Mets Merized Online » Stephen Hanks http://metsmerizedonline.com Wed, 27 Aug 2014 07:00:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.4 A Winter’s Tale: The Keith Hernandez Trade and Me http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/12/a-winters-tale-the-keith-hernandez-trade-and-me.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/12/a-winters-tale-the-keith-hernandez-trade-and-me.html/#comments Wed, 25 Dec 2013 18:12:16 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=136948 Here’s a wonderful post from December 25, 2009, when Stephen Hanks warmed us with a fascinating story from his good old days. Back then, Stephen was the force behind New York Sports Magazine and helped set the stage for one of the greatest trades in Mets history. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas to all of you Met fans. I thought I’d have you all gather around the hot stove in your jammies with a cup of hot cider (spiked with a little of Tom Seaver‘s GTS wine) and listen to a winter’s tale of how your benevolent storyteller helped bring the Mets’ greatest first baseman ever to our ballclub in 1983.

It all began the fall of 1982, just after my 27th birthday. Since my early teenage years I had dreamed of starting my own magazine about professional sports in New York. I remembered a short-lived magazine called “JOCK NEW YORK,” which published for one year in 1969, long enough to celebrate the Miracle Mets on its cover. It boasted writers like Dick Schaap and Jimmy Breslin, and even Howard Cosell penned pieces for JOCK.

I was already a magazine fanatic and when JOCK folded, I remember saying to myself, “I’m going to do this magazine one day, only better.” After starting my career at the late, great SPORT Magazine (1978-80), and then spending a year editing a magazine for the National Hockey League, I felt it was time to make the leap and start NEW YORK SPORTS Magazine. I guess I was the Joe DeCaro or Matt Cerrone of my time.

With my wife Bea as the publisher and business mind, we decided we would launch our bi-monthly magazine with a May/June issue in April 1983. That would give us about four months to raise some money, plan the first issue, assign stories and photographs, sell ads, and all that wonderful and stressful stuff that goes into launching a publication. Then in mid-December, I received a gift from the magazine gods. The Mets made a trade with Cincinnati and brought back my hero Tom Seaver. It didn’t take a lot of soul-searching to decide who would be on the magazine’s first cover.

But while the first issue would carry a romantic tribute to Tom Terrific, we had already planned another Mets-related feature for that launch issue, a profile on probably the best player on that awful Mets team of the early 1980s–25-year-old reliever Neil Allen. The young closer had managed to save 59 games from 1980-82 and had more than a little Tug McGraw in him. He was cocky, fun, opinionated and accessible. He even lived in Lee Mazzilli‘s former house on Long Island. Going into the 1983 season, Allen was on the last year of his contract, had an option year and had his eye on big free-agent bucks.

A few weeks before spring training, I contacted Mets PR director Jay Horwitz and told him we wanted to feature Allen with a positive profile in our first issue and he agreed to give us access. I assigned one of my writer friends from the SPORT days, Mark Ribowsky, to visit Allen at his LI home, and the writer and the reliever spent a Saturday afternoon drinking beer and watching college basketball.

On Monday morning, I got a call from Ribowsky saying he had a story that would put NEW YORK SPORTS on the map. Allen didn’t just give him the standard “these are my goals for me and the team this season” stuff; he threw high hard ones at his teammates and the organization. Ribowsky, who had a great talent for getting athletes to spill their guts, probably knew he could hit pay dirt when Allen started the interview with this nugget:

“Who wouldn’t want to live in New York? Love those bright lights of Broadway and any time I can hit those East Side bars, man, I jump.”

neil allen espn

At the time, nobody knew Allen had a drinking problem, something that would emerge in May that season when he entered a rehab clinic. For now, Ribowsky just kept his tape recorder running and Allen supplied the rest. You can just imagine what the organization’s reaction must have been when they read these Allen quotes in a magazine:

“Look, they didn’t do a damn thing in the off-season. I don’t want to sound bitter and the team’s been good to me, but they don’t show me no interest in improving the club. The only thing I see getting Tom Seaver for is attendance. He’s 38. I don’t see him coming back and winning 15 or 20 games . . . This team here ain’t gonna score him four or five runs a game. With this team two runs might be the highlight of the game.”

Or this breathless diatribe. Nuke LaLoosh after lessons from Crash Davis, Allen was not:

“We’ve finished next to last or last place six years in a row and who wants to play for a loser. Look at this year’s [1983] team. Dave Kingman will hit .230 tops, and strike out every time he doesn’t hit a homer… I get along well with Kong, but other guys, especially the young guys, are just scared of him.”

Brian Giles and Ron Gardenhire are unproven in the middle of the infield… John Stearns isn’t a superstar — he can’t hit a homer out of my front yard — yet he’s constantly burning the club in public right after games. You don’t do that . . . Stearns may not be able to throw the whole year and that leaves Ron Hodges at catcher, a guy people think died because they confuse him with Gil Hodges.”

George Foster was making $2 million and wasn’t producing and came to the park in a long silver limo. The fans threw batteries at it, ripped the antennas off, pulverized it. By the end of the season, it looked like a German war tank. The pitching? I don’t understand the Mike Torrez trade. Why not get a fresh face like Floyd Bannister [who was a free agent]? Here’s a guy that throws hard like Ron Guidry, but we get guys 36, 38 years old. We trade a young arm like Jeff Reardon [to Montreal in 1981] for Ellis Valentine, who was a real head case… Our rotation? Seaver, Craig Swan, Torrez, Scott Holman and Rick Ownbey, who throws smoke, but walks six guys a game… It seems the front office accepts losing.”

Then a passage that would be sure to endear him to his General Manager:

“Me and Frank Cashen just clash. He thinks I’m young and just out for the glory. He wants me to be Tom Seaver, a conformist. Hell, I’m the clown of the ballclub, the ball buster in the locker room. Tug McGraw taught me to have a good time. No sense playing in the big leagues if you’re not having fun. I don’t care how much you make. But Cashen, he don’t like that attitude. Last year, before a game, I was on the bench with an old man’s mask on and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. So they put a shot of me on the Diamond Vision screen. Right away, Cashen sent a message down asking, ‘Who was it, was it Allen?’ — because he assumes anything like that would be me — ‘Tell him I want to see him.’ I said, ‘Aw, screw him. I don’t wanna see him.”

There was more, but you get the idea. During the call with Ribowsky, I had three conflicting feelings. As a Mets fan, I was completely bummed by Allen’s comments. I almost didn’t want to know that the Mets were this dysfunctional. But as the editor of a new magazine, I was ecstatic. These type of comments from a star player might get us the back cover of the tabloids, and that was before Rupert Murdoch owned the New York Post. But I also knew I had to be cautious. If these quotes weren’t real; if they were taken out of context or said off the record and we printed them, my new magazine would be dead on arrival. I couldn’t take any chances. I pressed Ribowsky. “They’re all on the record,” he assured me. “It’s not on us that he was drinking and said these things. Listen to the tape.”

And so I did and the tape passed the journalism smell test. I was sitting on magazine publishing gold.

The premier issue of NEW YORK SPORTS would hit the newsstands all over the metro area on Tuesday, April 19. A few days before on-sale, I prepared a press release and sent it off with a copy of the magazine to all the Mets beat writers, hoping to create some publicity that would generate newsstand sales. On Wednesday the 20th, after a couple of days of rain, the Mets were playing a doubleheader against the Pirates at Shea and I was home watching the first game (we didn’t have enough of a budget for an office) when the phone rang. It was Jay Horwitz . . . at least I thought it was Jay . . . it was hard to tell at first given how he was screaming and cursing at me.

“You told me you were doing a positive profile and you screwed me and the team,” Jay shouted, seasoning his comments with a heavy helping of the F-word. “Jay, what do you want from me?” I squeezed in. “The guy said all that stuff on the record and I had to print it,”

“I don’t care,” he said, or something to that effect. “You and your magazine are banned from Shea Stadium! Don’t ask for a press credential and don’t have any of your writers ask. You’re banned!”

The next day, the Neil Allen story in NEW YORK SPORTS became a full-fledged controversy. Although we didn’t get back page headlines, there were articles in the sports sections and prominent columnists like the Post‘s Dick Young (public enemy number one because he was responsible for the Tom Seaver trade) and the New York TimesDave Anderson wrote pieces in support of the magazine’s story. In Anderson’s case, I actually played the tape of the Allen interview for him over the phone so he knew we were legit. Allen, of course, denied he said any of it.

We also offered to play the tape for Frank Cashen in the hopes of getting our Shea ban rescinded. My wife managed to get the GM on the phone. He listened, sighed and told us to “just go away.” End of conversation.

Cashen had taken over as the Mets GM in 1980 after Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon purchased the team from the Payson family. He was an accomplished baseball executive and a conservative man who always wore a bowtie. Cashen was in the process of methodically resurrecting the Mets franchise and there was no way he was going to allow a disrespectful, loud-mouth young reliever to create chaos and undermine the cause. Once our story broke Neil Allen was as good as gone from the Mets. The admission of the alcohol problem and the rehab visit in May had to seal the deal. Now Cashen just had to find a team who wanted to unload a similar problem child.

keith+hernandez

On June 15, the day of the trade deadline, Frank Cashen made what is still probably the greatest trade in New York Mets history: Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey to the St. Louis Cardinals for Keith Hernandez.

Okay, I won’t take ALL the credit for helping create a situation in which the Mets wanted to unload Neil Allen. But I don’t think we could have obtained a player of Keith Hernandez’s caliber–even if Whitey Herzog did consider Keith “a cancer” on the Cardinals–if Allen wasn’t included in the deal. At that time the Mets didn’t have much else to trade and Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson weren’t going anywhere.

Fellow Mets fans, you’re welcome. Sweet dreams.

Postscript: The 1983 premier issue of NEW YORK SPORTS outsold Sports Illustrated on the newsstands in the metro area. After a one-year hiatus to raise funds, the magazine began regular bi-monthly publication in May 1984 (the Shea Stadium ban had been rescinded that winter) and published six issues before suspending operations after the May/June 1985 issue due to lack of capital.

(Photos: ESPN, AP)

Presented By Diehards

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The Johan Santana Injury Farce and Why This is S.O.M. (Same Old Mets) http://metsmerizedonline.com/2012/07/the-johan-santana-injury-farce-and-why-this-is-s-o-m-same-old-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2012/07/the-johan-santana-injury-farce-and-why-this-is-s-o-m-same-old-mets.html/#comments Sun, 22 Jul 2012 16:23:25 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=89619 As I read Terry Collins’ and Sandy Alderson’s quotes in the paper this morning regarding Johan Santana going on the disabled list, my nostrils began to flair, my face was turning red, I almost scalded myself with the cup of hot coffee that was shaking in my hand, and I finally ran to get some blood pressure medication. I’m not angry that Johan Santana is being placed on the DL. That’s just incredibly sad and disappointing. What has me totally infuriated is WHEN they decided to put Johan on the shelf due to his barking ankle.

It was during the July 6 game against the Cubs when Reed Johnson stepped on Santana’s right ankle while Johan was stepping on the first base bag. When I saw the initial play and then watched it again on the slo-mo replay, I was amazed the ankle wasn’t severely sprained or even broken. At the very least, I was sure swelling would have developed within innings and Johan would have to leave the game for a bigger ice pack than the one for his shoulder after a game. But Johan soldered on–as is his wont–and used the All-Star break to rest the ankle, not really missing a turn. But it’s been clear since the break that something has gone very wrong with Santana’s velocity and command and the Mets have NOW decided the problem stems from the injured ankle.

“We determined the ankle issue is bigger than anybody had realized,” manager Terry Collins said. “Ever since the injury, his command hasn’t been there. He can’t land properly, he’s using all his arm to pitch with, causing some fatigue in his shoulder . . . ” Added Alderson: “We think the ankle injury may have led to some general fatigue in his shoulder specifically . . . we’ve probably gotten to the point where we need to get that ankle right.” YA THINK?

So let me get this straight: Terry Collins was in agony to the point of tears when he struggled with deciding whether to let Johan throw 130-plus pitches during his no-hitter, but had NO problem with letting him pitch three games through an injured ankle on his landing leg, just because the medical staff didn’t see the urgency of the injury and because the pitcher wanted to gamely keep taking the mound? Collins thought the pitch count would jeopardize Santana’s fragile post-surgery shoulder, but didn’t think having him pitch with a bad ankle which would make him overcompensate with his arm would be just as dangerous, if not more? We experienced this craziness regarding injuries with the Omar Minaya regime. I really expected better out of Sandy and company and that’s why I’m furious; not the least of which is because had Santana continued to pitch well we might have been able to deal him to a contender before the trade deadline. Now that option is out the window.

Let me tell you a little story about pitching with a bad ankle and how dangerous it can be. At the beginning of my senior year in college, I threw a one-hitter (would have been a no-no had my shortstop had any range) and was on the radar of a couple of scouts after that game. I was also my team’s backup catcher and when the starter came down sick the day after my near no-no, I had to go behind the plate. I reached base in the first inning and took off for second on a hit and run play. The batter missed the ball and when I slid into second my spike caught under the bag and I turned my left ankle. I walked it off for a bit, just like Johan did, and stayed in the game. By the fourth inning, it was started to swell up but my coach would have had to shoot me to come out of a game. There was a pop-up straight over home plate and just before the ball was about to settle in my glove, my leg just collapsed out from under me.

I iced the ankle all that night but by the next day it was swollen and very painful. My brother took me to the emergency room for x-rays and the doctor told me I had a small fracture and that I’d have to be in a cast for at least a month. I knew that would basically end my season so when the doctor wasn’t looking, I told my bro to get me the hell out of there. I spent the next two weeks on crutches, icing the ankle, getting ultrasound treatments, whatever I could do to get it healed on it’s own. I finally felt at least good enough to pitch, but I hadn’t been able to run and I had to avoid putting too much pressure on the left foot on the follow through. My first start after the layoff I had a great game as my arm was rested from the layoff. I won my next start but was a bit more erratic with my control. In my third start I got hit hard and in my fourth start I got racked because my velocity was way down and my arm felt fatigued. I knew what the problem was–I always used my legs in my follow through, like my idol Tom Seaver did, and now I was basically just using my arm because I couldn’t put much pressure on that landing foot.

I’m almost sure that’s what is going on with Johan. Once you overcompensate for a leg or ankle injury by changing your mechanics and overthrowing, your arm gets fatigued and it effects velocity and command. The Mets should have known this might happen and they should have put him on the DL immediately after that July 6 start and he would have been back and presumably healthy yesterday’s start. Now it’s too late. This awful decision has basically cost the team six of Santana’s starts–the three bad ones and the three he’ll now miss–and by the time he’s back any chance the Mets had of competing for a wild card will be over. The local sports media should be all over this.

Did anyone say “buyers and sellers.”

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Unburied Treasure: The Ed Kranepool Story http://metsmerizedonline.com/2012/06/unburied-treasure-the-ed-kranepool-story.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2012/06/unburied-treasure-the-ed-kranepool-story.html/#comments Mon, 25 Jun 2012 17:30:25 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=86414 Introduction by Stephen Hanks

When the New York Mets announced their All-Time Team last week in honor of the franchise’s 50th Anniversary (Davey Johnson as manager over Gil Hodges? No freakin’ way!), it was no surprise that the first baseman was Keith Hernandez. But for Mets fans who go all the way back to the first days of the club (my first live game was at age 8 at the Polo Grounds in 1963), it was nice to see Ed Kranepool make the list of nominees at the position. Although he will eventually be overtaken by David Wright if the third baseman signs another long-term deal with the Mets, Kranepool still leads the organization all-time in games played, at bats and hits. In 1990, after years of seemingly being forgotten, the Mets honored Krane’s accomplishments by inducting him into the team’s Hall of Fame.

Back in 1984, when I was editing my newly-launched magazine, New York Sports, the former 17-year-old wunderkind from James Monroe HS in the Bronx had turned 40 and yet had never been recognized by the team in any kind of ceremony or “day.” At the time, the comedian Red Buttons was known for his hysterical routine on the Dean Martin Comedy Roasts, one liners that began with . . . “So and so never got a dinner!” Since Ed Kranepool had never gotten a “day” from the Mets, let alone a dinner, New York Sports decided to profile him in our story called, “Ed Kranepool Never Got a Day,” wonderfully written by freelancer Len Albin (who I had worked with at SPORT Magazine in the late ’70s).  We thought an appropriate image for the story would be to have Krane, in uniform, stand in front of a microphone at home plate at Shea Stadium—but with nobody in the stands. Kranepool signed on to the idea and the Mets’ PR department graciously allowed us to set up the shot (below). We hope you enjoy this vintage mini-biography of the legendary Met, Ed Kranepool.

He was a major-leaguer at 17, “over the hill” at 19, and never became
“The Pride of the Mets.”
Yet he played 17 years in New York and did become a Metsian legend.
Now that he’s 40, it seems an injustice that . . .

ED KRANEPOOL NEVER GOT A DAY

New York Sports Magazine, November/December 1984. Edited by Stephen Hanks

By Len Albin

METS SIGN SCHOOLBOY FOR $75,000, blares the 1962 headline in the New York Times . . . METS SHELL OUT 90 GRAND, NAB 17-YEAR-OLD PHENOM, announces The Sporting News . . .

In the World-Telegram and Sun, manager Casey Stengel says Kranepool has “a lovely future” and compares his “kid genius” to another teenager who played in the Polo Grounds: “Now don’t get me saying that in one National League game I have spotted a new [Mel] Ott. But who can tell?” In the Journal-American, Kranepool says he looks forward to “playing 20 years in the major leagues.” And in the New York Post, James Monroe High’s Ed Kranepool is compared to Commerce High’s Lou Gehrig, another Bronx native who made it big playing for the hometown team. “As legend would have it,” wrote Post columnist Maury Allen in ‘64, “the Mets’ regular first baseman Tim Harkness would get sick; Kranepool [would] start a game and play 2,129 more.”

Two decades later, these bits of crumbling newsprint, some held together by decomposing scotch tape, give off the pungent aroma of nostalgia. For this November, Ed Kranepool, who never quite became the “Pride of the Mets,” turns 40.

