Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hard to Justify "What Ifs" with the Nets

Man, the Spurs suck. They suck so much, they can't even beat the New Jersey Nets anymore!

I hope I have some English fans reading this, so that they think that, by "Spurs," I mean Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, a.k.a. "Spurs," or, as they're known to my fellow Arsenal fans, "The Fucking Spurs," "The Scum" or "The Spuds."

(They're also known, due to an alleged Jewish fan base, by some anti-Semitic nicknames that I won't print here. Though they have no moral high ground, as they have some of the most notorious hooligans in the world. Ask fans of Rotterdam-based Feyenoord, along with Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven one of the big three of Dutch soccer: They've got a pretty nasty firm as well, and from European competition dating back to the 1970s, they think Spurs fans go too far.)

No, I mean the San Antonio Spurs, winners of 4 NBA Championships since 1999, and, like the Nets, one of the four teams absorbed from the American Basketball Assocation in the 1976 merger. (The other two are the Indiana Pacers and the Denver Nuggets.)

The last NBA game I saw live was on March 2, 2008, when the Nets hosted the Spurs, and, despite holding tough much of the way, lost 93-83. To make matters worse, the Nets have rapper-business mogul Jay-Z as a co-owner, and the Spurs have Tony Parker as a player, and neither Mrs. -Z, singer-actress Beyonce Knowles, nor Mrs. Parker, the non-singing actress Eva Longoria, appeared to be sitting courtside. (Scott Clark's sports report on that night's Channel 7 Eyewitness News did show Eva, but not Beyonce.) That night, the Spurs, led by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Parker, pretty much did as they pleased against the Nets.

Not last night: The Nets beat the Spurs, 90-84, to reach a record of 10-64 on the season. Pathetic, yes, but that 10th win means they will not finish with the worst, or tied for the worst, single-season won-lost record in NBA history. In the 1972-73 season, the Philadelphia 76ers, not that long before and not that long until they were again one of the league's top teams, finished 9-73.

The Nets have now won 3 of their last 4, and have looked better lately. They have 8 games left in the regular season: Tomorrow night, home to the Phoenix Suns (almost certainly a loss); this Saturday night, home to the New Orleans Hornets (probably a loss); Sunday night, at the Washington Bullets, I mean Washington Wizards (could be a win, the Wizards have injury issues); a week from tomorrow night, in Milwaukee against the Bucks (probably a loss); the following Friday night, home to the Chicago Bulls (probably a loss); the next night, at the Indiana Pacers (probably a loss); the following Monday, against the Charlotte Bobcats (should be a win, as they've beaten the 6th-season-expansion Cats twice this season, although the Cats have clinched their first-ever Playoff berth); and they close it out on Wednesday night, April 14, at the Miami Heat (probably a loss).

If those predictions come to pass, the Nets will finish 12-70, the 4th-worst record since the NBA went to an 82-game schedule. The 1993 Dallas Mavericks and the 1998 Denver Nuggets went 11-71.


Monday night, April 12 against Charlotte, will be the last regular-season NBA game, and probably the last-ever regular-season major league sporting event, that will ever be held at the Meadowlands Arena/Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena/IZOD Center/Swamp/Drafty Old Barn at Exit 16W.

Like a lot of facilities built in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the 20,089-seat (19,040 seats for hockey) arena at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford was designed to bring one or more major league sports teams into a city/state/region -- or keep it there, to stop it from moving to another place with a new stadium or arena -- and served its purpose. But it is time for the place to go.

That dreary night against San Antonio, when I looked at and heard and felt the Meadowlands Arena for what will almost certainly be the last time, I realized just how much of a gem its replacement, the Prudential Center in downtown Newark, is.

The Nets will play the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons at the Prudential, and then, assuming the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn is ready, move in there for the 2012-13 season and thereafter, bringing New Jersey's original major league sports team to an end after 35 seasons (1977-2012, and, remember, as long as the Giants and Jets continued to call themselves "New York," they are not "New Jersey teams," no matter where they play their games, practice for their games, or have their corporate offices).


My last 3 blog items have been what-ifs about the Mets. Well, I'm not going to do those for the Nets. What could I do?

* What if they'd stayed in Long Island, at the Nassau Coliseum? Staying there, instead of moving to New Jersey -- first to the even more inadequate 9,000-seat Rutgers Athletic Center in 1977 and then to the Meadowlands in 1981 -- wouldn't have helped. They still would've become overshadowed by a great hockey team in their own building. It just would've been the New York Islanders instead of the New Jersey Devils.

* What if they hadn't sold Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers just prior to their entry into the NBA for the 1976-77 season? They would have had to go out of business. They needed that money just to pay the NBA's entry free and a territorial indemnification fee to the Knicks. There was no way around it: It was either the Nets without Dr. J, or no Nets at all. Come to think of it, that might have been a better option.

* What if Micheal Ray Richardson had stayed drug-free? Guess what: He wasn't that good even when he was clean.

* What if they hadn't made some truly awful first-round draft picks over the years? In 1986, it was Dwyane Washington, the Syracuse star who went on to prove that the nickname "the Pearl" should have been retired for Knicks legend Earl Monroe; Dell Curry and Scott Skiles were still available, but with the Nets' luck, they probably would have underachieved in East Rutherford, too.

In 1987, it was Dennis Hopson of Ohio State, when they could have drafted Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Horace Grant, Kevin Johnson or Mark Jackson; but with the Nets' luck, anyone they drafted would have gotten hurt.

In 1989, it was Mookie Blaylock, who helped Oklahoma get to the previous season's National Championship game, and did turn into a good player... after the Nets traded him to the Atlanta Hawks; others available included Tim Hardaway, Dana Barros, Shawn Kemp, B.J. Armstrong, Blue Edwards, Vlade Divac; except for Armstrong (who was very good but only for a short time) and Divac (who played a long time but was frequently injured), all of those guys would eventually, to put it politely, have issues.

In 1993, it was Rex Walters, a sharpshooter who got Kansas into the Final Four, but did next to nothing in New Jersey; the next-best pro career in that draft, after Walters was chosen, was Sam Cassell, whom the Nets briefly got anyway, but didn't get much out of.

In 1994, it was Yinka Dare, the 7-foot-2 Nigerian from George Washington University, who played 3 minutes his first season and became known as the Three-Minute Egg, and eventually set an NBA record for most minutes logged without an assist; but it wasn't a very deep draft, as the best player drafted after Dare was Temple star Aaron McKie, who went on to a servicable career with his hometown 76ers. Actually, the biggest name in that draft was Charlie Ward, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who led Florida State to the National Championship, but went undrafted by the NFL.

In 1995, it was Ed O'Bannon, who'd just led UCLA to the only National Championship it's won under a coach other than John Wooden (Jim Harrick Sr.); it wasn't an especially deep draft, as the guys taken after O'Bannon weren't a whole lot better, though Greg Ostertag was the starting center on two Utah Jazz teams that reached the NBA Finals.

In 1996, it was Kerry Kittles, a very good player from Villanova, but, to paraphrase Nelly Furtado, his game was not MVP like Steve Nash (like Furtado, from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), whom the Nets passed on, along with Peja Stojakovic, Jermaine O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Derek Fisher, Malik Rose, and, oh yeah, Kobe Bryant. Except, if they'd drafted any of those guys, they might not have been able to draft Kenyon Martin or Richard Jefferson, or later trade for Jason Kidd. And, let's face it, if Kobe could have that much of an ego in Los Angeles (and get into that much trouble in Colorado), what could he have done in, for all intents and purposes, New York (with all its accompanying trouble spots, from Times Square all the way down to Atlantic City)?

No, fixing any of those draft picks still might not have helped the Nets; fixing all of them might not have helped. Let's move on:

* What if Kenny Anderson hadn't gotten mugged by that fucking little coward John Starks? I never hated the Knicks before Starks clotheslined Anderson in the nationally-televised (NBC) game at the Meadowlands on February 28, 1993. The Nets destroyed the Knicks, 102-76, at a time when the Knicks were probably at their highest level since their last title in 1973, and also at a time when the Nets being on national TV was a very big deal. But Starks effectively destroyed Anderson's career, knocking him to the floor, breaking his wrist. Before that, Anderson was a nice kid and a very good player; afterward, he was a moody jerk who poisoned the atmosphere of every team crazy enough to acquire him.

* What if Drazen Petrovic hadn't been killed in a car crash after that season? The Nets still made the Playoffs the next season, but got beat 3 games to 1 in the first round. By the Knicks. Then it all fell apart, leading to Derrick Coleman's "Whoop-de-damn-do" remark and his "Waaaaaah!" cover of Sports Illustrated. (The Dreaded SI Cover Jinx? As if the Nets didn't have enough problems! http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/featured/9468/index.htm) Then again, maybe, with Anderson having been turned to the Dark Side, and Coleman following him, maybe a living Petro would've wanted out, too, and the Nets would still have become what they became until the Marbury-for-Kidd trade in 2001.

* What if Bruce Ratner hadn't bought the team and held a fire sale in anticipation of building the Brooklyn arena? Maybe the Nets would have stayed competitive. Maybe they'd still have Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson, if not Kenyon Martin. Then again, Kidd has been one of the moodier pro athletes of his generation, so maybe he would have forced a trade anyway. He brought the Nets to 2 NBA Finals and within 2 wins of an NBA Championship (getting swept by the Lakers in the '02 Finals and losing the '03 Finals to the Spurs in 6), but he's never led any team he's been with any closer than that. Still better for the team, any team, than Stephon Marbury, the man we traded away to get him, has ever been.

That was pretty much it for the Nets. They became a lame-duck team in 2005, when Ratner bought them and announced his plans for the Atlantic Yards project, including the Barclays Center. They have now been a lame-duck team for 5 years; even the Montreal Expos were only one for 4, and it will eventually be 7 years before the move is actually made, unless new owner Mikhail Prokhorov decides he likes the 18,000 fans who will come out every night to the Prudential Center, realizes that Newark is a great basketball city (as proven by the 2 sellouts crowds at The Rock that these same awful Nets got in the preseason), and tells Ratner to get another team or else go fucksky himself.

It'll all be over in 2 years, whether "it" turns out to be the cloud over this seemingly cursed franchise (the Curse of Doctor J? The Curse of the Secaucus Seven?), or the franchise itself as we have known it. One thing is for sure: I will never, ever root for the New York Nets, or the Brooklyn Nets, or whatever the Ratner Team ends up calling themselves.

