The Almost Official Site of Author Matthew Silverman


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May 25, 2016

You Tube One-Year Dynasty Fade to Black

My son, Ty, not to be confused with new Met Ty Kelly (with #55, not a lot is expected of that Ty), is proud of his papa and loaded my talk on WAMC on youtube, so we are linking up. But we do discuss the relevant topic with Northeast Public Radio host Joe Donahue: Why does Matt Harvey suck so much?” I think Dan Warthen will be calling me tomorrow to get me to tap into the Dark Knight's psyche.

The youtube link is here. And it is one dark screen, so try out this link on where you can pick up One-Year Dynasty to keep your eyes busy.

May 22, 2016

Doubleheader Sweep, WAMC Link, Hall Call

I am doing limited appearances this year for One-Year Dynasty, but please use this as a Save the Date invitation: I will speak at the NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME IN COOPERSTOWN ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 20, AT 1 P.M. Even after doing it in 2001 and 2013, it is still an Amazin’ honor, but that’s all there is to say about it right now. So I will tell you about the day-night doubleheader of promotion on May 20. 

The daytime portion was at the WAMC Northeast Public Radio in Albany. I wake up to the station every morning, so it was kind of a big thing for me to visit the studio and see the people whose voices I had long heard. I even set up my Twitter account on my phone (if you care, most of my writing and posting is done from my desktop on my, well, desk). When I was in the green room, though, I got just nervous enough to forget to inundate my Twitter peeps with imminent warnings of my on air arrival. But it’s OK. If you missed it live or in the headline, here is the link.  

After flipping through a copy of Ansel Adams in Color in the green room, I started re-reading my book as if in the final minutes before an exam for which I knew the material like I’d written the book, so to speak. Joe Donahue is a real pro and made me feel at home and we had a great talk. I then got in my car, drove 50 miles back to work, got off work, got back in the car, and drove to the exact same block for the nighttime book-signing portion at the Low Beat. 

Run by Howard Glassman, the Low Beat is a Mets centric location in Yankeesland. His previous bar, Valentine’s, served a similar need in the Capital District. We set up the idea when I saw him at a Brooklyn Cyclones-Tri-City Valley Cats game last August. Nine months later a unique and wonderful day was born. Thanks to Dan Carubia, Arnold Dorman, Howard, Mike and Linda (not sure I got that 100 percent right), and everyone else who came on down. It was fun to pontificate from a barstool with the Mets winning, live music cranking, and a Narragansett at my elbow. Cheers!

May 19, 2016

Friday Day-Night Doubleheader in Albany: WAMC 11:45 a.m., Low Beat 6 p.m.

Well, I kind of gave away the news in the headline. But there are some details here, just the same. 

Friday, May 20, at 11:45, I’ll be on WAMC Roundtable, your Northeast Public Radio station in Albany. It’s the station I wake up to every morning and having an in-studio sitdown with Joe Donahue is both a treat and an honor. Listen live here.  

And then at night, Albany gets its Mets on. There are a lot of Yankees fans in Albany, all of whom can answer any baseball question with two simple words: “Twenty-seven rings.” But Howard Glassman’s Low Beat at 335 Central Avenue is a refuge and an enclave for the Mets fan, and I’ll be there before and during the Mets-Brewers game on the tube talking about a time when the only way these two teams could have played was in a World Series. (Mets in seven!)

May 9, 2016

Kevin Mitchell Still Coming Up Big 

There were a lot of nervous moments in the finale of the Mets-Padres series in San Diego. But the one that had me as nervous as any situation was when San Diego native Kevin Mitchell entered the booth and talked with Gary Cohen and Ron Darling. 

Mitchell was a Met for one year (and parts of a couple others as a September call-up), but he is still a beloved figure in Mets lore. It was his hit, of course, that kept the impossible rally going during the 10th inning of Game Six of the ’86 World Series. It is a linchpin in any 1986 retelling, as it certainly is for One-Year Dynasty. (Come to think of it, that could also be the name for Mitch’s one-year Mets career before going on to be MVP.)

I got a hold of Mitch a year ago after several failed attempts due to health concerns, which left him unable to move for a time. Finally we talked at length on the phone. It was a remarkable interview, and he set a few things straight. One of them was whether he was in the locker room at Shea, naked from the waist down, making reservations to fly home to his native San Diego as the rally began and he was summoned to pinch hit against Mets prospect turned Red Sox closer Calvin Schiraldi. The story has gone around for years and he once even confirmed it for a writer. Ballplayers and their memories can be fluid. Some remember every detail like it just happened a few hours ago. Others seem to have the ability to boil their entire career into one hell of a story that occurred all in one day. I don’t get a lot of scoops, but this one felt as much like a scope for a 30-year-old event. Yet it would be knocked out of the water if he said on the air that he pinch-hit commando. 

I breathed easier when Darling said, “Of course you were on the bench the whole time.” Knew it all along. So did Mitch.

Contrary to urban myth, Mitchell was in the dugout the whole time, pants on, ready to pinch-hit. Where else would he have been? “I’ll tell everybody right now: How in the hell was I able to be on deck and get a base hit? I’m a rookie. What the hell am I going to be doing in the clubhouse?” Mitchell said, denying the oft-told story that he had taken off his pants in the clubhouse in the 10th while making plane reservations for home in San Diego. “Everybody has a story to build up the hype. [CE1] I’m in a World Series game. And I’m learning something, my first World Series. Mookie Wilson told me, ‘Be prepared to hit.’ . . . Why would I be making a reservation when the Mets pay for your flight to go home? As a rookie? Tell me that.”

As an aside, don’t ask him about cutting off a cat’s head—a myth started by Dwight Gooden and perpetuated even in recent years by Darryl Strawberry. Suffice to say, it’s also false. But do ask Mitchell about his at bat against his former minor league roommate, Calvin Schiraldi.  

“That was true,” Mitchell said. “He would always talk about how he’d pitch me. And I took the first pitch for a strike on an inside fastball. [Footnote: It was a foul ball on a checked swing.] He always said that he’d start me off with a fastball inside and then he’d throw me a slider. And he did it. And I looked for the slider on the next pitch and got it.”

[One-Year Dynasty, Chapter 14, 2016, Lyons Press]

But then again I’ve known for 30 years that you could trust Kevin Mitchell to come up big when you needed him most. Glad to see he’s feeling a lot better than he was a year ago.

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Going to be in the Albany area on Friday May 20? Or if you weren’t planning to be there, change plans and come on up for Happy Hour on Friday, May 20, at 6 p.m. to the Low Beat. It is the Mets bastion of light in the upstate universe. I’ll be selling One-Year Dynasty and I will also have the new edition of 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die. We’ll watch the Mets game and down a couple.

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First review of One Year Dynasty goes to Lloyd Carroll. Writing for Queens publication Good Times Magazine, Carroll said, “For those who want to relive ’86 in vivid detail, check out Matt Silverman’s One-Year Dynasty (Lyons Press). Silverman, who has written many books on the Mets, gets the little details down, including how Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell appeared on MTV with Martha Quinn. he also gets a few of the Mets to admit the fear they had for Houston Astros pitcher Mike Scott, and some admit they would have lost Game 7 to them if they had to face him in the National League Championship Series for a third time.” And the first reviewer on said it was “fantastic.” Well, my ego’s been soothed for a week.

May 1, 2016

One-Year Dynasty and the Greatness of 1986

May 1, 2016 is what’s called the publication date for One-Year Dynasty, my new book about the last Mets world champion, 30 years old. Will we ever see another world champion? It may be sooner than we could dream or it could be another 30 years. (God, I hope not.)

I don’t know when the next Mets parade will be, but I do know all about the last one. I believe the 1969 world championship will always be the most important title in club history, but 1986 is the most significant, surely now, because it is the one in the most people’s mindset. Even if they weren’t yet born, there are everyday reminders of what that team did. But how did they really do it, day by day, month by month, when it was actually happening? How did they own New York? What was New York like in the grips of a Mets frenzy? It was the kind that is all the more rabid because it will not last forever—a fever burning hot and then it’s gone. One-Year Dynasty: Inside the Rise and Fall of the 1986 Mets, Baseballs One-and-Done Champions is for the people who never lost the fever, and those who cam along too late to appreciate that ’86 team.

I looked at dozens of hours of video (thank you, Larry DC), read tons of old newspapers, magazines, books, and dug up other stuff I had forgotten ever existed. And I dug up people who were there, whether playing for the team, managing them, sitting in the press box, or, in the case of Ed Randall, flying over Shea Stadium when the pennant could have gone either way.

It was an incredible season. The Mets were as dominant as any National League team between the birth of the World Series in 1903 and the addition of the wild card and the extra playoff rounds that, frankly, have watered down division titles and made it hard to compare them with teams of the past who, like the 1985 Mets could win 98 game and go home with nothing. Experts on the subject claim the ’86 Mets are still one of the 10 best teams of all time. And yet their victory after being down to their last out in the World Series with no one on base and down by two runs is still the most unlikely comeback ever.

Relive it with Keith and Davey, Wally and Mookie, Bobby O. and Kevin Mitchell, plus fans, writers, bloggers, and dazed Red Sox players and followers. It’s the ’86 Mets. Still coming to your town, they’re going to party it down. Big ’80s, big life.

As I did with Swinging ’73, I place baseball in the context of its times. Everything from the music (Wang Chung, anyone?) to the movies (Bueller, Bueller? Maverick?) to the Pittsburgh Drug Trials to collusion to Geraldo’s debacle of Al Capone’s vault to MTV to the tragedy of what happened to some of the stars and the whole organization in the years to follow, right up until the current resurgence. Everything about the Mets goes back to 1986. Three decades later, they’re still trying to get back to that stage where they own the late innings of late October. That is how a dynasty is formed, even it lasts a year on the field, it is still in the mind.

I am not planning a lot of promotion, at least not initially, except for a signing at the Low Beat in Albany around 6 p.m. on Friday, May 20. I’m glad to send signed copies to people for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation, and all the days in between. Contact me at the site, if you’d like.

But remember ’86, celebrate ’86. It is the touchstone for Mets fans young and old. It was the Mets painted as big and bold as they can be, backing up the talk, making us sweat, and covering us in the sticky residue of champagne and beer. Maybe the boys stayed too long and loud at the party. But it’s where we come from. It’s our Mets DNA.

April 29, 2016

Going Long for Spira Award

Jeff Long of Baseball Prospectus won the fourth annual Greg Spira Award, given to writers under 30 whose pieces on baseball display innovative analysis and reasoning. There have been some pieces that deal with people more than numbers and Long’s BP article sort of dealt with both. he used state of the art programs to compare players of different skill sets and came up with some interesting results. Interesting enough for the $1,000 first prize. 

The $200 second prize went to Jon Feyan for his homework. His capstone project for gradual school at Cardinal Stritch University in Wisconsin looked at analytics through eyes of baseball personnel. It is intriguing how that argument has completely turned around from a decade ago from maverick outcasts when Moneyball first came out to the way business is done.  

In between doing his high school homework, 18-year-old Ben Diamond looked at the success rate of shoulder surgery for pitchers. It is not the slam dunk experts would have you believe. Remember Johan Santana? Diamond got $100 for his third-place entry. Here is the release with links to all the three winning entries. 

Great job not just writing these pieces, but getting the pieces in for the Greg Spira Award, named after a good friend and a great Mets fan who died too young from kidney disease. We worked together on the Maple Street Press Mets Annual for four years and I’ve been judging this for four years without him. He would have turned 49 this week and he would have loved seeing the Mets finally sticking to a plan.

And if you knew Greg or know someone going through the pain of losing a sibling, Greg's brother Jonathan just came out with a book on the subject of dealing with the death of a loved one.

April 15, 2016

One Fan’s Take from Citi in a Year of Wonder

So far this year I’ve been to two Citi Field games. It was neither the first nor the last game of the initial homestand, so they lost both. Outscored 15-5. I sort of saw the lone Mets home run on the homestand by Yeonis Cespedes—I mean sort of because, having stumbled into the Promenade Club during Sunday’s frigid game (in the shade) against Philly, I could only see the tops of the outfielders, but I heard the cheer and picked up the crowd welcoming the ball into the stands. For one home run in 52 innings of swinging (and missing), I’m counting it. Unfortunately, I had much better sightings of Odubel Herrera, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcel Ozuna’s home runs—the latter two seen from my first visit to the Party City Deck Monday night. If they are going to name the stadium Citi Field, how about Party Citi Deck? Doesn’t matter, as they informed us it was now the M&M deck, but of all the stuff they “gave us” (after charging us $115 for all you can eat and drink) we did not get a single M&M. 

All right, I am already rambling and I’m still just trying to lay the story straight on last year. The postseason threw off my ritual annual postings so I didn’t know when to do them. So how about just in time for tax day?

Favorite Nonplaying Met: Juan Uribe. I sure do miss the guy’s bat and smile. Even in the World Series, he got up just once and singled in a run—compared to three K-ABs by totally done Michael Cuddyer in Kansas City. We’ve never had a FNP Met who came midseason from another team and spent just a couple of months on the Mets roster, but he was the only guy I wanted to see play more. Though Kirk Nieuwenhuis had a chance to go back-to-back FNPs, like Nick Evans before him (2009-10). Uribe played plenty until David Wright came back and then Juan got hurt and couldn’t play again until the World Series. Still, this coveted prize will look great in an Extended Stay America suite somewhere near Cleveland. We’re thinking about you, Juan, and there’s that rendezvous at Flo Field in Cleveland!

OK, what’s next? Mets final grades. To quote newlywed Flap from Terms of Endearment, who he had more pressing concerns than giving out grades on English papers: “Oh, I’ll just give ’em all B’s.” Rarely have I ever been prouder to be a Mets fan than I was last fall. That’s better than any letter grade I can come up with. 

And finally, there is the log of games at Citi Field, which I do annually so I never have to say I think I’ve been to so and so many games at the park. And for the first time since this began in 2009, I have postseason games to include. Come back a few months with me. It is magic from first to (almost) last pitch.

Captain’s Log 2015 Citi Field


Foe, Result

Mets Rec, Pos

MS Rec




HRs /by NYM

Who hit the HRs



Phi, 2-0 W

4-3, 2nd





0   Only thing more perfect than Opening Day at the park was start of perfect 10-0 homestand.


Tor, 4-3 W

35-30, 1st





2  Bautista 2 Most years this is signature win, but in '15... Syndergaard superb,  2 Bautista bombs, Duda RBI in 11th ties, and then a Wilmer walkoff hit!


LA, 7-2 L

49-48, 1st


Thomas Niese



Turner, Puig, Rollins

Conforto debut, night of Uribe & Johnson deal, and Niese missed birth to get torched by LA. Mets 2nd, 1 game over .500, and all changed.


Bos, 6-4 L

71-57, 1st



C. Torres


3 Ortiz, Bradley, Swihart  1st place Mets kept coming back on Sox, but another great Harvey start with no decision. Scoreless Eric O'Flaherty appearance!
2-Sep Phi, 9-4 W 74-59, 1st 3-2 Harvey Nola   4/3 Tejada, Conforto, Cespedes, Sweeney Finally saw a Mets HR--3, actually! And Tejada inside-the-park job! Plus Conforto and Cespedes! And Mets got win for Harvey...just before innings gate and the big series in DC.
4-Oct. Was, 1-0 W 90-72, W 4-2 Clippard Treinen Familia  1/1 Granderson Worried this'd be for the marbles. Mets no-hit previous night. So what? Granderson HR!
12-Oct LA, 13-7 W NLDS, 2-1 5-2 Harvey Anderson   4/2 d'Arnaud, Cespedes, Gonzalez, Kendrick First postseason game at Citi. Heard ovation for Tejada a mile away--where we had to park! Mets down 3-0 and then...Ka-Boom! 10 unanswered runs! One NLDS game not duel.
17-Oct Chi, 4-2 W NLCS, 1-0 6-2 Harvey Lester Familia 3/2 Murphy, d'Arnaud, Schwarber 1973 World Series level frigid but electric at top of Citi. d'Arnaud off apple, Shawarber off Unisphere, Murph HR and nice play to end.
30-Oct KC, 9-3 W WS, 1-2 7-2 Syndergaard Ventura   2/2 Wright, Granderson Pregame atmosphere worthy of World Series. Standing room only and my spine tingles thinking of Wright's HR--and Syndergaard!
29-Sep KC, 7-2 L WS, 1-4 7-3 Hochevar Reed   1/1 Granderson Should have quit while I was ahead. Spent last half inning in last go round for Pepsi Porch.


      Harvey 3   Familia 2 23/11 Grand 3, d'arnaud 2, Cespedes 2 Like everything else in 2015, the HRs came on late. As did the wins.
  Since ’09 opening 280-287 46-38 Dickey & Santana 4 Pelfrey 3 K-Rod 7 126/68 Wright 8 Counting postseason, Mets are 284-290 at Citi. A winning record at the place isn't far fetched.


April 3, 2016

Reflections of a Mets Life: 2015

Yes, I'm behind. Months behind in everything, and this blog has ended up at the bottom of the pile after family, finishing books, sitting at work, and what could have been the best sports year of my life. But wasn't. It was close, though.

To be honest, I could not even put the lid on 2015 until January 2016 was almost done, with my Arizona Cardinals, but that ended in the NFC Championship Game, quickly, I might add, but they did pull out an incredible game out of the fire against the Packers. In short, the year 2015 can be summed up as absolutely superb, but a couple of game short of the ultimate goal. But it was close.

The World Series. The Mets in the World Series. Every step was as inconceivable as the villain Vizzini (Wallace Shaun) in The Princess Bride.

The Mets are getting Yeonis Cespedes at the trade deadline and it won't cost them their best prospects.


The Mets are going to knock off the Nationals for the division title and the season-ending series against Washington won't mean a thing.


The Mets are going to beat the Dodgers despite not having homefield advantage or, apart from one game, not hitting at all.

Bah, inconceivable!!

The Mets, who lost all seven games against the Cubs in 2015, are going to sweep them in the NLCS to reach the World Series.

As I told you, it would be absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable!!!

Inconceivable indeed. Though I was working two jobs, working on five books, and numerous pressing personal issues that would are still too painful to share, the Mets, for once, were the one constant in my life. They just kept winning. I hadn't missed a Mets postseason game in person since the last two games of 1986, but I missed one each in these three postseason series. Didn't matter. Daniel Murphy's heretofore up and down career was all up, stealing unoccupied bases and hitting homers at key moments. Every... single... game. And the pitching was as good as anything I've ever seen in a Mets uniform. Yes, anything. Even Terry Collins could not make a wrong move (until, sadly, he did). And if only for a couple more late-inning outs in the World Series, it might have all turned out like a fairy tale.

Inconceivable!!!! You keep saying that word. I don't think that world means what you think it means.

I saw the first pitch of the year and the last from the upper deck at Citi Field. I went to eight games in between (more on that in a future post), but I saw most of the kids pitch: deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard, and of course, Jeurys Familia. I am still trying to catch up on the work, but in the coming weeks you will see how my homework came out: One-Year Dynasty, 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die (third edition), Mets by the Numbers (the second edition of Jon Springer's landmark concept). And Red Sox and Cubs by the Numbers will also be out soon, in case you think I've been slacking. All are available for preorder, I may add because there is room from promotion every year.

It is a new season but 2015 still seems to go on. The game goes on. Life has been moving as fast as a Matt Harvey fastball. And I'm still swinging. Let's go Mets!

Keep the inconceivable coming. 

April 1, 2016

Mets and Royals Agree to Go Double or Nothing on Series Trophy

Didn't like how the World Series turned out? Well, here's a chance to take the World Series trophy from the Royals... this Sunday night!

How could this happen? You know how the players from opposing teams nowadays love to fraternize before a game, no matter how important the contest. Fun-loving Mets outfielder Yeonis Cespedes hit it off with Royals catcher Salvador Perez so well during the World Series that when Perez stopped in Miami to film a commercial on his way from home in Venezuela to spring training in Arizona, the two hit the town harder than the Royals jump on a fastball. After many cervesas, Perez agreed to put the World Series trophy back in play in their rematch on Opening Night.

Wait, you ask, what are the Mets putting up if they lose? Yeonis agreed to put up his entire 2017 salary of $23.7 million. Perez was not aware that Cespedes can (and likely will) opt out of that contract after this year, leaving the Royals with a whole lot of nothing if the Mets can pull this off. But how can the suits from MLB let this happen? There has never been a World Series rematch on Opening Day (or Night), so this is new territory. And an old man in Quiggleville, PA recently found a copy of the Temple Cup agreement of 1894 that has some bearing on this issue, back when gambling was not limited to Indian-run casinos, state lotteries, and free agency.

By the time the lawyers get it all sorted out, the Mets might just have added a third trophy to the display vase at the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum. The Kansas rubes never saw this coming. They sure can hit, though. And run. And pitch. And celebrate in Flushing.

But after having the whole winter off and no two-inning saves to wear him out, maybe Jeurys Familia will be back to his pre-Series self. And Terry Collins knows to never let Matt Harvey talk him into anything. And Lucas Duda has practiced the throw from first to home 370,000 times (or, in dollars, the amount of money each World Series-winning player got).

Cespedes even convinced Perez  to put his World Series MVP on the line. (Perez really was hammied in Miami.) If Cespedes can pull of this trick, he deserves MVP even if he goes 0 for 4 in the game.

What better way to start the 30th anniversary of the 1986 season? Well, maybe pre-ordering this book is a good start.

January 21, 2016

Greg Spira Award Nominations Are Open

It is time again for the Greg Spira Award, a reward for excellence and promise in young baseball writers. Named for my old friend and colleague, Greg co-edited the Mets Annual with me, and before that we worked together at Total Sports. A lifelong Mets fan from Whitestone, Queens, Greg was a long-time proponent for baseball research on the web and always championed giving young writers a chance. This is the fourth award since he died from kidney disease just after Christmas 2011. He was 44. 

As one of the award administrators, I’m asking for some candidates. You do not even need to write anything new. It just have to have been written between January 16, 2015 to January 15, 2016. First prize is $1,000, which, last time I looked, was a pretty good payday for an already written article for someone under 30. (It’s not bad pay for a piece for a writer over 50, for that matter.) Last year’s winner, Lewis Pollis, turned his baseball front office-themed college thesis in economics into the Spira Award. Within a year was hired as an analyst by the Philadelphia Phillies. Cee Angi won the $200 second prize for his superb piece on Vin Scully. Rob Arthur placed third ($100) for his innovative research on the frequencies made by bat on ball

The full press release for the 2016 award is here, but what we are looking for in a nutshell is this: Winning entries must display innovative analysis or reasoning by an author who was 30 years old or younger at the time of the entry’s publication. 

If you are under 30 and have written something that fits this category, by all means fill out an application. And if you know someone who fits the qualifications, please nominate him or her. Nominations can be made until March 6. It’s a great tribute and a great opportunity.

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Sad to say that the Queens Baseball Convention, an important part of the offseason and run by the fans, has been postponed due to Weather Report (Not So) Suite. They are rescheduling it for sometime in the spring, and hopefully it will resurrect the book panel I was supposed to be on moderated by Jason Fry of Faith and Fear in Flushing fame. And hopefully by then I have some copies of the books I have been working on for years and months (updating took months, that is). “Summers fade and roses die…” and that’s why we write. Lest they be forgotten.

January 17, 2016

East Coast Cardinal Survives by the Shovel

For those who don’t know, forgot, or don’t care, I pledge to be the only Arizona Cardinals fan on the East Coast. Even after that amazing win over the Packers—the second such agony and ecstasy OT playoff win over the Packers in the last six years, Saturday Night Live host Adam Driver, whose entrance was delayed almost an hour due to the late run of the game, came out and said “Congratulations to the Arizona Cardinals.” And about three people clapped. Obviously they were from out of town. 

But so what? I am a Mets fan, so I know what it is like to be ignored. And as long as you keep winning, you get to laugh while others yawn and stare at their phones. I will not forget this game. Allowing two Hail Marys on one drive, on fourth-and-20, and essentially, fourth-and-45 is mind-boggling. Having a coin flip that does not count is something I have never seen. And a shovel pass from Carson Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald, the guy who just went 75 yards and the other team has to be covering for the winning touchdown. Thats incredible

For the second time in their 95 year NFL History, they will go the NFC Championship Game. (They did play in a couple of NFL Championship Games; even won an NFL title in 1947, but all anyone cares about the Super Bowl.) I actually missed the first half of the game, going with friends to see Brooklyn, the movie, not the borough—and if I could say Saoirse Ronan I would say she’s superb. And Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) excels as well. The movie was good, but the game will linger. No matter what happens next. Though I recall thinking something like that last October.

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Oh, and if I don’t get back on the site before next week, let me proudly say I’ll be on the book panel at the third annual Queens Baseball Convention on Saturday, January 23. By the fans, for the fans, because the Mets don’t want to do one. The lack of official team hype and BS is what makes QBC great. Do not miss it! QBC 16 will be at a new location: O’Neill’s Restaurant at 64-21 53rd Drive in Maspeth. It starts at 11:30 a.m. I go on with the panel hosted by Jason Fry at 3:30 p.m.

January 7, 2016

Fame, Thy Name Is Piazza

This is a test. If Mike Piazza is elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and you do not post an article commenting on it within a significant 
amount of time, you do not have what can be deemed a functioning Mets site. I have been preoccupied working on a few books and actually had
to make late changes to the night of his announcement to reflect the Mets doubling their Hall of Fame representation, and, wait and see, doubling 
their retired player numbers as well. They have set the bar purposely high in this area.
It has been a pretty darned good year in Metsland. Sure, George Steinbrenner might classify losing the World Series as a failure, but if Mets fans
thought that way they’d never be happy. Not that losing to the Royals didn’t hurt. It still hurts. With two rounds needed to win a pennant, the 
odds of returning to the World Series are not good. It is possible. And you can even win the second time around. Just ask the Royals. But screw 
them. Im still mad and hurt. I am pretty excited about Mike Piazza getting into the Hall of Fame, though. And going in as a Met.
Piazza’s arrival in 1998 was a Keith Hernandez kind of change. It was worth the $21 for box seats and taking my three-month-old daughter to her
first game and later making it one of my earliest posts on this site. The Mets went from pretty good to really good after getting him, while the 
post-Mex Mets started from a lower low and reached a higher high. Piazza was the focus of the offense. And I remain convinced that another year
with Edgardo Alfonzo-John Olerud-Piazza middle of the order and they win a World Series. And if they hadn’t played the Yankees in 2000…
Piazza had gotten painfully close to the Hall of Fame and then blasted through this time around. All the steroids era players will probably get in one 
day, just like the guys who exploded offenses in the 1930s one day stopped being punished. People say, Who cares?  everyone was doing it. 
Because if everyone was jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, everyone else would follow behind. And be handed millions of dollars for the risk. If there
was any.
I like the comment made by Roy Halladay: “When you use PEDs you admit your not good enough to compete fairly! Our nations past time should 
have higher standards! No Clemens no Bonds!” Roger threw a bat at Roys s head or something, but I wish a player had said that 20 years ago. 
The players caused this problem. The owners exacerbated it. And the writers, the low men on the prestige and pay totem polls are the ones left to 
administer it. Funny thing is, Halladay, who is not eligible for the Hall until 2019, may get in before Clemens does.
The Hall of Fame is a great place. I have friends who work there. I have a Hall of Fame club member T-shirt that is almost as old as Steven Matz. 
It is funny how this little town in upstate New York has so many quaking in their boots. What should be bothering them is their conscience. 
I believe Mikey P. is clean. I just wish we knew and that someone did something about it when they could. It’s baseball. In football Peyton Manning
has serious allegations leveled against him regarding HGH and barely an eye is batted. Think that will keep him out of his Hall of Fame?
But Cooperstown is what matters as is the fact that Mike Piazza is there in a Mets hat. Mets ownership went out of its way after his retirement to 
make it clear that they thought of him as their guy. This time the owners were right. And this time the writers were right.

December 12, 2015

Mets Gift of the Year: Take Thee to Citi

Every year at this time (or later) I toss out an idea for those looking to give the gift of Mets at holiday time. Often, the suggestion is books, because I know of no better way to say a lot about Mets for $20 or so and learn something at the same time. There are an absolute ton of Mets books due out next year, including three from your faithful servant (one new, and an update or two crammed with new material).  

You could say the gifts have already been given for 2015. Mortgaging a small bit of future for a push to the postseason. The Washington Nationals not firing Matt Williams when he lost the team and lost tons of games with questionable moves. Knocking off the Dodgers in a tense NLDS. Sweeping the Cubs in the NLCS after Chicago swept the season series from the Mets. The thrill, never mind the outcome, of returning to the World Series for the first time in 15 years. You could even say that Michael Cuddyer retiring and freeing up a bunch of money for a cash strapped club is a gift under the tree. (Mike, you may not have been my favorite player, but that is a classy way to go out with your dignity in tow.)

But we are looking at something simple and even for under the tree. Getting your butt to Citi Field, or getting someone there who hasn’t gone in a few years due to some grand point. Here is the news: Your experiment has failed. The ship is leaving without you. And you are not hurting the Wilpons, you’re hurting yourself. Or your loved ones. The Wilpons will endure. So must you. We are not talking about season tickets, we are talking about a game or two. Get you back in flow, Joe. 

I address all the reasons some may be reticent with a never-before-published segment to the new edition to 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die. This did not appear in the 2008 or 2010 versions of the book. It didn’t have to. It needs saying now. 

Have the Mettiest of holidays.

Go to a Mets Home Game

The first two incarnations of this book did not include this recommendation because it seemed too obvious, but following the team’s financial miasma that took over the Mets conversation for much of the 2010s, it is worth advising now: See the Mets in person at Citi Field. If you don’t live near New York, see number 82. 

Many, many Mets fans have proclaimed that they will not attend another Mets game until the Wilpons sell the team. As of 2015, with a newly minted National League pennant and the floor of the Wrigley Field visiting locker room still sticky from the champagne from the giant bottle of bubbly Jeff Wilpon was last seen hoisting following the sweep of the Cubs, it doesn’t look like ownership is changing soon. So how many more pennants do you plan to miss? They don’t come around in Flushing too often, no matter who owns the team. 

First, for those planning to raise a new generation of Mets fans, the best way for it to stick is to bring young kiddies and (if it applies) bring your wife, as the song goes. You can watch all the baseball you want on TV or buy tons of merchandise (and doesn’t that wind up in ownership’s pockets?), but it is much more likely to take hold in an environment with thousands of others with the same predisposition. If you want to raise Yankees fans, or worse, people who don’t care about baseball at all, the best way to do that is to not take them out to the ballgame. It can go a little far in the other direction, like the kids under 10 seen by the hundreds after midnight of a 13-4 lead in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the Division Series, but the Mets have been known to go long periods between sips of playoff bubbly.  

Watching on TV is cheaper, but it’s not anywhere close to the shared experience of the ballpark. And here are a few hints on how to do so without costing an arm or a leg or bringing excess treasure to owners you don’t like. Here’s a five-step plan. 

1. Buy from Stub Hub or similar secondary market sources—including people you know who have extra tickets. Stub Hub is partner with almost all major league teams, including the Mets, and there is a processing fee, but it is a great way to get tickets at a reduced price (like the $6 Promenade seats overlooking the infield purchased at the last minute for the final regular season game of 2015) or an incredibly inflated price (like the sum I cannot disclose for 2015 World Series standing room tickets, should the Mrs. reads this).

2. Take public transportation. This will keep you from paying $22 and up for parking at the ballpark, unless you are willing to get there early, park free on the street, and then walk a bit.

3. Bring your own food. The Mets are pretty good about letting people bring in food, so long as it is not in a cooler. As for drinks, the team website says, “Guests may bring in one, soft, plastic, factory-sealed water bottles of 20 ounces or less. Guests may also bring in one sealed, soft-sided child’s juice box. Note: Water bottles and juice boxes may not be frozen.” (Also be careful of metal containers, including aerosol sun screen, bring a plastic bottle instead.)

4. Give blood. New York Blood Center in recent years has given free Mets tickets to people giving blood during certain times of the year. Likewise, people donating to the team’s December coat drive and summer food drive (10 items or more) at the stadium receive free seat vouchers for future games at Citi.

5. Don’t confuse laziness or cheapness with some high moral stand.  

To quote Auntie Mame, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” And have you tried the Pat LaFrieda steak sandwich at Citi Field?

Bonus Paragraph Not Available in Book (or sold in stores, to use holiday speak)

If I may digress, I came from a household where baseball was not big, but I suddenly got into the game and the Mets at age 10 in 1975. That year both the Mets and Yankees played at Shea Stadium, and I first saw the Yankees play at Shea against the Indians on Oldtimers Day, with all the pomp and circumstance moved from the Bronx to Flushing. And I pulled for Cleveland the whole way. A few weeks later my father took me to the same place to see the Mets, and that beat-up old stadium was the only structure I loved as much as the house where I grew up. As bad as the Mets were in the years that followed, I cherished going to those games with my dad—mostly losses—almost as much as the postseason games I was later privileged to attend with my friends. I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Take your kid to the ballgame. Or take yourself, for your own good. You’re guaranteed to have the time of your life. (Disclaimer: Guarantee not valid in Flushing.)

December 6, 2015

Some Run There, Terry

Well, hey there! I know you were worried. Yes, I took the Mets loss in the World Series kind of hard. You get so close to the whole thing and then it comes down to a few bad plays that if they are made, maybe I’ve been on a happy bender for the last month. But we all know that didn’t happen. Though I wasn’t sitting around the house all depressed watching Mets Classics, eating Haagen Dazs, and every few minutes bawling, “Aw Murph!” 

There was some business to attend to. First came the finishing touches on One-Year Dynasty: Inside the Rise and Fall of the 1986 Mets, Baseball’s Impossible One-and-Done Champions, which originally had numerous opinions stated and interviews done about how the Mets would never match ’86 and could not win with current ownership. So that needed some massaging, but not as much as if the Mets had won the whole thing. I was ready to do the work. I really was, but… “Aw, Murph!” And I know if I’d made the throw Duda made when I was in Little League, I would have spent part of every offseason day throwing the ball against the garage door until I made the perfect throw. Every time. But where are we? Oh, that’s right, plugs!

We will have some report card grades, along with the Mets Gift of the Year, Favorite Nonplaying Met, Met’s Mets Log, and other features you have come to cherish (or scroll past when they are plugged on Facebook and Twitter). Just give me some time and space to get all this done. 

Since I went so long between posts I have some bonus text for you. The book I wrote in 2008 that spurred the launching of this site, 100 Things Mets Should Know and Do Before They Die, will see its third edition in March of 2016. (new edition available for pre-order or old or previous edition because Santa’ll tell you those pre-orders do not always stuff stockings to the level he likes. 

Here is a piece I wrote for the new edition of 100 Things that kept me from writing on this site. I have been rather critical of Terry Collins on this site—but he is getting his due in the latest version of 100 Things. You’ll have to pick up a copy to find out where T.C. ranks among the other four pennant winning Mets managers, plus Casey Stengel, the only Mets manager older than Teflon Collins is less than a decade from surpassing as oldest Mets manager in history. But I will say with all sincerity, 2015 was a superb job, Terry. You came awfully close to The Only Thing This Mets Fan Wants to See and Experience Before I Die. And for that we thank you.

Terry Collins

Frankly, if someone had told me in July of 2015 that I would have to clear room in this latest book update for a Terry Collins entry, I would have told the person that they were crazy. Who’s crazy now?

Terry Collins became the fifth Mets manager in history to win a National League pennant. The Mets, who had the most anemic offense in the National League when July began, became overnight thumpers following the arrival of Yoenis Cespedes, the headliner among several key acquisitions by Sandy Alderson around the July 31 trading deadline. Collins, who at 66 was baseball’s oldest manager in 2015, could have remained old school and followed the path that resulted in brief tenures with the Astros and Angels in the 1990s. But he embraced new methods.

One such development was “The Matrix,” not a confusing Keanu Reeves movie but a system created by the Mets front office profiling how hitters did against comparable pitchers. It paid dividends once the Mets roster acquired enough legitimate hitters to give Collins real lineup options. Those combinations differed almost nightly through the last two months of the year, but the results were consistent: 37-17 from the day the Mets made the Cespedes deal to the weekend they clinched the NL East.

It was an odd year in many ways. The Mets, who hadn’t been no-hit in 22 years, were no-hit twice in one season for the first time. No Met had ever homered three times in a game at home—it happened twice (Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Lucas Duda). Queens native Steven Matz drove in a major league record (for a pitcher) four runs in his major league debut and got the win. And Collins, who in June 2015 surpassed Mets managing legend Gil Hodges for third all-time in team victories, won a career high 90 games. He joined Hodges and Yogi Berra, along with the two men ahead of him—Davey Johnson and Bobby Valentine—as Mets managers to win a National League pennant.  

Collins never reached the majors as a player, but the Michigan native landed in New York after managing in Japan and guiding China’s inaugural World Baseball Classic team in 2009. He served as Mets minor league field coordinator in 2010 and, after Alderson replaced Omar Minaya as GM, became the 20th manager in Mets history.

Collins was a seen as a company man who would take the long view in rebuilding, but what had felt as endless as a Department of Transportation highway project was suddenly complete. To his credit, Collins still gave answers that made reporters chuckle and the internet buzz, even as some grandstand managers scratched their heads. Should he have taken out Matt Harvey earlier in Game 5 of the World Series? It seems so in retrospect, but he had successfully rolled the dice in Game 5 of the Division Series, bringing in rookie phenom Noah Syndergaard for his first major league relief appearance in a one-run game. Collins looked brilliant when Syndergaard was perfect and the Mets won the deciding game at Dodger Stadium. Collins’s club then took on the Cubs and everyone’s favorite managing genius, Joe Maddon, winning four straight after going 0-7 against Chicago in 2015, B.C.—Before Cespedes.

Maybe the clock struck midnight on Cinderella in the World Series—two losses to Kansas City did come after midnight in extra innings. But if there was a fairy godmother/father for the 2015 Mets, it was Terry Collins. For a team that Sports Illustrated picked to finish fourth in its division, with a manager that many pundits thought would be among the first fired in ’15, Collins was the only NL manager still in a dugout when October was pulled off the calendar.  

—From third edition of 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, available March 2016

October 23, 2015

The 2015 World Series: Just Like Starting Over

It is so much easier to think of stuff to write when all goes badly for the Mets. That is normal. This is strange. But fun. 

I am used to putting Mets pennant winners in a formatted scenario in my writing, place on pedestal and watch. The most recent team was in 2000. The most recent postseason team was 2006. I had written about these and the other “special” Mets ballclubs 10 times over in books and on this site. Now, it’s like starting over. I don’t know nothin’. Except this:

  • I have been trying to come up with a name for the youth movement or the new age rotation for the update of 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die. I’ve got nothing as far as names go. Just call them rather successful.

  • Daniel Murphy. No Met has ever reached this level of white hot. Hell, few players ever have. Even Reggie Jackson, when he was undeservedly named MVP of the World Series by Sport Magazine in 1973—I’ve written about this before—did not hit at all during the night games in New York (1-for-12) and 8 for 14 in his last three games in the Oakland sunshine after taking the collar in the opener against Jon Matlack. Mr. October had one home run. Murph does that for daily exercise. 

  • Yoenis Cespedes and Travis d’Arnaud. It is a strange pair, but when they hit, the Mets are unstoppable. Throw in Lucas Duda. Daniel Murphy can’t possibly stay that hot, but if these three can combine to bring what Murph brought during the playoffs, you’re gonna like the way you look

  • Defense. This team has made some Amazin’ plays of late. The Murphy stop to end Game One. The Duda dives. (Say it fast and it sounds like “The Dude Abides.)  David Wright playing third base like someone who earned his two Gold Gloves rather than receiving them as consolation prizes for the incredibly productive offense and bitter endings to his team's 2007 and 2008 seasons. 

  • And the relief pitching coming through when it was needed. Jon Niese getting the one big out needed in the series (though Bartolo Colon earned the win in Game Four by getting an out that seemed huge to Mets fans used to everything going wrong, but it was a 6-1 lead). Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed holding serve and Jeurys Familia, which is Spanish for whatever über Methead Jim Bruer says it is on a given night. And if there if there is ever a direct-to-video sequel to The Big Lebowksi (Lebo Large Dos: The Quickening?), I would actually watch it just to see him. And I promise to finally sit down and watch his classic performance in Half Baked. (The sequel he’s got to do, Twice Baked—dude….!)

  • Terry Collins has to keep being the lucky leprechaun whose every move transforms into a pot o’ gold. I never thought the Mets could win with him. Well, shut my mouth.

  • And Sandy Alderson, who some call the grandfather of Moneyball, has out Billy Beaned Billy Beane when it comes to October. Those A’s teams only made it out of the Division Series once, and that year they got smoked by a Detroit Tigers team the Mets should have smoked in the World Series. But the Mets got knocked off before they could reach the 2006 World Series. Well, here we are now.

There is one other thing I know, and this I know from experience. None of this means anything now. For the Mets to end a 29-year championship drought, they have to start from scratch and hold the Royals insert AL team here at bay, get clutch hits, prevent clutch hits, and win on  the road in a hostile environment full of people as hungry for a title as we are. 

The World Series is upon us and for once we are not watching it like the dutiful fans we are, respecting the baseball gods rather than loudly ignoring it because our team isn’t there. We’d miss a lot of World Series that way. And if you haven’t ventured up late to see it lately, or endured the braying in the Fox booth—Tim McCarver retired, in case you weren’t aware—the World Series is what baseball is all about. Numbers are great, but winning ends arguments. It might even shut up a Yankees fan. But I’m not sure. It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten what that sounds like.

October 16, 2015

Dodgers Break Mets Legs? Mets Break Dodgers Hearts

Playoff baseball has been a solitary experience for me or a long time, watching other teams play and other fans celebrate while a dog slept near me and the family snoozed out of yelling range. But it never meant as much as it did Thursday night in Los Angeles. In California it was over by 8:30 p.m. Let them all hug communally in despair. Let them hold Chase Utley’s hand as he awaits sentencing 10 days after he broke lil’ Ruben Tejada’s ankle on that dirty slide. Let Utley rot.  

Here it is after midnight and work first thing in the morning, but I had to put pen to paper, so to speak, to tell you about a memory. I’m not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet… well, you know. 

P. and I were in the upper tank at Shea Stadium, October 9, 1988. We were just so sure that the Mets were going to wipe the floor with L.A. and then beat Oakland as revenge for the 1973 World Series. Instead we saw Mike Scioscia smoke a ball into the bullpen over the head of Randy Myers, who should have been in the game pitching to the squatty body catcher not known for power. We stayed for extra innings. We sipped from a flask, poured it into Cokes in Harry M. Stevens cups. P. tumbled down the emptying rows, stopped by a couple from Commack before he reached the bottom. (P. gave me permission to retell this after finally beating L.A.--somehow 2006 does not feel like it counts because it was too easy.)for that, good thing nobody’s up—on this coast.) We all got beat up by L.A. that week. At the time my sister and brother lived in Los Angeles and I’d spent a couple of weeks traveling around out there after graduating college, but you know what, I hate L.A. As we all sang to parody the Randy Newman song. (Don’t look for a link to I Love L.A., I got your link right here.) I haven’t been back to L.A. since they moved away in the 1990s. They’re so disappointed they want to go to bed… but it’s only 9 o’clock. Sleep tight. 

I’ll be out late Saturday night for the NLCS opener, my treat to myself for prudently ending a streak of 23 consecutive Mets home postseason games I’d attended, a streak that started the day before P. and I climbed (and barely stayed in) the upper tank in 1988 and ended Tuesday night, which was good because Monday was the worst Flushing traffic I had ever encountered at a non U.S. Open, fireworks, or Shea closing forever game. I got home at 3 a.m., another record for nights that did not involve a few bar hop stops on the way home. But they won and I did get to work at 8 the next morning. We’re all working hard this time of year. 

Forcing myself to end the silly and costly streak was the best thing I could do. Like Cal Ripken, suddenly our voice of October with Ron Darling, taking himself out after proving his point 2,632 games later. It doesn’t matter how many you go to in a row. It matters how many you win. And though the Mets went 15-8 during my run, we know where it got them. The last time I had missed a postseason game was 1986, and they managed to win those last two games without me around.

What I love about now is that you don’t know what the future will bring. That’s OK. Enjoy Murph and Yoenis and Clippard and Kelly and Uribe and everyone who’s having to call the landlord and tell them they will be staying another week.  

We’ve heard for years about how great it’s going to be when everything comes together for the Mets. The future is now. Who knows when it ends? Drink it in.

October 8, 2015

Mets-Dodgers Preview, Spoken Word Version

I would love to write about the National League Division Series, but family commitments being what they are this year, I am going to talk it out instead with my pal Ralph Zeke Tyko. Sit back and enjoy. And we mix in lots about 1973, 1986, and life. In the weeks to come, we will have the usual Favorite Non Playing Met Award and final report cards, but hopefully not for a few weeks. First thing first.

September 26,2015

Same As It Ever Was

This has been a crazy time. On Wednesday I was being interviewed by John Delcos for Mets Report about the decision-making in the 1973 World Series (RIP, Yogi Berra, George Stone or George Thomas Seaver, you were still a top five Mets manager), and as Freddie Freeman came off the bench and knocked in five runs over the course of our conversation, I thought for the world the Mets and Nationals would play a do-or-die series next weekend. Three days later a tear is trickling down my face as my son and I sit in the orange seats from Shea and watch Jay Bruce strike out.  

And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

No one in the clubhouse interviews thanked the people that truly helped most—and trust me, I watched ]all the champagne soaked, translator-aided interviews on SNY and had to tear myself away from the replay to write this. “First, I want to thank the Nationals for making this easier than even the people at Optimistic Mets Fan could have imagined.” Melissa, can you translate? 

Scroll down a little here, on the feed. (I am permanently behind in updating the site technologically). I thought this season was over months ago. I challenged Sandy Alderson to make the moves needed. I gave some tough grades on my first half report card and said this of Terry Collins, “Players like him, but he’s outlived his usefulness here. It is time to win and he’s not the man.” Well, shut my mouth. Don’t translate that, Melissa.

The other night, coming off that terrible homestand that left me with dueling nightmares from 2007 and 2008, Gary Cohen boldly said, “Saturday might be the day.” That was, of course, after the Orioles completed a sweep of the Nationals, in D.C. The Nats looked so much like the 2007 Mets: Unfinished business arrogance, telling everyone they were better than them, in a word: complacency. And just like the 2007 Mets, these Nats didn’t win one game when it counted against the team they had to beat. That series in D.C. that began Labor Day is one of the most remarkable regular season series I have ever seen. They should have lost each game, and instead won all three. And that was coming off a horrendous series in Miami. 

But I remembered ’07 and how just when it looked like they caught themselves and ran off a seven-game win streak, there was 7 games with 17 left, and, you know. Well, I don’t know about you, but that will never leave me. But it’s gone this year. It’s all gone. 

I have been lucky to write a bunch of Mets books. It sometimes feels like I’ve been doing Mets books since time began. I have been fortunate. I’m editing my eight one—cover looks good!—but listen to this, when the Mets were last in the playoffs I was still writing my first book! That… is … a … long … time. I keep thinking the next one will be the big one. That’s why I write, that’s why I watch. Today the slot machine paid off. Whether it will pay off again, who knows, but there are enough quarters stored up to last me a week. 

With the Mets, you know there’ll always be something new to lament. Another, woe is us. But the schneid is off. Best of luck to us all. See you in October. Yes, I said October!

September 10, 2015

Don’t Say It’s Over, Do Say It’s Amazin’

I make pronouncements about the Mets’ past. Their future is for everyone else to argue about. You say seven-game lead? I can speak of doleful precedents that no one wants to hear. And having grown up in the 1970s watching the Mets play like someone who’s been kicked in the head repeatedly, I do not count anything before it’s official. The 1999 season? One of my favorite years ever because of its rare redemptive quality: The Mets had a playoff spot wrapped up, screwed the pooch, and then stole it back by winning the last three games followed by a one-day playoff in Cincinnati. For my money, those are the best regular season Mets games ever played. 

These three games against the Nationals, though... Wow! And completing the sweep on the 46th anniversary of the black cat stepping out on the Cubs at Shea Stadium in 1969. Purrrr-fect! Drew Storen looked spooked in Washington.

Even I had a hard time containing myself after the Mets got Yoenis Cespedes—was that really just six weeks ago? Even Terry Collins—not my favorite manager—has turned into Nostradamus. Pinch hit for Mets second-half turnaround poster boy Wilmer Flores? And the pinch hitter, Kelly Johnson, belts a game-tying home run in the eighth. Of course! And doing it off Stephen Strasburg, who looks like a team’s ace is supposed to look in a big game? Speaking of young stud aces... 

Matt Harvey: I am still not on speaking terms with you. After letting you down for many, many starts, the Mets are picking you up after you let everyone down by not taking the high road. Or saying the right thing. Or shutting up. Or telling your agent to step the Francoeur back. But the Mets had your back this time. And I think whatever war chest the Mets had been piling up with the renewed interest in the team, may now be earmarked toward a Cuban outfielder who looks like a man who may just have found a home in the States. Remember Carlos Beltran when he was traded to the Astros and he tore the National League apart before he signed with the Mets? This is what it looked like. (Nice calls, Josh Lewin.) 

Anyway, it’s not my job to get too far ahead or drift too far behind. I am getting ready for the playoffs! The New York-Penn League Class A playoffs for my summer job with the Tri-City Valley Cats in Troy. What did you think I was talking about?

August 29, 2015

Ushering in a New Era

I hate to start a long overdue post with a “sorry,” but it’s been a busy summer. It hasn’t, however, been one of those summers that’s suddenly gone before you realize it. Each day, at least on my end, has been monitored and checked off dutifully. I’ve watched each day go by, inning by inning, from a ballpark in a city that had National League success before New York. (The New York Mutuals, an amateur team turned pro and member of the National Association (1871-75), did not survive past the inaugural NL season of 1876.)

In 1879, when Providence had the National League’s best team, Troy, NY, had an NL franchise. They weren’t good, but they existed before most of the teams we know today, including the Giants, who took Troy’s spot in the NL in NY state, and took three of the Trojans’ future Hall of Famers: Buck Ewing, Roger Connor, and Mickey Welch. Many of the “little” eastern cities faded from the NL in the 1880s—besides Providence, teams from Buffalo, Syracuse, and Worcester came and went—but Troy still loves its baseball. I do, too. Another former NL club, the Houston Astros, operate the Tri-City Valley Cats in the Class A New York-Penn League. Tri-City (for those keeping score, it is the cities of Albany Troy, and Schenectady) is the jumping off point for players, many of them fresh out of college, into the world of professional ball. And it’s my place of pro baseball embarkation, and probably my lone stop. I always wanted to work for a pro team, and this is as close as I will get. I am in service relations, or more succinctly, an usher. I have tried to do a good job. Whenever I wonder what I should do, I just think of rude treatment received from Mets ushers through the years, and I’ve just done the opposite. It has worked, for the most part.

It has been a great summer. And having started a 9-5 job as well, I have spent many evenings driving an hour up to Troy as soon as I get off work, eating in the car, listening to books on CD. (I especially enjoyed this big one.) And then I get to the park and assume my small part in professional baseball. And they have spent much of this summer in first place.

The Mets’ NY-Penn club from Brooklyn arrives—if you find yourself in the mists of time in Troy, stop in at the Joe. Section 150. We keep an eye on how the Mets are doing in New York, too.

And on a night off in Troy I was off to New York to see the Mets and Red Sox. It was a 29-year reunion of a brief, bloody war between two allies in the never ending war against Yankeeism. To me it is like I have been reliving 1986 every day, as I am in the process of editing One Year Dynasty, now available for pre-order. (Actually this is my first look at the subtitle. Comments welcome.)

And while Mets-Red Sox refueled thoughts of a glorious past beyond the lifespan of more than half of the people in the park Friday night, it was like breathing life into an NL franchise that seemed as dead as the Troy Trojans until a few weeks ago. I have been to several dozen games in the life of Citi Field, and I have never seen it brim with life like it did of a Friday night in late August. Every time the Mets take the field at Citi Field now, it is the most significant game they have ever played there. Even the waving of T-shirts on Free Shirt Friday, the waving of such in headier days at Shea Stadium sent me into diatribes like—“maybe that works in Providence or Worcester, but not in New York”—but on this night I was seeing something I had not seen before at Citi: The loading of the bandwagon. The people who might have worn Red Sox—or Yankees—shirts on other Fridays in Flushing, wore their new Mets T shirts proudly over whatever else they were wearing, or waved them in hopes of another walk to another Met. New, crisp Mets hats were creased, or left flat as a pancake. It was the end of a seven-game winning streak, but the continuation of and a lead that, at that moment, at least, could be counted on more than one hand was embraced, cherished.

Who knows what the future will bring? Will Murph be back? Will Cespedes be a Met after 2015? Will the Mets be able to scratch up the cash to keep their stud pitchers around for Free Shirt Fridays in the years to come? Will I have to write an addendum to One-Year Dynasty based on 2015? I don’t know the answer to any of this.

Right now is living history, a captivating novel whose ending you just can’t picture. I like novels as much as I do history. I especially like novels that turn into history. I just hope I’m not disappointed in the ending. It has me captivated right now. And I can’t wait until the next chapter.

August 1, 2015

Don’t Worry, Baby

I took the time to call out Sandy Alderson last week for letting great pitching go to waste, even after he picked up Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, so I need to say he has stepped up with the acquisition of Tyler Clippard and—after making me (and all of franctic Metdom) insane by not pulling the trigger on Carlos Gomez due to concerns about the former Met’s hip—picked up the slugger the Mets have been needing since Carlos Delgado’s hip gave out on him a few weeks after Citi Field opened. 

Having gone over the moon—and yes, that is Keith Moon singing Beach Boys in our title link—for American League stars Carlos Bearga and Roberto Alomar and being proved very wrong, I won’t say too much. Yoenis Cespedes (I spelled it right the first time without looking!) has impressed me with the way he plays ever since I saw him three straight nights in Oakland when I was there gathering quotes and intel for Swinging ’73 during his rookie season in 2012. Cuban refugee athletes seem to be a volatile group on the whole because they have been through so much more than I think I could endure. Just to get to this country they have to leave behind family and friends, escape by tricking a totalitarian government, and then embrace the kind of decadent lifestyle Cuban handlers always preached against. And then there is the curve ball, not mention the language barrier. 

I “studied” French for four years in high school and never mastered much beyond a few weeks speaking coherently in Luxembourg when everything clicked—but that was so long ago Davey Johnson had yet to manage his first game and I am now not sure exactly what the “Je Me Souviens” Quebecois license plates say that fly by me on the New York Turnpike. Oh, I remember, but I have not been to a foreign country—besides said Canada—in 20 years, but speaking for all Americans who couldn’t spell “chat” if you spotted them the C and the A (how about the H to keep it sporting for the kitties out there?), I welcome Cespedes to the Mets lineup. Because we all speak offense. And conversation has been stilted. 

I do not know if the Mets have traded the next John Smoltz in the past week, but I will say at this point I am happy to be rooting in the present. The Mets, and all of us, have been living so long in the past and the future, it’s just good to be here right now—even if we can’t take heartbreak. You’d think we’d be good at that emotion by now. Don’t cry, Wilmer. You walk off stud—we always loved you! We have seen the future. And Keith Moon says everything will turn out all right.

July 25, 2015

Baseball Maverick? Open for Interpretation 

In this combination book review and front office editorial, I am going to critique both Steve Kettmann’s recent book about Sandy Alderson and the Sandman himself (disclaimer: he is not called Sandman in the book, but do not let that influence your purchasing decision). Alderson has had a long and varied career. He has graduated both Dartmouth and Harvard, been a Marine officer, Vietnam veteran, corporate lawyer, world championship general manager in Oakland, MLB chief executive of baseball operations, the CEO who brought in the fences in San Diego, MLB Latin American coordinator, and finally, off what had to be some kind of a bender, he decided to come to New York to take over the Mets in the fall of 2010.

I was doing the Mets Annual at the time and there was so much said about how wonderful a move it was going to be and the Mets were going to build the right way, from the ground up. Some of his trades of veterans for prospects have gone from highly-criticized to brilliant maneuvers in short order—his R.A. Dickey to Toronto for Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard is up there with the fleecing of the Blue Jays of John Olerud in the 1996 offseason. But what the Mets really need right now is a Johnny O. They need a game changer in the middle of the lineup, not just for this year but for however long this window of opportunity is open for the Mets—or will be allowed to remain open by ownership. The money part is not his fault—the Wilpons never even uttered the name “Madoff” in their interview with him in 2010. There are plenty of other things that are Alderson’s fault.

