Friday, December 30, 2005

Cursed! When Mets Become Yankees, Bad Things Happen

Doc Gooden starred for the Mets, then joined the Yankees and went into a tailspin.

Robin Ventura, be careful. John Olerud, watch your back.

Because if the sad tale of Jeff Reardon reminds us of anything, it’s that bad things happen to people who proudly wear the blue and orange of the Mets then descend to the depths of the Evil Empire. His demise was as predictable as a Benitez big-game meltdown

It’s a curse, if you will. The pattern is too great to be ignored.

Reardon, you’ll remember, was arrested after robbing a Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. jewelry store. His attorney blamed the action on a reaction to antidepression drugs and the tragic death of Reardon’s son in 2004.

Reardon, you’ll also remember, started his career with the Mets in 1979 and was traded for Ellis Valentine two years later. Sadly, he closed out his career in 1994 by pitching nine innings for the Yankees, posting an nasty 8.38 ERA.

The sad part is that he's only the latest example. Oh sure, you know about Doc and Darryl trading their pinstripes for orange jumpsuits, and Bubba Trammell stricken by depression.

But research shows us that 85 people have played for both the Mets and Yankees.

There are 25 who sought to redeem their Yankee-tainted careers by switching their allegiance, even if it was a last-ditch attempt. A good example is Yogi Berra. He spent his career in pinstripes, retired, managed the Yanks for a year then sought redemption by coming out of retirement to play a handful of games for the Mets. The result? Yogi went on to become a quote-making folk hero and everyone's favorite sports gnome.

But what about the rest, who go from Met to Yank? Friends, it's not pretty. Here are their stories and all are true.

Juan Acevedo: Played with the Mets in 1997, drawn to the dark side in 2003 where he went 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA in 25 innings before being unloaded on the Blue Jays and ending his career.

Neil Allen: A true Mets martyr. Allen left the Mets so Keith Hernandez could come rescue the franchise. We knew that Allen had his personal demons, evidenced by his two subsequent tours with the Yankees. He was even their bullpen coach before getting demoted to Triple-A Columbus.

Sandy Alomar: Had a cup of coffee with the Mets in 1967 then spent four seasons with the Yankees. Spawned Roberto, who came to torture Mets fans by suddenly losing all of his skills after donning the Mets jersey.

Jason Anderson: Here is a sad case. Came up with the Yankees and was traded to the Mets for Armando Benitez. Sadly, he was released and signed again with the Yankees, sealing his fate.

Armando Benitez: Speaking of Armando. Even the Yankees knew he was trouble and quickly dumped him on the Mariners.

Daryl Boston: Had parts of three nice seasons with Mets, went to Yankees after a year in Coors and promptly forgot how to hit, showing a career-killing .182 average.

Tim Burke: We actually cursed him ourselves, trading him for Lee Guetterman in June 1992. Burke finished the season with the Yanks and hung ‘em up.

John Candelaria: Spent about two weeks with the Mets at the end of the 1987 season, then signed with the Yankees as a free agent for the next season and a half, starting a tailspin that sent him to five teams and retirement.

Duke Carmel. You have to feel for this guy. He was a happy little member of the 1963 Mets when the Yankees came and swiped him in the Rule V draft. Traumatized, he got 8 at-bats in 6 games without getting a single hit for the Yanks.

Alberto Castillo: He spent four years backing up assorted Mets catchers, got regular playing time with the Cards and Blue Jays before crashing with the Yankees in 2002, the first year they weren’t in the World Series since the mid-1990s.

Tony Clark: Look over your shoulder, Tony! Clark had a nice year as a Mets sub in 2003, flirted with the dark side in 2005, escaped to the D-Backs last year and remembered he is a power hitter with 30 bombs. But we all know the curse catches up with you at some point.

Billy Cowan: Cowan hit a horrible .179 as part of the revolving door that was the 1965 Mets. Amazingly, he hit even worse -- .167 -- as a member of the Yanks in 1969.

Kevin Elster. Elster fell out of favor after appearing in Sports Illustrated talking about how athletes face the danger of AIDS for their activity on the road. Appeared with the Yanks, then somehow in 1996 became a power hitter, belting 24 bombs in 1996 with the Rangers. Wonder how that happened?

Tony Fernandez: Ruined a nice career by spending a year with the Yanks in 1995 after a short, crappy stint as a Met in 1993.

Tim Foli: Foli was a Met twice before he ended up in Yankee pinstripes, where was traded to Pittsburgh with Dale Berra, who promptly got himself involved in the drug scandal.

Rob Gardner: Talk about cursed. Gardner played two years for the Mets, they got stuck in a revolving door with the Yankees, A’s and assorted Alou brothers. Check this out. On April 9, 1971, the Yanks traded him to the A’s for Felipe Alou. Six weeks later he was traded back to the Yanks for Curt Blefary. Then the following November he was headed back to the A’s for Matty Alou.

Paul Gibson. Talk about a glutton for punishment. Gibson signed with the Yankees as a free agent three times after the Mets sent him packing.

Doc Gooden: Perhaps the most tragic case of them all. Gooden hooked up with the Yanks for two tours. And we all know what happened. Booze, drugs, police chases, jail.

Greg Harris: Started with the Mets in 1981, and for reasons unknown appeared in three games for the Yanks in 1994 before getting dumped mid-season.

Stan Jefferson: Had a cup of coffee with the 1986 World Champs, was a part of the Kevin McReynolds deal and ended up with the Yanks in 1989, where he hit a horrid .083 BA.

Lance Johnson: Was an All-Star with the Mets in 1996, but the Yanks released him midway through 2000 despite hitting .300!

Tim Leary: The Mets made him the second pick in the nation, then blew out his arm on a miserable day in Chicago. He had some success with the Dodgers before heading to the Yankees and nearly losing 20 games in 1990.

Al Leiter in happier times.

Al Leiter: Why, Al, why? We redeemed him once, casting aside his Yankeeness and making him a star in the Apple. But his defection last season can only mean bad things for our hero.

Dale Murray: Spent some time as a serviceable reliever with the Mets. Went across town, had a couple OK years then bammo! He posted a 13.50 ERA in three games and they cut him loose.

Bob Ojeda: Why did he do it? Ojeda tarnished a nice career by appearing in two games with the 1994 Yankees, posting an obscene 24.00 ERA and driving him into retirement.

John Olerud: The distinguished ex-Met joined the Yankees just in time to catch their historic choke job against the Red Sox.

Jesse Orosco: In his apparent bid to play with every team in baseball, our favorite glove-tosser spent part of his final year with the Yankees, giving up 6 runs in just 4.3 innings.

