Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln"

Best I can tell, we’ve never had a Ford or a Lincoln on the Mets.

But we’ve had a Washington (Claudell), a Jefferson (Stan), five Taylors (Billy, Chuck, Hawk, Ron and Sammy), five Wilsons (Mookie, Paul, Preston, Tom and Vance), five Johnsons (Two Bobs, Lance, Howard, and Mark), and a Carter (Gary).

It’s been a pretty emotional day here in Grand Rapids, where former President Gerald R. Ford grew up and is to be buried next week.

We get Associated Press bulletins that scroll across the top of our computer screens, and when we want to startle an editor, we say out loud “Dateline: Rancho Mirage, Calif.” which is where the president has lived since leaving the White House.

But no one was joking when the scroll we all dreaded came just before midnight on Tuesday.

Given the president’s advanced age and recent health problems, the newspaper was well prepared with a special section ready to go. But there were a lot of other stories that needed to be told. I was called to work about 1 a.m. on Wednesday, worked until about 8 a.m. before heading home for a shower and short nap and returning again.

I think it’s an honor to tell these stories. We take the first-draft-of-history stuff seriously.

I’ve been in Grand Rapids only since 1999, but some of the veterans here have a long history of interviewing the former president, who represented the city in Congress for 25 years.

They said Ford’s famous “not a Lincoln” line is pretty reflective of the person the president actually was: A middle class guy who plugged away at his job, ended up in an office he never sought and sacrificed it by making a decision he knew was right – and took many people 30 years to come to the same conclusion.

One of my jobs today was to talk to people stopping by the Ford Museum to sign the condolence book, light a candle or leave a note. They started arriving within an hour of the news and came steadily through the cold night.

Some, wiping tears from their cheeks, told me of their admiration or acts of kindness.

I’ve had the opportunity to see President Ford him up close just twice, once at the opening of a shopping mall and the other at a community celebration of his 90th birthday three years ago.

I brought my son to the celebration, and he’s in a group photo with the president that I assured the then-11-year-old that he’d appreciate much more in time.

Tonight, after work, I was able to take the reporter hat off and bring my children down to the museum where we stood on line to sign the condolence book then walk past the growing makeshift memorial to read the notes. I’m not sure about bringing them back next week when the president is to lie in repose, which might be a little heavy for them.

I was 10 when Ford became president, but was a little political junkie even then and I remember closely following the transition. But that’s ancient history to my kids. So on the way down we spoke about doing the right thing even though everyone else tells you it is wrong and there might be a penalty for doing so.

I don’t know if that’s the legacy Gerald Ford sought, but it’s a pretty good one to have.

President Ford and baseball.

Ford is remembered as a football guy, but he here are some interesting baseball facts.

Ford took his future-wife Betty on dates to All-American Girls Professional Baseball League games in Grand Rapids.

In December 1974, Ford signed a bill allowing girls to play in the Little League.

As vice president, Ford attended the game where Hank Aaron hitting career home run number 714 on April 4, 1974.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Denvers both Bob and John, and the rest of the holiday musical treats


Mike made a mile-high oops in confusing his Denvers in the comments in the last post. But followed up with this re-worked album cover that was just too good to leave in the comments section.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be curious to hear that one. Someone at work gave us the DVDs of Gilligan’s Island’s second season, and last summer I found the kids watching them, enjoying them and coming to the inevitable conclusion: “They’re never going to get off the island, are they?”

But since we're talking about Christmas CDs, last year I posted my list of all-time favorites. It turns out 2006 has been a rather weak year for new holiday collections, although there are indeed some classics. Here are some of the things I picked up this year:

“A Twisted Christmas,” Twisted Sister

The question isn’t “Why did Twisted Sister release a Christmas CD?” No, the questions are “Why did it take Dee and Jay Jay so long and how have we managed to survive all these years without it?” Ignore the cranky high-falutin’ critics, this disc is brilliant. Who says Christmas can’t rock hard? Some of the songs are merged with the music of classic Twisted, like “O Come All Ye Faithful” with “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” The kids and I were at Best Buy one day and this song was cranking over the store speakers, and you could see heads bobbing all over. “Let it Snow” is mixed with the boys’ old opening song, “Rock and Roll Saviors.” This is supposed to be Twisted’s last CD. I hope not. But if so, they’re going out in style.

“Happy Holidays,” Billy Idol

After the retro success of Twisted Sister, I had high hopes for this offering from another 1980s icon. I was thinking “White Christmas” would be delivered along the lines of “White Wedding,” with a typical Idol sneer. But no, Billy tosses out stuff like “Frosty the Snowman” like he’s looking to open a theater in Branson, Mo. It’s like Billy looked in the mirror one day and thought he saw Andy Williams. And like Andy, it gets old quick. Some of these are fun to toss on a mix playlist, but it would have been so much better if Idol had stayed true to himself. I'm not sure if Idol is taking this seriously, or if we're supposed to wink and enjoy the joke.

“Christmas Offerings,” Third Day

No joking here. I’ve probably listened to this disc even more than the Twisted CD. I wasn’t a big Third Day fan until I saw them in concert on the Wire tour. Now I’m hooked. Being devout Christian rockers, Santa is nowhere to be found on this reverent collection of classics and originals, recorded both in the studio and in concert. In fact, the audience takes over on a couple of songs, and it’s fantastic. There are some timeless classics here, and I’m predicting I’ll be playing this for years to come. I made an iPod playlist alternating cuts with this and last year’s “Christmas Sessions” from MercyMe.

“How Cool is That Christmas,” Rachael Ray

OK, I confess I don’t have this CD. It’s a collection of songs we all already have, like the Bing and Bowie duet and Hall and Oates’ “Jingle Bell Rock,” and something frightening called “Dominick the Donkey.” Listing it here is just a shameless excuse to run this photo of Rachael Ray. But do we really need an excuse? My wife insists I have a hopless crush on Rachael. But that is so wrong. It's not like I'm out there buying Ritz Crackers just because she's on the box. Sometimes you just need crackers. And she happened to be on the box, just like I just happened to be in the mood for Alpha-Bits a few years back when each box contained mini-bobblehead. OK, I might be the only male to subscribe to her magazine. But I swear it was for the articles. We even made the peppermint meringue cookies that were featured this month. Yum-O!

“Home for Christmas,” Hall and Oates

This is kind of hard to find, but it’s the first Hall and Oates Christmas offering since they released a single of “Jingle Bell Rock” so long ago that was actually on a green vinyl 45. I pounced on this when I saw they were covering Robbie Robertson’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight,” one of my favorite modern Christmas songs. The rest of the stuff is a mixture of what you might expect, performed in the finest blue-eyed soul that Philly has to offer. And looking at the cover, it appears some elementary school art student was put to work -- for an hour or so.

“Gloria,” Hawk Nelson

These Christian rockers released a four-song EP with a neat original, “Alleluia,” a traditional song “I Heard the Bells,” a re-worked classic, with “Gloria, I just met a girl named Gloria” replacing any “in-excelsis-Deo-ing” and a funky cover of Wham!’s “Last Christmas” that doesn’t really fit, but is still a lot of fun.

There are a couple other issues out there, like Sarah McLaughlin's, but we already have the best song on there from when it appeared on another collection. The Fray has a neat take on the Lennon-Ono classic "Happy Xmas (War is Over) that you can get as a single in iTunes, and Sufjan Stevens has a massive box set that I don't have the patience to track down and sort through.

I hope you hall have a very merry Christmas and a wondeful new year!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's better for you to read than for me to sing

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas music.

But I don’t quite understand Christmas caroling. You have a bunch of people show up on your door step and sing while you awkwardly stand there with the front door open letting all the hot air out. Then the singers want stuff.

So rather than have me come over and ring the bell, you can instead read this newest carol, which is a better version of the "Twelve Days of Christmas."


On the first day of Christmas GM Omar gave to me:

A new pitcher named Barry!

C’mon, we all know there’s no way Zito wants to pitch for the Texas Rangers. We’re bidding against ourselves here and Omar is playing it just right.

Two consecutive division titles.

Of course, winning the division is just a start. Last year was a tease. This year we have to go all the way to the Fall Classic.

Three sets of uniforms

I shall allow the glorious home pinstripes, the traditional road grays and the solid white set. It’s time to ditch the black. Bad things happen when we wear them, like Rogers’s walk in the 1999 playoffs, Timo’s jog in the 2000 World Series and Trachsel’s meltdown in last year’s LCS. I’ve signed that "Ban the Black" petition that’s on the Web.

