Archive for May, 2007

Divine Delgado

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

I remember thinking, back in 1986, that one of the things that made the ’86 Mets so great is that not only did they win nearly all of the games they should have won, they also won a lot of the games they shouldn’t have won.  The same is true of the 2007 Mets.  I felt this first in that five-run ninth inning come-back against the Cubs, just before the Yankee series.  I had given that game up.  I was bringing the radio inside.  I didn’t even ask for that game and they gave it to me. 

The game last night was also a game I had let go of.  I had already turned my head away several times with a shrug, not deep grief, just a shrug.  So many wins are falling into our lap that it would have seemed greedy to ask for this one.  Sure the game was always close, but the Mets weren’t going through any of the doors fate had opened for them.  Wright’s ball didn’t clear the fence and he didn’t come home with a winning run. With their bare hands, in an astonishingly great play, the center of the Giants’ infield held back the dagger Julio Franco had tried to push through their stomach wall.  After these two moments, and after Carlos Beltran broke his bat and didn’t hit the sacrifice that would have brought Reyes in, I figured that the Giants would have this game that they had fought so well for. 

But then a second balk in an inning!  On Armando Benitez, the epitome of a Mets fallen angel, our Satan.  A balk on a pitcher rattled by a runner on third base with two outs and the clean-up hitter at the plate?  Has anyone ever stolen home in such circumstances?    What a wonder!  What a gift!  But that was just to tie the game.  It would be too much to ask that they’d win it.  But when Delgado is Delgado, nothing is too much to ask.  For a Mets fan, nothing except some swings of Strawberry and Piazza is quite as beautiful, sublime, and sudden as a Delgado home run deep and high and way over the wall in right. 

The Cubs game was won by Delgado as well.  A two-run single that put us over the top.  He’s driven in 32 runs and we’re not yet a third of the way through the season.  He’s on a pace to drive in over 100 runs.  He’s having a hell of a season.  Huh?  Yes.  He is.  I know what you’re thinking.  Where did those rbis come from?  Has anyone ever driven in more than 100 runs with a batting average of .239? 

This is what this season is like.  All of our pitchers are aces though it would be hard to say that any of them has been perfect or spectacular.  Okay, Reyes might be our MVP, but who is having the second-best season?  You could make a plausible argument for almost everyone in the lineup.  As with the pitchers, no one is scraping the ceiling, but every one is reaching high.  Everyone is jumping up and down on the far end of home plate, smiling and bouncing, as the winning run flies past the cameras and into the arms of his teammates. 

Benchmarks

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

As the almost inevitable injuries accumulate, the Mets stay on course.  It’s time to be grateful for our fine, deep bench.  Every great Mets team has had its great bench players.  There’s something about bench players: tough, ready, and irregular, that has always seemed to define the essence of the Mets. 

Think of Endy Chavez. His great catch in the seventh game of the 2006 NLCS assures him of a permanent place in Mets history. He’s one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. Last year, he hit .306. This year, he’s hitting .371. He’s a cool guy with an unusual, compelling name. He’s got an amazing smile that takes up three-quarters of his face. However long or short his Mets career will be, you’re never going to forget Endy.

Think of Damion Easley. He’s a part-time player, a fill-in for our injured second baseman. Yet he’s second on the team in home runs, first in slugging percentage, with 7 homers through a quarter of the season. 7 in just 74 at-bats. His at-bat per home run ratio puts him in a class, not with regular second basemen, but with Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. How does something like this happen?

Think of Ramon Castro. He looks like Shrek and comes to the plate to the Darth Vader theme. You feel like you’re in the multi-plex eating your popcorn, as he drives a double to the wall and wins the game for you.

Julio Franco is the oldest position player ever to play major league baseball. Every time he comes to the plate, he is the oldest person ever to do whatever he does. He’s the epitome of the old-guy Mets bench player, like Mays or Berra or Torre or Staub. He sends the young ones forth in battle, but when it is his time, he can still lift and throw the spear.

You see what I mean? Mets bench players are not just weaker than average major league ballplayers, like bench players usually are on other teams. They are remarkable people and remarkable players often with great, if generally narrow talents. They have personality. They give style and dimension to the team.