John Pacella: Remember the guy who lost his cap every time he threw a pitch. The Mets traded him to the Padres, who spun him to the Yanks before he could play in a game. Of course it ended badly, with the Yanks shipping him off to Minnesota after just three games.

Len Randle: At least he never punched anybody. Dumped by the Mets, Randle went to the Yanks had hit a robust .179 before they cut him loose.

Jeff Reardon: We know all too well the events of the past few weeks.

Rey Sanchez: The 2003 Met is another guy so traumatized by his time with the Yanks that he played part of a season, then quit.

Rafael Santana: One of the few trades between the Mets and the Yanks. The starting shortstop for the 1986 champs was jettisoned to the Yanks after the next season for bums Darren Reed and Phil Lombardi. Naturally the Yanks ruined him. After a year he went to Cleveland and lasted seven games.

Don Schulze: After a brief stint with the Mets, Don was drawn to the dark side. He appeared in just two games, even winning one of them. Of course, they soon traded him to the Padres with Mike Pagliarulo for ex-Met Walt Terrell, ruining his life.

Charley Smith: This infielder played for the Mets in 1964 and 1965. He went to the Yanks then the Cubs in 1969. The Cubs, sensing the Yankee stench, eliminated him after two at-bats.

Roy Staiger: This one is our fault. Staiger spent parts of three seasons with the Mets before we traded him to the Yanks for Sergio Ferrer. He appeared in only four games for the Yanks, ending his career.

Darryl Strawberry: This hurts. Straw is among the Mets' all-time studs. Went to the Yankees, got cancer, went to jail.

Darryl as a Met.

Darryl as an ex-Yankee.

Bill Sudakis: Spent part of 1972 with the Mets, headed to the Yanks in 1974. How badly did they screw him up? The next year he was released by the Angels in June, then released AGAIN by the Indians two weeks later.

Ron Swoboda: Rocky, no! The Met hero was traded from the Expos to the Yanks in 1971 where they sucked the talent out of him and he hit .116 in 1973, driving him to a career in television sportscasting. Ouch!

Frank Tanana: We traded Frank to the Yanks at the end of the 1993 season. He appeared in three games, losing two of them, and was out of baseball.

Walt Terrell: Traded to the Yanks in 1989, Walt managed to escape at the end of the season. Sadly, he was forced to spend the remainder of his career with the Pirates and Tigers.

Ryan Thompson: Traded with Jeff Kent for David Cone, Ryan stunk it up with the Mets. Appeared with the Yanks in 2000 then bounced through the hell that was the 2001 Marlins and 2002 Brewers before being done.

Bubba Trammell: The 2000 Met joined the Yankees in 2003 and left the team after 22 games saying he was suffering from depression. Heck, can you blame him? I’d be depressed, too.

Robin Ventura: The saddest thing ever is that we traded him to the Yankees for David Justice, who never appeared in a game for the Mets.

Jose Vizcaino: Played for the Mets, then later appeared for the Yanks at the end of the 2000 season and drove one of the stakes through our hearts in the Subway Series.

Claudell Washington: Spent just a part of 1980 with the Mets. Later bounced between the Yankees and Angels, hitting well below the Mendoza line and getting run out of the game.

Allen Watson: We traded him to the Mariners in 1999, who promptly released him, allowing the Yanks to sink their claws into poor Allen. The next year? A 10.23 ERA and a ticket home.

Wally Whitehurst: Pitched four seasons with the Mets. Hooked up with the Yanks, who sent him packing after two games and a 6.75 ERA.

In Other Words

Happy New Year! This is as close as I could come to finding a Mets new year's baby. May this year bring you happiness and health.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Mickey & Me, Part 1: Two Hall-of-Famers and an Original Met

Jim Palmer humoring me by allowing himself to be subjected to an interview at Tiger Stadium.

I haven't booed a baseball player since 1990. Well, that's not entirely true. I reserve the right to boo Chipper Jones and each and every member of the New York Yankees. It's just the right thing to do.

But everyone else has gone un-booed ever since I spent a weekend in Rochester, N.Y. with ex-Met Mickey Weston and got a glimpse into what life is like for the guys working to make the roster year after year.

I actually started this story in the middle in October. Hey, it worked for George Lucas, and unlike George, I won't subject you to Jar Jar Binks and pod races. You can find it here.

I convinced my editors at the Flint Journal to allow me to tell the story of Weston, a pitcher from Fenton, Mich. Mickey toiled in the minors for years -– mostly in the Mets system -- before getting a shot with the Baltimore Orioles in 1989. He earned a save in his first game and a win in his second, and then hurt his arm.

I caught up with him again toward the end of the 1990 season in Triple-A Rochester. My assignment was to tell readers what it was to be tantalizingly close to a dream only to have it taken away.

From that point on, I kind of became Weston’s personal biographer, following his career through stops in Toronto, Philadelphia and back to the Mets. He became the a kind of poster boy for replacement players in 1995, getting his photo on the cover of USA Today after being named the Tigers’ Opening Day starter. He returned to the Mets system as a minor-league coach before taking a full-time job in a Christian organization that works with missionaries.

A devout Christian, Weston spent every off-season giving baseball clinics and spreading the Gospel, intent on being a role model on and off the field.

He's also about as friendly a person you'll ever meet, and was very patient with a star-struck young reporter.

Before heading to Rochester, I tried to be as prepared as possible, interviewing people in and around the Lake Fenton High, where Weston holds the school record with a 0.034 ERA.

Then I saw that the Orioles were going to be in town playing the Tigers for a series. Score! Naturally I was obligated to head to Tiger Stadium and talk to the manager and coaches about Weston. Background for the story, you understand.

The manager that year was Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson and the pitching coach was Al Jackson, an original Met and one of the better young players of that statistically sorry bunch.

The visitor’s clubhouse in Tiger Stadium is just off the main concourse. I picked up my credentials and walked in, heart racing. This was my first time in a clubhouse to interview anybody. Someone pointed out that Jackson was in little locker area inside the visiting manager’s office. I walked in and was immediately embarrassed – he was changing into his uniform.

“No, come in, come in,” he said, greeting me with a big smile and a warm handshake.

Sportswriters get used to interviewing people in various states of undress. But I normally covered schools and this was just awkward. But Jackson was very gracious, answering all my questions about Weston, his injury and what he needed to work on to do better when he got another shot at the majors.

I told Jackson that I also wanted to throw a couple questions at Frank Robinson, if that would be OK. He said the skipper was already on the field, and I could probably find him near the batting cage.

