Monday, June 30, 2008

Jerry Manuel: Still An Honest Man

Yes, the Mets split the last 4 games of the 2008 "subway series." Yes, they took the season series 4 games to 2. Yes, they won all 3 games at Yankee Stadium.

Does it matter? No. This matters:

We're kind of like the second team... The Yankees have won 26 championships... That's just the way it is...

I don't have a problem with that. I love playing them. I don't have a problem with that...

Shoot, use that as motivation. If you want to be first, win. Win some world championships. Don't be first just by popularity or who wears what jersey. Win some championships and you can claim first.
-- Jerry Manuel.

Oh yeah. That's gonna be until we win a World Series. And if we win one, they're going to be over us because they've won 26.
-- Carlos Beltran.

The front page of the Daily News says, "YANKS RULE!"

The front page of the Post says, "WERE NO. 2."

As the Bible says, "Great is truth, and mighty above all things." Hallelujah.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Split Doubleheader -- A Bananas Split

Anybody who says they understand baseball is LYING.

Today, each team scored 15 runs. Each team looked brilliant. Each team looked like a bunch of bums. And tomorrow and the next day, we do it all again.

Game 1: Mets 15, Yankees 6, after the Yanks had a 4-3 lead.

Game 2: Yankees 9, Mets 0.

Dan Giese didn't have it. But Sidney Ponson? He was given up for baseball-dead. And Pedro: WHO'S YOUR DADDY? I love beating that punk.

The Ernie Banks phrase "Let's play two" has been bandied about a bit the last 24 hours. I don't think this is what Ernie had in mind.

In the first game, Carlos Delgado set a Met franchise record with 9 runs batted in. In fact, he had as many RBIs in the game as he'd had in the month to that point. Another guy who'd been given up for baseball-dead.

You've got a 9-0 lead, and you let Kyle Farnsworth and Kei Igawa each pitch an inning? Joe Girardi, just because your hair went gray in a hurry doesn't mean the rest of us want to suffer the same fate!

I could've handled losing the 1st one in a well-played game, but that was a disgrace. The 2nd one was satisfying, but it was getting served a steak dinner knowing that the ice cream you bought after lunch melted and dripped all over your fridge.

The last Yankee Stadium/Shea Stadium doubleheader was like seeing a hot cheerleader: A split is acceptable, but you wanted more.

Along those same lines, to paraphrase Angels fan Gwen Stefani, this split was bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Giambi In the Hall? Yeah, Sure! Wait...

Somebody asked me today if I thought Jason Giambi was going to the Hall of Fame. Not as a visitor, but as an elected member.

My first reaction was to quote another controversial Yankee, 1960s pitcher Jim Bouton: "Yeah, surrrre!" First of all, the voters would have to get past the steroid question. And then there's his defense, his failures in the clutch, and...

But wait: He has, at this moment, 381 career home runs. Steroids or not, that's nothing to sneeze at. It's more than the following Hall-of-Famers: Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez with 379, Carlton Fisk 376, Ralph Kiner 369, Joe DiMaggio 361, Johnny Mize 359, Yogi Berra 358, Gary Carter 324, George Brett 317, Al Simmons 307, Rogers Hornsby 301, Chuck Klein 300, Ryne Sandberg 282, Joe Morgan and Brooks Robinson 268, Robin Yount 251, Goose Goslin 248, Hack Wilson 244, Roy Campanella 242, Roberto Clemente 240, Earl Averill 238, Gabby Hartnett 236, Paul Molitor 234, Jim Bottomley 219, Kirby Puckett 207, Joe Medwick 205 and Bill Dickey 202.

Let's get some of the misleading stuff out of the way first:

Cepeda, Kiner, DiMaggio, Wilson, Campanella, Molitor, Puckett and Medwick all missed significant time due to injuries. (In Wilson's case, boozing caused teams to give up on him.) DiMaggio and Mize also missed significant time due to serving in World War II. Perez, Mize, Brett, Simmons, Hornsby, Yount, Goslin, Clemente, Averill, Molitor, Bottomley,

Puckett and Dickey were much more renowned as contact hitters. Dickey, Fisk, Berra, Carter and Hartnett were catchers, who generally don't hit as many home runs anyway, and were elected as much for their defense as for their offense, which was also true of Sandberg and Morgan, and Robinson was elected almost exclusively for his defense, although he did win both regular-season and World Series Most Valuable Player awards, and collected over 2,800 hits despite playing in a pitcher's park, so he was a very good hitter.

That leaves Klein, who had the benefit of a very short right-field fence.

Barring further injury, Giambi will finish with over 400 home runs, maybe 450, but almost certainly not 500, which, prior to the steroid questions, was considered an unofficial "automatic induction." He also won the American League MVP in 2000, and nearly did so again in 2001. He's had 7 seasons of at least 100 RBIs. He's had 4 .300+ seasons.

The players with between 381 and 499 who are in are: Johnny Bench 389, Al Kaline 399, Duke Snider 407, Billy Williams 426, Cal Ripken 431, Carl Yastrzemski 452, Dave Winfield 465, Willie Stargell 475, Stan Musial 475 and Lou Gehrig 493.

Kaline, Ripken, Yaz, Winfield and Musial all have over 3,000 hits. Bench was a catcher and his career was injury-shortened. Snider might not be in if he didn't play in New York. Same with Williams in Chicago. And Stargell and Gehrig were each one of the great power hitters of their or any era.

Players between 381 and 499 who are eligible but not in: Albert Belle 381 (injury-shortened & steroid-tainted), Jim Rice 382 (not enough for a Fenway guy), Frank Howard 382 (huge guy's last good year was at 34, fits the steroid profile even though they almost certainly weren't available, will never get in anyway), Harold Baines 384 (newly eligible, 2,866 hits gives him a shot), Dwight Evans 385 (see answer for Rice, but was also an excellent defensive right fielder), Graig Nettles 390 (not enough for a Yankee Stadium short-porcher, and his .247 BA dooms him, but a great 3rd baseman), Joe Carter 396 (won't get in, not even with the big one he hit), Dale Murphy 398 (not enough for a guy who played in Atlanta's "Launching Pad"), Andres Galarraga 399 (Coors Field and the new Turner Field in Atlanta, not enough), Darrell Evans 414 (.248 BA dooms him), Andre Dawson 438 (would have had 500 if not for injuries, will get in eventually), Dave Kingman 442 (.236 BA is pathetic) and Jose Canseco 462 (even if we didn't know about the steroids, it's his only stat that qualifies him).

Players between 381 and 499 who are not yet eligible: Larry Walker 383 (won't make it), Chipper Jones 402 and counting (might make it), Mike Piazza 427 (also .308 BA, he'll get in), Juan Gonzalez 434 (how do you say "Steroids" in Spanish?), Carlos Delgado 442 and barely counting (2 more good years might have done it), Jeff Bagwell 449 (he'll make it), Gary Sheffield 484 and counting (if they give him a pass on steroids, he's got a shot) and Fred McGriff 493 (eligible in 2 years, tough call since he fell just short of 500, but he did play on a World Series winner in Atlanta).

