Category: NY Baseball

Ad ode to the Hall of Famer, Mike Piazza

Yesterday it was announced that Mike Piazza has been elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In a weird way, I think this might be the last time I will genuinely get the joy out of a baseball player earning this honor.

I was 11-years-old when Piazza was traded to the Mets. At that age baseball was life. Who am I kidding? I’m about to turn 29 and not much has changed on that front. But, the fact remains that Piazza arrived at the utmost important time of my fandom. The franchise was struggling and desperately needed a shot of life. Piazza provided just that, and more.

From the moment he arrived the Mets instantly became relevant again. Those late-90’s and 2000 teams certainly weren’t the most talented. In fact, they were far from it. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a more likeable bunch. Bobby Valentine, who is quite the personality in his own right, coached a cast of characters that became my first true love.

His teammates in New York were the likes of Edgardo Alfonzo, who was a coach’s dream. He played the game the way it was meant to be and was the player, along with Edgar Martinez, that I actually tried to mimic at the plate. Robin Ventura, the sure handed veteran with pop in his bat that provided the comic relief. Rey Ordonez, whose defensive highlights are something I still watch in awe (but you couldn’t pay me to watch one of his at-bats). Al Leiter, who always looked like he was on the brink of a nervous breakdown as he sweat on the mound (similarly to Shaq on the foul line) with every single 3-2 count. John Olerud was the silent assassin who was able to somehow ride the subway to Shea Stadium every day without being recognized. Turk Wendell wearing that alligator tooth necklace and slamming down the rosin bag out of relief. Has there ever been a backup catcher who contributed more with his energy in the dugout than Todd Pratt? Names like Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton, Timo Perez, Darryl Hamilton, Jay Payton, Todd Zeile, “Super” Joe McEwing, Matt Franco, Lenny Harris, Armando Benitez, Rick Reed and Bobby Jones filled out those rosters. If you aren’t getting my drift by now – these were Mike Piazza’s teams.

Piazza was a one man wrecking crew who led this rag-tag bunch. While the Mets had their share of bonafide professionals on those teams, Piazza was the lone super star. Win or lose, the burden was put on the shoulders of Piazza.  And you know what? More times than not, those wins could be attributed to his heroic efforts. During his tenure with New York it felt like every time a big hit was needed, Piazza stepped up to the plate and delivered in the clutch. He had a knack for rising to the occasion like few others, if any, in franchise history.

There are a few moments that will always stand out in my mind.

  • Picnic blast: Piazza’s star shined brightest when it came time for the Subway Series against the Yankees. Facing reliever Ramiro Mendoza, with the Mets trailing 6-4, Piazza took him deep with a shot to left center that I’m not sure has landed yet. The ball cleared the old picnic tents in Shea Stadium. He flipped his bat in celebration, which I never saw before or after out of him, as he knew, along with the rest of the stadium, that he hit a ball further than many believed was humanly possible. (Side note: Matt Franco hitting a walk-off single against Mariano Rivera to end that game was a great thrill of mine) Click to watch…
  • Epic comeback: It’s impossible to discuss the Mets of the late-90’s-2000 without mentioning their arch nemesis, the Atlanta Braves. The Braves were the bully who had been stuffing the Mets in their locker for years without putting up much of a fight. But then Piazza arrived kind of like Linderman in ‘My Bodyguard’ (That’s a 1980 movie reference, go watch it) and gave New York a fighting chance. In a mid-summer matchup in 2000 with the Mets trailing 8-1 in the eighth inning, it appeared all hope was lost. Then, miraculously, the Mets rallied to make it an 8-8 score with Piazza up and two men on base. Wouldn’t you know it, Piazza hit an absolute laser down the left field line that was gone in the snap of a finger to complete the Mets epic comeback. If you go back and watch that highlight keep an eye on the emotion that comes out of Piazza as he makes his way down the first base line. That sums up just how much that home run meant. Click to watch…
  • Lifting a city: Maybe the moment that will immortalize Mike Piazza forever in New York lore was his game winning home run post 9/11. The Mets played the first game in New York after that tragic day. It was a weird time. Nobody really knew how to think or how to go about returning to their daily lives. I remember watching that game and turning over to the news networks between innings who were still trying to grasp that horrific day. It was surreal. With the Mets trailing in the eighth inning, Piazza hit a monumental blast off the TV tower in center field that made everything feel alright in the world, at least for that moment. It was something that the city so desperately needed. That home run will mean so much more to fans than Piazza himself may ever realize. Once again Piazza stepped up and carried not only his team, but the city, when it was needed the most. Click to watch…

 I know that Piazza has already expressed his desire to be enshrined wearing a Mets cap. I also know that it isn’t his decision to make. The reality is that it’s very likely the Hall of Fame decides to put him in with a blank cap, given his split time playing for both the Mets and Dodgers. There is an argument to be made for both sides and I’m not going to delve into the statistical comparison. I simply challenge any Hall of Fame voter to close their eyes and relive a Piazza moment(s) in their head off memory. I feel pretty confident in saying that they will come up none from his days in L.A. and have several vivid memorable moments of him wearing a Mets cap engrained in their heads. That should put an end to that debate, in my opinion.

As I mentioned earlier, this might be the last time I genuinely receive joy out of a player receiving this honor. I’m at an age now where players are my own age and in many cases, younger. It hasn’t changed much. Other than my frustration that I’m not in the Majors. I still admire players’ talents and have as much of an appreciation for the game as I ever have. Maybe more so now that I have a full understanding of how gifted these players truly are.

One thing that I have noticed is that you begin to root for your favorite teams and players in a different fashion as you get older. Sure, you still tune in with a keen eye and express your emotions. Although now I find myself getting far more upset with losses than I did when I was younger and somehow less excited over a big win. Funny how that works. The biggest difference? I don’t hold players in the same reverence that I did for Mike Piazza. He is the last of his kind, for me. I haven’t been to Cooperstown since I was young. I was maybe 12 at the time (I’ll have to check with my parents on that). Now, with my childhood hero set to be enshrined, I have the only reason I need to go back.

Thanks for the ride, Mets

Matt Harvey summed up the World Series in two words: “No Way!” He emphatically repeated those words to manager Terry Collins as he insisted on staying in for the ninth inning of Game 5 to try to finish what he started.  But rather than becoming what would have surely gone down as a rally cry in Mets lore alongside “Ya gotta believe,” it became the phrase Mets fans muttered to themselves in disbelief as they watched their World Series dreams wither away.

I had to take some time before I collected my thoughts. With the wounds still fresh I couldn’t bring myself to relive the sour note in which the season ended on. I felt like Charlie Brown, charging that football with my tongue out in excitement as the Mets were finally going to succeed, only for the Royals, who were playing the role of Lucy, to pull it away from me at the last second.

The Royals are a worthy World Series Champion. Their entire roster plays the game as if they watched the Tom Emanski instructional VHS tape religiously growing up. Just as I remember growing sick of watching that infomercial, changing the channel as fast as I could, my feelings were the same when it came to watching the Royals. They would foul off endless pitches, hit single after single, continuously go first to third on a hit, steal a base whenever they pleased and watch them come through with the timely hit every time it was needed — the only difference was I couldn’t change the channel. It was reminiscent to the movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ where the Mets were reliving the same nightmarish game over and over again.

