"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: New York Mets

If You Don't Have Anything Nice To Say …

Fred Wilpon

Mets owner Fred Wilpon

Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of Fred Wilpon in the New Yorker was published online yesterday. The profile, intended to help shed the belief that Wilpon was complicit in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and improve his reputation, did that, but it made news in a much different way. It showed that Wilpon has more than a little bit of George Steinbrenner in him. In print, he criticized three of his prized players: Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. He even called his team “shitty.”

The Mets have not had a good seven months. Wait, let’s dial this back, they haven’t had a good go of it since September 2007. Most recently, however — the past seven months — their financial troubles have dominated the sports and news sections of the local papers, due in large part to the Wilpons’ victimization in the Madoff scandal, as Toobin dutifully reported. The Mets’ average home attendance this season is 28,565 (68.3 percent capacity), ranking them 14th in the Majors, according to the latest MLB Attendance Report.

The finances aside, the timing for this article, and the commentary therein, couldn’t be worse. The Mets just got blasted in the last two games of the Subway Series, having been outscored 16-6 by the Yankees. Furthermore, since the article was published on an off-day, the story’s shelf life was extended an extra 24 hours. Players, coaches, the manager Terry Collins, anyone involved with the organization, will have to answer questions about this for another day. Once again, the focus on the Mets has shifted off the field.

Yankee fans have seen this many times over the years with George Steinbrenner: Pick a Billy Martin hiring-firing episode; the Howard Spira investigation of Dave Winfield; the Don Mattingly mustache/mullet fiasco; Hideki Irabu is a “fat pussy toad;” the David Wells and Gary Sheffield negotiations. Hell, pick one. We came to expect stuff like this over the years with George, and then Hank filled the void, even if he was a pale comparison to his old man.

But for Wilpon, who as Toobin shows, is a diehard baseball fan, student of the game, and bleeds with every pitch, this behavior is stunning. Forget the fact that Wilpon’s assessments of Beltran, Reyes and Wright are sound. (Some have argued that Wright’s numbers are superstar-worthy. They’re not. Wright is a star, but winning an MVP and/or a World Series to elevates players to “superstar” status.) The Mets need all the good PR they can muster right now. Downgrading the left side of your infield, two players that define this generation of the Mets and their fans, is an invitation for Defcon 5 level Damage Control.

For those who haven’t seen excerpts or read Wilpon’s quotes yet, here they are.

First, on Beltran:

…There is the matter of the quality of the Mets teams. At one point, I mentioned to Wilpon the theory that the Mets might be cursed. He gave a sort of half laugh, and said, “You mean”—and then pantomimed a checked swing of the bat.

Any Mets fan (I am one) would understand the reference. The Mets took the 2006 National League Championship Series to a seventh game against the Cardinals. On October 19th, in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets were down, 3–1, the bases were loaded, and Carlos Beltran, the team’s star center fielder, came to the plate. With two outs and the count 0–2, the Cards’ pitcher, Adam Wainwright, threw a looping curveball on the outside corner. Beltran twitched, froze, and watched strike three.

Wilpon later said Beltran, who has been beset by knee injuries the past two seasons and has arguably been the Mets’ most consistent player in his return this season, is “65 to 70 percent of what he was.”

On Jose Reyes, the impending free agent and perhaps the Mets’ most tradeable asset:

“He’s a racehorse. … He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money. … He’s had everything wrong with him. He won’t get it.”

And finally, on David Wright, the face of the franchise:

“A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.”

Let’s take each of these individually.

Re: Beltran, Wilpon called himself a “schmuck” for giving the switch-hitting center fielder a 7-year, $119 million deal based on his breakout postseason in 2004 for the Houston Astros. Toobin didn’t mention this, but it’s interesting Beltran took that contract and thrust himself in the spotlight. The chronicles of Buster Olney and Tom Verducci revealed that Beltran wanted to be a Yankee so that 1) he could inherit the centerfield job from a declining Bernie Williams, a fellow Puerto Rican whom he idolized; and 2) given the superstar players and uber egos in the Yankee clubhouse, Beltran thought he could hide. The Yankees did not want him, though. Instead, they traded for Randy Johnson, and also signed Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, hoping to solidify a pitching staff that was reeling after blowing a 3-0 ALCS lead to the Boston Red Sox. (Sounds like a familiar refrain. “We need pitching, we’re not focused on position players.” More on this later.)

Wilpon’s astute observation that Beltran is 65-70 percent of the player he was in his prime, is lost amid the gesture mimicking the failed check swing. It was the nonverbal equivalent of calling Beltran “Mr. May.”

On Reyes, Wilpon made it clear he’s not going to pay the shortstop the big contract he’s seeking. Reyes’ value on the open market is yet to be determined; the most common number tossed about by reporters apparently in the know, and talkies projecting Reyes’ worth, is about $90-$100 million over a five- or six-year contract. Reyes is one of the most dynamic players in the game, but persistent injuries — his good health this season notwithstanding — and flakiness he has shown in the past still trails him. Some personalities on WFAN have suggested the Yankees may want him. General Manager Brian Cashman refuted this notion, telling Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts two weeks ago that the priority is pitching, not position players.

And David Wright … One can only think of the contentious negotiations of Derek Jeter’s contract over this past winter, Hank Steinbrenner’s comments about the palatial compound Jeter is building near Tampa, and the back and forth that played out in the tabloids.