It’s always been this way. In the early years, bench players were particularly important because the starting lineup wasn’t very good. Occasionally wonderful streaky bench players like “Hot Rod” Kanehl, Joe Christopher, Jesse Gonder, and Greg Goosen were rays of hope, suggesting that it might be possible someday to have hitters in the first half of your lineup who could hit more than .220 and hit more than 5 home runs.

Then, in 1969, bench players were a major part of the miracle. Only one player on the 1969 Mets (Agee) had more than 500 at-bats. When people think of that championship team, they think of Al Weis, our backup shortstop and World Series hero. They think of our elder statesman and poet, Ed Charles, who was not in fact our regular third baseman. Because of Gil Hodges’s love of the platoon, many of that team’s best players, like Donn Clendenon, Art Shamsky, Ron Swoboda, and Eddie Kranepool, were crosses between regulars and bench players and that often gave them a bench player’s drive. They weren’t secure. They couldn’t be limp. They were always trying to crowd their way into the spotlight.

The pattern continued. The Met who wouldn’t leave, Eddie Kranepool, finally found his true calling as a trusty bench player. We had on our bench great stars of the past, like Willie Mays and Joe Torre, and great starts of the future like Amos Otis, Ken Singleton, and Kevin Mitchell. We’d have these fine fielding or hitting but not-ready-for-prime-time fourth outfielders, Endy’s ancestors, guys like Mike Vail, Bruce Boisclair, Danny Heep, Timo Perez, and Benny Agbayani. We’d have the pinch-hit specialists, like Kranepool, or Rusty Staub when he came back, or Dave Magadan, Lenny Harris, or Tony Clark. We’d have the always surprising second catcher, Ramon’s antecedents, guys like Ron Hodges and Todd Pratt. We’ve had the clutch-hitting beloved jack-of-many-trades like Matt Franco, Melvin Mora, Joe McEwing, or Chris Woodward. Every one of these guys made his contribution to the performance and the character of the team. It is impossible to imagine the history of the Mets without them.

Bench players represent the essence of the Mets. They don’t get as much respect as the regulars. They have to fight for what attention they do get. They are perpetually underestimated yet every once in a while they’ll come through like gangbusters. They’re interesting. They’re rarely bland. They’re fun. They’re exhilarated and exhilarating. They always go particularly nuts in champagne celebrations, or on the field, hugging and high-fiving after a walk-off win. They are the ancient, ragtag, surprising Stengelese soul of our team. We get a new bunch every few years. But they are always with us, jumping up and down when the good stuff happens, part-player, part-fan, so so happy to be who they are and to be the Mets.

A Confession

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

I have a confession to make.  I don’t really hate the Braves.  I’ve said and I’ve written that I hate the Braves.  Every Mets fan says this.  But I don’t really.  I’ve tried, but I can’t.

Sure I hated John Rocker, but he’s been gone a very long time and you could just tell from looking at Bobby Cox’s face when he was asked about him what Bobby thought about John Rocker.  I hated the Chief Knock-a-Homah thing and I still hate the Tomahawk chop.  I do the “Larrr-rryyy” thing when Chipper comes up, but I can’t get all that riled up because long ago he suggested, probably out of ignorance, that Mets fans switch to rooting for the Yankees once the Mets are out of it.  All that stuff is stupid, but it’s not enough of a reason to hate the franchise.

I hate the Yankees.  That’s not hard.  I hate them because I hate the idea of expecting rather than hoping to win.  I hate the impoverished baseball mentality they have come to stand for in the Steinbrenner epoch and in the past twelve years in particular.  I found it easy to hate the Cardinals again last year.  They didn’t deserve to be there, or to do what they did.  They were an ugly-looking team and all of those hefty folks in red waving white hankies got to me. 

But I just can’t bring myself to hate Atlanta.  They won our division for fifteen years in a row, but they didn’t do it in a Yankee way, all puff-chested and explaining that the people of Atlanta expect a winner no matter how much it cost.  They did it with an organization that was run the way a baseball franchise should be run:  with intelligence and resourcefulness.  They did it with the kind of qualities that Mets management has lacked for most of Mets history.  They won every year but they surprised you by winning in plenty of those years.  I can’t help but applaud them.  And then, they only won one World Series.  That makes them feel human.  It gives them a nice tragic character.