But, as hard as it is to remember right now, it wasn’t all bad for the Mets this season. In fact, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Despite losing the World Series, this was one of the most successful seasons in franchise history. It began with hopes of competing for a Wild Card spot, that’s right a Wild Card spot, and ended with a National League Championship.

The Mets unofficial start date this season was on July 31, the night Wilmer Flores hit a dramatic walk-off home run to open up a season-changing series with the Washington Nationals. This came just two days after the dramatic trade that never happened, which led to the infamous image of Flores crying on the field. That moment jump started the Mets and provided a much-needed shot of life into this team. That same weekend Sandy Alderson capped off a tremendous trade deadline by acquiring Yoenis Cespedes, who had an all-time second half with New York. His MVP caliber play almost single-handedly carried the Mets offense down the stretch. Regardless of his postseason woes, fans should never forget that.

After surpassing the overwhelming favorite Washington Nationals to capture the NL East crown, which came with surprising ease down the stretch, their postseason odds looked bleak. In a best of five series the Mets were matched up with the two-headed pitching monster of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke of the Dodgers. As fate would have it, the Mets young pitching, most notably Jacob deGrom, was up to the task as they proved to be on and above their level every step of the way. Daniel Murphy, who has brought out more mixed emotions over the years from the fan base than any player I can ever remember, suddenly became the best player in baseball. He could do no wrong as the Mets got the best of the Dodgers in five games.

Next up: The Cubs. Ironically enough, this was the year in which the famed ‘Back to the Future II’ movie predicted the Cubs would win the World Series. For a franchise who is in the midst of the most historic championship drought in all of sports, the Cubs felt like a team of destiny. But apparently the Mets didn’t get the memo. They steamrolled over the Cubs as Murphy and the pitching staff once again led the way as the Mets captured their first NL crown in 15 years.

When it came time for the World Series, well, we all know how that went down. The Mets magical run had come to an end. But, the Mets couldn’t have ended it on a classier note, in my opinion, as they came out once more to greet the flushing faithful that stuck around for one last goodbye. David Wright instructed the team to come back out and salute the fans who had hung around Citi Field long after the Royals on field celebration had ended to wish farewell to the boys of summer. It was a somber scene as it began to sink in that this was really the end of the 2015 season. For some of these players, including Cespedes and Murphy, it was likely the last time they would wear a Mets uniform. The organizations goal had been to “take back the city,” in reference to a time when they owned New York in the 1980’s. Which feels like a 100 years ago at this point after all of the Yankees dominance in the 1990’s and 2000’s. With the season the Mets just had to build upon, led by this young star-studded pitching staff, that future could very well be within grasp.

Just as I stated earlier that “No way!” became the last thing we will remember from the 2015 season, I hope it carries over into 2016. I’d like to see the Mets, especially Matt Harvey, use that as motivation next year as if to say “No way we don’t win the World Series this year.”

Thanks for the ride, Mets.

Time to shake off Game 2 and get back in the NY groove

All of the Mets, and their fans, worries came to fruition in Game 2. After cruising through three innings, the Royals figured out Jacob deGrom and forced an early exit. DeGrom was clearly frustrated as he was unable to put away the Royals hitters. Part of that was due to him missing his locations with his secondary pitches, especially when he was ahead in the count, and part of it was the Royals make contact at any cost approach at the plate. To make matters worse, the defense was sloppy and continuously put the Mets in a jam. A big part of Kansas City’s game plan is to put pressure on the other team’s defense and force mistakes. They’ve done just that in Games 1 and 2. Finally, the bullpen, which is this teams biggest question mark, was unable to stop the bleeding after deGrom departed from the game. That’s certainly not a promising sign going forward.

What’s bothered me the most about the Mets is their offensive output. Far too much of the lineup is swinging for the fences. I don’t understand how you can sit through these first two games, watching what the Royals are doing right before your eyes, and not try to mimic their approach. Very rarely do you see them attempting to hit the long ball. If they do, it’s early in the count and they adjust their plan of attack accordingly to the situation. I’m not saying swing early and often in the count, I know that’s not something the Mets have done this season. But if you do get your pitch to hit, go for it. Kansas City starters aren’t exactly dominating arms, despite what their stat line in Games 1 and 2 may say. By taking good pitches early and letting them get ahead in the count, the Mets are giving the Royals’ arms an edge that they need in order to succeed.

It only took two games to realize just how special Daniely Murphy was throughout the NLDS and NLCS. Without Murphy getting that big timely hit, the Mets offense has sat stagnant. It’s unfair to expect Murphy to continue hitting at that torrid pace. It’s also unrealistic. While I still expect Murphy to put together quality at-bats, the realist in me knows he is a line drive hitter, not the home run hitting machine we’ve seen throughout the postseason.

I know that it will take more than one hot bat in order to beat the Royals. This will have to be a complete team effort. The Mets must find a way to keep the lineup moving. And, if they’re able to do that, capitalize on as many scoring opportunities as possible. They’ve had their chances, especially in Game 1, but have been unable to get that key hit. As we saw in Games 1 and 2, the Royals are relentless. If the Mets can get Kansas City down, they cannot take their foot off the gas pedal, as the Royals are rarely ever out of a ballgame.

As for the starting pitching, forget the scouting reports. I’m tired of watching our power arms bow down to the Royals lineup. Yes, they are a very good hitting team. I love their unselfish approach at the plate. They will single and double you to death. But, the Mets young arms are shying away from what got them this far. It wasn’t throwing off-speed stuff nearly 50% of the time. If the Royals lineup is going to beat you, make them do it with your best pitch. I agree that they need to change their look throughout the game to keep these hitters off balance, but don’t get carried away with it. When it comes time to get that big out in a key situation, remember what got you this far.

After Game 1, comparisons were made to the 2000 World Series and how the Mets lost in similar fashion. After Game 2, comparisons were made to the 1986 World Series and how the Mets lost the first two games by the same margin. What do you say, Mets? Which ending will we receive – a quick and quiet defeat like 2000 or a miraculous comeback that we cherish for years to come like 1986?

The Mets return home tonight for the first of three games. In my opinion, they must win all three in order to have a real shot at winning this series. I just don’t see them winning more than a game in Kansas City. If Game 1 was a gut punch, than Game 2 was an early round knockdown. The fights not over, but the judges are already penciling in the Royals as the winner.

Watch how the late great Rowdy Roddy Piper reacted to the Mets being down 2-0 in 1986:

Last night’s loss was a gut punch, but not a knockout

Last night’s 5-4 loss in 14 innings was brutal, there’s no other way to put it. Personally, I would have rather lost by 10 runs than the way the Mets did. Watching Jeurys Familia give up that ninth inning home run to Alex Gordon was a gut punch. But, if you’re going to lose in heartbreaking fashion, I’d rather get it out of the way in Game 1 while there is still time left to recover.

