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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

With Mets, More Fun to Look Back Than to Look Ahead

The Mets just finished their fiftieth season, and several books have come out to commemorate the occasion. The latest is from the New York Post: "The Amazins: Celebrating Fifty Years of New York Mets History."

Most of "The Amazins" is devoted to profiles of Met players and stories of classic games. There are also sections on the managers, franchise builders, the ballparks and the team voices.

The player profiles and game stories are taken from the pages of the Post. It's fun to see how various Mets were viewed in their heyday and how the games were covered and what the participants had to say at the time.

Vic Ziegel's account of the Mets' clinching the NL East in 1969 includes details such as several Mets emptying cans of Yoo-Hoo over coach Yogi Berra's head and Tom Seaver pouring a bottle of champagne over future adversary M. Donald Grant.

When the Mets clinched the NL pennant in 1973 at Shea Stadium by beating the Reds, 7-2, there was a dark side, as Met fans began storming the dugouts before the game was over. Reds manager Sparky Anderson was quoted as saying, "I'm not angry. I'm just ashamed. I'm ashamed that I live in this country. I'm not too sure New York is in this country."

After the Mets won the 1986 World Series, Gary Carter said, "Regardless of the jealousy, the envy, the hatred that exists for us, we have to be considered a great team now."

After Mike Piazza homered in the first game at Shea after September 11, the Mets' catcher talked about how depressed he was, "but I was thinking ‘You know what? I have to do something, and it might as well be something productive.'"

Player profiles also offer some interesting comments by and about players. In a 1986 story about Keith Hernandez, Tom Seaver, then a member of the Red Sox, said, "The key to Hernandez's success is that he thinks along with the pitcher. I play more mind games with him than almost any hitter I've ever faced."

In a story about David Cone from 1988, Mets executive Joe McIlvaine recalled how he stole Cone from Kansas City Royals GM John Schuerholz the previous year. "It's very unusual to get the top pitching prospect in an organization," McIlvaine said. "Frankly, I was surprised, because our reports on him were so strong."

In a story about catcher Todd Hundley written in 1998 when he had to move to the outfield because the Mets had traded for Mike Piazza, Hundley, trying to look on the bright side, said "Who's to say I can't be another All-Star outfielder, another Craig Biggio, you know?"

Some game stories feature colorful accounts from Post sportswriters. When Al Leiter shut out the Reds in their one-game playoff in 1999, Tom Keegan wrote "He was Mario Cuomo, giving the best speech of his life. Michael Jordan on fire. Robert De Niro immersed in his character. He was Jerry Koosman three decades later. He was an ace."

When backup catcher Todd Pratt hit a walkoff homer to give the Mets a victory over Arizona in the 1999 NLDS, Wally Mathews wrote, "At 32 years old, with a baseball lifetime of disappointments behind him, finally he had done something that will get him free drinks for the rest of his life."

The book is also filled with photos of the Mets, mostly from the pages of the Post.

"The Amazins" may be short on new material and it does not offer the comprehensive history of other commemorative Met books, but it's a fun look back at the highlights of the team's eventful history.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Daniel Murphy Fourth in Seniority?

Talk about turnover. ESPN's Adam Rubin has a list of the Mets with the most seniority. Except for David Wright, hardly anyone remains who was with the Mets when they were a contending team.

After Wright, the rest of the top ten is Mike Pelfrey, Johan Santana, Daniel Murphy, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole, R.A. Dickey and Jason Bay.

No wonder Wright is unlikely to be traded anytime soon. Who will the fans come out to see? Whose jersey will they buy?

At least the Mets still have Ike Davis (14th on the list).

If the player came from the Mets' organization, seniority is defined as when the player made his major league debut. That explains why Fernando Martinez ranks so high, when in terms of actual playing time he would be a lot lower.

Except for Dickey, everyone on this list is a big question mark. It's reasonable to expect Dickey to continue to be a mid-rotation pitcher. But many of the others could be anywhere between an All-Star or a bust.

Even when the Mets were good, people used to debate over whether they should break up the core. Now Wright is all that's left, and there's no new core in sight.

Maybe in a year from now, some of these players will have shown they can be part of a new core.

Maybe Bay can regain his form with the new fences. Maybe Murphy can play second and stay healthy. Maybe Niese can continue to develop. Maybe Parnell can finally figure it out.

A return to form from Santana would be the best thing, but now it seems questionable if he can pitch at all.

