The Starting Rotation
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As they would be here, if they didn't constantly produce slime in six different languages.
The Polo Grounds. Johnny Murphy. Gil Hodges. George Weiss. Charles Dillon Stengel. Joan Whitney Payson. Danny Frisella. William A. Shea. Lindsey Nelson. Frank Edwin McGraw. Bob Murphy. William A. Shea Municipal Stadium.
These are the men and woman and places we sing our mourning song for. The twelve who first come to mind for whom we sit shiva. Most were there at the beginning, all embodied the spirit of the Mets that was there from the beginning. None of them were perfect; in fact, most are known for their imperfection when it comes to their relationships with the Mets- from their lovable-loser tendencies, to their flakiness, to their not quite Hall of Faminess.
It is who we are. They are who we are.
Today, we add Ralph McPherran Kiner to the ranks of departed honored colleagues. He is a Hall of Famer, though entirely on the basis of his on-field triumphs; there's no mention on his 1975 plaque of his then thirteen years in our booth, much less anything amending it to reflect the almost forty more that followed it. If it were to be fair, it would have to include any number of foulups, bleeps and blunders, from “Her name is Mrs. Coleman — and she likes me, bub” to “if Casey Stengel were still alive he’d be spinning in his grave.” Those, and others, made his obituary of record today, but so did his genuineness, his likeability, and of course his longevity.
So on this, the day of your passing from this world, Ralph, we again wish you happy birthday. And we hope you join Linsdsey and Bob in a round of Rheingolds, a happy recap of all the years you made special, and a chorus of condemnation of Tim MacArthur.
It's the forgotten franchise among the rhyming Sets of local fandom. All Bets are off when considering if anyone is even aware of it. Though not as popular as Mets or Jets or even Nets, and lacking the 1930s pedigree of the Wets, we again open the uncoordinated double doors of the clubhouse of the New York Yets to welcome its 118th and 119th members:
Mr. Granderson, meet Mr. Beltran. Carlos? Curtis.
Considering that these teams have co-existed for more than 50 years, roughly three-quarters of those in the free agency era, it's a remarkably low number of fellow employees, considering that there have been more than 4,000 available roster spots in those years. We can guess at the reasons: trades rarely happen, due to fear of the traded player coming back to bite the GM in the Amos Otis; and free agents, already familiar with the crucible of New York media and fickle fandom, aren't likely to want to re-up across the river.
Still, it's an interesting collection, these almost ten dozen. There are of course the ones you know- almost all of whom wound up doing better, and almost always for more money, on the Bronx side of the deals. But it's fun to look through the list- from Aardsma to Zeile- to see what other fames and flops are among the Best Yet bunch.
There's Willie, Miguel and the Duke- although none are the ones you'd care for. Not just Doc but Dock. Charley and the Candy Man. Boston and Washington. A famed fireman and an equally infamous arsonist.
And now, our newest Yets, the first each of Curtis and Carlos- a newcomer on the Queens side, most famed for his hitting, and one up on the Metro North, forever enshrined in Mets history for the two days when he didn't hit.
Neither deal has the significance of the others to affect the Evil Empire this week, as the Red Yox and Mariyanks each added their own new inductees for far more money and importance. But I don't think either Ellsbury or Cano will feel the thrill that I do right now. They may be making major bank, and sniffing October far sooner than Curtis will with or for the Mets, but neither of THEM gets to say they are in the company of a Yogi, a Rickey, a Royce and a Bubba.
Yes, I've finally surfaced after a couple of months on the DL. It remains unclear whether I'll need Greg Prince surgery to make a complete recovery, but this season-ending observation will have to do.
About all I can say in support of this tire fire of a season (appropriate, I suppose, for a team playing its games next to a street of chop shops) is that it could've been worse. We could've been relegated to the American League, forced to play the big kids far more times a season, and be toying with breaking our own record for most losses in a season. Alas, that honor has gone to our dear departed cousins from the expansion Class of '62, who are fast approaching two fateful numbers- one big, one very small.
The big one is the 110 threshold of futility, broken just twice in my lifetime- by our own Class of '62 heroes, and a few years ago by the Tigers. Before those, you have to go back to the 1952 Pirates- another team which is now celebrating its longtime turnaround from such doldrums.
The Mets and 'Stros, on the other hand, LIVE in doldrums. Both in funky yet weird ballparks named (at least originally, in Houston's case) for an economy-killing corporate behemoth. Both have ownerships with skeevy finances that have danced around Bankruptcy Court courtrooms without actually (yet) landing the teams in there. Worse, of all, both suffer from immense Little Brother Syndrome to other teams and/or other sports. And this weekend, fan support in Houston hit absolute rock bottom.
