The Starting Rotation
Just a few things to say while you have that one leg over the rail, and they're about as good as they can be right now.
Yes, the Mets are doing a passable imitation of the Mets, fartying like it's 2007. Yes, our young arms are either stressed or inning-limited, and our bats are beginning to resemble their June rather than August selves. But there's a beauty in magic numbers: no matter how true those things are, and no matter how bad it gets, that number never goes back up. It can only get smaller, even, as it recently did, on a day you don't even play.
We all know there's no crying in baseball; there are also no style points in baseball playoff seedings. There's no NCAA Selection Committee to impress; RBI's are marginally relevant, RPI's, not so at all. You limp to the finish, you're in. In this particular year, in fact, you may do better in the post-season by doing worse. That may change after 2015, but for right now, it is what it is.
"Splainame, Lucy!", I hear you cry.
We're spending too much time looking in our rear-view mirror when nothing was ever as close as it appears; take a look in the other lanes, though. We've taken as gospel (or Torah, given this week's occurrences) that the Mets will play the Dodgers, because the Cardinals have the best record locked up and will thus be subjected to a wild card with a better record than us. As of August 1st, even as of today, that remains true. Yet where would we be if the Mets had continued that frenetic pace of earlier this month, and gone 9-1 in their last 10 games rather than the 6-4 they did go?
While you think about that, a parenthetical note, not parenthesized because I'm doing that too much: doesn't it seem worse than 6-4 in the last 10? Washington's only played one game better over that stretch.
Answer: we might be contending for best record in the National League. Remember, this is a manager who has his lineups scripted for him by the Wachowskis: "You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the orange and blue pill, you stay in wonderland." Now consider the Cardinals, who are also well known for their own analytic skillz, including the use of computers. They've been slumping too, of late. Those pesky wildcarders are within striking distance of the Central lead (actually, as close or closer to St. Louis than the Gnats are to us), but I don't hear cries of panic coming from under the Arch.
Look. I'm from Buffalo. I learned a lot about tanking in the past year, and I'm getting a whiff of the same roadkill-like stink from these two teams as they vie to not play the wildcard winner in the first round. Don't like conspiracy theories? Fine. I fully expected a clinch by today. That would have meant two weeks of tuneups, rests of starters, messes with an already messy rotation, and the dreaded word RUST being bandied about in the first games of the NLDS. Look back at last year's World Series contenders: two wild card teams that had to grip every second until they got in and then survive a one-and-done game while the division leaders all had afternoon tea. That kind of pressure helps. We've got a little of it. We also have six of our next ten games against the Braves and Phillies. My goal is for those final three at home to be irrelevant.
And oh, just one more thing, ma'am. If you know me from Facebook, friend or not, you may have seen the cover picture I've had up all season:
That's from my August visit to Citi Field with my old friend Bill. My August 2014 visit. Look at the Met lineup; it's easy, because who wants to look at the Giant one that beat us 9-0 that day with some phenom named Baumgarner on the mound? That entire lineup is still on our roster. Most of it is still on the field every day. It's the additions you don't see there, mainly on offense, that have made last year's disastering into this year's mastering. As for how those Giants are doing? Almost as far behind the Dodgers as the Ex-pos are behind us. Enjoy October, guys- hockey season's almost under way!
One of the most fascinating things about the Mets' successes of the past few weeks is how it's come on their annual extended road trip, occasioned by the august, and then some, needs of their long time tennis neighbor in Flushing. This wasn't an issue when I was first a fan; the U.S. Open was played in, and commonly referred to as, "Forest Hills," the way "Wimbledon" is the British major and "Roland Garros" is the near-universal aphorism for the French one. But since 1978, the Mets and the Sets have been the Odd Couple of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
The Open is Felix, the fussy and impeccably dressed one, with commercial photographs of the contenders (portraits a specialty) being well known all over town. We've been Oscar for as long as there's been an Oscar, his connection to the Mets showing up in the Shea scene in the film and in every opening title scene of the sitcom. (Yes, his Mets cap is on backwards, but that's Oscar for ya.)
For the early days of the contested games, sets and matches, the roommates get along under the same elevated track. Those rounds don't draw all that much extra foot or highway traffic. Indeed, as I found out when taking a wrong turn into Flushing on my August 10th trip, things over there are already starting to swing even weeks before the racquets do. Even though this was days ahead of the first ball being served in anger, ESPN already had a full facility set up over there, across a park road from a gauntlet of transmission huts for every contending nation- Telemundo, Globo, Wowow, I think even Grand Fenwick had a trailer).
But as pretenders vanish (the daughter of Bills/Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula made it to the second round) and the contenders vanquish, the respective Lords of Sport typically send the Mets a Labor Day Love Note to remove themselves from their place of residence for the Open's final weeks. That's why this extended foray to Miami, DC and Atlanta pulled our beloveds from our presence just as things were getting good.....
only to have them get better?!?