But it's just as likely that most of the Met "veterans" will not be part of a new core, and that the rebuilding process has a long way to go.

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Book Celebrates Mets History

There may not be much to celebrate with the Mets these days, but as the team heads into its fiftieth anniversary year, the New York Daily News has put out a new book that reminds us that, throughout its history, the team has had many memorable moments and characters.

The Mets: A 50th Anniversary Celebration was written by current Daily News Met beat writer Andy Martino and Daily News sportswriter Anthony McCarron. (Disclosure: Squawker Lisa and I used to work at the Daily News on the website, but we did not know either of the writers.)

The book is in hardcover and is arranged decade by decade, offering a running narrative of the Mets' story. The most famous years in Mets history, 1969 and 1986, get thorough coverage, but do not get their own chapters. However, that's just as well – most Met fans are quite familiar with those seasons and might even own books devoted just to them. This book takes a wider view.

The book includes over 200 images from the Daily News, from photos to front and back covers of the newspaper. The images set this book apart from other histories of the Mets. Along with numerous shots of Met players in action, there are other photos that offer a unique look into the world of the Mets.

I consider myself a very knowledgeable Met fan, but I had no idea that Olympic legend Jesse Owens worked for the Mets as a running instructor in spring training in 1965. But there's a picture in this book of Owens, wearing a Mets shirt, hurdling a bat held up by George Weiss, Mets GM at the time, and none other than Yogi Berra, who finished up his playing career that year with the Mets.

Another tidbit new to me was that the host of the Mets pre- and postgame radio shows in the mid-1960s was Howard Cosell, not yet a national figure but already outspoken enough to refer to Mets manager Casey Stengel as old and racist.

Other photos from the Mets’ early days include Stengel giving instructions to Shea Stadium "usherettes" in 1964 and Bud Harrelson playing guitar in the Mets clubhouse in the early 1970s.

Speaking of the Mets’ shortstop, one of the most memorable shots in the book comes from his famous fight with Pete Rose during the 1973 NLCS. Rose, his face contorted in rage, heads toward Harrelson, his left hand already forming a fist. There are two followup photos as well of Rose and Harrelson going at it.

Along with the numerous shots of the 1986 Mets, there is one of Fred Wilpon presenting President Reagan with a Mets warmup jacket as Lee Mazzilli and Dwight Gooden stand behind Reagan on either side.

The book also includes the Daily News front page when Gooden was suspended at the start of the 1987 season. GOODEN K’D BY COCAINE was the headline, with a somber cartoon by Bill Gallo.

The Daily News factored in another dark day in Mets history – the infamous Tom Seaver trade on June 15, 1977. Daily News columnist Dick Young's vicious attacks on Seaver played a role in the Franchise's bitter departure. The book details how Young went after Seaver and how the Daily News switchboard lit up with calls from fans angry at Young after Seaver was traded. Pete Hamill wrote a column in the News ripping Young for being "a hit man for Mets management."

One of the later photos in the book looks a lot different to me now than when it was taken. It shows Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan leaping in the air together to celebrate a Mets victory.

As the book heads toward the present, there is currently no happy ending. But there’s fifty years of history, some of it good, some of it bad, and all of it compelling to the diehard Met fan.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Did Derek Jeter's Booty Calls Get Gift Baskets With Autographed Swag?

There hasn't been much news in Yankeeland these days. But today, the New York Post has a gossipy piece about how Derek Jeter is "bedding a bevy of beauties in his Trump World Tower bachelor pad — and then coldly sending them home alone with gift baskets of autographed memorabila." Heh.

And according to the Post, the story came to light after he pulled the same stunt on the same girl twice:
“Derek has girls stay with him at his apartment in New York, and then he gets them a car to take them home the next day. Waiting in his car is a gift basket containing signed Jeter memorabilia, usually a signed baseball,” the friend dished.
“This summer, he ended up hooking up with a girl who he had hooked up with once before, but Jeter seemed to have forgotten about the first time and gave her the same identical parting gift, a gift basket with a signed Derek Jeter baseball,” the pal said. 
Now I'm wondering if Steiner Sports is going to have a new category for "date-used memorabilia."

Personally, I think giving a one-night stand an autographed baseball in exchange for the evening is kind of tacky, and if it were Alex Rodriguez doing such a thing, he would be pilloried from coast to coast.