How low can you go, Dean Wormer?
The Houston Astros have reached a new low, a week after drawing a 0.043 rating for Saturday's game with the Angels. Sunday's Astros-Indians game drew a 0.0 rating, meaning that exactly zero of the 581 Nielsen households in the Houston area watched the game on CSN Houston.
Saying that no one watched the game, which went head on with the Texans' 30-9 blowout loss to the World Champion Baltimore Ravens, is a bit of a misleading statement, considering that *someone* probably watched the game. (I assume.) But none of the Nielsen homes watched the game, which is how viewership locally and nationally is gauged.
It got so bad, an out-of-market WNBA game pulled a higher rating than the 'Stros did in their own town. And it was against a playoff contending AL team, which presumably had some of its own expatriate fans within the area code.
Such a result may be an anomaly, tied more to the football craziness (or perhaps just the general craziness) of the Great State of Texas. Maybe if Rick Perry had forced trans-vaginal probes on the first 3,000 fans in attendance, at least the Tea Party nuts would have tuned in to cheer them on. Yet I still worry about this current state of Astroaffairs being a harbinger of the doom facing the Mets if they head where they seem inevitably to be heading- a sixth season of no players, no payroll, and no prospects.
Look- I'm as loyal a fan as you get. I suffered through June of 1977 and the Worst Team Money Could Buy. I found the bright side in Willie Mays fumbling around in the post-season 1973 outfield, and in Beltran and Dickey going for, if not nothing, at least nothing we've seen results from yet. I have to admit, though: I have three MLB teams playing in ballparks lying way closer than half the distance to the goal than CitiField is. Pittsburgh looks a lot more like their 1972 selves than their 1952 or even 2012 versions. Cleveland rose up, fell down again, and is finally back in contention. Closest of all (if you time the bridge right) is Toronto, which fell short this year but built an impressive nucleus without surrendering all of its talent down the line. They now have the local affiliation to us (extended through 2016 despite the Bisons not making the post-season and falling just short of .500), and if the Jays can work out a deal to get their games on local cable, I may just trade my orange for white and follow them north for good.
That goes against every fiber of my baseball being, but I did eventually break my Jets and Islanders roots, and even these, deep as they are, are subject to withering, languishing, and poisoning- all words which, taken together, contain the letters W-I-L-P-O-N-S.
Ya gotta admit: I was proud. For the first time since 2006, a national baseball touring production made a stop at my little theatre in Flushing. I'd kept yesterday and today clear of commitments in case some last-minute miracle produced a ducat costing less than my mortgage payment. (Best anybody did was an offer of a $1,100 "strip" to the three events. Ha.) So I was there only through the pixels of the living room television and the lenses of good friends who brought me into this once-in-my-baseball-lifetime moment.
Someday Mets in the Futures game! Kevin Chapman caught a ball at the Home Run Derby! Everywhere you look, Apples! I was practically shivering with antici....
... only to find that the suits and the Yankees were there to make it just another putrid night of corporate promotion and bad offense at Citi Field.
1964 must have been so much simpler. Was it a day game back then? The stars in the stock photos look like they were just out there to play a game and have some fun. It all ended in what was not then called "walk-off" fashion by a Phillie, months before their famous-until-2007 collapse, who never got suitable recognition for that accomplishment or a chance to re-live it on the stage of Shea in the 42 summers that passed before his death.
Last night's was all about the sponsors. Every pre-game festivity had its own- even the parade of veterans, each presented with a flag flown at a home park of their own favorite team (I did like that FOX focused on Miguel Batista presenting a Canadian flag to their one DV on the field). None of them got graphics with their names, but People magazine sure got props for promoting the whole thing.
Pictures from 1964 show "410" in the outfield and not much else. Today, it's all MO ZONE and GRAB SOME BUDS. Even the entrance music of the whole event has lost its connection to baseball as its own event: FOX now pimps all its sports events under the single corporate-identity thundering theme music of its NFL broadcasts.
Maybe that's why Harvey felt a need to sack Robinson Cano with his third pitch of the night.
Yes, there was a game- presented by Bank of America or something. Yes, Harvey settled beautifully after those three pitches, and not long after his evening ended, mine did. I checked back to ensure I wasn't missing a no-hitter (Carlos Beltran swung at a pitch and got a hit! Go figure!), but my Wednesday has now filled with work stuff and it was time to turn in with the AL ahead by a run.
