Mets Merized Online » Jon Matlack http://metsmerizedonline.com Sat, 21 Jan 2017 02:49:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.17 Familia Falters, But Mets Stand Their Ground In Wild Card Hunt http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/09/familia-falters-but-mets-stand-their-ground-in-wild-card-hunt.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/09/familia-falters-but-mets-stand-their-ground-in-wild-card-hunt.html/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 10:18:29 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=222867 jeurys familia

Daniel Murphy started a ninth inning rally for the Nationals, but destiny was on the barrel of rookie T.J. Rivera’s bat, as he launched a tie breaking solo shot in the top of the 10th to keep the Mets in sole possession of the second wild card spot.

The native New Yorker accounted for three of the Mets four runs and since being summoned from Sin City, the Pacific Coast League Batting Champion is hitting a team high .333.

Noah Syndergaard, sporting an impressive 1.06 in his last five starts, got robbed of his 14th win when Jeurys Familia unraveled in the bottom of the ninth.  Murphy, the bane of Terry Collins’ ball club, beat out a sharp single to Asdrubal Cabrera, scoring on a base hit by Anthony Rendon.

After Jose Reyes botched a throw on Bryce Harper’s ground ball, Familia failed to corral a Wilson Ramos comebacker, which brought Rendon home with the tying run.   Pinch hitter Clint Robinson then laced a hard liner to Rivera at second base, allowing the Mets to double up Ramos at first to send the game into overtime.

In the top of the 10th, Fernando Salas recorded the first two outs before surrendering a bloop single to Jayson Werth, forcing Collins to make an emergency call to the bullpen. Jerry Blevins, facing Daniel Murphy, ran the count to 3-2, then fittingly, struck him out on a wicked breaking pitch.

It’s a shame that Syndergaard didn’t secure the well-deserved victory after seven solid innings of one-run four-hit ball.  But his 10 strikeouts brought him to 205 for the season, making him the fifth Mets pitcher to surpass 200 by the age of 24 or younger.  Not too bad of a consolation prize to become a member of a club that includes Jon Matlack, Sid Fernandez, Dwight Gooden and Tom “Terrific” Seaver.

The Mets have won eight of their last 10 and are 17-6 over their last 23 games. All in all, the Mets seized a much needed win (they’re all much needed wins now, right?) and stood their ground in the wild card standings despite a St. Louis Cardinals victory.

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Where Are They Now? Catching Up With Jon Matlack http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/where-are-they-now-catching-up-with-jon-matlack.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/03/where-are-they-now-catching-up-with-jon-matlack.html/#comments Thu, 10 Mar 2016 14:00:46 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=207054 jon matlack

Baseball players tend to disappear after retirement. Without the spotlight of national media, or admiration of thousands of fans, they fade back into mainstream society. They leave only memories, and their absence from the game makes it easy to forget that these guys we watched on TV are still real people. My mission is to make fans remember these forgotten players by seeking them out and talking to them in our quest to answer our burning question, “Where are they now?”

Today I chatted with former Mets pitcher Jon Matlack about his fine career, what it was like pitching alongside Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, what he’s doing now, and his thoughts about the Mets’ young aces today.

Here’s the podcast, and as always, I appreciate your comments.

Noah: So you pitched for the Mets for seven years, made a World Series and several All-Star appearances. Looking back on it all, what was your finest moment while on the team?

Jon: Oh boy, I don’t know how you pick one, there were several that were qualified to be in that realm. I guess I would say game two of the championship series against Cincinnati would probably be a highlight.

Noah: Speaking of that game, you shutout the Big Red Machine on two hits. You were a young pitcher then who had been roughed up by them twice earlier in the season. Were you at all nervous going into that game?

Jon: Probably more like scared to death. I had charted Seaver’s game the day before where we were beaten 2-1 on two solo home runs, one by (Johnny) Bench, one by (Pete) Rose. Tommy struck out 14 or 15 guys and just did a phenomenal job. And I’m looking at that chart thinking “what in the world have I got to do to beat these guys?”

Noah: Who were you most scared to face?

Jon: Well the irony was the typical fastball hitters weren’t the guys that I was most afraid of. It was probably Dave Concepcion and Tony Perez that I was a little leery of because of their ability to hit the breaking ball, especially the breaking ball that wasn’t a really good one.

Noah: And how did you maintain your composure?

Jon: I don’t know. I was just trying to do the best I could do to help us win a ball game. You get locked in on what you’re trying to do, stay ahead of the hitters and throw a lot of strikes. Keep the first guy off base. You get so involved with the job at hand that you don’t necessarily think about pressure and what else is going on around you.

Noah: As I mentioned earlier, you played on the Mets for seven years. Played alongside some great guys. Played under some really legendary managers. Can you pinpoint any one of them that shaped you as a player or as an individual?

Jon: Well I think Gil)Hodges, not because I played for such a long time under him as much as the type of individual he was and the atmosphere that he created in the clubhouse and in the dugout. Because I really didn’t spend much time there, I made the club full time in the spring that he died. And then beyond that, Yogi was most influential for completely different reasons. He was the type of manager that just said “here’s the bats and balls boys, go do your thing and let’s win some ball games.”

Noah: What was the craziest thing he ever said to you?

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Jon: I don’t know if there was anything particularly crazy, but I do remember having a difficult time understanding him when he came to the mound. During games for mound visits, and I finally asked Seaver, “How do you handle him?” And he said it’s really easy. “Whenever he’s done talking, if he doesn’t put his hand out, you say okay and he’ll go back to the dugout. If he puts his hand out, you put the ball in it and you go back to the dugout.” That’s about as basic as it gets. (laughs) It was pretty easy.

Noah: In 1973, you struck out 205 batters, which was a Mets record for a left-hander that stood for 35 years. How did you go about attacking hitters and finishing them off?

Jon: I don’t know if there was anything different from one year to the next. Except when I had my contract negotiation the previous year, one of the things the club pointed out to me was that they felt I didn’t strike out enough guys. So it became an emphasis for me to try and do that more so whenever I was in a situation where the strikeout was possible, I tried to pay more attention to how to get it. (My approach to) each hitter would have been different, how they approached an at bat would have given me some information as to what weapon to use best against them.

Noah: So you had a successful career overall, a career ERA of 3.18, 318 quality starts, however, you were only one game over .500 for your career record. Do you regret not having more opportunities to win, considering how well you pitched?

Jon: Well I think that the opportunities were there, I just would have had to have been better. In those circumstances, it’s just the way that the chips fell. My job, as I looked at it, was to keep our club in the game for as long as I was in the ballgame. That to me was (whether we were) ahead, tied, possibly one or two down, and that was me doing my job. I felt that I did that for the largest percentage of the time. So the win loss thing wasn’t something that I was really centered on as much as I wanted us to have a chance to win every time I took the field.

Noah: Switching gears now, what have you done since moving on from professional baseball, and as the title of the series says, where are you now?

Jon: Well now I am in River Ranch, Florida in a fifth wheel trailer, staying out of the snow of upstate New York where I live.

Noah: I totally sympathize with that up here in Syracuse.

