Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Forget Kazmir, I'd rather have Pedro, Delgado and first place

I'm going to say something loud and bold: I'm glad the Mets traded Scott Kazmir.

I firmly believe that the much-maligned deal is the reason the Mets are in first place today.

And stories like this one by Lee Jenkins of the New York Times send me right over the edge. Here's a sampling:

Kazmir Deal Is a Debt the Mets Still Owe

"Four out of every five days, the Mets are a resurgent franchise, flush with charismatic leaders and bankable stars, hailed for their progressive thinking and bold strategy.

"But on the fifth day, when Scott Kazmir takes the mound for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, everything the Mets have accomplished comes temporarily undone. No longer are they the team that leads the National League East. They are only the team that traded Kazmir for damaged goods named VĂ­ctor Zambrano.

"The trade was bad enough, with Kazmir possibly bound for the All-Star Game and Zambrano out for the season because of elbow surgery. But add to the package all the teasing, tweaking and public flogging the Mets have endured, and maybe it really was their worst deal since they sent Nolan Ryan to the Angels for Jim Fregosi in 1971."

Jenkins makes some good points later in the story, but I absolutely reject the scenario he lays out here.

Nothing becomes undone and the team is still in first place. And why are they in first place? That's easy. It's because Jim Duquette traded fireballing prospect Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays for sore-armed starter Victor Zambrano.

Follow me here. It was a horrible trade. Potentially the Ryan-esque blunder to which Jenkins makes reference. A certain "What in the heck were you thinking?" deal.

And that's the key. It made people like owner Fred Wilpon, or whoever helps him call the shots, wonder what exactly were they thinking, and who is making that kind of decision. It was a wake-up call, showing that something was seriously wrong with the Mets organization.

You have to know that something is wrong before you can get help from the doctor.

As soon as the season was over, Wilpon hired Omar Minaya away from the soon-to-be-moving Expos to be general manager and put him in control of baseball decisions.

Once Omar took the helm, he made some key decisions:

1) Allowing old but popular pitchers John Franco and Al Leiter to walk, and both moves were heavily criticized. The fact that neither lasted the season with their new teams proves Omar knew what he was doing. But also, it came out later that each of these guys had the ear of people making decisions and had a hand in decisions to send certain players and even a manager packing. There's no way to prove it, but I think if the Duke was still around, so would be Leiter and Franco, aging and ineffective.

2) Signing Pedro Martinez. It was openly assumed that Pedro would be returning to the Red Sox. But much was made of Omar's speaking Spanish and recruiting right in Pedro's living room It didn't hurt that the Wilpons opened the coffers to exceed any other offer, but think it is safe to say that without Omar, there would be no Pedro at Shea.

3) Signing Carlos Beltran. Everyone, and I mean everyone, had Beltran ticketed for the Bronx. But after Pedro came on board, people started taking the Mets more seriously. Again, a seven-year deal worth more than $100 million brings a lot of seriousness. But we also hear about Omar's passionate recruiting trips to Beltran's home in Puerto Rico. I think we can say that without signing Pedro, the Mets would have had no chance at Beltran.

4) Omar went hard after Carlos Delgado, and would likely had got him had Delgado's agent not been a goofball and then-new-Marlin Leiter not have dispensed some bad and bitter advice to avoid the Apple. But because Omar had made the big signings that year, he was able to hold on to prospects that he was able to dangle in front of the fire-selling Fish and finally get Delgado at Shea this year, and later catcher Paul Lo Duca.

Omar doesn't get credit for David Wright or Jose Reyes -- or the blame for Kazuo Matsui -- but I'm pretty comfortable in giving him all the props for Pedro, Beltran and Delgado. And without that trio, I think we're still looking up at the Phillies and the Braves.

So that's the trade: Prospect Scott Kazmir -- and a lot of cash-- for Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. I'd make that trade all day, every day.

And Kazmir's in Tampa Bay, where he'll never hurt us. And in four more years he'll reach free agency and will flee Tropicana Field for a deep-pocketed team -- like the Mets!

And by the way, Nolan Ryan would never have become a mega-star in New York. And we went to the World Series without him in 1973 and beat him in the playoffs in 1986.

Monday, May 29, 2006

"El Duque" joins Mets all-nickname team

Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez has been with the Mets for a week, and he’s already assumed a valuable spot.

Of course, I’m talking about the Mets’ All-Nickname team.

Nicknames are an important part of baseball, the Mets have had some of the best, especially in those early years.
But first the ground rules: No one makes the team with a lame Chris Berman name. By and large, I think they’re dopey and not something an average fan would throw out there.

A proper nickname has to roll off the tongue and be universally recognized and even stand on it’s own. When you say "The Franchise," everybody knows who you are talking about.

Another rule: Shortened last names don’t count. Sorry "Straw" and "Maz." There's one near exception, and we'll get to that in a minute.

First Base: “Marvelous Marv" Throneberry
If there was ever a man destined to be a Met, it was Marvin Eugene Throneberry. His play left something to be desried. OK, a lot to be desired. But Marv was a colorful guy, and all we had in those early years was color. The other option was Dave "Kong" Kingman, but I just don't like him very much.

Second base: Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green
Green is famous for integrating the Red Sox, but he closed out his career by appearing in 17 games for the 1963 Mets, hitting .278 with one homer. He came in a trade with Tracy Stallard for Felix Mantilla, a trifecta of unusual names. The Sox later restored blandness by adding a guy named Al Moran as the player to be named later.

Third base: Howard “HoJo” Johnson
As you have no doubt guessed, this is the near exception to the no shortened last name rule. In this case, we get the shortened first and last names. This guy was so good they named a restaurant after him. Seriously, what were his parents thinking? And once the Mets had a guy in their minor league system named Ronald McDonald. Imagine if HoJo and Mickey D were ever on the same team?