So I missed the onfield enshrinement of the Mo Zone, but I could have seen it coming, just as I wasn't surprised by Neil Diamond doing a song that has nothing to do with the All-Star Game, or the Mets.
Really? After THAT setup of the moment, what National League hitter would dare to challenge the Great One? Especially when the three he got are Segura, Craig and Gomez- nice guys, all, but more of a mid-size personal injury law firm than a Murderers' Row. So good for you, 42. I presume we'll be putting pinstripes through your number in the outfield when Selig forces us to re-retire it in your honor all over again.
Joe Nathan got the save. He immediately handed the game ball and credit for the save to Rivera, who touched the ball, rendering it a sacred relic which was blessed by Cardinal Beltran and shipped off to Cooperstown. In a plastic bag presented by Ziploc.
Today, Citi Field and the rest of baseball will lie as quiet as Shea. But the memories I don't have of 1964 are somehow clearer and cleaner than the ones I do now have of last night.
It's not easy holding down this fort. Least it's not a frozen one- it's as beastly humid here as it ever gets, although we still show no risk of breaking temperature records. But it's a lonely place, with few fellow fans, no radio, a SNY connection that is at the mercy of Time Warner whenever PIX gets a game, and a local team and media that are, literally, out of our league.
The local paper's primary sports columnist was one of the leaders of the charge to kick the Mets to the curb last year. The Blue Jays would be all sunshine and lollypops if only we could woo them, and they would upgrade the Bison lineup and return us to our champeenship days of the 90s and early oughts, when Cleveland was the parent. There was even hope that Toronto would bring back one of the franchise's most successful managers from the Indian era.
The end was not pretty. Due to so many downstate injuries last year, parent and child both fell in the standings, and by the time the Met-affiliated Bisons played their final game here (which I attended), Wally Backman was essentially telling the hometown crowd that he and his team were running for the bus. That hoser-cheering News columnist proceeded to get into an ongoing Twitter fight with that final night's starter, Collin McHugh, and then spent the entire off-season drinking the Poutine-Aid as Buffalo unceremoniously dumped every trace of their most recent four-year (and earlier historic) relationship with Flushing. The Met-skyline-inspired logo was ripped off the front of Coca-Cola Field before the new one was even designed; the SNY sign came crashing to the ground, and even the orange foul poles got a repaint before Toronto moved in and promised to make everything better.
Which they did- for Toronto. Which is how parent-MiLB affiliations always work. The Reyes and Dickey trades took many Opening Day prospects off the Bisons roster, but all was happiness and Timbits for at least the first month. (And they did bring that manager back, so we've got that going for us, which is nice.)
Cranky Columnist, meanwhile, had to make something out of the Matt Harvey phenomenon. After first dismissing it as a fluke, and then rejoicing at his first bad outing, he came by last week to explain why the Met Harvey of 2013 was so much better than the Bison he was a year ago:
Buffalo bored him.
Scouts openly wondered if opposing hitters would figure him out the second and third times through the order. Basically every scout that came to town said Harvey projected to a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in a big-league rotation, but felt that Zack Wheeler was a higher ceiling prospect. So what's happened? For one thing, Harvey was bored in the minor leagues. He's one of those rare players who needs the challenge of a new level. His last start in Buffalo, remember, he got shelled for six runs by the woeful Charlotte Knights. The Mets kept him here at least two weeks too long, if not more.
As usual, it was the Mets' fault. Which many things are, don't get me wrong, but rushing a top prospect into a useless situation would have been equally second-guessable if Harvey had gone Tim Leary on us during those two weeks.
One wonders if Matt is now experiencing some similar boredom in his major league role. He seems to do better when he isn't given run support than when he is. It'll be interesting to see how he responds to the sight of a sold-out Citi next week- assuming Bochy lets him into the game.
Meanwhile, as we all know, the Met prospects wound up with the short straw in the 2012 game of minor league chicken, and got the horrid dregs of Las Vegas. So not only are their home games in an atrocious ballpark which nobody cares about, their road games are, mostly, even southier and westier of the desert than their home park is. Nashville and New Orleans are the closest they come to a fan being able to see a prospect, as I'd been able to do for most of the past 30 years when they were with Norfolk and Buffalo.