By that standard, I don't think Giambi makes it, even if we don't consider his steroid use.

But you never know: If he hangs on and helps the Yankees win this year, and they take a chance on him, or someone else does and he helps them win, it could be another answer.

In the meantime, I welcome his resurgence, and hope that he keeps it up through the end of October 2008.

*

UPDATE: Rice, Dawson and Piazza have since been elected. Giambi retired after the 2014 season. He finished with 440 home runs, and a 139 career OPS+ -- meaning that, over the course of his career, he was 39 percent better at producing runs than the average player. He was an All-Star 5 times, but never a Gold Glove winner.

It also didn't help that the Yankees won the World Series the year after he left. He's reached the postseason 9 times, with 3 different teams (2000-01 A's, 2002-07 Yanks, 2009 Rockies), but only won 1 Pennant (2003 Yanks) and never won a World Series.

On its Hall of Fame Monitor, on which a "Likely HOFer" is at 100, Baseball-Reference.com has him at 108, meaning he should get in. But on their Hall of Fame Standards, which is weighted more toward career statistics, and on which the "Average HOFer" is at 50, he's at 44, meaning he falls a bit short.

They have his 10 Most Similar Batters, which is (more or less) weighted toward players of the same position, as Delgado, Paul Konerko, Canseco, Stargell, Willie McCovey, Galarraga, Mark Teixeira, Bagwell, McGriff and Andruw Jones.

Stargell and McCovey are in. Bagwell and McGriff should be. Delgado, Konerko and Jones could be. Canseco, Galarraga and probably Teix never will be. So 2 in, 4 should be, possibly as many as 7.

It's not encouraging. He'll be eligible in the election to be held in January 2020, but, even if HOF voters decide to forgive everybody who used PEDs for using them, he'll never get in. He just doesn't have the numbers or the other achievements.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Jerry Manuel and George Carlin: Two Honest Men

Jerry Manuel is the new manager of the New York Mets. So far, he's done a good job. But it's the Mets, so we all know it won't end well.

Met fans, whom I have dubbed the Flushing Heathen, don't deserve it. According to today's New York Post, Manuel called the Met fans crap.

Well, not exactly -- and since when do I believe anything the Post says? When it makes me laugh, that's when! (I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The Times is the face the City prefers to show the rest of the world, the Daily News is the face the City prefers to show itself, and the Post is a face only a mother could love. Not my mother, though, and not her mother, and definitely not me.)

Manuel was actually comparing the atmosphere at the William A. Shea Municipal Stadium to... that stuff. From the Post:

<< "It's very, very fertile ground for growth in Shea Stadium," Manuel said. "It's fertile ground for a team's growth and development. Sometimes, fertile ground has fertilizer... Fertilizer is a good thing," Manuel said in Denver before his team's victory over the Rockies. "It's a good thing. You get the greatest results - get the most beautiful plants - when you put it in that type of fertile soil. That's what we have the opportunity to do."

Manuel, who will make his first appearance at Shea as manager of the Mets tonight against Seattle, pleaded with reporters to forget the "fertilizer" reference - and not do "something crazy with this." >>

He asked the New York media... especially for a tabloid newspaper... not to do something crazy with his comparison of Shea Stadium, or the inhabitants thereof, to fertilizer? I guess managing in Chicago (with the White Sox) didn't teach him enough about big-city media!

I could think of a better word to use than "fertilizer." On a related subject...

*

Rest in peace, George Carlin. Until now a serious candidate for the title of The Funniest Man Alive, the heart trouble he'd had for many years finally did him in at age 71. He didn't make it any easier with substance abuse. He recently left alcohol rehab, and after beating his cocaine addiction years ago, he admitted, "I finally figured out that the purpose of cocaine is to run out of it."

Carlin was from Morningside Heights, the Manhattan neighborhood where Columbia University is headquartered. To make themselves sound tougher, he and his childhood friends said they actually came from "White Harlem." (Hey, there was a "Spanish Harlem," and "East Harlem" is still mainly Italian, so why not?)

He was a Yankee Fan whose favorite moment in sports was the Yankees not just winning the 1996 World Series after so long not having won, but beating the Atlanta Braves to do it. Carlin called Atlanta "a fake city" that didn't have "real fans." He was very perceptive.

He would've appreciated a New York manager calling his team's fans a variation on one of the "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television." In case you're wondering, the original 7 words he started the bit with in 1972 are "shit," "piss," "fuck," "cunt," "cocksucker," "motherfucker" and "tits."

(NOTE: When I originally wrote this piece, I hate them censored, as "S---," and so on. Except "Tits": I don't remember why I left that one alone. It certainly wasn't because of a fixation on breasts. At the time, I was concerned that people I know who are sensitive to this kind of language wouldn't like to see it in my blog, and it would be a while before I started using profanities in the blog. Well, as Carlin would have said, "Fuck that shit!" So, in going over these posts years after the fact, I put in the uncensored version.)

He would occasionally replace some of them. When he appeared on Bravo's program Inside the Actors' Studio, host James Lipton asked him what the 7 words are, and Carlin's words were broadcast as follows: "(Bleep), (Bleep), (Bleep), (Bleep), (Bleep), (Bleep) and Ass!"

Carlin's famous bits included Willy West of "WINO, Wonderful Wino Radio!"; Al Sleet the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman ("This weather system is a Canadian low, which is not to be confused with a Mexican high!"), Daytime TV ("Russia and the United States are at war, details ahead, but first, this word about your laundry!"), Long Hair ("Be fair with your hair, show it you care, wear it to there, or to there, or to there if you dare!" -- I guess "derriere" wasn't a word you could say in TV in 1971), Stuff ("Where do you put your stuff?"), various musings about God ("I have begun worshipping the Sun, because I can actually see it"), and, of course, "Baseball and Football."

We've all heard the bit, even if we only remember parts of it. The beginning is familiar: "Baseball is a 19th Century pastoral game. Football is a 20th Century technological struggle."

Now that I think about it, maybe Carlin didn't really understand baseball.

"Pastoral?" Shea Stadium?!? Are you freakin' kiddin' me?

He closed that bit by using all kinds of military metaphors to describe the object of football, and said, "In baseball, the object is to go home! And to be safe!"

Since last fall, the Mets have not been "safe at home." Maybe, instead of looking to a new manager, general manager Omar Minaya, or to their full-of-fertilizer fans, maybe the Mets should look to, as Carlin put it, "that Invisible Man in the Sky."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Willie Randolph and the Chicken Feathers

I've read some blogs from the Flushing Heathen saying that Willie Randolph did not do the job he was hired to do, and that's why he was fired; and, for that reason, the time of the season, the game of the day, and even the location of his firing don't matter.