Local writers — both beat folks and columnists — excoriated Wilpon for the way he publicly dumped on the faces of his franchise. Mike Pelfrey told the Times’ David Waldstein, “Maybe next spring when we have our media workshop, Fred can come and sit in.” (Thanks, Tyler Kepner, for the great tweet).

Defenders of Wilpon may argue, “He’s paying these guys millions of dollars. If he’s not getting the return, he’s justified in his criticism.” That’s one view, yes. But if you’re as hands-on and supportive an owner as Wilpon is reputed to be, instilling that support and confidence is of utmost importance. Public criticism of your players, especially when that’s not known to be part of your M.O., crosses a line and is viewed as a breach of trust. How are his players supposed to view him now? How much tougher has he made the jobs of his general manager, Sandy Alderson and the braintrust of J.P. Ricciardi and Paul De Podesta? After these comments, does he expect that free agents would even want to come to New York for the Mets? What kind of reference sell would current Mets players make? Now, probably a reference to the Phillies to see if they have a void.

The Daily News reported that Wright was the first to respond to Wilpon’s comments. In an e-mail, Wright demonstrated his maturity and professionalism, saying “Fred is a good man and is obviously going through some difficult times. There is nothing more productive that I can say at this point.”

Wright may or may not have read Robert Fulghum’s poem “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten,” but he ascribed to many of the tenets outlined in the text. Mr. Wilpon would be wise to adhere to the following:

Play fair.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Clean up your own mess.

Let’s see how many he follows through on in the coming days.

Scapegoats Head Soup

Brace yourselves.

Today the Mets finally released Oliver Perez, and there was much rejoicing.  Perez, who was heading into his third year of a horrid contract, and two and a half years as a punchline about the recent Mets administrations’ ineptitude, joins fellow scapegoat Luis Castillo, who was released Friday and promptly picked up by the Phillies (whose fantastic pitching staff will have to hope the grounders they induce avoid second base). Both Castillo and Perez were the targets of intense fan dislike, which was thoroughly earned from a baseball perspective though not from a personal one. Castillo was often accused of being sulky or half-assed when, in fact, he simply had no working knees. Neither he nor Perez can be blamed for taking the ludicrous contracts Omar Minaya offered them, but you also can’t blame Mets fans for their palpable relief at no longer having to watch those two.

Anyway, certain players on certain teams are destined to be the butt of jokes, the target of fans’ unhappiness. I bring this up because the Yankees are primed to have a few of those this year. Though there is obviously a major difference in that none of these new players have especially large or unreasonable contracts –and so shouldn’t garner the level of contempt that Perez of Castillo did — don’t wait too long to get your Colon jokes ready. When you have three real major league starters and are just hoping to get by in the last two rotations spots, you’re going to have some clunkers. Clunkers are an enjoyable part of the game too, though, if you can bring the right expectations and attitude to it. I know as someone writing about the games, I am grateful to Tony Womack and Sir Sidney Ponson for the material.

This has been coming since that fateful week Cliff Lee decided to head to Phillie and Andy Pettitte decided to saty in Texas. The Yankees haven’t named their 4 or 5 starters yet, less than two weeks before the season starts, but if I had to guess I’d say we’re looking at Ivan Nova and Bartolo Colon, who seem to have  the edge over Sergio Mitre and Freddy Garcia. And there’s no way those two will stay in those spots all season, so there’s more to come. Once in a while you get an Aaron Small or Gustavo Chacin – sometimes you even get both at once! – but mostly you don’t. And that’s okay. Even the Yankees have to make due with baseball’s scrap heap sometimes.

I’m reminded of a tale from some baseball book or other that I was reading, years ago, about minor league life. A coach was described who would always console struggling players with comforting words along the lines of, “Relax, kid, don’t blame yourself – blame the dopey scout who signed you”. Yes, it’s important not to make things unduly personal. The Yanks are going to deal with some clunkers this year, no way arund it. But if we approach this in the right spirit I think we can have some fun.

So, what do you think – who will we be making agonized jokes about come June?


You know I’m very fond of the Mets, but this, their St. Patty’s Day hat design, is the creepiest thing seen on a baseball field since Dandy, the aborted Yankees mascot of the 80s:

Shudder. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone – now RUN FOR YOUR LIVES before Mr. Leprechaun Met comes to kill you for stealing his pot o’ gold.

[Insert Bernie Madoff joke here].

For of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen, the Saddest Are These: 'It Might Have Been'

Few things in sports are more frustrating than lost potential. It’s why Joba Chamberlain gets everyone so worked up, why we’re all rooting for Mark Prior, and why Mickey Mantle is a tragic hero instead of just a hero. And it’s why I’m feeling for the Mets and their fans with the news Carlos Beltran has tendinitis in his other, “good” knee and will sit out some games. Again.

Few players are more graceful, or better at so many different aspects of the game, than Carlos Beltran when he’s going good. An amazing defender, a smooth graceful swing, controlled speed. Unfortunately, it’s been years since he’s been healthy. And maybe this latest setback is no big deal – maybe it really will only set him back a week or so. I don’t know, though. I would like very much to be wrong, but it’s starting to look to me as if Beltran, for all his talent and all the effort he’s put into rehab, just isn’t going to be able to stay on the field. That pisses me off, because Beltran deserves better than to be remembered for freezing on the killer curveball that ended the 2006 NLCS.