And yet a funny thing happened on the way to the Canadian salvation: Buffalo just dipped below .500 for the first time all year, despite the Reyes rehab stay here. On the other hand, Las Vegas (no doubt thanks to the likes of Ike) is now several games above .500, and our prospects are far more likely to make the AAA post-season than the Bisons are.
It's enough to make you choke on your poutine.
Friends, cellar-dwellers, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come not to praise Costas, but neither shall I bury him.
We've seen the signs- or should have- which support the relegation of this franchise from the National to the No Fun League:
So why, when an outsider, self-proclaimed arbiter of taste tries to enforce those mores on the Mets, do Mets fans get so mad at him?
Probably because of the first part rather than the other two. Particularly because of the Costas connection to the hated haters of St. Louis, where the cruelties of fate have placed Carlos Beltran and his sudden post-2006 ability to swing a bat.
We felt the same way about those who would dare criticize Shea Stadium- yeah, it's a dump, but it's OUR dump! We had the right to criticize, but John Rocker sure as hell didn't.
So, sorry, but I'm not going to let this Costas-sterfuck of the other day turn into a distraction. We have a dozen or so offensive players to focus on, preferably to beat with baseball bats. It's not like they're using them for anything else, anyway.
We have a manager that puzzles, a GM who caretakes, and an ownership group that desperately needs to bring in the producers of Flip This House to give them a clue about how to get out of this mess they've made for themselves.
We have hints of a promising future in the middle of the infield, where these young pitchers seem to be able to maintain ERAs of under 3 while suffering from a lack of support that is positively negative. Please tell me we're not going to have to wait for the Back to the Futury arrivals of Mazzilli and Dykstra before we can plate some goddamn runs.
That's the only reference to Western Civilization I care about right now- that I don't have continue witnessing this Decline all the way through the Fall.
It's becoming a trend that I don't understand.
Every week, there's one day they can hit!
The Mets cannot score, but on Wednesdays there's more
Than their usual offensive shit!
It started in May- happened on a Subway-
When an inning of offense exploded!
Then we suffered a week
As the mighty went meek
As the Marlins and Nats all unloaded:(
Wednesday once more came round
-With the big-batty sound
Of a juggernaut built for the ages!
Then the rain and the Fish
Wiped out every fan's wish-
And we sent half our team to Las Vegas:P
Yet another off-day
Brought a real team our way
And the Mets were their usual losers-
But the calendar turned,
All our hitters? Just burned!
And we somehow defeated St. Louis!
I've been told there's no way
That our Opening Day
Winning history can be extended
We'd be dead, I would reckon,
When our 162nd
Came along in 2157.
Still, might there be a way
To tap into this day
And the wacky it brings to our hitters-
Rain 'em out! Break our planes!
Cut the lights at night games!
Overload #Wednesday hashtags on Twitter!
Only then, dare I speak?-
Play just one game a week!
-We might break from this season of hell
You may scoff, you may cry,
But I'll only reply:
It works fine in today's NFL!
One night after the Mets' Weekly Wacky Wednesday Outburst of Offense (it got me wondering if the Nats had added an Adams to the Presidents Race, only adding an extra letter to the last name and making it Wednesday Addams), the rubber game of the series got rained out. That led to SNY filling the slot with a Mets-Cardinals encore from 2006.
REALLY? Why not just put up a never-ending GIF file of Beltran looking at the last pitch of that season and save on production expense?
The rainout also brought the bloggers to a sudden stop, leading one of the best of them to have to stoop way below the belt buckle to come up with, yes, Wilbur Huckle. That Met who (probably) never was, who inspired a 1964 presidential campaign that was only slightly less successful than Barry Goldwater's, and whose Baseball Reference career consisted entirely of three forgettable short seasons in a dump (at the time) of a ballpark 30 miles or so from right here:
Now known as the Muckdogs, and most famous of late for being the place the Yankees wouldn't let Andy Pettite pitch a year ago, the Batavia franchise is the only charter NY-P member to have continuously operated since the Depression. That may be logical, since Batavia, New York is about as depressing as it gets. Just drive by the harness track-slash-racino, or watch the seniors trundling into Alex's Place up the road (motto: "Awe man now I want ribs!").
Yet I come not to praise Wilbur, or even to bury Batavia. Jason's riff on him reminded me that I had a post in me, a week or so ago, which came to be as I watched the nameless, faceless players on both sides of Citi Field as the Nameless Mets beat the Faceless Yankees for the first of their four surprising times.
Which of these two clubs would be the one to resort to signing the most faceless famous ballplayer of all time?