Four months of Pedro.

That’s right, I expect to see our man Pedro on the hill in July, August, September and deep into October.

Five starting All-Stars.

We need to see Beltran, Wright, Reyes and LoDuca get re-elected to their starting jobs in the mid-summer classic, and maybe we can get Carlos Delgado there, too. Of course, Mr. Pujols and Mr. Howard might be in the way.

Six wins against the Yankees

I’m greedy. I want a double sweep of the interleague series to send the Yankees and their loathesome fans weeping all the way back to the Bronx. I know, so much for that "Peace on Earth, goodwill to all" thing. But the Yankees get my goat, even at Christmastime.

Seven retired numbers.

Yes, we already have four. I continue my crusade to have Willie Mays’ No. 24, Gary Carter’s No. 8 and Mike Piazza’s No. 31 to hang alongside Casey, Gil, Tom and Jackie.

Eight Endy’s a leaping!

I could watch that amazing catch all day long — or at least eight times, to fit in the song.

Nine Mets bloggers blogging.

There are lot’s of great blogs out there, but here are nine of my favorites in no particular order: Faith and Fear in Flushing, Mike’s Mets, Lone Star Mets, Tales of a Transplanted Mets Fan, Metstradamus, Getting Paid to Watch, Brooklyn Mets Fan, The Metropolitans, Toasty Joe.

10 wins for Glavine

Certainly we’d like more than 10 wins for our newly re-signed future Hall-of-Famer. But 10 gets him to No. 300, ensuring his place in Cooperstown and becoming the first player to reach one of the magical milestones — 300 wins, 3,000 hits and 500 home runs — in a Mets uniform.

11 post-season victories

That would be three in the Division Series, four in the NLCS and four more in the World Series

12 wins from John Maine.

I’m expecting at 15 to 20 from Zito — see the first verse — and Glavine, so it’s realistic that our No. 3 or No. 4 starter give us at least a dozen Ws. And if he wants to get extra credit and go for more, that’s OK with me, too!

There! I figure it’s better than the Muppets’ version, but just shy of the Bob and Doug McKenzie take on the classic.

And to you and yours, I wish a very merry Christmas and a safe and happy new year!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

HoJo to uphold to proud tradition of Mets coaches

The off-season is boring. I’m going through baseball withdrawal, and watching Omar and Scott Boras play Zito negotiation poker is not cutting it.

So until Zito hoists his Mets jersey at a Shea press conference, we have to devour scraps of news, like trades for misused Royals relievers and the traitor Mazzilli getting hired to work our broadcasts until Steinbrenner forgives him.

So I‘m taking interest in the hiring of Howard Johnson as our next first-base coach.

This got me thinking about our coaches and what exactly they do. There have been 80 people to hold the title for the Mets since 1962. It’s a pretty colorful bunch, too.

For example, there are a pair of Cookies -- Lavagetto, 1962-63; Rojas, 1997-2000)

There are five Hall-of-Famers: Yogi Berra, 1965-71; Bob Gibson, 1981; Rogers Hornsby, 1962; Willie Mays, 1974-79; and Warren Spahn, 1965.

Looks like Yogi was the only one who was any good as a coach. Spahn was a player-coach and didn’t even finish the season with the team, and Hornsby, who had already been a manager for 15 years, died three months after the season, no doubt a casualty of that 1962 season.

Now to be fair, I don’t remember Mays doing anything outside of spring training, and if Gibson had an effect on those 1981 pitchers, it’s sure hard to tell. Pat Zachary led the team with four batters hit by pitchers, and Gibson would have reached that total by the middle of his second start each season.

We had several guys promoted to manage the Mets: Wes Westrum, Salty Parker (four games), Yogi, Roy McMillin (26 games), Frank Howard, Bud Harrelson, Mike Cubbage (seven games) and Bobby Valentine.

Lots of guys were managers before or after their Mets stint: Manny Acta, Don Baylor, Yogi Berra, Phil Cavaretta, Chuck Cottier, Doc Edwards, Jim Frey, Matt Galante, Mel Harder, Whitey Herzog, Rogers Hornsby, Solly Hemus, Frank Howard, Darrell Johnson, Cookie Lavagetto, Sam Perlozzo, Cookie Rojas, Dick Sisler, Bobby Valentine, Bobby Wine.

Apparently Gary Carter thought that was the path for his ascension to the Mets manager’s office, which explains his stomping off to be the Rockies batting coach after HoJo got the gig.

Speaking of HoJo again, he’s just another member of the 1986 champions to get hired as a coach. Randy Niemann missed the 2000 series, because his tenure was 1997-99, then 2001-02. And Mookie, of course, coached from 1997 to 2002, apparently driven out by Art Howe.

Then we go from Mets glory to Yankee shame. There have been numerous guys who apparently wanted to cleanse their Yankee taint. That group includes, but is not limited to Sandy Alomar, Don Baylor, Chris Chambliss, Barry Foote and Mel Stottlemyre.

I usually get stuck coaching bases for my coed softball team. I’ve learned that you’re there to get blamed is case someone gets nailed at the plate.

But I had the opposite happen in a big game this past season. It was the top of the last inning and we really needed the run. Mary was on second, and she’s not fast. Not even a little bit. On a grounder to short I waved her over to third, then watched with glee when the throw sailed high and the ball was bouncing around behind the bag.

I was shouting “Go! Go!” and Mary sat there with her hands on her knees. My bench was going nuts, and I said “Mary, why didn’t you run home?”

“Dave, I was lucky I made it from second to third. I only go base to base.”

Yup, we lost.

Let’s hope HoJo fares better.

Here’s the list of all-time Mets coaches:

Manny Acta 2005-2006

Sandy Alomar, Sr. 2005-
Bob Apodaca 1996-99
Don Baylor 2003-04
Bruce Benedict 1997-99
Yogi Berra 1965-71
Mickey Brantley 1999
Tom Burgess 1977
Phil Cavaretta 1975-78
Chris Chambliss 2002
Guy Conti 2005-
Chuck Cottier 1979-81
Mike Cubbage 1990-96
Rick Down 2005-
Gene Dusan 1983
Doc Edwards 1990-91
Dave Engle 2001-02
Bobby Floyd 2001, 2004
Barry Foote 1992-93
Jim Frey 1982-83
Matt Galante 2002-2004
Bob Gibson 1981
Harvey Haddix 1966-67
Mel Harder 1964
Bud Harrelson 1982, 1985-90
Don Heffner 1964-65
Solly Hemus 1962-63
Whitey Herzog 1966
Chuck Hiller 1990
Rogers Hornsby 1962
Vern Hoscheit 1984-87
Charlie Hough 2001-02
Frank Howard 1982-84, 1994-96
Al Jackson 1999-00
Darell Johnson 1983
Deron Johnson 1981
Red Kress 1962
Dave La Roche 1992-93
Cookie Lavagetto 1962-63
Juan Lopez 2002-03
Jerry Manuel 2005-
Dal Maxvill 1978
Willie Mays 1974-79
Tom McCraw 1992-96
Clyde McCullough 1963
Roy McMillan 1973-76
Bill Monbouquette 1982-83
John Murphy 1967
Randy Niemann 1997-99, 2001-02
Tom Nieto 2005-
Salty Parker 1967
Greg Pavlick 1985-86, 1988-91, 1994-96
Sam Perlozzo 1987-89
Rick Peterson 2004-
Gary Pettis 2003-04
Joe Pignatano 1968-81
Bill Robinson 1984-89
Sheriff Robinson 1964-67, 1972
Tom Robson 1997-00, 2002
Cookie Rojas 1997-00
Red Ruffing 1962
Vern Ruhle 2003
Nelson Silverio 2004
Dick Sisler 1979-80
Dennis Sommers 1977-78
Warren Spahn 1965
Tom Spencer 1991
Rusty Staub 1982-Player Coach
John Stearns 2000-01
Mel Stottlemyre 1984-93
Steve Swisher 1994-96
Bobby Valentine 1983-85
Rick Waits 2003
Dave Wallace 1999-00
Denny Walling 2003-04
Rube Walker 1968-81
Wes Westrum 1964-65
Ernie White 1963
Mookie Wilson 1997-02
Bobby Wine 1993-96
Ed Yost 1968-75

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What if Major League Baseball was operated like college football?

There is much weeping and gnashing of teeth here in the Wolverine State this week over the University of Michigan getting passed over for the NCAA national championship game.

U of M, as I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, is dumbfounded how it got passed over in the last weeks of the season by the University of Florida, a team with the same record that did not come within three points of knocking off the No. 1 team just a few weeks ago.