Also, the Mets have had no kind of luck recently. They’ve made some very dumb moves [wave to Oliver Perez!], but they’ve also made theoretically good ones like the Beltran signing that just didn’t work out. They are due for some breaks, or would be if the universe worked like that.

Mets Minority Partner Madness

Remember when there were all those rumors swirling about how much money the Mets had invested with Bernie Madoff, and how that could impact their ability to run the team? And the Wilpons kept saying, nope, it would have no effect at all? Well, today they issued a statement:

As Sterling Equities announced in December, we are engaged in discussions to settle a lawsuit brought against us and other Sterling partners and members ofour families by the Trustee in the Madoff bankruptcy. We are not permitted to comment on these confidential negotiations while they are ongoing.

However, to address the air of uncertainty created by this lawsuit, and to provide additional assurance that the New York Mets will continue to have the necessary resources to fully compete and win, we are looking at a number ofpotential options including the addition of one or more strategic partners. To explore this, we have retained Steve Greenberg, a Managing Director at Allen & Company, as our advisor.

Regardless of the outcome of this exploration, Sterling will remain the principal ownership group of the Mets and continue to control and manage the team’s operations. The Mets have been a major part of our families for more than 30 years and that is not going to change.

As Craig at Hardball Talk notes, this is pretty similar to what Tom Hicks said about his Rangers back in the day – and things didn’t quite work out the way he’d planned. Can the Mets find someone who’ll be willing to invest significant amounts of money without gaining any control? If not, would they consider selling the team outright, if they got the right offer?

Depending, of course, on who they might theoretically sell the team to, it could actually end up being a good thing for the Mets – the team has had certain issues over the years, with organization and finance and general PR, that have persisted regardless of who the GM or manager was. But in the short term, it’s not good news – it’s very hard for an organization to make bold moves, or to spend much money, when ownership is uncertain.

Start saving your money, gang! If we all put in $100…

Actually, I’ve had a longstanding fantasy about what I would do if I owned a baseball team. Note that even if I were to win the lottery, I STILL wouldn’t be able to afford to do that, but we’re just daydreaming here. I’d move a team to Brooklyn, where the Nets’ new eyesore of a Stadium is going (as long as we’re fantasizing), and keep ticket prices low, and have weird funny Bill Veeck-like promotions and giveaways, and sell lots of women’s team gear that wasn’t pink or sparkly, and hire as many knuckleballers and players with amusing names as possible, and…

Sorry, I got distracted. Point is, things will likely be pretty challenging in Flushing for the next few years.

Photo via Real Clear Sports

Execute or be Executed

You know you’ve just taken a tough job when, in your introductory press conference, you feel compelled to clarify that you’re not “an evil devil.” Here is new Mets manager Terry Collins, earlier today:

“I’m full of energy, full of enthusiasm but I’m not the evil devil that a lot of people have made me out to be,” said Collins, the 20th manager in team history.


“I’ve learned to mellow a little bit…but my love for the game itself leads me to want the game to be played correctly.”

“This is a very proud day for me. I love this job, I love this game, and I will do whatever it takes to bring success to the New York Mets. The personality is there, the energy is there. All we have to do is execute.”

Yeesh… managing. I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “thankless”job – the pay is good enough – but it’s sure a tough one. Everything you do and say is scrutinized and criticized; you’re ostensibly the boss of people making many more millions a year than you but have limited power to hire or fire anyone; even if you do every single thing perfectly you’re unlikely to add more than a handful or wins to your team’s total, but every move that doesn’t work out is considered the main reason and a game is lost. And it’s an even tougher job with the Mets right now, a team whose fanbase has utterly exhausted all its patience in the last four years. It’s hard to see how the Mets would be able to dramatically turn things around in 2011, and it’s hard to see that going over well with the crowd at Shea.

Better him than me.

(Which always gets me wondering… think there’ll ever be a female manager? Maybe one day, but I have to say, it’s hard to imagine how it would happen – not because a woman couldn’t do the job, but because the managerial pipeline is almost entirely former players. You don’t have to have been a good player, but the vast, vast majority of managers throughout major league history played professionally, even if just in the minors. I can see the path a female GM might take, and I’d think that will happen one of these years – or decades – but manager is tought. And of course, there’s a reason most managers are former players — presumably that gives them insight into the game and their personnel that others wouldn’t have. But I have to believe that if women can be neurosurgeons, rocket scientists, and Secretary of State, then probably there are women who can figure out when to hit-and-run).

Anyway, the situation Terry Collins finds himself in makes me think Joe Girardi has it pretty good, even though Yankee manager has to be one of the country’s ultimate ulcer-inducing positions. And I wouldn’t want to be the guy who eventually, one day, has to sit down with Derek Jeter and tell him he’s batting seventh. Those guys get paid well, but the more I think about it? Probably not enough.

Bats to the Pelfrey

Heading into today’s game with the Mets, I decided that based on everything I was reading, seeing and hearing, some media trends needed to be stopped:

* Thinking that one or two hits by a player in a slump immediately means he’s broken out of his slump (see Teixeira, Mark; and Posada, Jorge).