Another reason I find it hard to hate the Braves is that their fan base isn’t as passionate as the Braves team deserves.  The Braves have a decent fan base, but they can’t reliably fill their stadium for big games, and there isn’t exactly a madhouse atmosphere in Atlanta when the Braves are in it.  I don’t think this is just because they’ve won so much.  I think it’s the old regional thing.  People in that area breathe, eat, and drink college football.  They watch baseball, but to them baseball is what college football is to us.  It’s pretty peripheral. 

I was in New Orleans once when when what they call “them Dawgs!,” about which they like to ask “How about?” were playing Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl and let me tell you, Georgians really can get passionate about athletic contests.  But they just don’t feel about the Braves in Atlanta what the people in St. Louis feel about the Cards, or people in Boston feel about the Red Sox, or we feel about the Mets.  It’s just not the same.  And I feel bad for the Braves.  A team that has been this good for this long deserves a little more passionate appreciation.

Who expected the Braves to be in it this year?  I didn’t.  You didn’t.  I look at them and I’m not sure why they’re as close to us as they are in the standings.  I give them credit.  They are the underdog this year.  We’re the favorites.  That makes it even harder for me to hate them or to get back into the state of mind I was in in 1999 or 2000 when they were the Evil Empire, when they humiliated us whenever our boys had to play in Turner Field. 

Maybe if they get a lead, or maybe if one of their players says something stupid, I’ll find some way to hate the Braves again.  But I don’t think either of those things is going to happen.  I am still hoping that somebody will slap the Phillies in the face and point them in the direction of the finish line.  A New York-Phillies rivalry would have a lot of passion.  Given the physical proximity of the two cities, you could have all kinds of fun with a rivalry like that.  I’ll keep hoping.  And I guess that no matter what I or any other Mets fan says, I’m just going to keep respecting the Atlanta Braves.
 

Pride and Empire

Monday, May 21st, 2007

I’ve always loved New York.

I’ve always loved the Mets.

I’ve always loved the Empire State Building.

It’s the tall, proud breast of the city.

It’s blue and orange now.

 

Tune In

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

I’ll be a guest on Sunday, May 20, on the Subway Series edition of New York Baseball Talk with Mike Silva at 9 pm on WGBB 1240 (Long Island).  I’ll be talking about the history and the dynamics of the Mets-Yankee rivalry.  The show will begin with an interview with Darryl Strawberry, who is up to some great things these days.  Check out his foundation:

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After Darryl, I’ll come on around 9:22.  You can listen live to the show on the radio or on the Web at WGBB

If you can’t listen live, you can listen whenever you want at the website for New York Baseball Talk at Free the Fan Radio:

 

 Just click to hear the May 20 show.

This is a genuinely terrific show.  Mike is a civil, intelligent host who brings out the best in the people he speaks with.  If you listen to New York sports talk, you know how bad it normally is.  New York Baseball Talk is different.  There are no stupid, artificial, manufactured controversies.  There is conversation.  You can learn something. It’s a whole different ballgame.  Among the guests Mike has had on his show, in the first month, are Gary Carter, Guy Conti, Matt Cerrone of Mets Blog, Adam Rubin of the Daily News, and me, talking about Opening Day.  Mike even finds intelligent, civil Yankees fans to talk to, which is, as you know, an accomplishment in itself.  Just kidding.  Anyway, I urge you to become a regular listener to a New York Baseball talk show that is actually worth taking the trouble to listen to.

First Game of the Subway Series, Mets 3-2

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

That’s the kind of game I’ve always liked the best.  Excellent pitching, very little offensive activity, a real sense of tension and professionalism.  Close for every second of the entire game.  Big hitters stymied.  Lesser players coming through.  That was a real late ‘60s style game.  Baseball was once reliably like this (look at the box scores for the 1969 World Series). 

Come to think of it, the 2000 Series was a little like this.  Just about every game was close for its whole length.  Except that the 2000 Series feels, in memory, as if it were a struggle on the edge of a precipice, an effort to forestall an inevitable disaster.  I know there was nothing inevitable about the 2000 series.  We were a better team in 2000 than the Yankees were.  But in retrospect, it seems to have been inevitable.

There was no sense of being on the edge last night.  Not for us.  The sense of inevitability was working in a different way.  You saw what I saw in the faces of the Yankee players.  They looked grim, unhappy, unable to shape their fates.  We looked the way you should look when you’re 27-14 and you’ve just won a ballgame you were losing 5-1 with one out in the ninth inning.

The Mets looked as if they had won back New York.  They’ll always have us crazy ones.  But now there has been a sea change.  We are in a new era of New York baseball.