I’m pretty indifferent to the team from Ann Arbor, but can understand some of the beefs. Seems like a pretty strange way to pick a national champion.

Then it got me thinking. There are a lot of things about college football that I just don’t get. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going to games, especially when my in-laws take me to see the University of Illinois. I love the energy and tradition, and last time got a little carried away and had my face painted and did other things you don't need to hear about.

But organizationally, the sport is a mess. Can you imagine if Major League Baseball operated like college football? Let’s take a look.

1) The first quarter of the season would be against Triple-A teams – or worse. How come teams get to pad their schedules with non-conference teams from much smaller schools that are just happy to be there? Teams, I might add, that the good teams get to select.

Looking at some Big Ten schedules the past couple of years, I halfway expect University of Michigan to challenge Washtenaw Community College and Michigan State University to play the flag football team from Zeta Beta Tau at some point in those first couple games.

So I can see the Mets spending April playing the Fresno Grizzlies and the Toldeo Mud Hens, with maybe a series with the Lansing Lugnuts worked in for good measure.

At least one Major League division, the American League Central, already does have something like this because they get to play the Kansas City Royals. But the rest of the divisions have to play teams that are actually trying.

But I can see why college teams pad their schedule like this, because if you lose one game, you’re just about out of contention for the championship. So, fully one half of the teams start playing out the string after the first Saturday of the season. And if you drop two games, fuggetaboutit!

2) College teams get new players by groveling to high school kids to come and play for them. Now how is a team supposed to get better if the decent players have all the say in where they want to play? And it’s easy to see why a player who is any good is going to only want to play on a team that’s already winning.

So, baseball operated this way, teams like the Devil Rays wouldn’t even get the chance to screw up all those No. 1 picks they get. Joe Maddon would have to spend his entire offseason telling 18-year-olds that playing in a horrible, empty domed stadium is better than basking in the glory of a place like Shea.

3) The teams going for the national championship get picked by a poll instead of earning their way there. Can you imagine a World Series Bowl where managers, a computer and goodness knows who else gets to decide the top two teams? Heck, if people like Tom Verducci get a say, the Yankees would get a free pass to the Series every year.

You can bet the farm there would never be another Tigers-Cardinals match-up.

And it might not even matter who was playing best. The talk in Michigan the past couple days is that U of M got pushed aside because no one is going to want to watch a rematch with Ohio State.

4) Any baseball team that was not picked for the title game, if they’re lucky, would get invited to some other bowl game. Again, these games are selected based on the ability of the teams to draw television viewers as opposed to quality.

So you could pretty much guarantee seeing the Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox and other teams that Fox things will attract viewers in the Depends Undergarments Bowl or what ever they want to call it.

And when you win a bowl game, you win exactly what? Does being the Tostitos Bowl winner carry some sort of cache?

So let’s take this past baseball postseason and apply it to college football rules.

First, you’d have to wait an entire month between the end of the season and the bowls – which could work in our favor, since it would give Mets pitchers time to rest their injured calves.

Then, the people polled -- and Fox, because you know it would have a say -- would have pick the Yankees and Dodgers for the National Championship Bowl.

The Yanks would be picked because they had the best record in their league. The Dodgers would be added to get the west coast interested, and because no one would be interested in a rematch of the Subway Series – which is the exact argument we’re hearing in Michigan this week about why they’re not playing Ohio State.

The Mets, despite the best record in the league, would be sent to a lesser bowl game to play the Red Sox, who would be a good draw despite gagging down the stretch in the season. The game would be played in a three-quarters empty stadium in Tempe.

The Cardinals and the Angels would be invited to the Viagra Bowl at Turner Stadium in Atlanta, but only if the Braves agreed to change their name and drop the tomahawk chop per NCAA regulations.

Tigers? Twins? Athletics? Who cares about them? They’d get to play in some even lesser bowl played midweek before 2,000 people, fully half of which got their tickets for free.

Seems pretty crazy to me, but that’s what people care about here in the Midwest. When I went off to the University of Missouri, I tried explaining that people on Long Island simply don’t care about college football.

During my first week at Mizzou, there was a meeting in the dorm about how to buy football season tickets. I said out loud, “You guys actually go to the football games?”

I saw looks of bewilderment I had seen only once before, and that was on my first day in the cafeteria and the worker tossed something golden brown with a wooden stick on my plate. “What the hell is that?” I asked.

“It’s a corn dog,” one classmate replied, stunned that I had never seen one.

Just so you know, a corn dog is a hot dog dipped in corn bread batter then deep fried, and it is a glorious thing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The proper way to vote for the Hall of Fame

The sports editor at a paper I used to work at had the great honor of being able to vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Each year he’d let be fondle the ballot, which was not especially impressive -- and neither was the ballot.

It was just a mundane list of names with little boxes next to them. I guess I expected parchment or gold leaf, something that indicated the gloriousness of the Hall of Fame.

I appreciated the gesture, and also appreciated that the editor took his vote very seriously. He had a system and did his research, which I’m certain is better than a majority of the people casting ballots. I didn’t always agree with his selections, but at least I could understand why he was voting for certain playes – as opposed to the doofs who say they vote only for guys who “feel like a Hall of Famer.”

Naturally, I have my own system and create a ballot, even though my vote doesn’t count.

This year we can consider: Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Dante Bichette, ,Bert Blyleven, Bobby Bonilla, Scott Brosius, Jay Buhner , Ken Caminiti, Jose Canseco, Dave Concepcion, Eric Davis, Andre Dawson, Tony Fernandez, Steve Garvey, Rich Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Orel Hershiser, Tommy John, Wally Joyner, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Paul O'Neill, Dave Parker, Jim Rice, Cal Ripken, Bret Saberhagen, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Devon White, Bobby Witt.

We can only vote for 10, so we must find ways to eliminate the unworthy. The first thing to do is eliminate any Yankees, because goodness knows there are already too many undeserving Yankees in the hall.

So cross off Brosius, Buhner, Canseco, Fernandez, Gossage, John, Mattingly, O’Neill and Smith.

Look, someone has to balance out Tom Verducci’s ballot, and you just know he’s pounding out a column to talk about O’Neill’s “intangibles” make him worthy.

I’m a little unsure about purging Gossage that quickly, but that leaves us with Baines, Belle, Bichette, Blyleven, Bonilla, Caminiti, Concepcion, Davis, Dawson, Garvey, Gwynn, Hershiser, Joyner, McGwire, Morris, Murphy, Parker, Rice, Ripken, Saberhagen, Trammell, White and Witt.

Next, we have to determine if any player crosses “The Rizzuto Line.” In other words, is the player worse than the very worst player in the Hall, whose very presence taints the other plaques and allows patrons to make an argument that their admission price should be lowered by a buck because the once-great Hall has been stained, which of course is what happened when the Veterans Committee voted in Yankee mascot/shortstop Phil Rizzuto.

This is a better year than most, and the Rizzuto rule only allows us to eliminate Dante Bichette and Bobby Witt. It’s tough to be worse than Rizzuto and last 10 years in the majors, the standard for being on the ballot.

Next, has a player ever tried to run over trick-or-treaters with his car? Oops, goodbye Albert Belle.

Did the candidate ever play for the Mets? Extra points for Bonilla, Saberhagen, and Hershisher. Tony Fernandez would have gotten a point for his 48 games with the Mets in 1993, but that’s not enough to overcome his 108 games with the Yankees.

But we’re not homers here. We have to consider the following rules: Did the player’s Mets tenure end in shame and banishment to the Rockies? Sorry, Sabes.

Then, did the player do anything prior to his Met tenure to keep the Mets from ever advancing to the World Series? Sorry, Orel, but we’re still upset about 1988.

Did the player ever confront Yankee hack Bob Klapischand threaten to “show him the Bronx?” Extra points for Bonilla!

But, did the player not follow through on his threat, and proceed to bring great shame to the team, especially by playing cards in the clubhouse during the closing moments of the infamous 1999 NLCS? That rule’s not going to come up a lot, but it does this year, eliminating Bobby Bo.

Now we’re down to: Baines, Blyleven, Caminiti, Concepcion, Davis, Dawson, Garvey, Gwynn, Joyner, McGwire, Morris, Murphy, Parker, Rice, Ripken, Trammell and White.

That’s 17, still too many. Now we move to the advanced criteria. Did a player ever receive an MVP award later proven to be undeserving because of steroid use? That eliminates Caminiti, but not McGwire, who never won an MVP.