Right from the get-go you could tell it was going to be a weird night. On the very first pitch Matt Harvey threw last night there was confusion in the outfield between Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto that led to an inside the park home run to lead off the game. It was impossible not to think this was going to be the Royals night. However, the Mets fought back and put themselves in position to win. Even after Gordon tied the game up in the ninth, the Mets had several chances to regain the lead and failed to seize on their opportunities in extras. The bullpen did their part and the Royals gave the Mets the best they have to offer. In my opinion, while I’m not a big believer in moral victories, it was more important for the Mets relievers to keep the Royals bats at bay as well as they did in their 7 + innings of work than what Kansas City did. This is where the Royals are supposed to have their biggest advantage. If the Mets can continue to stay on their level out of the pen, that’s a good sign going forward.

The obvious comparisons have been made to the eerily similar fashion the Mets lost Game 1 of the 2000 World Series to the Yankees. Unlike the 2000 World Series, I don’t have my head down after a Game 1 loss with the certainty of defeat. Sure, last night’s loss still hurts this afternoon. It probably will up until the first pitch of Game 2. But with Jacob deGrom on the mound, and with the resiliency this team has shown throughout the whole season when faced with any sort of adversity, my confidence is behind this Mets team until the end. A win tonight would put the Mets back in the driver’s seat. Winning one out of two on the road was always the goal.

If you were browsing through social media last night/this morning, despite what some fans might have you believe, this is indeed a seven game series. Games are going to be lost in the postseason. It happens. Yes, winning Game 1 would’ve been a great start, but it didn’t happen and that’s not going to change. Harvey didn’t have his best “stuff” and kept the Mets in the game. Familia, who in spite of giving up the game-tying home run, worked out of an eighth inning jam and retired the other three batters he faced in the ninth with ease. The offense scrapped together four runs but was only a hit or two away from breaking the game open several times last night. It’s time to learn from your mistakes, move on and go get a win in Game 2. Last night’s loss was a gut punch, but not a knockout.

Well, I guess there’s only one thing left to do…

mets-national-league-champions-2015Every once in a while you experience something that feels too good to be true. Waiting for that alarm clock buzzer to go off and snap you out of a dream. As I watched Wednesday night’s game, and the Mets went in to cruise control from the moment Lucas Duda launched a home run in the top of the first, I was convinced someone was getting one over on me. Could this be one of those Jimmy Kimmel pranks? Is he going to make me a viral laughingstock as a hidden camera captures me cheering in excitement for an event that never actually occurred? Damn you, Jimmy. At last, it took until Thursday in the PM hours, when the TV guide told me there was going to be a Mets-Cubs game on TBS and was instead treated with an episode of Seinfeld (not that there’s anything wrong with that), that it really sank in: The New York Mets are going to the World Series.

For the past several years my father and I have made the trip down to Port St. Lucie to take in some of Mets spring training action. If you’ve never been before, although Port St. Lucie isn’t exactly the most exhilarating place on earth, it’s a chance to get an up close and personal experience with the teams current and rising stars. The real beauty of spring training? The Mets are still in first place. For at least that month of March you can be as optimistic as you want about your team. In years past, that was about as good as I was going to feel about this franchise.

For the majority of our trips we knew the season wouldn’t end with a banner rising before it ever began. But, you could see the foundation slowly being built. That’s what has really made this year’s postseason run that much more special. I’ve literally watched this team grow up before my eyes. Each and every trip gave us a new glimpse into this starting rotations potential. Starting with Matt Harvey in 2012, a surprising Jacob deGrom emerged in 2014 while Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz showed their promise just this past spring. For anyone that was able to watch these guys throw, even in the raw stages of their development, you knew better days were coming to Queens.

One name I left out, who deserves as much credit for this team’s success as the starters, is Jeurys Familia. I remember him coming up and the debate was is he a starting pitcher or a reliever? What made the front offices decision easier to send him to the pen full-time was the depth already in the rotation all the way down to the minor league level. Familia became a reliever out of necessity and boy did that turn out for the best. In March of this year, we sat no more than an arm’s length away from Familia as he threw a bullpen session. My father remarked “I just don’t see it,” in regards to his potential. Let’s just say I wouldn’t count on him getting a job in the Met scouting department anytime soon. One of the biggest differences in this Mets team compared to years past is having a closer that you aren’t petrified to see come in with the game on the line. Dare I say Mets fans are actually confident to see a closer in the game? What a world we live in.

Although I believe the saying “pitching wins championships” holds true, you still have to score runs in order to win baseball games. Up until the trade deadline the Mets offense wasn’t just bad, it was flat-out laughable. I feel like we should stop picking on John Mayberry Jr at this point. Scratch that, I don’t. When he was batting cleanup in late July, it was hard to believe I wasn’t watching an Independent League offense. I couldn’t even fathom this team making a run with the offensive output they were receiving. Ok, let’s just say it, the season was doomed if something didn’t change, and fast.

The Washington Nationals, who were the odds on World Series favorites, kept the Mets in the NL East race as the MLB trade deadline neared. I strongly believe that Sandy Alderson would have sat idle if the Nationals were playing to their potential and were out to a big lead in the division. But, fortunately, they weren’t. This left the door open for the Mets to make a real run at the postseason down the stretch and Sandy hit it out of the park with his acquisitions. He traded for Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard, Yoenis Cespedes and promoted top-hitting prospect Michael Conforto. Uribe and Johnson added much-needed depth to the bench and allowed manager Terry Collins some flexibility to play the hot bat or a lefty-righty matchup. Reed and Clippard slid right into the 7th and 8th inning role to solidify the backend of the bullpen. Conforto quickly emerged as a rising star who has become the starting left fielder against right-handed pitching and will surely be next year’s full-time starter. As for Cespedes, I’m not sure the Mets would still be playing if it weren’t for him. He put the offense on his back down the stretch and led them to a division crown with ease with his MVP caliber play.

murphyThe Mets were faced with the Dodgers in the NLDS and Cubs in the NLCS in order to advance to the World Series.
There are only two words needed to sum up how the Mets moved on: Daniel Murphy. He is the hottest hitter on the planet and is in the midst of possibly the greatest postseason run in the history of the game. There isn’t enough time in the day for me to full express how I feel about Murphy right now. I might have to name my first-born child Murphy, or at least a dog. The same player who has had us scratching our heads for years with some of the bonehead plays he’s made, now has us scratching our heads in disbelief as we question ourselves, “Is this really the same Daniel Murphy?”

The pitching has been nothing short of remarkable. DeGrom, if he wasn’t already, has turned himself into a household name with his three road victories in beating the likes of Kershaw, Greinke and Jon Lester along the way. Harvey, after a rough but gritty opening performance in the NLDS, threw a gem that set the tone for the rest of NLCS. Syndergaard has blown us all away with his 100 MPH fastball and his willingness to do whatever it takes (pitching in relief of Game 5 in the NLDS) for the team to win. Matz, who has made only eight career starts, has kept the Mets in the game in each of his starts and has proved he’s clearly worth of being in the same discussion as the big 3.

What I’m trying to get at is watching a plan came into fruition has made this run all the more special. Sure, it probably took longer than most would have liked. Myself included. And there have been some brutal, and that’s putting it nicely, seasons in recent years. It’s important not to have a short-term memory and think it will always be this good. Remembering those dreadful seasons only adds to the ecstasy that is winning the National League Championship. The champagne showers have washed away many painful memories. Enjoy this weekend. We all return to the edge of our seats/barstools on Tuesday night.