Shortstop: Derrel McKinley “Bud” Harrelson
Truth is, shortstop is the weak spot in the lineup. I love Buddy, don't get me wrong. It's not just the strongest nickname out there.

Daniel Joseph “Rusty” Staub, "Le Grande Orange"

Mr. Staub was such a good player that he needed two nicknames, one in French. I’m guessing the names stem from his red hair, but we should never assume too much. Rusty of course had two runs with the Mets, the second of which inspired a third name, “Guy who doesn’t run or play in the field.”

Roger “You Suck” Cedeno
I confess I am perplexed by this one. But it seemed like every time mild-mannered Roger was introduced, I’d hear “You Suck Cedeno!” which seems like an unusual nickname. Perhaps it comes from Cedeno’s magical power to turn opponent's routine flyball outs into triples.

Lenny "Nails" Dykstra and William Hayward "Mookie" Wilson
They were platooned on the Mets, so they share that fate here as well. Dykstra liked to think he was tough as nails. I met at a card show once and asked him to sign the glorious Mets book. As he was signing I asked him if he could write "Nails" there as well. He misspelled it, looked up and sheepishly said "Oops" and tried to fix it. So that goes to show you that while Dykstra might have been tough as nails, he was not sharp as a tack. Mookie, who had no trouble spelling his name, has transcended sports with a name that has since been bestowed to countless pets.

Back-up outfielder: George Basil “Stork” Theodore
Stork was a monster in the minors but his time at Shea is probably best remembered by his horrific collision with Don Hahn in 1973 that broke his hip. Stork ended up hitting just .219 with two homers in his career, but was fondly remembered a colorful character. And as the cartoon on the back of his 1974 Topps card says, “George likes marshmallow mikeshakes.”

Catcher: Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman
“Choo Choo” was a bit of a mystery. He called everyone “Bub.” There’s a famous story about Coleman appearing on Kiner’s Korner, and Ralph, frustrated by the short non-answers he was getting, tried to lighten Coleman up by asking “Choo Choo, what is your wife’s name, and what’s she like?” His response: “Her name is Mrs. Coleman, and she likes me, Bub.” The real mystery is how Coleman got on the show in the first place, since it was reserved for the stars of that day’s game. Coleman appeared in 106 games in 1963 despite hitting a whopping .178. And it’s not like he was any good in the field, he had 15 errors. But his name was good enough to beat Don Robert "Duffy" Dyer.

Starting rotation
George Thomas Seaver "The Franchise"
Any Mets rotation begins with Seaver, of course! He was probably called "Tom Terriffic" more often.

Wilmer David "Vinegar Bend" Mizell
I assume he is called that because he was born in Vinegar Bend, Alabama. Mizell had some nice years with the Pirates, but like the rest of the 1962 team, there was very little left in the tank and he was released after 17 games and a nasty 7.34 ERA. He later went on to join an even more suspect group of misfits -- the U.S. Congress!

Dwight "Dr. K," "Doc" Gooden
Gooden's nickname became so oft-mentioned that Topps actually replaced Dwight with Doc on baseball cards. Gooden for a time wanted another nickname, "Uptown." No kidding. There was a story in the program and everything. Thankfully, that ended in a hurry. But in hindsight it shows that Doc was more messed up than we ever suspected at the time.

Frank "Sweet Music" Viola
I suppose that when your last name matches a stringed instrument, this is about as good of a nickname as you are going to get. But Frank was a Long Islander, so that makes him A-OK with us. Some might say that Kenny "The Gambler" deserves a spot in the rotation, but I'm still not forgiving him for the infamous walk to Andruw Jones.

Bullpen: Frank Edwin "Tug" McGraw
My cat is named after Tug McGraw. It's true. My wife decided that she would get final say over names given to children, and I'd get final say over names bestowed on pets. She might have made this rule after I wanted to name our first-born "Mookie." My goldfish is named "Costco."

Manager: Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra
Yogi's suffering at the hands of the Yankees is well-documented, and he didn't get the respect he deserved as manager of the Mets, either. But he gets on this team, well ahead the colorless group of manager names we've trotted out there, from Wes to Joe to Davey to Art.

There you go! Let me know if I've missed anybody.

In other words...

Fellow out-of-state Mets fan Dan Ziegler has moved his site to a new place. You can find him at

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Chicken, Mr. Met and less-worthy mascots

Occasionally at a baseball game, we can enjoy a brush with greatness.

And on rare occasions, we can assist those who are great. For me, this would be that day in 1990 when I had the pleasure of assisting the Famous Chicken with his act.

For this to make sense, you need to realize that I love mascots. We all have our guilty pleasures, our moments of shame.

For reasons I can’t fully comprehend I am drawn to the fuzzy costumed beings that roam the stands inspiring smiles. I am compelled to give them high-fives and when possible pose for a photo – or compel my kids to do so.

When my previous employer, The Flint Journal, created a mascot costume, the marketing types knew who would be the first volunteer. The costume was a giant rolled-up newspaper that I named “F.J. Scoop.”

And yes, inside the character is hotter than Busch Stadium Astroturf in August. Here’s an insider’s secret: The costumes come with a vest with long pockets that hold gel-like plastic strips that you stick in the freezer. You’ll still perspire enough to soak through your clothes, but it makes the heat tolerable for about 45 minutes.

My baseball buddies are aware of this attraction, and humor me by snapping photos. But they say my nadir was forcing them to snap a shot of me with Foto, the Fuji Film mascot at Comerica Park’s Photo Day in 2003.

So naturally, I hold a soft spot for our own Mr. Met. You might not realize it, but our baseball-headed hero was the first of the live action mascots to appear at games. I didn’t see him much in the 1970s – I blame M. Donald Grant and Dick Young. If those two could conspire to trade Tom Seaver, there’s no limit to the evil they could inflict upon us.

