Tuesday, July 31, 2012

3AM Lightning

You had to stay up half the night in order to see how the game turned out last night, and my being on that excessively late schedule proved somewhat advantageous. I didn't get home until the bottom of the 9th,  just in time to see that the Mets had a lead, and Bobby Parnell was on to close out the game. I, like most Mets fans, was leery, since Bobby Parnell hasn't been able to close out much of anything lately. Predictably, he was terrible, getting only one out before Terry Collins, who must be apoplectic at this point, pulled him in favor of Josh Edgin. This was more of a "Well, why not?" move more than anything else, certainly Edgin hasn't been groomed as a closer, but here he was, and for the most part he did what he needed to do, getting a ground ball out of Schierholtz that probably should have resulted in Eli Whiteside being thrown out at home had Ike Davis gotten any part of the ball. But, he didn't, and the game was tied, and at that point, I figured the Mets would probably spare us a lot of misery if Edgin just grooved one to Brandon Belt and the Mets just took a collective dive into McCovey Cove.

But, he didn't. Somehow, the toughness of the 1st half of the season crept back into the Mets spirits. Edgin didn't break, although he did bend, and he got out of the inning.

Somehow, in the 10th, it was the Mets doing some extra inning damage instead of having it done to them, courtesy of Scott Hairston doing what Scott Hairston has done all season and somehow manage to get the bit hit. Somehow, Jason Bay was skittering around the bases. Somehow, the Giants had the mental breakdown when Clay Hensley vaporlocked on Rob Johnson's bunt. Somehow, the Mets re-led in a game that they probably had already lost twice.

And of course, with Manny Acosta, my favorite, coming in for the save, they almost lost it a 3rd time.

I don't know why bringing Manny Acosta back to the team was some kind of a solution. He claims to have studied the mechanics of Mariano Rivera while he was in the minors. This is fine, but that still doesn't mean he can pitch like Mariano. He's just copying his mannerisms and then just heaving his eminently hittable/wild crap all over the place. That was quite clear in the bottom of the 10th, since he walked two batters, gave up a run, and only by sheer luck did Brandon Belt's fly ball get swallowed up in the spacious Pac Bell Park outfield, rather than sail out for the predictable walk off HR.

So, the Mets win a game that seemed reminiscent of the kind of games they would win when things were going well. Remember those days? Those were fun. But I can't really trust that this is anything but a wacky game that they happened to win right now.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1986

Part 25 of our 50-year K Korner...
What is it: 1986 Topps #250, Dwight Gooden

What makes it interesting: I don't like the '86s as much as, say, the '85s, but it's still a really nice looking set. A very '80s set, with the screaming team name across the top and the big, blocky player name on the bottom. The Mets team set in '86 is another large one, clocking in at 39 cards. By '86, the Mets were a powerhouse in the National League, not to be taken lightly as they could beat you in innumerable ways.

One such way the Mets could beat you was simply by sending Dwight Gooden to the mound.

Gooden burst onto the scene like a comet. In his rookie year of 1984, he was a sensation, winning 17 games, setting a rookie record with 276 strikeouts and making the All Star team, all at the tender age of 19. But he was just getting warmed up. In 1985, quite simply, Gooden was the best pitcher on the planet. His numbers that season are the stuff of legend, indelibly burned into the memory of any Mets fan. His 24-4 record was backed up with a 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts, 16 complete games and 8 shutouts. In 276.2 innings pitched, he allowed 198 hits, 69 walks, and 47 earned runs. He would win 14 games in a row, not losing between May 25th and August 30th. In September, he raised his game further, throwing 31 consecutive scoreless innings, and didn't allow an earned run over 49 consecutive innings. Not since the days of Seaver had the Mets had the kind of pitcher that they could run out there, and every time out expect, and receive, a quality, winning outing. His popularity soared to the point where his photo was featured on a gigantic Nike billboard near Times Square, and when he pitched, everyone stopped to watch. The Cy Young Award he received following the '85 season was simply a coronation of his greatness.

But just as quickly as he rose to greatness, such was his fall. The pressures of stardom at such a young age took its toll, and Gooden would fall victim to the demon of vice. His 1987 season was interrupted by the revelation that he had failed a drug test, and would spend time in a rehab facility before finally rejoining the Mets in June. Though his later years with the Mets would produce continued success (he would post elite seasons in 1988 and 1990), he would never again reach his lofty 1985 numbers. Injuries would curtail his 1989 and 1991 seasons, and by 1992, he would suffer his first losing seasons. And, of course, his final, bitter farewell to the Mets came after more failed drug tests and suspensions in 1994.

Although ultimately his career is looked at somewhat wistfully, because it held so much more potential than it would ultimately achieve, Gooden's career stands out among Mets pitchers. Gooden remains the only Met other than Tom Seaver to win the Cy Young Award, and is one of only four Mets to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. His 157 victories and 1875 strikeouts stand second only to Seaver, and his 3.10 ERA places him 7th in Mets history. Gooden finished in the top-10 in Cy Young award voting 5 times, and was a 4-time All Star. Always revered  by fans, even to the current day, Dwight Gooden was elected to the Mets Hall of Fame in 2010.

Card back:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1985

Part 24 of our 50-year Curly Shuffle...
What is it: 1985 Topps #467, Ed Lynch

What makes it interesting: Lots. The '85s continue to be a favorite of mine, one of the staple issues of the Golden '80s for Topps. Though overshadowed by some more classic-looking sets to come, the '85s are one of the cleanest designs Topps released.