* This might anger some Banterers and I know it may upset Cliff — I apologize in advance — but the love for Posada’s offensive prowess needs to be tempered. Aside from the two grand slams he hit last weekend, maybe it’s just me, but I have little confidence that he’s going to drive in a run with men in scoring position. Any opposing pitcher with an above-average slider can throw that pitch at Posada’s back foot, regardless of whether he’s batting lefty or righty, and he’ll swing over the top of it.

* The Yankees’ recent offensive downturn has everything to do with the opposing pitchers. The Yankees beat up mediocre pitching, yes, but pitchers who change speeds give them fits. Neither Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, nor Hisanori Takahashi light up the radar gun — Moyer barely registers a reading — but they threw strikes early in the count and kept the Yankees off balance by changing speeds.

Mike Pelfrey, the Mets’ starter on Saturday, is a similar pitcher to Roy Halladay, who the Yankees shelled for six runs in six innings on Tuesday. Granted, Pelfrey’s stuff isn’t as good as Halladay, but he’s a hard-throwing, sinker-slider type. As good as he’s been this season, sinkerballers have a propensity to leave pitches up in the strike zone, as Halladay did Tuesday. Pelfrey seemed due for one of those outings. Hence, in my mind, he was the perfect elixir to the Yankees’ anemic bats.

Another factor in the Yankees’ favor: they countered with Phil Hughes, who led the American League among pitchers to have made a minimum of five starts with a Run Support Average of 10.38. In his nine victories, the Yankees scored 88 runs.

The Yankees answered Jose Reyes’s leadoff home run with two hits and a run in the first. In the third, they answered another Reyes home run with a two-run shot off the bat of Teixeira. It was at this point of the YES telecast that a prescient conversation between Michael Kay and Paul O’Neill took place:

KAY: “For a pitcher like Hughes, he’s got to be thinking, ‘I’ve given up two home runs to Reyes and my team has picked me up.’ Now he’s got to pick his team up. He’s got to settle down and put up zeroes.”

O’NEILL: “That’s right. You have to start thinking, ‘I’ve had my bad innings, and if I can get cruising here for three or four innings, chances are my offense swings the bat today.”

That conversation took place in the fourth inning. Hughes put the Mets away on nine pitches. In the bottom half, Posada led off with a walk and Granderson got ahead in the count 2-and-1. Granderson then fouled off a few tough pitches before launching a hanging curveball into the box seats to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead.

Now with the lead, Hughes needed to respond. Reyes stepped to the plate with two outs and a runner on first. Hughes fell behind 1-0 and again 2-1. Hughes fought back with a good fastball that painted the outside corner to even the count. After Reyes fouled off another fastball, Hughes delivered a curveball on the outside part part of the plate that Reyes swung through to end the inning.

The Mets worked Hughes again in the sixth. Angel Pagan hit a one-out single and then advanced on a wild pitch, and Hughes proceeded to walk Ike Davis to bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Jason Bay. Bay, who had seen just four pitches in his two previous at-bats, swung at the first pitch and grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat. Hughes had no problems working through the seventh inning and holding the two-run edge.

The Yankees’ offense had chances to break the game open in the sixth and eighth innings. In both innings, they had runners in scoring position with less than two outs — in the eighth, they had runners on second and third with no one out — and failed to score. Counting today, the Yankees have two hits in their last 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position. The lack of situational hitting, more than anything, has been the root cause of the Yankees’ offensive slide.

Another positive to take from Saturday: Joba Chamberlain pitched a scoreless eighth. Even better, he struck out David Wright without having to throw a fastball. Mariano Rivera followed by pitching a flawless ninth to close out the 5-3 victory.

The win snapped the Yankees’ three-game losing skid and ended the Mets’ eight-game run. As for Hughes, he didn’t have his best stuff, but he pitched well enough to preserve the lead he was given. He is now tied with David Price for the AL lead in wins (10), and furthered his case to become a member of the All-Star team.

Now it’s set up: Santana vs Sabathia for the series win. Should be a good baseball Sunday.

New York Mets II: Kings Of New York

Friggin’ Mets. I wish they’d decide what they are. They finished April with an eight-game winning streak that lifted them into first place, but by the time the Yankees made their way over to Queens on May 21, the Muts had fallen all the way down to last place in the National League East, a full seven games behind the Phillies. The Mets took two of three from the Yankees that weekend and, including those two wins, they have gone 18-5 since, vaulting past the slumping Phils and climbing within a half game of the similarly surging first-place Braves.

What gives? Well, a seven-game winning streak built on series sweeps of the Orioles and Indians has played a part, but the Yankees can’t talk trash about that having just beat up on those two teams to slip into a first-place tie themselves.

Replacing John Maine and Oliver Perez in the rotation with 23-year-old Jonathon Niese (who had been on the disabled list with a hamstring strain) and journeyman knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (who had been in the bullpen) has also been key. Maine and Perez both hit the DL with ERAs over 6.00, while Niese and Dickey, in eight combined starts since mid-May, have gone 7-0 with a 2.28 ERA. Hisanori Takahashi, another repurposed reliever, has also been a solid addition to the rotation having turned in three quality starts in five tries, going 2-1 with a 3.81 ERA. Add in a Cy Young-contending season from Mike Pelfrey and his new split-finger fastball and incumbent ace Johan Santana, and the Mets rotation, which seemed in ruins a month ago, is suddenly a strength.