Jon: (Laughs) As far as what I’ve done, when I stopped playing, I was in commercial real estate and raising horses for four or five years. I decided I wanted to get back into coaching and in 1988 started back as a stationary coach for the Padres. After a couple years with them, I went to the White Sox for a couple years, all in the minor leagues. Then back to the Padres, in 1996 I was the Tigers’ major league pitching coach. I didn’t make it the whole year, that September I got fired, but they hired me to be the minor league pitching coordinator and I did that for 16 years. Again, the ax fell, I went to Houston and did the same job for one more year, and since then, I’ve been out. From 2012 on, I have been a retired character.

Noah: Now the 2016 Mets were very similar to the 1973 Mets, just in the way that they’re built around strong young pitching. So do you see any similarities between the Mets young aces today and your rotation mates of Seaver and Koosman in 1973?

Jon: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of talent similarities, but the way the game is played is different. When you look at the six potential starters they have -Wheeler wasn’t in there because of injury- but you got deGrom, Harvey, Matz, and Syndergaard. Wheeler’s going to be back this year as far as I know and Colon’s still in the mix as a spot starter, a double header guy, or however they choose to use him. That’s a pretty strong rotation. The thing that stood out to me watching the series was the fact that it seemed like the staff in general tried to outstuff the opposition as opposed to pitch to what they saw and exploit a weakness. I don’t think they did nearly as well as they could have had they maybe used some of the aggressiveness of the Kansas City hitters against them.

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Noah: So how are these guys today different from you, Seaver, and Koosman?

Jon: In our day, we were given information about the opposition and then told “go use it how you want to and keep us in the ballgame, give us a chance to win.” And that was pretty much what an advance scouting report was all about. In today’s game -and I can’t say that the Mets do this exactly, but a lot of clubs do- they’re pretty much given a chart or a plan to follow. “This is how you pitch this guy, do not throw this guy a first pitch fastball…” They’ve got it down to if it’s 2:15 on a Tuesday afternoon and the sun is shining, you throw a breaking ball to so and so, the odds are really good at getting a ground ball. The game has become more computerized -fantasy baseball on the field- if you will, and I think it takes a lot out of the personality and the player’s ability to trust their gut out of it.

Noah: It’s been well documented today that the Mets pitchers are very competitive with each other. Did you have that same dynamic with Seaver and Koosman?

Jon: Absolutely. We had contests of various types going on all year long. It usually had to do with somebody buying dinner for the other two. Ironically, it all sort of went around. Koosy would win once in a while, Tommy once in a while, and me once in a while.

Noah: And specifically, what were those competitions?

Jon: Some of them had to do with who would be the first guy to not give the team a chance to win or put us in a spot where we would lose. Which guy would have the best batting average for the month, who had more base hits or an extra base hit. Something like that, it was all competitive driven.

Noah: So is there any one Mets pitcher today that you see some of yourself in?

Jon: There’s been a lot of comparisons drawn between me and Steven Matz. Whether or not they really hold to be true, I can’t tell you. From looking at him, he seems to have similar stuff, but what makes the difference to me is how you use that stuff, your ability to deal with adversity, your ability to feel the right decision at the right time, and a fearless approach to whatever adversary you may be facing. And I can’t tell you without having a sit down or being closer to him, whether he possesses any of that stuff.

Noah: Now if you could give any message to Mets fans, what would it be?

Jon: Oh man… Thanks for a great time when I was there. Mets fans are known to be tough, but I think if you give them an honest effort and give them the time of day -which I tried to most of the time- they’ll treat you real fairly, and that’s the way I felt.

Noah: And lastly, you gave up Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th hit. Can you just take me through that at-bat? And at the time were you really aware of the gravity of the situation?

Jon: I had no knowledge whatsoever that it was his 3,000th hit. I was just a young rookie trying to win another ball game, and having a tough day. We were behind, I think I ended up losing the game five to nothing. I was making a pitch that I was upset about, it was a breaking ball and I was trying to get it to the outside corner. When it left my hand, I was pretty certain it was going to be a ball so I was upset from that point, that dammit, that was a ball that was supposed to be a strike. He managed to keep his hands back, which he generally did very well, took that great big stride he was known for, and reached out across the plate and laced it into left center field for a double. I’m like damn, that’s pretty good hitting. He managed to hit a ball that’s not even a strike. But now the place erupts, there were not a whole lot of people there, but it gets very loud and I’m thinking it’s a double what’s the deal? They were giving him the ball at second base and at that point I noticed the scoreboard flashing 3000. That’s the first inclination that I had that it was a momentous occasion for Clemente.

Noah: Thanks so much for your time Jon.  Really appreciate it.

Jon:  No problem.  Have a good one.

Noah:  That does it for us on Where Are They Now, I’m Noah Wolfe.  Check back in a few days to hear what a member of the Miracle Mets had to say about that amazin’ year and his life today.

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Jon Matlack, the Mets’ Underrated Lefty http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/04/jon-matlack-the-mets-underrated-lefty.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/04/jon-matlack-the-mets-underrated-lefty.html/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 15:27:22 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=76547 matlack

Jon Matlack’s career record of 125-126 may be as mediocre as you can get, but Matlack was a much, much better than average major league pitcher. In fact, he was one of the very finest lefthanded pitchers ever developed by the Mets’ organization.

His other career marks – a 3.18 lifetime ERA (better than Steve Carlton, who was considered the best lefty of his generation), 97 complete games, and 30 shutouts attest to the fact that he was a workhorse, who when he was on, was as good as anyone.

Matlack holds several important distinctions as a Met, although not necessarily statistical ones. To begin with, he was the Mets’ very first GOOD first round amateur draft pick.

In ’65 with the second pick, the Mets selected the forgettable Les Rohr. With the first pick in ’66, they opted for Steve Chilcott over Reggie Jackson and we all know how that turned out.

In 1967, having advanced to ninth place the previous season, they didn’t get to pick until the #4 slot. The first three picks were Ron Blomberg, Terry Hughes, and Mike Garman. The Mets, up next, chose Jon Matlack, a 6-foot-3 lefthanded pitcher out of high school in West Chester, PA.

Certainly you could make a case that later first round picks like John Mayberry and Ted Simmons turned out better, but there’s no doubt that the Mets’ selction of Matlack was better than the three choices that preceded him that year and a whole lot better than most of the Mets’ #1′s through the years.

Next, Matlack was the first of the Mets’ hot young pitching prospects to be brought along slowly, getting three full seasons in AAA before being brought up for a cup of coffee in 1971. Prior to his extended hitch in AAA, in his first full year in the minors, 1968, Matlack had a superb year, going 13-6 2.76 with 188 strikeouts in 173 innings for Class A Raleigh-Durham.

Considering how the likes of Les Rohr, Dennis Musgraves, Ron Locke, Tug McGraw, Grover Powell, Tom Seaver, et al were force-fed to the big leagues based on single year minor league performances, you would have almost expected Matlack to be given a shot at the Mets’ rotation in 1969 or 1970 at the latest, but starting pitching was the Mets’ strong suit and that gave the organization the luxury of nurturing Matlack until he was unquestionably big-league ready. And in 1972, he certainly was, going 15-10 2.32 with the Mets, and winning the National League Rookie Of The Year Award.