Is a player better than Rizzuto, but not as good as Tony Perez, who many consider a borderline member of the Hall? That’s tough, forcing us to eliminate Concepcion and Eric Davis – with regrets – Garvey (with the obligatory “once thought to be a lock for the Hall” line), Joyner and Devon White.

Baines’ numbers are very similar to those of Perez, and his comparables are all either in the Hall – Al Kaline, Billy Williams – or fall just shy, like Rusty Staub.

Now we have: Baines, Blyleven, Dawson, Gwynn, McGwire, Morris, Murphy, Parker, Rice, Ripken, Trammell.

That’s 11. Someone has to go, and I’m starting to feel guilty about tossing Gossage. I’ll pick Morris, who had some nice moments but falls just shy.

There you go!

Writers who don’t look at stats tend not to vote for Blyleven, Parker and Trammell, and Dale Murphy and Rice and some monster seasons but fell apart early, which seems to get held against them.

And I know there’s talk about sending a statement of sorts by not voting for McGwire in his first year. But the truth is that the only thing McGwire’s been proven guilty of is a horrible performance before Congress.

The only real concern is that Gwynn or Ripken could surpass Tom Seaver’s record for highest percentage, which was close to 99 percent!

Luckily, some Verducci-type will say “If they were any good, they would have been Yankees” and not vote for them, keeping Tom’s record safe.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Don't waste Time on the magazine's top album list -- here's mine instead

Aerosmith's Joe Perry enduring a starstruck reporter's interview, circa 1983.

Time magazine last week rattled off it’s list of the top 100 albums of all time. Whenever magazines launch into something like this, it’s just going to spark debate and show glaring weaknesses into their tastes.

This list looks like it was created by committee, including the obvious — Sgt. Pepper, Zep's untitled masterpiece — and the unworthy — Hole — and some token references to bands sneered at by critics — AC/DC and Black Sabbath — included probably to head off an onslaught of metalheads.

But if I was reading the list correctly, Time put a Hank Williams greatest hits package in the No. 1 slot, and that’s just wrong for so many reasons. For one thing, adding greatest hits issues is just cheating. It’s like naming an all-time team when someone asks which Mets team is your favorite.
So I had to take things into my own hands. Rather than go to all 100, here’s my Top 15 CDs of all time. I have them numbered, but that’s not necessarily a ranking. These are all special to me for one reason or another.

I included one CD per artist to spread the love around a little.

1) Moving Pictures, Rush (1981)

This was essentially the soundtrack for my high school years. I even used lyrics from "Tom Sawyer" in my campaign posters for a run at student government treasurer. I came in second, but ended up serving for half the year -- a long story -- and worked with Alec Baldwin’s sister, who was very nice. This album is darn near perfect right down to the cover, and even has song about the homeland to push it right over the top. Rush’s next bad album would be its first, and several others should probably appear on this list. Best cut you know: "Tom Sawyer." Best cut you don’t know: "Witch Hunt."

2) Underdog, Audio Adrenaline (1999)

All Audio A albums are good, this one is phenomenal. It’s essentially a greatest hits album, with four songs that are a live staples — "Mighty Good Leader," "Underdog," "Get Down" and "Hands and Feet," which I told you last week is a song that has inspired me trough years of church work. Best cut you know: "Hands and Feet." Best cut you don’t know: "Jesus Movement."

3) Our Time in Eden, 10,000 Maniacs (1992)

I accepted a rotating assignment in our Lansing Bureau in the fall of 1992, and chose to commute an hour each way to be with my family rather than live in the company’s apartment above the office. It was a long, bland drive and our car had a radio but not a tape player. So I propped my boom box in the front seat and had plenty of time to study and enjoy "Our Time in Eden." The Maniacs were my favorite band at the time and this is their best effort track for track. Best cut you know: "These Are Days." Best cut you don’t know: "Eden"

4) Thrive, Newsboys (2002)

This CD has been out for nearly four years, and two cuts are in the top 15 on my iPod’s play count. The band works from worship and praise to pop to straight rockers, all of which are excellent. The title cut is moving — "When you lift me up tender care, when you wash me clean with the palms of your hands, Lord hold me close so I can thrive, when you touch me, that’s when I know I’m alive." — but there’s not a lackluster song on the entire disc. Best cut you know: "It Is You." Best cut you don’t know: "Giving it Over."

5) Glass Houses, Billy Joel (1980)

The fact that the Time list doesn’t include a single Billy Joel record makes it immediately suspect. Joel’s a good Long Islander. He’s less of a piano man and more of a rocker on Glass Houses, but it’s a classic. I waited with my friends Jeff and Craig all day at the Nassau Coliseum to get tickets for this tour. Later, were recounting our adventure at a church youth group meeting, and the leader asked if we would spend the same eight hours waiting to get into a church service. We said "Yes," which was the answer they were hoping for. No one believed us, but lightening did not strike. It should have. Best cut you know: "Sometimes a Fantasy." Best cut you don’t know: "Sleeping With the Television On."

6) Alive! Kiss, (1975)

Greatest live rock album. Ever. I was 11 when this bad boy was released and it was one of the first albums I owned, which means I played it endlessly. And since I tended to crank the volume, I’m sure the rest of my family also can recite Paul Stanley’s between song banter from memory. "Awww hey! So let’s rock and roll all NIGHT and party EV-ERY DAY!" These are the definitive versions of the early Kiss classics, louder, harder and faster than the studio tracks. Best cut you know: "Rock and Roll All Nite." Best cut you don’t know: "Cold Gin"

7) Mmhmm, Relient K (2004)

This Christian punk-pop band gets better with each release. Sometimes the message is subtle and sometimes it’s not there at all, but it’s never objectionable. Seven of the songs on Mmhmm are absolute classics and could be heard in places Christian music typically doesn’t get a spin. A follow-up EP intended to compliment Mmhmm wasn’t as balanced, but acoustic versions of "By My Escape" and "Over Thinking" are alone worth the price of admission. Best cut you know: "Be My Escape." Best cut you don’t know: "The One I’m Waiting For."

8) Before These Crowded Streets, Dave Matthews Band (1998)

This CD is like a gift that keeps giving. I was so hooked by three tracks — "Don’t Drink the Water," "Crush" and "Stay" — that I didn’t play a lot of attention to the others. But as DMB started rolling out the live CDs, and there are many, I started liking different songs and traced them back to the studio. Low and behold, they keep coming from Crowded Streets. Matthews is in some ways the anti-Ramone, in that he never says in 3 minutes what he can say in 8. But when the band gets jamming, it’s typically all good. Best song you know: "Crush." Best song you don’t know: "Pig."

9) Loco Live, The Ramones (1991)

I was familiar with some Ramones songs and even saw them in a mismatched bill with the B-52s at Hofstra University, but didn’t pledge allegiance until my buddy Rich brought me to see them at Toads, a club in New Haven, Conn. It was small, crowded and sweaty — the proper environment to see the pride of Forest Hills, Queens. We went back to see them every time they appeared for the next several years. I like the band’s credo: Say it loudly, say it simply and get the heck out of there. The band’s studio albums are excellent, but I like Loco Live because it’s reminds me of those nights at Toads. And only the Ramones can fit 32 cuts on one disc. Best song you know: "Teenage Lobotomy." Best song you don’t know: "My Brain is Hanging Upside Down."

10 ) Under the Blade, Twisted Sister (1982)

The drinking age in New York was 18 when I was growing up, and I couldn’t wait for that milestone birthday. Not because I was a drinker — I was the designated driver even then — but because it meant we could finally get in to Hammerheads to see Twisted Sister. The boys were playing the Long Island bars for years before they finally got signed to a British label. Under the Blade is mostly songs we had been hearing on WBAB and WLIR concert simulcasts for years. I wrote a review of the disc for my college paper, and asked the guys to sign it when they appeared at a local record store. Dee Snider read it and said I was "astute," which sent me on walking on air for a long time. The late-1990s reissue is the one to own because it adds "I’ll Never Grow Up, Now," a single the band released on its own. Best song you know: Unless you’re a former Long Island metal head, you might not know any of these pre-Stay Hungry songs. Best song you don’t know: "What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)"

11) Scarecrow, John Mellencamp (1985)

I didn’t fully appreciate Mellencamp until I moved to the Midwest in 1990. My wife grew up in a small Illinois town, and after spending time there I could finally recognize the people and places Mellencamp was signing about. I like that he has a story to tell, and Scarecrow is best at introducing characters that you want to hear more about, be they the family losing the farm in the title track or the wise old passenger on the bus in "Minutes to Memories." Mellencamp’s 2001 Cutting Heads is more autobiographical and is just as strong and woefully underrated. Best song you know: "Lonely Ol’ Night." Best song you don’t know: "Minutes to Memories."