Just look at Friday night’s game against the Dodgers, at which I was, unfortunately, in attendance. The wives of both of Friday night’s starting pitchers, Jon Niese and Zack Grienke, had babies that night. Grienke was in California for the birth. Niese was in the bowels of Citi Field watching it on FaceTime after being rocked by the Dodgers. L.A.’s emergency starter, Ian Thomas, who looks a lot like Clayton Kershaw facially and the way he handles the Mets, pitched great. The Mets emergency starter, Carlos Torres, pitched three superb innings—only they came in mop up after Niese missed both the chance for a win and to see the birth of his second child.

As GM this is what you do: You tell Niese congratulations and inform him he’ll pitch in the new Dad Sunday special against Grienke and then have a PR lackey escort him 10 minutes to the airport. You take the high road. You do the right thing and maybe you pull out as unlikely win as happened last Sunday when the Mets won Niese’s start 18 innings after it began. Apparently, Alderson was too involved scooping up the unwanted debris from the Braves bench (Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson) to have taken a leadership position, and you can’t expect Terry Collins to make a decision that comes out right.

One of the revelations of former San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Steve Kettmann’s well-researched book on Alderson, is that the “Baseball Maverick” himself actually thought about firing Terry Collins last summer. He did not. It leads to me to a quote about Alderson from the author that is both impressive and frightening: “A Marine never retreats.” You’d think that facing overwhelming odds and after slowing the enemy, retreat would be possible if the other option was complete annihilation. And not to mix my war and baseball metaphors, but the Mets are on the verge of being completely overrun. Their skeleton crew cannot hold off a superior force, which is pretty much any team with a pulse, and Colonel Collins needs to be relieved of command if they plan to keep this hill of contention.

If Alderson and the Mets aren’t careful, a season that has featured some of the best Mets pitching I have seen since the mid-1980s will be washed away amid the increasing number of shutouts—not by the Mets’ overpowering staff, but by the opposition throwing up zeroes on this creampuff lineup. The Mets have been blanked 11 times in their first 96 games, and that doesn’t even count Niese’s start against in St. Louis where his team was held scoreless for the first 13 innings before they somehow scraped together a win in 18.

I will bypass the author—whom, I will add, did not write this book with Alderson, other than talking to him dozens of times—and I will speak to the GM directly. Sandy Alderson, you have built up an impressive résumé getting to this point, but it won’t mean diddley in terms of New Yorkers or anyone else if the Mets go down in flames and continue to be the worst offensive team with the best pitching. (Baseball-reference’s simple rating system lists the Mets as the 22nd best team in baseball. However that is derived, it can’t be good.)

If the Mets continue to languish, or make excuses about playing the tougher teams (imagine who they’d play if God took pity on us, and Sandy, and randomly tossed the Mets into October), or if the team does not take advantage of the lousy division and the lousy way Washington has played, then it shouldn’t just be the roster or the manager’s office that needs shaking up.

You need to do something substantial that does not gut your future but assures it. You need to put your signature on a prospects for veterans deal like you have the veterans for prospects deals that have been your forte in New York. You need to do something before this season gets away. A baseball maverick would.  

July 12, 2015

First Half Grades Are In

In this, my 40th year following the Mets, I have seen a team that reminds me a lot of that first team I ardently watched in 1975: great pitching, abysmal hitting, though the ’75 crew at least had Dave Kingman slugging home runs and Yogi Berra managing. Never a huge fan of Yogi, but even my fourth grade self would concur that he had a lot less reason to be fired than Terry Collins. I’ll save my summation of Collins for the end. But while it’s hanging there let me say this: If you are going to play all these 2-1 and 1-0 games, you need a manager who can occasionally steal such games by making good decisions. Yanking Jacob deGrom at 99 pitches after retiring 15 in a row and then letting Noah Syndergaard throw 116 pitches in the next game makes absolutely no sense. So much for not saying much here about T.C.

The Mets enter the All-Star break on a 7-2 surge, but they entered the break with an 8-2 push last year and it did not end in glory. If they score four runs they win. And they average 3.48 per game, second worst in baseball, and only two runs behind the Phillies for that distinction. Imagine if the Mets played in the DH league? They’d have no offense since their pitchers are some of their most consistent batters. They must find more hitters. And they must find who they can afford to get rid of. Squandering this pitching would be worse than squandering being 10 games over .500 just 16 games into the year, as this team already did. They must play better on the road. They ended the first half one game out of the second wild card. One game behind the Cubs, a team they inexplicably went 0-7 against. They are just 8-15 vs. the Central, but are tied with Washington for most wins in the NL East (23-15) and trail the Nationals by two games. Enough! To the grading.

To be included, players must accrue 50 at bats or 15 innings pitched. This prevents Stephen Matz, Logan Verrett, Bobby Parnell, Jack Leatherstich, Rafael Montero, Buddy Carlyle, Jerry Blevins, Akeel Morris, Jenrry Mejia, Johnny Monell, and Danny Muno from getting grades. Hopefully all the pitchers will qualify for a writeup at year’s end. And the hitters get replaced by people who can hit. David Wright deserves a writeup because the end may be near. But right now the only end is the first half.

                                          First-half 2014 Report Card

Jacob deGrom     A       Not the best stuff on staff, but deGrom performs, perseveres, and adjusts. Good job, All-Star.

Jeurys Familia      A       Should be All-Star and first half MVP. Stepped up for Mejia. He’s reason they have winning record.

Noah Syndergaard   A-       As good as advertised. If only Mets could score for him or bat him cleanup. Best. Shrug. Ever.

Matt Harvey        B+      Harvey could learn a lot from kids. Like how to shut up and pitch. Harvey has the mojo, though.

Bartolo Colon       B+     Said it last year, I’ll say it again: Bartolo is entertaining and effective. Good role model, batting star.

Jonathon Niese     B       I love how Matz has higher WAR in just 2 starts than Niese in a whole season. Jonny Trade Bait.

Sean Gilmartin      B       Has great numbers, but I don’t trust him. Maybe I’ve only seen his bad games. Good Rule V guy.

Wilmer Flores       B       An offensive guy on the list. Finally. But if Wilmer he does not play shortstop, he is not as valuable.

Daniel Murphy      B-      I don’t believe Murph will be here after 2015, but with Wright, who knows? They need any hitter.

Travis d’Arnaud     C+    He is getting a reputation as constantly hurt player. Mets need him to catch or they’ll go nowhere.

Curtis Granderson     C+     A .119 average vs. LHP; .163 BA in July. Walks and hits solo HRs. Can’t believe 2 1/2 more years.

Eric Goeddell         C+     Thought former UCLA stud was out of the system and here he is excelling at Citi, when not hurt.

Lucas Duda          C       Stop swinging at pitches in the dirt! Let them walk you. Not your fault Cuddyer bats behind you.

Michael Cuddyer    C       Must be good clubhouse because he’s bad middle of order. Poor use of limited resources, Sandy.

Juan Lagares        C       Has taken a step back on defense and offense. Hope it’s just the elbow; hope it will one day heal.

Kevin Plawicki        C       I like a kid who is from Purdue, is a hard worker, and plays through vertigo. But he needs to hit.

Carlos Torres        C       Lucky his arm ddn’t fall off in 2014 from TC abuse. Manager runs CT out there despite results.

Alex Torres           C      Like Carlos, you don’t know which Torres will come out of pen. Hard to trust, but good when on.

Ruben Tejada       C-     If Tejada is your regular SS, you are not playoff team. Even front office hates him, yet he stays.

Dilson Herrera       D+    Got in a slump, but gets on base and can play defense. Problems would be solved if he played SS.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis    D+     A year ago he had B- at ASG. I thought he should play LF. This year he had F till 3 HR Sunday.

Darrel Ceciliani        D+    Not a fan. It’s nice to have speed, but I’d rather have Nieuwy, with the K’s and sudden power.   

Anthony Recker     D      Another guy stuck in Vegas. Can’t hit, but which Met can? Brings chance of power every 4 days.

Hansel Robles        D      You know Mets are getting better when their bad relievers look like him. Familia started slow, too.

John Mayberry      D-     Won a game with extra-inning hit and his dad was a KC stud. Other than that he’s been worthless.

Eric Campbell         D-     Can you believe EC was hitting .340 at 2014 ASG? Looked great during April run, abysmal since.

Dillon Gee              F      I’ve always liked Gee, but on a team with these young studs, Mets can’t carry his 5.90 ERA.

David Wright          Inc    Will he ever play again/be any good again? That may sound alarmist some day, but not now.


Terry Collins          C-        Players like him, but he’s outlived his usefulness here. It is time to win and he’s not the man.

Sandy Alderson      C+       Gets an A+ for the pitching and an F for the offense. As if moving in the fences would solve it.

July 5, 2015
Letter to the Met-idor 
It has been hard getting things up on the site because I started two new jobs recently and have been trying to finish editing
my upcoming book on the 1986 Mets, which I know you will love. But the day after Steven Matz debuted I got this great 
note that I just have to share. I have not been getting much else site related mail of late—so see if you can help with that.
Short as this piece is, time has been even shorter and it was a race to get it up on the site before Matz pitched again. And 
who knows how many more times he will pitch before we get a follow up post. Maybe the Mets will even give us something
to write about that is positive in terms of solid all around play. 
As it stands, I quote the first coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers John McVay, when it comes to the Mets lineup’s 
execution—I think it’s a good idea. 
Let’s Go Matz
Dear Met,
May have to change the name of your site to!
Jim Humiston,
Queenbury, NY
I like the way you think, friend.

Another good young pitcher isn’t news for the Mets, a guy who can drive in four runs--in a month--is news. He roped that 
first ball farther than any Met with runners on base has in an eternity. Terry Collins had just been whining lamenting that
he had put on seven hit-and-runs and none had worked, and Matz did it the first time.
The third hit he got that drove in two runs--the four RBI were the most by a pitcher in his debut in a century, and it
almost killed his grandpa he was so verklempt in the suite. Nice for a boy from Long Island to make good with the 
hometown team. Now they can bat him cleanup when he’s not pitching so they can protect Lucas Duda.
With a name like Matz he was born to be a Met. And he missed being the 1,000th Met in history by one. But I think he 
got the fanfare like the balloons and shopping spree for the 1,000th shopper at a local super market. The Little Debbie 
Crumb Cakes are on meactually they’re on Michael Cuddyer, whose father delivered them. 
I would feel more confident with Matz in left field.

June 16, 2015


You know, I hadn’t been to a game besides Opening Day, but I went to see Toronto, something I have done their other three times to New York. Since the Mets haven’t lost to them in Flushing, I hadn’t seen them lose in 1997, 1999, and 2001. (So much for a regulated interleague schedule, MLB.)

Because there was rain on the way down and rain in the forecast, my friends decided not to go when I was halfway down, so I met them for dinner on the Connecticut border, figuring I’d go by myself once the rain delay ended. Only there was no rain delay. It went off as scheduled and then after watching rapid-fire marksman Mark Buehrle be perfect game through three innings on TV, I took off for Flushing. Noah Syndergaard wasn’t perfect, but he was close. I feel sorry for ump Marty Foster, who got clocked by a foul ball, but the extended delay helped me get to my seat by the time Lucas Duda doubled for the first hit of the game in the fifth inning. It would not be his last double. 

One thing I enjoy about being there is seeing the positioning, which you don’t get when watching on TV with all the closeups and fan shots. My friends could not make it, but they bought good seats, in the same area where the announcers are stationed, so you could really see how everything set up on the field. The way positioning is done in the game today, being able to see the field is more important than ever. I am older and do not go to the 20-plus games I went to with these same buddies in the 1980s and 1990s, but I still feel like I miss something watching at home instead of being in the park. It ain’t football. Thank God.

Monday’s game had everything, including my usual fit about the over-managing of Terry Collins. Another four-out save? Really? The only day the guy hasn’t pitched in the last four was his first day as a father. No surprise that ex-Mets farmhand Jose Bautista (remember how the Mets just had to get Kris Benson in 2004?) went deep twice. Or that Toronto was poised to set a franchise record with its 12th straight win, but Duda beat the shift with a ball that would have been an easy pop up if the outfield was aligned normally and then Wilmer Flores banged the winning single up the middle. The untold story, though, is Ruben Tejada. Yes, he broke the tie in the sixth with a double, but with the Mets trailing in the 11th he drew a walk. On a(nother) lousy at bat by Michael Cuddyer, Tejada stopped between first and second—the first savvy baseball play I’ve seen him make in two years—which slowed down Toronto just enough so they couldn’t turn a game-ending double play. His play was forgotten—as was the bad managing—and the praises were sung were for Mrs. Flintstone.

May 18, 2015

Meet the Mad Met Men

I feel I can speak to this here because, well, it’s my site, and the Mets infiltrated the office of Sterling Cooper with Draper and Pryce becoming unexpected Mets fans in the days before the Mets were even remotely close to pennant contention. And I would like to think that in one of the many Matt Weiner endgame scenarios, stretched out another decade, there is one where Don Draper comes up with “The Magic Is Back,” while freelancing for Jerry Della Femina. Or maybe that could be the pilot for the After M*A*S*H spinoff featuring Harry, Stan, and Peggy.

The first time I saw Mad Men was during the 2007 playoffs. I was watching the Cubs get swept by the Diamondbacks in the Division Series, saying, “God, how I wish this was the Mets getting smoked.” But of course they’d blown a big lead and lost on the last day. Bored, I turned the channel and I saw that JFK was about to be elected president and everyone in this New York office found the idea repugnant. And then two Dons were in Korea. I kind of like the contrary opinion, and that’s what Mad Men was. Though I was never a Nixon man, or even boy. 

Mad Men also served as a glimpse into my lost subconscious. These were the years I missed, although I was there. I was born about the same time as baby Gene: no grandparents, out of touch with what my older siblings were up to, and just wanting to be included—and failing that, to watch television. Black and white was fine, the color TV in my parents’ room was for special occasions, like Tiny Tim’s wedding. I still don’t get it. 

But I got Mad Men. It was like it was written for me, at least the set up. The blonde model mother and the commuting father wearing those Alpine fedoras, American cars, beer in a can, brown liquor, everyone smoking, and kids dismissed with the wave of a hand. I had great parents. My mother was beautiful but, unlike Betty Draper, she did have a heart. My dad commuted but—and I’m pretty sure about this—he was not a serial philanderer. We lived in a suburb where I would feel uncomfortable living today but I still visit in my dreams.  

I could visit that place every week, when Mad Men was on, which was never enough. The Sopranos, another Matt Weiner effort, was great for a few years and then became a chore that I watched out of obligation. Boardwalk Empire, written by another Sopranos alum, was good, but it reached its peak too early and there was a whole season of filler that made me glad when they wrapped the show up. In The Sopranos, and a little bit in Boardwalk Empire, every time a new character was introduced, I’d think, “Gee, I wonder how this guy gets killed.” With Mad Men every episode, every character had something to say. And it was like life, people came and went. And when it too left the building the last time Sunday night, I was content and a little sad. 

There is one bone I have to pick with the show: the Drapers’s dog. Listen, Mr. Weiner, we had dogs in the 1960s, too, and you either had one or you didn’t. The Draper dog was around for a couple of episodes—I don’t know if it had a name but it might as well have been Tiger because it was handled even less smoothly than a show actually made during that era: The Brady Bunch, which had a couple of episodes featuring the dog and then it was gone without a word. (In reality, Tiger died between seasons and they brought in another dog that only freaked out the kids, so they cut out Tiger.) But the Drapers had a dog early on and then there were tons of episodes when it wasn’t in the house and then it appeared wagging its tail as Don wandered the house one night. Even in the 1960s the dogs ruled the house, or at least we walked around the poop in the middle of the living room because out of four kids, no one took Topper out. Or maybe Betty shot their dog in the back yard one afternoon when the Valium ran out. Weiner did use dogs to unforgettable effect in one episode. Duck Phillips was a sumbitch ad executive and a recovered alcoholic, which happened in a world where people drank all day and called it work. When he goes around the bend and the dog cries for him to stop drinking, Duck abandons his beloved Irish Setter onto the street on Madison Avenue so he can go up to his office to drink his face off. That stays with you, as did so much in Mad Men. But like Mad Men I should go now, I need to take the dogs out.

May 12, 2015

Comfortably Zoned

There’s nothing quite like a little talk with Zig, or Ralph Tyko and Comfortably Zoned Radio. In the second chat we’ve had in the last three months, we get into a lot of things, mostly about Swinging ’73 and some of the characters from that year (and Zig being in the house for Game Six of the 1973 World Series in Oakland), but we also talk about the current Mets and old uniform numbers. It’s rambly, it might have a glitch or two, and we keep talking when we should be wrapping it up, but it’s a blast. (Oh, and it cuts off how many times I talked with Keith Hernandez for Shea Goodbye, it wasn’t five times, but 45 times. Now I can relax that that is cleared up.)

May 7, 2015

Watching the Game

In Judy Lynn (née Van Sickle) Johnson’s memoir on growing up with baseball, I expected a lot of baseball, but as in life, there is more. A lot more. The tale of a preacher’s daughter coming of age in the 1960s—and an affiliation with a very Dutch background—surprised me. A lot of things surprised me about this book, and that’s a good thing. If you read a book that is exactly the way you expect it to be, well, that doesn’t teach you anything, or take you outside your comfort zone.  

Judy, raised a New Jersey girl, is an English professor, graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a PhD in English literature from Brown, who formerly taught at several boarding schools. I came upon her work during the Hofstra Mets Conference, the father of the now annual Queens Baseball Conference. The New Yorker took notice, too.  

Watching the Game: Meditations from a Woman’s Heart is a fine book by someone who knows how to write, who sees the poetry between spaces of words like the poetry between pitches, when the game is moving like it should and the air is filled with anticipation. She ties the act of sitting in the stands with something deeper, because we all know it is. Johnson is a dedicated fan, no, student of the game, dedicated enough to get broadsided by a car on the way back from a Cape Cod League game and still think about getting back there as soon as possible. This book will make you leave the phone in the car (or at least buried in your pocket or purse, where it belongs) and appreciate where you are. You never know when you’ll run into someone who is at their first game, or their last. Make every pitch count. Watch the game!

This Mother’s Day—or if Mom isn’t quite into baseball to this degree, this Father’s Day—Watching the Game makes a great gift. It’s like the gift of baseball, only you can read it during a long rain delay.

April 27, 2015

Greg Spira Award Winners

We interrupt this—as Channel 11 used to say in promos when a team no one expected anything from was playing well—“surprising” New York Mets start to bring you the announcement of the winners for the third annual Greg Spira Award. Well, actually the announcement is here.  

Congratulations to Lewis Pollis ($1,000 first place for his piece on paying front office talent), Cee Angi ($200 second place for her profile on the great Vin Scully), and Rob Arthur ($100 third place on the sounds that the bat makes and what it means). Given the state of freelancer remuneration today, all recipients were especially happy to hear the news. You can read the winners on the link, and if this sounds good to you, and you are under 30 years of age, just have a baseball piece published or presented containing original analysis or research. The piece must be published (online or paper) between January 16 of this year and January 15, 2016. 

Greg Spira was a solid colleague, a good friend, and a great Mets fan. He hated games in poor weather, but he might have even ventured to an April game to see this Mets start in person. He died from kidney disease in 2011. He would have been 48 today.

April 24, 2015

11 Alive!

Who would have thought we’d be here? The 2015 Mets put together an 11-game win streak! It’s the fifth time the Mets have reached 11 straight victories. And each time has been a surprise. I think even the 1927 Yankees might have been surprised by an 11-game win streak, especially since their longest win streak during their 110-win, 60-HR, 4-game sweep season was 9. But 11 has come at interesting times for the Mets in the past, and almost all of them came early in the years 1969, 1972, 1986, and 1990. Some transformed the season, some merely helped prop them into contention. 

The 1969 Mets had never had a winning season, and believe it or not, had only once even been over .500—a lofty 2-1 in the first week of 1966. Early in the ’69 season it looked like 2-1 was the closest the Mets would get to a winning mark, but in mid-May they touched .500, and when queried about the greatness of the moment, Tom Seaver shot back, “What’s .500?” As the beat writers shook their heads at the arrogance of this kid who didn’t know where his team came from, it seemed the baseball gods agreed as the Mets dropped their next five, including their first ever game with the expansion San Diego Padres. Then the baseball gods revealed what they had in store for the 1969 Mets. The Mets won the next 11 in a row, all of them against the West Coast teams that had long filled Shea and stuck the Mets with loss after loss. Of the 11, only the last win—a 9-4 win over the Giants, was by more than three runs. Two of the wins were 1-0 games decided in extra innings. Even after the winning streak ended and the Mets dropped two straight, they won 9 of 12. Though the Cubs had a big lead, the Mets had more magic up their sleeve, ending with a stream of ticker tape down Lower Broadway that October. 

Gil Hodges, who had guided that Mets team to its unlikely 1969 world championship, died suddenly in spring training 1972. Yogi Berra was installed as manager, the front office heartlessly calling a press conference the afternoon of the funeral to announce Berra as manager and Rusty Staub as right fielder, a deal Hodges had pushed for. The Mets players were sad and also angry at the callous way the team handled the situation, so of course they went out and had what stood as the best start in the team’s first 24 seasons of existence. The Mets were already 14-7 and in first place when Jerry Grote singled home Cleon Jones in the bottom of the ninth for a 2-1 victory over the Giants on May 12, the same week the Mets acquired Willie Mays. The next thing you knew the Mets had an 11-game win streak and a six-game lead. That’s where the good times ended. On June 1 the Mets were 30-11 and five games in front. From that point on they went 53-62 as everybody got hurt and the team regressed to the mean. Though there would be magic in 1973, the ’72 season turned out to be a dead end.  

The 1986 Mets started the year 2-3 and didn’t look good doing it, the exact same point where the 2015 edition came in. Unlike the 2015 team, however, the ’86 Mets wsere expected to contend for a title. A week and a half into the season, the ’86 Mets had more rainouts than wins when they took on the Phillies on Friday, April 18. They won that game and then swept the series. On Monday the Mets rallied for two in the ninth against the Pirates and they swept the series. The Mets went into St. Louis, where their dreams of a division title had been crushed the previous fall, and were down by two runs in the ninth when Howard Johnson crushed a game-tying home run off Todd Worrell. When the Mets won the next inning, it was the first game—regular-season game, mind you—the Cardinals had lost when leading in the ninth since 1984. The Mets swept the four-game series. They won the first two games in Atlanta before the Braves ended the streak at 11. The Mets had a five-game lead after 16 games. They would fulfill the prophesy of Davey Johnson: Dominate.

I didn’t have much in the way of recall for the 1990 streak until I looked it up. It turned out to be the only one of these streaks prior to 2015 where I saw any of it in person. And even that is open to interpretation. It was in June and I was at the sixth game in the streak, though it looked enough like a loss where my buddies ands I left early to see the end of the Buick Classic golf tournament in Rye. It was a horrendous decision because the Mets won while we were stuck in the Shea parking lot getting out, and the finish of the Buick Classic was about as exciting as a pro making a two-foot putt. I wasn’t living in the area and was visiting, yet I was still plenty angry they’d fired Davey Johnson on top of trading all the guys who had made 1986 a year to remember (and not just because of an April win streak). The 1990 winning streak helped keep the Mets in the divisional race until the final week, when the Pirates finally finished them off. The streak was the high point of the Bud Harrelson regime. 

So here we are at 11. In baseball these things change frequently, so I am getting this up on the site. If the streak keeps going, I’ll keep writing. If the Mets crash through the ceiling and into the land of dozen, stay tuned. If not, then look back on this when things might not be going as well. It is a long season.  Even the ’86 Mets had a losing road trip, that is “a” as in one. In the meantime, try comedian Jim Breuer for pertinent Mets updates. Besides the streak, that’s the best thing I’ve seen all season.

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An thanks to Gelf Magazine and Le Poisson Rouge for having me to Varsity Letters. It was pretty fun dashing for the train with the Mets game blasting the radio call over my phone. Still saw a lot of Yankees garb in the big city, including some worn by the family of Ed Lucas, who was the nightcap on our doubleheader—or more accurately, I was opening up for him. Great man, great stories, and a great-sounding book, Seeing Home. I plan on experiencing it in the audio version. And Ed—and his son Chris—have turned me around on my attitude about the late Phil Rizzuto, who was instrumental in helping him forge a career in baseball despite not being able to see. “Holy cow, Messer, you’re making me sound like a hero!” God bless you, Scooter. And Ed Lucas.

April 23, 2015

Getting My Varsity Letter(s)

On Thursday night, April 23, at 7:30 p.m. I will be at the Gallery at Le Poisson Rouge for Baseball Night with Varsity Letters. I have heard much about it but have never been. I’m almost as excited about it as the Mets’ start, which will be among the topics discussed. The lure, I suppose, is the new paperback version of Baseball Miscellany, which is pretty much 98 percent the same as the hardcover version (I did correct a couple of errors that had been bothering me). I will bring a few samples of the hardcover at half off the Amazon price, along with bookmarks, and however many other books of mine that aren’t too heavy to carry. The address is 158 Bleeker St. (between Sullivan and Thompson Streets). No admission charge.

The event is sponsored by Gelf Magazine. And I won’t be alone. Ed Lucas will be on the hand as well, probably drawing a nice crowd with his inspirational memoir, Seeing Home: The Ed Lucas Story: A Blind Broadcaster’s Story of Overcoming Life’s Greatest Obstacle . I am looking forward to meeting him, and meeting you, if you are of a mind.

April 13, 2015

Opening Day-O

Back when skipping school to watch a baseball game was still considered truancy, three buddies and I called in sick and went to see Tom Seaver’s first game back as a Met, against the Phillies in 1983. I didn’t like lying to my high school or to my parents, but I was not taking the risk that someone might tell me I could not go. Ironically, I skipped the next several openers due to school obligations (and I still likely would have blown those off had I gone to college within four hours of Shea). But I have missed only three openers since 1989: one as a personal protest to the strike, and the others because the family was on vacations that were more memorable than many of the openers I’ve seen. 

You kind of get to the point where you go on Opening Day just because you usually go. I always have fun with the people I’m with, but last year’s debacle with the Mets blowing the lead to Washington and losing their closer for the year made me wonder aloud why he was out there in the first place since his elbow had been a problem in Florida. And I had to wonder what the hell I was doing there if the team had been a problem in Florida, and for most of the decade prior. 

Monday, April 13, six years to the day—or night—that Citi Field opened, the Mets had their biggest crowd at the stadium for a game that counts. The only bigger crowd was for the All-Star Game in 2013, and my family in standing room pushed the number to 45,186. I was proud to be part of the 2015 opener’s 43,947. Maybe one day I can be part of the crowd that sets the mark in a game of significance late in the season. Or in whatever games are played after the also-rans are done. We’ll see. For now I was glad to be sitting in the far reaches of the left-field upper deck for an entire game. Previously I’d bought tickets there but left after a few innings, easily able to snag better seats. Not for this game. 

The place was jammed. And even though the people who had the two seats next to us never showed up, pairs of people flitted down and sat there for innings at a time—like the Citi seagulls no doubt wondering, “What’s with the people, these teams can’t hit?” Mets bird of prey Jacob deGrom and three relievers blanked the Phillies, 2-0, and the Mets even introduced what I can only assume is a new old song for wins: “New York Groove.” The Mets have not exactly been taking care of business in recent years. I prefer BTO to K-I-S-S, but it’s been time for a change for a long time. In more ways than one. 

Everyone is trying to get behind the team. (Well, maybe not everyone is doing it the same way.) I like the ballclub, but I think they need to trade for at least one middle infielder who is a major league fielder and can also hit. Their bench could use something, too. And given that Jenrry Mejia let us all down as one of four major league pitchers recently caught cheating,  maybe a setup reliever might help if Vic Black doesn’t come back the same and Carlos Torres’s arm doesn’t fall off from overuse. These kinds of players cost money and they’ll likely cost prospects—two things the current Mets management has been reluctant to part with. Maybe this is the year the Mets make a late-season move, if they stay in the race that long.

I’m just glad I was there to open the place up. And I’m glad my buddy Dave, a policeman, was there as well—not just for the game, but for the moving tribute to the NYPD. When people complain about security lines, they should think first about why those exist and how safe we feel going about our lives compared to people elsewhere. Inconvenience is a small price for vigilance. I don’t like speeding tickets or security lines, either, but you can’t have everything the way you want it. You’d think Mets fans at least would understand that by now.

April 6, 2015

My Benny Fernandez Year

A new year and a new age. Welcome to the eighth year of You could call us a jinx, if you like, though 2008 was the year I swore off luck (my first April Fool’s post) and it was the last year the Mets had a .500 season, or played at Shea Stadium, or had a September game that mattered—it was all too much. But I am still here, a survivor—and so are you. Even if you weren’t even a Mets fan then, you are a survivor of the lineage—just as you are a celebrant of 1969 and 1973 and 1986 and 2000, even if you never saw a pitch. 

Each year I tie in a Mets player uniform number with my age. That’s how the site began during a happily sleepless night as I planned out the first year of the site. And why stop now? Even if I am the big 5-0 now. And what bigger 5-0 could there be than Sid Fernandez, unless it was Benny Agbayani. This year for 50, and having been fortunate enough to spend a couple of days in the Aloha state for the first time, I have fused a two-headed Hawaiian hydra out of this pair: the right-side being all Benny and the lefts-side being Fernandez. 

El Sid was a latter day Jon Matlack, though not as consistent or as adept as Matlack as finishing what he started. Sid had his greatest contribution as a Met in Game Seven of a World Series, Matlack his worst—further proof that one game can decide championships and careers (and another reason why the one-game play-in in the postseason runs contrary to baseball, where everything—even the previously precious one-game playoff to get into the postseason—should have a back story).

But when we talk about Sid Fernandez you should know three things: he was from Hawaii (why he was the first Mets player to wear 50, for the 50th state), he is fourth all-time in major league history with just 6.85 hits allowed per nine innings (behind only Nolan Ryan, Clayton Kershaw, and Sandy Koufax), and when the Mets were on the ropes in Game Seven of the 1986 World Series, El Sid stepped out of the bullpen and shut down the Red Sox. If he’d bombed that game, well, just think what the last 29 years would have felt like without that championship. He was quiet yet colorful, heavy on the hill but light on his feet, stolen from Los Angeles and underrated in New York, a great pitcher though plagued with not getting enough wins, the measuring stick of his day. He was the NBC Miller Lite Player of Game Seven of the World Series, the only Game Seven the Mets have ever won.  

Benny Agbayani also came through at crucial moments for the Mets. Steve Phillips might have kept him perpetually in the minors, possibly because Benny was a Bobby Valentine creation, and not a traditional prospect he could trade for a broken-down reliever. Benny hit his way to the majors, needing to outperform the entire outfield to get to stay in New York. He came up in 1998 and didn’t impress anyone with his .133 average in 16 at bats. He got another chance during the 1999 season and hit 10 home runs in his first 73 at bats to become a Mets folk legend. He may have faced more minor league purgatory the following spring, but his grand slam in Japan earned the Mets a split of the first major league games played there, and he also earned himself a spot of the Mets roster. He was the most interesting member of a nondescript outfield and his home run in the 13th inning to win Game Three of the Division Series and—combined with the next afternoon’s Bobby Jones NLDS clincher against the Giants—logged in as number five of my favorite Shea Stadium moments seen in person. (A first-year feature on the blog in the last year at Shea.) The glass slipper only fit for so long, but Benny was a hero when it counted. If he hadn’t hit a tiebreaking double in the eighth inning of Game Three of the 2000 World Series, maybe the Yankees would have the three-peat sweep instead of the simply humiliating loss in five games. Benny may have been too free on the Howard Stern show in predicting the Mets to win in five, but in his two best years he combined for 29 homers and 102 RBI in 626 plate appearances. And Benny thrived when the games mean the most. 

Now if you have been playing close attention, since that first year there has been a recurring theme in posts throughout a given year, whether it’s my favorite games at Shea (2008) or a critique and accounting for every doubleheader in Mets history (2014). I’ve tried just about everything, so this year the theme will be: no theme. I have a book I am trying to finish—on the 1986 Mets—and I need to put my investigative talents into that. But there will be posts, just nothing as thematic as in the past. Maybe next year there’ll be something different.

In the meantime, enjoy the games, everything is starting anew. There is talk about the Mets finally turning it around. Well, I will believe that when it happens. I left my Ya Gotta Believe at the door in Swinging ’73.  

But this will be the last time I name a year after Mets and their uniform numbers. At least until my Turk Wendel Year comes around at 99. It’s not a conceited after-50 thing in age but rather a complete lack of useful numbers to count the age past 50. Dave Murray, Mets Guy in Michigan, God bless him for including not one but two of my books in his Mostly Mets Reading Month in March. He is just old enough to be a year ahead and celebrating a Mel Rojas Year at 51. I’ve had enough crashing and burning myself to involve Mr. Rojas, but I’ll still be around. At least I hope so. 

As for hope and the Mets, well, hope is dispensed with an eye dropper when it comes to the Mets around here. A lifetime of pessimism made it so I expected the worst in Game Six in the 1986 World Series, and I was utterly shocked when the best happened instead. And then Sid saved the day in Game Seven. I wonder if lightning will ever strike twice for me and my kind, but that’s why we watch and we wait for another Sid Fernandez or Benny Agbayani to come up big when we’re least expecting it.

April 1, 2015

Southpaws Ad Infinitum

It’s a good thing I caught you. The Mets waited all offseason to make a trade, then they made one Monday. And it was for a lefty reliever they so desperately need. Then they traded for another one. And the Mets are not done stockpiling the southpaws. Using my connections with the team, I got the lead on the next lefty the Mets will acquire.  

Let me tell you about lefties. I used to wish I was left-handed and actually taught myself to bat lefty by throwing a ball up and hitting it in my yard. Every. Single. Day. Alas, I couldn’t hit a fastball any better from that side, but I could hit a Wiffle ball a long way and never got fooled on the breaking ball. Except when I did. My son is a lefty. True story. But I digress. 

According to my source, today’s new Mets lefty is named Willis. No, not Willis from Diff’rent Strokes. This is Walter B. Willis. I think the middle name stands for Bruno. This guy can bring it. Here is a short clip of him in action. 

And this same source tells me to expect another lefty on Thursday. Throws left, bats right. His name is Gordon Matthew Thomas. Kind of a long name, but I think he has a nickname. He’s a veteran, been around so long I saw him play at Shea Stadium once. Of course there’s film of it.  Before he made it as a southpaw, he used to serve in the Police. 

And the best tip of all I got was that on Friday there’s a waiver deal with Detroit for this guy named Marshall Bruce Mathers III. I know you should avoid getting relief pitchers from the Tigers, but this guy is the real deal. Though he does talk too much and he has this thing about M&Ms….

March 3, 2015

Reading Up, Zigging Out

The sad passing of Jeff McKnight at the far too early age of 52 has had me, as well as several others, thinking Mets by the Numbers these past couple of days. The Jeff McKnightmare (the only Met to have worn five different numbers) was probably the piece I read on the site that made me reach out to Jon Springer to talk to him about turning his magnificent work into a book. Mets Essential was published first and then 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die came out about the same time, but it was Mets by the Numbers that really got it started. Thank you, Jon Springer, and thank you, Jeff McKnight. And while we are thanking one and all, heres to Mets Guy in Michigan Dave Murray for his nod to the book in his Mostly Mets Reading Month.

I had a fun little chat recently with Ralph Tyko, aka Zig, about the Mets, 1973, the weather, and so much more. Listen in.

February 23, 2015

Doubleheader Dip 2009-14: Twinbill Tally-Ho and Toodle-oo

If you count the piece that introduced Double3header Dip, this is the 20th installment of The History of Mets Doubleheaders (Whether You Wanted It or Not). This last part I admit to putting off because it requires me to tally up all the numbers and hope I didn’t miss a game (or two : ). It also forces me to reflect on the inglorious—and rather dull—recent present. I had a long, depressing conclusion about the team’s current state in terms of ownership, leadership, and on-field talent, but I tossed that out. Too negative a piece going into a new season, but I won’t spare the rod.                 

To me the period since the opening of Citi Field puts me in the same mindset as the post-Seaver era I grew up in (1977-83), and the post heyday period (1991-96). In both those cases the fallow periods gave way to well-constructed, entertaining teams I am still incredibly proud to call my own. As for the period we are in now, all I can say is that I’m proud of every kid who’s become a Mets fan in this time, because I know it hasn’t been easy. For every upturn there have been three setbacks, two embarrassments, and something else I can’t believe Jeff Wilpon said in public.  

As for the future… How ‘bout them doubleheaders? 

2009: Two day-night doubleheaders in the first year of Citi Field: one split and a loss, though these don’t technically count as doubleheaders—I believe “split” doubleheaders are actually classified as a pain in the Brian Asselstine. The first such event at Citi Field began with a combined shutout by Johan Santana in the opener against Colorado, giving the Mets their fifth straight win. They went 20-41 the rest of the way, including being swept all day and all of the night in Philly. Pedro Martinez—remember him?—combined for a 1-0 shutout in the nightcap. 

2010: Citi saw its second day-night doubleheader—the opener featured Lady Gaga doing a dance with her middle fingers and underwear in Jerry Seinfeld’s box. (Maybe she had just learned there was a second admission several hours later for another meaningless Mets-Padres game.) The nightcap was worth the price of admission as Jon Niese threw a one-hitter. Generally, though, the Mets do not need to clear the stadium for a twinbill. There are plenty of seats for all. The Mets lost a twinbill at year’s end against Milwaukee, but a midweek April makeup I saw against the Dodgers proved historic. Jason Bay hit his first Mets home run, in his 20th game—one of 26 he hit in three years as a Met—but the Mets took both ends from LA, the first time the Mets have ever swept the Dodgers in a twinbill. It sounds unbelievable, especially given the scheduled doubleheaders back in the day and how big a draw the Dodgers were in New York, but keep this in mind: The Mets haven’t always been good. In 20 doubleheaders with LA, the Mets are now 1-7-12. All right, Hamilton!

2011: The Collins-Alderson era began with getting swept twice in the first weeks of the season—and then came Fred Wilpon’s deflating New Yorker comments. The Mets lost three of four twinbills. They also swept a day-night doubleheader—scheduled, apparently, for the benefit of Phillies fans invading Citi at year’s end.

2012: Just one twinbill this year, getting swept after a rainout against the Giants on their only trip to New York. (Hey schedule genius, how about not having a California team’s lone trip to New York coming in April?) Lincecum and Bumgarner looked like world beaters—and this was during their even-year, off-year Giants plan where they win a World Series and take the next year off. It seems to work as they’ve won more World Series in five years than the Mets have in 50. 

2013: There were two straight doubleheaders and two split doubleheaders. The first one was the result of more scheduling foolishness, the Mets traveled to Denver in the middle of April and it snowed pretty much every day. They would have had a day-night doubleheader, but the Rockies thought better of it for the players and the 20 people who actually showed up to see the Mets get swept. The Mets split another split doubleheader—against Washington—and split a straight doubleheader against the Marlins, but the best day of this year was a day-night doubleheader in Atlanta with the team already 15 games under .500 in June. In the first game Matt Harvey, off to an epic start to the season, had a no-hitter through six innings and the Mets held on for a thrilling 4-3 win. The nightcap marked Zack Wheeler’s major league debut. He was awesome and fortunate that Anthony Recker went deep in his last inning so he could get the win. The best day of the year and arguably the best day-night doubleheader in Mets history. 

2014: I got annoyed about this at the time, and I’ll bring it up again. The Mets have Banner Day and a doubleheader the same day—due to weather—and the Mets still can’t figure out how to get the banners on the field between games? In the name of Jane Jarvis, that’s pretty infuriating. Here’s what between games of a Banner Day doubleheader should look like. I was at the linked to game with my uncle and cousins, and though the Mets got swept that Sunday afternoon in ’84 by the Cubs, it was a damned special day. Thirty years later, I miss my uncle, I miss those banners that never stopped coming, and I miss that team that was so hungry to put an end to an era of losing. 

Can I get an amen?

Nightcap: The Final Score

All right, here is our final score for doubleheaders. Since the Mets began in 1962, I count (drumroll please, make that double drumroll, if you will)  


That is only two off the number the Mets use as their official number of doubleheaders. The main discrepancy is how they categorize the three doubleheaders in which the second game ended in a tie, all played in the 1960s, which I don’t count in terms of the win-loss-split record but count toward the doubleheader total. I’d be glad to share my findings with them—or anyone else—to clear anything up. Though to be honest, like most participants in a doubleheader (and I once caught both games of a fast-pitch softball doubleheader loss in 97-degree heat and without a cup), right now I’m mostly happy it is over. And yet it’s not truly over because there’s still more information spewing out. 

The Mets record in doubleheaders? 94-156-208. (Remember that’s minus three for the tie games.)

The team the Mets are most likely to play a doubleheader against? The Cubs. The two teams have not been in the same division for 22 seasons, but they are still double trouble. The Mets and Cubs have played 62 twinbills with the Mets going 10-15-37. Yeah, 37 doubleheader splits is tops against anyone. The most amazing thing is that they’ve accumulated all this without playing a doubleheader against each other in 15 years (or it will be 15 years on April 22). I have seen the Mets and Cubs play twice in a day thrice in my life, including my first doubleheader in the flesh in 1979. They split, of course. 

The team the Mets have beaten the most in doubleheaders is Pittsburgh, another long-lost friend sent to live with relatives in the home-wrecking Central Division. The Mets have an all-time doubleheader mark of 14-10-24 against the Pirates, the only one of the nine teams in existence when the Mets were born in 1962 that they have a winning mark against in twinbills. The team they have lost to the most in doubleheaders? The Phillies (11-24-25). Doesn’t that just figure?  

Since interleague play began, the Mets have played only two twinbills against AL teams: the Mariners and the Rangers. 

“Wait, wait, wait a minute,” you say. “I know for a fact that the Mets and Yankees have played four doubleheaders, three of them in both Flushing and the Bronx the same day, and the other was played at Yankee Stadium.” Very good memory—or considering that the Mets won one of those eight games, bad memories. That leads us back into the dark closet that is day-night doubleheaders. 

Day-night doubleheaders have put a bee in this bonnet since I was first exposed to them in the 1990s. (There were also day-nighters played by the Mets in 1967 and 1972, the reason for which seems unknown even to Greg Prince; he tipped me off on the first Shea day-nighter in 1972.) What annoys me the most is how much of everyone’s time they waste, in addition to being a rip off—especially when there would have been enough fannies to fill the stadium once instead of being half-full twice. Many a dad or mom or sibling or grandparent or family friend or teacher or somebody took a kid or four to a doubleheader because it was 2-for-1 baseball. But who cares about the heart pulls of yesterday or considerations for future fans when there is money to be made today?  

Now that my disclaimer and digression have been noted, the official stat keepers of MLB—at least as yet—also have a bee in their bonnet about day-night doubleheaders. These doubleheaders are recognized separately for record keeping. The tally in the 20 day-nighters in Mets history? 5-6-9. Record against the Yankees in two-city doubleheaders is 0-2-1 (0-3-1 overall). Their best record in day-nighters? Philly: 2-1-1. Maybe that doesn’t make up for all the straight doubleheaders the Mets have lost to the Phillies, but it is something. 

Oh, and to answer Alan’s September 10, 2011 Letter to the Met-idor query that launched this three-plus year, very off-and-on, don’t sue me if I missed a doubleheader research project, the Mets’ record in first games of doubleheaders: 186-272; 209-249 in the nightcap. I hope this answers your question. 

Doubleheader Denouement

Ernie Banks is now the patron saint of doubleheaders. He died a few weeks ago at the age of 83. He played in 19 Mets-Cubs doubleheaders, including starting three twinbills in as many days in September of ’67. (Kudos to Mets Ultimate Database for putting that and a lot of other info for this study—and so much other research—right at my fingertips.)  

There were few better ambassadors of the game than Ernie Banks, and none who advocated the doubleheader more than Mr. Cub. “Let’s play two.” Sure, Ernie, why not? Who’s counting?

January 21, 2015

Doubleheader Dip 2003-08: Last Stand at Shea

If you don’t count the start of strike-marred 1995—and if I don’t, why should you?—Opening Day 2003 marked the first Mets lid lifter I’d missed in 13 years. And if you believe 13 is bad luck, you could blame triskaidekaphobia for the cluster-screw that was the 2003 season. Or you could blame Art Howe. But it’s more satisfying—and relevant—to blame Steve Phillips. 

The 2003 season was what the Wonderboy GM had wrought. The scapegoating and ousting of Bobby Valentine the previous fall (though let’s give the Wilpons proper credit for that bonehead move as well), was only part of the reason to blame Phillips. What really doomed the 2003 Mets was the lousy roster Howe inherited. And the only reason they hired Art Howe was because Oakland didn’t want him, despite leading their team to three straight postseason berths. Heck, the Mets didn’t want him. They’d wanted Lou Piniella, but the Mariners, who had him under contract, wanted a top prospect to let him go to another team. Even Phillips understood it was folly to trade someone like Jose Reyes for a manager. And if Piniella couldn’t turn around his hometown Devil Rays, as they were called then, what makes you think he could have done diddley with the mess of a Mets team that may have lost 100 games in ’03 if not for an unexpected rookie season by Jae Seo?  

Seo came out of the minors and pitched well. Aaron Heilman drew much more attention—I can still hear the strains of the “Kids Are Alright” from the Who for his debut. “Boris the Spider” might have been more apt.  The rookie that made ’03 worth remembering at all, though, was Jose Reyes.  

That Jose debuted with the Mets and had not been traded for a manager or a 35-year-old, slop-throwing reliever showed that Steve did have some self-control after all. Phillips was always ogling a new old reliever (this is how they lost pre-disappointment Jason Bay in 2002), but Stevie held off—and didn’t trade David Wright, either, who was still a year away from the majors. Reyes debuted in June 2003 in Arlington, Texas. Phillips must have been proud, albeit briefly. He was axed the next day and his replacement, Jim Duquette, spent the summer banishing the lousy contracts that Phillips had either signed or agreed to take on—the dead weight of the Mo Vaugn contract is a prime example of the latter. Duquette got rid of the stopped-caring Hall of Fame Roberto Alomar; the good-guy, bad hitter Jeromy Burnitz; Aussie lefty Graeme Lloyd; and the haircut twins Rey Sanchez and Armando Benitez, in separate deals.  

Unless you remember Edwin Almonte, Royce Ring, Victor Diaz, or any of the acquired players who never made it out of the minors, there’s not a whole lot more of 2003 worth recalling. My son was born that year, so it worked out nicely for me; certainly better than letting lame duck Steve Phillips do the drafting a week before they fired him. So you can blame him for 2003 top pick Lastings Milledge. Only five Mets from that draft made the majors and the best was Brian Bannister, a good-looking, slow-throwing son of big leaguer who got hurt running the bases as a rookie and was traded for Ambiorix Burgos in 2006, but we’ll get to ’06 soon enough.

First there was 2004. A cruel season, for it brought more Art Howe, and crueler yet, it provided hope in a slow-starting division. And then, like an army that thinks it’s on the verge of winning a battle when it is actually on the verge of being routed, the Mets charged right into an ambush and came out prisoners. Jim Duquette, who proved adept at dumping salary, was not as good going the other way: sending prospects for veterans. On the ill-fated trading deadline day in 2004, in two separate but regrettable deals, he sent away Scott Kazmir and Jose Bautista, among others, for Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson. The Mets, who were 44-41 two days before the All-Star break, went 21 games under .500 after that. They lost 16 of 17 in August, including 11 in a row. Duquette and Howe were fired in September—and the Mets couldn’t even do that right. Instead of an interim replacement, Howe finished the last two weeks of the season. The year ended with the Mets saying bon voyage to Howe as well as the Expos in the last game played in the history of the Montreal franchise. 

It also marked the end of three straight losing seasons for the Mets. Willie Randolph was the hire. Ironically, that came the same week Wally Backman was hired to manage the Diamondbacks. It must have been an impulse buy because he was fired four days after being hired when Arizona got freaked out by some events in Wally’s past that they obviously didn’t uncover in their not-so due diligence. Backman had been up for the Mets job, but he pulled himself out of the running since it seemed he felt he was a long shot in New York. He still is. Sigh. 

New Mets GM Omar Minaya surrounded Randolph with pretty things, notably Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, plus a trade for a new first baseman, Doug Mientkiewicz, who couldn’t hit but had a good enough glove to save David Wright many errors. The “New Mets” still had too many “old Mets,” including past free agents Braden Looper and Kaz Matsui. The Mets had way too much money tied up on players past their prime—see Glavine, Tom; Floyd, Cliff; and Cameron, Mike—but the Mets also finally got back over .500. It wasn’t easy, either. The Mets lost their first five games under Randolph, including a Looper implosion on Opening Day, the first of five such Mets bullpen meltdowns that cost Pedro five wins in ’05. And then after being ahead in the Wild Card race as September dawned, the Mets lost 14 of 17 to fall four games under .500. The Mets showed actual life in September, rallying to finish four games over. 500 and sending off Mike Piazza right in his final game as a Met.   

Omar actually had an even better winter between the 2005 and ’06 seasons. He eschewed sentimentality and let Al Leiter and Piazza finish their careers elsewhere. A year after the big-talking Marlins beat out the Mets for free agent Carlos Delgado, Minaya traded with the suddenly-downsizing Marlins to get both Delgado and catcher Paul LoDuca. Another key swap was getting John Maine from the Orioles for Kris Benson a few weeks after Anna Benson’s Christmas party appearance caused plenty of trouble with her massive, inexhaustible, never-ending, um, mouth. Some scrap picking turned up gems (Jose Valentin, Endy Chavez) and old junk (Julio Franco). Minaya built up a bullpen that had been spotty except for, get this, Aaron Heilman. Omar traded for Duaner Sanchez, signed Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano, plus he convinced Darren Oliver to come out of retirement. He filled a huge hole at the back of the pen with a huge A-hole: Billy Wagner. Minaya kept busy all year, acquiring veterans like Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, and, when Duaner Sanchez went down in his career year (torpedoing the Mets bullpen in the process), Minaya did what he could during a time of year where trades aren’t easy to make and brought in Oliver Perez, Roberto Hernandez, Guillermo Mota, and outfielder/shell of his former self Shawn Green. I said he tried, I didn’t say he succeeded. 

But the 2006 Mets were in control of the NL East from the opening series forward. It was the Mets, not the Phillies, who brought an end to the 14 years of dominance by the Braves. Minaya even looked ahead, signing a teenager by the name of Juan Lagares, and drafting Joe Smith and Daniel Murphy. He could not control injuries, though, as Pedro and El Duque could not pitch in the postseason. Still, the Swiss-cheese rotation almost made it to the World Series with Oliver Perez pitching a Game Seven. So close. So very frigging close.

I just can’t go into 2007 and 2008. I had to live through those years not just as they were happening, but in books, magazines, and websites as I was working on all three around the clock during this period. I also worked on a diary of the 2008 season with Keith Hernandez and the team’s inability to put the finishing touches on a postseason berth was excruciating. It was both great and terrible to be at Shea for the final day of that ballpark’s existence. As for 2007-08, I spilled enough ink about those two years to say I gave at the office.

But how about those doubleheaders? Well this period in question began with the Mets just getting killed in doubleheaders both straight and split. The ’03 Mets lost all three doubleheaders they played at Shea—the traditional kind—and had a makeup with the Yankees that turned into one of those deals with two games in two stadiums in one day, which they of course lost. The ’03 Mets not only lost all their doubleheaders, but all six games against the Yankees. Howe’s Mets never did win a doubleheader. After losing another DH in 2004, Howe wound up 0-4-2 (plus 0-1 in his lone day-night doubleheader).

Willie Randolph went 1-0-4 in straight doubleheaders, and he was the first second Mets skipper to manage a day-night twinbill at Shea. The Mets made it count, drawing a record 98,000 in a single day at Shea while splitting with Washington in 2007. The Mets surpassed 100,000 for a split DH against the hated Phillies in 2008. A day-night doubleheader loss in Atlanta that year, however, saw Ryan Church get a concussion before flying to Colorado at the same time many people—including those paragons of virtue in the owner’s box—were already furious at Willie for comments about racism in Flushing.  

A doubleheader proved to be Willie’s last day at Shea. It was good for me, catching my only foul ball in 350-plus games at Shea, but Willie caught a flight to Anaheim after the twinbill and never made it back. In a Mets uniform, at least. 

Willie’s replacement, Jerry Manuel endured some rough twinbills in ’08 as well. One of the countless Mets bullpen implosions occurred in a doubleheader that cost Johan Santana (and the team) yet another win in the first game and then Jon Niese combined for a shutout for his first major league win in the nightcap. Day or night or one after the other, doubleheaders were torture for a good team with a terrible bullpen. The Mets split two straight doubleheaders at Shea, split two on the road, split a two-borough doubleheader against the Yankees, and lost one doubleheader outright on the road. That’s a lot of doubling up, and that’s a year I lived through again and again. That’s something no one would want to live through twice. 

Nightcap: Put This in the Books

I could listen to Howie Rose on the radio all day. I understand he has his own career goals and all, but the day he left Mets Extra on WFAN was a sad one. He soon came back to the Mets fold in many capacities—and his replacement for 18 years on Mets Extra, Ed Coleman, was one of the best in the business. But I have always admired Howie’s ability to not only take the conversation to different levels while always maintaining the perspective of both the Mets fan and the Mets team and never, ever getting a fact wrong. 

His book, fittingly named after his game-ending calling card—Put It in the Book—is not just a recollection of his rise up the ladder from kid in the upper tank with a tape recorder to radio voice of the Mets (though there is obviously plenty about that). He also analyzes where the team has been and where it’s going, throwing in items like “The 10 Most Important/Influential/Iconic/Indispensable Persons in the Mets First Half Century.” He’s also not afraid to call ’em like he sees ’em during this literary respite from the booth. I fully concur with his assessment of Jeff Kent, who both came and went in bad trades, as a “pain in the butt.” And Howie isn’t afraid to make himself look bad, either, telling how he realized too late that calling Rob Reiner “Meathead” to his face at Dodger Stadium was a no-no. And speaking of no-no’s, Howie had the thrill of a lifetime in calling the first—and only—no-hitter in Mets history in 2012. He is enough of a walking encyclopedia to have taught us in the foreword he kindly wrote for Mets by the Numbers for Jon Springer and me that Gordie Richardson, the last number 41 before Tom Seaver, had thrown a no-hitter as a Met in 1965… during spring training (Gordo combined for the no-no with the equally immortal Gary Kroll).  

That is the kind of stuff Howie just knows without referring to books or computers or tea leaves. Like the TV broadcasting trio we hear so much about, we are very lucky to have the radio voice of Howie, and Howie is very fortunate to have the one job he always wanted.

January 16, 2015

Nominations for the Greg Spira Award

For the third year, I am proud to be a judge for the Greg Spira Baseball Research Award. It goes to a young writer who has written a baseball piece involving research that has appeared on the web, in a publication, or book form. Greg was always a champion of young writers, so the age cutoff is 30. It was nice that two of last year’s winners were college students James Santelli (University of Southern California) and Noah Woodward (Davidson College). The winner of the top prize of $1,000 last year was Ben Lindbergh, who not long ago was at Georgetown University and even more recently attended MLB Scout School. He has also been editor-in-chief at Baseball Prospectus and now writes for Grantland. 

Greg Spira, who died of kidney disease at 44 in 2011, was a good guy and a huge Mets fan. A Harvard graduate with a thing for analytic analysis, he could tell you 10 ways from Sunday why Josh Thole sucked. This time of year I especially think of him because we would be working round the clock on the Mets Annual, figuring which writers to coddle and which ones to kill as they pushed the limits of deadlines and patience. Sometimes Greg fell into this group, too. We somehow always got the thing on the newsstand on time. I loved every issue. I miss that, but I really miss him.

If you know anyone who writes about baseball and is under 30, send in a nomination by the deadline of February 15. Or send one through me if you prefer. A $1,000 first prize for writing is a sum a lot of writers would sign on for; the $200 and $100 secondary prizes shouldn’t be sniffed at either. There are plenty of hurdles faced by young writers, especially those who choose writing as their main profession. I fully support anything that rewards them for their hard work and perseverance. Especially when it also honors my dear friend.

I have read every piece that’s been nominated and they run the gamut. I look forward to the process again.

January 7, 2015

Come to the Queens Baseball Convention

Before I get into this weekend’s plans, let’s me just mention the weekend past. As I may have mentioned previously, I am an Arizona Cardinals fan and I confess that that was some pathetic effort they put in against Carolina in the first round of the NFL playoffs. The Panthers literally gave two touchdowns to the Cardinals and their third-string quarterback, Mark Lindley, who displayed the athletic prowess of David Lindley. The Panthers even threw in an intentional safety at game’s end. But any year in which my team, football or baseball, winds up in the playoffs shall not be considered devastating. (I reserve that word for Tom Glavine’s Hall of Fame lexicon.) My teams simply don’t get to the playoffs often enough for that level of pretension. I’d still give Omar Minaya’s right arm for the Mets to get swept out of either the 2007 or 2008 postseason, intentional safety and all. 