Ed Lynch is one of the more forgotten Mets of the early 80s, which is easy when you remember that he played on lousy teams early in his career, and then was overshadowed by flashier players later on, when the Mets began to improve. But in spite of not having overpowering stuff, Lynch persevered for many seasons on smarts, guts and heart.

Lynch spent parts of 7 seasons with the Mets from 1980 to 1986, serving the role of swing man for several seasons before becoming a regular starter in 1983. Often, he'd be the savior, eating innings and keeping the Mets in games when it was needed most. Lynch was also one of the notable characters on Mets in his time, always providing levity and humorous quotes, which endeared him to teammates and fans alike.

Lynch would ultimately peak with the Mets in 1985. Though he received little recognition pitching behind the likes of Gooden, Darling and Fernandez, Lynch put forth the best year of his career, winning 10 games, posting an ERA of 3.44 and netting his first career shutout on May 8th. He developed a particularly close rapport with Keith Hernandez, and even spent several weeks on Hernandez' couch that season before finding his own apartment for the season. But Hernandez, in particular, always fought hard for Lynch, noting Lynch's heart from the moment he joined the team. Hernandez wrote of Lynch, "How could I mope around at first base when Eddie was pitching his guts out, often in hopeless causes? He ended the year 10-10 (in 1983); mostly guts."

Unfortunately, just as the Mets would reach their peak in '86, Lynch was gone, dealt to the Cubs following a contract dispute and lengthy injury. A heartbroken Lynch described it as "...like living with a family all year and then getting thrown out on Christmas." When the Mets clinched the NL East that season, Lynch was in the opposing dugout, and couldn't watch. But his time with the Mets was not overlooked. In a display of gratitude for all the years he spent grinding it out for the Mets, the team voted to give him a World Series Championship ring.

Card back:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hollywood Beginning

Contrary to popular belief, my recent lack of activity here was not because I was someplace bashing my head into a desk over the recent Mets struggles. There was actually some work-related reason for this, which precluded me from watching a lot of bad baseball and also hindered my ability to write about said bad baseball. Not that there was a ton to say that hadn't already been said, but to sum it up, after so many seasons of the Mets coming apart in the 2nd half of the year, it seemed refreshing to see this team, because they really made us believe that they would finally break this trend. Unfortunately, they didn't, primarily due to a bullpen that lacks the general ability to get anyone out. That makes it all seem doubly frustrating.

Then, there's Matt Harvey, who's debut last night generated so much hope and buzz that even I diverted my attention from the middle of a rehearsal periodically to check out the score on my phone. Judging from the number of strikeouts, and the fact that the Mets had the lead, it appeared to me that he was doing pretty well. He did pretty well, all things considered. In fact, you probably couldn't have drawn up a much better Major League Debut for any pitcher anywhere, unless you were, say, Stephen Strasburg or the like. But Harvey held his own, and ultimately etched his name ahead of Tom Seaver's in the Mets record book, at least for one night, with his 11 Ks. 11 Ks! When was the last time a Mets starter had 11 Ks in a game? I know Dickey did it this season and Santana may have as well, but let's think about this. When was the last time the Mets had a power pitcher like this, who would just blow it by hitters? Pedro in '05? Al Leiter? It's been a while, and, yes, it's only one start, and Harvey will certainly take his lumps along the way, but if you're going to live up to the hype that's been cast on you by a fan base desperately searching for an answer, and if you're going to endear yourself to that fan base, then this is certainly a good starting point.

More impressive was Harvey's demeanor on the mound. More often than not, you can see certain pitchers start to crap their pants when they get to the mound for their Major League Debuts (I'm talking to you, Chris Schwinden). Matt Harvey showed no such nerves. Based on what I saw in replays, and from listening to him talk after the game, Harvey seemed 100% locked in and ready to go, no nerves, no jitters, just a pitcher ready to pitch, which bodes well for his future. In-game, he showed it, too, working out of a 3rd inning jam by striking out Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt with 2 men on.

So, this morning, Matt Harvey is the talk of the town, and deservedly so. After weeks of should he or shouldn't he be up, will he or won't he be up, etc, he's here, and I don't think he's going anywhere. And with his performance last night, that even the Mets bullpen couldn't screw up, he's injected life back into the team. It's about time.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Extra Miserable

I know that there was a period of time this season where the Mets being in a close, taut game, usually a pitcher's duel, was welcomed with open arms. A time where a deficit of 2-3 runs early was met with the sentiment, "we've got them right where we want them." A time where if the game was tied going into the 9th inning, you knew the Mets would find a way to pull out the victory.

Sadly, those days are over. Now, if the game is late and close, or tied and going into extra innings, the feeling is, "how long until the bullpen screws this one up."

Sunday, they made us wait around until the 12th inning before cracking. Fortunately, last night, they got it over with quick. And just to spare any drama or leave anyone any need to stick around, they've not just allowed the opponent to eke out the lead run, they've been letting them pour it on good and proper. In the past two games, the Mets bullpen has allowed 11 extra inning runs. That's 11 runs in 2 innings.

That's not just losing games. That's a full-scale meltdown, and each time it was basically left to one pitcher to figure his way out of it. And each time, it didn't happen. Ramon Ramirez couldn't  fix his own mess on Sunday. Called upon to work his way out of Tim Byrdak's mess on Monday, Pedro Beato not only gave up Byrdak's runs, but he let Washington pile another 4 runs on top of that. The end result is that the Mets are basically hanging around in games just long enough for the bullpen to get their heads beat in, which has been happening at a demoralizing rate.