Then there’s David Wright. On May 7, he was hitting .287/.416/.568 with seven homers, earning an honorable mention in my debut Awards Watch column on the MVP races soon after. Then, from May 8 to May 29, he hit just .187/.256/.320 with one home run and 31 strikeouts in 20 games, a rate of one K every 2.8 plate appearances. Since then, over a period of just less than three weeks, he’s hit .431/.477/.724 with four home runs and just 12 Ks (5.4 PA/K). It’s oversimplification to say as goes Wright, so go the Mets, but the parallels are certainly indicative of his importance to the team. Of course, Wright needs someone to drive in, and on that count, Jose Reyes’ resurgence has been perfectly timed. Over that 18-5 stretch, Reyes has hit .371/.419/.577 with eight steals in nine attempts.

Those performances from Reyes and Wright have been especially important because Jason Bay, since tripling his season home run total by going deep twice off CC Sabathia, has hit just one more dinger in his last 19 games, going .234/.306/.351 over that span. Similarly, rookie Ike Davis, who was driving the offense when the Yankees were in Queens, has hit just .235/.278/.425 since, though he’s been hot the last few games, getting two hits in each game of the Cleveland series, three of them for extra bases.

The pitching matchups for this weekend’s Subway Series finale are identical to the previous series in Queens four weeks ago. In that series, Javier Vazquez and Takahashi dueled to a draw in a 2-1 Yankee win Friday night. Then Pelfrey and Santana shut the Yankees down the next two nights as Phil Hughes and CC Sabathia struggled. Hughes and Sabathia have been better of late, but they have their work cut out for them rematching against the Mets top two starters.

Tonight, the Yankees look to rouse their bats from their recent two-game slumber as they take on 35-year-old Japanese “rookie” lefty Takahashi. There’s been a general impression lately that the Yankees are struggling against left-handed starters. There’s something to that as the team has hit just .252/.337/.426 in games started by a lefty versus .290/.374/.451 in games started by a righty and is just 12-11 in games started by opposing lefties, but I’m not sold. Overall, the Yankees have hit .277/.363/.460 against left-handed pitching and .277/.361/.434 against righties. I think the issue is rather the quality of the lefties they’ve been facing rather than the handedness of those pitchers. Nine of those losses were started by Johan Santana, Jon Lester, David Price, Rickey Romero, Brett Cecil, Jon Danks, Jamie Moyer, Scott Kazmir, and Dallas Braden. The other two were games were lost by the Yankee bullpen and had little to do with the either starting pitcher (one was Sergio Mitre vs. Detroit spot-starter Brad Thomas, who pitched just three innings, the other was the game in which David Huff got hit in the head by an Alex Rodriguez line drive in the third inning).

Takahashi’s first major league start came against the Yankees. His second came against the Phillies. In those two games he allowed no runs in 12 innings and struck out 11 against one walk. In his next two starts, against the weak-hitting Padres and Marlins, he gave up 11 runs in 9 1/3 innings while striking out six against four walks and yielding three home runs. His last time out, he allowed just one run in seven frames to the Orioles, but struck out only two. As for Vazquez, as I reported on Monday, he is 4-2 with a 2.94 ERA over his last six starts, including six scoreless innings against the Mets, and has won each of his last three starts, posting a 2.57 ERA while striking out 22 in 21 innings against just five walks and 11 hits (albeit with four of those hits leaving the park).


Revising A Miracle, Part 3: Bridge & Tunnel

Hat Design by Ben DeRosa

This is a collaborative effort of words, numbers (Chris & Jon DeRosa) and original artwork (Ben DeRosa) dedicated to the memory of Joseph DeRosa, our grandfather, who pretty much hated every personnel move his beloved New York Mets ever made.

In Parts 1 and 2, we relived the meat of the Mets championship years. We now revisit the end of the 70s, when the Mets, disco and SkyLab succumbed to the inevitable pull of gravity.

1976 – 2nd Place NL East


player avg obp slg ws
Grote c 0.272 0.350 0.365 12
Milner 1b 0.271 0.362 0.447 19
Millan 2b 0.282 0.341 0.343 16
Garrett 3b 0.223 0.359 0.311 9
Harrelson ss 0.234 0.351 0.298 13
Singleton lf 0.288 0.379 0.418 24
Otis cf 0.280 0.341 0.446 25
Jackson rf 0.283 0.358 0.513 25


pitcher ip hits bb k era Ws
Seaver 271 211 77 235 2.59 20
Ryan 271 198 188 312 3.75 17
Matlack 262 236 57 153 2.95 18
Koosman 247 205 66 200 2.69 20
Lockwood 94 62 34 108 2.67 15
Apodaca 90 71 29 45 2.81 6

Anticipation for the first ever Bridge & Tunnel Series ran high as the Mets had their best club since 1973, and Yankees were charged up under new skipper Billy Martin. Each led their divisions into September, but the while Yankees went wire-to-wire by a stride, the Mets couldn’t shake Philadelphia. Rallying behind former Mets fireman Tug McGraw, the “You Gotta Believe” Phils snuck ahead at the finish line. Cincy beat the Phils and then swept the Yanks for their second straight title. The disappointment got the best of M. Donald Grant and, believing the team needed a spark to get back to the top, replaced manager Yogi Berra with veteran third baseman Joe Torre (“Joe Who?” wondered the writers accustomed to the Mets being managed by heroes of ‘50s New York baseball scene). Shocked and hurt to be cast aside despite his successful record, Berra did not return to Shea Stadium for Old Timer’s Day for another ten years.


