Mets Merized Online » Gil Hodges Fri, 12 Feb 2016 16:12:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Collins Passes Gil Hodges For Third All-Time In Franchise Wins Wed, 17 Jun 2015 13:03:40 +0000 terry-collins-mets

Terry Collins won his 340th game with the Mets last night, surpassing Gil Hodges for the third-most managerial wins in team history. Only Davey Johnson (595) and Bobby Valentine (536) have more victories.

While this is a nice milestone for the Collins, he has yet to manage the team to a winning season. He started his tenure in New York back in 2011, and his overall winning percentage with the team stands at .476.

Despite these shortcomings, Collins surprisingly has the Mets sitting in first place with a 36-30 record this season.

“I’ve been lucky to stay here long enough to get that,” Collins said. “I love what I do, but I’m all about the players. I’m not about what I accomplish or anything else. It’s certainly an honor to be in that class.”

Not too long ago, it looked like the team’s hopes were about to fade, especially after being no-hit by the Giants’ Chris Heston. However, the Mets have responded well to this adversity as they have won four out of their past five games.

With the Mets continuing to play good baseball, it’s becoming increasingly more likely that Collins will return to manage the team next season, and more importantly lead the team to its first winning season since 2008.

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Lessons From My Dad… And Gil Hodges Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:00:33 +0000 gil-hodges-aims

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad!” I wailed. “Hubie made two…”

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

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

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

hubie brooks mets

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

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

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

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

“What the hell are you doing?”

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Did they boo him?”


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

“Did they boo him?”


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

“Did they boo him?”

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


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

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

My dad’s point was made.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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MMO Hall of Fame: Left Fielder Cleon Jones Was Always At Center Of Things Sat, 11 Apr 2015 16:35:27 +0000 cleon jones 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then it happened. Something clicked.

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

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

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

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

gil hodges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MMO Hall of Fame cleon jones

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

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

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


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Gil Hodges Up For Hall of Fame Consideration In December Thu, 30 Oct 2014 21:37:44 +0000 gil hodges bklyn

An MMO Fan Shot by Bill Hall

Gil Hodges is one of ten names on this year’s Golden Era Ballot the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum announced today.Players will be reviewed and voted on December 8 during the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego.

We support the election of Gil Hodges to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is fully qualified under every one of the criteria set forth in the Hall’s own rules:

“Voting shall be based on player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Gil Hodges was the premier first baseman in the National League during the Golden Era. He was an outstanding fielder, winning the first three Gold Gloves ever awarded in his final three seasons as a full-time regular. He was a dominant power hitter, topping twenty home runs for eleven consecutive seasons, and he totaled thirty or more homers in six of those years. He was an eight-time All Star. His on-the-field performance was a major factor in seven pennants and two World Championships during his fourteen seasons with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was second in both home runs and runs batted in for the National League during the 1950s, was tenth on the all-time home run list at his retirement, and in third place among right-handed batters.

gil hodges aims

His career totals might have been even more impressive had he not spent three years in the Pacific with the U.S. Marines during World War II, where he earned the Bronze Star, which is awarded for acts of heroism or meritorious service in a combat zone.

Integrity, sportsmanship and character may be hard to quantify, but Hodges displayed these qualities in abundance. As both a player and manager, he won the universal respect of his teammates, the players he managed, opponents and fans. He was widely recognized as the only player never to be booed in Brooklyn. Hodges made his home in the heart of the community where he played and he was extremely generous with his time, showing a special dedication to youth. Jackie Robinson credited him as a key figure in easing his difficult role as the first African-American in the major leagues in the 20th century. As a first-time manager, Hodges dramatically improved the performance of the expansion Washington Senators. When he returned to New York as manager of the Mets, he brought 25 young men together as a unit that accomplished one of the most improbable and best remembered feats in baseball history: the 1969 World Series title.

gil hodges place 1969 Mets parade

His untimely death at age 47 in 1972 robbed baseball and its fans of many more years of his great skills and character. His reputation had endured and grown in the decades since that loss. He has earned one distinction his generations of admirers would dearly love to see become a historic footnote–accumulating more votes than any candidate not yet enshrined in the Hall. His achievements during the quarter-century he did spend in the game have richly earned him a place in baseball’s shrine.

Once more, Hodges boosters are hopeful that his time has finally come. Although whoever is chosen by the Golden Era Committee will be a member of the Hall’s class of 2015, the election and announcement will take place in December, so the campaigners have adopted a hashtag to help publicize their cause: #14in14.

Sign our petition now.

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This Fan Shot was contributed by Bill Hall. Have something you want to say about the Mets? Share your opinions with over 25,000 Mets fans who read this site daily. Send your Fan Shot to Or ask us about becoming a regular contributor.

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Miracle Mets Still A Sore Spot For Frank Robinson Sun, 19 Oct 2014 04:31:11 +0000 gal-shea-seaver-8-jpg

“It’s always good planning to have a baseball in the dugout with shoe polish on it, just in case.”

That is the expression coined following the infamous Shoe Polish incident, when in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, Cleon Jones hit the deck to evade a Dave McNally pitch that skidded into the Mets dugout, only to be retrieved by Mets skipper Gil Hodges to reveal a smudge of shoe polish, awarding Jones first base. The next batter Donn Clendenon would smash a two-run homer leading to a Mets victory and eventually winning their first World Series title in franchise history.

The incident capped off one of most incredible World Series upsets in baseball history. The Miracle Mets, more commonly known as the “Lovable Losers” since their inception, needed just five games to best Earl Weaver‘s 109-win Baltimore Orioles and become champions.

I spoke to one of those mighty 1969 Orioles about this controversial moment in Mets history when I was covering the MLB Draft for MMO. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson did not hesitate to speak his mind on the subject when I broached it with him.

“It had to be a trick,” said Robinson. “People forget the length of time that ball went into the dugout before Gil Hodges brought it out to show it to the umpire.”

“That ball didn’t go into the dugout with black shoe polish on it, but it came out with black shoe polish on it,” he said.

Several different Met accounts have come out over the years including Ron Swoboda claiming that the pitch hit an open bag of balls, spilling identical baseballs all over the dugout, one of which Gil picked up that had a black mark on it.

Of the most recent claims was Jerry Koosman, who in 2009 stated that Hodges instructed him to rub the ball on his shoe, however neither accounts put to rest whether the pitch actually hit Jones, a truth that will likely never be known for sure.


Although even if Jones wasn’t awarded first base in Game 5, Robinson doesn’t believe it would have made all that great of a difference in the outcome of the game or the series.

“The Mets deserved to win, they did what they had to to win,” said Robinson. “I still watch it on classic sports and I still don’t believe we lost.”

Like Robinson, many were in shock at the fact that the lowly New York Mets, just seven years into existence, stood atop the baseball world. After their improbable comeback to beat out the Chicago Cubs for the division crown, they had an even greater upset of the Orioles and the ‘Bird’s Big Four’ in stunning fashion. Robinson recalls what he found most impressive about the Mets in that series.