As Jake Taylor said in Major League, “Well, I guess there’s only one thing left to do…Win the whole F’ing thing.”

Mets-Dodgers series has the narrative it needed: Revenge

This Mets-Dodgers series had its share of narratives before it ever began. Will Clayton Kershaw finally produce in the postseason? How many games, or innings, will Matt Harvey throw? Can the Dodgers finally get over the hump? Will the Mets be able to overcome the 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Zack Greinke? All of those are fine headlines to fill up a few pages in your daily newspaper. However, I didn’t find any of these all that appealing. But, thanks to Chase Utley, that all changed on Saturday night.

As you are well aware of by now, I hope, Utley took out Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada will a “slide” while attempting to turn an inning ending double play that broke his fibula. The initial ruling on the field had Utley called out at second and the score even at 2-2 with a runner on first and two outs. Upon further review, the call was reversed and Utley was awarded second base as the Dodgers rallied to tack on three more runs in route to a 5-2 victory.

Arguments can be made from now until eternity whether Utley made a clean “hard-nosed” play or if he went above and beyond that threshold. I won’t waste my time with furthering that debate. It’s just not worth it. No matter what your opinion may be the fact remains, right or wrong, the call was made and the series is now tied at 1-1. That’s all that really matters.

I mentioned earlier I had no real feel for this series going into it. The Dodgers don’t exactly bring much emotion out of me. Maybe it still stings an older generation of fans that were spurned by their Brooklyn departure in the 1950’s, but I’m not a part of that. I grew up with the Mets and I’ve only known the Mets. There isn’t a single everyday player who I have any animosity towards on L.A., and that okay. It’s not like you’re going to have a rivalry with every team you play. But it does enhance the viewing experience. The games seem to mean more when you bring that aspect into play.

After watching Utley take out Tejada on Saturday night, as Mets fans have grown accustomed to seeing similar plays by him over the years, I realized the Phillies still stand in the Mets way. Sure, the Phillies haven’t been relevant for a few seasons now. Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels are no longer a part of a core that broke the hearts of Mets fans for years. In 2007 and 2008, they helped guide the Phillies past the Mets to NL East Championships. From 2009-2014, the Mets were never even in the mix. Never getting a shot at redemption. The rivalry, although it continued to play out, if only in our minds, was never truly meaningful after 2008.

This year the Mets returned back to glory as they took back the NL East. The Phillies, well, they finished with the worst record in baseball. Howard has since become a shell of himself, spending most of his time on the DL in recent seasons. Hamels was traded to the Texas Rangers earlier this year, while Utley and Rollins were acquired by L.A. to add depth to a team with World Series expectations.

With what Utley started on Saturday night, the fire that once existed between the Mets and Phillies was reignited. All those years of emotions, mostly filled with anger, that Utley and Rollins have caused me came back to life. It felt like deja vu as one of them was in the middle of a potentially season changing moment, with the Mets coming out on the wrong end of it. The chance to return the favor against those Philadelphia teams might have already passed, but the Mets still have the opportunity to square things away with public enemy No. 1 and 2, Utley and Rollins. This series, which could be the Mets final shot at payback as retirement looms for both, has the narrative it so desperately needed: Revenge.

New York Mets to October: “We’re back”

The New York Mets are the 2015 National League East Champions. I repeat, the New York Mets are the 2015 National League East Champions. There are fan bases that have waited longer than the nine years the Mets have gone without making the postseason, but few, if any, who have been through as much over that time. If you had tried to use the famed quote from Moneyball “How could you not be romantic about baseball?” during those nine years, you would have received a lot of expletives in response from any Mets fan. But now, today, as they have the division locked up with a full week of games left to play – I have begun to resonate with that question myself.

I’m part of a generation of Mets fans who were born shortly after the 1986 championship season (three months to be exact). I haven’t experienced much winning. In fact, I’ve experienced much, much more losing than winning. My father has always told me “it takes character to be a Mets fan,” which has held true in my lifetime. To this day I still mets fanscherish the 1999 and 2000 teams, two of the four times they actually made the postseason since I was born, as my fondest years as a fan. I was 12 and 13 years old during those seasons, prime childhood years. There were few distractions in my life, there was baseball then everything else came in a distant second. But what really made me appreciate those teams the most, and I’m sure many others feel the same way, was their stature as the underdog. The Mets were playing second fiddle to the Braves and Yankees around that time. It was fun to play the David vs Goliath card against those two teams, who were each in the midst of their own respective dynasties. While the Braves ended the Mets run in 1999 and the Yankees in 2000, those aren’t my lasting memories from those seasons. It was the unexpected journey of reaching the NLCS and World Series that I hold so near and dear to my heart.

It wasn’t until 2006 that the Mets returned to the playoffs. This time it was different, they were the favorites. From opening day forward the Mets were considered the team to beat in the NL East and arguably all of baseball. We all know about the season’s heartbreak ending, but that’s not where I’m going with this. Sure, that team was fun. It was a helluva season that brought about plenty of memorable moments. A young David Wright was playing third base, right as I was finishing up high school emulating him at the hot corner myself. But it just wasn’t the same rooting for the odds on favorite. It gave me a glimpse into what it must be like as a Yankees fan, minus the World Series championship finish, as winning was all but expected.

What separates the 2015 Mets from the 2006 bunch is, you guessed it, their underdog run. The Washington New York Mets vs Cincinnati RedsNationals were not only favored to win the division, but the World Series. You’d be hard pressed to look back now at preseason predictions and find anyone who was taking the Mets over the Nationals. Now it’s not like the Mets were projected to be bottom dwellers, either. They might not have had overwhelming support, but they had their fair share of people who believed a Wild Card spot was within reach. Personally, I thought they would compete for one of the Wild Card spots up until the final days of the season. I can’t sit here and say I was expecting a postseason berth, but I did think they had at the very least a fighting chance.

In typical Mets fashion, this NL East title didn’t come easy, despite what the standings might say. Right out of the gate in spring training starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and left-handed reliever Josh Edgin went down with injuries that required season ending Tommy John surgery. Closer Jenrry Mejia tested positive not once, but twice(!) for PED use. David Wright was diagnosed with spinal stenosis putting his season, and career, in jeopardy. Reliever Jerry Blevins, who was brought in to replace Edgin in the bullpen, broke his forearm after being struck by a line drive in April and once again after “falling off a curb,” whatever that really means. Matt Harvey was fighting for the ball to stay in games longer, despite an innings limit. Sandy Alderson refrained from upgrading an offensive lineup so bad that John Mayberry Jr. was batting cleanup in late July. Wilmer Flores being traded, then not traded, which led to an embarrassing night capped off by Flores crying on the field. Harvey doing a 180, thanks to the advisement of his agent Scott Boras, and announcing he may very well shut himself down before seasons end due to an innings limit that he has previously fought every step of the way. All the while having to deal with a fan base that no matter how big the division lead was, assumed with each September loss that another Mets collapse was inevitable.

Thanks to a combination of dominant early season starting pitching, Jeurys Familia emerging as an elite closer, the promotions of Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto and Steven Matz, the acquisitions of Tyler Clippard, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Addison Reed and (most notably) Yoenis Cespedes, an emotional walk off home run from Wilmer Flores, the return of David Wright, a Nationals choke job (literally, just ask Bryce Harper) and what has felt like a different hero in each and every victory – the Mets pieced it all together and made an unlikely run at a division title.

