Friday, December 28, 2007

Mandy, take me to Shea!

The route to Shea already is planned out!

There’s a new lady in my life and her name is Mandy.

Except that for the first week we were calling her Mindy.

And sometimes I use her friend Lori, but never their partner, Richard.

And like many other women, she tells me where to go and what to do. And I obey.

Mandy is the computerized voice in the automotive GPS device I got for Christmas.

It’s like the iPod in that after having this treasure for just a couple days I can’t imagine how I survived 43 years without it.

My family already is sick of listening to me extol its glories.

I don’t have a clue how it works. Something about satellites.

All I know is I usually get tense driving from sister-in-law’s house.

It’s waaaay deep in the country and you have to take these little roads once you get off the real streets. And even the real streets aren’t anywhere near civilization. I know this because I don’t see a Panera Bread or Jimmy John’s.

But as we loaded up the car Christmas night for the trip home, the relatives asked if I needed directions back to the highways.

"Heck no," I replied confidently. "Mandy will lead the way."

And sure enough, my new friend navigated through tiny towns and fields right to the I-55 entrance ramp.

Which is not to say everyone is a believer. On that trip to Kris’ house, Mandy told me to make a right turn. I was about halfway into the turn when my father-in-law objected, telling me to take the more familiar route.

To me, this is like a pitcher shaking off a catcher. When Gary Carter called for the curve, Dwight Gooden listened.

My mother-in-law, in the other car, later said. "When we saw you start to turn then spin back, I said, ‘Well, Dad must have overruled Mindy.’"

Somehow Mandy understood that the elders must be obeyed, because once we missed the turn, she simply reconfigured the route and directed us another way.

And somehow, she also knows the location of every restaurant, stadium or other place we designate a "point of interest," or "POI." You can either set it ahead of time to lead you to Quiznos, or wait to see the little fork-and-spoon icon appear on the screen.

I don’t know how Mandy knows these things. And apparently there are knowledge gaps — I won’t call them faults because that would imply Mandy has faults — because the new Starbucks near our house doesn’t appear.

This could be easily solved by simply flashing a Starbucks icon on the screen every other mile or so because, chances are, a Starbucks is either there already or will be there soon.

And she doesn’t just give directions. The screen flashes the speed, how many more miles are left in the trip and roughly how long it will take us to get to the destination.

Supposedly she even makes a mooing sound should I ever be cruising above the speed limit, though we’ve yet to hear the cow.

Picking which computer voice to use was a big decision. Mandy seems to have a slight British accent and for some reason calls Interstates "motorways." Lori has more of a Midwestern sound and a serious tone that seems to say, "Don’t cross me. I know where to go. I have an internal GPS and you routinely take the family on accidental tours of bad neighborhoods."

The company’s Web site said we can download other voices. It describes one as "New York cab driver" that sounds like no one I know. Of course, the last time I was in a New York cab the driver was talking into his Bluetooth and I thought he was talking to me, so I'm not sure how I'd respond to this while driving.

Another voice was John Cleese, but he costs extra. I’m holding out for Rachael Ray. "Did you turn left? Yum-o!"

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The worst Christmas song. Ever.

I’m a Christmas music fanatic, secretly starting to listen to holiday songs when new releases start appearing in October.

Not all mistle-tunes are created equal. Some songs are amazing, like "O Come All Ye Faithful" which shines when covered by artists ranging from Twisted Sister to Third Day.

But then there are others that are neat to listen to but don’t make sense when you really think about them.

Take "Little Drummer Boy," for example. I’m pretty sure that if I was a mother who had just given birth – in a stable, of all places, – and a little kid came up and started banging a drum, there would be some ba-rum-pa-pum-pumming on the kid’s noggin.

But once in a while I come across a song that is so dreadful that it can instantly curdle egg nog.

I don’t mean schlock like "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." I think Elmo and Patsy knew exactly what they were doing when they penned that song, and it’s not their fault that it’s been overplayed.

I mean the kind of stuff where someone sat down intending to create some holiday warm-and-fuzzy, completed the task and said, "Whoa, this is . . . awesome. I now know the true meaning of Christmas." But something went terribly, terribly wrong.

With that in mind, I now offer you The Worst Christmas Song Ever.

Years ago I stumbled across an album called "T.V. Family Christmas." It’s filled with, you guessed it, songs that were either included in very special Christmas episodes of sitcoms, or holiday albums that were rushed out to cash in on a show’s popularity. I suspect the Brady Bunch album was conceived, recorded and released during a lunch break.

And you’ve got some sad stuff, like Gene Autry’s "Nine Little Reindeer," an obvious sequel to his Rudolph hit that is as good as "Caddyshack 2" and about as welcome.

It’s schlock, and these guys knew they were creating schlock.

But buried in the schlock is "A Crosby Christmas," which is just shameful. It’s the "Billy Don’t be a Hero" or "Run, Joey, Run" of Christmas songs.

It’s a medley of mostly some bland or stupid stuff like "I’d Like to Hitch a Ride With Santa Claus" that seems to have been was pulled from an early Bing Crosby variety special.

It’s bad to begin with, but things go completely off the rails when some of the Crosby kids break out with something I think is called "The Snowman." Here are the lyrics:

On a Christmas Eve
A happy snowman
Stood and dreamed beside
A cottage door

How the children loved
Their friend the snowman
And the funny fedora
That he wore

When they said "Good night,"
They told the snowman
That a gift for him
Was on the tree

So he called himself
A lucky snowman
Just like one of the family
Was he

OK, this is pretty lame so far, but nothing too freaky. We’ve all made snowmen and added hats. Once I made a cool one with a Wiffle ball bat and Mets batting helmet. And for the sake of holiday cheer I’ll buy into the premise that this snowman can think and dream. The snowman might be somewhat delusional if he thinks he’s really part of the family, but then they did promise a gift and all.

But things are about to go horribly wrong. Back to the lyrics.

The cottage porch
Looked beautiful and bright
The holly wreath
Was hung up for the night

When all at once,
It caught on fire and fell
He couldn’t knock
He couldn’t ring the bell

He couldn’t run for help
He couldn’t call
But then he had
To save the children after all

He knew he’d melt away
But then the snowman
Threw himself across
The burning floor

Jingle my bells, what the heck was that?

First we have a Christmas wreath that is hung on the door "for the night" as if it hasn’t been hanging there since the week after Thanksgiving.

Then, this wreath spontaneously combusts? How? Why?

We established earlier that this snowman can some how think and reason. But he can’t speak?

And how come he can’t run for help or ring the bell, yet can somehow drag his icy butt up the stairs and hurl himself on the flaming wreath, regretting that he had but one life to give for his family?

It’s just not consistant. Either he’s a magical snowperson or he’s not.

And how are we supposed to feel happy about all of this? "The Gift of the Magi" story is all about sacrifice — and really isn’t one of my favorites — but this downer ditty takes it to a new level. It’s one thing to give up your hair or watch, but another to accept a firey death.

Back to the story:

How the children missed
Their friend the snowman
But they’ll always remember him for
A heart that was brave
And the joy that he gave
And the funny fedora he wore

And then Bing, looking to transition to the next part of the medely, says:

Ohhhh, great little guy, the happy snowman. I’ll never forget him.

"Great little guy, I’ll never forget him?" That’s what you say about a neighbor who helps you dig your car out of the snow bank. Bing, the snowman took an early exit — sacrificing both his life and the gift on the tree — to save you and your family. And that’s the best you’ve got?

And technically they still have the funny fedora, though soggy, to give to the next snowman — unless the kids are too tramautized to build another one.

Now, the really bad part is that someone stepped away from the piano and thought this was good -- and someone agreed. "Hey, this is great ! We'll put it in the show and have Bing's kids sing it!."

Hopefully, that person got coal. And a fedora and non-flammable wreath.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bowie and Verducci lead the Hall of Fame over the shark

It’s a good week for Mike Pagliarulo, Steve Balboni and Kevin Maas.

But it’s a bad week for baseball fans every where.

The reason: The Baseball Hall of Fame has jumped the shark.

Oh, I’m sure it will still be a glorious place to immerse oneself in baseball history. Cooperstown is a slice of heaven. The museum always will be a special place.

But I’m about ready to walk right past the part of the building with the plaques.

Two reasons: A guy they just voted in and a guy just selected to do the voting.