I remember stepping out onto the field, stopping on the gravel and taking in the scene. Sure enough, there was Robinson leaning on the batting cage as Sam Horn was knocking the crap out of the ball.

Robinson is universally respected as a player and legendary for being on the grumpy side. I was completely intimidated. I got his attention, and he slowly looked over at me, clearly not one of the Orioles beat writers or anyone else he knew.

I told him that I was working on a story about Weston, and that he was a local guy.

“You’re in the wrong place,” he grumbled. I was panicking now, not understanding what he meant. My mind was racing with images of security goons hauling me off the field.

“Talk to the people in Rochester.”

I explained that I realized Weston was pitching in Rochester, but that he had been up with the Orioles for a spell and wanted to know what Robinson thought about him.

“Go talk to the people in Rochester,” he said, turning his head back toward the activity in the cage.

That would be it for Frank. I was walking back toward the stands when I saw Jim Palmer, the former Orioles pitcher who was working as an announcer. I thought, “What the heck, it can’t go worse than it did with Robinson.”

I waited for Palmer to finish his conversation, introduced myself and told him what I was doing. He seemed happy to talk about Weston, telling me about his strengths as a pitcher and how because he’s a soft-tosser teams don’t have a lot of patience.

As this was happening, my brother – visiting for a couple days – was snapping photos. One proudly hung above my desk for years.

Later, about halfway through my weekend in Rochester, I mentioned to Weston that Palmer had nice things to say about him.

“You guys talked to Jim Palmer – about me?” He asked.

“Heck, yeah. Frank Robinson, too!”

Weston winced.

There will much more to come.

In Other Words...

We know that Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter and their cronies woke up to find coal under their Christmas trees this year. But what did members of our beloved Mets find? A great new Mets blog, Miracle Mets, has all the answers!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

I hope everyone has a very happy and healthy holiday!

Take a moment today to look around the room at the people you are sharing this special day with. Tell them you love them and that you're glad they are there. We know that life can be like a Tug McGraw screwball, twisting in all different ways.

And I am honored and flattered that people stop by this site and invite me into their lives, even if just for a few minutes. Thank you!

Go Mets!

Monday, December 19, 2005

It's a Wonderful Life -- And the People Who Made it That Way

It’s a December ritual to watch Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in "It’s a Wonderful Life."

My pastor this week told us how he can’t keep from being emotional when the angel saves George Bailey from jumping in the river and shows him what Bedford Falls would be like had he never been born.

I get emotional because I think there are indeed angels.

Maybe not like Clarence in the movie, looking to earn his wings. But I think there are people who come into your life for a short time and change it forever.

And looking back, you can’t imagine what your life would have been like had that person not been there at that time.

Let me tell you about one person in my life, Robert Block, a history professor at Nassau Community College.

In 1983, I was the editor of the college paper. I practically lived at the college, which was strange considering it doesn’t have dorms.

Nearly all college newspaper editors are rebels. I was different because instead of rebelling against the administration, I rebelled against our faculty adviser (who was incredulous that I wouldn’t attack the college president).

So when it came time to pick a school to transfer to for my junior year, the adviser was not going to be any help. And, in fairness to him, I would have rejected anything he suggested.

So I was tentatively planning to transfer to a university on Long Island. It’s an excellent school, but it doesn’t have a national reputation for journalism.

Block’s European History class was one that I really enjoyed, and one day he asked me to follow him back to his office a couple doors down the hall.

"What are your plans for next year?" he asked. I told him the university I was thinking about.

"No," he firmly said. "If you’re serious about journalism, there is only one place you want to be looking at. University of Missouri."

I thought he might be kidding, but he wasn’t a joking around kind of guy.

New Yorkers will back me up on this. We have kind of a Big Apple-centric look at the world. There are many states — probably about 47 of them — that are just not on our radar. Heck, we don’t always acknowledge that New Jersey exists, even though we can actually see it sitting there across the Hudson River. In my world, other states were there so the Mets had places to play road games.

New York, and some of the states we kind of acknowledge existing.

I told him that I didn’t think my parents would go for the idea. Heck, I thought it was crazy. New York is full of excellent colleges. I’m not sure anyone in the extended family had left the state for college, much less gone a half-continent away.

But he told me to research the school, and offered — all but insisted — to talk to my parents.

Flash forward 20 years, and I can see Professor Block knew what he was talking about.

I attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism, got my bachelor’s degree and it opened doors for an internship at a good-sized paper that hired me full-time after I graduated. Met my future wife at Mizzou, too. And I’m still close to my roommate, a role model and friend after all these years.

Being a reporter has allowed me to meet people from presidents and billionaires to the homeless and to experience things that I will carry with me forever. Through stories I like to think that we’ve been able to shape some decisions that have helped some small parts of the world or even just brought a smile to a reader’s face.

At the end of one hectic and eventful day last year, I was chatting with an editor and said, "Sometimes I just have to pause and say we get to do some really cool things. For all the griping we do, this really is a fun job."

"It’s a life lived," he responded. "We see things and do things that other people just don’t get to see and do." And, of course, our job is to be their eyes and ears and share those experiences with them.

I’ll never know how things would have turned out had I attended the other school. Perhaps things would have been better.

But I do know that I am plenty happy with the way things have played out. I’ve been blessed. And I can trace it back to a professor who, for reasons I can’t explain, one day took an interest in me.

I tracked him down this year to let him know how things turned out and to say "Thank you."

And I even learned that other states do in fact exist, and some of them are kind of nice.

In other words...

Greg Prince's "Faith and Fear in Flushing" is always a great read. But he's topped himself with his latest post, a reimagining of the song "These are a Few of My Favorite Things" from a Mets perspective. Give yourself a holiday treat and read it here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Off-Seasons Greetings

When people ask me how many baseball caps I have, I tell them 25.

It seems like a big number to them, and they’d be horrified if they knew the real number. Heck, I’d be horrified if I knew the real number, which is why I wear them instead of count them.

Now that you know that, I can tell you I have 25 Christmas CDs.

I know, I know. But I just love holiday music.

I start getting the itch around early October when the new releases hit the shelves. And I used to happily spend hours reconfiguring new mix tapes — and later mix CDs — to be set for when the Christmas season.

Now that I am into the iPod era, I’ve been busy creating new and exciting playlists that aren’t confined by the amount of space on a disc. This spares me the difficult choice of which version of Greg Lake’s "I Believe in Father Christmas" I should include — there’s room for all of them! Some people consider this iPod abuse.

Since the winter meetings are over and Billy Wagner and Carlos Delgado can hang their stocking above the fireplace at Shea, I can unleash the holiday spirit that’s been building.

