Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Let's help MLB make more All-Star Game rule changes

Major League Baseball announced some changes for the beloved and occasionally glorious All-Star Game, some of which almost make sense.

The problem is that MLB didn’t go far enough.

Once again, we are here to offer our services as consultants, free of charge.

First we’ll review the new rules – and explore the real reasons they were enacted.

1) The designated hitter will be used every year, regardless of the host ballpark’s league. I call this the “Ortiz-Giambi Rule.” MLB is no doubt yielding to pressure from the Red Sox and Yankees to allow their defense-challenged stars to appear as more than pinch-hitters when the game is in the National League parks, since trying to throw them on the field would likely expose the players – and probably the fans – to injury or show just how horribly one-dimensional these guys are.

Someone had to tell Big Papi which hand the mitt went on.

2) Any pitcher selected to the team who starts a regular season game on the Sunday immediately preceding the game will not be eligible to pitch, and will be replaced on the roster. The pitcher will be recognized as an All-Star, will be welcome to participate in festivities and will be introduced in uniform. This allows Bud Selig to stop lying about Barry Zito coming up with pretend, last-minute “injuries” so he can succumb to Yankee pressure and add Roger Clemens to the roster. (See Chicago, 2003)

3) Rosters will be expanded from 33 players to 34 players, consisting of 21 position players and 13 pitchers. Last year's 33-man rosters consisted of 20 position players and 13 pitchers. This way, when Yankee managers like Joe Torre clutter the roster with undeserving middle relievers from his own team, there’s still room for members of the Royals and Blue Jays. (See Nelson, Jeff.)

4) In addition to the existing injured catcher rule, one additional position player who has been selected to the team will be designated by each manager as eligible to return to the game in the event that the last position player at any position is injured. This allows the American League manager some flexibility after burning through his reserves by the fifth inning because Derek Jeter plays his three innings then hits the road.

OK, these are a good start. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and help some more with rules that MLB has somehow overlooked.

1) We accept that ESPN is going to assign Chris Berman to do play-by-play for the Home Run Derby. Not even MLB is powerful enough to stand up to ESPN and demand actual baseball announcers at its baseball events. But, perhaps, it can demand that Berman only use his signature “back-back-back-back-back-back” call for hits that have a shot at leaving the infield.

2) No Padres “closer” shall be allowed near the mound unless the National League is ahead by 10 runs and there are two outs in the ninth inning. We’re playing for home field advantage in the World Series here, and I’m tired of NL teams losing the series because Trevor “Bleeping” Hoffman and Heath “Bleeping” Bell think they’re throwing batting practice.

3) Because that home field in the Series thing exists, only players whose teams have a shot at being in said Series shall play in the final three innings. I’m tired of seeing all the good players like David Wright ripped from the game so the Pirates’ sole team representative gets in the game when everything is on the line. Home series advantage should be decided by the league’s best players, and not the guys on the fringe of the roster.

Have the people who desinged the jerseys used in San Francisco ever seen a suspension bridge? Willie Mays, on the right, is saying, "That's funny, guys. Where are the real jerseys?"

4) Batting practice jerseys and caps must be designed in a way that does not bring shame and embarrassment to the players wearing them.

5) Groundskeepers must have a special tarp available in the press box for when Mariano Rivera and his understated dignity enter the game and Bob Klapisch gets loose with applause that falls upon the closer like soft rain.

6) Sidewalk art will happen. There’s no stopping it. But no city’s beloved landmark must end up looking like it has been vandalized. This shall be known as the Lady Liberty Rule.

7) The collectible All-Star Game program shall be limited to one cover per year. MLB has decided to soak collectors, going from one cover to about five to an obscene 31 for the past couple seasons. Treat fans with respect, please.

That's a good start.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Place No. 81, Mississippi Sports Hall and Museum, and No. 81A Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame

I’m a pretty inclusive guy when it comes to halls of fame.

Bert Byleven would have been in the baseball Hall of Fame years ago I had a say. But not Tommy John, since he’s got Yankee taint.

But there’s a difference between including a lot of people and including, well, everybody.

Josh Pahigian takes us to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum for place No. 81 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I drove through Jackson on our way to Texas last October, but didn’t have time to stop at the museum, though Josh reports there is a nice display honoring Dizzy Dean.

But my recent adventures in Florida did offer an opportunity to explore another hall:

Place No. 81A: Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame was created in 1977, and apparently the criteria for induction are pretty loose. Simply retiring in the Palm Beach area is apparently enough to get one enshrined, and there are a lot of people who retire in South Florida.

And the hall inducts a lot of people every year, even people who contribute to the Hall.

It started modestly with former Tigers manager Mayo Smith, who died that year before, golfer Jack Nicklaus and sports editor Bob Balfe.

But then they started inducting up to nine folks a year. It’s nice that full contact karate is recognized somewhere. But even the online version of the hall lacks any detail about who these inductees were.

And the actual display is just a series of banners hanging in Roger Dean Stadium listing the names and the years of induction.