Now that I don’t have to worry about missing a Cardinals playoff game this Saturday, I can concentrate on attending the second Queens Baseball Convention. This was put together by Shannon Shark of Mets Police, whose campaign helped bring back Banner Day. Shannon as well as many others put in their time so the Mets wouldn’t have to bother. Unlike many other teams, the Mets don’t do a winter caravan to try to get their fans psyched for the upcoming season. They figure if you can’t get up for a Buddy Carlyle signing, it’s your own fault. 

And I like reliever Buddy Carlyle, but I really like the Queens Baseball Convention. I did not know what to expect for the first installment last year, and it was wonderful. The second annual QBC begins a little after noon on Saturday at McFadden’s next to Citi Field. It runs through 6:30 p.m., with some two dozen events on the schedule. Among the guests will be former Mets Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman, and Ed Charles, plus announcer Josh Lewin, Adam Rubin from, Jared Diamond from the Wall Street Journal, and Todd Radom, who is not just an old friend and colleague but a designer of team logos, pro sports branding, and an expert on the legacy of uniforms. Heather Quinlan, who is putting together the documentary ’86 Mets: The Movie, and who I’ve spoken to many times regarding my ’86 Mets book, will host a panel on that beloved Mets team at 1:45 p.m. 

So bring your kiddies, bring your wife. Mike Piazza may not have made the Hall of Fame, but I think there will be a happier end to this story than what has happened to Gil Hodges’s candidacy (to read a good piece on the reality of that situation, check out Mike Avallone’s piece on Amazin’ Avenue). The Hall should one day join Mike with Glavine—and I don’t mean Mike Glavine, who played first base instead of Piazza at the end of the lamentable 2003 season (though give Mike Glavine credit for becoming head baseball coach at Northeastern University). Piazza’s day will come, but in the meantime take a day for yourselves at the QBC. You’ve earned it.

December 23, 2014

Reflections of a Mets Life: 2014

Due to technical difficulties, this site was down for a month and a half. There are still a couple of bookkeeping issues with Doubleheader Dip and all that I will not be able to finish up until 2015. We missed the Mets Gift of the Year—just give a gift card or gift certificate: Make it out to the Wilpons for whatever amount you can, hopefully something in the nine-digit range. Or higher. 

So we’re skipping right to Reflections of a Mets Life for this season just past. This also being the Festivus time of year, we are going to list this year’s reflections in the form of aired grievances.  

1. 79 wins. Hey, it’s more than last year, but for the love of Pete can we hit 80 wins again in this lifetime? The last time the Mets went longer between 80-win (or more!) seasons was the dark ages of 1977-83. You’d better do something because there’s an angry mob forming… online, that is. In reality, there might be handful of people standing outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda looking at their phones, getting announcements of moves by other teams. 

2. Getting a shortstop. Say what you want about current management, they have not stuck us with a Mo Vaughn-esque contract. Troy Tulowitzki may be a future MVP, or he may be the next fragile statue who sells a lot of jerseys and then spends weeks, months, and years on the DL with a salary that keeps the team from making any upgrades, or worse, forces trades of good players due to get big raises in order to keep paying a perpetually disables player. Let someone else take the risk on his $20 million per year brittle physique. When you think Tulo, think Mo. And Mo Vaughn was at least a nice guy with local ties… before he ate large sections of the tri-state area. 

3. Moving in the fences. I was on their side about Tulo, but man, oh, Manischewitz have I been holding this grievance for months. Moving in the fences—a second time in the Sandy Alderson era—is the most misguided thing the Mets have done, well, since the last time they moved in the fences. (No matter what they do, opponents still keep hitting more home runs. Perhaps because they are actually better.) You have a franchise that has nothing but young pitchers learning the ropes, so your solution is to move in the fences and take away their safety net and lessen the importance of having the league’s best defensive center fielder: Juan Lagares. Have you seen those three world championships won by the Giants in the last five years? Did you notice how big their ballpark is? Do you guys not watch the World Series? Or at this point do you figure it’s more useful to watch The Big Bang Theory? Even their version of baseball is more entertaining than what passes for the game at Citi Field in the Alderson era. 

4. Matt Harvey. Matt, I say this as a fellow Matt and a big Mets fan. Tone it down. Let your Twitter account go. Don’t listen to the FAN. (I ditched them when they ditched the Mets and I feel much better now.) Save the intensity for the mound. Listen to the doctor. Tell the team when you don’t feel well. But above all else—pitch like the guy who started the 2013 All-Star Game. 

5. Go easy on Harvey, Mets brass-holes. Come up with a regimen that works for Matt Harvey. Start him in the minors to open the year, if you must. Start him on the disabled list, if need be. But make sure that, God willing, if the Mets ever see October, Harvey won’t have to be pulled from the rotation due to innings limits. If that happens and the Mets lose because of it—see Strasbourg, Nationals, 2012—those fans who were looking at their phones before really will storm the gate. 

6. Stop with the BS. I’ve been reading about collusion in the 1980s, about how Sandy Alderson was caught in the middle of it when he ran the A’s. The ’86 Alderson gives the same answers as now, referencing markets and changes in direction as to why the loss in interest about free agents. We understand you don’t have money. But please make a trade if the team is close. The rotation only holds five, maybe six, slots for pitchers. Be wise choosing the ones you keep and the ones you trade. The lack of a deal in July 2008 kept the last game at Shea from being a playoff game. All it would have taken to fix their bullpen was trading the immortal Fernando Martinez at the deadline. Know your personnel. Trust your people. reward your fan base, when the situation is right. 

7. Playoffs. Whenever that word came up in 2014, it was like Jim Mora’s sarcastic refrain. (Come to think of it, he does kind of look like a relative of Terry Collins.) Sure, October/November is watered down in baseball. But all we want for Christmas is a playoff game. Santa, I can’t say we’ve been good, but we have been patient. 

8. Beat the Nationals… once in a while. The year began with the bullpen blowing what would have been an awesome Opening Day win. But it was the first in another season of drubbings by Washington. The Nats have beaten the Mets like a drum the past three years, to the tune of 15-41. In 2014 it hit bottom at 4-15. Go 9-9 against them and maybe finishing second isn’t a joke like it was last year, sitting 17 games out; nine out of the Wild Card. 

9. Win in the second half. We’ll end on a positive note. The Mets have had a batter second half than first half each of the past two years! In 2013 the Mets were still under .500 in the second half, but they played slightly better. Last year the Mets had a winning second-half record at 34-33. It marked the first time since the Mets moved into Citi Field that the Mets were over .500 in the second half. In 2013, the Mets played .465 ball in the second half, compared with .451 in the first half. The other years of Citi’s existence were Mr. Hyde second halves after first halves that Dr. Hyde might have enjoyed. In 2012 the second-half percentage was .167 lower, in 2011 it was .068 lower, in 2010 it was down .126, and in 2009 it was .110 lower. Keep those second halves coming and we’ll remember 2014 as the year the Mets started becoming a second-half team. Because second-half teams make historic runs at the postseason. They are fun to watch. They sometimes even win the big games. That’s the takeaway from ’14—maybe one day we can say this is where it all began.

November 10, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1999-2002: Rise and Fall 

The winning of the Gold Glove by Juan Lagares takes me back to the time when the Mets had “The Best Infield Ever?” (Sports Illustrated was wise enough to add the question mark.) The 1999 Mets infield was made up of John Olerud at first base, Edgardo Alfonzo at second base, Rey Ordonez at shortstop, and Robin Ventura at third. To me, the question was about defense. The Mets infield made only 27 errors. Ventura and Ordonez won Gold Gloves, though Fonzie and Johnny O. deserved them as well. 

Historically, it may not have been the $100,000 Infield, the Big Red Machine’s 1976 infield, or any number of Orioles or even Dodgers quartets, but when we’re talking about the Mets, no other gang of four compares to ‘99. When you take into account the offensive numbers three of those infielders had: Olerud (19 HR, 96 RBI, .298/.427/.463, 19-96), Fonzie (27-108, .304/.385/.502), and Ventura (32-120, .301/.379/.529), not to mention a catcher with 40 homers, 124 RBI, and a .575 slugging average, you can carry Rey Ordonez’s glove and not be overly concerned about his wild swings. Yet even Rey-Rey was as good as he was going to get with a bat, hitting .258 and drawing 37 unintentional and 12 intentional walks. (If you’d seen Dallas Green repeatedly bunt Ordonez as a rookie so the pitcher could have a shot at knocking in the run, you’d better understand the strides this meant.) Odonez would be terrible in the 1999 postseason and he’d regress in the seasons that followed, but there was one reason he played every day, and that because he was the best fielding shortstop the Mets have ever had. 

The ’99 outfield was interesting. They had a reclamation project in Rickey Henderson, and three outfielders I’d barely heard of before who had superb moments: Benny Agbayani, Roger Cedeno, and Melvin Mora. Roger Cedeno—the pre-free agent Roger Cedeno—came from the Dodgers and stole a then-Mets record 66 bases, even though he only started 115 games. Benny Agbayani entered the scene like a thunderclap with 10 home runs in his first 27 games of ’99, including one at a key spot against the Red Sox at a packed Shea that had the chowdaheads who helped filled the place saying, “Who’s tha linebackah?” He was our secret weapon. 

Melvin Mora was another Bobby Valentine creation. He was 27 years old and had played all over the world, but he didn’t debut in the majors until the last day of May 1999. I attended more Mets games (24) than in any other year and even I didn’t notice him until late in the season. Mora was Valentine’s insurance policy late in games to take care of the indifferent way Rickey Henderson played left field. At 40 years old, Rickey hit .315, stole 37 bases, and even smacked 12 home runs in what was the last truly great season of a truly great career (though Rickey, being Rickey, continued to play professional baseball until he was 46). Henderson seemed to pay more attention to the crowd than the batter while in left field. Enter Melvin. And after the Mets spit the bit and gagged a sizeable Wild Card lead in the final two weeks of the season, Melvin trotted home with the winning run on the final day of the year to assure the Mets of at least a one-game playoff. I still think that game was as important as any regular-season game the Mets have played. Unless you want to nominate the next night—when I was as nervous as I’ve ever been watching a Mets game on TV—when Al Leiter shut out the Reds in a one-game playoff in Cincinnati. 

As great as the Todd Pratt home run was a week later to clinch the Division Series—and that was a remarkable game—I still don’t know if it had the impact of the previous week’s heroics. Losing to a team with a better record in the playoffs is one thing, but blowing a postseason berth two years in a row on the final day… Well, you know how quickly a franchise can spiral out of control when that happens. The Mets haven’t climbed out yet. 

But in 1999 the Mets and their fans climbed the ever-higher Mojo Risin’ Ladder to unfathomable heights. They got knocked off by the Braves in the NLCS in a fashion akin to getting hit in the face with a 2-by-4 just when you thought you might just reach the top. Is it me, or have bad things just happened to the Mets in the NLCS ever since they pulled it out in Houston in 1986? ’88, ’99, ’06… even with a satisfying clincher at home in 2000, that is a tough 1-for-4.

But 2000 was that one. What happened after that was more painful, for my money, than the three NLCS losses combined. 

The year began with people really afraid that civilization might go off the grid with the Y2K hysteria. But the real power failure was losing to the Yankees. In the World Series. At Shea. Forget getting hit in the head by a 2-by-4, the 2000 World Series was like getting your hand caught in the car door and not being able to open it. You thought your hand would never feel better, but eventually it did, though the bone near the thumb still hurts all these years later. 

It really was a shame how 2000 ended, because Bobby Valentine managed the socks off the managers everyone thought were brilliant. First he outmaneuvered San Francisco genius Dusty Baker in the Division Series and then he left Tony LaRussa holding his jock—and pinch hitter Mark McGwire in the on-deck circle—as the Mets clinched both series at Shea, even though they did not hold home-field advantage. Then of course the Yankees clinched in Flushing and, son of a…  

And then came 2001. It remains one of the strangest and saddest years I’ve ever experienced. The Mets were terrible, then they were good, then events occurred to render the whole thing moot. And then just when I thought, maybe this great thing can happen to make a terrible situation a little better, everything fell apart. That year was proof that all you’ve built can disappear just like that. That baseball is just a game. That life is short. 

The world was different in 2002. Whatever Mojo was rising in 1999 and again in 2000 and for a few fleeting moments in 2001, well, that Mojo was gone by 2002. After one losing season in five full years as Mets manager, with the only back-to-back postseason appearances in Mets history, and with building a solid team out of a so-so minor league system and the coin flip that occurred every time Steve Phillips made a trade—and he made a lot of them—Bobby V. was unceremoniously canned. Now the Mets have four losing seasons in a row (six by the team in all) and the manager gets a pat on the back.  

The only doubleheader Bobby V. lost in eight tries between 1999 and 2002 was during his final weekend as manager. The Mets went 4-1-3 in doubleheaders in those four years, including three sweeps in 2000 and no twinbills at all in 2001—a Mets first. The Mets weren’t as fun anymore without Bobby Valentine. And they certainly weren’t as good.

Nightcap: Last Game of the Century

The Mets did not make the World Series in 1999. After the best baseball marathon I’ve witnessed in the flesh—the soggy, 15-inning Grand Slam Single spectacular—came one of the most agonizing losses I’ve ever seen in Atlanta. The Mets fell behind big in the first inning of Game Six, only to rally to tie it and then take the lead not once but twice, only to blow the lead each time with their best* relievers on the mound. Neither John Franco nor Armando Benitez could hold it, setting up the final tragedy of Kenny Rogers. His five wins for a pitching-deprived team really was the difference between making and not making the postseason in 1999. The guy once threw a perfect game, but he was perfectly awful in an October setting. At least until his last postseason, when he shutout three different opponents over 23 innings for the 2006 Tigers, with a little help from the magic smudge. “Too much, the magic smudge!

So I was at what turned out to be the last World Series game, the last baseball game of the century—unless you don’t count the century, or millennium, as ending at ’99. I’m an odd bird about a lot of things, but I consider ’99 to be the end, unless it’s the beginning, such as in “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” Game Four of the World Series was my 30th major league game of the year, a personal best, and also my last game ever at Yankee Stadium. I still think part of me is stuck in traffic getting out of those parking garages that the city bought back as part of the deal for the Yankees in 1973 with Steinbrenner bilking the Yankees from CBS for $8.8 million. My buddy, Young Tom, snoozed away in the passenger seat as my car crawled out of the Bronx. I’d gotten free tickets through MLB, with a perch at the very top of the upper deck befitting my station. And with the Mets having gotten so close to the pennant, with me coming off a big promotion, I remember thinking that maybe my time was coming. Optimism. Cruel, cruel optimism.

October 16, 2014

A View from the Seats

Another season is in the books. Every year, to keep my head straight for my Mets attendance, I do this procedural chart. I also want to go on record that I completely disagree with the concept of not going to Mets games as a way of punishing the Wilpons. Perhaps reallocating the few hundred dollars I spend on tickets, food, and souvenirs will hurt them, but I know that not going to games will hurt me more. And the only way to get the next generation immersed in Metdom is to bring them out and force it on them. Because no one in their right mind would willingly take up this orange and blue cross. And it will hopefully pay dividends that I will not have grandkids buzzing around me one day in Yankees replicas.

I went to eight Mets games this year, most of them in September. Every year I suddenly realize that summertime done come and gone (my, oh, my) and I start going a bunch in September. The games could not mean less, but two of the games were free, including the second straight year utilizing the free birthday ticket offer. The other two games were through the Boy Scouts: one was for lousy seats to a lousy game but a good deal with a bus ride thrown in, and the other Scout seats were at deep discount for a silent auction. And it was money well spent to sit 13 rows from the field with a cache of hard-core fans to see Jacob deGrom fan the first eight Marlins.

I only paid for tickets to half the games I went to in 2014. Thank you to those who took me out to the ballgame this year. The Mets fell short of 80 wins (again), but there was some progress made and good times had.

I will leave you with my in-house log for 2014, and I will dig up something I recall saying, or at least thinking, the last time the Royals were in the World Series. I was in the second floor TV lounge at Bowman Hall at Roanoke College in the 1985 World Series against the Cardinals (back when Bowman still stood and networks still showed postseason baseballFox is not a real network, and Fox Sport One sure as hell is not). I said/thought: “If the Royals can do this, so can the Mets.” I said and thought a lot of things in 1985; one of them happened to be prescient. Lets hope someone is listening once more.

Captain’s Log 2014 Citi Field


Foe, Result

Mets Rec, Pos

MS Rec




HRs /by NYM

Who hit the HRs



Was, 9-7 L

0-1, 4th





5/3 Brown, Lagares. Wright A surreal nightmare; most disheartening Opening Day Ive attended. Wound up seeing both Familia disasters in his superb 2014.


StL, 2-0 W

10-9, 3rd





    Mejia goes 3-0 as starter, Farnsworth save, Mets winning recordall sounds very strange.


StL, 3-0 L

10-10, 3rd


Gee Wainwright


    Much more like it the next night: No offense,  mediocre start, ineffective relief. Too typical.


Phi, 7-1 W

51-55, 4th





1 dArnaud  86 games went by between stops in Flushing. Bartolo toyed with them; game over in first.
10-Sep Col, 2-0 W 71-75, 4th 3-2 Montero Matzek Mejia     Monteros first MLB win. Sweep was nice payback for May embarrassment in Denver.
13-Sep Was, 10-3 L 72-76, 3rd 3-3 Fister Wheeler   3/1 Harper, Span, Flores Arrived one night after Mets won only game of year vs. Nats in NY. Spanking of Mets in the rain on Fireworks Night. Talk about a damper.
15-Sep Marlins,      6-5 L 72-79, 4th 3-4 Dyson Familia Cishek     deGrom fans first eight of game to tie MLB mark. Then the bullpen blows lead.
28-Sep Hou, 8-3 L  79-83, 2nd 4-4 Colon Tropeano   2 Duda, Tejada Duda hits 30 HR, notches 92 RBI. Colon wins 15th. Abreu goes out in style. So do Mets.


      Colon 2 Familia 2   11/7    
  Since ’09 opening 231-255 39-35 Dickey & Santana 4 Pelfrey 3 K-Rod 7 103/57 Wright 7 Wash hit only HRs I saw by visitors. If move in fences (again!) how many more for Nats? NL?















October 3, 2014

FNP Met 2014: Set Phasers to Stun

Each year I pick a Met I like, sometimes irrationally, and hope he will get more playing time. At year’s end, when the manager does not heed my telepathic messages (again!), that pine-riding Met earns the coveted Favorite Nonplaying Met (FNP) Award. Usually it’s a pretty easy call and often it is an obscure ballplayer. The roll call over the last quarter century includes everyone from Chris Donnels to Todd Pratt to Heath Bell to two-time winner Nick Evans. There are others I have trouble remembering because, you know, they never played much. 

I generally make my pick before the season ends because there is one guy, maybe two, who qualify as a true nonplaying Met. Ah, but Terry Collins keeps going back and forth between letting a guy rot on the bench and playing him so much he becomes ineffective. Ruben Tejada, who is neither a favorite nor nonplaying, played shortstop every inning of almost every Mets game for three months. The Mets had such faith that they didn’t even have a backup shortstop for Ruben Ripken, so rookie corner infielder/outfielder Eric Campbell—an early favorite for the award until he got too much playing time and lost his FNP edge—wound up manning shortstop after Tejada got hurt while Bartolo Colon went deep into the seventh inning with a perfect game in Seattle. And then late in the year Tejada didn’t play at all while Wilmer Flores manned short each night. And then when David Wright ended the year on the DL and Daniel Murphy shifted to third base, shortstop of the future Wilmer played nothing but second base. Ruben manned short and zoomed past the 400 (wasted) plate appearance mark, about twice the standard cutoff to be FNP in a given year. 

Then there is last year’s FNP Met, Anthony Recker. Collins played Travis d’Arnaud six days a week for most of the summer until he hurt his elbow (maybe that’s why he never threw anyone out?). I did consider back-to-back FNPs for A.R.—not Arnold Rothstein (it hurts how he just disappeared from Boardwalk Empire; I mean just because the historical character was dead by 1931...). Recker caught just 10 games in July and August combined, but he finished the season catching most of the last two weeks to improve to 7 HRs, 27 RBI, .201 average, and .620 OPS in 187 plate appearances—essentially the same stats Chris Young had in 100 more plate appearances. (You know, the Chris Young who couldn’t hit on this side of New York.)  

After C.Y.—who was never in the running for FNP Met—comes E.Y. Eric Young swiped the National League stolen base crown in the final game at Citi Field in 2013. In the final game at Citi Field in 2014, he lost his grip on the .300 on-base percentage plateau, which looks ugly if your offensive skills are as limited as E.Y.’s. Eric Young played a lot last year and gave the Mets a spark. He rode the bench for a ridiculous amount of time this summer, becoming essentially a pinch runner and occasional starter against lefties. Good job swiping 30 percent of the team’s 101 bases in 2014. (You do the math.) But E.Y. had way too many PA’s (316) to be in the running. Bobby Abreu had a nice tribute from the fans on the final day. I was there and clapped for him, too, but I did wonder why a 41-year-old outfielder got 155 plate apps on this team.

Picking a pitcher for FNP Met this year was out since Terry Collins brings in pitchers like he’s paid by the move and everyone was either overworked, ineffective, or injured. That left one true candidate for FNP, an outfielder I’ve always liked: Captain Kirk Nieuwenhuis. (From here on in, for my own spelling sanity, I’m calling him Kirk, Nieuwy, or addressing him by rank.)   

The best thing about Nieuwy is that at 27 he became a valuable member of the team despite just 130 plate appearances. He excelled as a pinch hitter: both Nieuwy and Eric Campbell went 8 for 28 off the bench (.286) to tie for the team lead. Yes, Nieuwy still strikes out as ton (39 K’s), but he had his best slash line by far in his three-year career: .259/.346/.482. At the end of the year the Mets gave Matt den Dekker the shot at left field instead of Kirk, which made sense because the Mets know what they have in Kirk and they have no idea about dD. Despite den Dekker having 44 more plate appearances than Kirk, Nieuwy outpaced him in doubles (14-11), triples (1-0), and home runs (3-0) while having a .160 higher slugging percentage. den Dekker stole three more bases than Kirk (7-4), but Nieuwy wasn’t caught and den Dekker was nabbed four times. When Juan Lagares was hurt at the end of the year, Nieuwy did not get the chance to play much because he had kidney stones and a subsequent infection that ended his season in the hospital. He’s resting comfortably at home now.  

So here is a get well trophy to the big man on campus from Asuza Pacific. Let’s hope Nieuwy will still be rocking the Mets bench when the team is good, though with this manager (and owner), we all may be retired by the time that happens. In the meantime Captain Kirk, set course for contention.

September 29, 2014

Final Grades Are in for 2014 Mets

It is time for final grades for the 2014 season. For a team grade, take the number of wins and put that on the grade scale, so 79 equals C+. The Mets won five more games than in 2013 and finished tied for second with the Braves, but that is cosmetic. The Mets were 17 games behind the Nationals. And to qualify for the watered-down Wild Card required 88 wins this year. Next year needs to be .500 or bust.

There was a lot of turnover from last year. Matt Harvey did not throw a pitch in 2014it wasn’t for lack of talking about itbut he will be back next year, we hope. So should Bobby Parnell, who threw all of one inning (and got a blown save for his trouble). I am not sure of Jeremy Hefner’s future after his second elbow surgery in a year, but good luck to him. I went through last year’s final report card and found 19 missing Mets from 2013: Dave Aardsma, Rick Ankiel, Scott Atchison, Mike Baxter, John Buck, Greg Burke, Marlon Byrd, Tim Byrdak, Robert Carson, Collin Cowgill, Pedro Feliciano, Frank Francisco, Aaron Harang, LaTroy Hawkins, Zach Lutz, Brandon Lyon, Shawn Marcum, Justin Turner, and the great Jordany Valdespin. Remember them? And that does not include guys who spent significant time in 2013 in New York and most of 2014 in Las Vegas: Andrew Brown, Zach Lutz, Omar Quintanilla, Scott Rice, and Josh Satin.

In last year’s report card, I said, “Misters Davis and Duda, stop wasting everyone else’s time! Duda knocked 30 out of the park in 2014, and unlike when Davis reached that mark in 2012, Lucas did not spend half the year below the Mendoza Line. Duda gets most improved, certainly. And congrats to all the members of the bullpen, where the kid gloves come off: Carlos Torres and Jeurys Familia each pitched over 70 times. Jenrry Mejia would have appeared a lot more than 62 times if he hadnt begun the year as a starter. Meanwhile the Collins China Doll rotation completed one game.

As for who qualifies for grades, I went with 50 ABs, 25 IP, though I have painstakingly listed everyone who appeared at all for the 2014 Mets on this report card. If you want to hear more about the season just ended, listen to me on WKNY 1490 AM in Kingston on Monday night, September 29, at 6 p.m. Now let’s get these grades handed out.  

                                                    Final 2014 Grades

                  1H   2H  Final         Notes

Bartolo Colon        B    A-    B+   Oldest student is best in class. Reached 15 Ws, 200 IP, fanned 150. Big man, big year.

Jacob deGrom      B-   A     B+   Dont yet know if hell be Rookie of Year, but best Mets rookie in many a year. deGroovy!

Daniel Murphy       A-   B     B+   Murphs skid came after Sept. injury. Gets extra credit for taking Wrights spot at 3B.

Lucas Duda          C+  A     B+   Needs work vs. lefties, but I was wrong about Duda. Impressive to reach 30 HR, 92 RBI.

Jeurys Familia       B    A-     B+  Missed most of last year yet came back to pitch in 76 games as teams best reliever.

Carlos Torres        B+  B+   B+  Went 8-6, top 10 in games, just missed 100 IP. TC somehow didnt pitch his arm off.

Jenrry Mejia          B    B+   B+  Credit for staying healthy (and enduring hernia); 3 wins as starter, just 3 blown saves.

Josh Edgin            B-   A-    B+   Had 0.75 ERA in 2H before constant warmups by TC took toll. Responded to challenge.

Juan Lagares        B    B      B     No question he should win Gold Glove. Showed he could be leadoff hitter, SB threat.

Zach Wheeler        C+  B+   B     Has gotten better in 2H both years; 187 Ks in 185.1 IP. Needs to pitch better at home.

Jon Niese             B+   C     B     Same final grade as 13, but last year finished well. In 14 poor 2H ends with heart issue.

Travis dArnaud     C-    B+   B-    Good rookie year. Power in Aug. (5 HR), average in Sept. (.313). Ended too soon.

Curtis Granderson  B-   B-    B-     Streaky. Two months batting under .150, two months over .300; 20 HRs good for Citi.

Vic Black              B    C     B-     If hed been on team all year or healthy all year, Mets would have been .500.

David Wright         B   C-    C+    Dont have to look up past grades to know this is his worst. Get better soon, David.

Wilmer Flores        C-  B-    C+    Showed he can play SS-2B. Has pop, makes contact, and improving in field.

Dillon Gee             B+ D+  C+    ERA twice as high in 2H, grade twice as low. Not sure if homegrown vet back in 2015.     

Eric Campbell         B+  D   C+    Fell off table in 2H, which coincided with Duda playing vs. lefties. Versatile but limited.      

Kirk Niewenhuis      B-   C    C+   Bench stud shouldve made more than 10 August-Sept. starts. Has speed, power, glove.

Matt den Dekker    D-   B+  C    .290/.392/.374 in 2H, but 174 PAs without HR is troubling. Better version of Jason Tyner.

Bobby Abreu         C+  D+  C      Last seen singling into sunset Sunday. Did not K after recall. Good career, good guy.

Daisuke Matsuzaka C+  D+  C      Only pitched 8 times in relief in 2H. Served any role asked. Sayonara, honorable righty.

Rafael Montero      D+  C    C      Montero, not deGrom, was supposed to be breakout rook. Showed flashes of promise.

Anthony Recker     C-   C-    C-     Nudged over Mendoza Line, but rarely played until end of 2H. Either whiffs or homers.

Ruben Tejada       C-   C-    C-     400 ABs for this guys seems like colossal waste. Should be backupsomewhere else.

Eric Young            C-   D    D+    Had 30 SBs while nailed to bench, yet doesnt get on base enough to justify roster spot.

Chris Young          D+  F    D       Hit .196, 1 RBI after All-Star break before Mets finally cut him. Became Yank, tra-la-la.

                                                    Only Appeared in One Half as Met

                     1H   2H         Notes

Buddy Carlyle                B+         Pulled off scrapheap at age 36. Put together 1.45 ERA in 27 games. Good control.

Dilson Herrera                B           Opened a lot of eyes and created a lot of questions about 2B during short time in NY.

Dana Eveland                B-           Lefty with 2.63 ERA will get a lot of work with TC in charge. Practically a LH baby at 30.

Gonzalez Germen    D+                 Rightfully banished to minors until brief September callup for mopup.

Andrew Brown        D                   Opening Day LF, then forgotten. Seemed cruel not to recall member of 40-man in Sept.

Kyle Farnsworth      F                   Funny, he wasn’t in Astros pen for season finale. Like Mets, they too cut loudmouth.

Jose Valverde         F                   His presence, and Farnsworths, in first two months show how far bullpen came in 2014.

                                          Not Enough Time Served for Grade

Bobby Parnell                  Inc           Among biggest questions heading into 2015: Can he come back? Will it be as a Met?

Eric Goeddel                    Inc           Didnt get to see him enough for opinion. May see more of righty in 2015.

Scott Rice             Inc                     Saw too much of lefty in 32 games in 1H. May recover from 2013 Collins arm abuse.

Wilfredo Tovar                 Inc           Again didnt debut until final week. May still have future in NY given SS options.

Juan Centeno                   Inc           Lefty-hitting catchers are always nice. Hit .200 in 30 ABs. Emergency recall option.

Dario Alvarez                    Inc           Lefty only threw 1.1 inning in 4 games, but showed little beyond hittable pitches.

Taylor Teagarden    Inc                    His presence meant that dArnaud getting his mind right in Vegas. Hit grand slam.

Omar Quintanilla      Inc                    Q always somewhere near; glad he spent most of season in Vegas. Classic utility IF.

Josh Satin              Inc                     Andrew Brown deserved recall over Josh; lucky he lacked ABs for grade (.086 BA).

John Lannan           Inc                    Whoever said he was going to be valuable should not be trusted for opinion again.

Ike Davis               Inc                    Too few NY ABs for grade, but 1/3 as many HRs & 1/2 as many RBI as Duda.


Terry Collins            D     C+   C      Still dont think he’ll lead them out of darkness; baffling strategist, but team likes him.

Sandy Alderson        D+   C     C      Hasnt made big trade, but hasnt made big blunder. Please leave Citi dimensions be!

September 26, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1990-98: 100 Losses, Five Managers, One Strike

The end of Banner Day as a doubleheader endeavor in 1988 was the setting of the sun on the Mets twinbill. Where people once sought out doubleheaders on the schedule as one of the great bargains in sports, during the 28 twinbills at Shea in the 1990s (7-4-17), you often saw people leaving wholesale after the first game, or the place suddenly got more crowded around 7:30, when a game would normally begin. (Start times did not settle at 7:10 for every night game until 2000.) 

The doubleheader was dead, and so were the Mets. By the time the Mets fired Davey Johnson in May 1990, the heart of the 1986 world champions had been gutted. Rather than talk about who departed, it is easier to say who was left by 1990: Ron Darling, Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez, Howard Johnson, Bob Ojeda, Darryl Strawberry, and Tim Teufel. Seven out of the 24 men on the 1986 postseason roster. And Straw and Ojeda were on the way out. 

The Mets opted not to bring Strawberry back in 1991. I have to admit, I never was a fan of Strawberry’s—beyond standing up and high-fiving anyone around me after one of his mammoth home runs. He was a complainer and a malingerer, as well as divisive, abusive, and a pain in the butt. Yet he was also the only consistent power source the 1990 Mets had. (HoJo was great but only, for whatever reason, in odd-numbered years.) Though they got swept in a key doubleheader in Pittsburgh on September 5, the Mets still stayed within striking distance of the suddenly unbeatable Pirates. Due to injuries, New York featured a makeshift lineup that included unMets-like names such as Tommy Herr, Pat Tabler, and Tom O’Malley. It was Straw who stayed in the lineup and put up 37 home runs and 108 RBI on a team starved for offense. The Mets had solid pitching. Frank Viola, acquired a year earlier from the Twins in a far-too-costly 5-for-1 deal, won 20 games, while Dwight Gooden just missed that number as well. David Cone was in his prime though both Darling and Fernandez were under .500.

Bobby O., relegated to spot starter and long relief, would be traded in the offseason for old fan favorite—and now just old—Hubie Brooks. Dave Magadan had taken over for Keith Hernandez at first base—though only after Mags took over for injured Mike Marshall—and wound up third in the 1990 batting race at .328. John Franco was the closer, acquired for Randy Myers. It was like buying stock that went down a lot initially—like when Myers was on the mound as the Reds won the 1990 World Series—but the dividends kept accruing, unspectacularly, from the Franco fund for years to come. 

They hung around until the final weekend, finishing ’90 at 91 wins. Then it was over. The Mets’ run as contenders, that is. 

The team played good baseball for much of the first half half of 1991. They reeled off 10 straight wins in July—including a four-game sweep in Montreal, during which I saw my only baseball game at Stade Olympic. Just after the All-Star break, the Mets were 15 games over .500. After that they fell to earth like a chunk of the Stade Olympic roof. That really happened in 1991—not while I was there, fortunately—and it sent the Expos on the road for the rest of the season. A two-game series scheduled in Montreal was played at Shea. The New York Times sent a reporter who did not spare the grisly details of the vast emptiness of a stadium that no longer rocked, and would not rock until Mike Piazza arrived at the end of the decade.

The Mets split that doubleheader with Montreal, as well as the other two twinbills they played in 1991. Bud Harrelson was sent packing in the final week of the season and Frank Cashen chose the right time to retire. It was a time when winning 77 games was cause for clearing the deck, not handing out new contracts. 

In 1992 the Mets reloaded and shot themselves in the foot. Burdened with Vince Coleman’s contract, and Jeff Torborg’s genius, the Mets let Frank Viola leave but agreed to heavy contracts for Bobby Bonilla and Eddie Murray, who turned the locker room toxic. New GM Al Harazin traded tainted wonderboy Gregg Jefferies and laconic slugger Kevin McRenolds (plus personal favorite Kevin Miller) for two-time Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen and infielder Bill Pecota, whose greatest achievement as a Met was becoming the first Mets position player to pitch. The Mets added Willie Randolph, too, but he was small potatoes and a class act compared to the rest. Duck and I stood applauding the entirety of Willie’s final career at bat—a walk—in the last game of the 1992 season. You may have heard of that year: “The Worst Team Money Could Buy.” I always thought that was a funny title for a book, because that ’92 team was great compared to the ’93 club.  

The 1993 Mets lost 103 times, the most defeats since the year I was born. It was pathetic and frustrating, but I had free tickets from Duck, attending law school in another state, so I went all the time with my new girlfriend. She showed so much tolerance for the Mets—and me—that we became engaged during what would have been the 1994 World Series.

After the strike finally ended, I was credentialed to do locker room reports for a small radio station, so I kind of fell for the 1995 team a little. I’d probably have hated Dallas Green if not for that, but he was interesting to observe up close—where I stood inches away with the microphone—and he was big and ornery enough I tried not to wince when someone in the back of the room asked a question that set him off. I worked the first weekend of the truncated ’95 season and was in the locker room for the season finale when a walk-off walk ended a scoreless game against the Braves in the 11th inning. 

The 1996 highlight wasn’t the last game of the year, it was the first. The Mets came back from 6-0 down in the rain to beat the Cardinals, but Generation K turned out to be a bust. The pitching was terrible, but Lance Johnson, Todd Hundley, and Bernard Gilkey had three of the best offensive years the Mets had seen to that point—Lance Johnson’s 227 hits and 21 triples survived the Reyes reign, so they may be on the books for a long time. The Mets played as many doubleheaders as they had the three previous years combined, going 1-1-3 in ’96, as well as a day-night loss in Denver. 

In late August 1996, the Mets replaced Dallas Green with Bobby Valentine. I wasn’t impressed at first, but that changed in 1997. The only major addition was John Olerud, plus a bunch of first mates Bobby V. dug up, plugged in, and used to turn the Mets into a contender. Yet the 1.7 million they drew was as many as came out for “The Worst Team Money Could Buy” in 1992. That ’97 team, however, was something special, forging lifelong man crushes on Rick Reed and Johnny O.  

The Mets looked like a playoff team the next year, until they lost the last five games of 1998. It seemed like the end of the world, but we’d see worse. The ’98 club played more doubleheaders than any Mets team of the decade. They went going 4-1-3, including splits on successive nights against the Cardinals as the world went ga-ga over the Mark McGwire. The Mets swept the Cubs in a doubleheader from the other side of the home run freak show: Sammy Sosa. They even played doubleheaders in Houston and San Diego, where twinbills seemed outlawed and unnecessary due to the elements. Nine years that went by in a blink. I was alone and in Massachusetts to start and by the end of 1998 had a wife, a child, and a team I could love. 

Nightcap: Q&A with Doubleheaders Charlie Bevis

Charlie Bevis, an adjunct in English at Rivier College in Massachusetts, is author of the book, Doubleheaders: A Major League History. It is the last word on the twinbill, so we asked Charlie for a few words.  

Q: I have been talking about doubleheaders played each year of the Mets existence on my site this year. Its been pretty fun, but I have a technical question since it has occurred several times in my records for the Mets, especially in the 1960s: Is it considered a doubleheader if the first game is completed and the second ends in a tie, due to weather, darkness (Wrigley), or curfew? 

A: If there were two games played on the same day, it is considered to be a doubleheader whether or not the second game had a winner. Many doubleheaders in Major League Baseball history have seen the second game shortened due to darkness (before the advent of artificial lights for night baseball in the 1930s), train travel (especially during World War II), or Sunday curfew (particularly in Philadelphia in the 1950s).

Q: Were the 1980s the last gasp for doubleheaders?

A: By 1980 less than 10 percent of Major League Baseball games were part of a doubleheader, which decreased to less than 5 percent by 1989 (when there were only three scheduled doubleheaders). So, yes, the 1980s were the last gasp. The 1960s were the last glory days for doubleheaders, when teams still scheduled doubleheaders on Sundays and holidays. During that decade, 20% to 25% of Major League Baseball games were part of a doubleheader. The first Basic Agreement negotiated by the Players Association in 1968 set in motion the ultimate demise of the doubleheader.

Q: Were the Mets the last team to regularly schedule doubleheaders? They held Banner Day in between games of a scheduled summer doubleheader, allowing fans onto the field from 1963 until the last scheduled DH in 1988. This year they were actually lame enough to schedule the Banner Day parade HOURS BEFORE the first game of a makeup doubleheader (and they wonder why so few people came toting banners).

A: In large-market cities, the Mets were one of the last teams to embrace the traditional two-games-for-the-price-of-one doubleheader. The Mets were also part of a novel split-park doubleheader in 2000 to play a home-and-home twinbill with the Yankees, with the day game at Shea Stadium and the night game at Yankee Stadium, to make up a rainout of their interleague match.

Q: The last scheduled doubleheader the Mets had that I recall was 9/15/98 at the Astrodome, the middle day of a midweek series. Houston had no NFL team at the time, so I can only guess it was some other scheduling conflict. Do you know of any doubleheaders since then that were placed on the schedule before the season began? Or a DH at a domed stadium?

A: Between 1996 and 2008, there were only two scheduled doubleheaders in Major League Baseball, in 1996 and 2001, both hosted by the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome. So the 1998 doubleheader in Houston you mention must have been arranged to make up a rainout. At the time my book on the history of the doubleheader was written in 2009, I thought the scheduled doubleheader was extinct. However, Major League Baseball brought it back in 2011 with one in Oakland and again in 2013 at Arizona, to more easily resolve scheduling logistics. 

Q: What are your feelings of the day-night doubleheader? For my money, nothing cheeses me off more than the inconvenience of a split doubleheader when the number of fans combined for the two games would not have come close to filling the park once.

A: The separate-admission day-night doubleheader is the future of the doubleheader in Major League Baseball, since even the makeup doubleheader is on life support. The Basic Agreement with the Players Association permits the Red Sox and Cubs to have unlimited day-night doubleheaders to make up postponed games, due to their small-sized ballparks, and there are various rules applicable to the other teams, which are often employed. It doesn’t seem to impact fans in Boston. The Red Sox fill Fenway Park for both ends of a day-night twinbill and both games are televised for at-home fans. Even though I’m a traditionalist when it comes to baseball, I have no problem with the day-night doubleheader concept.

Q: But as much as I wax nostalgic about doubleheaders, the last couple I have been to have only had the smallest remains of the hardcores, whereas in an earlier time, you would actually have larger crowds for doubleheaders BECAUSE of the promise of free baseball. My first foul ball caught was in a doubleheader at Shea in 2008 because there were few people to battle for a well-placed foul. Do you think people are weary of doubleheaders, despite their rarity, as being TOO MUCH baseball?

A: The average fan doesn’t have the time, or the inclination, to sit through a 7-to-8-hour marathon that is today’s traditional doubleheader, whether at the ballpark or watching on TV at home (or a favorite tavern). More importantly, the ballplayers dislike it (hence all the doubleheader restrictions in the Basic Agreement), managers loathe it (upsets the pitching rotation and depletes the bullpen), TV networks hate it (for a variety of reasons), and ownership despises it (teams need TV and ballpark revenue from all 81 home games to support those astronomical multi-million-dollar, multi-year contracts they dole out to ballplayers). In my book, I cite a comment from ownership that they had concerns about crowd control in a traditional doubleheader—not all the people coming in, but rather all the people leaving after the first game. Even the three-hour average length of one Red Sox game tests my attention span these days; I can’t imagine too many people volunteering to sit through two consecutive games. If a team needs to increase ballpark attendance, it’s more effective to give away bobble-dolls or do some other kind of promotion than to offer a second free game.

Q: When was the last doubleheader you saw in the flesh? Do you make a point of following them when they come up?

A: I saw a doubleheader this spring—two college baseball teams playing at the local minor-league ballpark. It was a great take and only a four-and-a-half-hour time commitment.

Thanks, Charlie. Again, his book is Doubleheaders: A Major League History. Now let’s play two!

September 15, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1987-89: The End of an Era

The end of the 1980s marked the end of the Mets as a dominating club. After losing out to the Cardinals in 1987 and losing in a bitter NLCS against the Dodgers in 1988, their half-hearted run at the Cubs in 1989 pretty much spelled doom for Davey Johnson. He survived the axe after the ’89 season, but when the team did not get off to a good start in 1990, the most successful manager in franchise history was fired that May. Never as much a company man as the front office wanted, the Mets hired the ultimate company man in Bud Harrelson. They got overachieving results that first year followed by so much underachieving in 1991 they went in an entirely new direction and remade the team in the image of a horse’s ass. But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

The Mets have had three periods of winning records for at least four straight years: 1969-73, 1997-2001, 2005-08, and the championship era of 1984-90. Seven straight winning seasons is hard to imagine with this team. 

The 1987 season was all about injuries and one suspension. As well illustrated in the SNY Documentary (not to be confused with the Ellisian Dockumentary, which saw a splendid Bergino Baseball Clubhouse presentation a few days back), Dwight Gooden fell into the abyss following the ’86 season. The lingering question following his Triple Crown season of 1985 had been, “What’s wrong with Doc?” The answer came as the team was just about to break camp in 1987. The answer was cocaine.

The unflappable kid succumbed. He was still an All-Star caliber pitcher for several years, accruing enough numbers to bump Jerry Koosman out of the second spot in wins (157-140). Even Tom Seaver (number one in most categories) was not as dominant or as electric in his his first two years as Gooden. Kooz in his prime, though, was better and more consistent than Doc post-1985. You could make the same case for Jon Matlack, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Al Leiter, and Bobby Jones. Maybe Craig Swan could be on that list if he had the run support in the 1970s that Gooden got in the 1980s. Doc and the disappointment of the 1987 season—the Mets finished three games behind the Cardinals but were eliminated before they finished the season with a three-game series in St. Louis—set the stage for the dissatisfaction to come.

The 1988 Mets rolled through the final month and a half of the season, obliterating the NL East and piling up 100 wins. The Mets won 28 of their last 36 games, starting with a sweep at Dodger Stadium (the opener of which I was on hand for in Los Angeles). One start after losing to the Mets, 2-1, Orel Hershiser allowed his final run of the regular season in his final August start. He then embarked on a record 59-inning scoreless streak. The Mets scored off Hershiser in the NLCS, but he started three times and also notched a save to shock New York. Not just the Mets, New York. Two years after their miraculous October, the biggest question bandied about by overconfident fans on this new all-sports station, WFAN, was whether the upcoming World Series would be a repeat of 1986 (Mets vs. Boston) or 1973 (Mets vs. A’s). It turned out to be a repeat of 1974, with the A’s taking on the Dodgers—only this time L.A. won in five games.

The Mets have won only one division title since 1988, though they have won the Wild Card twice—a route to the postseason that did not exist in the 1980s. If it had, the Mets would have piled up five more postseason appearances, and might have won another world championship. Who knows? But 1988 also marked the end of a Mets tradition: the end of the Banner Day doubleheader.

The 1988 schedule had two dots on August 14, with the odd start time of noon. The Mets would add noon starts times in the decades to follow for the sake of camps coming to Mets games in the summer months, but never again would a Mets schedule be printed with the two dots signifying a scheduled doubleheader. Banner Day became a single-game performance in 1989, with the Mets diplomatically starting the game at 3 p.m., so both the parade walkers and the parade watchers could gather, along with all the people showing up around the normal start time of 1:30 and providing them with entertainment, too. (Today, one needs to get to Citi Field well before the time any sane person would show up for a ballgame for the reconstituted Banner Day, which explains the low turnout and the low interest beyond the hardcores. Maybe if they started the game later or showed the parade on TV, as they used to, there would be more interest. But the Mets already know all about drumming up interest in ticket sales.)

By the end of the 1980s, the doubleheader was on life support. Between 1987 and 1989 the Mets played nine total twinbills (2-0-1 in both 1987 and ’88, and 2-1-0 in ’89), which was as many doubleheaders as the team played in 1986 (4-1-4). Next time we’ll discuss why the doubleheader died out with one of the few experts on the subject of doubleheaders.

Nightcap: John Delcos Is Back

The doubleheaders can wait for now. I want to say a hearty blogosphere welcome back to John Delcos, the former Journal News beat man for the Mets, a voter for the Hall of Fame, and a really nice person. Health issues have laid him low and confined him to a wheelchair much of the time. We talked on Sunday for the first time in a while and he said he’s working hard every day to get back to walking into the Mets clubhouse under his own power. Read his site and send along any good wishes. And thanks to Adam Rubin on ESPN NY for letting people know about John—that’s how I found out. So now we’ve got another comeback to root for in 2015 on top of David Wright, Matt Harvey, and the Mets, who are a year away from matching their longest periods without a winning season (1962-68 and 1977-83). 

Let’s go John and let’s go Mets.

September 8, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1986: Upcoming Book on Greatest of Years

Say “1986” to a Mets fan and their ears will prick up. For those who were there to appreciate it, even the most frustrated among us, 1986 generates a good feeling. For the young’uns who missed what has become the touchstone franchise moment for a generation two generations, there can be the feeling that they missed something. Yes, you did, but at least your team won something, and did so in the most dramatic way possible. And that knowledge is worth a lot; just ask any fan of the Rangers, Mariners, Astros, Rays, Padres, Rockies, Brewers, and Nationals, who have never won a title. And with the 1969 Mets title, our gang’s two world championships are also more than the Royals, Angels, and Diamondbacks. Cubs fans have a couple of world championships, but their drought is at 106 years now, and to the many hardcore Cubs fans out there, it is painful to say their great-great grandfather wasn’t even alive when the Cubs last won a title. Look at that, I’ve already made you feel better than fans of 13 different franchises. 

The 1986 Mets were the envy of everyone else in baseball. They were hated for their team’s attitude, for their fans’ attitude, and for their city’s attitude. It was the Mets against the world, representing New York against the world. And New York of that time was a dirtier, grittier place. Times Square was not aglow with neon, cops, and barricades. The Times Square I visited daily during my mid-1980s summers was awash in strip joints, hookers, and pickpockets. But it was still the Big Apple, the envy of other safer, smaller, and more boring cities, the place where many of the smartest and most determined people in other places flocked to see if they could hack it. New York had a buzz and wasn’t afraid to catch one, and that was the world where the ’86 Mets came of age. 

I’m going to stop there because that sounds like a passage from a book. I’ve been in a holding pattern here on the site until I could get together with my editor at Lyons Press for an as-yet untitled book on the ’86 Mets, due out in 2016, for the 30th anniversary. A new baby, an ’86 Mets book, will be my seventh Mets book. We can add two halves together to make eight, if you will, since Swinging ’73 is about more than just the Mets and The Miracle Has Landed was an effort I edited with Ken Samelson with contributions from many writers about the 1969 Mets. 

I am proud to have written so much about the team that has been so heavily on my mind for 39 years. (I wish I was 39—I could call Bartolo Colon my big brother—but truth be told, I came to the Mets at the relatively advanced age of 10.) I put in my time in the doleful late 1970s and early 1980s, when the team just plain sucked, but it was like a penance. All past sins were washed away when I was in the house for the team’s two walkoff wins against the Astros in the NLCS—we didn’t call them walkoff wins then, we just called them, Awesome! Totally awesome!

Nightcap: The ’86 Twinbills, Of Course

I don’t like regurgitating material if I can help it, so I’m going to lay down some info I don’t plan on using for the upcoming 1986 book. It’s about ’86 doubleheaders! You saw that coming, right? 

With a 108-54 record, the ’86 Mets obviously kicked butt. They had a .667 winning percentage for the season and had the same percentage in doubleheaders as well, racking up a 4-1-4 mark en route to devouring the National League.  

Just to keep you from getting a big head, we’ll start with the one double loss, on July 26 in Atlanta. It was a makeup against the same fifth-place Braves team the Mets had literally beaten up at Shea the previous weekend.  In front of 44,000 in the Saturday night rematch in Atlanta, the Braves won the opener on a walkoff sac fly by Ted Simmons off Roger McDowell. These things happen, even to the ’86 Mets. In the nightcap, though, Sid Fernandez, with a 12-2 record and ERA of 2.83 entering the night, uncharacteristically blew a 3-0 lead. That was followed by an ugly relief outing by Doug Sisk, who Mets fans continued to get on despite all the good things the team was doing. The doubleheader loss dropped the Mets lead to a scant 14 ½ games. 

The Mets split their first doubleheader of the year, in Pittsburgh on June 6. The Pirates won the opener—the only game the Mets lost to the Pirates all season. The Mets won the other 17 games between the teams in ’86—including doubleheader sweeps of the Buccos at Shea on June 15 and October 4, the last Saturday of the season. How do you think you roll up 108 wins? 

The Mets and Cubs played nine times in 11 days, including two doubleheaders. The first twinbill—at Shea on July 26—began with Ron Darling throwing a shutout. In the nightcap, a rookie named Jamie Moyer beat the Mets, 2-1; just the sixth game of what would be a 696-game career spanning four decades. The teams split the doubleheader and the series in New York, but the Cubs won the first two games of the five-game series at Wrigley the following week. In the Wednesday afternoon twinbill, Dwight Gooden took a 5-3 lead into the ninth in the opener, but Cubs catcher Jody Davis hit a two-run homer. Mookie Wilson snapped the tie with a two-run single in the 12th, and Roger McDowell allowed a run in the bottom of the inning before finishing off the win. The Mets won by the same 7-6 score in the nightcap when Keith Hernandez bailed out Sisk by starting a double play on a bunt after the first three Cubs got hits in the ninth. With Jesse Orosco pitching for the second time that day—with the lefty coming in to face a right-handed slugger—Jody Davis stayed in the park this time. 

The Mets took care of the Padres on September 7, with Sisk getting the win in the nightcap. The Sunday sweep gave the Mets a 10-2 mark for the year against San Diego, one of five teams the Mets had double-digit wins against in ’86—the aforementioned Pirates as well as the Cubs, Expos, and Cardinals.

Yes, the Cardinals, the nemesis of Flushing in the 1980s and the defending NL champions, lost 12 of 18 games against the ’86 Mets. And that was with the Mets losing a six-game series to St. Louis at Shea in August. Earlier rainouts forced the teams to piggyback doubleheaders on Thursday and Sunday. The first and the last games of the series were the only games the Mets won. The Mets didn’t need to sweat it. They’d swept the Cardinals four straight in St. Louis in April and the Cardinals all but gave up after that. The Mets wound up winning the NL East by 21 ½ games.  

What a year! I can’t wait to live it once more. I hope you feel that way about the touchstone year for Mets fans of all ages.

August 9, 2014

Letters to the Met-idor

I am waiting on word about a matter before I Doubleheader Dip into 1986. If you have no idea what that previous sentence means, don’t worry. We are spicing up the dog days of August with Letters to the Met-idor, our old school way of taking correspondence from weeks and months ago, from a time where the season mattered (I know how you feel, I kind of smiled writing that, too), and presenting it in our editorial page. For your consideration, we trimmed the tenth edition of this gimmick to three entries.  

And like we used to say in the papers: Keep those cards and letters coming.

Big O to Big E to Tampa Trample

Dear Met,

For a little while now, I have become a fan of your posts. Maybe because I have been a Mets fan for nearly 45 years, or perhaps my belief that I might be related to you (I was born in Hempstead, Long Island, and lived in Oceanside, LI, until I was 10).  From one Silverman to another, I found your writing quite refreshing as opposed to other Mets blogfare. This particular piece was especially nice since Montreal was a unique city for Major League Baseball. My one trip up to the “Big O” gave me a new perspective on the Expos. However, back in 2001, it just seemed a fait accompli that this franchise was on life support.

Perhaps Montreal does need a second chance, but I have to take exception to your post. At the end you commented about Tampa not being a worthy baseball town. I should know, I live there and have taken the Rays in as a “second team.” The Rays play across the bay in St. Petersburg.

Rick Silverman
Possible distant cousin
Tampa, Florida


Thanks for the kind words about the blog. You made my day! Sorry I stomped on yours with my throwaway line about Tampa. I do think Montreal is more of a major league city than Tampa, but if Tampa-St. Pete was good enough for the Mets as home for their spring trainings of 1969, 1973, 1986, and other cool years, I should give it its due as a big league town. (That time I stopped myself before anything derogatory was said about St. Lucie
see, I am learning.)

I think Tampa Bay has a superb organization—their ability to nurture young talent reminds me of a latter day Expos—and the Rays are way better than the Expos were at turning that talent into more talent when it comes trading time. (Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. for Pedro Martinez. Really, Montreal?) 

Joe Maddon reminds me of a new age Felipe Alou, and I am very glad Maddon does not manage in the NL East. If the Rays ever let him go, Id have him manage the Mets in a minute—as if I am in charge of the managerial hires.

ve actually only been to Tampa a couple of times, but my last time there was my once-in-a-lifetime shot of seeing my Arizona Cardinals play in a Super Bowl, only to have two terrible moments at the end of each half spoil the fulfillment of my football destiny. But I shouldn’t take that out on the city when it’s the Steelers fans I should hold a lasting grudge against. If
this is the moment where you reveal you are also a Steelers fan, I’ll have to get busy at composing another apology note.

ll see you at the family reunion! Maybe the Rays president—the more obscure Matt Silverman—will be there as well.


P.S.: In case there is some familial bond with you or some other lurking Silverman, my provenance: I am from White Plains, NY. The Silverman side of my family came downstate from the Syracuse more than a century ago. Of all the people I’ve run into named Silverman—it is a surprisingly popular name—I’ve never run into any relations from my clan beyond the ones I already knew. But you are the first Silverman to write in to the site in the six years since it began. Huzzah!

Kripplebush Shoutout

Dear Met,

I just got done reading your bio and it stated you were from High Falls, New York. Small world, my family owned a cabin in Kripplebush off of Route 209. I can remember cutting through New Paltz on Route 32 and taking Route 213 through the town of Rosendale, to 209. My good friend was Nippy Lasher, who was the Chief of Police in Rosendale in the early 1990s. He has since passed away. High Falls brings back a lot of memories. Nice job you have done with the Mets archives.

