Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Ford and baseball.

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 22, 2006

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


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

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

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

“A Twisted Christmas,” Twisted Sister

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

“Happy Holidays,” Billy Idol

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

“Christmas Offerings,” Third Day

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

“How Cool is That Christmas,” Rachael Ray

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

“Home for Christmas,” Hall and Oates

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

“Gloria,” Hawk Nelson

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

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

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

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

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


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

A new pitcher named Barry!

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

Two consecutive division titles.

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

Three sets of uniforms

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

Four months of Pedro.

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

Five starting All-Stars.

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

Six wins against the Yankees

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

Seven retired numbers.

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

Eight Endy’s a leaping!

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

Nine Mets bloggers blogging.

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

10 wins for Glavine

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

11 post-season victories

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

12 wins from John Maine.

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

HoJo to uphold to proud tradition of Mets coaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup, we lost.

Let’s hope HoJo fares better.

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

Manny Acta 2005-2006

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What if Major League Baseball was operated like college football?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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