First, the newly configured Veteran Committee elected someone for the first time since the whole Bill Maseroski debacle. No players, mind you. But five executives and managers.

One of those earning a plaque was former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

Dating myself here, but remember that song on Sesame Street that went, “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong?”

Let’s see. Jackie Robinson, Walter Johnson, Tom Seaver and Bowie Kuhn.

Yup, you guessed it.

About the best thing you can say about Bowie was that he wasn’t the worst baseball commissioner. My buddy Will put it best: “Bowie’s ‘leadership’ resulted in two player strikes, a lockout and bad player-management relations for decades.”

Granted, it’s not like Kuhn allegedly encouraged owners to collude or exclude black players or even look the other way when certain players started looking like the Shrek balloon in the Macy’s parade, like some other commissioners might have done.

But 30 years after he was booted out of the job, you just don’t hear people walking around saying, “Bowie Kuhn, right man at the right time. Thank goodness he was at the helm in the turbulent 1970s.”

Plus, he resided over the era of polyester uniforms. He should have evoked the “best interests of baseball” clause the moment the first player stepped on the field with elastic instead of a belt.

About the best thing you can say about Kuhn being in Cooperstown is that there are actually less-deserving people in there. Like Phil Rizzutto.

This leads me to the second reason the Hall has gone shark-jumping. Expect to see many more undeserving Yankees getting votes. Tom Verducci has been invited to join the ranks of those casting ballots.

The Baseball Writers Association of America decided to add to its rolls some people who write for Web sites rather than just newspapers. There were 18 writers nominated and 16 were accepted. A dozen were former newspaper people like Peter Gammons, so this was pretty much bringing some alumni back into the fraternity.

Rob Neyer and Keith Law from ESPN were the two guys who were excluded. I think that’s wrong, but they can fend for themselves.

But Verducci, the Yankee-lovin’ columnist for Sports Illustrated, was one of the writers who gets a vote.

Somewhere, Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens is cheering.

I envision all kinds of problems. First, we’ll hear Verducci calling for the likes of Fritz Peterson, Bucky Dent and Fred “Chicken” Stanley to be restored to the ballot. And if that happens, we know they’ll get at least one vote.

Then, I suppose he’ll call for waiving the rule mandating a player wait five years until after he retires to be on the ballot --but just for Derek Jeter.

“Why make Derek wait? We all know he’s going in,” he might say.

Oh, who are we kidding. Verducci might start writing in Jeter’s name while he’s still active.

And Verducci already is showing his colors. He wrote a column this week advocating for Tim Raines to be enshrined. I support that, as Rock was one of the best players of the 1980s. I can overlook his short time in pinstripes at the very end of his career.

But in that column, guess the subject of the first three paragraphs? If yousaid "Derek Jeter" you are correct!

As Casey used to say, you can look it up.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Jacques, Boris and the dangers of minor league hockey

It’s a wonder any sports franchise lets me buy ticket.

I recently went to see the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Detroit Red Wings top farm club. Of course they lost, since I am a jinx to any team I seem to care about. The Griffs even did so in grand fashion, tying the game late then coming up short in a shoot-out, setting a franchise record of 10 consecutive home losses.

But as bad as the Griffins are, they can’t even come close to the former Flint Bulldogs, who we christened the worst team in the worst league in professional sports when it debuted in the Colonial Hockey League in 1991.

The horrid Bulldogs did provide one of the most glorious nights I’ve ever spent watching minor league hockey – where I brawled with a mascot and apparently shamed a coach into giving up his job.

For this story to make sense, you have to know the cast of characters.

First you have me, who considers hockey a worthy off-season diversion and doesn’t mind watching a couple goons drop the gloves between goals.

You have Skip Probst, founder of the Colonial League and owner of the Bulldogs. We liked Skip, who filled the void after the Flint Spirits – the Rangers’ farm team with Mike Richter in the net – departed after the 1989 season. The start-up Colonial League was an independent league home to an occasional prospect, but more often castoffs who had bounced around the minors.

Our favorite player: Jacques Mailhot. Jacques had actually played five games for the Quebec Nordiques in the NHL in 1988-89, but was better known for piling up tremendous amounts of penalty minutes. Here is his Hockey Legends page.

Some teams had enforcers who used their brawn to protect the goal-scorers from getting too roughed up by the opposition. But I think Jacques just liked to fight. He would do things like skate past players and wipe his glove in their faces as he passed, just in hopes of drawing them into a brawl, asking, in his thick French-Canadian accent, “Do you want to dance?”

Naturally, we embraced Jacques as our hero.

Even before the first game, we gave him the nickname “Mad Dog” and made a sign with interchangeable numbers called the “Goon Meter” that we planned to use to keep track as Jacques piled up the penalty minutes. We had three digits, because we expected lots of penalties.

I worked for the Flint newspaper at the time, and our friend Bill covered the Bulldogs. My buddy Will and I would attend games at home and tag along with Bill on some of the closer road games.

We started wondering about Jacques after the team’s first-ever game. Amazingly, he scored the franchise’s first goal and somehow managed not to get called for a single penalty.

After the game we were waiting for Bill to finish talking to a player near the team bus. Jacques walked over when he saw me holding the sign.

“How come you didn’t change the numbers?” he asked.

“Well, you didn’t have any penalty minutes. Did we miss something?”

“Oh,” Jacques said, disappointed. “I thought you were keeping track of my goals.”

Nevertheless, we had plenty of opportunities to change the numbers as the season progressed and Jacques found dancing partners. Many of them. He was among the league leaders in penalty minutes. And after a big fight he’d stand in front of the opposing beach and gesture like he was fastening a belt – like the championship belt worn by boxers. The fans would go nuts, as would the other team.

We were thrilled. Jacques’ only request, passed through Bill, was that we change the name of the sign. Calling it a “Goon Meter” implied that he was a one-dimensional player. And as we learned after the first game, Jacques fashioned himself as a goal scorer who just happened to get into a lot of fights.

Not wanting to offend our hero, we recast the sign “Penalty Meter” and continued to haul it to games around Michigan and Ontario.

And the goonery was the only thing for Bulldogs fans to cheer for, because the team was dreadful. Never once did I see them win, at home or on the road.

Jacques had piled up 237 penalty minutes in 21 games – with 15 goals, as he would like you to know. But, his antics off the ice apparently weren’t much different from those we saw during the games, and he and Skip were not getting along. There was some loud meltdown during a practice and the owner-coach decided he had enough and cut Mailhot – who told all to Bill for a story.

Clearly, this was an outrage. Like any good Mets fan, I am nothing if not loyal. This would not stand. A group of us from the Journal decided to attend the first game after Jacques’ dismissal. I bought some paint and poster board, sat on the newsroom floor and created a sign reading, “Dump Skip, Not Jacques.”

Apparently lots of people were just as upset. Flint can be a tough place, and hockey goons are held in great esteem. The atmosphere at the game was ugly. We snagged seats directly across from the Bulldogs bench, holding high our expression of rage.

Naturally, it caught Skip’s eye – which was the point – and he spent the first part of the game frowning and glaring. I was even able to get a “Dump Skip, Not Jacques” chant going in our section of Journal people.

And of course, the team was getting pounded, no doubt adding to Probst’s frustration. I saw him summon Boris the Bulldog, the team’s mascot, then point across the ice at me as he spoke.

Minutes later, Boris – I was never sure which unfortunate employee got stuck wearing the costume – appeared in the aisle at my seat.

“Gimme the sign,” he said.


“Skip wants your sign.”

“No way. I thought you weren’t supposed to talk in costume?”

“Really, give it up. Skip’s pissed.”

“No way. He fired my favorite player. What did he expect?

At that point, Boris took hold of the sign and tried to pull it away. I was actually having a tug-of-war with a guy in a bulldog costume. The whole section was booing. His gloves made it hard to get a good grip, and I pulled the sign away.

Then he grabbed my 1960s-era White Sox cap off my head and scampered back up the aisle. I wasn’t too upset. Theft is a crime, even in Flint, and there were about 5,000 witnesses.

I looked over, and Skip was shaking his head in disgust.

Soon, Boris appeared behind the Bulldogs’ bench again, waving my Sox cap. Then he gestured the cap with his hands, negotiating a trade of my cap for the sign.