This can't be as bad as 2008, because at least the putrid bullpen has all but assured that the Mets won't be in a pennant race to piss away.

Is there more to discuss on the matter of the bullpen? No? Good. I was hoping not, since I hate a) repeating myself, b) launching into more expletive-laden diatribes. In my younger, more wily days, perhaps, but now that I'm a crotchety old man, I find it easier to just launch into quick gripes.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"...And Another County Heard From"

I know that the M.O., at least for the moment, was to try to let Matt Harvey marinate in the minors a little while longer, and hope for the best at the Major League level in the meantime. But, after a weekend in which basically every Mets pitcher took it on the chin, culminating with a 12th inning Meltdown from Ramon Ramirez, Johan Santana ending up on the DL (with all the yahoos screaming about his throwing 134 pitches in his No Hitter and ignoring the fact that he is out with an ankle injury, not an arm injury), and Miguel Batista ending up on the scrap heap where he belongs, it was clear that the move to promote Matt Harvey wasn't another move, it was the only move.

How Harvey fares with the Mets now should be academic. He's up, he's going to start on Thursday, and for better or worse, he should remain in the rotation for the remainder of the season. It's clear that the Mets aren't going to be able to do any better for right now, and, of course, as we've been repeating for weeks, the starting rotation hasn't been the problem here. At least, that's what the prevailing wisdom seems to be. But when Miguel Batista has to make starts for you, then the rotation is a problem. We've mostly been over this; but this is a problem that's been brewing ever since Mike Pelfrey went down. There was a limit to the amount of depth in the starting pitching the Mets had around before they got down to Harvey being really necessary, and the problem was, most of that depth was complete crap. So, now, with the Mets now in their worst stretch of the season, having fallen under .500 for the first time this year, and all the good vibes generated from the 1st half completely gone, the Mets have finally loaded that final bullet into the chamber. How this ends up, I'm not sure. Probably with the Mets playing out the string and finishing a distant 3rd. But even if that happens, if Harvey pitches reasonably well, then there's something to hang your hat on going forward. That's assuming Mets fans feel like hanging their hat on anything on this team anymore.

The Mets clearly aren't going to go balls in and try to land a real good starting pitcher, because this would mean parting with one of these stud pitchers. The key here will be if they can go out and try to flip some cheap crap for another brain-dead, slop-throwing relief pitcher who can catch lightning in a bottle and get some outs for a few weeks.

At least, that's how this appears to me. Whether or not this is a reality isn't quite clear. But bandages won't help anymore, and to this point, that's all they've been able to do. Josh Edgin, Elvin Ramirez and Pedro Beato aren't solutions. They're bandages, and cheap ones at that. It doesn't make sense in-season, but Alderson needs to clean the stink out of this bullpen like Omar did after 2008—get rid of everyone as quickly as possible, and let a new bunch try to figure it out. Because what should have been a really positive, launching point season has begun look an awful lot like just another shitty year in a string of shitty years.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Radio Glaze

Slacking this week, as tends to happen when the weather is hot and the Mets are playing lousy. I hadn't seen much of the team since the All Star Break, and clearly I hadn't missed much, but faced with a Thursday afternoon game, and a quiet day in the office, I of course tuned in to Howie and Josh for the day's proceedings.

Sometime during the affair, I got to thinking about some other Afternoon games I'd heard in my office this season. I could be totally off here, but it seems like the Mets do reasonably well in these kinds of games. Yesterday, of course, went splendidly (mainly because the Mets were able to outhit their lousy bullpen), then there were games in Chicago, Pittsburgh and in the Mets prior trip to Washington that also turned out in our favor. There were probably games that didn't go so well, but I choose not to remember them.

Regardless, this was the kind of game that the Mets needed in the worst way, and of course it was Dickey and David Wright leading the charge for what was supposed to be an easy victory, that of course managed to turn hairy during an 8th inning that featured 4 pitchers and the tying run on deck at the end of the inning (It may have been 3 pitchers, but it seemed like 4). It's rather frustrating to not have any sort of faith in the bullpen (we've already been through this, if you care to remember the final, futile weeks of 2008), but as Mets fans, we seem so battle tested by this that nothing's so surprising anymore. Oh, the Bullpen sucks? OK. It always did anyway. But if we are going to remain in contention, and Sandy Alderson claims that the Mets are buyers for the moment, then that's the first, last and only place that changes need to be made. This team has come this far based on the cohesiveness of the team. It's a damn shame that all the progress is being submarined by a bullpen that completely lacks the ability to get anyone out, and even a 9-1 lead somehow feels sweaty.

Damn. This should have been a much more positive post, shouldn't it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Where Are We?

I'd mentioned that I was visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame last weekend. I'd been to the Hall of Fame several times before, but not in over 10 years. The Hall itself is, of course, Baseball Mecca as it were, but for those in my audience who haven't ever visited, I'll give a brief background.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown, NY, a sleepy little village located in Upstate New York, somewhere in between Binghamton, Albany and Syracuse. Cooperstown itself is a charming little town with one stoplight and a small main drag where the Hall of Fame is located. Also on this drag are a number of charming little stores selling all sorts of Baseball-related tchochkes. The Hall itself is constantly evolving; their collection ranges far beyond what's actually on display and they have exhibits that rotate in and out from time to time.

That said, every time I've visited Cooperstown, there has always been a wide array of Mets items on display.

For some reason, this was not the case this time around. I can't think of a good reason why this has happened.