Kranepool is probably best known to a more recent generation of baseball fans as the pre-Rusty Staub-era pinch-hitting specialist. From ‘74 through ‘77, he batted .477 off the bench, and his .486 average in ‘74 (17 for 35) still stands as the best pinch-hitting mark in major-league history (though, like Staub, he preferred a full-time role). But most of us remember Ed Kranepool fondly as that eager, oversized teenager who joined the Mets just after breaking Hank Greenberg’s 32-year-old home run record at Monroe High, back in the days when people followed Moon Mullins and Ed Sullivan in the Daily News. We also remember the Mets of the early ‘60s, when they summed up broken dreams and disappointment for everybody. In those days, Kranepool was a marginal Met, but he ultimately became as much “Mr. Met” as Stengel or Seaver. He somehow managed to last 17 years in the majors, yet he disappeared with less fanfare than the Daily Mirror. Though he eventually set seven all-time Mets career batting records, including most RBI’s, total bases, hits—he was banished from the Mets scene in 1979 like a horse way past his appointment at the glue factory. While Mets promotion director Tim Hamilton admits, “he was a fan favorite,” Kranepool never got the kind of festive kiss-off that the Yankees gave this year to Lou Piniella—who wasn’t even a career Yankee. In fact, during Kranepool’s last season, the Mets feted an outsider—the Cardinals’ retiring Lou Brock. But as Red Button’s might kvetch on the “Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, “Ed Kranepool never got a dinner.”

“They didn’t even say goodbye to me,” says Ed Kranepool in 1984.

These days, Ed Kranepool has a regular job. He’s a salesman (and a minor partner) with the Lesjay Corporation of Long Island City, which sits on the waterfront of the East River. The firm occupies about 180,000-square feet of warehouse space in a musty, century-old building (that used to house a hamper factory) across the street from a clutch of low-income housing projects. Ed drives his beige Oldsmobile in each weekday from his condominium in Old Westbury. On this particular summer afternoon, local black kids greet their hero by rapping on the car as he pulls up. Kranepool rolls down the window to see about a truck blocking the Lesjay driveway.

“What’s this guy doing?” Kranepool asks. “Is he making a delivery?”

“What’s your problem, slick?” one of the kids says. “Just squeeze in. You know how you get into some tight pants, don’t you?” Kranepool eases the car around the truck and points with pride to having a new generation of fans. “When I first came here,” he says with a smile, “They couldn’t believe it was me.”

Kranepool with his mom Ethel after he signed his “bonus baby” contract with the Mets in ’62.

Ed Kranepool doesn’t seem much different from his playing days—just older. The deep creases at the corners of his eyes are well carved from years of squinting into the sunlight from the dugout shade. He’s developing a bald spot and a set of jowls that remind one of a mature Duke Snider. He’s also 10 pounds over his playing weight (205) and has diabetes, for which he takes daily insulin shots. Otherwise, he’s like many men his age: Divorced once, married twice, with three teenage kids (including two step-children) and a steady income. But he never jogs. For recreation, he likes skiing, boating, and working around the house. (Last year, he constructed a tri-level outdoor deck in his backyard; this year, he built a 1,200 square-foot basement.) But he rarely visits the ballpark. “I haven’t watched nine innings since I retired,” Kranepool admits. “The last time I did that I was playing.”

Kranepool’s company manufactures “point-of-purchase” displays, one of the growing specialty areas in consumer marketing. “It’s a tremendous field,” Kranepool crows. “Some of these companies have tremendous budgets.”

Among the products on exhibit in Lesjay’s makeshift lobby (really a finished basement decorated with a plastic azalea bush) were the plastic storage bins that hold “Danskin” pantyhose, a “Redken Skin Care” cosmetics display, and the plastic beer signs with the “moving” twinkly lights seen in liquor stores. In a word, they’re in plastics. Kranepool pulls out one of the tiny plastic components of another stocking display and animatedly explains that it’s made through the process of “injection-molding.”

“See, you have the tools and you make trays and stuff like that,” he says, slipping the plastic drawer back into place. “That comes out of molds and stuff like that.”

The point-of-purchase display biz is just one subsidiary of the Kranepool business and investment “empire.” For a guy who didn’t attend college, he’s doing very well. He’s putting up a hotel in the Catskills near a ski resort called “Deer Run,” and he owns a vacation home in the Poconos. On the side, Kranepool is a partner in a sports-marketing company called “Sports Plus.” The angle here is packaging business junkets for executives-coordinating hotel and airline reservations, and events—with a theme in mind. For example, when Xerox introduced its new “l0K” model copier, Sports Plus arranged 10K mini-marathon races in the Caribbean for the corporation.

“It worked well for Xerox because they got their name out—the 10K—through the race,” Kranepool says. “These are the ideas you gotta come up with.” He’s also got $50,000 sunk in the Tri-Cities Single A ball club in the Northwest League. “It’s in the state of Washington,” he relates. “Pasco, Kennewick, and something else. I don’t know. Three cities. I bought the Walla Walla franchise two years ago and moved it to Tri-Cities the same day I bought it. They didn’t know what was going on, I move so fast.”

Being involved in deal making and investments is nothing new for Ed Kranepool. Since his pro career began, he’s seized moneymaking opportunities the way Pete Rose goes after hits. While a player, he co-owned with teammate Ron Swoboda a restaurant in Amityville, New York called “The Dugout.” In the off-seasons of ‘63 to ‘68, Kranepool worked as a licensed stockbroker with the Manhattan firm of Brand, Grumet, and Siegel, where he traded securities for over 150 clients, including Met teammates Dennis Ribant and Hawk Taylor, and met first wife Carol, a secretary of one of his bosses. In ‘71, he did a guest shot on Sesame Street, helping teach kids how to count to 10. And he would spend much of the fall and winter on the banquet circuit, making, as he admits, “thousands” of paid personal appearances. The Sporting News noticed this in early ‘67:

“In his pre-camp training, Kranepool takes sauna baths, works with weights and plays paddle ball. He needs those workouts to counteract all that good eating he does at the many dinners he attends to promote good will for the Mets . . . Kranepool had no fewer than 13 January banquet dates and 10 in February.” On another occasion, Kranepool took a USC-sponsored 10-day trip to Thule Air Force base in Greenland. This year, when the Mets asked him to “computer manage” the 1969 Mets for the August 31st Computerland promotion, he insisted it couldn’t be just for fun.

“It was a commercial venture and somebody was gaining from it,” Ed reasons, “And I wanted Ed Kranepool to gain from it. I’m gonna take time away from myself and my family. I wanna get remunerated for it.”

So Kranepool’s fat baseball pension probably doesn’t make much difference. Though he isn’t making a 1984 ballplayer’s bucks, he says he’s comfortable and happy. His flair for the dollar has ensured him another “lovely future.” In fact, shrewd planning for the future has always been one of Kranepool’s prime concerns. Reporter Jack Lang once remarked in The Sporting News that Kranepool was “an extremely security-conscious” player. But, as Kranepool is quick to point out, owners weren’t exactly throwing around million-dollar contracts, as they do today.

“When a guy gets two, three, four million dollars,” he observes, “You don’t have to be very smart to prepare for your future. If you have that much cash, you just put it in the bank and you’re in pretty good shape, living off the interest.” But why does he have a seeming preoccupation with the almighty buck? “Hey, nobody gives you anything in this world,” he philosophizes. “So you gotta hustle.”

Kranepool didn’t exactly become Casey’s “new Mel Ott.”

Some in the Met organization felt that had Kranepool hustled as much on the field as he did off it, he just might have become Casey Stengel’s new Mel Ott. But baseball stardom wasn’t his only career goal. “He was consumed by baseball,” recalls his ex-wife Carole, “but he also had a drive within him to make money. Coming out of the Bronx, he had nothing. He was very poor. And he had this tremendous desire to be successful. And it was through baseball that he would achieve that success.”

Before Ed Kranepool’s smooth lefthanded stroke convinced scouts that he was going to be “the gentile Hank Greenberg,” he spent his Bronx boyhood obsessed with baseball. Since Ed’s father had been machine-gunned in France during World War II four months before Ed was born, his Little League coach and neighbor, Jim Schiaffo, taught him the game. When young Eddie got a baseball glove for Christmas of ‘55, he asked Schiaffo to come outside and hit him a few grounders. “My wife looked at me,” Schiaffo recalls. “I looked at him. What could you do? He had no father. We went out to the Whitestone Bridge and I hit ground balls to him on Christmas morning. It was as cold as a witch’s backtail. But I loved it, because this kid, he ate, drank and slept baseball.” Then there were the off-season “skull practices,” during which Eddie would stand with a bat over the home plate that Schiaffo had chalked under the Kranepool’s living room rug.

“I’d say, ‘Eddie! An outside pitch coming!’” Schiaffo remembers, ‘“What do you do with it? Left field! . . . Inside pitch! What are you gonna do with it, Eddie? Remember! Bail out! Right field! . . . And keep the head straight! The head’s gotta be straight! The arms take the body around. The body don’t take the arms around.’ That’s what I used to tell him. And kept tellin’ him, and tellin’ him, and tellin’ him.”

By his mid-teens, Kranepool already has a star’s confidence. Throughout his sandlot days, he wore number 7, just like his Bronx idol, Mickey Mantle. In high school, he called himself “The King”—announcing, “The King’s home” to his mother when he swung open the front door. And with his $85,000 bonus money from the Mets—who were obviously counting on him to be their first home-grown hero to put fannies in the seats—he bought himself a fancy car: a white Thunderbird. (Actually, Eddie wanted a sportier Corvette or Jaguar, but he found he couldn’t squeeze his hulking 6-3, 205-pound inside them.) Then “The King” whisked his mom out of their apartment in a three-family house on Castle Hill Avenue in the Parkchester section, and bought an eight-room home in White Plains. He shelled out even more for new furniture, a set of dishes, and a Magnavox hi-fi that cost over $300. (In the Daily Mirror, a smiling Mrs. Ethel Kranepool is pictured sitting at her new sewing machine).

But within two years, astute observers could detect important clues about the young Kranepool’s baseball future. In ‘63 and ‘64, he had to be demoted briefly to the minors, while his beloved number 7 was taken, in succession, by Sammy Drake, Elio Chacon, and Amado Samuel (while Ed settled for number 21). When he pulled a leg muscle in spring training in ‘64, Casey Stengel complained, “You would think you could be 19 and in shape.” And on Opening Day at Shea that year a now immortal banner asked the ultimate question about this underachiever: IS ED KRANEPOOL OVER THE HILL?

“Some guys get their cheap fun going to the ballpark,” Kranepool says today, still annoyed after all these years. “I don’t like anybody who makes fun of anyone else’s inadequacies.” But he soon turned the jeers into cheers. In ‘65, Kranepool made the All-Star team as the token Met after a superb first-half of the season; he was a key player in the Met pennant-winning years of ‘69 and ‘73; in ‘74, he led the league in pinch-hits, and would step to the plate to chants of “Ed-die, Ed-die.” Kranepool now looks back on his career with some pride, insisting that during his last “seven or eight years” he was as tough an out as anybody in baseball. “Obviously I was productive,” he says. “Otherwise I couldn’t fool ‘em for 17 years.”

Family was always important to Eddie (with first wife Carol).

But he wasn’t that productive. His lifetime batting average was .261, and he averaged only about seven home runs per year. On the basepaths, he ran like a retired furrier chasing a mugger. And he wasn’t exactly Nureyev in the field, either. Once, when Kranepool made a diving catch in left field for the Mets’ Triple A team  (where he’d been demoted in. 1970), the play was viewed as a supernatural event.

“If Ed Kranepool makes a catch like that,” said pitcher Bill Denehy, “I know I’m going to pitch a no-hitter.” In retrospect, Kranepool’s most spectacular achievements—aside from his longevity—may be two items already enshrined in the trivia archives. On the weekend of May 30-31, 1964, Kranepool played 50 innings within 33 and a half hours—the first 18 innings in a doubleheader in Buffalo (then the Mets’ Triple A team), and 32 more innings in a doubleheader at Shea against the Giants, which included the famous 23-inning nightcap. (Could Lou Gehrig do this?) Ten years later, Henry Aaron used a 33-ounce, 34 and a half-inch Ed Kranepool-model 220-A Adirondack bat to beat Sadaharu Oh in a home-run-hitting contest in Tokyo.

So, why didn’t Ed Kranepool do as well with the same bat? “They shoulda left me in the minor leagues to develop, and they woulda got a better player out of it,” he says, echoing the arguments that were raised then. “A young guy at 17 isn’t physically ready for the major leagues. Nor was a 17-year-old ready, in Kranepool’s opinion, for the Hall-of-Fame-caliber pitchers lurking in the National League in the mid-1960’s—like Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Don Drysdale. There was also knuckleballer Phil Niekro to contend with (Ed’s least favorite pitcher), and some “wild” fastball pitchers.

“Koufax could be a comfortable oh-for-four,” Kranepool recalls. “Bob Veale? You’d stand up there and check your drawers at the end of the night.”

That he didn’t get to develop in the minor leagues was partly Kranepool’s own fault. He wanted to be rushed to the majors. As he told Barney Kremenko of the Journal-American in ‘63, “I chose the Mets not only because they offered me enough money, they also presented an opportunity to make the big leagues in the shortest amount of time. For my career that was very important.”

By 1970, Mets general manager Bob Scheffing found himself paying a fat $35,000 a year to a player who, in Scheffing’s words, “has the unhappy knack of hitting a lot of fly balls on bad pitches.” But Kranepool blamed his own shoddy performance on manager Gil Hodges’ platoon system. He wanted the chance to prove he could be a productive everyday player, eight years into his career.

“He’s been to bat nearly 3,000 times in the majors,” Tom Seaver observed. “That’s not a chance?”

As owner Joan Payson’s favorite Met, Kranepool survived. And once he became an eight-year veteran in early ‘71, he couldn’t be demoted without his permission. The only threat was being released but Kranepool kept the vultures at bay by pinch-hitting so well. Kranepool eventually became part of the Mets “family.” When he got his final Mets contract, a three-year deal at $100,000 per year, he didn’t haggle with Board Chairman M. Donald Grant. Instead, he gave Grant a signed blank contract, and Grant—like a kindly godfather—filled in the numbers. The sweet, secure contract enabled Kranepool to observe first-hand what in his view was the “ruination” of the Mets. “Joe McDonald [then GM] got rid of Seaver, he got rid of Koosman, he got rid of Tug McGraw, he got rid of everybody on the ballclub,” Kranepool says bitterly. “There was nobody left when I retired. I was down to myself.”

When Ed’s three-year contract expired after the ‘79 season, the new Mets management rejected his demand for a two-year extension. But Kranepool still wasn’t going anywhere. Though he was a free agent, he privately told other clubs not to draft him—at least not if they wanted to pay a measly 100 grand.

“What’s the big deal?” Kranepool reasons. “If I’m going to make $100,000 in New York, or even $120,000 in, let’s say, Minnesota, what benefit am I going to gain? I’m not gonna see my family for three months. I have my own living expenses in Minnesota. My businesses that I have in New York go down the tube. Where do I gain? I lose money.” So Kranepool, with the timing of a hitter in a slump, left baseball just as the free-agent market exploded. “Had I known that the owners were going to be so free with their dollars, I’d still be playing today,” he says. “Because the salaries are tremendous. I didn’t have a crystal ball, so maybe I’m not as smart as I thought I was.

Another option in the Kranepool game plan had been taking an executive position with the Mets management. He had anticipated going into the front office under the Payson regime, but when it became apparent that kindly old stockbroker Grant wouldn’t stay around long enough to give him one, Kranepool—undeterred—made inquiries about buying the Mets.

With the money of Bob Abplanalp, the inventor of the aerosol spray device and a buddy of Richard Nixon, behind him, Kranepool approached the Mets at the end of ‘79. If the deal had gone through, Kranepool would have likely become general manager. But Mets owner Lorinda deRoulet (Payson’s daughter) never took them seriously. “It seemed like she wanted to sell to the Doubleday people all along,” Kranepool recalls. “Probably because they were from her social surroundings.” On the other hand, deRoulet might have been astounded by the chutzpa of that Kranepool, a mere employee, trying to buy the Mets. In fact, at the same time, he was still quibbling with management about his 1980 contract.

But if the Mets were to offer Kranepool a front office job today, he would definitely consider it, especially if it was the GM’s position. (“If you gotta start somewhere,” he says.) All Kranepool wants in a baseball job is one that won’t take him away from New York, and one that will pay decent money.

“I love baseball,” he says, “But I love it from a financial standpoint, too. I wanna get paid for my talents, and if I can’t get paid then I’ll do something else. And it doesn’t matter to me what I do to earn a living.” So, if George Steinbrenner asked Ed about joining the Yankees’ front office he’d consider that, too. “I don’t feel an allegiance to the Mets anymore,” Kranepool says. “Loyalty went out the window the day they didn’t sign me.”

Ed Kranepool interviewed last winter by MMO’s Lenore Luca.

When Ed Kranepool drives by his old Bronx sandlot stomping grounds, he notices that no longer are kids playing baseball there from morning ‘til night, as he did as a teenager. “I think kids are missing out,” he says, wistfully, “and I don’t understand it, ‘cause all they gotta do is read the paper and see the salary structure in sports. There’s gotta be more of an incentive to play. Because sports, I guess, is number two economically. Number one would have to be, I would imagine, the entertainment field.” Yes, times have changed.

And so have the Mets—but Kranepool never got too hysterical over this old team’s run at the pennant this summer. When he did tune in a Mets game, his mind tended to fill with memories of days gone by. “Your life flashes in front of you,” he says. “You remember the good old days and what you had.” Most of all he savors that ticker tape parade held on lower Broadway for the ’69 World Champions. Kranepool still gets calls from Art Shamsky, and keeps in touch with Tommie Agee, Ron Swoboda, and Tug McGraw. He’s even become “good friends” with Tom Seaver, even though Seaver was once one of his harshest critics.“Tom Seaver matured when he learned to accept adversity,” says Kranepool, who’s older than Seaver by nine days. All of a sudden he became a .500 pitcher with the Mets and he had to swallow a little crow. He wasn’t the darling of everybody, and he knew what it was like to suffer. He became a better person for it.”

