Archive for February, 2008

Jersey Boy Returns

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Like Bruce Springsteen (who I see in concert for the first time this Thursday, I am so excited), I am from New Jersey.  I grew up there.  It’s not exactly Mets country, as Long Island is, but there are a lot of Mets fans in the Garden State.  I will be making my first two Mets Fan-related New Jersey appearances this week.

On Saturday, March 1, I will be speaking in the Authors’ Forum at a conference sponsored by the New Jersey Chapter of SABR at the Yogi Berra Museum on the campus of Montclair State University.  For directions click here.  The conference begins at 10 with an address by Randy Levine, the president of the whatevers.  The Authors Forum runs from 2:15-3:15 and I will be signing (specially discounted) books right after it ends.

On Tuesday, March 4, at 7:30 I will be giving a reading from Mets Fan at the Englewood (my home town) Library.  I’ll also be signing (once again specially discounted) books after the reading.  For directions, click here.

If you live near Montclair or Englewood, please come by and say hello.  I’ll be very glad to meet you.

 

Deep Into the Playoffs

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

This year, Fred Wilpon has defined his expectations.  The Mets should go “deep into the playoffs.”

That’s fair enough, although I can already hear what you would expect to hear from some fans: that we should expect to win the World Series.

I want to say this again, even though I say it all the time and even though it is perfectly obvious:  One should never expect to win the World Series.

Here’s a quiz.  We all know that the Mets have won only two World Series.  Since the Mets came into existence in 1962, how many National League teams have won more than three World Series?

The answer is none.  The Dodgers, the Reds, and the Cardinals have each won three World Series since 1962.  If we win it all this year, the Mets, for all of their sorry history, will be tied for first among National League teams in number of World Series won since 1962.  It may not seem to you as if the Mets win anything very often.  But they win things about as often as anybody has any actual right to expect.

Contrary to what you might think if you consider the history of the other team in town, winning the World Series is a two or three times in a lifetime event.  Not just for most baseball fans.  For all baseball fans other than Yankee fans. 

Only a fool would expect it, even with the best team imaginable.  Deep Into the Playoffs would be fine.  I agree with Fred.  Let’s not get into the mind-set of those other ones.  It is already making them unhappy.  They’ve made it to the playoffs every year so far, and yet they think they are having a bad century.

If baseball were about winning the World Series, it would not be worth following.  Baseball is not about winning the World Series.  It is about hoping.  And you can’t possibly hope for what you expect.

P.S.  In case you missed it, in last Sunday’s Newsday, Mark Herrmann quoted my observation, on this blog, that Karl Ehrhardt, the Sign Man, was the first Mets “blogger.”

 

Team to Beat

Monday, February 18th, 2008

So every year, everybody decides that they’ll get all hot and bothered about someone saying that some team or other is the team to beat in the division.  What, exactly, does it mean to be the team to beat?

In my book, the team to beat is the team that won it last year.  When Jimmy Rollins said last year that the Phillies were the team to beat, he was wrong.  The team to beat, obviously, was the team that had won it every year since there had been three divisions. 

This year, the team to beat is the Phillies.  They did an incredible job, with the best offense in the National League and a stirring finish.  They had a lot of help from the Mets.  But, when all is said and done, they won it.  They are the team to beat.

Now you could say that the acquisition of Santana makes the Mets better than the Phillies.  That would be wrong.  The Mets were better than the Phillies last year, before they got Santana.  They just didn’t win it.   

So why did Carlos Beltran say the Mets are the team to beat?  Maybe it’s because he thinks that it is time for him to start generating headlines, and not just scoring and driving in runs.  This is the only explanation I can think of.  Nobody else on the team rose to the bait.

Does any of this make any sense?  No.  It’s not even worth talking about.  This is a case of something I complained about last year on this blog.  You wait for months for pitchers and catchers and when pitchers and catchers comes nothing happens (what was supposed to happen besides pitchers and catchers reporting to camp?)  So, with the fans salivating for any sign that the baseball season is starting, reporters and players throw them stuff.  This is what we get.  Quiet Carlos says we’re the team to beat.  OOOhhhh.  How are the Phillies going to respond?  Stay tuned. 

Anyway, since it’s worth repeating and I like the pictures, here’s my Pitchers and Catchers post from last year.  It was called Big, Big Stories Out of Florida!!!!!!!!

A-Rod and Jeter don’t go out to DINNER as often as they used to!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Willie Randolph has all of these rings from playing and coaching on some other team.  Why is he wearing his 1977 ring?  Why 1977?  What does it mean?!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lastings Milledge doesn’t show up in camp BEFORE he’s scheduled to do so?  What can he possibly be thinking? 