Take care,



I have lived here since 2000. I drove back and forth for all the Mets postseason games that year, and 2006. It is a long, arduous drive home that can be exhausting, especially after a loss, but I wish I could do it again someday for games that matter. Just about now it seems unlikely to ever happen again, but time does turn things back around. When the Mets are good, it is like nothing else.  

Ulster County is so pro-Yankee it is annoying at times, but it is not what I would call hardcore. People seem more likely to wear a Yankees jacket or hat because it is next to the door rather than because they are showing their colors. Most people here don’t pay close attention to baseball. It can be spirit cleansing to know that when the Mets blow a ninth-inning lead, no one around me cares one bit. Life goes on. Hope it goes well for you, Scott. Thanks for writing.


P.S.: That was written before the Cub Scouts pack that serves High Falls chartered—and filled—a bus to take 64 of us Ulster Met-iacs to Citi Field in September against the Marlins. That’s a lot of Met-itude hurtling Flushing-bound from these parts. I don’t know if the worm has turned, but September games resume some meaning when it turns into a chance to brainwash impressionable minds. Scout shout: Heck, yeah!

Taking The Complete Illustrated History to New Heights

(Note: This is a condensed version of an ongoing correspondence.)

I brought your New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History to the pre-All Star Fan Fest last year and brought as my item to get signed. Figured why not consolidate. It’s a stunning book, anyway. Since that time your book has impressed, been held by, appreciated, flipped through, and of course signed by over 30 Mets (players and managers), who are pictured in the book, including Gooden, Jones, Stawberry, Piazza, Kingman, Mazzilli, Cone, Kranepool, Staub, Berra, Torre, and of course many, many more.  

I’ve become sort of obsessed... in a healthy way? I don’t know. I actually brought it to the Mets Welcome Home Dinner after the excruciating Opening Day loss against Washington) hoping to get a bunch more, but no former Mets were there that I didn’t already have. I also missed Darling, Gary Cohen, and David Wright... just because I didn’t game plan well enough... another story for another day. The only one I got was Ike Davis on the last page by the pie in his face. His sad comment, “They really f#@*ed up putting me in here, huh?” I felt for him.

The Welcome Home Dinner was quite somber. Just sort of tepid applause for everything. Maybe because these people are a certain breed of fan. Like, why no standing ovation, thunderous applause for David Wright? Was the same reception for nearly everyone. I don’t know... not the brightest of starts, but we could go on and on.

I’m not a memorabilia collector. This is my only thing. I’m not a seller or eBay vendor or anything like that. I’m a Mets fan (G-d, have mercy on us), and I would like this book to exist for as long as possible as a record... whatever that means. I enjoy it. I flip through it. I read it. It makes me feel connected to the team although I only picked them up in 2002 or so.

Let’s Go Mets. Please win tonight!


You got 30 Mets to sign New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History? And you went to the Welcome Home Dinner after the Opening Day debacle? Walking out of the place that day, I said to my buddy, “At least I don’t have to go to that dinner. Must be some down faces.” More power to you.

Your signature project is very cool and flattering. Makes me really glad I decided to do a 50 Greatest Mets in the Complete Illustrated History. I used to be a newspaper and book page designer as well as a writer, so I am kind of picky when it comes to people laying out my stuff. That book, however, came out better graphically than anything I’ve been involved in. And the publisher designed those “cards” from scratch. You are definitely making the most of that design feature.


July 25, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1984-85: Back in the Land of the Living

Being a diehard Mets fan in 1984 was like getting a call from a friend to come over to his house with a couple of other people. When you get there, the place is already raging. It turns into the party of the summer and it’s an absolute blast. You get a ride home with a few others in the car of the girl you always liked. You are the last to be dropped off and she starts making out with you. She says, “Talk to you later,” and drives off. You stand in your driveway a little drunk, a little dazed, wondering, “What the hell just happened.” 

That is what 1984 was like for a diehard Mets fan.

As a college freshman, I contemplated long and hard roadtripping from Virginia to Cincinnati for the 1984 Mets opener. But after finishing last five times in seven years, no one else I knew considered going with me or lending me their car. And I lived in a dorm filled with New Yorkers. A year later we would have needed three cars to carry everyone. 

But as I returned to my dorm after dinner on Opening Day, I was glad I hadn’t gone. Opening Day starter Mike Torrez—Tom Seaver had been lost to the White Sox in a free-agent compensation snafu—had been pummeled by the Reds, 8-1. That was the last time for six years that missing a Mets game turned out to be a good idea. 

The Mets won their next six games and kept on rolling. Overnight, Shea Stadium transformed from the loneliest place on earth into the place to be, especially when Dwight Gooden pitched. The rookie sensation was like having Tom Seaver back. Not the 38-year-old great near the end of his career. It was like having Seaver circa 1969. And like Seaver circa ’69, the rest of the league no longer looked forward to facing the Mets. 

I am not the only one whose mind keeps turning back to 1984. Luckily, I got to see the Mets play a lot that summer. I even saw all four games of the big Cubs series at the end of July. It was the first time I’d watched every game in a series in person—and I wasn’t alone in my enthusiasm. Shea attracted 139,000 for the three dates (don’t forget the Banner Day doubleheader). The Mets won the series opener, a Gooden gem, in which Ron Cey launched a foul ball straight back at me in the mezzanine. My head was turned and I spied the ball an instant before it smacked my shoulder, only to bound 10 rows away. I should have been incapacitated, but I was immediately needed to clap for Doc to fan the Penguin. “Heeeee struck him out,” to quote Bob Murphy. 

It was the Mets’ seventh straight win, giving them a 4½-game lead on the Cubs. A year earlier, these teams had been battling for last place. The Mets won that race (finishing last, that is). Now the division—no, the world—was upside down. Were all the literary premonitions of upheaval related to George Orwell’s 1984 manifesting themselves? That might have explained the month that followed. The Mets embarked on a seven-game losing streak, won three from the Pirates, and then lost four straight at raucous Wrigley, including a doubleheader from hell. Twelve days saw the Mets drop nine games in the standings.

But these weren’t the same Mets I’d grown up being embarrassed by. They bounced back and remained in contention against a Cubs team with the league’s best player that year, Ryne Sandberg, and a pitcher even better than Gooden: Mid-season acquisition Rick “The Red Baron” Sutcliffe, 16-1 as a Cub. Ryno and Rick won the MVP and Cy Young, with Keith and Doc placing second. The Cubs would meet their Waterloo in San Diego that fall, but after all those bottom finishes, 90 wins and second place was good enough in 1984. 

Second place in 1985 was not good enough, though. Gooden was even better in year two. He was unhitable for an entire summer, going 24-4. From May 30 to August 31, Doc won 14 straight decisions. In September, he gave up two runs—in six starts, all but one of which lasted nine innings. The Mets lost out to the Cardinals in the final week of the season, dropping a must-win game by a run in St. Louis in their final roadtrip. The Cardinals met their Waterloo in Kansas City, dropping the last three games of the World Series as the Royals stole the world championship. At least it was close by. 

In both 1984 and 1985, I went to Fireworks Night as well as Banner Day. Plus I sat in the rowdy upper deck for a twi-night doubleheader both years. Doubleheaders were mostly good to the Mets, who went 4-3-2 in ’84 and 2-1-2 in ’85. What I take from these games—besides memories of bedsheet after bedsheet stating that such and such Long Island burg loves the Mets—is how friendships forged in high school at Shea Stadium were cemented in college summers by trip after trip to Shea. Much of our summer job money was deposited directly to Harry M. Stevens. I am still friends with a few of those guys who were with me when the team was terrible and then became the toast of the city in a New York minute. By the fall of ’85, the 98-win Mets were sitting home, but all dues had been paid. 

Nightcap: Stars and Strikes

The 1984 season was the first winning Mets season since 1976. The Bicentennial Year proved that my 1975 Mets infatuation was no fluke, fad, or phase. The next season my seven-year jail sentence began. Before I was thrown in stir, I enjoyed the hell out of ’76. It was tall ships, Bicentennial minutes, presidential elections, muttonchops, Elton John, and Happy Days. It was the last call before disco fever and free agency. The Oakland A’s didn’t see October for the first time in six years while the Big Red Machine looked like it would never stop running. 

Dan Epstein’s Stars and Strikes brings it all back with plenty of flourishes worthy of the age. And he dug deep, riffing on “Phillies Fever,” a song as annoying as sitting through an extra-inning loss on a balk. And the only thing more painful than a Ron Cey foul ball to your shoulder is the Penguin’s country western crooning in ’76. I also love how each chapter is named for a ’76 song, even “Baby, I Love Your Way” for the Acknowledgments. Dig it! 

Dan Epstein, author of a previous baseball-themed hit, Big Hair and Plastic Grass, has left no Rolling Stone unturned (a publication he also writes for). Having recently written a book covering a 1970s season myself, I appreciate the writing, research, and countless segues—not to mention never-ending promotion—needed for such an endeavor. I got to meet Dan a few weeks ago at his Hall of Fame book signing, and it was great establishing a friendship not just online, but face to face. That’s how we did it in the 1970s. Unless we used a CB.  

The 1976 Mets, the last decent Mets team for eight years, is covered extensively, with enough Dave Kingman coverage to keep us Kong-ophiles squealing like teenaged girls in the front row of a Peter Frampton concert. Plenty of other baseball luminaries from ’76 also keep popping up, like Dock Ellis, George “The Boomer” Scott, Oscar Gamble, and Billy Martin, with co-starring roles going to Reggie Jackson, Charlie Finley, Bowie Kuhn, and the man who made ’76 so fun in the first place: Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. Great year. Great read.

July 23, 2014

Six-Man Rotation + Starters in Relief = Money’s Worth

It’s weird what happens when you stay up late watching baseball from the far coast. I love baseball, but my mind wanders easily, especially late at night. As the Mets-Mariners game progressed, I found myself flipping channels and watching Keith Olbermann’s program and his interview with Dirk Hayhurst. 

The pitcher turned writer/commentator and Olbermann talked about pitching, quickly getting to the nub of the issue: Pitchers are ridiculously fragile. Pitching is the key to winning in baseball, as was the case 100 years ago and may be the case 100 years hence. Hayhurst made the point about Masahiro Tanaka, a pitcher who was perfect last year (24-0) on five days’ rest in Japan. So he signs an enormous contract with the Yankees and the routine that helped him be a success is immediately changed. As Olbermann put it, Tanaka essentially pitched on short rest every time out this year. So in less than half a year, the indestructible pitcher is destroyed. See you next year. Maybe. 

But every time someone brings up the six-man rotation, it is dismissed as heresy. As Hayhurst noted later in the segment, why not take the one pitcher who can benefit most from the extra rest and have him pitch every six days? The Mets did the opposite with Tom Seaver when they developed the five-man rotation in 1969. He pitched every third day and everyone else slotted in—Nolan Ryan notably took exception. Because of the success of the Mets staff, more teams began shifting to Rube Walker’s miracle rotation cure. 

Decades later, pitchers continue to do things the human arm was not meant to do. And today, more than ever, pitchers have to throw as hard as they can at younger and younger ages or risk not getting drafted, signed, or promoted. By the time they get to the majors, their arms are already taxed. Why not work the system to make their careers last longer? Right now teams may even be catching a break when young studs blow out their arms in their second or third year in the majors… because they are not yet paying the studs the big bucks. If pitchers are going to be hurt, let them not pitch at a reasonable salary.

Matt Harvey could pen a pamphlet for the thrift-conscious pro athlete: How to convalesce in Manhattan on $1,661 per day. His daily stipend on a $660,000 salary sounds good to me, but if he’d pitched another year or two and then gotten hurt, you’d be adding a zero and more to those numbers. The idea of having a second Tommy John surgery is becoming all too common. And there have been pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery more than twice, including Jason Isringhausen three times and Jose Rijo five times. The surgeries will likely continue as long as people try to throw balls through walls. 

Because that is why we are here, let’s look at the Mets. With more pitchers than spots in the rotation once they start promoting the kids (and can we free Noah Syndergaard from the Pacific Coast League before he gets hurt in Las Vegas?) why not throw a six-man rotation in New York? Bobby Valentine tried it. And it does not have to be iron clad for sall year, but maybe use it during summer when there are fewer days off. Once you get your head around that, I have a kicker that sounds even crazier. 

If you are going to pay these pitchers so much money and give them extra rest as starters, why not let them pitch an inning in relief between starts. I hate to go old school, but this is what the likes of Dizzy Dean, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove and others did back when they three days between starts was deemed a luxury. But back to today, let us say that a starter throws one inning in relief every other start, or even every other month. Not only would this keep teams from needing more than 12 pitchers per staff, but it would provide some rest to the most overused members of the pitching staff: the successful setup man. It also trains a team’s best pitchers to get big outs late in a game—something that rarely happens now since pitch counts generally have aces biting their nails on the bench, watching a failed starter turned reliever get the final outs for them. Several relief outings per year might prepare pitchers for the do-what-it-takes-to-win games in October. The kind of games where you don’t care what the pitcher’s salary is—or role is—just get the damned out. Though Mets fans can be forgiven if they have forgotten that such games exist. 

I am not a doctor. I did not run numbers until I was blue in the face. But I do think a team willing to take a chance—like the Mets 45 years ago—may get a leg up on the competition by bucking the trend, utilizing an organizational strength, and training young pitchers to make fewer starts but impact more games for their club. That’s why they get the big money.

July 17, 2014

First Half Grades Are In

I don’t know what is harder to believe: That the Mets went 8-2 on their last homestand or that I spent the All-Star break at a Boy Scout camp, missing the All-Star Game but catching a lot of rain at Camp Wakpominee. I did, however, see a good chunk of the first half of the 2014 season. While the last week before the break was welcome indeed, the rest of the season often left me indifferent to the team I have followed for almost 40 years. But enough of that. Let us think about the last 10 days and get to the report card for the first half of 2014.

But first, know this: The parts are better than the whole, and I could live with different management. To be included, players must accrue 50 at bats or 15 innings. This prevents Josh Satin, Omar Quintanilla, Taylor Teagarden, Juan Centeno, or Ike Davis (remember him?!) from making me decide between F or D-. Andrew Brown, who started and homered on Opening Day, and Matt den Dekker are included even though they are one plate appearance shy of 50. Now line up!

                                          First-half 2014 Report Card

Daniel Murphy    A-        Way to go, All-Star! Pull that average to .310, .360 OBP, don’t get traded, and maybe get an A.

Jonathon Niese   B+       On DL but he was best Mets starter in 1H: 5-4, 2.96 ERA and great control. Nice, Niece!

Dillon Gee          B+       Same grade as first half of last year. Shame that he missed two months. Mets missed him.

Carlos Torres     B+       Done everything asked. Surviving extreme overuse by TC. No starts but 60 IP in 1H is Amazin’!

Eric Campbell      B+      Hitting .340 (.328 vs. RHP), plays 5 positions. TC, why does kid ride pine on nowhere team?

David Wright      B        Captain not All-Star caliber this year. That Duda and Tejada each have 10 more walks seems odd.

Bartolo Colon      B        Still not sure why he is here and think he’ll be traded, but Bartolo is entertaining and effective.

Jeurys Familia     B        May end up being most important part of pen; downside may be how handles frequency of use.

Vic Black            B        Or Black may be most vital cog in pen. Ridiculous he wasn’t recalled when Parnell hurt on day one.

Jeurys Mejia       B        Stepped in to become decent closer. Made 7 starts, but pen is future. Fingers crossed on injuries.

Juan Lagares      B        Has been injury-prone, but his defense and occasional pop is game changer with young staff.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis  B-       Should play alongside Lagares in OF. Speed, power, defense and is on team with nothing to lose!

Jacob deGrom     B-       Arrived from minors and has pitched far better than expected. Bad luck but good armand bat.

Josh Edgin           B-      Lost job to Scott Rice in ’13; replaced Rice with 1.76 ERA while enduring endless TC warmups.

Curtis Granderson     B-      Big name, big comeback after lousy start. Really likes being here and is good influence.

Lucas Duda         C+     Still don’t think he’s the answer at 1B, but Mets made right call on Duda over Davis in NY.

Zack Wheeler       C+     Both brilliant and brutal so far in ’14 makes for mediocre grade. Hope he is the slow starter type.

Bobby Abreu        C+     Like Colon, adds fun and expertise. Shouldn’t have more PA then Nieuwy and Wilmer combined.

Daisuke Matsuzaka   C+     Glad Mets re-signed. He’s pitched well in pen and rotation. Done everything he’s been asked.   

Travis d’Arnaud     C       Bold move to demote, but he’s new man now. Catching needs work, but he is framing master.

Ruben Tejada       C-      Got F for 1H of 2013; only 4 Mets have more PA in 1H. Playing better, but Ruben’s not answer.

Wilmer Flores        C-      Blame this on management, not player. No reason he shouldn’t be playing in New York.

Eric Young            C-      Biggest speed threat on team (22 SB), but he just doesn’t get on base enough (.314 OBP).

Anthony Recker     C-      Knows his role and does it well. Very good arm and big as a house. Either whiffs or hits ball hard.

Rafael Montero      D+    Hate to give bad grade to ballyhooed kid debuting in NY, but 5.40 ERA and Mets lost all 4 starts.

Gonzalez Germen   D+    Bounces from front to back of bullpen. Never know what you’ll get when he comes in.

Chris Young          D+    Most questionable new Met of ’14. Not good enough to start; doesn’t justify roster spot or PT.

Andrew Brown       D      More was expected after solid ’13. May be bypassed as Mets accrue more viable OF options.

Matt den Dekker    D-       Not sure if he is going to be worth anything more than pinch hitter and defensive replacement.

Kyle Farnsworth     F        A 3.18 ERA and 3 saves gets an F? 3 relief losses plus bad attitude equals good riddance.

Jose Valverde        F        Even his 2 saves were frightening. Felt like Papa Grande allowed 40 HRs not 4 in 20.2 IP.


Terry Collins          D         Team’s ugly record in one-run games (13-20) is on him. Stop batting the pitcher eighth!!!

Sandy Alderson      D+       Lousy decision to stick team with no backup infielder. Change manager, get big grade bump.

July 10, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1981-83: Same Crap, Different Decade

You may see the years listed above and dismiss them as not being relevant, or before your time, but it is all too relevant—too much like now. This is where the Mets almost lost me. I was in high school, getting into other things, as kids aged 16-18 have long done. But I still was on the high school baseball team and the game—and the Mets—seemed important every spring, at least until they faded away when summer came along. 

It was so much like now it is scary. The early 1980s Mets were going nowhere, they weren’t interesting, we heard nothing from ownership, and it did not seem like they would be any good. Ever. But the Mets were held together by general manager Frank Cashen—see the post before this one for a tribute to the best Mets GM in history. The 1980s Mets had players on the farm, and they all stayed on the farm. All except one. 

Tim Leary was the Noah Syndergaard of his day. Joe Torre was the Terry Collins of his day, the “how has this guy not yet been fired?” Mets skipper. Somehow Torre talked Cashen into entrusting the top pitching prospect (the second overall pick two years earlier) to a team that hadn’t competed since the bicentennial. And Leary started the third game of the year at frigid Wrigley Field. Leary mowed down the Cubs for two innings. He even batted in the top of the third, but after he threw a handful of pitches in the bottom of the inning, there was a sudden mound conference and he was replaced by Pete Falcone. The Mets got their rubber game win against a horrid Cubs team, but they lost Tim Leary. And they lost a lot of games.  

I had the chance to go to Mets games and sit in the same seat each time for the first time in 1981. The tickets were $5 (including Diamond Club and parking pass) and even that amount ($13.50 in today’s dollars) was a stretch for the product on the field. I was on hand to see the Mets get shelled by Pittsburgh during a seven-game losing streak in April, I witnessed a win over the Dodgers the day after Fernando-mania came to Shea—the last win before embarking on a nine-game losing streak in May—and I saw Pat Zachry lose to the man he was traded for, Tom Seaver, in what was the last major league game for two months.  

The 1981 baseball strike was stupid, pointless, and turned a lot of people off—including me. I had my first job and followed other pursuits, paying so little attention when baseball came back that I didn’t realize how close the Mets came to first place in the convoluted second half until years later while researching New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History. You have to retroactively scan the tea leaves and the boxscores to unearth the split season race in a thoroughly mediocre NL East, especially since the Phillies had no reason to play hard after being crowned first half championas if it was Class A baseball.

I went to a couple of Mets games late in the year, but I was really more interested in my brother buying me beer than any half-assed and soon-to-fade playoff hopes. I’m surprised it wasn’t one of the dopey sayings on the outside of the stadium: “Underage Drinkers Welcome.” That might have attracted a crowd. The 1981 Mets didn’t attract anybody. Shea actually saw the fewest fans in its history in 1981 with 704,244. (The 1979 team, with a few thousand more patrons, still holds the distinction for fewest patrons for a full season.) So what if the Mets were 2½-games out on September 21? I would have been a hell of a lot more impressed if the second half featured a doubleheader every day to make up for all the games lost by the stupid strike. That might have given fans their money’s worth.  

I believe I’ve done a good job here of conveying the bitterness of 1981. But 1982 didn’t require a strike to make me bitter. The Mets disappeared from the standings in June, instead of the standings disappearing as they had a year earlier. The By George, We’ve Got It was a double pratfall as George² failed miserably. Foster and Bamberger brought nothing to Shea, but Shea did see its highest attendance (1.3 million) since 1976. Still, I had trouble scrounging up anyone to go see the Mets, missing a 13-4 trouncing of LA when my friend backed out at the last minute. I am still bummed out. 

I did get to a doubleheader in ’82, though it is the least favorite doubleheader I ever attended. It was a makeup from the previous night, when a sudden storm cancelled Fireworks Night but not my plans to paint the town red with my buddy. My furious father turned the next day into a punitive twinbill, making the family dress in nice clothes in the sweltering heat to go to the Diamond Club (you used to have to dress up to go there, though I never understood why). The games were like a punish assignment, writing 200 times: “THE METS WILL NEVER WIN A GAME AGAINST THE PHILLIES.”

Of course, the Mets were swept that day. They were swept an awful lot during that period. The Mets did not sweep a doubleheader in either ’81 (0-2-3) or ’82 (0-5-6), but ’83 was a different story. 

Sure, the Mets still finished last in 1983, but Cashen threw the fans a bone. After bringing back Dave Kingman and Rusty Staub two years earlier, 1983 saw the return of the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Mets exiles. Tom Seaver was on the mound for the Mets on Opening Day. He wasn’t the same Seaver they’d traded away in 1977, but he made us feel better. If the ’83 Mets played nothing but doubleheaders, they would have been all right. 

The Mets went 4-2-5 in doubleheaders in 1983, the most sweeps by the club since 1971. In one of my favorite meaningless Mets doubleheaders ever, Jesse Orosco won both ends of the July 31 twinbill against Pittsburgh. Orosco was the NL’s best reliever that summer, going 13-7 with a 1.37 ERA and 17 saves in 110 innings. He made Neil Allen expendable—resulting in the sudden appearance of Keith Hernandez at Shea.  

In that July twinbill against the Pirates, the first game ended on a walkoff single by Bob Bailor. The second game saw Jose DeLeon hold the Mets hitless until the ninth inning, and the game remained scoreless into the 12th. With runners on first and second, it looked like George Foster had killed another rally by grounding into a double play, but Jogging George beat the throw to first. Mookie Wilson never stopped running and crossed home with the game’s only run. It was the second time in a week Mook had ended a game in such fashion.  

The team still finished last (67-94), but the games were fun for the first time in what felt like forever. And on the final day of that season, Rusty Staub tied the major league record for most RBI as a pinch hitter (25) with a two-run double in the bottom of the ninth that completed a sweep of the Expos. Who won his first major league game that day? Tim Leary. Sometimes the wait is worth it. 

Nightcap: Managing to Lose

One of my favorite moments at Shea was skipping school to go see Tom Seaver’s return on Opening Day 1983. If you want to read one of my earliest posts on this transformative afternoon, go here. But the reality is that by 1983 the 38-year-old Seaver was not much better—and it hurts to say this—than Mike Torrez. Torrez, two years younger, had more wins—and losses in 1983. Both pitchers were on the down end of their careers, which helps explain why the Mets finished last. Plus, even with Rookie of the Year Darryl Strawberry, in-his-prime Keith Hernandez, the moxie twins Hubie Brooks and Mookie Wilson, and the best home run (28) and RBI (90) output by George Foster as a Met, the team still finished at the bottom of most offensive categories. 

They also had problems in the manager’s office. George Bamberger had done a fine job managing in Milwaukee (1977-80), lifting the Brewers to American League East contenders. Before that he’d served another AL East team as pitching coach. Working with Earl Weaver in Baltimore from 1968 to 1977, Bamberger’s pitchers had 18 seasons with at least 20 wins, including four in 1971—the last such quartet in baseball history. (Because comparisons by era are fun if irrelevant, only once since 2008 has there even been a season with four 20-game winners in all of major league baseball.) 

But with the Mets, Bambi fell flat on his face. And when the going got rough, he fell right on his sword. Frank Cashen’s old friend considered quitting after 1982, but he was convinced to stay on. So he quit on the team during a rough patch on the West Coast a week after Memorial Day, 1983. Frank Howard took over and showed a little more enthusiasm, but Cashen knew the Mets needed someone to nurture and push the young talent coming up through the farm system. He chose his organization’s Triple-A manager, someone else from his Baltimore past, someone who never quit and instilled the same in his players: Davey Johnson.

July 1, 2014

Farewell Frank Cashen

Frank Cashen, who just died at age 88, was a Mets general manager without peer and without fear. During his dozen seasons at the helm (1980-91), Cashen made some bad trades. He also got a little crazy about cleaning up the clubhouse in the wake of the Dwight Gooden cocaine admission in 1987. But Cashen rebuilt the worst team in the National League in four seasons. We are four seasons into the Sandy Alderson era and I just don’t have the feeling that the wait has been worth it. Of course, Cashen’s 1983 team looked awful, but that club ended the season with several players who hadn’t been there when the year began: Darryl Strawberry, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez. Then Frank Cashen hired Davey Johnson as manager and brought up a whole bushel of new faces. 

In my Reflections of a Mets Life: 1983, written in 2010, I penned a long overdue thank you note to Frank Cashen that I composed in my head during 1983 following that deal for Keith. I have often been wrong about Mets trades, either lamenting the exiled who turn out to be expendable, or overvaluing the guy coming back as a franchise-changing messiah. See: second basemen, Cleveland, from, Baegra (Carlos), Alomar (Roberto). But I knew the trade in the summer of ’83 for Hernandez was different. Good thing Frank Cashen was around to seize it. Thank you again. RIP, Mr. Bowtie.

From the Desk of 

July 11, 1983 (Backdated)

Dear Mr. Cashen,

I write to express my pleasure and thanks for the acquisition earlier this summer of first baseman Keith Hernandez. I have been a Mets fan since 1975, getting on board after the good ship Miracle had already returned from its epic journey, its crew soon scattered or run off the docks by the Captain Bly, aka M. Donald Grant.

This comes from the heart, from Mets fans like myself who couldn’t quit, wouldn’t quit despite having our noses shoved right in it year after year by Yankees front runners who have no idea of the meaning of suffering for the game. Or the joy of the underdog’s cause. Of bleeding just for a .500 season. I know now the good times are on the way. Not this year—barring another Miracle. I can actually feel the worm turning. Ever so slowly, out of view, underground. The minor leaguers are slowly moving up, getting in their work, making their progress. I can feel it. You’re really onto something with Mookie in center, Darryl in right, Keith and Hubie on the corners, Terrell and Lynch in the rotation, and Sisk and Orosco in the pen. I almost forgot George Foster, who’s showing a little more life in year two. I remember his 51 home runs in Cincinnati the year Seaver finished with 20 wins all told with the Mets and Reds. Oh, ’77. I wish you were here then because you wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, traded The Franchise and stood for what Joe McDonald settled for. If you’d been there we’d be on the other side of all that pain now.

But that’s all right, Mr. Cashen. The Mets are moving forward. I can finally feel it. Anyone who can get Keith Hernandez, the 1979 co-MVP, last year’s All-Star Game 7 hero, and the best defensive infielder in the game besides Ozzie Smith, in exchange for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey has to have more magic left up his sleeve. I take back what I yelled out at Shea in the wake of the Jeff Reardon-Ellis Valentine deal a couple of years ago.

I graduated from high school a few days before the trade. Thanks for the gift! I hope you keep Keith around longer than I hung on to the money clip I got from my family for graduation. And not to sound crass, but I hope there’s enough in your money clip to keep Keith here. I’m going to go to Shea as often as I can before I head to school. College means a new place, a new identity for me, but for once I won’t be ashamed to admit I’m a Mets fan. I think—I hope—those days are gone. And getting Seaver back was a wonderful touch. Now we’ll never lose him again.



June 28, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1980: Uh-Oh, It’s Magic

The end of the 1970s also meant the end of the signature blue and orange panels on the outside of Shea Stadium. The pope got to see them—newly-installed Pope John Paul II came to Shea to say Mass shortly after the 1979 season ended (thank God he didn’t have to see the ’79 Mets play). So the stadium’s distinct panels were gone, but the magic was back.  

I was stunned when I first went to Shea in 1980 and did not see the panels or hear Jane Jarvis on the organ. Still, it was a relief that the ragged remains of the once-proud Payson legacy had sold to deep-pocketed Nelson Doubleday and that energetic developer Fred Wilpon—he played high school ball with Sandy Koufax, you know. 

Frank Cashen, who’d built the Orioles into one of baseball’s best organizations, was the new GM and the owners blissfully stayed out of the way. The press did, too—or perhaps they were simply ignoring the irrelevant Mets. Cashen received little guff for making no major personnel moves and keeping Joe Torre as manager despite ample evidence to the contrary. In fact, the press even helped. Rather than dissect the team’s high-priced marketing campaign with the pessimism it would garner today, some in the media bought into the hype. I remember sportscaster Warner Wolf admonishing fans for not coming out to Shea when mid-June came around and the Mets were not buried in last place. They were in fourth place! 

June 1980 started with four straight losses, but the Mets then won four in a row—including three straight against the defending world champion Pirates. I was at one of those games and saw Frank Taveras try to steal home. He  was out, of course, but the effort floored me. The Mets came from three runs down to tie the Bucs in the eighth. When Pittsburgh took the lead in the 11th, three Mets catcher put together the decisive rally against Bert Blyleven in one of the Hall of Famer’s seven career relief outings. Back when most teams carried three catchers, we three C’s started the rally (Alex Trevino), knocked in the game winner (Ron Hodges), and touched home plate (John Stearns) to send all 13,509 of us home happy (no one really paid attention to Warner Wolf’s pleas to come to Shea). As much euphoria as that Saturday win touched off in the uncrowded expanses of Metsland, the following Saturday’s contest against the Giants became a touchstone event in the team’s proverbial 40 years in the desert. 

Trailing San Francisco 6-0 in the sixth inning, the Mets came all the way back, climaxed by a two-out, three-run, opposite-field, walkoff home run by Steve Henderson. It was the first homer of the year for Hendu—the cleanup hitter on a team that was lucky to match Roger Maris’s 61 in ’61 (oh, forget about the helpful press; all season the Daily News ran a graphic comparing the 1980 Mets HR output to Maris’s record mark—they tied at 61). The Mets hovered around .500 through July—their 43-43 mark on July 17 was the latest the Mets touched .500 between 1977 and 1983. I missed this high-water mark because I was at baseball camp in Massachusetts, but I did see a good old-fashioned July 4 doubleheader before I took off. 

Shea was hopping as the Mets played the first-place Expos in a scheduled Friday twin-nighter. The Mets fell behind 3-0 in the opener, but they rallied and pulled away late. The Mets hit just one home run, but they stole four bases against Cary Carter. The ’80 Mets weren’t great fielders, making three errors—including third baseman(!) Joel Youngblood drilling someone in the second row with a throw—yet les Expos committed five miscues. Part of the Mets marketing scheme was special nights and July 4, for whatever reason, was Twinkie Night. I wish I still had the ring doled out (disclaimer: not lifesize image), but I sure remember that doubleheader. 

Though Montreal took a 2-0 lead in the first inning of the nightcap, the Mets scored four runs in the bottom of the frame. After Youngblood’s homer, Bill Gullickson threw at the head of Mike Jorgensen. A beanball the previous year with Texas resulted in a blood clot in Jorgensen’s brain and an apparent seizure. It was a life-threatening situation and his former club handled it the way any sensitive club would have back in the day—the Rangers traded him to the Mets. John Stearns, who wasn’t even playing the second game, came steaming out of the dugout like he was going after a kick returner at Colorado. He slammed into Gullickson, touching off a wild brawl with unexpected fireworks on the Fourth. Montreal was on its third pitcher with none out in the second inning, but Mark Bomback wasn’t great at protecting Mets leads.

Down 6-5 in the ninth, the Mets loaded the bases with one out as the 25,000 at Shea—hopped up on Twinkies, no doubt—made noise like it was 1973.  An explosive hurled from the stands landed near Jerry Morales in the on-deck circle, scaring the hit out of him: He grounded into a force play at home. Lee Mazzilli was the final chance. Maz took a good swing at an Elias Sosa fastball and… visions of a doubleheader sweep, three games out of first on July 4, crowd going wild… and it was caught by Rowland Office in right field for the final out.  

It was just another doubleheader split in a 2-4-6 season of twinbills, but it was the most exciting night I’d spent to that point at Shea. I felt camp would deprive me of the Shea summer of my life. The magic left shortly after I did.   

The Mets’ brief success was unsustainable. In that doubleheader the Mets scored 14 runs on 30 hits—25 of which were singles. The team with the fewest homers in baseball couldn’t expect to remain productive with Elliot Maddox at third base while carrying the lifeless bats of Frank Taveras and Doug Flynn. Flynn did win a Gold Glove Award that year, the closest a Met came to any hardware between Tom Seaver’s 1975 Cy Young and Darryl Strawberry’s 1983 Rookie of the Year—new Met Keith Hernandez won the Gold Glove in ’83 as well.  

Joe Torre’s proclivity toward abusing the bullpen hurt the Mets in the second half of 1980, reaching the 95-loss mark for the fourth straight year. New York stayed out of the basement thanks to a terrible Cubs club.

At one point the Mets had six walkoff wins in as many weeks, but after Hendu’s home run the Mets had just one more walkoff win all year and losing nine such games while making crowds happy in other cities. Though the Mets hit the million mark in attendance, the last homestand saw them draw less than 6,000—for a three-game series. Turns out the magic was a mirage, but those few weeks of contention in the summer of 1980 were like a cool drink in the Flushing Desert. 


By September of 1980 there was only one reason to watch: The kids. When the Peter Gammonses of the world say it’s not fair for teams to stock up on young players in September, it is obvious these experts have not spent enough time at the bottom of a division. 

The lineup on September 2, 1980 featured the debuts of Mookie Wilson and Wally Backman. Two days later Hubie Brooks played his first game. I’m not going to say I knew immediately that these guys were keepers, but you could sure smell the potential after the stink of force-fed, talked-up prospects like Dan Norman, Sergio Ferrer, Butch Benton, and Jose Moreno (though Jose’s home-drawn card came through quite a few times in my summer of Strat-O-Matic; I always questioned Hall-of-Famer-to-be Torre’s in-game managing skills after I Stratted those ’80 Mets to a .600 winning percentage, on paper). 

Though Hubie and Wally were a breath of fresh air, Mookie was the best of the bunch. He didn’t take pitches, he just hit the ball hard and ran as fast as any Met until Jose Reyes. Mook can write, too. He and Erik Sherman have teamed up in the entertaining and aptly-named book, Mookie.  

Mookie’s book taught me a few things, many of which dealt with his unhappiness with Mets management in both the past and the present. Despite being the team’s catalyst and one of the few reasons to go to the ballpark in the early 1980s, the Mets perpetually sought to limit his time, often playing him only against lefties—even though the switch-hitting Mook was a better left-handed hitter (.279-.266). He didn’t even learn to bat left-handed until 1980, getting the OK from Joe Torre after Mets brass had told him no. Mookie served as a Maitre’D at a restaurant near his house during the 1981 strike. And he saw the arrival of Keith Hernandez in 1983 as crucial for many reasons, not the least of which the way the world champion and former MVP pumped up his teammates while telling them what they should do. On a team that had been down for years, that was huge.  

While Davey Johnson sought time for guys he’d managed in the minors, it was Mookie who had the biggest at bat of any Met in history. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy. Still, Mookie has had several ugly divorces from the Mets: the stupid trade that sent him to Toronto in 1989; getting fired as first-base coach when Bobby Valentine was let go (also stupid); and getting canned in another coaching stint as a coach with the Mets in 2011 after Terry Collins’s first year (stupidest of all—who needs a homegrown Met and World Series hero teaching your players how to run and track down flies?). Mook’s unfiltered and unexpected views may leave you even more frustrated with this team, but it’s still a fun read from a fun player. Everybody now: MOOOOOOOOOK!

June 17, 2014

My Awkward Date with Tony Gwynn

It was my first time on a major league field. I pitched a story about Connecticut kid Tim Teufel to one of the newspapers in the chain where I worked. At the time he was a Padre—one of the last ’86 Mets purged from the team. The year was 1993, the Mets were supposed to contend, the Padres were not. Both teams lost 100 games, but in mid-April they were both around .500 as the Mets kicked off the second homestand of the year. 

Tim Teufel was just about the nicest player I’ve ever come across. When we met at the batting cage, he was tickled that a paper in the town where he’d grown up, Greenwich, would send someone to interview him. Having played in New York for six seasons, he surely had done several stories from the Connecticut angle. Yet he happily answered each question I stuttered out. My Westport News buddy Dieter Stanko, who was not a photographer, but came with me for the momentous occasion to snap a few photos for the Greenwich News

When I got to the press box, though, I realized there was no story. The tape recorder had malfunctioned. So much for my first foray into the pro ranks, and my whopping $50 or so for the freelance piece. Dieter and I conferred and it was obvious I had to go to the locker room after the game and interview Teufel again. Oh, God. 

The Mets won. That was in itself a miracle given that they would lose 103 times in 1993. But it complicated my end of the deal because my first locker room foray would be a losing locker room. It did not seem like a huge deal as I ran through the rationalizations: “These guys are pros. They play 162 games a year. It’s only April. They stink. How bad can one loss be?” I walked into the visiting locker room and it was a funeral. 

There was no other press there because California papers had a late deadline. I was the only one present who was not the best player on his high school team. Each second seemed to last an hour. Teufel required treatment after each game and was in the trainer’s room. So I stood at his locker, which was next to Tony Gwynn’s. So here I am as nervous as if I’m about to ask out the prettiest girl in school—the same small school where I was the ninth-best player. (I am basing this on my spot in the batting order, though maybe I batted last because our coach had some Terry Collins genius plan.) 

Tony Gwynn had already won four of the eight batting titles he would earn in his legendary career. He would hit .358 in 1993 yet finish second to the mile-high air and Andres Galarraga with the brand-new Rockies. So here’s Tony Gwynn, perennial All-Star, peering at me. Squinting. Ruffling his lip. Just totally screwing with me without saying a word. And for my part I can’t even look at him or come up with a thing to say. Even a puffball line like “I’m doing a piece on Tim Teufel. How is he as a teammate?” That would have been professional and even made the story better. Instead I bolted for the back of the clubhouse, past Mike Scioscia—who, like Tim Teufel, was finishing his career as a Padre—and I stumbled into the trainer’s room, where even I knew I was totally not allowed to be. But there was Teufel, finishing his treatment. He had no problem answering the same stupid questions I’d already asked him. Though I did get to ask about his two hits against crafty Frank Tanana. By the time I got to the locker with Teufel, Gwynn was showering. I only saw the great Gwynn after that from afar, screwing the Mets. 

A .338 career hitter in a time when strikeouts were acceptable and the home run was all anyone paid attention to, that is exceptional. And everyone in baseball I ever mentioned this story to always said he was a great guy just trying to get me to take the bait. I guess I should have asked out the prettiest girl in school, too.  

Today I just wish the great Tony Gwynn peace. And I wish I hadn’t been such a dolt. RIP, Mr. Padre.

June 16, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1977-79: Sucking in the Seventies

I don’t know if the ages 12 to 14 were supposed to be the best years of my life, but I can assure you that they weren’t. They did, however, feel like the longest years of my life, courtesy of the New York Mets. Having served the time, I will do you the favor of making these entries brief while also providing an inkling of what the years 1977, 1978, and 1979 were like to endure as a Mets fan. The only positive thing I can say is at least the Mets didn’t play the Yankees during the season. Playing them in spring training was bad enough—back when major league teams traveled coast to coast in Florida without hardship leave. Back in the 1970s I wanted spring training to last forever… I dreaded that the season had to start at all. 

1977: Let’s start with “This Day In.” On this day in 1977, I awoke to the headline telling me my days as a Mets fan had just entered the martyrdom phase. I can still see my dad eying me as I sat catatonic in front of the Daily News. I knew the trades could happen, sure, but I never thought it would happen. And it never should have happened. My two favorite players—Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman—gone quicker than you can say “Midnight Massacre.” Talk about doubleheader losses! And while on that subject, those twinbills sure piled up. The ’77 Mets went 1-6-9 in doubleheaders, including a sweep at the hands of the Expos in May in what turned out to be last night of the Joe Frazier managerial regime (similar to a doubleheader sweep by Montreal in 1975 marking the end of the Yogi Berra regime). Joe Torre took over the ’77 club and the Mets played better initially, even getting their lone twinbill sweep—Torre figuring in the rally in his last appearance as a player-manager. Then the Mets traded their two best players and it all went to crap. Seaver and Kingman would return to the Mets in the early 1980s, but by then they were older and weaker and hope was only a rumor. 

1978: By the summer of ’78 I was getting into music, listening to what my Dad called “bubblegum music” on WABC or WNNNNNNNNNNBC (“The Next One”) as soon as the Mets had put a bow on yet another loss in a 66-96 campaign. The Cardinals spent most of the year in the basement, but the Mets hit their stride come August and snagged the basement going away. At the same time the Yankees were putting together an epic comeback from a 14-game deficit to reach their third consecutive World Series—and second straight world championship. Oh, joy. Willie Montanez came to Shea in the four-team dump of Jon Matlack and John Milner, which was at least more than the Mets got for tossing Bud Harrelson and Jerry Grote to the curb. The flashy Montanez made life slightly less dull, and his 17 home runs were the most by a Met until Kingman came back in 1981. Montanez somehow knocked in 96 runs for a dead-ass team, Craig Swan led the NL in ERA yet somehow didn’t win 10 games, and Nino Espinosa’s 11 wins led the team for the second straight year following a decade in which either Tom Seaver or Jerry Koosman had led the Mets in that department each year. No matter, Espinosa would be traded the following year. So would Willie Montanez. Too bad they couldn’t trade them all. 

1979: Jerry Koosman threatened to retire if the Mets didn’t trade him. After going 11-35 in the two years following his 20-win 1976 season, the Mets couldn’t help but take Kooz’s threat seriously. The final remnant of the team’s long-gone glory days, Ed Kranepool, called it quits after the 1979 season following 18 seasons as a Met. There were new faces in Flushing in ’79, but for every scrappy story like Jesse Orosco (acquired for Kooz) or Ed Glynn (Shea hot dog vendor turned major league reliever), there was a Frank Taveras (acquired for Tim Foli ) or a Richie Hebner (the body they got from Philly for Nino Espinosa). Frankie and the Hacker had both come up through the success-based Pirates organization and played at Shea with all the passion of a couple of convicts serving sentences of hard labor. Mets fans saw things the same way, as just 788,905 came to Shea, the franchise’s fewest patrons in history (don’t count the ’81 strike year). The ’79 season ended in a daze of doubleheaders, with the Mets losing four twinbills in five days in September. The Mets went 2-8-9 in doubleheaders, the first time the team swept more than one doubleheader since 1974, and it was their Wrigley rally in the second game of a twinbill the final week of the year—followed by a doubleheader sweep in St. Louis—that led to winning their last six games and avoiding losing 100 games. Still, that 63-win total was the fewest by any Mets team over a full season between 1968 and 1992. Those were the days. Not. 

Nightcap: We Are Not Alone

That paltry smattering of Mets fans who joined me at Shea Stadium in the late 1970s are my muse. I write for them. I don’t know how many of them are reading, but when I start to slack off, or do a half ass job on something Mets related, I think about those diehards suffering alongside me as the Mets got pounded yet again by the Phillies in their powder blues. And I think about my dad, who took me to those games, though he was not a fan and had much better things to do on his day off. When I think about Father’s Day, this is what I aspire to: Doing what your kid wants, smiling, and sucking it up. Sort of like the Mets used to suck it up in the seventies. Suck is the kindest descriptive word I can think of, but don’t ever think no one was paying attention.

June 6, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1975-76: Lured into the Trap 

This is where I come in. Where I was asked if I wanted to see the Mets or Yankees opener in the final hour of school on April 8, 1975, I broke the fourth-grade class tie by saying Mets, though I had no idea what such an identification could mean. Next thing I knew I was playing Little League… and striking out in all but one at bat. But things got worse. I was scoring Mets games on the street, watching past midnight on our black-and-white TV, and sneaking into my parents room to watch on the color set to see how red Rusty Staub’s hair really was. I soon learned about doubleheaders, too, anticipating their arrival on Sundays—or maybe Friday—or Tuesday—or whatever day they felt like having them. I soon learned that sweeps could be great or terrible and splits were your best bet, but even those could lead to lasting damage. 

The Mets were at Candlestick Park on a Sunday afternoon, August 24, 1975. Dave Kingman—oh, how I loved Dave Kingman—had just crushed a home run with the bases loaded off Jim Barr. I was such a baseball newbie I thought that “grand slam” referred to the majestic flight of his clout. The Giants put together a late rally in game one against Jon Matlack—oh, how I loved Jon Matlack—but Bob Apodaca came out of the pen and finished the 9-5 win. His seven-out save was not seen as anything stupendous or heroic, like they’d go on about today. I am not sure Dac even had a defined role, he just came in when the signal was made by Roy McMillan—I figured the Mets knew what they were doing when they fired Yogi Berra a few weeks back. That was quite a leap of faith on my part.

We had dinner around the time the second game began. On the mound for the Mets was Craig Swan, whose last start had come a week earlier at the first Mets game I’d ever attended. He, I, we won. On that memorable, overcast afternoon, my Dad let me hold his good Cross pen and showed me how to keep score. It still feels like I can reach through the clouds of Flushing (and time), tap that boy on the shoulder, smile, and tell him he’ll always remember this moment. He turns around, nods, and says, “I know,” before going back to his scorecard. I can smell my Dad’s cigar, although he hasn’t smoked since 1980, or been to a Mets game since 1984. But all that tinted, glossy memory is invaded by a more menacing baseball reality when I came back from dinner on August 24, 1975: The Mets are down, 4-0, and they still haven’t gotten a hit.

A no-hitter? I’ve heard about these. Nolan Ryan, that guy the Mets traded for a fistful of Fregosi, threw one for the Angels in ’75. The Mets never had a no-hitter. (Remember, this is 1975, and Johan Santana is not yet born.) So, I guess I’m against no-hitters. And I tried everything I could from 3,000 miles away to will the Mets to hit a little bleeder, or blooper, or Baltimore Chop, or…

Ninth inning, down 6-0, pinch hitter due up. Forget the win, let’s just get a single. Jesus, Alou! A popup, come on wind, take it. Damn! One out. Del Unser—oh, how I loved Del Unser—works out a walk. Felix Millan—come on, Felix!—strikes out. He never strikes out! (Really. He fanned just 28 times all year even while becoming the first Met to play all 162 games and set the team hits record with 191 hits. No hit here, though.) It’s up to Wayne Garrett.

“Edward Lewis Halicki, 24 years old out of Kearney, New Jersey. Went to Monmouth University before being selected by the Giants in 1972. He was just 1-8 as a rookie last year. Trying to improve to 8-10 this season.” My mind recreates what Lindsey Nelson or Bob Murphy or Ralph Kiner or what I might have said into my cupped hand, recapturing the moment later on my bike through the neighborhood. “Garrett hits a ground ball to first. It’s grabbed by Willie Montanez. He takes it to the bag. And it’s a no-hitter. Ed Halicki has thrown a no-hitter against the New York Mets in his 30th major league start!” 

In the 39 years since then, only one other pitcher has thrown a no-hitter against the Mets. But I’m still pissed off about Ed Halicki. So was Daily News columnist Dick Young, who took issue on a ball Rusty Staub hit that caromed off Halicki’s leg that went to second baseman Derrell Thomas, who mishandled it and was charged with an error. I’d like to say this is the only time I ever agreed with Dick Young, but I was having dinner when the play was made/not made. But in a vindictive move Young might have appreciated, I willed Halicki to have a mediocre career, which he did. Except against the Mets, whom he went 7-3 against—his best winning percentage against any team. 

No matter that the Mets embarked on a five-game winning streak, or that, no-hitter and all, they did split the doubleheader and the series with the Giants. Or that this was a hell of a lot better than the doubleheader at Shea where Tug McGraw—the Mets had this guy last year?!?—won both games in relief for the Phillies. Or that the ’75 Mets would finish with a winning record, that I would attend my second-ever Mets game on the final home date of the season, that Dave Kingman—who played third base (!) in that game—would set a Mets record with 36 home runs, or that Tom Seaver would strike out 200 batters for a record-setting eighth straight year, and that Tom Terrific would become the first righty pitcher to win three Cy Young Awards. 

By 1976 I learned more. That just because Tom Seaver wasn’t winning a lot of games, it didn’t mean that he was suddenly a bad pitcher. That Jerry Koosman, who won 21—and was jobbed of the Cy Young—was using up all his Mets luck at once. Speaking of jobbed, Dave Kingman went from challenging Roger Maris—I thought Hank Aaron had the home run record?—to not even winning the NL home run crown because he dove for a flyball and hurt his thumb. Or that the Mets were pretty lousy at doubleheaders (2-9-12 in my first two years following the team.) Rest assured, there is a lot more to 1976 than meets the Mets.  

I would dwell on 1975 and 1976—winning records and third place both years—as the Mets sank into suckitude and we shifted from mid- to late-1970s. Was Ed Halicki’s no-hitter really so bad? Was the Staub for Lolich trade that disastrous? Was Joe Frazier that lousy a manager? Was Dave Kingman really worth so much of my affection? The answer to these and all such questions swirling through my confused teenaged mind was the same: “Yes. You bet your ass!”  

I was a Mets fan. For the long haul. For freaking ever. 

Nightcap: The Fight of Their Lives

Since I made my little plug for Dan Epstein’s treatise on 1976—more on that another time, but there is also room for a plug on the thrilling year that was ’73—but I want to stay in 1975. Among many things going on that year, it was Juan Marichal’s  last year. The high-kicking San Francisco Giant great was as good as any pitcher of his day. Sandy Koufax burned hot and bright, but his career was short. Koufax pitched just 12 years—three of those years as a Brooklyn bonus baby stuck on the Dodgers bench while starting only 17 times. Sandy had a 165-87 career mark, with just three 20-win seasons, back when wins were deemed a pitcher’s most important number. Koufax’s top three years, however, are considered three of the best seasons since the Deadball Era: 25-5, 1.88 ERA, 306 strikeouts in 311 innings pitched in 1963; 25-5, 1.88, 382 K’s in 335.2 IP in 1965; and 27-9, 1.73, 317 K’s in 1966. He won the Cy Young and a pennant each of those seasons before retiring abruptly at 30 due to an arthritic elbow. “The Left Arm of God” was fragile. 

Juan Marichal had six 20-win seasons, tying Koufax for the league lead in 1963—one of three years Marichal won 25 or more games. He had a WHIP under 1.00 four times. But the most amazing fact about Marichal is that in his legendary 234-win career, he received exactly one Cy Young vote. Not one Cy Young Award, one Cy Young vote.  

“The Dominican Dandy” also pitched at a time when Latin players were a serious major league minority; not just in numbers but in the public attitude. In the minors especially they had to deal with bigoted fans outraged by their skin color. John Roseboro, an African American catcher from Ohio, knew this all too well, but even he was surprised by attitudes in minor league Southern cities. An All-Star catcher who’d grown up in the Dodgers system, Roseboro was steeped in the Giants-Dodgers rivalry that had replanted itself in California and grown even sharper thorns. Every game between them was war.

When Roseboro took retaliation into his hands to keep Koufax from being ejected, he threw the ball back to the mound right behind Marichal’s ear during an at bat. “The hot-blooded Latin” as the press invariably called anyone from south of Tijuana, hit Roseboro in the head with the bat. The blow, opening a cut on the catcher’s head, started a melee and repercussions that lasted decades. 

Author John Rosengren has created a dual biography of the two men and the incident that linked them in The Fight of Their Lives. It deals with the players, their backgrounds, their families, the mid-1960s hostility, and the prejudices that separated and later united them. It is a powerful and provocative look at two enemies who became friends after baseball. Curmudgeon sportswriters, the same ones who had quoted Latin players in pigeon English while stating stereotypes as facts, did not vote Marichal into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1981. Two-time Cy Young winner Bob Gibson, who retired the same year as Marichal and got into Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility, said Marichal was as good as anyone he faced.

Leonard Koppett, who covered the Mets in the New York Times for much of Marichal’s career, wrote, “How anyone who did vote for Gibson could find a way not to vote for Marichal is hard to understand…. They were contemporaries and they were equivalent by any set of standards you want to choose.” There were 10 other future Hall of Famers who also got shut out in 1981, including no doubter Harmon Killebrew. Gil Hodges finished eight votes ahead of Marichal in ’81. The next year Marichal finished seven votes shy of Cooperstown.  

The great pitcher invited Roseboro to a charity golf event in the Dominican and their families spent time together at his home. Roseboro endorsed Marichal as a friend. Any grudges held by voters now seemed even sillier. If the guy who got hit in the head in a moment of rage has forgiven him, why not everyone else?

There. I’ve gone and written a sixth-grade book report, giving you everything except the ending. But I fully recommend buying the book for yourself or as a gift for Father’s Day because there is far more to The Fight of Their Lives than my wordy spew can disclose. And if anyone judging awards for baseball writing happens to be out there, I think this book stacks up against anything I’ve read in recent years, including Rosengren’s Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes and Hammering Hank, George Almighty, and the Say Hey Kid about the 1973 season. We ’73 authors stick together.  

June 2, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1972-74: From Funeral to Resurrection to Wake 

The years 1972 , 1973, and 1974 are so different, together they form an arc from low to high to low. The 1973 Mets—as has been well documented—went from last place to first in the space of six weeks, but that came in the wake of sudden and tragic loss of the most important presence in team history. 

Days before the 1972 season was supposed to begin, manager Gil Hodges dropped dead of a heart attack in a parking lot in St. Petersburg. Watching in horror were loyal coaches Rube Walker, Joe Pignatano, and Eddie Yost, all of whom had been with Hodges since he managed the Washington Senators. He had endured a close call after his first season with the Mets and had quit his four pack a day smoking habit. He had picked up smoking again the past two years as he watched the Mets flounder in the aftermath of the 1969 Miracle. In a moment, Gil was gone. 

Yogi Berra had not been in that fatal foursome on Easter Sunday. When Yogi received word a few hours later, he was invited to a meeting where he would be offered the manager’s job. During this first week of April 1972, the players were on strike, so there were no games. Now there was also a funeral to plan. And the organization screwed up in every way.

First, the team said it would play Opening Day as scheduled, even though it was the same days as the Hodges funeral. The strike cancelled the game, but the organization’s callousness annoyed the players, many of whom thought of Hodges like a father. Then, while people were leaving the church after the funeral Mass, Mets officials called reporters to a press conference where they announced that Berra was the new manager and that Rusty Staub had been acquired from Montreal for the team’s three best hitting prospects: Ken Singleton, Tim Foli, and Mike Jorgensen. The timing of the announcements could not have been worse, and their choice of Berra as manager instead of farm director Whitey Herzog—who left the team later that year to embark on a Hall of Fame managing career—can be second-guessed for four more decades.

But the way these things sometimes happen, the team of course excelled out of the gate under Yogi—for six weeks. The team’s 25-7 start, still as good a beginning as any Mets team besides the ’86 club, put New York ahead by six games by May 21. By then, Willie Mays was a Met, finally pried away from the Giants a decade after the Mets had starting asking about bringing the Say Hey Kid back where he started as a New York Giant. The Willie the Mets got was broken down and 41 years not so young. But rookies Jon Matlack and John Milner were sensational; third baseman Jim Fregosi was not.