 

After Forty Games, Before the Next Three

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

If I were to tell you that after 40 games, Carlos Delgado would be hitting .216, David Wright would be hitting .279, Delgado would be hitting at a pace that would give him 12 home runs and 84 rbis for the year and Wright would be hitting at a pace that would give him 16 home runs and 80 rbis; if I were to tell you that the Mike Pelfrey experiment would not work out, that he would be down in New Orleans in mid-May, with a major league record of 0-5 and a 6.53 E.R.A.; if I were to tell you that the middle relief would be wildly inconsistent; and that the Mets would have been blown out of the water three times in part because of some very sloppy defensive play, would you have any expectation, any expectation at all that their record would be 26-14?  Let me answer for you.  No.

The Mets, after a brilliant first quarter, are on track to win 105 or 106 games.  Things could go wrong for them, but they could go wrong for any of the other teams too.  And an excellent case can be made that for every player on the Mets playing above his head right now, there is at least one more who is playing below his head.  This team is not just a good team.  It is a tsunami.  They can lift each other, as each of the players who batted in the ninth inning of today’s game showed us.  They are like these metal balls on strings I used to have in my room when I was a kid.  They prove that you can transfer the force of momentum. 

Like the rest of you, I want to see the statement they will be able to make in the next three games.  The players are the only ones who say that these games aren’t any different from any other games.  I would say that they were the only ones who thought this except that I don’t think they actually think this. 

Nobody thinks this.  Yankee fans certainly don’t think this.  George Steinbrenner certainly doesn’t think this.  Which of these two teams, do you think, is playing with its psychological back up against the wall?  Does that make the Yankees dangerous?  Perhaps.  What will they be dangerous with?

I can’t remember a Subway Series I have looked forward to with so much relish. 


 

New York is a Mets Town

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

 

[This piece of mine was published about a week ago on Nybaseballonline.com
It has generated a lot of attention, having been mentioned by Metsblog, having been posted on a number of blogs and message boards, including the Yankees MLB board (groan), where it got a pretty predictable reception.  Since I wrote it, I thought I would post it here as well, as part of the festivities of preparation for this weekend's Subway Series.]

New York is not a Yankees town.  It’s not.  It may look as if it is now, at the end of one of the most impressive stretches of Yankees history.  But it isn’t and it never has been a Yankees town.  The roots of Mets fandom in New York are just as deep and may even be deeper than the roots of the Yankees.

You’re thinking I’m crazy.  Or at least self-deceiving.  Think what you wish.  There are some important facts you should know before you reach your conclusion.

From the time the American League was founded in 1903 until 1957, there were two National League teams in New York.  Throughout this period, the combined attendance for the two National League teams was consistently higher, by a wide margin, than the attendance at Yankees games.  This was particularly true after 1945.  The Dodgers and the Giants had large fan bases, each with a proud tradition of Yankee hatred.  When the Mets came along in 1962, they inherited almost all of the orphaned National League fans.  The Yankees ended up with hardly any of them. 

It should not therefore surprise you to learn that during the first 31 years of the Mets existence (1962-1992), the Mets outdrew the Yankees 19 times and the Yankees outdrew the Mets 12 times.  Both teams had their ups and downs, but the Mets’s peak attendance figures were consistently higher than those of the Yankees.  The pennant-winning Yankees teams of 1962-4 drew between 1.3 and 1.4 million fans.  But between 1964 and 1968, the lowly Mets drew 1.6 to 1.9 million fans every year.  The Mets drew 2.1 to 2.7 million fans between 1969 and 1972.  That’s much more than the great Yankees teams of the ‘50s and ‘60s had ever drawn.  When the Yankees became great again in the late ‘70s, they didn’t quite rise to the Mets’ level.  They drew between 2.0 to 2.6 million fans per year between 1977 and 1980.  But when the Mets came roaring back in the mid-‘80s, they busted their own records, drawing between 2.8 and 3.1 million fans between 1985 and 1988.  The Yankees had never drawn that many fans to their stadium.  In the 1980s, the Mets drew over 3 million twice, but even the 1998 Yankees, one of the greatest teams of all time, did not draw 3 million.  The Yankees draw 3 million for the first time in 1999 and it is only in the 21st century that the Yankees attendance figures have been astronomical, and decisively better than the Mets.

