Sunday, June 15, 2008

Doctor Jekyll and Mister Lupica

Mike Lupica is the Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde of sportswriting.

The New York Daily News columnist writes things that are sometimes brilliant, sometimes moving. Other times, he writes things that run from puzzling to infuriating.

Sometimes he ventures into politics, ripping George W. Bush and the horses' asses he rode in on. And I think, "Lupica, how can you be so right on politics and so wrong about baseball?

Lupica grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire, very much in New England. He went to Boston College. He is a Red Sox fan. He hates the Yankees. As such, he tends to favor the Sox, and the other team that Yankee Fans hate, the Mets as much as he can. He does nothing to hide those facts: He is blatant, and he is unrepentant.

But when he writes that Pedro Martinez is not just a great pitcher but a great man, he ignores that Martinez threw a 72-year-old man to the ground by his head, and has thrown at plenty of batters' heads.

When he writes that Jose Reyes is a better shortstop than Derek Jeter, he ignores the fact that Reyes has flopped in the clutch, both at bat and in the field. Reyes, if he is as good as Lupica and other Mutts fans think he is, should be the kind of player who leads a team to a Pennant. He's had 2 very good chances, and hasn't done it, not even once. Jeter has won 6.

When he writes that David Wright, the Met 3rd baseman, is better than Alex Rodriguez, he neglects to mention that, as bad as A-Rod has been in clutch situations, Wright has been just as disappointing.

When he wrote that Mike Piazza was the best-hitting catcher in baseball history (as many others have), he ignored the high-hitting era in which that Piazza played his entire career, but also the performances of Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella and Thurman Munson -- and that's just among New York catchers. To say nothing of Mickey Cochrane, Gabby Hartnett, Ernie Lombardi and Johnny Bench. And in the 2000 World Series, who was the New York catcher who came through and helped his team win the World Series? It was not Mike Piazza. It was Jorge Posada.

OK, so maybe you're a Met fan and disagree with that. Fair enough: You're entitled to your opinion, no matter what I might think of it.

But when Lupica writes that the Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball and haven't won the World Series in 8 years, he hopes you won't notice that the Mets have the highest payroll in the National League, and that they haven't won the World Series in 22 years.

I've often said, although I said it much more often before October 20, 2004, when it was fans of the Boston Red Sox making a point of it more than anyone else, even Met fans -- and they were already spending more than anyone, except the Yankees but including the Mets -- a reflection of Dr. Samuel Johnson's statement that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel: "Yankee payroll" is the last refuge of a sore loser.

In the June 15, 2008 edition of "Shooting From the Lip," Lupica writes this:

When you're spending $200 million on baseball players, you're sort of not supposed to need a weak wild-card field to make the Playoffs.

An understandable statement.

Except the Mets have a payroll of $140 million.

In 2006, the Mets lost the Pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals, who won just 83 games in the regular season, the fewest wins of any major league Pennant winner (in a non-strike year) since the 1973... Mets.

In 2007, the Philadelphia Phillies won 89 games. And the Mets couldn't win the N.L. East. The Colorado Rockies won 90. The San Diego Padres won 89. And the Mets couldn't win the N.L. Wild Card.

Meanwhile, the Yankees won 94 games, more than any N.L. team. In fact, all 4 A.L. Playoff teams -- the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- had a better record than the M-E-T-S Mets of New York Town.

As of right now -- and I admit that I haven't seen reports from all the June 15 games -- the Yankees are 6 games out of 1st place, 5 behind the Red Sox in the AILC (the All-Important Loss Column). The current A.L. Wild Card leader is the Tampa Bay Rays (who are already returning to Earth). The Yankees are 4 1/2 games behind them, also 5 in the loss column. Every team in the A.L. East is at least .500. There are currently 7 teams within legitimate range of the A.L. Wild Card.

The Mets are 7 games behind the Phillies in the N.L. East, but also 5 games behind in the loss column. The N.L. Wild Card leader is the Cardinals, who have the same record as the Phils, so the Mets are 7 back, 5 in the loss column. There are 5 teams within legitimate range of the N.L. Wild Card.

Which League has a weak wild-card field? In my opinion, neither one.

But the Yankees have now won 4 straight, and are 4 games over .500, and are over .500 both at home and on the road. The Mets are 2 games under .500. The Yanks now look like they've straightened things out, and can make a run at the Playoffs.

The Mets? Their fans are again screaming for "Witless Willie" to be fired. As if it was Randolph's fault that so many Mets have gotten hurt and the replacements, both acquisitions from other teams and call-ups from the farm systems, haven't gotten the job done.

Look, I don't know whose fault it is: Randolph, general manager Omar Minaya, owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, the coaches, the players, dumb luck, or (as I've suggested, sometimes with humor, sometimes with malice) the Curse of Kevin Mitchell.

In this particular case, it doesn't matter whose fault it is that the Mets are afflicted with an acute, worsening case of SUJ -- that's "Stinking Up the Joint."

What matters in this case is that Mike Lupica is calling the Yankees out for spending so much money and looking like they won't make the Playoffs.

But, every year since 1995, the Yankees have made the Playoffs.

Since 1988, 19 seasons and counting, the Mets have made the Playoffs 3 times, won just 1 Pennant, and haven't pulled ticker-tape out of their hair since, well, what they used in place of ticker-tape was still ticker-tape.

The Yankees and the Mets are the richest teams in their respective leagues. They are going to make money.

It's not how much you spend, it's what you get for your money.

The Yankees keep finding ways to get bang for their buck.

The Mets keep crying all the way to the bank.

The Mets are still New York's Number 2 team -- and not just because they stink. It's for several reasons, but the biggest is performance. The Yankees spend $200 million and make the Playoffs -- and should do more, but they do give themselves a chance to try. The Mets spend $140 million and let their fans down every time.

Lupica would do well to remember that.

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