And I’m big into sharing, at least sharing my views of the very best out there.

So if I was going to make an ultimate mix tape-CD-playlist, here are some all-time faves I’d include, as well as some albums that stand as awesome collections.

Here are some of the ground rules. I like stuff from the rock ‘n’ roll era, and I lean toward upbeat versions of traditional songs. I was in a doctor’s waiting room last week and some country guy was singing "Daddy, please don’t get drunk for Christmas because I don’t want to see Momma cry" over the speaker and almost begged to be sedated so I couldn’t hear it anymore. So nonsense like that does not make the mix.

Here’s what does. Some of these you’ll know, some you’ve probably never heard of. These are my favorite Christmas songs:

A very merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any tears.

"Happy Christmas (War is Over)," John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Such a beautiful song, with the Harlem Children’s Choir in the background. Almost as good is the flip side of my 45, which is Yoko Ono’s "Listen, the Snow is Falling." My wife hates it, but it just sounds like Christmas in New York to me.

"A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector," Various artists
It's been called the best Christmas album of the rock era, and it's certainly the most influential. And, truth be told, it was a failure the year it was released. Spector had the misfortune of offering this collection the year John F. Kennedy was killed, and a mourning nation apparently wanted no part of people messing with holiday standards. But given the gift of time, we know that Spector unleashes his "wall of sound" brilliantly. It's a reflection of its time, yet still sounds fresh. The songs are all great, but the highpoints are Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and "Sleigh Ride" by the Ronettes.

How a little baby boy
Could bring the people
So much joy
Son of a carpenter
Mary carried the light
This must be Christmas
Must be tonight

"Christmas Must Be Tonight," Robbie Robertson
I was in a West Palm Beach Starbucks last month and heard a previously unknown (at least to me) version of this song playing on the speakers and stopped dead in my tracks and asked the clerk who it was. Turns out that it’s on Starbucks’ "Elton John’s Christmas Party" CD, and is probably the original version of the song from the 1970s. So now I have three versions, all very different and all very good. My favorite is from the from the "Scrooged" soundtrack, of all places, a very 1980s treatment.

Through the years we all may be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star apon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Pretenders
There are a zillion versions of this song, but I like the Pretenders softly swaying version the best. It’s from the first Very Special Christmas CD frm 1987, which is by far the best of the five in the series, boasting an amazing amont of A-listers, from Eurythmics to Bruce Springsteen to Madonna to John Mellencamp to Run-DMC. Most of the songs hold up pretty well, though I’m sure Bon Jovi cringes when it hears "Back Door Santa" today. And it should. The Pretenders’ other holiday offering, "2000 Miles" is a classic, too. Of course, also included on this CD is...

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" U2
A lot of bands have taken a turn with this Darlene Love classic, but Bono and the boys do a fantastic job. It’s also kind of a surprise that a band with openly Christian members who include religious references in many of their songs would pick a very secular Christmas song to record.

"Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand," Relient K
If the Ramones went to church and grew up in suburban Ohio, they'd be Relient K. The Christian pop-punkers issued this 10-song EP in 2003 and it is filled songs that are both reverent and fun. Not a lot of bands take a stab at Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," and even fewer get the thing done is a minute and eight seconds.

So on with the boots, back out in the snow
To the only all-night grocery,
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
In the line is that guy I've been chasing all year!
"I'm spending this one alone," he said.
"Need a break; this year's been crazy."
I said, "Me too, but why are you?
You mean you forgot cranberries too?"
Then suddenly we laughed and laughed
Caught on to what was happening
That Christmas magic's brought this tale
To a very happy ending!

"Christmas Wrapping," The Waitresses
I’ve loved this since it debuted on Ze records holiday disc, and you can find it all over the place today. Who’d have believed that the short-lived new wave band would be forever known for a Christmas song. The band played at Nassau Community College when I went there. But the lead singer heard on the song, Patty Donahue, had apparently abruptly quit and was replaced by Holly Vincent from Holly and the Italians. Holly was so new that she actually carried on stage index cards with the lyrics, which didn’t exactly thrill the crowd. I think things went downhill from there.

So call on your angels
Your beaten and broken
It's time that we mend them
So they don't fade with the season
Let our mercy be the gifts we lay
From Brooklyn to Broadway
And celebrate each and every day
This New York City Christmas

"A New York Christmas" Rob Thomas
I’m a sucker for all things New York, and this blending of the homeland with a Christmas song is just phenemonal. It was first available only as a download to benefit Sidewalk Angels Foundation, Thomas’ charity that helps the homeless. But now you can find it as a CD single and some compilations, including one from Target this year. I hum this one all year long.

So now, it’s Christmas in my heart
God sent heaven down to Earth
And called him Jesus

"Christmas in My Heart," By The Tree
This offering from the contemporary Christian band came out last year on the Absolute Favorite Christmas package and fast became one of my top songs. The chorus sounds a little like Sheryl Crow’s "Soak up the Sun," but don’t let that stop you.

"Christmas day is in our grasp
As long as we have hands to clasp."

"Welcome Christmas," Love Spirals Downwards
This is the song from the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" in a most unexpected place. "Excelsis, a Dark Noel" is a downer goth CD, pretty much music to contemplate a holiday suicide by. Hey, sometimes you take a chance ona disc and it doesn't pan out. Execpt, that is, for this lilting, angelic cut. It probably got the band thrown out of the goth club, but the Whos down in Whoville, the tall and the small, would be proud.

So we're having a reggae Christmas
-- down in Jamaica!
We’re having a good time, too
Hey mon, we're having a reggae Christmas
A merry Christmas and a reggae new year to you

"Reggae Christmas" Bryan Adams
I picked up Bryan’s "Christmastime" 45 while in college and thought the song was pretty good. Then I flipped over to the B-side, and "Reggae Christmas" rocks! It’s bouncy, it’s fun and the steel drums are cool.

"A Lump of Coal," various artists
I was walking through an Ann Arbor music store and stumbled upon this cassette and took a chance on this 1991 release. I had heard of just one of the performers -- Henry Rollins -- but thought I'd give it a try. I was blown away, and it remains one my faves. It's mostly alt. rockers taking turns with traditional songs. Compilations are amixed bag, but seven of the 11 cuts still make get added to playlists. The best is Carnival Art's "Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella," and they wrap up the song by weaving in the fa-hey-dor-rae stuff from the Grinch. Brilliant! The Crash Test Dummies chip in with "The First Noel."

