomas Oliphant even wrote a book centered on Hodges’ prolonged slump entitled “Praying for Gil Hodges.’

My dad’s point was made.

Gil-Hodges

When Hubie came up in the 8th inning, he once again was subjected to booing and hissing and jeering. Taking my dad’s lesson to heart, I stood and cheered. Hu-Bee, Hu-Bee.

“Siddown kid!!!” yelled someone close by. Now fans were booing me! When I glanced left I saw my dad smiling. It was worth it.

As the 2015 season kicks into high gear, no one knows the outcome. And although the Mets are off to one of their best starts in history, there are certain things we can be sure of.

No matter what, our Mets will lose 55-60 games. Wilmer Flores will make his share of errors. Daniel Murphy will make a bone-headed play. Lucas Duda will screw up a bunt and allow a sacrifice to become an infield hit. Curtis Granderson will miss the cut-off man. Travis d’Arnaud will let one get by allowing a go-ahead run to score. Jeurys Familia will give up a walk-off HR. Terry Collins will pull the starter too soon and cost us a game. And he’ll also leave a starter in too long and cost us a game. And who knows, maybe even our Captain will join Hubie Brooks in Mets folklore and make 3 errors in one inning.

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When these things occur, what will you do? Cheer, boo, or sit quietly.

While cheering under such circumstances seems cynical in today’s world, I think it’s imperative not to boo. The Mets, like every other team–and the players, like all us in every day life–will make errors. But as long as they try their best, as long as they run out every ground ball and play a full 27 outs, that’s all we can ask.

It’s our own David Wright who once said, “Whether you have a great game or a terrible game, tomorrow’s another day. You’ve got to come out here and compete.”

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MMO Hall of Fame: Left Fielder Cleon Jones Was Always At Center Of Things http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/04/mmo-hall-of-fame-left-fielder-cleon-jones-was-always-at-center-of-things.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/04/mmo-hall-of-fame-left-fielder-cleon-jones-was-always-at-center-of-things.html/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 16:35:27 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=177997 cleon jones 2

When he removed his Mets uniform for the final time he was our all-time leader in hits, runs, RBI’s, doubles and 2nd in batting average. There was no fanfare, no celebration of his achievements, no day honoring his accomplishments after a decade of playing in New York.  Instead, he lumbered away, head down, disgraced, a beaten man.

He’s one of very few Mets who can call himself a two-time pennant winner. He had a direct impact on both the 69 and 73 season. Teammate Buddy Harrelson said of him, “Even if he was in a 0-for-20 slump, he was the guy you’d still want at-bat.” Tom Seaver was our first superstar. But this man was our first offensive superstar. He caught a fly ball off the bat of Davey Johnson and dropped to one knee, an image that remains one of the most iconic in team history.

He was never given a snazzy nickname like Doctor K, Nails, Kid, or The Franchise. Instead, we referred to him by his given name only: Cleon

Cleon Joseph Jones was born August 4, 1942 in Mobile, AL, the same birthplace as Hank Aaron. He’d wear number 21, the same as Roberto Clemente. His first Major League game was playing center field in the Polo Grounds, the same position patrolled by Willie Mays. And although Cleon was nowhere near the player these Hall of Famers were, it was okay. He was our legend.

Numerous players throughout history have been seemingly predestined for a career in the majors, be it the ability to throw a ball at 100 MPH with pinpoint accuracy, blinding speed or remarkable hand-eye coordination. Cleon was not one of them.

Whereas some burst on the scene, Cleon yo-yoed for several years. Wearing number 34, he made his major league debut on September 14, 1963. Manager Casey Stengel put the 21 year-old in as a defensive replacement for Duke Carmel. In what would be one of the final games ever played at the Polo Grounds, Cleon played CF. And like Moonlight Graham’s one inning, they never hit the ball anywhere near him. .

Cleon had 15 AB’s that September, getting just two hits for a forgettable .133 BA.

He spent all of the 1964 season with the AAA Buffalo Bisons. The next year, he made the team out of spring training. However, after one month and a meager .156 BA, he was once again demoted to Buffalo. Cleon was a late-season call-up and on September 22, 1965, in a 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh, he hit his first HR, a solo blast off of Bob Friend. Despite the dinger, however, he batted just .149, 11-for-74. The Mets finished in 10th place, 50-112, 47 GB.

In 1966, Cleon was named the Mets everyday starting center fielder. Not because of a overwhelmingly solid performance, but largely due to the fact the Mets had little else. In his first full season, Cleon improved. .275-8-57 and 16 steals. His performance earned him fourth place in Rookie of the Year voting.

There was optimism coming into 1967. For the first time, the Mets had NOT lost 100 games the previous season and two rookie pitchers, Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, showed lots of potential. However, Cleon backpedaled. His BA dipped to a disappointing .247 and he ended up in a CF platoon with Larry Stahl. The team as a whole also backtracked, once again losing over 100 times that year. Six seasons, five of which saw more than 100 losses. Would things ever improve?

In 1968, Cleon was shifted to LF to make room for a newly acquired CFer. Tommie Agee had been AL Rookie of the Year in 1966 and was a childhood friend of Cleon. Management also brought in a new manager, much loved former Brooklyn Dodger Gil Hodges. Despite Hodges, Agee and defending NL ROY Tom Seaver, Cleon’s struggles returned. Six weeks into the season he was hitting just .205 and found himself in a platoon again, this time with Art Shamsky.

Then it happened. Something clicked.

On May 18, Cleon went 3-for-4 with a home run, two RBI’s and a pair of runs scored. He started to hit. And there was no stopping him. On July 16th against the Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium, number 21 went 4-for-6 with 3 RBI’s, 1 RS and played all 3 OF positions. He ended the season batting .297, fourth best in the NL. Next up: 1969. And our left fielder was in the center of it all.

Although he notoriously started slow and was always a streaky hitter, Cleon was 26 and coming into his prime. He kicked butt from Opening Day and never looked back. By the All-Star Break he was batting .341 with 10 HR’s and 56 RBI’s, good enough to earn a starting spot in the Mid-Summer Classic along with the likes of Aaron, Johnny Bench, Willie McCovey and future teammate Felix Millan. Cleon went 2-for-4 with two runs scored against the best the American League had.

By that summer Mets fans were beginning to think the unthinkable. The team that had lost 737 games in seven seasons actually had a good chance to finish .500. However, Gil Hodges, a man who knew a lot about winning, wanted more. In late July the Mets were 55-41 and in second place, just five games behind the powerhouse Cubs. Despite the fact Chicago was laden with future Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Fergie Jenkins, Hodges kept the Cubs right in the Mets’ crosshairs.

July 30th in Houston was the turning point in the season. And yes, Cleon was again in the center of it. The Mets got trounced in the first game of a doubleheader, 16-3. The Astros continued the embarrassment in the nightcap, jumping all over Gary Gentry for 8 ER in 2 2/3 IP. In the third inning, Cleon failed to hustle after a ball that went for a double.

gil hodges

To Gil Hodges, it didn’t matter that the Mets were in a pennant race for the first time in their history. It didn’t matter that Cleon Jones was an All-Star. It didn’t matter that he was our best hitter. The Mets skipper would not sit idly by tolerating lackadaisical play. Hodges, stoic as always, stepped from the dugout, took a lengthy slow walk to left field and conferred with his star hitter. After a few words, Hodges turned and walked off the field. Cleon, like a chastised little boy, shadowed Hodges into the dugout.

Years later, Jones claimed he advised Hodges the turf was wet. Hodges replied there must be something wrong with his ankle and pulled him from the game. “Gil was my favorite manager I ever played for,” Cleon clarified years later. “He’d never embarrass a player that way.” We may never know the true content of the conversation. However, the implication was undeniable. This was Gil Hodges’ team. You either play hard or you don’t play. The Mets lost the nightcap, 11-5. They wouldn’t lose too many more.

Hodges’ club played .780, winning 39 of the last 50 games and capturing the division by 8 games. Cleon ended up hitting 340, third behind Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente.

In the first ever NLCS, the Mets swept the Braves. Cleon hit 429.

In the World Series few gave the Mets any chance of defeating the mighty Baltimore Orioles. And when Don Buford opened the Fall Classic with a HR off 25-game winner Tom Seaver, it appeared we were out of Miracles.

The Mets tied the series when Jerry Koosman outdueled Dave McNally 2-1. Back in New York for game three, the Mets drew first blood. Tommie Agee opened the game with a HR. He also made not one but two of the greatest catches in history. Gary Gentry outpitched future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer for a 5-0 Mets win. In game 4, Seaver returned to form. After struggling in the opener, Tom Terrific threw 10 innings, the Mets prevailed 2-1 and were now one win away from a championship.

The Orioles, however, showed why they won 109 games. Needing a win to return the series to Baltimore, they scored early off Koosman and took a 3-0 lead. In the top of the 6th, Kooz delivered an inside pitch. Frank Robinson claimed the pitch hit him. Home plate umpire Lou DiMuro disagreed. Replays clearly showed DiMuro blew the call.

Lightning struck again in the bottom of that same inning. And once again, Cleon was in the center of it. McNally threw a pitch low. Cleon danced out of the way, the ball ricocheted into the Mets dugout. Cleon, like Robinson, claimed the ball hit him. DiMuro claimed it did not. Gil Hodges ever-so-slowly walked onto the field and presented a ball with shoe polish to the umpire. DiMuro changed the call and awarded Cleon First Base. Seconds later, Donn Clendenon deposited McNally’s offering beyond the LF auxiliary scoreboard to cut the lead to 3-2. And one hour after that, Cleon caught that fly ball and dropped to one knee.

In the late 60’s/early 70’s, pitching dominated the game, especially in the NL. Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton and Phil Niekro, all future inductees in Cooperstown, quieted NL bats. But don’t tell that to Cleon. From 68-71 Cleon averaged 308.

The 1973 NL East was a dogfight of mediocrity. On August 30th, the Mets were in last place, but just 6 ½ back with 30 games remaining. Just like 1969, the Mets got hot at the right time. By September 17th, the Mets inched up to 4th, were just 3 ½ GB of Pittsburgh—with the Mets and Pirates playing a rare 5-game series–2 in Pittsburgh, 3 in New York. The two contests at Three Rivers were split and the series moved to Shea for three crucial games.

The Mets captured the opener, 7-3, and for only the second time in his career, Cleon went deep twice in one game. The lead was trimmed to a game a half. The following day, September 20th, one of the strangest yet most memorable play in team history occurred. And once again, Cleon was in the center of it.

Jerry Koosman faced off against Jim Rooker. A Mets victory would bring us to within a half, a loss would shove us 2 ½ back with just 9 games remaining. It was a back-and-forth contest. Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead in the 4th. The Mets tied it in the bottom of the 6th. Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in the top of the 7th. The Mets tied it in the bottom of the 8th. Pittsburgh scored 1 in the top of the 9th to go up 3-2. The Mets tied it in the bottom of the 9th.

In the top of the 13th, Richie Zisk singled with one out. Pinch Hitter Dave Augustine came up and sent the Ray Sadecki pitch into the night. Cleon turned and ran…and ran…and ran some more. The ball did not go over. Nor did it bounce off the wall. It bounced on top of the wall. Cleon played the carom perfectly, pivoted and fired to relay man Wayne Garrett who turned and threw a bullet to catcher Ron Hodges who applied the tag to keep the game deadlocked at 3-3. In the bottom half of the inning, the Mets won, First place and the post-season was now within our grasp.

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In the 1973 League Championship Series against the Big Red Machine, Cleon batted .300, 6-for-20 with three RBI and three runs scored. In the World Series against Oakland, Cleon hit .286. Of his eight hits, three were for extra bases. He scored five runs in seven games.

In 1975, it would all come crashing down like a Shakespearean tragedy. Spring training saw Cleon suffer a knee injury. He stayed behind when the team went north. On the morning of May 4 in St. Petersburg, FL, Cleon was arrested at 5:00 am. The charge? Indecent exposure.

Police found the 33 year-old sleeping inside a van next to a 21 year-old female who was in possession of marijuana. Cleon insisted he didn’t know the woman, that he met her at a party and was giving her a ride home when the van ran out of gas and he fell asleep. Ultimately, the charges were dropped. “Indecent exposure” was the fact Cleon was barefoot. However, in the eyes of Mets chairman M. Donald Grant this was inexcusable debauchery.

Grant was an autocrat, a tyrant who viewed his players as chattel. He once relinquished his membership to an exclusive Connecticut country club when he learned an inferior individual named Tom Seaver was also a member.

Grant fined Cleon $2000, four times more than any other player had ever been fined. Worse than the financial punishment was the degradation imposed on the Mets superstar. In the glare of the media, with cameras recording every mannerism, spotlights bathing him in a stifling glow and situated behind a bank of microphones angled like missiles about to launch, Cleon was ordered to apologize—to fans, to teammates, to his employer. And to his wife, Angela, who Grant insisted appear at his side.

In October 1969, Cleon caught a fly ball and cemented a miracle. It was the highest point in Mets history. Now, less than six years later, Cleon was again in the center, but this time it was the lowest point in Mets history.

He returned to the team in late May. But was not welcomed back. As if the financial punishment and humiliation were not enough, the order had come down from management that Cleon was to only play sparingly. For two months, the Mets icon was largely relegated to riding the pine. He seldom started and was used meagerly as a pinch-hitter. Such sparse play inhibited his ability to get any timing, extra burdensome knowing he was notoriously streaky. In July Cleon reached his breaking point. Hitting only 240 he got into an altercation with manager Yogi Berra. Grant now had more ammo and fired the fatal bullet. After 13 seasons, he was released outright.

The following year, 1976, he played for the White Sox but Cleon, a slow-starter, was hitting just 200 and promptly released. Cleon Jones, loved and adored by fans in New York, a World Champion, an All-Star, an almost Rookie of the Year and almost batting champion, was unwanted by any club. He was shamed out of Baseball by age 33.

For those of us lucky enough to have seen him play, he was the one that made you sit a little closer to the TV, move up onto the edge of your seat at Shea and chant Lets Go Mets a little louder. He was the one you always made sure to watch when he stepped to the plate, the one guy you wanted to get to in the batting order if you were trailing. He was flashy without being flashy.

It’s been nearly forty years since Cleon wore a Mets uniform. He played in a time when pitching dominated the game. And despite the fact that names like Strawberry, Hernandez, Piazza, Carter, Wright, Ventura and Reyes came after him, Cleon Jones still remains near the top in runs, hits, doubles and RBI’s.

In July 1969, he was involved in a play that turned around the season. In October 1969, he was involved in at-bat that opened the door to the Mets comeback in Game Five. In 1973, he was involved in one of the most famous, most strange plays in history, yet another turning point that led to yet another pennant.

MMO Hall of Fame cleon jones

And with that, Metsmerized Online is pleased to announce that Cleon Jones is this year’s inductee into the Metsmerized Hall of Fame.

Jones now joins mike Piazza, Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden and David Wright in our own hallowed halls honoring the best players the Mets ever had. Congratulations, Cleon!

Feel free to leave your best memories and most heartfelt recollections of Cleon in our comment threads.

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Mets Arm Woes Continue, But We’ve Navigated These Waters Before http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/03/mets-arm-woes-continue-but-weve-navigated-these-waters-before.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/03/mets-arm-woes-continue-but-weve-navigated-these-waters-before.html/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 10:00:37 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=176782 Clayton Kershaw takes a picture with Sandy Koufax

There are certain organizations whose mere mention of their name conjures up an image. If you were asked to list some of the greatest Yankees of all-time, you’d come up with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mattingly, Jeter. Hence, their nickname: The Bronx Bombers. With the exception of Whitey Ford, Roger Clemens (asterisk included) and one phenomenal season from Ron Guidry, the Yankees are celebrated for hitting.

Since moving to Los Angeles, the Dodgers have become identified with turning out great pitchers seemingly every decade. From Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the 60’s to Don Sutton and Andy Messersmith in the 70’s to Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser in the 80’s to Kevin Brown in the late 90’s and now Clayton Kershaw, some of the most dominant starters of the last half century have worn Dodger blue.

The Giants storied history includes power hitters. Four players with over 500 HR’s have played for them. For over a century it seems like some of the most dominant hitters of their era have been Tigers: Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. Philadelphia fans are regarded as some of the rudest and most obstinate in baseball. But is that just a reflection of the gritty in-your-face style of their team? Jimmy Rollins followed in the footsteps of John Kruk and Lenny Dykstra who followed in the footsteps of Larry Bowa.