Matlack was a solid starter for the Mets for six years, although he never really surpassed his rookie season, so he could be regarded as something of a disappointment i.e. he never became Tom Seaver or Jerry Koosman.

Matlack was a three-time All-Star for the Mets and even shared MVP honors in the 1975 game with Bill Madlock.

He was eventually dealt away to Texas prior to the 1978 season in a bizarre 4-team trade involving a lot of big name players. I won’t go into the details here, but I’ve always wondered how that one came about.

Matlack pitched decently for the Rangers, but was out of baseball before he turned 34. In 1989, at the age of 39, Matlack resurfaced in the late, lamented Senior Professional Baseball Association where he had a solid 10-2 record, making him one of the few well-known players in the league to deliver more than “name value”.

I’ll always remember him as a true quality starter who unfortunately pitched on too many Mets’ teams that couldn’t score enough runs to make a pitcher with a 3.00 ERA a winner.

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Mets’ Prospects of The Early Years: Dick Selma, RHP http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/mets-prospects-of-the-early-years-dick-selma-rhp.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/mets-prospects-of-the-early-years-dick-selma-rhp.html/#comments Sat, 01 Feb 2014 14:16:17 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=146772 $_1

Dick Selma was probably considered the Mets’ top pitching prospect from the day he signed a $20,000 bonus contract in early 1963. The small (5’11, 160 lbs.) but hard-throwing righthander out of Fresno, California was assigned to Salinas of the California League in 1963 where he led the league in strikeouts and ERA and was named the league’s top rookie and best pitching prospect.

Selma was expected to be the future ace of the staff and after a couple of so-so years in the higher minors, burst onto the major league scene in 1965 with a shutout over the Braves in his second major league start in which he struck out 13, then a Mets record. His fastball was always impressive but his control was inconsistent and his stamina was questionable so the Mets never could quite decide whether he’d be better as a starter or reliever.

In 1968, he got off to a 6-0 start then slumped to finish at 9-10 but with an impressive ERA of 2.75 with 3 shutouts. The Mets decided to put Selma into the expansion draft where he was chosen by the Padres for whom he was the Opening Day starter and winner in 1969. By then, the Mets had Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, and Ryan with Les Rohr and Jon Matlack among their top pitching prospects, so you could say the loss of Selma wasn’t significant. Still, there were probably players the Mets protected that would never achieve what Selma already had and would continue to do at the major league level.

Later in 1969, the Padres traded Selma to the Cubs where he again both started and relieved and also took on the role of unofficial bullpen cheerleader and general rabble-rouser for the Cubs’ faithful. In ‘69, of course, this made him a prime enemy of the Mets and their fans, but we all know how that turned out, so there were few hard feelings toward Selma once the season ended. That winter, Selma was on the move again, going to the Phillies in a deal for Johnny Callison. Selma had 22 saves for the Phillies in 1970, but it was all downhill for him after that.

So, you could say Selma had a decent major league career, maybe not what you would expect from a so-called premium prospect, but still better than many. An interesting footnote about Selma is that he was one year ahead of Tom Seaver both in High School and at Fresno City College. Selma was unquestionably regarded as the better prospect although Dick liked and respected Tom and supposedly put in a good word for him when the Mets were considering putting their name in the special lottery for Seaver. I find it hard to believe that Mets’ management would have given much weight to Dick’s recommendation if they weren’t already going to make a play for Seaver, but we can add it to Selma’s positive resume as a Met.

Dick Selma passed away on August 29, 2001.

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Featured Post: Will 1967 Repeat Itself In 2014 For The Mets? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/01/featured-post-will-1967-repeat-itself-in-2014-for-the-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/01/featured-post-will-1967-repeat-itself-in-2014-for-the-mets.html/#comments Mon, 06 Jan 2014 11:39:28 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=138668 tim foli

To even the casual observer, it would appear that building a productive farm system in baseball is undertaken with the same predictive science and art as trying to pick the winning lottery ticket before scratching off the numbers. Lack of talent, career altering injuries, failure to translate potential, bad luck — the rise to the big leagues, never mind achieving stardom, is statistically akin to a crap shoot.

The Yankees went nearly 30 years before drafting a starting pitcher in the first round who ever pitched an inning for them in the majors. Then again, going all the way back to buying or trading for established players from their major league ‘farm team’, the Kansas City A’s, to unchecked free agent spending since, the Yankees prefer to gamble their money on major league proven talent.

The top ten Mets 1st round draft picks of all time is embarrassingly thin and uninspiring after Gooden, Strawberry, Matlack, and Wright. Not sure how much more damming odds have to be, but the mention of the name Tim Foli (photo right) in any team’s top ten best draft picks of all time should forever provide a cautionary guidepost for Mets fans when the predictability of drafts and the potential of high ceiling prospects is discussed. The Mets 1st round blunders include the infamous Steve Chilcott (Reggie Jackson went next), Billy Beane, Kirk Presley, and more recently, Lastings Milledge, who didn’t last very long at all.

Conversely, every player in America that showed any promise was drafted before teams finally picked Don Mattingly and Mike Piazza, who were given zero chance of reaching the big show, never mind having great careers. In Piazza’s case, it was a favor to his godfather, Tommy Lasorda. I guess none of the scouts thought Ted Williams, who rightly predicted stardom for Piazza when he was only in high school, knew anything about hitting baseballs.

Here’s the intractable beauty of baseball, though. All sports, for that matter. Fans are hardly deterred by cold, hard, logical facts and data that may form counter points to the unbridled optimism they unilaterally bestow on the next crop of top prospects coming out of their team’s farm system. Wild emotion rules the day when it comes to high ceiling, untested, unproven prospects. Yes, one imagines, even for Steve Chilcott in his day. But for every Pete Rose or Bob Gibson, there are a thousand Gregg Jefferies, a million Bill Pulsiphers. Ten bad games pitched in the big leagues, or a hundred lousy at bats, and the anointed are quickly dethroned, and a fresh group of untested royalty take their places. See how the applause meter has already begun to impatiently drift to the wrong side with Flores and d’Arnaud.

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Rarely are the baseball gods as merciful as they were for the Mets in 1967. Not six years into their existence, after a run of historic failure, the Mets had Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Jon Matlack, Tug McGraw, Ed Figueroa and Gary Gentry under team control, either in the majors or minors. Two of them would, of course, make the Hall Of Fame, and the rest had strong major league careers (not always with the Mets). In 1969, the majority of this group would help the Mets stun the baseball world, and forever stamp the word ‘miracle’ into their collective lexicon. Have the tides again turned in 2014? This year the Mets have Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, Jenrry Mejia, & Jeurys Familia under team control in the majors or minors. Sound familiar? Even the most pessimistic amongst Mets fans much concede that the comparisons are far more than wishful thinking. The Mets have stockpiled an incredibly exciting group of young pitching, that is poised to change the fortunes of the franchise — perhaps for the next decade.

Which is not to say that this group of talented young Mets will all succeed and be as productive in the major leagues like their 1967 predecessors. That now appears to be as statistically improbable as all of them failing. Unfortunately, trading one or more away for proven talent mitigates none of the risk, as it didn’t in the ill-advised Nolan Ryan trade. But here’s the thing: if only two or three of these prospects produce as expected, well, we know how it turned out in 1969.