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town," Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen recorded this at C.W. Post University on Long Island. Look it up! For years it was unreleased and it was a treat when I could catch it on WBAB. It was eventually offered on an otherwise dreadful children's album, then finally issued on a CD single with "My Hometown." And take note, Bruce is using Phil Spector's arrangement of "Santa Claus."

So now you know what I'll be listening to all month. I'd love to hear what some of your favorites are!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Every Signature Tells a Story: Face-to-Face With Bud Selig

Miller Park, scene of the confrontation.

If any of this is to make sense, you must remember one thing: I'm not a fan of Bud Selig.

I don't like what he shut down the game in 1994, I don't like that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays exist, I'm still bitter about the 2002 All-Star Game ending in a tie.

In fact, Will's Website,, was created to dispel what we thought were an onslaught on half-truths, un-truths and outright lies spewing from the commissioner's office in the days leading to the labor brawl some five years ago.

And when we weren't seething at Bud, we were mocking him. Hey, it was easy. The hair, the fractured syntax, the ever-present can of Diet Coke -- to the chagrin of Pepsi, one of baseball's main sponsors.

But despite my travels in and around baseball, I had never come face-to-face with the man we held responsible for much our grand game's problems. Then again, it's not like I was actively seeking him out, either.

Before I begin this sordid tale, you must know that it was first told on Baseball Truth, and you can find its original version at Best of the Responsorial archives along with some other fine reading.

Anyway, tracking down Bud wasn't on the agenda when Andrew, my then-11-year-old son, and I made our way to Milwaukee for Father's Day weekend in 2004.

Our plans called for checking out a game at Miller Park, then hitting the awesome Milwaukee Zoo the next day. The city is only about five hours from Grand Rapids, and I've enjoyed my short stays there before.

The ballpark is spectacular, with the famous tailgating, the amazing brats and their secret sauce and the Little League field that is on the site of the Brewers' former home, County Stadium, where Hank Aaron once roamed.

It was also cool because it was an inter-league game against the Minnesota Twins, and Twins fans were out in force.

We snagged tickets in the last row of the reserved seats on the lower level. Behind us was an aisle, then a row of luxury boxes that included a couple rows of seats.

We were having a great time. Then it happened.

Looking around the yard, a guy sitting in the first row of one of the boxes caught my eye. The hair, the was Allan H. Selig himself, otherwise known as "Bud" to friend and foe alike. And we are firmly in the "foe" camp.

This shouldn't have been a surprise. Afterall, we all know that Bud was owner of the team, even while serving as commissioner. But you just don't expect to run into such people.

And there he was. The object of scorn and derision.

The only thing I could think to do was call Will and get instructions on how to take matters into my own hands. This was risky, as Will was in California attending important family business, and I didn't think his sister would appreciate if her walk down the aisle was interupted by Will's cell phone going off and me ranting and raving.

Luckily, it was an opportune time. Will answered, told me to calm down and asked if I was wearing my Executive Game IV T-shirt.

We openly dream that Bud will one day Google himself, see a link to our site, read our rantings, recognize the (many) errors of his ways and see the light -- then give us free tickets to games, since we helped him out so much. This has not happened yet, best that we can tell.

Alas, I was wearing my game-worn, 1994 Brewers Duffy Dyer jersey. Yes, the former Mets catcher was once a Brewers coach. Even while wearing a Brewers jersey I cannot hide my inner-Met.

So I summoned all of my courage, marched up to his box and gestured that I wanted to shake his hand. He leaned over the rail, extended his hand and I was ready ready to unload.

What I meant to say: "Hey Bud. Shouldn't you be busy figuring out why half the players are pumped up bigger than balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade instead of lounging around here in somebody's luxury box? Or are you going to sit back and wait until some more of the game's hallowed records are rendered meaningless while promoting 'roided sluggers to the masses."

What actually came out: " Ah, ah, Mr. Commissioner. Nice to meet you.

Bud: "Hi. Hi Nice to meet you, too."

What I meant to say: "Looks like half of your -- err, your's daughter's -- ballpark is filled with Twins fans. Of course, that wouldn't be the case had you been able to carry out that devious plot you and Polhad cooked up in 2001, something about contracting the team and ruining baseball in yet another fine city."

What actually came out: "Thanks for inter-league play."

Bud: "You're welcome. Thanks for coming."

What I meant to say: "Nice cash cow playground the taxpayers of Wisconsin built for you. You can practically see the darn thing from the Mars Cheese Castle. I'm sure you -- err, your daughter -- is plowing all that new dough back into the team. Hey, are those a bunch of stud free-agents I see out there? Oh, nope. I guess you guys are just pocketing that cash. Hey, didn't I see a tie game here once?"

What I actually said: "This ballpark is AWESOME!"

Bud: "Isn't it beautiful?"

I was in the Bud vortex, even asking him to sign my program. Walking back to my seat, I started thinking...maybe the players are paid too much ...Spider-man ads would have made those drab bases look better...There's nothing wrong with a tie All-Star game when you run out of pitchers...why can't the Mets and Yankees and Cubs and White Sox play a series every month?

Luckily the sausage race started and snapped me back into reality. Who knew that Bud could neutralize me with his charm? The opportunity was lost. He deflected my gripes. The game would continue down it's troubled path.

Will, of course, was both blunt and accurate: I choked like the Braves in the moment of truth!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

So, Did I Miss Anything?

It took me three tries -- and the kids just one!

Man, I step out of the country for a week and all heck breaks lose in Mets land!

I've been enjoying the vacation of a lifetime, cruising through the Caribbean with my parents and family.

One of the many joys of being on a cruise ship is that you are pretty well disconnected from everything else in the world. One of the minor downsides is that, well, you are pretty disconnected from everything in the world, especially the world of sports.

Oh sure, the television in the stateroom gets ESPN. But when the options are frolicking on the beach at St. Maarten and sitting around watching television, it's a pretty easy choice.

The ship -- we were on the Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas -- posts mini-newspapers each day, four- or six-page summaries of the day's news, and one for sports. I walked past one day and saw the main story was something like "Mets reaching out to Wagner" and got excited. There wasn't too much detail because all the stories are short.

Then, while flipping through the channels waiting for the kids to get ready, I saw a SportsCenter promo that said the Mets had traded for Carlos Delgado. Say what? Details! I needed details! I stalked the little stand where the staff posts these daily news sheets, and there was just a snippet about the trade, but at least I could see who we were giving up.

Arriving back in Miami on Saturday, I could get my hands on a full newspaper again, and the Marlins are being smacked around like a pinata. One of the columnists in the Palm Beach Post called it the darkest week in the team's history. He was adding the Beckett trade and the threat to move the team.