I spent a good few hours browsing the shops along Main Street, where I found only one store that had any kind of decent selection of Mets items (mostly overpriced T-shirts). Baseball cards, forget it. But if you rooted for a team like the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or even the Phillies, you could pick and choose from whatever you wanted. Just not the Mets. This didn't sit well with me.

Then, I went into the Hall of Fame.

I know that the Mets don't have the storied history of certain franchises, but they do have a history, and a pretty damn good one at that. But if you want to go to the Hall of Fame and learn about the Mets, don't waste your time, because they've barely bothered to acknowledge them. And that's a crime.

Don't get me wrong, there's some Mets-related displays here and there. There's a small photo of Joan Payson located in a "Women in Baseball" section. Further along, there's a photo of Tom Seaver, the lone Met represented in the Hall of Fame, aside from a jersey of his in the Baseball History timeline section. Moving further along, into the "Locker Room" section, where items from each team are shown, there's a baseball that Johan Santana used in his No Hitter this season, which quickly made its way to Cooperstown. But if you're looking for something interesting in the Mets display, well, I can't really share that with you, because I didn't see anything of note.

There's a few things worth mentioning in the Hall of Records section, somewhat begrudgingly, as if they had to mention these token Mets because they hold records of some significance. Mike Piazza's bat, which he used to break the Catching Home Run record in 2004, is there, as is Tom Seaver's glove that he used when he struck out 10 batters in a row. Also buried in the back of a display case is a "K" sign that was "one of many used to count strikeouts notched by Mets rookie Dwight Gooden during games at Shea Stadium in 1984."

The World Series section also gives the Mets short shrift. There is a video display that does show the 1969 Mets winning their World Series Championship, but once that video loops around to the 1980s, there's the Dodgers, and the Cardinals, and the Tigers, and the Twins...

...But no Mets. Where are the 1986 Mets? Where is, perhaps, the most memorable little roller in the History of Baseball? The only thing there is a small photo of Ray Knight, in a corner on an adjacent wall. Not even worth a photo.

But that's not the most galling part of this trip.

On the 3rd floor, is a hall of Ballparks. There are displays and items from all sorts of ballparks, from those long gone to the current time. You're greeted with a full panorama display of Ebbets Field when you enter the room. On one side is an Astrodome display. On the other side, a full row of seats from Veterans Stadium, right next to a giant Philly Phanatic costume. There's displays from Three Rivers Stadium, Riverfront Stadium, any stadium you could think of. I was delighted to see this, and went searching around, because certainly, there had to be some items from Shea Stadium, right?


Well, there wasn't anything. Just a little ignominious sign on a timeline, that said something like Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets, 1964-2008. No seats. No bricks. No photos. No nothing.

So, let me get this straight. You can put out a row of seats from boring, decrepit, doughnut-shaped Veterans Stadium, but Shea Stadium, which was unique and iconic for its time (and outlasted The Vet by several years) gets nothing? That ruined my visit right then and there.

Well, I guess I can't say there's nothing whatsoever from Shea. Buried somewhere in the recesses of the Hall, by the Kids Klubhouse or whatever it's called, there was one piece from Shea, though. It was the retired number circle for Casey Stengel from the outfield wall. You know, back where nobody would notice it.

The gift shop was no better. There was a Mets shirt that listed "Mets Hall of Famers," and right at the top of it was Roberto Alomar. Roberto Alomar was certainly a Met, although we'd rather forget that, and he's certainly a Hall of Famer. But a Met Hall of Famer? No thank you.

So, in summation, this is an open complaint to the Hall of Fame. I came to see the Mets well and rightly represented, and I was sorely let down. This is the fifth time I've visited the Hall, and every time prior, there was plenty of Mets stuff on display. Now, they're being shoved off into corners, only acknowledged because it appears like they have to be, not because they should be. This isn't right. Even my girlfriend, not a Baseball fan, noticed this. Why are the Mets being ignored? Am I the only one who's made this trip recently to notice this? What have the Mets done to merit this treatment? I'm incensed enough by all this that I'm compelled to write a letter to the Hall expressing my displeasure. Maybe I'm nuts, but the Mets deserve more recognition then they're receiving, all over Cooperstown.

Monday, July 16, 2012


I'm beginning to think the Mets might be better off without an All Star Break.

It seems as though, the past few seasons, the Mets have come into the All Star Break in relatively good shape, and then come out of the break reeling. In 2010, there was that west coast swing that basically killed their season. Last year, who can remember. This year, after a first half that showed more good than bad, and gave us all some hope for a productive second half, the Mets went into Atlanta and promptly lost all three games, two of them with the two pitchers who have carried them all season long on the mound, and the third just a muddled mess.

Well, fitting for another midseason trip to the house of horrors that is Turner Field. Where do we go from here? I'm not quite sure.

This past weekend seems to have more or less killed all the good vibes from the first half, because now it seems like everyone has started to expect the Mets to come back to earth once again. Much of the blame seems to be falling on management for their general lack of activity, but then again, the trading deadline is still two weeks away, so there could still be help on the way. But in what form? And at what price?