Fred Wilpon decides that the Mets should try to win the World Series this year!!!  What could have led to this pronouncement???!  Does this reflect a change in policy?! Will Willie agree?!!  Stay tuned!!!


  

All of the prospects look really good!!!  But some of them won’t start the season with the Mets!!!  They need more time in the minors!!!


  

See this is why I find it hard to get into the pitchers and catchers thing.   I look forward to it every year, but then when it comes, I eagerly grab the newspapers to read …. stories like these.  Ehhhhhh. 

 

The Return of Baseball

Friday, February 15th, 2008

To mark this day, when things begin again, or sort of, I am posting this piece from my book, Mets Fan:

The Return of Baseball

Over the winter, I will follow the signings and trades.  The drugstores will turn orange and black, then red and green, then red and pink.  And just when I am beginning to feel that there never was such a thing as baseball, pitchers and catchers will report to camp in Florida.   In the papers, I will see pictures of players on a field, doing stretches in warm sunlight.  For me, it will still be cold outside.  But the cold night without baseball will be over. 
 

Nothing much happens in camp in February, but there will be interviews and features anyway.  If something does happen, if someone says something stupid, or is late for practice, it will be blown up out of proportion.  Everyone will be eager for something to happen.  But nothing will happen.  Still, I will read every word of the articles as religiously as if it were October and the Mets were in the playoffs.
 

Then, on a weekend in early March, I will hear the voices again, the ones that always awaken me from my winter slumber.  I will hear the familiar songs, the old commercials, the new commercials, and all the sounds of a game.  I will hear the new names, of the guys who will soon be cut, and I dream of their future.  I will remember hearing other names for the first time.  I will imagine that I can tell something from the first winter at-bats.  I will try to read the tea leaves.
 
There aren’t many good reasons to listen to or watch an exhibition game.  But I will do it anyway and I will enjoy it.  By late March, I will be asking: “Aren’t they ready yet?  Haven’t they done this before?  Do they really need this much time?”  Finally the rosters and lineups will be set.  A couple of games against rivals will seem kind of real but not real enough.   When the season is finally ready to start, I will be more than ready.  I will feel as if I’ve earned the warm air and the meaningful games. 
 

I will be rewarded with Opening Day and all of its momentous pageantry.  Players will line up on the sidelines.  I will cheer and get a lump in my throat.  The first game will begin and I will marvel that the at-bats actually count and will live forever in the statistics.  I will forget all of the good years that began badly and all the bad years that began well.  After all the late winter dreaming, I will be so anxious for real baseball that I will have forgotten how little a single game, a single clutch hit, a single botched relief appearance, really means.  It does not mean more, just because I am paying more  attention, as I savor the first sweet drops I squeeze from the season. 
 

As April moves towards May, I still won’t know what is real and what isn’t.  The fielders’ hands will still be cold.  Some of the pitchers will be getting nervous looking for their rhythm.  Some of the batters will take advantage and others won’t.  The batting averages of the league leaders will be ridiculous. Some teams will have winning streaks and I will make little changes to my pre-season predictions.  Soon enough, most of the obscure names will fall from their positions at the top of the leaders’ lists.  The standings will no longer look as if they have been shuffled by a crazy person.  The season’s one or two real surprises will settle into substance.  The rest of the anomalies will drop like cartoon characters, when they finally realize they’ve run off the end of the cliff.
 

The leaves will be back on the trees. The articles will have better information, but I won’t read them with as much urgency.  I will forget that there was so recently a time without baseball and without leaves.  I will be in the middle of it all over again. 

©Dana Brand 2007 
  

Johan?

Friday, February 8th, 2008

A reader of my blog left a comment asking why I wasn’t more enthusiastic about acquiring Johan Santana.

I am enthusiastic.  Very enthusiastic.  It is just difficult to know what to say.

Johan Santana is a very consistent pitcher who can legitimately claim the title of “best pitcher in baseball.”  He gets a lot of strikeouts and gives up very few hits per innings pitched.  It was necessary for the Mets to sign him because they had to do something major to get people to stop thinking so much about the Great Collapse at the end of last season.  With Santana, the Mets get a young ace and they certainly have the best pitching staff in their division and arguably the best pitching staff in the league.  They should make it to the playoffs and they certainly have the talent necessary to make it to the World Series and perhaps even win it.  You had to come to my blog to find this out?