I figured we made our point and nodded approval. Soon, Boris again came back down the aisle, handing me the cap as I handed him my sign. The mascot then made a big production of tearing the sign into big pieces and throwing them up in the air to a mixture of cheers and boos.

I was collecting the pieces when a kid came running down the stairs with a big roll of duct tape.

“You can use this to put your sign back together,” he said.

“Thanks!” I remember saying. “Where did you get this?”

“We brought it to the game,” he said. I do not know why someone would bring a big roll of duct tape to a hockey game. I figured it was just better not to ask.

We reassembled the sign, mostly, and held it high again as Skip seethed behind the bench.

Victory! And another loss for the Bulldogs – both on and off the ice. Apparently it was too much for Skip.

The next morning I got a call from Bill, yelling on the other end of the line. “YOU RUN THIS TEAM!”

Probst called a team meeting after the game and resigned as coach – retaining his ownership role, of course. He installed the team’s best player, Ken Spangler, as player-coach.

We were kind of bummed. Like I said, we liked Skip. He was a good guy, and bad hockey is better than no hockey.

The rest of the story…

The Spangler era ended after about a week, when Skip reinstated himself as coach when the team didn’t play much better. I ran into him in the concourse before a game, and he said, “Didn’t like that sign.” And I said, “Didn’t like that you cut my favorite player, Skip.” We had a nice chat. He was happy to have paying customers.

The Bulldogs lasted another season, then moved to Utica, N.Y. and soon folded.

The Colonial League was reconfigured as the United Hockey League, and Flint got a new team, the Generals, named after General Motors.

Jacques was quickly signed by the Bulldogs’ rival, the Michigan Falcons, who played in a Detroit suburb. There was a packed house the first time he came back to Flint, and I brought the Penalty Meter,” which, unlike the “Dump Skip, Not Jacques” sign, had been spared Boris’ wrath.

He ended up playing until the 1999-2000 season, finishing with the Central Texas Stampede of the Western Professional Hockey Association and a stint as player coach of a Pro Beach Hockey team.

And he even made national news in 1999 when a dance partner got a little carried away. Dean Trboyevich of the Anchorage Aces was suspended for the season, fined an undisclosed sum and put on probation for the 1999-00 season by the West Coast Hockey League for a cross-check of poor Jacques of the Fresno Falcons in February 1999. Fresno, Calif., authorities decided to drop felony assault charges against Trboyevich.

And I still go to an occasional minor league hockey game – but I stay clear of mascots.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Keeping track of 2007's blessings -- and turkeys, too

I love Thanksgiving.

I realize the Lord has blessed me in many, many ways both large and small, and too often I forget to take a moment and express gratitude.

I have my health, an awesome family, 20 years of marriage, a job I love and a baseball team that was in it until the last day of the season.

So I like to use this day to pause and reflect on those things and the many, many others that make my life full.

And naturally, you can’t have Thanksgiving without turkeys, and there were plenty to try to spoil the fun in 2007. We need to keep track of them as well.

Speaking of turkey, this year I’m making one with an awesome maple glaze that was in my Rachael Ray magazine, proof to all that I get it for the articles.

So, before the balloons start making their way to Herald Square, here is the 2007 edition of things to be thankful for – and turkeys, too.

I’M THANKFUL FOR: David Wright. Let’s run down the list of accolades. Starting third baseman in the All-Star Game, Silver Slugger. Gold Glove. And you just know he deserved the MVP, too. Wright was a monster down the stretch when the Mets needed him most. Sadly, he coudn’t do it all by himself. They made a statue of Wright for Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum because darn it, you can’t have enough of him.

TURKEY: You know Derek F. Jeter is going to be on this list. The only question what did Mr. Yankee do this year to bring shame and disgrace to the baseball world and all of New York. This time, Derek allegedly hurt little kids and sick, elderly and poor people. DFJ claims to be a resident of Florida, where there is no state income tax. But New York’s Division of Taxation of Finance claims Jeter was more of a New York resident in 2001 through 2003 despite what he claims and could owe millions of dollars in back taxes. Taxes, I might add, that pay for things like schools, roads and medical care for the poor.

Nice, Derek. How many sick people went untreated because you couldn’t be bothered to pay your fair share?

I figure Derek owes dues to the actors union, too, after that performance where he caught the ball, kept running and jumped into the stands as if he was making some heroic diving catch.

I’M THANKFUL FOR: Tom Glavine getting career win No. 300 as a Met. We haven’t had too many players getting neat milestones while wearing our uniform. Lenny Harris’ career pinch-hit record is kind of cool, be we’ve missed on guys getting the big numbers that people celebrate, your basic 500 home runs, 3,000 hits and 300 wins.

Then again, Glavine has never been too close to our hearts, so it probably figured that he’d reach 300 on the road in Chicago instead of before semi-adoring fans at Shea.

TURKEY: Of course, those fans won't be even semi-adoring next time Glavine rolls into Shea. And that's because he's has been exposed as a saboteur — Will branded him a Glavateur — who snuck across enemy lines pretending to be one of us for five years. Then when we absolutely needed him to be halfway decent — and just halfway decent — to salvage a season he went and coughed up 7 runs and couldn’t get out of the first inning against the lowly Marlins.

At least with Chipper “Bleeping Jones,” we know where he stands. We know he plans to do us in. Sneaky Glavine was allowed to infiltrate and took us down at the worst possible moment. Now he scampers back to Atlanta where he will be greeted like a hero.

TURKEY: Speaking of Chipper “Bleeping” Jones. A bitter, cranky and shameless Chipper, it seems, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he was “shocked” that Wright won the Gold Glove.

“I wouldn’t have been disappointed had someone like (Pedro) Feliz or (Aramis) Ramirez won it,” Jones said. “I’m a little confused by the final tally — that’s a head-scratcher for me.”

When asked if he thought Wright’s offense prowess got him the defensive award, Chipper said “Then (Miguel) Cabrera should have won it, if that were the case.” “When I find out [Wright won] I was speechless, for quite some time. Certainly the guys with the least amount of errors and best fielding percentage quite obviously didn’t win it.”

Yeah, and some guys win an MVP Award because they had one hot series against the Mets.

I’M THANKFUL FOR: The University of Missouri’s magical football season. I never once witnessed Mizzou win a home football game in the entire time I was enrolled there. In fact, it was considered a good season back then when the team could break 20 points against Nebraska. Not win the game, mind you, just break 20 points.

I keep waiting for the team to collapse, and it just hasn’t happened. I don’t think Missouri has ever sniffed a national championship before, certainly not in the BCS era, so we’ll enjoy this.

TURKEYS: The Jets. There is a reason I don’t get too emotionally vested in the NFL. Apparently “Mangenius” isn’t the sharpest guy out there after all. No playoffs for our J-E-T-S this year. On the bright side, we exposed the Patriots for being video-taping cheaters and we still have the best uniforms in all of football.

The mighty Grand River is wide, but not very deep, making it a good home to turtles and possible beavers.

I’M THANKFUL FOR: Kayak Version 2.0. I’m the least outdoorsy person you know. My idea of roughing it is staying at a Hampton Inn that doesn’t have a breakfast bar featuring a waffle machine, and I don’t like roughing it.

But I am completely enamored of my 10-foot kayak, which I launch into the mighty Grand River near my home.

There’s just something cool about paddling out there through the woods, seeing all sorts of wildlife. There are lots of turtles sunning themselves on logs and at least three big brown things I assume to be beavers. Hey, it’s not like they’re standing still with name tags, like at the museum.

TURKEYS: People on jet skis and in canoes, plus Kayak Version 1.0, otherwise known as the Ky-tanic. Nothing shatters the peace and scatters the turtles and brown things I assume to be beavers like doofs roaring down the mighty Grand in their jet skis. On the bright side, you can hear them coming from behind a mile away so you can prepare for the wake that will jostle us quieter river-users. Then you have people in canoes, who, while not noisy, are unfriendly and smirking, especially the ones I encountered in Kayak Version 1.0 as it appeared to be folding in half and sinking. And memo to sporting goods salespeople: The posted weight limit on small kayaks is not a suggestion.

I’M THANKFUL FOR: The Crane Pool Forum. It’s a spot on the Web where Mets fan gather to discuss our favorite baseball team and pretty much everything else. As games are being played, the CPF gang follows along, commenting on every at-bat. Since I can’t get to Shea, this is as close as I can get to watching a game with friends. It’s also neat that some of the posters are the folks behind some of the best Mets sites out there, like Faith and Fear in Flushing and the Ultimate Mets Database.