“They got contributions from everybody, the little guys we used to call them, and they did what they had to do,” said Robinson almost begrudgingly. “They also had some great pitching.”

Despite his high praise of the team, it was clear that the Miracle Mets to this day are still not Robinson’s favorite subject as he brought the conversation of the Amazin’s to an abrupt close.

“That’s all I’ve got to say about ‘69.”

The legend of the 1969 Mets lives on to this day as one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the game’s history, who with the help of a little shoe-polished baseball, were able to put National League baseball in New York back on the map with their first World Series title.

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Video: Gil Hodges Once Again Up For Hall of Fame Election Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:04:19 +0000 I’m sure it’s been something that has been debated quite often on this site as to whether Gil Hodges should be enshrined along with his legendary Brooklyn Dodgers’ teammates in Cooperstown.

Well, Gil will be up for election again this December at the Winter Meetings.

To increase awareness of Gil’s cause, here is a television segment I put together. Please share it out, so that Gil rightfully takes his place this winter alongside baseball immortals.

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Cyclones Winning Streak Snapped After Brutal Loss Fri, 01 Aug 2014 14:05:06 +0000 Octavio Acosta (Photo by Jim Mancari)

Octavio Acosta (Photo by Jim Mancari)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Thursday night at MCU Park in Coney Island was Irish Heritage Night.

But unfortunately for the Brooklyn Cyclones, the “luck of the Irish” was nowhere to be found.

The Cyclones (24-23) dropped a 14-3 contest to the Auburn Doubledays, the Single-A short season affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Brooklyn had won five straight games before the loss.

Cyclones’ starter Octavio Acosta fell to 3-3 on this season, as he lasted just 3.0 innings while giving up six runs (four earned) on five hits while walking two. It was the second straight night in which the Cyclones’ starting pitcher lasted just less than four innings.

“It was an ugly game,” said Cyclones’ manager Tom Gamboa. “Acosta has pitched so good this year. The first four hitters of the game was typical him. But as soon as he walked a guy with one out in the second, he just completely lost it.”

Meanwhile, after the game, Acosta was promoted to the Savannah Sand Gnats.

The Cyclones trailed 4-2 heading into the top of the fourth inning, but reliever Brandon Welch struggled through the next two innings, giving up eight earned runs.

Welch surrendered two home runs – a rarity at MCU Park. Auburn first baseman Jose Marmolejos hit a two-run shot to left, and left fielder Jeff Gardner drilled a three-run bomb deep into a right field bleachers – where balls typically get knocked down from the wind coming off the water.

“I’ve never seen a ball by a left-handed hitter (Gardner) hit like that in this park,” Gamboa said.

In total, Cyclones’ pitchers surrendered 14 hits to go along with 10 walks and three hit-batsmen. That usually is not a successful recipe for a win.

First-round draft pick Michael Conforto had a rough day at the plate. He hit a few balls squarely but ultimately finished 0-for-5 with four runners left on base. He’s still hitting .367 through his first 13 games in which the Cyclones are 9-4.

On the bright side, four Cyclones – shortstop Amed Rosario, right fielder Michael Bernal, second baseman/catcher Tyler Moore and center fielder Tucker Tharp – all had multi-hit games.

Brooklyn will try to win the series against the Doubledays Friday night at 7 p.m. at MCU Park. It will be Gil Hodges bobblehead night, and righty Corey Oswalt (4-1, 2.56 ERA) takes the hill looking to continue his strong summer season.

Click here to view the complete box score from this game.

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Amazin’ Moments: Willie Comes Home Sat, 12 Jul 2014 14:00:10 +0000 As we all know, the Mets were created fill the gap left after the departure of the Giants and the Dodgers from the city of New York following the 1957 season. In the four year period before the advent of the Amazin’s, Gotham’s National League fans were left to follow their teams as best they could from afar (remember, no cable TV at this time nor webcasts, and radio coverage was spotty at best if you were following a west coast team). 

williemays-swing - Copy

For die-hard fans, and there were many, this was a hardship that was duly noted by the fledgling Met ownership which sought to assuage (or exploit, depending on how you look at it) their feelings of abandonment by bringing in notable Dodger greats like Gil Hodges and Duke Snider for a last go-round in a Met uniform.

But for fans of the “New York baseball Giants” as they were once referred to, there were no remaining links to the glory days of the team. Instead, they were left to scan the box scores or change their allegiance to the Yankees. The latter choice was anathema to most of the Giant faithful, including my father, who had regaled me with stories of following the 1951 pennant race by radio as many had done, and had exulted with much of the city as Bobby Thomson’s  “Shot Heard Round the World” was broadcast. His favorite player was not Thomson, however. It was the Giants’ wunderkind, Willie Mays.

Mays had a place in New York baseball folklore as part of a triumvirate of great center fielders along with Mickey Mantle and the Duke, but had a penchant for near-mythical displays that seemed to supersede his contemporaries. Who could forget “The Catch” where he tracked down Vic Wertz’ missile in the 1948 World Series or “The Throw” where he ran to catch a shot in the right field gap and spun on the dead run to unleash a throw like no one had ever seen to catch the Dodgers’ Billy Cox at the plate? Not to mention an MVP season in 1954 and a 1955 season where he clubbed 51 homers, a feat that was downright uncommon in the pre-steroid era.

willie2Mays would go on to more glory with the Giants, including a pennant in 1962, another MVP in 1965, Gold Gloves, perennial All Star appearances, and all the things that fans bask in when their team and their favorite player are in the limelight. But Mays was San Francisco’s now, even if those fans more readily embraced Willie McCovey. New York fans were left with their memories…and the Mets.

So, when the buzz began in May of 1972 that a deal was in the works to bring Willie back to the east coast, the “sleeping Giant” so to speak, of 1950’s New York baseball fandom began to stir. And lo, so it was, for a mere $50,000 and a middling right-hander named Charlie Williams, the Mets finally obtained what may have been the most symbolic link to the city’s baseball legacy.  And, largely symbolic it was, because at 41 years of age, Mays was clearly a shadow of his former self as a player. Still, his mere presence in a Met uniform was enough to drive fans into a state of excitement usually reserved for visits from the President or the Pope.

Fans flocked to Shea for the series against Mays’ now former employers the Giants. Willie was set to make his debut as a Met in the Sunday game on May 14th, but when the team needed a pinch hitter in the Friday game prior, fans began clamoring for manager Yogi Berra to send him to the plate. When John Milner emerged from the dugout instead, he was booed roundly “for not being Willie Mays” as I recall the announcer Lindsey Nelson reporting. Finally, the big day arrived and Mays was in the lineup, leading off and playing center field.

willie-mays2My dad and I watched the game together. He had been a fairly hard core NY Giants fan but had come over to the Met side of the dugout for the most part as his kids had “caught baseball fever” as a MLB marketing campaign had urged and gotten swept up in the championship run of 1969. But today was all about number 24 and his return to the fold.