I'm not the first to make the connection between Wilbur and Joe- this guy did it over four years ago- but that's the kind of guy Joe Shlabotnik is. He makes random people think of him around Presidential election years. He'd probably bet on Millard Fillmore in the Presidents Race, even though Fillmore has never competed in it.
There's a whole Peanuts Wiki entry about him, which I found on my own before finding the 2008 blog piece. It summarizes most of Joe's greatest accomplishments on and off the field. His onfield record beat Wilbur's in at least the respect that he once got a major league hit out of a painful number of at-bats:
Shlabotnik was demoted to the minor leagues after hitting .004 over an entire season; his one hit was a bloop single with his team comfortably ahead. One time he promised to hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth; he popped out instead, but circled the bases anyway. His greatest achievements included making spectacular plays on routine fly balls and throwing out a runner who had fallen down between first and second.
Must've been the Polo Grounds Mets; I think I saw that on the 1963 Yearbook rerun during another rainout.
Yet he somehow captured the heart of Charlie Brown as no slugger ever did or could, and similarly disappointed:
Linus once invited Shlabotnik to a testimonial dinner for Charlie Brown; unfortunately, the ballplayer got lost en route from his day job at a car wash. Another time he was scheduled to appear at a sports banquet where fans could dine with their favorite athletes (the guest list included Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Jack Nicklaus, and Peggy Fleming), and Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy bought tickets to sit at Shlabotnik's table. He was the only athlete who did not show up, explaining later that he had marked the wrong event, city, and date on his calendar.
And of course, leave it to Lucy to end the story with schadenfreude:
In two Sunday parts, even:
Sadly, I still find the Mets cute enough to keep out of the bin. How much longer that will continue? Only the Great Pumpkin knows for sure.
Dwight Gooden has a memoir out. Yes, the Doctor who set New York on fire at 19 in the summer I was about to turn 25. Get off my lawn.
Plenty of sad wisdom in it, though. I heard him on a sports show yesterday recounting and recanting the demons from those days- when the Mets finally defeated the Red Sox, he said, he called two people: his dad and his drug dealer. He also talked about the more recent ones that landed him in prison rather than rehab.
Gooden missed the Mets' procession through the Canyon of Heroes in '86 because he was so high from a night of partying. He watched his own parade on television. That's the kind of sadness that comes with uncured addiction. Almost as sad, perhaps, as watching the Parnell Parade in the bottom of the ninth last night and realizing that the 48-year-old Dwight Gooden would probably be an upgrade to the pitching staff.
It was another of those "you knew it" moments. Somehow, the Mets managed to get to the final frame with a lead, despite the spit-and-scotch-tape collection of throwbacks and Triple-A's surrounding their single superstar. I was down the hall when I checked the scoreboard and, just like that, the score was tied and there were three little yellow Nats on the basepaths and an out count of zero. I instantly knew the what, but I had to watch the how.
There was Parnell, looking like he'd been handed the keys to the Exxon Valdez just as Captain Joe Hazelwood ran it aground and headed off to Happy Hour at Holling Vancour's place. There was what looked like a foul ball (it wasn't) being caught by Mike Baxter in a Cirque De Soleil-like pose that instantly ruled out an effective throw home. And there was some guy named Steve Lombardozzi, chugging home with the walkoff winning run, being attacked by his teammates in a gang-banghug of joy that looked like Jesse Orosco's final out of that World Series so many years ago.
Oh. And there was Davey Johnson on the dugout steps, no doubt looking across the way with a combination of sadness and schadenfreude.
There used to be a catchy car-dealer jingle around here, for a long-gone urban Ford dealership, where the hook in the song went, It could be you.
You could have turned back to your past, at any of the times in the past quarter century he was available, to regain the mojo of that manager now sitting in the other dugout laughing at you.
You could have put a little less attention into the "amenities" of your spanking new ballpark and done a better job of drafting, signing and trading for the employees who actually work between those (sometimes hard-to-see) white lines on the edge of the field. (I swear, I expect sometimes to see the Mets' next Not Reyes shortstop wearing an Aramark employee badge with his first name and Dominican home town on it.)
And maybe tomorrow- it certainly hasn't happened yet- you could somehow find a way to rid yourself of your evil owner named Jeffrey. In the case of the Nationals, it took a franchise trade and an ultimate relocation to pull it off, but maybe some of a team must die so its essence can live.
Or, perhaps, some combination of retirement and ultimatum.
Hey. Whatever works. Because, this? Doesn't.