It's not like there will still be anybody I currently like on the team by November 2012. Maybe President Obama, as he is re-elected that month, will still be saying, "Yes we can," but the Nets? If they're not the New Jersey Nets, then, as Atlanta Hawks fan Margaret Mitchell would have said, "My dear, I don't give a damn." (The "frankly" was written into the movie's script, but it wasn't in the original novel.)


Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 5, the Yankees playing the Red Sox at Fenway this Sunday night on ESPN. It's so close, I can smell the Sox... and boy, do they smell! (Old joke, almost as old as the Sox' last legitimate World Series win, 91 1/2 years.)

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 11, Saturday night, at home against the Islanders, wrapping up the regular season the next day at home against the Buffalo Sabres. There's still a chance they could play the Rangers, or, more likely, the Flyers in the Playoffs.

Days until the last Nets game at the Meadowlands: 13, against the Charlotte Bobcats as previously said.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 14. Just 2 weeks!

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 15, as it was moved back to Wednesday, April 14, due to Spurs' having advanced to the FA Cup Semifinals the preceding Saturday -- it was supposed to be Arsenal that did that, not the fucking Spurs! Come on, Portsmouth, do something good in your last month in the Premier League (for a while, anyway)! Play up, Pompey, Pompey, play up!

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 72. A shade over 10 weeks.

Days until the World Cup Final: 103.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 158.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 164.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 166, with the Giants playing first, and the Jets playing the next night on Monday Night Football.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 240.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 428 (estimated).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 592.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 740 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 860.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

If the Mets Had Not Traded Nolan Ryan

December 10, 1971: The New York Mets trade four players to the California Angels for shortstop Jim Fregosi.

At the time, there was nothing wrong with wanting a healthy Jim Fregosi on your team. He would be just 30 years old on Opening Day 1972, had been an American League All-Star 6 times, won a Gold Glove in 1967, and until slumping to 89 in 1971, had never had an OPS+ (on-base percentage + slugging percentage, in relation to the league average) lower than 108 in his 1st 8 full seasons in the majors, peaking at 141 in 1964.

His highest batting average had been .290, in 1967; peak home runs, 22, and peak runs batted in, 82, both in 1970. In 1968, he led the AL in triples with 13. The franchise was just 11 seasons old at that point, but Fregosi was, without a doubt, the greatest player the Angels had yet had.

Certainly, Fregosi was a better player than the Mets' incumbent starting shortstop, Derrel McKinley "Bud" Harrelson. Although Harrelson had helped the Mets win the 1969 World Series, and had won the '71 season's National League Gold Glove for shortstops and was selected for the last 2 All-Star Games, Harrelson couldn't hit a lick. His highest single-season OPS+ was 82, well below Fregosi's slump season. His peak batting average was .254, and he would top that only twice; his peak RBI year was 42, and his peak home run year was... 1 -- in each case, it would remain so.

Clearly, what the Mets needed to do was make Harrelson a backup, a "defensive replacement." Or maybe the Mets could move him to 3rd base, where 1969 starter Wayne Garrett had badly tailed off, and incumbent starter Bob Aspromonte -- a Brooklyn native who is now best known as the brother of the somewhat better Ken Aspromonte, and who was also the last active player who had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers -- was at the end of the line.

Instead, the Mets kept Harrelson at short, and moved Fregosi to 3rd. At first, it seemed to work, but then Fregosi got hurt, finished the season with only 32 RBIs and an OPS+ of just 89, and was never the same again. His 382 plate appearances that season would be far and away more than he'd ever have again.

Between the ages of 21 and 28, Jim Fregosi was, statistically speaking, similar to Alan Trammell, the longtime Detroit Tiger shortstop who is maybe one step short of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame (and would be in, as would his double-play partner Lou Whitaker, if they could go in as a unit, like "Tinker to Evers to Chance"). But between the ages of 29 and 36, Fregosi was just another broken-down player.

At 36, in 1978, the Angels fired manager Dave Garcia, and asked Fregosi, then playing out the string with the Pittsburgh Pirates, to come back; he instantly accepted the job, retired as a player, and led the Angels to their first postseason berth, the 1979 AL Western Division Title.


Did the Mets blow it by trading 4 players for an injured formerly solid player? Not necessarily. We have to take a look at those 4 players, to see if they gave up anything worth having.

Frank Estrada. He was a backup catcher who'd played 1 big-league game, for the Mets in '71, and never appeared in another. No loss there.

Don Rose. A pitcher, he'd also reached the majors for 1 game with the '71 Mets, put up a 1-4 record for the '72 Angels, and by April 1974 had appeared in the majors for the last time. No loss there.

Leroy Stanton. He was a right fielder, and he turned out to be a good player, putting up OPS+ seasons of 110, 116 and 123, before slumping a bit in 1976, and being left unprotected in the expansion draft. Taken by the Seattle Mariners, he put up an OPS+ of 130 in 1977, before an injury ended his career the next season at just 32 years old.

Still, the Mets could have used someone like that from 1972 to 1977, particularly after trading Rusty Staub after the '75 season -- another dumb Met trade, as they got Mickey Lolich. Staub for Lolich would have been a good trade, even after the '71 season; but not after '75. (Interestingly, on Baseball-Reference.com's "Similar Batters" list, Number 1 on Stanton's list is... Ron Swoboda. Former Yankee World Champions Gary Thomasson and Ricky Ledee are also in his top 4.)


And now, to confront the elephant in the room: Lynn Nolan Ryan of the Houston suburb of Alvin, Texas.

At the time of the trade, he was a month and a half short of his 25th birthday. He had a career won-lost record of 29-38: Not good, especially when you consider that the Mets had won 100 games in 1969, 83 in 1970 and 83 again in 1971. He struck out a lot of batters, but also walked a lot, giving him a WHIP (Walks and Hits, divided by Innings Pitched) of almost 1.6 in '71. His ERA was nearly 4, not good in the NL of the time, which was pitching-friendly with a lot of concrete multipurpose oval stadiums (3 new ones in the preceding season and a half), and, of course, no designated hitter.

And with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and a somewhat-still-effective Ray Sadecki in their rotation, the Mets could afford to let Ryan go... or so it seemed.

In 1972, with the Angels, Ryan led the AL in both walks and wild pitches... but also led it in strikeouts with a whopping 329, and shutouts with 8, forging a 19-16 record for a team that won just 75 games. A decent Angels team would probably have made him a 23-game winner. In 1973, he set a new major league record (since the 1893 adoption of the 60 feet, 6 inches pitching distance, anyway) with 383 strikeouts. That record has never even been approached, except by Ryan himself the next season with 367.

By the close of the 1974 season, Ryan had 3 seasons of 300+ strikeouts, 4 no-hitters, 3 games with at least 19 strikeouts (he would add a 4th, although "only" 1 of those came without the benefit of extra innings), 91 wins (but also 86 losses), a career ERA of 3.01 (not bad considering he was now in the DH-affected AL), and 1,572 strikeouts -- and he was only 27.

Putting aside for a moment all the things Ryan would achieve after 1974 -- 233 more wins, 3 more no-hitters, and enough additional strikeouts to place himself 4th on the all-time list even if you only count from 1975 onward -- this was still a bad trade for the Mets. Add in everything Ryan did from Opening Day 1972 until his retirement after the close of the 1993 season, and Ryan-for-Fregosi -- even if you forget about the decently talented Stanton -- looks like it could be the worst trade ever.


But is it? There is another elephant in the room. (You ever smell a room with 2 elephants in it? Smells worse than the Mets... most of the time.) Would having Ryan have helped the Mets any from 1972 onward?

It's easy to say that the Mets lost the 1973 World Series to the Oakland Athletics because manager Yogi Berra pitched Tom Seaver in Game 6 and Jon Matlack in Game 7, each on just 3 days' rest. And Yogi wasn't that "old school": He was only 48, and had seen his mentor, Casey Stengel, adapt to changing conditions pretty well when they were together on the Yankees from 1949 to 1960.

And it's not like Yogi had a lot of choice: Koosman had started Game 5, Sadecki had pitched in relief in Game 4, and he and George Stone, the Mets' other starter, had pitched in the Series only in relief and weren't much better options.

Besides, if you're a Met fan, who would you rather have, pitching a game that could win you the World Series, in a park that really, really favored pitchers, as the Oakland Coliseum always has: Tom Seaver on 3 days rest, or... any other pitcher then active?

If the Mets had Ryan in '73, that would have been a huge boost for them. Not just in the Series. Don't forget, due to the closeness of the race, and rainouts, the Mets did not clinch the NL East title until October 1, the day after the season had originally been scheduled to end, and even then they had to play a doubleheader at Wrigley Field to get Games 161 and 162 in. (They clinched in Game 161 when they won and the Pirates lost, making Game 162 meaningless, and it was never played.)

Having Ryan's 21-16 in the rotation instead of the combined 8-12 of Sadecki and Jim McAndrew might have gotten the Division clinched sooner, thus enabling the Mets to set up their NL Championship Series rotation better. Having Ryan there, against the Cincinnati Reds, might have gotten the Pennant clinched before Game 5, thus helping the Mets set up better in the Series.

Or... would it? Ryan's career postseason record is mixed. He saved the Mets' bacon in a game in the '69 NLCS, and did so again in Game 3 of the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. After that, he next appeared in October in 1979, and, while he pitched well for the Angels, it wasn't enough, as they lost the game and the Pennant to the Orioles.

In 1980, now with his hometown Houston Astros, he blew the Pennant-clinching Game 5 of the NLCS, at the Astrodome no less, enabling the Phillies to win their 1st Pennant in 30 years (and then their 1st World Championship in 98 years of trying). In the strike-forced Division Series of 1981, he pitched well, but only split 2 decisions against the Los Angeles Dodgers. And he made just one other postseason appearance, in 1986 with the Astros, losing Game 2 of the NLCS, and pitching well but not getting the decision in a Game 5 his team lost... to the Mets.

Add on the fact that, from 1974 to 1983, the Mets were not in one single Pennant race, and it's hard to say how much difference Ryan would have made then. Then there's the Mets glory years from 1984 to 1990. Then again, for all their talk, there wasn't a whole lot of glory. Could Ryan, who pitched remarkably well even until he was 44 in 1991, have made a difference there?


So, really, what might have been the impact of the Mets keeping Nolan Ryan after 1971? Keeping in mind that, like Anaheim Stadium (or whatever the California Angels are calling it, and themselves, these days), Shea Stadium was a pitchers' park extraordinaire; but also that Ryan had a winning percentage of just .526 and is the all-time leader in walks and is among the all-time leaders in wild pitches, we can surmise the following:

1973: We can presume that Ryan would have made a difference. The Mets clinch the Division sooner, and Ryan pitches well in the NLCS, where the Met rotation is Seaver-Koosman-Ryan-Matlack, clinching in Game 4, instead of Seaver-Koosman-Matlack-Stone-Seaver, going the full 5.