All the articles about the Santana acquisition said the same things.  And now all the articles about the introduction of Santana to the press at Shea are saying the same things.  Everybody is impressed by how stable, solid, and centered Santana seems.   He is articulate and he seems to be calm, dedicated, and very intelligent.  He helps out the little town high in the Andes where he was born and grew up.  He’s likeable and looks as if he can handle the challenge of pitching in New York.  He will get along with the guys on the team.  He says he wants to win a World Series with the Mets.  He says New York is the center of the world. 

I would love to know more about this guy.  Just because I’m curious.  I’m not finding much on the Web.  I’m curious about how he got what I’ve always thought of as a German name.  I wonder what he thinks of Hugo Chavez, the left-wing president of Venezuela (and sharp critic of the U.S.) whom he’s met and had dinner with several times.  I wonder about his tastes and interests, about what distinguishes him as a human being and not merely as a pitcher.  I won’t find out about any of these things, of course, because anything that might make him stand out could get in the way of someone appreciating him.  Look at how ticked off I got at Ryan Church for his theological opinions.

This is one of the things that’s so weird about following baseball.   We see what these  players are in their statistics.  Then we add a little bit of character to the statistical contour (consistency, toughness, being a nice guy, being an unselfish player).  And so we make them up as characters and then we offer our conditional allegiance to the characters we’ve made.  Someday we might learn that they were nothing like what we’ve made of them (as happened with players like DiMaggio and Mantle).  And someday we might run up too hard against what they actually are as human beings (as with poor Steve Trachsel).  And then there’s the fact that we project onto them all of these hopes and dreams and fears.

Right now, this pleasant, exceptionally talented man is accepting his role and responsibilities.  He knows that we have a story here and that he will be expected to provide a compelling turn of the plot.  Like Gary Carter in 1985 and Mike Piazza in 1998, Johan Santana will assume the mantle of our dreams.  Depending on what happens next, his calm, his change-up, his consistency, his skill as a hitter, will all acquire meanings.  They will all become part of our collective memory.  He will earn his money by becoming part of each of us.  Isn’t Carter part of you, isn’t Piazza?  Isn’t 1986 and 1999 and 2000?  What is this world that is a part of us but that we see from such a distance, filled with people we love and don’t know?  I don’t know exactly, but I know I really like it and that it’s coming back next week.

Seven

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

The Mets’ awful, funky, fun first era, before the miracle of 1969, lasted exactly seven years.

Their miraculous second era, from the Championship of 1969 to the last good year of the Seaver-Koosman team in 1976, also lasted seven years.

Their thanks-a lot M.Donald Grant third era, from the trade of Seaver to the promising end of 1983, also lasted exactly seven years.

The Mets fourth and greatest era, from 1984 through 1990 was exactly seven years long.

Their fifth and most unpleasant era, from the horrors of 1991 to the coming of Piazza in 1998, lasted seven years as well.  I know I’m cheating a little on this one, since the new era really begain in 1997, but this isn’t entirely unreasonable, is it?
Mike Piazza was signed to a seven-year contract.  It would not be inappropriate to say that 1998 was another coherent seven-year period, would it?  The era of Piazza.  The era of great thrills and disappointments, of Bobby Valentine, the Atlanta Braves, and a lot of old, talented, interesting, and not always dependable players.

Johan Santana has just been signed to a seven-year contract.

You know the number of the train that takes you to Shea.

You know the size of our lead in the NL East with seventeen games to go in two thousand and SEVEN.

You know whose inexplicable slump had an awful lot to do with the collapse.

It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that seven is a lucky number for the Mets.  Would it be accurate to say that anything is lucky for the Mets?
 
Something, however, is going on with seven.  Nobody planned those coherent seven year eras, but they happened.  So what am I trying to say?

I’m not sure.  When you follow a team like the New York Mets, you have a tendency to look for patterns in stars and numbers.  Maybe you think that the patterns you discover will explain something.  They don’t. 

But you become crazy enough to see the patterns.  They’re like monsters in the wallpaper. 

Seven years is a long contract for the Mets.  But it was necessary and inevitable.  This is what they had to do to begin to convince us that there are no monsters in the wallpaper.
 

Seven Train to Shea

Friday, February 1st, 2008

This Saturday, February 2, at 1:30 pm, I will be on the Live Podcast of Blog Talk Radio’s Seven Train to Shea

This is a cool new show to which you can call in at (347) 215-8253.  The host is Mike Pignataro, who is in fact related to Joe Pignataro, the fondly remembered coach for the Mets in their most glorious years.  Please listen in and please call in!

P.S.  I’m not blogging about Santana until it actually happens.