As you know, the Fish are a second-tier favorite for me. The fans here have been screwed over time and again. They get tagged for not showing up, but the team refuses to hold on to decent players. And the whine about the new stadium just gets older and older. Do we really think that Major League Baseball is going to give up on a top-10 market and send the team packing to Portland or Las Vegas?

The sentiment here is that the team will more likely head north to Palm Beach County, with the theory that the vast majority of the people going to the games are headed south to Miami. A stadium in the suburbs would continue to draw whatever Miami residents are coming, plus make it easier for those coming from Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

But since the Mets seem to benefit from these Marlins fire sales, I suppose I can't complain too much.

As for the cruise, I learned many things in addition to the Mets trade. Here are some of them:

1) Euro-bunnies.
Euro-bunnies must be very poor because they apparently can afford only one piece of their two-piece bathing suits -- the bottom pieces. And they must be rather helpless because many men would walk by -- slowly -- to check on them while they were laying out on deck 12 at the front of the ship. None of these concerned men, however, offered to buy the Euro-bunnies the rest of their swim suits. Poor Euro-bunnies.

2) Casinos are strange places.
Just because a casino says it has 5-cent and penny slot machines doesn't necessarily mean you can use your nickels and pennies. I had never once set foot in a casino. But I read that the one on the ship had nickel and penny slot machines. And one evening I was feeling really sassy and had some pocket change and thought "I'm gonna let these babies ride!" I walked up to a 5-cent slot, dropped in a Jefferson and it dropped right into the tray. I tired a couple more and the same thing happened. Same with the penny slots, too. I told an attendant, and he said the machines take quarters and dollars. I said "But they're nickel slots!" and was told that I could get five plays for my quarter.

So I walked over to the cashier booth, plopped my five nickels on the counter and said that I would like to trade them for a quarter because I was feeling lucky tonight. The cashier laughed and said "We don't exchange small coins." I asked how I was supposed to play the nickel slots if the machines won't take nickels and she wouldn't exchange them for me. She said I could get a quarter somewhere else or put a dollar in the machine.

I took my nickels and left in a huff! Heck, I would be better off starting a collection for the Euro-bunnies.

3) Puerto Ricans don't get excited about their baseball teams.
As you know I try to work a baseball adventure in to all my travels. And since we were in San Juan, I thought I'd look for a cap or something from one of the city's two baseball teams. We were not in port long enough to make a trip to the stadium, so I had to make do by searching for a sports store in Old San Juan as we walked from the fort back to the ship. We found just one sports store, and there was nothing for the Senators or Crabbers.

My Dad, again spoiling me by joining me on this trek, asked clerks if they had such caps, only to get strange looks. The store did, however, have plenty Carlos Beltran shirts on display, which was nice.

4) Climbing walls are easier for kids.
One of the features of the ship was a large climbing wall along the back smokestack, with four paths topped by a bell to ring, and a shorter path for kids. I'd never climbed one of these, so we decided to give it a shot. I let my 13-year-old go first, and he worked his way to the top and rang the bell.

Easy enough, I figured. Except that as I got higher and higher, my arms started feeling like lead and I has having more and more trouble finding little nubs to grab on to . With about three feet to go I just couldn't get any higher and dropped off the wall in shame.

"Try it again tomorrow," the attendant said.

So we did, this time letting my 8-year-old daughter go first. And like her brother, she climbed right to the top like the Amazing Spider-Man, only on the shorter kids' path. I must have passed along some sort of recessive mountain goat gene. And again, I made it to within three feet, and it felt like every ounce of energy had drained from my arms. They simply could not move. Talk about shame.

Now I was obsessed. I went out there one night after the wall was closed and studied the paths for a route that looked better, contemplating whether it was worth the risk of a complete meltdown. Actually, it wasn't a risk. A meltdown was a sure thing, especially since my son was mentioning his success any my failure at every opportunity.

I decided to try again on Thanksgiving morning. It was a day at sea, and I hoped that most passengers would be distracted by the Euro-bunnies and I could make the attempt without anyone watching. People climb Everest with less thought than I was putting into this potential third assault.

As I was getting fitted for my harness and helmet, my wife said "You know, it's not the end of the world if you can't do this." Ah, yeah, it pretty much was, I decided.

I told the crew member who holds the rope about my previous two attempts, and he pulled out his bag of white powder. "It's all about the rosin," he said. "This will be your day."

With rosin caked on my hands, I started the climb. You don't want to look down, and I didn't want to look up -- just focused on the blue and green nubs. I got a little higher and higher and started to feel the familiar aching in my arms -- but not enough to stop yet. A few more feet -- and there it was, the bleeping bell! I reached out and swatted the cord, then swatted in again because that clang was sweet music to my ears.

Sadly, my exploits were not featured in the little sports newsletter that came out the next morning!

Friday, November 18, 2005

What I'm Thankful for...and Turkeys, Too

As you all know, Thanksgiving is this week. And despite the impression that it has become but a speed bump in the rush to Christmas, it's still one of my favorite days of the year.

I confess it, I'm a sucker for the Macy's parade and the giant balloons. And it's not quite Thanksgiving unless I can watch at least part of it.

And I love turkey. Or to be more specific, I love turkey sandwiches, piled high with stuffing and cranberry sauce. The leftovers are the better than the main meal, and I happily take those sandwiches in to work for a week afterward -- and have them for dinner, too!

But most of all, I realize that I must be thankful because the Lord has blessed me in many, many ways that I know of, and probably a million more that I either don't realize or don't appreciate.

So, with that in mind, let's proceed to our list of things I am thankful for, and list a bunch of turkeys, too.

I'm thankful for: David Wright. I thought about Wright when I wrote the post about Gregg Jefferies a couple weeks ago. There are some similarities there. Except that Wright -- at least so far -- has proven to be the real deal. Jefferies might have been, too, except that his head wasn't on straight. But Wright has said and done all the right things and I think we have a very special player here. Plus, the bare-handed catch! Amazing!

Turkey! That would be Derek "Freaking" Jeter. I'm convinced that if this guy had been playing for about any one of the other 29 teams he'd be just another decent shortstop instead of the Mr. Wonderful the Yankees have hyped him into. And the weasel has been just plain lucky. You and I both know that had Jeremi Giambi had the brains to have slid into home, The Play would be remembered as nothing more than a nice attempt. As for The Play II, anyone can catch a pop fly then run and run and run and dive into the stands. And how slow of a news day must it have been Thursday for the Post to devote its entire front page to Jeter gallivanting around Hawaii?