The World Series? Instead of Matlack for Games 1, 4 and 7; Koosman for Games 2 and 5, and Seaver for Games 3 and 6; we get Seaver for Games 1 and 4, and potentially 7; Koosman for Games 2 and maybe 5; and Ryan for Games 3 and maybe 6, with Matlack as the long man if one is necessary. Ken Holtzman pitched great for the A's, so the Mets probably still lose Game 1. The Mets win Game 2 anyway. Against a tired Seaver, the A's needed 11 innings to win Game 3; against a rested Ryan, the Mets might win, and there's your difference. Presuming the Mets still win Games 4 and 5, get the riot police ready, it's another Shea Stadium clincher. New York Mets, 1969 and 1973 World Champions.

After this, the Mets aren't in contention again until...

1984: Ryan was only 12-11, but the Astros weren't very good that year. Without him, the Mets finished 6 1/2 games behind the Cubs. Would having Ryan have made 7 games' worth of difference? Probably not: After Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling, the Mets' rotation had Walt Terrell, Bruce Berenyi and a not-yet-there Sid Fernandez. Having Ryan instead of one of those might have made it closer, but the Cubs would still have won.

1985: Hard to say. Ryan was 10-12 for another under-hitting Astro team, with a 3.8 ERA and a 1.3 WHIP. If he were in the rotation instead of Ed Lynch... The Mets finished 3 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. I don't know if Ryan would have made 3 games' difference in this season. If he had, do the Mets beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS? Maybe, the Dodgers had Tom Niedenfuer in their pen; Jack Clark hitting a Pennant-clincher in the top of the 9th in Game 6 wasn't a surprise, but Ozzie Smith hitting a walkoff in the bottom of the 9th of Game 5 was. I can certainly imagine Niedenfuer giving up homers to Lenny Dykstra in Game 5 (or maybe Lenny still hits his in Game 3) and Gary Carter in Game 6.

The Series, against the Kansas City Royals? I don't know, because the Cards did lose, and if Cardinal fans still curse the name of umpire Don Denkinger a quarter of a century later, what would Met fans say if that same call were made? I think the Mets win the '85 Pennant, but lose the Series.

1986: No, Ryan makes no difference here. How can he? The Mets won the World Series. The only difference is that the Mets beat the Reds in the NLCS, since the Astros don't have Ryan. (Then again, the Astros won the NL West by 10, so maybe they win it anyway.)

1987: This is the season Ryan led the NL in ERA and strikeouts, but had an 8-16 record, because the Astros remembered that they are the Houston Astros: Great pitching, good defense, can't hit the ground if they fell off a ladder. I saw Ryan pitch that year, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, as a friend of the family had a relative who briefly pitched for the Astros. I got to sit right behind home plate as Ryan, still mighty fast at 40, was zippin' 'em in there. Being 75 feet away from Mike Schmidt as he batted against Nolan Ryan, even at that stage of each man's career, was awesome. It was a typical game for Ryan that season: The Phils won, 2-1, beating Ryan.

Anyway, the Mets finished 2nd to the Cards again, 3 games back. Ryan definitely would have made a difference here, and the Mets would probably have beaten the San Francisco Giants for the Pennant. But the Minnesota Twins were not going to lose any World Series games in that damn Metrodome. Nobody beat the Twins in the Dome in October. Nobody. (Except, as it turned out, the 2003, '04 and '09 Yankees, who clinched 3 ALDS in that disgraceful facility.) So the Mets reach their 3rd straight World Series, but win only 1 of them.

1988: The Mets lost the NLCS to the Dodgers in Game 7... or, rather, in Game 4, when Mike Scioscia took Gooden deep in the 9th. The Mets started, in the 7 games, Gooden, David Cone, Ron Darling, Gooden, El Sid, Coney, Darling. Ryan had a good year, but I'm not sure where he starts. I don't know if he makes a difference here.

1989: In his 1st season with the Texas Rangers, Ryan has his last big season in terms of wins, 16, for an 83-win team. The Mets finished 2nd to the Cubs again, 6 games back. Maybe with Ryan, now 42 but still effective, the Mets don't make that dumb trade for Frank Viola, and win the Division.

But I don't think they win the Pennant, unless there's another dumb trade they don't make, Kevin Mitchell to the San Diego Padres for Kevin McReynolds. Mitchell's trade, soon after, from the Padres to the Giants made the Giants a postseason team in '87 and '89, and they beat the Cubs soundly in the NLCS; they would have done the same to the Mets.

1990: The Mets finished 2nd, 4 games behind the Pirates. Ryan had a pretty good season, and if he'd been in the rotation instead of the sinking-fast El Sid, they might have won the Division. On the other hand, as I said, if they still had Ryan, they wouldn't have traded for Viola, who won 20 that year. No, having Ryan at this point probably hurts them.

1991: In Ryan's last effective season -- as a fastball pitcher at age 44! How come no one ever tested him for steroids? -- the Mets collapse, finishing 20 1/2 back of the Pirates. Having Ryan wouldn't have helped. Having him in the disastrous '92 and '93 seasons, Ryan's last 2, wouldn't have helped, either.

So, in their history, real and alternate...

Mets without Nolan Ryan after 1971: 7 postseason appearances, 4 Pennants, 2 World Championships. Not great, but plenty of teams haven't done that well, including some teams that have been around longer.

Mets with Nolan Ryan after 1971: 10 postseason appearances, 6 Pennants, 3 World Championships. Not a huge improvement, but a significant one. After all, when you've only won 2 World Series, winning a 3rd is significant. Ask fans of the Chicago White Sox.


My, my, this room is getting cramped. Do you know why? Because there's a third elephant in the room.

It's what happened to the Mets after the 1973 World Series. Team chairman M. Donald Grant -- who "didn't know beans about baseball," according to '69 Met scout and later highly successful big-league manager Whitey Herzog -- broke up the team, piece by piece. In 1977, he got rid of Tom Seaver by playing him (and his wife) off the real-life, Anaheim-based Ryan (and his wife), with the help of New York Daily News columnist Dick Young, a once-great (and once-liberal) sportswriter who had became embittered, pedantic and pedestrian (and arch-conservative).

When Ryan signed with the Astros in 1980, it made him baseball's 1st $1 million a year player. At the time, if you asked most fans to name 5 current players who might be worth that, I think most of them would have had Ryan as 1 of the 5.

Grant would not have been a person who believed that any baseball player was worth $1 million a year. (Then again, he was not a baseball fan in the classic sense.) It is likely that Grant would have gotten rid of Ryan well before the 1979-80 off-season. After all, he had already traded several fan favorites before Seaver and Dave Kingman in the June 15, 1977 "Midnight Massacre" moves: Swoboda in 1970-71, Tommie Agee in 1972-73, Harrelson and Tug McGraw in 1974-75; Staub, Stone and Cleon Jones in 1975-76, and Garrett during the 1976 season. Matlack and John Milner would follow in 1977-78, and so would Koosman in 1978-79.

So, chances are, keeping Nolan Ryan beyond the 1971 season would have meant giving him up well before 1984. Therefore, the Mets increase their winnings by 1 World Championship, and no other postseason berths.

Then again, think of how much 1 more World Series win would have meant to Met fans from 1973 onward. A Met fan born between October 17, 1962, who presumably would have been aware of baseball by October 16, 1969, could have told a Yankee Fan born during that same stretch, "The Mets have won more World Series in our lifetime than the Yankees have!" And from October 16, 1969 until October 17, 1978, and again from October 27, 1986 to October 26, 1996 -- 19 of their 34 years -- that would have been true. And for all 34 years, the Mets would have been either ahead of the Yankees or tied with them (it would have been 2-2 from '78 to '86).

Of course, we're talking about the Mets here. With Tom Seaver, they found a way to lose the 1973 World Series. So who can say, with even 99 percent certainty, that they wouldn't have found a way to blow it with both Seaver and Nolan Ryan?

Friday, March 26, 2010

If the Mets Had Drafted Reggie Jackson

Jon Lewin of "Subway Squawkers" read my post on what might have happened if Dwight Gooden had stayed clean. He suggested that if Mets general manager M. Donald Grant hadn't been so cheap in the 1960s and '70s, the Mets would have won more by keeping some of their all-time greats, and that he looked forward to more "what-if" (or "if-only") pieces based on that.

You know the old saying: Be careful what you wish for, because you may get it.

In 1966, the Kansas City Athletics -- soon to move to Oakland -- chose outfielder Reggie Jackson of Arizona State University with the 2nd pick in the Major League Baseball draft.

The 1st pick belonged to the Mets, who chose Steve Chilcott, a catcher just out of a California high school.

Why? Not because of original Met manager Casey Stengel's advice: "You gotta have a catcher. If you don't have a catcher, you'll have all passed balls."

No. It was because Reggie was black and had a white girlfriend.

Actually, Reggie's girlfriend, Jennie Campos, was Hispanic, the daughter of Mexican immigrants born and raised near Arizona State's Tempe campus. They eventually married... and divorced.

How could the Mets be so racist? Well, there's a line that has been attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Napoleon Bonaparte and Robert A. Heinlein, which I first read from the late great anthropologist and Yankee Fan Stephen Jay Gould: "Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." Maybe the reason Reggie believes he was passed over by the Mets due to racism is that his agent wanted to soften the blow.

Or maybe his agent thought he just wasn't ready for New York. Even in 1977, there were times when it didn't seem like he was ready. Sure seemed like it by September of that year, though. Definitely in October.

So let's imagine that the Mets had done the right, and smart, thing...

1967: Reggie debuts with the Mets.

1968: Reggie is the Mets' starting right fielder, meaning that Ed Kranepool now plays a lot more 1st base, and Ron Swoboda gets traded. Swoboda ends up on the Oakland Athletics.

1969: The Mets win the Pennant, but lose Game 4 of the World Series when Reggie -- in the place we remember occupied by Swoboda -- not only doesn't make a great catch on Brooks Robinson's 9th inning liner, but does what we remember him doing at Fenway Park on June 18, 1977, "not hustling" in Billy Martin's words. The Orioles win that game, 3-2, win Game 5 3-0 (they did lead by that score until the 6th), and take the Series in Game 6 in Baltimore. Reggie hit 38 home runs, a Met record that will stand until 1996, but he is remembered as the goat of the Series.