In hindsight, having the Borasghazi controversy erupt on the road was likely a good thing. It kept the media vultures from getting too stupid about the whole business until the rest of the team found their own special way to tell Scott and his statistics to shut up. The 2014 Mets had no choice but to make Matt Harvey irrelevant; this year's team is coming close to doing it of their own volition.
It has also helped that these 10 pre/quarter/semi/final overlaps of base-and-tennis-ballgames came at the expense of two very bad teams surrounding a third imploding one. Having them away from home only reinforced the pain suffered by the opposing players, management and fans (to the extent any of the latter chose to show up or stay around).
Finally, it kept me from having any stupid ideas about showing up for any of them. Although my first August visit was a success, the second one proved again that my lifetime record on those grounds is nothing to write home (or even here) about. My next chance at a visit comes a week from Tuesday, if a federal judge in Brooklyn declines a joint request by me and Pennsylvania counsel to appear by phone. It's the Braves that night, and there's a not-quite-decent chance of it being Clinch Night; if Met and Nat fortunes are purely 50/50 starting this afternoon, it'll be over a day or two before that, but let's give the ex-Pos a little extra joie de vivre and assume they'll clean up against the Phils and Marlins later this week with six out of the eight games in the W column. That would put Washington just far enough behind for the 22nd to be the clincher.
I promise not to storm the field- or go Jimmy Connors on any of the linesmen.
Things you don't expect to see after being out of the house for almost five hours seeing a film and having dinner out for your bride's birthday:
* The Mets still playing a game that began at 2:15;
* The Mets winning a game that began at 2:15, without benefit of a hit to score either the go-ahead or insurance run in the 18th inning;
* One of the Mets' scariest all-time ghosts being invoked from the broadcast booth.
It came in that magical top 18, right after Tejada's sac fly and Campbell's squeeze bunt, as Juan Legares stepped up for the tenth time. That seemed like a lot to the boys in the booth, but Gary quickly noted that the record for such things remains safe, held to this day by a player in the still-longest of Mets extra efforts (and tied for the longest MLB game played to a victory), also against these same St. Louis Cardinals, but played that day at Shea, and on September 11th (of 1974) to boot....
That record number of at-bats still goes to 11, held by the anything-but immortal #23 on your scorecard, Dave Schneck.
I remember him from the '72 and '73 seasons, but it was 1974 that he got regularly penciled in to the outfield lineup, as the latest in the Mets' attempts to duplicate the magic of Willie, Mickey and the Duke. He instead wound up categorized among the likes of Don Bosch and Al Shirley as would-coulda-shouldas in the outfield.
Probably his longevity in that historically long game is the only team record he holds. But the sad part is? His 1974 self probably could crack the current 40-man roster. Yet despite the bad juju coming from the Beetlejuicing of his name today, those two runs held up, as the Cardinals seemed more interested in the post-game buffet than the bottom-inning opportunity. Coupled with the Nationals loss at home, the Mets wind up in much better shape than the first 35 innings of this half of the season would've suggested.
It's enough to make you put your faith in Eric Campbell. Just don't call him Al. Or Shirley.
Almost halfway through the season, and the Mets are right back where they started. For a franchise that didn't get to the .500 mark, for even a day, until 36 games into their eighth season, that's not too bad.
But everything else?
I see the vague traces of the Back-signal in the night sky, and hear the chorus of Nana nana nana nana nana nana nana nana BACKMANNNNN! in the background. It's the one thing they could do today, tonight or next week that would fit the budget of the Miser Freeze who's running this team. It's also worth remembering that the Mets abandoned Willie Randolph on a SoCal trip seven years ago; he's probably still stuck on the Teacup Ride at Disneyland, wondering whatever happened to Lastings Milledge.
In my last very occasional post about this team, I made fun of David Wright's disease- and a former Met promptly got murdered. So I choose my words carefully from this point forward.
West Coast trips for this team have historically been one of two things and usually the second: redeeming, or Very Very Very Bad-dening. This is the one that will define 2015 and possibly years to come. If the same 25 men on the roster and the guy in the manager's office are the same ones that return next weekend, I see that as a sign of the latter- and soon, quite possibly, of last.
I'm a year removed from a half-century of loving a certain baseball team, and in those years, rare moments have stood out. The stars aligned and gave us a rotation of arms that could overcome any adversity, including, usually, our own:
Seaver. Koosman. Ryan.
Gooden. Darling. [Insert your favorite among the nominees here.]
Isringhausen. Pulspipher. Wilson. Okay, maybe not so much.
And now, through an Amazin' combination of drafting and trading:
DeGrom. Syndergaard. Harvey.
Each of them did what was expected of him this weekend. The results for each were straight from L.
Because they're all this team has.
Wait- that's not true. This team also has a trio of cluelessness:
Owners. General manager. Field manager.