2010 New York Mets

Ah, the Mets. You know, they’re not really that bad of a franchise. They’ve won four pennants while no other expansion team has won more than two. They were the first expansion team to win the World Series, and also the first to win a second (no expansion team has won more). They’ve followed every stretch of losing with a period of winning of similar length, having made four complete cycles in their 48-year history. Their new ballpark, in which they’ll host the Yankees for three games this weekend, is a gem.

Still, they just never seem to get things quite right. They’re baseball’s equivalent of Jerry on Parks & Recreation, a decent, well-meaning, hard-working city employee, who nonetheless botches everything he does and is the subject of merciless ridicule and scorn from his fellow employees.

The Mets have been in full-blown Jerry mode since September 2007, when they suffered a momentous collapse and lost the division to the Phillies on the final day of the season. In 2008 they suffered a similar, though less extreme September collapse, again coughing up the division to the rival Phillies. Then last year everything fell apart. Despite debuting their handsome new ballpark (which bizarrely celebrated the legacy of the Brooklyn Dodgers rather than the Mets’ own history and prompted the creation of the worst sleeve patch in Major League Baseball history), the Mets were a disaster. Everyone got hurt except David Wright, who inexplicably stopped hitting for power, the owners spent the season fending off rumors of Bernie Madoff-induced poverty, and everyone in the front office lost their damn minds.

The Mets 2009 season was such an overwhelming disaster that the team is still feeling shockwaves in 2010. In mid January, Carlos Beltran, who missed half of the 2009 season due to a knee injury opted to have knee surgery against the team’s wishes. The surgery was considered ill-timed because it was going to keep him out of action until May, but it’s almost June and he not only hasn’t returned, but has no timetable to do so and has not yet been cleared to resume working out. Wright, meanwhile, seemed to put 2009 behind him with an Opening Day home run at CitiField and a solid April overall, but when the calendar flipped to May, he started striking out at an alarming rate (29 Ks in 18 games, or once every 2.7 plate appearances) and enters this weekend series on a 4-for-29 (.138) skid.

The Mets season has followed a similar pattern. An eight-game winning streak in April put them in first place in the National League East for five days, but since that streak was snapped, they’ve gone just 6-13 and have fallen all the way to the bottom of the NL East standings, six games behind those blasted Phils.

Buoyed by a strong start from 26-year-old Mike Pelfry, who will face Phil Hughes Saturday night, and good work from their bullpen, the Mets are doing a decent job of keeping their opponents from scoring, but their offense isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. Installing rookie Ike Davis, son of former Yankee set-up man Ron, at first base has helped, but the rest of the lineup is riddled with issues.

Catcher Rod Barajas leads the team with ten homers and a .586 slugging percentage, but he’s only drawn two unintentional walks all season and has a .306 OBP that is over .300 only because he’s been twice hit with a pitch and twice intentionally passed. Big free agent addition Jason Bay is getting on base, but has hit just one home run. Angel Pagan has done a solid job filling in for Beltran in center, but is a league-average bat in place of a superstar. The rest of the lineup, meanwhile, has been a disaster. Jose Reyes is healthy but hitting like Carlos Gomez (.216/.264/.284). Jeff Francoeur continues to prove that his 2008 collapse was not a fluke. Luis Castillo is getting on base but isn’t even slugging .300 having connected for just three extra base hits in 140 plate appearances. All of that places more pressure on Wright, which likely is part of the reason for all of those strikeouts, and thus another Mets cycle of despair begins. Ah, the Mets.

Facing this team could be just what the Yankees need this weekend having gone 3-8 since their two blowout wins in Boston, 1-4 since taking the first two from the Twins last weekend, and having dropped their last three. Despite injuries to half of their lineup, the Yankees problem has been pitching, particularly relief pitching. In the last five games (the ones in which they’ve gone 1-4), the Yankees have allowed an average of eight runs per game.

I don’t imagine Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain will continue to suck, and David Robertson had an encouraging outing Thursday night, striking out four in two perfect innings, so there’s reason to expect improvement. Facing a National League lineup without the designated hitter (particularly this NL lineup, which is backed up by a similarly ineffective bench) should help as well.

It will be up to Javy Vazquez to get things off on the right foot. That’s not an encouraging statement, but Vazquez’s last start was sharp (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K against the Tigers) and he had an extra confidence builder by coming out of the bullpen on Monday to strikeout the only batter he faced (Kevin Youkilis, no less) and pick up an easy win. Besides which, if it really is true that Vazquez is a much better pitcher in the NL, he’s effectively pitching in the NL tonight. Personally, I think he’s better than that, though I am a bit concerned about rust and a potential lack of endurance given that his last start was nine days ago.