These guys have a point. Willie did not do the job he was hired to do, which was to turn the Mets into World Champions and New York's Number 1 baseball team.

The Mets came within one run of a Pennant in 2006, came within one game of a Playoff berth and a Division Title in 2007, and now in 2008 are a sub-.500 team in a not very strong Division. And the Yankees, for all their difficulties since the bottom of the 9th inning on November 4, 2001, remain what they have been since the Met "dynasty" collapsed in 1992: New York's Number 1 baseball team.

What does this mean? It means that Met general manager Omar Minaya did not do the job he was hired to do: Get his manager the players he needed to do his job. You can't make chicken salad out of chicken feathers, to use a cleaned-up version of a classic analogy.

Jose Reyes is Rickey Henderson circa 1988, i.e. a player with a lot of talent but a bad attitude who has thus far underachieved while fooling fans and media into thinking he's great. Henderson eventually got sent to a team that was good enough for him to make the difference, and he did. He proved he had what it takes. Reyes may one day become a 1989 Rickey Henderson, but can he do it with this bunch? So far, no.

Carlos Beltran is a SPORT magazine article short of being what Reggie Jackson was in the spring of 1977. Minus the three World Championships, that is. (Lucky for him, SPORT went out of business in 2000 -- coincidentally, the last year the Mets won a Pennant.)

David Wright is a can't-miss prospect. Which is also what he was 2 years ago when the Flushing Heathen thought Willie Randolph knew how to manage.

Carlos Delgado is a switch-hitting Mo Vaughn -- minus about 50 pounds.

John Maine and Oliver Perez are starting to look like Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon, pleasant surprises when they weren't being counted on to be regular members of the starting rotation, but when they were counted on, so much for all that early promise.

Billy Wagner... Let's just say if he stood up as well on the mound as he does in the locker room, he'd be closer to Mariano Rivera than to Kyle Farnsworth.

And Johan Santana and, when able to pitch, Pedro Martinez, have made no difference at all. At least Santana's not a headhunter.

Just 3 months ago, the Flushing Heathen were so sure that this team was going all the way. And, thanks to the Three Stooges -- Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon and Omar Minaya -- they have gone all the way down the drain. As they always do.

At the rate the Washington Nationals are going, Willie could be their next manager. Wouldn't that be something, Willie leading the Nats against the Mets 18 or so times a year, 9 or so times a year at Citi Field, and showing the 46,000 or so fans -- 20,000 or so coming dressed as empty seats because they don't want to see a crummy team -- what they wanted gone.

Willie Randolph has the moral high ground. Met management, and the Met fans who wanted him gone, wouldn't know a moral high ground if it bit them in the Keith Hernandez. (Maybe Kramer and Newman were right about him. After all, as a broadcaster, he's spit on plenty of people.)

Something is rotten in the neighborhood of Flushing Meadow. The food is spoiled. Blame the distributor. Not the cook.

Chef Manuel, I don't envy you your new job. Here's your, uh, chicken feathers. See what you can make of it. I'm just glad I'm a Yankee Fan and I don't have to eat it.

Met fans, the Flushing Heathen, can eat it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On the Celtics' 17th Title (Yuuuuck... ) & Other NBA Matters

Kobe Bryant is a very low form of life. And it doesn't matter how many titles the Lakers win with him but not Shaquille O'Neal: Shaq has won the argument.

Kevin Garnett deserves a ring. So does Ray Allen. So does Paul Pierce. So does Doc Rivers. They are good guys, good for the game.

It doesn't matter: The Lakers should have won. No matter who in the Celtic organization deserves a ring, those New England fans do not.

Despite those opinions of mine, the Celtics were the better team, and the organization deserved to win. No question about it. That 131-92 Game 6 clincher was an absolute anvil dropped on the Fakers' head, as if they were in a cartoon. (Hey, they do play in Hollywood, don't they? Well, close enough.)

But we all know that Celtic fans are the worst of the New England fans, front-runners who stayed away from the Boston Garden in droves during the Bill Russell years, 1957 to 1969, all the while they packed the place for the Bruins, who stunk for much of that period.

Why? Because the Celtics were led by black men (at least on the court, and then, after Red Auerbach left coaching to only run the front office and Russell became head coach), on the bench; while the Bruins were all white. (They were also virtually all Canadian, with hardly any Americans, but did you dumb Chowdaheads evah considah that?)

But when Dave Cowens came in as center, and teamed with John Havlicek to become a Celtic team led by 2 white stars (coinciding with the Bruins’ 2 Stanley Cups in the Orr-Esposito-Bucyk-Cheevers era), suddenly they were claiming the 11 NBA Titles the Celts had won under Russell. The bastards.

And while Spike Lee was wrong in one regard (there were plenty of MF’ers in the league who were uglier) and it’s hard for a New York-area fan to now say that Isiah Thomas was right about something, Larry Bird did get called as great as he was called because he was white. A black forward with just as much talent would have been called… the Mailman. Karl Malone.

Since that time, Celtic fans have embraced black players, from the ill-fated Reggie Lewis to the current triad of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and their spiritual leader, Paul Pierce. We can look forward to seeing Numbers 5, 20 and 34 raised to the rafters at whatever they’ll be calling the New Gahden by then.

But I really don’t want to hear another word from New England fans. We can’t accuse the Celtics of cheating, the way we can on the Red Sox and we already know for sure on the Patriots. But these people have been sorer winners than they ever were as sore losers.

(NOTE: I forgot how the Celtics cheated by turning off the air-conditioning in the visitors' locker room at the old Boston Garden during those 90-plus-degree Boston Mays. But, as far as I know in 2014, the 2008 Celtics were clean.)

*

And while I enjoy a good insult of Kobe Bryant, whether it’s from Shaq or the guys in his “hometown” of Philadelphia…

Curt Schilling, of the Boston Red Asses and 38pitches.com: You have freedom of speech, but you abuse it by taking Kobe to task for doing what you have always done, and just did again by dismissing the Manny Ramirez-Kevin Youkilis incident: Putting yourself ahead of your teammates. No matter what your achievements, Curt -- even if you haven't used steroids, and since you're a bigger Roger Clemens acolyte than anybody, who's kidding who -- you will always be a bum.

*

Despite the exhortations of the likes of Michael Wilbon on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and NBA Shootaround, it's hard for me to watch the NBA now. By the time the Barclays Center finally opens -- if it does -- and my team becomes the New York Nets again (or the Brooklyn Nets, or whatever Bruce Ratfinkner ends up calling them), they will have been a "lame-duck team" even longer than the Montreal Expos were. And for a New York Tri-State Area team, that's a bigger disgrace than anything that happened in the quarter-century between Dr. J and J-Kidd (1976 to 2001).