On Saturday, I took in the clinching game on away turf, in a Yankee household. The nerve of someone to schedule an engagement party when the Mets magic number was down to one. But at least the hosts’ family is full of good IMG_0964baseball people who I have nothing but respect for when it comes to discussing the game with. With that being said, I’ve heard my fair share of Mets jokes over the last few years from that direction. Granted the Mets have played themselves into a walking punchline with their actions on and off the field. Nonetheless, no fan wants their team to be on the butt end of a joke forever. Finally a little redemption. If only for a night. I couldn’t show up empty-handed, and I’m not talking about my gift. Tucked away in a friend’s car parked out front, just in case the Mets lost, were two bottles of champagne on ice. Once Famila recorded the final out it was as if the dreadful memories of the last nine years had all been washed away. I’m not one to jump and yell in excitement, that’s just not my style. It was more like the biggest sigh of relief I can ever remember having as I was able to sit back, relax and reflect on the fact that the Mets were actually returning to the postseason. All with a solo cup filled with the finest champagne $13 can buy.

I’ll allow myself until game 1 of the NLDS on Friday, October 9th to enjoy this. Then, when every single pitch will have me on the edge of my seat and the ulcers begin to settle back in, we’ll see if the Mets can give us more to cheer about.  I don’t like to make predictions, but just as I said before the season ever began – I’ll give the Mets a fighting chance against anyone.  Nine years are a long time to go without playoff baseball, but good things come to those that wait…

Alderson, deGrom and Harvey salvage the Mets weekend

When it comes to Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, Mets fans feel confident those two will come through when it’s needed the most. That same trust has yet to be placed in General Manager Sandy Alderson, who often works in a passive aggressive manner (financial restrictions or not) when it comes to upgrading the roster. But this weekend, together, all three led the way in salvaging the final two games against the Dodgers.

Alderson started to change the stigma surrounding this roster with the promotion of top hitting prospect Michael Conforto on Friday night. Although one can argue it was an overdue move considering how poor, and that’s putting it lightly, this Mets offense has performed. Better late than never, I suppose. But he didn’t stop there. The news broke right around game time Friday night that Alderson had acquired Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe from the Atlanta Braves for two mid-level prospects. It may not have been the blockbuster move that fans have been craving but there is no doubting they improve this Mets roster. Each are proven veterans who have established themselves as more than capable everyday players or in an ideal scenario, provide some much-needed depth to the bench.

Conforto showed no signs of having any Major League jitters. He has recorded an RBI in his first three games and helped ignite the offense on Saturday with a 4-for-4 day while scoring four runs. Conforto displayed quickly what we’ve heard so much about him, he’s a professional hitter who uses the whole field and has a disciplined approach at the plate. Like Conforto, Johnson and Uribe wasted no time in making their presence felt. On Saturday, while playing second base and batting clean up, Johnson added two hits with one of them being a two-run home run. Uribe added a hit of his own after relieving Daniel Murphy at third base late in the game but his mark was made on Sunday. After once again relieving Murphy at third, Uribe made a crucial play on a slow roller to record the first out in the top half of the ninth. That turned into an even bigger play after the Dodgers followed that up with three straight hits to tie to the game. In the bottom of the 10th Uribe crushed a double off of the left center field wall that drove in the game winning run in walkoff fashion.

The Mets starting rotation has received no shortage of national publicity, and rightly so, as they’re loaded with some of the top young arms in all of baseball. But the debate these last few months has been who is the ace of the staff – deGrom or Harvey? It’s deGrom, and it’s not even a debate at the moment. The best part of that question is that the answer doesn’t even matter. That’s a win-win argument for the Mets as they anchor the front end of this young rotation. The only thing that matters is that they each do their part in helping the Mets win each time they take the mound. Which was the case on Saturday and Sunday.

Harvey, who has had a strong but not entirely smooth return from Tommy John Surgery, put up a solid performance on Saturday. He threw seven innings and allowed two runs while striking out four and walking only one batter. The most important thing I took away from that start was the return of his command. When Harvey has gotten into trouble lately it has been due to giving too many free passes as he is unable to locate his pitches. While deGrom was stellar once again as he squared off against Zack Greinke, the NL CY Young award favorite. DeGrom out dueled Greinke in what I felt was an important game for him to solidify himself against one of the games perennial starters. He allowed just two hits over seven innings while striking out eight as he blew away the Dodgers lineup. A blown save might have cost deGrom a W in the win column but the Mets were able to walk away with a victory in extra innings, which is all that really matters.

Considering what a roller coaster ride of season this has been for the Mets thus far, with every bit as much negativity as there has been optimism surrounding the franchise, they trail the Washington Nationals by only two games. That’s right, two games! I have to do a double take every day I check the standings when I realize the National League East is still within grasp. Conforto, Uribe and Johnson might not be the saviors – but any offensive help they can provide for deGrom, Harvey and the rest of the staff will go a long way in keeping the Mets in contention. Alderson may have helped salvaged the weekend, but it will probably take another move or two to salvage the season.

 

Tanaka, Gee: A tale of two returns

IMG_0151Yesterday the Yankees and Mets each had a starter return to their respective rotations. Masahiro Tanaka, the ace of the Yankees staff, made his much-anticipated return to the mound. While Dillon Gee, who has become more commonly known as the odd man out, returned to the Mets.

Tanaka: 7 IP 3 H 1 ER 9 SO

Much has been made of Tanaka’s health since a small tear of his UCL in his right elbow was discovered last season. Rather than undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Tanaka chose rest and rehab. While some rolled their eyes at his decision, he was able to return to form late in 2014. However, it took less than a month into the 2015 season for another setback to occur. Although the two aren’t believed to be related issues, Tanaka spent the past month on the DL with a right elbow strain. Leaving many to wonder whether or not Tanaka made the right decision to forego surgery and was putting off the inevitable.

In the four starts Tanaka made before hitting the DL he did not look like the Cy Young candidate from last season. His fastball was sitting in the high 80’s as he was clearly holding himself back on the mound. I’m not sure what exactly happened in the month since his last start, but Tanaka seemed to have returned to form yesterday. His fastball was clocked as high as 96 MPH along the way to dominating the Seattle Mariners. With the AL East up for grabs, if Tanaka can stay healthy, and that’s a big if, the Yankees 1-2 punch with Michael Pineda and himself anchoring the rotation could make the Yankees the team to be within the division.

Gee: 4 IP 8 H 7 R 4 ER 1 SO

It’s been an interesting start, to say the least, for Gee’s season. Here’s a little rundown on his year to date:

  • After being considered an expendable arm, he was openly shopped around the entire offseason
  • Reluctantly awarded a spot in the rotation when Zack Wheeler underwent Tommy John Surgery in spring training.
  • Then forced into a battle, for that same spot, with emerging young arms Rafael Montero, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard for most of March.
  • After suffering an injury that landed him on the 15-day DL, he was then replaced by Syndergaard in the rotation.
  • Syndergaard seized his opportunity and excelled in his first few starts, causing the Mets front office to overly extend Gee’s minor league rehab assignment to buy Syndergaard more time at the major league level.
  • Gee was recalled as part of the Mets plan for implementing a six man rotation, that will last for the foreseeable future, in an effort to limit the workload on the young arms.