In ten years or so, will Mets fans lament the collective failures of this group, like we did the Generation K trio in the 1990′s? Or will 1967 repeat itself in 2014, as some of these players continue to ascend to varying degrees of greatness, eventually becoming the foundation for another World Championship team?

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Reggie Jackson Says Mets Decision Not To Draft Him Was Based On Race http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/10/reggie-jackson-says-mets-decision-not-to-draft-him-was-based-on-race.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/10/reggie-jackson-says-mets-decision-not-to-draft-him-was-based-on-race.html/#comments Mon, 07 Oct 2013 15:37:34 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=130820 reggie jackson a'sLooks like Reggie Jackson and his soon to be released auto-biography will be hitting the ground running as the Hall of Famer leaves no stones uncovered as he seeks to dispel some of the bad raps against him through his career as a player.

The New York Post shared an exclusive excerpt from the book in which Jackson accuses the Mets of racism for opting to select Steve Chilcott instead of him with the first pick in the 1966 MLB Draft.

Arizona State standout Reggie Jackson was considered the best amateur ballplayer in the country heading into the 1966 Major League Baseball draft. The team picking first that year was the lowly, awful New York Mets.

Jackson recalls how his coach at Arizona State, Bobby Winkles, broke the bad news.

“A day or two before the draft, Bobby Winkles sat me down and told me, ‘You’re probably not gonna be the No. 1 pick. You’re dating a Mexican girl, and the Mets think you will be a problem,’ ” Jackson writes. “ ‘They think you’ll be a social problem because you are dating out of your race.’ ”

Jackson was especially baffled because he’s part Hispanic — his grandmother is from Puerto Rico and his middle name is Martinez. But that didn’t matter, even to the perennial cellar-dwelling Mets.

“No, you’re colored, and they don’t want that,” Winkles said.

Jackson would get even of course in 1973, when the Oakland A’s beat the Mets in the World Series that season – Jackson would be named the World Series MVP.

Here’s some more from the Post article:

He blamed the Mets’ infamous draft-day decision on Bob Scheffing, the team’s director of player development. According to Jackson, he was also the guy who would later trade Nolan Ryan. But Scheffing tried to pass the blame on to Casey Stengel, who was scouting for the team at the time.

“I know I never saw Casey Stengel when I was being scouted,” writes Jackson. “And how could you be in a ballpark and not know if Casey Stengel was there?”

Jackson wishes he could have been directly inspired by Mets’ veterans and managers of that era, including the late Gil Hodges, whose team won the 1969 World Series, and Yogi Berra, who managed the overachieving 1973 squad. “Unlike Billy Martin, Yogi didn’t need to be the star all the time,” he notes. “He already was the star.”

His desire to have been a Met comes off as almost romantic. “I think about that sometimes. I would’ve been coming up just as that team was finally improving. They had all those great arms: Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Nolan Ryan, Tug McGraw. Oh boy!”

Safe to assume that the Mets may have had a dynasty run had they selected Jackson over Chilcott… But then again, who knows?

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Old Time Mets: Remembering Ray Sadecki http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/05/old-time-mets-remembering-ray-sadecki.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/05/old-time-mets-remembering-ray-sadecki.html/#comments Wed, 01 May 2013 05:02:54 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=115683 Ray_SadeckiAnyone out there remember Ray Sadecki? He was a starter/reliever for the Mets from 1970-1974 and was the kind of pitcher the Mets could actually use right now because of his effectiveness in that role.

They could have also used Sadecki in 2007 or 2008, which is when I chose his name on the LoHud blog when John Delcos was running the site before Howard Megdal. Those two seasons will always be remembered for how we collapsed and needed to rely upon the likes of Brian Lawrence getting starts and Aaron Heilman and his cohorts blowing game after game in the bullpen.

Tonight Jeremy Hefner delivered a brilliant performance and needed the bullpen to preserve his shutout heading into the ninth. Unfortunately, things unravelled and his solid start went into the loss column.

This wasn’t the first time that Hefner was let down by his bullpen. Usually, the kid is done after five or six innings and he’s had to get 3-4 innings out of his pen. It was the perfect assignment for a true longman, but alas the Mets don’t have a true longman. In fact the Mets have not had one since Darren Oliver in 2006.

Now back to Ray. He was signed as a 19 year old bonus baby by the Cardinals in 1959 and won 20 games for them during their 1964 championship season.

In 1965, Sadecki’s record plummeted to 6–15 and his earned run average skyrocketed to 5.21. On May 8, 1966 he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Orlando Cepeda. In 1967 he went 12–6 with a career-best 2.78 ERA and he followed that up with another solid campaign 1968 when he posted a 2.91 ERA but with a 12–18 record, the 18 losses tying him with Claude Osteen for the the most losses in the majors.

After a 5–8 record as a spot starter in 1969, Ray Sadecki was again traded, this time to the New York Mets.

ray sadecki (11)In 1973 Sadecki pitched for the Mets’ National League champions who, like the 1964 Cardinals before them, unexpectedly won the pennant, trailing by as many as nine games behind the Chicago Cubs and winning the National League East title on the final weekend. (Coincidentally, four years earlier the Mets, prior to unexpectedly winning the World Series, had also won the division title by jumping past the Cubs.)

Sadecki pitched as a “swingman” for the Amazins’, appearing both as a relief pitcher and spot starter in a rotation that boasted Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack and was instrumental in helping the Mets win the division.

He pitched four of the seven games of the World Series, which the Mets ultimately lost to the Oakland Athletics, and earned the save in Game Four.

In his 18-year career, Sadecki won 135 games against 131 losses, with a 3.78 ERA and 1,614 strikeouts in 2,500 innings pitched.

I always appreciated Sadecki’s dual role with the Mets and realized the value of having someone like that in the bullpen. It’s not a sexy or glamorous role, but in today’s game the best teams all have a solid longman.

All the good Mets teams of the past have all had had a guy Sadecki in the bullpen. Remember Pat Mahomes in 1999-2000? And let’s not forget Roger McDowell In the mid-eighties who seemingly did it all as long man, set up man and even closer.

The versatility of a reliever like Oliver, Mahomes, McDowell and Sadecki may seem unimportant to some in the grand scheme of things. But in this age of relief specialists and one at-bat relievers, a workhorse reliever who can do whatever the team needs, is an integral part of any good bullpen.

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Buck Has Gone From Trade Bait To Indispensable http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/04/buck-has-gone-from-trade-bait-to-indispensable.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/04/buck-has-gone-from-trade-bait-to-indispensable.html/#comments Tue, 23 Apr 2013 17:14:43 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=116018 john buckSeveral times this season John Buck’s fast start fueled speculation that with Travis d’Arnaud’s promotion the Mets might deal him at the trade deadline.

After all, who doesn’t want a hot-hitting catcher who calls a crisp game behind the plate? Most every team would and that includes the Mets, who, along with Buck exceeded early expectations.

It’s not as if Buck has gone from trade bait to indispensable, but he isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And, that has more to do than with d’Arnaud’s broken foot that will keep him out for two months. Buck is simply the Mets’ best offensive weapon and has been solid behind the plate, drawing raves fromMatt Harvey and Jon Niese.However, manager Terry Collins said it best: “John Buck seems to be in the middle of everything that’s good right now.’’