TURKEY: Alex Rodriguez, now to be called Gobble GobbleRod. Sadly, the CPF gang was force to spend time speculating whether the Saddest Yankee would be a fit on the Mets after he opted out of his mega-contract. Of course, he went to the only team stupid enough to roll out $275 million for a player, and that would be the team he just opted away from. At least the headline writers at the New York Post will be happy.

I’M THANKFUL FOR: The heck with Yankees, let’s talk about John Maine! When the Mets needed a win to stay alive in the next-to-last game of the season, Maine went out and darn near threw the team’s first no-hitter, taking a gem into the eighth inning and losing it on a lame infield squibbler. He piled up 15 wins with a 3.90 ERA, a breakout year for a guy we thought was a throw-in in the deal that sent Kris Benson and he wife to the Orioles.

So there you go. May you enjoy the holiday, realize the many blessings in your life and look forward to the year ahead.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yorvit's already an all-time Met great

Should the Mets and catcher Yorvit Torrealba complete that deal they nearly signed this weekend, he move up on an all-time Mets list even before setting foot behind Shea’s plate.

Naturally, I’m talking about his name. The Mets have had 26 Mikes, 17 Bills and Bobs and 13 Johns. But we’ve never had a Yorvit before. Heck, we’ve only had one other player whose first name began with a Y, and that would be Yorkis Perez.

Using the amazing Web site that is the Ultimate Mets Database, I waded through all our players to find the ones with the strangest names.

And these had to be real names. No parent wrote filled out a birth certificate with a Yogi, Mookie, Duffy, Choo Choo or Tug.

And I eliminated the Asian players. I shamefully don’t know enough abut Asian culture to understand if Hideo, Takashi and Dae Sung are the Japanese and Korean versions of John and Phil and Rick.

So here they are, the most outlandish, tongue-twisting and head-scratching Mets names of all time.

1) Guerrand McCurdy Scarce. There’s a reason this 1975 pitcher was better known as “Mac.” And that’s good, because I can only imagine what might have happened to Ralph Kiner if he attempted pronouncing Guerrand. He came in the trade for Tug McGraw and left in a deal for Tom Hall -- better known as "The Blade." Lots of colorful names in those transactions.

2) Cleotha Walker. Here’s another guy who was better known by his nickname, “Chico.” He was with us in 1992 and 1993. I suspect many members of the dreadful 1993 team changed their names as they went into hiding.

3) McKay Christensen. He had a stint on the 2002 team, and I believe is our only player ever to have a capital letter in the middle of his first name. How many times as he been called Chris McKay by someone in a doctors office who assumed he filled out his form with the names reversed?

4) Bubba Trammell. We all know of people who have “Bubba” as a nickname, even presidents. But it’s right there on Mr. Trammell’s birth certificate. Technically it’s his middle name. But if he went by his given first name, Thomas, would anybody remember him? Bubba played for the 2000 team, and is known for going AWOL on the Yankees, as if anyone could blame him.

5) Elijah Jerry Green. Elijah is certainly becoming kind of trendy, but this was in the 1960s. One more guy better known by his nickname – “Pumpsie.” And his behavior off the field was as unusual as his name. His biggest claim to fame is that he is the first black player on the Boston Red Sox -- and shameful 12 years after Jackie Robinson made history.

6) Xavier Nady. I liked the X-man, and was sad to see him dealt to the Pirates in the middle of the 2006 season. He is the lone Met to have a first name start with X. Heck, we haven’t even had too many guys with an x in their first names at all. So Mr. Nady can share this spot with Esix Sneed, Ambiorix Burgos, Felix Heredia, Felix Millan, and a trio of guys named Alex -- Escobar, Ochoa and Trevino.

7) Herman Son Winningham. Let’s start with activity in the middle. I need to know if he has a sister who has “Daughter” as her middle name. As for the rest of it, Herman Winningham sounds more like a bank president than an outfielder. Come to think of it, this member of the 1984 team played more like a bank president than an outfielder.

8) Mauro Gozzo. This pitcher, also known as “Goose,” was another member of the dreadful 1993 team. They were terrible, but they sure were colorful.

9) Reid Cornelius. That sounds like a Hollywood name for a brawny, blonde and brainless action hero. And amazingly, he’s not our only Cornelius. That’s Cliff Floyd’s real name.

10) Timoniel Perez. A lot of people call him “Timo.” I call him “The Guy Who Cost Us Game One of the 2000 World Series.”

Honorable mentions: Roger Royce Ring, Orel Hershiser, Cleon Jones, Duaner Sanchez, Bartolome Fortunato, Blas Minor, Octavio Dotel, Lute Barnes, Ober Moreno and Blaine Beatty.

Now here's why I'm worried about our new friend -- or not -- Yorvit. With the exception of Cleon Jones, none of these guys was around too long. Sure, some of that was because of age, like Orel, or a trade, like Octavio and Xavier. But most of these guys pretty much sucked. So we're pulling for Torreabla to break that cycle of shame.

Here’s some other fun Mets name information. We’ve had five sets of guys with the same names: Mike Marshall, Bobby Jones, Bob Johnson and Bob Miller – who were on the 1962 team at the same time. As if Casey didn’t have enough problems. Fellow Crane Pool Forum poster Steve Rogers reminded me that we also had two versions of Pedro Martinez. The lesser-known Pedro pitched in five games in 1996.

Happy birthday, Tom Seaver!

Why this isn't a national holiday, I don't know. But a happy 63rd to "The Franchise." Celebrate by enjoying the final out of Tom's glorious 300th win.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

We're old -- in a young sort of way

The Mets brought back Moises Alou, 41, and Damion Easley, 38, and that got me thinking.

Both of these guys seem a little old — by baseball player standards, mind you. As a 43-year-old, I can announce that people in their 40s are indeed young.

But it seems like the Mets have a thing for players in this age group, more so than in the past. So I did some checking. And darn it, we are old!

The friends at have an amazing data base, and I checked the average age of the team for each of our years. Then I looked for the oldest player for each year, and the number of players over 40.

Last year we had our oldest team ever, with an average age of 30.8 -- beating out the 2002 disaster, which was 30.5.

The youngest teams were 1967 — 25.8 years old — and the 1969 champs, at 25.9 years old.

We’ve only had nine years with a 40-year-old. Last year we had six on the roster, a team record! We had six with five on the roster for the demise: Tom Glavine, Jeff Conine and Sandy Alomar Jr. (all 41) and Orlando Hernandez, (allegedly 41) and Alou, 40. Of course, we had Julio Franco, 48, through the All-Star Game.

The year before we had three, with Franco, Glavine and Hernandez. There were two in 1999 — Orel Hersheiser and Rickey Henderson — and 1965, with Yogi Berra and Warren Spahn.

We had one member of the 40 and Over Club in 2000 — Rickey Henderson — 1985 and 1986 — both Rusty Staub — and 1972 and 1973 — both Willie Mays.

And in case you are curious, our youngest oldest player was 33 — in 1974 and the 1986 champs.