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And what about the Mets? We’ve had the reputation of great pitching. And deservedly so. From 1967 through 1984, the Mets had three starters – Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack and Doc Gooden – win Rookie of the Year honors, more than any other team. Add to the mix Jerry Koosman finishing 2nd for ROY in 1968, an ERA champion in Craig Swan in 1978 and the fact that Nolan Ryan was one of ours, it’s easy to see why the Mets were known pitching. In 16 seasons, 1969 through 1985, a Mets pitcher won the Cy Young award four times.

mmo feature original footerWhat about now. Is that label still apropos? Do fans and executives still look at Flushing with envy? Does anyone ask rhetorically, “How do those Mets keep doing it?” We clearly know how to turn out great pitching with lots of promise and potential. But is that where it ends? Producing talented young arms is one thing. Keeping them healthy is something else.

Granted, arm injuries are more common than ever, but lately it appears the Mets have dealt with more arm injuries than most. A few days ago fans shook their head disgustedly when learning Zack Wheeler would be gone for the year. Wheeler going down comes on the heels of Matt Harvey returning from his Tommy John surgery. This follows Josh Edgin, closer Bobby Parnell missing 2014 with TJS, Jon Niese hurt in 2013 and back to Johan Santana in 2010. We can blame Dan Warthen and Terry Collins and trainers all we want, but this isn’t necessarily a new trend for us. We’ve seen this before.

generation k pulsipher, wilson, isringhausen

In the mid-90’s, Generation K was supposed to close out the 20th century in dominance akin to Seaver, Koosman and Matlack. Of course, it didn’t happen.

Bill Pulsipher was the first of the trio to arrive. In 1995 he made his debut and between the minors and the majors, the 21 year-old tossed 218 innings. As soon as the season concluded he underwent Tommy John and missed all of ’96 and most of ’97. He would only make 29 more starts between 1998 and 2005 before retiring at age 32.

Jason Isringhausen, the second member of the elite Generation K, was impressive. In the second half of 1995, he went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA. The following year, the injuries came and didn’t let up. Rib cage, bone spurs, torn labrums and three arm operations between late 95 and 98.

Paul Wilson, the Mets number one pick, was the highest touted of the three. Despite his unorthodox delivery and poor mechanics, Wilson was ordained to be the Mets ace for many years. However, his delivery was never adjusted to reduce stress on his arm. He made 26 starts in 96 before injuries also ended his career.

Generation K didn’t go on to become Seaver, Koosman and Matlack. Instead, they became a low point in Mets history. And fodder for others teams to make jokes about.

dwight-gooden

One can even go back earlier. Before he made his major league debut on April 7, 1984, Dwight Gooden was larger than life. A legend. A lock for Cooperstown. Those of us who witnessed Doc in those days were overwhelmed with blue and orange pride that a guy this talented, this gifted, and so young pitched on our team. In his first three years, Doc was 58-19 with a 2.32 ERA. He fanned NL batters at an alarming rate, leading the league with an 11.4 K/9 his rookie year.

As we all know, his inner demons derailed his promising career. But one must also take into account his overuse. In 1985, Gooden threw 276.2 innings. Only one pitcher since has surpassed that many innings, knuckleballer Charlie Hough. Experts calculate that between the majors and minors, Doc threw 10,000 pitches before turning 21.

So while our storied history is chock full of great pitching and some of the best pitchers in the game, we’ve also dealt with our fair share of unfortunate bouts with career threatening and season ending arm injuries. It comes in unpredictable ebbs and flows, but one thing we’ve learned is that no matter how bleak things may appear right now on the injury front, this too shall pass.

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Will Great Expectations Lead to Great Disappointment? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/03/will-great-expectations-lead-to-great-disappointment.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/03/will-great-expectations-lead-to-great-disappointment.html/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 15:30:33 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=175579 Tug McGraw

Tug McGraw fanned pinch-hitter Billy Conigliaro to cement the 2-0 victory. Afterwards, the Mets bound a plane for the west coast. The date was October 18, 1973. All they needed to do was split the next two in Oakland and the World Series was ours. It was not meant to be.

In the 9th inning of Game 7 we managed to get the tying run to the plate in the form of Wayne Garrett. Garrett, who was second on the team in home runs, popped out. Disappointing? Yes. Heartbreaking? Definitely. But overall, it was hard to feel dissatisfied. We’d been in last place on August 30, 10 games below .500. We eeked out the division with 82 meager wins, shocked the powerhouse Big Red Machine in five games, and pushed the defending World Champion A’s to the last at-bat in the last game on the last day of Baseball. Not bad at all.

By contrast, 15 years later, the 1988 Mets, only two years removed from winning it all, were poised to do it again. We reached 100 wins for only the 3rd time in team history (a benchmark we haven’t reached since) and captured the division by 15 games. The shocking upset at the hands of the Dodgers still sticks in the craw for all of us who witnessed the inconceivable HR by Mike Scioscia off Doc Gooden that turned everything around. Disappointed? Yes. Heartbreaking? Definitely.

The Mets honored the 86 club twenty years later as history appeared to be repeating itself. Like 1986, the 2006 Mets dominated all year. 97 victories (5th most in history), winning the division by 12 games and having 3 players with more than 25 HR’s and 100 RBI’s. However, it was a repeat of 1988, not 1986. A 9th inning HR by another light-hitting catcher, this one named Yadier Molina, stunned Shea into a tomblike stillness and ended the Mets season earlier than anyone anticipated. Disappointed? Yes. Heartbreaking? You bet your ass…

The question is ‘why’?

In hindsight, 1973 should feel more tragic than 88 or 06. Coming within one hit of winning the World Series is undoubtedly more gut-wrenching than coming within one hit of even getting to the World Series.

I think the difference was that in 73 expectations were low. No one anticipated much of the Mets that year whereas in 88 and 06, we viewed the season as a mere formality, a coronation of what we deserved, what we were entitled to. My Goodness, we turned into…the Yankees.

Spring Training has just begun and the Mets are setting the bar high. Granted, all 30 teams are optimistic since right now the Giants and Royals are no better than the Astros and Twins. However, when it’s those ‘big mouth big city obnoxious New Yorkers’ talking crap, be it the Mets or the Yankees, other teams take notice. It only makes it that much sweeter to knock those big city folk down a notch.

I’ve said for years the Mets should display more swagger. It’s refreshing to now see it. What confuses me is where the newfound confidence is coming from?

This winter the Padres ratcheted up their team adding Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, James Shields and Wil Myers. The Red Sox acquired the most sought after bat by signing Pablo Sandoval in addition to Hanley Ramirez and Cuban sensation Yoan Moncada. Washington had the best record in the NL last season but didn’t stand pat and handed over $210 million to perennial All-Star Max Scherzer. Even the Cubs who last won a World Series when Teddy Roosevelt was President were active, acquiring Jon Lester and hiring Joe Maddon.

Meanwhile, the Mets added 36 year-old Michael Cuddyer who’s averaged 93 games the last 3 seasons. While I do think Cuddyer can help, can he make that much of a difference? Is this the so-called difference maker we were looking to add this offseason?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Mets

I know, I know. I can hear it now: We have Harvey back. No doubt the Mets are better with Harvey than without him. But before we order our 2015 Mets World Champion T-shirts, let’s keep a few things in mind. Harvey is coming off surgery and hasn’t pitched in a real game in eighteen months. And despite having him through August of 2013, the Mets were just 58-69 and 18 GB with him in the rotation. By comparison, Clayton Kershaw who is just one year older, has 98 career wins, 1,445 K’s, 3 Cy Young’s and an MVP. Matt Harvey has 12 wins.

So, again, why the confidence? The Mets haven’t been to the post-season in almost a decade, haven’t played an important game or been in a pennant race in 6 years, haven’t even played .500 since our final season at Shea.

For conversational purposes, let’s assume 2015 gives us the same 3 division winners as 2014: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers. That leaves the defending champion Giants, the much-improved Padres, the solid Pirates, the always tough Brewers, the pesky Reds, the upgraded Cubs and the consistent Braves competing for two wild-card spots. Can the Mets win more games than all these teams—or at least all but one—to earn a wildcard?

Confidence, swagger and arrogance are a good thing. But a team has to be able to back it up. In the mid-80s, the Mets had that swagger. But we could—and did–back it up. Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter were proven winners, we had the youthful hunger of phenoms Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden and we had a manager who spent much of his career playing for the great Earl Weaver.

Seaver-Koosman-Matlack-Copy-500x285

In the 70’s, we exuded quiet confidence. With the Big Three of Seaver, Koosman and Matlack along with the likes of clutch Cleon Jones, reliable Rusty Staub, the fire-in-the-belly of Buddy Harrelson and gritty Jerry Grote–many of whom already had a ring from 1969–along with a manager in Yogi Berra who was quite familiar with October Baseball, we had reason to be confident. And we had the arms to back it up.

What about now? The Mets issued t-shirts (supposedly now pulled back) claiming ‘Take the Damn Thing.’ Jacob deGrom recently stated “We want to make the playoffs, we want to win the World Series.” Zack Wheeler compared the Mets to the team that traded him away, the Giants, winners of 3 championships in 5 years. Curtis Granderson said, “We are primed and ready.” Terry Collins insisted “It’s time.”

A few weeks back I posted a question on a fan-based Mets page on Facebook. The question I asked was simple: How many of you would be satisfied if the Mets improve this year but do NOT make the post-season? 81% responded they’d be disappointed if the Mets fail to make the playoffs.

What do you think? Is this newborn confidence good or bad? Are we setting ourselves up for another depressing season? Several springs ago, Carlos Beltran proclaimed “The Mets are the team to beat.” And then the Phillies did exactly that. Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself. Let’s hope these Mets are as good as they say they are. Let’s Go Mets. Do it.

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That’s The Signpost Up Ahead, Your Next Stop, The Manfred Zone http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/02/thats-the-signpost-up-ahead-your-next-stop-the-manfred-zone.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/02/thats-the-signpost-up-ahead-your-next-stop-the-manfred-zone.html/#comments Sun, 08 Feb 2015 13:26:15 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=174429 tumblr_mylw8lPK1h1slsalco1_500

The date is Tuesday, October 6, 2015 and we made it. Finally. After 8 draining tedious seasons, the Mets have returned to the post-season. 90 wins netted us the second wildcard spot. In order to face St. Louis in the LDS and avenge 2006 all we must do is win a one-game wild card elimination. Jacob deGrom (18-9 3.25 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (21-5, 2.73 ERA).

Kershaw seems to have finally shaken his post-season woes. That is, until the top of the 7th when Lucas Duda plants one beyond the RF wall knocking in Lagares and Wright. The Mets need just 9 more outs. But the 7th inning stretch galvanizes the capacity crowd. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins (of all people) notices the corner infielders playing back and legs out a perfectly executed bunt for a lead-off single. The fans get loud. Carl Crawford clobbers deGrom’s next offering. Curtis Granderson turns and runs, snagging the high fly against the wall for the first out. 27 year-old deGrom is rattled. He takes a deep breath, paces, tries to regroup and wipes the sweat from his brow as Yasiel Puig digs in. Puig splits two outfielders. A double. The Dodgers, trailing 3-0, have runners on second and third. The tying run, represented by Adrian Gonzalez (.279-32-118) steps to the plate.

Eight more stinkin’ outs. Mets fans are growing restless, anticipating the worst. 56,238 Dodgers fans rise to their feet in an attempt to unnerve the Mets starter. It’s all happened so quick that Terry Collins hasn’t had a chance to get someone loose. The Mets need to stall. DeGrom needs to calm down. Mets fans scream at the TV for Collins to go the mound and buy some time for the bullpen. Why isn’t Duda sharing some words of encouragement??? Why is David Wright, our captain, just standing there??? How come Travis d’Arnaud isn’t calling time and walking to the mound to calm down the young pitcher the way Gary Carter did with Doc Gooden? DeGrom, nervous, losing composure and about to blow it, is left all alone. What the hell is going on??? Is this the Twilight Zone??? Where’s Rod Serling???

Then we remember. “Oh, yea. We’ve used up our allotted time-outs.” Welcome to the Rob Manfred version of Major League Baseball. You know, the version where games took too darn long and needed to be sped up.

One of the countless aspects that make baseball the greatest game ever devised is the link from generation to generation. For well over a century the National Pastime has remained relatively unchanged. A .300 hitter means something, no matter if it’s me cheering Jose Reyes, my father cheering Jackie Robinson or my grandfather cheering Babe Herman. A 20-game winner is a 20-game winner, be it Doc Gooden, Tom Seaver or Christy Mathewson. 200 K’s means the same to Randy Johnson as it did to Walter Johnson. The only significant alteration to the rules occurred in 1973. And more than 40 years after one league installed the DH, fans are still divided.

Buster-Posey-InjuryThe powers-that-be began tinkering with the Holy Grail of the game, the rule book, because of what transpired in Florida on May 25, 2011. On a play at home, Scott Cousins collided with Giants catcher Buster Posey. The defending Rookie of the Year suffered torn ligaments and a fractured fibula. For all intents and purposes, the Giants season was finished before Memorial Day. MLB felt, for whatever reason, changes needed to be made. And so began the descent down a perilous slope that could have a long lasting impact on the game we cherish.

There is nothing more exciting than witnessing a player rounding third and heading for home as the catcher plants his feet waiting for the relay throw. Nothing can bring an entire stadium to their feet quicker than anticipating a play at the plate. Both at the ballpark and watching from home our stomachs tighten. We hold our collective breath. Can the runner knock the ball free? Can the catcher apply the tag?

Beginning last year that thrilling aspect was removed. You could clearly see the confusion all season long. Runners were uncertain where their lane was. Catchers were tentative about where they were permitted to stand. Protecting a run became secondary to abiding to some silly rule. (As a side note, how many knew that the rule was amended during the season where catchers could NOT block the plate but position players COULD?)

Was Posey’s injury catastrophic? Absolutely. The 2011 Giants still managed to win 86 games, falling just 4 short of the wildcard. Surely, had Posey not been injured, he himself is worth 4 wins. However, MLB overreacted. Yes, catchers do get hurt. But that’s part of the game. And think about it. How often does that really occur? We see more injuries on routine plays. If MLB feels compelled to prevent injuries, what’s next?

More common is a batter pulling a hamstring sprinting down the 1B line trying to beat out a slow roller. How about a player rounding 2nd and turning on the afterburners. (Jose Reyes anyone?) We see players jamming thumbs stealing a base. Perhaps MLB should create a Designated Runner. We have a Designated Hitter so why not? Every player could have one DR assigned to them. Rosters would increase to 50, the union would be happy and star players we pay admission to see would never get hurt.

KEN GRIFFEY JR.Another way to prevent injuries could be prohibiting outfielders from crashing into the wall. Hey, we already have a warning track. Let’s put it to good use. If the outfielder can’t catch the ball before trespassing onto the warning track, that’s just too darn bad. (If such a rule existed twenty years ago, think of all those extra games Ken Griffey Jr. would not have missed. He’d probably be the HR King, not Barry Bonds.)

And pitchers? They are both the highest paid AND most often injured. Maybe MLB should outlaw the curve ball. And while they’re at it, they can outlaw the fast ball, too. After all, more batters are injured getting hit by a pitch than runners colliding at the plate. Perhaps we should reduce a strikeout to two strikes, a walk to three balls? How about extending the base paths from 90 feet to 110 feet. C’mon, let’s get the baseball thing over with in a hurry so we can all go back to seeing which Kardashian is pregnant this week.

Of course I’m being sarcastic. But based on recent changes, I’m not ruling out anything. In the Arizona Fall League MLB looked into methods to speed up the game. Some of the changes tested include:

• Batter’s box rule: Hitter required to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout at-bat unless there is foul ball, wild pitch or passed ball — or if a pitch forces him out or the umpire grants “time.”

• No-pitch intentional walks

• 20-second rule: 20-second clock will be posted in each dugout, behind home plate and in outfield to prevent pitchers from taking too much time.

• 2:05 inning-break clock: Maximum time allowed between innings, and batters must be in box at 1:45 mark or umpire can call automatic strike. If pitcher throws pitch after 2:05, umpire may call ball.