Of course, after playing 17 years for the Mets, Ed Kranepool knows plenty about suffering; adversity was what the Mets were all about, so after a while, you develop a taste for crow. But now that this Metsian legend has hit 40, doesn’t nostalgia dictate that Kranepool have a taste of glory, or at the very least chicken, at a dinner in his honor.

“I don’t need them to give me a dinner,” Kranepool says simply, but not very convincingly. Jim Schiaffo, the man who once hit Eddie grounders at Christmas, feels differently. “I’m personally disappointed,” says Schiaffo about the Mets’ oversight. “Seventeen years with the team, and no recognition. They didn’t even buy this kid a sport jacket, for God’s sake.”

“I hope that someday they will give him a day,” says ex-wife Carole. “I think it would take away some of the bitterness he feels about leaving the team. He’s hurting.”

But whatever happens, we can still remember Ed Kranepool simply—and fondly—as the almost “Pride of the Mets.” Once, he was a promising young star who was going to replace Tim Harkness at first base and play 2,130 consecutive games like Lou Gehrig. Though they weren’t consecutive, he eventually came only 277 short.

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MMO Flashback: Remembering Tom Seaver’s 19 Strikeout Classic! http://metsmerizedonline.com/2012/04/mmo-flashback-remembering-tom-seavers-19-strikeout-classic.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2012/04/mmo-flashback-remembering-tom-seavers-19-strikeout-classic.html/#comments Sun, 22 Apr 2012 13:14:24 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=25079 On this day in Mets history, Hall of Famer Tom Seaver tossed his 19-strikeout gem against the San Diego Padres and set the major league record with 10 straight strikeouts to end the game. It happened on April 22, 1970 and our own Stephen Hanks was there. Here is an article he wrote two years ago for MMO to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of one of the greatest moments in Mets history. Please enjoy…

Original Post 4/22/2010

There is a mantle above an unused fireplace in my home office that I’ve turned into a little shrine to my sports idol Tom Seaver. It’s nothing crazy, just a bunch of old action photos, vintage baseball cards, magazine covers, bobble head dolls, figurines depicting that classic Seaver right-knee scraping the mound motion, even an empty bottle of Tom Seaver recent vintage wine. But among all these treasures, there is one that bears special significance today: the scorecard I recorded at Shea Stadium on April 22, 1970, the day the man I consider the greatest right-handed pitcher of all time (Roger Clemens forfeited that title the day he picked up a syringe) struck out 19 San Diego Padres, including the LAST 10 IN A ROW.

Here are both pages of my original scorecard.

     

(click to enlarge them)

It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since that glorious afternoon, but not hard to believe how I ended up being an eyewitness to baseball history. Tom Seaver had been my baseball hero from the day he started his first game for the Mets in 1967, although I became aware of him during his one season pitching for the Jacksonville Suns in 1966. At that point, I was a 10 1/2-year old Mets fanatic desperate for a young star and baseball role model to cling to. I attended my first Mets’ game at the Polo Grounds in 1963, watched the entire 10-hour epic double-header, including the 23-inning second game, against the Giants in 1964, and spent my early childhood thinking my favorite team would never get out of last place. By mid-1966, my burgeoning adolescent hormones were contributing to take my Mets obsession to a fever pitch. And like all Mets fans who didn’t think the losing was cute anymore, I was hoping for a savior to finally change our fortunes.

So I started checking The Sporting News, which in those days was considered the “Bible of Baseball” and printed every major league and Triple A box score from the proceeding week, in addition to all the league stats. I started noticing there was a 21-year-old named Tom Seaver on the Jacksonville pitching staff who was actually winning as many games as he lost. Even more impressively, he was striking out an average of eight per game, wasn’t walking a lot of guys, and had a great hits-to-innings pitched ratio. At that point, very few Mets fans knew about the bizarre circumstances that made Seaver a Met–the voiding of his contract with the Braves while he was still at USC, and the Mets subsequently being selected out of a hat in a lottery staged by Commissioner William Eckert. All I cared about was that we might finally be developing some semblance of a major league pitcher and I followed Seaver’s minor-league starts religiously throughout the summer.

Although it was clear that Seaver was the Mets’ best pitcher going into the 1967 season, he started Game 2 against the Pirates, struck out 8 in 5.1 innings and got a no-decision. By his next start, a 6-1 win over the Cubs, this hard-throwing righthander with the picture-perfect delivery was my favorite player and probably the favorite of every other Mets fan. For me, Tom cemented his hero status on May 17, 1967. That year and until 1971, the Mets games on radio were carried on WJRZ-AM with a pre- and post-game show hosted by an intelligent and very congenial man named Bob Brown, who staged various fan contests. I sent in a bunch of postcards hoping to get selected for a call and before the game against the Braves that May night, my phone rang. It was Bob Brown offering me a chance to win a baseball glove if I could pick three Mets to get a total of four hits in the game at Fulton County Stadium. So naturally I picked the Mets’ three hottest hitters at that point–Tommy Davis, Ed Kranepool and Jerry Buchek. Going into the ninth inning, Davis and Kranepool had combined for three hits (Buchek was shutout) but Davis came through for me with a single and I won a Bobby Shantz glove. You may think this whole story has been a digression, but the kicker is this: Tom Seaver went three for three that night, with two RBI, a walk and a stolen base. The best athlete on the team was a rookie pitcher.

Anyway, you know what happened over the next couple of years. Seaver wins 16 games in both ’67 and ’68 (with 32 complete games combined) and then leads the Mets to the promised land in 1969 with 25 victories, including the near-perfect game against the Cubs. After celebrating my team’s improbable World Championship, which I watched from my home in the South Bronx not far from Yankee Stadium, my family moved that December to the spanking new Co-Op City middle class housing project in the Northeast Bronx. Now 14, I was old enough to get a job delivering the Daily News in my 33-story building and the gig earned me about $30 to $40 a week, a fortune for a kid that age at that time. My plan for spending my new-found wealth? Go to as many games of the defending champs as possible, especially considering you could sit in the upper deck behind home plate for a buck and a half.

But I didn’t want to attend just any games. I wanted to see EVERY game Tom Seaver pitched at Shea Stadium (that wasn’t on a school night, of course) and the Mets’ five-man rotation made it pretty easy to figure out when Tom Terrific was going to be on the hill. Seaver was on a five-day cycle even when there were off days. So I knew that after opening day on April 7, Tom would pitch on the 12th, 17th and 22nd, the latter a Wednesday afternoon game I could attend because it would be the second day of Passover and public schools would be closed. I really splurged for that one and for six bucks got tickets for me and my brother in the first row of the loge (second deck) behind home plate.

After settling into our seats on a beautiful spring day (I don’t recall it being chilly), Tom proceeded to strike out two in the first inning. The way the sound of the Seaver fastball was reverberating after hitting Jerry Grote’s mitt only confirmed it was going to a long day for the Padres. Ken Boswell’s double off some guy named Mike Corkins drove in Bud Harrelson (who had singled), giving the Mets a first-inning lead. But the Pods’ cleanup hitter and leftfielder Al Ferrara led off the second inning with a home run to tie it (I think it scraped the back of the fence on the way down) until we got the lead back in the third on a Bud Harrelson triple that just missed going out. Given the Mets’ offense, which could disappear for innings or days at a time, I figured that run would have to hold up if Tom was to get a W. (I can’t tell you how many times during Seaver’s Mets career I sweated out a game because of lack of run support. My mother once threatened to start giving me sedatives whenever Tom pitched because I’d pace around the TV room and scream at the set imploring the Mets to score a freaking run.)

By the top of the 6th inning, Tom had yielded just one other hit and had nine strikeouts. Of course the score was still 2-1 so the ace would really have to bear down. After a popup and a fly out, Tom struck out Ferrara for his 10th K of the game. I don’t think I was aware of it at the time–and I could be corrected if I’m wrong–but by the top of the 7th, afternoon shadows were starting to creep over home plate while the sun was still shining over the rest of Shea. This would not be good for a Padres lineup that was already flailing at Seaver’s fastball, which that day looked and sounded like it was in the upper 90s–and we didn’t need a radar gun to tell us that.

At this point in the game, I was totally transfixed on the man on the hill, picking up every nuance of that motion on the mound. As a Babe Ruth League pitcher, I was already mimicking Seaver’s delivery, which was never better described than by Roger Angell in The New Yorker after Tom was traded on June 15, 1977 (still one of the worst days of my life):

“One of the images I have before me now is that of Tom Seaver pitching; the motionless assessing pause on the hill while the signal is delivered, the easy, rocking shift of weight onto the back leg, the upraised arms, and then the left shoulder coming forward as the whole body drives forward and drops suddenly downward–down so low that the right knee scrapes the sloping dirt of the mound–in an immense thrusting stride, and the right arm coming over blurrily and still flailing, even as the ball, the famous fastball, flashes across the pate, chest-high on the batter and already past his low, late swing.”

In the top of the 7th, Seaver struck out Nate Colbert, Dave Campbell and Jerry Morales, the latter two looking. While that was impressive, none of the 14,000 of us cheering madly at every strike thought it out of the ordinary for our Tom and when he led off the bottom of the 7th, he got the obligatory polite ovation. Of course if this game had been played in 2010 instead of 1970, Gary Matthews, Jr. would have been pinch-hitting because, hey, you need to get another run and our ace might be hitting his pitch count to boot. Thankfully, Gil Hodges wouldn’t think of pulling his best arm and when Bob Barton, and pinch hitters Ramon Webster and Ivan Murrell all K’d in the 8th (the latter two swinging), there wasn’t a soul in Shea who thought we weren’t watching history, let alone believe the Padres would actually hit another pitch.

As Tom took the mound for the top of the 9th, the buzz in the park was palpable and my heart was palpitating. Van Kelly led off the ninth and when he struck out swinging for the 8th strikeout in a row, the crowd sounded more like 40,000. With every strike that whizzed by a Padre hitter I felt as if I was being levitated out of my seat. I don’t have a pitch chart of the game (don’t know if there is one available), but it seemed as if every pitch in those last two innings were strikes and the crowd roared louder with every one. Cito Gaston struck out looking for nine in a row and 18 for the game. One more strikeout and Tom Seaver would set a new record of 10 Ks in a row and match Steve Carlton’s 19-strikeout game (which he lost thanks to those two Ron Swoboda home runs) against us the year before.

With the entire park on it’s feet and screaming itself hoarse, Tom fittingly blew away Ferrara for the record-breaking K. By this point I was jumping up and down so wildly I almost fell over the loge railing. I carried that emotional high all the way to 7 train and for the entire trip back to the Bronx. It is still the greatest pitching performance I’ve ever seen live (and I saw a couple of Seaver one-hitters and his 300th win at Yankee Stadium). Again, the Terrific One didn’t just strike out 10 in a row, he mowed down the LAST 10 IN A ROW.

As you can see above, I dutifully saved my scorecard of that game (and I wasn’t a kid who kept score much, so I must have had a premonition) and all of my handwritten annotations (including the note about Jerry Grote setting a new putout record-20) were added that day. There is one additional scribbling on the Mets side of the scorecard. In early 1983 I was about to launch my own magazine called NEW YORK SPORTS and the Mets gave me the best launch present I could imagine by bringing Seaver back from the Cincinnati Reds that winter. Putting my idol on the cover of my magazine’s premiere issue was a no-brainer and before spring training I hiked out to Shea with a camera crew to shoot Tom Terrific. As I was leaving my house that morning, I thought, “Damn, I’ve got to ask Tom to sign the 19K-game scorecard” and found it in a huge pile of Seaver memorabilia I had been collecting for years. After assuming my best professional editor’s air during the photo session (even pressuring my hero to smile once in a while), I reverted to sheepish fan mode and asked Tom to autograph the scorecard. As he turned my prized possession into even more of a collector’s item, he looked down at the card and said, “Hmmm, that was a pretty good outing.” Indeed.

There’s one more postscript. In 1996-97, I was editing a elementary school classroom newspaper and decided to do a feature on the Baseball Hall of Fame. The executives at the Hall took me to lunch at a quaint Cooperstown bistro and we spent a pleasant hour or so talking baseball history. Naturally, Tom Seaver came up in the conversation and I told my story of attending the 1970 pitching masterpiece, mentioning that I still had the scorecard. The Hall curator perked up. “Wow, would you be willing to donate that to the Hall of Fame?” he asked wide-eyed. “Well, what would I get for it,” I responded. “Well, we could give you a lifetime pass to the Hall of Fame.”

I’ve been to the Baseball Hall of Fame a few times since that lunch meeting. The scorecard still resides in my own personal Tom Seaver Museum. Happy Anniversary, Tom!

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Unburied Treasure: When Keith Hernandez Was the Game’s Best First Baseman http://metsmerizedonline.com/2012/03/unburied-treasure-when-keith-hernandez-was-the-games-best-first-baseman.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2012/03/unburied-treasure-when-keith-hernandez-was-the-games-best-first-baseman.html/#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2012 14:45:45 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=74920 Introduction by Stephen Hanks

After Gary Carter’s tragic and untimely death last month, MMO posted a profile of the Hall of Fame catcher that was supposed to be part of the September/October 1985 issue of my magazine New York Sports, but which was never printed. The piece generated such a positive reaction, that MMO has asked me to unearth other Mets-related stories the magazine published between our launch in April 1983 and our last issue in 1985.

One of the magazine’s many popular departments was one we called “Clinic Time,” that wonderful expression Marv Albert came up with during the glory days of the New York Knicks to describe when the team was basically taking the opponent to school on the court. This department was where the magazine could feature New York sports athletes who excelled at a particular skill or explain a specific system or strategy employed by aNew Yorksports team manager or coach.

By his second year with the Mets in 1984, it was clear that Keith Hernandez was not only the best fielding first baseman in baseball, but perhaps one of the best to ever play the game. In this piece, award-winning journalist Billy Altman, who like myself was also writing sports for The Village Voice (Billy continues to write for various publications and websites and is a teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and is sometimes an official scorer for Mets and Yankees games) talked with “Mex” himself, as well as teammates and opponents to learn why Hernandez was, as New York Sports called him, “the Baryshnikov of First Base.”

 

Clinic Time: Keith Hernandez — The Best at First

New York Sports Magazine, June/July 1984 issue. Edited by Stephen Hanks

By Billy Altman

Okay, Met maniacs, get out your standard box score from the April 18th home game against the Montreal Expos (a game our guys won in the ninth, 7-6, on Wally Backman’s bases-loaded, two-out double). At a glance, the box score informs you that the Mets’ number-three hitter and first baseman, Keith Hernandez, went one for four, didn’t score a run, had one RBI, and made no errors. What it won’t tell you is information like this:

In the first inning, Hernandez is holding an Expos’ runner on. Before pitcher Walt Terrell comes out of his stretch, Hernandez moves quickly off the bag, causing the runner, who now thinks Terrell is going home, to lengthen his lead off first. Hernandez then darts back to the bag and takes a pickoff throw which catches the runner breaking for second. In the ensuing rundown, he dives to tag the runner out. Two innings later,Bryan Little, the National League’s best bunter, drags one between the pitcher’s mound and first. In one fluid motion, Hernandez races in, grabs the ball with his glove, and dives to his left, just nipping a speeding Little on the arm. (“I’m pretty good against the bunt,” Hernandez boasts.) Still later in the game, shortstop Jose Oquendo, hurrying a throw, makes Hernandez handle a difficult hop. But Keith’s soft hands scoop it up so effortlessly; he almost appears nonchalant as he cradles the ball in his glove. The play looms even larger when the next two Expo batters single. Had Hernandez not made these plays, especially the last one that prevented a big inning, the Mets would very likely have lost.

Ask Keith Hernandez about all his activities around first during this particular ballgame and he’ll just shrug his shoulders, smile, and tell you very matter-of-factly that he’s just doing his job, just playing first base as well as he can. And how well does he play the position? Since becoming a regular in ‘76, the 30-year-old Hernandez has been awarded six Golden Gloves as the finest fielding first sacker in the N.L. His grace, style, quickness and flawless execution make him seem like a ballpark Baryshnikov. Keith Hernandez, quite simply, performs all the moves of a major league first baseman better than almost anyone who’s ever played the position. Says Jose Oquendo, who‘s played with Hernandez since the Mets acquired Keith from St. Louis for pitcher Neil Allen last June:  “I know that if I throw the ball anywhere near Keith, he’ll catch it, even if it’s in the ground or way off line. You never think that he won’t catch it; that’s how good we all know he is.”

Hernandez’s training as a first baseman began at age eight and his father, John, was the teacher. “As a lefthander,” Keith recalls, “my choice of positions was already limited to first or the outfield. My dad had played for six years as a first baseman in the Cardinals’ organization, so I guess it was natural that I’d wind up in the infield.”

While Hernandez says that he’s always had confidence in his defensive skills, he also acknowledges former Cardinal coach Preston Gomez as having a huge influence on his development as a fielder. “When I first got to St. Louis in ‘74 and ‘75,” recalls Keith, “I was riding the bench quite a bit, and Preston just took me under his wing. He made sure that I wasn’t getting lazy, that I got a good half hour of ground balls every day. Preston had this knack of hitting both hard and soft grounders that made you go that extra foot to snare them, and that really helped increase my range.”

But Hernandez feels that there’s more to being an accomplished fielder than just taking a bazillion ground balls. “A lot of it is instinctive—reacting to the ball, knowing the particulars of the situation, always asking yourself, ‘if the ball’s hit to me, where am I going with it?’” And, he adds, the maxim about wanting the baseball hit to you is one of the game’s authentic truisms. “The minute you’re hoping it’ll go to someone else—especially in important situations—is the time you’re most likely to make a costly error.”