Here’s average age per year, and the oldest player on the club:

1962: 29.0, Gene Woodling, 39
1963: 27.4, Gil Hodges, 39
1964: 26.9, Roy McMillin and Frank Lary, 34.
1965: 26.4, Warren Spahn, 44
1966: 26.9, Ken Boyer and Bob Friend, 35
1967: 25.8, Boyer, 36
1968: 26.0, Ed Charles, 35
1969: 25.9, Ed Charles, 36
1970: 26.5, Donn Clendenon and Don Cardwell, 34
1971: 26.7, Donn Clendenon, 35
1972, 27.3, Willie Mays, 41
1973, 27.9, Willie Mays, 42
1974, 27.8, Ray Sedecki, Jack Aker, 33
1975, 28.6, Joe Torre, 34
1976, 28.5, Joe Torre, 35
1977, 27.0, Joe Torre, 36
1978, 27.1, Jerry Koosman, 35
1979, 27.6, Jose Cardenal, 35
1980, 27.4, Dyar Miller, 34
1981, 28.2, Mike Marshall, 38
1982, 28.7, Rusty Staub, 38
1983, 27.6, Rusty Staub, 39
1984, 27.2, Rusty Staub, 40
1985, 28.1, Rusty Staub, 41
1986, 28.0, Ray Knight, Tim Corcoran, 33
1987, 28.0, Bill Almon, 34
1988, 27.8, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Terry Leach, 34
1989, 27.5, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Terry Leach, 35
1990, 27.5, Tommy Herr, 34
1991, 29.1, Rick Cerone, 37
1992, 30.0, Willie Randolph, 37
1993, 29.4, Frank Tanana, 39
1994, 27.8, Kevin Mc Reynolds, 34
1995, 27.4, Brett Butler, 38
1996, 27.2, John Franco, 35
1997, 27.3, Lance Johnson, 33
1998, 28.8, Tony Phillips, 39
1999, 30.0, Orel Hersheiser and Rickey Henderson, 40
2000, 30.4, Rickey Henderson, 41
2001, 30.3, Dennis Cook, 38
2002, 30.5, Steve Reed, 37
2003, 29.3, Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, Jay Bell, 37
2004, 29.8, Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, 38
2005, 28.8, Tom Glavine, 39
2006, 30.1, Julio Franco, 47
2007, 30.8, Julio Franco, 48

I realize Omar likes to have a mix of younger players and experienced veteans, but I’m wondering if he might need to spend a little more time looking at guys on the south side of 30, much less 40.

Not that people in their 40s are old. Which is what I keep telling myself.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Paulie's metldown and other scary Mets moments

Paul Lo Duca during his meltdown as depicted in pumpkin form.

I’m pretty down on Halloween.

I didn’t mind the cartoon-like ghosts and pumpkins. But decorations have just become too realistic. It would be nice to be able to walk down an aisle of my supermarket without seeing assorted plastic severed heads in states of decay in the spots that previously held Ritz crackers with Rachel Ray on the boxes.

I even had an unpleasant moment in The Store That Has No Faults, otherwise known as Costco. Walking past the snacks I saw one of those life-sized witches holding a ball containing yet another severed head.

I didn’t realize it was one of those robotic things with motion sensors, and jumped so high that I almost dropped my Sweet and Salty granola bar sample. The cashiers were all laughing as I was clutching my chest. I went back for another round of samples because, well, I earned them.

Of course, as Mets fans, we are not strangers to scary moments.

My Halloween pumpkin design each year typically salutes some aspect of the Mets or the Homeland. This confuses the neighbors.

This year’s abrupt end to the season inspired a horrifying design, and that would be catcher Paul Lo Duca’s complete meltdown and ejection after disagreeing with balls and strike calls in a close game.

Paulie in real life.

Paulie’s contorted face showed his rage as Willie tried to drag him back to the dugout. Clearly a Met completely out of control. It probably made the front office to decide to find another catcher for next season. We'll have to see.

Alas, the Mets short history is just full of tales twisted and terrorizing.

Here are the five scariest moments in Mets history, not counting Tom Galvine’s first-inning disaster in the last game, which I’m not over yet.

Watch the video -- if you dare.

Suzyan Waldman’s Tom Seaver tribute.

Look, I like Seaver as much as the next Mets fan. OK, maybe a little more. There’s a chance Seaver would seek a restraining order if he ever saw the shrines – you’ll note the plural – in my baseball room.

But even I was close to hiding under my seat at Shea in 1988 at Tom Seaver Day. At the conclusion of the ceremony where Tom’s No. 41 was forever retired, the team directed our attention to the Jumbotron for a video tribute by Waldman, who at that point was still pretending to be an unbiased sports reporter.

It started with scenes of Shea, then a twinkling piano with Waldman breaking out with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Bad enough, to be sure. But then she started warbling modified lyrics intended to pay tribute but were so grossly over the top that even I was cringing.

I realize there is bad, and then there is Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park So-Bad-That-it’s-Good bad.

But by the time Waldman got to the 300th win mothers were covering the ears of their crying children to protect them from further trauma. I’m very sure that had there been even one more verse most of the upper deck would have hurled themselves into the box seats.


The most frightening moment in Mets history.

Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron collide on Aug. 11, 2005

Nothing funny about this one. A ball fell in between center and right in San Diego and both players dove, striking head-to-head.

Beltran, in his first season with the Mets, slowly rose to his knees, but Cameron barely moved and was removed on a stretcher. He fractured of both cheekbones and broke his nose.

Many baseball observers said it was the worst collision they had ever seen. Luckily, both recovered.

Bad costumes.

The 1993 “Wardrobe of Failure”

Even in their darkest days, the Mets could always say they looked good. The classy script Mets across the front of the jerseys was an established and proud look that was virtually unchanged from 1962 even as the team added sleeve stripes and collars, removed and restored buttons and tinkered slightly with the blue in the uniform.

So I nearly went into shock during a 1993 spring training game when I flipped through the program and found a photo of players modeling new uniforms with a thick, floppy tail underlining the team name.

Yup, they were going to discard the style worn by Hodges and Ashburn, Seaver and Mays, and Doc and the Kid and replace it with something that looked like it was rejected by a softball team sponsored by a bar.

Of course the team went into a tailspin and finished in the standings below the expansion Marlins, who, even wearing teal, could say they both played and looked better than our boys.

As the brilliant Metstradamas branded it, the uniforms were the wardrobe of failure. Very scary costumes, indeed.

Vince Coleman hurts kids

Among the bad things to happen during the tailed-uniform era was Vince Coleman, whose everyday play was frightening enough.

But following a game at Dodger Stadium on July 24, 1993, Vince allegedly thought it would be funny to toss a lit firecracker at fans from a car after the game, harming two children and a woman. He was charged with endangerment and sentenced to 200 hours of community service.

The thing I don’t understand is how he found Dodger fans after a game, since everyone knows the stadium empties out after the seventh inning.

Anna, the under-dressed elf

With stores starting to put Christmas decorations on display in mid-October, it’s easy to see how some people might confuse the holidays.

Kris Benson was known as much for his outrageous wife as his mediocre pitching.

And in 2006 the team decided to ask him to play Santa Claus at the annual Christmas party, where little kids are invited to sit on Santa’s lap and bask in the glory of all things Mets.

Anna decided to come to the party to help Kris distribute presents. But she apparently got the whole Christmas party/costume party thing all confused. I’m guessing Anna couldn’t decide whether she wanted to dress up like a naughty stripper or an elf – so she decided to do both.

A lot of kids – and grown-ups, too – had long lists that they wanted to share with Santa and his helper.

But Mets management was so frightened by the stunt that they banished both Bensons to the House of Horrors known as the Orioles before Opening Day.

Someone was a very naughty girl.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yankees target vulnerable Mets fans

I’m in a fragile state right now, sportswise. I admit it.

I can’t enjoy the World Series without knowing that the Mets should be there, especially watching the likes of Kaz Matsui in those awful vests.

The Jets are terrible, even when they pretend to be the Titans.

The Islanders new sweaters are disastrous.

And I’m pretty certain the University of Missouri Tigers will wake up one morning and remember that they are, in fact, the University of Missouri Tigers and go back to being the doormats of the Big 12.

I’m doing everything I can to keep it together until pitchers and catchers report in February.

I think the Yankees know this.

There must be a Department of Taunting Mets Fans somewhere in the bowels of Yankee Stadium. Because one day I went out to my mailbox and came back with an envelope with what appeared to evil Yankee headgear in the corner.

Then I saw the big bold print, right above my name and address: “Dave, get inside the game with the New York Yankees NEW Extra Bases program!”

Flipping it over, again there was big, bold print: “Dave, Ultimate rewards for the New York Yankees fan!”

I thought it must be some sick and twisted joke. Then I opened it up and read further:

“Dear (Mets Guy), Imagine having a private tour of Monument Park at Yankee Stadium … or a dugout visit with one child (age 7 – 14) and four tickets to the game … or shagging fly balls during the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby at MLB All-Star Week. You can do all this and more with your New York Yankees Extra Bases Platinum Plus MasterCard credit card.”

Private tour of Monument Park? I’d rather have a private tour of Rikers Island.

Bring kids into the Yankees’ dugout? Someone would slap the bracelets on me and I’d get that trip to Rikers because that’s just child abuse. “Look, kids! That’s Jason Giambi! Nooo, stop crying!”