• 2:30 pitching-change-break clock: Maximum amount of time allowed for pitching change.

• Three “timeout” limit: Teams limited to three trips to the mound by managers, coaches and catchers during game, except pitching changes.

Commissioner Manfred is also looking into outlawing defensive shifts, removing strategy from the most strategic game there is. That in and of itself is a mixed signal and demonstrates MLB is utterly clueless. On one hand they install policies to make games shorter. On the other hand, recent changes do just the opposite.

With the advent of a ‘challenge’ or ‘play under review,’ the game that supposedly already moves too slowly now comes to a grinding halt. Players on the field, fans in the stands and viewers at home now watch with baited breath as umpires stand in a circle wearing headsets conversing with some guy in a darkened chamber high above Manhattan like the mysterious shadowy “banker” in that Howie Mandel game show. During the course of a game this alone could add anywhere from 8-12 minutes. If they’re willing to delay a game to make sure the call is correct, isn’t it equally important to honor the history of the game itself and not mess around with lunacy such as pitch clocks?

Jimi-hendrix-guitar-on-fire-monterey-liveAnother contradiction from the incoming commissioner is his desire to bring offense back to the game. Outlawing defensive shifts will see the return of 9-7 slugfests instead of well-played 3-2 pitching duels. Yet, we all know a 9-7 game takes longer to play than a 3-2 game.

Making games shorter will not help ratings. Those who find Baseball “boring” and “slow-moving” will not suddenly become fans and purchase Mike Trout jerseys. And those of us who are purists will take umbrage to tinkering with the very essence of the game we treasure, the game taught to us by our dad or older brother. They need to stop mucking up the beauty of Baseball with hare-brained attempts to outdraw Football. Yes, 112 million TV sets were tuned into the Super Bowl last weekend while an average of just 13.8 million viewers watched the World Series last October.  But so what? Kanye West has sold more records than Jimi Hendrix. That doesn’t mean he’s better.

For more than 100 years Baseball has survived every conceivable transgression imaginable. Racists, bigots and anti-Semites have worn the uniform. But the game endured. Games have been fixed, an entire World Series was thrown. But the game endured. Some of the greatest players to ever walk on the field have been shamed and may never be enshrined in Cooperstown. But the game endured. Alcoholics, cocaine addicts and steroid users have played. But the game endured. Free agency, collusion, teams relocating, some franchises completely folded. But the game endured. Two World Wars and conflicts from Southeast Asia to Central America have taken place. But the game endured. On a Tuesday morning, terror came to New York City, Washington DC and western Pennsylvania. The game stopped. But after ten days, endured. Hopefully the game will be able to endure these potentially catastrophic changes.

“Baseball must be a great game. The owners haven’t found a way to kill it yet.”  – Bill Veeck

The date is Tuesday, October 6, 2015 and we made it. Finally. After 8 draining tedious seasons, the Mets have returned to the post-season.

It’s the top of the 9th in Los Angeles. The Mets squandered a 3-0 lead and now trail 4-3. Closer Kenley Jansen is on the hill to close it out and send the Mets home on a long cross-country flight. After retiring the first 2 batters, 56,238 Dodgers fans are on their feet. They smell blood. Juan Lagares keeps  our hopes alive and bloops one over the outstretched glove of Jimmy Rollins. Daniel Murphy fights off a wicked 0-2 cut fastball and shoots one down the first base line, just beyond the reach of Adrian Gonzalez. Lagares motors around to 3B.

Trailing 4-3, tying run on third and potential winning run at first. David Wright, candidate for Comeback Player of the Year (302-26-107) digs in. After falling behind 0-2, he fights off pitch after pitch after pitch. He fouls off close pitches, lays off others just off the black and works the count to 3-2. The capacity crowd is going crazy. Fans in New York are pacing in their living rooms.

Don Mattingly on the top step of the Dodger dugout. Terry Collins and various Mets on the top step of the visiting dugout. The camera, shaking due to vibration of chaotic screaming fans, scans the crowd. There’s Tommy LaSorda in the owner’s box staring wide-eyed at the field. We catch a glimpse of Jerry Seinfeld sitting behind the Mets dugout, cap pulled down over his eyes, too nervous to watch. We get a quick shot of Keith Hernandez in the broadcast booth, his hands clutching an imaginary bat, willing himself on the field as if its 1986 all over again. Catcher A.J. Ellis puts down one finger, pats his left thigh. Fast Ball inside. Jensen checks the runners and sets. Wright grips the bat.

Suddenly, as the fire-balling closer is ready to deliver, a slight breeze kicks up and blows something into Wright’s eye. The entire season is on the line. But David isn’t allowed to step out or ask for time because the rules now prohibit that since we need to get done quickly. Jensen fires a 98 MPH heater. And our entire season comes down to a one-eyed David Wright.

Thanks a lot Rob Manfred.

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Tell Them Tommie Agee Was Here http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/01/tell-them-tommie-agee-was-here.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/01/tell-them-tommie-agee-was-here.html/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 12:31:05 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=173964 The date was Monday, January 22, 2001. The weather in New York was brisk. The Twin Towers stood proud and dominated the skyline. The city was just three months removed from the first Subway Series in over four decades and Baseball Fever still filled the air.

In midtown Manhattan, a 58 year old, African-American, mortgage insurance salesman walked out of an office building. He clutched his chest and collapsed onto the frozen sidewalk.

tommie ageeBy the time the EMT workers arrived, the man was in cardiac arrest. Attempts to revive him on the way to Bellevue Hospital proved futile and the individual was pronounced dead at 1:05 PM. His name: Tommie Agee.

When we look back at critical plays at crucial moments throughout World Series history, many of them are related to 6 or 7 game Series. A bloop hit by Luis Gonzalez, a ground ball that ‘gets by Buckner,’ a missed third strike by Mickey Owen. It’s hard to imagine that one player could have such an impact in a short 5 game series. But that is exactly what Tommie Agee meant to the Mets in 1969. It’s very conceivable that had it not been for Agee, we would have just the one championship in 1986.

Tommie Lee Agee was born on August 9, 1942 in Magnolia, Alabama. He was a college star at Grambling and ultimately was signed by the Cleveland Indians. Although his first big league at-bat happened on Sept 14, 1962, it wasn’t until 1966 he became a full time player for the White Sox. Agee thrived in his everyday role and in his first full season walloped 22 Home Runs, knocked in 86 runs, slugged .447, scored 98 runs, and stole 44 bases on his way to winning the AL Rookie of the Year.

The following year, however, his productivity dropped substantially. He batted just .234, hit 14 homers, and struck out 129 times. The ChiSox wasted no time in casting off this ‘one year wonder’ and dealt him to the Mets along with Al Weis for Jack Fisher, Tommy Davis and a pair of minor leaguers.

The 1968 season started with hope for the Mets. We now had two former Rookie of the Year winners in Agee and Tom Seaver, and a young pitcher named Jerry Koosman was also showing promise. We also had a new manager in the much revered Gil Hodges. On Opening Day, the Mets jumped out to an early 4-0 lead against future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. However, our bullpen failed., the Giants scored three in the bottom of the 9th, and it became clear from that day on that 1968 would be no different than the years prior. Agee had been beaned in Spring Training by Bob Gibson and never got on track. He started the season going 0-34, and things didn’t really improve much for him for the rest of the season. In 132 games, he batted a disappointing .217 with just five homers and an embarrassing 17 RBI.

When the 1969 season began, Mets fans, as we always do, hoped for the best but somewhat expected the worst. Gil Hodges saw something in his center fielder. Although Agee didn’t have the natural talent of a Seaver or Nolan Ryan, he worked hard and made the most of his skills. Teammates always described Number 20 as intelligent, hard working, and a real winner. Despite having a pitiful ’68 season, Hodges stood by Agee and he quickly rewarded his manager, his teammates and the Mets faithful.

timmie agee home run spotOn April 10, 1969, Tommie Agee put the NL on notice that he was back! He blasted a home run that would reach the upper deck at Shea. (Insert theme from The Natural.) Only 8,608 fans were on hand that day. The game was not televised so there is no footage.

On-deck hitter Rod Gaspar said, “I’ve never seen a ball hit like that.” Buddy Harrelson stated, “The ball was still climbing.” Although Shea was only six years old at the time, people assumed that eventually someone would probably hit a ball that far again. It never happened. That blast by Agee became the longest home run ever hit at Shea Stadium.

The Miracle of the 69 season quickly came into doubt during the Fall Classic. Tom Seaver, with a record of 25-7 and a 2.21 ERA started Game One. Don Buford welcomed the Mets into the World Series by hitting a lead-off HR. The Mets lost 4-1 and people wondered if the dream was over. The Miracle was in doubt. However, behind the masterful pitching of Jerry Koosman in Game 2, the Mets prevailed 2-1, splitting the two games in Baltimore and now returning home to Big Shea.

56,335 fans attended Game 3, the first World Series game ever played at Shea. It was Agee who stepped to the forefront. Leading off against future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, Agee opened the game with a homer and quickly put the Mets on top. However, the best was yet to come.

tommie agee game 3The Mets led 3-0 in the top of the 4th. With runners on 1st and 3rd and two outs, Elrod Hendricks hit a shot deep into left center field. Agee ran as fast as his legs would carry him. Approaching the wall at full speed, Agee never slowed down. As he said years later, “I would have run right through that wall if I needed to.” Agee made a spectacular backhanded snow cone catch that saved at least two runs. As he trotted off the field, with the white of the ball still in the webbing, Shea erupted like never before. But he was not done yet.

In the 7th, the Mets were now leading 4-0, but Baltimore, winner of 109 games during the season, showed why they were the class of the AL. They refused to roll over. They loaded the bases. Paul Blair, the tying run, stepped to the plate and Hodges brought in Nolan Ryan from the bullpen. Blair greeted Ryan by hitting one deep into right-center field. Once again, Agee sped into the power alley. The possibility of him making TWO great catches seemed impossible and unlikely. But at the last minute, the wind grabbed hold of the ball. Agee extended, dove for the ball, snared the sinking liner, slid onto the warning track and rolled over. The ball was in his glove. Had he not made the catch, it most likely would have been an inside-the-park home run and tied the game at 4-4.

tommie ageeThe Mets won the game 5-0, and would go on to win the series in five games. “The homer meant one run,” Agee said, “But the catches saved more than that.”

Agee’s catches also signified the dawning of a new age for the Mets. We would no longer be the laughing stock of baseball. The lovable losers were on their way to becoming Champions.

Sports Illustrated ranked Agee’s catches as among the best in World Series history along with Willie Mays in 1954, Sandy Amoros in 1955 and Al Gionfriddo in 1947. They also went on to claim that Agee’s performance in Game 3 was the best ever by a center fielder in World Series history. The point can be argued that if it was not for Tommie Agee in Game 3, the Orioles may have quite possibly won the game, salvaged at least one of the three in New York and forced the series to return to Baltimore. And who knows how things may have turned out if that would have happened. Thanks to Tommie Agee, none of that was necessary.

Agee led the team in home runs, RBI and runs scored that season and also won NL Comeback Player of the Year award. Although 1969 was his high point, Tommie continued to be a major part of the Mets the following season. In 1970 he put together a 20 game hitting streak, hit for the cycle one day in July and even stole home in the tenth inning to win a game. Mets management was so pleased with his performance, they increased his salary to $40,000. However, by 1974, he was out of baseball as injuries would cut short his career. After batting just .227 with 13 home runs in 1972, the Mets traded him to Houston for Rich Chiles and Buddy Harris. He played for Houston and St. Louis in 1973, then was traded to Los Angeles, but failed to make the team out of spring training and at age 30, our World Series hero retired.

He went on to open ‘The Outfielder’s Lounge’ close to Shea and ultimately worked for Stewart Title Insurance. He remained very active promoting the Mets around the city and spent his later years taking part in numerous charities and baseball clinics.

“He was such a good athlete and a real good friend.,” teammate Kenny Boswell said after Agee passed away. Right fielder and fellow champion Ron Swoboda added, “The way he conducted himself on and off the field, both during and after his career, was admirable. He was taken way too soon.”

Too soon indeed. Thanks for all the memories, Tommie.

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Featured Post: Do The Mets “Have The Horses” To Win? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/01/featured-post-do-the-mets-have-the-horses-to-win.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/01/featured-post-do-the-mets-have-the-horses-to-win.html/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:46:05 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=173699 It was the 7th game of the World Series, a heavyweight championship bout, and the Kentucky Derby all rolled into one. There was a definite buzz in the air during the summer of 1960 leading up to the presidential election. In one corner was Republican Richard Nixon. Fresh off 8 years as Vice President, Americans were already familiar with him. In the other corner was a young, vibrant John Kennedy, a man who at forty three would be the second youngest president in history.  Pundits predicted it would be a nail biter.

CL24354As Election Day neared, a photo of Nixon was circulated. Grinning slyly and appearing smarmy, the caption read “Would YOU buy a used car from this man?”

After more than 68,000,000 ballots were cast on November 8, 1960, Kennedy prevailed by a mere 112,827 votes, 49.7% to 49.6%. Did one simple picture posing one simple question make the difference? Americans didn’t trust Nixon to lead the nation. They didn’t want to buy a used car from him.

Fast-forward fifty five years.

The Mets were floundering. From 2001-2004, they played .455 ball and finished a collective 92 games back. Ownership, now flush with a shipload of cash from the USS Madoff and the promise of a new ballpark in 2009, urged their new GM to go on a spending spree and bring in some pizazz. And boy, did he ever. Over the next few years, they handed out millions like candy. Contracts offered to Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, Johan Santana, Jason Bay, Shawn Green, Luis Castillo and Tom Glavine totaled more than half a billion dollars. The return on the investment? One post-season that ended shockingly in an upset to the Cardinals. That sure didn’t work out too well.

Enter Sandy Alderson whose job it was to right the ship. The new course was for the Mets to win the old-fashioned way. We’d rebuild the farm system. We’d go with youth. We’d win with a roster flush with homegrown players just like we always have. We’d shy away from splashy trades and long-term contracts. Weary fans applauded the new direction. Yes, yes, a homegrown championship, just like before.

Nothing could be further from the truth. No team in history, not even our beloved Mets, has ever won with only homegrown talent.

donn clendenon

1969 was actually shaping up to be a decent year. For the first time in our history, the Amazins actually had an outside shot to finish over .500. At the trading deadline we were 30-26 and nine games behind the powerhouse Chicago Cubs. And that’s when management acted. Four players were sent to the Montreal Expos in exchange for Donn Clendenon. Buddy Harrelson would later state this was the turning point of the season. It indicated to the guys in uniform that the guys in suits were willing to take the next step, that they believed. With this acquisition the Mets now possessed a legitimate power hitter in the middle of the lineup. Clendenon would go deep 12 times in 14 weeks. The Mets would go 70-36 after the trade.

When we think back to ‘69, we like to think we did it with just the kids. Homegrown talent like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Cleon Jones and Gary Gentry definitely did their part. But it was the players acquired that cinched the deal. Clendenon would become the first player in history to hit three home runs in a five-game World Series. His performance would earn him the World Series MVP. Tommie Agee, who arrived the previous year, led the team in home runs and RBIs and single-handedly – or perhaps single glovedly – won Game 3. Yes, the kids were an integral part. But would the Mets have won their first championship without key big additions like Agee and Clendenon?

Four years later, we were back in the Fall Classic. Many kids remained from that first championship club and now had the experience of post-season baseball. But it was players who’d been traded for that made the difference in 1973.

Felix Millan came from Atlanta that spring. In addition to solid defense, he led the team in hits (185) and batting average (290). Rusty Staub, obtained the previous season, was the team’s leader in RBIs, setting a new team record with 105. He also led the Mets in on-base percentage (.361) and doubles (36), while finishing second in base hits, batting average and slugging percentage.

On the pitching side we had the most intimidating trio of starters in the NL. But in 1973, homegrown Seaver, Koosman and Matlack were just a combined 6 games over .500. It was George Stone, acquired in the same trade that brought Millan over, that made the difference. Stone was 12-3, nine games over .500 for a team that was only three games over at 82-79. Without George Stone, the Mets don’t win. Without Stone, Millan and Staub, the Mets get no pennant.

keith hernandez gary carter

1986. Ah, yes. The kids. Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman, Kevin Mitchell, Lenny Dykstra all played in Tidewater. But Mets do not win by kids alone. It was Keith Hernandez, acquired three years prior, who led that championship club in hits, runs, doubles and OBP. Like Clendenon and Staub, it was a former Expo who cemented the deal. Gary Carter, aka KID, went deep 24 times and tied Rusty’s record with 105 RBIs.