Buck homered in the Mets’ 2-0 victory over Washington Sunday, a comprehensive display of the fastest start of his career. There was the homer, giving him seven and a league-high 22 RBI, but also his defense and the game he called for Dillon Gee.

The Mets’ pride is their young pitchers, and Buck could be the same steading influence Jerry Grote once was to Tom SeaverJerry Koosman and Jon Matlack.

Harvey has been the darling at 4-0 and a sub-1.00 ERA, swears by Buck. There’s no way the Mets break up that duo.

Harvey said he’s shaken off Buck maybe five or six times this year ins describing the same instinctual chemistry a quarterback would have with his best receiver.

“He already knows what’s coming,’’ Harvey said. “It’s really fun every time I take the mound and see him back there. It’s just positive energy. It’s more fuel.’’

It’s not luck or coincidence that has Buck putting down the correct fingers. It’s the culmination of hard work spent in the first nine years of his career. He keeps copious notes on his pitchers and opposing hitters, and they complement the game plan drawn up by pitching coach Dan Warthen.

On the day of the game Buck meets early with Warthen and the pitcher to go over the scouting reports and film. Later, he’ll meet with the pitcher privately. However, he talks to all the pitchers throughout the week, not just on the days they start. The communication is constantly flowing.

Harvey said Buck’s preparation is inspirational to the point where he’ll incorporate what he’s learned throughout his career.

“He knows what the hitters are going to do,’’ said Harvey. “The studying that he does and the video that he watches and the plan that he comes up with for each individual pitcher, it’s something that I’m learning still. And it’s awesome.’’

Buck and d’Arnaud’s lockers were side-by-side in spring training, and it wasn’t by accident, either.

“I like to pick his brain,’’ d’Arnaud said this spring. “He’s very easy to talk with and I’ve learned a lot from being around him.’’

Buck said in spring training he understood he was brought here to help d’Arnaud and that attitude hasn’t changed despite the latter’s injury. It’s not as if when he heard the news he moved out of his apartment and bought a house.

“My stance is still the same,’’ Buck said. “I truly feel if I do good, then he does good. I’ve been around too much to take positive thoughts out of something bad happening to someone else. … Until someone tells me otherwise, I’ll just keep going about my business.’’

Nobody will be telling Buck otherwise any time soon.

As for trading him, in an exclusive interview with Metsmerized Online, Sandy Alderson said very emphatically, “No. No, we won’t. We will not trade John Buck.”

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

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Featured Post: Behind the Mask – Jerry Grote http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/04/featured-post-behind-the-mask-jerry-grote.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/04/featured-post-behind-the-mask-jerry-grote.html/#comments Tue, 23 Apr 2013 04:01:58 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=115881 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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Memorable Mets Moments: Jim Beauchamp’s Birthday http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/04/memorable-mets-moments-jim-beauchamps-birthday.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/04/memorable-mets-moments-jim-beauchamps-birthday.html/#comments Sun, 14 Apr 2013 16:34:25 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=113969 jim beauchampOne of the least glamorous jobs in baseball is that of the pinch-hitter/bench player/spare part/25th man. But every club has one of these guys, and on occasion they can rise to the level of star performer, if only for a game or two.

Jim Beauchamp (pronounced “Bee-chum”) was one of these players, and after kicking around the league with the Cardinals, the Astros (including some games as a Colt 45), the Braves, the Reds, the Astros again, and the Cardinals again, he wound up his career with the Mets, seeing a little action in the ’72 and ’73 seasons. A right handed hitter, he fulfilled the role of OF/1B, usually getting into between 35-50 games a year, primarily as a bat off the bench. He wore uniform No. 24 at the start of his Met career but swapped it for No. 5 when future Hall of Famer Willie Mays joined the team following a trade during the ’72 season.

He was a country boy, a French Okie, as he called himself, from the tiny town of Vinita, Oklahoma, a town that today boasts a population of around 6,000, parked in the northeast corner of the state about 30 miles from the Missouri border.  As a ballplayer, he pretty much embodied the term “journeyman,” as his peripatetic resume demonstrated. As a Met in 1972, he started 29 games, mostly at first base and chipped in with five home runs for the season. Two of those homers came on a special night.

August 21, 1972 was Beauchamp’s 33rd birthday, and with the Mets facing lefty Jerry Reuss of the Astros that night, Jim was given one of his rare starts, playing first base and batting seventh. The Astros were featuring a hot shot young center fielder in those days by the name of Cesar Cedeno, a 21 year old revelation with speed, power, and a great glove-sort of a right-handed Bryce Harper of his day.

Jon Matlack started for the Mets, looking for his 11th victory.  Matlack would end the season with 15 wins that year, and become the second Met to be named Rookie of the Year, joining Tom Seaver. On this night he pitched well, hurling a complete game with 8 strikeouts, but along the way had somewhat less success holding off Cedeno who homered in the 6th to tie the game at one-all, then doubled in the 8th after the Mets had taken the lead to knot the score again.

The 7th inning go-ahead run for the Mets had come via a long ball off the bat of Jim Beauchamp. Now, heading into the bottom of the 9th tied at 2 apiece, the Mets would face Jim “Sting” Ray, a right hander who was starting his second inning of relief. When Ray retired the first two batters, it looked as if the game would be heading to extra innings. But after John Milner coaxed a walk, Beauchamp swatted his second homerun of the night, deep into the left field bullpen.

Afterwards, on Kiner’s Korner, I remember him telling Ralph that he thought it would be nice if “just once, I could be the hero.” To my ears, his Oklahoma twang made the last word sound like “hee-row.” In my eyes he was. Happy Birthday, Jim.

Previous Mets Memorable Moments

Willie Comes Home

Rusty and the Rundown

Jesse and Roger in the Outfield

casey stengel - Copy

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Mets Summer of ’73: The Birth of “Ya Gotta Believe” http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/04/mets-summer-of-73-the-birth-of-ya-gotta-believe.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/04/mets-summer-of-73-the-birth-of-ya-gotta-believe.html/#comments Sat, 06 Apr 2013 12:00:36 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=113351 gal-70smets-13-jpg

TUG McGRAW: Coined one of the best slogans ever.

As far as team slogans go, the 1973 Mets’ rallying cry “Ya Gotta Believe’’ may not rank with Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper,’’ but it stood the test of time, lasting far longer than Reingold’s “Ten Minute Head.’’

Had it been a movie, the late and great Roger Ebert would have given it a thumbs down for it’s corniness.

Going into the season, the 1973 team was arguably more talented than the 1969 Miracle Mets, with the additions of Rusty Staub, Jon Matlack, John Milner and Felix Millan. This was a team to be feared and sprinted out of the gate at 4-0, and was in first place by late April. However, overcome by injuries, the Mets nose-dived into the cellar, 7 ½ games behind by July 26. They dropped to 12 games below .500 with 44 games to play on August 16.

Even so, they were still within shouting distance in the mediocre National League East. It would be tough, Mets Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant thought, but there were all those tickets to home games in September that needed to be sold.