I'm thankful for: My iPod. I’m not a big gadget guy by any stretch. But the iPod is a glorious, life-altering device. A group of us in the newsroom sit around and talk about how much we love our iPods. Some people think we’re a cult. I can't deny it. My wife was almost shunned for implying that the iPod had a fault, which it doesn't. We didn’t take that step, but it was a close vote.

Turkey! It's too easy to pick on confessed 'roid boy Jason Giambi. But what's with the fans voting to give him "Comeback Player of the Year?" The guy's problems were self-induced, if you believe his leaked grand jury testimony. This is like if they had awarded Doc Gooden the Cy in that season when he missed the first month or so because of the drug suspension then came back and went 15-5. And Giambi's situation was worse because it was a performance-enhancing drug. Not only should he not get the Comeback award, but they should take away his tainted MVP as well!

I'm thankful for: Costco! Costco rocks! The adventure! The mystery! The hot dog and Diet Coke combo for $1.50! And it’s where I got the aforementioned iPod. Sometimes I go to this ultimate warehouse store around lunchtime and sample my way around the store. Sometimes I just wander around because you just never know what will be there on any given day. I used to name the goldfish on my desk after school board people I cover. But it got embarrassing when they kept dying. The latest one is named "Costco" and is one happy, healthy fish.

Turkeys: Senators. On one hand I should be glad that because Sens. Bunning and McCain got involved, baseball finally has a decent steroid policy. But on the other hand, don't these guys have something better to do than poke around baseball's business? Isn't there a war and an endless string of national disasters that should be keeping these guys a little busy?

I'm thankful for: Blogging friends.I started this thing in March on a lark thinking no one would read it and I'd run out of stories by the middle of April. Amazingly, that hasn't happened, and I've met some really great people along the way. You keep me informed, you make me laugh and you make me feel like I am close to home despite living far from the shadow of Shea.

Turkey: Gary Sheffield. That whole fiasco around the trading deadline was simply awful. It's bad enough that Mr. I Didn't Realize They Were Steroids had his name associated with our clean-cut young men. Then he goes and says he would never play for us, as if that were some kind of bad thing. Hey Gary, I have news for you -- you can keep your sorry ass in the Bronx! And how many rings have you won over there? Oh yeah, the same number as if you had been playing for the Devil Rays.

I'm thankful: To live in the Midwest, at least for now. It's been an amazing run of baseball events in the area since we moved here, from All-Star Games in Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit -- including the FanFests, which I get to attend -- to World Series games in Chicago to stadiums closing and opening. It's been a fun ride. And if I can't live in the homeland, this is a good place to be.

Turkeys: Hamlet Torre and Hamlet Cashman. What was with all the hand-wringing about whether they would return? Was there any doubt? As if either of these two Yankee-tainted types would turn tail and bail. What would they do, go somewhere else, fail, and confirm everyone's suspicion that having a $200 million payroll makes one a very good manager and a very smart general manager?

I'm thankful for: Pedro! Pedro! Pedro! Why do we love Pedro? Because he not only didn't strangle Braden Looper on Opening Day, but went out there in his next turn and shut down the Braves in what was an absolute must-win game. Throw in the near-no-nos and other gems following those Ishii mailises. And you gotta love that he respects Mets tradition enough to wear the traditional pinstriped uniform when he takes the hill at Shea.

Turkey: Doug Mientiewicz. Doug, you sucked. But fans stuck by you because you appeared to be a stand-up guy. Then after the season you go and rip the Mets, hoping that you aren't brought back and calling the team clueless? That's pretty weak for a guy who had trouble hitting .250. Go across town so you can back-up Jason Giambi.

I'm thankful for: Mike Piazza. Since he arrived at Shea, Mikey has been a first-class citizen and representative on the Mets and had fully earned that trip to Cooperstown. I'm glad that Mets fans treated him so well as the season wound down, respectful that he once carried this team on his back. Go DH and get that 400th bomb then come back to Shea and hang 31 on the wall!

There you go!

I sincerely thank you all for reading -- and giving me things to read and enjoy! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Rob Deer, Starbucks and Spaces at the Mall

Bucky, I don't think we're in Massapequa anymore!

I know by now that I’ll never be a true Michigander, but a New Yorker who happens to live in Michigan.

The reason is simple: I don’t get hunting.

Tuesday is the closest thing Michigan has to a state holiday. It’s the first day of deer season.

School districts in some parts of the state close down for the day. Government offices are running on skeleton crews. It’s a good day to go shopping, since the stores are pretty empty.

When we first moved here in 1990, some people were incredulous that I not only didn’t hunt, I didn’t know anything about it.

“I’m a New Yorker,” I told them. “I hunt for parking spaces.”

Will and I used to travel to a huge baseball card show in a Detroit suburb each month, and the November trip was always rough because all the way back up I-75 we’d see a parade of pick-ups and SUVs with gutted deer tied to the roof, tongues flapping in the wind.

I’ve listened to guys talk about hunting. They'd get all excited, and it sounded like a combination of a male bonding ritual and a noble effort to help the deer by killing them.

But to me, it kind of sounded like a bunch of unshaved guys sitting around a kerosene heater in a shack drinking beer until the wee hours then running out and playing with dangerous toys.

It works for them, and as long as they don't drag me out there I suppose I can't complain. But I have some issues with the way they hunt and why they hunt.

To hear these guys tell it, it’s their moral duty to run out there every fall and thin the herd. By the way, “thin the herd” is compromise language. I say “kill,” they say “harvest.” You harvest crops, and you can do it without wearing orange and blasting a hole through them.

But I digress.

According to the hunters, Michigan is annually on the verge of being completely overrun with deer. They allegedly multiply like bunnies and live to raid your garden and mine. And when their bellies are full they will either jump through the window of your local supermarket or leap into the path of your car. Either that or they’ll starve. And without your heroic hunter taking matters into their own hands, well, bad things will happen.

This is shaky logic.

A colleague at a paper where I once worked remarked that if Grandma was starving, you’d feed her, not kill her. And as for being overrun, well, there are a lot of things in Michigan that seem to be multiplying within our borders, like Starbucks. And we don’t go blasting them and tying baristas on the roof. Although to be fair, any group that calls a cup size “tall” when McDonald’s calls the same cup “child-sized” has a lot of nerve.

Then you hear the "I only hunt for food" line. Except I'm confident the supermarkets are well-stocked around here, pretty much making food of all kinds readily available. Plus the venison tends to go bad when you drive around town for a week with the trophy, err, meal beast, tied to the roof.