Hernandez relies on his personal knowledge of hitters in determining where to position himself.” You know how some fielders need to know what the pitcher’s throwing?” he asks. “Well, I find that hitters have individual tendencies no matter where the ball is pitched.” But how does he seem to corral almost every ball hit in the hole between first and second? “You get beat in the hole much more than down the line, so I tend to play off the line quite a bit,” he explains. “I feel that I can get to a lot of those balls because I know I have good range and I anticipate well.” The only times Hernandez wants to know about a specific pitch is when an off-speed pitch is being thrown to a left-handed batter.  “A lefty will usually pull the off-speed pitch, so since the second baseman can see the catcher’s signs and I can’t, he’ll signal me so I can make the adjustment.”

Even more adjustments are necessary in turning the difficult first-to-shortstop-to-first double play, a maneuver which demands that a first baseman field, throw accurately, return to the bag and receive any kind of throw, and all quicker than you can say  “3-6-3.” On this play, Hernandez (who has led N.L. first basemen in DP’s five times), will almost never step on first before throwing to second which would negate the force play.

“Besides,” he explains, “the lead runner is always the one you want erased. I’ll go to the bag first only when the ball is hit down the line and I have to backhand it. When holding a runner on, you’ll get a ground ball quickly, which is very key because the throw will usually get to second before the runner can take out the shortstop.” But that throw has to be just right. “It has to be a true one, one that doesn’t sink or curve, so I always try to throw over the top rather than sidearm. That goes for whether the throw is to the inside of the bag when I’m playing up, or to the outside if I’m playing back. But it helps being a lefty. For a righty first baseman, turning the DP is almost impossible no matter what side of him the ball’s hit to because he must spin his body around to make the throw to second.”

In taking throws himself, Hernandez prefers a long hop if he must take a hop at all. “If the fielder is off balance and has to make a throw from deep in the hole, it’s sometimes better for him to bounce it to me on the long hop,” he explains. “Especially on Astroturf, where it‘ll bounce right to me. A guy like Davey Concepcion is great at that kind of throw; gives his first baseman a nice, easy, long hop to handle. [Garry] Templeton, Ozzie (Smith), Oquendo—all the guys with the great arms do that well.’’ And he’s not anti-Astroturf, either. “Except for when the ball hits a seam,” he admits. “There really aren’t any bad hops on the turf and that’s a plus. On dirt, you have to play the ball and the hop much more, and you must take infield very carefully before every game to get the feel of the field on that particular day.”

His yearly Golden Glove awards are a testament to Hernandez’s consistency, which he maintains whether he’s on a hitting tear or mired in a slump. “You can never let what’s happening with the offensive part of your game affect your play in the field,” he insists, echoing the conventional wisdom. “When you’re in a slump you really have to bear down, stay alert, and be more ready defensively than ever.” Such bad stretches don’t often happen to a lifetime .299 hitter, who has won a batting title and a Most Valuable Player award (both in 1979). And the rest of the National League is probably thankful for that. Just imagine Keith Hernandez playing an even tougher first base. A ball might never get through the right side of the diamond.

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Unburied Treasure: In 1985, Gary Carter Said Only A World Series Would Make His Life Complete http://metsmerizedonline.com/2012/02/in-1985-gary-carter-said-only-a-world-series-would-make-his-life-complete.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2012/02/in-1985-gary-carter-said-only-a-world-series-would-make-his-life-complete.html/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2012 14:31:36 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=72620

Introduction by Stephen Hanks

When I heard Gary Carter had finally succumbed to brain cancer at the too-young age of 57, I had two immediate memories. They weren’t of being at Shea on Opening Day 1985, when Carter hit his walk-off, 10th inning home run in his first game as a Met, or of Carter starting the two-out rally that won Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. I remembered first seeing him on TV in 1975 during his rookie year with the Montreal Expos and being delighted at his refreshing hustle and obvious joy for the game. And I remembered the magazine I created and once edited and the Gary Carter cover story that never got published.

As I sat at Shea with my wife and then-business partner on that chilly 1985 Opening Day, I was proud that the New York sports magazine we had launched in April 1983 was starting it’s third year of publication (actually, we published just one issue in ’83, which had Tom Seaver on the cover). Although our bi-monthly magazine was still far from profitable, New York Sports was being critically-praised and items from our stories were being picked up regularly by the New York newspapers. We felt it was only a matter of time before the cash caught up to the kudos.

When in the summer of ’85 it appeared the Mets might have a shot at the post-season after 12 years in the also-ran desert, I made a leap of faith and decided that Gary Carter—the “last piece of the puzzle”—would be our cover story feature for the October issue. I assigned the story to Mark Ribowsky (whose most recent book is a biography of Howard Cosell), who had written the profile of Neil Allen for our ’83 launch issue, in which Allen blasted his teammates and the Mets front office and which contributed to his banishment to the St. Louis Cardinals for Keith Hernandez (no thanks necessary, Mets fans).

Right around the same time of that year, I received a call from an executive at the Charles Dolan-owned cable TV operation SportsChannel (which became Cablevision). The company was so impressed with New York Sports, they wanted to use one issue of the magazine as a promotion to all their subscribers—500,000 of them—and hype their fall hockey and basketball schedule. I almost dropped the phone. My wife the publisher immediately envisioned a subscription wrap around the cover with a letter from then-SportsChannel and Yankees announcer Mickey Mantle urging people to subscribe to the magazine. This was the absolutely ideal subscription list—all New York Sports fans—to put our magazine on the map, and the list and mailing to them would be free.

But the printing of 500,000 copies would not be and would cost around $15,000, not easy to raise when New York was still coming out of a recession, let alone bringing it in through advertising dollars. For two to three months, we scrambled to sell ads, borrow money, and pitch investors to get that one issue out and just couldn’t make it. So that September, with the October issue designed and ready for press, we reluctantly had to pull the plug and New York Sports was dead.

Thanks to the web, though, everything old can be new again. When I heard Carter had passed away, I went into my files and not only found that October 1985 cover, but also a copy of Mark Ribowsky’s insightful piece on “Kid” entitled “Gary Carter’s Agony and Ecstasy” that was never published and never read. I’m thrilled that 27 years later, MetsMerized Online can present it to its readers. Enjoy!

Gary Carter’s Agony and Ecstasy

New York Sports Magazine, Unpublished October 1985 Issue, Edited by Stephen Hanks

By Mark Ribowsky

Two months into his first season as a Met, New York celebrity Gary Carter is trying to impress me with his acquired knowledge of big-city life.

“Hey, I saw a great show!” he gushes, as he pulls on sweat socks at his locker. “My wife and me, we saw, uh . . . what’s that dance thing?”

I suggest names of some of the newer musicals, like Grind and Big River. Carter shakes his head. “No . . .  uh, uh . . . gee whiz, I wish I could remember . . . You know, all the dancers telling their stories . . . Aw, geez!”

“Do you mean A Chorus Line?” I say, guessing the show that’s as old as Gary Carter’s career and almost as famous.

“Yeah! That’s it! Chorus Line. Wonderful show. Everyone should see it.”

Content that he’s done a New York kind of rap, Carter smiles and faces the challenge of another game for his Mets. He tucks a bat and glove under his arm and places his cap firmly on his head. With a distinct swagger, he starts walking toward the locker room door, but then stops abruptly. “I also saw the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall,” he says proudly. Gary Carter was first in New York when he was nine. As a winner in the Ford punt, pass and kick contest, he won a trip for two to come here to do a commercial. He came from Fullerton, CA, with his mother. They spent time sightseeing—touring the Empire State Building and Radio City. Only three years later, his month died of leukemia. “Looking back, that time in New York was very special, just her and me,” he says.

Carter went on to lead the ultimate apple-pie success story: Star schoolboy coached and prodded by his father and his older brother Gordon, who played in the Giants farm system. Carter, a pitcher, was headed for UCLA to play baseball when his Sunny Hills High School coach made him a catcher to attract big league notice. Carter married the prom queen, was drafted in the third round by the Expos in ‘72, and while in the minors gained an early gung-ho reputation—and player dislike. He made it to the big club in three years, hit .270 with 17 homers, and made enemies by dislodging popular veteran Barry Foote from behind the plate. Four Expo Player-of-the-Year awards, three Gold Gloves, two All-Star game MVP trophies, and a decade of backbiting followed.

When the Mets traded for the catcher/slugger of their fantasies last December, they got everything they had never had plus a great deal more in Gary Edmund Carter. They did not get a Renaissance man—Carter would be the last to claim that title—but he is emerging as an endearing leader. At least he tries—tries hard.

That is Carter’s style in most matters of sport and life. Carter accrued a great deal of money and fame playing in Montreal because he tried hard—harder than some of his expatriated teammates could stand while suffocating in their uninspired ennui of playing in an unfriendly foreign outpost. Their distress was understandable: he made them look bad by comparison. Even one-year Expo Pete Rose complained last winter that Carter’s desire was wholly self-centered, his grinning, gee-whiz humility a front. Ignoring his own commercials hawking Grecian Formula hair dye, Crock Pots and Wheaties, Rose stirred up his moral outrage and said that Carter played for endorsements, and that his nickname—“Kid”—was all too appropriate for an immature self-seeker.

The Expos owner, Seagram’s chairman Charles Bronfman, had a sharper sword. After the ‘83 season—an off-year for Carter as the Expos again failed as a pennant contender—Bronfman said he regretted giving Carter a five-year, $1.8 million-per-year contract that year (fifth-highest in the game) to stay in Montreal. At the time, Carter had long been the major draw at the Expos’ gate, a gracious PR man for Canadian baseball, and widely regarded as the most imposing catcher in the universe.

Yet, Carter had to live in Montreal, among a kind of sly innuendo and misdirected flak that caused baseball people to scratch their heads in wonderment, given how well he played: .272 lifetime hitter, 215 home runs, those Gold Gloves, and smoke bounding from his nostrils while on the field. At 31, and in his salad years, Carter already had set a National League record for catching durability: six years leading the senior circuit in games caught. He is definitely Hall of Fame bound.

Photo: New York Times

When Carter was ready for a needed change of scenery and suggested being traded to a team of his choosing, any general manager would have given one or several limbs to get him. The Mets were lucky. They had Gooden and Hernandez and Orosco, 90 wins in 1984, and plenty of young talent with which to trade. And they had New York. Gary Carter, after all, never said he didn’t want to make commercials.

“I haven’t felt anything like that [the Montreal problems] here. I feel like I’m very much appreciated. The fans are smarter and the players are great. It’s been a wonderful feeling.”

Gary Carter has reason to feel that golly-gee good saying this on a late May afternoon before a game at Shea with the Padres would be rained out. Though the Mets rest in first place, Carter, like almost every Met, isn’t hitting. He is mired in a 2-for-22 funk, carrying a .226 average—a lot worse since right fielder and slugger Darryl Strawberry, who bats behind him, went out for two months with a thumb injury. Yet Carter would seem to be technically innocent of harsh judgment. The Strawberry factor, for example, has been a telling if subtle equalizer: it is evident the league has been pitching around Carter’s hitting strengths without fear of George Foster (Oy George’s own average is a wheezing .207).

Then, too, Carter has been playing with a body that would be recalled if it were a Volkswagen. Coming into the season with a right knee healing from minor surgery last October (and which would flare up again in July), Carter immediately began taking hits from base runners that Joe Namath never got from blitzing linebackers. One collision broke a rib. Carter missed one game. Then, in Cincinnati, doing a stand-up slide to protect the rib, he sprained his left ankle. Carter spent seven hours in a cold-compress machine, wrapped the ankle, and was back the next game. “I don’t know how I played. Look at that,” he says, directing my gaze to an ankle that is roughly the size of a ripe casaba melon.

The effect on his bat is obvious: “I can’t plant my back foot. I don’t feel comfortable. You think you’re not strong, you over-compensate, do little things wrong.” Even so, it’s scary how profound Carter has been despite it all, his early-season noise still echoing around the tri-state area weeks later. Carter made his Opening Day anointment rite by crashing a 10th-inning home run against the Cards, and then proceeded to beat the Reds (homer), Braves (homer), Phillies (double) and Giants (single) with late-inning fireworks. From behind the plate, he threw out 14 of 32 base stealers, 10 of the last 16.

Most important, his influence on the pitching staff has been nothing less than megaton force. It’s no coincidence that Dwight Gooden is setting up and striking out more people with breaking pitches this year. (“If his breaking ball isn’t working early, I don’t let him throw all heat,” says Carter. “I get him to stay with the curve because it helps him get his rhythm, which makes all his pitches better.”) After Ron Darling shook off Carter and kept stubbornly throwing fastballs in one loss, he won on his curve his next start, while using his tailing fastball to blow away lefty hitters Carter knew would bail out on the pitch. After 12 years, Carter knows hitters like Betty Crocker knows angel food. The two big Met pitchers, whose egos are large, are like rapt pupils in his classroom. “I don’t plan to shake him off again until I’m 45,” says Darling.

“That’s what they wanted from me here, to develop this staff,” Carter acknowledges. “Normally, if a catcher can handle the pitchers, he’s doing well if he hits just .250.”

Carter makes his points in a thoughtful, honest, cliché-strewn way that is inoffensive because he does like to talk so much and because he is so earnest. Though his kinky brown hair has gaps and the wolfhound face is lined now, his big brown eyes are eternally childlike. They look straight into yours as he goes on: “Then, too, I want to be here so much that I’m puttin’ extra strain on myself. I’m still way up there, ‘cause I want to win so bad here, because these guys want it so bad. They’re hungry, whereas in Montreal we had the chance and flaunted it away. So it’s not like I can’t take a day off. I don’t want to. I will play my head off for that man. [A nod to manager Dave Johnson’s office.]

Photo: ESPN

The frustration, though, would continue for Carter. He began to hit a little in early June, raising the average to .241 with some typical late inning clutch hits, but fell off again. He went homerless for 27 games. The Mets, meanwhile, fell out of first place. In Montreal, it might have sparked a new round of anti-Carter sniping. This was not the case at Shea, however, not with so many lousy bats around. That’s all that Carter ever asked for in Montreal when things went bad for his team: equal treatment—good and bad—especially since, unlike other baseball millionaires, Carter works hard for the money.

Rusty Staub knows, having played with Carter for one season in Montreal. Says Staub: “Despite his problems there—and they weren’t of his making—he hardly has to prove his character here.” Staub says that the first thing Carter did after the trade was call the veteran Mets, a most unusual nod of deference since normal protocol is the other way around. “I don’t really know Gary; I don’t think anyone here does. But a bad guy?” Staub wrinkles his eyebrows in derision at the very thought.

With batting·practice washed out, Carter decides to hit in an in­door batting cage down the corridor. On his way to the hall, he peeks behind the door of a room in which Mets huddle around a videotape recorder. Believing that the tape on the machine is of last night’s game, Carter—a dead pull-hitter who hasn’t been waiting on the pitches the league has been keeping out of his wheelhouse—yells, “Pullin ‘ out too soon?” Hearing that, his teammates in the room snort laughter so loud that I can’t figure out what’s so funny—until I notice that the tape is of games of a more sensual nature and Carter’s question has been given a whole different meaning.

Carter flits down the corridor without even realizing the mistake. He bounces along, merrily humming and greeting Shea maintenance men, who are delirious that he notices them, “Gary, ya gonna run for mayah?” one guy asks.

I think I’ll let Mr. Koch handle that,” Carter says, smiling. In the hitting room, a slab of Astroturf surrounded by chicken wire, the fence rattles as cracks reverberate and baseballs fly. Carter takes his turn, eschewing his normal open, face­the-pitcher, yank-the-inside pitch­ into-the-next-county stance to fool with more closed stances he probably will never use. (A Met tells me later: “Gary says he wants to go with the pitch more, but he’s got a macho attitude about hitting. He’ll always revert, try to pull an outside pitch and pop up. This is no knock, he’s just that kind of hitter, and he’s been pretty damn successful.”) Carter’s swing is impatient, vicious and quick, his feet setting in place almost as he swings, as though he’s on roller skates. Each cut brings a loud grunt. Periodically, Carter’s eyes drift off and focus on a world totally inside his head. At those times, he seems briefly out of touch with the world, and the smile is inoperative. It is almost as if the energy of The Smile is a drain on him, and he must flee from it even for a few moments. But that is a Gary Carter we will never know. In those private meditations, Carter may think he does have to prove things—through sheer habit.

Four years ago, I interviewed Carter for a national magazine, and the whispers in the Montreal clubhouse were just turning into rumbling. But what I thought contributed to it was Carter’s own inability to handle it, to just say screw ‘em and forget about it. Instead, sensitive to spoken or implied criticism (Carter’s wife Sandy says he is far too sensitive for his own good), he defended himself so often and eagerly that I felt he had a kind of whiny, excuse-making tone. I sense that same tone today when he speaks of his injuries in relation to his average—especially when he says, as he does often, that he’s not making excuses.

Even so, it was exaggerated in Montreal because he tried so hard to be a regular guy that the mixture of goodness and ego was like oil and water. Worse, he and everyone else cohabited and competed for the same limited-dollar concession on strange turf. Says Carter: “It’s hard up there, the tensions build up over little things; the language, taxes, and customs checks. It’s a whole culture shock. The club puts you up in little crackerjack apartments, and everybody’s miserable.

“Well, I tried to make the best of it. We bought a home there, became landed immigrants, self-incorporated for tax advantages. I traveled around Canada in the winter promoting the team. When I was in Halifax and Trowshoe and Thunder Bay in 20-below cold, everyone else was home fishing.”

Yet Carter was perceived as selfish by players, and a litany of real or imagined grievances mounted. Carter played harder on national TV, he grinned mostly for the media and fans, his showboating angered opponents, and he really traveled Canada to promote himself. The Expos’ nickname for Carter was “Lights,” as in lights, camera, action.

Carter tried exceedingly hard to change perceptions. Last year with the Expos, he replaced the clubhouse stools with director’s chairs. But because he got them from one of his many Canadian commercial clients, it only added to the cynicism. “[Centerfielder] Andre Dawson said, ‘Carter got ‘em free so why should I say thank you?’ I mean, that is really petty.” It eats like acid at Carter’s gut that of all the Expos, Dawson and leftfielder Tim Raines have been his loudest critics since the trade. “And I thought those two were my best friends there. When Andre had knee trouble, I encouraged him, ate with him, and told him to hang in. And Timmy is my neighbor in West Palm Beach [his off-season Florida home].I drive his kid to school . . .  It’s so crazy. “

Pressed for an explanation, Carter does not hesitate. “The only thing I can think of is jealousy,” he says simply without anger or hurt. “Maybe advertisers didn’t use Andre because he’s a monotone, I don’t know. [Pause] Andre was winning the batting title one year, and then died in September. Timmy had a drug problem. [Pause] I guess the easiest thing to do is divert attention from your own failures.”