Oh, and the young pitching we had. Doc Gooden, Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez. But it was Bobby Ojeda, 18-5, 2.57 who the Mets traded for the previous winter that led the team in wins and ERA. His +13 was higher than Doc, Darling or El Sid.

The MVP of the 86 Series? Ray Knight, who like Clendenon, had been acquired through a trade.

In 2000, Mets fans adored homegrown stars like Edgardo Alfonzo, Timo Perez and Benny Agbayani. But let’s face it; it was primarily Mike Piazza along with Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile who guided us to the NL pennant. They combined for an astounding 84 HR’s and 276 RBIs. Without those three acquisitions, the Mets accomplish nothing in 2000.

In 2006, the Mets returned to the post-season for what we believed would be the first of many. We were on the cusp of recapturing the city from the Yankees thanks to a pair of exciting youngsters named David Wright and Jose Reyes. The Mets collected 97 victories and finished 12 games ahead of the second place Phillies. But it was a pair of Carlos’ who spearheaded the offensive assault all summer long. Carlos Beltran was an offensive juggernaut and led the team in runs score, home runs, slugging, OBP, and he tied Wright for first in RBIs. Carlos Delgado added not only a stellar glove at first, but slammed 38 homers while knocking in 114 RBIs. Without Beltran and Delgado, two key acquisitions, there’s no post-season in 2006.

In just over two months the 2015 Mets, a team largely comprised of homegrown talent and kids, will take the field against Max Scherzer and the Nationals. The goal is to return to the post-season for the first time in almost a decade and hopefully capture our first pennant since 2000 and maybe, just maybe, win a championship for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president. How confident are you?

Can outfielder Curtis Granderson lead the team the way outfielder Rusty Staub did in 1973? Can one-time Red Sox Bartolo Colon replicate the performance of another one time Red Sox named Ojeda? Can catcher Travis d’Arnaud, imported from Canada, lead team the way another catcher from Canada once did?

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Will this team unseat the defending NL East Champions? Have they done enough to jump from a 79 win team to a 90 win team? Everyone from the players on down to the coaches, manager and front office say yes. But that’s expected, nobody goes into Spring Training and tells reporters they’re going to stink.

The Mets are selling. More importantly Mets owner Fred Wilpon is selling. And he’s hoping you’re buying. Last week he said the Mets now have “the horses to win,” but when pressed for details Wilpon refused to comment and would only defer to his GM.

The Mets have put together an exciting bunch, and as far as pitching goes they have what it would take to make a legitimate run. But pitching alone doesn’t win games, do the Mets have the offense and defense to compliment their rotation and bullpen?

During previous championship runs, Mets brass always acted when they knew they had the young core to challenge for a title. They went out and added all star caliber players who were in their prime to support the team and maximize their chances to win it all.

There’s no denying that the Mets are at this point right now. We all can see it in our up and coming stars like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Lucas Duda, Juan Lagares, Travis d’Arnaud, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia. We can see it in a farm system loaded with blue-chip prospects that’s ranked among the best in baseball. We have David Wright and Curtis Granderson, and let’s face it, neither one is getting any younger. So if not now then when?

Do the Mets really have the horses as presently constructed to advance to the playoffs as Fred Wilpon says? Or was there more he could have done?

Wilpon says he has never once denied Sandy Alderson any player he wanted to acquire. Are you buying that?  I’m not sure I can. I’m not sure I’d buy a used car from this man, would you?

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The Legend Behind The Award http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/12/the-legend-behind-the-award.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/12/the-legend-behind-the-award.html/#comments Sat, 27 Dec 2014 17:16:19 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=172329 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, 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. He was the first Latin player to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He was the first Latin player to win a World Series as a starter. He was 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. No outfielder, not even Willie Mays, has more.

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.

FOOTNOTE: The unattached Expos pitcher, Tom Walker, who Clemente talked out of joining him that fateful night, would eventually marry and have a family. His son, Neil is a second baseman. For the Pirates.

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Does Length Matter? MLB Says Yes. http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/11/does-length-matter-mlb-says-yes.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/11/does-length-matter-mlb-says-yes.html/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 14:57:21 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=169785 crossroads-jpg britney spears

Titanic is one of Hollywood’s most successful films. Winner of an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards, the James Cameron blockbuster ran 3 hours 14 minutes. The Kevin Costner classic Dances With Wolves won 7 Academy Awards and was exactly 3 hours. The most frequently quoted movie of the last 20 years is Pulp Fiction. Tarantino’s masterpiece was nominated for 7 Oscars and ran over 2 ½ hours. And then there’s the unforgettable Crossroads starring Britney Spears. That movie ran 94 minutes.

If Major League Baseball has their way, the future will give us more Britney and fewer Big Kahuna Burgers.

MLB is presently testing new methodologies in the Arizona Fall League to make games quicker. Some of these changes include a pitch clock, limited visits to the mound and merely announcing an intentional walk rather than tossing four wide of the strike zone.

Games are definitely getting longer. When Jerry Koosman induced a fly ball off the bat of Davey Johnson and gave the Mets their first title, the game was completed in 2 hours and 14 minutes. 17 years later when Jesse Orosco fanned Marty Barrett to give the Mets their second title the game took 3 hours and 11 minutes. Same 8 ½ innings of baseball, yet taking one hour longer. One obvious reason are pitching changes.

Back in the day starters were expected to go nine innings. The bullpen was filled with guys who were simply not quite good enough to start. During the 1970’s, the “closer” became an integral part of the game. It was tantamount to creating a new position. Rollie Fingers, Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter became household names. And now starters only needed to go eight innings.

The 80’s saw the advent of the “set-up man.” And with that starters simply had to get through seven. Just get us to the bullpen. There was also the arrival of long relief/middle inning guys so if a starter had nothing, rather than pitching out of tight spots, he could be yanked early. Teams also began maintaining players whose job is simply to face one batter, be it a lefty specialist or a ground ball pitcher whose job it is to generate a double play.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Mets

In 1973 Tom Seaver won the Cy Young Award. He earned $130,000 while tossing 290 innings. By comparison, the Giants’ Javier Lopez, a player who primarily comes in to face one or two batters, earned $4 million this season while tossing all of 37.2 IP. Of course salaries have skyrocketed since 1973, but this shows the premium management is willing to dole out for a seldom used yet important piece of the puzzle.

However, it does work. The KC Royals became AL Champions living by the rule of only getting 5+ from their starters. Twenty years ago that was unheard of. Relievers, once thought of as nothing more than a place to stockpile mediocre pitchers, has now become a key component to winning.

The 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox went seven games and featured 29 pitching changes. The 2014 Series between the Giants and Royals went 7 games but featured 44 pitching changes.

Average game time of the 7-game 1973 World Series was 3:08 but that included two extra inning contests. Five of the seven games were completed in under 2:45. By contrast, the 7-game 2014 World Series, which included no extra innings, had an average time of 3:30. The quickest game was 3:09.

This winter MLB is tinkering with the very essence and beauty of the game by trying to solve a problem they themselves created.

Owners no longer view players as ‘athletes’ but rather as ‘investments.’ And rightfully so. When teams hand over $137 million to Johan Santana, $180 million to Justin Verlander or nearly a quarter of a billion to Clayton Kershaw, managers damn well better treat the investment with care. You don’t buy a Lamborghini and fill it at ARCO.

Can you imagine the bedlam that would erupt if Don Mattingly overused Kershaw and ruined his elbow in the first year of a multi-year deal?

Ballplayers—particularly pitchers—are coddled, pampered and yes, babied, more than ever. No one paid attention to pitch counts for Nolan Ryan or Steve Carlton. But those guys weren’t long-term investments. So, yes, pitchers are coddled. But in large part fault should be placed at the feet of MLB.

Prior to 1969 the team with the best record in each league met in the World Series. Done. MLB then expanded, first to two divisions, then three. They added the LCS, the LDS, one wildcard and then a second one. In 1698, 2 out of 20 teams (1 out of 10) advanced to the ‘post-season.’ In 2014, 10 out of 30 teams (1 out of 3) advance.

MLB and owners embraced this idea. And why not? More post-season slots means fans will continue paying admission since their team now has a chance. Previously, stadiums would be empty throughout September. But not anymore. Nowadays, to be in a pennant race, you don’t even need to be good, just slightly above mediocre. 82, 83 wins will get you in the fight. The Mets this season finished below 500 winning just 79 games but only missed the playoffs by 9 games. By contrast the 1976 Mets won 86 games, yet missed the playoffs by 15 games.

In 1954 the NY Giants became World Champions. It took 158 games. 60 years later, the SF Giants became World Champions. It took 179 games. That’s a 13% increase in the season.

October 2, 1954, Willie Mays and company were crowned best in the game. On October 2 2014, Hunter Pence and company hadn’t even played the first game of the LDS.

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With MLB extending the season—not only to 162 games from 154—but almost one full month of playoffs, investments are put in jeopardy. That’s an extra month of players risking an injury. That’s an extra month of possibly pulling a hamstring or breaking a finger sliding into second. It’s an extra month of superstars like Buster Posey and Salvador Perez getting beat up behind the plate. And since much of the big money is locked up in long term contracts for pitchers, that’s more stress on the arms, elbows and shoulders of Kershaw, Verlander, Strasburg and Shields. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner threw 217 innings this season. Then he threw another 52.2 over 3+ weeks in October.

The powers-that-be have brought this full circle. MLB (and owners) want to make more money so they add more opportunity to advance into October which in turn keeps fans paying admission which makes more money which keeps fans tuning in on TV which makes more money from commercials which leads to a month long stretch of post-season games which keep fans paying admission and keeps the revenue flowing in from advertisers which means managers will be forced to manage differently and make more pitching changes which of course means more commercial breaks which translates into longer games which comes full circle with MLB declaring games are too long. Huh???

The irony is that installing a pitch clock and other ludicrous proposals will accomplish nothing. People who find Baseball “slow moving” and “boring” will not suddenly start watching in droves because of a pitch clock. And those of us who are purists only take offense and find ourselves drifting ever so slowly away from the game we’ve loved since childhood.

If you think the game is too long, turn it off. If it’s the 7th inning and you feel a need to keep up with Kardashians or see who gets eliminated on Dancing with the Stars go right ahead. If you need to leave the ballpark because you have a dinner reservation somewhere, feel free to leave.

Baseball is what it is. Closers, set-up men, long relievers, pitching changes, extra rounds of playoffs and now plays under review aren’t going away any time soon. Are games longer than they used to be? Yes. Are they too long? No.

Since the 18th century, despite world wars, attacks on our soil, presidential assassinations, numerous scandals, steroids, collusion, drugs, games being fixed and mostly incompetent commissioners, the game has remain largely unchanged. Although Baseball is declining in popularity (the 2014 World Series was the second lowest rated ever) let’s hope that deviations to the fabric of the game, the very rules we hold close to our heart, don’t result in the final nail in the coffin.

Next time you have a couple hours to kill and feel like watching a movie, would you rather sit through Crossroads because it’s shorter or see Vincent Vega accidentally shooting Marvin in the face?

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Mets Brass Needs To Realize That Loyalty Goes Both Ways http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/11/management-needs-to-realize-loyalty-goes-both-ways.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/11/management-needs-to-realize-loyalty-goes-both-ways.html/#comments Sat, 01 Nov 2014 18:00:32 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=168910 goodfellas paulie

In one of the opening scenes of the film Goodfellas we hear a voice-over from Henry Hill played brilliantly by Ray Liotta who describes the downside of going into business with a mob boss named Paulie. If he has trouble with the cops, deliveries, etc. he can always call Paulie. But now he’s gotta come up with Paulie’s money every week, no matter what, without fail… or else.

“Business is bad? ***k you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? ***k you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning? ***k you, pay me.”

In many ways, this is similar to how Mets ownership currently operates. In May, Mets fans were affronted with an insulting letter, sent by a marketing department with a high school mentality on behalf of an ownership, that asked for a “Declaration of Loyalty.”

From 2009 through 2013, the Mets posted five consecutive losing seasons and a meager .462 winning percentage. Despite this, almost 12.5 million fans paid their way into Citi Field to watch this unsuccessful product. Apparently, in the minds of ownership, that does not constitute loyalty. They still want more.

Haven’t played .500 baseball? ***k you, pay me.

Six straight losing seasons? ***k you, pay me.

Even more offensive was Sandy Alderson’s comment last Spring, when he claimed that if more people showed up at the games, he’d have more money to spend and could improve the product.

I’m no entrepreneur. I’ve never owned a business, nor have I been a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I have a little ol’ Liberal Arts degree from a mediocre university, not an MBA from Stanford. But even I have the common sense to know that business does NOT operate that way.

This post-season we’ve all been bombarded with commercials by Ford and Chevy. Ford touts the towing capacity of their F-150 and Chevy brags about the many bells and whistles on their vehicles. But if the Wilpons ran General Motors, they’d want us— no, expect us—to purchase a 2015 model while telling us how much better the 2018 model will be.

Successful businesses thrive on loyalty and repeat business. But in Flushing loyalty is a one way street. With one hand ownership slaps us in the face while their other hand slips into our pocket to grab our wallet.

Haven’t made the postseason since 2006? ***k you, pay me.

Haven’t been in a pennant race since 2008? ***k you, pay me.

tormented souls fans citi

When Citi Field opened in 2009, it was immediately criticized for completely ignoring Mets tradition and history. US Cellular Field displays images of past White Sox heroes on their outfield wall. Busch Stadium has two massive Cardinals high atop the scoreboard. The right field wall at PNC is 21 feet high, a tribute to Roberto Clemente. The perimeter around AT&T Park has statues of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal. By contrast, when you walk into Citi Field, you can be walking into any team’s stadium. You have to look hard to see ‘Let’s Go Mets’ in the outfield. It’s smaller in size than logos for Goya and Fox News.

Only after much public outcry and pressure from fans and the media did management finally react and established a Mets Hall of Fame, changed the color of the outfield wall from black to blue, and added player banners and art around the stadium and parking lot. Paying tribute to our own storied past was never even initially considered. Honoring the ’69 and ’86 teams, and paying homage to iconic Mets like Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez and Dwight Gooden simply never occurred to the Wilpons. That in and of itself says a lot.

The facade of the stadium, while impressive, carries no significance to most fans. The Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game in New York five years before the Mets came into existence. How many of us have any memories or sentimental attachment to Ebbets Field other than some stories from your grandparents who once supported the Dodgers? When the Expos relocated to our nation’s capital, they didn’t design their park to resemble Griffith Stadium where the Senators played for 71 years.

Think of the contrast in mindsets. Original Mets owner Joan Payson was a die-hard New York Giants fan who even sat on their board. She was one of only two dissenting votes prohibiting her team from moving west. However, when her new team moved into Shea Stadium seven years later, there were no signs, no links and no references to the Giants. The Giants were dead to her and it was now all about the Mets. By comparison, Fred Wilpon elected to design a stadium honoring the team he rooted for as a boy, rather than the team he’s owned since 1980 and that us fans have supported all our lives. Citi Field is Fred’s temple and a monument to his childhood.

Not enough Mets history for you? ***k you, pay me.

Want to see your Mets heroes honored?  ***k you, pay me.

buddy harrelson pete rose

Despite the fact Davey Johnson was our most successful manager and the only skipper at that time to lead the Mets to two post-seasons, he was fired in 1990. GM Frank Cashen knew there would be backlash. However, he also knew he still needed fans to come out to Flushing. Cashen lessened the blow by hiring Bud Harrelson. One of the most beloved Mets and connected to the franchise for over three decades, Biddy connected with fans both as a gritty hard-nosed player and then as a well-respected and successful coach. He was a 1969 Miracle Mets icon, and Cashen knew it would please the fans. Cashen connected with the fans and respected their bond to the team.