The Mets still don't have many tradeable pieces that would net someone of impact; dealing Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler appears to be out of the question (something I don't argue with), but at the same time, neither appears to be ready to see the Majors. Of the two, Harvey is obviously closer, with Wheeler still in AA ball, and rumors are swirling that he may yet be called up with Dillon Gee now on the shelf, possibly for the remainder of the season. It didn't make sense for Harvey to come up earlier in the season, particularly when there were still testable pieces available for the Mets to slot in rather than make the panic move. It makes more sense now. While Dillon Gee was up and down over the first half of the season, he showed more good than bad. His most readily available replacements, Jeremy Hefner and Miguel Batista, have shown that they're not adequate enough, and after bouncing from Toronto, to Seattle and then to the Yankees, Chris Schwinden mysteriously has found himself back with the Mets. And if THREE other teams couldn't find use for him, I'd be hard pressed to think the Mets would be able to squeeze anything out of him this time around either. So, nothing better is there, and good luck trying to land a good starter via trade without sacrificing Harvey or Wheeler.

This is, of course, the usual conundrum, because every Mets fan would like to have their cake and eat it too. They want to have Zack Greinke (a terrible fit in NY given his prior mental health problems) or Matt Garza this year, AND have Harvey and Wheeler coming up in the future. I know that the Mets are easily a piece or two away from being a serious contender this season. I understand this. I want the Mets to win just as much as anyone. But looking around the Majors, it's clear that most teams that win (and are not the Yankees) are the teams that, mostly, build from within. It's the teams like Arizona, San Francisco, Texas, St. Louis, etc that the Mets should be trying to emulate, and not making reactionary bad deals in order to win now, when winning now isn't necessarily a given (see: Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano).

Zack Wheeler was brought in with the hopes that he'd be a top of the rotation starter. Scouts compare him to Clayton Kershaw from the right side. He seems almost certain to draw heavy consideration to make the rotation in 2013. This means he should probably be left alone right now.

The larger issues for the Mets remain the Bullpen and Left Field. You all already know my thoughts on Bullpens. Bringing up Josh Edgin is a nice start in the right direction. Any brainless pitcher who can pitch an inning to reasonable success can be had rather cheaply. A good left fielder may be more of a stretch. Either way, it's up to the Mets to just do the best they can and hopefully some help will come. But the fans have to keep themselves in check and look at the bigger picture. Yes, we're all frustrated and it's been a few years since we've been contenders. Yes, we're all a little impatient. But for the Mets to sacrifice their future to try to win in a year where that's not a given even with some impact help never works out. It's not worth setting back what Alderson and the boys are trying to do here. Let's try to remember this.

Friday, July 13, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1984

Part 23 of our 50-year Moustache...
What is it: 1984 Topps #120, Keith Hernandez

What makes it interesting: Now, we're talking! The '84s succeed where the '83s failed as far as aesthetics. The borders and round photo were replaced by some more rigid lines and text, something that reeks 1980s and really looks great. A winning set from Topps. The Mets team set is also winning, as it features the first regular issue card of Darryl Strawberry and the final Mets card of Tom Seaver, and the Traded series includes the rookie cards of Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling.

And then there's Keith Hernandez, who appears on his first Regular-issue Mets card, here.

Brought over in a deadline deal with the St. Louis Cardinals Tantamount to Peter Minuit purchasing the island of Manhattan, Keith became the kind of player the Mets hadn't had in years, the kind of player they had been missing: an impassioned leader who absolutely refused to accept losing. Though the remainder of '83 was a wash, by '84 much of the team had been turned over to a much younger group, ready to follow Keith's lead. That first year, Keith led the Mets in hitting, and the team won 90 games for only the second time in team history. In 1985, the year Keith would chronicle in his compelling book "If At First...: A Season With The Mets," they improved further, winning 98 games. And, of course, there was 1986, there was Keith getting a massively important hit in Game 7, and there was the World Series Championship we'd been chasing.

Injuries would catch up with Keith later in his career, but by then, his mark on Mets history was already well-secure. Not only did he constantly get the clutch hit, but his fielding was unparalleled by anyone before or after him. Post-career exploits would lead him to "Seinfeld," two more books, and, of course, a spot in the broadcast booth at SNY. Keith is, truly, a great Met, and his credentials speak for itself. After all, He's Keith Hernandez.

Card Back:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1983

Part 22 of our 50-year Diamondvision Display...
What is it: 1983 Topps #134, Hubie Brooks

What makes it interesting: We're getting a little better. The '83s aren't quite a classic set, but it's a vast improvement, design-wise. The photography had improved somewhat, and Topps also added little headshot insets on each card. The '83 Team set doesn't include anything super memorable, but the '83 Traded set includes a few gems, among them Darryl Strawberry's Rookie card, Keith Hernandez's first Mets card, and Tom Seaver's return.

Hubie Brooks was one of the pieces of the Mets "Youth Movement" in the early '80s. After being chosen as the #3 pick in the draft in 1978, Hubie debuted with the Mets in 1980, and finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year vote in 1981. His numbers would improve over the next few seasons, and so would his favor with the fans. If Mookie Wilson was one of the most loved Mets from that era, Hubie was certainly up there as well, even if he played a game that was more steady and dependable as opposed to exciting. By 1984, he was entering his prime with the Mets, setting career highs for hits, home runs, RBIs and runs scored, and adding a then-club record 24 game hitting streak into the mix.

But, just as the Mets were turning the corner, Hubie found himself traded to Montreal for Gary Carter. Hubie hated to leave and many fans were sorry to see him go. But, as it is in Baseball, in order to get something, you must give up something, and Hubie was the piece deemed expendable at the time. Hubie would go on to have several fine seasons with the Expos, making the All Star team a pair of times and even winning a Silver Slugger in 1986. Hubie would return to the Mets via trade from the Dodgers prior to the 1991 season, and although he had a reasonably fine season, the Mets were regressing and he was traded away to the Angels. Nonetheless, Hubie continues to be remembered fondly for his presence on a Mets team that was beginning to find its way to contenderhood.