Which is a lot: The collapse from the top of the ABA to the bottom of the NBA, the Secaucus Seven, Dennis Hopson, Yinka Dare (the Three-Minute Egg), John Starks' clothesline on Kenny Anderson turning a really good player and a really good team into a whiny brat and a dysfunctional roundball unit, Derrick (Whoop-Dee-Damn-Doo) Coleman, Shawn Bradley wearing Number 76 because of his total games played rather than his height, Ed O'Bannon, and, of course, becoming the second of the now four teams messed up by Stephon Marbury, the biggest "clubhouse cancer" in Tri-State Area sports history.

Which is all the more reason the Tri-State Area needs the Knicks as a live franchise. They may never be what they were with Willis Reed, Walt Frazier & company, or even what they were with Bernard King and Trent Tucker, and I couldn't root for them when they were a bunch of thugs (Starks, Latrell Sprewell), but if they can get their act together in the next few years, who knows?

*

Some closing thoughts on the Celtics winning Title 17:

It took the New York Yankees 54 years to win their 17th World Series, in 1956.

It took the Montreal Canadiens 62 years to win their 17th Stanley Cup, in 1971.

It took the Celtics 62 years to win their 17th NBA Title, exactly as long as it took the Habs, and a bit more than it took the Yanks.

And the drought between the Celtics’ last title and this one was 22 years (1986-2008). Even counting their dreary first few years of existence, the Yankees have never gone 22 years without winning a World Series – their peak is 21 (1903-23), 18 if you don’t count that beginning (1979-96). The Habs’ longest drought is their current one, 15 years (1993-2008), 14 if you take out the 2004-05 season that wasn’t played and the Cup that wasn’t awarded.

On the other hand, the Canadiens left the Montreal Forum, moved to the Molson Centre (now the Bell Centre) and still haven’t advanced as far as the Conference Finals. The Celtics left the Boston Garden for the FleetCenter (now the TD Banknorth Garden) the same season, and had only advanced to one Conference Final until now.

That they have finally won a World Championship in their new building is a good sign for those of us who are concerned about what might happen after the Yankees leave the one and only Yankee Stadium we ever wanted. Maybe the “sports gods” won’t be mad at the team after all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Overnight Massacre: No Class By the Mets (Or Their Fans)

In 1985, George Steinbrenner said that Yogi Berra would be the Yankee manager for the entire season. The Yankees got off to a horrible start, 6-10, which makes the starts of these last 4 seasons look like gangbusters by comparison. And George fired Yogi.

Yogi had been fired as a manager before. He knew: That's life. That's baseball. That wasn't the issue for him.

The issue for him was that George sent Clyde King, a former big-league pitcher, a former Yankee coach, briefly interim manager in 1982 and by that point part of the front office, to tell Yogi.

George didn't call Yogi up to his office to tell him man to man, face to face. George didn't go down to Yogi's office to tell him in person. George didn't even call Yogi and tell him over the phone. (At least he didn't fax Yogi his firing, the way Pat Riley quit on the Knicks -- and they called Dennis Rodman "the Worm.")

That was why Yogi stayed away from Yankee Stadium for 14 years, because George was running things and wasn't man enough to tell Yogi to his face that a change had to be made. It wasn't the decision, which may have been right; it wasn't even the timing, which may have been a little too soon; it was the method. The method was madness.

In 1999, prodded by a dying Joe DiMaggio and a few others, George finally made amends. He told Yogi he should have told him in person. And Yogi had the perfect words to describe the feud: "It's over."

*

Now, Willie Randolph has been fired as Met manager. It happened this morning, at 3:11 AM New York time, after a win -- the Mets' 2nd straight win! -- on the opposite end of the country, when very few local fans were liable to be awake, and after the New York papers had their morning editions ready to hit the streets.

This is reminiscent of June 15, 1977, the Midnight Massacre, when general manager M. Donald Grant traded Tom Seaver for Steve Henderson, Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman. The best righthanded pitcher in the National League (the best lefty being Steve Carlton, and it's a toss-up as to which was better) and the best player in Met history (still, 31 years later) for a good young outfielder, the defending NL Rookie of the Year and a good starting pitcher, a good-field-no-hit 2nd baseman, and a reserve outfielder. None of those 4 players turned into a long-term Met regular.

Grant also traded slugging (but strikeout-prone and atrocious-fielding) 1st baseman Dave Kingman to the San Diego Padres for outfielder Bobby Valentine and pitcher Paul Siebert, who'd pitched all of 72 innings in the majors. Valentine was damaged goods, and Siebert was totally forgettable.

Henderson, Zachry, Flynn, Norman, Valentine and Siebert: By Opening Day 1983, none of those guys were still with the Mets, while Seaver and Kingman were hardly done, and had increased their fame with other teams -- and both had come back to the Mets, with considerably less success than their first go-arounds, and both would be productive after leaving the Mets again.

Valentine would also come back, as the manager, and lead the Mets to a Pennant. He ranks 3rd among Met managers in winning percentage. Davey Johnson is 1st. Who's 2nd? Willie Randolph.

Trades like that, made by Grant, left the Mets a dried-out husk of a team that had won a World Series in 1969 and a Pennant in 1973, and left Shea Stadium so sparsely-attended it was called Grant's Tomb. Tug McGraw, a star with those '69-'73 Mets, said that when he came back with a far superior Philadelphia Phillies team and saw over 40,000 empty seats at Shea for a weekend game against the (at least geographically) next-closest NL team, a very good team that should have attracted some fans even if the Mets couldn't, it was a very sad thing.

It hadn't yet turned around before Fred Wilpon and his then-partner Nelson Doubleday bought the Mets from Grant and the Joan Payson estate. Even then, it took 5 full seasons to turn around.

*

Willie Randolph did lose control of some of his players. But he didn't cause any injuries. Nor did he make any of the personnel decisions that led him to not have adequate replacements.

He should have been fired, because he was no longer able to do the job well enough to get this team into the Playoffs. But whether it was Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon or Omar Minaya making the decision, that decider should have been a man about it. He shouldn't have made Willie get on a plane, fly all the way across the country, win his second straight game, and then tell him it was over. And that decider should have been man enough to face the media in the light of day.

I also think it's very telling what happened with the last notable strategy decision that Randolph made as Met manager.

Sunday afternoon, 2nd game of an interleague doubleheader (forced by rain) with the Texas Rangers at Shea International Airport. Tie game, bottom of the 6th, go-ahead runs on base, pitcher's spot coming to bat, and the Met bullpen less reliable than at any time I've ever seen it in 32 seasons of watching this franchise.

His starter is Pedro Martinez, who's approaching the 100-pitch mark, the magic number where he goes from throwing like Sandy Koufax to throwing like Sandy Duncan. It's the National League, which is still so stupid as to not put in the designated hitter.