My buddy Bob recently tried to raise a ruckus over on the Baseball Truth discussion boards by relating how he took his kids to a park recently and they saw statues of Phil and Phyllis, two kids in colonial garb who were trotted out as Phillies mascots for a while during the 1970s. His kids remarked that they thought Phil and Phyllis were much better than Mr. Met.

Bob’s a teacher, so I was surprised he missed an obvious teachable moment.

The proper response is that the couple were soon jettisoned because they were in fact lousy mascots, violating all sorts of rules. Yes, like the responsibilities for fans we discussed last post, there are some basic responsibilities for mascots.

For the sake of Bob’s kids, let’s review.

1) Be a recognizable thing.
We know what Lou Seal of the Giants is supposed to be, as well as Dinger of the Rockies and even Billy of Marlins fame. Mr. Met of course is a guy with a cool baseball head. But what in the heck was Youppi, the embarrassment that no doubt contributed to the demise of the Expos? Existing as a Muppet reject on steroids is not the basis for suitable stadium entertainment.

2) Be funny.
The Philly Phanatic is an unidentifiable life form, but at least he brings a chuckle. He’s got that motor scooter thing that zips around the yard and he goofs around with players and umpires. He can enhance a game without upstaging the players. Bernie Brewer has his cool chalet and slide that he uses when a Brewers player hits a home run. Compare that to, say, Paws, the Tigers mascot who aimlessly wanders around Comerica Park for no apparent reason.
Zimmer's a mascot, right? I mean, what other purpose could he possibly serve?

3) Have a costume.
The Yankees once had a mascot called Dandy, but he didn’t last very long. They had another, called Don Zimmer, who was around for most of the 1990s. Dandy had a costume, Zimmer for some reason didn’t. He didn’t even wander around the stands, just kind of sat there in the dugout. Pedro went through a brief anti-mascot phase and threw Zimmer to the ground. Luckily he’s over that now.

Condi consults with Mr. Met on matters of state

4) Be a foreign policy expert.

Mr. Met has many skills, including some that we don’t dwell on a lot. But as you can see from this photo, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought out Mr. Met for his knowledge of world affairs. Now you know why the Mets host that International Week every year.

The Famous Chicken of course adheres to all these rules, making him the Willie Mays or Tom Seaver of the mascot world.

You can imagine my excitement when I learned that the Chicken would be performing in Rochester during the weekend that I was spending chronicling the life of Mickey Weston, a pitcher from the Flint area who had several cups of coffee, including one with the Mets in 1993.

Before the game I was introduced to the chicken’s alter ego, Ted Giannoulas, who looked a lot like Sonny Bono. We chatted a while, and he seemed like a really nice guy. I was going to ask him about the situation in the Middle East, but his time was short and I’m not a secretary of state.

During that game I abandoned the press box in favor of he photo bin, which was really just a section at the end of the dugout. Needless to say, I learned more about baseball that afternoon than I had in a previous lifetime of fandom.

About halfway through the game I heard a muffled “Dave!” and felt a poke in the back.

It was the Chicken, in full costume, holding a broom.

“When I get on the field, can you hand this to me?”

Can I? You know the scene in “Wayne’s World” when Alice Cooper invites Wayne and Garth to hang out back stage with the band? “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”

So at the appropriate time, the Chicken ran out the dugout steps, turned and said “OK” and I handed him the broom, a prop for one of his gags.

It was my brush with mascot greatness.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Booing Chipper and other responsibilities

If you are going to wear a jersey, do it properly!

Bill Simmons, ESPN’s Sports Guy, recently posted what he said are the only responsibilities for baseball fans.

Not bad. But not that good, either.

Here’s what Bill had to say:

“You only have eight responsibilities during a baseball game: Take your hat off for the National Anthem; don't take your shirt off; don't bring your baseball glove if you're over 13; don't wear a jersey with your own name on it; don't run onto the field; don't reach into the field of play to grab a pop-up or ground ball if it could adversely affect your team; don't boo one of your own players unless it's absolutely warranted; and don't throw up. That's it. Everything else is up to you.”

Bill got some things right, some things wrong and left out some things that must be said. Let’s break this down:

1) Take your hat off for the National Anthem.

Well, that’s just a given. I took my 9-year-old daughter to a West Michigan Whitecaps game on Sunday, looked over during the anthem and there she was, standing at attention with her cap over her heart. Sometimes a parent needs to be reassured that he’s doing some things correctly.

2) Don’t take your shirt off.

Another given. We were sitting in the Tiger Stadium bleachers one year and a guy took off his shirt and exposed a back that was so hairy it looked like was wearing a bearskin tank top. The entire centerfield bleachers started chanting “Shave your back!” Don’t let that happen to you.

3) Don’t bring your baseball glove if you are over 13.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Ideally, you are getting there early enough for batting practice, and it’s fun to hang out in the outfield sections and catch the homers.

4) Don’t wear a jersey with your own name on it.

I have mixed emotions about this. I work around it by having some jerseys of players named Murray. And yes, it was a very happy day when Eddie Murray signed with the Mets, and it wasn’t just for his playing ability. I also have a game-worn jersey from Matt Murray, who had a cup of coffee with the Braves. I also have a couple jerseys with teams that don’t put names on the backs, which allows me to avoid the whole debate. There are actually more rules for jerseys, which we’ll get to later.

In any place other than Hollywood, Drew would have been tackled, cuffed and pepper-sprayed.

5) Don’t run on the field.

No kidding. There’s no better way to demonstrate to the whole world that you are both drunk and an idiot. And the most unrealistic scene in “Fever Pitch” is when Drew Barrymore drops down out of “the triangle” at Fenway and eludes security to run across the field all the way to the box seats, where she is allowed to have a conversation with Jimmy Fallon. No woman that pretty would be seen with a goofball like Jimmy Fallon. Oh, and security would have pounced on her butt within 10 steps.

6) Don't reach into the field of play to grab a pop-up or ground ball if it could adversely affect your team.