Acquired from the Angels over the winter—at the mere cost of a ready to blossom Nolan Ryan—the Mets tried to turn the All-Star shortstop into a third baseman. Fregosi was a flop in New York. And Wayne Garrett, the third baseman the Mets were so desperate to replace, hit .232 for the Mets in ’72, the exact same average as Fregosi. Garrett would play in a World Series the following year. By then Fregosi would be a Texas Ranger, playing for Whitey Herzog, who had warned the Mets not to make the trade. Luckily, the Mets made a better trade in the winter of 1973, dealing Gary Gentry and Danny Frisella to Atlanta for Felix Millan and George Stone. 

Yet it did not look like the Mets had any better chance of making the World Series in 1973 than the woeful Texas Rangers. After a dive in the standings around the time Rusty was hurt in 1972, the Mets continued sputtering for most of 1973. From late May 1972 until late August 1973, the Mets played .456 ball over a 239-game span. That’s a long enough period to indicate that a team just isn’t that good. And the ’73 Mets weren’t… until the end of August. Then all the breaks that had gone against them since 1969, all the injuries, all the ill fortune, everything was turned on its head. Again. 

After spending three years analyzing all things 1973 while writing Swinging ’73, one of the few aspects I have not looked at is their doubleheaders down the stretch. It is kind of interesting that the ’72 Mets played fewer twinbills but won more (3-1-6) than the ’73 bunch (2-3-8). What is more important is how the ’73 Mets fared when it counted.

September 3: DH vs. Philly, split, 5½ games out

September 7: DH at Montreal, sweep, 4 games out

September 15: DH vs. Cubs, split, 3½ games out

September 30: DH at Cubs, split, 1 game ahead

October 1 was supposed to be a doubleheader, on the Monday after the season was to have ended. Rain pushed the Mets and Cubs to play a twinbill at deserted Wrigley Field. When Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw teamed up to hold on for a 6-4 win, the Mets’ 24-9 finish pushing the Mets to the unlikeliest of division titles. Or as unlikely as any division winner could be after 1969. The second game of that season-ending doubleheader at Wrigley in 1973 was called due to wet grounds and a locker room soaked with champagne. 

The ’73 Mets pushed the Reds and the A’s, two 1970s dynasties, to the deciding game in the postseason. How’d it turn out? Well, here comes plug number two. (Ya Gotta Believe that with Father’s Day coming up, you can’t hint enough about a good present for dear old Dad.) 

And then came 1974. In short, the Mets front office stood pat, acting like Miracles would just keep falling in their lap. At the end of August 1974, the Mets were in almost the same position they had been in in 1973: fifth place, a 56-71 record, not completely buried at 11 games out. Then they ran off seven straight wins! Miracle coming? Um, no.   

The other NL East teams, after watching the Mets vault over them all a year earlier, pounded the Mets in September of ’74. The Mets lost 20 of their last 28 games, including a tripleheader disguised as a single game. In the longest National League game ever played to a conclusion, the Cardinals beat the Mets on a throwing error by pitcher Hank Webb in the 25th inning. The game featured 25 Mets left on base, Duffy Dyer catching 23 innings, Dave Schneck batting 11 times—making nine outs—reliever Jerry Cram tossing eight innings, and a dashing young St. Louis sub named Keith Hernandez going 0-for-1. And you thought this past weekend in Philadelphia felt long. 

The Mets’ 2-11-5 record in doubleheaders marked the most times they’d been swept since 1965 and the first time ever the Mets did not sweep a single doubleheader at home in a season—and they had 10 chances (0-6-4). Even Tom Seaver failed to have a winning record (11-11) or an ERA starting with a 2 for the first time ever (3.20). 

The 91 losses in 1974 were just 12 more than the pennant-winning season of ’73, but it might as well have been 120 more losses. The magic was gone. And it wouldn’t come back until Mets fans had endured the longest, bleakest decade of their existence. 

Nightcap: The Super Why

If you’ve been reading along in the series so far you really love your Mets history, don’t you? Well, if you’ve gotten to the bottom of the 25th of this tale, let me tell you why I’m doing this. 

Besides doing something different every year on the site to keep myself interested and sane, I have to admit I have always had a love-hate relationship with doubleheaders. I used to dread the idea of losing them, accepted a split any way it came, and was beyond joy for the rare Mets doubleheader sweep, even if meant nothing in the standings. Doubleheaders were a part of Mets life when I grew up, a Sunday ritual. That’s gone now, brushed aside in favor of more night games and four-hour games instead of five-hour doubleheaders. Reflecting on these twinbills brings me some comfort, a reason to keep watching as we slog through another dark period in Metsdom.

Maybe this should be a disclaimer at the front of the piece. There is always another doubleheader to make that up.

May 26, 2014

Mets Blow Banner Day (And Not Just Game One)

Since I’ve been writing about doubleheaders from a historical point of view this year, I could not resist commenting on the first doubleheader of 2014. And how, from a historical point of view, the Mets screwed it up. And not just on the field. 

I may not have all the facts because I was away over the weekend—as is often the case on Memorial Day weekend—so I have yet to see the newly reconstituted Banner Day in person. And I don’t recall any of the parade being shown live on SNY. Oh, I know why that is: Because SNY doesn’t cover Mets game at 11 in the morning! I do not understand how, with a doubleheader actually occurring on Banner Day, the Mets could not manage to allow banners to parade on the field between games of the twinbill, as the team did every year between 1963 and 1988. From what I have seen, the show-up-at-10-a.m.-on-the-Sunday-of-a-holiday-weekend Banner Day has attracted about 500 participants—total—since 2012. For the 100 people who showed up with banners on Sunday, I think the Mets could have handled this on the fly. But I will give them credit for not sticking fans with an annoying and unecessary day-night doubleheader against the worst team in the National League—though that particular distinction gets more difficult each day. 

Even the fan who brought back Banner Day thinks the situation should be changed, or at least moved to a non-holiday weekend. You can almost see the people in the meeting about promotion days dealing with Banner Day in five minutes, figuring, “That’s just the hard core fans. They’ll come anyway.” I wouldn’t bet on that. Watching this time is no fun. 

I’d love to blame that ridiculous decision on Terry Collins, but that actually be out of TC’s purview. Though I think it would be great if they put Collins in charge of that department and allow someone else—anyone else—to make personnel moves after the fifth inning.

May 22, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1970-71: Miracle Begets Mirage

The Mets began life with four straight 100-loss seasons. So when the Mets won the NL East in 1969, swept the first NLCS, and beat the Orioles in the World Series, who’s to say it wasn’t the start of four years of 100 wins? Even the most optimistic Mets fan, hopped up on mystic heated wine—or something stronger—didn’t believe that. So far, we are still at three 100-win seasons since 1962.

To quote a memorable reference from the film Woodstock, the legendary documentary and triple album that arrived in theaters and record stores in 1970, the blue and orange had taken the brown acid. Coming down after an Amazin’ high, 1969 ended with one of the team’s most infamous trades: the December ’69 swap with the Royals that cost them Amos Otis, a soon to be perennial All-Star center fielder, in exchange for Joe Foy, a third baseman who liked to party more than most of the 500,000 White Rabbits at Woodstock.  

The year 1970 began with the death of the man who made the Otis trade, general manager Johnny Murphy. Bob Scheffing, a longtime baseball man who by that point probably enjoyed playing golf more than building a ballclub, took over as GM. Many of the role players on the Miracle Mets were dispatched: Ed Charles, Jim Gosger, Bob Heise, Bobby Pfeil, J.C. Martin, Cal Koonce, Don Cardwell, and Rod Gaspar. Granted, none were lamentable losses or are much remembered besides the Glider, Ed Charles, but they were not replaced with the kind of players who could cobble together career years in unison, like these aforementioned Mets had in ’69.  

The 1970 season was unique in that for the first time ever the Mets weren’t insanely bad, and they weren’t insanely good, they were just mediocre. It was the first of three straight 83-win seasons, but the ’70 Mets did have a fighting chance to defend their title. Two doubleheaders in three days at Shea—sweeping the Expos and splitting with the Phillies—put the Mets into a first place tie with the Pirates on September 9. They were still tied with the Bucs—with the Cubs just a game back—when the Mets won at Jarry Park on September 14. The Mets dropped their next four games, but a Sunday doubleheader sweep at packed Shea against the Bucs would have put the Mets back in the thick of the race. Jerry Koosman won the opener and the Mets rallied from 5-2 down in the nightcap to head to extra innings. But a home run by Mets nemesis Willie Stargell off Tug McGraw secured a Pirates split that propelled Pittsburgh to the first of five division titles in six years. The brief reign of Miracles was over. 

The 1971 campaign saw the end of the line for bonafide 1969 Mets heroes Ron Swoboda, Al Weis, and Donn Clendenon. Swoboda’s bad boy attitude and lack of production had grown tiresome and he was sent to Montreal during spring training of 1971; Weis, never much of a hitter outside of the ’69 World Series, was just plain done by midseason ’71; and one year after Clendenon had set a club record with 97 RBI, the 1969 World Series MVP drove in just 37 runs in ’71. He was released after the season.

Yet the Mets were the team to see, not just in New York, but in the major leagues. The Mets had the game’s highest attendance for three years running: 2.1 million in 1969, 2.7 million in 1970, and 2.2 mil in 1971. This was at a time when National League attendance only counted fannies in seats, and the Mets had fewer dates because of all the doubleheaders—though there weren’t as many twinbills as there had been. The Mets averaged almost 24 doubleheaders per year in the ‘60s, going 36-73-77. The Mets played roughly half as many twinbills as they had a decade earlier, but they were faring better: 3-2-8 in 1970 doubleheaders, and 4-2-5 in 1971.

Gil Hodges was as respected as any man in the city. Bud Harrelson was an All-Star in both 1970 and ’71. Tom Seaver was a god. Though the rest of the rotation had its ups and downs due to injuries and inconsistency from Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, and Nolan Ryan, the Mets had one of baseball’s best young bullpens with Tug McGraw and Danny Frisella. But bad things would keep happening in a decade that would turn into a bummer please.

Nightcap: Miracle Mets, the Record

The triple album soundtrack that went along with the film Woodstock was the foundation of many a record collection upon hitting stores in 1970. Another 1970 record is still the most cherished possession among my attic-bound LPs: Miracle Mets.

Miracle Mets should not be confused with The Amazing Mets, which featured the Mets players signing their no-royalty fee favorites. That album came out in the fall of 1969, just as the Mets were crowned champions. Though that record should not be confused with Ya Gotta Believe, narrated by Curt Gowdy, about the shocking development that resulted in the Mets winning the 1973 pennant. 

Miracle Mets featured the radio calls—real and recreated—by the triumphant triumvirate of Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, and Bob Murphy. It not only features the events of 1969, but for someone who was too young for the ’69 hoopla to leave an impression, the rainy afternoon in 1978 when I found Miracle Mets in my brother’s record collection was like stumbling across a wardrobe that leads to an enchanted land. Time travel device and history lesson all in one, Miracle Mets also included a brief history of their predecessors, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, and provided my first hearing of the fabled Russ Hodges home run call confirming that the Giants did indeed win the pennant. Anything that got me away from 1978 and thinking about how Craig Swan was going to pitch a gem that night, and the Mets were still going to lose. Thirty-six springs later, I find myself longing for a Swannie gem and spending an afternoon in that room in that house that now belongs to someone else. 

I found CDs of both Miracle Mets and Ya Gotta Believe available on CD from Fleetwood Media. Just frigging now! Both are now speeding their way to me. It is too late for me to use either to help with the books I’ve already written on the subject, but they will reside in my car as anti-drowsiness medication for those late-night drives back from Flushing. Come down from the attic, boys. Wake the echoes!

May 18, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1969: Miracles Happen 

Five years ago, Ken Samelson and I edited the work of two dozen writers to produce the book The Miracle Has Landed: The Amazin’ Story of How the ’69 Mets Shocked the World. I finagled images, read every piece, and wrote several, including most of the sidebars on everything from the champion Knicks to the champion Jets to the moon landing to the ridiculous amount of third basemen churned through by the Mets (41 through 1969). Not surprisingly, I did a piece on ’69 Mets doubleheaders. I found that a good part of the Mets’ success—or at least their mojo—came from the doubleheaders that built up late in the season and helped push the Mets to the division. They went 6-1-2 in twinbills down the stretch, and, as a matter of fact, the first time the Mets were ever in first place was between games of a doubleheader against the expansion Expos on September 10: Look Who’s Number One! The Mets had been 10 full games behind the Cubs less a month earlier—and they kept their foot to the floor until they hit 100… wins. 

Having already penned the ultimate 1969 doubleheaders piece, here is a greatest hits package from The Miracle Has Landed. And the hits don’t come much greater than 1969.

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The doubleheader was a major part of baseball life four and a half decades ago. No Mets club since 1969 has matched the 22 twinbills the team played that year. The 1962 Mets endured a club-record 30 doubleheaders…and lost 17. The ’69 Mets went 11‑3‑8 in doubleheaders, more than twice as many sweeps as any Mets club before or since. The ’69 club earned six sweeps in their last nine doubleheaders starting on August 16—the day the Mets began the 38‑11 finish that finished off the Cubs and captured in the NL East title. 

When the schedule came out before the season, the Mets were on tap for 13 doubleheaders, including five during the week. Due to rainouts, the Mets wound up adding nine twinbills to the schedule—a single game was also moved from St. Louis to New York and played on an off day on September 22. 

On the subject of days off, the Mets were slated to have 25 days without a game. This takes into account the four in-season exhibition games on the schedule: a pair of day trips to play minor league clubs in Memphis and Tidewater (the franchise’s new Class AAA team in Norfolk), plus an annual exhibition at West Point and the Mayor’s Trophy Game (an annual charity contest against the Yankees). The 2014 Mets, by contrast, were rationed 20 off days on the original schedule—with nary a doubleheader scheduled. Rain has always been the great equalizer between off days and reality. 

Unlike modern day‑night doubleheaders with separate admissions and several hours between contests, 1960s twinbills were played one after the other, with a half hour in between. An exception on the Mets calendar was Banner Day on August 17, as players cooled their heels for a while longer as fans paraded around the field with homemade signs declaring their love for the Mets. As happened the previous day, the Mets swept the Padres when the twinbill resumed. 

Here’s how the ’69 Mets fared in double duty. Results for splits list individual wins and losses in the order occurred. Sweep means the Mets won both; Lost means the opposite; @ designates a road twinbill—otherwise it took place at Shea Stadium. An asterisk means the doubleheader was on the original schedule. 

Doubleheader            Opponent       Result

*Sunday, April 27         CHI     Split: L, W

*Sunday, May 4          @CHI Sweep

Sunday, May 11          HOU   Split: L, W

*Tuesday, June 17      @PHI  Split: W, L

*Sunday, June 22        STL   Sweep

*Tuesday, June 24      PHI   Sweep

Tuesday, July 1          @STL Lost

*Friday, July 4            @PIT  Sweep

*Sunday, July 13         MON   Sweep

*Sunday, July 20         @MON  Split: L, W

Wednesday, July 30     HOU   Lost

Tuesday, August 5      @CIN Split: L, W

*Friday, August 8        @ATL Split: W, L

Saturday, August 16     SD       Sweep

*Sunday, August 17     SD       Sweep

*Tuesday, August 26   @SD   Sweep

*Sunday, August 31     @SF    Split: W, L

Friday, September 5     PHI     Split: W, L

Wednesday, Sep. 10    MON   Sweep

Friday, September 12   @PIT  Sweep

Friday, September 19    PIT      Lost

*Sunday, Sept. 21        PIT      Sweep

Nightcap: 501 Pounds of Fun

The Nightcap is an all-new piece, though I will admit it is long overdue. The book in question, fittingly, was written by a contributor to the aforementioned book on the ’69 Mets, The Miracle Has Landed.  

501 Baseball Fans Must Read Before They Die has a titular ring reminiscent of 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, except it does not include that book among the 501. That’s OK because I am glad to be included in his book for Cubs by the Numbers, which I wrote with Al Yellon and Kasey Ignarski in 2009. And thanks to Bergino’s Baseball Clubhouse proprietor Jay Goldberg for providing me with a signed copy of 501 Baseball Books after I erred in not picking up one while I was at his New York shop. 

As proprietor of the always entertaining Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf, Ron knows baseball books as well as anyone, which makes it even more gratifying in the way 501 Baseball Books feels like a homecoming. Several people who worked with me at Total Sports Publishing are included herein, including John Thorn, Pete Palmer, Mike Gershman, Gary Gillette, and Dave Pietrusza, all of whom took care of me, employed me, and provided the occasional tough love needed for a rookie who’d spent most of his “career” covering high school and college sports. By the time I was 30, I thought I would never go pro, much less publish a book under my name. Turns out that honor is not what it once was—Ron can probably vouch for that after this venture onto the other side of the page—but I love doing it. 

Besides coming across old home week in the 501 Baseball Books’ index, I also found gems aplenty beyond the usual suspects among the 501; unique efforts like Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods, Marty Appel’s Now Pitching for the Yankees (another Total Sports book), Peter Richmond’s Ballpark: Camden Yards and the Building of the American Dream, Jonathon Fraser Light’s Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, Mark Winegarden’s Prophet of the Sandlots: Journeys with a Major League Scout, Jonathon Mahler’s Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx Is Burning, and Josh Leventhal’s Take Me Out to the Ballpark, as well as many, many others. And as much as I love books on baseball history, I have a weakness for baseball novels, which have a far better rate of return than movies on baseball. I was delighted to see the 501 included Tom Dyja’s Play for a Kingdom and Eric Rolfe Greenberg’s The Celebrant—the only two novels to win the prestigious Casey Magazine Spitball Award. Another great novel I read last year—actually listened to on CD (but that counts, just like listening to a game on radio counts for having closely followed the action)—that was likewise more than a book on baseball was Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. I must admit to jealousy after I read Kaplan’s disclaimer that the author received a $650,000 advance. Authors can be a petty lot, but we begrudgingly acknowledge our betters. 

I can also acknowledge better days that made the 501. I helped choose and assign essays for editions six and seven of Total Baseball. Ted Williams: My Life in Pictures was designed, discussed, and plotted over several days spent at the home of Todd Radom. And I worked on Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia all day, every day, for more than a year. 

It can be good to relive the glory days, whether it’s 1969 or my own baseball book miracle. If you want to relive the Mets’ glory days, the best book in Kaplan’s book that you’ve probably never heard of is The Complete Year-by-Year N.Y. Mets Fan’s Almanac, by Duncan Bock and John Jordan, and put together by Total Sports alum and neighbor F-Stop Fitzgerald. Kaplan calls it a “must have” even if it is 20 years out of date. I fully agree. Anytime I put together a list of best Mets books, this is always in the top 10. And when people ask me the best compilation of essential baseball books, I will simply say Ron Kaplan knocked his pitch out of the park. 

May 9, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1968: Plenty o Pitching

I’ll start by admitting that my only real memories of 1968 are splitting my head open in a full-speed collision with our dining room table, watching Underdog re-runs on TV, and getting a real dog, Topper. So 1968 is kind of fuzzy in a first-person sense. But you could feel the world was different with Gil Hodges was in the Mets dugout, even if you didn’t know what any of that meant. 

In my mind, Gil Hodges is the best manager in Mets history. In four years, almost as long as Terry Collins has been in charge, Hodges changed the locker room, became a guiding influence to his players, made these underdogs believe in themselves, and won a World Series with a team that wasn’t any more adept at hitting than this current bunch. But you weren’t supposed to hit in 1968. You were lucky to survive. So was Gil Hodges. 

The Year of the Pitcher saw a full-fledged return to the dark ages of the Deadball Era: Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA, Denny McLain won 31 games, Catfish Hunter threw the first perfect game in an AL regular-season game since 1922, Don Drysdale tossed 58.2 consecutive shutout innings, the National League hit .243, the American League batted .230, and Carl Yastrzemski was the only AL .300 hitter—and he made it by one point. Pitching was so dominant, even the perennial doormat Mets almost had a 20-game winner. 

That was Jerry Koosman. On a staff with future Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, Kooz won 19 games and would have won the NL Rookie of the Year Award if not for Johnny Bench, a revolutionary catcher who captured a Gold Glove as a rook, but more importantly at the time, the Cincinnati catcher could really hit—no matter who was pitching. The Mets, on the other hand, couldn’t hit at all.

The best example of this lack of offense for this club, which finished last in the NL with a .228 average, occurred during Gil’s first week on the job. On April 15, 1968, having already partaken in four shutouts in the first five games, the Mets took the field at the Astrodome with a chance to go over .500 at the earliest time in team history. Instead, they broke their own record for the longest game ever completed, playing a 24-inning game and, of course, losing. By a score of 1-0. There were 87 shutouts by that score in 1968; the majority (47) taking place in the National League, which is fitting since the NL beat the AL in the 1968 All-Star Game… by a 1-0 score. It was like never-ending soccer matches all by a score of 1-nil—except that America in 1968 was far more familiar with Vanilla Fudge than with soccer.

Thirteen times the Mets played 1-0 games in ’68, winning seven. That meant the Mets were involved in 15 percent of all 1-0 games that year. Even in the Year of the Pitcher, the Mets had a stellar young pitching staff. And that’s with Tug McGraw, a veteran of the Casey Stengel and Wes Westrum regimes in New York, spending the whole season in the minors (as a starter). The 1968 Mets allowed the fewest hits (1,250), in the National League, placed second in strikeouts (1,014), and third in WHIP (1.133). Only the two-time league champion Cardinals exceeded the Mets’ total of 27 shutouts, meaning that the other team did not score in 37 percent of their wins.   

Of course, 22 times the Mets did not score a run. Besides the 24-inning game in Houston in April—lost on a bad hop—the Mets dropped a 1-0, 17-inning game to San Francisco in August. The Mets were only 2-13 in extra-inning games in 1968, and just 2-9-11 in twinbills. Twice—yes, twice—in 10 days the Mets split doubleheaders in which the teams combined for just three runs in two games: in St. Louis with Bob Gibson winning the first game, 2-0, and Kooz taking the nightcap by that popular score of 1-0; and one against the Cubs with Dick Selma winning the opener, 1-0, and Bill Hands taking the nightcap for Chicago, 2-0. The Mets also lost a twinbill to the Cubs when they only allowed four runs in two games and were swept by both the Giants and Braves while surrendering just five tallies over two games.  

The Mets lost a lot of close games, but they won many of them as well. Their 63 one-run games—and 26 such wins—proved the most to that point in team history. For the first time ever, the Mets did not lose 90 games and they finished ahead of the Astros, their brothers in expansion. (The 1966 Mets also avoided the basement, but the Cubs earned the ignominious honor of being the first to finish below the Metropolitans.)  

It should have been a year that ended with pats on the back for a team finally making real strides. Instead the season ended with Gil Hodges nearly dying of a heart attack in the Atlanta visiting clubhouse on the final road trip. Hodges’s health was so tenuous the Mets did not even know until winter if he’d be able to manage the team in 1969. But of course he came back. Oh, he managed.  

Nightcap: The End of an Era

The 1968 season was the last of its kind in many ways. Disgusted by a decade in which pitching became more and more dominant—though it’s funny how everyone is still in love with Sandy Koufax’s 1960s success all these years later—the major leagues actually did something about the lack of offense. They lowered the mound and the strike zone, contemplated other rules changes that might help offense (a result was the 1973 designated hitter rule), and added the save rule (which changed game strategy in several ways, though this took some time). But what had the biggest effect on offense was letting four expansion teams into the league in 1969, providing jobs to three dozen or so pitchers who otherwise would be in the minors.  

The ’69 season would also be the first to feature divisional play, so that made ’68 the last time that the best teams in each league automatically moved on to the World Series. Though the Series itself was dramatic—Detroit rallying from a three-games-to-one deficit to beat the Cardinals—the pennant races were mostly nonexistent (and it was the last time you could use “pennant race” in its original context, because every race thereafter would be for the division or, starting in 1995, the Wild Card). 

I am sure if I hadn’t spent so much time sitting on my floor with my dog watching Underdog (and it was while chasing Topper that I slammed my head in the dining room table to earn five stitches), I would have been outraged at this radical change to the game, since, for the record I have initially been annoyed at the Wild Card, the Wild Card game, moving teams to other leagues, and adding interleague play to the everyday baseball schedule. But divisional play created another layer of postseason baseball that has been remarkably good for the game and ended the unwieldy 10-teams-for-one-spot setup that baseball had for most of the 1960s. Though the Mets have benefited from the Wild Card, it’s still not my favorite.

But mostly 1968 meant the Mets could no longer finish 10th, or ninth in a bumper crop season like ’66 or ’68. Sixth would be the lowest a National League team could finish from 1969 to 1992, which the Mets managed five times in one seven-year span known as my adolescence. And the one season that seventh play was in play in the NL in 1993? By gum, if the Mets didn’t achieve that.

May 2, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1965-67: Something Westrum This Way Comes

In the summer of 1965, the World’s Fair was starting to get old… and so was the Mets’ losing act. In their fourth season in the majors and second season at Shea Stadium, the Mets were somehow getting worse. 

The other three teams that came into existence in the early 1960s had seen improvement. Houston, renamed the Astros in 1965 after moving into their palatial, groundbreaking dome, lost 97 times but still finished 15 games ahead of the Mets. The new Washington Senators, led by manager Gil Hodges, moved up to eighth in a 10-team American League. The Angels won at least 70 games for the fifth time in as many years of existence—and given that 1965 was the first year of the amateur draft, California’s progress was more an accomplishment than it sounds today. Particularly when compared to the Mets.  

Casey Stengel could still get laughs, but losing was starting to grow tiresome. There were even hints that Casey may have even been on the way out as ’65 wore down, but Casey wore down instead. Or more precisely, broke down.

It was on the eve of a doubleheader, of course, with Casey Stengel holding court with his old pals in town for Oldtimers Day. (Remember when that was a schedule staple, Mets fans?) In the days of highballs and high living, things get a little hazy about the 1965 reverie, but late on July 25, a Saturday night (this may be why they played day games on weekends), Casey broke his hip. He was on the eve of turning 75 and his doctor told him to hang it up. The decision allowed Casey to enjoy what would be the last 10 years of his life without the day-to-day travel that makes big-league baseball the great challenge that it is. And with Casey moved on, the Mets could move on. At least on paper. 

General manager George Weiss, Casey’s boss in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Flushing, let Stengel name his replacement, no big deal since it was at first believed that the Ol’ Perfessor might come back. It could have been Yogi Berra, who’d come to the Mets after being fired as Yankees manager, and became a Mets coach—but not before nine final at bats (with two hits). Catcher turned bullpen coach Wes Westrum, who had met Stengel for the first time two years before at a bar during the All-Star Game, had recently taken over as pitching coach when player-coach Warren Spahn ditched the 1965 Mets when he realized he would add little to his lofty career win totals at Shea Stadium. So just like that, Westrum became the second Mets manager.  

Coming off a .302 “winning percentage” since 1962 with Casey, it is almost stupefying to report that Westrum was worse. The Mets went 19-49 after he took over, a .283 percentage that was 43 points lower than Casey’s 31-64 start to ’65. 

It’s funny how when you’re bad, those doubleheaders just pile up. Stengel’s Mets had a 14-41-28 mark in doubleheaders, and doubling up was quite popular in 1965. On May 24, at Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium, the Mets finally won a doubleheader on the road, ending a skid dating back almost exactly four seasons: 25 consecutive road doubleheaders without a sweep (0-10-15).  

In double-dips for the year, the 112-loss Mets went 5-12-7, and that doesn’t even count two doubleheaders in which the second game ended in a tie—and had to be replayed… spawning yet more doubleheaders. The last one was an 18-inning scoreless tie on the last Saturday of the year, with Chris Short of the Phils and Rob Gardner each throwing 15 shutouts innings before giving way to the bullpen and the game being called by Saturday night curfew.

The last weekend in May saw a scheduled doubleheader at Shea, with another twinbill the following afternoon in Chicago, 23 years before Wrigley Field had the lights that would have allowed for a later start. Imagine the howl the Players’ Association would make today about that—but the Players’ Association in 1965 was little more than a trained seal performing at the owners’ command and eating whatever fish the brass deigned to toss in the pool. The 1960s was management’s last heyday in baseball. 

The manager of the Mets was an old school type. Wes Westrum, as quiet as Casey Stengel was outspoken, felt threatened by his 1966 third-base coach, Whitey Herzog. A Stengel protégé, Herzog came up in the Yankees system in the 1950s. Herzog was traded so he could play, as opposed to riding the pinstriped pine. Always great with the press, Whitey gave the writers far more good stories than Westrum—though I’ve always been impressed by the comment attributed to Wes: “Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.” 

With a few more hits falling in and Herzog waving in more runners from the coaching box, the 1966 Mets scored 95 more runs than in 1965. Though they again finished last in hitting, the Mets only lost 95 games and placed next to last in the standings, far and away their best season to that point. The ’66 Mets were also 5-6-12 in doubleheaders, the lone time in their first seven seasons that the Mets came that close to breaking even in twinbills. With Herzog moved up to farm director for 1967, Westrum wouldn’t have to worry so much about losing his chair to the White Rat. And then things fell apart. 

You would think that with the dawn of the Seaver Age, the Mets were on their way, but they took a step backward in 1967. Imagine how bad the team would have been if not for Seaver? Tom was terrific, going 16-13, tossing 251 innings, becoming the first Met to win any hardware (NL Rookie of the Year), and saving the All-Star Game with a scoreless 15th in Anaheim. 

The Mets may or may not have considered dismissing Casey Stengel before he broke his hip in 1965, but there was no doubt they didn’t want his successor back for 1968. With the Mets at 94 losses with 11 games to play in the 1967 season, Westrum quit during the final homestand. That’s fitting, since no Mets manager since has had a home winning percentage close to Westrum’s paltry .404… at least until Terry Collins took over. (But wait, there’s an update on that: Because the Mets improved to .500 at home through 16 games in 2014, Collins’s .428 winning percentage at home now surpasses Joe Torre’s by half a percentage point. Hooray!) 

Coach Salty Parker finished 1967 as manager. As if he were appointed for our purposes, his first assignment was a doubleheader. The Mets split with the Astros, thanks to Jerry Buchek having the game of his life with three-run homers in his final two at bats, including a walkoff blast in the 10th. The Mets lost their 100th game of the season a few days later and finished 61-101.  

The Mets went 4-8-13 in doubleheaders in 1967, including their first recorded day-night doubleheader—in Atlanta, where two admissions resulted in a park that wasn’t a third full for either game—and three straight doubleheaders in as many days at Wrigley Field on Labor Day weekend; the Cubs won that best-of-seven, 5-2, but Labor Day itself meant a trip to Cincinnati for a one-game series. (One game cant be a series, can it? No matter, they lost.) 

For the final week of the ’67 season, Johnny Murphy came down from the front office, put on a Mets warmup jacket, and observed the ballclub from the dugout. Mets numerologist Jon Springer doubts whether undercover Murphy wore any specific uniform number. When the next season began, there were fewer players who accepted losing as easily as they accepted their paychecks. Murphy earned his pay that fall, staying in Washington D.C. until he worked out a deal to bring Senators manager Gil Hodges back to New York. GM Bing Devine, who set a still-standing franchise record by moving 54 players (27 position players, 27 pitchers) through Shea Stadium in 1967, would go home to St. Louis about the same time Hodges arrived. Devine took over a world champion Cardinals club and added another pennant his first year back. A Fordham product, Murphy had a successful career pitching for the Yankees and then working for both the Red Sox and Mets front offices. Now he was a general manager. And Murphy would win a pennant the year after Devine. 

Just when you think these Mets will never get better…

Nightcap: Mad Met About Town

Getting in three seasons of doubleheaders took a little something out of me. So allow me to slip into a skinny tie, a fresh suit, and hit the jazz clubs with Tommy Davis. Tommy D. was cool.

A two-time batting champion, Davis came over from the Dodgers after the 1966 season in exchange for fan favorites Jim Hickman and Ron Hunt. Davis provided offense for a team that was last in runs and was the last Mets team for 26 years to lose 100 games. Davis finished 10th in the NL with a .302 average in ’67, but in the “we-finished-last-with-you-we-can-finish-last-without-you” department, Murphy and Hodges finalized a deal to send Davis, Jack Fisher, Buddy Booker, and Billy Wynne to the White Sox for Tommie Agee and Al Weis, both heroes to be at Shea.

It was too bad for Davis. A Brooklyn kid, he loved living at his mom’s apartment and taking in the jazz scene in the Summer of Love in Manhattan. He was beginning the itinerant phase of his career. After eight years as a Dodger, Davis moved on to nine different teams the rest of his career. He never called New York home again during a season, and watched from a distance as the Mets he helped babysit in 1967 became the unlikeliest of champions just two years later.

April 27, 2014

Greg Spira Award Winners

I am proud to have served as a judge for the second annual Greg Spira Award. The award is given in recognition of the best published article, paper, or book containing original baseball research by a person 30 years old or younger. Winners were announced today, April 27, which would have been Greg Spira’s 47th birthday.

Greg was a very good friend and colleague, serving as co-editor with me for all four editions of the Maple Street Press Mets Annual , plus he was my neighbor, confidant, and sometime dog sitter. Greg was the one who pushed Maple Street to include the Mets with the other teams for a preview magazine back in 2007. And for a while, the Mets had the top-selling magazine of all the major league teams Maple Street featured. Greg worked on countless projects with me, and, I just remembered, he wrote the biography of Danny Frisella for The Miracle Has Landed, the most detailed book ever written about the 1969 Mets. Frisella, like Greg Spira, died far too young. Greg died of kidney disease in 2011.

A longtime member of the Society of Baseball Research, Greg was the founder of the annual Internet Baseball Awards in 1991. He was also an early adopter and a pioneer in using the Internet to advance baseball analysis, particularly via Usenet’s groundbreaking group and via Spira later contributed to many sports books as a researcher, writer, and editor, including the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, the ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia, Total Baseball, and Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia.

The winner of the $1,000 first-place prize is Ben Lindbergh, for his brilliant piece of pitch framing. The article has changed the way I look at catchers and has made me an even bigger fan of—and forgiver of the lack of offense so far from—Travis d’Arnaud. Lindbergh is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus and is so accomplished at such a young age, I had to double check his age to make sure he was under 30. He is way under the eligibility limit, as are college students James Santelli, who wrote about defensive shifts, and Noah Woodward, whose piece on diminishing pitch movement as games wear on provides validation for many an early hook for pitchers—it’s not just for pitch counts anymore. For the full Spira Award press release, and all the links, go here.

And if you know any really talented writers who are churning out baseball pieces with critical analysis and creative thinking, wel open up nominations for the 2015 Award next January.

April 25, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1964: Fair to Shea

Tuesday night at Citi Field the Mets did not do much offensively, but they hit 1964 extremely hard. In case you weren’t at that game—and there sure weren’t many in the house—the Mets were taking note of the opening of Shea Stadium, which was christened 50 Aprils ago. Unlike 1973, which passed its 40th anniversary with barely a team-sanctioned whisper from the club the stole the ’73 pennant, 1964 is getting the full treatment. Never mind that we can’t bring back Shea, which is in stadium heaven with Forbes Field, Shibe Park, Crosley Field, and all the old gang. 

When the Mets came into the National League in 1962, baseball was dominated by old ballparks, many of which had been around since the Deadball Era. The ballpark the Mets called home their first two years, the Polo Grounds, belonged to that elder stadium class. When spanking-new Shea Stadium opened up on April 17, 1964, it was the start of the Mets establishing a brand of their own, a personality beyond the cuddly team that New York National League fans liked seeing lose more than they liked not having a team at all. The Mets would grow up at Shea, even if it took several years for them to actually start playing like a real club. 

Shea opened the same time as the neighboring World’s Fair, so going to Flushing was its own doubleheader. You could take in the fair, see the World of Tomorrow, and then stroll over to Shea Stadium and see the horrors of today. The Mets went just 33-48 at home their first year at Shea—ironically, the same brutal record they had in 2013 at Citi Field. But people were coming to Shea more for ambiance than for baseball in 1964. Yes, I used “ambiance” and “Shea” in the same sentence. Flushing’s own was state of the art in 1964, the ballpark that others copied—and screwed up, with half-ass Astroturf replacements for Forbes, Shibe, and Crosley in the early 1970s.

Yes, Shea was named after a lawyer, which sounds like the setup to a joke, but you needed a powerful attorney on your side to bluff the National League into thinking New York would rather start a new rival league than live any longer without a National League team, even if had to call the threatened enterprise the Continental League. Sure, 1964 could be confusing. It was, after all, the last year without me on the planet, so, to paraphrase many a young pup then and now, it couldn’t have been that important. Never mind that 1964 also saw the American arrival of the Beatles, the escalation of Vietnam, the election of LBJ, and MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize. 

That is a lot to fathom. Relax. Have an Old Fashioned, get the smoke out of your eyes, and take a thinking man’s nap on the couch, Mr. Draper; we’re playing two.

The first doubleheader at Shea Stadium was played on May 10, 1964, a split with St. Louis that left the 10th-place Mets with a forgettable 6-18 mark. The second doubleheader staged at Shea would be much harder to forget—or even finish. May 31, 1964 was a Sunday afternoon double-dip against the Giants. Good weather and the Giants’ return to town brought out the biggest crowd to date in Shea’s short history: 57,037. That was the highest attendance that first year at Shea—and remains the largest New York crowd to ever see the Mets and Giants—an especially big draw in those days when memories of the New York baseball Giants were still vivid, and Willie Mays was still as big a star as the game offered. Fans got to see plenty of Willie Mays that day, even three innings of the Say Hey Shortstop. 

The Giants rallied from a three-run deficit in the opener as Juan Marichal beat Al Jackson, 5-3, in a tidy 2:29. The nightcap would be far from tidy, and it might have also been over in under 150 minutes if not for those meddling Mets. Instead it took five hours longer.

Ed Kranepool, who’d played in a minor league doubleheader the previous day, prior to his recall to New York, tripled in a run in the sixth to start the comeback from a five-run deficit. The Mets had trimmed the San Francisco lead to 6-3 in the seventh when Joe Christopher cracked a three-run homer to tie the game. And 6-6 it remained for the next 15 innings. By the time Del Crandall finally broke the tie in the top of the 23rd, Mays had already been to the infield and back to center field, Kranepool had manned first base for 32 innings and made 36 putouts, the Mets had turned their second-ever triple play (to escape a 14th-inning jam), Galen Cisco had pitched nine innings in relief—only to get the loss, while 25-year-old swingman Gaylord Perry had tossed 10 innings for the win and discovered a new pitch: the spitball. (Perhaps that day Shea had run out of pine tar as well as food.) After that impromptu experiment with Sunday night baseball, at least the Mets had Monday off. 

But if you thought that the 23-inning nightcap—a major league record for the longest completed game, which the Mets would later break (twice)—was the only historic twinbill played by the ’64 Mets, you’d be wrong.

On June 21, 1964, Jim Bunning threw the National League’s first perfect game since 1880. Bunning, the father of seven, fittingly tossed his perfecto on Father’s Day. Take a look at the bottom of the ninth as called by Bob Murphy on WOR-TV. It’s exhilarating and at the same time a little sad that Murph never got to try his talents at calling a no-hitter for the home club at Shea.

The Mets finally got a hit in the third inning of game two, facing Rick Wise in his first career start. The Phillies would famously cough up a big lead in the final week of the ’64 season, but that third week of June saw them sweep three twinbills from the Mets. Philadelphia handed the Mets four of the dozen doubleheader downers they endured in ’64. The Mets did win four twinbills, their best effort yet in double duty. All the doubleheader wins came at Shea, where the Mets had the second-highest attendance in baseball at 1.7 million. Not bad for a 109-loss team, though those 53 wins were their best effort yet. Mets fans would not remain so easy to please. 

Nightcap: Mr. Met Tells All

The same day the Mets took 23 innings to lose the second game of one long-ass doubleheader with the Giants, there was an overlooked debut at Shea: Mr. Met. The papier-mâché head was donned by Mets ticket department employee Dan Reilly. He wore the head from 1964 to 1967, three to four years being about the length most mascots seem able to endure life under the mask for bosses who think anyone can entertain the masses. AJ Mass spent the same number of years as Reilly, donning the “new” Mr. Met costume three decades later. And he lived to tell the tale in Yes, It’s Hot in Here.  

Mass was hired during the Nickelodeon theme park period in Mets history in 1994, when the Mets were coming off a 103-loss season that would have fit right in during Reilly’s early days with the club. Eventually, Mass ended up in the costume of the resurrected Mr. Met, who had remained a symbol for the team in the 1970s and 1980s, but whose personage was not seen in the ballpark from the 1960s to the 1990s. It’s a shame, too, because Mr. Met quickly became baseball’s favorite mascot, even if the area around Citi Field has twice the number of Yankees fans as Mets fans. But don’t blame Mr. Met. He was willing to take a bullet for craft and country, or at least the threat of one during the last presidential visit to Shea Stadium.  Mass had a good run as Mr. Met until the Mets moved on without him, an occupational hazard for mascots, it turns out.  

In his book just out from Rodale, the fantasy character turned fantasy writer for ESPN explores mascot life from the point of view of the man (or woman) in the costume. He talks to numerous people behind the mask and profiles many birds of a feather, from the San Diego Chicken to the Pirate Parrot—talk about your costumed divas! There are lots of minor mascots, and some stories are much better than others. My favorite is how the Phoenix Suns Gorilla got started as a singing telegram deliveryman who was sent to a Suns game dressed in a General Urko suit from Planet of the Apes. He edged out on the court and started dancing. A ref tossed him a ball and he sank the shot. Next thing you know he was an NBA institution. 

Like the players the mascots help cheer, most performers don’t get to go out on their own terms. They are generally treated the way ballplayers would be treated if they hadn’t formed the strongest union in the land. Because if mascots had a union, you can bet it would be standard that all costumes come with cool suits to wear underneath. Then it might not get so hot in there.

April 18, 2014

Doubleheader Dip 1962-63: Splitting That First Pair 

It was a Sunday, the last Sunday in April 1962, and the Mets took the field at the Polo Grounds against the Philadelphia Phillies. On that Sunday in Harlem, April 29, 1962, the Mets were officially baptized into baseball religion: the Church of the Double-header. The inaugural Mets twinbill brought almost 20,000 people to the Polo Grounds, the biggest crowd yet to see the expansion club—home or away. For a team that had lost the first nine games of its existence and stood 10 games under .500 on the third Sunday of the season, the underlying feeling seemed to be that with a ballclub this bad, you’d best get your money’s worth: Two games for the price of one. 

There were a lot more offdays in the 1960s, made possible by the doubleheader. Remember, 1962 was the first year the National League had a 162-schedule—incredibly, the leagues had so many differences back then that in 1961 the already expanded AL played 162 games and the NL scheduled 154 for its eight teams. The NL joined the 10-team route and 162-game schedule in 1962, doing so without starting the season earlier or ending it later. How did they fit the extra games in? Doubleheader to the rescue.

Instead of scheduling more Monday and Thursday games, pushing the limits of 1960s air travel and pushing the interest of fans to attend additional weeknight games, teams scheduled twinbills on Sundays. Or Saturdays. Or Fridays. Or Tuesdays. And, of course, there was the doubleheader that still exists today: the makeup. Though mercifully, the annoying day-night doubleheader was still decades away from disrupting players’ and fans’ rhythms for the sake of owners’ pockets. 

At $3.50, the price of box seats at the Polo Grounds in 1962, baseball was a bargain. As long as you weren’t expecting much from the Mets. Future generations would maintain these low expectations, and treat championship teams as benchmarks upon which life was centered. If you had your ticket for that first Mets twinbill, you were in for a treat.

The Mets had a record of 2-12, but they were on a high. The previous afternoon New York’s newest—and only—National League team had rallied from five runs down in the sixth inning to knock off the Phillies, 8-6. Frank Thomas, Charlie Neal, and Gil Hodges homered in succession to make it a one-run game before the tying and go-ahead runs crossed the plate on the same Chris Short wild pitch. Suddenly emboldened with the lead, manager Casey Stengel brought in Opening Day starter Roger Craig, who blanked the Phils for the final three frames and was awarded his first win as a Met and the first ever Mets win at home. In a year where Craig would go 10-24 and the team 40-120, it was a good day to be a Met. The next day had the promise of being even better as the Mets attempted both their first winning streak and doubleheader.

Al Jackson, who along with Roger Craig would be a 20-game loser in 1962, took the hill in the opener of the doubleheader. When the Mets grabbed the lead in the second inning on another Frank Thomas home run—he would launch 34 in ’62 and hold the club record until the coming of Kong in 1975—the Phillies had to be a little worried. That worry was well founded as the Mets put together the biggest outburst in their brief history, a seven-run fourth that broke the previous day’s record six-run sixth. The Phillies were as responsible as the Mets for the outburst. Three straight Mets reached on Philadelphia errors, plus there were two wild pitches, a walk (to the pitcher), a stolen base (by Elio Chacon), and a home run (by Jim Hickman).  

Al Jackson, in his first year of six decades of Mets employment, did not let the output go to waste. He tossed the inaugural shutout in Mets history in game one. His 8-0 gem assured Casey Stengel’s Mets of at least their first split of a series—and a doubleheader. The Phillies felt far from assured. 

Expansion was making its first go round in 70 years in the National League. The Phillies, losers of 107 games in 1961, were no gimmee to finish ahead of the Mets in ’62, or the new Houston Colt .45s. In reality, the Phillies never had real reason to worry, they were on an upswing that would see them put together an unprecedented six straight winning seasons (helped, no doubt, by heaping helpings of games against a pretty bad Mets team). The 1962 Phillies had a winning record, finishing 40½ games ahead of the Mets—and the Phils were a seventh-place team!

No club wanted to finish 10th, but the Mets obligingly clinched the basement by 18 games. Unlike today, fans adored them without complaint. Filling the aching void left when the Giants and Dodgers absconded to the coast, the Mets had jumped through plenty of political and procedural hoops to get National League baseball back in New York. And they finished dead last with panache, thanks to Casey, Choo Choo, Marvelous Marv, and Hot Rod Kanehl, plus a host of washed-up veterans and exquisitely awful scrubs.  

Two early Mets leads disappeared in the nightcap and Philadelphia cruised to a 10-2 victory. Sherman “Roadblock” Jones, scratched from the Opening Day start when a lit match-head landed in his eye, was scratched from the starting rotation after getting pummeled to fall to 0-4. Even the ’62 Mets had standards.  

The Mets played a staggering 30 doubleheaders in 1962, the most in club history. They won two of them before they lost one! Then they went 1-17-9 in twinbills the rest of the way, being outscored by 120 runs in those doubleheaders, a distinct brand of vaudevillian baseball for the Mad Men age. And they kept New York lively with 17 of these double features at the venerable, if crumbling, Polo Grounds. 

The Mets played 19 doubleheaders in 1963… and again won three. They once more split 10. Their last doubleheader of 1963, in the final week of the Polo Grounds, was the first-ever Banner Day. That tradition would last a third of a century, die from lack of commitment by ownership in the mid-1990s, and revive in the 2010s. Pared from the doubleheader, however, Banner Day is sort of an orphan without its built-in audience watching the parade of bedsheets while awaiting the nightcap of a twinbill. (There were no cell phones then to keep us so occupied with nothing.)  

But we held out hope that Banner Day would come back and it came true. Now we only have to hope that the Mets will one day serve banners as the meat of a sumptuous doubleheader sandwich. Now that would get your money’s worth. 

Nightcap: It Only Works in Baseball

So this your Doubleheader Dip, a yearlong look into Mets doubleheaders since the team began. Rest assured, like most things on this site, I am making it up as I go along—the form, that is; the doubleheaders are real. Each feature will include two parts, like any self-respecting twinbill. Welcome to the Nightcap portion of edition one. 

It starts with me. I remember how a doubleheader seemed natural from the get-go. Two games in one day? Sure, why not? So when I was a sports newbie at age 10, I just assumed all sports included doubleheaders. The Jets game: “It’s Sunday, so why don’t the Jets and Patriots play another game after this?” It would save on travel, though they might have to expand rosters.  

“Why don’t they have doubleheaders in the World Series?” My Dad just smiled at that one. Little did I realize that I’d soon just settle for a World Series game that started before 8 p.m.

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This is not a tripleheader, but a thank you to Rising Apple for having me on the podcast this week. I alternatively chastise and praise the Mets of the past, present, and future. Cheers to Sam Maxwell (Converted Mets Fan), Mike Hurst (aka Brooklyn Trolley Blogger), and guest Rich Sparago (Mets Fan Rich). To listen in, go here and break out the popcorn.

April 11, 2014

The Last Time We Saw Anaheim…

Remember when the Mets were last in Anaheim in June of 2008? Tuscany tile ring a bell? Yes, Anaheim is where Willie Randolph got fired. At the time, I thought Willie got rooked. As I went through the 2008 season in minute detail for a book with Keith Hernandez, I came to believe that the Mets would not have stood a prayer in 2008 if not for the managerial change in the waning days of Shea. The team really responded to the Gangsta, but the horrible bullpen—the main culprit in Randolph’s firing—undid the good work by Jerry and friends when it counted in the end. Whatever Manuel magic there was did not transfer to a new stadium, or even to the closing of the old one. Something to ponder as you try to stay awake for the late games from the coast. Funny how Mike Scioscia’s still there, though.

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Just letting you know I’ll be talking Mets on Spadora on Sports around 10:20 a.m. on Saturday, April 12, calling in from Shawangunk Mountains. The syndicated show can be heard from Rome to Geneva (both New York), as well as several other locales including Brattleboro, VT, Keene, NH, and a little burg of Boston, MA. Or you can tune in rye cheer.

April 8, 2014

Home Is Where the Heart Is (Not!)

Well, the first Mets homestand of the season is over and now comes the good part: the road games. So much for “root, root, root for the home team.” If you haven’t noticed, there is a verifiable fact about these Mets—they stink at home. 

It has nothing to do with the opening 2-4 homestand, though that sorry display—with a dicey one-run win and a walkoff grand slam keeping it from being a complete disaster—only adds weight to the argument about the sorry state of the Mets at Citi Field. But even if we throw out that first homestand—and don’t we wish we could—Terry Collins’s .424 home winning percentage is the worst of any Mets manager in the last 46 years. 

Not counting interim skippers and fill-ins, you have to go all the way back to “a real cliff-dweller,” Wes Westrum, with a .404 winning percentage between 1965 and 1967, to locate a skipper with a lower percentage in his Mets career. T.C. also beats out Casey Stengel, who had a .372 home winning percentage as the team’s first manager and patriarch. Those early Mets clubs defined mediocrity for New Yorkers and baseball fans for generations to come. Any time “winning” percentage from those years comes into a Mets conversation, it is not a good sign. And of the 16 managers who have lasted longer than a year with the Mets, Casey and Wes are the only ones who gave the home folks such lousy fare. And the prices were a lot lower and the entertainment options a lot more limited in the 1960s.  

Even Art Howe (.447) and pre-genius Joe Torre (.428) did a better job at home than the current Mets manager. The best, you may ask? Davey Johnson (.635), Bobby Valentine (.576), and Willie Randolph (.574!). Bud Harrelson (.562) and Jerry Manuel (.555), neither of whom would be confused with Gil Hodges (.528), ran circles around Collins. And other than a select season or two, none of them had a murderer’s row lineup. 

Three straight years with a lower winning percentage on the road than at home is a new franchise record. You could call it a fluke, bad managing, bad ownership, or bad luck, but the fact that it has only gotten worse since moving the fences in at Citi Field provides food for thought. 

It was not always this way. The Mets put together winning home records their first two years at Citi Field, including a smart 47-34 mark in 2010, which marked the only time the Mets have hit more homers at Citi Field than the opposition. The 2010 campaign also included a three-game sweep of the Phillies in which their NL East tormentor (or one of them, at least) did not score a single run in 27 innings. I recall Phillie after Phillie stomping back to the dugout that week, pounding bats into the ground as they failed over and over to reach the vast dimensions of Citi Field. Then came 2011. 

In two of the three years under manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson, the Mets have had a winning record on the road, which you will find no complaints about here. At the same time, however, the Mets have become one of the worst home teams in baseball. In 2011 and 2012 they were 14th of 16 teams in the NL. After the Astros were swapped over to the American League—in a move you can ponder while you stay up late to watch the Mets-Angeles interleague series this weekend—the Mets moved up to second-to-last in the NL at home in 2013 with a 33-48 mark. That was the worst home mark not just in Citi Field’s existence, but you have to go back to the God-awful 1978 season to find the last Mets team to be more putrid at home over a full season. Nobody wants to go back there. Trust me. 

It has been only two years with the new Citi Field dimensions, which brought in the fences by about a dozen feet in the alleys and lowered wall height as well. It may be too early to assign the fences as the main culprit, especially since the Mets have the same brand of dreadful offense we’ve been watching since they moved out of Shea. It is not a great hitter’s park, and probably never will be, but the problem is since they moved in the fences, the road teams have looked a lot more at home. Last year, for example, while going 7-3 against the Mets at Citi Field, the Nationals hit 22 home runs in 10 games. That is almost half as many homers as the Mets hit in 81 home games. And this was in an off-year by the Nats. The 2013 Mets hit even fewer longballs at home than during their inaugural year at the park. (Thanks to Newsday for the data.)

Year    Mets HR      Opp HR        Home Rec

2009        49                81              41-40  

2010        62                46              47-34

2011        50                59              34-47

2012        65                86              36-45

2013        45                79              33-48

What does it all mean? It’s all part of the answer to the everlasting question: Why don’t the Mets win?  

Is Terry Collins responsible? He doesn’t help. Given the constant financial crunch in Metsland, he is managing with one hand behind his back, but when terrible Torborg (.480) and bumbling Bamberger (.478) run circles around you at home, it’s hard to blame the talent—because those 1980s and 1990s teams had plenty of players indifferent to winning. On a good day.

I’d like to blame moving in the fences, but the Mets were getting outclassed in that department before the walls were touched. (Though I will say the Giants kept their cavernous dimensions, built around young pitching, and have won world championships twice since 2010.) Is this Sandy Alderson’s fault? He has picked up top prospects Zack Wheeler, Noah Snydergaard, and Travis d’Arnaud in exchange for the team’s best outfielder and pitcher. The players he has picked up, haven’t made it yet. And the Mets have no real minor league hitting prospects close to ready for the majors. While he has shown the ability to trade established stars for ballyhooed prospects, it may be time to ship some prospects for some proven players if this situation is ever going to reverse itself.   

I look to the past for answers when it comes to the Mets. And the past tells me that the rough road continues ahead. How long? I can only pray it’s not much longer.

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While I have you here, next week will start the doubleheader special. I will dissect the 450-plus twinbills in Mets history, and unearth some facts, fun, and as always, hidden heartbreak. Ernie Banks had a famous motto: “Let’s play two.” When it comes to the Mets and twinbills, it’s more like, “Lets try not to lose both.” But some Amazin’ things have happened, too, when the doors open for two-for-one fun.

April 2, 2014


This is the sorbet course, the palate cleanser. It comes in following the first game of the year and April Fool’s Day, to wipe away the exciting—and in this case, rather bitter—Opening Day flavor. The taste buds start over as we embark on the often bland period of baseball that exists between game two and Memorial Day. Titles can be won and lost during this period, though the winning part would seem to hold true for the ’86 Mets, not the ’14 Mets. This club will spend most days trying to shut the barn door after the horse has run out. And then Terry Collins will open the door again and call in another reliever. 

So enjoy the sorbet and we’ll be back later with a more substantial course. Though I have a feeling Bartolo Colon is going to be hungry for more than a cup of sorbet.

April 1, 2014 

How I Met Your Destiny

After a long, tough day schlepping to Flushing to watch the Mets bullpen flush another win away. I came back home and did something different. I watched the final episode of How I Met Your Mother. Now I’ve watched the show on many occasions, but only as a re-run and rarely as a complete show, but after seeing 10 promos for the final episode during Sunday college basketball, I felt compelled to watch the last show like I’ve been watching all along. There must be a sniglet for missing the whole series yet catching the finale. Showagon, perhaps? 

I liked the episode and how all the characters ended up. (Others were not as pleased.) Maybe I should have been watching these past 208 Mondays since 2005. Oh, well, that’s what re-runs are for. Then I fell asleep and a new show came on. 

It started with the recurring dream of ball four after ball four, of borderline calls missed, of unnecessary moves by Terry Collins and a soundtrack of Jeurys Familia’s downer entrance music. Then it was washed over by all the happy openers I’ve witnessed since 1983, netting a record of 16-6. Well, 16-7 now. No shock, the biggest Opening Day buzz-stomping club with me in attendance is the Washington Nationals, a team—in case you missed the post below—I really don’t like. Even the one win I’ve seen the Mets get in a lid lifter against the Nats in 2006 occurred because the umps blew key calls at second and home in the last two innings, both of which would surely be overturned today through the time-wasting miracle of replay. But this isn’t about me, it’s about my dream. 