Willie pulls Pedro back, and sends up a pinch-hitter, and it's Robinson Cancel. No, not Robinson Cano, although the Yankee 2nd baseman, as bad as his hitting has been at times this season, would still have been a better choice without the hindsight we have now. Robinson Cancel is a backup catcher, who'd just been called up, having spent nearly all of his career in the minors, not having had a major-league hit in 9 years. This says less about Willie's strategy than it does about Omar's personnel decisions.

And the Met fans boo. And they chant, "We want Pedro!" (As far as I'm concerned, you can have him.) And 65 percent of Met fans on the SNY website vote to leave Pedro in. (Have I mentioned before what I think of the intelligence of the average Met fan?) And Met broadcaster Gary Cohen called it "a major problem."

But it works. The decision to send Cancel up to pinch-hit for Pedro defies all logic, and the opinions of 65 percent of Met fans, but it works. He gets a hit, and the Mets go on to win the game, and Randolph gets to manage for one more day. (But, as it turns out, for only one more day.)

And then, having called the situation "a major problem," but then seeing it work out in the Mets' favor, Cohen calls Randolph "tremendously gutsy." Puh. Leeze. As Lloyd Bentsen might have put it if he were a Met fan, "Senator, you're no Bob Murphy."

And still, there are Met fans who say, "Witless Willie doesn't know how to manage in the National League." As if not having the DH made the NL something holy while the American League was an apostasy.

*

Well, Met fans, you, the Flushing Heathen, got what you wanted: "Witless Willie the Yankee" is gone. And your new short-term manager is Jerry Manuel, who has won exactly as many Division Titles as Willie Randolph (1, with the 2000 Chicago White Sox), and whose postseason record is 0-1 in series (Willie's is 1-1), and 0-3 in games (Willie's is 7-5). And you don't have a clue as to who your long-term manager is. One of many things about which you don't have a clue.

Willie was the 1st black manager in New York major league baseball. Perhaps the words of Martin Luther King are coming to his mind: "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I'm free at last."

I hope Willie Randolph is invited to the last Old-Timers' Day at the original Yankee Stadium, and -- with all due respect to Yogi, Whitey, Reggie and even the recovering Bobby Murcer, all of whom are deserving -- gets the biggest ovation of any guest. I hope it's loud enough for every Met fan to hear.

And if that happens, I don't ever again want to hear about how Met fans have any "class" while Yankee Fans have none. It will be a long time before Met fans, and the Met organization, prove they have any class.

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.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

You know how you just KNOW?

Last night, on SNY, 9th inning, Mets vs. Arizona Diamondbacks. Mets lead 3-0 going in. Mike Pelfrey has pitched 8 shutout innings, and has even gotten a hit. Then he issues a walk, and Willie Randolph comes to get him out. “Boooo!” Pelfrey walks back to the dugout. “Yayyyy!”

Randolph brings in Billy Wagner, who really shouldn’t use “Enter Sandman” until he’s won so much as 1 Pennant, let alone the 6 that Mariano Rivera has. Wagner gets 2 outs. So far, so good. But then he puts another runner on.

Mark Reynolds comes to the plate for Arizona, as the tying run. With a 2-2 count, Wagner appears to hit Reynolds on the shoe. (Almost certainly not on purpose. Doing it on purpose would have made absolutely no sense.) The umpire says the ball hit the dirt, it’s now 3-2. The D-backs argue. The replay showed the call was right: The ball hit the ground before it hit the shoe.

And then the SNY announcers started talking about Cleon Jones and the "shoe-polish play" from the 1969 World Series. The next batter after Jones, Donn Clendenon, knocked one out. (There was also a shoe-polish play in the 1957 World Series, when Vernal "Nippy" Jones of the Milwaukee Braves was hit, leading to a game-winning homer by Eddie Mathews, although Nippy was white and Cleon is black, so they weren't related.)

And as I waited for the next pitch to Reynolds, I thought, "The Mets may regret getting this call in their favor... " and then...

Well, you know how you know something is going to happen? I said it a few days ago in my post in honor of what would have been my Met fan Grandma's birthday. You don't actually know, but, yeah, you know. You feel it in every vein. I knew as soon as the thought left my mind that the next pitch was going, indeed, it was going, it was going, it was gone, goodbye!

Tie game. All the life goes out of Shea Stadium.

A beautiful pitching performance by a recently-struggling young pitcher who seems to have righted himself, and then the bullpen blows it following a play that evokes the most glorious moment in team history. I could only shake my head and say, “Only the Mets. Only the Mets. Only the Mets.”

The Met announcers "pulled a Michael Kay": They made a reference to a past event that was sure to jinx their team. (UPDATE: I have since changed the term to "The Curse of Kay.")

And yet, I just knew there was no way the Mets could win the game... and yet they did, on Carlos Beltran’s walkoff homer in the 13th.

So what do we really know? I cite the man who will probably forever be the only man to manage both teams to Pennants, Yogi Berra: “In baseball, you don’t know nothin’.”

Right after the tying homer, I switched over to YES, and the aforementioned Kay outdid himself: He posted stats showing that Darrell Rasner was atrocious in the 1st inning in games this season, with an ERA of about 7; but great after that, around 1.6. (Shades of Greg Cadaret, if anybody thinks he's worth remembering.)

And what happened? Rasner got out of the 1st inning fine, and then got shelled in the 3rd.

At least the bullpen wasn't too bad, and the Yanks did hit a little, turning an 8-1 embarrassment into an 8-4 "ordinary loss." And they still have the chance to take 2 out of 3 in the Oakland Mausoleum, a place where they hardly ever do well.

Memo to Michael Kay: Quit playing with stats and just call the game!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Joba a Question Mark? Moose an Exclamation Point!

Now that it's been done, now it can be told: Moving Joba Chamberlain from the bullpen to the rotation is like being in the summer of '56 and asking Elvis to sing opera. Maybe he could do it, but... why?!?

Johnny Damon is saying what I've been saying. The Yankees have a better chance of winning games with Joba in the bullpen than in the rotation.

If Hank Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman wanted him in the rotation, they should've noted that he began last season as a starter at Double-A Trenton (I saw him pitch 6 strong innings there, but they removed him after that, so they were babying him then, too), and kept him as a starter in the first place, instead of moving him to the bullpen in the second place and back to the rotation in the third place. How many good players, especially good pitchers, have been messed up because management doesn't know how to handle them?

From one end of the age spectrum to the other: Before this season, if you'd asked me if Mike Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame, I would've said absolutely not. But he's turned things around. Whether that's due to buckling down in a contract year, or feeling better, or getting more run support, I don't know. But he looks like the Mussina of 2001 again.