Another no-brainer. There’s a reason Steve Bartman lives in seclusion. The only place where such people are not vilified is Yankee Stadium, where a guy like Jeffery Maier becomes a folk hero. That speaks volumes.

7) Don't boo one of your own players unless it's absolutely warranted.

This will stir some controversy, but I have to agree. I’m just not much of a booer in general, especially of our own. We as fans need to supportive. I do not for the life of me understand the people booing Carlos Beltran in that opening series. That said, I would have booed Billy Wagner on Saturday. But I cheered him wildly on Sunday.

8) Don’t throw up.

And don’t die in the seat in front of me, either. I know what I'm talking about.
Dead Cubs fan in my lap.

Clearly, Simmons rattled these off in a hurry because he forgot some things. Here are eight more.

1) Get a program, keep score.

It’s a fun way to keep in the game. Plus, you don’t have to rely on the scoreboard to tell you who is having a good day. And do it in pencil. We used to pencil in a “K” every time Rob Deer started walking out of the on-deck circle. But occasionally Rob would surprise us – we’d need a backward K instead of a swinging K. You want your book to be neat.

2) Boo Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens every time, use discretion for everyone else.

For those first three, it’s just the right thing to do. For anyone else, be selective. You want your boos to mean something. It’s best to greet someone like ARod or Sheffield with indifference or silence. It’s more damaging to their egos. Mess with their heads.

3) Heckle no one.

You are not funny. OK,
Metstradamus is funny. But the rest of you are not. And when you are drunk, you are even less funny. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard someone yell something that was actually decent. And most drunken hecklers can’t come up with anything more creative than “Chipper, you suck!” Well, we already knows that and so does he. That just makes you loud and annoying. Most of these people are just trying to call attention to themselves, and they are just a shade less offensive than Drew Barrymore and the other morons who run on the field.

4) If you’re going to wear a jersey, wear a proper one.

I’m a stickler. You’ve got to have the real thing. I know they’re expensive, but so are the cheesy replicas. If you’re going to spend that much, then go all the way. Then, if you are going to have numbers and letters on your jersey, make sure it is the authentic lettering. Nothing makes me sadder than to see a proper jersey with the wrong lettering. Then, if your team doesn’t use names on the back, don’t you go putting a name on there. One way to tell the stupid Yankee fans from the really, really stupid Yankee fans is to find the ones with “JETER” across the backs of their jerseys. I’m a jersey guy, which is very different from a Jersey guy. We’re like a cult. When jersey guys see other jersey guys with a properly lettered authentic, we tip our caps.

Yet another way to tell if a Yankee fan is stupid.

5) Do not yell “balk” when a pitcher fakes a pick-off to second.

The balk rule is so complex that then only people who understand it are the umpires, some of the managers and a handful of the players. You do not. My buddy John used to say that anytime someone yells “balk,” they need to be escorted out of the stadium, read the rule and not be allowed back until they can prove they understand it.

6) If you catch a foul ball, you do not have to give it to a kid.

Kids an get their own damn ball. But if you trample a kid or senior citizen to get the ball, you are a loser. And when you catch a ball, do not hold it up so you can be on television. No one cares.

7) If you catch an opposing team's home run ball, you do not have to throw it back.

Throwing such a ball back on the field is like declaring "I am drunk and stupid." Note that people who didn't catch a ball are the ones telling you to throw it back. My buddy Will notes that if he ever catches a home run ball, and you see it thrown on the field, look closely and notice that his hand will still be attached to it.

8) Do not for any reason leave a game early.

One of the many reasons why baseball is the best game is that no game is over until it really is over. Yogi knew exactly what he was saying. The only joyful thing about Saturday’s debacle was that countless stupid Yankee fans missed the comeback because they had already headed to their cars. And even on a horrible, rainy night,
something magical can happen.

There you go! Let me know if you think I missed anything.

In other words...

Greg's recent take on Mike and the Mad Dog taking over the Mets radio booth is perfect! And while he's joking, you can imagine those two knuckleheads exactly saying the things Greg attributes to them. You can read it here.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Grandma, scalpers and the first interleague series

I’ve never been good at scalping tickets.

But I learned quickly on June 17, 1997, the night of the second-ever interleague game between the Mets and Yankees.

Whenever the teams square off, as they will this weekend, I think about that night and my Grandmother.

I didn’t plan to go to the game, or even be back in New York. But Ella, my grandmother on my father’s side, had passed away earlier in the week and I returned to Massapequa Park for the funeral.

I had covered a number of funerals as a reporter, but this was the first time in close to a decade that we had lost someone close, certainly my first time attending one as an adult.

It wasn’t unexpected. Grandma was in her 80s and had been in poor health for some time. I reluctantly bought a suit earlier in the year, expecting this day was not far off.

Grandma had lived with us for a while when I was younger, and she was a big baseball fan, adopting the Mets after the Dodgers went west. She took me to Opening Day several years in a row to see Tom Seaver pitch, and we would often talk baseball. Actually, anyone around me for any period time is forced to talk baseball, but I digress.

Of course, the hype surrounding the first interleague series was incredible These were the biggest games the Mets were playing in a decade. The team was starting to rise from the disaster that was the early 1990s and the Yankees had won the World Series the year before.

The series was supposed to be pure carnage. These were the pre-Piazza Mets of Huskey and Hundley, Gilkey and Baerga. I remember listening to WFAN as I drove from LaGuardia, with Mike and the Mad Dog openly belittling the Mets during the pre-game show.

Francessa was saying that all the pressure was on the Yankees, because the Mets were so bad that the Yankees proved nothing by winning and would be shamed if they somehow got beat.

“You think the Yankees are afraid of the Mets?” I remember Chris Russo saying. “You think the Yankees are in the clubhouse right now worried that they have to face Dave Mlicki? No way.”

I went from the airport right to the visitation. And I was not prepared for the emotion of the evening. We talked about getting a Mets cap to place in Grandma’s casket. I had one of the new white alternate caps in my luggage, but that didn’t seem proper. It needed to be one of the traditional blue ones.

After arriving at the hotel that night, we learned that the Yankees did indeed have a reason to fear Dave Mlicki – he pitched the game of his life, shutting out the vile Bombers 6-0. I should have been euphoric, I was just emotionally drained.

The next day there was another visitation, then the graveside service and a reception at my cousin Mike’s house. We all talked about the game, and how Grandma would have enjoyed it. At that point I decided I had a mission: Get into Game 2.

I didn’t think I realistically had a chance at getting a ticket. But I figured at the very worst I could soak up the atmosphere around the ballpark, buy a program and other souvenirs.

My experience scalping tickets was limited to Hartford Whalers hockey games. And that was never much of a challenge because Hartford used to browbeat local corporations into buying season tickets to boost attendance at the Civic Center.

So before every game you’d have a bunch of guys in suits looking to get rid of extra tickets that they didn’t pay for in the first place. They were typically looking for some extra beer money and little else. In fact, my buddy Rich and I often bought tickets that way because it was cheaper than getting the ducats at the box office.

I knew this Subway Series game would be completely different.

I’d walk up and down that area between the stadium and the parking garage looking for the obvious sellers. I knew that people who ask you if you are selling tickets are actually the ones doing the selling.

The first couple guys I approached were just outrageous, which I expected. They’re picking off the big spenders who didn’t care what they had to pay. I knew that the real deals come closer to game time when scalpers get desperate.

Finally, just before game time I approached a guy I’d seen earlier, and he lowered his price to $50 for a $38 seat in the lower level, deep, but behind first base.

That was way more than I had been planning to pay, especially since I had not planned on anything like this. But I was caught up in the moment, caught up in the history, and was thinking about Grandma.

I took out my wallet and he guy said “Put that away!” and looked around nervously. He then said to follow him and pointed to stairs leading down to the subway. He walked quickly down the steps about half way, I stopped at the top.

“You’re going to beat me and rob me.”

The guy rolled his eyes and waved me down and said something to the effect of “You trying to get me arrested?”

It never occurred to me that police would be cracking down on scalpers. It was all pretty open in Hartford.

Ticket in hand, I practically danced to my seat. And the atmosphere inside was absolutely electric, crackling with excitement. The only time I had experienced anything like that was during Tom Seaver’s 300th win.

I confess I was sheepish – maybe just too emotionally drained to fight with anyone -- wearing a cap that had both Met and Yankee logos commemorating the series. I expected there to be some horrible behavior, like I had seen at a couple Yankees-Red Sox games. But it was surprisingly friendly, possibly because the Mets had embarrassed the Skanks the night before.

The best part was the dueling chants. Yankee fans would throw out that lame, sing-songly “LET’S go YANKees” and the Mets fans rapidly responded with the proud, noble “Let’s Go Mets.” When the two were intermingled it seemed like the whole crowd got into it and it brought goose bumps.

Mets fans erupted when Lance Johnson started the game with a single. Then Bernard Gilkey hit into a double play and things pretty much went down hill. The Yanks scored four in the bottom of the second, chasing Armando Reynoso before even recorded six outs.

We made it a game in the top of the third when Gilkey launched a two-run bomb, but the Yankees scored twice in the seventh on errors by Matt Franco and Carl Everett, and it ended 6-3.

I watched part of the third game on a television in the airport, which we lost in extra innings.

People said the Mets earned a moral victory by taking the first game and sticking close in the other two. But we know there’s no such thing as a moral victory when the Yankees are involved.

The year before she died, I was able to repay Grandma for taking me to all those games by finally taking her to one, a spring training contest at Vero Beach. We had a wonderful time.

And as silly as it may seem, I think of that night with the Mets in the Bronx as one last game together, and a more fitting goodbye than the service that morning.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Bats, helmets and the Yankee double standard

Allow me to present two scenarios.

Player A: Gets a called third strike, disagrees with call, Drops some choice words, gets tossed, walks a couple steps, tosses a piece of equipment at umpire, hits umpire.

Player B: Gets a called third strike, disagrees with call. Drops bat, gets tossed, walks a few steps, turns and looks to see where umpire is, tosses piece of equipment at umpire, grazing umpire.

Player A, of course, is Delmon Young, the Devil Rays’ top prospect who is serving a 50-game suspension and denounced across the sporting world as a punk in need of anger management therapy.

Player B is Bernie Williams, Yankees player, who at least so far as received no suspension, been subjected to no national outrage, no anger management therapy and is out missing easy flies in big games against the Red Sox.

As we said a couple weeks ago, there sure seem to be different rules for Yankees. I compared Young to Clemens, who disgraced himself in the 2000 World Series by tossing a bat piece at innocent Mike Piazza. And I was mocked by people who pointed out that Clemens’ action was against another player, and not an authority figure.

Fair enough. Now let’s look at Bernie.

In a recent game against Boston with Yankee-killer Josh Beckett on the bump, Williams was called out on strikes to end the second inning.
Later in the game, Bernie went down swinging.

In his third at-bat, Williams was called out again. This time he dropped his bat at the plate in disgust, walked a few steps, peeked over his shoulder to make sure umpire Charlie Reliford was still there then chucked his helmet behind him.

The projectile bounced and either narrowly missed Reliford or brushed against him, depending on who you talk to.

There was some speculation that Williams would get penalized for his action, but nothing yet. You see, Bernie’s “the classy Yankee” – which is kind of like saying “the good herpes” – and was just blowing off some steam after a frustrating day at the plate in a big game against a top rival.

Seems to me that Delmon is getting penalized for A) having better aim, and B) not being a Yankee.

It’s the typical Yankee double standard! Heck, I’m surprised Reliford, the umpire, didn’t get suspended! How dare he call Bernie out on strikes. If Bernie didn’t swing at it, it was a ball, darn it! Doesn’t he know about the 26 championships? Gehrig? Mantle? Yankee pride?

Then again, after watching Bernie overrun that ball in the corner in the last game against the Sox, maybe the Yanks are getting penalized afterall by having to throw his carass out there in rightfield.

Of course, the Mets are having their own problems with umpires. First Paul Lo Duca gets into a little shouting match after umpire Angel Hernandez allegedly said that Jose Lima wasn’t getting calls because he’s not John Smoltz. He got tossed.

Then Duaner Sanchez got the boot after he plunked a Brewer after giving up back-to-back homers that tied the game. Willie Randolph pointed out that there’s no way his top middle man is going to intentionally put the winning run on base. He might have said it more colorfully, because he got run, too.

Fellow long-distance Mets fan Dan at Lone Star Mets pointed out that there's no way a Yankee pitcher would get tossed in that scenario. Heck,the bonked batter would probably get a warning for not getitng out of the way!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Shinjo and me, lovin' the '80s

Journalists can be dangerous when invited to trivia contests.

After all, we’re competitive to a fault, fairly well-read, and we pick up a little knowledge about a lot of things through the variety of events we cover.

So we were a little curious when the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan invited us to assemble a team for a WorldQuest International Trivia Competition on Tuesday.

We thought it might be some kind of trap, there to serve as Royals-esque fodder for impossibly difficult questions kicked back and forth by people who pay close attention to activities beyond our shores. But we were brave — and there was free food and an open bar.

Other than organizing the team, it didn’t appear my skills would be in demand. My areas of expertise are somewhat limited to:

— The Mets
— New York
— U.S. presidents
— 1980s music
— The location of the Diet Coke vending machine in whatever building I’m in.

Good things to know, to be sure. I’m tough on the 1980s music, especially lately after updating my new iPod to include the little album covers so they pop up on the color display screen. You are just not going to sneak a Human League question past me. It’s just not going to happen.

But that's not necessarily the kind of knowledge that will help in an event called "WorldQuest."

The rest of the people on the team were better-suited to the task. Dan is a wire editor who reads a lot of international stories — he could pronounce and spell Mahmoud Ahmadinejed, Iran’s president — Rob covers business; Bart knows a lot of weird things and Julie, my wife, studied the World Almanac.

The competition consisted of questions flashed on a screen, with each team writing down answers. Our sheets were collected at the end of each round, and the teams with the most correct answers would take the crown.

And the questions did indeed seem difficult, at least for me. I was pretty much delegated to spectator status in the early rounds, throwing out guesses and fetching Diet Cokes from the machine in the lower level, which I found in just seconds.

Rob cleaned up in the "match the currency with the country" portion, and we cheered when Dan had to identify Ahmadinejed. Julie somehow knew that Prince Albert of Monaco had recently explored the North Pole.

The section on landmarks and monuments followed. There was a Russian statue, temples in Japan and Egypt, a mountain in Australia where dingoes allegedly eat kids.

Then came my moment of glory.

The screen showed an image of a giant reclining Budda. We had to identify the country. My teammates were stumped.

Then, from the recesses of my mind came the thumping of a synthesized beat, and a slightly mechanical voice.

"Siam's gonna be the witness
To the ultimate test of cerebral fitness
This grips me more than would a
Muddy old river or reclining Buddha"

Of course!

The classic song "One Night in Bangkok." Sung by Murray Head, it was from the musical "Chess" written by the ABBA guys.

"It’s in Bangkok," I said authoritatively.

"How do you know?"

"It’s in the 1980s song. Trust me. This is what I know."

Of course it was right. My knowledge of all things 1980s finally paid off, my spot on the team justified. Kind of like when Tsuyoshi Shinjo made that magnificent throw in 2003 to nail Chipper Jones at the plate to end the game, preserving a 6-5 victory over the Braves — by far his greatest contribution.

We went on to finish fourth out of 24 teams, and feeling pretty good about it considering it was our first time in such an event, and the top two finishers were World Affairs Council teams. Credit goes largely to the rest of my team.

Apparently we were the loudest team they've ever had -- trash-talking must not have been a part of the previous competitions. And we topped the team from the U.S. Commerce Department, which was a little disturbing when we thought about it later.

Meanwhile, I have a whole year to prepare for the next competition. Maybe "Rio" by Duran Duran or somthing from Terry Nunn and Berlin will come in handy.

Monday, May 08, 2006

That's why they wear caps: Lima Time, Mikey and bad Mets hair

Jose Lima and his hair got roughed up pretty good by the Braves.

You had to know that Jose Lima was in trouble on Sunday before he even walked out of the bullpen, and it has nothing to do with his performance the past few seasons – though that should have been a clue.

No, I’m taking about Jose’s multi-colored hair. Truth be told, you can get a pretty good idea about what’s going on in Metsland as a whole or with particular players simply by their hair.

Willie Randolph knew what he was doing last year when he banned long locks and facial hair.

Lima Time stunned all by showing up at Shea with his hair dyed orange and blue. I suppose we should be grateful that he didn’t follow the team’s lead and incorporate black as the alternative color.

And, of course, the Braves lit him up for five runs in five innings, sending Jose to a early shower, and hopefully, a barber.

All too predictable. Lets look at the pattern.

Kaz Matsui
Billed as the greatest living shortstop in Japan and boasting a consecutive-game streak that would impress Cal Ripken, Matsui showed up with his hair dyed neon orange. It was a color not found in nature, much less on a Japanese person.

Matsui, after hitting his customary Opening Day tease homer, went on to demonstrate that he: A) Can’t hit, B) Can’t field and C) Can’t stay healthy.

Kaz's woes continue, having lost his starting job to a rookie -- Anderson Hernandez -- who last year had more last names than hits.

Mike Piazza

Piazza, famous for his movie star looks, centerfold dating habits and powerful bat, for reasons unknown to all walked into the clubhouse one day in 2001 with his brown hair cut short and dyed platinum blonde.

Bad move for both Mikey and the team. The Mets went from NL Champs to bottom-feeders and Piazza went from having hotties on both arm to having to hold a press conference to defend his heterosexuality.

The Mets, despite playing for a guy with no visble hair whatsoever -- Art Howe -- stunk it up until Willie and his clean chin policy came on board.

What made Mike do it? Hard to say. Maybe having Clemens rip one off his forehead time and again had something to do with it.

Doc Gooden

Gooden was blossoming into a true mega-star with his close-cropped cut. Then in 1986 he decided to let the locks grow into longish, glistening gheri curls.

Next thing you know, Gooden found his nose in the wrong places inhaling the wrong things and his life started spinning out of control. Bad things filled his future, like becoming a convict and worse, a Yankee.

How scary was Doc's 'do? Samuel L. Jackson copied it for his role as a hit man in Pulp Fiction.

Pat Zachary

You have to feel for Zachary. He was traded for Tom Seaver, and the Mets gave him No. 40, right next to Seaver’s No. 41 as if he was the next best thing.

As we know from the last post, Seaver is the Greatest Living Pitcher, which makes him a tough act to follow for anyone, much less a middle-of-the-rotation guy like Zachary.

Next thing you know, Zachary was caving under the pressure. He apparently decided to grow a shrubbery on his head in an effort to hide.

Sadly for Pat, there are no trees, much less shrubbery, growing in Queens and he was spotted immediately. Discovered, Zachary kicked a dugout wall – look it up – and messed up his career.

Nino Espinosa

Espinosa came to camp in 1977 with a moderate-sized afro and allowed it to become progressively larger and larger. It was so big that the team had to space out his uniform numbers just to create some sort of balance. Look for yourself!

Apparently Espinosa was intent on being the poor man’s Oscar Gamble. Sadly, being Oscar Gamble himself was no great shakes, especially after he became a Yankee. So having a poor man’s version around didn’t excite too many fans.

Sadly, Espinosa and his fro were pretty good indicators of how things were going for those late 1970s teams. The Yanks were claiming back-to-back championships and we were running a donkey around the warning track as a mascot.

Nino trimmed the ‘do after he was shipped to the Phillies for Richie Hebner, who gained a reputation for not being interested in the games despite being the starting third-baseman.

Dave Kingman
Dave Kingman was a grump and a malconent when he came over from the Giants and proceeded to hit some monsterous blasts in between errors and strikeouts.

Then Dave got loose with a Farrah Fawcett 'do plus sideburns, a look that was somewhat flattering on Farrah -- it wasn't the hair that sold all those posters -- but less so on Kingman.

He beame, well, even more of grump and a malcontent. Even worse, he wanted a raise. And since M. Donald Grand (turn, spit) wasn't about to part with a buck for Tom Seaver, a guy people actually liked, he wasn't going to fork over some cash for Kingman.

Instead, Dave and his flowing locks were shipped to the Padres as part of the Midnight Massacre, only to return in 1993 with a better haircut and somewhat better attitude.

Gene Clines

Clines had some decent seasons for the Pirates before we snagged him in a trade for Duffy Dyer.

Once at Shea, he apparently displayed some presidential ambitions and started shaving his beard in the chinless style favored by former President Chester Alan Arthur.

The problem is that Arthur lived in the late 1800s when you could do such things and people wouldn’t think you were a freak. Clines proceeded to hit a robust .227 with 0 homers and 4 steals.

The Mets tired of that nonsense and at the end of the 1975 season shipped him off to Texas for Joe Lovitto, who I don’t think ever played in a Mets uniform.

Clearly there is a trend here. And if the Padres can keep a massage therapist in the dugout, the Mets can invest in an official team barber -- and assign someone from keeping bleach away from David Wright's hair!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Help ESPN get it right

The people at ESPN got loose with a little survey listing the 10 best living pitchers. Allegedly the network asked it’s baseball analysts, announcers, writers and other contributors to compile the rankings.

Apparently they had to restrain Verducci and Klapisch because while there are only two Yankees on the list, Jeter isn’t one of them.

Oh sure, Jeter’s not a pitcher. You think that would stop those guys? "It’s the intangibles, man. He makes all the pitchers better." Whatever. Anyway, here’s the Jeter-less list:

1) Bat-Chucker
2) Tom Seaver (Yes!)
3) Sandy Koufax
4) Bob Gibson
5) Greg Maddux
6) Bob Feller
7) Randy Johnson
8) Pedro! Pedro!
9) Steve Carlton
10) Juan Marichal

What a crock. There are only two Mets on the list. And I suppose we must thank the influence of Mark from the awesome Mets Walkoffs for getting that many on there. But not even he has enough pull to do this properly.

Since he can’t, we will. Now, for your enjoyment, is the proper list of the top 10 living pitchers.

1) Tom Seaver
He is way better than Bat-Chucker. Seaver never gave up six runs in the first inning of an All-Star Game. And he is the closest we’ve ever come to a unanimous Hall of Fame selection, so I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

2) Pedro Martinez
Pedro is so good that Yankee fans claim to have fathered him. You’ve heard that "Who’s your daddy?" chant. They wish. And he threw Yankee mascot Don Zimmer to the ground when it just needed to be done!

3) Tom Glavine
You know Glavine’s going to Cooperstown. I figure that one night he woke up in a cold sweat realizing that he was going to have a Braves cap on his Hall of Fame plaque and needed to get the heck out of Atlanta. Oh, it took Tommy some time to adjust to being in the Apple. But he’s back on track and all is good. And if No. 300 comes in a Mets uniform, that Hall plaque sure will look better.