Card Back:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1982

Part 21 of our 50 years of Magic...
What is it: 1982 Topps #143, Mookie Wilson

What makes it interesting: Topps finally started to turn the corner a little bit in '82. It's not perfect, but it's a start. After several years of bland, boring designs, Topps finally came up with something a little more eye-catching.

Speaking of eye-catching, that was Mookie Wilson in his early, wild years. Stuck playing on a team that constantly seemed to be going nowhere, Mookie gave his all every day and eventually was rewarded by being a central figure of the 1986 World Series Champions. One of the most beloved figures in team history, Mookie was always known for his outstanding speed, which would show up every time a fly ball was hit out to Center Field at Shea, or when he was legging out one of his 62 triples or 281 stolen bases, marks which would last for years as the club record before being surpassed by a man of equal excitement, Jose Reyes. Or maybe it was one of the many times he would shoot around the bases and score from second on an infield ground out. Or was it his charitable, gentlemanly attitude that endeared him to fans for years.

But, perhaps, Mookie is probably best known for a certain ground ball he hit on the night of Saturday, October 25th, 1986. On one of the seminal nights in Mets History, Mookie's at bat in the 10th inning of that game proved he was always equal to the pressure of the moment. Always known as a free swinger, Mookie fouled off several pitches from Bob Stanley, but never missed one. Down by a run with 2 outs, any one misstep could have spelled doom for the Mets and the rally they had going, but Mookie wouldn't give in. Finally, Stanley threw a pitch that Mookie couldn't swing at—because he had to dive out of the way of it—and the deficit was now a tie. Three pitches later, came that fateful ground ball, the image that is forever burned into our minds, and the call that echoes through our ears...

(I'm of the belief that even if Buckner fielded the ball cleanly, there was no way he was ever beating Mookie to 1st base)

Card back:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1981

Part 20 of our 50-year Rallye Relay...
What is it: 1981 Topps #414, John Pacella

What makes it interesting: Another bland design from Topps in '81. The different colored borders for each team is sort of reminiscent of the '75s, but not really. This is also the first year that Topps officially started making a "Traded" series, a (usually) boxed set of 132 cards that came out after the season and featured cards of players that were traded during the season and Rookies that debuted that year, etc, etc...

I admittedly know very little about John Pacella. Probably because, outside of the fact that his horrible mechanics led to his cap flying off his head every pitch, there doesn't appear to be much to remember. His '81 Topps Card is the only card that featured him with the Mets (he also can boast 3 cards from 1983, when he was on the Minnesota Twins). His fun fact on the back of the card rather succinctly states that he "has unique habit of losing his cap each pitch), and the photo on the front reveals as much. In 3 seasons with the Mets, spanning 39 games and 18 starts, Pacella did nothing to distinguish himself. He left the Mets with a 3-6 record and a lousy 4.83 ERA. After debuting in 1977, Pacella also appeared in parts of the 1979 and 1980 seasons, but he was gone by '81. He would manage to stick around until 1986, surfacing with the Yankees, Twins, Orioles and Tigers, but he fared no better wherever he ended up. His career spanning only 74 games, Pacella finished with a career mark of 4-10, and an ERA of 5.73. The essence of a true never-will-be. But, even the never-will-be's somehow manage to make their mark, and for Pacella, it was that darn cap always flying off his head.

Card back:

Monday, July 9, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1980

Part 19 of our 50-year Home Run Apple...
 What is it: 1980 Topps #641, Ed Kranepool

What makes it interesting: Well, Topps tried a little harder with the '80 set, adding some swishes and swooshes along the edges. But it's still not one of their better efforts. The Mets team set is full of players like Dock Ellis, Richie Hebner and Gil Flores, who were only around during the miserable '79 season. But come 1980, the de Roulets, the last vestiges of the Joan Payson era, were gone, replaced by new owners Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, who purchased the team for a then-record $21 million. With them came a new General Manager, Frank Cashen, who stripped the team of most of its useless dreck and began to arm them for a new era in a new decade.

Ed Kranepool was one such Met who left with the new ownership. He retired following the 1979 season after playing 18 seasons in the Major Leagues, all of them with the Mets. Kranepool is, of course, always remembered fondly for his time with the club, which had begun way back in the club's original season of 1962, when he was only 17 years old. Kranepool made one All Star team, in 1965. He also contributed to the Mets World Series runs in 1969 and 1973.

Always beloved by the fans, Kranepool retired as the Mets all-time leader in many categories, and currently remains the club leader in Games played, At Bats and Hits (many of his club records have been surpassed by David Wright). He also retired as the all-time leader in Hits at Shea Stadium, a record he will carry forever. A true Met Lifer, Kranepool was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1990.

Card back:

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Although it's a rare occurrence for me, I'm going to be on vacation for the next week, conveniently coinciding with the All Star Break and not much to write about, baseball-wise. Nonetheless, among the places I'll be spending my vacation is in Cooperstown, NY, and the Baseball Hall of Fame, replete with the plaque of our lone Hall of Famer, Tom Seaver. It's my 5th such trip to The Hall, and my first in over 10 years.

Fear not, however. I'll be leaving you with a fresh set of installments of "50 Years in Cards" for your enjoyment while I'm away.

Enjoy the All Star Game, everyone!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Fun Bunch!