If you are familiar with the game, you know that it began auspiciously for the Mets, with Giants pitcher Sam McDowell walking the bases full and then surrendering a grand slam to Rusty Staub. By the bottom of the fifth however, the Giants had tied the score and McDowell had been lifted in favor of right hander Don Carrithers. Mays led off the inning and unloaded on a fastball. As the ball cleared the fence in left and Mays trotted around the bases for the 647th time in his career, my father stopped grinning long enough to tell me “That’s the way it should be.” Cornball, but I swear it’s a true story.

That homer provided the winning edge as the Mets prevailed 5-4, and even though moments like that would be few and far between for the balance of Mays’ Mets career, the memory of that triumphant return and its near-poetic climax (hitting the homer in the bottom of the ninth would have clinched the poetic part, but let’s not squabble over details) remains indelible. The Mets and Mays had helped the New York branch of Giant fans to reclaim at least part of their legacy and gave the team that abandoned them a swat in the process. For that day, it was enough.

mmo presented

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Mets Prospects of the Early Years: Cleon Jones, LF Wed, 29 Jan 2014 13:50:59 +0000 cleon jonesCleon Jones played both football and baseball at Alabama A&M when the Mets signed him in the summer of 1962 to report the following year. Unlike Kranepool and Swoboda, Jones was not a big-money bonus player who was touted as a surefire big leaguer from the day he signed, but in his first year in the minor leagues, Cleon quickly vaulted to the top of the Mets’ prospect list. He even made his way to a cameo appearance in centerfield for the Mets at the Polo Grounds that same year, 1963. I remember it well because I was at that game.

In a young organization, short of prospects, Jones was a standout, batting over .300 at both Class D Auburn and Class B Raleigh. He showed that combination of speed, power, and arm that was truly rare in the Mets’ system in those early years. He wasn’t ready for the big leagues and struggled for a few years shuttling between the Mets and AAA Buffalo.

Prior to the 1968 season, the Mets made two moves which turned out to be turning points for Cleon. First, they hired Gil Hodges as their new manager. Then, on Hodges’ recommendation, the Mets swung a deal for Tommie Agee, former AL Rookie of the Year, a true centerfielder, and a childhood buddy of Jones. Agee was a more outgoing personality than the shy Jones and he seemed to help bring Cleon out of his shell.

CleonjonesIf Jones never quite became a superstar, he did indeed have some excellent years, with 1969, of course, being his best, as he battled Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, and Matty Alou for the batting title. Jones wound up hitting .340 as one of the Mets’ integral players in that great Championship year.

Fondly remembered for his contributions to the 1969 Championship team and the 1973 NL Pennant Winners, Jones also was the focus of 2 negative incidents. In a one-sided loss to the Astros in 1969, Manager Gil Hodges walked on to the field to remove Jones for not hustling, a move that seemed to help bring the team together and pump Cleon up for a strong finish. Later in his career, Mets Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant thoroughly humiliated Jones when he made him apologize to his wife and Mets fans for being caught in the back of a van with another woman during Spring Training. That was probably the beginning of the end for Jones with the Mets.

Jones is deservingly a member of the Mets’ Hall of Fame and remains one of the best hitters to be developed by the Mets’ organization. He was certainly one prospect who, if he didn’t quite reach the lofty expectations fans may have had, certainly made his mark as an all-time great Met.

Presented By Diehards

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Where’s Our Tom Seaver Statue? Sat, 11 Jan 2014 14:00:37 +0000 Is there anything better than going to your hometown ballpark and seeing all those bronze statues of iconic players or managers who meant so much to the team and more importantly, to the fans?

Back in 2009, during the inaugural season at Citi Field, there was an uproar among the fan base because many of us believed that our new home park was not Metsmerized enough.

Eventually, our pleas led to many changes and additions to Citi Field that better represented our team’s rich history and recognized many of our beloved players and managers.

The Mets Museum also opened a year later and it has been embraced by all fans. Additionally, even the outfield walls would go from a dismal black to a royal blue. Citi Field was beginning to feel like home…

However, the one thing that I’ve always wanted to see was a bronze statue or two that would honor Tom Seaver and Gil Hodges in a similar way that other NL East teams honor their all time greats.

Take a look at some of the gorgeous sculptures you’ll find just in the NL East…

Mike Schmidt at Citizens Bank Park

Steve Carlton at Citizens Bank Park

Robin Roberts at Citizens Bank Park

Josh Gibson at Nationals Park

Walter Johnson at Nationals Park

Frank Howard at Nationals Park

Hank Aaron at Turner Field

Ty Cobb at Turner Field

Phil Niekro at Turner Field

Warren Spahn at Turner Field

Isn’t it sad, that we have no such monumental testaments to any of our own iconic Mets at Citi Field?

Wouldn’t it be a great to park your car in one of the lots at Citi, or get off the 7 Train and onto the walkway, and then be greeted by a beautiful statue of Tom Seaver firing a fastball, Casey Stengel in his rumpled Mets uniform with outstretched arms, or Gil Hodges and that quiet look of his holding a lineup card?

It would be awesome if the Mets owners can make this happen.

Presented By Diehards

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This Day In Mets Infamy With Rusty: May The Farce Be With You Wed, 27 Nov 2013 14:48:06 +0000 star wars

A long long time ago, in a stadium directly across from Citi Field was a place where fans were born and memories were created. That was before the dark times – BEFORE THE MADOFF…

It is funny when you watch one of your all time favorite movies that you can attribute certain quotes to specific areas of your favorite baseball team. Take for example  this little nugget of jubilation:

You see what I told you was true….  from a certain point of view

This quote was uttered by Obi Wan Kenobi when Luke Skywalker confronted him about the true nature of Darth Vader’s identity. We can also attribute this to Sandy Alderson’s assertion that the Mets would spend more that the five million dollars the Mets spent last offseason. With the signing of Chris Young to that $7.25 million dollar contract they did just that. Is it what the fans expected? No, but Alderson was telling the truth – but not the way the fans had hoped.

Then there is this quote by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back:

Do or do not. There is no try.

This is how the fans feel when the front office says that they intend on improving next years roster. But until the fans see some results, apathy will reign alongside the Dark Lord of the Sith.

star wars 2

Then there is this :

I find your lack of faith disturbing

This best sums up the disconnect between ownership and the fan base.


Were doomed!!!

When we learned of Matt Harvey‘s need for Tommy John surgery.

star wars

And lastly…..

I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

This best describes my reaction when I – along with many of my fellow Mets fans – reacted when it was revealed the Mets would have a hard cap of $30 million dollars to spend in an offseason where almost every other baseball team has money to burn.

So lets just hope that this upcoming season at Citi Field finds the Mets in the middle of a dog fight of X-Wing proportions instead of it being like the frozen planet Hoth by the middle of August.

And with that said…. HERE COMES THE INFAMY!!!!!

Mets alumni celebrating a birthday today includes:

Middle reliever from the ’68 season,  Bill Short turns 76 today (1937).