Facing Vazquez will be Japanese lefty Hisanori Takahashi, who is coming out of the bullpen to make his first major league start in place of injured rookie Jonathon Niese (strained left hamstring). Takahashi has struck out 11.4 men per nine innings thus far this year, albeit against too many walks (4.8 BB/9). As a starter in Japan, his rates were lower in both categories. In his last appearance, he threw 60 pitches in three innings against the Marlins giving up a pair of runs on four walks and four hits (including the only homer he’s allowed this season).

Kevin Russo gets his first major league start tonight playing left against the lefty Takahashi in place of Marcus Thames and his sprained ankle. Randy Winn is 0-for-11 with four strikeouts against lefties on the season after hitting .158/.184/.200 against them last year, so a good night from Russo could lead to more starts against southpaws given Thames struggles in the field. The lineup above Russo contains all the usual suspects, leaving the Yankees with a bench of lefty Juan Miranda, switch-hitters Winn and Ramiro Peña, and a pair of righties whom Girardi may be reluctant to use in backup catcher Chad Moeller and the day-to-day Thames.

As Alex mentioned, thanks to SNY we’ll be part of the media horde for this series and will be liveblogging all three games, so be on the lookout for Alex’s liveblog/gamethread closer to first pitch tonight. Mets roster below the jump, as always.


Revising a Miracle, Part 1: Meet the Amazins

Original Artwork by Ben DeRosa

This is a collaborative effort of words, numbers (Chris & Jon DeRosa) and original artwork (Ben DeRosa) dedicated to the memory of Joseph DeRosa, our grandfather, who pretty much hated every personnel move his beloved New York Mets ever made.

Over at the Hardball Times, one of our favorite baseball writers, the estimable Steve Treder, does these fascinating roster reconstructions, speculating on what might have happened if this or that team hadn’t gone through with some pivotal personnel decisions. In one piece, he imagined what might have become of the Braves had they not passed on Willie Mays. In another, he asked what if the Giants had sorted out their talent correctly in the 1960s. The “what if” scenario that most tantalizes Yankee fans is, of course, “what if the Yankees had held onto the group of prospects they produced in the mid-90s?”

What if the Yankees hadn’t given up on Andy Pettitte and dealt him off the National League in 1994? Then they might not have been so desperate for left-handed pitching that they were willing to swapfuture all-stars Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera to Detroit for David Wells. While Mariano has earned a reputation as a postseason choker due to his memorable meltdown in his first and only postseason appearance in 2006, it’s quite possible that with a few more chances he might have sorted things out.

What if the Yankee front office saw the charismatic future star they had in Derek Jeter, and hadn’t traded him to the Reds? Unlikely? Sure. But just pretend for a minute that Tony Fernandez had gotten injured at the outset of the 1996 season, and Jeter had gotten a chance to play in pinstripes.

It is difficult, even in the form of a Marvel Comics “What If?” fantasy, to imagine Bernie Williams starring for the Yanks instead of the Sox—when has George Steinbrenner ever given an unproven outfielder 1300 plate appearances to blossom?—but for the sake of argument, let’s just say that George was somehow suspended from making a premature call on Bernie and he roamed centerfield for an entire decade. What then?

With their actual free-agent signings to buttress this up-the-middle talent core, the Yankees might have had some kind of ballclub in the late 90s-early ‘00s.

To indulge such an exercise, you have to imagine the very same people behaving differently, but even still, it is remarkable that such a thin tissue of attitudes and circumstances means the difference between a great team coming together or not. Go back and check the trade rumors swirling around the NL forty years ago, for instance, and you will see that but for a few key decisions, the Amazin’ Mets dynasty of the 1970s might too have been scattered to the winds.


New York Mets II: Drop It While It’s Hot

The Yankees were lucky to take two of three from the Mets two weekends ago. Literally. Only Luis Castillo dropping a pop up in the first game—one of the flukiest plays I’ve ever seen giving the fact that it turned the last out of a Mets win into the last play of a Yankee win in the course of the ball falling six feet to the ground—prevented the Mets from winning that series.

Since then, the Mets have gone 5-5 and added Carlos Beltran to their list of key players on the DL (along with Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, John Maine, Oliver Perez and J.J. Putz). That means more major league exposure for 20-year-old top prospect Fernando Martinez, who enters the series on an 0-for-14 bender and is hitting .167 on the season. It ain’t pretty, but it should make Mets fans appreciate the .336/.425/.527 line Beltran put up before hitting the DL.

Tonight the Mets send 25-year-old sophomore groundballer Mike Pelfrey to the hill tonight. Pelfrey had a great run of seven starts from late April through the end of May in which he posted a 2.96 ERA while the Mets went 6-1, but he’s been unimpressive since, even tossing out his stinker against the Pirates on June 4.

The Yankees counter with CC Sabathai, who left his last start in the second inning with discomfort in his left bicep, but has reported no further problems since. The injury interrupted a streak of eight-straight games in which he completed seven innings. Sabathia was 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA over that stretch. The Yankees noticed Sabathia was hurting his last time out because he wasn’t finishing his pitches and was leaving everything up. Look out for that in the early going today.

Melky Cabrera, who missed yesterday’s game with the flu, is in right field tonight as Nick Swisher takes a seat. Brett Gardner, who has hit .342/.432/.513 since May 13, seems to be winning the center field job back. Francisco Cervelli, who hit his first major league homer on Wednesday night, will catch Sabathia for the seventh time this season.