Today, the attitude is different. Wally Backman, like Harrelson, has been a fan favorite and has served the Mets with distinction for a long time. He was, like Buddy, another blue-collar guy and hard-nosed player. And like Buddy, he is one of a handful of Mets who can call himself a champion. However, despite guiding his Triple-A team to two consecutive postseasons, he was passed over once again as Mets manager. The front office and ownership chose to retain Terry Collins, the only manager in our history to post four straight losing seasons.

I don’t know if Wally would be a good manager or not. But based on his winning ways, both as player and manager, and his long standing affiliation with this organization, he at least deserves his shot. And we deserve to see him in the dugout. When hearing of the decision to bring back Collins, did any of you jump online and instantly buy season tickets for 2015, or did your stomach sour as mine did?

Don’t care for our choice as manager? ***k you, pay me.

Want someone with a winning pedigree to lead the team? ***k you, pay me.

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Current ownership takes Mets fans for granted. They ignore the past, have yet to deliver on the present, and only offer blanket promises about the future.

In 2009, the Mets drew nearly 3.2 million fans, 7th most in Major League Baseball. This past season, the Mets drew 2.1 million, a drop off of 33% in six years, ranking 21st. To put that into context, the Twins, Padres, Phillies, Reds, Cubs, Rangers and Rockies — all teams that play in smaller markets and all teams that won fewer games — drew more fans. As ownership continues to demand our loyalty, attendance continues to plummet.

Most Met fans are believers and are positive by nature. We want to believe… We love our rich history and our iconic players… We love to wear our Mets gear and display our team colors… . We also want a team we can be proud of… But what management needs to realize is this:

While the vast majority of Mets fans will always be forever loyal, passionate and patient, financially supporting this team is not a given. Loyalty goes both ways and so far you haven’t been holding up your end of the bargain. And yes, we do have our limits.

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How Alderson Stacks Up With Previous GM’s http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/10/how-alderson-stacks-up-with-previous-gms.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/10/how-alderson-stacks-up-with-previous-gms.html/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:00:40 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=168148 gary-carter-new-york-mets-1 - Copy

Within the next two weeks we’ll witness the same scene that gets played out every October. Amidst the spray of champagne and exuberant shouts, the commissioner will be standing on a stage presenting a trophy to the owner, manager and General Manager of the World Champions. Now, if the commissioner would instead be presenting a trophy to the executives that promised the brightest future, we’d see Sandy Alderson, Terry Collins and Fred Wilpon on that stage. But since it doesn’t work that way, we’ll have to wait.

Baseball always has been and always will be a business. It’s what have you done for me lately, not what will you do for me later.

Kirk Gibson guided his team to the playoffs in 2011, the same year he became Manager of the Year. Three years later, he was out of a job. Dusty Baker was dismissed by the Reds after he did get his team into the post-season, but management felt he should have taken them deeper.

In 1934, after hitting only 22 home runs and slugging only .537, what one journalist called “merely mortal” stats, Babe Ruth was traded to the Boston Braves. At age 39, Ty Cobb played in just 79 games. Although he hit .339, the Georgia Peach was not wanted by Detroit and signed with Philadelphia. At age 40, Cobb played in 133 games and batted .357. In 1965, the Cincinnati Reds believed that Frank Robinson was a “very old 30” and traded him to Baltimore. In 1966, that washed up player batted .316 with 49 HR and 122 RBI, leading the O’s to their first Championship. The GM who scooped up that old fogey was named Frank Cashen.

Since Baseball is a what have you done for me lately gig, now that our GM has 4 years under his belt, let’s look at what he’s done, not what he promises to do. And how he compares to previous Mets general managers.

We frequently hear the comparisons made between Cashen and Alderson. Cashen inherited a dysfunctional franchise without any bright stars on the horizon, one of the worst farm systems in the game, a weary and apathetic fan base. Upon joining the Mets, Cashen stated it would take 4 or 5 years to rebuild the team, but he promised a brighter future.

Many argue Alderson was dealt a similar hand. Personally, I’ve never felt that way. The 1979 Mets were far worse than the 2010 Mets. Cashen took over a team that finished 35 games back and won just 63 games. Alderson took over a team that finished 18 GB and had 79 wins.

But let’s look deeper at the Cashen/Alderson comparison.

By the time Cashen was hired, pitchers and catchers were arriving for spring training in 1980. The team was already set so there was no flexibility or time to do anything. The one substantial thing he did do that first year came months later, selecting a kid in the draft named Darryl Strawberry. In 1981, the seemingly unavoidable strike lingered in the air all year, handcuffing all general managers, including Cashen.

Dave Kingman (27)

Cashen did realize, however, that he needed to increase interest in the team. If he could get more fans to come out to Flushing it would give him more financial maneuverability. 1981 saw the arrival of fan favorite Dave Kingman followed the next year by Reds slugger George Foster.

History shows that their acquisitions had no bearing overall in the wins column. It did, however, have fans coming back to Shea and tuning in to WOR. Even if the Mets were losing by 4, 5 or 6 runs—something that happened a lot—by acquiring two of the biggest HR hitters in the league, the Mets always had the potential to get back into the game. It also sent a message to the fans. Ratings increased as did attendance.

In 1983, Cashen undid the darkest day in Mets history by reacquiring Tom Seaver. And although The Franchise was beyond his prime, seeing #41 on the mound at Shea gave us a reason to take in a game in Flushing. That same year, Cashen also traded for former MVP and proven winner Keith Hernandez. One month later, that Strawberry kid? Less than three years since he was selected out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, he would make his major league debut.

Frank Cashen

In 1984, led by Strawberry, Hernandez, another high school kid drafted two years earlier named Dwight Gooden, a young righty acquired from Texas named Ron Darling, and a newly promoted minor league manager named Davey Johnson, Cashen’s prediction came true. The 1984 club tallied 90 wins, the highest since 1969. Cashen’s Mets were in a pennant race for the first time in nearly a decade.

After 4 years, Cashen’s work paid off, his prediction came to fruition and his promise to the fans was fulfilled.

After 4 years, Alderson continues speaking about the future and making promises.

I decided to research deeper and see how our current GM stacks up against his predecessors. The results were rather disheartening.

Since 1970, the Mets have had seven primary general managers: Bob Scheffing, Joe McDonald, Frank Cashen, Joe McIlvane, Steve Phillips, Omar Minaya and Alderson. I’ve omitted Jim Duquette and Al Harazin since their tenures were less than two years. (You know, small sample sizes.)

bob scheffing (8)

Scheffing’s last year as GM, 1974, the Mets won 71 games. He was replaced by Joe McDonald who surpassed that amount his first year with 82 wins.

McDonald’s last year as GM, 1979, the Mets won 63 games. He was replaced by Frank Cashen who surpassed that amount in his first year with 67 wins.

Cashen’s last year as GM, 1991, the Mets won 77 games. After one year of Al Harazin, Joe McIlvane took over. Although the ’94 season was cut short, McIlvane was on pace to win 79 games, surpassing Cashen’s total in his second season.

McIlvane’s last year as GM, 1997, the Mets won 88 games. He was replaced by Steve Phillips who surpassed that amount in his second season with 97 wins.

Phillip’s last year as GM, 2003, the Mets won 66 games. He was replaced by Omar Minaya who surpassed that amount in his first season with 71 wins.

Minaya’s last year as GM, 2010, the Mets won 79 games. He was replaced by Sandy Alderson. Alderson still has NOT surpassed that mark.

In other words, Sandy Alderson stands alone as our only GM who has never won more games in a season than the GM he replaced. McDonald, Cashen and Minaya claimed more victories in their very first year at the helm, while Phillips and McIlvane did it in their second. In four years, Alderson still has not topped the final year of his predecessor.

sandy alderson winter meetings

With 2014 now in the books, Alderson has joined Joe McIlvane as the only GM with four consecutive losing seasons. If the Mets finish below .500 next year, Sandy will tie George Weiss (1962-1966) as the only GM with five straight sub-500 finishes. Although unlike Weiss, nobody will ever refer to Sandy’s Mets teams as Lovable Losers.

It isn’t just about how Sandy stacks up with his Mets predecessors, he needs to start winning for the sake of his own legacy. He hasn’t had a winning season since 1992, and 2014 was his ninth consecutive losing season as a general manager. He’s only had five winning seasons in 19 as a GM, and all of those were with Oakland when they were swimming in mega money

Perhaps 2015 will be the season when everything clicks for Sandy and his master plan will begin to take hold. Perhaps the Mets will overtake the Washington Nationals and the rest of the division to become a dominant force in the NL for the rest of the decade.

However, while Sandy Alderson continues to make promises, albeit with an occasional good joke or sound byte thrown in, results have yet to materialize on the field. And in that regard and through his first four years, what’s he done for us lately? Not much. Hopefully, that changes in 2015. Lets Go Mets.

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This Week In Baseball History: Those Amazin’ Memories! http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/10/this-week-in-baseball-history-those-amazin-memories.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/10/this-week-in-baseball-history-those-amazin-memories.html/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 22:00:32 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=167827 mazeroski

October 13

1903 – The first ever World Series ever played is completed as the Boston Pilgrims defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0 and take the series, 5 games to 3.

1914 – The Boston Braves, who were in last place in mid-July, rebound to win the World Series. “The Miracle Braves” defeat the Philadelphia A’s in the first sweep in Series history.

1921 – In the first all New York “World” Series, the Giants beat the Yankees, 1-0 and win the series, 5 games to 3.

1960 – In perhaps the greatest moment in Pirates history, Bill Mazeroski homers in the 9th against Ralph Terry and gives Pittsburgh a 10-9 win in Game 7. It’s the first walk-off HR to win a World Series.

1971 – The 1st World Series game is played at night. Led by Roberto Clemente with three hits, Pittsburgh defeats Baltimore, 4-3.

1985 – In one of the strangest World Series incidents ever, Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman is injured. While stretching before the game, Coleman becomes trapped under a moving tarp for 30 seconds. He is unable to play for the rest of the Series.

1996 – With a 6-4 win over the Orioles, the Yankees win their 34th pennant and go to the World Series for the first time in 15 years.

agee

October 14

1905 - Christy Mathewson blanks the A’s, 2-0 and the Giants win the Series in 5. It is Mathewson’s 3rd shut-out of the Series and this will also be the only World Series where each game is a shut-out.

1906 – In spite of winning 116 games during the season, the Cubs lose to their cross-town rivals, the White Sox. The losers share, $439.50, is the smallest in history.

1908 – The Cubs beat the Tigers, 2-0 and win the World Series. The attendance is 6,210, the smallest ever for a World Series game.

1969 – Led by two remarkable catches by Tommie Agee, the surprising New York Mets beat the Orioles, 5-0 and take a 2-1 lead in the series.

1972 – A’s catcher Gene Tenace becomes the first player to homer in his first two World Series at-bats.

1973 – The Mets win Game 2, 10-7, and tie the A’s at one game apiece. This game features the last major league hit ever in the career of Willie Mays.

1976 – Chris Chambliss goes deep against Mark Littell in the bottom of the 9th in the fifth and deciding game of the ALCS, the Yankees defeat the Royals, 7-6 and win the pennant.

1984 – Led by Kirk Gibson’s two home runs, the Tigers beat San Diego 8-4 and win the series in five games.

1992 – With a 9-2 win over the A’s, the Toronto Blue Jays become the first Canadian team to go to the World Series.

2003 – Just five outs shy of returning to the World Series for the first time in 58 years, the Cubs blow a 3-0 lead. They give up 8 runs on 5 hits, 3 walks and an error after a controversial call of fan interference.

2006 – Silas Simmons, the oldest living baseball player, celebrates his 111th birthday. Simmons was born the same year as Babe Ruth.

mets astros 1986

October 15

1917 – The Chicago White Sox win the World Series. Eddie Collins races home from third base when the Giants leave the plate unprotected. Shortly after their victory, 24 members of the White Sox file a grievance with the league, insisting they did not receive their full winner’s share. This may be part of the motivation for the Black Sox Scandal two years later. Interestingly, the letter itself disappeared, only to be found five decades later in a box in a storage closet at the Hall of Fame.

1923 – The Yankees win their first World Series as they defeat the Giants.

1946 – In Game 7, Enos Slaughter scores from first base on a single as the Cardinals defeat Boston, 4-3.

1969 – Led by Ron Swoboda’s diving catch and Tom Seaver’s excellent outing, ‘The Amazin’ Mets’ beat Baltimore, 2-1, in 10 innings and take a 3-1 lead over the heavily favored Orioles.

1972: In a televised speech prior to the World Series, Jackie Robinson urges Major League Baseball to hire a black manager. Jackie would not live to see this. He would die just 9 days later.

1975 - Luis Tiant throws 163 pitches as Boston beats Cincinnati, 5-4, to even the series at 2 games each.

1986 – In the longest post-season game in history, 4 hours 42 minutes, the Mets win their third pennant, defeating the Houston Astros 7-6 in a 16 inning thriller. The Mets trailed 3-0 going to the ninth, when a rally was started by Lenny Dykstra and Ray Knight with big hits.

1988 – Making his only appearance of the World Series, Kirk Gibson homers against Dennis Eckersley with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Game One to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win over Oakland.

mets 1969 world series koosman

October 16

1909 – Pirates rookie Babe Adams wins his third game of the World Series as Pittsburgh defeats Detroit in seven games.

1912 – Giants CF Fred Snodgrass drops a routine fly ball in the 10th, allowing Boston to win 3-2, and take the series.

1936 – After hitting 354 with 49 HR’s, 152 RBI’s and 164 Runs Scored, Lou Gehrig wins the AL MVP.

1960 – The National League decides to expand for the first time since 1900. The new franchises will begin playing in 1962 in Houston and New York.

1962 – With the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7, Willie McCovey lines out hard to Bobby Richardson. The Yankees win, 1-0, their 20th Championship.

1969 - The Miracle. Behind a complete game 5-hitter tossed by Jerry Koosman, the Mets beat the Orioles 5-3 and win the series in 5. After losing Game 1 in Baltimore, the Mets won 4 straight.

1976 – In Game One of the World Series, Reds utility man Dan Driessen becomes the first National Leaguer ever used as a DH.

2000 - Mike Hampton tosses a three-hit complete game. The Mets defeat the Cardinals 7-0 and win their first pennant in 14 years.

gil hodges place 1969 Mets parade

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Featured Post: Winners Win, Losers Make Excuses http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/10/featured-post-winners-win-losers-make-excuses.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/10/featured-post-winners-win-losers-make-excuses.html/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 19:14:51 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=167644 116-12152556

Exhibit A: In August 2013 Mets fans held their collective breath when learning of an injury to Matt Harvey. A short time later when it became clear he was finished for not only the remainder of that season but for the following year as well, fans by and large threw in the towel. We immediately wrote off the next year and began looking ahead to 2015. Obviously, with our ace sidelined we simply could not compete.

As the 2014 campaign unfolded, the Mets lived up to these expectations of nothingness. A loss to the Yankees on May 14th cemented us below 500 for the next 4 ½ months. Six weeks in and already we were going through the motions of playing 162 games. Obviously, with one pitcher down, we had no chance.

However, when we look back at 2013, we weren’t exactly kicking butt with Harvey and then promptly nosedived after his injury. On Aug 24, Harvey’s last start, the Mets were in 3rd place, 18 Games Back Our record was 58-69, a .457 winning percentage. Without Harvey, the Mets concluded 2013 going 16-19 for, ironically, a .457 winning percentage.

Exhibit B: Unlike the Mets who lost one player, this unnamed team had bad luck bestowed upon them in 2014. Their ace won only two games by the All-Star Break before being shut down with an elbow injury. Their most popular starter with the fans struggled all year and eventually found himself relegated to the bullpen by July 20.

Things were so dire the GM acquired a pitcher who was 1-9 with an ERA of 4.72. The ERA for their closer was north of 5.00 when he lost his job in late June. The leadoff hitter and offensive spark plug missed most of the year, amassing only 383 plate appearances. One of their few legitimate home run threats had just 214 at-bats, missing 101 games. It’s no wonder that from June 9 through August  25, this club went 26-41, good for a humiliating .388 winning percentage.

Yet, despite the injuries and bad luck that had befallen Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo, Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt, the Giants find themselves four wins away from going to the Fall Classic for the third time in five years.

usatsi_8125952_168380427_lowres

Confusing, isn’t it? The Mets lose one player and all hope is lost. The Giants have a plethora of injuries and chaos and somehow have a legitimate chance to play in the World Series. I guess this proves that good teams find a way to win while other teams raise their arms to heaven asking “Why us?”