Reserve outfielder from the ’87 season, Randy Milligan is 52 (1961).

Spot starter/middle reliever from 2010, Raul Valdes  is 36 (1977).

Other notables include:

The New York Mets traded pitcher,  Bill Denehy to the Washington Senators for their manager, Gil Hodges on November 27, 1967. This is still one of the best trades the Mets ever made.

The New York Mets traded outfielder, Tommie Agee to the Houston Astros for outfielder Rich Chiles and  pitcher Buddy Harris on November 27, 1972. Agee was already past his prime by the time this trade was made, but Chiles was not a suitable replacement for Agee, and pitcher, Buddy Harris never played a game for the Mets.

The New York Mets traded middle relievers,  Brent Strom and Bob Rauch to the Cleveland Indians for reliever  Phil Hennigan on November 27, 1972.

The Boston Red Sox signed reliever Skip Lockwood of the New York Mets as a free agent on November 27, 1979. Lockwood was one of the best Mets closers you don’t remember.

The New York Mets signed free agent first baseman, Eddie Murray of the Los Angeles Dodgers on November 27, 1991. He still played at a high level in his  2 seasons as a Met, but his anti-social attitude was one of the reasons why the Mets team he played with was dubbed ” The Worst Team Money Could Buy”.

The New York Mets traded middle reliever, Jerry Dipoto to the Colorado Rockies for pitcher, Armando Reynoso on November 27, 1996.

The New York Mets traded  popular first baseman, Rico Brogna to the Philadelphia Phillies for middle relievers, Ricardo Jordan and Toby Borland on November 27, 1996.

Mo Vaughn is such a Star Wars fanatic that he once dressed as the Sarlacc Pit for Halloween !!!!

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This Day In Mets History: Strawberry & Matlack Named Rookie of the Year, Agee Wins Gold Glove Thu, 21 Nov 2013 16:54:45 +0000 tommie agee game 3

1970 – Mets’ outfielder Tommie Agee becomes the first non-pitcher to win a Gold Glove in each league. The New York flycatcher also won the honor with the White Sox during his 1966 Rookie of the Year season.


1972 – Jon Matlack (15-10, 2.32) is selected by the BBWAA as National League Rookie of the Year. The 22-year old Mets southpaw becomes the second player in team history to win the award joining teammate Tom Seaver, who copped the honor in 1967.

1983 – Mets’ outfielder Darryl Strawberry breaks the Los Angeles’ four-year stronghold on the Rookie of the Year Award when he becomes the first non-Dodger to win the honor since 1978. Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Sax had been the previous winners.

gil hodges place 1969 Mets parade

2009 – The Mets, in response to the fans’ displeasure that little was done to commemorate the team’s past in their new home at Citi Field, announce the V.I.P. entrances will now be named for three of the persons who have had their number retired by the franchise, Gil Hodges, Tom Seaver, and Casey Stengel as well as naming the bridge over the bullpen in honor of William Shea. Additionally, a team Hall of Fame and Museum will be opened, full-color banners of Mets players will be displayed in front of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and the light poles in the parking lots will feature team logos.

Terry Collins

2010 – Eleven years after resigning from his last managerial position, former Houston (1994-96) and Anaheim (1997-99) manager Terry Collins is selected to replace Jerry Manuel as the manager of the Mets, who was fired a day after the season ended. The 61-year old skipper, known for alienating some of his players due to his old school approach, has compiled a 444-434 won-loss record, finishing second five of his six years in the dugout.

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Mets Double Headers: Super Tuesday and Super Saturday Wed, 16 Oct 2013 13:12:41 +0000 ernie banks plaque

The Mets had their share of postponements and suspended games in 2013 as weather wreaked havoc with them during the first few months of the season. It led to a plethora of makeup games on what were initially scheduled days off and also four double headers.

The Mets were snowed out due to blizzard conditions in Colorado on Monday April 15. The teams would squeeze two games in the following day that saw the Mets lose both ends of a record cold double header with an 8-4 loss in game one, followed by a 9-8 ten-inning loss in the nightcap. All of this took place after the Mets were snowed out on Sunday in Minnesota before they flew into Denver.

Their next double header would be very different and will forever be known in Mets circles as Super Tuesday – and a super Tuesday it was. On a bright and sunny day in Atlanta, he Mets caught the first glimpse of their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, but not before Matt Harvey got things started by striking out 13 and taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning as the Mets went onto beat the Braves 4-3. Wheeler would make his memorable major league debut in the second game, tossing six scoreless innings while striking out seven and picking up his first career win.

The Mets would go onto split their next two double headers, one with the Nationals and the other against the Marlins. So all in all, they finished the year by going 4-4 in their twin-bills.

The first time the Mets ever swept a double header came in their infancy on May 12, 1962 in the once fabled Polo Grounds. That sweep also came against the Braves although back then they played in Milwaukee. And while that double header sweep came on a Saturday, that day was pretty super too.

The Mets won both games in dramatic style, on a pair of ninth-inning, walk-off home runs by catcher Hobie Landrith and first baseman Gil Hodges.

Landrith’s two-run homer was of the pinch-hit variety as the Mets won the first game 3-2, but not until a long delay as the Braves contended that baserunner Rod Kanehl failed to touch third base. In the end, the umpires ruled that Kanehl clipped the inside corner of the base and the Mets prevailed – game one was in the books.

The second game, an 8-7 victory, would be a little less controversial. Hodges, who had come in as a pinch-hitter earlier in the game, singled and stayed in to replace Marv Throneberry, homered on the first offering he saw from reliever Hank Fischer and the Polo Grounds faithful were rewarded with a pair of wins from their Lovable Losers.

A couple of notables from that day…

Warren Spahn

The Mets beat Hall of Famer Warren Spahn in the first game. Spahn would become the Mets’ pitching coach years later after a brilliant career that saw him compile 363 wins. He also tossed two no-hitters and his 14 All Star Game appearances were the most ever by any player in the 20th century. One of the games greatest southpaws in the history of the game, even inspired a famous poem dedicated to him and his teammate, righthander Johnny Sain who was considered the ace of the Braves rotation.

Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain 

First we’ll use Spahn, then we’ll use Sain.
Then an off day, followed by rain
Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain
And followed, we hope, by two days of rain.

craig anderson

The winning pitcher in both games was righthander Craig Anderson who was 3-17 with four saves for the Mets that season, making 50 appearances including 14 starts. Seven appearances and three losses later, the 25-year old was released and never to be heard of again. He ended his Mets career with a 3-20 record, a 5.56 ERA, and a 1.67 WHIP.

Anderson went onto lose his next 19 decisions after those  two double-header wins. He’s also the answer to an old Mets trivia question as he was the losing pitcher in the last baseball game ever played at the Polo Grounds as the Philadelphia Phillies behind pitcher Chris Short beat the Mets 5-1.

hobie landrith

Hobie Landrith is the answer to another trivia question for being the first pick of the Mets in the 1961 expansion draft. It was after Landrith’s selection that then manager Casey Stengel said, “You gotta have a catcher or you’re going to have a lot of passed balls.’’

You probably knew that, but did you know that when the Mets gave Landrith a $75,000 contract that year, infuriated, he returned his initial contract to team president George Weiss, complaining that it was a $3,000 pay cut. But the Mets GM sent that same contract back to Landrith three more times before the catcher finally gave up and accepted the contract.

His debut was not a memorable one as Mets’ Opening Day catcher in 1962, went 0-for-4, made an error and allowed three stolen bases.

Oh yeah, then there’s that guy Gil Hodges, but I’ll save his story for another day…


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Sprinting to the Finish: The Culture of Losing Fri, 20 Sep 2013 17:00:58 +0000 Six weeks ago, an unidentified Mets executive – and really, how many are there – told Mike Puma of the Post that the front office was pleased with the work of Terry Collins and his staff. Then he said this:

“I think they’re doing a good job of sprinting to the finish line.”

Sure, if the runner in question is Ramon Castro.

The Mets are sprinting nowhere, once again. They’re tumbling, scuffling, tripping to the finish line, another dreary soul-crushing fourth place finish, another dispiriting September, acres of empty seats in the cool Flushing air.

They call the top deck at Citi Field the “Promenade” but that suggests movement, as in quantities of people moving around, promenading to and fro, while top quality baseball unfolds on the greensward below. Static, empty green seats and old Nathan’s wrappers blowing like ghost town tumbleweeds does not a “promenade” make.

I’m not sure what to make of the insistence that Terry Collins has created some sort of miracle with the low-rent talent Sandy Alderson has given him. Isn’t that narrative either a vicious indictment of Alderson (who has seemed as checked out at times as any New York sports general manager this side of Glen Sather) or the very faintest of praise for Collins? I’m not a Collins hater. I admire a gritty baseball lifer as much as the next Wilford Brimley fan, but I simply have no understanding of this movement to keep him at the helm as the team slips further into irrelevance. It’s not that he’s been a disaster. In some ways I agree with Michael Baron of Metsblog, who repeated on Twitter once again the line that “we will just be having the same argument about the next manager. In the end, it really doesnt matter too much.”

You could almost hear Baron (who has great eye behind the lens, by the way) sigh in frustration.

Yet I think it does matter, at least a little bit. When Gil Hodges took over a losing franchise in 1968, he changed the culture. Old-timers will remember that it was like flipping a switch. The Mets didn’t win right away, but losing became unacceptable and the man in the dugout was clearly the man in charge of what happened at Shea Stadium. Davey Johnson‘s arrival – one Mets generation later – had a similar effect, and Johnson had managed many of the young players who formed the core of the juggernaut Mets of 1986.

One of those young wallbangers was Wally Backman, a knock-about second baseman who would do anything to win. Backman is finishing his second year managing the Mets AAA affiliate, making the post-season despite the revolving door on his bench, as the big club filled its empty slots and shuttled players between Vegas and Flushing like a partially inebriated blackjack player flicking his chips between hands. Backman is a hot head, a brawler, and the kind of character that gets the attention of young players. He’s had Flores. He’s had Lagares. He’s had Wheeler and the rest.

The party line seems to be another year of Collins. But why not Backman? Why not the brawler with the dirty uniform? Yeah the talent level doesn’t (yet) indicate a winner in Queens – but can’t the manager at least be obsessed with not losing? I think so. Time for Wally-Ball.

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Lessons Learned From Mets Sweep Of The Rockies Fri, 09 Aug 2013 16:40:47 +0000 latroy hawkins john buck

This week’s Met sweep of the Colorado Rockies is instructive.  In taking the broom to the Rockies at Citi Field, the Mets showcased the blueprint they hope can make them a contender as early as next season – solid pitching.

In designing that building plan the Mets need look no further than their first World Championship team the 1969 Mets.  That Met team, a group that shocked the world, was built around solid starting pitching.  The ’69 Mets won 100 games.  When they held teams to three runs or less the ’69 Mets had an 80 percent winning record.  Take a look.

chart 1

Met pitchers in 1969 allowed opposing teams 3-runs or less in 63% of the 162 games played.  When Met pitchers in the championship year allowed 2 or fewer runs the Metss were almost unbeatable (65-8).  The ’69 Champions won 80% of their regular season games when they allowed 3 or fewer runs.

Very different philosophies governed the ways teams used pitchers in 1969.  Pitch counts were not emphasized and starting pitchers often pitched deep into games.  52 times Met starting pitchers completed games in the miracle season of ’69.  That represented almost one of every three games the ’69 Mets played.  Take a glimpse of the starting pitcher’s numbers in 1969.

chart 2

Met pitching in the Colorado series was the lynchpin in a rare series sweep, allowing only three runs in three games.  With a solid core in the current starting rotation and a long list of promising youngsters carving a path from the minor leagues to Citi Field, the Mets are shaping their rebuilding program around pitching.  Even during a Met transition year like the 2013 season the performance of our starting pitchers is instructive.  Take a look.

chart 3

Even though current Met starters have completed only 2 games, when Met pitchers have held opposing teams to three or fewer runs this year, we have a commanding won/loss record (74%), fairly close to the heralded percentage of the ’69 Mets (80%).  The big difference is the percentage of games current Met pitchers have been able to limit the opposition to these number (47%).  The ’69 Mets held opposing teams to three or fewer runs in 102 of 162 games or 63% of all games played.

Admittedly, Gil Hodges used his bullpen in a very different way than Terry Collins or any current managers in the major leagues.  The ’69 Mets bullpen compiled 34 saves spread out over 5 relievers.  Ron Taylor led the group with 13 saves.  Tug McGraw followed with 12, but McGraw started a dozen games for the Mets in their championship year.  Cal Koonce racked up 7 saves and Nolan Ryan and Jack DiLauro both had a single save.  Five of the ’69 relievers shouldered heavy inning loads pitching 76 innings or more with McGraw, a cross-over starter, leading the pack with 100.1 innings.

As the Colorado series proved, the name of the rebuilding game for the Mets is solid pitching.  If the Mets could push the percentage of games they allow 3 or fewer runs to the 55% level, would they become contenders for a playoff spot next season.  I think so.  The higher that number goes, the more likely the Mets could play serious baseball in October.

Is it doable?  Time will tell.  But, with so many young arms in the Met system, more and more Met fans are beginning to appreciate the possibilities.  For the first time in a long time, we’re beginning to detect a buzz around Citi Field as Met fans look forward to finding out.

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June 18, 2013 Was A Turning Point For The New York Mets Tue, 25 Jun 2013 14:56:48 +0000 wheeler harvey

They say that every great run of success usually had its roots in a turning point. Looking at Mets history you can say we’ve had quite a few turning points – both good and bad.

Gil Hodges and Tom Seaver were certainly turning points for the Mets – when they went from lovable losers to a team to be reckoned with and one that shocked the world in 1969.

I always felt that the day we acquired Keith Hernandez was the turning point for what would be another Amazin’ run of success culminating in a remarkable 108 win season and our second World Championship.