But this is Derek Jeter we're talking about, so almost all the comments on the New York Post article are about how cool Jeter is, and how this is great. I swear, Jeter could start a dogfighting ring, and there would be fans talking about how those dogs had it coming to them. He really is Teflon.

Squawker Jon and I were arguing over whether giving the one-night stand a gift basket was tacky. Jon sez it depends what else was in it!

So that got me wondering what other treats were in the gift basket. Is there an "I slept with Derek Jeter and all I got is this lousy t-shirt" in there? Is there one of those Christian Lopez autographed baseballs in there as well? Or how about a box of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, the way they always used to have that as a parting gift on game shows back in the day.

Come to think of it, I wonder if the driver plays this music when presenting the one-night stand with her farewell gift:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Mets Are Not Like a Box of Chocolates

Sandy Alderson joked Wednesday that he should have sent Jose Reyes a box of chocolates. Forrest Gump's mother compared life to a box of chocolates because you never knew what you were going to get. But with the Mets, we now know what we're going to get. And it's not good.

Earlier today, the David Wright trade speculation was interrupted by a rumor that the Mets were shopping Ike Davis. Are Met faces of the franchise turning into Spinal Tap drummers?

Now Jon Heyman is tweeting that Jon Niese is on the block. If Niese goes, he could set a record for shortest tenure as one of the players pictured at the start of SNY telecasts. (Then again, considering that Jason Bay has also joined the opening montage, maybe SNY should just open their Mets programming with pictures of Shake Shack.)

Last week, ESPN's Keith Law ranked the top 50 players age 25 or under. No Mets made the list. But one Met was mentioned among those who just missed being in the list - Niese.

Supposedly, the Mets are getting younger and building for the future with a focus on pitching. One would think that they would want to hold on to a well-regarded homegrown young lefthander who has already shown that he can pitch in New York.

This is not to say that Niese should be untouchable. But if it turns out that the Mets are trading him for even younger players just to avoid having to go to arbitration with him in a year means the Mets are turning into the Oakland A's, who are desperately trying to trade young pitchers like Gio Gonzalez because they can't afford to keep anybody. Not what we thought we were getting with Moneyball East.

Meanwhile, Matthew Cerrone talked to an agent who speculated that the Marlins would trade Reyes to the Yankees once Derek Jeter's contract is up. And the Post's Kevin Kernan speculated that David Wright could eventually replace Alex Rodriguez at third for the Yankees.

I remember when Met and Yankee fans debated over which team had the best left side of the infield. It would be intolerable to see both Reyes and Wright reunited in the Bronx.

Sure, it's a worst-case scenario, but who would have thought that Darryl and Doc would win more rings with the Yankees than with the Mets?

Despite it all, I'll continue to root for the Mets. But I'm beginning to wonder if that's because, to use another quote from Forrest Gump's mother, stupid is as stupid does.

Why Jose Reyes Leaving the Mets Is Bad for the Squawkers

When I heard that Jose Reyes was going to be a Miami Marlin, I was just as irate as Squawker Jon was. In fact, I wrote this article for a business publication talking about how Jose Reyes is Bernie Madoff's most recent victim. It's ridiculous that a team in the biggest market in the country, with a successful cable network, is acting like somebody in line at the dollar store, thanks to all the money they invested in what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme.

It's long past time for Frugal Freddy Wilpon and his idiot son Jeff to be on their merry way, and have to sell the team and let the Mets have a real owner. Heck, as problematic as George Steinbrenner could be at times, there was no doubt that he loved the New York Yankees. I don't know if Fred Wilpon has ever been a Mets fan. From making Citi Field into the new Ebbets Field, to his derogatory comments to Jeffrey Toobin in that New Yorker interview, Wilpon is the embedded Brooklyn Dodgers fan.

You know, people say that rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel, or Microsoft, but I say that rooting for the Mets is like being the frog in the Scorpion and the Frog allegory. You may know the story -- the scorpion begs the frog for a ride on his back across the lake. The frog is afraid to take this passenger, but the scorpion says that he wouldn't sting him, because it would doom him both. Then the scorpion stings him anyway, they both start to drown, and when the dying frog asks him why he did it, the scorpion says that doing so is his nature. That's the Mets for you. How dare any fan expect them to re-sign their homegrown hero after they cut payroll this year. It's in their nature to sabotage their own team, and decrease attendance and fan interest, by letting Reyes walk. Good grief.