MCGRAW: You win with heart, too.

MCGRAW: You win with heart, too.

Grant addressed the team and told them not to quit because there was time to turn things around. After all, he had had recent history to fall back on as the 1969 team overcame an eight-game August deficit to the Cubs.

That’s when closer Tug McGraw stood up and shouted, “that’s right, we can do it, Ya gotta believe.’’ It was a moment of “was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor,’’ exuberance that stuck with those Mets.

The Mets, Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs tripped over each other for much of September, but Yogi Berra’s team was the most consistent, and had to be considering the ground it had to make up.

The Mets won 24 of 35 games to make up those 12 games and move into first place on Sept. 21, with a 10-2 rout of Pittsburgh behind Tom Seaver.

It was a fragile lead as only 2 ½ games separated them from fifth-place Chicago.

“We’ve been hot,’’ Berra said at the time. “But I have to say it’s still wide open.’’

The Mets swept a two-game series with St. Louis and split a two-game series with Montreal before heading into Wrigley Field that final weekend with a one-game lead. On Friday the Mets were rained out, but Montreal beat Pittsburgh. The scenario repeated itself on Saturday.

By now, St. Louis leapfrogged Pittsburgh and trailed by 1½ games going into Sunday. The Mets split a double-header to go to 81-79 while the Cardinals were 81-81.

That set up another double-header for Monday with the Mets needing a split to win the division title, which Seaver gave them by winning the first game.

This might have been the Mets’ grittiest team, and it’s soundtrack being McGraw screaming “Ya Gotta Believe,’’ as he slapped his glove on his thigh.

Although McGraw repeated the slogan with the 1980 Phillies, and Philadelphia fans tried to resurrect it several years ago, it didn’t have the same impact as it did when it woke up New York, the team and the city, during the Summer of 1973.

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Johan Santana A Hero? No, No, No http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/03/johan-santana-a-hero-no-no-no.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/03/johan-santana-a-hero-no-no-no.html/#comments Sat, 09 Mar 2013 16:46:41 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=110407 johan-santana no-hitter

A pair of Chicago Cubs centerfielders, Jimmy Qualls (1969) and Joe Wallis (1975), stole two of Tom Seaver’s early bids for a no-hitter. One year after being traded from New York to Cincinnati, Seaver threw a no-hitter for the Reds. Nolan Ryan never pitched a no-hitter – as a New York Met – but after being traded to the California Angels in 1971 he nudged Mets fans every couple years, throwing seven no-hitters.

“Every time he pitched you expected a no-hitter – or 15 strikeouts,” said Jay Horwitz, Mets VP/Public Relations, referring to Dwight Gooden.

In May 1996, Gooden tossed the only no-hitter of his career – as a member of the New York Yankees. Even Duffy Dyer had to leave the New York Mets to catch his first no-hitter (John Candelaria, Pittsburgh, 1975), 11 years before Josh Thole was born.

Four years later, in 2000, amidst a slow start and turmoil over comments Mets manager Bobby Valentine made during a speech at Penn’s Wharton School of Business, Mets ace Al Leiter attempted to lighten the mood. “I think I’m going to have to throw a no-hitter today to get the back page in New York with all the stuff going on,” he said. Starting against the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road, Leiter surrendered a second-inning lead-off home run to Wil Cordero, crushing the hopes and promise of the first-ever Mets no-hitter.

John Maine was on the brink, again, in 2007, until Florida Marlins catcher light-hitting catcher Paul Hoover reached on an infield single with two outs in the eighth inning. Maine settled for a one-hit, complete game shutout but, again, hopes of a no-hitter were dashed.

There were other close calls before, after and in between those chronicled here, but you get the idea. The New York Mets avoided no-hitters for a half-century. It was baffling at times. How could the pitching-rich Mets not have a no-hitter?

Seaver, Ryan, Gooden, Leiter, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Craig Swan, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, David Cone, Mike Hampton, Bret Saberhagen, Frank Viola, Bob Ojeda, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine; over 50 years of baseball the stars never aligned, not for a single summer’s night, for Steve Trachsel, George Stone, Rick Reed, Bobby Jones, Orlando Hernandez, Dave Mlicki, Pete Harnisch, Pete Falcone or Pat Zachry? No, no and no. Game after game, season after season the Mets were denied.

To blunt the pain and frustration, Mets fans turned the no-hit quest into a punchline. On any given night during the season a Mets fan could grab their smartphone, tap the Twitter icon and wait for [insert pitcher’s name here] to give up the first hit of the game which, inevitably, led to a tweet along the lines of:

Well, not tonight #Mets fans. That’s 7,952 games without a no-hitter.

So, on June 1, 2012, when Johan Santana became the first pitcher in Mets team history to throw a no-hitter, fans celebrated. I celebrated. In fact, the New York Daily News and New York Post back pages hang on my office wall. It was a big deal. But that’s where the road forks for me and many Mets fans.

Last week, amidst controversy over Santana’s health, Mets blogger Ted Berg tweeted:

Johan Santana returned from career-threatening surgery and pitched the first Mets no-hitter. He could show up 300 lbs. and he’d still be my hero.

Thirty-five people re-tweeted the post. I am not sure if the reaction was a symbol of support or fans just wanted to share his message with the baseball world. Either way, I disagree. Yes, I was amazed by Santana’s drive to come back and perform like the two-time Cy Young Award winner he once was with the Minnesota Twins. No, Santana should not be labeled a hero for one game.

SNY’s Chris Carlin dished out a portion of these stats on Twitter, to which another Mets fan replied:

Fair, for first no-hitter in Mets history.

Fair? Really? This is a sad – and misguided – statement.

When the Mets traded six players for Santana in 2008 they also agreed to sign him to a six-year, $101.5 million contract. Since then, he’s made 109 regular season starts, winning 46 games. He’s earned over $900,000/start in New York, or, $2.2 million per win. He missed all of the 2011 season and one-half of the 2012 season (because of the wear and tear he put on his arm pitching the no-hitter).

Remember the day you heard the news that the Mets had finally acquired Santana from the Twins? I do. Expectations were high. After the crushing collapse at the end of the 2007 season, Santana symbolized a renewed hope that 2008 would be different. Of course, it wasn’t. The point is: Santana was going to help the Mets win; a division, a league championship, maybe a World Series. You did believe that, then, right?

Hypothetically, would you give back the no-hitter if the Mets could have had a healthy Johan Santana in July, August and September? I would. I am of the mindset that winning baseball games, not pitching no-hitters or breaking records, is the goal. I am most happy when the Mets are winning. It doesn’t matter how, but if the Mets win.

Let’s face it, Santana’s not coming back after the 2013 season (if he’s not traded earlier). Over five seasons in New York he’s been closer to a disappointment than hero. Call me naive, but I expected more than one no-hitter from Santana, but thanks for the memory (singular).

Read more of my thoughts on baseball at JohnStrubel.com.