12) Welcome to Diverse City, tobyMac (2004)

Christian rocker-rapper Toby McKeehan makes a dcTalk reunion less likely with each stellar disc. You won’t go wrong with either Momentum or Diverse City. The former is heavier and has more borrowing from older songs, and the later disc is more of a melting pot of styles. "The Slam" was in several promo trailers and television ads for action movies this year, and I wonder if the Hollywood types ever listened to the lyrics. Toby’s guest list is a who’s who Christian musicians from T-Bone to Grits to Superchic(k). We’re bringing the youth group to see the band next weekend, and Toby’s right on target musically and inspirationally. Best song you know: "Gone." Best song you don’t know: "Hey Now."

13) I’ve Got the Rocks n Rolls Again, Joe Perry Project (1981)

The Aerosmith guitarist’s solo career was brief but memorable. My friends and I loved his solo stuff, and we went to see him several times at a little dinner theater in Glen Cove that was trying to convert into a concert venue. Since the newspaper office at Nassau Community College was right next to the Concerts Committee office, the high school friends thought I had something to do with Joe appearing there. I didn’t, but jumped at the chance to interview Joe before the gig. Joe was physically in the room, but seemed to be somewhat self-medicated. OK, a lot self-medicated. But I was so star-struck that my questions probably didn’t make much sense anyway. The fact that Joe was playing Nassau Community College instead of Nassau Coliseum was probably adding to his discontent. That doesn’t take away from this disc, his second as a solo artist. It’s raw and sounds like it was recorded live. Best cut you (might) know: "East Coast, West Coast." Best cut you don’t know: "No Substitute for Arrogance."

14) Coming Up to Breathe, MercyMe (2006)

I’ve been a MercyMe fan since we caught them at Festival con Dios in 2001. If the band has a pattern, it’s that it starts each disc rocking then slows into piano-driven praise songs that I don’t enjoy as much as the rockers. But the band kept the mellow to a minimum and turned up the volume for their latest release, and it’s simply brilliant. "No More, No Less" jumped into the top two on my iPod play count after just a couple months after it was released. And seeing them in concert this year taught me a valuable lesson about singing at the foot of the stage. Best song you know: "So Long, Self." Best song you don’t know: "No More, No Less."

15) The Rising, Bruce Springsteen (2002)

I’m not a huge Springsteen guy by any stretch, but this release struck home with its stories about the suffering, the anger and the hope for resurrection following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I get choked up listening to it. Other artists, from the Cranberries to dcTalk, have offered outstanding songs about the day or the aftermath. While not all of the songs on The Rising relate directly to the tragedies, most invoke a story or a feeling of people lost on that day. Springsteen nails it. Not bad for a Jersey guy. Best song you know: "The Rising." Best song you don’t know: "Into the Fire."

Honorable mentions: Kutless, Kutless; Strangers in the Night, UFO; Good Monsters, Jars of Clay; Jesus Freak, dcTalk.

There you go! I’d sure like to hear about some of your favorites.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pausing to reflect and give thanks -- and take note of the turkeys

I think it’s a shame that Thanksgiving has become something of an afterthought for many people, lost in the crush of shopping and football.

I’ve always liked it. I’m thankful the Lord has blessed me in many, many ways and I don’t say “thank you” enough. I have my health, my family, a career I enjoy, a wonderful church, friends, blogger buddies and, of course, the Mets.

So let’s take a moment one again to reflect on all that was good this year – as well as the turkeys who get in the way.

I’m thankful: That we all got to enjoy a monumentally exciting 2006 baseball season with the Mets finishing in first place for only the fifth time. Wow, was that fun! And I think we’re the favorites to finish on top again in 2007.

Turkeys: Baseball writers who deemed Carlos Beltran only the fourth most-valuable player in the National League. I realize that writers are infatuated with homers for batters and wins for pitchers, and typically just look to the leader board in those categories to cast their votes. But fourth? Excellent blogger Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing posted on the Crane Pool Forum that he wonders if anyone has ever:
*Won a Gold Glove
*Won a Silver Slugger
*Started in the All-Star Game
*Tied his franchise's record for home runs in a season
*Broke his franchise's record for runs scored in a season
*Played on the team with the sport's best record
...and finished as low as fourth in the MVP voting. Alas, like the no-hitter, and MVP award continues to be elusive for Mets, even when they deserve it. And I’m also angry that Willie Randolph was denied the manager of the year award, too.

I’m thankful for: Costco. Or to be specific, the warehouse store’s liberal returns policy. As you might remember, my beloved 20-gig iPod went muerto last April, plunging me into depression and desperation and without the receipt demanded by Hewlett Packard to use the warranty. My clever Mom told me to go to Costco and see if they could produce the needed document. Once I arrived, the clerks said the just return the dead iPod to them and they would give me store credit to buy a new one. Needless to say, I’m the proud owner of a new 30-gig pod and sing the praises of Costco whenever appropriate – and sometimes when it’s not!

Turkey: Yankee hack Tom Verducci. Speaking of being plunged into depression, Verducci couldn’t believe that his beloved Yankees were unceremoniously dumped from the postseason by the Tigers. Verducci then wrote that “baseball is giving us an October with almost no drama, no moments for posterity and no storyline.” And worse, “If the 2006 baseball playoffs were a sitcom or talk show --- hate to break it to you, folks, but we're sitting through the Arsenio Hall of postseasons -- it would have been cancelled long ago." Apparently, if the Yankees are not involved, Tommy declares the postseason boring.

I’m thankful for: My pastor, the Rev. Paul Krupinski. Paul is a magnificent spiritual leader and has a knack for knowing when I’m down and knowing exactly what to do or say. But check this out – he’s a huge baseball fan! He’s a Cubs guy, which is OK since they’re not exactly a threat to anyone. But he formed a computer fantasy league what plays games based on stats from the previous year and a couple Hall-of-Famers we can add to the rosters. One Sunday before the service, Pastor Paul came over and said the next round of stats was available and on his desk. “I’ll get them after church,” I promised. “If you get them now, you can look at them during the service,” he responded. I’m never going to find a better pastor than that!

Turkey: Kenny “Bleeping” Rogers. We Mets fans know that Rogers can do spectacularly horrific things in the postseason. So it sure seemed suspicious when The Gambler started moving down Yankees and Athletics in the Division Series and ALCS like he was the second coming of Christy Mathewson. Then a Fox camera picked captured the image of a mysterious smudge on his palm during Game Two of the World Series, and ESPN produced photos from other games with similar smudges. Manager Jim Leyland didn’t want to send Rogers back out in front of the Busch Stadium fans – not exactly known for being bullies – and the Tigers didn’t win another game.

I’m thankful for: Speaking of the World Series, my folks presented me with an awesome early Christmas present, a ticket to Game One at Comerica Park. Sure, it would have been better to have the Mets there. But attending a World Series game – any World Series game – is a treat of a lifetime. I’ve been blessed to see Game Six in 1997, too.

Turkey: Guillermo Mota. It’s one thing when Yankees are accused of taking steroids. We expect such things. But it’s another when an active Met gets a 50-day unpaid vacation for testing positive. Now we lose the moral high ground as well as a decent pitcher for the first month and a half of the season

I’m thankful: That I had the opportunity to meet Buck O’Neil at the Negro Leagues Museum during a business trip to Kansas City in February. Buck, as everybody knows, passed away in October and was a beloved ambassador for baseball. O’Neil fell one vote shy of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, yet still made it to Cooperstown for the induction ceremony in August.

Turkey: Braden “Bleeping” Looper. Looper’s lucked into two World Series rings, and Mike Piazza has none. That’s fair. Loops lost his closer’s job to Ugeth Urbina when pitching for the Fish in 2003. This year, he was caught on camera mocking the Jose Reyes chant in the Cardinals’ post-game celebration after the birds got past the Mets in the NLCS. One might suggest to Looper that perhaps the Mets would have been in the postseason last year when Looper was on the team had he not blown eight saves.

I’m thankful for: Audio Adrenaline. My favorite Christian rock band is disbanding this year because singer Mark Stuart is having vocal problems. But I salute the band for helping me grow in my faith since I discovered its music in 2001. The song “Hands and Feet” has been an inspiration for me as I try to spread His word, and time and again I was able to use Audio A songs to illustrate lessons for the middle school youth group I lead.