The Mets turned a blatant letdown game on Friday night into another 9th inning rally. While this one came up a bit short, it served notice that, once again, the Mets can't ever be counted out. This afternoon, in spite of some disgusting heat, the Mets once again appeared cool and collected and made sure such a comeback wouldn't be necessary. Behind Dillon Gee, who threw his best game in several weeks, the Mets knocked out a pair of Home Runs and then let their defense do the rest.

I suppose nothing particularly special can be said about this game, but this is sort of the formula that has served the Mets well all season. Get a few runs here and there as you can, hopefully someone can get a long hit (Today it was Jordany Valdespin and Ike Davis supplying the power), make a few good plays on defense (Ruben Tejada's 9th inning sparkler stole the show) and get good pitching. Dillon Gee had been playing the role of 5th starter to a tee, fizzling out with a number of inconsistent starts, some bombings, some no-decisions, some decent outings submarined by poor defense or no offense, but today he seemed to put it together, recapturing a bit of the form he showed in the first half last season. At that point, I thought Gee to be a very solid contender for Rookie of the Year, before the league caught up to him a bit in the 2nd half. This was Vintage Gee, if Vintage can be used to describe the performance of a pitcher only in his 2nd full season. His 8 inning effort today was his longest outing of the season and gave the bullpen a much-needed break following a pair of middling outings from Dickey and Santana.

With the All Star Break approaching and the Mets not letting up on any front, it appears like maybe this year, the 2nd half of the season may bring much more fun times than the last couple of years, when the Mets couldn't keep things going.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

We Can Be Heroes!

Never a dull moment with this team.

It doesn't seem to matter what the circumstance is, the Mets seem to never panic. I've made some mention in prior years about how the Mets have had players who always keep a cool head in big situations (good examples include Endy Chavez, Damion Easley and Fernando Tatis, at least some of the time). This particular Mets team appears to be comprised almost entirely of Don't Panic guys. So when their best pitcher comes out against a fierce rival without his best stuff, the Mets don't panic. Scott Hairston hits a Home Run, David Wright hits a Home Run, and down by a run in the 9th, the Mets just toyed around with Jonathan Papelbon, doing everything necessary to push across the 2 runs needed to win the game.

Ultimately, David Wright will wear the heroes' mantel, since he not only got the winning hit, but also drove in 3 additional runs prior to that hit. But how about Ike Davis, who took a Papelbon offering and inside-outed it to left field for the leadoff double? How about Jordany Valdespin showing some patience with 2 outs, working the count full before getting hit by a pitch? How about Ruben Tejada, who seems to see upwards of 5 pitches every time he steps in the batters box, working out an 8-pitch walk? And who can forget Daniel Murphy, who fell behind 0-2 before nailing a pitch off Papelbon's leg that managed to bounce just far enough away for him to not be able to do anything with it. Josh Thole laid down a great sacrifice in there as well. Even Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who's been scuffling and injured, battled before striking out.

The point is, just as complacency can be contagious, and can sink a team that's not mentally tough enough, so can remaining calm in high pressure spots spread around a team as well, and in the case of the Mets, it's made them a better, cohesive unit. It helps, and is perhaps the difference between the 2012 Mets and, say, the 2010 Mets that were hovering over .500 at the All Star Break as well, that this is a team comprised less of veterans and reclamation projects, and more of young, heady players trying to make names for themselves. The familiarity they have with each other has made them a more cohesive unit with similar approaches to the game, and to the situation, and to the at-bat. The end result is that you have a 9th inning like we had tonight, where it seemed like everyone went up there determined to do something. And, ultimately, they did.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Circle Back Around

Happy July 4th, everyone! On Independence day, as always, we remind you to take your hat off, and keep out of the aisles during the National Anthem. Don't forget to fist pump and genuflect while you're at it.

Three years ago, I went to a Mets/Phillies game that included a full house, some similar in-game fireworks, and ended with Citi Field covered in a smoky haze, but with a different result, one that resulted in an early exit for Mets fans and in Philly fans strutting around doing Harry Kalas impressions to tell everyone that the Mets season was "OUUUTTA HEEERE!"

Last night, the shoe was on the other foot.

I'd been waiting for that first really great Citi Field game, where it truly seemed like Citi Field was what everyone envisioned it to be before the team went in the tank and everyone stopped showing up. I know that the night of Johan Santana's No Hitter was one of the first truly great moments at Citi Field, but the stadium was only about half full. I could tell that there was going to be a big crowd just by standing outside the stadium. I'd never seen the line to get through the checkpoint at the Rotunda to be un-navigable, but that's what it was. Either I had to go down to Right Field, or risk not getting in until the 3rd inning. Although it may have been a bipartisan crowd, it was as full as I'd seen it since Opening Day (and the postgame boast of an attendance record may have been accurate—it certainly felt more full than I ever remember Citi Field being), possibly due to the lure of fireworks more than the fans actually beginning to believe in the team. You had to have the feeling that the crowd juiced up the Mets, because they came out and absolutely ripped Vance Worley to shreds. Ruben Tejada fired the keynote after dinging several 2-strike pitches foul, working out a 11-pitch at bat that resulted in one of the few outs Worley was able to get. Daniel Murphy followed with a triple, David Wright hit a run-scoring ground out, and the Mets were on their way.