It is Carter’s eyes that betray the anger and hurt his voice tries to hide when he describes how Bronfman called him in before the ‘84 season and began “asking crazy questions” about whether he could handle the “situation” in the clubhouse. Carter was pushed to the edge by more of the same when Bronfman, who knew he’d have to pay big bucks to Raines and other Expos, met again with his All-Star catcher after the season. Carter, who was proud to have rebounded from ‘83 to lead the league in RBIs, felt the owner was trying to goad him into asking for a trade. Not seeing any other way out, he obliged. Mets GM Frank Cashen coughed up starters in infielder Hubie Brooks and catcher Mike Fitzgerald, and a potential starter in centerfielder Herm Winningham, but Cashen’s Cheshire cat grin told you he felt he got Carter for minor barter.

When the trade was made, Carter got well-wishing calls from only three Expos. Although delighted with the move, there is a noteworthy crack in the happy facade when Carter says of the dark memories, “It hurt, there’s no question it hurt because I didn’t understand it. But one thing I learned from it is that you can count your friends—I mean, your true friends—on your hand.”

Carter obviously doesn’t see his mayo-on-white caricature as a barrier to outside fame and fortune. He freely admits that he has no interest in world issues, his most treasured possession is his baseball card collection, and he hasn’t read a book in years. He enlisted sports agent Matt Merola, a man familiar with the New York turf, to line up clients, and the first ones became Polaroid, Warner­ Lambert and American Chicle. Carter’s face also is on more Newsday posters along the No.7 Flushing subway line than a band of delinquents could cover with graffiti.

A month later, on July 3rd, I return to Shea in the midst of a dramatic reversal for Carter and the Mets. Carter, as expected, had begun to hit, and hard. He’d boosted his average to .269 by hitting .350 over the last 22 games, with five homers and two more game-winning hits. Carter now led the Mets in runs, hits, total bases and RBIs. Yet, in a weird irony, the Mets had responded to this production with a vicious tailspin—losing eight of nine and 19 of 28 games. Their bats now lying in state, they hadn’t scored an earned run in 30 innings and had one extra-base hit in 23 innings. Strawberry was back, but Mookie was gone for awhile with a shoulder injury. A win the night before over the putrid Pirates snapped the Mets’ six-game losing streak. Carter, who wouldn’t be caught grim in a Turkish prison, goes only as far as a what-can-I-do pursing of smiling lips to indicate his own bedevilment. “I started hitting because I got healthy,” he tells me, with obvious satisfaction. “But the team . . . it’s been frustrating for everybody. Everybody’s trying to do too much and putting additional pressure on themselves.”

Which is exactly the kind of cliché you’d expect Carter to utter about circumstances like these. And yet Carter, who will answer any question, will surprise you. Prodded deeper into the specifics of the Met slide, Carter rather candidly mentions why Hernandez has slid from the .280s to .251 (“He’s had his divorce settlement on his mind”). He also says he has misgivings about Dave Johnson’s strict platooning at non-power positions, second and third base, which he feels hasn’t allowed Ray Knight and Wally Backman to become stable regulars—though he adds, “I still back Davey up a hundred percent. “

As for his filling the role of motivator/leader during the bad spell, he says, “I’ve tried to keep a positive outlook. I like to think it’s gonna rub off, ‘cause they’ve seen me pick things back up for myself. And I think they realize in due time it’s gotta change for us. It’s just gotta.”

This is the way Gary Carter wants life to be, of course: his example showing the way to a simple and logical reality. No muss, no fuss. Such is why he took it on himself to get a bunch of Mets together in Chicago and went to the movies, Cocoon one night, Perfect the next. Togetherness, in Carter’s mind, breeds common cause. But life doesn’t always fold into snug designs: the Mets lost the last two games to the Cubs in Chicago, then three straight to the Cards.

For the most part, however, being around the batting cage in the open stadium air and bright sunshine is springtime for Gary Carter. He bops Ray Knight lightly on the helmet with a bat and serenades fading slugger George Foster by bellowing “George-ee! George­ee!” “It’s interesting with Gary,” says a Met as Carter cuts up. “I wondered if he’d be a pain in the ass, but it’s the opposite. I know I look for his stuff: the way he smiles right into your face after a win and waits to high-five each player. We didn’t do that here before. It’s just a reassuring kind of thing.”

Except, again, Carter can take all the right steps and still get bubble gum stuck to his shoe. At the moment, the Expos, the team Met people snickered about in rustling away Carter for pumpkin seeds, are ahead of them, and had beaten Carter five of six games. For Carter, it had to be a silent vexation: If things stayed this way, would it mean the Expos got the better of the deal? Would it mean Carter was in fact a jinx?

Photo: John McDonough, Icon SMI

That Carter has thought about it is evident by his reflex response to my easy remark that the people traded for him have panned out. “One’s on the disabled list and another’s hitting .190,” he says, grinning broadly and neglecting the solid play of Hubie Brooks. “They’re playing good ball now, but that doesn’t mean they’re·gonna stay there.”

But Carter grows halting, a bit out of synch and caught unexpected—yet is most revealing—when I ask how he’d feel if the Expos did win. “Well, I’d say it was a combination of things—the injuries and other reasons. If they do, more power to ‘em. And maybe I was the reason in that case—but I’m not gonna say that was it, just that they were able to finally put it together.”

The truth is Carter would be mortified if that happened, and crushed if he never wins a pennant. Indeed, his impatience with notions of personal defeat may be his way of escaping a fear of failure.

Carter, in form, treats that hypothesis earnestly, but with definite evasiveness. “I don’t think any player can fear failure,” he says, “because you’re gonna take it onto the field. You can’t play with that, no way.”

I then ask if there’s anything missing in his life, something needed to feel complete, specifying I don’t mean something in baseball, like a World Series. “But that’s just it,” he says, “It’s only a World Series, to be honest with you, because all the other things in life have already come.”

And, who knows, maybe there is something to his design, after·all. Later, Carter has a 1-for-4 night, knocking in the last run of a 6-2 Met win with a single to centerfield. By the All-Star break, Carter was hitting. 271 and the Mets had won eight in a row. Still to come, however, was the mid-July recurrence off his right knee cartilage problems (which put him in another hitting slump and threatened his and the Mets’ season) and more Mets spasms of spectacular rises and falls.

Still on this day in early July, Carter is at the zenith of his career. Maybe he at last can put aside his suffering at Montreal. Yet early in the season, after a base hit against the Reds, he stood on first base next to Pete Rose—the idol who had insulted him—and Carter said, “Pete, how could a guy that plays like you say that thing about me being too much of a kid?” Carter asked the question good-naturedly but with an eagerness to know.

“No, no. You got it wrong,” Rose told him. “What I meant was that I wished I had 25 kids like you.” Carter didn’t quite believe that, but he felt wonderful that the old warhorse had turned a grudge into a belated tribute. Indeed, given Carter’s new Queens digs and neighbors in the locker room, it must sometimes seem that there never was a Montreal in his past. But only sometimes.

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MMO Flashback – A Winter’s Tale:The Keith Hernandez Trade and Me http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/12/mmo-flashback-a-winters-talethe-keith-hernandez-trade-and-me.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/12/mmo-flashback-a-winters-talethe-keith-hernandez-trade-and-me.html/#comments Sat, 24 Dec 2011 13:38:19 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=18196 For this edition of MMO Flashback, we take you back to December of 2009 when Stephen Hanks warmed us up with his fascinating tale from the good old day days when he was the force behind New York Sports magazine. Enjoy!

Well, my little Metsies, do we all feel better now? Santa Minaya has bought us a belated holiday gift in Jason Bay, may soon sign one of the flying Molina’s, and something tells me he will shock us all and trade for Carlos Zambrano (Fernando Martinez, Castillo and a pitching prospect?). But none of those momentous moves will likely happen before the new year, so I thought I’d have you all gather around the hot stove in your jammies with a cup of hot cider (spiked with a little of Tom Seaver’s GTS wine) and listen to a winter’s tale of how your benevolent story teller helped bring the Mets’ greatest first baseman ever to our ballclub in 1983.

It all began the fall of 1982, just after my 27th birthday. Since my early teenage years I had dreamed of starting my own magazine about professional sports in New York. I remembered a short-lived magazine called “JOCK NEW YORK,” which published for one year in 1969, long enough to celebrate the Miracle Mets on its cover. It boasted writers like Dick Schaap and Jimmy Breslin, and even Howard Cosell penned pieces for JOCK. I was already a magazine fanatic and when JOCK folded, I remember saying to myself, “I’m going to do this magazine one day, only better.” After starting my career at the late, great SPORT Magazine (1978-80), and then spending a year editing a magazine for the National Hockey League, I felt it was time to make the leap and start NEW YORK SPORTS Magazine. I guess I was the Joe DeCaro or Matt Cerrone of my time.

With my wife Bea as the publisher and business mind, we decided we would launch our bi-monthly magazine with a May/June issue in April 1983. That would give us about four months to raise some money, plan the first issue, assign stories and photographs, sell ads, and all that wonderful and stressful stuff that goes into launching a publication. Then in mid-December, I received a gift from the magazine gods. The Mets made a trade with Cincinnati and brought back my hero Tom Seaver. It didn’t take a lot of soul-searching to decide who would be on the magazine’s first cover.

But while the first issue would carry a romantic tribute to Tom Terrific, we had already planned another Mets-related feature for that launch issue, a profile on probably the best player on that awful Mets team of the early 1980s–25-year-old reliever Neil Allen. The young closer had managed to save 59 games from 1980-82 and had more than a little Tug McGraw in him. He was cocky, fun, opinionated and accessible. He even lived in Lee Mazzilli’s former house on Long Island. Going into the 1983 season, Allen was on the last year of his contract, had an option year and had his eye on big free-agent bucks.

A few weeks before spring training, I contacted Mets PR director Jay Horwitz and told him we wanted to feature Allen with a positive profile in our first issue and he agreed to give us access. I assigned one of my writer friends from the SPORT days, Mark Ribowsky, to visit Allen at his LI home, and the writer and the reliever spent a Saturday afternoon drinking beer and watching college basketball.

On Monday morning, I got a call from Ribowsky saying he had a story that would put NEW YORK SPORTS on the map. Allen didn’t just give him the standard “these are my goals for me and the team this season” stuff; he threw high hard ones at his teammates and the organization. Ribowsky, who had a great talent for getting athletes to spill their guts, probably knew he could hit pay dirt when Allen started the interview with this nugget:

“Who wouldn’t want to live in New York? Love those bright lights of Broadway and any time I can hit those East Side bars, man, I jump.”

At the time, nobody knew Allen had a drinking problem, something that would emerge in May that season when he entered a rehab clinic. For now, Ribowsky just kept his tape recorder running and Allen supplied the rest. You can just imagine what the organization’s reaction must have been when they read these Allen quotes in a magazine:

“Look, they didn’t do a damn thing in the off-season. I don’t want to sound bitter and the team’s been good to me, but they don’t show me no interest in improving the club. The only thing I see getting Tom Seaver for is attendance. He’s 38. I don’t see him coming back and winning 15 or 20 games . . . This team here ain’t gonna score him four or five runs a game. With this team two runs might be the highlight of the game.”

Or this breathless diatribe. Nuke LaLoosh after lessons from Crash Davis, Allen was not:

“We’ve finished next to last or last place six years in a row and who wants to play for a loser. Look at this year’s [1983] team. Dave Kingman will hit .230 tops, and strike out every time he doesn’t hit a homer . . . I get along well with Kong, but other guys, especially the young guys, are just scared of him. Brian Giles and Ron Gardenhire are unproven in the middle of the infield . . . John Stearns isn’t a superstar–he can’t hit a homer out of my front yard–yet he’s constantly burning the club in public right after games. You don’t do that . . . Stearns may not be able to throw the whole year and that leaves Ron Hodges at catcher, a guy people think died because they confuse him with Gil Hodges . . . George Foster was making $2 million and wasn’t producing and came to the park in a long silver limo. The fans threw batteries at it, ripped the antennas off, pulverized it. By the end of the season, it looked like a German war tank. The pitching? I don’t understand the Mike Torrez trade. Why not get a fresh face like Floyd Bannister [who was a free agent]? Here’s a guy that throws hard like Ron Guidry, but we get guys 36, 38 years old. We trade a young arm like Jeff Reardon [to Montreal in 1981] for Ellis Valentine, who was a real head case . . . Our rotation? Seaver, [Craig] Swan, Torrez, Scott Holman and Rick Ownbey, who throws smoke, but walks six guys a game . . . It seems the front office accepts losing.”

Then a passage that would be sure to endear him to his General Manager:

“[Me and Frank Cashen] just clash. He thinks I’m young and just out for the glory. He wants me to be Tom Seaver, a conformist. Hell, I’m the clown of the ballclub, the ball buster in the locker room. Tug McGraw taught me to have a good time. No sense playing in the big leagues if you’re not having fun. I don’t care how much you make. But Cashen, he don’t like that attitude. Last year, before a game, I was on the bench with an old man’s mask on and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. So they put a shot of me on the Diamond Vision screen. Right away, Cashen sent a message down asking, ‘Who was it, was it Allen?’–because he assumes anything like that would be me–’Tell him I want to see him.’ I said, ‘Aw, screw him. I don’t wanna see him.”

There was more, but you get the idea. During the call with Ribowsky, I had three conflicting feelings. As a Mets fan, I was completely bummed by Allen’s comments. I almost didn’t want to know that the Mets were this dysfunctional. But as the editor of a new magazine, I was ecstatic. These type of comments from a star player might get us the back cover of the tabloids, and that was before Rupert Murdoch owned the New York Post. But I also knew I had to be cautious. If these quotes weren’t real; if they were taken out of context or said off the record and we printed them, my new magazine would be dead on arrival. I couldn’t take any chances. I pressed Ribowsky. “They’re all on the record,” he assured me. “It’s not on us that he was drinking and said these things. Listen to the tape.”

And so I did and the tape passed the journalism smell test. I was sitting on magazine publishing gold.

The premier issue of NEW YORK SPORTS would hit the newsstands all over the metro area on Tuesday, April 19. A few days before on-sale, I prepared a press release and sent it off with a copy of the magazine to all the Mets beat writers, hoping to create some publicity that would generate newsstand sales. On Wednesday the 20th, after a couple of days of rain, the Mets were playing a doubleheader against the Pirates at Shea and I was home watching the first game (we didn’t have enough of a budget for an office) when the phone rang. It was Jay Horwitz . . . at least I thought it was Jay . . . it was hard to tell at first given how he was screaming and cursing at me.

“You told me you were doing a positive profile and you screwed me and the team,” Jay shouted, seasoning his comments with a heavy helping of the F-word. “Jay, what do you want from me?” I squeezed in. “The guy said all that stuff on the record and I had to print it,”

“I don’t care,” he said, or something to that effect. “You and your magazine are banned from Shea Stadium! Don’t ask for a press credential and don’t have any of your writers ask. You’re banned!”

The next day, the Neil Allen story in NEW YORK SPORTS became a full-fledged controversy. Although we didn’t get back page headlines, there were articles in the sports sections and prominent columnists like the Post‘s Dick Young (public enemy number one because he was responsible for the Tom Seaver trade) and the New York Times‘ Dave Anderson wrote pieces in support of the magazine’s story. In Anderson’s case, I actually played the tape of the Allen interview for him over the phone so he knew we were legit. Allen, of course, denied he said any of it.

We also offered to play the tape for Frank Cashen in the hopes of getting our Shea ban rescinded. My wife managed to get the GM on the phone. He listened, sighed and told us to “just go away.” End of conversation.

Cashen had taken over as the Mets GM in 1980 after Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon purchased the team from the Payson family. He was an accomplished baseball executive and a conservative man who always wore a bowtie. Cashen was in the process of methodically resurrecting the Mets franchise and there was no way he was going to allow a disrespectful, loud-mouth young reliever to create chaos and undermine the cause. Once our story broke Neil Allen was as good as gone from the Mets. The admission of the alcohol problem and the rehab visit in May had to seal the deal. Now Cashen just had to find a team who wanted to unload a similar problem child.

On June 15, the day of the trade deadline, Frank Cashen made what is still probably the greatest trade in New York Mets history: Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey to the St. Louis Cardinals for Keith Hernandez.

Okay, I won’t take ALL the credit for helping create a situation in which the Mets wanted to unload Neil Allen. But I don’t think we could have obtained a player of Keith Hernandez’s caliber–even if Whitey Herzog did consider Keith “a cancer” on the Cardinals–if Allen wasn’t included in the deal. At that time the Mets didn’t have much else to trade and Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson weren’t going anywhere.

Fellow Mets fans, you’re welcome. Sweet dreams.

Postscript: The 1983 premier issue of NEW YORK SPORTS outsold Sports Illustrated on the newsstands in the metro area. After a one-year hiatus to raise funds, the magazine began regular bi-monthly publication in May 1984 (the Shea Stadium ban had been rescinded that winter) and published six issues before suspending operations after the May/June 1985 issue due to lack of capital.

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Should Mets Talk to Jimmy Rollins? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/12/should-mets-talk-to-jimmy-rollins.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/12/should-mets-talk-to-jimmy-rollins.html/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2011 19:54:22 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=66907 I know he wants five years, but talk him into three years at $45 with an option year? Keep Tejada at 2nd? Discuss.

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Extra, Extra, Daily News Is Dead… At Least in My Life http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/07/extra-extra-daily-news-is-dead-at-least-in-my-life.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/07/extra-extra-daily-news-is-dead-at-least-in-my-life.html/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2011 12:56:40 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=54874 It was tough for me to write that headline and I’m going through a bit of a mourning period over it. Tomorrow morning, as on each weekday morning since July 4th, when I get to my neighborhood newsstand, I won’t be buying TWO New York City tabloids. Except for the Sunday edition, the New York Daily News sports section will no longer be part of my life.