I’m especially thankful for: You! And other readers who find this corner of the blogosphere. I’m humbled that people come to check out this space. I appreciate all the people who read and post comments. I hope to make it worth your while. I’m grateful to the other bloggers who include me in their links.

Have a wondeful, wonderful holiday!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Honor Jackie, but don't forget Tom, Gil, Willie...

One of the surprises about today’s groundbreaking ceremony was the announcement that a statue of Jackie Robinson would be erected inside the CitiField rotunda.

I think that’s great. Fantastic! Wonderful! I’ll be the guy posing next to it. I expressed my feelings about Jackie here.

But I’ll be even happier if not far away is a statue of Tom Seaver. And one of Gil Hodges and Willie Mays, as well as Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez. Then we need Mike Piazza, and I’m open to discussing Doc and Straw. Perhaps Bill Shea speaking to Joan Payson would be a proper tribute to their roles.

Today’s announcement proves that the Mets do a horrible job of honoring their history, and it doesn’t appear that they’re going to get better at it any time soon.

But the whole statue thing is interesting. In theory, a statue should be a step higher on the list of honors than a retired number. They also become a focal point for your stadium, because people naturally gather around them and snap photos.

So I thought it was odd that the Mets would plan a statue of a guy, however historic and important, who never played a game for them — or had any role with the team whatsoever.

I did a little poking around at what other teams had done. Jackie actually would not be the first such player honored. The Braves have Ty Cobb standing near Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn and Phil Niekro. And the Phillies even have another team’s manager — Connie Mack — in their new yard. The Orioles have a young Babe Ruth, but without any indication of his Yankeeness.

There are some real head-stratchers in the bunch. Let’s review:

Ameriquest Field: Nolan Ryan and Tom Vandergriff, former mayor of Arlington who was key in getting a team located there.

Angels Stadium: Apparently no players have been deemed worthy, but Gene Autry and Michelle Carew, Rod’s daughter, who died at 17 of leukemia, are honored.

AT&T Park: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal

Busch Stadium: A 10-foot-tall Stan Musial, and smaller likenesses of Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith and Jack Buck. Very nice. The Cards are a classy organization.

Citizens Bank Park: Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Mike Schmidt and Connie Mack, who was moved from Shibe Park. Luckily the Rocky statue has not ended up here. The Roberts statue is odd because it’s painted like a black and white photo.

Comerica Park: Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton, Al Kaline, Prince Hal Newhouser and Ernie Harwell. Horton is very popular in Detroit and a cog of the 1968 champs, but he might be the worst player ever cast in a statue.

Dolphin Stadium: Joe Robbie, Don Shula and Dan Marino. Perhaps this shows how unwelcome the Marlins are in their own park, but I’m not sure I any Fish player has earned the bronze treatment.

Fenway Park: Ted Williams, with a little kid, no doubt hearing how he is the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Great American Ballpark: Joe Nuxhall, Ernie Lombardi, Ted Kluszewski and Frank Robinson. Will, the resident Reds expert, said they’re taking care of the old-timers first. We speculate that the Bench, Morgan and Perez tributes — I’d argue for Seaver, too! — are pending the resolution of the Pete Rose fiasco.

Jacobs Field: Bob Feller.

Kaufmann Stadium: George Brett, Mr. and Mrs. Kaufmann.

Miller Park: Hank Aaron, Robin Yount and construction workers killed during the stadium crane accident. Aaron is precedent for the Mets adding Willie Mays.

Minute Maid Park: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio. This is a strange one. They’re outside the park completing a double play — at a time when both were active. Usually you wait until guys hang ‘em up.

Oriole Park: Babe Ruth. The Bambino is from Baltimore and grew up not far from the ballpark. Nevertheless, there are a number of very worthy Orioles.

PNC Park: Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Honus Wagner.

Rogers Centre: Fans. This is more of a decoration than a tribute.

Tropicana Field: A generic Devil Ray fielder, again, more of a decoration.

Turner Field: Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro and Ty Cobb. You know Chipper "Freaking’ Jones wants one!

U.S. Cellular Field: Charles Comiskey. Yikes.

Wrigley Field: Harry Caray. Double yikes! It’s a strange-looking thing, too.

None: Shea Stadium, Chase Field, Coors Field, Dodger Stadium, Petco Park, Safeco Park and the place in the Bronx.

The Dodgers surprise me, considering the team’s respect toward it’s history.

As for Jackie, this won’t be the first time he’s been cast in bronze. You can find the version of him and PeeWee Reese at Keyspan, a leaping catch in Newark, speaking to kids in Montreal, and giant head at Pasadena, kneeling on deck outside the stadium at UCLA and playing in Stamford, where he lived after baseball.

I’m glad the Mets are honoring Jackie, as we’ve become the de facto keepers of the flame. But let’s not forget our own heroes, too.

Friday, November 10, 2006

"D-Mat" knows what happens to Japanese Mets

It appears the Red Sox, not the Mets, will get Japanese fireballer Daisuke Matsuzaka.

And I say thank goodness.

We’ve probably had more Japanese players than any other team. And lets face it, Mets fans, the results have not been good.

Now this is not an indictment of Japanese players. Obviously there are some excellent ones. But they seem to end up on the rosters of other teams.

No, it seems like there is a Mets curse, where a players skills turn to sushi once he steps on Shea’s sod.

Let’s review:

Takasi Kashiwada (1997)

"Kash" came to the Mets in an unusual way. He was part of a special program to study baseball during spring camp training with the Tides, pitching in 6 games and ended up going north. He posted a 3-1 record, but a non-so-impressive 4.31 ERA in the bullpen. The team shipped him to the minors in early August, though he returned with the September call-ups. He was released after the season.

Masato Yoshii, 1998-99

Yoshii is possibly the high water mark, going 18-16 over two years with a 3.93 ERA in 1998 and a 4.40 ERA the next. But he was dealt in the off-season to the Rockies for "the other" Bobby Jones and Lariel Gonzalez in early 2000, and he self-destructed with a 6-15 record and was gone after two years with the Expos.

But I found this telling tid-bit on a Japanese baseball Webstite that chronicled his career game by game.

"10th game, June 2, 1998: To everyone's surprise, Yoshi did not come back to the pitcher's mound when the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates resumed. The rain had hindered the game from being played for 58 minutes after Yoshii took 2 outs in the 3rd inning. The Mets lead 2 to 1 at that point. The pitcher who relieved Yoshi did not do well. The Mets in the end lost 2 to 5. Michiyo's Note: Yoshii is super afraid of thunder and lightening. I remember the time when he was with the Yakult Swallows, he'd be so frightened to pitch further because of a thunder."

Dude’s terrified of thunder? And he wanted to pitch in New York?

Hideo Nomo, 1998

Of course, Nomo was a legend when he arrived in LA in 1995 and had two decent seasons after that. The he started 1998 2-7 and the Dodgers shipped him our way with Brad Clontz for Dave Mlicki and Greg McMichael. He pitched a so-so 4-5, 4.82 for the Mets down the stretch.

Alas, he angered fans and probably management, too, by bailing out of his last start of the year in Atlanta with the Mets needing a victory to reach the postseason.

We cut him the following spring, and he then pitched in Milwaukee, Detroit, Boston, the Dodgers again and, like so many others, ended up with the Devil Rays for a year.

Nomo, again, like so many others, pitched a no-hitter after leaving the Mets.

Tsuyoshi Shinjo, 2001, 2003

Shinjo was our first Japanese position player and brought a lot flash, speed and cool orange wristbands that were so big they could have been sleeves. Shinjo did everything but hit. Sadly, that’s pretty much a mandatory skill for everyone who doesn’t pitch.

He hit .268 and 10 homers and 56 RBI, and after the season was dealt to the Giants. He was bitter about it, but did get to go to the World Series.

But he must have liked New York, because he returned in 2003, when he hit even less, posting an average south of the Mendoza line and just one homer and 7 runs driven in.

There was one glorious moment. Shinjo made a magnificent throw to nail Chipper Jones at the plate to end a game, preserving a 6-5 victory over the Braves — by far his greatest contribution.

Shinjo returned to Japan, and he ended his career — he says he is becoming a nude model — by playing on a Nippon Ham Fighters team that won the Japan series.

Satoru Komiyama, 2002

Komiyama wore funky goggles when he pitched. That’s about the best thing we can say about him, because the 36-year-old went 0-3 with a nasty 5.61 ERA and no saves before not being asked back. He came with the nickname "The Japanese Maddux." No word on whether the real Maddux filed a defamation of character suit.