On June 12, 2009, when second baseman Luis Castillo dropped that popup against the Yankees, it all began to go bad for the Mets. That was one of our “not-so-good” turning points, and one that has led to four straight losing seasons and possibly five.

Anyway, the more I think about it, the more I am beginning to feel that we’ve recently experienced another significant turning point…

Mark the date June 18, 2013 in your Mets journals…

That was the day that Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler helped the Mets sweep the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on what we now refer to as Super Tuesday.

That was the night that the Mets future was on full display. We saw an overpowering Matt Harvey strike out a career high 13 batters in the first game, and then Zack Wheeler made his MLB debut by tossing six shutout innings with seven strikeouts in the nightcap.

That was also the day that something dramatically changed in the Mets clubhouse. There was a wonderful metamorphosis taking place…

Suddenly, the entire team started to elevate their overall level of play. Their defense was crisper… They were scoring runs again… They were playing loose and having fun… Most of all, they were winning.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but maybe not… Maybe something clicked internally that day as if someone had finally and mercifully flipped that switch.

This team has been fun to watch again. They are far from perfect and there’s still plenty of work to do, but I sense a definite shift in the force. I’m seeing hope and optimism back on the upswing…

That tiny glimpse of the future we all saw on that fateful Tuesday, has become a game-changer for this franchise.

I could be dead wrong on this, but I don’t think so. There’s something happening with the Mets right now… And for a change, this feels good.

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Frank Robinson Still Swears Miracle Mets Scuffed Ball In Game 5 Of 1969 World Series Fri, 14 Jun 2013 15:57:47 +0000 gal-shea-seaver-8-jpg

“It’s always good planning to have a baseball in the dugout with shoe polish on it, just in case.”

That is the expression coined following the infamous Shoe Polish incident, when in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, Cleon Jones hit the deck to evade a Dave McNally pitch that skidded into the Mets dugout, only to be retrieved by Mets skipper Gil Hodges to reveal a smudge of shoe polish, awarding Jones first base and eventually leading to a Mets victory and clinching their first World Series title in franchise history.

The incident capped off one of most incredible World Series upsets in baseball history. The Miracle Mets, just months prior labeled the lovable losers of baseball, needed just five games to best Earl Weaver’s 109-win Baltimore Orioles and become champions.

I spoke to one of those mighty 1969 Orioles, last week at the MLB Draft regarding this controversial moment in Mets history; Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson, and he did not hesitate to speak his mind on the subject.

“It had to be [a trick],” said Robinson, amid applause after Bud Selig announced the selection of the Rangers thirtieth overall pick, Travis Demeritte roughly 100 feet away. “People forget the length of time that ball went into the dugout before Gil Hodges brought it out to show it to the umpire.

“That ball didn’t go into the dugout with black shoe polish on it, but it came out with black shoe polish on it,” He said.

Several different Met accounts have come out over the years including Ron Swaboda claiming that the pitch hit an open bag of balls, spilling identical baseballs all over the dugout, one of which Gil picked up that had a black mark on it. Of the most recent claims was Jerry Koosman, who in 2009 stated that Hodges instructed him to rub the ball on his shoe, however neither accounts put to rest whether the pitch actually hit Jones, a truth that will likely never be known for sure.


Although even if Jones wasn’t awarded first base in Game 5, Robinson doesn’t believe it would have made all that great of a difference in the outcome of the game or the series.

“The Mets deserved to win, they did what they had to to win,” said Robinson. “I still watch it on classic sports and I still don’t believe we lost.”

Like Robinson, many were in disarray at the fact that the lowly New York Mets, just seven years into existence, stood atop the baseball world. After their improbable comeback to beat out the Chicago Cubs for the division crown, they had an even greater upset of the Orioles and the ‘Bird’s Big Four’ in stunning fashion. Robinson recalls what he found most impressive of the Mets in that series.

“They got contributions from everybody, the little guys we used to call them, and they did what they had to do,” said Robinson almost begrudgingly. “They also had some great pitching.”

Despite his high praise of the team, it was clear that the Miracle Mets to this day are still not Robinson’s favorite subject as he brought the conversation of the Amazin’s to an abrupt close.

“That’s all I’ve got to say about ‘69.”

The legend of the 1969 Mets lives on to this day as one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the game’s history, who with the help of a little shoe-polished baseball, were able to put National League baseball in New York back on the map with their first World Series title.

1969 mets win world series

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There Goes Willie Mays, The Best There Ever Was: Say Hey Kid Turns 82 Tue, 07 May 2013 13:55:30 +0000 williemays-swing - Copy

A member of the SABR once said, “There are 499 ballplayers. And then there’s Willie Mays.”

It was way back in the summer of 1973. Camera Day. I was a few months shy of turning 8 years old. My dad nudged me closer to the railing along the third base line so no grown-ups would block my view. Mets players walked around the warning track, stopping every few feet to smile for the cameras. My dad clicked away on his little Kodak Instamatic. I was just feet away from my Mets. Something I still remember 40 years later.

Tug and Harry Parker rode around on the back of the Mets bullpen cart. Jerry Koosman, void of his cap, stopped within arm’s reach. Lanky Jon Matlack smiled broadly. Cleon Jone carried himself with swagger, looking every part the major leaguer. Rusty Staub carried a teddy bear. Then, an eerie hush, the calm before the storm, came over the crowd. The quietness gave way to a volcanic eruption of cheers and shouts. Carrying a baseball bat as if he was born with it in his hand came # 24.

As game time approached and my dad and I walked to our seats in Loge section 5 along first base, he leaned over and told to remember today. One day I would be able to tell my kids that I saw Willie Mays.

I was 7 years old. All I knew about this guy was that he had once played in New York a long time ago and made some important catch once.
When the topic comes up of who is the greatest to ever play the game, I immediately respond without hesitation: Willie Mays. Ruth didn’t have the speed, Williams didn’t have the glove, Cobb, although he played in the dead ball era, didn’t have the power. The Say Hey Kid didn’t just do it all. He did it better than anyone before or since.

Born May 6, 1931 in Westfield, Alabama, William Howard Mays was taught the game of baseball at age 5. His father, William Howard Taft, named after a US president, played in the Negro Leagues for the local iron plant. His mother was a talented basketball and track star. Willie had the genes.

Attending Fairfield Industrial High, Willie set school records in both basketball and football.

Upon graduating, Willie played for the Birmingham Black Barons. He caught the eye of Bud Maughn, a scout for the Boston Braves. Boston was interested in purchasing Mays. However, they dragged their feet and could not come to an agreement with the Barons. Had the Braves moved quicker, it’s likely that Willie would have been teammates with Hank Aaron.

Brooklyn was also interested in Mays, but by the time they got around to it, he’d already been signed by their crosstown rivals, the hated New York Giants.

There was no Roy Hobbs moment when Willie took the field in 1951. He didn’t knock the cover off the ball in his first AB. As a matter of fact, he went 0-for-his first 12. Then, his first hit came: A towering HR off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. Spahn later joked, “For the first sixty feet, it was a hell of a pitch.”