You see, I have been a religious reader of the two New York tabloids for almost 50 years; pretty much ever since I became a devout baseball fan at 6 years old. My father bought the News and the New York Post every day (in the ’60s and ’70s the Post was an afternoon paper and the News also had a “Night Owl” edition) and he encouraged me to devour the back pages, which is probably why I wanted to become a magazine sports writer. Some kids grow up playing catch with their dads. I did that, too, but my dad and I also threw good paragraphs back and forth at each other. “Dad, you won’t believe what Dick Young wrote in “Clubhouse Confidential,” I’d exclaim. “Steve, Larry Merchant’s Post column is a riot today,” he’d tell me. And we’d both have a great laugh over the latest Bill Gallo cartoon, usually drawn around some craziness with Casey Stengel and Basement Bertha.

So going to the corner candy store or bodega the first thing in the morning to pick up the tabloids has been a daily, life-long ritual. I’ve been so addicted that when in another city on a vacation or for work, I’d go through withdrawal if I couldn’t find a Post or a News at some local newsstand or bookstore. And as much as I love the internet and can web-surf with the best of them (hell, I’m writing for this site, aren’t I?), I’m just not satisfied reading a newspaper online. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I still think there is nothing like the enjoyment of holding a newspaper in your hands and flipping through the pages at your leisure and scanning the spreads filled with headlines and photos and box scores and sidebars and agate type. A web paper is great for catching up on late-breaking news or reading someone’s blog, but it can never replace–at least for me–the tactile thrill of fondling news print.

But something happened in late June that will change my life. The price of the daily New York Post went from 50 to 75 cents and I knew it was just a matter of time before the Daily News followed suit, which it did on July 4th. I was not looking for an independence day from buying the tabloids but that’s effectively what resulted from their price hikes. While I had long ago come to grips with the $1.25 price for the Sunday papers, I had already been disgusted with paying 75 cents for the skimpy Saturday papers, which are now a ridiculous buck apiece. This latest daily paper price hike raised my blood pressure higher than when I watch Mike Pelfrey pitch. Now I had to make a choice. I could never give up both papers cold turkey, so one of them had to go. I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, buddy, it’s just another 25 cents a day, what’s the big deal?” Well, if you eliminate one paper from your budget, you’re saving $195 a year and in this economy that’s not chump change, pal.

If the decision to give up reading one of the dailies was difficult, the choice of which one to drop was easy. R.I.P. Daily News, at least in my house. Let’s face it, this paper has been a prosaic read for years and when the Post refers to it as “The Daily Snooze” they are right on the money. The Post sports section has consistently been the best in town since the days of Merchant and Vic Ziegel and Paul Zimmerman and Maury Allen and Leonard Shecter, et al (Google ‘em, kids). The News has been on a quality roller-coaster since the early ’80s when I wrote a series for The Village Voice called “The Good, the Bad and the Boring,” which critiqued all the New York sport sections (including the Times‘). At that time, the News was the “bad.” When I asked the late, great Vic Ziegel, who was between newspaper gigs at the time, to tell me why the Post, with it’s reputation for sensationalism (even pre-Murdoch) and fudging stories, should be considered better than the News, Ziegel said, “I’d rather have my sports section bullshit me than bore me.” As much as I would find it appalling for any news organization to BS its readers, I found it difficult arguing Vic’s point.

The News‘ sports is definitely not the mundane section it was in the ’80s, but it’s inferior to the Post in almost every way, from the back page headlines (even when both papers come up with the same hilarious line, you believe the Post thought of it first) to the presentation of the inside pages (the News has shrunk its body type font so much to save money on paper, you need a 150+ pair of reading glasses). Heck, these days, I even find the Wall Street Journal’s measly two to three pages of sports coverage more compelling then what the News serves up. And when the most entertaining talkie on an SNY-TV show named for your paper is the guy from WFAN (Joe Benigno), you’re in trouble.

The News stuffs the Post on basketball coverage with the solid Frank Isola and Mitch Lawrence, but I favor them mainly because I’ve never been a fan of Peter Vescey’s convoluted column-writing style that poses as conversational. And the News investigative reporting and feature writing team (including Wayne Coffey, Christian Red, Michael O’Keefe, et al) is top notch, which is why I will continue to buy the paper on Sunday. But the Post wins almost every other key writer match-up. Post media columnist Phil Mushnick may have gotten a tad pompous and strident over the years, but he’s still a better read than the pedestrian Bob Raissman (who has actually improved from the borderline hack he was earlier in his career). Comparing the Post‘s hockey writers Larry Brooks (who also does a fine job as a baseball columnist) and Mark Everson to the News‘ guys is the difference between a slap shot and a shank. As for coverage of the NFL, it’s not even a contest. The News‘ pro football team is like a Pop Warner defensive line going up against Nick Mangold and company.

On the baseball side, while the News‘ Bill Madden and John Harper deserve their due as solid veteran pros, Joel Sherman’s well-crafted columns in the Post are consistently insightful and speak the inside baseball language to the hard-core fan. Among the baseball beat writers, I’d probably call that “even,” but I’m getting increasing impatient with the News‘ Mets writer Andy Martino–a young scribe with terrific potential–trying to be quirky and cute in his game stories.

The columnist match-up is a huge edge to the Post, from superior utility man/football maven/Sunday Q & A interrogator Steve Serby, to the aforementioned Sherman, to the exquisite Mike Vaccaro, who has become the best sports columnist in the city and could hold his own with the great Post writers of the ’60s. Vaccaro is where Mike Lupica was around three decades ago when Lupica was the News‘ Boy Wonder. But Lupica has been mailing in his sports column since the Pony Express was put out to pasture. “The Lip” has been shooting blanks for years, but it’s tough to keep a sports column on target when the higher priorities are writing tweener sports novels, opining about politics in the front of the paper (thank goodness he’s a liberal or I’d really lose it), and doing television and radio for ESPN.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I currently work full time in ad sales for a family of community newspapers owned by News Corp. (which owns the Post). But believe me, if the Post sports section wasn’t worth the newsprint it was written on, I’d hammer them as well. Besides, if Rupert Murdoch either decides to, or is forced to, unload his newspapers because of the recent scandal in his media empire, who knows if the Post sports section will be worth 75 cents a day anymore? I might have to really blow my budget to hell and buy the Times on days other than Sunday. Where’s Red Smith when you need him? (Google him, too.)

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The David Wright Trade Watch Should Be On http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/05/the-david-wright-trade-watch-should-be-on.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/05/the-david-wright-trade-watch-should-be-on.html/#comments Tue, 10 May 2011 13:05:50 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=49943 I was watching SNYs “Wheelhouse” tonight when one of the wheelies Eamon McAnaney gave voice to something I had already been thinking the past few days. The issue on the board was whether the Mets should consider trading Jose Reyes or David Wright or even both as the organization considers how to spend it’s meager current resources and rebuild the organization, the latter even more crucial now that Chris Young is likely down for the season and pitching depth for the team is a contradiction in terms. Frankly, even if finances weren’t an issue–and they may no longer be once the Wilpons take on a new partner–someone other than Carlos Beltran would have to go if this team is to seriously rebuild. Let’s face it, this team has won NOTHING since 2006 WITH Reyes and Wright so the team would be no worse off if one or both were moved.

For more than two years I have been wailing away on blogs and to Met fan friends about my desire to see Jose Reyes traded. Like some Met fans who aren’t swayed by his super-charged energy and the Road Runner-like triple dashes, I have been more than willing to see Reyes out of here because of the kind of stuff we saw the other day against the Dodgers; the sleep-walking on the field, the ridiculous base-running decisions, the almost complete lack of baseball intelligence in a player who mans a position that must be one of the smartest on the field. I was totally on board with the notion of Sandy Alderson moving Reyes as the key chip in bringing in a top of the rotation starter, among other things.

But as of today, like Eamon McAnaney, I’m not so sure of that anymore. I have suddenly moved into the “Keep Reyes, Trade Wright” camp.

Yes, I know David is in a hitting slump that could turn on a dime or on a string of mediocre lefthanded starters. He could start on a tear by the time I finish writing this. And that’s the problem: David Wright is no longer the steady, dependable, line-drive, contact, high average hitter he was early in his career. While he does produce runs, he is also such a streaky, high-strikeout hitter he can no longer be counted on to be an offensive leader who can be the core of the offense. Reyes is clearly the more dynamic offensive player than Wright at this point, plays a more important defensive position, and would be much harder to replace (unless the team found a dynamic second baseman that would allow them to be satisfied with Ruben Tejada at short).

Now some of this is not Wright’s fault. Since the Mets haven’t really had a cleanup hitter since the salad days of Carlos Delgado, Wright has had to take on a job he has never really been suited for once he started whiffing with regularity. How Wright is still hitting in the three hole when he is NOT the kind of bat for that spot is a mystery. Even in the current Mets lineup, Wright should be hitting fifth at best (although second might help him see more fastballs). Wright was at his most consistent when he had a plethora of good hitters around him, like on the 2006 and 2007 teams. He is a very good complementary player. He should not and can not be the focal point or the key to the offense. And with the spacious confines of CitiField in his head, he has lost his way on his hitting personality. The offensive load and leadership load is just too much for him. And perhaps it’s just me, but I also sense that he is incredibly frustrated with the losing and although he talks a good game about being a lifetime Met, I don’t think he’d be shattered if he went to a pennant-contending team in a hitter friendly park that would allow him lineup support.

As for his defense, well, he sure makes great barehanded plays on swinging bunts, but his range is average and his arm erratic. I could definitely see him being a first baseman within the next three or four years. And as far as being the “face” of the franchise? What face? The one on a franchise that has been synonymous with failure for five years running?

And yet given all the negatives I’ve just enumerated here, he’s still a solid player that would be sought after by many teams and could bring at least a number two starter, a top flight prospect, and a stop gap third baseman to replace him. Throw in Mike Pelfrey and you could have the makings of a trade that could bring back a boatload of young talent.

I’m never going to be a big Jose Reyes fan–at least until he learns how not to get picked off first in a key spot or learns how not to swing at pitches in the dirt during a key at-bat or learns not to try stealing third with two outs and a lefty up at the plate (little things like that)–but if I’m going to be totally objective and reasonable and think about what is best for the future of this organization, then it’s becoming more clear that it’s David Wright who has to be the one to go by the trade deadline.

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Time to Petition the Wilpons to Sell http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/03/time-to-petition-the-wilpons-to-sell.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/03/time-to-petition-the-wilpons-to-sell.html/#comments Mon, 07 Mar 2011 00:27:59 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=45662 This is going to be a very simple post. A link to an online petition, which makes a very good case as to why all fans–and tax payers–should demand that the Wilpons sell ALL their ownership of the team immediately. Enough is enough!

http://www.gopetition.com/petition/43119.html

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A New “I Have a Dream” Speech http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/02/a-new-i-have-a-dream-speech.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/02/a-new-i-have-a-dream-speech.html/#comments Mon, 07 Feb 2011 16:20:01 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=43771 As more and more information is released about the connection between the Wilpons, Saul Katz and their families to one of the greatest scammers of all time, it is becoming clear that it is not just a minority partner that the club needs, but totally new ownership.

Whether the Wilpons willfully continued dealing with Madoff in spite of what they knew or were blissfully blind to his shenanigans doesn’t matter any more. Either way, they have been revealed to have been greedy, selfish and totally incompetent. That this group was allowed to decide to tear down the beloved, if flawed, Shea Stadium and build a nice, if flawed, new park in Citi Field has turned out to be a travesty.

Actually, the continuing news about how deep the owners were in with Madoff should be regarded by Mets fans as a blessing in disguise. It could lead to what we all would have loved to have happened years ago–that these posers sell the franchise. By the way, now that we know about the timing and the details of the Wilpons involvement with Madoff, can the lost NLCS of 2006, and the disaster collapses of 2007 and 08, and the decimation of the team by injuries in 2009-10, be seen as anything but karmic payback for the owners’ borderline criminal activities?

It has been reported/rumored that a number of potential new owner groups have come forward with interest in buying a part or all of the team, one led by Martin Luther King III. That got me to start fantasizing about a coming press conference in which the son of the great civil rights leader might address the issue with a nod to his father’s famous 1964 speech at the Capital. It might go something like this:

Martin Luther King III is rumored to be one of the new potential owners of the Mets. We can only dream.

THE “I HAVE A DREAM FOR THE METS” SPEECH

I am happy to speak to you today–in the shadow of Jackie Robinson’s Rotunda tribute at Citi Field–as a potential new owner of the New York Mets. And when that day happens, when the signatures on the transfer of ownership are official, it will go down as the greatest day of relief for Mets fans in history of the franchise.

Almost 50 years ago, a legendary Mets manager anointed the new baseball team in the National League “The Amazin’ Mets. This momentous moniker came to symbolize what became a beloved franchise, which when born came as a joyous daybreak to end the long wait for a new National League team after the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants abandoned us.

But almost 50 years later, the Mets fan feels abandoned once again. Fifty years later, the life of the Mets fan has been sadly crippled by the abuses of the Wilpons. Fifty years later, the Mets fan lives on a lonely island, continually subjected to the empty promises of the current owners, their horrendously poor personnel decisions, and having to listen to Mike Francesa mock and demean us. And so we’ve come here today to to offer a ray of hope.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have experienced the heartbreaking disasters of 2007 and 2008. And some of you have suffered from years of watching managers who could not tend to a bullpen. Some of you suffer the ultimate indignity of rooting for a team rendered second-class citizens to the hated New York Yankees.

But I say to you today Mets fans, let us not wallow in the valley of despair and Art Howe.

And so even though we face the prospect that the Wilpons could prevail in keeping their team in spite of their sleazy and greedy dive into the Madoff dark side, even though we face the prospect of more years in second division despair, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the dreams of all Mets fans–since the days of Jane Jarvis, Homer the Dog, Marvelous Marv Throneberry and a Black Cat.

I have a dream that one day this franchise will rise up and live out the true meaning of its theme song: ” . . . Because the Mets are really sockin’ the ball; knocking those home runs over the wall.”

I have a dream that one day the ballpark known as “Citi Field” will be called “Seaver Stadium,” in honor of the greatest Mets player of all time.

I have a dream that one day the majestic outfield walls of this park will be lowered and the ridiculously massive spaces of the outfield will be altered so this park will be transformed into an oasis of excitement, runs, and David Wright homers.

I have a dream that families who root for this team will one day be able to come to a ballpark where they will not have to mortgage their home to buy season tickets or spend half of their weekly salary on hot dogs, Shake Shack smoothies and over-priced parking.

I have a dream that one day Mets players will not be judged by the size and length of their contract but by the character of their play.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in the minor leagues, our farm clubs will be filled with the most talented players from all over the world, with no regard to where they fit in a slotting system.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every baseball fundamental shall be exalted and every ground ball shall be run out; that lead off hitters will ignore pitches in the dirt, that pitchers will consistently throw strikes, and that Oliver Perez will find another line of work.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that our new front office management, led by the capable Sandy Alderson and his lieutenants, will be able to negotiate for trades and free agent signings armed with the capital they need to compete with any team in the majors!

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I keep close to my heart as a lover of the national pastime.

With this faith, we will be able to transform our discordant ball club into one that plays the game like a beautiful symphony of teamwork. With this faith, we will be able to cheer together, sing Sweet Caroline together, play between-innings scoreboard video games together, catch T-shirts shot into the sky together, and boo Luis Castillo together, knowing that we will be champions again one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all Mets fan will be able to sing with new meaning:

Meet the Mets, Meet the Mets.

Step right up and greet the Mets,

Bring your kiddies, bring your wife,

Guaranteed to have the time of your life!

And so if the Mets are to be a great franchise, what must become true is that the Wilpon family sell the team in it’s entirety and without hesitation.

So let Mets fan freedom ring from Brooklyn; the borough of churches and trendy new restaurants.

Let Mets fan freedom ring from the rising rentals of Astoria, Queens.

Let Mets fan freedom ring from the shadow of a totally over-the-top Stadium in the Bronx.

Let Mets fan freedom ring from the wealthy precincts of Manhattan’s Upper East Side and the Sarah Palin-despising lefties on Upper West Side.

Let Mets fan freedom ring from the Guidovilles of Staten Island and the Jersey Shore.

Let Mets fan freedom ring on WFAN, SNY and Michael Kay’s pro-Yankees ESPN show.

From every newspaper, magazine and website, let Mets fan freedom ring.

And when this happens, when the Wilpons sell this club and allow Mets fan freedom to ring, we will be able to speed up that day when all Mets fans, TV couch potatoes and stat geeks, web bloggers and Joe Benigno, transplanted New Yorkers in Miami and Jerry Seinfeld, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the great old theme song:

East Side, West Side, Everybody’s Comin’ Down

To Meet the M-E-T-S METS,

Of New York Town!


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Omar, Please, Get These Guys Outta Here! http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/08/omar-please-get-these-guys-outta-here.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/08/omar-please-get-these-guys-outta-here.html/#comments Sat, 14 Aug 2010 12:44:33 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=33925 It never fails with the Mets. Just as I had given up on the season after that debacle of a game against the Rockies Wednesday night (followed by the K-Rod meltdown), which if won would now have the team on a 4-game win streak, Johan and the Dickster hurl incredible gems to pull me back in. But how can you have time to enjoy R.A.’s almost no-hitter last night when you wake up on Saturday morning and at 7 AM read this in the New York Post.

First Jeff Francoeur, who is basically Ron Swoboda with a better arm and less plate discipline, starts pouting and asking for a trade if he doesn’t play everyday. Now Luis Castillo–LUIS CASTILLO–is asking to be moved because he doesn’t want to be a backup player. Are the people on this team and in this organization trying to play “Can You Top This?” when it comes to what is more infuriating? I’m sure that like me, you’ve been pissed off at many of the Mets’ antics this year and over the last four seasons, but when I read this piece this morning I choked on my breakfast bun. These guys have become totally delusional about their own abilities and their importance to a team. I guess when you look at your inflated paycheck every couple of weeks, the number staring back at you tells you how great you are and how you can’t play second fiddle to anyone. It’s just totally beyond the pale at this point.