Kazuo Matsui, 2003-2006

Kaz kicked ass in his first at-bat in every first game of his season as a Met, hitting a home run. Sadly, it’s the rest of the season that gave him trouble.

He was hailed as "Little Godzilla" but played more like Godzuki. If major league teams never trust another Japanese scouting report again, Matsui is responsible. Hailed as slick-fielding, clutch-hitting and durable, Kaz had a weak arm, poor range, average stick and a semi-permanent spot on the disabled list, earning Cedeno-esque boos from the Shea faithful.

Matsui went from a Times Square introduction to being shipped to the Rockies for a spare part. Alas, I felt bad for the guy. He seemed like he was trying hard, and even moved to a new position.

Kazuhisa Ishii, 2005

Steve Trachsel’s ill-timed injury forced Omar to scramble in spring training for a new arm, and Ishii was the best he could do. Ishii was maddingly inconsistent, matching Roger Clemens pitch-for-pitch in one game and getting shellacked in the next. He ended with a nasty 3-9 record and 5.14 ERA.

Yusaku Iriki, 2007?

Then we have Iriki, who is the answer to the trivia question "Who was the first player to be penalized under MLB’s toughened steroid policy?" He was on the 40-man roster playing for Norfolk at the time and never made it up to Shea. We’ll see if he’ll get the chance, perhaps keeping Guillermo Mota’s roster spot warm until he returns from him own suspension.

So my fear with Daisuke Matsuzaka is that we’d post $30 million to negotiate, sign him to a big contract and find out that "gyro ball" is Japanese slang for "hanging curveball."

We’d see "D-Mat" become "Welcome Mat" for the opposition and protective netting would need to be placed over the Home Run Apple lest it be damaged by the steady barrage of visitor home runs bouncing off the stem.

Then, midway through his second season we’d trade him to the Cubs for Glendon Rusch and — while paying most of his salary — watch Matsuzaka pitch a no-hitter and get the comeback player of the year award.

It's going to be CitiField?

I guess in the grand scheme of things, the new Shea could have a worse name. Then again, it could be better. had it right when he suggested Derek Jeter Sucks would be a fine name.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I'm Carlos Beltran and I approve this message

Tomorrow we can concentrate on the next most important elections – the Cy Young, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards.

Can you imagine if the players were allowed to campaign for these things?

Cue the ad….

A black and white photo of Albert Pujols caught with a bad expression with gloom and doom music playing in the background.

“Albert Pujols claims he’s the most valuable player in the league. But where was he when his team was tanking in the last few weeks of the season?”

Then show Ryan Howard looking dejected on the bench.

“Ryan Howard’s Phillies had a shot at the wild card, but fell short when he stopped hitting home runs.”

Then a swooshing sound followed by mocked up newspaper headline slapped at the bottom of the screen: Howard – No leadership.

Then show a nice color photo of Carlos Beltran, maybe even the video of him hitting the homer against the Cardinals in Game One of the NLCS, all while happy, bouncy piano music plays.

Carlos Beltran, right for New York, right for America. Make him your most valuable player

Then a head shot of Beltran from the right side, so the big mole isn’t there.

“I’m Carlos Beltran, and I approve this message.”

Maybe that’s not a good idea, because I’m sick of the attack ads.

I have a love/hate relationship with Election Day.

I’ve been a political junkie since I was a kid. My folks used to allow me to go with them into the voting booth at Hawthorn Elementary and pull the levers, with their direction.

I do the same thing with my kids today. But these new optical scan ballots aren’t as much fun as those huge old machines.

I took my 9-year-old to our balloting place this morning, and there were four round tables set up with cardboard desk dividers where you had to sit down and fill in small ovals with a pen that had a plastic flower taped to it, presumably so you wouldn’t accidentally walk away with it.

“This is like taking the MEAP test in school,” the fourth-grader said as she got busy coloring in the ovals I pointed to.

She made one mistake, and I didn’t want to ask for a new ballot. If Congress swings either way because of one vote in one district in Michigan, you can blame Caroline.

I dropped her off at school after we deposited our ballot in the computer and took our “I voted” stickers, but I think she’s already had the most important lesson of the day.

I vote in every election, even the dull school board contests where people are running unopposed. I think it’s one of the things that make us special as a nation. People have given their lives to preserve this right, and I don’t think there are too many valid excuses for skipping the opportunity.

It’s also true that I’d love to be able to run for something one day. But there are three factors that automatically rule it out.

1) My job. Reporters are supposed to be neutral observers. It’s tough to even keep the appearance of being unbiased it we’re sitting up there on the board or commission. But here’s a little trade secret. Every reporter sits in the audience at these meetings imagining that we could do a better job than the people sitting up there.

2) My politics. I’m too moderate for either party to want me. Which I suppose helps with No. 1. I can understand arguments from both sides.

3) My wife. She says I’m forbidden. I’m even banned from running for a church council after the last experience ended poorly.

So I’m banished to the sidelines. I might be allowed to manage Caroline’s campaign for student council next year. If she lets me. I joked about potential attack ads and she got upset.

Of course, the attack ads are one of the reasons I’m very ready for this day to be over. Michigan has spectacular fall views – if you can see the colors between the political yard signs and billboards.

But I can’t wait to turn on the television tomorrow and not have to endure the endless procession of name-calling, half-truths and untruths. Ever notice that it’s the same man’s voice in all the ads – for both sides? There must be only a handful of companies that produce these dreadful things. Can you imagine the little bitter world of hate those people live in?

Oh, and I'm not even talking about the sportwriters who vote on the MVP and other awards.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ten excuses for Mota's 50-day suspension

Looks like Guillermo Mota has joined the mandatory 50-unpaid vacation club for his recent positive steroid test.

This is the first Mets player that we actually care about to get busted – sorry, Felix Heredia -- and his timing is pretty bad, considering he was a free agent and all. That’s not going to help with negotiations.

Alas, we had fun with smudged Tigers pitchers last week, so now that the tables have turned, we have to show we are good sports. So, on with Guillermo Mota’s Top 10 Excuses for Getting Busted With Steroids.

1) Had to try something else since Kenny Rogers had already used all the pine tar.

2) The test is in the past. He's not here to talk about the past. He only wants talk about positive things. (Heck, it worked for Mark McGwire. Or not.)

3) He, too, got a vitamin B-12 shot from Miguel Tejada.

4) Sheff said that Barry told him it was flaxseed oil.

5) Needed a good excuse to miss that first series against the Padres, lest Mike Piazza chase him into the clubhouse – again.

6) Was preparing for off-season job on the San Diego Chargers defensive line.

7) When BALCO guy said “Do you want the clear?” thought he was saying “Do you want a beer?”

8) Jason Giambi told him he could take yoga in the off-season to explain the weight loss.
9) He had not time to wash his cap, much less read the label on his meds. Seriously, you see that filthy cap?

10) Needed roids to make sure he didn’t blow important playoff game. Hope he saved the receipt.

The only guy more disappointed than Mota has to be Aaron Heilman, who probably figured resigning Guillermo would have freed him up to be in the rotation.

This is a bummer because we lose the moral high ground when mocking the Yankees. But I still say there’s a difference between a reliever picked up in August is different than, say, a starting first-baseman and starting right-fielder.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

I had a fun idea for a costume today.

I was going to wear my Tigers jersey and official World Series Tigers cap, then put some brown gunk on my hand and pretend to be Kenny Rogers.

Or I thought I could wear the same outfit and carry a ball, and when people asked who I was, I could throw the ball over their head and they’d say, “Oh, you’re a Tigers pitcher.”

Then I thought better of the plan. Ever since my infamous “JFK in Dallas” costume in 1991, I’ve sworn off costumes that really tick people off.

Some older people at that party were really upset. Apparently some things are off-limits.

And around here this week, the Tigers are most definitely not to be joked about.

Not only were Tigers fans happy to be at the big dance, but they bought into the pundit-speak that the Series was over before it even started.

Clearly, they thought, the team that rolled through the Evil Empire and spanked the A’s would have no trouble dispensing with a team that barely held on to its division title.

One could point out that the Tigers in fact were the ones who did not hold on to a division title, falling into second place on the last day of the season.

But count me among the people who didn’t expect to see the Cardinals running off with the trophy.

I wasn’t stunned they got past the Padres, since everybody gets past the Padres in the postseason. But I gave them no chance to get through our Mets, and we know how that happened.