Winners win. Losers make excuses.

And for nearly 10 years, excuses is one thing that Mets players, managers, executives and even some fans have become quite skilled at. Each year we find some excuse or excuses to hang all our woes on.

In 2006, the reason we blew it could be summed up in 2 words: 1) Heilman 2) Beltran. Aaron Heilman gave up a home run in the 9th inning of game seven in the LCS to some 24 year-old kid named Yadier Molina. And Beltran? Well, despite the fact he led the Mets with 41 home runs and 116 RBI, everyone blamed him for taking a called third strike that would have left Stan Musial befuddled. Of course, without Beltran’s stats we don’t even make it to the post-season, but many fans forget that. The fact that Molina would go on to become the premier catcher in the league and known as a clutch hitter while the pitcher, Adam Wainwright, would become one of the games’ top hurlers, was apparently irrelevant. Surely, once we’d get rid of Heilman and Beltran things would improve, wouldn’t they?

2007 saw the Mets blowing a seven game lead with 17 left. On the last day of the year, with the post-season hanging in the balance, Tom Glavine had the shortest outing of his Hall of Fame career, allowing seven runs in just one inning of work. That (expletive) Brave! we all shouted. But really, with a seven game lead in mid-September, the season shouldn’t have even come down to the final day. Glavine should have spent that day resting for the playoffs, not pitching to keep hope alive.

Joining Glavine as our fall guy was Jose Reyes. Sure, Reyes may have set the franchise record for most stolen bases with 78 and also had 60 extra-base hits, but it was clearly his fault for hitting .154 in Sept. Surely, once we get rid of Glavine and Reyes things would improve, wouldn’t they?

In 2009, this particular player batted 302, third best on the club. He stole 20 bases in 26 attempts (2nd highest on the club) and was also second in hits. Not too shabby. However, when Luis Castillo dropped a routine pop-up, it was obvious he was now the poster child for everything wrong with the 09 Mets. Had this error happened against Colorado, no one would remember it. But since it happened against the Yankees, one game out of 162, it was clear that Castillo was the source of all evil. Surely, once we get rid of him things would improve, wouldn’t they?

alg-castillo-error-jpg

Even David Wright, the face of the franchise and arguably our best hitter ever, has also been blamed by some. How many times has our captain been criticized for not being “clutch” or a “leader” as preposterous as that sounds?

When still nothing improved we began pointing a finger at reserve outfielders. Jordany Valdespin was a cancer in the clubhouse that needed to be removed. Valdespin, like the others, is gone. Yet, nothing has improved.

Soon, it became evident that blame needed to be placed in the dugout, not on the field.

Of the 20 different men who’ve managed the Mets, Willie Randolph compiled a .544 winning percentage, second highest in history. He was fired, replaced by Jerry Manuel. The Gangsta posted a winning percentage of .489, lower than Randolph. When it was decided that Manuel was now the problem, he was replaced by Terry Collins. Collins’ winning percentage is .469, even lower than Manuel.

Uh oh, now what? We discarded star players and future Hall of Famers. We discarded relievers and reserve outfielders. But nothing changed. We discarded managers. But nothing changed. Time to look upstairs.

In six years, Omar Minaya’s Mets finished over .500 four times. From 2005-2010, the Mets averaged 84 wins. However it was decided it must be his fault. Minaya was replaced by Sandy Alderson. In four years, Alderson has never finished over 500. From 2011-2014, his clubs have averaged 76 wins.

In Minaya’s six seasons the Mets averaged finishing 6 ½ GB. In Alderson’s four seasons, the Mets have averaged finishing 22 GB.

In addition to blaming players, managers and GM’s, we’ve also impugned pitching coaches, hitting coaches, trainers. And the most ludicrous of all: our stadium. Yet again, for the third off-season in Citi Field’s six year existence, management is still struggling to figure out where exactly to put a wall and how high it should be.

Since 2006, the more changes that are made, the worse things become. We blamed Reyes for one bad month, Glavine for one bad start, Heilman for one bad pitch, Beltran for one bad at-bat, Castillo for one misplayed pop-up.

At this moment, the Giants, despite the abundance of misfortune they endured this season, are taking infield practice in St. Louis, answering repetitive questions from reporters and spouting tired worn-out clichés as they try to get to their third World Series since 2010.

Meanwhile, the Mets and Mets fans are—as always—hoping that next year things will improve. And hoping not one-single-thing goes wrong. Let’s just pray that Matt Harvey isn’t spotted at a nightclub in Manhattan the evening before a bad start or that no Mets’ wife goes into labor causing her husband to miss two games or that Jacob deGrom skips a single start due to a blister. I’m sure 2015 will be the Mets year. After all, since we’ve gotten rid of all our past problems, what could possibly go wrong?

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Mets Management and the Acceptance of Mediocrity http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/09/mets-management-and-the-acceptance-of-mediocrity.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/09/mets-management-and-the-acceptance-of-mediocrity.html/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 21:27:57 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=166722 Jeff+Wilpon+Sandy+Alderson+New+York+Mets+Introduce+hIi7kWeRE_bl

The Mets entered the 2011 season with a new skipper and a new General Manager. Despite realizing we’d need to rebuild, Fred Wilpon claimed, “In this city, it’s all about winning.” We are now four years removed from that statement and apparently it’s NOT all about winning. After finishing below .500 every year since, ownership recently decided to bring back both Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins for more of the same.

Yes, our farm system is stronger now than it was in 2011. Yes, the Mets are on the cusp of possibly having the most dominant rotation in the league, if not all of Baseball. (Of course, we hold our breath after the disaster that was Generation K twenty years ago). But, if as Wilpon stated, it’s all about winning, why is mediocrity now being rewarded?

Davey Johnson was our most successful manager. In six full-seasons, the Mets always finished over 500. He guided this club to their second and last World Series championship, two division titles and was the skipper of our most successful run ever. His .588 winning percentage is unmatched. Yet, Davey was fired early in 1990 when the Mets were (gasp!) two games under .500. Winning was expected and mediocrity (20-22) would not be tolerated.

willie randolph

The second most successful manager in our history was Willie Randolph with a .544 winning percentage. In three full seasons a Randolph-led Mets team never finished below 500. Yet, in spite of dethroning the Braves atop the NL East in 2006 and keeping his team in the fight until game 162 in 2007, Randolph was dismissed in 2008 when the Mets were (gasp again) one game under .500. Once again, winning was expected and mediocrity (34-35) would not be accepted.

Loved or hated, Bobby Valentine’s .534 winning percentage is 3rd best in Mets history. He’s the only manager to lead the Mets to two consecutive post-seasons, something that Davey or Gil Hodges never accomplished. In his six full seasons, Valentines’ Mets finished over .500 five times. The first time he finished under, 75-86, Valentine was fired.

Yogi Berra is a baseball icon, especially in New York. He was a coach in 1969 and managed the ’73 club that came within one hit of winning the World Series. The Mets finished above .500 in two of Berra’s three seasons at the helm. However, management was unhappy and wanted more. Yogi posted a 497 winning percentage and unlike the aforementioned managers, he was actually OVER 500 (56-53) at the time of his dismissal.

Enter our current skipper. Terry Collins is the only Mets manager in franchise history with four consecutive losing seasons. Under Collins, the Mets have failed to improve, have failed to play one single important game, and have continually gone through the motions of playing out the schedule after the All-Star Break.

One out of every three teams in the NL now makes the post-season. But since 2011, the Mets have not even come remotely close to being in a pennant race. His winning percentage is .467, lower than even Jerry Manuel and Joe Frazier, only slightly above good ol’ Dallas Green and Jeff Torborg. Regardless of Collins’ failures for four straight seasons, it’s evident that mediocrity is not only tolerated now, but actually rewarded.

I found it amusing that within hours of ownership compensating Collins and Alderson for four straight seasons of utter averageness the Braves fired their GM, Frank Wren. After all, Wren’s Braves made the post-season only 3 times in 7 years. In Atlanta, as it used to be in Flushing, mediocrity is not rewarded.

When I pointed out this irony to a friend of mine who’s also a die-hard Mets fan, he stated, “That’s because the Braves are built to win now whereas the Mets are building to win long-term.” I found this amusing also. Think about it. The Braves have made the post-season 14 times in 20 years and they’re built to win now. Meanwhile, the Mets, who’ve made the post-season just 3 times in 20 years are built to win later.

I think it’s safe to say that with 14 trips to the playoffs since 1995, the Braves are in fact built to win now and in the longterm. But if winning longterm really is the Mets goal, does anyone out there truly believe in their heart the Mets will make the playoffs 14 times between next year and 2035?

To further drive home the point about mediocrity being the new normal, on Friday the D-backs fired their skipper. In 2011, Kirk Gibson was Manager of the Year, his first full season. In 2012 and 2013, Arizona finished 81-81. Yet, with his team sitting at the bottom of the division this year, management felt a change was needed. Unlike New York, losing was not accepted, nor rewarded.

Many of you probably disagree with me. The Mets are quite possibly poised for a dynasty—just like we were in 2006 and again in the mid-90’s with Paul Wilson and Bill Pulsipher leading the way. Alderson had to rebuild. He needed to trim salary. We can blame Jason Bay, Bobby Bonilla, Omar Minaya, Bernie Madoff, the dimensions of Citi Field and anything else we choose to. But, as Fred Wilpon said, “It’s all about winning.” One would think, by listening to the ‘company line’ and regurgitating the same talking points our front office spews, that the Mets are the only team who need to turn things around. This is not true.

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals

In 2010, the KC Royals finished last with 67 wins. In 4 years, they’ve improved by more than 20 victories and are returning to the post-season in 2014.

In 2010, the Baltimore Orioles finished last with merely 66 victories. In 2014, they have the 2nd best record in the AL, burying both the Yankees (12 GB) and the defending champion Red Sox (25 GB). It’s amazing what can be accomplished with a good manager.

In 2010, the Angels finished below 500 and in third place. In 2014, they have the best record in Baseball.

In 2010, the Mariners lost more than 100 games. Last year they lost 91. This year, however, they battled for the wild-card all season before just falling short.

In 2010, the Pirates lost 105 times! Now, in 2014, the Bucs will be returning to the post-season for their 2nd straight year.

In 2010, the Nats finished last with a record of 69-93. In 2012, just 2 years later, and again this year, they have the best record in the National League.

In 2010, the Mets finished with 79 wins. Four years later, four years under the Alderson/Collins regime, and where are we? …well, 79 wins.

What separates the other teams from the Mets is they’re actually doing what it takes to win, not just promising fans a brighter tomorrow and spouting lip service. They’re bringing up rookies, signing players, and hiring good managers and talented coaches. They’re not rewarding mediocrity.  These teams I mentioned above are able to turn things around in a matter of four years while in Flushing nothing has changed other than promises of better tomorrows.

frank-cashen-davey-johnson

In 1984, ownership promoted Davey Johnson from AAA. The Mets were rebuilding with youth then also and Johnson was the obvious choice. He knew the players—Doc, Darryl, Mitchell, Dykstra—and they knew him. It seems like history should be repeating itself. But not nowadays. While Wally Backman has guided the Triple-A team to the championship two straight years Collins has yet to reach .500 in four years.

Like Davey 30 years ago, Wally knows these young players and they know him. I don’t know if Wally would be a success or a failure and neither do you. However, based on his record of winning contrasted with Collins’ record of losing, I’ll take my chances with Wally.

The 2014 regular season has concluded and Mets fans will do what we always do lately: watching ten other teams play in October. Oh—and counting down until Opening Day. Surely, 2015 will be better and our future is bright. After all, it’s all about winning, right Fred?

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We’ll Need More Than Just Harvey To Win In 2015 http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/09/mets-cannot-win-by-harvey-alone-2.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/09/mets-cannot-win-by-harvey-alone-2.html/#comments Sun, 07 Sep 2014 12:00:32 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=165059 ichiro

On October 1, 2004, I was having dinner with my wife of six months and my new in-laws. As we bantered back and forth I kept one eye on the TV mounted in the corner of Applebee’s. When I saw a basehit up the middle,

I excitedly tapped my wife on the shoulder. “He did it!” My in-laws, who knew nothing about Baseball, asked, “Who did what?” I explained that Mariners’ outfielder Ichiro Suzuki just broke George Sisler’s record for most hits in a season, a record that stood untouched for more than 80 years. My mother-in-law asked innocently, “Are the Mariners a good team?” “No,” I responded. “They suck.” The look on her face was…well, priceless. How a team with such a talented player could suck was mind-boggling to her.

But that’s what makes baseball the most beautiful game ever created. You can’t keep getting the puck to Wayne Gretzky, handing off to Walter Payton or passing to Magic Johnson for a lay-up. The National Pastime, more than any other game, is a team sport. This is a fact we need to remember.

walter-johnson

Enter Walter Johnson. Widely regarded as the best pitcher in history, The Big Train was to pitching what The Bambino was to hitting. Over a 21 year career, Johnson won 417 games, second only to Cy Young.

His career ERA was an anemic 2.17. He recorded 3,508 strikeouts. It took another 50 years for a pitcher to even reach 3,000. In the last 50 years only two pitchers—Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan—even came “close” to his record 110 shut-outs. They recorded 61. Johnson led the American League in wins six times, twice eclipsing 30 of them Throw in five ERA crowns and leading the league in strikeouts 12 times.

Yep, that Johnson guy was not bad. However, despite incredible numbers for two decades, Walter Johnson only was a World Champion just once.

The reason is simple. In spite of Johnson’s splendid career, he played for what is generally regarded as a bad team. He had poor defense behind him, and a weak offense provided little, if any, run support. Johnson compiled a .599 winning percentage while his team compiled a 492 winning percentage. Incredibly, in his 279 losses, the Senators were shut out 65 times. Imagine how many more games Johnson could’ve won had he played for a team with some decent hitting.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets

Matt Harvey made his debut for the Mets on July 26, 2012. In 10 starts he posted a 2.73 ERA and fanned 70 batters in 59.0 innings pitched. His strikeout to walk ratio was nearly 3:1, yet despite such a grand debut, Harvey had a losing record. 3-5.

Having Harvey for an entire season made the fan base cautiously optimistic for 2013. The Dark Knight became the newest member of  ‘The Next Tom Seaver’ club. Maybe, just maybe, this time there was some truth to this oft thrown around label.

The hard-throwing righty did not disappoint. Harvey whiffed 191 batters in 178 innings while walking only 31. He became the first Mets pitcher to start an All-Star Game since Doc Gooden a quarter of a century earlier. Harvey was having an epic campaign and yet despite all his gaudy numbers, he won just nine games in four months.

As you all know, Harvey was shut down after being diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament. He’d miss the rest of 2013 and all of 2014 after Tommy John surgery. Barring setbacks, in 2013 Mets fans were not clamoring “wait till next year” but “Wait till the year after next year.”

We widely regarded 2014 to be another ‘throw-away’ year. And it certainly has been. Yes, there have been some bright spots, but by and large the Mets have spent the year struggling to approach 500 and fighting to stay ahead of the Phillies to avoid last place. The general consensus is that next year (2015) when Harvey returns, we’ll be better. Many fans believe with Harvey pitching every fifth day the Mets have a legitimate shot at making the post-season. But do we?

Assuming Harvey returns in 2015 with the same dominance he showed for three-quarters of 2013, you can be sure he will be on an innings limit roughly between 150 and 175. The Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg was capped at 160.

This means that even if the Mets DO find themselves battling for a wild card, it’s unlikely Harvey will still be around in September. Could we compete for the playoffs with our ace on the bench during the month-long stretch run? I hope so, but who knows. I just don’t want to see 2015 turn into another ‘wait until next year’ grind when Harvey will be free of restrictions in 2016. I want to see a serious commitment to winning next season with plans A, B and C firmly in place.

The point here is twofold. The Mets really need to do better than an offense that ranks 29th in batting and 28th in OPS if we seriously intend to make a run for the playoffs next season. And it may be a good idea to have a solid backup plan for Matt Harvey – just in case. Lets be proactive for a change. This is going to be one of the most significant offseasons we’ve had in years. Lets make it happen in 2015. We need the teamwork to make the dream work.