Owners who have been making bad decisions ever since exercising their
right wrong and taking control of the team from Baseball's First Fucking (Legend Had It) Family, and eventually making Madoff rather than Doubleday the most important name in the future of the franchise. Owners who think a moment of silence this week is a fitting tribute to the man who saved the team, rather than, you know, an inspirational patch or something. Sorry, but moments of silence at Citi Field are redundant.
A general manager who's had the blessing of high draft picks and some early-on shrewd signings to benefit from, but who cannot react in time- if at all- as his one star player is lost to a disease that will probably be named for him when he dies from it, and the remainders of his offense and bullpen collapse in an infinite combination of chaos.
A manager who could set Matt Harvey's pitching arm on fire and still wouldn't get fired because the Cheapons don't want to pay for the remainder of his contract, much less pay market rate to someone who could make decent decisions.
So we've got all that going for us, too. Along with second place, soon to be fifth.
But come on out and see our bright young pitching stars!
Interesting first couple of weeks, huh.
Wins on Opening Days, home and away. Now, eight more of them strung together, and few except Harvey Day One featuring dominant pitching performances.
Yet that isn't the story of this season. After Wright Night last week, I created my first-ever Twitter hashtag (no small feat because I still refuse to tweet):
It's been brutal. One of our young starters, lost to Tommy John right before the season started. Our closer, lost to temporary mental illness right after the first game. Then Wright, going jammy on the hammy stealing a base he totally didn't need to steal. And finally, yesterday's confluence of contusions, as one of the best setter-uppers in the bullpen and the main remaining reminder of R.A. Dickey BOTH knocked around and with broken bones that will keep them out for weeks.
At this rate, single game tickets may start coming with a free tryout and/or a round-trip Greyhound pass to Binghamton. (The Mets wouldn't dare send any prospects to Las Vegas, out of fear they'd start betting on the home team, never lose, and never show up.)
That week opening on the road was a blessing. The familiar confines of divisional ballparks, hellish though they may be, are still the Devils you know. Now the Gods bless us with what is essentially another full week at home and then only three games away in Miami before coming home again.
We can only pray none of the Mets fall off the High Line, or get run over by the 7 train while not Minding the Gap.
Never saw THAT coming. The Red Sox have been sold, and the new owners immediately announced their intentions to move to a shiny new stadium away from their legendary, historic city home.
This is not The Onion. This is really happening. No, Kristen, put down that frypan. It's THIS legendary historic city home:
THE Red Sox have had their eponymous AAA affiliate based in Pawtucket, and in this beloved ballpark, since as long as I can remember. The team has long had success on the field and, despite a relatively small capacity of just over 10,000, it ranked in the middle of the International League pack last year in attendance- ahead of a shiny new stadium in Scranton, and ahead of the much newer and nicer downtown stadium in Rochester
Ah, the Red Wings. For McCoy Stadium was also the site of the longest professional baseball game ever played- between them and the PawSox in 1981. At least two books have chronicled that historic matchup: one, Scott Pitoniak and Jim Mandelaro's history of the team from the 1990's, which devotes a long chapter to it; and the more recent Dan Barry book devoted entirely to the history of that contest. There's a lot in the latter about the history of political corruption, wildly misguided marketing and the Jimmy-Hoffaesque burial of heavy equipment on the site of this ballyard.
Now, it seems certain, the heavy equipment will be returning- to demolish the old dump, because the PawSox will be no more:
Boston Red Sox team president Larry Lucchino and a group of New England investors have purchased the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox for an undisclosed price, it was announced Monday in a press release.
The goal of the new ownership, led by Rhode Island businessman James J. Skeffington, will be to build a new ballpark on the water in downtown Providence, according to a report by the Providence Journal. According to the report, a name change is likely and the team would be called the Rhode Island Red Sox. If everything goes according to plan, a new ballpark could be ready for the 2017 season, according to the Providence Journal.
Can you imagine the outrage if the parent club suddenly decided to move to Foxboro? Preservationists and purists would be up in arms to save the history, maintain the tradition. But this is minor league sport, which increasingly is becoming even more the neglected stepchild of the Big Boys. Franchises with long histories are being swept up and moved; successful affiliations are being severed just to bring the "farm team" into the television market of the major league one; and minor league seasons are shortened, and playoff races cheapened, just so the parent can have more access to the best players.
I wonder if they'll even put up a sign to tell fans that There Used To Be A Ballpark Here. When Rochester's even older stadium was replaced in the 90s and most of the structure torn down for an industrial park that never came, they did put one up- but it only mentions the Red Wings' history on the site in the briefest of terms, sharing the bill with Native American games played there in antediluvian times. Will anyone remember that the site of McCoy was the night of future legends- like Boggs and Ripken, along with future Met-almost-killer Marty Barrett- going inning after inning in futility, and waiting months before the final outcome was determined in an almost-instant.
When the made-up game finally ended in a half-inning walkoff, Jim and Scott report, the PA system in Pawtucket played Peggy Lee's morbid classic "Is That All There Is?" This morning, I wonder, just as morbidly, if this teardown of tradition is going to lead to that song being played for us, in time.
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.