Since my dinner was a microwave burrito washed down with a PBR, the dream got funky quickly. Like the TV show, it seemingly took me all the way to the end of the story. I didn’t know where I was at first, but I soon realized I was on a packed Manhattan street corner. There were floats and cars and people clad in blue and orange lined up everywhere. I looked around me and snow was hitting me in the face. Only it wasn’t cold. It was confetti! I looked next to me and saw a 12-year-old version of myself. 

“What are you doing here?” I say. “When I was your age the Mets not only finished last, they traded Tom Seaver.”

He laughs. “I’m not you…” 

I can’t hear the rest of what he says because some kid blows a vuvuzela (image only) right next to my ear. And then the whole crowd breaks into a chorus of “Wooooooooo!” I even join in. My throat aches as if I’ve been yelling a lot in recent days. Like all dreams it’s kind of messed up—I can’t tell how old I am or who the players are, or if this kid is my son or grandson. 

Another blue and orange float comes by and raised arms appear through streams of confetti. I make out a face clear as a bell. It’s, it’s… it’s Phil Jackson. The parade is for the Knicks. I hate the Knicks. But kids, I’ll always love your mother.

March 27, 2014 

Bienvenue! Mets Back in Montreal... for a Meaningless Weekend

There are certain subjects I have a hard time controlling myself over. One is celebrating Mets greats and their great teams (but I’ve got medication to take care of that now). Another is micro-fretting over each Mets move at the end of the year when every game is crucial (going on memory here). And the third is the fate of the Montreal Expos. 

With the Mets playing two exhibition games against the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend in their first visit to Montreal in a decade, plus the release of Jonah Keri’s new book on the Expos, this Expo-phile is set to burst his Youppi suit. I’ll manage to keep this shorter than my Expos contemplation in one this site’s earliest posts. But I can’t keep it simple. 

You see, to me, the Expos do not play in Washington as the Nationals. The Expos are dead to me. I don’t mean “dead to me” in a Godfather II vindictive way regarding someone who sold me out. It was the Expos were sold out. Killed, if you want to be dramatic, but the patient had been sick for a long time. It’s the way the drawn-out, sorry mess was handled by the commissioner and the other owners who collectively “owned” the Expos after they let Jeff Loria skate his responsibilities and handed him the Marlins to ruin. Meanwhile, MLB treated the Expos like a poor relation whose existence in a tiny upstairs room in their sprawling mansion sickened them for what it cost to keep Cinderella alive. And this is a Cinderella version of the story if she’d bippity-boppity-boo squashed that fairy godmother bug flying around in the garden. The Cinderalla story went to Washington: a transformation of an old hat into a new franchise, a quick (song and) dance, then a tall stranger swoops in with a glass slipper (in an American taxpayer-bought stadium), and it is like Montreal never happened, which the new franchise did by handing out uniform numbers retired by the Expos and treating the Montreal portion of their history like forgotten stepsister.

I know the answer to any franchise problem has long been the same: “Build me a new stadium or I’ll go somewhere that will.” But Montreal was not a one-size-fits-all situation. 

Before they moved to Washington after the 2004 season, no major league team had relocated since, well, Washington. After the 1971 season ended—and a ninth-inning riot forfeited the RFK Stadium finale to the Yankees—Texas became the new home of the Senators (the new Senators, mind you, since the old Senators had moved to Minnesota in 1961). Major League Baseball then enjoyed a 33-season run without a franchise relocation. That’s pretty impressive for any sport. The NFL, which saw unprecedented growth—and greed—in that same span, had six relocations (including my beloved football Cardinals to the dry heat). The NHL saw 10 teams move between 1971 and 2004. The NBA had 11 relos. 

Every franchise shift is ugly, like the divorce of a family on your childhood street. You know the kids, the parents, even the pets, and you sit on the corner helplessly watching the moving van come and take away everything but the empty shell of a house that remains. I still remember when P.J. Cotunio moved from White Plains to New Mexico; it must have been when I was four, in 1969, and I ran down the street crying as the family pulled out. I never saw him again. I have no memory of the Miracle Mets—or the inaugural Expos—from that year, but I can still see P.J.’s car disappearing in a blur of salty tears. 

I held it together the day I chased the Expos bullpen car for the last time. I was at Shea Stadium for the Expos game, with my buddy Paul, on the final day of the 2004 season. It would have been fitting for Montreal to win, since they defeated those ’69 Mets at Shea in their first ever game, but I have never rooted for the Mets to lose in a real game—not even to send me home after freezing (or sweltering) at the ballpark for far too long, to keep the team from having to destroy their rotation in order to use someone in an extra-inning emergency, or even punish the team for making a stupid trade (and there have been many). I did not root for the Mets to lose that day, even in what was the last game of the lost Art Howe regime. The Mets managed an 8-1 triumph to avoid being swept by last-place Montreal. 

By the ninth inning of that franchise snuffer on October 3, 2004, Paul and I had inched to the front row in the field level. On the hill was Mets reliever Bartolome Fortunato. (Remember him? He was sent by Tampa Bay to “even out” that brilliant ’04 Kazmir-Zambrano deal that was initially applauded by the clueless front office but soon got the GM and the manager fired.) Fortunato was pitching to none other than Endy Chavez, pre-Mets folk hero days, and Endy grounded out to second in the last day of Art Howe, Todd Zeile, and five other Mets who played that afternoon, not knowing the end of the game had come for them at the end of the game. It waits for all of us. 

So I guess that brings us to this weekend’s Mets-Blue Jays exhibition series at Stade Olympique in Montreal. Seems strange that two teams that train a coupla-three hours away in Florida have to travel 1,500 miles to another country to play two meaningless games. And the meaningless part is what gets me. 

With the Dodgers and Diamondbacks still getting over their jet lag by going to Sydney, Australia to open the season, why does Montreal get “exhibition game” status? Clearly, the Blue Jays are not selling so many tickets where a weekend series against the likes of Tampa Bay (now Fortunato- and Zambrano-free for a decade) might drum up crowds similar to the 40,000-plus seats sold for the Mets and Jays.

Evenko, a Montreal company, pushed by former Expo Warren Cromartie, lobbied MLB to get this series. According to the New York Times, there is actually some nostalgia from people other than me. Quebec kids too young to have seen the Expos are wearing the tri-color hats around town. The Hall of Fame elections of Gary Carter and Andre Dawson—both wearing Expos hats on their plaques despite protests in New York and Chicago, respectively—have led people to remember the team fondly. A team that 20 years ago won 74 times—in 114 games—before the strike sent the game hurtling into a nuclear winter and forever marred Montreal’s feelings for the game. I think we can blame the owners for that, too.

What’s done is done. Let the dead bury the dead, but maybe these exhibition games will lead to a slow-growing movement and in another 23 years when there is a franchise shift, maybe Montreal makes the short list of sites to evacuate to. I went to Olympic Stadium once and it does lack some appeal, though it was any more unpleasant to my taste than Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium of that era. And with an Olympic Stadium Metro stop—and Molson on tap—Montreal was (and is) a hell of a lot more appealing than Pittsburgh.

Washington got a second chance to have a franchise, and—thanks to the Expos situation, a third chance. Maybe Montreal will one day get another shot at les ligues majeures. An international, continental, and as Keith Hernandez purred today on SNY "a very classy" city, which speaks two languages and hosts one of the greatest franchises in sports—plus ex-Expo mascot Youppi. It’s a better place for a big-league team than, say, Tampa. And Montreal has certainly paid its dues. 

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Thanks again to Taryn Cooper and her new podcast, the Mets Lounge, for having me on in between Maggie Wiggin and Greg Prince—and by inclusion called me cool for the first time since, well, I guess that depends a lot on what you consider cool.  It was good fun and I’m officially ready for baseball 2014.

March 24, 2014

My Jon Niese Year

Thank heaven for Jon J. Niese… no this is not a tribute to Maurice Chevalier and his catchy, if not creepy by today’s standards, ode to the young female. Rather, this melody marks the beginning of my Jon Niese Year.  

Each year around this time, I attach a player to my current age based on uniform number. It started with number 43 and sidewinding ’80s Mets pitcher Terry Leach in the first-ever post on my 43rd birthday in 2008. We keep on keeping on with year number six… but let’s not get confusing, it’s Jon Niese’s Year, number 49. If only his health holds up.

Without Niese, the list of 49s in Mets lore leads to a frightening alternative: Armando Benitez, the team’s right-handed saves leader. But if I could leave Armando out of the top 50 Mets in Best Mets, I would have gone to a Walt Terrell, Kevin Kobel, Dyar Miller, or even Don Aase Year before I ever went with Armando. But thanks for being there and sparing us, Jon Niese. 

Previous Years have belonged to the aforementioned Terry Leach (43), Ron Darling (44), Tug McGraw (45), Neil Allen (46), Jesse Orosco (47), and last year, the year I couldn’t choose the lefty with the strong arm and attraction for guns or the southpaw who’d been a Shea hot dog vendor: My Randy Myers/Ed Glynn Year (48). If this seems tiresome, the count won’t go on forever. Number 50 in 2015 will be the last year of the exercise of naming my year. The site will go on past 50—and I surely hope to follow.  

This is my first foray into a Year with a current player. I have liked Niese since he provided much-needed reinforcements in the ill-fated attempt to end Shea’s run on a less than agonizing note in September 2008. He made three starts: in two he got roughed up, but the other was a gem against the Braves in the second game of a doubleheader after the Bullpen of Death had blown yet another Johan Santana lead in the opener. The pen would implode again the following afternoon, but we won’t dwell on that because life is too short, as these ever increasing uniform number Years keep proving. 

Niese has now been around long enough to become a veteran. If Niese if ever healthy for an extended period, the Mets might even consider trading him for someone who can hit. Advocating a trade for my Year-mate is definitely new, but I think his balky elbow, shoulder, and neck will keep him a Met through my 49th year—or at least the baseball-playing portion of it. I like Niesey, obviously, but I like the Mets more, and I will part with anyone if it will help bring about the end goal: winning a World Series in whatever time I—or any of us—has left. Not to be macabre, but with the Mets make you feel your mortality, no matter how many seasons you are on this side, or the other side, of 50.  

Considering how many kids my daughter’s age have four world championships on their pinstriped watch, I think hoping for one more title in this lifetime isn’t pushing it. But when you think about the 86 years between champagne drafts for Red Sox fans until 2004, the 53 years Rangers fans have waited, or the 52 years Astros fans have endured without a title, you learn to not to assume anything is your due. As Felix Unger once told an Odd Couple courtroom, never assume.  

We also can’t assume Jon Niese will be healthy—he’s already missing this year’s Opening Day nod after two spring training shutdowns. And chit-chat between Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez today on SNY did not make it a slam dunk he would pitch the first time through the rotation in 2014. Only twice has Niese made 30 starts in a season—in 2010 and 2012, so maybe he’s got a Howard Johnson every other year thing going, and ’14 will come up roses for big, bad Jon. Despite missing time with a shoulder problem last year, he still finished .500 (8-8) with a 3.71 ERA for a very mediocre team. After coming off the DL, he notched his second career shutout—and just his third career complete game—in his final August start. He allowed more than three earned runs in only one of his last six starts. And for a team starved for offense, it’s worth noting that he’s one of the better-hitting Mets pitchers. He hit over .200 for the second straight year and knocked in as many runs (four) in ’13 as Mike Baxter, while batting 15 points higher than Bax, who already has five hitless Dodgers at bats this season Down Under.   

So that’s the Niese story. What can you expect from this year? 

  • Plenty of the posting, Tweeting, and Facebooking that is the author’s lot in the modern age—be an introvert on your own time, they say. Oh, and this Wednesday night, March 26, I will be on the new Taryn Cooper podcast at 9:20 p.m. with Greg Prince and Maggie Wiggin.

  • This year promises more delving into the Metsian past, which I think we all can agree has been far more interesting than its present during the six-year run of this site.

  • Though there is no new book from me this year—the first time that’s happened since 2007—don’t worry, there’ll still be the odd book plug to keep you warm and fuzzy on a chilly Citi night.

  • Last year, my persistent 40 Years Ago Today posts actually achieved the site’s long-sought goal of more posts of shorter length. It will be hard to duplicate that in 2014, but I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve… and two is the buzzword on the site in ’14. 

We will take a fun look at Mets doubleheaders. Right now, the idea is to look at a few years’ worth of twinbills per week, with the hard data as one part of the entry, followed by a nightcap with more story than nuts and bolts. Or I might swap this order. Or I might do something completely different once I get going. Like a twinbill, you never know how it will end.

Why doubleheaders? A couple of years ago, while in the midst of researching a book, I got a note from a reader asking a simple question: “How many times have the Mets won the first game of a doubleheader?” 

I couldn’t just pick up the media guide and look up that specific query. I could find out how many wins, losses, and splits there have been, but that little question sent me digging into every doubleheader in Mets history. It took up way more than my usual procrastination time, so I set the project aside. I still need to finish the research, but it’s ready to be shared with the public. Twinbills aren’t for everybody, but I’ll keep it lively and interesting. As usual, the final form of a seasonal mission will look far different at the end than it does the beginning. Sort of like the way the Opening Day Metsies (34-18 and counting) usually looks like an entirely different animal than the one we see struggling the rest of the year. 

But I am glad to be 49, and glad to be Niese. Now if only I were lefthanded and could throw 90 mph…

March 1, 2014

Obligatory Spring Training Opening Post

For everyone who has an active baseball website, there is a requirement announcing the start of spring training games. To be honest, I could probably live in perpetual winter with the Mets a vague notion as something past. Then I could move on to other pursuits. Watching the Mets makes me annoyed far more than it makes me happy—as anyone who has ever lived with me through a summer will plainly tell you. Even at bats given away during a blowout win can disturb me. If I wanted perfection there are many other teams I could have picked. But I am stuck with the Mets like the dog I picked out because our eyes met for a second and then we were stuck together for life. The scab from where my dog bit my hand just healed.

I am not a fan of the Mets manager; the general manager I truly hope knows what he is doing; and the owner I wish was as reclusive and as wealthy as Howard Hughes. The players come and go, come and go. According to the incomparable Ultimate Mets Database, there have been 968 Mets who have suited up in the regular season during their 53 seasons. That puts it at sometime perhaps in 2015 when they will put the uniform on the 1,000th player in franchise history. Will number 1,000 be a star, a scrub, a journeyman talent, or a player who will one day jump atop a dog pile of delirious Mets in a World Series–clinching game? I watch to find out. Something has to keep me turned on. I could have stopped being a fan 1,000 times, but why stop now? I might miss something. Or somebody. My dog is curled up comfortably at my feet, sleeping.

February 21, 2014

Live and Let Live

February 24, 1980. My 15th birthday. So long ago that that night Pink Floyd staged one of their very few performances of The Wall tour at Nassau Coliseum. (The Wall was performed just a dozen times in the U.S. after it came out: seven times at the Los Angeles Forum and five times in Uniondale, starting February 24.) When I heard a friend from school was going to the show, I was jealous and envious, thinking that if I had tried using birthday privilege—and using full-court press guilt on my parents, who were out of town for my actual birthday—maybe I could have been speeding to the Uniondale for the best birthday present since my mom made the best $10 purchase in history and got me both the German and Japanese G.I. Joes when I turned seven. But I dismissed my going-to-Floyd fantasy when I realized that it meant I probably would have missed the gold medal game. 

The winter of 1980 was the only time I played ice hockey. I had to quit partway through the season because my grades tanked. And besides, I really was a suck-ass hockey player. But I loved the game. I tried to love the National Hockey League, but it just didn’t take. The regular season was interesting but meaningless—16 of 21 teams made the NHL playoffs in 1980—and the postseason went too deep into baseball season to maintain my interest. But Olympic hockey I love. To this day I would still rate the 1980 Olympic run at Lake Placid as the greatest sporting event I have followed other than the 1986 postseason. I have seen a lot of great postseason baseball, watched all but three of the last 38 Super Bowls (and even attended one), have followed the NCAA basketball tournament religiously, and was extremely fortunate to be at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake and see team U.S.A. win in the flesh. But 1980 grabbed some piece of me that only comes out every four years. 

It is obviously great when the Americans have a gold medal bronze medal consolation prize-worthy squad, but I still watch the tournament nonetheless. And I watch despite believing that the Games are a lot better when they don’t feature NHL players, which is normally the type of stipulation that I use as an excuse not to watch—such as the Summer Games with NBA players. But this month I have hung on every play of Olympic hockey (men and women) regardless of who is wearing what jersey. (It probably helps that my son plays hockey and I already spend a coupla-three nights a week at the rink.)

Just the like 1986 postseason, it gnaws on me a little that I wasn’t there to witness a miracle first hand. Or in the case of the 1980 Games, see it live on TV. Yes, the most important Olympic event this side of Jesse Owens vs. Adolf Hitler was not shown live, even though it was played in the Eastern Time Zone. For reasons I still cannot comprehend, a game of this magnitude between super power rivals with the weapon capabilities to annihilate each other 50 times over, that featured a team of seasoned full-time players against our amateurs, that was the embodiment of the American underdog story… was not shown live by ABC. I recall closing my ears and singing a song when the score came on the news earlier that night.

I actually got through two periods of watching the game on delay until my aunt called. She said, “Isn’t it wonderful?” 

“Isn’t what wonderful?” I responded, knowing full well what she meant. But my Aunt Gee, who would have turned 100 tomorrow, was the nicest person I’ve ever known, and it was her birthday that night, so I told her the U.S. beating the Soviets was a great present and hung up the phone. It made the moment slightly less special, but I blame TV executives who still pull this same crap three dozen years later. (Really, NBC? Soap operas instead of USA-Canada hockey?) I never blamed my aunt for spilling the beans because, ya know, it really was wonderful. 

That was the last Friday in February of 1980. On Sunday, the Americans took on Finland for the gold medal. The team full of college kids again turned on the drama, falling behind the Fins, 2-1, after two periods. The result was U.S.A. coach Herb Brooks making the shortest and most effective locker room speech in Olympic hockey history. Pardon Herb’s French: 

 “If you lose this game you will take it with you to your fucking graves." He started to leave the locker room, but he stopped, turned around, and repeated, "Your fucking graves.” 

The Americans won that day, 4-2, live on ABC from a town 277 miles north of where I grew up. The host city for the 1932 as well as the 1980 Games, it seems inconceivable that little Lake Placid could twice host the Olympics—until you spend a little time there, and you realize that that town is capable of anything. When the movie Miracle came out, with its jubilant crowd scenes recreated on Lake Placids own Main Street, I waited until we were in the town to see it—of course it was still playing at the Palace Theater six weeks after it opened—and that sort of made up for the 1980 tape delay, even though I certainly knew the ending before sitting down for the movie. Beating the Soviets, and then, with a chance to blow it all, knocking off the Fins, too, is something I think all of those players, coaches, and those who followed them, will happily remember to their dying day. Whether they saw it live or just wished they did.

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As for the timing of this, here is a piece about tape delayed broadcasting that was written and then held onto by the author. Proof that networksand American hockey playersarent the only ones who can screw these things up.

February 13, 2014

Last Call for Greg Spira Award Nominees

There are only a couple of days left to nominate yourself or a deserving young writer for the second annual Greg Spira Award. Greg, who died of kidney disease at age 44 in December 2011, was a longtime friend, colleague, and co-editor with me for the defunct but always funky Maple Street Press Mets Annual. Sadly, the last installment of that preview magazine in February of 2011 was the last of many projects we worked on together. 

There are specifics for eligibility. First and foremost, the nominated baseball piece needs to have been published online, in print, or presented between January 16, 2013, and January 15, 2014. The writer must be under 30 at the time of publication. Nominations must be in by Saturday, February 15, before midnight. Nominations received before or after this period will not be considered. 

The winner of the 2014 Greg Spira Award will receive a cash prize of $1,000. The committee will also recognize two additional writers with awards of $200 for second place and $100 for third place.

The nomination form for the Greg Spira Award can be found at Anyone can nominate a qualifying piece for the Award, and self-nominations by authors are definitely welcome. Note, however, that only one entry per author will be considered for the Greg Spira Award.  

In order to be eligible for nomination, a piece or book must be about baseball and must contain original analysis or research. Articles, papers, and books eligible for consideration include those published in print or in e-books, those published or posted on the World Wide Web, academic papers or dissertations, and papers presented at professional or public conferences.

I am honored to be one of the judges. There has already been more submissions than last year. I look forward to reading the pieces and helping find a deserving winner. The inaugural Spira Award was presented to Trent McCotter of Washington, D.C., last year. Dan Farnsworth and Caleb Hardwick were second- and third-place winners, respectively.

February 6, 2014

Ralph Kiner (1922-2014) 

When speaking about Ralph Kiner, one is tempted to start by saying, “Mets fans of a certain age”… but with Ralph Kiner, it was Mets fans of any age. And all of us will miss him. 

Ralph Kiner was the link to the Polo Grounds to Casey Stengel to Nolan Ryan as a Met to the Amazin’ Mets to the first dowsing of champagne in the Shea Stadium locker room. He was on the job when Tom Seaver fanned 10 batters in a row, he was there when the Mets clinched the unlikeliest of division titles in 1973, and when they came up just a little short in Oakland that October. He called Dave Kingman’s mammoth home runs and declared that he could hit them out of anyplace, “including Yellowstone.” He might have borrowed that line, as he borrowed the line that said, “Singles hitters drive Fords, home run hitters drove Cadillacs.” And he knew plenty about that, having clubbed 369 in just over 10 years, leading the National League in home runs an unprecedented seven straight years. 

He taught me plenty, starting with what the Hall of Fame was. He was enshrined in Cooperstown the same year I started following the game, 1975. He showed me that baseball was about patience, as the eight years that followed proved. While waiting for contention, he related stories about when the team was really bad, in the early days. And Kiner, along with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, the longest running trio in baseball broadcasting history, guided me through the abyss of Mets baseball. While Lindsey left after the 1977 season, Ralph and Murph stayed. When Murph moved to radio, Kiner seamlessly took the hand of many new TV partners. Tim McCarver brought out the true pro in Kiner, and Ralph, in turn, made Tim McCarver less of a know-it-all and a more human broadcaster. For a while, at least. 

Ralph was there when the Mets got good again. His “going, going, it is gone goodbye” tied once again to home runs with meaning in the National League East. When the Mets went back to mediocrity, Kiner stayed sharp, a reminder of the good old days, and he stayed on as the team turned 40 and even 50. The World War II veteran who’d come up with the terrible Pirates of the 1940s, always let you know that he’d seen worse—and he’d seen better, too. He knew how to switch gears like a race car driver in a race that’s run every day, or every couple of weeks as his workload slowly diminished, by choice. 

Kiner’s Korner, the best postgame show of its kind, lasted for his first three decades of Mets baseball with players fighting over going on the show—and grabbing the $50 fee. It was hosted by a homer champ, but it was never a “homer” show—if you just tuned in and didn’t know the score, you’d immediately know if it was a Mets win if Jerry Koosman, Ed Kranepool, or Lee Mazzilli were sitting there, or another “L” if the guest was Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench, or Lou Brock. No matter who was on the show, they sat in front of a set that though long gone, but it even made the cut in a 1973 movie filmed at Shea, Bang the Drum Slowly. Ralph penned a book that I still have two copies of, and he later authored another book that I included in a 2005 Best Baseball Writing anthology I put together with the late Greg Spira for Sports Weekly. Yeah, this is where I put my brush with Kiner greatness. 

Ralph wrote the foreword for my first book, Mets Essential. Even better than that was the book signing that was set up with him at the Barnes & Noble on Union Turnpike. His driver got lost and Ralph wound up half an hour or so late. There were tons of people lined up, and some were getting angry—especially those who resented that I was there and the Hall of Famer was not. Suddenly Ralph showed up and everyone applauded. The 300 people were all smiles as they all got  autographs—some of them even wanted mine (after they secured Ralph Kiner’s signature). I have met a few ballplayers, and I will say honestly that only Ralph Branca, whom I have known since I was a child, I would put ahead of Kiner on the good guy chart. Ralph Kiner and I later did a phone interview for the book, The Miracle Has Landed, which I am including below.  

Before I get to that, though, I want to say that Ralph Kiner taught me baseball. He and Murph and Lindsey were the ones who filled my mind with the game and taught me all its intricacies—and in record time. I was 10 when I watched my first game and by 11 there was nothing I didn’t know, or didn’t want to learn. Channel 9 still gives me a warm glow whenever I stop on it on TV roulette. The great trio of Murphy-Kiner-Nelson belongs to the ages now, but they belong to Mets fans first, foremost, and forever. Ralph Kiner was a great ambassador for baseball, but also a teacher, mentor, companion, and for a few hours on Union Turnpike, a friend. But he was that from that first day I tuned him in back in 1975. And I am sure you feel the same way.   


Ralph Kiner, Q & A (The Miracle Has Landed, 2009)

Ralph Kiner was in his eighth season as a Mets announcer in 1969. Kiner, along with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, broadcast the Mets their first day as a franchise in 1962. The broadcasters remained together for 17 seasons—a record for a trio with one team—until Nelson moved on to the San Francisco Giants after the 1978 season. Murphy remained with the club, switching to radio full-time in 1982, until he retired following the 2003 season. Kiner still broadcasts a few selected Mets games per season in his late 80s (he was born on October 27, 1922, in Santa Rita, New Mexico—the only man elected to Cooperstown to be a native of that state). Though Kiner never played for the Mets—he retired at age 32 in 1955 because of a chronic bad back—he is one of the most beloved men in franchise history. His beloved postgame show was a staple among Mets fans for two generations. It was dubbed Kiner’s Korner for the porch in left field at Forbes Field, where he won an unprecedented seven consecutive National League home run titles (including ties in 1947 and 1952). He hit 369 home runs in just a 10-season career with the Pirates, Cubs, and Indians. He was elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975 and to the Mets Hall of Fame in 1984.

He took time in September 2007, two months after Ralph Kiner Night at Shea Stadium, to talk about the 1969 Mets and how things were handled in the booth.

Maple Street Press: In 1968 did you feel there was something changing about the team, or was it something you didn’t really see until 1969?

Ralph Kiner: They had acquired both Koosman and Seaver by then. Ironically, they got them by happenstance. Seaver was originally signed by the Atlanta Braves and he was signed through a technicality. [It was done] illegally and they would not honor the signing. They put his name in a hat and there were three teams trying to get Seaver [in the special lottery set up by commissioner William Eckert in 1966]. One was Philadelphia, the other was Cleveland, and the Mets. And the Mets drew his name out of the hat.

Koosman was also going to be released by the Mets [in the minor leagues], but he owed them some money for a used car and Joe McDonald, who was running the farm system, said let’s keep him around for another month and get our money and then let him go. He ended up having a good month in the minors, so they didn’t let him go and so he stayed with the Mets and of course he was part of that real good pitching staff they had and at that time.

Their idea was that pitching was the way to build a club and that’s basically how they came to have such good pitching. In ’68 they had quite a few shutouts [25, second-most in the major leagues]. It was an abnormal amount of shutouts for a team that wasn’t winning, but they pitched very well. Then in ’69, they had never been at .500, and in the early part of the year they gotten to .500 for the first time in their history and they, the writers, celebrated it, but Seaver was quoted as saying we’re only .500. They were 10 back on August 13 and the Cubs were dominating the league at the time, but all the things were going right for the Mets. The Mets wound up beating the Cubs and winning 100 games. They were getting all the breaks you need to get to be a winner. Everything has to go right all the way around for a team to win.

MSP: The double shutout, when both pitchers drove in the only runs in 1<\->0 games, was that the strangest doubleheader you’ve ever seen, at least the strangest that didn’t go 30-plus innings?

RK: Cardwell [had one of the RBI- hits] and the other was Koosman. Koosman was a hell of a pitcher. He certainly was one of the best competitors the Mets have ever had. He was really an outstanding pitcher along with Tom Seaver. That team also had some really good pitching along with Ron Taylor. Those guys had a real solid ballclub and all those guys had their career years in that year that they won. They beat a really good team in Baltimore. Frank Cashen was GM of Baltimore.

MSP: Do you think that the five-man rotation the Mets developed in 1969 was good for the game or was that something that has led to team like the 2007 Mets, who haven’t had a pitcher throw a complete game all year that wasn’t shortened by rain?

RK: That became the rule of baseball and I don’t really understand it. I don’t know why you have to go to five-man rotation and not pitch complete games. And Seaver feels the same way. Seaver and Koosman that year, they didn’t take them out automatically when they got to a certain number of pitches.

MSP: Between August 13 and the end of 1969 the Mets had 25 complete games in that span.

RK: Over the years, the Atlanta Braves with Glavine and Smoltz, they pitched all through the game. And Seaver, his pitch count would be up around 150 or whatever. To me, that theory that you don’t throw more than 110 or 120 pitches, I don’t understand that myself. I think the more you use your arm the stronger it gets. Of course that was the way they all pitched at one time in major league baseball. The starters would relieve in between starts on top of that.

MSP: The platoon system, is there something about the way the Mets used that? Gil Hodges used it religiously. Donn Clendenon was the team’s best slugger and he didn’t play at all in the Championship Series in his very strict platoon. Do you think that helped keep the players rested, as opposed to the Cubs, who played the same guys every game?

RK: Credit Stengel with the platoon system. He used it a lot when he managed the Yankees and he himself was platooned a lot when he played for John McGraw [for the 1920s New York Giants]. That system was not brought in by Hodges. He just continued using it when he took over. Might have been passed over from Stengel to him.

I think the platoon system that they use now with the middle relief and the closer is a cop out for the manager. That way at the end of the ballgame if they lose it they can say, “I did it like everyone else and I went to my middleman and he didn’t do the job.” Or it might have been the closer. I don’t really understand the advantage. When I played, we were so happy to get the starting pitcher out of the ballgame because every club had maybe three outstanding pitchers and when you had to go to the bullpen for a pitcher who didn’t have that kind of stuff. The closer does have the ability to throw hard for one or possibly two innings. That could be an advantage, but other than that I know whenever we were hitting against someone like [Warren] Spahn, who had so many complete games it was unbelievable, or good pitchers like that, we were happy to see them get out of the lineup.

MSP: Getting back to 1969, when Agee hit that home run in the upper deck. The only one hit there, you probably had the best view of anyone of that ball.

RK: Agee hit that ball up there. He had outstanding power. He wasn’t that consistent, but he could hit the ball well.

The key to that ’69 team was getting Donn Clendenon on that team. It gave them the right-handed bat that they really needed to score enough runs for that real good pitching staff. All those guys had really good years. You get down to Al Weis, Grote, and all those background guys—they had career years that year.

MSP: In the World Series, especially. Al Weis, who had never hit a home run at Shea Stadium, hits a game-tying home run. Swoboda, under the Hodges platoon, would have normally come out for Shamsky, who actually hit more home runs in fewer at bats than Swoboda. But in that particular spot with Eddie Watt on the mound in Game 5, Hodges let Swoboda bat in the eighth inning and he ended up getting the winning hit. That was obviously a huge moment there.

RK: They had one of those years that was unreal. They had everything go their way the second half of that season.

MSP: So during the postseason did you do the broadcast on the radio?

RK: I did the radio broadcast for the network [NBC]. That’s how they did it then. They had the local guys do it for the network. Lindsey did the TV and I did the radio.

MSP: Now the way they would do it, the team’s station broadcasts on the radio with their regular announcers and then there’s a separate national broadcast. But instead of doing that, you guys would just do one to go all across the country.

RK: Yes, uh-huh.

MSP: Did you, Lindsey, and Bob Murphy have a set rotation during the season where one would do TV, the other do radio, and the third would be off?

RK: We would alternate. All three of us would do TV and radio every single game. I don’t remember how it would break down, but it was something close to that. I would do TV with Bob or Lindsey, then I’d do radio alone.

I know when we originally started, George Weiss said no one is going to be the number one announcer. We were going to be a team of three announcers. There were only three of us and we did all the games on radio and almost all of them on TV.

MSP: That was one thing he told you early on and that was something that really was the case, because you guys really were really quite the team. Now when Lindsey would go do football and he wouldn’t come back on Sundays, what would you guys do?

RK: I’d do half TV and half radio and Bob would do half TV and half radio. We both worked alone. There was no other announcer involved.

MSP: Did they have it arranged in general so that you’d be available at the end of the game for Kiner’s Korner or would you go right from the booth to the studio?

RK: At the end of the game I’d go right down to the studio and do Kiner’s Korner.

MSP: There was one story of one of the 20-inning games where you had gone down to the studio to get ready for Kiner’s Korner because it looked like the game was going to end, and then it didn’t, so you wound up sitting down in the studio for something like 10 innings.

RK: That was in 1964 when we had the doubleheader that went seven hours, and 23 minutes. I went down for the second game of the doubleheader that went 23 innings. I went down in the eighth inning and it looked like it was going to be over after nine and it was tied. I started to come back up relieve either Bob or Lindsey and I never really got back up. There was a triple play in that game and things like that, so I never got back up. I was down there for all the extra innings of the second game of that doubleheader that went 23 innings.

MSP: Was the Kiner’s Kiner set big? Sometimes those sets on TV look huge and then when you’re there they’re not much bigger than a broom closet.

RK: It wasn’t bad. It was done for Kiner’s Korner. And we had two cameras that we used for the interviews and everything and also the working part of the thing was the producer’s room right next to it. But they didn’t use the Kiner’s Korner room for anything but Kiner’s Korner.

MSP: Is it still there? Is it used for anything else now?

RK: It’s still there. We use it for doing games. Before Sports Net New York got involved, we used it for the interviews when the players would come inside. And we’d use if for Kiner’s Korners. We didn’t do a lot of those [in the 1990s] we only did certain ones. Now they use a truck. It’s much easier for them to do it from there and they do the interviews on the field.

One of the things you might want to note is the replays. Originally, and this goes back to 1962, the replays were done in the downtown studios. Those were new to television and the tape machines that they used to do the replays came from downtown. I would indicate what I wanted to be replayed and downtown they would play it back through. Quite a few times they would get the wrong replay up and then we had to ad lib and make the excuses or whatever it was. It was very Mickey Mouse in the very early days of our broadcasts. They really didn’t do replays in those days.

MSP: And what about the graphics?

RK: They were done in production. They did the graphics ahead of time.

MSP: When they do occasionally have a game from a while back on SNY or something like that, one of the first things you notice is how spare the graphics are. They’re not giving you a lot of information. They’re giving you home runs, runs batted in, batting average, and it’s up to the people to pay attention to find out how many outs there are or what the score is. Was that something you noticed over time that changed?

RK: The equipment got much better. They added a lot more cameras. We only used about five cameras, and now they use about 10 or 11. They can set up their graphics on a camera that would not be in use. Because of a lack of cameras, we weren’t able to set up the items you see now that are done and well done.

MSP: One of the things you don’t see so much is the behind the catcher view. That used to be one of the predominant views.

RK: That’s really the director. He might say, “Let’s use the center field camera.” That’s determined by the director and the producer.

MSP: Did you have the same producers throughout?

We had about five different producers. Maybe more. But we had the guy that did the Dodgers games, I think his name was Griffin. The producer was a studio guy. It was too long ago. Bill Webb came out as an assistant and he went on to great fame. He’s still doing the games for us. We had real good production, there’s no question about that.

MSP: Going back to 1969 is there a game you remember the most, or one where you said at the time, “Oh, my Gosh, this is a whole different ballgame from what I’ve been watching”?

RK: We had eight years, really, of tough times with the game. One game I really remember was the game where Seaver pitched the one-hitter where Jimmy Qualls had the only hit of the game. Of course, no one has ever pitched a no-hit game for the Mets.

MSP: One last thing, when you were doing the interviews on Kiner’s Korner, going back to 1969, was there anyone who was especially good interview or especially tough. How about Gil Hodges?

RK: He never gave you a lot of information. But he was a terrific guy, a great guy to be around. I had a good relationship, but he was not a gregarious type guy.

MSP: You got to call the home run that broke your record for home runs by a right-handed batter in the National League when he was with the Mets. You had 369 and his last home run was 370. That had to be interesting because you played against him so long.

RK: I played against him his whole career. I probably kept him out of the Hall of Fame because he never led the league in home runs. And if he’d have done that maybe two or three times, he might be in the Hall of Fame.

MSP: Do you think he’ll get in the Hall of Fame?

RK: It’s going to be real tough for him to get in now with the Veteran’s Committee, I’m talking about, the Old-Timers. 

MSP: You have a vote on that, do you not? 

RK: I vote for him. No question about it. I vote for him for the Hall of Fame.

February 5, 2014

Reflections of a Mets Life: 2013

So what if I’m off by a year, technically? So are the Mets! The 2013 season was the year that the Mets front office hit the reset button on the reboot of the Mets as a competitive enterprise. As Michael Corleone said in The Godfather when he realizes it’s Tessio who is selling him out, “It’s the smart move.” Because we could tell from a mile away that 2013 was not going to lead into a 2014 of fulfilled promise. The only way to do that was to cross one’s fingers about 2014 and then when the Mets won 70-something games—again!—we’d come to realize that the Mets really are fakes. Some people believe that already, but more would have seen it sooner if the team had stayed with the company line. And the Matt Harvey injury late in ’13 made the concession about ’14 even more prudent.

So how do you like my reflections so far? I just killed two seasons with one paragraph.

Unlike the first 40-plus years in Reflections of a Mets Life (for further examples, scroll down and write in “Reflections” under the “find” button on my high tech site), there is no hindsight factor with the present day. I’d love to say 2013 is the new 1983, and suddenly the Mets minor leagues will blossom where one can say that Harvey is the new Gooden, Syndergaard—Darling, Wheeler—Fernandez, Mejia—Aguilera, and on and on as such dreams may take us. I have no idea how they will turn out. All I know is the present. And for all I know these guys might be Pulsipher, Wilson, Isringhausen, and Dave Mlicki—it says a lot about that quartet from 1995-96 that Mlicki had the best Mets career. I hope one day I will think of 2013 the way I do about 1983, the best last-place Mets team in a long run of such finishes because everything came up roses the following year and for the rest of the decade, frustrating as it sometimes was. Metsland never saw a better seven years. 

Who knows what we really have now? Will the team’s hitting deficiencies continually recur? Or will they be solved in ways we cannot yet imagine? That is another reflection. For another day. 

I realize that the Mets will never be the Yankees, or even the Red Sox, or the Cardinals. The Mets do, however, have the money to be a better version of a team like the Rays, if they are smart. I admit that using the words “money,” “smart,” and “Mets” in the same sentence sounds ludicrous. “Lucky,” though, is a word that the Mets have enjoyed at key moments in their half century of existence—just not many doses of it lately. Triskaidekaphobia aside, I got lucky with the Mets in ’13, even if the team did not. Hit it Jo Boxer!

  • I went from having no tickets for Opening Day to having four gratis box seats at the last minute because others had less flexible schedules. And I saw the most lopsided Opening Day win in the annals of a team that has historically kicked butt on Opening Day (and played indifferently the rest of the time). 

  • I got a press pass—rare for me—at the last minute to see Matt Harvey start against LA when he was the hottest pitcher in the game. Harvey didn’t win, but the Mets did after Wright collected a two-out single in the ninth to tie it, followed by bad boy Jordany Valdespin’s grand slam to end the game in the 10th.

  • I watched more games on TV than I had in years and saw Matt Harvey pitch one of the best games in Mets history only to get a no decision, but the Mets still won when Mike Baxter got the first of two game-ending pinch hits that week. It seemed the better Harvey pitched, the worse support he got.

  • The best week of the year? The five-game winning streak that started with a late rally to beat the Braves on Sunday Night Baseball that fed into a staggering, two-stadium, four-game sweep of the Yankees. The first time the Mets have skunked the Yankees in one season in interleague play. The Mets followed that up by getting swept by the Marlins.

  • The Mets remained more or less dead until June 16. I got back into WFAN range (we will not even bring up that 2013 was the last year of the FAN-Mets marriage) just in time to hear a walk-off home run by forgotten Kirk Nieuwenhuis. The next time the Mets hit the field was their best day of the year: the June 18 day-night doubleheader in Atlanta, with Harvey winning the opener and Wheeler victorious in his debut in the nightcap. From mid June until the end of the year the Mets played .500 ball (49-49). You could not ask much more from this team in 2013.

  • Back to me... I caught a foul ball! My second ever at a major league game, bookended with a ball caught—also on the rebound—in the final year of Shea. Thank you, Josh Satin! 

  • I won a second-chance lottery for tickets to the All-Star Game. Then I got lucky again. By the time I realized that the email was not the week’s 12th reminder about some useless “deal,” the only tickets left were standing room only tickets. At $100 apiece these were not even close to the most expensive tickets I’ve seen in five years of Citi Field. Then on the day of the first Mets All-Star Game since 1964, I got lucky a third time. We claimed an SRO perch in front of the handicapped seating area in left field and from there watched Matt Harvey toss shutout ball as the NL starter. The very pleasant man in front of us, who happened to be in a wheelchair, departed midway through the game to escape the heat. He invited us to use his seats. We’d been to the sweltering the Home Run Derby the night before, and spent the afternoon at the fun All-Star Fan Fest in the city, so by game time the kids were starting to sag. We sat, we watched, we checked off a long-time wish list to attend an All-Star Game. Perhaps the luckiest part of all, the usher forgot where he was working. He smiled at us and gave us a thumbs up for us to use the seats rather than have them sit idle for the last five innings. Lucky thing I decided to bring the kiddies and the wife, but I was just following the advice given in the best baseball song ever written.

  • In September, just when I was starting to wonder if I should scram Citi Field because I had kept my kid, a friend, and his dad too long at a meaningless, scoreless, Sunday game against the Marlins, Travis d’Arnaud contributed his lone key offensive moment of 2013: a game-winning single. The new number 15’s got a little Grote in him

  • I actually found someone willing to go to a Mets-Brewers game the last Friday of the season for Metoberfest and got a special boot that I made good use of throughout the fall. The game, as advertised, sucked. 

  • The last day of the year I was guest of the Chapmans, ending 2013 as I started it, at a wonderful Citi Field tailgate. I watched Mike Piazza get inducted in the Mets Hall of Fame, saw Eric Young become the first Met not named Reyes to win a league stolen base crown, and though the Mets hit one ball out of the infield all day, they somehow won—with Frank Francisco getting the save. What the hell!

What the hell, indeed. All my good fortune added up to another 74-88 season, but it did get Terry Collins another contract. The good luck did not carry over to meaningful games for the Mets or meaningful projects for me following the publication of Swinging ’73, but that can happen if you start getting picky about the projects you sign on to do. I hope my luck changes in that regard this year, just as I hope there is a departure from the perpetual 70-win season. With the Mets, though, let me put in a disclaimer that I don’t mean I am looking for fewer wins in the future. I just hope to get one year closer to turning the corner because I’ve been running down this same block so long I feel like George Jetson on a treadmill. “Jane, stop this crazy thing!”  And I don’t mean Jane Jarvis. Though she can play me out any time.

February 3, 2014

One Fan’s Citi Tally from 2013

Now that the bothersome (and one-sided) football game is over, we can get back to the business of preparing for baseball. And what better way to start than to rehash what happened last year. If you followed the site in 2013—God bless you—all my time was pretty much taken up by my “40 Years Ago Today” retrospective that coincided with Swinging ’73. The book is still available and occasionally hyped, but the 40-year anniversaries are past. And the ’74 season is worth forgetting unless you were Hank Aaron, Lou Brock, Mike Marshall, or Catfish Hunter.

The 40-year anniversary countdown for Swinging ’73 was good fun, but it made annual housekeeping on the site tricky. I did manage to get out the final 2013 player grades (a lot of C’s), my Favorite Non Playing Met (Anthony Recker), and I even got off a shortened version of Letters to the Met-idor (a lot of player movement in December led to that). But there are still things to keep up with from 2013, including the ’13 edition of Reflections of a Mets Life, which will come later this week. 

Right now you are blessed with my attendance record at Citi Field over the past year. When the new park opened, I vowed to catalog each season in the Citi as it came along, so as not to strain my memory as I did a while back to recreate a list of my 365 games at Shea (give or take a dozen). My Citi mark is far more precise: 66 games in five seasons (35-31 record). One of those games came last September, when a Travis d’Arnaud single in the 12th inning mercifully plated the lone run of an otherwise scoreless and tedious game. Months later while tallying, I realized that it was the fifth win I’d witnessed against the frigging Marlins at Citi, one more than I’ve seen against the Dodgers. That deserves the kind of coverage a meaningless Mets September win garners in week two of football season. 

For all the hubbub about bringing in the fences, I saw the Mets hit exactly three home runs in 10 games at Citi Field; visitors hit eight. For the year opponents belted 90 homers at Citi, while the home boys hit all of 59. The Mets are just abysmal at home—since giving away home-field advantage, the Mets have a home record of 69-93 in 2012-13. Attendance declined for the fifth straight year as well. But I digress.  

Pitching continues to be the best thing about this franchise. I witnessed young arms aplenty in 2013: two Matt Harvey starts, two Jon Niese nods, a Zack Wheeler win, plus a cat named Dillon Gee, who allowed one run in two solid starts on my watch, only to go 0-1—such are the hazards of employment in Flushing. I was pleasantly surprised in the two starts I saw Carlos Torres make—including a win against runaway division champion Atlanta. I witnessed two of the three wins by Vic Black, who wasn’t even a Met until Labor Day. Four straight games I saw Bobby Parnell have a direct role in an outcome: a win, a loss, and two saves. On the slugging front, Jordany Valdespin’s extra-inning, walkoff grand slam marked the only time I recall ever seeing that in the flesh, because apparently the one I saw Robin Ventura hit didn’t count. Whatever. 

I took my son to his first Opening Day and attended my first All-Star Game in 2013. You won’t find the latter event on the list because it—like the Mets-Yankees exhibition games I saw in 1989, and 2013 Home Run Derby—is not an actual game. Also not included below: ’13 visits to ballparks in Philly, Boston, and Baltimore, along with minor journeys to Salem, Virginia; Frederick, Maryland; and Dutchess Stadium for my 10-year-old’s birthday with the Hudson Valley Renegades.

And that’s it. The Citi details are below. Ten games felt like a good number. Maybe the Mets will give me reason to try to get out there more in ’14.

Captain’s Log 2013 Citi Field


Foe, Result

Mets Rec, Pos

MS Rec




HRs /by NYM

Who hit the HRs



SD, 11-2 W

1-0, 1st





1 Cowgill Everything went right. Cowgill slam and every starter got on base (except for Ike, with 4 Ks).


SD, 2-1 L

2-1, 2nd





1 Buck  Took 6 Padres to hold Mets to 1 run on 5 hits (plus 5 walks). Buck ripped HR off LF facade.


LA, 7-3 W

10-9, 2nd


Parnell Wall



Kemp, Valdespin

Harvey start, Wright ties it with 2 outs in 9th (with 1B open), win in 10th on Jordany slam. Controversial scrub hits last Mets HR I see.


Cin, 7-4 L

17-27, 4th





1 Votto  Harvey not great, but surprise! Ankiel was: 2 2Bs and a 3B but then was pinch-hit for by TC.
23-Jul Atl, 4-1 W 44-52, 4th 3-2 Torres Medlen Parnell 1 Simmons  Ike got a big hit! And Lagares!! And Torres!!!
25-Jul Atl, 7-4 W 45-53, 4th 4-2 Wheeler Loe Parnell  2 Uggla, Freeman My first time seeing Zack in the flesh and I catch a foul ball! Nice afternoon plus 14 hits.
15-Sep Mia, 1-0 W  67-82, 4th 5-2 Black Phillips       Teams sleepwalk after doubleheader night before. D’Arnaud 1B in 12th for Black’s 1st W.
19-Sep SF, 2-1 L  68-84, 4th 5-3 Bumgarner Niese Lopez     Enough Giants fans at this matinee to make you puke. Mets offense looked sickly, too.
27-Sep  Mil, 4-2 L 73-87, 3rd 5-4 Gallardo Torres Henderson 3 Maldanado, Aoki, Davis Second of 3 straight 4-2 losses to Brew Crew. Kickass Mets beer boot made trip worthwhile.
29-Sep Mil, 3-2 W 74-88, 3rd 6-4 Black Kinzler Francisco     Mets get 3 hits, no walks yet still win on Piazza Day to finish 3rd. Eric Young wins SB crown.


      Black 2   Parnell 2 11/3   Not a success for Mets, but I saw All-Star Game and got in 10 games despite missing all of June and August. Went 4 times with my son!
  Since ’09 opening 191-214 35-31 Dickey & Santana 4 Pelfrey 3 K-Rod 7 92/50 Wright 6 How long until Citi (or I) see meaningful game?

















January 29, 2014

Super Trivia for a Copy of Swinging ’73

UPDATED: It took all of five minutes for James Diceman Lynch to come up with the answer to the trivia question. I have had past trivia contests that in five days did not come up with the right answer, so kudos to the Facebook group True Metsfans, where there were more mentions of D.J. Dozier than in 1987 NFL draft rooms, when he was the 14th overall pick out of Penn State. Five unproductive years later with the Vikings and Lions, he was in the major leagues as a Met, where he was perfect in steals (4-for-4) but not much else (.191 average) for the all too imperfect 1992 Mets (lest we forget, The Worst Team Money Could Buy). He was traded with Wally Whitehurst to the Blue Jays that winter for Tony Fernandez, the Richie Hebner of the 1990s when it comes to people not wanting to be in Flushing. D.J. never played again in either the NFL or MLB, but his promise lives again here.

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Since this is Super Bowl week in New York, this once in a lifetime occurrence (we can only hope) should offer something to those not willing to dole out the big bucks for tickets, even after they have been slashed on the secondary market because out of towners are tired of New York or snow. Whatever the reason, lets get to this football-oriented Mets question. The winner gets a copy of Swinging ’73.

Who is the only Mets player to have played in the NFL?

The winner is the first person to send in the correct answer to my Facebook or Twitter accounts, or by emailing me at Swinging 73 not only deals with baseball and the general strife of the year Watergate flooded everything, but it also has a bit about football, including the undefeated Dolphins, the last Giants game at Yankee Stadium, Joe Willie Namath on Monday Night Football, and baseball being played in football stadiums. Good luck and good reading.

January 17, 2014

Nominations Open for Greg Spira Award

This is an announcement that makes me happy and sad: Happy that a promising writer will get encouragement—and more important, money—for high quality research and writing, but I am also sad since the award exists due to the death of a good friend. Greg Spira and I put together numerous projects over a dozen years before his death at age 44 in 2011 from kidney disease. He was among the most knowledgeable Mets fans I have known, and he co-edited all four editions of the Maple Street Mets Annual with me from 2008-11. I miss that magazine, but I miss Greg far more. 

I am proud to be one of the judges for the annual award in his name, given by his brother, Jonathan, to help nurture young writers. The award is eligible to writers aged 30 or younger who have published or presented an original, researched piece on the game Greg loved so much. Greg always pushed for the Mets annual, which paid for content, to include articles by young writers, many of them still in college or fresh out.

It is fitting that the announcement came out the same day as the Oscar nominees, because that list annually led to an hour-plus telephone debate with Greg on who should and shouldn’t have gotten nominations. (I am still hoping to see 12 Years a Slave after listening on CD to the riveting 1850s memoir, I really enjoyed Gravity, I thought All Is Lost deserved more than a sound editing nomination, and I felt Blue Jasmine was overrated—what no Oscar love for Andrew Dice Clay?) That my post on Greg’s award is coming out a day late is also fitting because many of our hours-long phone chats—he lived 10 miles from me for 10 years—began with me calling to remind him to get the work done on time.

Here is the official announcement of the award. You can find out more by going to the Spira Award site. Good luck, and I look forward to reading this year’s entries.

Greg Spira Baseball Research Award

Rules and Procedures for Nominations for the 2014 Award

The Greg Spira Baseball Research Award Committee ( has announced the rules and procedures for nominations for the second annual Greg Spira Baseball Research Award. The winner of the 2014 Greg Spira Award will receive a cash prize of $1,000. The committee will also recognize two additional writers with awards of $200 for second place and $100 for third place.

The inaugural Spira Award was presented to Trent McCotter of Washington, D.C., last year. Dan Farnsworth and Caleb Hardwick were honored as second- and third-place winners, respectively.

The Nomination Period will open at 12:01 a.m. EST on January 16, 2014, and remain open through 11:59 p.m. EST on February 15, 2014. Nominations received before or after the Nomination Period will not be considered.

The Nomination Form for the Greg Spira Award can be found at Anyone can nominate a qualifying piece for the Award, and self-nominations by authors are welcome. Note, however, that only one entry per author will be considered for the Greg Spira Award.

In order to be eligible for nomination, a piece or book must be about baseball and must contain original analysis or research. Nominated pieces or books must have been published between January 16, 2013, and January 15, 2014. Articles, papers, and books eligible for consideration include those published in print or in e-books, those published or posted on the World Wide Web, academic papers or dissertations, and papers presented at professional or public conferences.  

In the event of multiple nominations, a self-nomination by the author takes priority over any piece nominated by a third party. If multiple pieces by one author are nominated by third parties, the judges will attempt to contact the author to ascertain which piece he/she wants to be considered. If the author fails to respond, the judges will evaluate the first piece submitted and ignore any other nominated pieces by that author.

The Publication Period dates have been chosen so that pieces published about the annual January Hall of Fame election are eligible for consideration without having to wait a full year. This also ensures that pieces about Spink Award, Frick Award, and Hall of Fame inductees who will be honored in Cooperstown on the same July weekend will not be split between two Greg Spira Awards. (The Spink, Frick and Veterans Committee selections are announced in December, while the Baseball Writers Association of America selections are announced in early January.)

The Greg Spira Baseball Research Award winners will be announced on April 27, 2014, the 47th anniversary of Greg’s birth. Winning entries must display innovative analysis or reasoning by an author who was 30 years old or younger at the time of the entry’s publication.

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Something I am sure Greg and I would have carpooled for if it had been around during our days with the Mets annual is the inaugural Queens Baseball Convention. I will head down Saturday afternoon to McFadden’s next to Citi Field after I watch my son’s hockey team take on my hometown White Plainsmen in the morning. Saugerties Mustangs on the ice and the New York Mets hot stove burning bright, should be quite a day.

January 13, 2014

Stop Rewarding Cheating Players and Teams That Employ Them

Slowly I turned, step by step… Three or four times I have considered writing an entry for my mood on the winter state of baseball, but I have held off. The Queens Baseball Conference? It’s been plugged often elsewhere but I will probably be among the audience. The Hall of Fame ballot? I am a “hard marker” as someone once said and my version of the Hall of Fame does not include anyone who is not an automatic. Greg Maddux? Yes. Frank Thomas? No. Craig Biggio? No. Tom Glavine? 300-game winners are rare these days, and I don’t know how you could hold him back; unless you said the Mets—not the Braves—needed to win a game badly, and then he’d fold like a cheap suit. If he’d pitched worth a damn in one of his final three starts as a Met, I think a lot of New Yorkers would rejoice at this news, and they surely would have slept better in the last two weeks of September 2007 if he hadn’t had a 14.81 ERA and batters didn’t get a hit every other time they hit the ball (.500 batting average on balls in play). Abysmal fortnight aside, Glavine is deservedly in the Hall. When it comes to the hat he wears on the plaque, it’s obviously an Atlanta “A,” but he did spend as many years as a Met as Gary Carter, who will never be confused with Glavine when it comes to Mets who came through when it really, really mattered. 

So what’s the topic already? It’s Alex Rodriguez. Ugh! I can hear kids throwing down their gloves like in Little League when the worst kid on the team made an error at the worst time. Yes, Alex Rodriguez. The guy the Mets ignored in 2000, a move that took a while to feel like the right move. But it has felt so, so right for a while now. People here hated Jason Bay and he just sucked as a hitter, though not as a person. Over time, we’ve come to embrace Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, who left a lot on the table as players and initially left Flushing in disgrace due to their too human traits. A-Rod has no redeeming qualities. He had all Roger Clemens’s and Barry Bonds’s talent and was just as rock headed. A-Rod, like Clemens and Bonds, was already among the best in talent and remuneration at his position when he decided to take steroids. 

I applaud the 162-game suspension and I can only hope it remains in place. I can also hope that this becomes the penalty for a first offense and maybe we’ll actually see fewer players tempted as a result. The whole thing is a little sickening, even watching smarmy Tony Bosch in the 60 Minutes piece online, interspersed with Viagra ads.

A-Rod is a loathsome jerk who has already admitted to cheating once—during that same period he would have been a Met had they signed him as a free agent—but MLB did it right this time by including the postseason (or play-in games) in the ban. Last year this loophole allowed Nelson Cruz to play for the Rangers in a one-game, pre-Wild Card playoff between Texas and Tampa Bay. Nelson and the Rangers lost. Detroit’s Jhonny Peralta, on the other hand, played in two postseason rounds after serving his suspension through the regular season in the Biogenesis case. Peralta hit .417 in helping the Tigers beat Oakland. If the A’s hadn’t had employed so many players involved in PEDs through the years—including newest Met Bartolo Colon—they’d have a right to be furious. Peralta hit .286 against Boston, higher than Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter, or Prince Fielder in a losing cause. 

