The Starting Rotation
Congratulations to the Veterans Committee Class of 2015!
Not a one of the "Golden Era" nominees on this year's ballot was deemed entitled to a Hall of Fame plaque by the 16 gatekeepers placed at its front entrance. Not Dick Allen or Luis Tiant, not Minnie Minoso or Ken Boyer- but especially, not the man who's beloved by three generations of Mets fans and a still-kicking contingent of Dodger fans before them. Only three of those 16 found Gil Hodges to be worth the accolade that was given away like Cooperstown cotton candy on so many prior occasions.
It's supposed to be more flexible in the re-do's of the Veterans voting. For one thing, candidates' full resumes are supposed to be on the table, for both playing and managing. Gil's accomplishments on the field are well within what often got 75 percent vote totals in his time, but his two-year turnaround from 1968 to 1969 in the Mets' dugout should have been more than enough to put him over the top.
Just not with 13 of these 16 guys. And who are they to judge? First, we need to look at who "they," exactly, are:
Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Jim Frey, Pat Gillick, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.
Of the seven enshrined former players on that list, none ever played with or against Hodges (Bunning and Kaline were in the AL in Gil's final LAD and NYM years), and none played under him on Senators or Mets squads in his all too brief tenure on their benches. Several of them did face his Mets in anger in 1969- most notably Jenkins, the Ace of Disgraced in Chicago that year. A little revenge for Leo, perhaps?
Of the executives, only Bob Watson's name rings a relevant bell, and it's not a good one; likewise, among the reporters, Phil Pepe is the only one I can think of as likely to have an opinion. Both have ties to the Yankees (Pepe as a beatwriter covering them for close to half a century, Watson as a former Steinbrenner GM), and I've long suspected that the Yankee-honk-heavy writers' bloc on the BBWA had it in for Gil earlier on. After all, his Bums' 1955 championship deprived the Bronx of a full-on sweep of intra-city matters for that entire cut-short 1950s decade. Now it seems to have carried over to the newfangled Veterans vote, where not even a minyan, much less a 75% supermajority, find our beloved former player and manager worthy.
A lot of this has to do with the voting format. The electorate is tilted to the old, yet none among them could have championed the causes of any of these "legends." What a contrast to the NFL Hall voting process, where each nominee is presented by a writer-voter who knows the qualifications and argues for them. (That process also ensures that a minimum and maximum of contenders make it to Canton each year, rather than sticking to the arbitrary and ridiculous 75 percent standard.)
Under the recent recast of the Veterans structure, another three years must now pass before Gil Hodges can again get a crack at the Cooperstown bat. Unless ya gotta believe there's another way....
I knew all too well about the Gil snubs of the past. I even got to talk about them a little with his son, at the 2012 Hofstra conference, not long after his dad's last unsuccessful go-round. (He got 9 votes in 2011.) What I didn't know, until last week, is that Gil pere is, arguably, already IN the Hall:
Hodges had enough votes to be elected by the Veterans Committee in 1993 (12 out of 16), only to have committee chair Ted Williams disallow the vote of Roy Campanella, one of Hodges' former teammates, because he did not attend the meeting in person. Campanella was hospitalized at the time. With that ballot rejected, Hodges and Leon Day were left one vote short of enshrinement, with 11 of the 15 votes leaving them at 73.3 percent, 1.7 percent shy. Campanella died three months later. Day was elected when the new committee met two years later.
Another potential conflict? Ted Williams succeeded Hodges to the Senators helm in 1969, and his relative success with the team was far overshadowed by what took place in Queens that year. Who knows what front-office or back-channel bad blood there may have been. Gil died far too soon and too suddenly to ever explain, and presumably, Ted's frozen head isn't talking, either.
Depending on what the writers do with this years' Recently Retired, MLB may again be facing an induction ceremony of Nobodies We Know, as they did in 2012. If that happens, perhaps a new commissioner might use some best-interests-of-baseball powers and correct the 1993 vote to give Number 14 the final recognition he should had long before.
Who from this camp would ever argue? Certainly Not Me:)
Three seasons of sport essentially ended today. As for two of them, the less said, the better.