New York Mets

New York Mets

2009 Record: 31-27 (.534)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 31-27 (.534)

2008 Record: 89-73 (.549)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 89-73 (.549)

Manager: Jerry Manuel
General Manager: Omar Minaya

Home Ballpark (Park Factors): CitiField (100/99)

Who’s Replacing Whom:

  • Fernando Martinez is filling in for Carlos Delgado (DL)
  • Alex Cora is filling in for Jose Reyes (DL)
  • Wilson Valdez is filling in for Alex Cora, who actually replaces Damion Easley
  • Omir Santos replaces Ramon Castro
  • Dan Murphy replaces Endy Chavez
  • Gary Sheffield replaces Marlon Anderson
  • Jeremy Reed replaces Nick Evans (minors)
  • Tim Redding is filling in for Oliver Perez (DL)
  • Fernando Nieve is filling in for John Maine (DL)
  • Livan Hernandez replaces Pedro Martinez
  • Francisco Rodriguez replaces Billy Wagner (DL)
  • Robert Parnell replaces Joe Smith
  • Sean Green replaces Duaner Sanchez
  • Ken Takashi replaces Scott Schoeneweis
  • Jon Switzer is filling in for J.J. Putz, who replaces Aaron Heilman

25-man Roster:

1B – Dan Murphy (L)
2B – Luis Castilla (S)
SS – Alex Cora (L)
3B – David Wright (R)
C – Omir Santos (R)
RF – Ryan Church (L)
CF – Carlos Beltran (S)
RF – Fernando Martinez (L)


R – Gary Sheffield (OF)
R – Fernando Tatis (UT)
L – Brian Schneider (C)
L – Jeremy Reed (OF)
L – Wilson Valdez (IF)


L – Johan Santana
R – Mike Pelfrey
R – Tim Redding
R – Livan Hernandez
R – Fernando Nieve


R – Francisco Rodriguez
L – Pedro Feliciano
R – Robert Parnell
R – Sean Green
R – Brian Stokes
L – Ken Takahashi
L – Jon Switzer

15-day DL:

SS – Jose Reyes (hamstring)
OF – Angel Pagan (groin)
IF – Ramon Martinez (dislocated finger)
RHP – John Maine (shoulder fatigue)
LHP – Oliver Perez (patellar tendonitis)
RHP – J.J. Putz (bone spur in elbow)

60-day DL:

1B – Carlos Delgado (torn hip labrum)
LHP – Billy Wagner (TJ)

Typical Lineup:

L – Alex Cora (SS)
S – Luis Castillo (2B)
S – Carlos Beltran (CF)
R – David Wright (3B)
L – Dan Murphy (1B)
L – Ryan Church (RF)
L – Fernando Martinez (LF)
R – Omir Santos (C)

Notes: Fernando Tatis is platooning with Murphy at first base. Santos and Brian Schneider are splitting the catching duties. Gary Sheffield has been spelling Martinez and Church in the outfield corners, but will more likely DH for all three games at Yankee Stadium.


Don’t Start Me Talkin’

I called in to Mets fan Kenrick Thomas’s “Real Sports Talk” on Blog Talk Radio last night to talk about the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, and a variety of other topics, including Joba Chamberlain, CC Sabathia’s shot at 300 wins, and Manny Ramirez’s All-Star candidacy. Check it out (I enter at the 3:25 mark):

Yankee Panky: CC, LeBron, and a Hot Stove that’s pre-heated

Separating truth from rumor during the baseball season is difficult enough, but during the hot stove season, it’s easy to get burned if you don’t view everything you read with a skeptical eye. We know the deal: the rumor-mongering is intended to sell papers, conjure arguments on talk radio, and stir conversation and commentary on blogs like this to keep baseball relevant in a town where both NFL teams are in first place and the Knicks look like an actual professional basketball team for the first time in six years.

Speaking of rumors, we knew the Yankees, with their financial clout and now $32 million to work with (I like Cliff Corcoran’s conservative accounting), would be big players in this winter’s free agent market. The past 30 hours or so have seen one constant in the CC Sabathia Sweepstakes: the Yankees are the highest — and only — bidder to date.

Not long after our Diane Firstman gave the skinny on the landscape’s analysis of the record offer made to the 6-foot-7, 290-pound southpaw, which included a quote from a Yankees official who welcomed the Mets’ inclusion in the mix, Newsday’s David Lennon reported that the Mets put the XX on CC. Joel Sherman wasn’t as definitive in this blog post, but he did not discount the Mets as a player, if for no other reason than to jack up the price for the Yankees.

What no one needs to see as it relates to CC Sabathia are stories like this. LeBron James is a Yankee fan. He’s friends with Sabathia, who until mid-summer spent his entire career in Cleveland. But do we, and should we, care what James has to say on this issue? In James’ defense, I believe this is more of an indictment of the Cleveland reporter who felt compelled to ask the question more than it is on James, who could face a similar free-agent dilemma next summer. James could opt out of the remaining two years of his contract in July and go to the highest bidder, which according to the aforementioned report, is expected to be either the Knicks or the New Jersey Nets. But if you’re the Cleveland scribe, why create a mess now? Haven’t those fans suffered for long enough? As a former reporter, I’m embarrassed. Maybe I’d have used that question as an icebreaker for an off-the-record situation, but that’s it. No way do you go to press with that.


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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver