Tuesday, August 29, 2006

But what does Chris Everett think?

Before you start this, you need to know that Jackie Robinson is one of my heroes.

I think he’s one of the most important people of the 20th century. I think he’s ability to withstand all that abuse and still hold his head high and get the job done should be an inspiration to us all.

I think the mandate that his No. 42 be retired by every team was one of the few great things Bud Selig has done as commissioner. And that uniform patch worn by every player in 1997 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier was a stroke of genius.

And I’d be proud if the Mets honored Jackie by naming their new stadium after him.

But I don’t want them to do it because some tennis player and New York Times columnist demand it.

In case you missed it, the USTA renamed the tennis complex across the street from Shea after Billie Jean King. It was a worthy honor to a pioneer.

Then, according to the New York Post, Billie got loose with these comments:

"How about the future stadium down the street? I think Jackie Robinson. I think so. I certainly hope Jackie Robinson, I hope the Mets do the right thing, that's a no-brainer, too.”

I hope the Mets do the right thing? We tend to not ask tennis players what the “right thing” is for baseball. But setting aside the source, is it the right thing?

Let’s break this down:

Pro: It would be a wonderful honor for Jackie, a true American hero.

Con: You can’t do enough to honor Robinson. But right now, the official Major League Baseball tribute is to figuratively hang No. 42 on the wall in every stadium. He’s the only player to receive that honor, and probably the only one ever. That’s a pretty important tribute.

Pro: Jackie played in New York.

Con: But not for the Mets. He, of course, played for the Dodgers in Brooklyn, not Queens. Teams tend not extend tremendous honors to other teams’ players.

Pro: The Mets have become the de facto holders of the Robinson legacy. The national ceremony on the 50th anniversary was at Shea.

Con: It was at Shea, but the game was against the Dodgers. And we wore those goofy white caps.

Pro: The Wilpons, who own the Mets, seem to want to embrace the whole Dodger legacy thing. The new stadium has some similarities to Ebbets Field. And the Mets seem to have adopted the scruffy, “Dem Bums” persona that was certainly more like the Dodgers than the also-departed Giants.

Con: Screw the Dodgers. The team chased the greenbacks all the way across the country, inflicting an immeasurable amount of pain on New Yorkers who deserved so much better. And after 44 years, the Mets are well on our way to building our own legacy.

Pro: It would be the politically correct thing to do.

Con: It would be the politically correct thing to do. Hey, why are the Mets getting beat up like this? The Yankees are building a new stadium and I don’t hear any cranky tennis players tossing “It’s the right thing to do” in their direction.

Truth be told, the Yankees record in racial areas is pretty dismal. Jackie broke the barrier in 1947, followed shortly by Larry Doby, who deserves some respect as well.

But it took the Yankees seven years to add Elston Howard to their roster, and that was only after people picketed outside the stadium and George Weis traded away every black minor-leaguer whose stats made it obvious that they belonged in the big leagues. Shameful. The only thing keeping the Yankees from total disgrace is the fact that it took the Red Sox even longer to add a black player.

Howard’s promotion came off looking like the Yankees’ hand was forced.

And sadly, now that’s how it will appear if the Mets take this step. The moment’s been tainted.

If the team takes the speculated $10 million from some corporation for naming rights, it will be painted as greedy despite the fact that every new yard built since Oriole Park at Camden Yards has held a corporate moniker – and many built before Camden Yards have since sold their names. I’m not saying I like it, but it’s the reality. If you want stuff like Barry Zito under your Christmas tree this off season, you can’t begrudge the team for trying to do things that generate money without raising ticket prices even higher.

And if the Mets do something nice, like add a statue of Robinson, every columnist will break out with lines reading how it is a lesser tribute because the team took the money for the naming rights.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Letting go is hard

My oldest is heading off the high school in a couple weeks, and we’re having some trouble grappling with the fact that he’s not a little kid any more.

That’s not entirely accurate. I’m having some trouble letting go. He’s pretty happy with it.

We had one of those big "let go" moments this weekend. He and two of his buds are big into computer games, and wanted to participate in an all-nighter at a local computer place. It’s kind of like an arcade for the PC generation.

I was horrified at the idea. This wasn’t a church lock-in — which I usually chaperone — or spending the night with a friend’s family, which they seem to do a couple times a month when school isn’t in session.

But this would be at a nearby business that I knew nothing about and with people I don't know. I trust my son, but he’s not exactly street smart.

He calls the computer friends his "peeps," we joked that when we were his age such people were called "geeks." We merged them to become "geeps."

My wife insists that we need to start loosening the parental grip. But I really wasn’t thrilled with the idea of this computer place. But I said I’d check it out, and if the place met a pretty rigid set of guidelines, I’d suppose he’d be able to go.

Of course, my plan was to never get over there in hopes that he’s forget about the whole thing. That didn’t work. His reminders came as frequently as his trips to raid the fridge.

So after running out of excuses, he and I headed down the gaming place. My disqualifiers were the presence of anyone with head-to-toe tattoos or piercings in untraditional places.

My son rolled his eyes — which happens a lot, accompanied by a sigh or head-shaking — saying that the geeps just don’t look like that.

Then I dropped my ace-in-the-hole: No posters advertising overly violent games. Anything messier than "Frogger" or "MLB SlugFest" and we were out of there! This led to much protesting, since all their games appear to includes various creatures pounding or blasting each other.

We walked in and saw what looked like a larger version of someone’s basement. Well-lit, each side of the room was lined with about 10 computer monitors, with colorfully painted computer towers mounted on shelves above.

The middle of the room had a trio of huge televisions facing out to form a triangle, each hooked up to an X-Box.

There was a guy behind the counter who looked to be 25 or so with close-cropped hair and no visible tattoos or piercings. He was surrounded by piles of PlayStations needing repair and boxes of Combos, Skittles and other snacks for sale.

I asked assorted questions about safety and what exactly goes on there, each question embarrassing my son more than the previous one.

The guy, who was the owner, didn’t mind. I suspect I wasn’t the first gamers’ "old man" to come in and check the place out.

He was the owner, and explained that groups of geeps come in and play the games, which he controls from a mainframe. He had all the top PC games.

"Occasionally I’ll announce that everybody has to play the same game for a while so they all interact a little," he said.

Looking around at the geeps already there, I’d say no female — other than a mom — has never entered the place. I suggested that I could start a riot with a Kirk vs Picard debate, but my wife pointed out that these kids probably have never seen Star Trek.

It all seemed pretty nice. I was running out of reasons to object, even pretending I didn’t see the "Medal of Honor" game poster on a back wall.

I reluctantly granted permission — on the condition that I could check in every hour on the hour. We negotiated this down to I could peek in once as long as I didn’t identify myself as his father. And we worked out a code so he could call on a cell phone to pick picked up should things go bad, and not have to say uncool words like, "Dad, please come and get me."

And this afternoon I dropped him off at his buddy’s house and watched him walk off with a fridge pack of Mountain Dew under one arm and two bags of snacks under the other.

I rolled down the window and called him back to the car once to remind him to be careful and told him I loved him.

This letting go stuff is hard.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Don't let Yankee-hacks ruin your morning

I was having a nice little morning. Really.

I was able to finish a big story, people in the newsroom were digging the chocolate chip cookies I baked, and it’s been a week since there has been any sign of the woodchuck that wants to burrow under my sun room.

And that’s not even counting the glorious news out of Shea about Tom Glavine’s shoulder, Shawn Green’s arrival, and the Carloses going deep early and often against the Cards on Tuesday night.

Then I started scanning one of my favorite blogs — Mikes's Mets — and he called attention to the handiwork of two vile Yankee-hacks

I expect Bob Klapisch to rip on the Mets. That’s just what he does. He’s a one-trick pony. But this column by Mike McGann posted on NY Baseball Central is completely under my skin, and if I can’t vent about it somewhere I might explode.

You can read it in its original context here.

In a nutshell, McGann says we had no business celebrating the 1986 championship Saturday night.

I must rebut on a point-by-point basis.

"So what was that celebration about, anyway?"

I suppose it was inevitable that the Mets would go nuts over the 20th anniversary of winning the World Series. As you all remember, the Yankees held a nearly week-long celebration of the 1977 World Series title by being kind enough not to win, or even play in, that year’s series — but managed to win ’96, ’98, ’99, 2000 and lost in 2001.

---- First of all, there was nothing kind about 1997. They got spanked by the Indians in the Division Series. And let’s be honest, the 1996 and 1999 championships were against the Braves, so they barely count, and the 1998 series was against the Padres, who were just happy to be there. The only one the Skanks actually earned was the one against the Mets, and that’s because Timo Perez is stupid.

"In other words, if the Yankees celebrated anniversaries of world titles, they’d pretty much be celebrating every year. As old George Steinbrenner and previous Yankee owners figured out long ago, the best way to celebrate greatness is to win even more.

The Mets have just two titles in 44 seasons (which remains better than Houston, which has none) but the Yankees have won four titles since the Mets dominated that 1986 season. So, what, exactly, are the Mets celebrating? Futility?

----Idiot. OK, that's a little harsh. But this gets my goat! The two titles are better than the Astros, but also better than the Angels, Giants, Cubs, White Sox, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Rangers, Cubs, Red Sox, Brewers, Indians, Braves, Phillies, Devil Rays, Padres, Ex-Nats and Royals had during that same period. It’s also the same number as the Tigers, Marlins, Blue Jays, Pirates and Twins. In fact, the only teams to win more since 1962 are the Dodgers (four), Athletics (four), Cardinals (three), Reds (three), Orioles (three) and the team with the unlimited budget.

Certainly not history, as they’ve done away with Old Timers Day, Banner Day and any number of formerly annual events that meant a great deal to the fans – and for the worst of reasons: dollars. Sure, that doesn’t make them much different than other teams, but it doesn’t really play well into the whole theme of love and respect of the past.

Maybe it just seems, well, a bit unseemly, to me. Like an elaborate touchdown celebration — doesn’t it always seem classier when the running back just flips the ball to the official and acts like he scores TDs all the time? Worse, this whole celebration smacks of a way to put fannies in the seats against a Rockies’ team that didn’t figure to be much of a draw.

---- Hold on! Is he saying the Yankees are like a classy running back handing the ball to the referee? Has he ever been to Yankee Stadium? Just because you use a fancy font each of the 100 times you mention the 26 championships does not mean you are classy. The Skanks are the most arrogant, in-your-face team in sports. The stinking Nebraska Cornhuskers aspire to be as in-your-face as the Yankees.

And the most incredible part is that they’ll sit there and tell you how classy they are as they get in your face. As I posted once on www.baseballtruth.com, look at their stinking spring training site. Legends Field? Real legends don’t go around calling themselves that. You just know. If you have to say "Hi, I’m a legend," then you are not one.

And since I’m on a rant here, which legends, exactly ever set foot in that stadium? Alvaro Espinosa?

"Maybe worse, has been the hype building up to this weekend. If you caught Mets Weakly this past week, you saw SNY interview a bunch of guys about the 1986 Mets who weren’t covering baseball in 1986, offering their personal insight about that team and its personalities.

----So the Mets television network ran features about the Mets championship team the week of the celebration? What was it supposed to run, "Three's Company" reruns?

"Couldn’t they dig up some of the folks who were covering the team back in those days? Hell, I wouldn’t have even picked me, as I was only a backup writer and covered a limited number of games that season — but I can rattle off a half-dozen names of people who were with me in that locker room — and were on the road with that team.

Those would have been some interesting and wild stories, I can tell you that. I’m not a giant Marty Noble fan, as most folks know, but he was there and could have at least talked as an eyewitness about some of the more complicated interpersonal relationships on that team. An even better option would have been Howie Rose, who worked the room as a radio reporter for WHN.

Instead, we got a lot of second-hand stuff, some reasonably well-informed, granted, like the comments of Bryan Hoch, while others were just plain embarrassing and ill-informed. In some of the cases, they would have been better off randomly stopping people on the streets and asking their opinions — which they also did.

It’s too bad, too, because it’s a good tale to tell, if only they could have found someone with first-hand knowledge.

It was a complicated team, on and off the field. Lenny Dykstra really was a jerk, while Wally Backman only appeared to be — off the field, he was a straight shooter but actually, a pretty nice guy.

----- This is reporter shorthand for "Lenny wouldn’t talk to me, but Backman did after I hung around his locker for a week."

But don’t go away thinking it was a lovefest in that room — there were guys who hated each other on that team, and did little to hide it. And some guys were obsessed with hand-held computer golf — blowing off interviews to get a few holes in after games.

----- Sadly, for a lot of reporters, it’s all about them. "These guys wouldn’t talk to us, so therefore they are a bunch of jerks." Why would anyone associated with the Mets give folks like Klapisch or Verducci the time of day?

It was a volatile mix, but one that held together as long as the team won, plus or minus a fistfight or two.

And don’t think for moment, ownership wasn’t aware of it, and worried. The much calmer Kevin McReynolds showed up the next season as part of a "kinder and gentler" Mets movement that took them from World Champs to 108 losses in just seven seasons.

----- Seven seasons is a long time in baseball. Entire rosters often turn over in that time.

"This was a team intensely disliked around the league — one that was involved in four brawls on the field and more off it, sometimes with each other, sometimes, like in Houston, with off-duty cops.

------ Yankees never run into trouble with cops. Except for Billy Martin. Over and over. Heck, Yankees relief pitchers stomp on Red Sox grounds crew members with their spikes, and Yankee-apologist Verducci justifies it by condescendingly calling the grounds crew members "dirt tenders" and saying they had no right to cheer for the team that employed them.

So, in some ways, it’s kind of an insult to make it seem like some magical journey. The ’86 Mets were the GasHouse Gang of ‘80s — much like the Oakland A’s were in the 1970s — and had more in common with a biker gang than St. Francis of Assisi.

------ Maybe I’m wrong, but in the entire celebration was there even one reference to the 1986 team being a bunch of choir boys?

Maybe the most honest moment of the whole evening took place during the game when Darryl Strawberry was on SNY with Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. Cohen guided Strawberry through an honest and revealing interview that shows how much Straw has evolved. He admitted that the guys on the team "were pond scum" and allowed that virtually all of the nasty things that have been written about that team were largely true.

----- Strawberry has evolved? Did that happen in prison or when he was a Yankee. This is a guy who until a couple days before the event was holding out for more cash.

It was another highlight for Cohen who continues to be the single best thing about SNY, a guy who never gives into the sycophant tendencies of the rest of the network’s professional voices.

------ No Yankee fan can dare call another team’s announcers sycophants for as long as Michael Kay draws a paycheck. And that’s not even counting the Francessa types who don’t even work for the team.

Darling and Hernandez have been erratic at times, although generally good. But it can be almost physically painful to listen to any other show on the network, between smarmy kiss-ups, all too frequent factual errors and technical glitches.

------ Compared to the YES Network, the bastion of good taste and fine programming.

The Mets’ decision to sign Preston Wilson tells you two things: first, that his knees really are shot, as has been wildly rumored, and second, there may be some heat to the Shawn Green rumors.

While it make sense from some standpoints, the long-term on the deal is a bit scary. And it remains to be seen whether Green is a New York kind of player. Clearly, his skills have diminished, but he would benefit from playing in a stronger lineup.

It seems like an expensive crap shoot from here.

----- First, the Mets did not sign Preston Wilson, but I'll assume that was a typo.

And no, siging a 41-year-old picher with a bad back and an even worse attitude to a huge contract is an expensive crapshoot. Green is insurance.

Wow, dude threw everything in there except for the Kazmir trade.

This guy just doesn’t get it. That 1986 season was magical for us. The post-season gave us several moments that will be discussed for as long as World Series moments are discussed. Quick, tell me a memorable play from any of those late 1990s Yankees series games. Of course you can’t.

I don’t care if the guys were a rough and tumble group. I want them to play baseball, not come over to my house for a barbecue. Outsized characters are fun to watch.

I’ll never forget that feeling when Jesse jumped and threw his glove, or when Ray Knight jumped on home plate. It made up for the down years in the late 1970s, the donkey mascot — but not quite the trade of Seaver, some wounds never quite heal.

Through dominance in the regular season and a little amazin’ magic in the postseason, we were on top of the baseball world for a year. And twenty years later, it’s still something to celebrate.

And then you have this crap from Klapisch. I’ll offer just a snippet:

But if Glavine needs the kind of surgery that Cone ultimately required, his season is history. And maybe the Mets' postseason hopes head for the ash-heap, too.

It's hard to imagine the Mets surviving Glavine's absence in October, not with Pedro Martinez having turned into a six-inning pitcher (when he's not on the DL). Losing Glavine wouldn't just decimate the rotation, it would puncture the Mets' psychologically, too.

He's classy, trustworthy, as stand-up as Paul Lo Duca is sleazy. The parallel between Glavine and the Yankees-era Cone is so strong, the repeat of history is almost too surreal to believe.

---- One could point out that the Yankees have an entire rotation of six-inning pitchers, except for Carl Pavano, who doesn’t pitch at all.

But Paul LoDuca is sleazy? Are you kidding me. The Yankees have players linked to the steroids scandal -- on-field cheating -- and I don’t ever once recall seeing Klapisch call them sleazy.

LoDuca owns races horses. He bets on them legally. He has some marital issues, but many people do. At least he didn’t swap wives like two Yankees did in the 1970s. That was sleazy.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A night with the Evil Empire

Distraught that I couldn’t attend – or even watch – the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1986 champions, I decided to pack up the kids and go see the Evil Empire at a different ball game.

No, not the Red Sox tanking against the Yankees. I mean the real Evil Empire. Our local team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, held “Star Wars” night at the ballpark.

The Midwest League affiliate of the Tigers promised plenty of people walking around in quality costumes and a showing of the movie on the scoreboard after the game. I pulled my classic Darth Maul T-shirt out of the reaches of the closet, much to the embarrassment of my 14-year-old.

Yes, I fall squarely into the Star Wars camp when the Trek vs Wars debates break out.

Now I’ve often said that one of the joys of the minor leagues is that games are so affordable that people can bring the whole family. And the downside is that people actually do bring the whole family.

My kids are trained properly. They know, for instance, not to yell “balk” when the pitcher fakes a pickoff throw to second.

But other kids aren’t as easy to deal with. A boy in front of me decided to use his gift shop mini-bat as a light saber the whole night, so I spent half the night dodging it. But that wasn’t as bad as when he learned he could stick the bat into his foamy finger to lift it even higher, blocking my view of the mound.

Oh, what I wouldn’t have given to have those blue lightening things that shoot out of the Emperor’s fingers.

The Whitecaps do a good job with their promotions, so there were plenty of Star Wars activities.

Apparently there is some club, The Midwest Garrison, of people from Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, who like to dress up like Stormtroopers and other characters and offer themselves to charities.

I’d say that’s goofy, but I suspect they’d see my jersey collection and think the same thing. And their costumes were never worn by Mel Rojas.

They were posing with people who contributed a couple bucks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a worthy cause to be sure.

So when it came time for the ceremonial first pitch, a whole squadron of Stormtroopers escorted Darth Jeter, er, Vader, on to the field for the official duties.

The Stormtroopers got involved in all the between-inning activities, too. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the warriors of the Empire performing the “Chicken Dance” on the dugout roof.

The game was a fine pitchers’ duel, with the Lansing Lugnuts outlasting the Caps 3-0. Cameron Maybin, one of the Tigers’ top prospects, is hitting .324 but did nothing at the plate. However, he put on a clinic in centerfield.

A fireworks show followed the game, then fans were invited to come out into the middle of leftfield to watch the movie.

I tried explaining to the kids that this was like a drive-in movie used to be like, and offered tales from my youth of getting big bags of White Castles and parking on the street alongside the All-Weather Drive-in Copaigue to watch the movies – but not hear them especially well.

It was well after midnight when the Death Star met its end, with the nine-year-old barely awake and a good time had by all.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Is Shea a tough place to play?

Looks like a nice place to me.

The congressional elections aren’t to far off, so that means we get subjected to all kinds of polls. Apparently Sports Illustrated decided to do some polling of its own, asking 415 players what is the toughest stadium to play as a visiting player.

Some of places make sense, some don’t. And of course we have to deal with the typical SI Yankee bias. Here’s the list and some choice comments.

10) Shea Stadium: We knew this was coming. Every couple of days Yankee-lovin’ Sports Illustrated remembers that it hasn’t trashed the Mets and runs something goofy like this: "Did John Rocker have a vote in this survey? The constant roar from airplanes heading in and out of LaGuardia can be a distraction, as can the baseball-crazed fans who have been waiting 20 years for another World Series winner."

First of all, can we stop with the Rocker references? We are so over that. He’s been suspended, he apologized, he started sucking rocks in the majors, minors and independent leagues. Let it go.

As for the rest, sure the airplanes are loud and so are the fans. You got a problem with that?

9) Dolphins Stadium: The Marlins are so desperate to get their own yard that they’ve apparently started paying players to say bad things about they one they rent now. It’s not that bad. There are gripes about the way they’re treated by the guy who owns the stadium, but those shouldn’t affect the players. I’ve actually been in the dugout and clubhouse here, and it seemed kind of nice.

8) U.S. Cellular Field: No doubt about that. Shirtless, tattooed and somewhat drunk South Siders have been known to run out of the stands and attack first-base coaches. But the biggest fear is that some poor fan will get dizzy in the highest reaches of the park’s legendary steep upper deck -- you practically need seatbelts -- tumble out, pick up speed falling past the three -- yes, three! -- levels of luxury boxes and land right on top of a poor rightfielder.

7) AT&T Park: I think confusion is the issue here. They’ve changed the name of the place so many times -- this is the third one in six years -- that they must have to constantly replace the directional signs. And given the speed DOT crews seem to work, they’re probably two name changes behind, making it hard for bus drivers to get to the yard. That’s not counting the confusion in the stands, where they actually cheer Barry Bonds.

6) Metrodome: Can’t argue with this one. Loud, ugly and charmless -- and those are just the Twins uniforms. They stadium’s no treat, either.

5) McAfee Coliseum: It’s a football stadium, and a bad one at that. But it so favors football that I think they actually schedule Raiders games right in the middle of Athletics games. Sure, there’s so much downtime in a football game that it doesn’t affect the A’s much. The problem is that players have a hard time getting back into the dugout because they have to pass through all the glad-handers and hangers-on that fill the sidelines of any given NFL game. Seriously, who are all those people? You don’t see baseball filling the foul areas with assorted friends of the owners, cheerleaders and whomever could pretend to be in the media and wrangle a credential. And I think the head coach can wear a headset without requiring an employee whose sole job is to keep track of the wire.

4) Citizens Bank Park: No freaking kidding. I think the Mets games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday tell us all we need to know about this horror show. Not that it stopped Jose Reyes. Last year, at this very park, I was openly mocked for voting for Jose on my All-Star ballot. Guess he showed them!

3) Wrigley Field: It must be tough to play there because their players occasionally resort to cheating, corked bats and all. And it’s tough one the fans. I thought one died right in front of me. True story.

2) Fenway: SI’s explanation: "The Red Sox have the best home record (38-18) in the majors this season and have won at least 50 games at home in each of the last three years." Could this be because the team has good players?

1) Yankee Stadium: Here’s what SI says: Among the 415 current major league players surveyed, 83 (21.2 percent) voted Yankee Stadium as the most difficult place to play as a visiting player. The numbers back them up: Since Joe Torre took over as manager in 1996 through 2005, the Yankees are 513-292 (.805) at home in the Bronx, where the fans are close to the field and into the action."
Just Yankee fans being Yankee fans.

Where to start? Forget for a second the notion that when you spend nearly twice as much as everyone else in the league, you’d darn well better be winning a lot of games. That says nothing about the stadium itself.

But I won’t deny that it’s tough for a visiting player.

First, you have to walk through all kinds of vermin getting to the field. Oh, the rats are nasty, too, but I was talking about the fans.

What’s this "close to the action" stuff? That space between home plate and the backstop is so huge it has three Electoral votes. (All of them cast for Jeter in every election, of course) The seats in left are separated from the field by the walkway to The Shine To Over-rated Yankees Of The Past. There’s even enough room there for a walkway and the line of retired numbers. And it’s a long walk because the Skanks retire so many. You know they’re just waiting for Tanyon Sturtze to retire so they can hand ole No. 56 out there with the Scooter and Reggie.

I suppose the players are closer to Yankee fans than anybody in their right mind would want to be without disinfectant. But they’re no closer than in any other yard.

By the way, Alex Rodriguez says the place is the hardest place for home players, too. It’s not his fault, he swears.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Who else won't be at the reunion?

This Saturday is the big celebration at Shea of the glorious 1986 champions. A big reunion was planned, and potentially it was a very cool march down memory lane. But as players start dropping like flies, I’m starting to wonder who exactly is going to show up to this thing.

As my wife said, Mookie could have that plate of cocktail wieners at the reception all to himself.

Here’s the list of players and other folks who have either announced they’re not showing up at Shea, or the excuses I expect them to use by the end of the week.

Darryl Strawberry: Straw already said he’s not coming. He invented some excuse about being bitter about the Mets not paying some of his deferred salary to pay off tax issues. We know the truth. Darryl’s gone Yankee. And once you’ve gone Yankee, you don’t come back. He even appeared an at Old-Timer’s Day over there. There’s still some prodigal son-like hope for him. But he’s been brainwashed, caring more about the 26 championships the Yankees talk about seemingly between every break in the action than the one he won with us in 1986.

Dwight Gooden: Well, we know that Doc is a guest at the hotel with the striped shadows down there in Florida. At least his orange jumpsuit is kind of like the bating practice jersey we used to wear.

Howard Johnson: HoJo just served a 10-game suspension as the Tides hitting coach for leaving the team without permission. Do you really think he’s going to risk leaving the team again?

Randy Niemann: Niemann is the pitching coach for the Tides. After seeing what happened to HoJo -- and having much less fan appeal -- Niemann isn’t leaving the stadium to sleep, much less head to New York.

Lee Mazzilli: Lee can’t come because he’s Joe Torre’s bench coach. Apparently Joe can’t find anyone else to do those essential tasks delegated to bench coaches, like taping the lineup card to the dugout wall. Seriously, what do these guys do? It can’t be that hard. After all, Don Zimmer held the job for years.

Rick Anderson: He was on the roster for part of the year, but not for the post-season. Now he’s the pitching coach for the Minnesota Twins. I suspect he’s already in hot water for allowing stud rookie Francisco Liriano’s arm to practically fall off this past week. He won’t risk straying far from the Metrodome, lest he come back and find his 1986 World Series ring and other possessions in a cardboard box on the front step.

Gary Carter: Carter is managing the St. Lucie Mets as we speak. He’s not shy about saying he should be managing the Mets because he guided a short-season rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League to the championship. I don't think Willie wants Kid anywhere near Shea, at least not without a food-tester to make sure Carter doesn’t, ahem, create at opening at the major-league level.

Doug Sisk: We didn’t invite Doug Sisk. We’re trying to purge Doug Sisk from all team records.

John Gibbons: Gibbons is managing the Toronto Blue Jays, where his assigned task is keeping the Yankees out of the playoffs. And not doing a very good job, I might add.

Roger McDowell: The class clown of the 1986 champs is another employee on special assignment. The Braves think he is their pitching coach. We know he’s on our payroll, driving Atlanta’s pitching staff right into the ground.

Kevin Mitchell: The last thing we heard about Mitchell and the Mets is that he was freaking out teammates and threatening to behead cats. Can you imagine what would happen if he showed up at the reunion? Cat Fanciers, Garfield fanatics, little girls with Hello Kitty! T-shirts, Kit Kat candy eaters -- they’d all be protesting and boycotting.

Davey Johnson: Davey, our former manager, now works as a consultant for the Nationals, where he is undermining Frank Robinson so he can return to managing.

Randy Myers: You just know that with all the unrest in the world, Myers is working in some jungle as a mercenary. Even if we tracked him down, getting him through airport security at LaGuardia would be a challenge.

Jesse Orosco: Orosco, the major-league leader in games pitched, is still playing somewhere. I’m convinced.

Ed Hearn: On a serious note, Hearn was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis in 1991, and he has suffered from poor health ever since. He was treated for cancer twice, underwent three kidney transplants, and requires mechanical assistance to breathe. His condition forces him to take more than fifty types of medication on a daily basis. Let’s pray for this guy to recover!

Lenny Dykstra: “Nails” wasn’t the sharpest guy in the world, and there are those rumors that he kind of got involved with steroids while playing for the Phillies. He’s probably going to confuse John Mitchell, the pitcher, with George Mitchell, who is leading the steroids investigation for MLB, and stay far away, lest he have to answer some questions.

Wally Backman: Poor Wally. That thing with the Diamondbacks was kind of sad. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s a recluse, but I hope he shows up.

Sid Fernandez: “El Sid” moved back to his native Hawaii and was hired as an cutive assistant to Mayor of Hawaii Jeremy Harris. Allegedly his job assignment was to find sponsors and users for sporting facilities on Oahu. Truth is that with Jack Lord dead, the government needed someone to take over Five-0, but with a lower profile. That does, however, explain why “Book ‘em Mookie!” became an island catch phrase. With Wo Fat on the loose again, I don’t think Sid’s going to be able to shake free.

Bob Ojeda: Last I heard, Bob stormed away from being the pitching coach of the Binghamton Mets after Rick Peterson got the major-league job. Allegedly he was muttering something about being able to fix Victor Zambrano is just five minutes!. Now he’s teamed up with Rich Gedman to be pitching coach for the Can-Am League’s Worchester Tornadoes.

Ray Knight: Knight’s post-Mets career is best remembered for serving as a caddy for his wife, pro golfer Nancy Lopez. It’s well-known around the Mets that Tom Glavine likes to hit the links. Knight probably fears that he’ll be forced to carry Tommy’s clubs, a job formerly held by Jose Offerman. That’s the only reason I can think of why Offerman was on last year’s team.

Tim Teufel: Backman’s platoon partner was managing the St. Luice Mets until Gary Carter decided he needed a promotion. Now Teufel’s “taking a year off.” Think he’s bitter?

Rafael Santana: Raffy is ticked off because every time some loudmouth columnist says a team needs a great shortstop to win, someone always says “Well, the Mets won with Rafael Santana.” I’d still take him over Derek F. Jeter.

Danny Heep: Since 1998, Heep has been head coach for the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. They claim to be a Catholic school, but that kind of sounds like a cult to me.

Bud Harrelson: Bud is co-owner and third base coach for the Long Island Ducks. I’m not saying it’s a small operation, but he also drags the infield, works in the parking lot -- which is a lot like being third base coach -- and sells soft-serve ice cream in little plastic Ducks helmets. He’d come to the reunion, but the Duck would be in chaos.

Rick Aguilera: Rick ended his playing days and went on tour with is daughter Christina, where he supervises the roadie that runs on stage to replace her body piercings when one shakes loose during a particularly hot move.

Keith Hernandez: Mex, of course, is a star of the Mets television broadcasts. But we know what happened in San Diego. Rumors are that Keith scanned the guest list, saw Terry Leach on there and said “Terry’s a girl’s name and they don’t belong in the dugout.” and decided he’s not coming.

Ron Darling: Darling shares the booth with Keith Hernandez. But since Keith’s not going to come down the field, that leaves Ron free to come down and share in the festivities with Mookie Wilson.

So my wife is incorrect. Mookie won’t have the cocktail franks to himself after all.

In other words:

I suspect Bob Sikes has a much better handle at who won't be at the reunion. His always excellent blog is www.gettingpaidtowatch.com

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Cut to the Chase: When should we cheer the opposition?

A friend who is a Phillies fan gave me grief last week because he didn’t think the Mets fans gave Chase Utley enough love after his 35-game hitting streak came to a halt at Shea last week.

Now, ignore the irony of a Phillies fan giving anyone grief about booing, since the City of Brotherly Love is legendary for it’s ability to jeer.

But I’ve had this question rumbling around in the back of my head since then. How exactly is one supposed to act when a potentially historic feat is to be inflicted by the visiting team upon the home team?

And is merely extending a hitting streak that still falls way short of the record an historic feat worthy of cheers and respect?

We were surprised by the way Tigers fans reacted at the Baseballtruth.com Executive Game III when Bat-chucker was going after win No. 300. Many fans were rooting against the win, and there were even a fair amount of signs telling Clemens he’d have to get that win elsewhere.

We were stunned. You know how I feel about the Yankees. But we were pulling for Clemens that day because as fans, we wanted to witness history.

Clemens, of course, doesn’t work past the sixth inning and left a nice lead in the hands of his bullpen and some of the stone gloves in the Yankee infield.

The Comerica faithful cheeed when the Tigers tied the game after Clemens departed. What exactly are they cheering, Will wondered, that they didn’t get to see history?

Tom Seaver was wildly cheered in his bid for No. 300 at Yankee Stadium, but we know that’s a different case because Mets fans took over the pit in the Bronx for one glorious afternoon.

If John Smoltz takes a no-hitter into the ninth at Shea, are we supposed to root for him to shame us or cheer for Carlos Delgado to break it up? With a 12-game lead we can afford to drop a game or two, but being on the losing end of a no-no is embarrassing. Especially, I might add, when the people doing the hurling are the likes of Ed Halicki and that Astro -- was it Jeff Juden? -- who nailed us in the lowly 90s.

What about an individual achievement that might or might not affect the outcome, like a milestone home run? If McGwire had launched No. 62 against the Mets, would we have cheered? If we were winning the game 5-0, I suppose so. If Mac’s blast produced the tying or go-ahead run, probably not.

Which brings us back to Chase.

A hitting-streak is an individual achievement that’s more hype than substance. It’s kind of like hitting for the cycle. If you get a single, double, triple and homer in a game, SportsCenter goes nuts and you get mentioned in every paper the next day. But if you had two doubles, a triple and a homer, you’ve had a better game but wouldn’t get as much attention.

As for Chase, I can’t blame the Shea faithful. He’s been a Mets-killer for the past two years. But I suspect the reaction might have been a little different had he been in the mid-40s instead of the mid-50s.

Personally, I was pulling for the guy. The hit wouldn’t have hurt us, and wiping a Yankee out of the record books is OK with me.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A peek into the putting world

My experience with golf is limited to courses with little windmills, fiberglass dinosaurs and loop-the-loop obstacles.

I’m pretty good at it, too. Much better than my two disastrous attempts on a driving range, where I couldn’t convert a softball swing to a golf swing. Ugly would be a kind word. Hazardous to others might be more accurate.

Which made me a good person to help cover the Buick Open when it rolled through the Flint area each August when I worked for the paper there. I wouldn’t cover the actual tournament, mind you. We had qualified sportswriters for that, people who could tell a driver from a four-iron.

No, my job was to find the stories that happen in and around the tournament. It was fun, because I could observe the goings-on in a detached manner.

The event played out this weekend in Grand Blanc, Mich. Sadly, it’s pronounced "grand blank" and not "grahnd blahnk" and we’d enjoy hearing the guys on SportsCenter screw it up. Tiger Woods won it for the second time.

I always enjoyed these assignments because they were a welcome break from covering schools and a peek into a different world.

Personally, I have no idea why or how someone would watch a golf tournament. I noticed some people would spend their time at one hole and watch everyone pass through while others would follow one group of golfers around the course. Seemed to me like you would miss a lot of the action either way.

I also never knew what or when to cheer. I remember one guy getting really excited yelling "Go ball!" after putts. I realize that him yelling at the ball has the exact same effect as me yelling "Go Carlos!" to Mr. Beltran -- none whatsoever -- but at least I’m cheering for a person and not an object.

So I would look for something fun or topical, hopefully something that hadn’t been done a hundred times before. One time I was a marshal for a day, flashing one of those "Quiet please!" signs. Another time I wrote about the people who try to get autographs and what the golfers thought about them.

I tried to spend as little time as possible in the press tent, which just isn’t a very fun place.

It’s divided into two sections. One has rows of tables for reporters to set up their computers, all facing a massive, hand-painted leaderboard that was meticulously updated throughout the day. It was a thing of beauty.

The tent was populated by all sorts of media types from around the world. But the curmudgeons would hold court.

Every sports section has the old-timer columnist who thinks the world went to hell around the time typewriters went electric. The Buick Open draws people from the papers all over, too, so you have are a bunch of curmudgeons sitting together.

Before long, a sort of a curmudgeon competition would break out, starting with rants about how the wussy golfers of today can’t compare to the real men of links past. There would be stories of how Arnold Palmer would march up to the 18th green with both wrists broken, gripping the putter in his teeth and still making par.

This would go on until they restocked the huge bowls of pretzels and potato chips, and the conversation would change to how press tent food in the old days was so much better.

This would be disrupted by golfers completing their rounds and stopping into the second part of the tent for a group press conference. There was a small riser with two chairs in front of one of those backdrops with the PGA and Buick Open logos.

The golfer would sit down with a PGA spokesman, who’d ask some basic questions to get things started. Then the assembled media would pitch in.

There are only a handful of types of questions — and questioners.

1) Lazy Guy: "Nick, take us through your round today."

This is not an actual question, but a demand. And a weak one at that. Golfers tended to go into a catatonic stare and discuss one hole or another.

2) Golf guy: He would ask an endless and complicated question intended not to get an answer -- because no answer was actually possible -- but impress both the golfer and other reporters that he actually knew something about golf. Except that instead of impressing the rest of the press corps, there would be much eye-rolling and head-shaking.

3) Television Guy: TV Guy would typically ask a question that has already been asked -- or at least a slight variation -- but with his cameraman filming him asking it. This also would produce much eye-rolling and head-shaking from the print contingent.

There were people asking some decent questions, too, but they were out-numbered.

I was in kind of a strange situation because I was doing those issue stories and would have to ask the same questions to all the golfers throughout the day. This brought much eye-rolling and head-shaking from all the others.

The golfers, however, seemed to like the issue questions because they were something different. I remember Greg Norman, in particular, perking up for the question about the autograph-seekers.

They seemed like nice guys, for the most part. Nick Faldo was a little chippy to everyone, but the golfers, for the most part, seemed like nice guys.

It was usually a fun week, but when it was over, I’d happily slip back into the world of schools.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Summoning the inner-Seaver

Bullpens are so specialized these days.

You got your closers, set-up guys, seventh-inning guys, and sixth-inning guys for when Clemens pitches. Oh, you know it’s true.

You also have LOOGYs, which, of course, stands for Lefty One-Out Guys.

Then you got me, your basic POLR. That’s Pitcher of Last Resort.

At least that’s the role I play on my church’s co-ed softball team. I happily take my place in the outfield, since we have two really good pitchers and a guy who does a fine job filling in.

Our team is named Know Mercy. A teammate asked if I knew how we got the moniker. I assumed because it was a church team, there’s that whole forgiveness thing.

“Oh yeah, that, too,” the right fielder replied. “But we got mercied in every single game during our first season.”

We’re better now, but it was still exciting to play for the division title on Wednesday. Except that Bo, our pitcher-coach, was out of state. And Bill, our pitcher who tossed a shutout in an earlier playoff game, was unavailable. And Kevin, who fills in when he’s not kicking butt at first base, also could not be there.

That means the responsibility falls to the POLR.

Man, I was nervous. I didn’t have time to pick out an entrance song, because the last thing I wanted to do was get Mike & the Mad Dog all riled up.

But I bravely took the bump. It was an adventure. Our other guys can place the ball. I try to get it to drop in somewhere between home plate and the back stop, hoping that the batter will swing at everything.

And it was working pretty well, except for some minor mishaps. I had forgotten that as a pitcher you just feel responsible for everything. There was a pop fly somewhere near third. Our third-basewoman – she’s very good -- called it, and this demon-like voice came out of me and called her off, making the catch.

Now, in co-ed ball, there’s only one thing worse than a guy who poaches on a female player. And that’s the guy who poaches then drops the ball. If that happens, you just walk off the field, head right to your car and go home to wallow in your shame.

Luckily, I held on to it, but I was pretty embarrassed – especially when I got back to the dugout and someone said, “Dude, you know that you were practically standing on third when you caught that, right?” Oops.

And in the next inning, I ended up making all three outs, including tagging a guy at the plate who decided to test our right-fielder’s gun.

This led to more ribbing. Every time someone caught a fly – like in deep left – people would say, “Hey, Dave, thanks for not calling him off.”

You can make such jokes when you’re winning, and we went to the bottom of the seventh inning with a 9-2 lead.

I went out there thinking: “As long as I don’t go Looper on us, the plaque and T-shirts are ours!”

Then our defense – tight all game – started to have issues. And I discovered that as a pitcher, you take these things personally. Which is entirely unreasonable.

You can’t say anything, of course. Especially when you’re just a POLR and you’ve made an error or two of your own during the season.

After the first error, you say: “Tough play, tough play.”

But inside, you’re thinking: “Wasn’t that tough.”

After the second error, you say: “OK, OK, hang in there.”

But inside, you’re thinking: “That sucked.” And you start feeling guilty for even thinking such things.

And after the third error, which allows a run to score, you say: “OK, we’ll get the next one.”

And inside, you’ve lost all control, thinking: “What the heck! That leather thing on your hand is a glove. A stinking cow gave her life so you could use her hide to catch a softball. And now, Bessie is dying in vain. A senseless bovine death.”

Then up stepped their biggest hitter, who took my second pitch and promptly deposited it beyond the center-field fence.

It then struck me. I was going Wagner v. Yankees. The score was now 9-6 with no outs. Panic was setting in.

I had to step off the mound. All I could see were Chipper Jones, Brian Jordan, Terry Pendleton, Mike Scioscia, and Derek Bleeping Jeter all grabbing bats. And that Marlin kid from Tuesday who hit the two-run jack off Wagner and threw his helmet – he was there, too.

Taking a deep breath, I realized we had to cast out those demons. I took off my Mets cap, walked around behind the mound, wiped the ball on my orange jersey and summoned my inner-Seaver.

A soft liner to third.

A grounder to short.

Then a pop-up to me, with no one around to poach from. I dropped to my knees, squeezed my glove and promised never to boo a closer again.

We got our division champs plaque, cool T-shirts and the coach handed me the game ball.

And next season, I’ll happily head right back to the outfield and try to make sure some cow died a worthy death. Until they call on the POLR!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Next time, I'm walking

Don't the Yankees ever take cabs? What, does Steinbrenner haul them around in those stretch Hummer limos?

Needless to say, I’m distressed about our stud set-up man, Duaner "Filthy" Sanchez getting injured while riding in a Miami taxi early Monday morning.

We’ll know later this week whether Filthy is out for the season or whether he’ll mend a separated shoulder through sometime next month.

Meanwhile, excuse me if I take the train or the bus. I’ve always been somewhat leery of riding around in cabs. Oh, I’m sure the vast, vast majority of taxi drivers who are not Yankees fans are fine, upstanding people who just drive a little crazier than the rest of us.

But my experiences with cabbies, both real and fictional, has just not been good. Here’s a list of six very dangerous cab drivers.

Harry Chapin in the song "Taxi"

Harry was a good Long Islander, but a lot of his songs were kind of depressing with cradled cats and neglectful fathers and all. And the character in "Taxi" is typical Chapin. Remember?

"But we'd both gotten what we'd asked for,
Such a long, long time ago.
You see, she was gonna be an actress
And I was gonna learn to fly.
She took off to find the footlights,
And I took off for the sky.
And here, she's acting happy,
Inside her handsome home.
And me, I'm flying in my taxi,
Taking tips, and getting stoned,
I go flying so high, when I'm stoned."

Taxis can be scary enough with the thought of some guy trying to cruise through the midtown rush higher than a VW microbus full of Dead Heads making a post-concert pit stop at the Stop ‘n’ Rob to stock up on bagged burritos and rolling hot dogs to get through the munchies.

How about a song with a well-adjusted cab driver, who, while not in the occupation of his choice, safely takes people to their destination with nothing stronger in his system than Diet Coke? Or if he wants to be really sassy, he can try that new Pepsi Jazz stuff I saw in Meijer this week.

The Ghost of Christmas Past from "Scrooged."

In one of my all-time favorite Christmas flicks, David Johansen plays the ghost who takes Bill Murray back in time to see the Christmases of his past. He’s a taxi driver who crashes around in a smoky cab with Christmas decorations. And he gets to say "Go back to Joisey, ya bum!" which is just a classic line -- one of many in that film.

It’s all well and good, and Johansen, in pre-Buster Pointexder mode, is pretty funny. Except that I can’t knock free from my mind the photos of Johansen in his days as lead singer in the New York Dolls, a glam band that appeared on stage in drag. Fishnets, lipstick and a 5 o'clock shadow is just not a pretty sight.

Robert DeNiro in "Taxi Driver"

I confess that I’ve never seen the movie. My viewing habits are limited to films that are funny, happy, involve baseball or presidents. So I have no idea why Robert DeNiro is looking into the mirror saying "You lookin’ at me?" but the whole thing gives me the creeps. Even DeNiro's baseball movie, "Bang the Drum Slowly," was depressing, though it was filmed at Shea.

Lance, the New York cabbie

A group of us from the Nassau Community College newspaper were attending a college journalism conference in Manhattan back in 1983 and decided to be wild and crazy and go to Mcsorley’s, a legendary ale house that dates all the way back to 1854 and looks it. There were turkey wishbones hanging on light fixtures above the bar that had, without exaggeration, an inch of dust on them that looked like it could topple into someone's beer at any second.

The place was packed. We grabbed a table and one of us went to the bar to get a round. When he came back, the waitress was ticked because the rules were that if you were at a table, you had to order from her. Except that another one of us was at the bar getting the rest of the round when this conversation was going on.

When the bartender saw the beer headed back to the table, we were told "Drink up and get out of here."

We were pissed at first, and then it dawned on us that we just got tossed from the legendary Mcsorley’s — without having to get into a fight or anything.

We climbed in a cab and were excited about our adventure. One of the guys in our group was named Lance.

As we were talking, the cabbie turned around, furrowed his brow and said "How do you people know my name?"

"Ahh, we don’t."

"Well, some one keeps saying, ‘Lance, Lance.’"

Keep in mind, we were a bunch of suburban kids who didn’t have a lot of experience in cabs, much less late-night encounters with funny looking and slightly crazed cab drivers in the Village.

"His name is Lance," I said, pointing to my friend.

"Oh, OK. Me too." he said, and kept driving.

Next time, we took the train, where nobody says anything to anybody. Just seemed safer.

Rev. Jim in "Taxi"

"Taxi" started out as a nice little show, then Christopher Lloyd and Andy Kaufman got stranger and stranger. Before long, Judd Hirsch, Tony Danza and Marilu Henner had nothing to do except stand around and react to what the two nut cases did and watch their yellow Checkers drive up the ramp and over the shark.

Guy driving Tom Glavine in 2004.

Glavine hasn’t been able to eat corn on the cob since Aug. 11, 2004. Tom was not enjoying his experience as a Met at that point, despite a recent trip to the All-Star Game. But after a trip from Houston he decided to take a cab from LaGuardia to Shea, and the taxi collided into an SUV on the overpass of the Grand Central Parkway as he left the airport grounds. Glavine lost two teeth in the crash and also got stitches for a cut lower lip.

Meanwhile, we must encourage all Mets to avoid taxis and ride the team bus, hopefully the kind with DVD players with nice movies like "Field of Dreams" and not "Taxi Driver."