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An All Star Game To Remember http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/07/an-all-star-game-to-remember.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/07/an-all-star-game-to-remember.html/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 04:44:45 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=160725 beatles2_1024

1964 was a bustling time in our nation’s history. With America still reeling from the shock of our president being assassinated on the streets of Dallas, we were under invasion by a group of four long haired lads from Liverpool. New President Lyndon Johnson declared a ‘War on Poverty.’ Average annual income in America was $6000, a new house cost $13,000, a new car $3500. For $1.25 you could purchase a movie ticket, for $4.50 you could fill your car.

Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win an Oscar for his role in “Lilies of the Field.” Ford unveiled a new sports car called the Mustang, a game show named “Jeopardy” premiered and another group from England, this one calling themselves the Rolling Stones, released their debut album. In New York, a group of twelve young men were arrested for their rebellious act against the establishment. In what is regarded as the first anti-war protest of the decade, they publicly burned their draft cards in protest of our growing involvement in a place half way around the world most Americans could not locate on a map. A place called Vietnam.

People in NY were excited. Not only were we hosting the World’s Fair but with the opening of Shea Stadium, NL baseball was officially back in NY. With this new state-of-the-art modern facility that could be modified for football, Mets fans were ecstatic. In only the 31st game ever played at Shea, Jim Bunning tossed a Perfect Game. It was the seventh perfecto in history and the first in the NL since John Montgomery Ward tossed one against the Buffalo Bisons in 1880.

Now it was time for our home to appear in the National spotlight. 50,850 packed Shea as the Mets hosted the 35th All-Star Game. The 1964 midsummer classic is regarded by historians as one of the best ever. Walt Alston managed the NL club and Al Lopez piloted the AL players. Current Mets manager Casey Stengel and future Mets manager Gil Hodges were coaches. Dean Chance took the mound for the AL, Don Drysdale for the NL. The Mets own Ron Hunt started at second base. Of the 18 starting players, eight wound wind up in Cooperstown.

Batting Orders

American League                                                                 National League

Jim Fregosi  (SS)                                                                  Roberto Clemente   (RF)

Tony Oliva   (RF)                                                                   Dick Groat         (SS)

Mickey Mantle  (CF)                                                              Billy Williams    (LF)

Harmon Killebrew  (LF)                                                         Willie Mays     (CF)

Bob Allison    (1B)                                                                 Orlando Cepeda  (1B)

Brooks Robinson  (3B)                                                          Ken Boyer     (3B)

Bobby Richardson  (2B)                                                        Joe Torre      (C)

Elston Howard     (C)                                                             Ron Hunt       (2B)

The AL wasted no time taking the lead. Fregosi opened the game with a solid hit to left field, moved to second base on a passed ball and scored two outs later on a rocket to left off the bat of Harmon Killebrew. 1-0 AL.

1964-allstar-game-ron-hunt - Copy

LA Angels’ Dean Chance baffled the NL for three innings. In the fourth he was replaced by John Wyatt of the Kansas City A’s. Billy Williams welcomed Wyatt to the game by leading off the fourth with a solo home run. Later that inning a solo blast by Ken Boyer put the NL on top, 2-1.

The NL added to the lead in the fifth. With two outs, Clemente singled up the middle off of Camilio Pascual. Cardinals shortstop Dick Groat doubled, Clemente raced home and the NL was up 3-1.

The American League rallied to tie the game in the sixth. After Oliva was fanned, Mantle and Killebrew singled. Brooks Robinson hit a line drive to the power alley in left-center. The ball rolled to the wall, Mantle and Killebrew scored. 3-3.

The AL recaptured the lead in the seventh when Elston Howard was hit by a Turk Farrell pitch. Pinch-hitter Rocky Colavito doubled, making it second and third. Fregosi hit a sac-fly to center that scored Howard and put the AL back on top, 4-3.

Boston’s Dick Radatz came in and once again the NL hitters were baffled. Radatz struck out 4 of the 6 batters he faced in the 7th and 8th. Juan Marichal made quick work of the AL in the top of the 9th. Radatz took the mound in the bottom half of the frame needing only three outs. But he’d have to face the heart of the NL’s potent lineup.

1964All-StarGame

Mays opened the inning with a walk and stole second. With the tying run in scoring position, Mays’ teammate Orlando Cepeda dug in. He hit a pop fly to short right that dropped. Mays scored easily to tie the game at 4-4. Cepeda, who took second on the throw home, was replaced by pinch runner Curt Flood. Ken Boyer popped out for the first out. Reds catcher Johnny Edward was intentionally walked to set up the DP. With runners on first and second and the game knotted at four in the bottom of the ninth, who was due up but none other than our own Ron Hunt, the Mets sole representative.

Manager Alston, however, decided to pinch hit for Hunt with Hank Aaron. The future HR king was fanned and it seemed like Radatz would get out of the jam when Phillies outfielder Johnny Callison stepped to the plate. Callison sent the first pitch high and deep and the ball sailed over the right field wall and gave the NL an improbable come from behind 7-4 victory, scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth. The Phillies outfielder joined Ted Williams and Stan Musial as the only players to win an All-Star Game on a walk-off HR.

It was a great and memorable All Star moment and it happened right here in Flushing, right here at Big Shea.

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The Frustration of Loving the Mets http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/04/the-wonderful-frustration-of-loving-the-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/04/the-wonderful-frustration-of-loving-the-mets.html/#comments Wed, 30 Apr 2014 19:30:06 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=154568 Metallica+Performs+Mandalay+Bay+Las+Vegas+O6AZUBWLaZ9l

Someone once joked “Marriage is about finding that one special person to annoy you the rest of your life.” The same could be said of Baseball fans. In our case, we’ve found the Mets.

On Thursday, April 3rd, the Mets lost to Washington, 8-2 and dropped to 0-3. We’d given up 22 runs in 3 days. It was the first time in history we lost the first 3 games of the season at home. And worst of all, we had another 159 yet to go. That night I did what most Mets fans wanted to do: Drink heavily. I went to the kitchen and much to my chagrin, there was no bottle of Jack Daniels. I did the next best thing and began working on a blog for MMO. Angry, frustrated and yes, pissed off, I banged on the keyboard of my computer like I was Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. I went off on Fred and Jeff Coupon, M. Donald Alderson, the human windmill Ike Davis, Bartolo’s belly and the ‘Yankee in right field.’ I suggested that even Chico Escuela would be an improvement.

Don’t go looking in the archives for the blog cause it ain’t there. After winning 2 of the next 3 from Cincinnati, I deleted the blog before it was posted.

Why was I so annoyed? Because I love this team. I care about this team deeply. Kinda like a marriage. How long have you been with your current husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend? Now, how long you’ve cared about the Mets? More than 2 of every 3 marriages fail. Spouses come and go. The Mets are forever. The Mets are the one team that will annoy us for the rest of our life.

1655864_662824207116611_99812273_nA little over a week later, the Mets were leaving Anaheim after getting crushed 14-2. Colon gave up 9 ER in 5 IP. We’d lost 2 of 3 that weekend, lucky to win the one game we did after blowing a lead in the 9th. We were 5-7. Frustrated, exasperated and yes, pissed off yet again, I took out my frustration on my poor, defenseless keyboard. Could I endure another 150 games of this torture? Sandy Alderson says this team will win 90 games??? Is he delusional, suffering dementia or just that out of touch? I posted the blog right around the time the Mets touched down in Phoenix for 3 games against the D-Backs.

Don’t go looking in the archives cause this one because it ain’t there either. (To let you all in on a little secret, with the exception of breaking news or game recaps, most posts pend for 24-48 hours. And thank goodness for that.) After sweeping the D-Backs, outscoring them 21-5, suddenly, somehow, someway, the Mets were amazingly over .500.

And suddenly, somehow, someway, we were playing some pretty good baseball. My own statements began to change. I went from:

SARCASM: Wow, the Mets actually won a game today

GUARDED OPTIMISM: Hey, the Mets won today.

BELIEVING: The Mets won again. Ohhh, boy…

CONFIDENCE:  Let’s kick some ass tonight, guys!

daniel murphy

Suddenly, somehow, someway, we were playing solid defense (second fewest errors in the league), anemic but timely hitting and pitchers were becoming stingy. Pitching and defense…just like 1969.

We went through 3 closers in 3 weeks. Ike Davis hit a Grand Slam…for Pittsburgh. Matt Harvey appeared flipping the bird: Plenty of fodder to complain about and air my frustrations. But this time, I held back. We were playing well and winning has a tendency to decrease the relevance of such trivial things.

When MLB Network shows their Premier Plays, I still get impressed with good defense. Watching an outfielder stick their glove over the wall and robbing someone of a HR never gets old. Nice! Watching a third baseman snag a line drive destined for the corner, plant his feet and fire across the diamond to nail the batter by half a step always elicits a Wow. And though I shouldn’t admit this, after all these years I still like seeing Derek Jeter do that thing where he leaps, turns in mid-air and fires to first base. Awesome. But when it’s one of our guys, when it’s Daniel Murphy turning a seemingly un-turnable 6-4-3 double play or when Travis d’Arnaud nails the potential tying run at the plate, I don’t say Wow, Nice! or Awesome. I just smile proudly. Those are MY GUYS, MY TEAM, MY METS.

"Positive thinking breeds positive results."  ~  Tug McGraw

In late 1973, Tug McGraw coined ‘Ya Gotta Believe.’ No one will ever know if Tug really believed it. The fact remains, however, that the Mets went from 5th place on August 31 to within one hit of winning the World Series six weeks later.

And since that unlikely pennant, we fans have repeated Tug’s mantra over and over and over and over. Almost blindly, robotically regurgitating a tired worn-out cliché that originated back during the Nixon administration. Even when the Mets had no legitimate chance, no matter how bleak and how awful our team was, we spewed Ya Gotta Believe. Maybe if we said it often enough there’d be another miracle.

seaver santana

From Seaver to Santana, from Darryl and Dykstra to Dessens and Duda, from Knight to Wright, from Pacella to Pedro to Parnell, from Mazz to Kaz, from Doctor K to Generation K to K-Rod, from Bobby V to Dillon Gee, from John Franco to Matt Franco to Julio Franco, we’ve repeated Tug’s war cry until we ourselves get tired of hearing it.

But is there legitimacy this time? Since starting out 0-3, the Mets have played .652 ball, going 15-8. Granted we’re only 1/6 through the season. But just weeks ago we asked ourselves, ‘Can I take six more months of this torture?’ Perhaps the coming months wont be as hopeless as we anticipated. Who amongst us isn’t—even in a small, tiny, microscopic way—starting to ‘believe?’

Will our pitching hold-up? Can we expect 41-year old Colon to keep it up all year? Will NL batters learn to hit Wheeler? Can our young untested pitchers compete in the heat of a pennant race if we get to the summer and are still playing solid? Maybe, maybe not. But did anyone think we had a chance in 1969?

Presented By Diehards

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Are the Mets Playing to Win or Playing Not to Lose http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/04/are-the-mets-playing-to-win-or-playing-not-to-lose.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/04/are-the-mets-playing-to-win-or-playing-not-to-lose.html/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:10:18 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=153246 gary carter

After Gary Carter got a hit with two outs in the bottom of the 10th in Game Six, he turned to 1B coach Bill Robinson and said, “There’s no way I was making the last ******* out.” Moments later, pinch hitter Kevin Mitchell, void of his cup, got a base hit. He turned to 1B coach Bill Robinson and also said, “There’s no way I was making the last ******* out.”

When you look at the Mets today, do you see that same determination?

There’s a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. When I watch the Mets, I see the latter. I see a team that’s not loose, that’s timid, almost waiting for something to go wrong and have a loss snatched from the jaws of victory.

I look at the Mets and, even this early into the season, it appears they are going through the motions. Willie Stargell once said, “Baseball is fun. That’s why the umpire says ‘Play Ball,’ not ‘Work Ball.” But to me it doesn’t seem like the Mets are having fun. They play hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

Last Friday night, the Mets arrived in Anaheim after a cross-country flight from Atlanta. But you’d think they were the first team to ever do this. They seemed lethargic, a far off distant look in their eyes. If this was the dog days of August I’d understand. But to see—in my view—a team this weary and this sluggish on their first road trip of the season made me wonder.

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets - Game One

In the top of the 3rd, Travis d’Arnaud hit a solo HR to tie the game at 2-2. It was only the second homer of his career. Upon returning to the dugout, d’Arnaud smiled briefly, got a couple of proper pats on the butt from teammates and promptly sat on the bench putting on his catching gear. Very formal, very businesslike.

Three innings later, the opposite happened. J.B. Shuck, just called up to replace injured Josh Hamilton, hit a HR in the bottom of the 6th to knot the game at 4. It was the only the third of his career. Several of his teammates stepped onto the field, giving him high-fives after he rounded the bases, hugging him as he walked through the dugout. By the Angels’ reaction, you’d think it was a post-season game in October, not a Friday night in early April.

The stark difference was…amazing. The Angels were ecstatic, exuberant, nine-year-olds in Little League. The Mets were blasé, nonchalant, and almost indifferent.

In the 1970’s our hitting was definitely anemic. But out excellent pitching and stellar defense always kept us in the game. We had a legitimate chance to win. At the end of the 20th century, we had good enough pitching and enough big hitters that a win, no matter the score, seemed within our grasp. From 2005-2008, with a lineup consisting of David Wright and Jose Reyes—both coming into their prime–the power of Carlos Delgado and the 5 tools of Carlos Beltran, no deficit seemed insurmountable.

And then, there was ’86. If the Mets jumped out in front, it felt as if ‘that’s the way it’s supposed to be.’ Business as usual. And if we fell behind, our confidence never wavered. It wasn’t a matter of IF we’d win but HOW. And we did win. 2 of every 3 all year. But now it’s just the opposite. It feels like when the Mets take a lead, we don’t count on the win. Instead we ‘hope the bullpen can hold it.’ And if we fall behind, well, that’s when it feels like business as usual.

Why is this? Where does this culture stem from? When and how did mediocrity become acceptable and losses expected? Does it start in the executive office with ownership and the GM? Is it the fault of the manager and coaching staff? Perhaps, the players themselves?

When you look back at the good times there is one underlying consistency. We created a culture of winning.

On Opening Day 1969, Tom Seaver was a 24 year-old kid, Jerry Koosman was 26, Gary Gentry didn’t even look old enough to shave and Wayne Garret looked like he arrived at Shea via his tricycle. They were inexperienced kids but yet they won. How? The reason is they were surrounded by people who were winners. Manager Gil Hodges and coach Yogi Berra had played in 114 World Series games combined!

In June, management acquired Donn Clendenon, the player who Buddy Harrelson stated, “…gave us credibility.” Clendenon spent the bulk of his career in Pittsburgh alongside the likes of Stargell and Roberto Clemente, players who knew how to win.

When the Mets returned to the Series four years later, much of the team were holdovers from ’69. They were already champions.

By 1986, we had young stars like Gooden, Strawberry, and Dykstra. But we also had Gary Carter who, at this late stage in his career, would’ve done anything to get a ring. Keith Hernandez already had a ring as well as an MVP on his mantel. And at the helm was Davey Johnson, a player who spent the bulk of his career playing under Earl Weaver, one of the games’ winningest managers. Davey had two rings. He knew about winning.

The 99/00 club didn’t have “winners” but we had a roster loaded with guys who had that fire in the belly: Piazza, Ventura, Franco, Leiter, Payton. Even over-achiever Benny Agbayani.

Around 2006, we had the perfect blend of young talent and veterans who knew the game. Delgado was running out of time to become a champion, Beltran was determined to quiet the critics, Pedro Martinez was a big game pitcher, El Duque was a post-season stud, Paul Lo Duca played with the passion of Jerry Grote. And our skipper, Willie Randolph, had won 5 pennants and 4 World Series.

paul_lo_duca

Which one doesn’t fit in with this group: Hodges, Berra, Johnson, Valentine, Randolph, Collins.

The 2014 Mets are centered around David Wright. Like Seaver before, he is the face of this team. He already holds many team records and by the time he hangs up his cleats, he will be at the top of every offensive category in our history. We all love him, no doubt about that. It’s as if we get through the other 8 guys just to get back to Wright, who seems like he’s the only one who can give us a chance. And although we all love him, he can’t be called a winner yet.