Frenchy, look in the mirror and you know what you will see? The definition of a platoon player and not even a platoon player on a pennant contender. You want to know what it takes to be a team player? Check out video on the 1969 Mets and you’ll see platoons at four–FOUR–positions that year: First base, second base, third base, right field and even Jerry Grote didn’t catch against some righthanded pitchers. Luis, I understand that it’s difficult to accept reaching a point in a career where you’ve lost many steps and can’t really hit anymore and I sympathize. But baseball history is filled with great players who accepted their decline in ability with grace and were quite valuable in a supporting role (although where you have value in coming off the bench beats me). Actually, you’re probably being very perceptive here. You KNOW you have no value as a backup so you either have to start and play most days or nothing.

Omar, please go for the nothing. Please beg Jeffy to eat the money and cut this guy NOW so we can–dare I say it?–take a bit of advantage of this sudden momentum after the Johan/Dickster gems. And while you’re at it, please find a way to move Francoeur for any kind of prospect. Look, if Beltran sticks around for next year, Frenchy isn’t going to be on the team anyway so might as well cut the cord and get David Wright used to not having him around as a good clubhouse guy and golfing buddy. And while you’re at it, let’s find any way possible to get rid of Ollie and K-Rod while Met fans may still retain some semblance of sanity.

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The Appaling Microcosm Game http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/08/the-appaling-microcosm-game.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/08/the-appaling-microcosm-game.html/#comments Sat, 07 Aug 2010 08:22:47 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=33303 Watching what has transpired during the bottom of the eighth inning of tonight’s game between the Mets and the Phillies–a game that the Mets desperately needed to win to give themselves and their fan base any hope for the rest of the season–has so disgusted me I couldn’t even wait until the end of the game to vent. I was actually going to hold off on another blog post until after the Philly series, figuring these three games would signify either a modicum of a pulse or the pulling of the plug. In this corner, consider the plug pulled.

But why should I be surprised? Could any reasonable Mets fan really believe that this team would carry a Jon Niese 2-1 gem to the finish line on the winning side? How can you when you’re only up 2-1 after 7 innings against one of the worst starting pitchers in the league this year? Of course the bottom of this game was going to drop out once Niese was gone.

But really, how can this game not be seen as anything but another microcosm of what’s wrong with this team now and has been for four years? No heart, no passion, no leadership, no clue. When watching tonight’s game why should we be surprised that…..

.…the Mets offense would completely disappear in a crucial game against a mediocre pitcher

….that Carlos Beltran would bring absolutely nothing to the table in a big game

….that Jerry Manuel–a nice man who should not be responsible for managing a major league team–would decide that his hottest reliever would be better served staying in the bullpen UNTIL the game was really at risk of being lost

….that Pedro Feliciano–one of the most overrated relievers in baseball and who should have been traded at the deadline–would walk a lefty with the bases loaded

….that this is all happening after Fred Wilpon sent the message yesterday that Omar Minaya’s job was safe even after just one playoff appearance in what will be five years when this season is over

Were our expectations too high for this team this year, especially after that heady hot streak in June? No, they weren’t. Not when you consider the talent, the payroll and the fact that this division was winnable this season. That the Mets are caving now during a year when the Braves are merely better than mediocre and the Phillies have been wracked with injuries is another cruel tease and joke on top of the ones from past seasons. You know what, if you take out 2006 this team and organization has been in a complete morass since the Bobby Valentine years ended. The Mets’ organization is a mess with no clear direction, no leadership, no vision, no self-awareness which combines with vastly overrated talent.

I’m sorry to have to say this folks: at the risk of total despair, we need to come to this conclusion that this organization is going no place with the Wilpons as the owners. While losing 2 of 3 or all three to the Phillies this weekend might have the positive effect of FINALLY getting Jerry Manuel (and Dan Warthen and Howard Johnson) fired, I’m afraid that’s not going to be enough. You can bring in Valentine, Backman, Torre or Gil Hodges’ ghost, but a Wilpon family owned team will never win anything again. It’s a joke.

….one more microcosm note now that the game is over…OF COURSE they would get three runs in the ninth inning and still lose.

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Rethinking the Lineup and the Question of Chemistry http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/07/rethinking-the-lineup-and-the-question-of-chemistry.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/07/rethinking-the-lineup-and-the-question-of-chemistry.html/#comments Fri, 23 Jul 2010 17:37:06 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=31911 I’ve never been a reader of the Wall Street Journal and I certainly wouldn’t buy it now that it is a total corporatist, right-wing propaganda tool owned by Rupert Murdoch (although truth be told the New York Post sports section is still a guilty pleasure). But lately Rupe has been throwing free copies to my door step to get me to subscribe and as a media junkie, I figured I’d check out their sports and Mets coverage. Lo and behold I stumbled onto pieces the last two days by their Mets’ reporter Mike Sielski, one suggesting a new Mets lineup and one about the team’s chemistry that had me immediately re-thinking my previous posts on MMO about the team dumping Jeff Francoeur and Rod Barajas.

Sielski’s Thursday piece about the lineup not only made perfect sense but again makes you wonder even more about Jerry Manuel’s managerial acumen, or lack thereof. It wasn’t anything radical, like having Jose Reyes batting third (more on that in the chemistry section), it was more logical given the circumstances and the characters. We all know how Jerry has viewed his lineup since Beltran and Castillo have returned and, on the surface, it does make some sense: Reyes, Pagan, Wright, Beltran, Davis, Bay, Barajas or Thole, and Castillo. But Sielski has tweaked it into something he says “won’t transform them into the Cincy Reds of the mid-1970s but might ignite a spark” in a stagnant offense. Sielski’s lineup is: Reyes, Beltran, Pagan, Wright, Davis, Bay, Castillo, Catcher’s spot.

Obviously, the biggest change is in the two through four holes and I think Sielski’s lineup was definitely the way to go when Beltran came back. Unfortunately, Jovial Jerry was locked into seeing Beltran as the guy he was in 2008 and not the guy he is coming off a year-long hiatus. With Pagan and Wright clearly the two most productive hitters on the team, there was no reason to plop Beltran into the cleanup spot and put all that pressure on him out of the gate. Batting him second, then and now, would allow him to ease back slowly, allow him to see a lot more fastballs with Reyes in front and Pagan and Wright behind him (as opposed to now where he can pitched-around with a slumping Davis behind him). Besides, until Beltran starts showing his power stroke, he’s basically the same kind of hitter as Pagan; a switch-hitting gap guy, so they’re really interchangeable right now.

Pagan has become a prototypical three-hole hitter; a good contact, decent OBP, .300 hitter with gap power who might really thrive hitting between Beltran and Wright. Since David is clearly the Mets’ best RBI and power guy at this point (he shouldn’t be, but that’s another story), the cleanup spot should be his. Davis and Bay could be interchangeable depending on the opposing pitcher and who’s hot. You might say that Davis and Bay don’t offer Wright lineup protection but until Beltran starts scalding the ball consistently, it’s not as if Wright’s getting great protection in the order now anyway.

As far as Castillo hitting seventh as opposed to eighth, I think most Met fans would prefer his slot in the order be “left out.” But as long as we’re stuck with him, Sielski is figuring the Mets might as well maximize him. His average and on-base percentage are clearly better than what the catchers, especially Barajas, would produce. Thole appears to be the kind of hitter who would be disciplined no matter where you put him and if Barajas is going to swing at anything anyway, he might as well be slotted in the order where he’s going to be pitched around with the pitcher behind him.

Speaking of Barajas, that brings us to today’s Sielski piece about the sudden drastic change in the team’s chemistry and demeanor that was really an indictment of Manuel’s maneuvering more than anything else.

Remember the heady days of May and June–which seems so long ago now–when the Mets were playing gritty and inspired baseball and everyone was lauding their spirit and team chemistry? The credit for that welcome change in attitude on the field and in the clubhouse was going to the “new guys”, especially Francoeur and Barajas. It also helped that the atmosphere was temporarily purged of the dour foursome of Beltran, Castillo, Perez and Maine, but the sense that the Mets were now a more upbeat, resilient team was palpable. Of course, chemistry always feels better when the catalysts of said chemistry are also producing, as Frenchy and Barajas were doing for most of the first half. But that doesn’t mean the mixture blows up just because guys go into slumps.

Sielski frames the sudden debate about whether to go with a veteran catcher or the hot-rookie in Thole as a question of loyalty and that if the manager (and by extension the GM) don’t display that loyalty–no matter how the players are producing on the field–it can filter down to the rest of the team and lead to the sudden malaise the Mets have been experiencing since right before the All-Star break. While the Puerto Rico road trip and Reyes’ injury certainly led to the team slumping, it clearly was exacerbated by the notion that Beltran, Castillo and Perez were on the way after the break to mess with the mix.

While Sielki acknowledges that Thole’s “savvy and frequent line drives have been a revelation,” he also got Barajas to offer this revealing quote that is sure to be picked up by the blogosphere the next couple of days.

“To give up on somebody after what they’ve done to help the team, for me, it’s not a good thing,” Barajas said. “It’s not the way a team wants to see their teammates treated.” Later in the piece, Barajas says, “I don’t want to say it in a bad way, but if you look at the scenario, how we got here and how we got in this situation, whatever we were doing before worked. We’ve gotten to where we are because of a certain system we’ve had in place. For me, once you start changing the landscape of the team, it could go either way.”

Now I know a lot of MMO readers and SNY commentators would probably answer with, “Hey, just shut up and produce and you’ll play.” But it’s not as simple as that. With the addition of Thole and Beltran (and to a certain extent Castillo) back into the lineup, Manuel didn’t just replace a couple of slumping players, he was replacing two of the most popular and respected players in the locker room; the two guys credited with helping improve the Mets culture in the clubhouse and get them to over-achieve this year on the field. Other players see that and wonder if it can happen to them and that is not a good thing. Another issue that relates to chemistry: Why would any rational-thinking baseball man take a player like Jose Reyes–not a very cerebral player to begin with–coming off a year-long struggle with injuries, his baseball mortality, and his confidence and take him out of his comfort zone and ask him to bat third? Was it a totally ridiculous thought? Not really, when you consider the rest of the roster. But given the player, his value to the team as a lead-off hitter, and when he was being asked to make the adjustment, it was an incredibly misguided decision. In fact, Manuel’s handling of Reyes has been terrible since he took over the team last year. Add to all that the combustible decision to reinstate Oliver Perez–an awful player who would not accept a minor-league assignment for the good of the team–and you can understand why the Mets’ formula has become baseball version of Jerry Lewis’ alter egos in “The Nutty Professor.”

Which is as apt a name for the current Mets manager as any. We’ve gone from “The Old Professor” to the nutty version; a nice man who in the desperate quest to save his job, changes his opinions about players at the drop of pop up and–as Barajas intimates–with his lack of loyalty to his players has clearly lost the clubhouse. For goodness sakes, doesn’t it show on the field during this road trip? A baseball team doesn’t suddenly lose its “grittiness” overnight. A whole team doesn’t just suddenly forget how to hit all at once, I don’t care how good the opposing pitchers are. The Mets may have not given up on the season, but they’ve given up on their manager because of his management of the players (not to mention his poor strategy and his mishandling of the bullpen and injured players) and Omar and the Wilpons better get that message soon. I, for one, want someone else writing the lineup card next week or the Skill Sets can forget about getting any ticket money out of me the rest of this year.

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Counting Down to the End of Jerry and Other Thoughts http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/07/counting-down-to-the-end-of-jerry-and-other-thoughts.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/07/counting-down-to-the-end-of-jerry-and-other-thoughts.html/#comments Thu, 22 Jul 2010 14:00:34 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=30479 Last night was one of those rare moments in my long life as a Mets fan when I was actually torn about wanting them to win the game. At the same time I was hoping that Oliver Perez would get out of that 2AM New York time jam, I was also rooting for a total implosion which would help kill two birds with one baseball–perhaps getting both Ollie and Jerry out of town.

The seconds are ticking away for Jerry Manuel. The "Manuel Watch" has begun.

As I wrote in a previous post after the all-star break, the upside to this predictable west coast trip debacle may be realized. I would be shocked–SHOCKED!–if Manuel is the Mets manager come Monday and, for me, it won’t come a moment too soon. Omar is reportedly on his way to LA and while this won’t be a Willie Randolph Firing 2, the GM needs to get this out of the way as soon as possible so he can concentrate on deals up until next Saturday’s deadline. Look, Willie Randolph shouldn’t have come back for the 2009 season and Jerry shouldn’t have been brought back for this year. I am just sick and tired of the Wilpons settling for second, third and fourth best. Think about it: Art Howe, Randolph, Manuel. We would have been better off with Moe, Larry and Curly.

So who will take over on Monday? I’ve long in been in favor of bringing back Bobby V but he has said in a recent interview that he would rather not take over a team during the season. But given that this is the Mets and he still says he’s a “fan” of the team, I think he could get up to speed on the roster pretty quickly. If not Bobby then who? There’s nobody on the current coaching staff worthy of promotion (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dan Warthen and Howard Johnson are throw out with the bath water), but the talk all year has been that scout Bob Melvin–the former D’Backs’ skipper–has been waiting in the wings for precisely this possibility. If Jerry had been jettisoned before June, Melvin would have been an okay choice, but now the Wilpons are looking at an August and September of empty Citi Field seats, which is the last thing they need given the well-documented financial issues with the team. Since there likely won’t be a star pitcher coming to the rescue at the deadline, the only way the Skill Sets can create some buzz is by bringing in Bobby V or Wally Backman. I’m going to the Cyclones game this afternoon so I’ll stop by the dugout and tell Wally to start saying his Brooklyn good-byes, since he could be in Queens by Monday. So cheer up Mets fans: if we have a new manager next week, this horrendous road trip was a very good thing. Now on to the other thoughts:

Jeff Francoeur Trade Rumors: I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised when I heard about this. In my post the other day about wanting the Mets to be buyers and sellers at the deadline, I didn’t include Frenchy frankly because I didn’t think he was tradeable right now and I actually wanted to keep him for the time being and focus on trading Beltran. But if Omar can get a prospect or a serviceable player for this guy, I say go for it. It’s a shame about Francoeur. He’s a good guy, obviously great in the clubhouse, but he doesn’t have a clue–nor does he appear to work on–about how to approach hitting in general and a given at-bat in particular. We have too many guys already with holes in their swing so having one less in that category will be a step in the right direction.

The Anemic Offense: A lot of people look at the names on this roster and scratch their heads about how they could come up with a 12-game stretch of 4 runs or less. Have you been watching this team there last few years? When have they not been streaky? When have they shown a propensity for consistency? When have they had a lineup where there weren’t at least five guys who struck out too much? How long have they been a lineup that couldn’t hit with runners in scoring position? Last night, Wright, Bay and Davis combined for an 0-for 15 and 10 strikeouts against Dan Haren and a nothing bullpen. Now there’s a recipe for success. On any given night you can look at the stats and see at least three guys with ofers and they are usually a different three guys on different days. There is no consistency throughout the lineup, I don’t care what the baseball card stats say. Look, can we all finally agree that Howard Johnson is not a very good hitting instructor and stop with this romance because he was a 1986 Met guy? Name one hitter who has improved with HoJo as hitting coach. I would even make the case that David Wright actually regressed under Hojo given how much he strikes out now. Sometimes I think the only guy on this team with a real plan at the plate is Alex Cora and he shouldn’t even be on the team!

The 25-Man Roster: The best players in the organization who are major-league ready should be playing in Citi Field right now. If that means sucking it up and eating Perez’s contract so be it. If that means cutting John Maine and Rod Barajas, get it done. If that means Pat Misch should up here instead of Elmer Fudd, bring him in. Enough with catering to guys because of their contracts and their reputations.

The Starting Rotation: Omar, we need a number two pitcher behind Johan. Repeat, we need a number two pitcher. Did you hear me? Omar, are you getting this message.

The Bullpen: If there is one reason to fire Jerry it’s the way he has handled or mishandled part of the job. While we don’t have a bunch of lights out middle men out there (does any team these days?) or a real 8th inning guy or a reliable closer, a good manager and pitching coach should be getting more out of what we have (I see Bobby Cox doing it). Manuel absolutely destroyed Nieve (who I still believe should have made the rotation out of spring training instead of Maine) when he showed some 8th inning guy potential. Jerry doesn’t have a clue about how to use Feliciano (who I believe should be traded) and he misjudges the talents of guys like Dessens and Valdes just because they happen to have a couple of good outings in a row. We need a manager and pitching coach who are strong at identifying a guy’s strengths and playing to those strengths. The current guys are constantly going by the seats of their pants and trying to put round pegs into square holes.

David Wright: Make him the captain if he deserves the job or don’t complain about not having leadership (which, by the way, this team hasn’t had for eons, except possibly for when Cliff Floyd and Mike Cameron were on the team).

I guess that’s my rant for now. Just in case the Mets are still on the fence about firing Jerry: LET’S GO DODGERS!

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Why Mets Should Be Buyers AND Sellers at the Deadline http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/07/why-mets-should-be-buyers-and-sellers-at-the-deadline.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/07/why-mets-should-be-buyers-and-sellers-at-the-deadline.html/#comments Wed, 21 Jul 2010 01:11:51 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=31662 Even when the Mets sputtered into the All-Star break, the most skeptical of fans had to admit that this team still had a chance at either a division crown or a wild-card spot.

While the offense might have been inconsistent, the bullpen not always reliable, and the manager a strategic misfit, the Mets still boasted some brilliant starting pitching, the resurgence of Wright and Reyes, and the most spunk, heart and personality we had seen in years. If they weren’t quite as talented as the 2006 or 2007 teams, they were certainly better than the 2004 team that the front office misguidedly saw as a contender and forced that regrettable trade-deadline deal with Scott Kazmir.