The loophole allowed a pair of free-agents to be to showcase themselves while telling those watching at home—and impressionable kids with 11:30 bedtimes—that it’s OK to miss eight weeks of the season; let the cheaters back for the games that really count. What if either player was a starting pitcher who would have had all that rest and might be in midseason form come October? Peralta got a $53 million contract for four years from St. Louis. That number helped set the market for the free agents, presumably clean, that followed. The team benefiting from all this is the Yankees, who, if the suspension stands, have $25 million they do not have to pay A-Rod, which they can spend on another player and not have that sum count toward the revenue sharing payroll limit of $189 million.

At least I’m not the only one pissed. Dave Aardsma, middling Mets reliever in 2013, said it for a lot of players trying to stay in the big leagues on God-given talent, not Bosch-induced chemistry. “I had two major surgeries in five years and made it back clean,” Aardsma said the day of the Peralta signing. “Nothing pisses me off more than guys that cheat and get raises for doing so.” At last look Aardsma was still trying to latch onto a team for the major league minimum. 

Don’t know where this is going, don’t know where this game is going, but I do know that I turned on the MLB Channel this morning and all they were talking about was A-Rod. The NFL Channel was all about Brady-Manning XV. One day maybe baseball will get back to the big news being a big game. But a first step might be to not reward people for cheating. Close the loopholes in suspensions. Keep them out of the Hall of Fame. But as long as they keep rewarding people who cheat with lavish contracts, we’re not really going anywhere.

January 3, 2014

Swinging ’73 Up for SLA Readers’ Choice Award

The first post of 2014 brings the best news of the year. My book, Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season, has been named a finalist for the Readers’ Choice Award by the Baseball Caucus of the Special Libraries Association. I am honored to even be in the same lineup with these heavy hitters for the SLA Baseball Caucus Readers’ Choice Award:

  • Color Blind: The Forgotten Team that Broke Baseball’s Color Line by Tom Dunkel  (Atlantic Monthly Press)
  • Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes by John Rosengren (NAL)
  • Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age by Allen Barra (Crown)
  • The 34-Ton Bat: The Story of Baseball as Told Through Bobbleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jockstraps, Eye Black, and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects by Steve Rushin ( Little, Brown)
  • Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season by Matthew Silverman (Lyons Press)
  • The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Race Made Baseball America’s Game by Edward Achorn  (PublicAffairs)
  • The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age by Robert Weintraub (Little, Brown)

I am liking this year already! The winner will be announced on January 28.

December 18, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 12/18/73... Yanks Hire Dick Williams. Not

It was like a dream. Except it was real. There was dollar shrimp for the press at a fancy restaurant overlooking Flushing Meadows, the new—if temporary—home of the New York Yankees. Queens wasn’t what the Bronx Bombers were used to, but now they could relax. The disaster that 1973 had turned into for the Yankees was at an end. The New York media was lapping up the shrimp and everything the new manager said—new manager Dick Williams. 

In six years as a major league manager, Dick Williams had gone to the postseason four times, three pennants, and two world championships. It was a golden age of managing. Three future Hall of Famers were employed in 1973: Walter Alston in Los Angeles, Sparky Anderson in Cincinnati, and Earl Weaver in Baltimore. One future Cooperstown enshrinee was just starting in the dugout, Whitey Herzog, fired late in the year in a Texas-sized disaster with the Rangers. Another Hall of Fame skipper was saying goodbye on the other side of the Lone Star state as 67-year-old Leo Durocher managed his last game in Houston’s season finale. There were other superb ’73 skippers who did not wind up in Cooperstown: Billy Martin (Texas), Chuck Tanner (White Sox), Jack McKeon (Royals), Danny Murtaugh (Pirates), Danny Ozark (Phillies), and Gene Mauch (Expos). Managers Red Schoendienst ( Cardinals) and Eddie Mathews later made it into the Hall of Fame as players, while Mets skipper Yogi Berra was already in Cooperstown as players. And though the Hall of Fame forgot about Ralph Houk, we will not. He’d resigned after the last game at old Yankee Stadium following three decades in pinstripes, had his resignation accepted, and then took the job in Detroit. In Williams, the Yankees had hired arguably the best manager of them all, for an owner who would give Charlie Finley a run for his money when it came to demanding. 

Williams knew from dealing with onerous owners. He had won his second straight world championship just two months ago, beating the Mets in seven games, and topped it off by quitting. In the World Series-winning locker room, Williams told Charlie Finley he was not taking it any more. It was something people in every walk of life wanted to do to that boss, the one who has you talking to yourself, questioning yourself, wondering how to get him off your back. Sportswriters, most of whom could sympathize with such bosses, made Williams a folk hero. As if a man who won two straight World Series needed extra PR. 

What Williams really needed, though, was someone who could write a happy ending to his story. Because even though Williams was announced as Yankees manager 40 years ago today, he never managed a game in pinstripes. He still had a two-year contract with Finley, and the Oakland owner would not let him leave... for New York.

It should have worked out, but the year from hell for George Steinbrenner would not end any other way but badly. New general manager Gabe Paul tried to work out a deal with Finley, but he would take nothing less than the crown jewels of the Yankees farm system: Scott McGregor and Otto Velez. Neither ever played in Oakland and Dick Williams never managed in New York.

Though 1973 began with his purchasing the Yankees for a song—a tune to the sound of $10 million, or $8.8 million if you count parking garages sold back in the deal—Steinbrenner’s year quickly unraveled. Two of his pitchers swapped wives as spring training began—talk about the need for good PR. His team went from first place to fourth just as the crosstown Mets were making a reverse climb through the standings. Behind the scenes, illegal campaign contributions the previous year were coming home to roost, eventually leading to his (first) suspension from baseball. And in the final move by Joe Cronin in a career that went from player to manager to general manager to league president, the longtime Red Sox employee would side with Charlie Finley—not that he wanted to. Finley held the cards, he had a signed contract. And just to show it was all about New York, he would let Williams out of his contract to manage the Angels in time for him to manage the All-Star game the following July.

The Yankees hired Bill Virdon—not mentioned earlier among the game’s great managers. Though he would win the 1974 AL Manager of the Year Award, he would be fired before the Yankees were even out of Shea Stadium in 1975. And in came Billy Martin. But that is a story for another year.

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This concludes Swinging ’73 Presents: 40 Years Ago Today... sort of like a surprise ending when you have been listening to a book on CD for a long time and then it suddenly ends. I was going to extend this series over Christmas, but since the Dick Williams saga is the Epilogue of Swinging ’73, I think we are done here. Of course, the book includes a detailed account about what happened to the main characters from 1973, and there is plenty of other stuff not included in the accounts, pictures, and descriptions online. And that leads into the final pitch.

There’s just enough time to order Swinging ’73 online or via this site. But hurry, supplies of books and dignity are limited.

As for what happened in the final two weeks of 1973, The Sting, Magnum Force, and everyone’s favorite holiday film, The Exorcist all opened in theaters. President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act, ironic in that his own presidency was far more in danger than most of the species he was protecting. Notre Dame beat Alabama by a point in a shootout Sugar Bowl of unbeatens. Miami and Minnesota punched their tickets for a Super Dud—though Super Bowl VIII would likely have been far more interesting if conference runners-up Oakland and Dallas had made for a Madden-Landry matchup at Rice Stadium in Houston.

As we fade out, it is tempting to play Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” which sadly reached number one at the end of 1973, three months after his death in a plane crash at age 30. That is too sad a note to go out on, so I am going with the title song, and the final song, from a great ’73 album not included in the online retrospective—though mentioned in the book—Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. “I should have stayed on the farm, I should have listened to my old man...” 

December 16, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 12/16/73... O.J. Breaks 2,000 at Shea

On this day in 1973 the Juice was loose. Before he was a presumed killer, mediocre actor, or even rental car spokesman, O.J. Simpson was the most prolific running back in pro football history… in a 14-game season. Orenthal James Simpson came into the final game of the ’73 NFL season needing 61 yards to break Jim Brown’s 10-year-old mark of 1,863 yards. Simpson did that easily enough and kept on running all over the Jets at snowy Shea.  

The Jets were lucky to have four wins and they were not up to the task of stopping the Juice. The Bills ran the football a staggering 62 times—talk about ball control! Simpson ran for an even 200 yards on 34 carries, and fullback Jim Braxton rushed for 98 more on 24 carries. Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson tossed all of five passes in the game. Joe Namath threw for 206 yards on those rare occasions when the Jets had the ball, but Buffalo stampeded to a 34-14 win. The victory wasn’t enough as 9-5 Buffalo missed out on the playoffs by a game. The Dolphins, who’d win the Super Bowl again, went 12-2 to wrap up the AFC East. In the one Wild Card team era, the Bills were SOL because the Bengals, who had the same 10-4 record as the Steelers, claimed the Wild Card. The Bills could only blame themselves due to a 16-13 home less to the Bengals—who had the most low-key NFL helmets this side of the Browns (I still hate those frigging striped Cincy helmets). The ’73 Bills had pretty cool helmets, too.  

O.J. remains the only player to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a 14-game season. The other six players to achieve the feat have all done so since the NFL increased the season to 16 games in 1978. Though O.J. retired after the ’79 season more than 1,000 yards shy of Jim Brown in career rushing yards (12,312), no one has ever matched Simpson’s average of 143 rushing yards per game over a full season. 

Simpson, who had been acting in TV as a guest star since before he won the 1968 Heisman Trophy at USC, began his big screen career in 1974 with a small part in a big movie, The Towering Inferno, and acting with Lee Marvin and Richard Burton in The Klansman (what it sounds like). He would be better known in the 1970s as the Hertz pitch man, leaping luggage in a single bound. Simpson would be brought low in the years to come—not low enough, many still contend—but in a league where running backs still ruled, O.J. was on top of the world in 1973. Or at least running over it.

December 11, 2013

Mets Holiday Present of the Year: You’re in Luck

You know that point where it gets close enough to December 25 where you think, “Well, if I don’t do this now, it’s never going to happen?” Well, we’re almost there. 

I guess it gets to that point when you are trying kind of hard to come up with gift ideas for others. The last three years I have done the service of recommending gifts for Mets fans. As someone who has gotten Mets gifts at just about every gift-giving occasion for, oh, 38 years or so, I have experience in this area. Other than the 7-Line, the greatest entrepreneur of paraphernalia that doesn’t actually use the word Mets, I rarely buy Mets apparel stuff to wear. I think I have already proven I am a pretty hard-core Mets fan and I don’t need to be a Wilponian billboard on my off time. Not that I don’t have a drawer-full of such stuff, including the snappy All-Star golf shirt I bought at half price during garbage time last yearmaybe I should specify: September.

In the past I have recommended clubs for the kiddies, e-guides to help navigate a park that still makes me feel like a stranger at times, and books from impeccable sources to get us up to date on our Mets. This year I am not going as far to do what I can to help for the holiday present of the year. (I used to say Christmas present, but when I saw the new hate-mongering Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, and other bullies were making about it, I dropped all previous objections and only wish I’d done so before the family Christmas holiday cards had been printed.) 

Anyway, the Mets Holiday Present of the Year should still come as no surprise if you’ve been following here this year. To quote the quintessential double album of 1973, Quadrophenia: “Is it me for a moment?”

Yes, the Mets present for 2013 is Swinging ’73. While this may fail the modesty test, I will at least make this selection easy for those last-minute shoppers.

Order through the site and you’ll get it signed anyway you want, plus normal shipping for $20. For more expedited shipping (or if you don’t get around to this until December 17), contact me and we will figure it out. If you already have the bookGod bless you, every oneI also recently came across boxes in the attic for Mets by the Numbers and Baseball Miscellany ($10 apiece). 

Send payment via Pay Pal at payments@metsilverman, email your order to, or send an email to the same address if you want to send by check (and don’t need it before the holiday, or want to use expedited shipping).

I am trying to keep my dignity through this all this, but the truth is I won’t be coming out with any new books for 2014 (except as a contributor), so get ’em while you can. Of course, if you order books through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local book shoppe, that is equally swell. Keep reading (something besides your phone) all the year long. Merry Chri…   no, holiday greetings to all.

December 10, 2013

Letters to the Met-idor: Winter Meetings Edition 

Twice a year I run Letters to the Met-idor, gleaning the best of the correspondence we get at I have a stack of it the size of a college freshman’s laundry pile, but with Swinging ’73 Presents: 40 Years Ago Today, I have been holding letters until we get through the final few weeks of this 40th anniversary season. Today, though, we take a few minutes off and delve into my ongoing discussion with reader Frank Dirig about the current Mets. The dialogue starts with most recent events—and me flipping the tables to ask Frank what he thought of the most recent Mets moves. Yet the conversation goes back to the beginning of the 2013 season, when he asked me about both Ike Davis, coming off a 30-homer year in 2012, and everyone’s favorite baseball-owning family. The months may fly by, but the topic of conversation never seems to change.

And on the subject of the present, tomorrow we have Mets Holiday Present of the Year, which has a familiar ring.

December: The Granderson Canyon

Me: So what think you now that the Mets have signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60-million deal? You may have to wait five minutes to respond. The Yankees were so angry that the Mets—and Mariners—signings of Yankees produce came right in the middle of the feel-good Brian McCann introductory love in, that they signed Carlos Beltran just for spite. 

Frank: I like this Granderson move... don’t love it. It shows they will spend, well, something. My fear is when Wright is up vs. a lefty, he will still be walked to face a guy who may strike out. But I do like it. Most of all, they need to do more. Maybe one more big move. I understand Rome wasn’t built in a day.  

And with the Harvey situation maybe 2015 is the year. I applaud Sandy & the Wilpons (can’t believe I said that) for realizing Mets fans have had it! However I do think there are bats to be had without giving up the young arms. Finally I’d say I don’t know if Sandy Alderson (someone I truly respect) is the aggressive go-getter they will need once they are competitive. Or perhaps his hands are tied by the Wilpons. All in all a good day and positive news. FINALLY!!

Me: I agree. Granderson might not have been the biggest, or cheapest, fish out there, but money has been flying at a ridiculous rate all around baseball for more than a month. I mean $240 million for Robinson Cano? A 10-year contract? I had hoped we would see no more of these decade-long contracts—all of which have failed since the first one was handed out by Cleveland in 1977 to Wayne Garland, a guy no one has heard of outside of bitter Indians fans of a certain age.  

Back to Granderson, the Mets had to sign him. Not because he’s great but because many fans seemed desperate and frustrated enough to finally give up on this team. And once the frigging Marlins signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a multi-year deal, Aldersonian reasoning about fiscal responsibility had to be tabled. Granderson can add some protection for David Wright, however minimally, in a lineup with the depth of a character from Two Broke Girls; make that Two Broke Guys and it could be a new sitcom about the Wilpons—now there’s a new revenue stream no one has thought of. 

April: So Opti-Metstic It Hurts

Frank: Your thoughts on the Mets? Is it worth it to make an effort to compete this year?? I don’t even know what that would mean... trades?? Living five minutes from Binghamton, I think Montero may be every bit as good as Wheeler... finally do you think Ike Davis has been overhyped? Just curious from one long time fan to another.... 

P.S. The pessimism among Mets fans (myself included) is a drag... but years of disappointment have brought it on...

Me: Oh, talking about the current Mets without pessimism. You have challenged me here, Frank. On the one hand, they have Matt Harvey, who has looked so good early it is scary, and you have Jon Niese. When the Mets are to the point where Niese is a fourth starter, with the likes of Montero and Wheeler lining in behind Harvey, then the Mets will be a deep enough team we can actually use the “C” word: “contend,” not “collapse”—the very dirty “C” word in the Mets vocabulary.  

I don’t think the Mets have what it takes to play .500 ball this year, and that is the very basis of contending, even in the double-Wild Card era. I also think it a travesty to consider a second Wild Card as being a playoff team. I think you should have to actually play a postseason series (not game) to be considered a postseason club, but these players are of the generation that all get participation trophies in Little League, maybe that’s the trend. As was the case with the adoption of baseballs first Wild Card in the 1990s, I will get excited about the new playoff format when it affects me, Al Franken.   

I guess that would affect you, too.  

When the Mets are good—see, I didn’t say “if,” I said “when”—I’d like to see Ike Davis in the middle of that lineup, but most really good Mets team has had an imported first baseman with talent: Donn Clendenon, Keith Hernandez, John Olerud. But when the Mets went to the 1973 World Series, you may have heard this from me already, homegrown John Milner was the first sacker. And the 2000 pennant-winning club had a first baseman named Todd Zeile, a Hyundai of an import (serviceable, affordable, and able to get you where you want to go, but meh). So I think the Ike Davis conundrum will depend on two things: whether he continues to hit 30 homers per year and how much it will cost for him to do that.  

Because Ike came up in earlier in the 2010 season than the Mets wanted him to—due to a GM desperate to save his job, and frankly, the right move for that team as well—Davis is now paid at a much higher rate than he would have otherwise at this point. Was he overhyped? Any superhero movie you can name is overhyped. Ike Davis was not. For a team with a notorious reputation for producing players without power, I think the Mets were right to promote Ikey when they did and for the PR and media to hype him as they did. I even accept my small part in the Ike hype by putting him on the cover of the 2011 Maple Street Press Mets Annual (and I take no responsibility for Ike’s getting hurt or the MSP Annuals going the way of the dinosaur). If Ikey is a classic bad first half player who finishes with 30 homers a year, I think he is a success by Mets standards; once that translates into eight-figure salary, however, expect him to play elsewhere. 

That is as optimistic as I can muster right now. Win, lose, or draw, we’ll put this out with the Letters after the season [See? See? said December me] and find out if I am right, or blissfully wrong. 

Frank: One more thing: are they financially secure? (ownership) are they even honest about these things....? 

Me: Financially secure? I think the Wilpons can scrape together enough cash for a Citi Field steak sandwich (worth every bite of $15), but they may need to sleep in their office to afford it. Not that they’d ever say that. The Wilpons’ public statements are like a ship’s steward on the Titanic saying, “There’s a small problem below decks. It should be resolved shortly.” 

Man the lifeboats.

December 8, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 12/8/73... Something for Joey

Forty years ago today John Cappelletti gave one of the most heart-felt speeches of the last half century in sports. Having just won the 1973 Heisman Trophy, the Penn State running back told the awards banquet crowd, which included new Vice President Gerald Ford, that he was giving the award to his little brother, Joey Cappelletti, who was suffering from leukemia.   

Though the story and the speech got tremendous publicity—as well it should have—the 1973 story of John and Joey Cappelletti was brought home to many with the made-for-TV movie Something for Joey. Based on the book by Richard E. Peck, the movie first aired in 1977, a year after Joey died at age 13. Like Brian’s Song, about the tragically short life of Brian Piccolo, Gale Sayers’s best friend and Bears roommate, Something for Joey is a sports movie that almost defies the viewer to not shed a tear. Marc Singer ( later known as Beastmaster ) plays John, Jeff Lynas plays Joey, Geraldine Page and Gerald O’Loughlin play the parents, ’80s stud-to-be Steve Guttenberg plays Mike Cappelletti, Linda Kelsey (of Lou Grant  fame) plays the sister-in-law narrator, and TV character actor Paul Picerni plays Joe Paterno.

A first-round pick in 1974, John Cappelletti was the starting fullback for a very good Los Angeles Rams team, though he spent more time blocking for the likes of Lawrence McCutcheon than carrying the ball. Every time I opened a pack of football cards and got a Cappelletti, I couldn’t help but think of his little brother and what it must have been like to have greatness and sadness come in such large doses so close together. 

On September 7, 2013, the undefeated 1973 team was honored at Penn State. Cappelletti, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame since 1993, had his number 22 retired in State College.

December 6, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 12/6/73... Short-Term D.C. Appointments

On this day in 1973, Washington got a new vice president and a new baseball team. Neither stayed in place very long. Gerald Ford, a Michigan Congressman who served as minority leader of the House of Representatives, was tabbed to serve as VP following the disgraceful resignation of Spiro Agnew that interrupted both the Watergate scandal and the decisive Mets-Reds playoff game in October.  

On the baseball front, moving the San Diego Padres to Washington made way more sense than most bills in Congress. D.C. had been without baseball for two seasons—its longest period without a major league team since 1890. The Washington Senators, an original American League club dating to 1901, moved to Minnesota to become the Twins in 1961, the same year an expansion team dubbed the Senators joined the AL. A decade later, the new Senators absconded to Texas to become the Rangers. 

The San Diego Padres, in the meantime, had been a dud since joining the National League in 1969. Attendance had not surpassed 644,000 in their first five seasons. Their 611,826 draw for 1973 was less than half the National League average at the time (when the NL still counted actual bodies in seats, not tickets sold). The team was lucky to have even that few fans. The Pads finished dead last in each of their first five years, losing 110, 99, 100, 95, and 102 games. Don Zimmer, in his first managerial assignment, was canned after a 60-102 season in 1973. 

So there was little holding the Padres in Southern Cal. Prospective owners were ready to move the ho-hum club to the Beltway, and on this day in 1973, major league owners said go for it. They weren’t yet sure what they would call the team in 1974, as evidenced by these baseball cards thrown together by Topps and put into production just in time to be totally wrong.  

Ray Kroc, the man who jumpstarted fast food nation with the franchising of McDonald’s, threw boatloads of cash to keep the inept Padres in San Diego in 1974 and beyond. Kroc already knew about voluntary suffering, having lied about his age to train as a 15-year-old ambulance driver in World War I. Kroc was no Ernest Hemingway, but he got his point across. “I am not buying the Padres to make money,” the recently-retired McDonald’s CEO said in February 1974. “I’m buying the Padres because I love baseball. The Padres will be my hobby.” 

And like most other people, his hobby could prove frustrating. Yet unlike getting airplane glue and lead-based paint on your shirt while building model tanks in the basement—my hobby of choice circa 1973-74—I did not have access to a microphone and 39,000 people when I put on the tank wheels wrong. During his first game as owner, the 72-year-old Kroc took the P.A. microphone and woke up the 1974 Opening Day crowd during a throttling by the Astros. “I have never seen such stupid playing in my life.” He was fined by buttinsky commissioner Bowie Kuhn, but Kroc had won the crowd in a city unused to winning. He died just before the Padres made the rest of the National League look stupid in 1984. The Padres rallied to take the pennant over the Cubs, the franchise the kid from Oak Park, Illinois (Hemingway’s hometown) followed from his youth and had been unable to buy from the Wrigleys. The sleeves on San Diego’s McDonaldland uniforms read Krocs initials as they played in their first World Series.

Back in Washington, Ford didn’t stay VP for long—not with Richard Nixon as president. Nixon, behaving more like Shakespeare’s Richard III than the leader of the greatest free country on earth, finally succumbed to the inevitable and resigned in August 1974 rather than face impeachment. Ford became the only president not elected on a national ticket. The country had been knocked off its pegs economically and was shaken by Watergate as Ford became the 38th president. Many still believe Ford lost any realistic chance of being elected in 1976 by pardoning Nixon shortly after taking office.

Ford was perhaps the greatest athlete to sit in the White House. He was center for Michigan while working his way through school during the Depression, and he turned down offers from the Lions and Packers to go to Yale Law School, also serving as assistant football coach and boxing coach. His political career was like that of most lineman: His mistakes were far better publicized than his successes. 

The iconic Daily News headline screamed “Ford to City: Drop Dead”  when he denied Mayor Abe Beam’s pleas for aid to financially beleaguered New York in 1975, but it is less well known that Ford soon reversed course and authorized $2.3 billion to New York state earmarked for NYC loans that helped start the city on the long road back to the top. I admit I didn’t vote for Ford in our school election in sixth grade in 1976, but I was more concerned about the Yankees taking over than détente with the Soviets.  

Ford was a World War II Navy veteran, a father of five, a 13-term Congressman from Grand Rapids, a diehard Republican who put country before party, a man who actually put new taxes on oil companies (then, as now, an idea that cheesed off the GOP), survived two assassination attempts in 1975, and was a husband who encouraged his First Lady to speak her own liberal mind and stood by her through breast cancer, alcoholism, and pill addition (Betty Ford’s battles showed a generation of women who often hid such problems that there was help and hope). Gerald Ford, who fell down more than once with the cameras rolling, could laugh at himself while others laughed at his expense. His off-the-record comments told to longtime Washington correspondent Thomas DeFrank became the engaging book, Write It When I’m Gone,  which I listened to on CD as additional background for Swinging ’73. (Books, by the way, make great holiday gifts.) DeFrank’s book taught me a lot about an imperfect but honorable man with the integrity so sorely missing in politics today. 

So here is a parting comment from someone who belongs to neither party yet always votes, and has gone many elections between sips of GOP Kool-Aid: The old Michigan center was willing to let someone bigger run over his head if that’s what was needed to get the first down. We could use more leaders like that.

December 3, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 12/3/1973... CBGB Opens Its Doors Wide

CBGC opened in New York on this date in 1973. The legendary nightclub became a launching pad for new acts, but it originally was a haven from noise complaints from the owner’s club in the West Village, a better neighborhood. So Hilly Kristal relocated to a property already under contract on 315 Bowery, an area at the time renowned for its “bums” and a common sense song about the Bowery Savings Bank, hawked by Joe DiMaggio in 1973: “The Bowery, the Bowery, the Bowery saves a lot.” 

The awning outside the club read CBGB &OMFUG, which stood for Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers. Inside, the acts were often new and far from country or bluegrass. Some had a hard time getting gigs without playing covers of other bands; Kristal insisted they not play any covers so he wouldn’t have to worry about royalty fees. Bands, many of whom would be labeled New Wave, lined up to play at CBGB, including Blondie, the Ramones, the Police, Patti Smith, and Talking Heads, who included a line about the club in their show-stopping song, “Life During Wartime.”

CBGB closed in 2006, the result of an ugly rent dispute because the Bowery had become high end. Joe D. lied, the Bowery wasn’t saving anybody, not even CBGBs proprietor. Kristal died of lung cancer a year after the demise of his beloved club.

November 30, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/30/1973... The Squiring of the ABA

On this day in 1973 the American Basketball League’s Virginia Squires scored 139 points. And lost. The next night they scored 127. And lost again. No matter that one game was in San Diego, against the Conquistadors, a 145-139 defeat, and the next night was across the country in Norfolk, a double overtime loss, no less—128-127 to the New York Nets, the team that the Squires sold the most dynamic player in ABA history, Julius Erving, because they were in constant perpetual trouble. What do you expect from a team, and a league, that once called the Roanoke Civic Center home?

If only the points put up by the ABA had been money in its pocket. In head to head competition in several hard-fought exhibition games against the NBA, the ABA regularly came out on top. Yet the NBA haughtily looked down upon the renegade league’s red, white, and blue ball, not to mention the ABA’s most lasting innovation: the three-point stripe. The ABA was obsessed with merging with the NBA. The leagues played footsie for three more years until finally merging in 1976, bringing in the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, and Nets, who had to sell Dr. J to the 76ers to get the money to enter the NBA and pay the territorial fee to the Knicks.

The Squires went bankrupt at the end of ’76, thus losing out by a month on the payday for those not invited to the merger party. The successful Kentucky Colonels opted for a $3 million buyout while the Spirits of St. Louis took less up front and held out for a piece of the NBA TV contract that still earns $15 million annually for a team that hasn’t played a game since the Ford administration. Wait, actually that’s the ABA’s most lasting innovation. 

And there you have the extent of my pro basketball knowledge. But Eric Brach of Bleacher Report knows plenty about hoops. He is a friend of the site, a good guy, and a talented writer. If you are interested in learning about pro basketball history, check out his book, Billy the Hill and the Jump Hook. I’ve ordered mine. It’ll give me something to read while waiting on, or wading through, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. What, on Sunday retail rested? A likely story.

November 27, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/27/1973... Give Thanks, Charlie Brown

Forty years ago, Charlie Brown and Peanuts celebrated their first Thanksgiving together on television. It seems such a natural that it is surprising it took 10 TV specials before they finally got around to Thanksgiving. It is definitely one of the best Peanuts specials. While the dinner of pretzels, popcorn, toast, and jelly beans is not what anybody would think the Pilgrims ate once upon a time, like any good Thanksgiving tradition, cartoonist Charles M. Schulz incorporates football into the day. Lucy convinces Charlie Brown to kick the ball she is holding—I don’t think it rates a spoiler alert to say that the kid with the round head and the outfit uglier than the Steelers’ throwback uniforms would have been better off to kick off a tee, as was the rule in scholastic football through the 1970s and ’80s. 

I remember watching the inaugural A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and doing so every year thereafter through the decade. (If you miss it this Thanksgiving at 8 p.m. on ABC, you can always watch it here.)   

What I remember most about Thanksgiving, 1973, though, was taking what was for us a rare family vacation. We drove to Washington, D.C., Nixon and energy crisis be damned. All six of us crammed in Mom’s Impala: my two brothers and sister in back and dad, me, and mom—in that order—in the front. It being the ’70s, there were no seatbelts, of course, and the windows were up so the smoke from my parents could engulf us all. In turn, I made my dad insane by singing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” over and over as it played repeatedly on the AM radio as we were stuck in traffic for hours on the way home.

Sounds like hell, huh? It was just about the best Thanksgiving ever.

November 22, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/22/1973... Devastated Ten Years After

Forty years ago today marked 10 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on this day in 1963. That is a day that people older than me used to say, “You can’t imagine what it was like for the nation if you weren’t alive.” Then came September 11, 2011. And we all got a pretty good idea of the feeling. 

November 22, 1973 was also Thanksgiving. People could sit around the table that Thursday and count their blessings, eat turkey, and watch football (Washington beat Detroit, and Dallas, fittingly, lost to the Dolphins). There is enough today about JFK’s assassination to sort through: who else might have pulled the trigger, purported coverups, the legacy, and hearing from the now old men and women who were there. But the feeling of America in 1973 seemed to be how everything went from Camelot to crap in 10 years: the country locked in the throes of the Nixon mess, the energy crisis, inflation, and the frigging Osmonds (the squeaky-clean and too-popular pop group even bombarded Saturday morning with their own cartoon, like the not as squeaky Jacksons). The mood of the nation on Thanksgiving 1973 is perhaps best summed up by the New York Times editorial that day. What you see is an America not so different than the problems facing us today. Pushing petty concerns aside and moving forward helped get us through the bad times. Eventually.  

“The nation’s mood now calls for a more limited goal—a return to basic principles,” the Times said. Whether it’s 40 years ago, 50 years ago, and 90 years from now, we can only hope that the direction will invariably be forward.

November 20, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/20/1973... Bleeding Quadrophenic!

On this date in 1973, The Who kicked off the U.S. tour for the album Quadrophenia near San Francisco.

Quadrophenia focused on a fictional fan of the group from a decade earlier, when “Mods” were all the rage and longtime friends Roger Daltrey, John Entwhistle, and Pete Townshend were just starting out as a band in England. Keith Moon, at the time only 16, was a few months away from joining The Who. 

Like most of The Who’s music, Townshend wrote almost everything on Quadrophenia. He even collected background sounds heard throughout the album on a portable recorder near his home. The finished product is phenomenal. So is Townshend’s short story that appears on the inside of the album, written from the perspective of the outcast protagonist—Dr. Jimmy, or Mr. Jim, depending on how many pills he’d taken or slugs of Gilbey’s gin he’d swigged. (In tribute to the album’s lasting influence, at least on me, was my dog Gilbey, named 15 years after the album came out. Best dog ever. If not for 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, I’d say the same about Quadrophenia.) 

Though at the time the other members of the band weren’t as fond of playing a rock opera straight through—they were been there, done that with Tommy, The Who’s 1969 breakout album and the first rock opera of its kind. Though not as well received as previous Who efforts initially, Quadrophenia gained traction with time, with surviving members of The Who playing the album on multiple tours that came long after the band’s official “last concert” in 1982. (Daltrey and Townshend just completed a world tour of Quadrophenia in 2012-13.)

The Who and director Franc Roddam made a film of Quadrophenia in 1979, starring Phil Daniels and featuring a young, chic, young Sting. “The Real Me,” “5:15” and “Love Reign O’er Me” have always received steady airplay from rock stations, while hidden tracks like “Cut My Hair,” “The Punk Meets the Godfather,” “I’m One,” “Sea and Sand,” “Drowned,” and the Keith Moon masterpiece “Bell Boy” were listened to in bedrooms on rainy afternoons and evenings by future rock stars, burnouts, and music aficionados alike. Listening to the album from start to finish still leaves me both elated and drained. 

But on November 20, 1973, the first U.S. tour of Quadrophenia was just beginning. It was only an 11-stop tour, but it was a challenge from that first night. 

Keith Moon was as famous for his wild style of drumming as he was for his wilder lifestyle and proclivity for trashing hotel rooms. He’d earned a lifetime ban from Holiday Inn for his devastation of their hotel in Flint, Michigan on the occasion of his 21st birthday in 1967. Six years older, and crazier in 1973, he got a little too curious before the show at the Cow Palace on November 20, 1973. From Swinging ’73:

Transformed from a hard-working if underappreciated British band into megastars with the 1969 release of the album Tommy, The Who hit the States in 1973 to tour in support of Quadrophenia, another conceptual double LP, this one more autobiographical, focusing on the band’s early roots in Mod-mad Brighton of the early 1960s. On the first night of the American leg of the Quadrophenia tour, Moon drank brandy spiked with animal tranquilizers just as the warm-up band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, finished their set at the Cow Palace in San Francisco—or so the story goes. Whatever was in his system and however it got there, Moon lasted barely an hour onstage before collapsing midway through “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Roadies carried him backstage.

“He’s out cold,” guitarist Pete Townshend confessed to the crowd, adding that the band would try to revive him by punching him in the stomach and giving him an enema. After a 15-minute break, roadies dragged Moon back on stage, where he took up the drumsticks to start “Magic Bus.” But he passed out a minute later, prompting Townshend to address the audience in search of a replacement. “Can anybody play the drums?—I mean somebody good.” Nineteen-year-old Scot Halpin of Muscatine, Iowa, who had recently moved to Monterey, California, stepped out of the audience and into history. He played three numbers—all simulcast on the radio in San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento. The three still upright members of the band ditched the Cow Palace shortly after the impromptu jam session ended. Halpin was left with a tour jacket, which was promptly stolen, and all the post-gig buffet food he could eat. Moon lay passed out for 10 hours straight at his suite at the St. Francis Hotel—the establishment safe, for a night, from the untamed drummer.

Keith Moon would not live to see Quadrophenia the movie come out. He died shortly after his 32nd birthday in 1978 after taking medication designed to decrease his need for alcohol. The Who was never the same. Keith truly was one of a kind.

November 15, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/15/1973... See Kung Fu, Grasshopper

In second and third grade, a favorite playground game we used to play began with the words, “Snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper.” That was the introductory line—in one of the longest opening credit sequences I have ever come across—from master to pupil in the most laid-back action show of all-time: Kung Fu.

The legendary martial arts expert and actor Bruce Lee had spoken in an interview about pitching a show similar to Kung Fu before returning to Asia and having his greatest success in films until his untimely death from an allergic reaction to medicine at age 33 in 1973. But the show that aired on ABC, from scripts that had been bouncing around Hollywood for several years before going into production, was an American effort by Ed Spielman. Kung Fu featured David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin priest of mixed birth on the run in America for killing a magistrate who murdered his master in China. The star’s younger brother, Keith Carradine, played Caine as a teenager; while Radames Pera played Caine as a child, earning his name from the insect a blind man told him was at his feet. That these guys were all bald on a 1970s show, a time when Americans had more hair than at any period since the show’s setting in the 1870s, made Kung Fu groovier still. 

Caine’s life in China was told in a neverending series of flashbacks speaking both riddles and wisdom that carried through space and time, carrying me almost 15 years into the future when my buddy Crum and I ended every weekend in college by watching Kung Fu re-runs at midnight on Sundays, getting up to ring the chimes in the room whenever a special pearl of wisdom was dropped. And there were many pearls dropped during the show’s run.

Three episodes, one of them a TV film, aired over several months in 1972, but the show did not begin its weekly run until 1973. The show’s use of slowed down action sequence preceded their use, or overuse, in the more testosterone-filled Six Million Dollar Man that started on ABC in late 1973. On Kung Fu, Caine was always running from the law, yet also running toward truth and enlightenment. The show would win its lone two Emmy Awards in ’73 for the episode “An Eye for an Eye.”  

Kung Fu continued running until 1975, though its spinoffs and reboots would continue into a new millennium, dispensing more pearls of wisdom along the way. Even after the pebble was snatched from the hand, no one wished to leave.

November 8, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/8/1973... The Brady Bowl

It was the 1970s, a time when relics of the past fought waves of the future to bring us… a real slapdash present. Just look at the clothes! I still can’t look at bellbottom pants today without doubling over in pain, a la Alex in A Clockwork Orange, you know, the ’71 film of the ’62 book in dystopian England where poor droog Alex is caught oobivating a starry soomka (Anthony Burgess nadsat dictionary here) and winds up getting brainwashed and then re-brainwashed using the Ludivico Technique. But that’s a bit much. To me, no touchstone quite symbolizes 1970s life quite like The Brady Bunch (you can tell its the fifth season because Dad has a perm.) 

And then there’s the bowling. Bowling was still a “thing” in the ’70s—when pre-Mets fanatic me was told to do a punish assignment (not the Ludivico Treatment, but I was eight) by writing the long form rules of my favorite sport circa 1973, the hardened criminal me chose bowling. It really was the only sport I knew how to do in ’73. And I sucked at it. But now I feel better… because the Bradys weren’t any better!   

A show called Celebrity Bowling ran through the 1970s and has even been brought back a couple of times since. Host Jed Allan teamed with a Pro Bowlers Association champion, usually nervous all all get out, and then they both proceeded to talk through every players’ turn before wondering aloud why no one could nail a spare. In this ’70s TV gold, we have comely Brady girls Jan and Marcia (we’ll call them Eve and Maureen) team with Peter and Greg (Chris and Barry) to win prizes for themselves and random studio audience members who obviously have nothing better to do than watch bowling live! Little did we know in 1973, but these would be some of the last moments we would have of the Bradys all together as disharmony between cast and producer would result in The Brady Bunch coming off the air after the 1973-74 season. 

Well, when it’s time to change…

November 6, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 11/6/1973... Beame Up Citys New Mayor 

New York has a new mayor: Abe Beame. Well, that was the news 40 years ago today. At the time, most New Yorkers seemed relieved to have new leadership after eight years of the up-and-down John Lindsay roller coaster. Like the 1969 Mets, whose coattails he rode, Lindsay stunned many when he swept to victory for a second term in November of ’69, but he lacked support either in the city or the statehouse. From Swinging ’73:

Lindsay’s career had sputtered and crashed amid ineffectual leadership and divisive scenes such as the 1970 Hard Hat Riot involving World Trade Center construction workers, students, police, and even bankers in a demonstration following the shooting of protesting students at Kent State University in Ohio. With no support from either major party in the city council, with an acrimonious relationship with the state legislature in Albany, and a recurring diatribe between the mayor and Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Lindsay’s second term was doomed. His goals, not to mention his legacy, grew tarnished from the severe social and economic problems the city encountered during, in Rockefeller’s words, Lindsay’s “inept and extravagant administration.” Like a pitcher who can’t get anyone out yet retains his spot in the rotation…

Abe Beame was a new start. Sort of.

In ’73 there was a 73 percent turnout of registered voters, and the 67-year-old Beame collected votes at a 4-to-1 rate over Republican John Marchi. Liberal Party candidate Albert Blumenthal got nearly as many votes as Marchi and Conservative Party candidate Mario Biaggi siphoned off some 178,000 votes. Abe Beame was the last Brookynite to become mayor, at least until Bill de Blasio claimed the position yesterday. But Beame was no “Brooklyn yuppie dad” as The Atlantic called de Blasio. Beame was, however, a London native.  

Beame was born in England in 1906 after his Polish-Jewish parents fled Warsaw, then part of Czarist Russia. His mother stopped in England to have baby Abe and then joined her husband in New York three months later. Beame grew up on the Lower East Side and the small but hardworking Abe, who measured just 5-foot-2, rollerskated to school as a boy to save the subway fare. He earned an accounting degree at City College before marrying and moving to Brooklyn, where he lived for the next 45 years. He was a teacher as well as a C.P.A. before being named the city’s assistant budget director shortly after World War II. Moving up the ladder, he negotiated city contracts without strike and saved the city $40 million, but by the time he was elected in 1973, the city was awash in debt of $1 billion that would balloon to over $3 billion. 

Beame, who had lost the 1965 election to Lindsay, won a 10-person primary for the Democratic spot on the 1973 ticket. After his landslide win, the down-to-earth Beame brought some of his family’s old furniture to Gracie Mansion and also replaced some of Lindsay’s modern art. His wife, Mary, hired a cook who knew how to make blintzes. But Beame’s four years in office could give anyone heartburn.

The city nearly went bankrupt halfway through his term and his pleas to the President Gerald Ford went nowhere—the famous Daily News headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead” remains iconic and dire, but the federal government did eventually secure loans for the ailing city. Then there was the blackout, the Bronx burning on national TV, the dangerous subways, sleazy Times Square, the 65,000 layoffs of city workers, the Son of Sam murders, and an array of seemingly endless nightmares that made the 1974 film Death Wish, set in New York, seem like a documentary as opposed to fiction. 

All this, plus a scandal about misleading investors regarding New York’s perilous finances, doomed him to being one-term mayor, replaced by old political rival, Ed Koch. Beame lived to be 94, dying in 2001 in New York, where else?

October 31, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/31/1973... Seaver and Cy

What? You thought I was done with this because the World Series ended? This is going all the way to New Year’s, there’s inventory to move, and there’s more chances to talk about Tom Seaver. On Halloween in 1973 became the first pitcher to ever win the Cy Young Award without winning 20 games.  on Halloween in 1973 became the first pitcher to ever win the Cy Young Award without winning 20 games. The Mets right-hander went 19-10 in 36 starts, pitched 290 innings, and led the National League with a 2.08 ERA, 18 complete games, and 251 strikeouts. Not bad for a pitcher with a sore shoulder down the stretch. 

Wins were the counting stat of the day and only Ron Bryant won more, going 24-12 with a 3.43 ERA for the Giants. Bryant, who would win just three more games in his career, placed third in the NL Cy Young voting. Runner-up was reliever Mike Marshall, a huge part of Montreal’s turnaround with a Herculean 172 innings in relief. Marshall appeared in a then-record 92 games and won 14 with 31 saves. The combative and unorthodox Marshall was promptly traded to the Dodgers, where in 1974 he set the still-standing major league record with 106 appearances and an untouchable 208.1 relief innings to become the first reliever to win the Cy Young. 

In stats looked at closer in more recent time, Seaver’s 11 wins above replacement (or WAR, comparing his effectiveness against the average replacement-level player) was the highest of any season in his remarkable 20-year career. His 0.976 wins and hits per nine innings (WHIP) and 3.92 strikeout to walk ratio marked the last season he was that dominant. At 28 years old, the 1,147 batters he faced were the most in his career. Sore shoulder and all, Seaver’s domination continued into October 1973: winning the game that clinched the NL East and not allowing more than two runs in any of his four postseason starts. Alas, the Mets won just one of those games… my kingdom for a timely hit by someone not named Rusty Staub. 

The 1973 awards not only brought Seaver his second Cy Young (he also won it in 1969 and would win again in 1975), but the American League award went to Baltimore’s Jim Palmer for the first time, beating out Angel Nolan Ryan in the legend’s one legit shot at a Cy Young. Palmer, who won the vote by 26 points in a crowded field, later became the first AL pitcher to claim the Cy Young three times. Orioles teammate Al Bumbry, an Army officer in Vietnam turned outfielder in Baltimore, was named AL Rookie of the Year. San Francisco’s Gary Matthews, later known as “Sarge” but a relative “private” in 1973, was named National League Rookie of the Year. 

The MVP for the AL went to Oakland’s Reggie Jackson, whose “Mr. October” resume commenced by claiming the World Series MVP (though teammate Bert Campaneris deserved the award). Jackson was the second A’s player to win AL MVP in three years, as Vida Blue captured the trophy—along with the Cy Young—in 1971. 

Like Reggie, another celebrated star won his lone MVP award in 1973: Pete Rose. Cincinnati’s Charlie Hustle captured his third—and last—batting title and had a career-high 230 hits. He almost incited a near riot at Shea, but he was about the only member of the Big Red Machine to show any life against the Mets in the NLCS. Rose batted .381 for a team that hit just .147 when Rose wasn’t up in the Championship Series. Not that any Mets fan minded.

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Can’t say much more about Swinging ’73 or the Mets than what Greg Prince said here on Faith and Fear in Flushing. Thanks, Greg Prince. And I don’t say it enough, but thanks to all the people who lived the book and keep the candle burning.

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And thank you, world champion Red Sox, for continuing to not be the Yankees, and to annoy their fans more than we ever could. Take it in, Sox Nation. You never know when it’ll end.

October 29, 2013

The 2013 FNP Met Award

Last week we completed the 2013 Mets Report Card, and every year honors a mediocre Mets student as Favorite Non-Playing Met. The FNP Met Award annually goes to a Met whose continued presence on the bench irritates the skipper inside me who knows if this guy got a chance he’d have changed the team’s fate. Or not. 

While cleaning out a closet today, I came across a box containing a folder with my report card from my Ted Williams Camp experience in 1980. Like a lot of this year’s Mets, the ballplaying me of 33 summers ago also got mostly C’s (scroll down to see how this year’s Mets did). My Ted Williams Report Card rated categories on a scale of 1-4, like batting averages if you multiply by 100: 1—If you weren’t paying, you wouldn’t be allowed to clean out the camp’s bug juice dispenser; 2—You are officially a mediocre ballplayer; 3—Y’know, you surprised us by not being lame; 4—You just might have the chance of getting paid to play ball, instead of the other way around. 

I got pretty much all 2’s, with a couple of 3’s thrown in and 1’s in every bunting category. (You’d think it was Terry Collins Baseball Camp instead of Ted Williams!) In case my camp coach is interested, I worked on my bunting and, in my last at bat in high school, squared around to bunt against the hardest thrower in the league. The bunt was a rocket that forced the pitcher to jump for it, lest it go into center field. He caught the bullet and then threw to first for a double play. I may be a 1 bunter, but I left the baseball playing field for the last time responsible for 2 outs. I got to laugh about it this weekend at my 30th high school reunion with my buddy Biddy, the person doubled off to end his baseball career in 1983. Thanks to me. 

That long and, some might say, painful story is continued proof of how I admire the mediocre in something that I obviously never got high marks in, except for effort. So ever since my first season as a fan, I always had a favorite player, like a Tom Seaver, and then a guy who either played sparingly or had no luck, the kind of person I could imagine sitting next to on the bench to lament about how we should play more or bat higher in the order. My first year in Little League I did not hit the ball once, and my midseason decision to swing less in order to strike out less frequently didn’t pay off until I finally, mercifully, walked in my last at bat. That same year, 1975, Randy Tate, an Alabaman living in New York, just like my mom’s family, went the entire season without getting a hit. Like me, he also only walked once, though his 41 at bats remain the most in history for a hitless player.

Sure, Randy Tate was a pitcher—he once took a no-hit bid at Shea into the eighth, only to lose —but like me he was a first-year player—albeit at a vastly different level of the game. He never came back to New York, yet I was back in Little League the next year getting my infield hit to break my hitless schneid. But I never forgot Randy Tate or players of his ilk who never got a second chance. Hence the Favorite Non-Playing Met. 

Past FNP Mets have included players who had great moments, like Todd Pratt or Heath Bell. Most FNP Mets, though, serve as proof indeed that as bad as Mets management has generally been over the last 38 seasons, they leave me looking as clueless if the bunt sign is on. To keep proving the point, many FNP Mets rarely return to Flushing to receive their plaque, even as visiting players. Though 2012 honoree Justin Turner is still, as we speak, on the roster, Nick Evans, the 2009 and 2010 winner, hasn’t been out of the minors since his back-to-back FNP Met victories. Jason Pridie has been to Citi Field once since being named FNP Met of 2011, collecting a hit his only time up at Citi Field. Way to rub it in on Randy Tate, Jason. 

And now, without further ado, the 2013 FNP Mets is...

A.R. It’s not the infamous A.R., Arnold Rothstein, the 1919 World Series fixer and New York gangster of Boardwalk Empire fame. It’s just little old Anthony Recker. Or as “little old” as a 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker of a backstop can be. Recker didn’t play much at all the first month of the season, which made sense while regular catcher John Buck hit nine homers in April to tie that month’s franchise record shared by Carlos Delgado in 2006 and Dave Kingman, another 1970s Mets favorite (the kind of favorite who played a lot). By May, though, Buck was whiffing like Kong and Recker was still sitting. A.R. got more playing time and had his highlight of the year: not only catching Zack Wheeler’s June major league debut, but hitting a home run to put the kid in line for the win. Recker hit six homers for the year, not as many as Buck in April, but five more than Travis d’Arnaud in two months in only 39 fewer plate appearances. 

The clinching moment for his FNPhood was when Buck’s wife went into labor—later than expected—and d’Arnaud came up in mid-August. With Daddy Buck back, Recker dutifully went to the minors for two weeks, even as he was on the verge of cracking the Mendoza line despite starting the year on life support at .083 at the end of April while getting precious few at bats to improve. Buck was traded at the end of August and Recker came back to New York. He actually saw lots of action in September, even with d’Arnaud and then third-stringer Juan Centeno getting P.T. But A.R. hit .295 in the final month to blast past the Mendoza line at .215 and impress the judges. 

We all know, or at least hope, that d’Arnaud is the future behind the plate for the Mets. Whether Recker is around to collect the FNP next year, I don’t know, but having played for the A’s and Cubs previously, showing good game-calling skills, a solid arm (caught 14 of 55 base stealers, about league average at 26 percent), showing pop, and even pitching once (allowing a walk and a home run vs. the Nats), the 29-year-old Recker seems to have gotten his backup catcher’s union card stamped. That’s carried many a backstop to years of steady six-figure employment. And that ain’t so FNPing bad for an Anthony Vito Recker, native of Allentown, PA. It’s hard to keep a good man down.   

October 21, 2013

Final Grades Are in for 2013 Mets

It is time for 2013 final grades for the 2013 season. If this were junior year of high school, these grades would not be getting any of these students into Brown, or even Brownsville Station. But 74 wins and finally getting out of fourth-place rut, while also assuring they do not have to surrender a draft pick for a free agent signing, translates into an overall grade of C for your 2013 Mets.

In order to format this final 2013 report card, I went back to last year’s grades. There has been a lot of turnover. Those missing from 2012 include (listed by grade, from highest down): R.A. Dickey, Scott Hairston, Ronny Cedeno, Chris Young, Jon Rauch, Andres Torres, Josh Thole, Ramon Ramirez, Miguel Batista, Mike Nickeas, Jason Bay, Manny Acosta, Justin Hampson (Las Vegas in 2013), Elvin Ramirez, Kelly Shoppach, Rob Johnson, and Mike Pelfrey, who received an incomplete. All I can say is... that team competed? Even if it was only for a few weeks in the first half of 2012, a team comprising that flotsam actually competed? Wow! I can only hope that there are 17 of the players below missing when I format the 2014 final grades. (Two that I know of, Mike Baxter and Robert Carson, have already been taken by other teams.) Maybe the 2014 Mets will be an improvement. Maybe they even move up from the 74-88 record on these last two final report cards. I do not know if any of us can take them falling a letter grade.

Given the team’s grim second halves since, well, 2006, I said before the season that I would be content with a team that simply played better in the second half than the first half. This year in the second half they hit five points better, had an on-base percentage six points higher, and stole 12 more bases than before the Citi Field Alll-Star Game (wonderful presentation that mid-July event, though it did not count toward these grades). The ERA was .18 better in the second half, they had their only two shutouts, and the staff had three more saves while at the same time tossing two more complete games (though one of those was rain-shortened). Most importantly, they had a winning percentage that was 18 points better in the second half. So what if the overall winning percentage was still just .457? Progress is progress. Even if it is sloooooooooow progress.

Due to 1973 business—and really, shouldn’t you be ordering your copy of Swinging ’73?—this year’s report card is later than I would like. So without any further ado, here are your 2013 New York Mets. Like it or not. And Misters Davis and Duda stop wasting everyone else’s time! See me after class. 

                                                    Final 2013 Grades

                  1H   2H  Final         Notes

David Wright        A   B+   A-     Not the same team when he’s out; high mark for captain pushing to return for final week.

Matt Harvey         A   B+  A-      Like Wright, leads by example. Well see mettle soon; 2.03 ERA, 3 BB in last 7 GS.

Dillon Gee             B+ B+  B+     From Memorial Day on, he was best Mets pitcher. Shame he got stuck at 199 IP.

Daniel Murphy       B   A-    B+     Murphs a good soldier; finally he was the healthy one and leader in most categories.

Zach Wheeler        B   A-    B+    Still a lot to learn, but first 100 IP in majors showed stuff, makeup, and leadership.

LaTroy Hawkins     B   A-    B+    Same as Wheeler, only on other end of age scale. Set great example for young pen.

Scott Rice             B-   A-   B+    32-year-old rook great control in 2H (3 BB); pitched & pitched until he got a hernia.

Bobby Parnell        B+ B+   B+    Thought of an incomplete for neck injury, but 1.29 ERA, 5 saves in 2H gets grade.

Marlon Byrd          A   B     B+     Even after trade to Pirates, reflected pride on Mets. Hope young Mets took notes.

Carlos Torres        B+ B     B       Teacher gives credit for Carlos filling need in rotation, though hes best as long man.

Eric Young            A-  B-    B       Hit only .228 in 2H, but stole 30 bases to claim SB crown. Brings life to top of order.

Josh Satin             A-  C     B       Slid a lot in second half, but I still think he could be good low-cost bench bat.

Jon Niese             C-   B+   B      A 2H record of 5-2, 3.00 ERA, and CG SHO after arm injury far better than expected.

Justin Turner         C   B     B-      Didnt seem like Burner had good 2H, but his .292/.330/.434 is great for this team.

Juan Lagares         C-  B     C+     Hitting needs work, but made strides in 2H. Already one of best defensive CF in NL.

Jeremy Hefner       A-  D     C+     Tempted to give incomplete for 2H, but 5 poor starts. Did especially well on road.

Anthony Recker      C-  B-    C       Hit 100 points higher in 2H; 6 HR, 19 RBI in 150 PA in 13. Should have backup role.   

Andrew Brown        C   C     C       Maybe late bloomer? Hit .250 as PH, but .385 Aug then .111 Sept shows hes up in air.

Omar Quintanilla      B   D     C      Could not wait for Sept. to expand roster and finally play someone else at short!

Dave Aardsma       B-  D     C       Fell off a cliff in 2H; ERA doubled from 1H. One of few Mets better at Citi than road.

Scott Atchison        C-  C+   C       Appeared a lot in 2H after a few pitchers gone down; good control, so-so results.

Ike Davis              F    B     C       A better player after recall; .286/.449/.505 in 2H before injury ended year. Jury out.

John Buck             C+ C-     C       Power disappeared in 2H; wife helped with long pregnancy that kept dArnaud at AAA.

Lucas Duda           C   D      C-      Played better as 1B, but still hit .196 in 2H; some people are just C students.

Greg Burke            C-  F      D       Can see why he went three years between MLB stints. Had 15.19 ERA in 2H.

Mike Baxter           D+ F      D       2 walkoff hits in 3 days dont offset 153 PA with 0 HR, 2 RBI, .189 AVG. Now a Dodger.


                                                    Only Appeared in One Half as Met

                     1H   2H         Notes

Travis dArnaud             C+         Hit just .202, 1 HR in 112 PA, but showed grit, good arm, and solid skills behind dish.

Wilmer Flores                C+         Not same player after hot start, injury. Needs positionmaybe 1B if Ike, Duda fail.

Daisuke Matsuzaka         C+         Failed first 3 starts; brilliant in last 4 starts. Hope I didnt learn to spell name for nothing.

Gonzalez Germen           C+         Throws hard. Dont know if he is set-up or mop up. Beats hell out of Manny Acosta.

Matt den Dekker             C           Not as good CF as Lagares; has succeed in second try at each level2014 in NY?

Pedro Feliciano                C           Somehow got in 25 games, had ERA under 4.00. Of course threw just 11.1 innings.

Josh Edgin            C                    Second year in a row he appeared in 34 games, was just pitching well when he got hurt.