1971: Unhappy with Reggie's contract demands following a strong '71 season, M. Donald Grant trades Reggie to the Chicago Cubs, whose owner Philip K. Wrigley not only is willing to pay Reggie the $120,000 a year he wants, but has some of Reggie's friends on the team: Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, and the recently-retired Ernie Banks, now a Cub coach, as is Negro League legend Buck O'Neil. Good situation for Reggie.

1972: The A's win their first World Series since 1930, when they were in Philadelphia, beating the Cincinnati Reds in 7 games. (Remember, Reggie was hurt and didn't play. I suspect Swoboda may have hit a home run in that Series.)

1973: Reggie Jackson is the Most Valuable Player of the National League, and the MVP of the World Series. First, the Cubs win the NL East. Then, in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series at Wrigley Field, Reggie slides into third base safely, and Pete Rose tags him in the face.  Rose often acted like a football player, but Reggie was good enough at the sport to get a Division I-A scholarship, and clobbers Rose. The Cubs take the Series the next day. Reggie homers off Oakland's Ken Holtzman in Game 7 of the Series, and the Cubs, Pennant winners for the 1st time in 28 years, are World Champions for the 1st time in 65 years -- the 1st World Championship for either Chicago team in 56 years. The Yankees remain the only franchise ever to win 34straight World Series. (The A's, with Reggie, did so in 1972-74, and remain the only other one to do so.)

1974: The Cubs slump as Billy Williams and Ron Santo are getting older. The Orioles beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, for their 4th World Championship. (1966, 1969, 1970, 1974. That's one more than they've won in real life, as they add a 5th in 1983.)

1975: The Boston Red Sox beat the A's to win the American League Pennant, but lose a classic World Series to Willie Stargell and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates win the Pennant by beating the Reds. Seems Pete Rose just hasn't been the same since the '73 NLCS.

1976: Charlie Finley breaks up his A's. The Mets that won the Pennant in '69 and nearly the Division in '73 have already been broken up. The Yankees win the Pennant on Chris Chambliss' homer. They lose the Series to the Philadelphia Phillies, who sweep the Yankees to win their first World Championship in 94 seasons of trying. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner opens the vault, and signs Reggie. After all, George reasons, if he can help Chicago win a World Series, why not New York?

Then history reasserts itself, until 1980, when the Phillies, who didn't need Rose to win the Series in '76, have the confidence to win it without him in '80.

1984: Leon Durham scoops up a key grounder, and the Cubs manage to beat the San Diego Padres to win the Pennant. But they lose the Series to the Detroit Tigers.

1986: Former Met ace Tom Seaver comes in to close out the Red Sox' Game 6 win over the Mets at Shea Stadium, 5-3. His last pitch is a strikeout of Gary Carter.

1988: The Mets win the NL East, but Dwight Gooden meets Mike Scioscia. The Dodgers go on to beat the A's, who have won their 1st Pennant in 25 years.

1989: In a World Series interrupted by an earthquake, the A's beat the cross-bay San Francisco Giants, to win their 1st World Championship in 27 years.

1992: Seaver is elected to the Hall of Fame, wearing a Reds cap on his plaque.

1993: Reggie is elected to the Hall of Fame, wearing a Yankee cap on his plaque. Cub fans are not pleased, but, hey, it's only been 9 years since they won a Pennant, and 20 years since they won a World Series.

2000: The Yankees win the World Series, beating the Mets in 5 games. The Mets have now won 3 Pennants, but never a World Series.

2003: Cubs Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson throws out the first ball before Game 6 of the NLCS. The Cubs nearly blow a 3-0 8th inning lead, but hang on to win 3-2, and take the Pennant. The name of Steve Bartman never enters the public consciousness, after Moises Alou remains calm after a minor incident. The Cubs go on to beat the Yankees in the World Series, winning Game 6, the last World Series game played at the old Yankee Stadium.

2006: Aaron Heilman meets Yadier Molina.

2009: Following the collapses of the previous three seasons, David Lennon of Newsday publishes The Curse of M. Donald Grant, just in time for the Mets to leave title-less (unless you count the 1968-69 Jets) Shea Stadium for the new Citi Field.

2010: After 2 years of sharing U.S. Cellular Field with the crosstown White Sox, the Cubs move into a newly renovated Wrigley Field, now a modern(-ish) facility with 46,000 seats, but retaining some old touches like the ivy, the brick wall, the bleachers, the scoreboard. A fitting home for a team generally viewed as a winner.

Hey, Jon, you asked.


Rangers 4, Devils 3, in a shootout. Chris Drury scores with 16 seconds left in regulation to tie. Damn it, Drury, where was that goal when your country needed it in the Olympics? As they say in English soccer, "Sod off, you useless bastard."

I hate the Rangers.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

If Dwight Gooden Had Stayed Clean

Note: The following is a what-if scenario. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to call it an "if-only scenario."

So we Yankee Fans got a little laugh the other day when Dwight Gooden was pulled over for speeding. Hey, it wasn't the worst that could happen.

(While I'm on the subject of "The Worst That Could Happen": Rest in peace, John Mastrangelo, a.k.a. Johnny Maestro, lead singer of the doo-wop group the Crests, of "Sixteen Candles" fame, and the "blue-eyed soul" band the Brooklyn Bridge. Cancer, age 70. I saw him in concert 3 times. Great singer, more importantly a good guy. Sadly, his death actually has happened. I resume the alternate history.)

Remember back in 1984, when Dwight Gooden was just 19 years old, went 17-9, and set a rookie record with 276 strikeouts? Met fans were already saying he was the greatest pitcher ever. It was like Knick fans with Patrick Ewing: It wasn't if he would lead them to championships, it was how many.

The Mets finished 2nd that year, but the next year, 1985, they looked read to make a serious challenge at the World Series. With Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez already in place, they added Gary Carter. They came close, chasing the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League Eastern Division Title to the last weekend before falling short. Gooden had one of the best seasons any pitcher has ever had: 24-4, ERA of 1.53, 268 Ks, and a WHIP of 0.965. (Walks and Hits, divided by Innings Pitched. Anything under 1.3 is good. Under 1.2 is excellent. Under 1.0 is ungodly.)

Dwight Gooden, "Doctor K" (eventually just "Doc"), won the Cy Young Award the year after being Rookie of the Year. He had won 41 games before he was old enough to legally drink. His future, and the Mets' seemed limitless.

In 1986, it all came together. True, he went "only" 17-6, and he failed to win either of his World Series starts (but then, he was opposed in both by Roger Clemens, who was every bit as dominating in '86 as Gooden was in '85), but the Mets did win the Series, after winning 108 games in the regular season.

What a rotation: Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda. A bullpen with Jesse Orosco, Roger McDowell and Randy Myers. An outfield of Kevin Mitchell, the platoon of Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra, and Darryl Strawberry. An infield of Keith Hernandez, Wally Backman, Rafael Santana and Howard Johnson -- and Backman and Johnson could be platooned with Tim Teufel and Ray Knight, respectively, with occasionally "Amazin'" results.

At the City Hall celebration after the ticker-tape parade -- a bigger one than the Yankees had ever recevied, but, then again, then-Mayor Ed Koch was a Met fan (no wonder he went bald: He probably pulled out most of his hair!) -- Mookie told the crowd, "1986: The Year of the Mets! 1987: The Year of the Mets! 1988: The Year of the Mets!"

Big roar. No one doubted him. Yankee Fans feared it would be true, but even we found it hard to doubt it.

But that was when things began to go wrong for the Mets. They traded Mitchell for Kevin McReynolds, who just didn't produce the way Mitchell did the next few years. They released Knight, which became a problem when HoJo kept getting hurt. Hernandez hurt his back and got old in a hurry. They traded Dykstra for Juan Samuel, a great trade for the Phillies but yet another in a long list of bonehead moves for the Mets. Hot prospects Dave Magadan and Gregg Jeffries didn't quite work out.

Through it all, Gooden kept on pitching. In 1987, he went 20-9, as the Mets again finished 2nd to the Cardinals. In 1988, he had another great year, going 18-9, and starting the All-Star Game, as he had in '84. But a little foreshadowing came when he gave up a home run to the weakest hitter in the American League's starting lineup: Terry Steinbach, the catcher for the Oakland Athletics.

The Mets again won the NL East. Gooden shut down the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, and the Mets won that series in 5. This enabled Gooden to start Game 1 of the World Series, but, again, he was victimized by an A's homer, as manager Davey Johnson left him in to pitch a complete game, and in the top of the 9th, Mark McGwire crushed one over the picnic area in Shea Stadium's left-center field, turning a 4-3 Met lead into a 5-4 A's win. The Mets never recovered, and the A's won in 5 games, with Gooden also losing the clincher.

Gooden sustained his first major league injury in 1989, but bounced back to put together a 12-5 season. The Mets again finished 2nd, to the Chicago Cubs as they had in '84, Gooden's first season. In 1990, he was 19-7, but the Mets again finished 2nd, this time to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Another injury in 1991 left Gooden only 13-7, but by now the Mets had collapsed. In 1992, they were so bad that Bob Klapisch, the Mets' beat writer for the New York Daily News, published a book about them, titled The Worst Team Money Could Buy. Gooden fell to 10-13 in '92 and 12-15 in '93 as the Mets lost 103 games.

For a while, in '93, they were ahead of their 1962 team's 20th Century record pace of 120 losses, and they were a bunch of juvenile delinquents as well, tossing firecrackers that ended up hurting children, spraying reporters with bleach, threatening reporters (including Bobby Bonilla to Klapisch) with physical harm. In all this, Gooden, now 28, was a beacon of maturity.

But improvement was not on the horizon for a man who seemed, with injuries and a poor supporting cast, to have fallen off the Baseball Hall of Fame's radar. In 1994, with a players' strike shortening the season, and a rotator cuff shortening his own, Gooden finished just 3-5. He bounced back in 1995, going 7-3 in limited action, but the atmosphere in Flushing Meadow was so bad that he wanted out.

That's when Yankee owner George Steinbrenner pounced. In one of the great coups in baseball history, he took the biggest star the Mets had produced since Tom Seaver, and brought him to The Bronx. On May 14, 1996, Dwight Gooden did something neither he, nor any other human being, had done, or still has done, in a Met uniform: He pitched a no-hitter. He blanked the Seattle Mariners as the Yankees won, 4-0. Rejuvenated, he went 13-8, and won Game 4 of the World Series, as the Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves in 6 games.