With Andy Pettitte being inconsistent, and Chien-Ming Wang following a sensational start with a nasty slump, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy both being out with injuries, and Joba's status as a starter still a question mark, Mussina has recovered from a slump to become an ace again, a genuine exclamation point!

Last night, he beat the Toronto Blue Jays for his 259th career win. In the age of the five-man rotation, 250 wins may one day be viewed as a milestone the way 300 wins was in the four-man rotation era, which roughly ended around 1991 when Mussina debuted. He's never won 20, although he's won 19 twice and at least 18 five times, and he got his 9th of this season in the first week of June.

If he stays healthy, and the Yanks keep giving him five runs like they did last night, he could make it to 20 wins, another milestone that's been significantly reduced in this age of 5-man rotations and closers who aren't as good as Mariano Rivera -- who has also been an exclamation point this season despite advancing age!

Mussina also passed 2,700 career strikeouts last night. Keeping in mind that 3,000 strikeouts, while not as hard to get as 300 wins, is also affected by the era's mentality of starters going 6 or 7 innings every 5 days, instead of trying to go 9 every 4. So 2,700 is not only a lot, but it should receive Hall of Fame consideration, especially since Mussina has pitched pretty much (depending on when you define it as beginning) entirely in the 5-man rotation era.

His 2008 earned run average is slightly over 4.00, but for his career it's 3.71, for an ERA+ of 122 (meaning that, over his career, his has been 22 percent better than that of the rest of the league). His season WHIP (Walks + Hits, divided by Innings Pitched) is under 1.3, and for his career it's under 1.2.

His career winning percentage is .636. (Currently, Andy Pettitte's is identical, though his Hall qualifications are considerably lower.) This is a percentage better than the following 19 pitchers, all of whom were mainly starting pitchers from the 1920 start of the Lively Ball Era onward, and are in the Hall of Fame: In alphabetical order, Steve Carlton, Don Drysdale, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Burleigh Grimes, Waite Hoyt, Carl Hubbell, Catfish Hunter, Fergie Jenkins, Bob Lemon, Juan Marichal, Hal Newhouser, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts, Red Ruffing, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn and Early Wynn.

Of these, only Carlton, Feller, Grimes, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Roberts, Ruffing, Ryan, Spahn and Wynn have more career wins, and Mussina may pass Feller's 266 this season, with Grimes' 270 and Ruffing's 273 well within range next season; of these, only Carlton, Feller, Gibson, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Ryan and Spahn have more strikeouts.

I guess being a curve/control pitcher instead of a fastball/domination pitcher helped, as "dominators" generally don't pitch that well at 39 without making adjustments -- whether said adjustments are mastering new pitches like, oh, I don't know, David Cone; or, shall we say, other adjustments like, oh, I don't know, Roger Clemens.

An oddity: Today, the New York Post had Derek Jeter on the back page, passing Mickey Mantle for 3rd on the Yanks' all-time hit list, with 2,416 -- Lou Gehrig is 1st with 2,721, and Babe Ruth is 2nd -- and Hillary Clinton on the front page. This is the first time I can remember either New York tabloid putting people with their backs turned on both cover pages.

Coincidentally, Jeter wears Number 2, and a lot of people are saying Hillary, who finished in 2nd place in the primaries, should now be the Number 2 on the Democratic ticket.

There's a difference, though: Jeter still has a chance to win in the fall. Especially if Jorge Posada comes back strong from injury, Mussina keeps this up, Rivera remains Rivera, and everyone --including Joba -- figures out where Joba belongs. Who knows, that may mean the rotation. But at the moment?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Great Grandma

Today is June 4. It would have been the birthday of my grandmother, Grace Darton, later Grace Golden (1924-2006).

She was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens, in a neighborhood she called South Ozone Park -- except her house was actually in South Jamaica. But that doesn't matter now.

She was a Brooklyn Dodger fan. Not able to afford to attend many games at Ebbets Field, her lifeline, as it was for so many, was the radio broadcasts of Walter (Red) Barber.

She remembered a time when a player got hurt crashing into the outfield wall. She never remembered who it was, but it was probably Pete Reiser, a great hitter and speedy runner who ruined his career by crashing into outfield walls, which were not padded in those days. Barber, a Southerner but a college graduate at a time when not very many people were, was a very cultured man, and he was determined to sound like a Southern gentleman.

By contrast, the public-address announcer at Ebbets Field was Tex Rickards -- I'm not sure what his real name was, but he was surely nicknamed Tex after George "Tex" Rickard, the boxing promoter who built the 1925-1968 version of Madison Square Garden (a.k.a. "the Old Garden") and founded the New York Rangers. Tex Rickards had a Brooklyn accent, and wasn't very bright. There's an oft-cited legend that, between innings, the umpires got him a message to ask people sitting in the front row along the baseline to take their coats off the railing. So Tex got on his microphone, and said, "Will da fans sittin' down the foul lines please remove dere clothing?"

Apparently, in this game in which Reiser was knocked out cold, Tex asked someone why Reiser was being carted off the field on a stretcher, and was told, "He don't feel good." And his announcement could be heard over the radio: "Your attention please: Reiser has to leave the game because... he don't feel good!"

According to Grandma (who always told it as, "So-and-so has to leave the game... " because she didn't remember who it was), she laughed, because she knew what was coming: Red Barber was going to have a fit over Rickards' poor English. And he did!

*

Grandma lost both parents while she was at John Adams High School, which is in Ozone Park, a neighborhood over. She never graduated. She went to work. Getting a job was possible because many jobs that were filled by men were vacant due to the draft and enlistments for World War II.

She eventually became a bookkeeper, and held that job into the early 1990s. She married my grandfather in 1946, and, to protect her from anti-Semitism, he changed his name from George Goldberg to George Golden. My mother was born... some time after that. (Mom wouldn't want me to tell you that she's now 61. Oops. I had an accident. Well, at least Mom wasn't an "accident.")

They lived briefly in Hunter, in New York's Catskill Mountains; then on Manhattan's Lower East Side, then in the Forest Hill neighborhood on Newark's North Side, then in neighboring Belleville, then in neighboring Nutley, where they lived when Mom married Dad. Grandma and Grandpa moved to a retirement community in Brick, near the Jersey Shore, and lived there for the rest of their respective lives.

Grandma exulted and groaned with the Dodgers. Her great hero in baseball, and her great hero in life, was Jackie Robinson. She loved Pee Wee Reese. She loved Roy Campanella. She loved Gil Hodges. She loved Carl Erskine. She loved Joe Black. She loved Don Newcombe -- and, years later, long after both she and the Dodgers left the City, she ran into Newk in an elevator at the building she was working in, on Newark's Broad Street. (She guessed Newk was visiting a law firm that worked there.)