Shagging flies at Yankee Stadium? I’d rather shag, well, you-know-what with the guy in the circus who walks behind the elephants with a shovel. It would certainly smell better.

There can only be so many reasons for this affront to humanity.

1) They’re so stupid that they actually think I’m a Yankees fan.

2) They’re so smug that they just assume everyone is a Yankees fan and send credit card applications these out to everyone.

3) They’re so cruel that they want to rub it in that our team faded somewhat down the stretch and that their team snuck into the playoffs.

4) Or, they sense that we’re vulnerable. Everyone knows we’re a hurtin’ bunch right now. They’re trying to lure us over to the dark side.

This is how it starts. Take the credit card. We’ll give you a mini-batting helmet allegedly signed by Don Mattingly.

Come sit in the dugout where Joe Torre used to sit until we dumped him because a dozen straight playoff appearances isn’t good enough. Yes, we disinfected it first.

Shag flies? Step into the infield on the spot where Roger made that little oops with the bat shard.
Next thing you know, you’re out there calling ARod ungrateful and declaring Derek F. Jeter to be the best player ever and saying stuff like, “Verducci is right. The Yanks should play all 162 games at home next season because, you know, it is the final year in the House that Ruth Built.

Well, not me, mister!

I’m a hurtin’ pup. But if I can survive the Midnight Massacre, Mettle the Mule, Vince Coleman and the uniforms with the tail under the team name, I can tough out a little late-season collapse.

I shredded that junk mail. Spring training can’t be all that far away. We must be strong.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Joys of modern air travel

A window seat? Yikes. Well, at least I'll have a great view of our fine country from above. Unless I'm in the row above the wing. But what are the odds of that? Pretty good.

I remember my college days, flying out to Columbia, Mo. on Ozark Airlines, with hot meals served with cloth napkins and metal silverware.

I thought of that Monday night on a flight from Atlanta to Detroit when the flight attendant offered me a granola bar – for $2.

Flying is not the same.

Now, I’m not complaining. Just observing. And the thought of any inconvenience evaporates the second I see my Dad waiting for me at the airport.

But after taking two three-leg flights in the last four days, there are a couple things to discuss.

Inconsiderate bastards

I’m going to call them IBs from here on out to be polite.

OK, if the rows are going to get any closer together, they’re going to start spraying people with WD-40 as they enter the jetway so they can get into their seats.

Knowing this, there are still IBs who insist on reclining their seats, knowing full well what this does to the person sitting behind them.

On one leg of my trip, an old guy in the row ahead of us dropped back as soon as he could. The guy behind him couldn’t believe it.

“The last time I saw somebody laying back that far he was getting a root canal,” he said loudly, so the IB could hear him.

“Seriously, they’re going to need the Jaws of Life to get me out of here.”

Of course, the old guy didn’t budge.

There are three things you can do in such situations.

First, as you see the seat going back, jam your knees up against the magazine/barf bag holder. If the IB’s finger is still on the button, you can at best push it back up and at worst stop it from going back further. The downside is that the IB might wait until you are not suspecting it and drop back again.

Second, take the overhead air-blower, tilt it as far forward as you can and turn it on full blast. Unless the IB is completely oblivious, he’ll get annoyed and move forward.

And third, in drastic cases, sneeze. The IB is certain to freak out when he feels that fine mist landing on his comb-over.

If none of these work, you can always set your can of Diet Coke on the IB’s forehead and say, “Oh, you were so freaking far back that I thought your face was an ugly meal tray.”

The baggage guys were slamming luggage on the conveyor like they were playing Whack-a-Mole, in full view of everybody in the gate area. Now, which is worse, seeing them slam your bag around or not seeing your bag at all?

Overhead storage battles

I know checking bags is always a risk, and this seems to be prompting IBs to try to bring all of their luggage onboard no matter how big the bags are. But, of course, there is limited room.

On one of my legs, I got to my seat nice and early, took out my book and magazine – Newsweek with Rachael Ray on the cover, yes! – and carefully placed my laptop case in the bin above my seat.

Well, a late-arriving IB stumbled down the aisle with his way-too-big bag and proceeded to his seat in the row behind me. He opened the overhead compartment, took out my laptop case, put in his bag and tried to cram my laptop in the two inches above his stuff.

Naturally, it didn’t fit. So he started giving my case the two-handed shove to squeeze it in there like it was a pillow, then started slamming the compartment lid down. I was in stunned disbelief, and finally said “Hey!” with as much indignation as I could muster.

I then stood up and shot the guy the kind of look I reserve for serial killers and people who wear Jeter shirts at Mets games. Then I reopened the compartment, took out my case, unzipped it to see that the laptop was OK while shaking my head in disgust. Then, for good measure, I shot him “the stare,” hoping that my new edgy haircut would take the guy down a couple notches.

Alas, IBs don’t care about what other people think.

Yes, that's a kitty. Let the cat out of the bag!

Purse puppies

It used to be that occasionally you’d see people trying to bring their pets on flights, and they’d have these large and elaborate carriers that were stowed with the luggage.

But on this trip I saw at least four people with tiny dogs they were carrying around in their purses the same way my daughter carries her stuffed puppy in her tote bag.

What the heck? When did dogs become accessories?

And I’m violently allergic to these things. I have no idea what would have happened had one of these IBs with purse puppies sat next to me – other than that it would be a heck of a lot easier to start sneezing if the guy in front leaned the seat back.

Even stranger, I later saw a lady with a cat in a mesh backpack. I have no idea how she got it in there – and there was precious little room for the kitty – and how it was being so calm.

Edgy people would rather ride motorcycles than fly. Ignore the kickstand -- or the fact that the motorcycle isn't actually moving. OK, Dad let me pose on his birthday present.

But like I said, all these thoughts vanish in the arms of loved ones at the other end of the trip.

It’s a lot more fun gathering for a celebration than for a funeral, as was the case earlier this year. And we had much fun reconnecting and laughing, having deep discussions while lamenting that the Jets’ offense didn’t show up on Sunday, and that the Mets didn’t show up for the post-season.

And for the record, the family liked the new haircut – but said it is not even close to being edgy.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Watching the Yankee Death Star explode

"Today will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Kenobi, it will soon see the end of the Rebellion."
-- Darth Vader

Allow me to paraphrase.

"Today will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of the bat-chucker Clemens, it will soon see the end of the reign of Torre."

I’m not gloating. Gloating is bad, especially after our own team stumbled somewhat down the stretch.

So these are just observations after watching the Cleveland Indians dismantle the Evil Empire in four games.

1) I sure hope we’ve finally seen the end of the vile Roger Clemens. Something tells me that a 6-6 record and 4.18 ERA was not what the Skanks were hoping for when they paid Bat-Chucker $20 million or so for four months work. And that’s not even including the 2.1-inning performance in the ALDS with that nice, plump 11.57 ERA.

Clemens return did nothing but tack an ugly epilogue to the end of his career. From Suzyn Waldman’s hysterics announcing his arrival, to gimping off the mound in shame in his final appearance, this was an unqualified disaster.

Even his departure left a trail of sleaze. The Yanks bumped him from the roster — claiming an "injury" — and replaced him with Ron Villone, a journeyman middle reliever. The Indians howled, correctly pointing out that Clemens wasn’t going to pitch again in the series anyway, and Villone appeared in the next game, this effectively giving the Skanks a 26-man roster.

Posada's going to need more than one can of Raid to get rid of that pest.

2) Much was made about the "Joba rules" during the season. I bet next year there’s a new one: No pitching when there are bugs present.

I don’t know who on the Indians can command insects to swarm and attack like that. It was pretty amazing.

Makes you wonder what other animals are at their disposal. If we see hundreds of squirrels come out of nowhere and pounce on Curt Schilling during the ALCS, I’m going to be really impressed.

3) Is there anything more tiring than the Joe Torre deathwatch? I mean besides the "Frank TV" ads.

Some of the Yankee-hacks on the radio today were actually hyping Old Joe for manager of the year. Outrageous!

Let’s see.

He manages a team with a $195 million payroll. The next highest is $143 million. That’s a difference of about $60 million, a figure more than the entire payroll of seven teams.

He has a team with an All-Star at most positions.

Yet this team at one point was 14 games behind the Red Sox and eight games back in the wild card. We’re supposed to give him manager of the year because his team finally played the way it was supposed to play?