Willie hit 274-20-68 in 121 games and won the NL Rookie of the Year. It was Mays who was on deck later that season when Bobby Thomson hit ‘the shot heard round the world.’

willie mays catch

The Giants lost the Series in 6 to the Yankees. Mays, along with Monte Irvin and Hank Thomson, were the first all-African-American outfield in baseball history.

After only 127 AB’s the following year, Uncle Sam came calling. Willie was drafted into the Army. He would not return to the majors until 1954. He missed 266 games.

But when he did return in 1954, he returned with a bang. He won his first of 2 MVP’s, hitting a league best 345 along with 41 HR’s. The Giants crushed the heavily favored Indians in 4 straight. The Series is best remembered for Willie’s iconic catch off the bat of Vic Wertz. In what is possibly the most popular image in Baseball history, The Say Hey Kid thus elevated himself to mythical proportions. This was the start of a legend. Modest Willie stated years later, “I don’t compare ‘em. I just catch ‘em.”

It was the last World Series the Giants ever won in New York. The team would not win another until 2010.

That season Willie earned $12,500.

The Giants played 3 more years in NY and over that span, Willie averaged 316, compiled 122 HR’s, 551 hits, 112 XBH, knocked in 308. Oh, and also managed to steal 102 bases.

In 1957, he became a member of the 20-20-20 club. 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 HR’s. No player has done that since.

Willie Mays was not just a great ballplayer. He was fun, colorful and exciting. He had ‘a lot of little boy in him’ and that showed, both on and off the field. “I like to play happy,” he stated. “Baseball is a fun game. I love it.”

Willie was not only larger than life ON the field but off the field as well. He’d frequently hang out in Harlem, playing stick ball with neighborhood kids. When the Giants moved to San Francisco, he continued the tradition, playing in the sandlots with local kids. He truly was loved coast to coast.

Willie had no trouble winning the hearts of San Francisco fans. His first year out west he hit a career high 347. And although the Giants initially struggled in San Francisco, Willie continued putting up
Hall of Fame numbers.

On April 30, 1961, Mays hit 4 HR’s in a game. He was in the on-deck circle when the final out was recorded.

In 1962 the Giants won a tight pennant race and met the Yankees in the Fall Classic. The Giants lost in a heartbreaking 7 games. Willie hit just 250. He would not appear in another World Series until 1973.

July 2, 1963 is what many claim to be the best baseball game ever played. Two future Hall of Famers, Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn, dueled it out. For 16 innings the game was scoreless. It was like a heavyweight fight between two warriors who refused to go down. In the 16th inning, it was Willie Mays who delivered the knockout blow, hitting a HR and giving SF a 1-0 win.

In turn, this added yet another historical fact to the lore of Mays. He is the only player to hit a HR in every inning, 1 thru 16.

It was 1964. Willie’s friend and teammate Bobby Bonds welcomed a son into the world and named him Barry. He asked Willie to be the newborn’s Godfather.

August 22, 1965 is widely regarded as one of the ugliest days in Baseball history. The Giants and Dodgers were embroiled in a tight pennant race. Tension was high, tempers were short. Things boiled over. Juan Marichal hit Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro in the head with a bat. And then all hell broke loose. Red Sox/Yankees had nothing on this. This was not the usual bench clearing brawl where a couple guys tousle and everyone else stands around. This was an all-out war that went on for 14 minutes. Players were bloodied, uniforms shredded. It was Willie along with Sandy Koufax who restored order. Just a few years ago, Marichal stated, “Had Willie and Koufax not ended that, we’d probably still be going at it today.”

The following year, 1965, Willie surpassed another historic milestone. He hit his 500th HR, a blast off of Don Nottebart. When he returned to the dugout he was met by now teammate Warren Spahn. 13 years earlier it was Spahn who gave up Willie’s very first HR. The veteran LHP asked him, “Was it anything like the same feeling?” Willie responded, “Exactly the same feeling. Same pitch, too.”

Shortly after Jerry Koosman got Orioles second baseman Davey Johnson to fly out to left in October 69 and the Mets proved miracles can come true, The Sporting News named Willie Mays ‘The Player of the Decade.’

By early 1972, age was catching up to The Say Hey Kid. The Giants were struggling financially. Owner Horace Stoneham regrettably advised the Giant legend that he could not afford to offer Willie any type of position or financial reward upon his retirement. Enter the Mets.

willie-mays - CopyMets owner Joan Payson had been a minority shareholder for the New York Giants. In the late 50’s, she fought hard to keep them in New York. Payson watched her beloved Giants move 3000 miles away, longing for the day when her adored and cherished Willie Mays would somehow return to New York. That opportunity presented itself now.

Payson saw the chance, fought hard to get Willie back to New York and offered him a coaching position upon retirement. In early May the Mets sent Charlie Williams and $50,000 to Stoneham. The Say Hey Kid was back in New York, just 10 miles away from where the Polo Grounds once stood. And where the legend of Willie Mays was born.

It was a rainy Sunday, May 14, when Willie wore “NY” on his cap for the first time in fifteen years. In the fifth inning of his debut game, Willie, as always, rose to the occasion. He hit a HR that put the Mets ahead to stay. The losing team was, yes, the Giants.

August 17th of the following season, 1973, Mays hit a solo HR off Reds starter Don Gullett. It was # 660, the final one of his illustrious career.

The Mets shocked baseball once again, coming back from the dead and from last place to find themselves battling the A’s in the World Series. At age 42, Willie became the oldest player to appear in the Fall Classic. He got the Mets first hit in the World Series.

Willie only had 7 AB’s against Oakland. He got 2 hits, including the game winner in the 12 inning Game 2. In spite of Willie’s hit tying up the Series, it was a heartbreaking day for fans of the game. And for fans of Willie. He misplayed a routine fly ball, losing it in the glare of the northern California sunlight. Just across the bay from where Willie established himself as the best fielding CF-er of all time, he dropped a fly ball hit directly to him. After the game, he commented, “Growing old is just a helpless hurt.”

In 1979, William Howard Mays was enshrined in Baseball immortality. He was elected to the Hall of Fame with 95% of the vote. Amazingly, 23 sportswriters did not include Mays on their ballot. Caustic New York columnist Dick Young, never at a loss for biting sarcasm, stated, “If Jesus Christ were to show up with his old glove, some guys wouldn’t vote for him. He dropped the cross three times, didn’t he?”

Willie was at or near the top of every offensive category at the time of his retirement. And in spite of the steroid era, smaller stadiums and weaker pitching staffs, he remains a “giant” among the greats: 660 Home Runs (4th), 1903 RBI’s (10th), 3283 hits (11th), 2062 runs (7th), 10881 at-bats, 557 slugging (19th now but 10th at retirement). All this plus a lifetime batting average of 302 and oh yea, 338 Steals, a 77% success rate on the base paths.