Anyhow, when Squawker Jon and I started writing this blog, way back in 2006, the Yankees and Mets looked to be close to being on even footing. And in fact, the Mets went further than the Yankees did that year, nearly making it to the World Series. Ever since then, the Metropolitans are on a downward spiral. And it was all fun and games to make fun of the Mets 2007 collapse, and 2008 collapse, and the Castillo dropped pop-up, now it's getting just plain sad.

And it's taken an important trash talk dynamic out of Subway Squawkers. I have had to pull my punches bigtime, because I didn't want to look like a bully beating up on Squawker Jon's Mets. For example, I had a great trash talk line prepared tonight, about how the Mets ditched a closer named Francisco with anger-management issues, only to pick up another closer named Francisco with anger-management issues. But if I really unleashed it, I would look like I was part of the 1% beating up on the 99%. Bummer.

So I actually want the Mets to get better, so mocking them won't make me look like a big meanie. It's up to you, Bud Selig. Time to do what you did to Frank McCourt to your buddies, Fred and Jeff Wilpon. They have to go.  The future of the Squawkers depends on it!


What do you think? Tell us about it!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Jose Reyes Debacle: Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining

The Mets have allowed a homegrown superstar to leave in the prime of his career. It's one of the darkest days in the history of the franchise, and yet the rationalizing has begun:

The Marlins overpaid for Reyes. So what? Big-market teams keep their superstars. Big-market teams laugh at the notion of the Marlins outbidding them. But the Mets are no longer functioning as a big-market team.

Besides, it’s debatable just how much Reyes is being overpaid. For all the talk about “Carl Crawford money,” Reyes came nowhere near the Red Sox outfielder’s $142 million deal. Yes, six years is a long contract to give Reyes, but if you’re willing to give him five, and an extra year gets it done, a big-market team gets it done. Sure, you have to stagger your potentially bad contracts in a way the Mets have not done up to now, but if the front office is as smart as everyone says they are, that’s certainly doable.

Reyes can’t stay healthy. Some people treat Reyes as if he’s Fernando Martinez – someone who has never been able to stay on the field. Yet from 2005-8, Reyes was practically an ironman. He led the majors in at-bats in 2005 and 2008 and finished second in 2007. In the other year, 2006, Reyes played in 153 games and had 647 AB.

After losing most of 2009 to injury, Reyes played in 133 games in 2010 and 126 in 2011, making the All-Star team both years.

Yes, Reyes comes with injury risk, but that risk was factored into his new contract. A completely healthy Reyes might well have gotten Carl Crawford money. If you project Reyes to miss a month every year and offer him 1/6 dollars less as a result, you end up with around what the Marlins gave him.

Mets management has a good long-term plan. Last year, all we heard was how the Mets needed to get out from under the $60 million in payroll that was coming off the books after 2011 from the expiring contracts of Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez, and Luis Castillo. I praised Sandy Alderson for cutting his losses with Perez and Castillo, getting out of K-Rod’s 2012 vesting option and landing Zack Wheeler for Beltran. I also praised him for not trading Reyes at the deadline, which I took as a sign that the Mets planned to make a good-faith effort to keep him.

But during the season, the payroll estimates for 2012 kept going down. Now Alderson is talking about a $100 million payroll. Yes, teams can succeed with that size payroll, but not with Johan Santana and Jason Bay taking up 40% of it.

So now we’ll probably be told we have to wait until Santana and Bay are off the books. And, just like this year, rather than offer a chance to reinvest in the franchise, it will produce an even lower payroll. $80 million? $60 million?

Alderson says he wants to build a strong business model. He says the Mets must cut payroll because they lost $70 million last year. He also says the Mets’ woes have nothing to do with Bernie Madoff.

But how exactly did the Mets lose $70 million last year? How is it that other teams such as the Marlins are able to increase payroll as a result of moving into a new stadium, while the Mets end up hemorrhaging profits and attendance?

What sort of business model has you devaluing your product and discarding your top gate attraction?

*

Meanwhile, the Mets have just put holiday five-game ticket packs on sale. These discounted tickets mostly feature games during the week with teams that are not big draws. You won’t find Opening Day or the Subway Series here.

But the marketing department's thankless task just got a little easier. One pack includes the first visit of the new-look Miami Marlins. The other two games in the late April series turn up in other packs.

Wonder how long it will take the Mets to realize that they are offering discounts on games that are likely to produce three of the few big crowds they can expect to draw next year.