So Tigers in the office were still walking around like zombies. They were so excited about this team, and rightly so. And to lose it because they threw the ball around – a lot – really hurt.

One reporter summed it up pretty well: “It’s like Cinderella going to the ball then falling down the steps on the way in.”

I can’t argue with that. I’m confident the Mets will return next year. But I can just as easily see this Tigers team finishing in third place in that division.

So we’ll keep the Tigers jersey on the shelf tonight, and go around wearing the black cat ears my daughter picked out for me to wear, a walking prop to her witch costume.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Kenny Rogers gambled he wouldn't get caught

Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers has exposed what Mets fans knew all along: He's not that good.

People here in Michigan are tripping all over themselves to argue that the Gambler wasn’t cheating because, well, they really, really, want to win.

So here are the top 10 excuses for for Rogers to explain the smudge on his palm.

1) The ads are bogus! M&Ms really DO melt in your hands!

2) Mark of shame from the ending of the 1999 NLCS.

3) Learned a new trick from the fling-happy chimps at the zoo.

4) Just finished polishing his church shoes.

5) That last mudpie was a beauty.

6) Yankee taint.

7) Just got palm read by Mr. Hankey. Howdy-Ho!

8) Leftover fingerprinting ink after being charged with assaulting Texas cameraman.

9) Barry told him it was flaxseed oil.

10) Residue from World Series bat-chucking practice with sensei Clemens. Bow to your sensei!

I’m OK with that when he was playing the Yankees because sometimes you have to go the extra mile to stab their black hearts.

But in the World Series, that’s not going to work.

Clearly, stomping around the mound like he replaced his blood with Red Bull was a diversionary tactic, and a pretty good one, too..

And for goodness sake, Fox has cameras everywhere but the urinal cakes. Did Rogers not think one of those cameras would focus in on his hand?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Checking in on 'the neighbors' and Game One

My relationship with the Tigers is complicated.

The Mets are like family. We live far apart, but we still keep in touch and I still feel close. We’ll always have that unbreakable bond.

But the Tigers are like my neighbors. I kind of know them. I see them outside when the weather is nice. We have nice conversations. I go to their house every once in a while. I wish them well, but I’m not overly involved.

I probably know their kids better than I know the adults, which is also true of the Tigers, since their Midwest League team plays four miles from my front door.

The Lions, by the way, are like bad neighbors. They’re the ones who let the lawn go unmowed for weeks and leave the Homer Simpson Halloween decoration deflated and atop the garage roof year-round.

But I’ve shared some nice moments with the Tigers, attending several Opening Days and even the last game at the old stadium.

So I was extremely excited about the opportunity to see World Series Game One on Saturday. I'm still mourning the demise of the Mets. We should have been there. But the World Series is the World Series, and any chance to witness baseball history is a glorious thing.

I’m also lucky that my bosses allowed me to work at the game, which allows me to run around looking for people doing crazy things and ask them questions. Reporters are nosy by nature. We want to ask these questions. A pad gives us the authority to do so. It also gets me into some places that would be difficult otherwise, such as the rooftop deck of Cheli’s Chili Bar across the street form Comerica.

I met some fun folks. One woman from Romeo, Mich. hosted a tailgate party by converting her mini-van into a giant tiger. She told me she bought 40 yards of tiger-striped material, buying the entire stock of four Wal Marts.

I had several hours to scurry around talking to people like this, then filed my stories from the laptop. Thank you to the staff at the downtown Au Bon Pain for allowing me to use their wi-fi!

I also checked out a couple of the vendors. Don’t think for a minute that every time a saw a cap or shirt with the Cardinals’ logo I didn’t think there was a version with an orange inter-locking NY going to waste a warehouse somewhere.

There were corporate sponsors handing out t-shirts. It’s amazing to watch people go into a feeding frenzy for a crappy shirt advertising GM or hot dogs.
So close, guys, so close.

I ran into a number of people wearing Mets jerseys who bought their tickets last week expecting our boys to be there. We all lamented what should have been.

Just entering the ballpark for a World Series game is an emotional thing. Some people get all teary. OK, that was just me. But I stood awhile and watched other people get their tickets scanned, walk through the turnstiles and let out a holler and pump their fists.

You also get some primo freebies, like a an XM satellite radio in addition to the ever-present towel, which is guess is better than the Thunder Stix we had to endure a couple years ago.

I spent the time before the game walking around the stadium, watching the people. It’s a different kind of charged atmosphere. People pause and take photos of everything.

There are also a lot of VIPs running around. I also ran into Vinny Castilla, for some reason wearing a media credential. He was very nice. Newly unemployed Dusty Baker was posing for photos, and I swear Curt Schilling walked past in the concourse.

The pregame festivities were moving. Bob Seger played “America the Beautiful” as a massive American flag was unfurled that seemed to cover about 80 percent of the outfield. Some F-18 Hornets roared overhead as he finished.

That tugged at the heart of the couple sitting next to me. The husband and wife took turns holding a bright pink sign, reading that a brother was watching the game while serving in Iraq.

Doing the nosy reporter thing, I found out that he is in the Air Force and as been outside Tikrit since August. He also served two tours in Afghanistan. He’s a huge Tigers fan, and if he couldn’t make it to the Series, they would in his place.

The game was a battle of rookies, with Anthony Reyes for the Cards and Justin Verlander for the Tigers. We know what the Mets did to Reyes last week, so I wasn’t surprised when Craig Monroe hit a double in the first inning and came around to score two batters later.

But, as we’ve seen them do, the Cards answered with a run in the second and Verlander mistakenly and famously decide to challenge Albert Pujols in the third.

Fat Albert’s bomb took the crowd right out of the game, and Reyes started mowing down the Tigers. It got so bad that people around me started talking about college football. They should have been escorted from their seats! You do not, for any reason, discuss the lesser sports while attending a World Series game.

The Cards tacked on three more runs in the sixth when Brandon Inge decided to throw the ball around and interfere with runners.

Shortly after that, my seat-neighbor’s cell phone went off – it was her brother calling from Iraq, saying that he was watching the game on Armed Forces Network. It was fun to watch them being able to share the moment despite the brother being in harm’s way on the other side of the world.

Craig Monroe launched a monster shot the bottom of the ninth. But that still left the Tigers down by five and sending the fans home disappointed – and me still just overjoyed to be there.

I finally made it home around 2:30 am, physically and emotionally exhausted and grateful for every minute of the day.

The Cardinals impress me. I didn’t give them much of a chance of getting past the Padres and no chance at all of getting around our Mets. They’re still overwhelming underdogs, but I can’t count them out.

Other World Series notes:

-- My buddy Rich once said that if he ever attended a World Series game, he'd never leave his seat because he wouldn’t want to chance missing one of those iconic plays that will be discussed for generations.

That’s a good rule. But, damn, there’s a lot of time between innings. You know the John Mellencamp song from the Chevy ads? They played it in its entirety once between innings and still had time to kill.

--Eminem is an idiot. He had some kind of rambling video message played before the game that ended with him swinging a toy bat and missing a ball, then saying that’s how the Cardinals would be hitting, then did the same, connecting, and implying that’s how the Tigers would hit.

--The Tigers get points for taking the field to Kiss' "Detroit Rock City" pounding from the Comerica sound system. Now, you'd think that would be an obvious selection to pump up the crowd, but I had never heard it played at a Tigers game until this year. Then again, the organist at the old Tiger Stadium thought playing "Mexican Hat Dance" over and over was clever. Playing Kiss is always a good thing!

--Tiger fans have their own version of the taped-on red Spiezio soul patch – Magglio Ordonez wigs.

--The souvenir selection was somewhat disappointing, and stupid-expensive, at least as the ballpark. That didn’t stop long lines from forming at the concession stands. I bought a program and cap with the Series logo and cap emblems for each team. In that respect, it’s good the Mets were not there because I would have been far more tempted!
The "Spirit of Detroit" was dressed for the occasion.

Feel good for these fans. Detroit certainly has problems, many of them self-inflicted. But it’s been a baseball town in hibernation.

It’s been a tough couple years for many Michiganders. The state’s economy is in transition and the struggles of the auto industry have really taken their toll in the people in the state, even those who don’t work directly for the carmakers.

And the Tigers have been horrible pretty much since we arrived here in 1990.

These folks have suffered through a lot of things, and they are going crazy for this team, much more so than over the Pistons’ title two years back.

I’m a National League guy and I have ties to St. Louis. But I won’t feel bad if the Tigers ride this wave of emotion to a championship – now that it won’t come at the expense of the Mets.