She said Carl Furillo, "the Reading Rifle," had the best outfield arm she'd ever seen. She said Billy Cox was the best third baseman she'd ever seen. She loved to tell the story of how Elwin "Preacher" Roe, a lefthanded pitcher with a great curve and a nasty sinker -- cough-spitball-cough -- but a lousy hitter even by pitchers' standards, hit a home run, and Red Barber told his listeners, "Folks, we'll never hear the end of this one." Red was right: Roe is now 93 years old, one of the oldest living former players, and he still talks about it.

But she hated manager Charlie Dressen: "Oy, God," she would occasionally say, "that Dressen was so stupid." Looking at some of his managerial moves, half a century and more after the fact, I agree.

She hated the Dodgers' arch-rivals, the New York Giants, and didn't like the most successful team in town, the New York Yankees. She hated manager Casey Stengel, probably because he'd previously been the Dodgers manager, and had stunk at it. (Which, he did.) She hated superstar center fielder Joe DiMaggio, thinking he was stuck-up. (Which, he was.) She hated catcher Yogi Berra, comparing him unfavorably with Dodger backstop Roy Campanella. (Rather, Campy should have been flattered.) She hated broadcaster Mel Allen, thinking he couldn't shine Red Barber's shoes. (Mel did have his flaws.) She didn't hate Mickey Mantle, but she thought Duke Snider was the better center fielder and the better hitter. (There were times, especially through 1955, when she had a point.)

There were, however, two Yankees she liked: Shortstop Phil Rizzuto and pitcher Whitey Ford. Why? She thought they were tough, great competitors. Yet she never liked 2nd baseman (and future manager) Billy Martin. Why? Because he was a hothead. Her word for him, and she was right. But there was another reason she liked the Scooter and the Chairman of the Board: Like her, they were from Queens: Rizzuto from Richmond Hill, Ford from Long Island City.

But she really hated the Giants. Hated Willie Mays. Hated Sal Maglie, the headhunting pitcher known as Sal the Barber because his pitches gave hitters "close shaves." Really hated broadcaster Russ Hodges. Especially hated their ballpark, the Polo Grounds.

Hated Bobby Thomson, and if you've read this blog this far, you already know why. She was listening to Red Barber's broadcast on WMGM (at 1050 AM, now ESPN Radio's New York affiliate), and heard Tex Rickards say, "Coming in to pitch for Brooklyn, Number 13, Ralph Branca." And she knew. I don't mean she figured. You know how we so often say, "I knew it"? We never really know it. But she knew it. She knew this team. She knew Branca had only one pitch, a fastball. She knew Thomson couldn't hit anything but a fastball. She knew Branca gave up too many clutch home runs. (Paging Kyle Farnsworth... Except everybody who meets Branca says he's a decent guy, which is something we can't say about Farnsworth.) And Branca had already given up a homer to Thomson in the first game of that 1951 Playoff series. She knew.

She got up out of her chair and turned off her radio. She didn't need to hear anybody tell her, as Hodges put it, that, "The Giants win the Pennant! The Giants... etc., etc., etc."

The Dodgers finally won a World Series in 1955, finally beating the Yankees, under new manager Walter Alston. Two years later, owner Walter O'Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles, and talked Giants owner Horace Stoneham into keeping the rivalry going by moving them to San Francisco.

*

When the Mets arrived in 1962, she found it hard to root for them. After all, they played in the Polo Grounds, and had the orange "curlicue" interlocking NY on their caps like the Giants. But when they had their "Miracle" season in 1969, that was it: Met fan for life. Well, nobody's perfect, not even your Grandma.

Despite all her history with the Dodgers, when I asked her what was her favorite ballgame of all time, she named Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series, Mets vs. Houston Astros at the Astrodome. The Mets had to win, or it would go to Game 7, and Astro pitcher Mike Scott was nearly unbeatable that year, especially in the Dome.

"He owns them," she said of Scott, an ex-Met, at the time. "They're his cousins." By the look on my face, she knew she had to explain what that meant: It's an old-time expression meaning that he does very well against them. Today, we would say that the Mets were his bitches.

The game went back and forth, back and forth, with both teams scoring in extra innings, until finally, as Met broadcaster Bob Murphy might have put it, "The Mets win the damn thing" in the 16th inning. And went on to win the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, and we all know how that happened. Don't we?

She loved those '86 Mets because of their scrappy players like Len Dykstra and Wally Backman. But she hated that the team was broken up for various reasons: Dumb trades, injuries, and, in some cases, drugs. After that, she swore she'd never love another team.

Except the Yankees finally put together a Pinstriped bunch she could love in 1996. And the Mets had a renaissance starting in 1998, and she couldn't resist.

*

She also liked the football New York Giants. And when Bill Parcells became coach of the New York Jets, she rooted for them, too. She hated cheating in all forms (and yet she liked Preacher Roe and Whitey Ford), so had she lived to see the recent Super Bowl with the Giants beating the New England Patriots, she would have loved it.

And even though the New York Rangers won three Stanley Cups in her youth (1928, 1933 and 1940), she was never into hockey. But when the New Jersey Devils arrived in 1982, she got interested. She really got into it after the Devils got good in 1992. After that 1994 double-overtime Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, I told her that Stephane Matteau had become "my Bobby Thomson." That was a hard loss, except they came back the next year, and won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

When Game 5 of the 2000 Finals against the defending champion Dallas Stars went to triple overtime (the Devils lost) and then Game 6 went to double overtime (the Devils won the Cup on Jason Arnott's goal), she stayed up for all of it, even though she had just turned 76. But in her whole life, she only saw two games live, both in 2004, with me and my mother. The Devils lost one to the Ottawa Senators, and barely escaped the other with a tie against the Minnesota Wild. (It might have been the last tie the Devils ever played, since the NHL changed the rules to create the shootout.) She never saw the Rangers play, either at the old Garden or the new one, and came to dislike them as a dirty team, despite the fact that, in her youth, they were often billed as "the classiest team in hockey." If that was ever true -- roughhousers like Ivan "Ching" Johnson and Bob Dill, a player supposedly so dirty that Steve Avery played him in the 2005 Canadian film Maurice Richard, suggest it wasn't -- it wasn't anymore.

Even though they never played for a New York team, she loved Dizzy Dean, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Wayne Gretzky.

*

On May 27, 1978, she took me to the first big-league ballgame I ever saw, at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-1. It would be another 8 years until we went to Shea together, to a game the Mets won over the San Diego Padres in their 1986 title season.

I never thought to ask her about the first big-league ballgame she ever saw, but I can tell you about the last. I won tickets in a radio contest, and got to see the Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary tribute at Shea Stadium, on April 15, 1997, with the Mets playing the Los Angeles team -- it's a little hard, considering it's my Grandma, to call them "the Los Angeles Dodger$." (See? I had to make the S a dollar sign. Lord Waltermort would have understood.) I had to take her, not because it would be her last game (I couldn't have known that at the time), but because it was her hero, and her team, that was being honored.