Scanning the massive list of inductees, I found three Mets properly celebrated. Two, however, didn’t exactly work their sporting magic in the Palm Beach area.

Bob Shaw had a nice enough career, posting 108 wins against 98 losses with .352 ERA over 11 seasons. A shoulder injury did him in.

He arrived at Shea mid-season in 1966, purchased from the Giants, and posted a 11-10 record. The next year was not as pretty, going 3-9 before being sold to the Cubs in July.

His claim to fame was besting Sandy Koufax in Game 5 of the 1959 World Series while hurling for the White Sox.

The Dodgers that year were still playing in the Los Angeles Coliseum, and that game brought a still-record 92,706 people into the stands.

Koufax was not yet the studly pitcher he would become, with an 8-6 record that season. But beating Sandy Koufax any time is something to be proud of, especially when it’s a 1-0 duel in what Dodger fans had hoped would be the clinching game.

That season ended up being Shaw’s best, going 18-6 with a 2.69 ERA and finishing third in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

His other achievement? That would be teaching Gaylord Perry to throw the spitter when both pitched for the Giants.

Like a number of New Yorkers I know, Shaw settled down in the Jupiter, Fla. area and developed commercial real estate.

Gary Carter’s address seems to be his justification for enshrinement as well, unless his duties with the Mets during spring training 40 miles north are taken into considering.

Carter, of course, was a no-brainer for Cooperstown and the Mets Hall of Fame. But he was very active in the Palm Beach area, holding a charity golf tournament in Jupiter at a course where my brother worked at the security gate.

He brilliantly decided that all the participants should sign their parking slip on the way out. There was no official reason for this, mind you, other than to collect autographs for his brother! Not that Pete Rose, Tom Glavine and the other golfers knew that.

And Jeff Reardon is a member of the Class of 1999.

Reardon spent three years with the Mets, amassing a 10-5 record and a 2.65 ERA and 10 saves. In one of the Mets more unfortunate trades, he was sent to the Expos with Dan Norman for Ellis Valentine.

The Expos, of course, made him the closer and became one of the best of the decade an a four-time All-Star. Valentine, well, did not.

Reardon actually played in West Palm Beach, where the Expos shared a spring training site with the Braves.

After several other stops, he sadly ended his career by playing with the Yankees, no doubt causing the problems that led to a 2005 arrest.

I was hoping for more Mets, and more information about the inductees. But I also didn't want to miss a minute of Jose Reyes, so I guess things worked out.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Jose Reyes looked sharp, but I was pretty dizzy after our adventures with the Mets and Hammerheads

Jose Reyes looked pretty impressive when he stepped onto the Roger Dean Stadium field on Thursday. Me -- not so much.

But we had great adventures watching the St. Luice Mets open the season in Jupiter, Fla. against the Hammerheads, the Marlins’ Single-A team in the Florida State League.

Dad, Andrew and I made plans to see the opener long before we knew that the Mets’ star shortstop would be appearing for a rehab game before heading up to New York to join the team.

Being the FSL, I knew getting tickets would not be a problem. We arrived just before the gates opened and bought tickets, landing front-row seats that looked directly into the Mets dugout.

After last season's injury woes, the Mets even get repeated instructions for complicated things like the dugout stairs -- in two languages, no less.

We had barely settled into our sweet seats when a member of the Hammerheads staff appeared with a clipboard, asking if we’d be open to appearing in one of the between-inning entertainment sessions.

It was a rhetorical question, for sure. Andrew and I quickly agreed to take part in the dizzy bat race, signing a waiver protecting the team from everything but us being struck by lightening, and that actually might have been included had I read the document more closely.

By this point the Mets team bus arrived, players already in their road unis with St. Lucie arching across the chest in the same style as the parent club’s New York. Very nice.

It was a treat to see Reyes seemingly having a grand time mixing it up with the other players, laughing and joking as he stretched, usually with a big grin. He was wearing his familiar No. 7 – did a St. Lucie player lose his number for a day? – and batting lead-off.

When a Tigers player rehabs in West Michigan, the place sells out, the fans go nuts and the team later produces a bobble head with the rehabber appearing in his one-day Whitecaps uniform.

That wasn’t the case in Jupiter, where the attendees were better described as a “gathering” rather than as a “crowd.” No complaints from me, mind you, as I made use of my unobstructed and up-close view of my favorite shortstop. Billy Carroll of the Marlins also was in the game for a rehab stint.

With the crowd so silent, it’s easy to hear the umpires and the coaches, and a fastball slamming into the catcher’s glove echoes throughout the park.

Jose grounded out and later took the field, still smiling. The Mets took and early lead, but starter Jeurys Familia was not having his best game.

Just after the top of the third inning started, our friendly Hammerheads staffer appeared and took us over to the third base side of the stands, where we sat with two other staffers and Hamilton R. Head, the Hammerheads’ mascot.

We had a nice chat since it was a long inning. Familia hit three batters, including Carroll, who must have been pissed since he is rehabbing after being beaned in a spring training game.