There is a buzz that has surrounded most of this Mets rotation throughout the season. When Matt Harvey takes the mound, it’s an event in NYC. Jacob DeGrom, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, is as cool as they come and he’s picked up right where he left off. Syndergaard, who has lived up to his “Thor”nickname, strikes fear into batters with his 6’6” 240 lb presence on the hill to go along with his fastball that flirts with 100 MPH at times. Even Bartolo Colon, who leads the staff in wins, has become must watch TV for the pure entertainment value (especially at the plate) he provides.

Then there’s Gee. When he’s listed as the probable starter, the game really has no feel to it. He gives fans a kind of “blah” feeling when he takes the mound. Sure he will keep the Mets in the game, for the most part, but he doesn’t provide any extra excitement that entices you to tune in. Yesterday didn’t help his cause in arguing against that point. He struggled in his return to get through his four innings of work. “It wasn’t as bad as it looked” said manager Terry Collins. I’m not sure which game you were watching, Terry, but yes, yes it was. With Steven Matz patiently awaiting a phone call, Gee is on a short leash to turn things around if he wants to hold onto his spot in the rotation.

At the end of the day, it was only the first start back for Tanaka and Gee. But each fan base was left with completely different emotions by their end results. Yankee fans were given hope that maybe they can put a strangle hold on the AL East, with no team differentiating themselves so far, if Tanaka can stay healthy and returns to form. While Mets fans were left scratching their heads as to why Gee is still hanging around.

 

 

The Subway Series Is The Talk Of The Town

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We’re only 16 games into the season and the buzz surrounding this weekend is that usually reserved for September/October baseball. The Rangers, Islanders and Nets might be in the playoffs – but the subway series is the talk of the town.

When the schedule was first released I was disappointed to see the first part of the subway series would be taking place in April. I felt it was too early in the year and would be lacking any real excitement during this normally dull period in the season. Luckily I could not have been more wrong. We might not have kicked the cold weather just yet in New York but both of these teams are red-hot.

The Mets (13-3) come into this series as the hottest team in baseball – riding an 11-game winning streak. Their hot start has already given the Mets a 4.5 game lead in the NL East. Despite players dropping like flies due to injury (and suspension) the team has maintained this football like mentality as “next man up” seems to be their mantra. Terry Collins has his ball club playing with a type of grit and resilience that hasn’t been seen in Queens in years. The fan base has responded in a big way to this early success. Attendance is soaring and Citi Field, dare I say it, is beginning to rock like Shea. Maybe not quite on that level, but it’s a noticeable atmosphere change. Every night a different player seems steps up and comes through with a key walk, sacrifice fly, strong start, clutch hit or defensive web gem on the way to a win. It has been a complete team effort early on for the Metsies.

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Friday: Michael Pineda (2-0, 5.00 ERA) vs Jacob DeGrom (2-0, 0.93 ERA) 7:05 p.m. WPIX/YES/MLB Network

Saturday: CC Sabathia (0-3, 4.35 ERA) vs Matt Harvey (3-0, 3.50 ERA) 4:05 p.m. SNY/YES/Fox Sports 1

Sunday: Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 3.12) vs Jonathon Niese (2-0, 1.50 ERA) 8:05 p.m. ESPN

After getting off to a 3-6 start it appeared the Yankees (9-7) were in an early season tailspin. Things quickly turned around as the Yanks have since won 6 of their last 7 and now sit tied for first place in the AL East. There were questions swirling around some of this teams veteran players and what, if any, they had left in the tank. Mark Teixeira and A-ROD have been a blast from the past as each are producing at a high level. Chris Young, who was viewed as the team’s fourth or fifth outfield option, is among the hottest hitters in the game and has forced manager Joe Girardi’s hand for more playing time. The tag team of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller has been as good as advertised in the back-end of the bullpen. In just a week the Yankees have changed their outlook from bleak to optimistic in what appears to be a wide open AL East.

In years past this has been a no-win situation for the Yankees. They have long been the kings of this city and would never gain any real advantage from taking a series from the Mets. Even when the Mets have won this series in recent years it has garnered no real significance. Sure, it’s nice to beat the Yankees but no one really cares when you’re playing meaningless games by the middle of August.

This year feels different. The Mets, and their fans, have been quite vocal in pronouncing 2015 as the year they take New York back. This is the first time that I can ever remember the Yankees coming into the subway series with a little chip on their shoulder. I have a REALLY hard time saying any team with a payroll well north of $200 million is ever an underdog, but it sure feels that way. For the Mets, if they really want to surpass the Yankees as the toast of the town – it starts by sending a message this weekend.

Watch: Matt Harvey “The Dark Knight Rises”

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ESPN’s Baseball Tonight crew is spending the day in Port St. Lucie at the Mets spring training facility. To correspond with this E:60 has released the trailer for their upcoming feature “The Dark Knight Rises” starring Matt Harvey.

This doesn’t look like the run-of-the mill piece, as they have captured footage over the past several months of Harvey. I’m not so sure he wouldn’t have been a better choice than Ben Affleck to revamp the Batman movie franchise.

If you’re a Mets fan, there isn’t any way you can watch this and not feel those baseball juices flowing inside of you.

There can be only one: Who will reign as king of the back page, Harvey or A-ROD?

Matt Harvey (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images), A-Rod (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Photo from: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/02/12/mets-harvey-a-rods-return-good-for-him-good-for-baseball/

Matt Harvey (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images), A-Rod (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Image from: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/02/12/mets-harvey-a-rods-return-good-for-him-good-for-baseball/

New York City might be big enough for two professional baseball teams, but only one franchise, and in most cases one player, will control the back pages. Last season that man was Derek Jeter. Now that his farewell tour has ended, I wasn’t sure if it ever would, there are two men who will fill that void. Matt Harvey and Alex Rodriguez are poised for a back page battle in their 2015 returns. But as was the case in ‘Highlander’ – there can be only one.

In 2013, Harvey took the league, and city, by storm. You could find him featured in ESPN Magazine: The Body Issue, participating in skits for ‘The Tonight Show’, on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Us Weekly (featuring his breakup with super model Annie V) and sitting courtside at Knicks/Rangers games. Oh, then there was the fact the he started the 2013 All-Star game at Citi Field. Almost forgot about his on the field dominance. Simply put, he was everywhere.

Unfortunately, Harvey’s rise to stardom was derailed by a season-ending elbow injury that led to Tommy John Surgery. Even while he missed the entire 2014 season recovering he grabbed more attention than his active teammates. Now, much of that has to do with the lackluster season the Mets put together. Nonetheless, Harvey has become a walking headline. Every interview, comment, appearance or tweet he made has become back page news.

Harvey’s combination of talent and brash have him on the cusp of taking the throne as King of NY. All eyes will be on him this spring as he returns to the mound.

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Matt Harvey will be leading the charge as the Mets try to take back NY.