The surviving members of the Robinson family were there, and Jackie's widow Rachel Robinson spoke. So did Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. So did President Bill Clinton. The Mets won, 5-0 -- whether that "taught the Dodgers a lesson" is something you'll have to decide for yourself. Several old Dodgers were on hand, including Duke Snider, Don Newcombe and Sandy Koufax -- who declined to be part of the official ceremonies, but, as a longtime friend of Met owner Fred Wilpon, sat in a baseline box. Wearing a Mets cap, not a Dodgers cap.

On the way out, because our seats were behind home plate, we left through Shea's Gate C, which also contains the entrance for Mets officials and the media. And as we got out... the Robinson family turned out to be right behind us. It was a big thrill for Grandma to see Rachel Robinson up close. I was so glad I won those tickets: Taking her to this game might be the noblest thing I've ever done. (Yeah, I know: I should have done other things even nobler than that.)

And it was the last big-league game she ever saw in person. When the Philadelphia Phillies put a farm team just 6 miles from her house in 2001, she began going to several games a season. The Lakewood BlueClaws, named for a crab native to the Jersey Shore. They weren't very good, but she had a good time.

She lived long enough to see the Mets develop Jose Reyes and David Wright, but not to see the Met collapses of October 2006 and September 2007. (From the Ultimate Skybox, she's seen them, and I know what she said: "Oy, God!" Making "the Macaulay Cuklin Face." You know the one I mean.)

On what would have been her next birthday, who were the Mets scheduled to play? The San Francisco Giants, descendants of her former arch-rivals. And it gave me a chance to boo Barry Bonds.

When Armando Benitez, the ex-Baltimore Oriole and ex-Met, whose decidedly un-clutch pitching gave the Yankees big wins in the 1996 Playoffs and the 2000 World Series, came in to nail down the Giants' win, I looked up, and asked her if this was her doing. I knew Benitez would blow it. Right: Again, I didn't know. I believed. I suspected. I felt. The hell with that: I knew he would blow it. And he did.

The game went to extra innings, and Lastings Milledge hit his first major league home run to tie the game back up, and Shea Stadium went bananas. Then Milledge ran out to right field and high-fived the fans leaning over the railing, which many fans think was the beginning of the end for him in Flushing. I didn't mind it. Alas, the Met bullpen blew the game, and the Giants won. 

But what Grandma couldn't do for the Mets, she did for the BlueClaws: In 2006, having not finished over .500 in their first 5 seasons, they won the South Atlantic League Pennant.

Today would have been her 84th birthday, and her first as a great-grandmother. My sister gave her twin daughters their grandmothers' names as middle names: Ashley Grace, and Rachel Emma. In this case, "Rachel" has nothing to do with Rachel Robinson. But Grandma would have liked that, too. (UPDATE: Now that the girls are old enough to know who Jackie Robinson was, and why he matters, Rachel is thrilled that she shares a name with Mrs. Robinson. And I told them the story of how we ran into the Robinsons that night at Shea, and they loved it.)

Happy Birthday, Grandma. Enjoy the peanuts at your restored version of Ebbets Field. And watch Jackie: He's jumping off third, and I think he's gonna...
Safe.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Enough Is Enough! Dump Farnsworth!

Tomorrow is June 4. It would have been my grandmother's birthday. I'll have something to say about her and her former teams -- the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Mets, the New York Football Giants, the New Jersey Devils and the Lakewood BlueClaws -- tomorrow.

Today, however, I gotta get something off my chest.

Kyle Farnsworth. If you don't mind me using dirty words. (NOTE: This was before I began using profanity in this blog.)

Hank Steinbrenner should have a talk with him, and say the same things Jackie Gleason would've said on The Honeymooners:

"You are a mental case!"

"I oughta belt you one!"

"You wanna go to the Moon? Do you wanna go to the Moon?" (Hey, when he gets there, he might see a few balls he gave up for home runs!)

"One of these days, one of these days... POW! Right in the kisser!"

"Get out. Get out! GET OUT!"

Kerosene Kyle blew another one last night: Tied 5-5 in the 8th at the Metrodome, he gave up back-to-back doubles, and the Minnesota Twins beat the Yankees.

Ashley and Rachel walking, good things happening with Twins. Farnsworth on the mound, bad things happening with Twins!

As long as Not a Darn's Worth is on the Yankees, Aaron Heilman will not be the most disgraceful figure in a New York bullpen!

How many times does a guy have to screw up a game before the manager (Joe Torre the last two years, Joe Girardi now) and management (Brian Cashman or Hank Steinbrenner) loses confidence in him?

Time to paraphrase Jackson. Not Reggie. Samuel L.

Enough is enough! I have had it with that motherf---ing Farnsworth on that motherf---ing mound!

*

I'm so mad at Farnsworth, I didn't even notice how the Mets did last night. Did they do any better?

Actually, I did notice: Oliver Perez got roughed up for six runs on only one out in the first inning. By the San Francisco Giants. The Barry Bonds-less, apparently steroid-less, Giants. The Mets lost, 10-2.

And the Detroit Red Wings, just 40 seconds or so from winning the Stanley Cup, got shocked with a last-minute goal, and then lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in triple overtime.

Detroit fans were chanting, "We want the Cup!" and almost had it. Then, dead silence. Then two and a half overtimes of sensational goaltending by Chris Osgood of Detroit and Marc-Andre Fleury of Pitt. Then it was over.

The Wing who stood to be the man who scored the Cup-winning goal? Brian Rafalski, of the Devils' 2000 and 2003 Cup winners, but whom general manager Lou Lamoriello refused to re-sign, with devastating results. (Then again, Rafalski is from the Detroit area, so maybe it was a lost cause, but Lam should have at least tried.) The guy who scored the winning goal last night? Petr Sykora, of the Devils' 2000 Cup winners. Game 6 tomorrow night in Pittsburgh; if the Pens can win that, too, Game 7 two nights later in Detroit.

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA Title. We're gonna party like it's 1969. Or 1987.

Who do I root for in this one?

Ordinarily, I can't root for L.A. I especially can't root for Kobe Bryant, who really should have gone to jail for something he did with/to that girl in Colorado.

But Boston doesn't deserve it. Maybe Kevin Garnett does. Maybe Ray Allen does. Maybe Paul Pierce does. But I have had it with those motherf---ing frontrunners in that motherf---ing New England, talking about how they're the sports capital of the world. Just because they've won as many World Championships (so far, all by the Red Sox and Patriots) in the last 7 years as the New York Tri-State Area has won in the last 9 years. Except they've won 5 in the last 22 years, while New York/New Jersey has won 12 over that span. (Los Angeles? 7.)

Let's go Lakers.

Joba makes his first major league start tonight. Pedro returns. One should knock 'em dead. The other might take that literally.