Hamilton technically couldn’t chat, being a mascot and all, but he contributed to the conversation through hand gestures.

Our host was a recent Michigan State University grad, and we talked baseball and about the joys of working for minor league baseball teams. FSL teams don’t draw well to being with, and the Hammerheads share the stadium with the Palm Beach Cardinals. With a game virtually every night, there’s no rush for folks to head to the park. And because most of the teams in the league play in spring training stadiums, the crowds seem even smaller.

Familia finally retired the side, and we rushed down to the field. Hamilton and a staffer, held a line of crepe paper behind us as a finish line, and our host introduced us to the, um, gathering. Another staffer stood by the rail of the dugout, and I couldn’t figure out why. Did he think I was going to jump the rail and charge the Hammerheads?

Andrew and I were to run a little bit, stand a bat on its end, lean over so it touched our foreheads, and spin around until we were told to run to the finish line.

Now, I’ve watched this type of thing dozens of times at Whitecaps games, and it didn’t seem too tough. When dizzy fans well over, I assumed they either weren’t trying or were tipsy to begin with.

Plus, I was armed with some advice from my friend Sharon, who replied to a Facebook post I sent from the iPhone after being selected.

So I was spinning, spinning and spinning, probably making eight or 10 circles before being told to run.

OK, it’s harder than it looks. I stood up, tried to take a step toward Hamilton. I knew which way to go, but my legs wanted to go elsewhere. All I could see was the green grass, and it was still spinning. I realized I was running at the dugout -- and that was not where I was supposed to be going.

Now I knew why the one staffer was positioned by the dugout, because he tried to catch me as I went sprawling into the dirt. I looked up and saw players just a couple feet away, smiling and laughing.

After being helped up – and with the world no longer spinning – I saw that Andrew had no such trouble and was already holding his crepe paper tape.
Shameful. At least the fans are having fun. Look at the guy in the yellow, and the people in the Hammerheads' dugout.

My first thought: I'm laying in the dirt and Jose Reyes is not impressed.

“I’m so embarrassed!” I said to a staffer. “Don’t worry about it. You did great. That’s what we like to see.”

Our prize was a baseball stress ball and a pair of tickets to a future game. On the downside, I tried to show off my cool Faith and Fear in Flushing T-shirt to the friends in Florida. My flopping around on the dirt probably did little to expand readership. Sorry, Greg and Jason.

Settling back into our seats, We watched Familia continue to self-destruct, and was yanked after giving up 7 runs in 3.2 innings, all the Hammerheads would need.

Naturally, we continued to focus on Reyes, snapping shots of him sitting, standing, talking to teammates, picking out his bat, picking up his glove, shouting encouragement to batters and every other single thing he did. Felt a little bit like a stalker after the fifth inning or so.

Jose, didn’t do much at the plate, only getting one ball into the air. But he made some nice plays in the field.

Being in the front row and the stadium being so quiet, we were free to converse. As Reyes walked back after making one out, we said, “Looking healthy, Jose!” and he turned and smiled. After the game, we said, “Glad to see you back, Jose” and he looked over and said, “Thank you!”

Reyes said in the dugout with hitting coach George Greer after the game, and signed about five baseballs for him, then scooted across the field to the third-base side, where the Mets team bus was waiting. Apparently the players make the 40-minute trip back to St. Lucie before they change.

And Dad, Andrew and I celebrated a fun night with an up-close view of one of our favorite players, ending our already eventful week in Florida on a very high note.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Jose Reyes looking healthy in Jupiter

I was able to see Jose Reyes in a rehab assignment Thursday as the St. Lucie Mets took on the Jupiter Hammerheads. The Mets lost, but it was great to see Jose in action again.
I'll have a full report, because we had some great adventures, including me almost spilling into the Hammerheads dugout.
Here are a couple shots to get going, with more to come!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Redeeming No. 46 in delicious fashion

I'm a little worried about today.

I turned 46, and each year we look for inspiration by seeing which Mets wore the uniform number of the age.

The fantastic Mets By The Numbers site helps with this. And before listing the Met 46ers, it is written: "Whatever you do, don't wear this number."

Neil Allen is the high water mark. And he ditched it after two seasons. Randy Niemann also tossed 46 before the glorious 1986 season.

Dave West tried it twice. Others are Chris Jelic, Terry Bross, Barry Jones, Brian Bohanon, Jermain Allensworth, Rich Rodriguez, Tyler Walker, Jeremy Griffiths, Jose Parra, Tim Hamulack, and, gasp, Oliver Perez.

Plus, we had manager Dallas Green and pitcher Willie Blair, who I met in his Tigers days and he really nice.

If we can break the streak of shame, we can redeem No. 46.

And to start the year on a good note, my brother-in-law Neil made this amazin' birthday cake. He got cable in the house only a couple weeks ago, started watching "Ace of Cakes," and within a week was able to gain the skills to create this masterpiece.

I didn't want to cut it. They made me do it. And it was really good!