Then there’s A-ROD. He is one of, if not the, most captivating figure in sports. Given where he stands in today’s media landscape, it’s easy to forget that A-ROD was once one of the most popular players in the game. That was long before he donned the pinstripes. As a young phenomenon he was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career and was on pace to break every record in the book. He earned the largest contract in professional sports history (he would later receive a second deal to top that). His little black book is filled with a “who’s who” of women in Hollywood. Then steroids came into the picture. Accusations occurred, denials were initially made and then apologies were ultimately issued.

A-ROD went on to become a World Series hero and all was forgiven. Or was it? Accusations of PED once again began to occur. A lot of them. Denials were once again made. Then a suspension was handed down. A big one (The largest in baseball history). And once again, an apology was issued. This time in the form of a handwritten note.

Here’s an excerpt:

“I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that’s on me. It was gracious of the Yankees to offer me the use of Yankee Stadium for this apology but I decided the next time I am in Yankee Stadium, I should be in pinstripes doing my job.”

People love to see the mighty crumble. As bad as that may sound, it’s true. Think about every featured story on the news, magazine covers or website homepages. More times than not you won’t be seeing any feel good stories. It’s almost always regarding someones downfall. Hence why these A-ROD scandals have been so widely reported. Sure, his story has become kind of repetitive. He’s almost like watching a rerun on TV. You’ve already seen the episode. But you enjoyed it so much the first time around that you decided to watch it again. Sound familiar?

I don’t care how many monuments the Yankees give out this season. A-ROD is the only Yankee story people care about.

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Not so fast, A-ROD. I’m sure you have a few more back page covers in you.

The media aren’t the only ones excited for A-ROD’s return. Earlier this week Harvey himself said “If he is that dedicated and wants to come back then more power to him for going up to the organization like that, it shows a lot,” Harvey told the NY Post. “It will be exciting to see what he can do.”

No one epitomized a baseball player better than Derek Jeter. But I found myself becoming bored with him during those dog days of summer last season. I craved that polarizing figure. Someone who has a bit of a flair to him. I missed Matt Harvey. And at times, I can’t believe I’m saying this, I missed A-ROD..

Both The Mets and Yankees are projected to be in the playoff hunt this year, but neither are considered favorites. It’s been a while since these two were on roughly an even playing field. While winning is crucial in NY, it is considered almost equally as important to win those back pages. A-ROD, for both his on and (mostly) off the field actions, could be the Yankees only hope in this battle. While Matt Harvey will try to solidify himself as the new face of baseball in NY.

Nationals pitching prospect grabs top spot…Syndergarrd is #2

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Lucas Giolito (Top) and Noah Syndergaard (Bottom)

The release of the MLB.com pitching prospect rankings should have been a good day for the Mets, and their fans, to boast about their pitching depth. But you didn’t have to look any further than the number one spot to be reminded that the Mets are still playing second fiddle to the Washington Nationals.

The Nationals 20-year-old right-hander Lucas Giolito was named the top pitching prospect in all of major league baseball. Noah Syndergaard, 22, of the Mets followed him in the rankings. Both Syndergaard (6’6″ 240) and Giolito (6’6″ 255) have big frames and are known for their power arms.  Syndergaard is expected to start the season in Triple-A and could be promoted to the big leagues as soon as 2015. Giolito has never pitched higher than A-ball and is expected to start the year in Double-A. Although their timetables are slightly different, they will undoubtedly be compared to one another upon their arrival to the major league level.

Much has been made of the Mets young pitching. This is supposed to be the year they start to lead the organization back into relevancy and play meaningful games into late September, and then hopefully October.  Although I don’t question the potential in the Mets rotation, the Nationals signing of Max Scherzer not only solidified themselves as the team to beat this year, but for years to come.

Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon is likely to be the Mets opening day rotation. I excluded Dillon Gee from this list because all signs point to him being traded in the near future. Minus Colon, this group is as young and talented as there is in the game. Harvey, before undergoing Tommy John Surgery, looked like a premier pitcher in the game. DeGrom was the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year. Wheeler has struggled with his command but showed his potential as a front-line starter in the second half of the season. Niese is a consistent lefty who provides stability. Colon will be the staffs innings eater who GM Sandy Alderson will likely look to trade come the All-Star break. Thus opening up a spot in the rotation for Syndergaard to make his debut sometime this summer.

Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez are projected to be the Nationals opening day rotation. That has the makings to be Atlanta Braves 1990’s good. In the event one of these starters is traded before the season, a more than formidable Tanner Roark will step right in. Giolito might be the top pitching prospect in the game, but the Nationals feel he is a year away. GM Mike Rizzo is well aware of what he has in Giolito and could be the reason why he would be okay with trading one of his soon to be free-agent starters. One hole that remains on the Nationals roster is their bullpen. Don’t be surprised if Giolito, assuming he continues to progress, is promoted to bolster the pen down the stretch. The more likely scenario would be Giolito joining the rotation in 2016 when a spot opens up due to trade or free agency.

There is no shame in having the second-best pitching prospect in baseball. These rankings are nothing more than someones personal opinion. And at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is how these pitchers perform on the major league level. Despite many off-season rumors of teams asking for Syndergaard, the Mets were unwilling to part with him. They clearly view him as a big part of their future. Only time with tell if Syndergaard, along with the rest of the Mets young pitchers, will be able to out-duel the Nationals rotation in the years to come.

Hall of Fame thoughts

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Yesterday we learned that the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be enshrining four players this year. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio will all be making the trip to Cooperstown. There aren’t any surprises in this group, as all four were expected to make the cut.

Despite this being among the largest groups to ever be elected, it can be argued a few others should be joining them. There are clear holes in the HOF voting process and I have some suggestions on how to improve them. They go for both the HOF committee and the writers themselves.

Allow the writers to remove players from the HOF

In fairness to the writers, I know the main fear many seem to have is electing a player into the HOF who is later found to be a known PED user. I understand this fear and feel something needs to be done to put their minds at ease. At the moment there is nothing in place for a player to be removed from the HOF. I believe an amendment (or whatever they would call it) should be asserted which would empower the same group of writers to vote players out under certain circumstances. I’ll leave the discussion as to what those circumstances would be for another time.

I know many would still vote skeptically and rightly so to a degree. But this ultimately should help both sides, as the writers know they have the ability to correct a mistake and a player will not be improperly punished. We already do this with such honors as the Heisman Trophy (think Reggie Bush) in sports, why not the MLB HOF? I know what a high regard the HOF is held in. It is the most prestigious in all of professional sports and this will allow it to remain that way.

Don’t limit votes

A problem many writers complained about this year was the inability to vote for all the players that they wanted to. Because the rules limit voters to no more than 10 players on a ballot some were forced to decide who to leave off. In my opinion, that rule is ridiculous. Either you are a HOF’er or you aren’t. There is no need to have a limit on something like this. I realize the ballots are crowded more than ever before. This is due mostly to inflated recent numbers and questionable past causing many to stay on ballots longer than expected (both problems caused by the steroid era).That shouldn’t be the case forever. But it will for be the foreseeable future.

It forces writers to make decisions that they shouldn’t be asked to make. This unfairly cost players who may be in their final years on a ballot to lose costly votes. Players like Alan Trammel, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines and Fred McGriff are borderline candidates who are not receiving their proper consideration because writers ballots are already maxed out. Time is quickly running out on them with the new 10-year limit.