That’s not a knock on David. Cooperstown is filled with legends who never won a ring. No one should diminish the accomplishments of Ernie Banks, Juan Marichal, Tony Gwynn, Nap Lajoie, Ted Williams and countless others. And while David puts up great numbers year after year, he can’t be lumped together with winners like a Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, Keith Hernandez, Tom Seaver, Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia.

The 2014 Mets do have Curtis Granderson, a player with extensive post-season experience. But can he be labeled a ‘winner?’ In 36 post-season games he’s compiled a paltry .229 BA. His one World Series appearance, 2006 with Detroit, his team lost in five. Granderson went 2-for-21, an .095 BA.

When I look at the Mets today, I see a lot of things. I see management that operates a big market club with a small market mentality. I see a GM whose hands are financially tied, searching the bottom of the barrel, hoping for one more good year from players well beyond their prime. I see a manager and a coaching staff who has never won. I see a third baseman who’s the only real player we have on our team, a role model for kids, but not a champion. I see the future of our team, Matt Harvey, a 25 year-old who has already undergone Tommy John surgery. I also see potential. Young pitchers with a lot of upside who are still unproven.

I see a lot of different things. Regrettably, though, I don’t see any winners.

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41 Years a Mets Fan http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/03/41-years-a-mets-fan.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/03/41-years-a-mets-fan.html/#comments Sun, 16 Mar 2014 13:50:39 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=150571 jesse-orosco-winning-1986-world-series

Legend has it that after Jesse Orosco fanned Marty Barrett and tossed his glove to the heavens it never came down. But on the evening of October 27, 1986, something else went even higher: My dad and me jumping up and down in the living room.

At that frozen moment in time my dad was not my dad. He wasn’t the one who taught me to ride a bike and drive a car. He wasn’t the one who showed me how to use a razor and knot a tie. He wasn’t the one who made me cover my ears when George Carlin launched into ‘The 7 Words You Can’t Say on TV.’ He wasn’t the one who snuck into my bedroom on Saturday nights and, unbeknownst to my mom, woke me up to watch wrestling. He wasn’t the one who explained to me that Baseball “is a business” after the Mets traded Tug McGraw. He wasn’t the one who once advised me, “Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Baseball.” He wasn’t the one who told me, “The Mets never lose. Sometimes we just run out of innings.” On that unforgettable Monday evening there was not 23 years between us.

We were two little kids. We were celebrating the fact that OUR TEAM was World Champions. We were Mets fans.

My mom eventually went to sleep but not my dad and me. We stayed up until dawn–drinking coffee, sharing some munchies, reminiscing. My dad smoked and although I, too, had picked up that habit and despite the fact I’d be turning 21 in 2 weeks, I still felt awkward smoking in front of him. We didn’t want to close the door on the ‘86 season. We discussed what the Mets would do with the logjam of Strawberry, Wilson, Dykstra and Mitchell in the outfield. We agreed that Cashen damn well better sign Series MVP Ray Knight. We fretted about Gary and Keith getting older but Gregg Jefferies would surely fill their shoes.

As the tentacles of sunrise began slithering through the curtains and the first day in eight months without baseball was upon us, my dad and I hugged again. With a smile displaying pride, dad casually mentioned, “That’s three.” The three he referred to was the number of championships he’d won in his life: one with Brooklyn in 1955. And now two with the Mets.

My dad passed away three years ago, just 2 weeks before Opening Day 2011. He never got to see a fourth.

mets - Copy

Over the past several years I’d guestimate that more than half the blogs I’ve written for MMO have been extremely critical of Sandy Alderson, his “plan” and his request to be patient. Part of me–deep down inside–agrees with him. To a certain point, with the financial handcuffs ownership has placed on him, he has little flexibility. We’re not the Yankees who are battling for a pennant year in and year out. In all fairness to the GM, perhaps it’s me. I came of age in the 80’s, the decade of instant gratification and quick edits in music videos.

To quote Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part. On the other hand, if small market clubs with small payrolls such as Atlanta or Oakland can compete year after year, why can’t we? I take umbrage with Alderson’s call for patience. I have 41 years under my belt as a Mets fan and over that time, I’ve got just one championship. In 41 years my team has only made the post-season 6 times. 6 for 41: A 146 average. And I’m tired of waiting.

To anyone reading this, STOP! Take a moment and think back to where you were, what your life was like in 1986. How much has changed? How much have you changed? Where you were then? Where are you now?

bruce_1984_01

Me? I’ve lived an entire adult life since 1986 as have many of you. I watched girls I had crushes on marry other guys. Then have kids. In some cases, now having grandkids. I fell in love, got married. I fell out of love, got divorced. I’ve had good paying jobs. I’ve had bad paying jobs. I once was hired on the spot during an interview. I once was fired on the spot when my employer reduced staff by 35%. I’ve gone from standing outside a stadium all night to get Springsteen tickets to still seeing Springsteen, but now, with the exception of the first few songs and last few songs, I sit for most of the 3 hour concerts. I’ve gone from a plethora of speeding tickets to…hell, I can’t even remember the last time I got pulled over. I’ve gone from a really bad-ass silver and black Chevy to a nice, conservative four door sedan. I’ve gone from spending hours on a Saturday waxing and washing my car by hand to expelling less energy and going to a drive-thru. I’ve gone from being able to eat an abundance of fast food to avoiding spicy foods so I don’t aggravate my ulcer. I’ve gone from watching MTV and The Cosby Show to watching my cholesterol and my blood pressure. I’ve visited my parents in the hospital several occasions since 1986. And I’ve seen my parents standing at my bedside in a hospital. I once volunteered on a presidential campaign and four years later found myself on the opposite end of the political spectrum, voting against the man I’d fought so hard for. I’ve lost grandmothers, uncles, aunts, cousins. I’ve had one of my best friends die in a car accident, another succumb to cancer at 31.

Not too different from things you’ve also probably encountered. Just…well, just life. And through all of this, I’m still waiting.

Some of you reading this may be too young to remember 1986. Me, and those around my age, can still see in our mind Gary Carter’s fist-pumping curtain calls after going deep, the majestic swing of Darryl Strawberry, Ray Knight clobbering Eric Davis in the head and the cat-like quickness and elegance of Keith Hernandez at 1B. But for those who are too young you only know these images from YouTube. They don’t pull at your heartstrings unless you witnessed it first-hand. Unless you lived it. Same for me who is too young to personally recall 1969 with Agee’s catches, Swoboda’s dive, Seaver’s imperfect game or Cleon Jones dropping to one knee for the final out, something my dad recreated for me dozens of times in our living room in Queens.

And some of you reading this were not even born the last time the Mets won. Hearing about or reading about ground balls to Buckner or the euphoria and feeling of invincibility that filled Shea whenever Doc Gooden took the mound carries little significance. Same goes for me when my dad told me stories about Jackie Robinson stealing home, Sandy Amoros’ catch or Johnny Podres shutting down the mighty Yankees in Game 7 of the ’55 World Series.

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 7_46_38 PM - Copy

There are several excellent bloggers on this site who are hopeful, positive and have no qualms about waiting. They’re young. They’re in college. And I’m actually a touch envious of their optimism when they look into the future. Sadly, they’ve never experienced the jubilation, the exhilaration, the sheer joy of being able to say my Mets are Champions.

It seems like just yesterday I, too, was in college. In October 1986, I was a senior, seven months away from entering the real world. I had my whole life ahead of me, my dreams and hopes still intact. I was certain ’86 would only be the beginning of Mets dominance. Now, nearly thirty years later, I’m still waiting for that encore.

The last time the Mets were presented a World Series trophy I wasn’t even of legal age. And suddenly, somehow, someway, without even realizing, next year I’ll be…gasp…50. I went through my 20’s, my 30’s, and my 40’s waiting. And, per Sandy Alderson, I should wait just a wee bit longer.

One more time, STOP! No matter what your current age is, think of yourself fifteen years from now. Try to picture yourself fifteen years older. Pretty hard to do. But that’s how old we’ll approximately be if David Wright is a first ballot Hall of Famer.

The thing is that we all have only X amount of seasons in us. There’s no clock in Baseball, but there is one in life.

So, I’ll continue to grumble about Alderson, the Wilpons, Terry Collins. As I enter my 42nd year rooting for this team I’ve seen a lot. Over these four plus decades, I’ve gone through 8 GM’s and 16 managers. And after Alderson is gone, after Collins is gone, after the Wilpons are gone (soon, I hope), I’ll still be here, cheering for the Mets into my 50’s just as I’ve been doing since I was 7. I’ll write plenty more blogs critical of the ‘plan.’ But what choice do I really have? I’m not going to switch my allegiance. I’ve got too much time invested in the Mets. I’ve spent my entire life rooting for this team.

I’ll wait. I’ll keep waiting. I’ll keep waiting and hoping. Just like my dad kept waiting to see a fourth championship in his life, I’ll keep waiting for my second.

seaver number 41

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MMO Review: Ken Burns’ The Tenth Inning http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/mmo-review-ken-burns-the-tenth-inning.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/mmo-review-ken-burns-the-tenth-inning.html/#comments Sun, 23 Feb 2014 19:32:25 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=148738 burns tenth inning

Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby was once asked what he does all winter. The great 2Bman replied, “I stare out the window and wait for spring.” I am just like Hornsby. No, I don’t have a career 358 BA but I do the same. Unlike most of you, I don’t follow other sports. One tradition I have is viewing Ken Burns’ Baseball to help me survive the endlessly boring winters. A few years back I purchased the “The Tenth Inning,” but hadn’t watched it–until recently.

Hard to believe I was disappointed. True, even a bad Baseball documentary is still good. But this felt more like an ESPN show, not a creation by an award-winning documentarian.

There are several familiar faces that return from the original. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Daniel Okrent, Gerald Early, Thomas Boswell and Bob Costas are back sharing insights. Newcomers include sportswriters Marcus Breton, Howard Bryant, Gary Hoenig, as well as great tales from Keith Olbermann and Mike Barnicle. Chris Rock supplies a few laughs. Bud Selig and Don Fehr are interviewed.

In one of the Special Features both Burns and co-prouder Lynn Novick are interviewed. Burns is a die-hard Red Sox fan, Novick a Yankees fan. Burns stated after his Sox reversed the curse in ’04, he formulated the idea to update the original. And therein lies the problem. This episode covers 1992-2009. However, about 2 ½ of the 4 hours is devoted to only two topics: The Red Sox/Yankee rivalry and steroids.

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Granted, these were huge topics over the last 20 years. But as a result numerous other subjects and high points were glossed over or ignored completely.

I’m not downplaying the long lasting effects of the Steroid Era. But I felt far too much emphasis was focused on this topic. The steroids issue was presented in such a way I thought I was watching Dateline.

“The Tenth Inning” was little more than a MLB highlight reel. Gone were the personal stories from those in the game. The only ballplayer interviewed was Pedro Martinez. Felipe Alou appeared briefly in addition to Yankee skipper Joe Torre who received approximately 25 minutes of airtime.  

The earlier innings were, by and large, centered on the individual player and his significance to the game. Rarely was a section focused on a ‘team.’ Much of The Fourth Inning, A National Heirloom, was centered on Babe Ruth. A good portion of the Sixth Inning, The National Pastime, was focused on Jackie Robinson. This tenth inning, as a result of overkill on two topics, left many important issues not covered.

After 86 years, Boston finally won the World Series and received endless coverage. On the flipside, the White Sox ended their 88 year drought in 2005 but it was not even mentioned.

In 2003, the Cubs were 5 outs away from returning to the Series for the first time since 1945, possibly winning their first Championship in 95 years. Yes, there was poor old Steve Bartman again. But no time was devoted to the long storied history of Cubs futility. A brief recap of their century long slump would have brought into perspective the fan interference call.

The overkill of Yankees/Red Sox and Steroids left much on the cutting room floor.

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The first 9 innings covered the 20th Century. Yet, one of Baseball’s most glorious moments, the 1999 All-Star Game when yes, The All-Century Team was introduced, was not examined.  Ted Williams at Fenway. How much better does it get?

The influx of Latin players received a good amount of air-time. Yet, there was no mention of the decline and almost complete disappearance of African-Americans from the field. I found this interesting, especially since, and rightfully so, so much focus throughout the original was paid to Jackie Robinson’s arrival, the fading away of the Negro Leagues and the horrors that black ballplayers such as Hank Aaron and Curt Flood endured decades after the end of The Gentleman’s Agreement.

Two of the most popular broadcasters in history, Jack Buck and Harry Caray, adored by generations of fans in Chicago and St. Louis, died in 2002 and 1998 respectively. Yet, they were omitted. There was nothing said about Baseball returning to the nation’s capital after almost forty years. Nor was the addition of teams in Tampa Bay, Colorado, Miami or Arizona discussed. The D-backs only got mentioned when Burns turned his focus to the 2001 Yankees.

As the bulk of the 4 hours centered on the big market Yankees and Sox, the fact that small market clubs on a shoestring budget, such as Oakland, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Miami remained competitive, was again barely discussed. The Twins, Rays and Marlins with their 2 titles received no air-time.

With the exceptions of the Braves dominant Big Three and the high profile trio of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds, many other great players from the last 20+ years were non-existent.

Ken Griffey Jr, one of the most loved players of his generation appeared on the cover of the DVD but only was briefly mentioned in the opening minutes. Admired Kirby Puckett, who retired early due to injuries, became one of the youngest players enshrined in Cooperstown and tragically died at 45 years old, was absent. Tony Gwynn’s 338 career BA may have been the highest of the last half-century but apparently that wasn’t worthy of being highlighted. One glaring and unbelievable lapse relates to the greatest lead-off hitter ever. Rickey Henderson is the all-time leader in SB’s (1406), runs, (2295), lead-off HR’s (81) and unintentional walks (2129.) He was rarely out on the bases but he was out of The Tenth Inning.

How can you discuss the last 20 years without including Trevor Hoffman, Robby Alomar, Jim Thome, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Chipper Jones, Craig Biggio and the man who hit more HR’s than any other catcher in history, our own Mike Piazza.

When Aaron Boone, Scott Brosius and Kevin Millar get more attention than Pujols, Cabrera and Alomar, somethin’ aint right.

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One part of The Tenth Inning was almost laughable. Burns and Novick highlighted the arrival of Ichiro Suzuki, the first Japanese position player. It underscored the fact that in the midst of balls flying out of ballparks, a slap hitter won the admiration of fans coast to coast. They made mention of his All-Star game appearances, numerous Gold Gloves and Batting titles. However, while praising Ichiro, they completely failed to include the fact he set the record for most hits in a season (262), a mark that had stood for 84 seasons. To discuss Ichiro without acknowledging his crowning achievement was a monumental blunder.

As for our beloved Mets? Well, let’s be honest. The period 1992-2009 wasn’t a great run for us. However, we were ignored entirely. In the Seventh Inning, The Capital of Baseball (1950-1959), that entire episode centered on New York’s dominance and that seemingly every October there was a Subway Series. Yet, in 2000, when the first Subway Series occurred in four and a half decades, this too was omitted.

Being a New Yorker and Mets fan I was greatly disturbed about the way 9/11 was portrayed. After the Towers were shown on fire and crumbling, the next baseball scene was the Yankees playing the White Sox with Chicagoans holding ‘We Love New York’ signs. There was no mention of the first post-9/11 game in New York, which happened at Shea and not even a mention of Piazza’s HR that healed a city. To add insult to injury, in one of the special features, Joe Torre was talking about how he and some of his players visited families of numerous victims. I’m not playing one-upmanship with regards to a horrific event. But I found it slightly appalling that a filmmaker with the credentials of Ken Burns would emphasize the role of one NY team while completely ignoring the other. A casual fan would think the Mets went the way of the Washington Senators after 1986.

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To illustrate the above point, one part focused on how the game got away from the cookie-cutter stadiums of the 60’s and 70’s and built new parks with a retro field. 19 of 30 teams built new homes starting in 1990. If you recall the original documentary, much emphasis was placed on the lore and homey feeling of Ebbets Field. Yet, when the Mets build a retro stadium with an exterior that replicates the Dodgers home, that too, is avoided.

Interestingly, one problem the game has faced over the last generation is the widening gap between big markets and small markets. Yet, Mr. Burns perpetuated that in ‘The Tenth Inning’ by focusing on Boston and New York while largely ignoring everyone else.

the tenth inning

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