4) Dwight Gooden
Koufax gets a lot of run because he had four nice seasons before his arm fell off. Well Gooden had four amazing seasons before he had kind of an injury. Of sorts. A self-inflicted one, to be sure. Ah, but 1985 was something to behold.

5) Jerry Koosman
Koosman never got the respect he deserved because he was in Tom Seaver’s shadow. Considering we’ve already anointed Seaver the greatest living pitcher, that’s not bad. He even missed out on a Rookie of the Year award — he was 19-12 with a 2.08 ERA for the last-place Mets in 1968 — because some kid catcher from Cincy put together a decent season. Kooze was so good that he won 20 with the Mets in 1976 when M. Donald was actively trying to screw up the team. Then he went and did it again with the Twins in 1979, which was really impressive. Plus, he’s got one of the coolest autographs.

The former Tidewater Tides cap, worn here by both Gregg Jefferies and Nolan Ryan

6) Nolan Ryan
The ESPN anti-Mets bias was clear on this one. The guy was on the All-Century Team, pitched seven no-nos and is well atop the all-time strikeout list. And none of it would have happened had he not had that great foundation of pitching for the Mets in the early years of his career. The Hall of Fame must have known the Yankee-lovers would have screamed had he been given a Mets cap on his plaque in Cooperstown. So they got a little sneaky and gave him an old Tidewater Tides cap. Only real diehards like you and me know this. But see for yourself.

7) John Franco
Johnny’s the greatest left handed reliever, with 424 career saves. Sure, he usually started the ninth by walking the bases loaded, then got a strike out and double play to get the save. But nobody ever said such things had to be pretty.
8) Al Leiter
It’s a sad story. Al started as a Yankee, escaped and got two rings and tossed a no-no before he staked his claim as a Met. Al pitched well when and he apparently moonlighted as our assistant GM and clubhouse lawyer, which is one of the reasons Scott Kazmir is wearing a Tampa Bay uniform. Then, like so many of us, Al suffered a relapse, seducing Carlos Delgado to become a Marlin instead of a Met then finishing his career as a Yankee.
9) Frank "Sweet Music" Viola
The fact that this Hempstead native managed to survive those early 1990s teams with his reputation in tact alone qualifies him. We endured Vince with his fireworks, Sabes with his bleach, Jeff Torborg with his professional wrestler son ...and Frankie still managed to win 20.

10) Jesse Orosco
Jesse’s glove from the end of Game 7 has yet to land, and Orosco is probably still pitching somewhere, getting that one tough out. You don’t appear in 1,252 games — that’s the most ever for a pitcher, folks — unless you’ve got something special. It can be noted that Orosco worked undercover to sabotage the 2003 Yankees, pitching 4.3 innings over 15 games — think about that for a second — and posted a 10.38 ERA before they caught on to him.

Now that’s more like it!

Hmmm. In scanning this list, it appears that each of these players spent some time with the Mets. A coincidence, I assure you. It’s not like I had Doug Sisk and Mel Rojas on there.

Maybe ESPN will approach people who know what they’re talking about before they compile such a list again.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Delmon, the Rocket and what to do with bat-chuckers

OK, let me get this straight.

Devil Rays prospect Delmon Young flicks his bat at an umpire and columnists come out of the woodwork with self-righteous rants about how he should be banished for the rest of the season, if not longer.

But then you have the 2000 World Series when Roger Clemens decided to perk up Game 2 by picking up the shattered barrel of Mike Piazza’s bat, then opted to play a game of “catch the javelin” by hurling it at our man Mike as he ran up the baseline.

Clemens must have been frustrated that Piazza made contact, since Rocket was no doubt aiming at Mikey’s noggin, where he’s thrown oh-so-many times in the past.

And what was Clemens’ penalty for his attemped biopsy? A $50,000 fine and the woosh of a basesball flying past his butt, since Shawn Estes apparently was unable to drill the Rocket when he had the chance to do it and all of New York – at least the part we care about – demanded it..

Then you had he fawning Yankee apologists in the media lauding Clemens’ “intensity” and implying that Piazza was a wuss for not charging the mound.

I assume that Piazza realized he was the best hitter on the team and getting tossed out during the first inning of a World Series game would hurt the Mets. That makes him smart.

But I don’t think anyone can accuse the 20-year-old Young of being smart, at least in this case.

In case you missed the video, Young last week was called out on strikes, then stood frozen in the box, then took his sweet time walking out. We can’t tell if he was mumbling some choice words as he left, but the umpire tossed him before he got too far.

Then, with Young off camera, you see a bat magically come flying in from the side, striking the umpire on the chest. It doesn’t look like the bat was thrown especially hard, though it was hard enough to fly at least 10 feet and hit someone near the shoulder.

The best part is the utter non-reaction from the other team’s catcher. The bat caught his eye, and you see him follow its flight. Then he took off his mask, turned and walked to the mound like nothing happened.

Young, the Devil Rays’ top prospect, was suspended indefinitely and awaits a formal punishment.

If he’s expecting the love tap that Clemens got, he’s mistaken. For one thing, he bonked an umpire, an authority figure, and not another player.

But most importantly, Clemens was a Yankee and there are different rules for them.

You think I’m kidding? Jason Giambi pretty much admits to being juiced in leaked grand jury testimony. Then Gary Sheffield allegedly admits to being stupid – technically, not realizing he was taking ‘roids.

And the response from Major League Baseball? (Cue the chirping crickets.)

But allegations are made in a book about Barry Bonds, who has the misfortune of playing for the Giants, and we have a former U.S. senator heading an investigation.

So Delmon can expect to be sent to time out for a good long stretch.

Of course, the best punishment might be to send him to the majors. Remember, he plays for the Devil Rays. Promote him and he’ll be playing for a horrible team in a dreadful stadium in butt-ugly uniforms.

If that doesn’t make suck out his will to live and make him beg for forgiveness, nothing will.