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Mets Locker Room Real Estate Values: Past and Present http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/02/mets-locker-room-real-estate-values-past-and-present.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2013/02/mets-locker-room-real-estate-values-past-and-present.html/#comments Mon, 11 Feb 2013 18:38:14 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=107728 MetsYou can learn a lot about a baseball team from its locker room. The clubhouse is where relationships form, character is revealed and leaders speak out (or not). For the major league rookie, clubhouse real estate is valuable — sometimes priceless. Imagine being the rookie who spent eight months out of the year next to Sandy Koufax? Roberto Clemente? Lou Gehrig? Tom Seaver? These were model athletes, wise and humble men, who used their talent to teach.

Danny Frisella and Tug McGraw were in heated competition for fame and fortune from the outset of the 1972 season. The late Gil Hodges remembers both pitchers begging for their manager to pick them when he signaled to the bullpen. If Frisella was selected, and won the game, McGraw would give Frisella the “cold shoulder.” If McGraw got the nod (and won) Frisella would mimic the gesture.

There is no evidence whether or not the Mets clubhouse manager made an intentional effort to put Frisella and McGraw side-by-side in the locker room, but their adjoining lockers created more fun and competition. The two Mets pitchers would sometimes switch the locker nameplates to appear that the other won the game.

While Frisella and McGraw jockeyed for their manager’s affection, that same season a rookie named Jon Matlack was granted locker space between Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. Matlack was named 1972 Rookie of the Year, winning 15 of his 32 starts. He compiled 244 innings pitched, eight complete games and a skinny 2.32 ERA. Coincidence? Possibly. Seaver will tell you, for certain, it meant nothing then and means nothing now.

“Where you lockered really wasn’t that important,” Seaver told the New York Times in 2008. “It didn’t make any difference. Just your own little space; it could have been anywhere.”

For Seaver, locker space was irrelevant. It was a place – and space – where he took out his frustrations after a poor start. “When I make a mistake and beat myself with a bad pitch, then I get kicking mad and go after stools and water buckets,” Seaver told People Magazine.

Other times, Seaver used his locker as a prop. After getting off to a slow start in 1974, a Mets beat writer asked him if he had lost his fastball. Seaver paused, then started rummaging in his locker muttering, “Where are you, fastball? Are you in there somewhere?”

Seaver didn’t need sabermetrics to figure out the 1975 New York Mets were in for a long year. The Mets, a team renowned for their pitching stock, found themselves lacking. That spring, Seaver sat on a stool in front of his locker and looked up at the adjoining lockers. SEAVER. KOOSMAN, MATLACK.

Who are the rest of these guys? Seaver thought. “That’s Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Where are 4 and 5?” He rolled his eyes in frustration.

He knew, if something doesn’t change (and it didn’t), the Mets would not compete. The Mets were within four games of the lead in the National League East on September 1, 1975; then the bottom fell out on the season. They finished in third place 10 ½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Seaver’s real estate at Shea Stadium was the site where many of the organizations proudest moments were celebrated. He sprayed champagne over the heads of his teammates in 1969 from that “little space.” Seaver helped the Mets win another National League title from that hole in the wall. He encouraged and mentored Matlack, Jackson Todd, Bob Myrick, George Stone and many others within earshot.

In one respect Seaver is right; a locker isn’t important. There’s nothing glamorous about an athlete’s locker. It’s literally a hole in the wall. For the common man, a locker is a lot like an office cubicle, a place to store your personal effects while you go take care of business. But, location is valuable, sometimes educational.

“I learned an awful lot from having my locker room stuck between Koosman and Seaver,” said Matlack. “”It was a very, very good location to be in.”

Seaver’s locker was physically unique, well, maybe for its modesty. Former Mets beat writer Marty Noble described the space this way: “there was no locker to the immediate left, just a three-foot-wide panel. A trash can was placed there.” Seaver’s “little space” was nondescript. Seaver, himself, was so Seaver was so impervious to his surroundings that, to this day, he is unsure whether he had the now famous locker space his rookie year of 1967.

Over time, Seaver’s locker took on a life of its own. After he we traded in June 1977, Bud Harrelson asked if he could move in. Not happening, said Mets equipment manager Herb Norman. The locker would be assigned to Seaver’s successor, Pat Zachry.

Seaver returned home, and to his “little space” in 1983, then, Ron Darling assumed the space from 1984-1991, followed by David Cone (July 1991-August 1992), John Franco (1992-2003), Steve Trachsel (2004-2006) and Aaron Heilman (2007).

“That locker did have history; more than any other in that place,” said Franco. “Nobody made the kind of history here that Tom Seaver made. It doesn’t matter how long anyone had it, it was always Seaver’s.”

“It doesn’t matter [who preceded Seaver],” added Darling. “It’s his.”

In some ballparks, because of some professional athletes, lockers can become hallowed ground. When Lou Gehrig died, his locker was sealed and sent to Cooperstown. Before Shea Stadium was demolished after the 2008 season, Seaver’s locker was preserved and put on the block for a cool $41,000.

That’s some valuable real estate.

In 1984, the New York Mets were on the rise. Jesse Orosco and Doug Sisk anchored the Mets bullpen on the field, roommates off the field and lived out of adjoining lockers during the team’s championship run in the 80s.

“We’re just a couple of ordinary guys who get along, and have no professional jealousy,” said Sisk. “We’re both fairly serious, but we have different personalities. But we’re not rivals. You can’t be rivals. It won’t work.”

When it does work, the team benefits – at least that’s what Mets manager Terry Collins hopes will happen by placing Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey side-by-side in Port St. Lucie. Collins told the media he intentionally put Harvey, 23, and Wheeler, 22, at adjoining lockers to give Wheeler the opportunity to ask questions and “soak up” the experience like Harvey did last season.

“Having lockers next to each other, we’re both baseball players who have the same mindset,” said Harvey. “Getting along, I don’t think, is going to be very tough.”

Wheeler has prime real estate in Port St. Lucie. Like Harvey in 2012, he will receive a valuable education a lot by watching and listening. Harvey described the experience as “eye-opening.” Last spring he watched Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee prepare for a major league baseball season.

“That’s something that I’ve never seen,” Harvey told ESPN.com. “Watching the preparation that those guys had in order to throw 200 innings … Sometimes it’s stepping back and realizing, ‘Hey, this is a long process. Throwing until the end of September is a long time from now.’”

Let’s be honest here, Harvey is still learning too. Collins hopes the location will be the seed to a long-term successful relationship between his two future stars.

Spring Training, which officially starts today, is always an intriguing place for reporters to take stock in how and where players are positioned. The nameplates begin to disappear as February turns to March and the minor league players are dispatched for reassignment. The last days of March mark the time for final cuts. The veteran invited to spring training is playing his heart out and biting their nails in one corner of the clubhouse while the fresh-faced 20-something is bouncing off the walls hoping this will be his year.

As Opening Day creeps closer, locker room real estate values will increase.

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For Mike Pelfrey, The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/04/for-mike-pelfrey-the-hits-just-keep-on-comin.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2011/04/for-mike-pelfrey-the-hits-just-keep-on-comin.html/#comments Thu, 07 Apr 2011 21:15:26 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=47985 Mike Pelfrey is entering his sixth season with the Mets, compiling a 43-41 record over his first five seasons in New York (43-42 after his Opening Day loss to the Florida Marlins). Although Pelfrey is just 27 years old, there have been only 17 pitchers in franchise history who have won more games than Big Pelf.