So the Yankee dominance of New York that people now take for granted is actually a very recent thing.  It doesn’t have deep roots.  It’s like a bad dye job.  And now that people are sick of the Yankees, now that we can smell the decay, now that the remaining home-grown spirited players of the late ‘90s are mostly gone and you’re left with a pretty colorless collection of hired guns, the blue and orange roots of New York’s baseball soul are becoming visible once again. 

The fact that New York has deep National League roots is only part of the explanation for the fact that the Mets are really New York’s favorite team.  The other part is that rooting for the Mets is so much more fun.  How can one group of 25 men be consistently more fun than another group of 25 men?  They’re not.  It’s not the people on the team.  There have been a lot of wonderful, fun players on the Yankees and there have been a lot of jerks on the Mets.  The Mets are more fun because the psychology of rooting for the Mets is more conducive to fun. 

When the Mets are good, it is a cause for delirious celebration.  When the Yankees are good, it is “yeah, yeah, so what, when are we going to get to the Series?”  Mets fans can enjoy rooting for the Mets even when they’re not very good.  When the Yankees aren’t of championship calibre, Yankees fans feel disgraced and embarrassed. 

Mets fans get sentimental about their loyalty during the lousy years.  The lousy years give the good years a special luster.  When a group of long-time die-hard Mets fans get together they trade precious names with each other:  Choo Choo Coleman, Joe Christopher, Joel Youngblood, Bruce Boisclair.  They enjoy the lingering, remembered warmth in those names.  I’ll bet that when Yankees fans get together, they don’t do the same with the forgotten players who wore pinstripes from 1965 to 1974, or from 1983 to 1994.  Yankees fans have a total amnesia about their dreary stretches.  Mets fans are the opposite.  We think that the bad Mets are as important a part of the story of our team as the good Mets.  That’s our story: rags to riches.  The Yankees think the 26 World Championships is a continuous story.  They have only one note.  Riches.  Riches.  Boooorrrring. 

All of this is becoming evident with particular clarity in this season.  Listen to Yankees fans on talk radio.  Read their blogs.  Are any of them saying: “Wow, wouldn’t it be fun to see if the Yankees can all get it together as a team and win it this year in spite of all the drawbacks they face?”  Are any of them saying: “I know it looks bad, but I like the looks of some of these young pitchers, they may come through, and I’m not quite yet willing to give up on Mariano, watch them pull it out!”  Are any of them saying: “I know the Red Sox look awfully good this year, but we’ve got some great young players coming along and we may give them a run for it, and if we don’t, watch out for what those young players will do next year!”  

Of course Yankee fans aren’t talking like this.  They never do.  Don’t you feel sorry for fans who can never talk like this, who can only say:  “We NEED this.  We gotta GET this?”  NEED, GET.  How simple-minded can you be?  How one note?  Look at the nauseating assumption here.  You know how little pitching is available out there.  You know how hard it would be for any team to get any kind of talent now.  Yet, look at what the Yankees will do.  Cough up $25 million for a 45-year old pitcher, when they already have a payroll that dwarfs that of any other team.  There is no limit to what they’ll spend, or how obnoxious they’ll be announcing the coming of a savior who will bring them all the way to a championship. 

They are desperate, and I think they’re likely to get worse.  It makes me sick to my stomach to watch them.  I know a lot of fine people who root for the Yankees.  I can’t believe they get any pleasure from watching this desperate debacle in the making.  But if the only season you can consider successful is one that ends in a championship, expect to be miserable, expect to look ridiculous, expect others to rejoice in your misfortune.  Yankee fans are trapped in a funless universe.  Because in baseball, as in life, it is very hard to GET what you NEED. 

The Ultimate Mets Villain Returns

Monday, May 14th, 2007

 

There are such things as Mets villains: players on opposing teams whom we hate with the greatest pleasure. Mets players like Bobby Bonilla or Mets front office people like M. Donald Grant or Steve Phillips can never be Mets villains because we hate them with pain and frustration, not with pleasure. 

There has to be pleasure.  Mike Scioscia and Yadier Molina are not Mets villains. They broke our hearts. But they were simply weak-hitting catchers stepping up for their team. They were Todd Pratts. Would the Diamondbacks be justified in hating Todd Pratt? Of course not. 