(Note: Gooden doing the job that Kenny Rogers failed to do erased that 6-0 to 8-6 comeback, which means that Jim Leyritz is mainly known for his rain-strewn walkoff homer in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS.)

Gooden again pitched well for the Yankees in 1997, going 16-9, helping them beat out the Baltimore Orioles for the AL East title, the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, the Orioles again in the ALCS, and the upstart Florida Marlins in the World Series.

None of those teams have made the World Series since; in fact, only the Indians have even reached the postseason since, and South Florida doesn't even have a team anymore, after the Marlins were broken up, attendance sank like a stone, and the team was moved to Washington, D.C. Rumors abound that the Montreal Expos, if they can't get a deal for a new ballpark to open by the 2014 season, may move to Miami, but they'd still be stuck in whatever the Miami Dolphins' stadium is being called these days.

Gooden hadn't had a 200-strikeout season since 1990, and only that one since 1986, but it didn't matter, as, like his former Met, now Yankee, teammate David Cone, he became a smarter pitcher with age -- or, if you prefer, a pitcher rather than a thrower. The 1998 Yankees were the greatest team of all time, with a rotation of Cone, Gooden, Andy Pettitte, David Wells, and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, making the '86 Mets look like pikers. Their 117 wins were the most in basball history, including Gooden's 12-9 record. They swept the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, took the Indians in 5 in the ALCS, and swept the San Diego Padres for their 3rd straight World Series.

Gooden finally seemed to slow down in 1999, at age 34, going 12-9 but with an ERA of 4.70. He did not appear in the Yankees' unbelievable 11-1 postseason, the greatest performance since baseball's postseason since the '76 Reds went 7-0 (facing a maximum of 12, as opposed to 19).

An 11-10 season in 2000 showed him the writing on the wall, though it also showed him a 5th straight World Series ring -- something only the 1949-53 Yankees had previously done. He had surgery on his shoulder, allowing him to come back in time for the 2001 stretch drive, going 4-1 in limited action. He managed to shut down the Arizona Diamondbacks in emergency relief of Andy Pettitte in Game 6 of the World Series, and the Yankees claimed their record 6th straight World Championship, their 28th World Series overall.

It was too much for his shoulder, and Gooden sat out the entire 2002 season, in which the Yankees lost to the Anaheim Angels in the ALDS. But he was back in 2003, squeezing out one more solid season, going 15-12, with his first 200-K season in 13 years.

His heroic bullpen work saved the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, leading to Aaron Boone's epic home run to win the Pennant. Doc again pitched in relief to shut down the Chicago Cubs, in their first World Series in 58 years, to win Game 4, allowing the Yankees to beat the Cubs in Game 6 for Title 29.

But the end was near. The pain was too great for much of the 2004 season, and Doc announced it would be his last. He would, after all, be turning 40 shortly after it ended. But Doc did manage to make his last regular-season strikeout the 3,000th of his career. He still had one last procedure to perform.

With the Red Sox (cough-steroids-cough) having completed baseball's first-ever 3-games-to-0 postseason comeback, manager Joe Torre had a tough choice to make in Game 7. Pettitte had been allowed to leave for Houston. So had Roger Clemens. Mike Mussina wasn't ready. Neither was Jon Lieber. Wells had left. Kevin Brown hadn't been effective. Neither had Javier Vazquez. Neither had Esteban Loaiza. El Duque was hurting. So was Doc.

Doc sucked it up and said, "Skip, gimme that ball."

Joe gave Doc the ball. He sent the Sox down in order in the 1st. In the 3rd, David Ortiz led off. The biggest Yankee-killer of his generation had pummeled them the last 2 seasons, but Gooden stuck a fastball -- "The last good one I ever threw," he would tell the press -- right in Big Papi's fat ribs. Ortiz pointed at the mound, and Gooden, in his best imitation of an English hooligan's "Come on then" style, threw out his arms and accepted the challenge. Both benches cleared, and Ortiz flattened Gooden. Not by punching him, but by falling on him. That would flatten anyone. The umpires threw both men out of the game, thus requiring a new pitcher for the Yankees, but also taking the Sox' biggest threat out.

Vazquez came in, settled things down, and held the Sox off until the 7th. Then the Sox made the mistake of bringing Pedro Martinez in to pitch, and he found out "Who's your Daddy!" The Yankees tallied twice off him to take a 3-0 lead. Mariano Rivera pitched the last 2 innings to give the Yankees their 41st Pennant.

The Curse of the Bambino lived, and still lives. Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon, Mark Bellhorn and Bill Mueller were soon outed as steroid users. Pedro was allowed to leave Boston via free agency, just as they did to Clemens after 1996. The Red Sox still have not won a World Series since 1918.

This past offseason, team owner John Henry, fed up with it all, sold the team to a Russian oil billionaire, who has promised to build a new ballpark on landfill in Boston's North End. "Of course," Yankee Fans are saying. "Landfill for a garbage team." Sure, build a ballpark on landfill. After all, it worked so well for Cleveland Municipal Stadium, right?

Gooden pitched just one inning in the 2004 World Series against the Cardinals, but he said it was sweet revenge for 1985 and '87 with the Mets. The Yankees had their 30th World Championship, and Dwight Gooden walked away from baseball with a 9th World Series ring. Only Yogi Berra then had more (though Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have now matched Yogi).

Dwight Gooden retired with a career record of 256-149, for a superb winning percentage of .632. It is somewhat amazing that the man known as Doctor K just barely made it to the 3,000 Strikeout Club, but injuries did somewhat get in his way.

Gooden was caught speeding the other day, on his way to a banquet honoring his recent election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some say he was the greatest New York pitcher ever. Well, probably not. Not even if you include what he did for the Mets.

Still, Dwight Eugene Gooden is a Yankee hero, and a baseball hero. With his injuries, it could have been a lot worse.

In fact, it could have been even worse than that. Look at his former Met and Yankee teammate Darryl Strawberry. Can you imagine if Gooden had wasted his life on cocaine and alcohol? It could have been not just a shame, but a tragedy.

If only...

Monday, March 22, 2010

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Joe Mauer

In the wake of Cornell becoming the first Ivy League school to reach the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 since the late Chuck Daly took the University of Pennsylvania to the Elite Eight in 1979 (before going on to pro glory with the Detroit Pistons); and the New York Rangers, yet again, sucking when they need to, you know, not suck, losing a big game to one of the team's ahead of them in the race for the last NHL Eastern Conference Playoff spot (and, in the process, losing a New York vs. Boston game, yet another shame on them), came some news that has disturbed some Yankee Fans.

No, I'm not talking about Mariano Rivera appearing in print ads for Canali clothes. He looks great in them, his usual classy self. After all, this is not a 1979 Sasson jeans commercial. (Thought I'd get in another swipe at the Rangers, who suck.)

The Minnesota Twins, desperate to keep catcher Joe Mauer beyond this, their first season at the new Target Field, signed him to a contract extension, $184 million for 8 years, keeping him in the Gopher State until October 2018.

This tells me three things. First, Twins owner Jim Pohlad has decided to not be a cheap team owner like his late father Carl, and also like the man Carl Pohlad bought the Twins from, Calvin Griffith, the man who moved the Washington Senators to Minneapolis-St. Paul (the "Twin Cities," hence the "TC" on the team's caps) in 1961.

The leading joke about Griffith's cheapness was that he went fishing at the beginning of walleye season (apparently a big deal in Minnesota, to the point where the Twins always ask to be scheduled for a roadtrip that weekend so people won't choose fishing over baseball), caught his legal limit, drove his haul to a supermarket, and traded it all for a box of Mrs. Paul's fish sticks, plus cash.

Unlike Calvin Griffith and Carl Pohlad, Jim Pohlad appears to be willing to spend what it takes to win. Therefore, he and his club deserve to win. Not more than the Yankees do, but then, that's my bias talking. I'd sooner take the Twins to win the World Series than about half, maybe even 2/3rds, of the teams in Major League Baseball.

Second, keeping Mauer is big for the Twins, because it shows, along with building Target Field to replace the asinine Metrodome, that they are committed, not just to staying in Minnesota, but to appealing to the State's pride in itself, which is immense (and for some good reasons).

Mauer is not just a great player, but also a hometowner, from St. Paul. It used to be that, except for Kent Hrbek, who grew up in Bloomington, within walking distance of the Twins' (and Vikings') former home of Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins usually only got Minneapolis-area natives who turned out to be great players at or near the ends of their careers: Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Jack Morris. (Terry Steinbach wasn't a great player, but he was often good, and was another Minnesotan who came to the Twins late in his career.) These men were cheered more than the typical Twins player. Now, for these fans, Mauer is their guy, much more than the similarly talented Justin Morneau (from the Vancouver suburbs) or any of their other current players.

Third, it shows that the Twins are committed to not just playing winning baseball, but seriously competing for the American League Pennant (and, by definition, for the World Championship). You see, both the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox will need new starting catchers soon. In fact, you could argue that, with Jason Varitek (the Man In the Chicken-Wire Mask) crumbling by the day, the Sox need a new catcher right now. By contrast, Jorge Posada had one of his best seasons last year, and probably has at least one more good year left.

By re-signing Mauer, the Twins are not just keeping their best player, but stopping him from going to one of the AL's other big contenders. The Anaheim Angels (or whatever they're calling themselves this season) are set with Mike Napoli. But the Tampa Bay Rays appear to be sticking with Dioner Navarro, who last year had a hideous OPS+ of just 52 and has never had more than 54 RBIs in a season, so they could use a better catcher. At 25, he no longer seems like the catcher of the future, so how do the Yankees look now for having traded him away? The Detroit Tigers have Gerald Laird, and he's not much better. So the Rays and Tigers both need new catchers.

So should Yankee Fans be upset that they won't get Joe Mauer? Of course not. Posada is still an elite player, he's healthy at the moment, and he's still got that short porch in right field and the ability to switch-hit.

And every single preason baseball magazine seems to be suggesting that 20-year-old Yankee catching prospect Jesus Montero will be ready for the majors in just 1 year. Just in time to replace our beloved Jorge as starting catcher? Maybe, unless Jorge's got more than one good year left. That would only be a good thing, the equivalent of a football team drafting the replacement for their quarterbacking legend before it's necessary.

I just wish the Yanks had the next closer in place before Mariano finally declines... Joba Chamberlain? Phil Hughes? Somebody else? Find him! It's more important than deciding whether Joba or Phil should be the 5th starter!

Jorge has done everything the Yankees could ask of him. He's been a part of 5 World Championships, the regular starting catcher on 3 of them (or 4, depending on how you define it). No Yankee will ever again wear Number 20, and he's destined, if not for the Baseball Hall of Fame, then for Monument Park. I love him.

Actually, it's Laura Posada that I love... And, unlike some of my other hopeless celebrity crushes, I've actually met her. Remember the YES Network series Ultimate Road Trip? In their first season, 2005, they had a promotion at a Subway store on the East Side, with the Roadtrippers working there and raising money for the Posada Foundation, which funds research into childhood cranial malformations like the one that nearly killed Jorge Jr. as an infant. (At last check, he was still fine.)

It was advertised on the previous week's show, and I went there, met host Michelle Beadle and the Roadtrippers, got a sandwich (it was Subway, so it wasn't that good, there's only so much the Roadtrippers could do), and while I was there, Laura walked in. She probably wouldn't remember me, but I'll never forget her: She looks just as good in real life. (Roadtripper Dave called her "the hottest woman on the planet," and he's not far off.) So the good news is, I got to meet Michelle, the Roadtrippers, and Laura. The bad news is, when I watched the show with that scene a week and a half later, I didn't make it onscreen; and, apparently, Jorge walked in shortly after I left. Oh well.


So did the Yankees lose much by not getting Joe Mauer? Hard to say, since the Twins had another 7 months to extend him, and there's no guarantee that he wouldn't have been scooped up by the Red Scum.

But think of it this way: With Joe Mauer, the Twins are 2-9 in postseason games against the Yankees -- 6-18 overall. They haven't won a postseason series 2002, and only that one since that epic 1991 World Series. That was during the Bush Administration. The father's, not the son's.

Mauer might be a great player, but the Yankees have handled his teams. The Twins have won 5 AL Central Division Titles in the last 8 years, which is pretty strong. But they haven't won a Pennant since R.E.M. was losing its religion. That's 19 years now. Since then, AL Pennants have gone to the Yankees (7), Toronto (2, and they'd never won one before), Cleveland (2, and they hadn't won one in 41 years before that), Boston (2, and they hadn't won one in 18 years before that), Anaheim (they'd never won one before, 42 years), Tampa Bay (they'd never even had a winning season before, 11 years), Chicago (they hadn't won one in 46 years before that, and just that one in 86 years) and Detroit (they hadn't won one in 22 years before that, and just that one in 38 years).

So unless we start giving Division Titles the same credence we gave Pennants up until 1995 and the beginning of the Wild Card era (Atlanta Braves fans sure have given such credence), the Twins, while interesting, maybe even exciting, have been very disappointing. They've given their fans reason to hope, and their losses haven't exactly been heartbreaking or shocking (unless you count Game 2 of last year's ALDS, A-Rod's equalizer in the 9th and Teix's screaming liner to walk off in the 11th)... but those hopes have not been realized.

Joe Mauer? We don't need no stinkin' Joe Mauer! We've got Hip Hip Jorge, and then... Jesus saves!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What Was the Worst Baseball Team Ever?

I saw a book today that attempted to "settle" certain baseball debates. As noted author Jim Bouton would say, "Yeah, surrrre." Such debates are never settled. We're still debating Joe vs. Ted after 70 years; Mickey vs. Willie after almost 60; Derek vs. Nomar after 10... well, actually, that one was settled long ago, in Jeter's favor.

Anyway, the book is The Seventh Inning Stretch: Baseball’s Most Essential and Inane Debates, by Josh Pahigian. I didn't buy it -- and probably won't, at least not anytime soon, as my priority is to restore that part of my "library" that got soaked in last Saturday's storm/power outage/basement flood. (It's already begun, with Chuck Culpepper's book on an American's -- his own -- introduction to English soccer, Bloody Confused! I had a Borders coupon.) But I won't recommend against buying it, either.

Pahigian made an interesting point: Some of the "worst teams ever" had, in his words, "a darned good excuse for it." Examples:

1899 Cleveland Spiders. It was the last year of "syndicate baseball," in which a man could own more than one team in the league, and the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cleveland Spiders decided to boost the former by stripping the latter. The Spiders went 20-134, worst record in major league history: They were trying to win, their owners weren't. And they were contracted out of the league the next season, along with the National League's Washington, Baltimore and Louisville franchises... but that made the American League, including the Cleveland Indians, possible.

1916 Philadelphia Athletics: Percentage-wise, the A's had the worst record in the 20th Century, 36-117 for .235. It was the most losses in AL history until the 2003 Tigers (43-119, 162 games instead of 154 as in 1916). But manager/part-owner (and later manager/full owner) Connie Mack had broken up his team after 1914 due to the rising salaries caused by the Federal League. These A's were Pahigian's choice for "worst team ever," but, by his own definition, they had "a darned good excuse."

1935 Boston Braves: Their 38-115 works out to .248, lower than the '62 Mets' .250 -- in fact, the lowest percentage in the NL since the 1899 Spiders. But it was the Depression: They weren't exactly able to spend as much as the fabulously wealthy Tom Yawkey, a mile away at Fenway Park.

1962 New York Mets: Most losses in the 20th Century, at 40-120. And they couldn't hide from the New York media, so they became legendary, from "Marvelous Marv" Throneberry's inability to hang onto grounders (or touch first and second base on a triple) to center fielder Richie Ashburn needing to learn that "I got it" in Spanish is "Yo la tengo" because shortstop Elio Chacon didn't understand English, and then crashed into left fielder Frank Thomas because the Big Donkey (the earlier, non-Big Hurt's nickname) didn't understand Spanish. But they were an expansion team. So were the 1969 Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres (who both lost 110) and the 1977 Toronto Blue Jays (who lost 107). So while the '62 Mets were absolutely pathetic, and would remain hopeless until 1966 and woeful until 1969, they had an excellent excuse. At least they were excellent at something.

By contrast, there was no excuse for the 2003 Detroit Tigers, 43-119 for .265:

* They were not an expansion team: It was their 103rd year of play.

* They were not cash-poor: Owner Mike Ilitch also owned the Detroit Red Wings, and happily spent enough money on them to win 3 Stanley Cups since 1997. He still owns both, and has since added a 4th, and had 2 other trips to the Finals.

* They didn't have a bad ballpark or a bad lease thereon: They had abandoned Tiger Stadium and moved into the profitable Comerica Park.

* They didn't even have a weak fan base: While the City of Detroit has been suffering for over 40 years, the suburbs have plenty of wealth. Indeed, Ilitch was shamed into spending on the Tigers the way he has on the Wings, and in just 3 years, in 2006, the Tigers won the Pennant, and have since come close to 2 other Playoff berths. They didn't even have a rash of injuries, like the 2007, '08 and '09 Mets.

Nope, there was no viable reason the 2003 Detroit Tigers should have lost 119 games. 95, sure. 100, maybe. Even a historically lousy 109, like they did in 1996, possibly. But 119? That requires a bad team having, on top of that, bad luck. They were the worst, most inexcusable team in baseball history.

But, as I said, they bounced back. Since 2003, the Tigers have posted seasons of 72, 71, 95, 88, 74 and 86 wins -- 3 weak but hardly dreadful seasons, 2 good ones, 1 excellent one (but not great, as they lost the World Series).

Translation: No team is totally hopeless. Not even in Detroit. After all, the Red Wings cast off their "Dead Things" label and broke their 42-year Stanley Cup drought (1955-1997). Are you listening, William Clay Ford? Even your Lions can snap out of it.


Last December 18, the New Jersey Devils were home at the Prudential Center to play the Ottawa Senators, and beat them, 4-2. Nice birthday present for me.

Tonight is my mother's birthday. We had previously planned to be at The Rock for tonight's game against the St. Louis Blues, but we had a few reasons not to go.

It was just as well: The Blues beat the Devils, 1-0. A loss with only one goal? Exactly the kind of game neither Mom nor I could stand. Good thing we didn't go.

Next Saturday is my father's birthday. (That's right, Mom and Dad were born 7 days apart -- albeit 4 years.) And the Devils are playing. But it'll be in Montreal, against the Canadiens. My father hates to travel, and he doesn't much like hockey, either (despite his interest in the recent Olympics). The only ice sport he likes is figure skating.

He's a good man, and he's become a very good Rutgers football fan. But his taste in sports is not universally good. He also likes the Mets. Sometimes, a father and son have to forgive each other for certain things. (Luckily, I've already gotten the 2-year-old nieces to like the Yankees, even though they have only the vaguest idea of what baseball is. Too bad their father is a Philadelphia Flyers fan.)


Days until the Devils play another local rival: 5, next Thursday night, at home against The Scum. (That's the New York Rangers, in case you've forgotten.)

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 15, the Yankees playing the Red Sox at Fenway for the ESPN Sunday-night season-opener. A shade over 2 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 21. 3 weeks.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 24.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 82.

Days until the World Cup Final: 113.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 168.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 169.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 174.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 250.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 438.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 602.

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 870.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Here's Your "Lineup," MSG Network

Starting next week, MSG Network will begin airing The Lineup: New York's Best All-Time Baseball Players.

I can save them the trouble. Here goes:

First Base: Lou Gehrig, Yankees, 1923-39 (but mostly 1925-38). Keith Hernandez, you hit .344 once (and it wasn't for the Mets); Gehrig hit .340 for a career. And he had almost 500 homers and almost 2,000 RBIs, and he would have had both if he hadn't gotten sick. And he didn't miss a game for 14 years. And he played in 7 World Series, winning 6.

And I don't want to hear about all of Mex's Gold Gloves: They weren't even awarded until 1958, and besides, they're kind of arbitrary, as when Rafael Palmeiro got one when he played 10 games at 1st and about 130 others as a DH.

Maybe Gehrig, whose last productive season was 72 years ago, and never faced a nonwhite pitcher in a game that counted, wouldn't have produced his astonishing batting numbers in the modern era, but you can't tell me he wouldn't have thrived in the post-expansion era with all those homer-happy new ballparks.

You'll notice I didn't mention a certain saint from Evansville. When he's not even the best at your position in your team's history -- and maybe not even the 2nd-best -- why mention him?

Second Base: Jackie Robinson, Dodgers, 1947-56. This is kind of close, as there are two other Hall-of-Fame second basemen who played significantly for New York teams, Frankie Frisch (Giants) and Tony Lazzeri (Yankees). None played there all that long: Robinson played only 5 full seasons at 2nd base (plus his 1st at 1st base and his last 4 at 3rd base), while Lazzeri was a Yankee only 12 seasons and Frisch a Giant for 9. Robinson was the most well-rounded player, though, and the only one who played in anything resembling a modern era.

It allows me to make this selection without mentioning the distinction for which Jackie is most famous -- because, when we're talking about his worthiness for this title, it's actually irrelevant, unless you consider that he put up the stats he did, and participated in the winning he did, while facing both pressure and (for want of a nobler word for such an ignoble occurrence) criticism that would have reduced a lot of the players who followed him (regardless of their race) to a teary, quivering mess.

Jackie Robinson wasn't just the most important player in the game's history (with the exceptions of the game's "founding fathers," without whom there wouldn't have been a game for him to play, and maybe also for Babe Ruth), he was a great player. He played so well, and by being the first person since the post-1920 home run explosion to emphasize baserunning to such a degree, he changed how the game was played, not just by whom.

Shortstop: Derek Jeter, Yankees, 1995-present. Before Jeter entered his prime, this was a tough choice, coming down to the 2 big (in importance if not in height) shortstops of 1941 to 1956, Philip Francis Rizzuto (the Scooter) and Harold Henry Reese (Pee Wee). You could have flipped a coin to decide it, and it would have been as fair as any other method. But Derek has rewritten the book, and even Rizzuto admitted it. (His last year in the booth, 1996, was Jeter's 1st full season.)

On the "Hall of Fame Career Standards Leaders" page of Baseball-Reference -- if this site was a woman, I would break one of my cardinal rules and take it on the infamous antiquing-in-Vermont trip that men dread -- a perfect score is 100; the all-time leader is Babe Ruth with 78; Jeter has a 62, which trails only Honus Wagner among shortstops (unless you still count A-Rod as a shortstop, but at 72 he also trails only Wagner); next-best after Derek is Cal Ripken with 58.

On the site's "Hall of Fame Monitor" list, which shows, based on past performances, which players are likely to make the Hall, Derek ranks 5th among players not yet eligible, behind A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson; thus 2nd behind A-Rod, and, if you count A-Rod as a 3rd baseman, Derek again ranks 2nd among shortstops behind Wagner. (Surprisingly, Ernie Banks was far beneath Derek on both lists. So was Robin Yount, who I figured would be much higher. Nomar Garciaparra wasn't even close.)

Now, if you ask most fans to rank the greatest shortstops ever, it might still be hard to rank Jeter higher than 3rd behind Wagner and Ripken. The great poet Carl Sandburg, himself a big baseball fan, said, "Figures don't lie, but liars can figure." Still, the fact that Jeter has statistical numbers that far exceed such greats as Ripken, Banks, Yount, and Luke Appling shows that he deserves serious consideration. (The name Ozzie Smith hasn't appeared until now. His fielding edge over Jeter... if there is one... does not erase the massive batting edge.)

It also makes anyone who ever, and I mean ever, thought that either Rey Ordonez or Jose Reyes was better than Derek Jeter look like the damn fools they are.

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees, 2004 to present. He's now had 6 seasons, and a World Championship. He now not only "a true Yankee," but he's surpassed Graig Nettles as the all-time Pinstripe hot corner man.

There is no one else even close: Fred Lindstrom of the 1920s Giants would be among the castoffs if the Hall of Fame ever decided to drop its 10 least deserving honorees; Billy Cox of the 1950s Dodgers was like Ozzie Smith in that, whatever fielding merit he had, he can't be considered because he wasn't much of a hitter; Wade Boggs was only a Yankee for 5 seasons and only productive for maybe 4 of them; and the Mets' 3rd-base woes have been a running joke since the beginning of the franchise, with Howard Johnson and now David Wright the best of a bad bunch.

Left Field: Dave Winfield, Yankees, 1981-90. This one is tough. On the 1980s Yankees, Winfield went from left after just 2 years to center, and then to right; and then Rickey Henderson played both left and center. Well, Rickey's automatically out of this discussion, since he spent just 4 1/2 years as a Yankee and they didn't win anything. Big Dave at least won a Pennant.

Willie Keeler was an amazing hitter for both the Dodgers and the Yankees, but that was over 100 years ago, a very different game than the one played even a generation later -- in fact, they were called the Superbas and the Highlanders, respectively, at the time. Monte Irvin of the 1950s Giants played only 6 seasons in New York (4 of them full), and we can never truly know how good he was while playing, also in the Tri-State Area, for the Newark Eagles. Tim Raines, Chili Davis and David Justice were big contributors to the Joe Torre era Yankees, but none for very long.

Cleon Jones was a very important piece of the Mets that won the '69 Series and the '73 Pennant, but not particularly outstanding; a comparable player on the 1976-78 Yankees would have been Chris Chambliss or Lou Piniella, rather than Reggie Jackson or Thurman Munson. Ralph Kiner was a left fielder, a great power hitter, and a great contributor to New York baseball -- but never all at the same time.

Joe Medwick made his name in St. Louis, and might have built a superb second half of his career with the 1940s Dodgers (he was on pace for both 500 homers and 3,000 hits), but he got beaned right after he arrived and was never the same again, except for brief flashes of brilliance (including a great catch against the Yankees in the '41 Series). Charlie Keller of that era's Yankees, while not injured as badly as Medwick, hurt his back and fell out of HOF consideration, though he still poked a few big homers for the Yanks as late as 1949.

The really weird part is how often left field has been a weak point for great New York teams. The Dodgers never had a left fielder as good as Duke Snider in center or Carl Furillo in right, though when they finally won it all in 1955 it was the left fielder, Sandy Amoros, who made the key fielding play, but he didn't last all that long.

The '86 Mets had to drop the once-super George Foster in mid-season, and settled on Kevin Mitchell. How come they didn't just break up their center field platoon, moving either Mookie Wilson or Lenny Dykstra over?

For half a century, the Yanks went from near-great to near-great at the position: Bob Meusel, Ben Chapman (who would go on to infamy as the Phillies' race-baiting manager, leading his team in yelling sickening things at Robinson), Keller, Gene Woodling, Elston Howard, then Ellie switched positions with catcher Yogi Berra but both men were better as catchers, Tom Tresh, Roy White, Piniella.

I'm putting Winfield in, because, despite his move of positions, he was the best of these, and also because I don't want to cheat by moving Mickey Mantle over to left "to protect his legs." If we're making the all-time best lineup, then we want each man at his best, and Mickey was at his best in center, as you'll see in a moment.

Center Field: Mickey Mantle, Yankees, 1951-68. Actually, 1951-66, since, in his last 2 seasons, Mickey was switched with 1st baseman Joe Pepitone to ease the strain on his legs. Okay, let me get the 2 obvious other contenders out of the way.

Willie Mays: He had only 5 full seasons (1951 and 1954-57) as a center fielder in New York. You can call him the greatest player ever, or the greatest living player, and have a good case. But 5 seasons in New York, however great, do not outweigh Mickey's 16 seasons at the position in the City. Besides, Mickey was a better player anyway. Check out the difference in on-base percentage, slugging percentage; RBI per game. Fielding? Allen Barra, a big Met fan and a big Mays fan, crunched the numbers and decided that Willie got to 1 ball every three games that Mickey wouldn't have gotten to, thus saving the Giants a run every 10 games that the Yankees would have allowed, thus not even coming close to negating the offensive advantage that Mickey gave the Yankees over his 5 best, 10 best, 12 best, 15 best seasons. If Barra can admit it, so can you: Mickey Mantle was a better baseball player than Willie Mays.

Joe DiMaggio: Due to wartime service in the middle of his career and injuries toward the end, he played just 13 seasons, and in comparison with the statistical averages of his era, Mickey was a better hitter, and not that far behind Joe as a fielder.

The City has been lucky to also have Earle Combs of the 1920s Yankees and Duke Snider of the 1950s Dodgers reach the Hall, plus such luminaries as Pete Reiser of the 1940s Dodgers, Tommie Agee of the '69 Mets, Mickey Rivers of the '76-'78 Yanks, Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra of the 1980s Mets, and Bernie Williams of the 1990s-2000s Yanks. In New York, center field remains the glamour position, more so than in any other city at any other position -- more than left field in Boston, more than catcher in Cincinnati, more than pitcher in Los Angeles or Houston (or Flushing).

One more thing, before I move on to the most obvious choice in the lineup: Instead of thinking about Mickey as, "What could he have done if he hadn't gotten hurt and took care of himself?" think instead, "Look at what he did do." After all, the next guy didn't exactly "take care of himself" by today's standards, either.

Right Field: Babe Ruth, Yankees, 1920-34. You may be asking, "What about Dixie Walker? Carl Furillo? Don Mueller? Ron Swoboda? Rusty Staub? Reggie Jackson? Darryl Strawberry? Paul O'Neill?" My answer is Drew Rosenhaus' answer: "Next question."

Catcher: Yogi Berra, Yankees, 1946-63. Now, if you're counting only the years he was the Yanks' regular catcher, you're talking 1949-58. That might put Bill Dickey ahead of him. But there's only one other serious contender, and that's Roy Campanella of the 1950s Dodgers.

Gary Carter wasn't a Met all that long, and Mike Piazza's catching was a joke. There has never been a great hitter whose fielding was so bad as to negate his hitting (maybe Hack Wilson, but he wasn't a great hitter for very long), but, A, Piazza comes closer than most; and B, now that he's a steroids suspect, it puts his phony reputation as "the greatest hitting catcher ever" in serious doubt.

Starting Pitcher: Christy Mathewson, Giants, 1900-16. Note that I'm mentioning these starters in chronological order.

"Big Six" might have been the best pitcher ever. Unlike Walter Johnson, the other major contender from that era, he had more than just a great fastball, had several really good pitches including the game's 1st great screwball (he called it a "fadeaway"). So while Johnson probably would have been a terrific pitcher in the Lively Ball Era (the fact that he led the AL in most major categories in 1924 at age 36 suggests it), Mathewson probably would have been even better.

Starting Pitcher: Carl Hubbell, Giants, 1928-43. If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn, Sandy Koufax might have been the greatest lefty pitcher in New York history. But they didn't. Hubbell's screwgie was as devastating as Matty's, and it made him, along with Dizzy Dean (and probably Satchel Paige), one of the top 2 or 3 pitchers of the 1930s.

Starting Pitcher: Whitey Ford, Yankees, 1950-67. The winningest pitcher in Yankee history. The winningest pitcher in World Series history. The best winning percentage of any pitcher with at least 300 decisions. The best ERA of any starter in the Lively Ball Era. Like Frank Sinatra (of whom he remains a huge fan), the nickname "Chairman of the Board" suits Whitey so well, and not just because it rhymes with "Ford."