Then there’s the methodology. In my mind, hunting is using your powers of observation and knowledge to track, locate and seize the prey. Like when you see a person leaving the mall with lots of shopping bags, you drive a respectful distance behind them until they get to their car, then employ your turning signal to announce to the other space-hunters that you’ve spotted the soon-to-be vacated spot first and are claiming it as your own.

But these guys spend weeks before deer season leaving piles of apples and carrots – the deer version of White Castles and a 32-oz Diet Coke – in a spot. Then on the first day of the season the deer go for their treat and bam-o, some guy waiting in a tree stand pumps a round through him. Or at least they try to. There was a lot of drinking the night before.

Just once I'd like to hear one of the guys break out with something like "It's fun to kill stuff." At least I'd know he was telling the truth.

Maybe if I were born here, or had Bucky or one of his friends leap out in front of my Saturn while driving home one night, I’d feel differently. It's just not a part of my culture.

Of course, there was one deer that roamed freely around Detroit for a while. And Milwaukee, too.

Rob Deer was the prototypical Tiger player in the early 1990s — had some success elsewhere and could reach the friendly fences fairly early and often.

But when he wasn’t hitting a homer, one of two things would happen — a walk or a strike out. Deer had a pretty good knowledge of the strike zone, it just didn’t help him connect too much. He hit a lowly .179 his first year in Detroit, but with an impressive 25 bombs and 89 walks. Sadly, Sparky Anderson benched him in September when he approached Bobby Bonds’ strikeout mark, finishing just shy with 175.

He was a little better the next year, hitting .247 with seven more homers. His strikeouts were down to 131, but the walks also dropped, to 51.

Deer was traded after 90 games into the 1993 season, and later wrapped up an 11-year career with 230 homers, a .220 average and 1,409 strikeouts, good for 56th on the all-time list.

There was one place he was in demand. When Will and I opened packs of baseball cards, we’d play the "Stiffs Game," seeing who had the worst player in a pack. Seeing a Rob Deer card would pretty much mean a certain victory, earning him "trump card" status.

And through his years in Detroit, he managed to avoid the piles of apples and carrots that would appear in right field.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Every Signature Tells a Story: Gregg Jefferies, A Little Too Uptight

I was as wrapped up in Gregg Jefferies hype as anyone after his explosive call-up at the end of 1988, confident that he’d have a future of stardom and a plaque waiting in Cooperstown lacking only an inscription of his glories to be.

But maybe the scene at a baseball card show appearance that winter should have tipped us off that things wouldn’t quite work out that well.

Jefferies was the Mets first-round pick in 1985 and was a three-time minor-league MVP. The hype was already building — his Fleer and Donruss baseball cards were selling for more than $5 right out of the pack, obscene for the time — when he arrived for the 1988 pennant stretch.

He looked as good as advertised, hitting .321 with six homers in 109 at-bats. I remember the Mets were even talking about limiting his at-bats in the last couple weeks to keep him eligible for the 1989 Rookie of the Year Award.

So I was pretty excited when Jefferies made the rounds of the autograph shows during the off-season. I went to see him at a show in West Haven, Conn. and was standing on line to buy tickets when there was a bustle at the door.

Jefferies and his entourage arrived, and apparently thought they were walking in a back door only to find themselves in the main lobby.

What was strange was the Gregg was surrounded by four goons — and I mean that literally. They were huge. Two stood in front of him, two behind. They were on him like Velcro. In fact, the two in behind were holding him by the shoulder pads of his coat, pushing him.

They were all so close it looked like they were one 10-legged creature, all with wide-eyed looks of dread when they saw all the fans in the lobby.

It was so strange that there was a brief awkward silence, as people stood there in disbelief. It seemed like the security people expected some kind of Beatlemania scene of crazed fans rushing the young star.

But no one stepped off the line. I think there was some applause and maybe some "Hey, Gregg!" type of calls.

I remember thinking, "What’s with the goons? Do they think we’re going to hurt the guy we expect to be our biggest star?"

Jefferies overestimated his need for security. Then again, it soon became apparent he overestimated a lot of things.

The Mets moved 1986 hero Wally Backman to install Jefferies as the team’s starting second baseman. But he seemed to become derailed by a horrible slump and finished with a modest .258 with 12 homes and 56 RBI. He finished a distant third in the Rookie of the Year balloting, losing to Jerome Walton, who I don’t think has been heard from since.

He also seemed to go into tantrums after making an out and couldn’t get along with his teammates or the media. He never looked like he was having fun playing baseball, like every groundout added to the weight of crushing expectations.

The next two years were better, but not too much, hitting .283 with 15 homers and 68 RBI in 1990, a long way from the mega-star we all expected.

It didn’t take too long for the Mets to tire of his act, and shipped Jefferies and Kevin McReynolds, another disappointment, off to the Kansas City Royals for Bret Saberhagen in December 1991. I was stunned that the Mets gave up on this guy so quickly, but it’s not like he did much to prove them wrong either.

Jefferies finally found some success in St. Louis, hitting .342 in 1993 and .325 in 1994, making the All-Star team. But instead of staying in St. Louis, where fans loved him and he thrived under Joe Torre, he chased the dollars and signed with the Phillies as a free agent, irked that the Cards wouldn’t throw a no-trade clause in his deal.

He wasn’t as good in his four seasons with the Phils, bounced to the Angels in 1998 and then again to the lowly Tigers in 1999.

When I saw him in Detroit that year he looked pudgy, slow and older than he should have looked — nothing like the kid I remembered.

Jefferies retired at 33, completely unimaginable to those of us standing on line in New Haven that day. Then again, it was obvious that day that something wasn't quite right.

Flippin' Sweet Griffins Update:

I was still worked up after my rant about the Napoleon Dymanite fiasco at the Grand Rapids Griffins hockey game, so I fired off an e-mail to the team.

I've only written a letter like that twice before. I didn't expect to hear back from the team, figuring the staff there didn't give a darn.

Well, that's not the case. The team's vice president for marketing responded within an hour, asking me to call him, which I did the next day.

He explained that the evening had quite gone as planned from the team's perspective either. he said he actor who played Kip arrived just as the gates opened, was not feeling well and had not eaten. He said the team couldn't control people cutting in line, and tried to make good by asking the actors to sign later in the game.

The gentleman said he's not sure what happened with the shirts, and perhaps workers started distributing them early to people who were standing in the lobby before the gates opened.

He offered to have us come to another game as guests of the team, which is very nice. And the next day a "Vote for Pedro" shirt appeared on my desk at work.

I still think there were some things that could have been handled better that night, but I was impressed that the team responded so quickly and wanted to make things right.