The pantheon of true Mets villains is a pretty impressive bunch of ballplayers. A villain must be at least a very good ballplayer and he must be guilty of doing more than just doing his job or grabbing his one moment in the limelight. He must be a symbol of his team. And he must diss you. For years, he will be booed with gusto by Mets fans. For years, we will root for him to do badly. He will never be forgiven. The greatest Mets villains of all time are Pete Rose, John Rocker, Chipper Jones, and Roger Clemens. I hesitate to include Jones in this group because I think he is actually a decent enough guy who played well against us and named his daughter after our stadium and was simply ignorant enough to suggest that when we lost to Atlanta we would just go put our Yankees jerseys on – not realizing that if we all found Yankees jerseys in our homes there would suddenly be an awful lot of clogged toilets within a 100-mile radius of New York. 

The quintessential Mets villains are Rose, Rocker, and Clemens, really fine ballplayers, two of them hall-of-fame caliber players, who are simply sickening mentally ill assholes of a kind that no Met fan would ever want on their team. I’m not kidding. I would not root for the Mets if they signed Roger Clemens. Certainly not if they had to pay 18 million plus $7.5 million luxury tax for just a few months in which he could just show up at the stadium whenever he felt like it.  Rose tried to beat the crap out of Buddy Harrelson just because he was so frustrated that the Reds were losing the 1973 playoffs to the Mets. Rocker was stupid enough to say the kind of thing that stupid guys say about furriners and New Yorkers in front of a guy who he – what?- forgot was a reporter? But Clemens was the worst. 

Clemens threw right at Mike Piazza’s head just because Piazza had hit something like five home runs off of him. He wanted to crack his head open and spill his brains. I don’t honestly know if Clemens really wanted to do that. But he’s the kind of guy who would have. What an asshole. 

Then his testosterone-addled brain (some of it from his own testes, some of it probably purchased) convinces him that a piece of Piazza’s broken bat is actually a baseball, a really weird baseball, that he should playfully throw back at Piazza (remember the look on Piazza’s face at that moment?).  Pete Rose is still alive somewhere complaining about not being in the Hall of Fame. He’s still famous but he’s irrelevant. Who knows where Rocker is? But all of a sudden, Roger Clemens is back in all of our lives. 

How do I feel? Delighted, actually. I may eat my words, but I feel something very beautiful coming on. A perfect storm for the Yankee hater. Think of it. The Yankees show signs of very possibly not having a team good enough to make it to the playoffs. In a year in which the Mets probably will. Roger Clemens appears in George Steinbrenner’s box and Suzyn Waldman announces it as if it is one of the greatest moments in baseball history. You get the whole Yankee hype thing. “Oh, what good fortune showers down onto us! Oh, how we deserve it, we champions and our champion fans! We do nothing to deserve such good fortune and yet it comes and comes!” 

All it took was a prorated annual salary of $28 million dollars a year. Plus the luxury tax. So all baseball values are shot to hell because the proud pricks in pinstripes are running desperate and scared. Zito now looks underpaid at only $18 million a year. But Yankee fans and Yankee players talk all day about how worth it it all is, because Roger Clemens will win them the championship that this franchise EXPECTS and DESERVES.  Are they nuts? Have they lost their frigging minds? The man turns 45 in August. Sure, he has pitched amazingly well the last few years for a guy his age, for anybody really. But he is 45. And he has had no spring training. Is this a savior who gives you a lock on getting to the postseason, when your team E.R.A. is still higher than that of the 1962 Mets and Mariano Rivera has an E.R.A. of 8.38 ? 

Do you really expect the old guy to ride in like the cavalry? They are not going to be happy. And I can’t wait to see it. By investing so much in Clemens they are magnifying the scale of the disaster they are powerless to prevent. It’s bad enough to have your first bad year in a long time. But it is so much worse to look so stupid believing that you have bought yourself a savior for only 25 million dollars. 

In Latin, “Clemens” means gentle and merciful. That’s very funny when you think about it. This will be fun for Mets fans. We will not be gentle. We will not show mercy. Die, suckers, die.   

 

Hair

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Why?  That’s what I want to know.  Why?  I could see them doing it if they were in the cellar and ten games below .500 and they wanted to change their whole sense of reality.  You might also want to do something like this when you don’t have enough of a team dynamic.  The Mets are 21-12.  They have a great team dynamic.  There was no reason for them to do this.