Starting Pitcher: Tom Seaver, Mets, 1967-77 and '83. They started calling him "The Franchise" after the '69 Series, and it still fits, as much as for any player on any baseball team. The kind of player who you really, really hope is a class act in real life, and he always has been -- unless you're M. Donald Grant or Dick Young, but who speaks kindly of them these days?

Starting Pitcher: David Cone, Mets, 1987-92 and 2001; Yankees, 1995-2000. He really is the only player who was ever great for both teams. Darryl Strawberry had his moments, and Dwight Gooden one or two, for the Yankees, but who's kidding who?

It's not easy to keep out of the all-time rotation people like Joe McGinnity, Jack Chesbro, Rube Marquard, Dazzy Vance, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing and Catfish Hunter -- and that's just the ones who are already in the Hall of Fame.

I should also mention Giants Hal Schumacher, Sal Maglie, Larry Jansen and Johnny Antonelli; Dodgers Whitlow Wyatt, Don Newcombe and Preacher Roe; Giant and Dodger Fred Fitzsimmons; Yankees Bob Shawkey, Urban Shocker, Spud Chandler, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, Bob Turley, Mel Stottlemyre, Ron Guidry, Jimmy Key, Andy Pettitte, David Wells, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and Mike Mussina; and Mets Jerry Koosman, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda and Al Leiter. There hasn't been enough time in New York to consider CC Sabathia or Johan Santana, and we can't consider anybody else from the 2006-present Mets.

Did I forget anybody? No. There is an obvious name I haven't mentioned, but choosing not to mention him is not "forgetting." Or maybe I'm "misremembering," if you know what I mean.

Lefthanded Relief Pitcher: Sparky Lyle, Yankees, 1972-78. A tough call over Tug McGraw of the 1965-74 Mets, but Sparky came through more times in big games. If the Mets had hung onto Tug longer, and gave them the first few years he gave the Phillies, I'd have picked him.

Righthanded Relief Pitcher: Mariano Rivera, Yankees, 1995-present. Not quite as easy a pick as the Babe in right or the Iron Horse at first, but the only other serious contender is Goose Gossage. Think about it, Met fans: Your three best closers, and it's not even close, have been Tug, Jesse Orosco, and Billy Wagner -- all lefties. Unless you want to go with Roger McDowell. Or Doug Sisk. Or Rick Aguilera (who needs to get down on his kness and thank God for Calvin Schiraldi, Bob Stanley and Bill Buckner for saving him from being the goat of the '86 Series). Or... Armando Benitez. Francisco Rodriguez? Yes, K-Rod is a righty, but he's had one season in Flushing, and it wasn't that far above Benitez at his "best."

Manager: Joe Torre, Yankees, 1996-2007. Think about it: John McGraw and Miller Huggins each won 3 World Series, but they were the only postseason series they won. Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel share the record of 7 World Series won. Joe Torre won 17 postseason series: 7 Division Series, 6 League Championship Series, 4 World Series. We'll never know how the others would have fared if they had to go into the postseason only as Eastern Division Champions and then face a Western Division Champ, a Central Division Champ, a Wild Card Winner, or a combination thereof, and then have to face the Champion of the other League; but we know about Torre.

Go ahead: Challenge me on any one of these. Make your own lineup. Put it up against mine. See if you can extend mine to a Game 6, let alone 7.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

After the Flood

Maybe I shouldn't have offered to be more offensive. On Saturday morning at 11, 2 trees on my street went down in that nor'easter and downed power lines. We didn't get the power back until Monday night at 10. For two and a half days, no electricity, no light, no heat, no hot water.

This was not fun. And if that had been the worst of it, it would have been annoying as hell.

That was not the worst of it. The blackout knocked out our sump pump. So when I got back from Nevada Smith's, the New York bar where I watched Arsenal beat Hull City in Premier League action, I saw that the basement was flooded.

I haven't yet been able to check to see how many of my videotapes -- in plastic bins, never found a place for them from the last time I moved -- are ruined. Or which ones. Probably ones I really wanted to save. But 2 shelves of one of my bookcases were ruined.

A lot of fantastic books got ruined. Nearly all of them are replacable -- eventually. Even if I had the money to buy them all again (and I don't, at least not more than 1 or 2 every pay period), it would take a while for them to come by mail. A lot of them weren't available in the New York Tri-State Area, and had to come from Borders/Amazon.

Some of the books that came by mail came from England. These were some of the books that helped me to understand soccer for the first time. Some of the soccer books I bought were available in New Jersey and New York City bookstores. But they're all ruined. Soaked.

"They're soaked, and I know they are."

"This game's abandoned."

"Bloody hell."

Amazingly, one book that I was sure was a goner was a 1960 world atlas that my mother got from an old family friend. The binding is already nearly shot, but the covers and pages were fine... and still are. The bookcase that one was in wasn't affected.

In the bookcase that was ruined, I lost signed copies -- already signed when I got them, so they weren't personally autographed -- of Jim Bouton's Ball Four and Dan Shaughnessy's Reversing the Curse. I lost Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups and Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders, and Allen Barra's recent books re-examining long-held baseball beliefs. I didn't have those four books for very long, but I loved them. Even when I don't agree with Neyer and Barra, I love that they sometimes make me think of things in a different way.

Actually, I would disagree with Barra frequently: Not only is he a Met fan, but he's from Old Bridge, East Brunswick's arch-rival. The Purple Bastards! (Actually, since he's older than I am, that would be the Blue Bastards, as the school was then known as Madison Central and had different colors.)

But I was thrilled at 2 books that survived, both by baseball players who began in the late 1940s and starred into the 1950s. What I Learned From Jackie Robinson, by his Brooklyn Dodger teammate Carl Erskine, whose nasty curveball led him to win several big games for Dem Bums, including two no-hitters (one against the hated New York Giants) and Game 4 of the 1953 World Series in which he beat the Yankees, striking out 14 batters to set a Series record that lasted for 10 years.

And Baseball Forever, by Ralph Kiner, slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates and broadcaster for the New York Mets for their entire history from 1962 to the present (and while he's done just one game a week the last few years, he is scheduled to be back this season at age 88).

Erskine's book was the last thing my Grandma gave me before she died. Kiner's book was the last thing I gave her, and naturally, it was one of the books Mom let me take it from her house after the end.

It didn't occur to me to attach special meaning to those books before tonight. I just didn't think of it. I do now.

It resulted in my coming up with a "Yogiism": I told Mom, "It's the sort of thing you don't think about until you think about it."

This whole thing could have been a lot worse. Nobody was killed or injured -- at least, not in my house, not in my neighborhood, and probably not in East Brunswick or even in Middlesex County. But a few people in New Jersey have been killed, and elsewhere up and down the Northeast Corridor from Boston's northern suburbs to the Tidewater region of Virginia. And over a quarter of a million people in the New York Tri-State Area are still without power, 3 days later.

It sure didn't seem like it over the weekend, when I lost a refrigerator full of food and needed to borrow the shower in my sister's condo, and the whole family still needs to borrow it and her washer and dryer. Fortunately, she's letting us, because she was planning on going on vacation this week anyway. But we were damn lucky.

The power came back on last night, so we did not have to "beware the Ides of March." We might not yet get our own hot water and laundry back tomorrow, St. Patrick's Day, but we are lucky.

But then, as that great Englishman of Irish descent, John Lennon, put it, "If you really had the luck of the Irish, you'd wish you were English instead."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Am I Not Offensive Enough?

Either I haven't got enough readers, or I haven't offended enough people. My last 3 entries were about how Knick fans were delusional if they thought they were going to get LeBron James for next season, the 2009 Yankees would have beaten the 1986 Mets in a best-4-out-of-7 "World Series" and my Top 10 Reasons the New York Rangers suck... which they do. (Though they beat the Atlanta Thrashers on the road tonight, 5-2, 2 days after the Devils blasted Queen Henrietta out of the nets.)

Maybe I need to insult Penn State again. The biggest response I've ever gotten is when I called Joe Paterno a rat-faced score-running-up bully who was able to cover up his players' crimes for 40 years until recently... which he is.

Let's see, who else can I insult... The Dallas Cowboys, or Manchester United? Nah, too easy: Glory-hunting cunts, who are too stupid to accept it as anything other than a compliment.

The Red Sox? Better yet, Sox fans. Yeah, you loved Nomar Garciaparra, until the steroids stopped working, then your team dumped him, and then you "won." You chowdahead bastards, it's Bill Buckner who needed to forgive you, not the other way around. Hell, Johnny Pesky forgave you for the way you treated him from 1946 to 2004, I guess Billy Bucks can as well.

The purpose of a blog is to spread one's opinions. Brag on your own teams and smack around other people's.

So my problem is that I'm not offending enough people. How can I offend more?

I could call Sarah Palin a moron, Chris Christie a fat heartless bastard, and the "Tea Partiers" a bunch of fascist bigots... but then, politics is only a hobby with me.

Maybe I could get a few Canadian readers by calling Sidney Crosby a diving little twat. Yeah, I know, he's the best player in the world and he just won the Gold Medal with his overtime winner... but tonight, the New Jersey Devils beat his Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1 at the Prudential Center. Sid the Skid scored for the Pens, but for the Devils, the lamp was lit by Patrik Elias, Andy Greene and Ilya Kovalchuk. Marty Brodeur turned back 34 of 35 shots. The attendance was a full house of 17,625, and Ranger fans, as always, can kiss my Garden State ass.

Maybe I could get a few extra Devils fans to read this by pointing out my favorite hockey team's flaws. For example, whenever the Devils win on Friday night at home, and the next game is the following night, a Saturday at the Nassau Coliseum against the pathetic Islanders, the Devils always manage to fuck it up. Especially if I've made my way across the Raritan, Rahway, Elizabeth, Passaic, Hackensack, Hudson and East Rivers and onto The Island. (I won't be in the Nassau Mausoleum tomorrow night, so maybe the Devils have a chance to win this one.)

Who knows. If I knew as much as I think I do, I wouldn't be blogging on this site, I'd be doing a show on WFAN.

I could call it "Mike IS the Mad Dog." The sad part is, that's already an old joke.


Days until the Devils play another local rival: 1, as previously mentioned, tomorrow night at the Islanders.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 23, the Yankees playing the Red Sox at Fenway for the ESPN Sunday-night season-opener. A shade over 3 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 29.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 32. Just 1 month.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 90. Just 3 months.

Days until the World Cup Final: 121. Just 4 months.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 176.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 177.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 182. Just 6 months.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 258.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 446.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 610.

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 878.