More than likely, Pelfrey will continue to move up the all-time wins leaderboard as his career progresses, but how much longer will he pitch for the Mets, especially if he continues to give up base hits at an alarming rate?

Consider the facts. In his first two starts of the 2011 season, Pelfrey has given up 12 hits in 6 1/3 innings, a rate of nearly two hits per inning. Let’s compare that to the 17 pitchers who rank ahead of Pelfrey on the all-time club leaderboard for wins.

 

  • Tom Seaver (12 years, 198 wins): no seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Dwight Gooden (11 years, 157 wins): one season with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Jerry Koosman (12 years, 140 wins): no seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Ron Darling (9 years, 99 wins): one season with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Sid Fernandez (10 years, 98 wins): no seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Al Leiter (7 years, 95 wins): no seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Jon Matlack (7 years, 82 wins): one season with more hits than innings pitched.
  • David Cone (7 years, 81 wins): one season with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Bobby Jones (8 years, 74 wins): five seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Steve Trachsel (6 years, 66 wins): two seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Tom Glavine (5 years, 61 wins): four seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Rick Reed (5 years, 59 wins): two seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Craig Swan (12 years, 59 wins): four seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Bob Ojeda (5 years, 51 wins): one season with more hits than innings pitched.
  • John Franco (14 years, 48 wins): five seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Tug McGraw (9 years, 47 wins): two seasons with more hits than innings pitched.
  • Jesse Orosco (8 years, 47 wins): one season with more hits than innings pitched.

 

Dwight Gooden’s sole season allowing more hits than innings pitched was 1994. That was his final season in a Mets uniform. Ron Darling also had one such season in his career, which came in his final full season as a Met (1990). In 1977, Jon Matlack suffered his first season with more hits than innings pitched. He never did it again as a Met because that was his final year in New York. The only year in which David Cone gave up better than a hit per inning was (you guessed it) his final season (2003), when he allowed 20 hits in 18 innings.

Bob Ojeda and Jesse Orosco also finished their Mets careers with only one season giving up more hits than innings pitched. In both cases, that season came in their final year with the Mets.

Of the seven pitchers who allowed more hits than innings pitched in multiple seasons (Jones, Trachsel, Glavine, Reed, Swan, Franco, McGraw), all but one of them accomplished the feat in his final full season in New York. The lone exception was John Franco, who barely missed, allowing exactly one hit per inning in 2004 (46 hits in 46 innings pitched).

So that brings us back to Mike Pelfrey. How many times do you think he’s allowed more hits than innings pitched over a full season? Once? Twice? Take a look at his career numbers below:

 

  • 2006: 21.1 innings pitched, 25 hits allowed.
  • 2007: 72.2 innings pitched, 85 hits allowed.
  • 2008: 200.2 innings pitched, 209 hits allowed.
  • 2009: 184.1 innings pitched, 213 hits allowed.
  • 2010: 204.0 innings pitched, 213 hits allowed.
  • 2011: 6.1 innings pitched, 12 hits allowed.

 

Mike Pelfrey has allowed more hits than innings pitched in EVERY SEASON that he’s pitched in the major leagues! Judging by his start this season, he might be on his way to his sixth consecutive season allowing more hits than innings pitched. Of the 17 pitchers who rank ahead of Pelfrey in career victories as a Met, none accomplished the feat more than five times.

Because of Johan Santana’s injury, Pelfrey is now the de facto No. 1 pitcher in the rotation. But looking over his career numbers, the only thing Pelfrey is No. 1 in is allowing base hits. Considering the fates of other Mets pitchers who gave up more hits than innings pitched, especially late in their careers, Mike Pelfrey should be careful when he turns around. Another team’s uniform might be gaining on him.

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Shades of 62? Or Shades of 73? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2009/06/shades-of-62-or-shades-of-73.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2009/06/shades-of-62-or-shades-of-73.html/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2009 08:59:42 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=7027 There have been seasons where everything seemed to fall into place. There have also been seasons when we just went through the motions of a seemingly irrelevant and rigorous 162 game schedule. But I cant recall a season as perplexing as this one.

We have played 64 games. The end of June is quickly approaching and before we know it, we’ll be at the All-Star Break. However, I have to admit, I don’t know what the hell to make of this team.

In some ways we have played incompetent baseball reminiscent of our very first season. The 62 Mets were a laughing stock. They were bad, awfully bad, but you had to love ‘em. Those 120 losses that season was the most in the modern era and the 2nd most in the history of Baseball. Only the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134) lost more. The 62 Mets dropped fly balls, missed bases, threw to the wrong base. And so on. It prompted Casey Stengel to say, “I’ve been in this game one hundred years but every day I see new ways to lose I never even knew existed.”

So far this season, we’ve seen Ryan Church miss 3rd. We’ve seen Mike Pelfrey balk repeatedly. We saw Luis Castillo drop a routine pop-up that handed the Yankees–the YANKEES–a come from behind victory and also gave Frankie Rodriguez his first blown save. Shades of 62?

We’ve been hit by a rash of injuries. But yet, somehow, someway, we are still in this thing. We are struggling to stay above 500 but yet the Phillies are still within our sights. Although much of our boneheaded play has stirred up painful memories of 62, I also see some similarities to 1973 when we won the NL pennant.

That 73 club was going nowhere quickly. They were okay, but not great. We’d had better teams. But yet, somehow, someway, that 73 team stayed close and got hot at the right time. On August 26, the Mets were 12 games under .500, 58-70, and sat in last place. Our closer, Tug McGraw, had been struggling all season and his ERA stood at an unheard of 5.14. But we got hot, we started to ‘believe’ and down the stretch we won 21 of our last 29 games. When all was said and done, we won the division. However, our stats were not impressive. Our #2 and #3 starters, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack, both ended the season under .500 and the SPer with the highest winning percentage that year was not Tom Seaver, but rather George Stone. In spite of winning only 82 games, we nearly went on to win it all. After winning a 5 game war over the heavily favored Big Red Machine, we lost to the defending World Champion A’s and even managed to get the tying run to the plate with 2 outs in the top of the 9th in Game 7.

Although this season resembles 62 in many ways, it also resembles 73. That year, just like this year, we flew under the radar all season long. That year, just like this year, no one ran away with the division. That year, just like this year, we muddled along all season–and then suddenly found ourselves playing into late October.

Right now, 2 of our 5 starters–40% of our starting staff–are injured. Our biggest HR threat is out and most likely wont return until late in the season. And even then we cant expect Carlos Delgado to immediately recover his potent bat. Our lead-off hitter, our table setter, has been out for a while and is still quite a ways from returning. Our set-up man is out for 2-3 months. However, somehow, someway, we are still in the hunt. Just like 1973, no one is running away with it. In spite of numerous key injuries, poor play much of the time and heartbreaking losses, we still have the Phillies in the crosshairs.

Yogi Berra is frequently remembered more for his ‘Yogi-isms’ than his remarkable career. Of the many quotes attributed to the Hall of Fame catcher, his most famous statement is, “It Aint Over Till It’s Over.” He said that during the 1973 season–when he was manager of the Mets.

It Aint Over Till It’s Over. Shades of 73?

 

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