Kirk Niewenhuis      C-                   No worry about learning to spell Niewenhuis; a lot has to happen to come back.

Jordany Valdespin   D-                   Key HRs early in year kept from failing. Steroid suspension, tantrum? Expendable.

Ruben Tejada        F                    Lost year for Ruben. Got hurt twice on same spot at Citi. Was lucky to bat .200.

Robert Carson        F                    Already waived to Angels; only reason picked up is hes lefty: 8.24 ERA, 9 HRs in 20 IP!

Brandon Lyon         F                    Spate of extra-inning games around July 4 gave excuse to cut him for fresh meat.

Shawn Marcum       F                    Not as bad as record (1-10, 5.29), but close. Waived after he had surgery in July.

Collin Cowgill            F                    That he was Opening Day CF is question Alderson should answer for. A waste.

Rick Ankiel              F                    Cowgill was so bad Ankiel seemed like improvement, for a moment: 25 Ks in 20 games.


                                          Not Enough Time Served for Grade

Victor Black                     Inc          Didnt debut until after Sept. trade with Pitt. Setup guy/closer looked like a B+.    

Jenrry Mejia                    Inc           Expected nothing and then he had 2.30 ERA in 5 starts before getting hurt. Again.

Zach Lutz                       Inc           Bench guy hit .300 in 26 PA. Has no position. Did keep from getting no-hit by Nats.

Aaron Harang                  Inc           Made 4 starts, kept Mets in most of them; had 3.52 ERA, 26 Ks in 23 IP.

Frank Francisco                Inc           Whole year Mets said he was goldbrick; came up in Sept., retired 18 of 26 batters. 

Tim Byrdak                     Inc           Did not know why he came back, then heard he wanted golden pass. Good for Tim.  

Wilfredo Tovar                 Inc           Didnt debut until final week. Good range, speed, and may not suck with bat.

Juan Centeno                   Inc           Bats lefty, late debut. Hit .300 in 10 PAs, but remember him gunning down Hamilton.

Jeuyrs Familia         Inc                     If he is not perpetually injured, he shows he can throw hard and get guys out.



Terry Collins            C     C+   C+      Mets respond to him, but team is not talented and he is not good in-game manager.

October 21, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/21/73... The End of the Line 

Forty years ago today, a team’s dream died in Oakland. It was a great dream. A dream of a team seemingly playing out the string, turning on a dime, and suddenly becoming the hottest team in baseball. There is no doubt Oakland was the better team, on paper. But so were the Reds, not to mention the Pirates, the Cardinals, and even the previously downtrodden Expos. The Mets pushed them all aside and four decades later people still speculate what might have happened against the A’s if the Mets pitching rotation was tweaked just a tiny bit. Ya gotta rationalize! 

With Tom Seaver having pitched (and lost) the previous day, it fell to Jon Matlack to start Game 7 in Oakland. Current Mets announcer Ron Darling is the only other Mets to start three times in one postseason series as a Met (1986 World Series). Matlack had not allowed an earned run in his last 25.1 innings, but just as in Game 1, his luck turned bad after allowing a double to opposing pitcher Ken Holtzman. Knocked out in Game 4 after retiring just one batter, Holtzman was fresh in Game 7. And after not getting a hit all year in the inaugural year of the designated hitter, he laced his second double of the Series. And like Game 1, Holtzman came around to score on a hit by Bert Campaneris. Although this time he could jog. 

The A’s had not homered in 61.1 innings of play against the Mets, a stretch of 218 plate appearances. Campy ended that drought with a high fly that carried over the fence in right. Three batters later, Reggie Jackson launched a two-run homer that made it 4-0 and let Mets fan know that the dream of stealing a world championship from the best team in baseball was not going to happen. As subtle as a turd, Reggie stomped on the dream at home plate.  

The Mets trailed 5-1—and just to add grist to the second-guess mill for the decades to come, George Stone struck out Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, and Reggie Jackson in order and tossed two shutout innings in relief in Game 7. With two men on in the ninth, Ed Kranepool hit a grounder to first base that should have ended the Series, but Gene Tenace’s error made it a 5-2 game and suddenly the Mets had the tying run at the plate. Dick Williams came out to the mound to make his final strategic decision as the A’s manager—he resigned immediately after the game, despite two years left on his contract, because he could no longer endure owner Charlie Finley. 

Lefty Darold Knowles came into the game, becoming the only pitcher in history to appear in all seven games of a World Series. People speculated then, and some still make the case, that the Mets should have sent up Willie Mays to pinch-hit for lefty-swinging Wayne Garrett. But Garrett had two of the team’s four home runs in the Series, plus the fumes Mays had been running on were long spent. As he’d done to open the Series, and to end Game 1, Garrett popped up and Oakland had its second of three straight world championships. The A’s jumped up and down. The Mets walked away. 

The 1973 season closed a chapter on the Mets as championship contender. In August of 1974 they nearly had the same record at the same point as in 1973, got hot for a couple of weeks, and went nowhere in the standings because the NL East was far superior to what it had been in ’73. Though the Mets finished third in both 1975 and 1976, they did not challenge for the division crown either year. A decade after ’73, the Mets endured their eighth straight losing year, the most depressing period in club history. The franchise would be revived, winning the 1986 World Series with the same sort of disbelieving comeback in Game 6 that they had displayed during September of ’73. There is still a germ of this indomitable spirit of Tug McGraw hidden deep in every Mets team, and every Mets fan. Ya gotta remember, “Ya Gotta Believe!” 

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Thus ends the saga of the 1973 baseball season. After taking care of usual awards and reflections on the season just past, we’ll be back with more reflections of “This Date in ’73” to finish 2013. And if you’ve enjoyed this wild ride of reflection, pick up a copy of Swinging ’73 in either paperback or e-book format. It not only makes a great gift, it is a helluva story that has a lot more to it than you’ve read on the site. Thanks for the feedback and fun.

October 20, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/20/73... Game 6: The Second Guess

I suppose it is second nature to second guess. And I think one of the things that people can second guess without earth-shattering consequences is sports. Baseball especially lends itself to these “what might have been” scenarios. And the star-crossed Mets have more than their share, from “What if they’d picked Reggie Jackson instead of Steve Chilcott in the 1966 draft?” to “Why didn’t Beltran swing?” But when it comes to the 1970s, there are questions that could have made the Mets a dynasty, or at least multiple world champions of the Shag Carpet Era (1969-79) like the A’s, Pirates, Reds, and Yankees:   

“What if Gil Hodges had lived?” (Even the Mets World Series program offered a cover that pondered this very question.)

Or, taking it out of God’s hands, “What if the Mets had hired Whitey Herzog instead of Yogi Berra to replace Gil?” 

“What if the Mets had kept Nolan Ryan?”

“What if George Stone had pitched Game 6 in the 1973 World Series and Tom Seaver pitched Game 7?” 

No one can ever really know the answer to any of these questions, but as someone who studied the last question for years, talked to people who were there, and thought about it as much as anybody, I urge you to read Swinging ’73 to trace how the question originated with Queens College student Howie Rose in the Shea upper deck after Game 5, and how the press handled it (or ignored it) during the off day, and what both managers later said about the choice. But my opinion, is this: 

Whether Yogi Berra started George Stone or Tom Seaver 40 years ago today, neither was beating Catfish Hunter in Game 6, Oakland wins. I find it hard to believe that Stone, 12-3 during the year and used just once in relief in the Series to that point, could have pitched a shutout against the Swinging A’s, and that’s what he would have had to do to beat them. The Mets scored just once off Hunter while Reggie Jackson (not career minor leaguer Steve Chilcott) knocked in two for Oakland.

The bigger question may actually be: Could the Mets have pulled off the Series-clinching win if they’d tied Game 6 in the eighth inning? After three straight singles to chase Catfish and cut the A’s lead to 2-1, Darold Knowles fanned Rusty Staub with the tying run on third, and then Rollie Fingers came in to get Cleon Jones to fly out. Oakland scored an unearned run off Tug McGraw in the bottom of the eighth. Fingers then completed the four-out save for the 3-1 win that tied the Series. 

Having spent Seaver, the best chance for the Mets to win was, in theory, gone. But remember that anything beyond what actually happened is hindsight. It being 1973, the bigger question of Saturday into Sunday was “How could Richard Nixon fire the special prosecutor in charge of putting together the case against the president and the Watergate tapes?” That came to the fore shortly after the very tidy 2-hour, 7-minute Game 6. That night became “The Saturday Night Massacre,” the latest devastating act of presidential overreach. The news took over the airwaves and the minds of Americans that October night in 1973. Yet by Sunday afternoon, the world championship would still have to be decided. The baseball facts that mattered would be rendered on the field of play, not the field of speculation.

October 18, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/18/73... Game 5: Kooz Can’t Lose

Jerry Koosman never lost a postseason game for the Mets. Oh, he had stinkers in the 1969 NLCS and in Game 2 of the 1973 World Series—both of which the Mets won after his early departure. That’s luck. The kind of stuff that makes people dismiss wins as a useless stat. But when you are charged with starting a postseason game, the only thing that matters is winning, and in his four postseason victories he had a 1.64 ERA and averaged better than eight innings per start, going all the way in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series to clinch perhaps the most unlikely world championship in baseball history. And his effort in Game 5 in 1973 should have started another raucous celebration. 

I’ve already gone into how the Mets should have won Game 3 in the 1973 Series, which would have made Game 5 the clincher, and there will be more “what might have been” talk for Game 6. So let us just say that Game 5 was just Koosman mowing down the Oakland A’s. Like Seaver in Game 3, the Mets took a 2-0 lead, but this time Yogi Berra got his starter out early and let Tug McGraw do the heavy lifting with men on base. 

That Kooz got to the seventh inning with a shutout was no surprise—though Don Hahn knocking in an insurance run with an RBI-triple in the home sixth was quite the shocker. Koosman set a club record with 32.2 consecutive scoreless innings in August and September, a mark that lasted until R.A. Dickey topped it in 2012. But in the seventh inning of Game 5, a walk and a one-out double by Ray Fosse put the tying runs in scoring position. On came Tug. After one night off—he had pitched a staggering 10 innings of relief in the first three games—McGraw was good to go again.

On another freezing night in Flushing, McGraw came into face pinch hitter Deron Johnson, one of the top designated hitters in the first year of the rule. Tug had gotten him out on Opening Day, when Johnson was still a Phillie. This time he walked Johnson, unintentionally, but with Dick Williams having already used his best pinch hitter and the pitcher’s spot due up, the A’s manager had to go with the weaker-hitting Angel Mangual. Tug got him to pop up, and then caught Series hero Bert Campaneris looking. It sent Tug into mitt-bouncing convulsions and put Shea Stadium in a frigid frenzy.    

It being the ’70s, of course Tug pitched the last two innings of relief as well. He pitched out of two-on, two-out jam in the eighth, and put the A’s down in order in the ninth, catching Billy Conigliaro looking as Tug bounced off the mound once more. The Mets were one game from a championship. What could go wrong?

October 17, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/17/1973... Game 4: Rusty and Frigid

Unlike Game 3, where the Mets got the first three runners on and never came through again the rest of the long, cold night, the Mets had three runs after three batters in Game 4 of the 1973 World Series. Due to a separated shoulder, Rusty Staub had modified his swing to be more of a singles hitter and did that especially well, hitting .423 in what would be his only career World Series action. But in the first inning, Staub took a Ken Holtzman pitch “oppo” over the left-center field wall to give the Mets the big hit they sorely lacked the previous night. After two more Mets reached base, Holtzman was yanked. 

Jon Matlack, who’d endured a hard-luck loss in Game 1, gave up his third unearned run of the Series in the fourth inning. In the bottom of the frame, Staub singled home two more runs and an A’s error added another run. “Sign Man” Karl Ehrhardt carried a “You’re Fired” sign, a dig at A’s owner Charlie Finley. Finley had lost his battle with the commissioner—and his team—over “firing” Mike Andrews after the worst game of his life in Game 2. Reinstated to the roster, Andrews pinch-hit in the eighth inning. Dick Williams, who had managed him as a rookie in the 1967 World Series for Boston, owed it to his player, his team, and himself. Andrews got a standing ovation both coming to the plate and walking back to the dugout. Even Finley waved his A’s pennant in recognition of the beleaguered infielder.  

Matlack went eight innings—Ray Sadecki pitched the ninth—and Staub not only knocked in five runs, but played the entire game in right field despite not being able to throw overhand. Yogi Berra would not use Willie Mays again for defense—Willie’s final at bat had come as a pinch hitter in the 10th inning the night before. Spare outfielder George “The Stork” Theodore was used to spell left fielder Cleon Jones, who was ill and caught on camera throwing up in the outfield. 

There were a few people in the stands coming down with colds this October. It was freezing. Night World Series games were still a new thing, and this marked the first time for night postseason games in New York. It made for lousy weather but good ratings—so the night games continued. Future generations would be breaking out the ski apparel for October baseball.

October 16, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/16/1973... Game 3: How They Blew It

Most people who still ponder the ’73 World Series say the Mets’ fatal mistake was not pitching George Stone in Game 6 and saving Tom Seaver to pitch on full rest in Game 7 (if needed). More on that later, but I will tell you here and now that there should not have been a Game 6 because the Series should never have gone back to Oakland. Like the 1969 World Series, the Mets should have won in five. Here’s three reasons why the Mets should have won Game 3 and gone on to win the 1973 World Series in five games: 

First, the A’s had only a 23-man roster for Game 3. Because Charlie Finley, as owner and GM, foolishly sold Jose Morales to Montreal in September, Oakland was unable to replace Morales, who later set a record for pinch hitters, on the postseason roster. Yet Finley, never adverse to circumventing rules that did not suit him, tried to do so twice with young infielder Manny Trillo. The Mets said no before the Series (as was their right), and the second time Bowie Kuhn said no (the commissioner invalidated the move since Finley had made infielder Mike Andrews sign a form stating he was injured following his two errors in Game 2). Mike Andrews would return, but he was not with the team and could not physically make it to New York until Game 4, so the A’s played Tuesday with 23 men. And playing an extra-inning game on the road with a short bench put the A’s at a distinct disadvantage, though it was nothing they couldn’t overcome. 

Second, Tom Seaver was incredible. I have a “bootleg” video of Game 3 of the ’73 World Series, the first inning of which you can see here (with the added treat Mets broadcaster Lindsey Nelson, as was the custom, working as “home” announcer in the NBC booth with Curt Gowdy). But just look at Seaver… he is throwing harder and better than I ever saw him. He is at the tail end of what some number-crunchers have called the best season of his brilliant career, and he was a gamer the likes of which, due to pitch counts and contracts defying comprehension, are no longer allowed full reign in today’s game. Another extinct gamer, Catfish Hunter, was on the hill for the A’s. He allowed two runs, threw a wild pitch, and committed an error just five batters into the game on a frigid night. It looked like a rout in the making, but Catfish wriggled off the hook. 

Third, the Mets were playing at home in front of 54,000 fans. Some of these same crazed fans had, just six days earlier, torn Shea Stadium limb from limb after the ballclub won the unlikely pennant. At this point in Mets history, the team owned a 6-1 postseason mark at Shea and had 11 veterans of the ’69 triumph on the roster: catcher (Jerry Grote), shortstop (Bud Harrelson), third baseman (Wayne Garrett), left fielder (Cleon Jones), a strong bench (Ken Boswell, Ed Kranepool, Duffy Dyer), and a deep pitching staff (Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw, Jim McAndrew). 

So why didn’t the Mets win Game 3, and, more to the point, the 1973 World Series, in an easy-peasy five games? Here’s the hard truth: 

First, Dick Williams was a better manager than Yogi Berra. Though he was down two players that night, Oakland’s Hall of Fame skipper deftly utilized his bench. Even as the game went extras—using pitcher Paul Linblad to bat for himself in the decisive 11th—Williams still had two starting pitchers, two relievers, and a reserve outfielder in case the game continued forever. When the A’s were down a run in the seventh, Williams sent up three pinch hitters in a row. After the A’s tied it an inning later, he played it close to the vest. One of his replacements, Ted Kubiak, scored the winning run. Oakland pitchers did not allow a run over the last 10.2 innings of Game 3. Once Seaver and McGraw were used, the Mets were vulnerable. Bert Campaneris singled, stole second, and scored the tying run in the eighth against Seaver; in the 11th his hit knocked home Kubiak, who’d walked and taken second on a passed ball by Grote. Williams had the American League’s best reliever, Rollie Fingers, come in and notch the save. 

Second, as good as he was, Seaver was not infallible. Tim McCarver was just saying yesterday how he recently spent seven hours talking with Tom about pitching and how GTS hates the concept of pitch count. But throwing so many pitches in Game 3 in ’73—he fanned five in the first two innings, had 10 by the fifth, and whiffed 12 overall—took a lot out of a shoulder that had troubled him down the stretch. Oakland’s determined plate approach got to him, but it was nothing that a couple more runs by the Mets wouldn’t have solved. Hunter, Knowles, Linblad, and Fingers combined to strand 14 Mets.  

Third, Mets fans can share some of the blame. Because of the ravaging of the field after the NLCS, Mets groundskeeper Pete Flynn had to work magic to get the infield into shape for the World Series. His solution was to replace the missing infield with grass from the outfield near the warning track. An ingenious solution, but Don Hahn didn’t know. As the Mets center fielder raced toward the wall after Sal Bando’s drive in the sixth inning, he came up short, thinking that he was about to hit the wall—based on reaching the warning track. Though he still had room, Hahn, who’d been involved in a horrific collision with George Theodore in July, slowed up just enough for Bando’s ball to land for a double. Bando scored on Gene Tenace’s two-out double for Oakland’s first run.  

And Shea’s ground rules also did them no favors. John Milner hit a drive in the fifth inning that landed against the brick facing in right field. At the end of the 1970s, under a ground rule change, that would have been a home run. In 1973 it was just a long single, a longing for just a little more.  

Milner also provided the team’s best shot at sudden victory. The Hammer, who reached base his first four times up, scalded a drive with two on in the ninth off Paul Linblad. Despite very well knowing how the game ended, I stood up while watching the tape as if the Mets were going to win… until Reggie snagged the ball. Even in predetermined outcomes, there is yet still hope. On some distant alternate universe, fans at Shea rip up the field once more in 1973.

October 14, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/14/73... Game 2: Flub, Flop, Fire

The second game of the 1973 World Series has been called one of the greatest Series games by some, and called one of the sloppiest by others. At the end of the day the A’s made five errors, plus several other flubs that were not charged as errors, and one of Oakland’s players was crucified over a game that should have never lasted so long. 

Thanks to three hits, two walks, a hit batter, and a bases-loaded error, the Mets scored four times in the sixth inning to take a 6-3 lead in Oakland. As was a manager’s wont back then, Yogi Berra brought in his top reliever in the sixth inning to close out the A’s and even the Series at a game apiece. Tug should have gotten the save, too. But 42-year-old Willie Mays, playing center field, lost a ball in the tough California sun to give the A’s life in the ninth. (Hard as it may be to comprehend today, this Sunday game was played in the afternoon sunshine, starting at 1 p.m. Pacific time, 4 p.m. eastern—the network choosing to forego late NFL games for baseball.) 

With two outs in the ninth, Tug had Sal Bando struck out, but umpire Augie Donatelli, who had a difficult career-ending game of his own, called ball three and ball four. Bando would score the game-tying run a base hit by Gene Tenace. 

And McGraw remained on the hill. In fact, he retired seven in a row after allowing the game-tying single. The Mets scored four times in the top of the 12th—helped by consecutive errors by A’s second baseman Mike Andrews—but Willie Mays lost another ball in the sun to start the bottom of the 12th. After a walk to Tenace, Berra decided that McGraw, who came up to bat three times in his six innings—yes, six innings!—had pitched long enough. George Stone came on and pitched out of a bases-loaded jam to pick up the save for McGraw, who more than earned the 10-7 win. 

The Mays muffs were tough to take. Announcer Monte Moore, working the NBC booth, said it for everyone: “This is the thing all sports fans in all areas hate to see, a great one playing in his last years having this kind of trouble standing up and falling down.” Rusty Staub had gritted his teeth and played right field despite a separated throwing shoulder. There was no DH in the World Series then, so Staub had to play the field despite not being able to throw overhand. Mays thus entered as a defensive replacement for Staub. That’s another “in hindsight moment” a manager from this game would have liked to have back. The most memorable gaffe, however, was Dick Williams’s decision to play Mike Andrews in the field in extra innings. Neither Mays nor Andrews ever played in the field again in the majors. 

The forever image of the Mays as a Met, and the cover image of Swinging ’73, is the great Willie pleading his case to umpire Augie Donatelli after the ump said Ray Fosse had tagged Bud Harrelson at the plate in the 10th. (Harrelson was so safe!) For all his short-comings in the game, Mays did hit a hundred-hopper to center to break the tie in the 12th, before the Andrews errors gave the Mets three more runs. 

After the game, Andrews was “fired” by irate A’s owner Charlie Finley, who had the team doctor write—and the crushed Andrews confirm—that the veteran infielder’s shoulder was too injured to continue playing in the Series. The brouhaha would go coast to coast and lead to another classic confrontation between the A’s owner and commissioner Bowie Kuhn. It would also lead manager Dick Williams to abandon ship. And it all could have been avoided if a center fielder had caught a flyball, or an umpire had made the right call in the innings prior to all hell breaking loose. 

But this was baseball as opera. A sloppy, beautiful opera of a World Series that was just starting. And as Yogi Berra so wistfully observed long ago, “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” And everyone was just getting warmed up.

October 13, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/13/73... Game 1: Designated Holtzman

The first game of the 1973 World Series was a dose of reality for the Mets. Like the ’73 NLCS opener, the Mets got a great-pitched game by a starter, only to lose by a 2-1 score. The Mets outplayed the A’s, who had just four hits in the game—including one that was the result of this move by Bert Campaneris to elude John Milner that made the cover of Sports Illustrated. The big hit, though, came from a man without an official at bat all season. 

Oakland starter Ken Holtzman came up with a man on first and one out in the third inning of a scoreless game. Having batted just once all year due to the first year of the designated hitter rule, the plan was for him to bunt until a pitch hit the dirt and Dick Green took off for second, only to be gunned out by Mets catcher Jerry Grote. With two outs and no one on, Holtzman swung away, pulled a ball down the line in left field, and slid into second with a double. 

Bert Campaneris followed by hitting a grounder to second that sure-handed Felix Millan let go through his legs for an error to give Oakland a 1-0 lead. Matlack then picked off the speedy Campaneris, but he simply took off for second and beat John Milner’s throw. Campy then scored on Joe Rudi’s single and it was 2-0, A’s.  

You’d think that with both Willie Mays and Reggie Jackson playing center field, the Mets would have the advantage, but you’d be wrong. Reggie, playing center in place of injured Bill North, made a game-saving play on a liner by Grote to quell one rally, and he made four catches overall and got to balls quickly before he moved to right field in the late innings with Vic Davalillo taking over center field. Willie Mays was lauded when he was introduced before the game. (Check out the very cool Game One introductions and NBC pregame show here.) Mays was playing center field because of Rusty Staub’s injured shoulder, and Willie had no business playing the field. He stumbled and then fumbled Sal Bando’s hit in the third, allowing the A’s to take an extra base and earning an error. Matlack got out of the jam, but two runs was a lot on this day. 

Showing how things have changed in terms of managing, Holtzman, who banged up his knee sliding, left after the fifth, and Rollie Fingers took the mound. That’s Rollie Fingers as in Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers in his prime, coming in to start the sixth inning. He stayed on the hill until the ninth—he even came up as a batter and struck out—and Fingers only came out when the Mets put the tying run on base. This 2-1 game took 2:26 to play, some 90 fewer minutes than the opening game of the ALCS last night. I watched both games and you know what the difference is? Pitcher and batter fidgeting between pitches. Pitchers got the ball and the sign, then pitched; batters stayed in the box. Remarkable. 

Lefty Darold Knowles got the ball when pinch hitter Rusty Staub was announced (as a decoy, he couldn’t swing just then), and then righty Jim Beauchamp batted in his place, hitting a soft liner that was caught on the run. Wayne Garrett came up with a chance to be a hero and popped up to end the game. And not for the last time.

October 11, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/11/73... The A’s Last Game Five Clincher

In 2013, it’s a tough day for the Oakland A’s, who have lost each of the five Game Fives they have played in the American League Division Series since 2000. The last time the A’s won a decisive Game Five in the playoffs was, in fact, 1973. And the source of that win came from the arm of a Hall of Famer and one of the great money pitchers: Jim “Catfish” Hunter

Unfortunately, Catfish has been gone for a long time, a victim of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. But from all I’ve read and gleaned from talking to his teammates, Hunter was the glue to those dominant A’s teams. Though in 1973 he was still only 27, Catfish was among the longest tenured members of his club. As a championship high school pitcher in rural North Carolina, he was pursued by the then-Kansas City A’s in 1964. Hunter signed with Charlie Finley for $75,000—a huge bonus in the last year before the amateur draft. And this was after Hunter’s brother had accidentally shot him in the foot and scared off other clubs. I’ll let you read up in Swinging ’73 about the rest of his colorful background and his intriguing relationship with the A’s owner and general manager, who were one in the same. 

There was a Game Five in the 1973 ALCS only because the A’s had blown Game Four. With the A’s leading that game, 4-0, and Vida Blue cruising, the Orioles quickly rallied for a run in the seventh and then tied Game Four the Earl Weaver way: by hitting a three-run homer. That it came from the most unlikely of sources—part-time catcher Andy Etchebarren—made it all the more stunning. Rollie Fingers allowed a home run the next inning and the O’s had evened the series.   

But like the Mets, chance had given Oakland home-field advantage and the extra game. Catfish had won Game Two after the ’73 Cy Young winner Jim Palmer had stymied the A’s in the opener. Palmer had been knocked out early in Game Four and he was summoned early in Game Five after Weaver’s decision to start Doyle Alexander backfired. Run-scoring hits by Joe Rudi, Vic Davalillo, and Jesus Alou gave Oakland a 3-0 lead by the time Palmer came on in the fourth inning. He allowed only two hits and a walk the rest of the way, but it didn’t matter. This 3-0 lead wasn’t getting away from Catfish. 

When Bobby Grich grounded out to end the game—Hunter fanned just one in a breezy 2-hour, 11-minute shutout—the A’s barely had time to shake hands before getting the hell out of the way. Despite what remains the smallest crowd in League Championship Series history (24,265), the Oakland Coliseum mob took part in a little Thursday afternoon insurrection. The team’s past clinchers—including the division, pennant, and World Series—had all been on the road. The Oakland fans took the field and A’s took it to the clubhouse. Next stop: the ’73 World Series, and the New York Mets.  

October 10, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/10/73... Mets Win Pennant, US Loses VP

No matter how much some people held onto the 1960s concept of “turn on, tune in, drop out,” you could not get away from politics in 1973. Forty years later, it isn’t any easier to escape. 

On this day in 1973, just as the Mets and Reds were getting ready for their afternoon game to decide the National League pennant, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. It was due to allegations of accepting bribes while Agnew was governor of Maryland. He stunned reporters by unexpectedly arriving at the Federal Courthouse in Baltimore and, as part of a plea deal, Agnew abruptly announced his resignation. 

The network news quickly cut to the story, even NBC, which was carrying the Mets-Reds game from Shea Stadium. Though Agnew was the first VP to resign under duress in American history (John Calhoun had resigned in 1828 to join the Senate), the two-minute report ended with an almost cheery, “and now back to the ballgame.” 

The Mets were winning, thanks to a two-run single by Ed Kranepool, filling in after Rusty Staub severely hurt his shoulder crashing into the wall in extra innings the day before. (The Reds won Game Four in 12 innings, 2-1, on a home run by Bud Harrelson abuser Pete Rose, fist raised and booed lustily at Shea.) The Reds rallied in Game Five, but once more in this  series, the Big Red Machine struggled to keep up with the Punch-and-Judy Mets lineup. Facing Tom Seaver didn’t help. 

After Cincinnati tied the game in the top of the fifth, the Mets went for the jugular. Wayne Garrett led off the home fifth with a double. Reds starter Jack Billingham fielded Felix Millan’s bunt and went for the out at third, but Dan Driessen did not make the tag. Cleon Jones followed with a double to give the Mets the lead. Billingham’s replacement, Don Gullett, walked John Milner, and when Berra replaced Kranepool with Willie Mays, the managerial wheels spun once more and Sparky Anderson’s best reliever, Clay Carroll, emerged from the bullpen cart with the bases loaded and two out.  

The pitching change gave the fans at Shea a longer chance to salute the great Mays, who had been feted but had not batted in more than a month. Some force, perhaps God watching from his Flushing apartment (as the papers had credited as the source of this ’73 autumn miracle in New York), allowed broken-down Willie Mays—and the fortuitous Mets—one more great hop. Mays clubbed a ball off the plate, bounding high enough to score a run and put Mays on first with an RBI single. Don Hahn’s groundout and Bud Harrelson’s hit—take that, Charlie Hustle!—made it a 6-2 game. 

With Seaver mowing down the Reds—and even scoring in the sixth for a 7-2 lead—the natives grew restless. In the stands behind first base, the Reds contingent was jostled, pushed, and abused so much that they were led out of the stands early. Anyone could see there was a riot brewing, and the 340 policemen in the stands would be unable to quell it. Fans pushed down to the lower deck, preparing to attack the field when the game ended. Fans had behaved similarly in 1969, but that was seen as “joyous looting.” Witnesses who experienced both “celebrations” say that the clinchings four years apart were completely different animals, with animal being the right word.

Expecting the worst, Mets security had already secured the bullpen carts, and Tug McGraw had to walk in from the pen when Seaver lost his concentration in the ninth following the collapse of part of the railing down the right-field line from the crush of fans. McGraw retired the last two Reds, fielding a throw from Milner at first base to end the game and commence a sea of grabbing, clutching, frenzied fans. Even Willie Mays, stranded in no man’s land in center field, was not immune. As a fan aggressively grabbed at his cap, members of the Mets bullpen fought off the man and the mob to get Willie to safety. 

Champagne flowed in the locker room and the Mets talked about the World Series—they did not yet know if they would play Baltimore or Oakland. It had been quite a climb from last place to the pennant in six weeks. And it had been quite a day.

October 8, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/8/1973... “And a Fight Breaks Out!”

When people think back to the 1973 Mets, the first memory is usually not the Amazin’ comeback from last to first, it’s not Tug McGraw and his “Ya Gotta Believe” mantra, it’s not even winning the pennant and taking the A’s dynasty to a seventh game in the World Series—the first recollection someone usually brings up is the fight between Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose. Forty years ago today, the fight was on. 

The Reds were the best team in the National League in the first half of the 1970s. They won division titles in 1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1976. The only one of those times they did not reach the World Series was in ’73. And they couldn’t believe who beat them.

After the Mets defeated the Reds to even the 1973 NLCS at a game apiece, the Mets had home-field advantage. It’s only in the last 20 years that home-field advantage has been decided by better record; before that home-field alternated each year. In the NLCS it was two games in one city followed by three in another. And in 1973 it was not only a best-of-five, the series was played with no off days. 

So as the Reds and Mets took the field for batting practice before Game Three on Columbus Day morning, the Reds were still boiling from the previous day’s loss to a team they felt was inferior to the Big Red Machine. Bud Harrelson, barely 150 pounds and the lightest of the light-hitting shortstops in the NL, made a joke in the press about the Reds looking like him at the plate on Sunday in Jon Matlack’s shutout. In two games the Reds had two runs, six hits, and fanned 22 times against Matlack and Tom Seaver. It wasn’t the underdog Mets who were lucky to be tied in the series—it was the Reds! 

Joe Morgan, who hailed from the same part of the Bay Area as Harrelson, told Bud before Game Three that the Reds did not appreciate his postgame comments, especially Pete Rose. Cincinnati only got Red-hotter under the collar as the Mets smacked them around at Shea Stadium on Monday. Rusty Staub, who’d homered off a lefty a day earlier, homered twice in the first two innings of Game Three against southpaws Ross Grimsley and Tom Hall, respectively. Though the Reds scored twice to make it 6-2, the Mets continued to batter every lefty sent in by Sparky Anderson. Jerry Koosman singled in a run off Dave Tomlin to support his own cause in the third. Then Cleon Jones and John Milner drove in runs before Tomlin was finally knocked out in the fourth. But the real knockout came in the fifth when, with Rose on first and one out in a 9-2 game, Morgan, who started the whole Big Red brooding brouhaha, hit a groundball that started a 3-6-3 double play. As always, Bob Murphy was the eyes for those not packed into Shea Stadium. 

And a fight breaks out! A fight breaks out! Pete Rose and Buddy Harrelson. Both clubs spill out of the dugouts, and a wild fight is going on! Jerry Koosman’s in the middle of the fight. Everybody is out there. Buddy Harrelson and Pete Rose got into it. Rose apparently thought that Harrelson had done something in making the double play. Rose outweighs Harrelson about 35 pounds. And now Buzzy Capra is in a fight! Capra is in a fight out in center field. Another fight breaks out!

It was a full-on donnybrook, the doozy of all Mets fights. SNY has trimmed the postseason part off 1973 Mets Yearbook—I was told that it was because that is an extra fee to air—so take a look at this excellent “lost” footage of the fight. There is a great overview about that week from the excellent 1980s program, Our World, that begins with the fight and leads into the Yom Kippur War, which began this week in the Middle East in 1973, resulting in the oil Embargo that changed the American consumer and the car industry. And in case you missed it (or I let anyone forget), one more time we have Steve Somers and I last week talking up the fight on WFAN.

If you want to hear blow-by-blow recounts of the Shea Stadium main event from Jerry Koosman, Buzz Capra, Rusty Staub, Wayne Garrett, George Theodore, Ron Hodges, Jon Matlack, and Harrelson himself, pick up a copy of Swinging ’73. The FAN’s own Bob Heussler, then a college freshman, describes the scene sitting directly above Pete Rose in the left field loge section when the garbage and the whiskey bottle started flying from the stands. Groundskeeper Pete Flynn, charged with cleaning up the debris after Sparky Anderson pulled the Reds off the field, will even tell you the brand of whiskey it was. 

The book title plays off the Oakland A’s trademark style, plus the lifestyle swap of Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich. It was October 8, 1973, however, when the Mets really got in their swings in Swinging ’73.   

October 7, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/7/1973... Matlack, Mets Lick Reds

If you stayed up for the A’s-Tigers finish Saturday night, and watched some of the postgame (what can I say, I like Keith Olberman and Dirk Hayhurst and their standing up to David Price’s bellyaching tweeting), there was a graphic about Detroit’s pitching dominance in the first two games. It said that the 29 strikeouts by the Tigers were the third-most in the first two postseason games of a series since the 1973 Mets. Keep in mind that the 1970s were a time when more batters choked up on the bat, had pride in making contact, and fewer strikeouts in general, so the Mets fanning the Big Red Machine that many times—on the road, no less—was that much more impressive. Though it should be noted that the 4 p.m. start times of the best-of-five ’73 NLCS games in Cincinnati allowed the late-day sun to make two hard-throwing Mets moundsmen even harder to see, much less hit. 

Tom Seaver struck out a then-LCS record 13 Reds in the opener, only to lose on homers after the sun went away in the eighth and ninth by Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, respectively. Jon Matlack kept the pitching log that day in preparation for his Game 2 start. He told me for Swinging ’73

I’m looking at this chart after the game, thinking, ‘How in the world do you do better than this?’ You can’t give them anything, or they are liable to beat you. It was that sort of a mindset that went into the next day.

Matlack’s mindset paid off. He faced Don Gullett, at age 22 a year Matlack’s junior and one of the few lefties in the National League who threw harder than the Mets southpaw. Rusty Staub noticed something in Gullett’s delivery, and he took the Reds lefty deep. The Reds were lucky to get any baserunners off Matlack. If not for Andy Kosco, the journeyman right- handed outfielder who’d just turned 32 and got a start instead of rookie lefty-swinger Ken Griffey Sr., Cincinnati might not have gotten any hits at all. Kosco had the only two hits against Matlack, but entering the ninth it was still a 1-0 game, which looked somewhat tenuous given Seaver’s superb effort and 2-1 loss the previous day. One little mistake and… 

Matlack never made one. And he felt much better after Mets Cleon Jones, Jerry Grote, and Bud Harrelson all collected RBI hits in the top of the ninth against the Reds bullpen. The 5-0 win evened the series as the second-year southpaw went the distance with as dominant and critical an outing as another second-year lefty, Jerry Koosman, had in Game Two of the 1969 World Series after Tom Seaver had been defeated in the opener. Now New York was coming home. And the old saying that great pitching beats great hitting wasn’t looking like just a postseason adage. It looked like the gospel truth.

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For anyone who is in Providence on Tuesday (October 8), I will be at the New England Independent Book Association Conference at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. I will be signing at table B-2 at 11 a.m. Tell me you read about the gig here and you’ll get a stunned look, a free book, a bookmark, and a slap on the back from this baseball nerd—take that David Price, who despite a later apology, should be strong and silent, like Jon Matlack was in his Game Two.

October 3, 2013

Cruising and Schmoozing Right Here on the FAN

For those who missed it or are out of market, listen here to my long-awaited interview with “The Schmoozer” Steve Somers on WFAN a couple of days ago. I can’t believe all the people who didn’t even know I was on who heard it and sent me notes. Even without the Mets that FAN has some range.  

Thanks to WFAN’s “Mr. Met” Bob Huessler for setting it up and staying on point, along with producer Casey Keefe and Mr. Somers himself, who, I forgot to mention on air, is quoted a couple of times in Swinging ’73 during his days on TV out in “Sacratamato” and points west. And thanks to all who retweeted and spread the word about my appearance, which was set up just as I was getting ready to fly to Florida to be with family. My dad probably would not have heard the interview if I had not visited that day, so that was a treat unto itself for both of us.

October 1, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 10/1/1973... Believe It: NL East Champs!

It is now in the collective fan’s mantra that the Mets always blow it on the final day of the season (1998, 2007, and 2008 come to mind). The Mets claimed the 1999 Wild Card with a one-game playoff victory, but never has a Mets team won a game on the last day of the season to clinch a division title... with the marvelous exception of October 1, 1973. 

The NL East was extremely mediocre, but the Mets were Amazin’ with a capital A, going 34-19 over the final two months with a 24-9 charge to the finish line that saw them go from last place to first in just over three weeks. Rain at Wrigley caused the Mets and Cubs to play a pair of doubleheaders to end the season. The Mets split Sunday’s doubleheader, and another twinbill was scheduled for Monday—with a three-way tie between the Mets, Cardinals, and Pirates still possible if the Mets got swept. 

In a decision that would come up again, manager Yogi Berra opted for Tom Seaver and his sore shoulder over well-rested George Stone. Berra could have started the first game with Stone and his 12-3 record, 2.80 ERA, and eight-game winning streak. If the Mets lost the opener, Seaver could start the second game. If the Mets won the first game, Berra could start someone else—from the forgotten Jim McAndrew to a random September callup—in the nightcap. But Yogi chose Seaver, as he would fatefully do in Oakland three weeks later. This time it worked.  

Seaver gave the Mets all he had, and the Mets provided plenty of offense. New York went up 5-0 against Burt Hooton, but the Cubs scored twice in the home fifth to cut it to 5-2. Ron Santo, playing his final game as a Cub before a controversial trade sent the beloved third baseman across town, committed a run-scoring error for the second straight game to make it a four-run lead. But Rick Monday came up with a man on and drilled a home run off Seaver in the seventh to make it 6-4. 

Berra came to get Seaver and went to his best man, his fireman: Tug McGraw. Tug had coined “Ya Gotta Believe” as the mantra for downtrodden teams still hoping for a miracle. McGraw pitched the final three innings, climaxing an Amazin’ run that saw him earn four wins, 12 saves, and an 0.88 ERA over his last 41 innings. Yet there was a tenuous moment.  

With Ken Rudolph on first and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Cubs manager Whitey Lockman turned to “the book.” With a southpaw on the mound and the tying run at the plate, Lockman removed his leading home run hitter, lefty-swinging Rick Monday (with 26 homers on the year, including one his last time up against the eventual Cy Young winner) in favor of Glenn Beckert, even though Beckert had just 22 homers in his long career, and he hadn’t homered at all in ‘73. But he was a right-handed hitter. Sheer genius—and one of the reasons the Cubs dropped from first to fifth over the summer of ’73, and all of 1,913 people were interested enough in the conclusion of the NL East race to come to soggy Wrigley on Monday.

Beckert did not hit the ball out of the park. He hit a soft liner that John Milner caught while stepping on first base in the same motion to double off Rudolph and end the game, not to mention the most convoluted race in history. When Milner came over to give Tug a well-earned soul shake, the celebration was on.

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Want to find out what happened to the second game scheduled that day or about M. Donald Grant’s locker room lunacy after the game? Read Swinging ’73. Or listen in to WFAN tonight in the 10 o’clock hour when I will have an audience with Steve Somers, schmoozing about these ’73 Mets.

September 30, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/30/1973... Of Splits and Boos

On this day in 1973 the Mets finally played. A day off plus two rainouts at Wrigley had done them a world of good, however. Three days of idleness had gained them a full game in the standings. The chance of a five-way tie for first place dissipated, as did the Pittsburgh Pirates. When the Mets finally took the soggy field at Wrigley on Sunday for a doubleheader, the Pirates stood in third place, two games back, with the Cardinals now in second place, 1 ½ games behind. 

Given the way that this race was going and given that we’re talking about, well, the Mets, a doubleheader loss was not out of the question. And the question grew larger when Jon Matlack lost a hard-luck 1-0 game to the Cubs in the opener. The Cards and Pirates were also winning that day. St. Louis ended its season at 81-81 and could still win the division; so could the Bucs, who had a makeup game on Monday. The Mets could turn their feel-good comeback into a full-blown nightmare by dropping all four games to the Cubs. But it was Kooz to the rescue. 

Jerry Koosman, who’d beaten the Orioles twice in the 1969 World Series, started the nightcap (though that is a misnomer since Wrigley had no lights). Fergie Jenkins, a future Hall of Famer, was pitching his last game before a surprising trade to Texas that winter. Following six straight 20-win seasons, Jenkins was just 14-15, which is what Kooz’s record ended up being after he beat Jenkins. The Mets handed Koosman a 3-0 lead before he even took the mound thanks to two grounders to Ron Santo—one of which the Cubs third baseman threw away for two runs. So much for worries about the Cubs coming back to sabotage the Mets as payback for 1969. The Mets won, 9-2, splitting the twinbill and clinching at least a tie for the NL East title. All they had to do was split Monday’s makeup doubleheader at Wrigley. 

It was exciting news from Chicago, along with all the NFL games on the last Sunday in September—the Mets outscored the Jets and almost matched the Giants (both of whom lost despite not allowing a touchdown). The only team playing in New York that day was an afterthought. 

The Yankees had held first place into early August, but an 18-36 freefall eliminated them from the race and left the Yanks at 81 losses with four games on the schedule. But the Yankees won three straight and still had a chance to finish with a .500 record. How ironic that the also-ran Yankees could finish with almost the same record as the sudden media darling Mets. 

And lost on many was the final day of Yankee Stadium. Yes, four decades later baseball is still played at Yankee Stadium, but it is essentially two stadiums removed from the House That Ruth Built. After the ’73 season, the 50-yearold edifice would be almost completely leveled, forcing the Yankees to play at Shea Stadium for two years while the rebuilding project cost New Yorkers in excess of $100 million. Other than the address, the second incarnation of Yankee Stadium would have more in common with other 1970s stadiums like Riverfront, Three Rivers, or the Vet than it did with its Bronx predecessor.  

But in the 1970s newer was better. People weren’t hung up on nostalgia. The last game at a stadium then was more likely to touch off a riot than a postgame stadium-closing ceremony. Throughout the Yankees’ last game, the sound of wooden seats being pried from concrete could be heard echoing through the stadium—until the noise was drowned out by boos. The Yankees fell apart during Detroit’s six-run seventh and manager Ralph Houk was forced to make not one but two trips to the mound. Booed every step of the way. 

Houk, a World War II hero and a Yankee since the 1940s, had served in every capacity in the organization. And he had already resigned, only nobody outside of management knew it. The fans couldn’t wait. “It was the worst thing I ever saw,” says Fritz Peterson, the first pitcher relieved by Houk that inning. Lindy McDaniel took the defeat, but the whole stadium felt the loss.  

Houk officially resigned at the conclusion of the game and his team’s 80-82 season, leaving him with a 944-806 mark (.539 win percentage), plus three pennants and two world championships in 11 years. His players were stunned by the news. The boobirds were happy. And the original Yankee Stadium was history.

September 29, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/29/1973... Stuck on 713 & 383

While Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw, Rusty Staub, and the first-place Mets watched it rain at Wrigley Field for the second straight day, history continued.  

With a swing in the third inning on September 29, Atlanta’s Hank Aaron created the first trio of 40-homer hitters on one team in history. That was nice. Nice for Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson, the other members of this troika. For Hank Aaron it was another in a long list of accomplishments, but career home run 713 still left him one behind Babe Ruth’s all-time record. He still had a shot of breaking the record on the final day of the year. Atlanta, lukewarm at best and hostile at worst about its hometown hero taking on the biggest record in sports, came out in droves for the final day of the year to see Aaron try to break the mark. In front of the first crowd even close to 40,000 all year in the finale, Aaron had three singles to go over .300 for the year, but no home runs. The record chase would have to wait until April of 1974. The pressure increased, as did the volumes of mail—much of it encouraging, but some of it racially pointed and threatening enough to make for a very long winter for Hank Aaron. 

The final appearance of the year by Angel Nolan Ryan, on the other hand, had been ideal. No, it wasn’t a no-hitter, which he had two of in 1973, but his team’s inability to score kept him on the mound long enough to go 11 innings and strike out 16 Twins. The last batter, Rich Rollins, was his 383rd strikeout victim of the year, breaking Sandy Koufax’s 20th century record of 382, set in 1965. Richie Scheinblum then put an end to the night with a pinch-hit double to win the game. Ryan’s 21 victories lined up with his staggering figures of 326 innings, 26 complete games, and 1,335 batters faced. None of these led the league—though his 162 walks were the most in baseball. In the year of the designated hitter, American League managers did not need to pinch-hit for pitchers in game situations, and those starters got plenty of extra work. It was not the Year of the Pitcher but the Year of Ben Gay: Seven pitchers threw at least 300 and 12 stayed in games long enough to win 20. And afterward they need the soothing relief of Ben Gay. Thanks for the rubdown, Gumby.

September 25, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/25/1973... “Say Goodbye to America”

After 22 years, 383 steals, 1,903 RBI, 2,063 runs, 3,283 hits, 6,066 total bases, and 660 home runs, Willie Mays officially called it a career. Though a rib injury in Montreal on September 9 had kept him from playing, there was one more big night to go. Willie Mays Night drew 43,805—plus 10,000 more freebies not counted in the gate—for a Tuesday night at Shea Stadium. Gifts rained down on Willie for 45 minutes before he finally said, “Willie, say goodbye to America.” 

Canada’s team was in the other dugout. An overachieving Expos team under the legendary strategist Gene Mauch had been having a far better season than the Mets until a seven-game losing streak dropped Montreal (76-81) to a tie for fourth place behind the now first-place Mets (79-77). Such was the flighty NL East in September of ’73. 

Rookie Steve Rogers had beaten the Mets in both his starts in ’73, defeating Tom Seaver and Jon Matlack, but now he faced a different pitcher—and a different team, for that matter. Jerry Koosman, who’d earlier established a club record with 31.2 consecutive scoreless innings during the Mets run, blanked Montreal for the first five innings. 

The Mets, getting all kind of fortunate bounces this month, got a big one when a Wayne Garrett grounder hopped off Tim Foli’s glove for an infield hit that moved Bud Harrelson to third in the home fifth. An out there would have rendered Felix Millan’s subsequent flyball pointless, but with one out, it was sufficient to plate the first run of the game. After Garrett’s error let Montreal tie it the next inning, Cleon Jones, with 11 RBI in the first six games of the final homestand of ’73, launched a Steve Rogers pitch to left for just his ninth home run of the year but fourth of the homestand. Jones showed off his glove work the next inning with a backhanded snag of a Felipe Alou liner to thwart a Montreal rally. 

Tug McGraw—a middle reliever, setup man, and closer rolled into one—got the final seven outs to give Kooz and the Mets a 2-1 win and, after a 2-1 Pirates loss to the Phillies, a 1.5-game lead. For the complete wrapup check out Al Albert’s postgame show—I sure wish this had been unearthed a couple of years ago! But I digress. Here is one player’s perspective from Swinging ’73 on the special night for Willie: 

“Absolutely, it was special. I mean, how could it not be special?” says Jon Matlack now, 23 at the time. “The guy was and is a phenomenon in the game and still at his age brought such instinct and life to playing the game. He was great to be around. He was a phenomenal influence.”

Though the ceremony was long and the Mets had an important game to play, watching Mays’s tearful goodbye wasn’t easy for a ballplayer who understood that the glory years for even the greatest of players had their limit, the accolades fleeting. Explains Matlack, “It was something that I watched some of . . . I don’t think I watched it all because it was something you don’t want to end. You don’t want to see the end for somebody else, and you certainly don’t want to think about that it could end for you. It was a wonderful tribute and all that kind of stuff, but it was like looking at what’s coming for me at some point. I don’t know there’s ever going to be a day for me. But it meant the end for his existence and for baseball, and I didn’t want to look at that.”

The fans couldn’t get enough of the ceremony or of Mays. Karl Ehrhardt, Shea Stadium’s “sign man,” a fan who carried dozens of signs suitable for numerous points in a ballgame, summed up the feelings of the crowd: We Who Are About to Cry Salute You. Joan Payson joined the throng in crying as Willie came over to her seat near the Mets dugout. Mays, who a week earlier had told the press during his retirement announcement, “Maybe I’ll cry tomorrow,” was crying today.

September 23, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/23/1973... Flushing Up, Bronx Out

The 1973 NL East race was a battle of mediocrity, but it was without doubt the most exciting race in baseball. With a week to go in the season, the other races were pretty much wrapped up, but the NL East was so much in play that the managers were over-managing like hell. Some 51,000 at Fan Appreciation Day at Shea Stadium reveled in their first-place team.

With the third-place Cardinals up 2-0 in the first inning at Shea Stadium, St. Louis skipper Red Schoendienst yanked starter Mike Thompson after the first two Mets got on base; neither runner scored. In the second inning, with two outs, none on, and the Mets still down by two runs, Yogi Berra pinch-hit for George Stone, who had not lost a start since July. Though pinch hitter Lute Barnes fanned, Yogi’s charmed September continued as the Mets bullpen threw seven scoreless innings with—try to get your 2013 heads around this—their top two relievers tossing all seven frames. Harry Parker went four innings and Tug McGraw the last three. The Cards’ bullpen was not up to its task of eight relief innings. Wayne Garrett, who scored the first two runs, drove in the next two with a tiebreaking triple off Al Hrabosky, making the Hungarian mad. Red hot Cleon Jones later homered to make it 5-2, their sixth straight win to sweep this unconventional two-game weekend series. But nothing the Mets did in September of ’73 could be called conventional—or even believable. But Tug would tell you, as many times as you wanted to hear it:  Ya Gotta Believe! 

Across town, it was merely a football Sunday. The Giants played for the final time at Yankee Stadium, marking the last time an NFL regular-season game was ever played in the Bronx. It came down to the final seconds, with Pete Gogolak kicking a field goal on the last play to assure a 23-all tie with the Eagles. Back in ’73 the uprights were still on the goal lines, most kickers (other than the soccer-style Gogolaks) kicked straight ahead, and overtime only existed in the playoffs. The Giants would take their 1-0-1 start north to the Yale Bowl in New Haven—and win just once more all year. 

While the Oakland A’s were clinching their third straight AL West title in front of absentee owner Charlie O. Finley in his home base of Chicago—with Vida Blue joining teammates Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman in the 20-win column (the last 20-win troika of teammates in baseball history)—the Oakland Coliseum was celebrating the end of a different era. The Raiders ended the Dolphins’ 18-game win streak, 12-7. John Madden’s team became the first club to beat Miami since Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI, some 20 months earlier. In the meantime, Don Shula’s Dolphins had won all 14 regular-season games of 1972, two playoff games, and Super Bowl VII—no thanks to Gary Yepremian. The Dolphins had begun 1973 with a win over a 49ers team coming off an NFC West title.

Miami shook off the loss to Oakland to win 10 more games in a row—giving them a mind-blowing 28 wins in 29 games—before inexplicably losing to a bad Colts team on December 9, 1973. Miami avenged the loss in Oakland by trouncing the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game. The Dolphins then rolled the Vikings in Super Bowl VIII for their second straight title. Nouveau dynasties were all the rage in ’73.

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For anyone who missed it Saturday, listen to me on Ed Randall’s “Talking Baseball” on WFAN. Since you are here, enjoy the exclusive back story: When the interview started I was in a dead zone in a West Point parking lot after the Army vs. Wake Forest game. I was able to quickly locate—this means run to—a far off building to shield the whistling wind from marring the interview. Many thanks to Ed Randall, who had me on both that morning and afternoon. I was on the MLB Home Plate Channel on Sirius/XM with Ed and Rico Petrocelli, whom I had watched in awe when he hit .308 for the Red Sox during the unforgettable 1975 World Series. Saturday won’t be forgotten around my house anytime soon, either.  

September 21, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/21/1973... Tom Terrific & Broadway Joe

On September 21, 1973, the New York Mets, in last place on August 30, took over first place. On Tuesday they’d been in fourth place and nearly counted out; on Wednesday they reached third; on Thursday they took over second; and the Mets capped a busy work week by going top of the heap Friday night.  

Of course it was Tom Seaver, doing the honors. Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass, who’d gone from 1971 World Series hero to unable to throw the ball over the plate, was knocked out in the first inning as the Mets beat the Pirates, 10-2. Seaver lost the first game of this unique five-game series, but notched his 18th win and the biggest game of the year in the finale in front of a packed house at Shea. 

And I was watching… The Brady Bunch on ABC. At eight, my tastes still had sports as a foreign entity, if you can believe it. But I was watching a New York sports star. That same night the Mets took over first place, Joe Namath beamed into my house and living rooms across the country, stepping onto the Astro Turf in The Brady Bunch backyard to throw a pass to littlest Brady boy, Bobby. The Bradys’ fifth TV season began with Broadway Joe and ended with Frigging Oliver (like there weren’t enough kids on the show already). The last original Brady Bunch episode aired in March of 1974 due to enmity between actors and producers. The show’s 116 episodes would be repeated for decades. The Mets’ 1973 ending, on the other hand, would be repeated only once, in 1999.

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It’s a busy Saturday and I’ll be at West Point for Army-Wake Forest, but I am also supposed to be on both MLB Home Plate Channel on Sirius/XM Channel 175 Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and Ed Randall’s “Talking Baseball” on Saturday on WFAN, which starts at 4 p.m. and goes until Mets Extra at 6:30 p.m. Fingers crossed. 

September 20, 2013

Swinging ’73 Presents

Forty Years Ago Today: 9/20/1973... The Ball on the Wall Says It All

Rising Apple has been doing a Forty Years Ago Today all year to mark the 1973 season. A couple of others jumping on board the ’73 Express in the last week are SNY and Faith and Fear in Flushing (Greg Prince and I personally traded ’73 stories with “Ya Gotta Believe” he was there fan Bob Heussler of FAN fame at the Mets-Giants matinee). And on this day four decades ago the dream became real, though it certainly was surreal. 

The Mets and Pirates began the week with one of the oddest five-game scheduled series I have ever come across: five night games, Monday through Friday, two games at Three Rivers Stadium, and then three at Shea. September 20, 1973 was a Thursday. The day began with Willie Mays on NBC’s Today Show talking about his just announced—but long overdue—retirement from baseball. Football season had just started—the Giants were 1-0 and Joe Namath’s Jets had lost to Green Bay in Milwaukee on Monday Night Football. That Thursday night, though, both baseball and football took a back seat to tennis. Billie Jean King’s “Battle of the Sexes” against Bobby Riggs dominated the media. Riggs—rhymes with pigs—had beaten top-ranked woman Margaret Court on Mother’s Day and used the victory to put down not just the women’s game but the women’s movement, which had made significant strides in the early 1970s. King took the baton for her sex and shut up Riggs for good by beating him in straight sets at the Astrodome. Then she beat Riggs again in Ping Pong in a memorable Odd Couple episode a few weeks later.  

While the spectacle of the “Battle of the Sexes” was waged on an ABC special, WOR-TV had its own special broadcast. The Mets-Pirates game was only scheduled for radio, but with the Mets suddenly making a run, Channel 9 threw it on the air at the last minute. There had been heady drama already that