Now there is all this pressure on Jose Reyes to get rid of the hair that is such a part of his personality and style.  I love to see his hair move as he runs and flies and dives.  It’s like the trail of a comet.  He doesn’t look like anyone else with those curls.  That is who the great superstar Jose Reyes is.  Why, please, would anyone in their right mind want Jose Reyes to start using a different kind of toothpaste at this moment, why would they want him to start drinking a different beer, why would they want him to change any routine in any way at all?  When someone is playing like Jose is at this point you keep everything the same, exactly the same, hoping to fool fortune into thinking that something impossible and perfect can continue forever.

And Shawn Green?  With his hair he is one of the best-looking guys in baseball.  Without it he looks like John Malkovich playing the vampire Nosferatu.  And did it not occur to anyone that Green is in such a beautiful groove right now that, as with Reyes, it would be madness to change anything at all?  Have you noticed that before the haircut, Green was fifth in the NL in batting and he has now gone 0 for 7.  Didn’t anybody on that team know the story of another Jewish hero who lost all of his strength when his hair was cut? 

There were two guys who did need some shaking up, some change.  Delgado and Wright.  But Delgado already has no hair and on Wright the whole thing would have been funny and cute.

So, who was the instigator, here?  Beltran?  When did Beltran become an instigator?  The rap on Beltran is that he’s a great ballplayer who is a shy and quiet clubhouse presence.  He has to choose this moment and this way to stop being shy and quiet?

 

The Leaves Come Out on the Trees

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

On May 5, John Maine is not yet showing any sign that he is not going to have as good a season as Gooden had in 1985, which is the best season by a Mets pitcher ever, and, I would argue, possibly the best season of any pitcher in the last 50 years.

I love how every time Julio Franco hits a home run he sets a new record as the oldest man ever to hit a major league home run.  It is so wonderful to see someone born in the decade in which I was born, still playing major league baseball.

Jose Reyes is right now on a pace to finish the season with 253 hits, 173 runs, 116 rbis, 58 doubles, 29 triples, 12 home runs, and 104 stolen bases.  These numbers are not human.  It would be one of the best offensive seasons by anyone ever.  Plus Jose is a leadoff hitter who not only has a .361 average and a .439 OBP.  He has a slugging average of .574, higher than most of the greatest sluggers in history.  By way of comparison, Willie Mays’s lifetime slugging percentage was .557 and Mike Piazza’s is .551. 

This is all so much fun to watch.  Remember when you used to dread the West Coast road trip in May?  Remember how that was when the season’s hopes got put to bed?  I haven’t spent much of my life in Arizona, but it is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places. 


 

Mayday

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

Mayday is an international day of celebration and it is an international signal for distress. Its double meaning is very relevant to baseball, I think.

You look like you’re going to dominate the National League, with the best pitching in the league, the best hitting, and the best fielding.  Then for the second series in a row, you drop two out of three games to your main rivals.

You get it all back for three gorgeous games.  So when a rookie pitcher falters, you don’t worry.  But then you lose a close one to a very bad team and you come this close to losing another to the bad team, because you can’t capitalize on scoring opportunities.

Then you begin to feel that a young pitcher you got as a throw-in in a trade you only did because you feel that Mrs. Santa Claus should know when to keep her mouth shut and her …, well whatever, is the next coming of Tom Seaver.

Then you lose your second baseman in the first major injury of the season, and your somewhat fragile, no-spring-chicken, number-two starter also goes on the disabled list with something you hope is just what they’re saying and not something worse.  And you hope your forty-year-old left-fielder who’s tearing up the league is also all right. 

You know that you still had a great great month, but your three and four hitters are stuck in puzzlingly long slumps, and you don’t really have a replacement for that number-two starter.  You don’t even have a reliable fifth starter.  The starting pitching has been terrific so far.  But you know that can change.

You see, you tell yourself, this is what a baseball season is really like.  During the offseason, you sort of forget.  You think of it as a balance of measurable forces.  It isn’t.  It is walking through a minefield, moments of security followed by moments of unforeseeable disaster.   I won’t use the roller coaster metaphor because that’s what everybody always uses.  And the roller coaster doesn’t really capture the sense of fear and precariousness that follows the joy and the pleasure.  Though, come to think of it, minefield is a pretty tired metaphor too.  To hell with it, you know what I’m talking about.

It’s not easy.  Whatever it is.  It’s fun.  I’m happy.  And I’m worried.  Happy Mayday.