With the current team still in the post-season discussion, the question the last few weeks has been what kind of starting pitcher or relief help does Omar shoot for before the deadline. Well, here’s the reality: If Jose Reyes continues to show he can break down at the drop of a bunt, Jason Bay provides no signs he will return to Red Sox form, K-Rod always a late-inning accident waiting to happen, and Mike Pelfrey reverting to his former psychological mess, no deadline deal will give this team a chance at meaningful October baseball.

But in spite of all those obvious problems, which may never abate, we still shouldn’t throw in the towel on this season, especially since the team can’t be eliminated from the race on July 31. If Omar can bring in a Ted Lilly or a Jake Westbrook and an Octavio Dotel (or reasonable facsimile) without trading top tier prospects, he should do it. However, he also should be pro-active and consider dealing guys on the current major league roster who might bring back some valuable pieces to build on for next season. It’s time for Omar Minaya to really get creative and make the Mets buyers AND sellers.

 

Here’s a list of six players Omar should consider moving who could bring back some building blocks without necessarily ending the team’s chances to win a wild-card this season.

1. Oliver Perez: I admit this is going to be a tough road to hoe. Who really wants a guy who gives head cases a bad name? Well, I would trade our problem child in Perez for the Cubs’ drama king Carlos Zambrano in a heartbeat. The Cubs want to unload the hot head and his hefty contract and they’d get salary relief even if they took back Perez’s contract. Zambrano still has upside if he gets a change of scenery and could help next year, if not this one.

2. Luis Castillo: I admit I’m not up on which contenders need a second baseman right now, but if there is one out there, I’d send them Luis for a prospect and eat some of his money in the process. Classic addition by subtraction.

3. Rod Barajas: His early season slugging helped the team get taken seriously in the race and he’s great in the clubhouse (although I think his backstopping prowess is overrated), but he’s completely collapsed offensively (he had plenty of holes to begin with) and at his age there is no future for him on this team. Did anyone ever think he was anything more than a stop-gap to begin with? The Mets have been floundering in the catching department since Piazza was done and the time has come to either develop Josh Thole or trade for a young catcher to build around. Thole and Blanco are more than adequate to get the job done for the rest of this year.

4. John Maine: I don’t know what we can get for him at this point, especially since he won’t be able to establish that he’s overcome his problems by the deadline. But given his mound demeanor, lack of command and poor secondary pitches, I’d get him out of here for a bag of balls.

5. Pedro Feliciano: Yes, I agree he has been abused by Jerry, but this guy couldn’t get a good right handed hitter out if his life depended on it and is probably one of the most overrated relief pitchers in the game. Yet he would still have tons of value to a division contender in a pennant race as a situational lefty. Honestly, would Takahashi or Pat Misch in the lefty relief role really be much of a downgrade, if any? Move Pedro now, get a mid-level prospect or two and give the job to one of those guys.

At this point, we pause because you’re probably thinking that number six on the list is going to be Jeff Francoeur. Well, we can’t really trade Frenchy. One, even if a team felt he had some value as a stopgap to replace an injured player, I don’t think that we can get much for him. Two, we would need him to play right field the rest of this year because the sixth player we should move is:

6. CARLOS BELTRAN: You heard me right. This is the scenario I’d been hoping for since Beltran’s operation; that he would come back before the trade deadline and get enough at bats to show teams he still had something in the tank. You want a pitcher to slot in behind Johan or a big time catching prospect or a future closer, then this is the guy who has to go. I’ve always respected Beltran’s talent but his passion has always been lacking and he hasn’t exactly provided inspiration since his return. He could be one hard slide into second base away from a career-ending injury. But do you think the Yankees would take him to play centerfield? In a heartbeat. How about Jesus Montero and that second base prospect Adams? How about moving Beltran to one of those contenders in the NL West, especially the Padres and Giants who desperately need a bat and have pitching chips to trade?

The Mets were as many as 9-11 games over .500 when Beltran was out. Let’s not screw around with Angel Pagan, keep him in centerfield, muddle along with Frenchy in right until the end of the year, and bring in a significant young player or pitcher for Beltran. Not to mention getting out from under the last year of that contract so we might be able to actually sign a GOOD free agent next year.

Omar, it’s time to think out of the box or you’ll be thinking on the unemployment line in October.

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The Booing of Jason Bay or Why Some Fans are Idiots http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/07/the-booing-of-jason-bay-or-why-some-fans-are-idiots.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/07/the-booing-of-jason-bay-or-why-some-fans-are-idiots.html/#comments Mon, 12 Jul 2010 14:34:03 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=31190 When I heard Jason Bay get booed it was the last straw.

The last straw as far as keeping my feelings about the booing of home team players as simply a rant among my friends. It was bad enough when David Wright was booed during last season and earlier this year. But when I heard Jason Bay pilloried at Citi Field during the recent series against the Braves, I had to write something–somewhere–to get my total disgust with these idiot fans off my chest.

There is no doubt that we are all disappointed by Bay’s production in the first half of the season, although I for one cannot say I’m that surprised. From the moment that Omar Minaya began wooing Bay this winter, it was clearly an overreach. Jason Bay is a very good baseball player. He was not and has never been a star. Anybody who really knows the game and has watched him play over the years would clearly make that assessment. All the planets aligned this winter to put Jason Bay in a position to be overpaid by a team like the Mets. In a pressure-packed situation after being traded to the Red Sox, he did a highly commendable job in Boston taking over for Manny Ramirez. He hit extremely well in a ballpark perfectly suited for a right-handed power swing and in a lineup that could offer him a lot of RBI opportunities and a lot of protection. And, oh yeah, it was his free-agent walk year and it’s been well documented how much incentive that provides many players to produce career years.

In spite of doing a stellar job at Fenway, the Red Sox front office made him a rudimentary offer that I’m sure they knew Bay would reject. Why? Because they scout their own players and they didn’t think that Jason Bay was worth a multi-year deal at that kind of money. They didn’t want to overpay a guy during an off-season when the free-agent pool for outfielders was relatively weak. Why commit yourself long-term to a player who may not be as good as some coming out the following season?

But that didn’t bother Omar Minaya, who felt–and rightly so–that his team was desperate for some power and stability in the outfield, especially given the shaky health status of Carlos Beltran, the uncertainty of Angel Pagan and the streaky Jeff Francoeur. So with a purse that could only afford one major free-agent signing, Omar settled on Bay and immediately started selling the notion that Bay’s right handed pull swing was perfect for Citi Field because he would be able to regularly deposit fly balls in the stands down the left field line (and Omar totally downplayed the other part of the scouting report on Bay–that he was a very streaky hitter with the kind of swing that has a lot of holes). Of course what Omar did by providing that public scouting report was basically tell every pitching staff in baseball to serve Bay a heavy diet of curves, sliders and high fastballs on the outside part of the plate. So far this season, on the rare occasions that Bay has been pitched inside, it’s basically been to knock him off the plate and set up the junk away. Bay has actually done a pretty good job going the other way this season, but many of his best shots to right at Citi have died in that right center field desert.

So a player who was not nearly as good as the salary and the years he was given was brought to New York to play in park not suited to home run hitters, hit in a Beltran-less lineup that would not afford a lot of protection, and expected to be a 30-plus homer, 100-plus RBI guy. It was not going to happen.

But during the first half of the season, we have found out some other things about Jason Bay; that he is a much better outfielder than his reputation, that he hustles on every play, that he is a really good guy and teammate (an attribute that had been sorely lacking in the Mets’ clubhouse), and that HE IS NOT A BASEBALL PLAYER WHO DESERVES TO BE BOOED!

Which finally brings me to the point of this post. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how any fan–whether die-hard or casual–can ever boo a player on their own team except in one instance: when it is clear that the player is dogging it or not hustling. In recent weeks we’ve seen both Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins and Yunel Escobar of the Braves exhibit boo-justifying traits. But not one player on the New York Mets deserves to be booed–not one. Oliver Perez you say? If Ollie is booed, it should be because he refused to be a team player and accept that trip to the minor leagues to work on his stuff, not because of the results on the field, unless it was clear he didn’t give a crap. Now some might make a case that stupid mental mistakes are boo-worthy, and goodness knows Ollie and even Jose Reyes have made a ton of those. But you know what? I’ve been playing baseball for 45 years and consider myself a pretty heady player and even I’ve had vapor-lock on the field a few times. That didn’t mean I wasn’t trying to do my best.

And that is the whole point. Does Jason Bay, or David Wright, or even Luis Castillo look like they aren’t trying to get a hit every time at bat or make every play in the field they can make? Was Castillo TRYING to drop that pop up in the Yankees’ game last season? Major league baseball players are not playing golf; they are not playing against themselves. There are other professionals out there competing with them; pitchers trying to strike them out, hitters trying to take the pitchers deep, etc. Sure, there may be players on your team who don’t belong in the majors or in the starting lineup, and you may want to see better players in their stead. But as long as a player is wearing the home team uniform and is playing as hard and as smart as he can, he should not be torn down by idiotic fans who release their frustration about players being overpaid or tickets and beer being overpriced by booing the player out loud in the ballpark.

As a die-hard Mets fan since 1963, goodness knows I’ve been incredibly frustrated with this team and many of its players over the years. I have screamed curse words at the television and at the ballpark angrily whispered profanities under my breath directed at players who didn’t get a clutch hit, made a key error, or made a bad pitch to cost a game (hey, our history of relief pitchers alone have merited an encyclopedia of expletives). But I have never, ever, felt it appropriate to BOO a New York Mets player at a home game unless it was clear he didn’t care almost as much as I did.

You want Jason Bay to have a great second half of the season and help us win a division title? Do you think it’s going to help that cause if boos are ringing in Jason’s ear every time he strikes out or hits a lazy fly ball to the gap?

Let’s make a pact, fellow Mets fans: when you attend a game at Citi Field, the word BOO is no longer in your vocabulary . . . except for the other team’s players.

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Why I Don’t Trust Jerry in a Pennant Race http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/06/why-i-dont-trust-jerry-in-a-pennant-race.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/06/why-i-dont-trust-jerry-in-a-pennant-race.html/#comments Wed, 30 Jun 2010 12:49:38 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=30279 I have a feeling that I would really enjoy having a philosophical conversation about life with Jerry Manuel. A conversation about baseball strategy? Not so much. Jerry says and does a lot of incomprehensible things when it comes to running a baseball team and last night’s game against the Marlins took the cake. While I certainly appreciate the way J-Man has this team fighting until the last out in every game, I have zero confidence that Jerry’s in-game decisions will ever steal games for the Mets and, in fact, his poor strategy and decision-making (especially his use of the bullpen) will lose us some and could cost a playoff spot.

Although none of the following poor decisions directly led to last night’s loss, they could have prevented a victory and were out and out bad moves, regardless of the outcome.

1. Starting Fernando Tatis over Ike Davis: Okay, so this may be a bit picky. I understand the idea of trying to get everyone on the team at-bats. But why would you choose to rest Davis on a day when a soft-tossing lefty is throwing, the day after a loss and when you know that Tatis is probably history when Carlos Beltran comes back. And excuse me, but if you play Tatis, why would you bat him in front of Frenchy?

2. Pitching K-Rod in the 8th inning in a road game when you’re down by two runs: Alright, I’ve had enough of this catering to K-Rod and jumping through hoops to get him into games. I don’t care who it is and how long he hasn’t been in a game. You do not bring in your closer in the 8th inning of a road game you are losing 6-4, which is tantamount to admitting you think you’re going to lose and you may not be able to get him in for the 9th. Absolutely ludicrous. Your closer sits on his butt in the pen until you tie the game or take the lead and he can shut down the opposition and ensure the win.

3. Not pinch-running for Rod Barajas in the 9th: You’re down 6-4 and one of the slowest runners on the team gets a leadoff single. You have Alex Cora on the bench to run but instead of getting him in immediately so the bases aren’t clogged, you wait until Chris Carter–a faster runner than Barajas–hits a triple that is only a double because Barajas was the guy running on the play. Not to mention the fact that there were two other catchers on the bench so it’s not like you have to save Barajas. Did someone say “asleep at the switch?”

4. Pinch-hitting Josh Thole for Ruben Tejada: Yes, I know Thole got the hit to tie the game, but does he really have that much more power and contact ability in that spot–coming cold off the bench–than Tejada does, especially with the infield in? The issue here is that when you have already started emptying your bench and the game may go into extra innings, why use another player when it’s not that much of an advantage.

5. Pitching Pedro Feliciano in the 9th of a tie game: Oh, I get it. He’s now the 8th inning guy so since K-Rod pitched the 8th, they had to flip flop, even though there were all righthanded hitters coming up for the Marlins and Igarashi was available and perhaps if you take the lead in the 10th you can have Pedro as the closer. When is Jerry and everyone else who overrates Feliciano going to get it into their heads that Feliciano cannot get out righties consistently. And even when he does get a couple–like the first two last night–it’s only a matter of time until they get to him.

6. Not walking Uggla to pitch to Ross: Yeah, yeah, I know all about Uggla having more holes in his swing than Ross, but you have to set up a force play in that spot. After Cantu hit the double (on a third straight outside fastball, by the way, great pitch calling there), Uggla hit a ball up the middle. Suppose he had hit a ball in the hole that was playable? Well, you may not have a play at any base. Suppose with first and second, Ross hits the same ball in the hole that Reyes or Cora can field? They have a much better chance of getting a force out throwing to the nearest base.

Nice job, Jerry. Somehow I think that if Bobby V was managing that game, they’d still be playing.

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Santana and Reyes: Now It’s Time To Be Concerned http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/05/santana-and-reyes-now-its-time-to-be-concerned.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2010/05/santana-and-reyes-now-its-time-to-be-concerned.html/#comments Mon, 03 May 2010 02:55:44 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=26070

Although I often cringe at the MMO posts that are almost an hour-by-hour barometer of the current state of the Mets (lose a few in a row, we’re terrible/win a few in a row, we’re pennant contenders), I couldn’t resist starting to write this as Johan Santana dejectedly trudged off the mound after the lambasting the Phillies laid on him in the fourth inning tonight. Because here’s the bottom line: If Johan Santana cannot take a 5-2 lead and bank it in the victory column–even against a REAL team like the Phillies–it’s time to wonder if we can kiss this season goodbye right now.

This is not about any pitcher, no matter how great, having a bad game. This is not a knee-jerk reaction to “one bad outing.” There were elements of Johan’s game tonight that encapsulated all the problems we’ve seen from him so far this season. His smarts and competitiveness and the mediocre National League offenses allowed him to produce decent numbers up until this game. But even in the early-season victories, there were alarming signs: the lack of command, the decreased velocity on the fastball, the abandonment of the slider and curveball, and the continuing inability to consistently get good lefthanded hitters out. Believe me, the rest of the National League will be going to school on the videos of this performance and if Jerry and Dan and Johan don’t figure this out soon, the Mets will be toast.

Because–and I will say this for the last time–Mike Pelfrey IS NOT YET NUMBER TWO STARTER MATERIAL, Jonathan Niese is a rookie, John Maine is a basket case and Ollie Perez is worthless. Without great starting pitching–or at least consistently good starting pitching coupled with an explosive offense (sound like the Phillies or the Yankees?), then come post-season you’re team is on the golf course.

This doesn’t mean all is lost. It’s possible that Johan is just still getting his act together post surgery and that he’ll heat up when the weather does. It’s also possible that he’ll never hit more than 90 mph on the jugs gun again and will just be a good starting pitcher, not a dominant one. But either way what it DOES mean is that Omar Minaya must figure out where to get another top quality starting pitcher to slot in between Johan and Pelfrey, whether it’s Roy Oswalt or Cliff Lee or even Bronson Arroyo, even if it costs–in the case of Oswalt or Lee–Fernando Martinez. Why risk trading F-Mart? First of all, he is still proving to be injury prone. Second of all, this league has proven to be mediocre enough that the Mets could conceivably steal a wild card, but only if they have a deep, consistently good pitching staff.

Now for Jose Reyes. At the risk of writing something that might be a sacrilege in these parts, it’s time to consider trading him after this season or at the point this season when the team may be out of the race. I have been advocating trading Reyes since before last season, so this is no sudden reaction to his slow start this year post-injury. Jose Reyes is the shortstop version of Nuke LaLoosh–a billion dollar talent with a 10-cent head. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I see no evidence that this guy will ever grow into a mature, level-headed major league player. I’m not saying Reyes has to be Derek Jeter, but on a winning team a shortstop has to either be an intelligent leader type in addition to having great talent or a terrific fielder who is fundamentally sound and will do no harm. Need I remind you that the 1986 Mets had the weak-hitting Rafael Santana at shortstop and that the 2000 National Champions won with Rey Ordonez and Mike Bordick? When the player you identify as the most exciting and talented on the team also plays a vital leadership position on the field, he can’t nullify all that by being a complete airhead. After four full and three partial seasons in the big leagues, Jose Reyes still hasn’t learned to identify pitches, doesn’t know how to work a count, still strikes out too much to be a great leadoff hitter or a solid number three hitter (Ike Davis is the three hitter of the future), and still makes the kind of bone-headed baserunning and fielding mistakes that are unacceptable for any great player, let alone a guy playing shortstop who is looked upon as one of the core stars. Let me put it this way: the Mets will never win a championship with Jose Reyes as one of their key players (and frankly, it’s possible he’s already reached his peak and/or will be prone to leg injuries the rest of his career).

One of the reasons I think this team has a chance to contend (if we bring in that other top starter and improve a horrendous bench) is because those dour, passive personalities of the two Carloses have been replaced by guys like Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur. Now we have to rid the club of guys who really don’t know how to play the game. Major League baseball history is replete with guys who had amazing natural ability but didn’t have any baseball intelligence. You can’t win with guys like that. As much as I hate to say this–just look at the Yankees the past dozen years or more. You think it’s an accident that they always win or at least contend? It’s not just the talent; those guys are fundamentally sound baseball players who always want to win.

It boils down to this: If Santana is Santana (or at least close to it) and Jose Reyes becomes a LEADER as well as a talented athlete (and we’re still waiting to see if that even returns), this can still be an entertaining season. But if this team doesn’t make the post-season, Reyes has to go. I’m sure that whoever replaces Omar at the end of this year will agree.

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