Once Joe gets the boot, if he wants to return to his managing roots and serve as Willie Randolph's bench coach, we might be able to make room for him.

4) For a guy who enjoys a reputation as being Mr. Clutch, Derek F. Jeter didn’t look too good hitting into a double play with two men on base when his team needed runs late in the game -- agruably his most important at-bat of the season.

Nor did he look too tough hitting a harmless infield pop-up even later when his team was mounting another charge.

Nevertheless, I have no doubt Tom Verducci will write something like, "Even when failing spectacularly when his team needed him most, Derek Jeter showed greatness."

5) The TBS announcers at times sounded like they were trying out for the a spot in the Yankee booth next year instead of calling the game properly.

After the Tribe finished off the Skanks, one of them — I think it was Chip Caray — said something like, "And the Indians shock the Yankees."

Well, the Indians had the best record in the league and the Yankees didn’t even win their division, sneaking in as the wild card. So I’d say the only thing shocking was that the Indians allowed one game to get away and didn’t sweep the Yanks.

Heck, sending former Mets castoff Paul Byrd to pitch Game 4 made me wonder if the Indians weren’t throwing the game so they could head back to Cleveland and win before their own fans. And the Yanks still couldn’t win.

I’m not saying that Yankee shame eases the pain of the Mets debacle. And don’t think that every moment of the NLCS I won’t be lamenting that the Mets are not there.

But there’s nothing wrong with watching the Death Star in the Bronx explode.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Beware: I'm 'edgy.'

Apparently I’m “edgy” now.

Of course, I’m only partially over the Mets collapse. It’s going to take a while.

One of the reasons I’m ticked at the team is that I’m a creature of a routine. And my routine from April through September was to listen to the Mets on WFAN through and comment along with the guys in the Crane Pool Forum.

I was happy that routine was going to be extended through October. That is, until our boys disintegrated down the stretch, sending me into both a baseball funk and that disorientation that comes from losing the daily rituals.

Complicating matters was the loss of another routine.

You have to understand that I’ve had the same hairstyle for pretty much my entire life. Cut short, parted on the right side. Sure, in high school it was a little longer – but still short by 1970s standards.

And three years ago I tried something a little bold, cutting it really short and a little spiky in the front. This didn’t last too long because my wife said the barbers didn’t do it well and it looked like I had a big bald spot.

She wanted me to go to one of those fancy places to get it cut.

Not a chance.

As with everything, there are rules. I only get my hair cut in places with a barber pole in the front and three years worth of Field & Stream and Sports Illustrated in the waiting area. I found a place like that when we moved here in 1999 and I haven’t had my hair cut anywhere else.

I did stray slightly. The barbers there are old military guys and I soon learned they tend to struggle with anything that isn’t a flat top or trimming the horseshoe. But there are three women who also cut hair in that same place, and I’ve been letting them do the job.

Except for the last time, one of “the gals” – as the former military guys call them – had what we might call a bad day, and my wife decided once and for all that I was going to see Miss Michelle at the fancy salon, who takes care of my wife and kids.

So with great fear I made an appointment. Miss Michelle was not surprised to see me, having heard from my wife and kids of their efforts to get me there. I explained to her that this salon thing was far outside my comfort zone.

She took a look at my hair, moved it around a little bit and cringed. “Oh my. They gave you comb-over and you’re not even bald!”

Couldn’t argue with that. I had no choice but to submit.

“First thing we’re going to do is wash your hair.”

“Hold on there,” I said. “I just did that before I came here.”

“Well, we’re going to do it again. Twice, actually. Guys have no idea how to wash their hair. And I’ll massage your scalp, too.”

I have to say, I haven’t had somebody else wash my hair since I was small enough to sit in the sink, and I thought that was a skill I had mastered.

But, reluctantly, my chair was lowered back so my head was in the sink. It was pretty nice, though I think I could have done it myself.

Michelle explained that we were getting rid of the comb-over look – and the comb as well as a brush. “You’re going to be able to do everything with your fingers.”

At this point I was pretty much in shock. I’ve been using the same brush since college. I don’t mean the same style of brush. I mean the same brush. Routines were falling by the minute.

As she kept cutting, all kinds of strange things were going on around me. A woman walked past with strips of tin foil in her hair. I couldn’t imagine what that was about.

“Don’t worry, we’re not doing that to you,” Michelle said. “We do that to your wife, though.”

She then asked what kind of “product” I use in my hair. Aside from the store-brand shampoo and the 20-year-old brush she said I’m not allowed to use anymore, um, nothing. I was then introduced to “paste” and told how to work it into my hair, which we did after washing it for a second time, this time with a hot washcloth on my face.

Looking in the mirror when Michelle was done, I had to say it was a different look – and better.

Then I went to the register and the guy working handed me the bill. I had to laugh because I thought he said it cost $30, which is more than double what I usually pay at the barber shop. I stopped laughing when I realized I had heard him correctly.

This was all pretty tough to adjust to.

But my wife liked the new look, and co-workers agreed it was an improvement.

The only objection came from one of the people on the school board I cover.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It looks…edgy.”

I assure you, this is the first time in my entire life I have ever been called edgy.

I’m not even sure what it means. Is it edgy as in cutting edge? Or, bold and unpredictable. Maybe even a little dangerous.

Apparently not that dangerous. The day after Glavine’s meltdown ended our season, a co-worker placed a mock headstone on my desk with “2007 Mets” written on it.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Racing, scoring and watching the Mets on a special day

Pedro: I'm worried about this season, John. Some of the other guys in the pen kind of suck.

OK, Sunday wasn’t a good day.

But Saturday, that was something special.

It started early, getting my son on the school bus for his water polo tournament at 6 a.m. But then I got ready for my one race of the year – the Komen Race for a Cure.

I’ve been doing this 5K for six years. I’m not what you call fast runner any more, but then, neither are the vast majority of the people in this race, a fund-raiser for breast cancer research.

The first year I ran, I told people in the office that I’d paste NASCAR-style on my race shirt the name of anybody who sponsored me. Several co-workers approached with money, and most had a story of someone they knew who was affected.

Then one of the guys came by, put some money down and said, “I’m a fan.” Of what, races? “No, breasts.”

Joking aside – and there are indeed some light moments and messages in the race -- it’s very emotional. Survivors wear special pink shirts and other people pinning to their shirts the names of friends and relatives who either were lost to the disease or are were fighting it .

There are others running in groups, sometimes holding signs with photos of relatives. I get choked up reading them.

This year, I was humming along pretty well, with Relient K on the iPod helping to keep the pace. My shin splints started barking around the 2-mile mark and I tried some fast walking for a while. But it seemed like they hurt more walking than running, so I picked it up a little.

Typically there are a lot of people waiting near the finish line, and I started hearing cheers and applause as I got near the end.

This was pretty cool. I was feeling pretty good about myself. And I could see that my time was about 6 minutes better than what I usually do on the treadmill for 3 miles, and this actually 3.15 miles.

Then I looked over my shoulder and saw a woman in a pink shirt – a survivor – finishing just behind me. Naturally, they were cheering for her. Very humbling, in multiple ways.

Panera Bread had special cranberry and vanilla bagels waiting just past the finish line. The results were online on Sunday. Apparently I finished 928th out about 5,000. More importantly I raised $28 to help find a cure.

So after some post-race snack and crusing the vendor tents, I headed out to the high school to catch up with my son for his water polo tournament.

My boy is a sophomore on the junior varsity team. He doesn’t get a ton of playing time, but he really loves being part of the team. And the other players are very supportive.

But one thing has been hanging over his head – he’s never scored a goal in a game that counts. This year he’s been able to increase his assists, but goals have remained elusive. His shots are better, and he’s had a couple hard ones clang off the goalposts. But still, none have slipped into the net.

The second game on Saturday was against a team that included a bunch of juniors, and they were pretty rough. Water polo, I have learned, is very physical. I’ve learned a lot of things, actually. We’ve had a butt crack scandal, but you don’t want to know the details.

Water polo action from last season.

I’m also pretty quiet in the stands. I don’t know much about the sport, and the coach does, seeing that the varsity team has won the last four state championships. So the last thing he needs is some guy in the stands shouting things to the players. And yes, I’ve seen plenty of that from parents from other schools. Makes me cringe.

So late in the game my son was in there, and again, took a shot without scoring. I remember saying to the dad next to me, “My boy is going to feel so much better when he finally gets one in.”