The Bills lost. While they are only a quarter done with their season, the past two weeks have produced ugliness that portends yet another quiet January in our local lives, and probably yet another rebuilding campaign beginning in 2015.
Derek Jeter played his final game today, on the road in Boston. His final days in the Bronx were so over-the-top, I envisioned the Yankees providing him with a chariot of fire and horses of fire that would take him to heaven in a whirlwind and then return him for the final three at Fenway. He was a good guy, but I'm just happy we won't get a third straight year of overpriced adulation from Team Steinbrenner next year.
Which brings us to the final finale- the meaningless Mets win today, which ends an eighth straight year with them going (in this case, staying) home at the end of the regular season with no Games That Count for more than half a calendar. The past six of those seasons- all of them under their new Citi Field umbrella- have been sub-.500 years, although this time they came their closest and wound up tied for second in their division, way behind even the one-and-done wildcard contenders. I will not bore you with the reasons for their demise or the made-up (or Madoff, depending on who you believe) reasons for their lack of any real hope of improvement next year.
Rather, I want to talk about the group of fans, the group of friends, who make it all worthwhile to keep this team on my radar, and favorites list, and once-annual pilgrimage list, despite all of that.
"My Summer Family" is what a blogger friend Taryn called them, back when her rels had real and regular Shea Stadium season ticket seats. These posts came as the demise was already under way, and ended not long after the move to pricier quarters next door broke up the assemblage. But the term still holds, for me at least, even from this distance.
To put it in perspective: the Bills have already played two home games 15 miles from my home. I know dozens of people, in real life and/or online, who attended, or could easily have attended, those contests. Not a one of them ever asked me if I was going, or wanted to go. For the product, or the pre-game experience? Erm, no- both involve substantial risks of regurgitation. But for the camaraderie, the shared experience? Yeah, I'd risk the loss of voice (if not the loss of cookies, as I would not drink during tailgating) to be with people I care about.
On the other hand? In the week prior to today's final Mets game, 400 miles from my doorstep, no fewer than four fellow fans specifically sought me out and asked if I'd be there. (I held out remote hope through as recently as yesterday morning, but the funds to justify it did not arrive, and thus neither did I.) We'd have been holding down separate sections- from bleacherish to beaucoup-buck- but we'd all meet during the game, usually on the Shea Bridge connecting the first-and-third-base sides of the stadium, and reminisce about the better times behind and ones we hope will lie ahead despite the prognostications.
We're professionals and creative types, moms and dads of everything from college graduates to cats to stuffed bears. We all detest our team's owners, tolerate its frustrated managers of general and field, and live and die with the ragtag band of, mostly, the Very Very Old (one of whom won the final game today) and the Very Very Young. We are blessed with the two best play-by-play men in the business not named Vin Scully and marvel at how they can make even the most pedestrian of this team's losses seem far more magical than they really are. We manage to have a good time confined to the Emperor's Club sections of the ballpark, yet somehow do just as well if not better when staring in from the cheap seats. We mock the opposing teams and fans but do not hurt them.
I went an entire season without posting a single entry on my Met-oriented blog, despite following the outcomes of all of them, watching more than a few of them, and attending one of them not quite two months ago. As with the game itself, there's a rhythm you have to get into, and the injuries to so many players during the year, the absence of farmhands from Western New York, and the general stupidity of ownership all contributed to that silence. Yet through all of it, the connections to those who make up that Family have meant as much to me as ever, if not more as we go through these times together. To our blogger contingent- Greg and Jason, Taryn and Ed, Jason and John, Susan and Andrew (I'd better stop before I name all twelve disciples;), I thank you whether you've made me smile every morning or just once or twice. To the fellow sufferers from East Meadow- another Susan, a returning Bill, and of course Dennis- I thank you for being there. And to those who maybe just posted a photo of a moment where you declared your love for this disease I cannot cure myself of- thank you for trying us. We have cookies:)
Next year, the Mets open on the road, and the promise of a new season will not return to Flushing until April 13. We're hoping it will be a Harvey Day- something unseen in 2014 but full of a prospect of hope that was also rarely seen this year. Yet we still laughed, and yelled, and tweeted, and threw out first pitches and called out "play ball!"- and when any one of us did it, we all did.
For we are Met fans. And we're stupid that way.
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!