In his first season on a ballot Carlos Delgado received less than 5% of the votes. This mean he falls below the requirement to remain on next years ballot. I’m not saying Delgado was a sure-fire HOF player, but his career numbers warranted him much more than one season of consideration. If a writer feels only one players deserves a vote, fine, vote for one player. But if they feel there are 15 players who deserve a vote then there is no reason they shouldn’t be allowed to vote for all 15. It’s hard enough to get 75% of the writers to agree on you, removing a maximum number of votes on ballots will not cheapen the HOF.

Vote consistently 

This one is for the writers. I have a problem with the way some went about using their votes. I’ll be the first to admit that the steroid era has put so much pressure to vote one way or the other for players in question. This has caused many to take a hard stance on letting these players (Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, Sosa, Piazza, Bagwell, Sheffield etc.) into the HOF. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong answer. The only thing I ask is that you be consistent. If you want to vote a known/suspected PED user into the HOF, that’s your prerogative. But, you shouldn’t be making exceptions and only overlooking the past of some. You must do that with all or none of the players in question.

Bonds and Clemens will continue to be the poster boys for this conversation so long as their names remain on the ballot. Neither gained any real traction this year but that could change as next years class is nowhere near as strong. If you are going to use votes on these two then you should also be casting votes for McGwire, Sosa, Bagwell, Piazza, Sheffield and anyone else that falls under this cloud. Whatever stance you choose to take, at least fully commit to it.


The voting process is far from perfect and my suggestions don’t fix everything. But I do know that they help improve what is currently in place. Baseball has always resisted change, on and off the field, but I believe something will be done in the near future to help correct some of the flaws in the HOF voting process.

2 Good 2 Be True

My friends and I (White hat) at last nights game

My friends and I (White hat) at last nights game

Last night was one of the more surreal moments I have ever experienced at a sporting event, maybe in my life. When I first got my hands on four tickets for Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium, my initial instinct was “I’m going to make a fortune off these.”  Although that may have very well been the case, I couldn’t be happier that I bypassed the financial reward and decided to attend the game with three of my closest friends.

From the moment we stepped foot into the stadium the “Der-ek Jet-er” chants had begun; it didn’t take long to realize just how electric this crowd would be all night long. A good portion of Yankee games sellout throughout the season, but you know it’s a special game when everyone is in their seats a half hour before first pitch.

Jeter was given a standing ovation before the game even started when he accepted a donation on behalf of the Yankees to his charity. Then another when he took the field to warmup. Then another after a scoreboard message played a thank you tribute. Then another when his farewell Gatorade commercial aired. Then another when he took his position on the field. Then another when his farewell Nike commercial aired. Then another when he came out onto the on-deck circle. Then another when he finally stepped into the batter’s box. If you didn’t get the hint by now, there was very little sitting at this game.

It became apparent rather quickly that Jeter would once again relish in the moment. In his first at-bat, he roped a deep line drive to left center field, missing a home run by a mere few feet. That left many of us wondering if that would be the highlight of his final game. Jeter hasn’t exactly torn the cover off the baseball this season, would that be his final hit at the stadium?

After the first inning, the game went into cruise control through the seventh. The most entertainment came from the Jumbotron. In between innings former players and coaches would share with their favorite Jeter moments. It was truly remarkable that one man could be in the middle of so many memorable moments in this storied franchise’s history. I applauded for each and every one of these, except for one. When the 2000 World Series highlight reel began, when the Yankees beat my beloved Mets and Jeter was named series MVP, it reminded me of the love/hate relationship I’ve had with Jeter for all these years.

Hate is a strong word, but there were plenty of times when I truly felt hatred towards Jeter. I’m 27-years-old, meaning my baseball memories pretty much started alongside Jeter’s career. In that time, I have seen the Mets make the playoffs all of three times, compared to the Yankees 17. The Mets have become known for public relation blunders, lack of accountability and most notably, heartbreak. Jeter, on the other hand, has stood for the polar opposite.

The man has never made slipped up in the public eye before. Even when a story broke of Jeter giving one night stands a parting gift basketball it was somehow spun in a positive light for the coveted bachelor. It’s hard to walk five feet in Yankee Stadium without seeing a “Yeah Jeets!” shirt or a fan shouting the term of endearment. When it came to accountability? Fuhgeddaboudit. Despite being second only to Bill Belichick in giving the most vanilla interviews, he always stands pact at his locker accepting both the praise and blame following each and every game. You will never hear him throw blame elsewhere; all of it falls on the Captain’s shoulders.

When it comes to heartbreak, Jeter has given the fans very little. He has been a part of 13 division titles, seven American League Championships and won five World Series titles. Sure this is a team sport, and he isn’t solely responsible for those accomplishments, but he played a damn big part in each and every one of them.

Needless to say, my feelings towards him have walked a fine line between hate and envy. I digress, back to last night…

Jeter stepped up with the stage set for a big moment in the seventh. With the bases loaded and the game tied the crowd was, you guessed it, on their feet. Although Jeter didn’t come through with a hit, he did put the ball in play forcing an error on a fielder’s choice, allowing the Yankees to take the lead. This might not have felt like a significant play, but I felt summed up a big portion of Jeter’s career that you won’t find on any stat sheet. He was involved in a game-changing moment. Sure it wasn’t a home run or bases clearing double, but he made something happen on a measly weak ground ball that could prove to be the game-winner. Typical Jeter.

When David Robertson took the mound in the ninth to close out the game, the crowd was more than happy for it to end this way. My friends and I might have been the only four people in the stadium rooting for the Orioles to tie it up. Jeter was due up third in the bottom of the ninth, who wouldn’t want to see him bat one more time? After Robertson surrendered the first home run, we cheered, when he gave up the game-tying home run….we really cheered. At this point, we HAD to be the only non-Oriole fans high-fiving each other. The guys behind us were not amused. One friend quickly stated his bottom of the ninth prediction:

“Single, bunt him over to second, Jeter single to win it.”

We kind of laughed this statement off and gave each other the “imagine?” look in response. Even Jeter can’t be that lucky to have it end like that.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Jose Pirela started the inning off with a single. Alright, now we’re looking at each other like we might be onto something. Gardner steps up and lays down a perfect sacrifice bunt. At this point, I think the whole crowd was in a state of disbelief that Jeter would be coming to the plate in this situation. It just seemed too good to be true. In true Jeter fashion, he lined a single into right field and drove in Pirela for the winning run.

I mean, wow. Words cannot even begin to describe the emotion running through the stadium at that very moment. The same guys that we aggravated an inning earlier by our blown save celebration were now shaking my buddies in disbelief for predicting this exact scenario.

Jeter was mobbed by teammates and the Yankees used their flair for the dramatics – revealing the presence of Joe Torre, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez and Mariano Rivera on the Jumbotron, one-by-one, as they waited to greet Jeter. I would say the crowd gave Jeter one last standing ovation, but the truth is I don’t think the fans ever stopped standing or applauding from the moment they arrived.

This went on well after the on-field celebration ended as No. 2 faded away into the dugout, forever.

It was truly a fairytale ending for Jeter, something straight out of Hollywood. You would’ve sworn this game was scripted the way it all unfolded. Jeter might have been the luckiest man on the face of the earth last night, but my friends and I were a close second.