And a minute later, Andrew was on the left side of the goal, accepted a pass – and promptly pumped it right in the corner of the net beyond the reach of the goalie.

I remember jumping to my feet and pumping both arms in the air with a “YES, YES!!” My son made eye contact with me as he swam back toward the other end. He was beaming, my eyes were welling up.

The other parents turned and smiled. They, too, knew it was his first one. And Andrew continued beaming through the remaining minute of the game and through the post-match handshakes with the other team.

We had about a four-hour wait before the next game, and this particular school has a huge flat-screen television mounted to the wall of the pool lobby. ESPN was playing, but being a fall Saturday, college football was getting all the airtime. I did catch that the Mets were up 2-0.

We ran some errands and came back a couple hours later. This school also has wi-fi, so I fired up the laptop and caught up with the game on I did this with some fear, because, well, you know what the week had been like. It could easily have been 6-2 in favor of the Fish.

Then I saw the score – and the line score, particularly the 0 where the Marlins’ hits should have been. No. Way.

I slid the laptop across to my son, but first explained the rules about jinxes. “I’m going to show you the score. Do not say anything about it. It’s a rule.”

I spent the rest of the time flipping back and forth between’s Gameday and the Crane Pool Forum.

Being a Mets fan in Michigan can be pretty lonely, and it was fun to be able to cyber-converse with the Crane Poolers throughout the game. It was like watching it surrounded by friends.

And even after the Marlins ended John Maine’s no-hit bid with that cheap-ass grounder, it was still a thrill – especially as we could see that the Phillies were losing and the season was still alive.

Well, at least for one more day.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Phils, corn, Live, caps and other mysteries of the summer

It’s been a pretty freaky summer, with a lot of things that I just can’t figure out. This is the kind of stuff that just keeps me up all night.

Aaron hangs his head in shame. And he should.

Mystery: Why can’t we beat the Phreaking Phillies?

So, we are the best team in the league.

Our MVP candidate, David Wright, is hotter than Rachel Ray, reaching the magical status of 30 steals and 30 homers. Our now-sorta-healthy left fielder, Moises Alou, is even hotter – Rachel Ray in a sauna? – as he charges to the team’s longest-ever hitting streak. And our ace, Pedro Martinez, is back and proving to be the Pedro of recent healthy times if not the studly Zimmer-tossing Pedro of old.

The second-place team rolls up, having recently reached the milestone of their 10,000th loss as a franchise. It’s main slugger, Ryan Howard, is headed toward setting the all-time single-season record for strikeouts.

You’d think it would be time to start unpacking the N.L. Eastern Division Champs t-shirts in the team shop.

So how can we possibly get swept not once, but twice by these guys?

It’s not like our boys are getting their butts kicked. We’re losing because of late-inning reliever meltdowns and freaky stuff like game-ending interference calls.

How can the Mets play like the champs we know they are against the once-vile Braves and then play like the Mets of ‘93 against the Phillies? It’s a mystery.

Mystery: Who is the intended market for this?

I stumbled across this cap, part of New Era’s new “MLB Twisted” line. It looked like the official and classy blue Mets cap, except instead of the stylish interlocking NY that the Mets don, it’s got that goofy NY that the bleeping Yankees wear on their caps.

First, did you every notice that interlocking NY on their caps is different than the interlocking NY on their jerseys, which is different than the interlocking NY on their batting helmets?

You’d think since it’s the only element on their uniforms they wouldn’t have too much trouble getting them to match. Point this out to a Yankee fan and they’ll respond with, “Well, Derek Jeter should have been the MVP last year instead of that guy on the Twins.” So don’t waste your time.

But I digress.

After recoiling in complete horror, I had to wonder just who exactly New Era thinks would buy a cap like this?

Certainly not a Mets fan. As if.

Not the hip-hoppers, who are the apparent intended market for most of New Era’s “fashion” caps, since these designs are too plain.

Not the gang-bangers, the alleged intended audience of some recently recalled New Era caps.

No, I’m thinking these are aimed at Yankee fans who deep down feel guilty about rooting for the Evil Empire, and want to cross over to our more wholesome Metsies but aren’t quite ready to take that full step to renounce all things Yankee.

They might not even wear a cap like this out in public. They might wear it around the house and wait for some basic truths come their way. Stuff like “Maybe it isn’t really fair that we can spend more on one player than the Rays spend on their entire roster,” and “Suzyn Waldman was a tad hysterical when she saw Roger Clemens in Steinbrenner’s box.”

Then one day, they might think, “You know, the Home Run Apple is really pretty cool,” and “That Mr. Met is a damn good mascot,” and then, “Having jets fly 30 feet above the upper deck is really kind of cool.”

Then soon, the faux-Mets cap goes in the trash and the reformed Yankee fan runs down to Roosevelt Field and walks out with the real thing.

Mystery: Just how bad was Flint radio?

We had two interns working with us at the paper this summer, and I think I learned more from them than they learned from us.

One day we were discussing my love of Christian rock and Jenna said, “Well, you must really like Live.” I confessed I had heard only a handful of the band’s newer songs, and that was just a couple years ago.

Jenna resisted rolling her eyes, and politely wrote me a list of songs I should check out, and I promptly You Tubed “Lightening Crashes,” “Overcome,” “Selling the Drama,” and “I, Alone.”

Needless to say, I spent the next couple days rounding up all the band’s CDs from my public library or iTunes and telling anyone who would listen about how great this band is.

Then I told my buddy Will about my discovery, and he said something along the lines of “No kidding. Where were you in the 1990s when all this stuff came out?”

And there’s the problem. I spent all but a couple months of the 1990s living in Flint, Mich. which I always suspected was a cultural black hole. Now I see that Flint radio was even worse than I thought.

Here’s a typical hour of Flint radio circa 1993:

A “double shot” of two Bob Seger songs.
ZZ Top’s “Legs.”
Something from Rod Stewart’s Spandex soccer-ball-kicking era.
A “Three play” of three Bob Seger songs.
Two ads from any of Flint’s 25 topless bars.
An anecdote from the DJ about meeting Flint-natives Grand Funk Railroad when he was 16, but not actually playing a Grand Funk Railroad song.
Anything from Hootie and the Blowfish.
Anything from the Spin Doctors.
A “Blast from the Past,” which was always something from Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” album.

I wish I were kidding.

This wasn’t a shock to Will, who also lived in Flint for a while, and has spent the last year educating me about another band I just discovered. They’re called Pearl Jam.

Mystery: Why is there corn growing in my flower garden?

One day in late July I walked out of the house and saw what appeared to be a corn stalk rising from my hostas and black-eyed Susans.

Now, we tried growing corn in a small vegetable garden a couple of years ago with absolutely no luck at all.

And now, this stalk is at least 6 feet tall and appears to have several ears sprouting at various points.

I’m fairly confident that one morning I’m going to go off to work and find Shoeless Joe Jackson playing catch on my front lawn.

I certainly didn’t plant this. So who did? Everyone seems to have a theory.

A common one is that some bird ate the seed and, well, it made its way through the digestive tract. But I’ve seen corn seeds and they’re pretty big, and most of the birds around here seem pretty small.

So we’ve either had a sparrow with a really sore butt or an eagle that made a rare appearance on my front porch, admired the hostas, took care of some business and was never seen again. Neither seems likely.

Maybe some Johnny Cornseed type walked the neighborhood tossing seeds and convincing people that ethanol is the way to go. But if that were the case, there would be stalks rising up and down the block.

This one has me stumped. But I'm kind of looking forward to some corn on the cob.

Mystery: Where and how many?

No, the mystery is which room my wife will consent to have it displayed.

I don’t want to go overboard. Baseball room, living room, family room, sun room, maybe tucked in the corner of the dining area — it’s all good. Maybe we could even have a couple around the house.

Then you have the other mystery. Do we also request the Yankee version?

I suppose the product should be used as advertised. I’d take it out to the backyard and practice pitching.

Of course, with the Yankee version, we’d slap a No. 2 on its greasy back and vent some frustration by going Don Drysdale on the inflatable Jeter. I’d wear the thing out by New Year’s Day!

Heck, when the Yankees find out about these things, they’ll probably try to sneak one out there on defense. Inflatable Derek’s range has got to be slightly better than the real thing.