As impressive as these stats were and still are today, keep in mind Willie played the bulk of his career in the 1960’s, a decade dominated by pitching and cavernous stadiums.

He was a 2 time MVP winner (1954, 1965). He won a record 12 Gold Gloves for CF, a remarkable feat considering Willie had 6 years under his belt before the award was even created. And the fact that he played in the swirling unpredictable winds of Candlestick Park. His 24 All-Star games tie him for the most mid-summer classics with Stan Musial. In 1999, Mays was chosen as #2 on the Greatest Players of the 20th century, the only living member. He holds the record for 13 straight years playing 150+ games.

In addition to his accolades, Willie, usually bashful, was honest and forthright. He knew he was good. And so did we. Some of his quotes:

“They throw the ball, I hit the ball. They hit the ball. I catch the ball.” “When I’m not hitting, I don’t hit nobody. But when I am, I can hit anybody.” “The game was easy for me.” When asked who he thinks was the best ball player he ever saw, Willie replied with a broad smile. “I think I was the best I ever saw play.”

As much as fans loved seeing him play, he was equally respected and admired by his peers and contemporaries.

Ted Williams: “They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays.”

Ted Kluszewski: “I’m not sure what charisma is but I get the feeling it’s Willie Mays.”

Mays’ manager Leo Durocher: “He can hit. He can run. He can field. If he could cook, I’d marry him.”

Reggie Jackson: “You used to think if you were winning 5-0 somehow Mays would find a way to hit a 5 run HR.”

Opposing manager Gil Hodges: “I can’t tell my batters not to hit it to him. Wherever they hit it, he’s there anyway.”

It’s been 4 decades since this little scrawny 7 year-old kid with a front tooth missing was nudged closer to the railing at Shea on Camera Day 1973, trying to see past all the tall grown-ups. It’s been 4 decades since my dad told me to remember the day I saw Willie Mays on a Baseball field. It’s been 4 decades and this little kid is now in his late 40’s. And yes dad, I still remember.

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The MMO Grind: Terry Collins Is Safe At Home, But His Foot Missed The Plate Sat, 04 May 2013 13:55:20 +0000 terry collinsAs of now, Terry Collins’ job is safe and deservedly so. Based on getting the most out of what he has been given and basic fairness, there’s nothing justifying Collins’ job being in question.

However, fairness is irrelevant in sports. A manager’s job security always becomes an issue when he has lame duck contractual status and his team has lost six straight games.Losing streaks get everybody edgy, with questions directed to management, in this case, GM Sandy Alderson, who was asked the inevitable by The New York Post.

“That’s not something that has entered my mind or any mind within the organization,’’ Alderson said. “Has it entered the minds of others in the media or what have you? Yes.’’

Well, of course it has. It’s been on the back burner since pitchers-and-catchers in February. And, I don’t think for a second it hasn’t crossed Alderson’s mind, either.

Walter Alston used to work on one-year contracts, but he was Walter Alston and his Dodgers teams were perennial winners. They were an organization that believed in consistency. They were the exception to the rule.

By contrast, Collins manages the Mets, a franchise that last went to the World Series in 2000. Thirteen years later, and they are on their fifth manager. That’s not even three years each, and that’s no stability. While this trend doesn’t suggest good things for Collins, it might work in his favor for at least this summer. If the Mets aren’t going anywhere, there’s no reason to make a change and have owner Fred Wilpon pay two managers.

Bobby Valentine managed that World Series team, but frequently clashed with then GM Steve Phillips – one of four since 2000 – and with his personality wore out his welcome. Art Howe was the polar opposite of Valentine, and that didn’t work, either. I thought Willie Randolph had a chance, but he was hamstrung from the beginning when he wasn’t given full reign to hire his coaches and had to deal with clubhouse spyTony Bernazard, who usurped his authority. Jerry Manuel was overmatched, but that’s what you get when you sack a manager after midnight.

Now there’s Collins, who was brought in by Alderson to clean up the mess. However, Alderson doesn’t have free economic authority to spend, and consequently Collins doesn’t have the pieces. He’s basically a custodian; here to keep things clean.

The pieces he’s been given don’t fit, but here’s the rub, Collins is judged on what he does with those pieces, much like on those cooking shows where the contestants have to make something out of a basket of random ingredients.

“He came into the season without a contract for next year and may not have one for next year through this season,’’ said Alderson, meaning don’t expect an in-season extension. “But as I’ve told him and said before: This isn’t just about wins and losses. It’s about how we approach the game and fully taking into account what he has to work with.

“We talk from time to time and the [job status] subject comes up. I’m not trying to avoid the topic. It’s status quo. You go through a tough week and people like to immediately jump to conclusions and start discussing a doomsday scenario. A good first week isn’t necessarily any more of an indication than a bad fourth week.’’

So, there you have it: Collins is the care taker for 2013.

Alderson wants to know more if his roster can work and play nice with each other rather than if it has any talent. He’s telling us – again – that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but how you play the game.

Unfortunately, they keep score and results do matter. Major League Baseball isn’t new wave, liberal physical education where everybody gets a prize for showing up.

Winning does matter on this level. Teams pay big money to get players capable of winning and fans pay big money to watch those players.

If the losing continues, attendance will eventually drop as it has every year since Citi Field opened. But, the players will get their money. And, Collins could be out of a job. Not fair, but that’s how they play the game. It is also something Alderson needs to think about concerning his own job status.

Thoughts from Joe D.

While I don’t think any manager can get more out of this team than Terry Collins is — and that is mostly because he’s been dealt a rotten hand by GM Sandy Alderson — I see too many flaws in Collins for me to defend him.

As an in-game strategist I disagree with more than half of the decisions he makes. No manager is perfect, but Collins makes too many bad decisions, many of which have negatively impacted the results of a game.

I thought it was a bad idea to let Collins play this season out as a lame-duck manager. Any of my regular readers know that. I wasn’t worried as much about his status becoming a distraction as much as I was concerned over the impact it would have on Collins as the manager and his decision-making process.

He’s making far too many bad decisions now than at any other time since taking over for Jerry Manuel. I think it’s a result of managing with a monkey on your back or your boss constantly hovering over your shoulder.

I don’t believe Sandy Alderson wants Terry back and that’s fine by me. But it should have been delineated that way before the season began. They could have handled it differently and just announce that this would be Terry’s last season as manager before assuming a new role in the front office. That would have made more sense, avoided all the constant questions, and let Tery and the players breathe a little easier throughout the season.

I got the sense from something David Wright said last week, that he and the team need to perform well because they like Terry and don’t want to let him down. ERRRRRRGGGHHHH. Wrong answer.

Collins has had to manage a team that is unworthy of being called a big market team and attendance has never been worse than this recent three-year run. As bad as the results have been, I doubt Gil Hodges or Davey Johnson could have done better with the same bad outfield, bullpen and backend of the rotation. This isn’t Terry’s mess, it’s Sandy’s mess – and he should be the one responsible for any of the bad results as well as cleaning it up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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