Sure, the Philly fans were out in force, but they had little reason to do much other than slump in their seats and sit on their hands. Outside of Carlos Ruiz's 2nd inning Home Run (inspiring the requisite "CHOOOOOOCH" chants), Jon Niese had probably his best outing of the season, and something he's been building towards of late. He's been getting progressively better and better as the season has progressed, and now the results are starting to gather some notice. He also helped his own cause at the plate; with the score tied and the bases loaded (following Tim Teufel's questionable hold of Lucas Duda on Thole's hit—many were annoyed by this, however it was the right move since Duda likely would have been out by 20 feet), Niese slapped a pitch off Worley's glove and through the infield to plate two runs. He'd later score on Murphy's double, and later on, he'd draw a walk and score again on Wright's monster Home Run.

Though Daniel Murphy was the offensive standout with his 4 hits and 4 RBI, he wasn't without help. Ruben Tejada, of the aforementioned 11-pitch at bat, followed that up with 3 hits, and together, he, Murphy and David Wright served to back their pitcher up with an outstanding all-around defensive effort, taking hits and runs away from the Phillies at every angle, mostly stifling Shane Victorino, who is probably the Phillie most in need of some stifling.

So, if everyone was feeling nice and warm following this 11-1 washout, we all got to sit back and get treated to a fine Fireworks show, which was pleasantly cheesy, well-designed, not too long, not too short, and just enough to satiate me so I don't feel obligated to go watch fireworks tonight. I'd never actually been to a Mets fireworks night before. I usually tended to avoid those games, and in fact, this year would have been no different. I actually ended up at Fireworks Night by accident this year. When I selected the 15 games on my 15-game plan, I had no idea what dates would be promotion dates. I just picked July 3rd because it was a weekday night game, it was against Philly, and I knew I didn't have to work the next day. But, sure enough, they made it fireworks night, and so after 25 years of attending Mets games, I've finally been to a fireworks night. I guess you can have me bronzed and sell me on eBay or something.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Strange Brew?

Tomorrow marks the Mets 81st game (and my 10th of the season at Citi Field). I've made a few observations, some of which I've shared here, others which have just been brewing in my head. Here's what I've noticed.

Quite a bit, even if there haven't been an overwhelming number of individually stellar seasons, there's a lot here to work with. Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson (and as much as I hate to say it, Omar Minaya) have put together an incredibly cohesive group that plays together, plays for each other, and plays to win, and that's been evident in their 43-37 record. No, it hasn't been pretty and sometimes it's been downright disgusting. But I don't know a single Mets fan who wouldn't have signed for 6 games over .500 and 3 games out of 1st place at the halfway point.

The great performances that we've gotten, particularly out of David Wright and R.A. Dickey don't need much discussion. Each is justifiably rewarded with a trip to the All Star game next week (even though Wright was rooked out of a starting spot either because the Giants fans stuffed the ballot boxes or because the Mets fans didn't), The real MVP this season, however, is probably Johan Santana. Throwing the first No Hitter in Mets History aside, all he's done is come back from major shoulder surgery and look just as good as he did before he got injured, and sometimes even better. It doesn't matter if he can't throw 95 anymore. He knows how to pitch and he can throw whatever pitch he wants, wherever and whenever. More importantly, he hasn't missed a start and he's allowed Dickey and Niese to slide comfortably into their roles as #2 and #3 in the rotation.

The rest of the rotation hasn't been terrible either. Jonathon Niese got over some early inconsistency and has found himself in a real nice groove. Chris Young, when he's healthy, is an excellent pitcher. All he's got to do is stay healthy, however. Dillon Gee has acquitted himself reasonably well as the #5 starter, not consistent, not eye-popping, but he's done what he's needed to do more often than not.

The real question is how long the rotation will hold together. The players themselves aren't the issue here but whether or not they can hold up over the remainder of the season is. Until Young resurfaced, depth had been a bit of an issue, probably because of Alderson's hesitance to rush Matt Harvey up from AAA. It's fine to keep him there, but if there are any more injuries in the rotation, it's probably in the best interest of the team to promote Harvey to the Majors. They can't afford to hand over key starts to more Chris Schwinden types, and while Miguel Batista and Jeremy Hefner are also starter candidates, they can't be trusted over a large string of time.

Other things that have gone right: Ike Davis in June, where he seems to finally have put it together. Lucas Duda's emergence as, if nothing else, a real power threat, complete with the streakiness. Scott Hairston against Lefthanders. Kirk Nieuwenhuis came up early and earned his keep. Frank Francisco didn't throw any chairs. Ruben Tejada has shown incredible polish at the plate and his approach both offensively and defensively will make everyone forget about Jose Reyes before too long. I don't know if the power will develop with time, but his style of play seems awfully reminiscent of Edgardo Alfonzo, and if that's the kind of upside he's got, I'd say he's a keeper.

The Jordany Valdespin experiment. He plays with such an infectious degree of energy that it makes him eminently likeable, but he has absolutely no polish and no discipline at the plate, and very little in the field. You could tell this from his first Major League at bat, which came with the bases loaded, and resulted in him swinging out of his shoes at the first pitch and popping up. Better moments would follow, but he's got a lot to learn, and at 24, I wonder if he will.

Scott Hairston playing everyday: I know this is a result of Jason Bay's injury, but the fact is that Scott Hairston isn't good enough to play every day. I know his power surge has been a nice story and he's come up with a lot of clutch hits. But he's the kind of player who kills lefties and is only passable against righties. Play him all the time and he'll get exposed.

Bobby Parnell, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco: When they're on, they're on. When they're not, watch out. Francisco has often made you want to hide your eyes, and Jon Rauch has incinerated a few leads. Parnell is always a mystery because he doesn't seem to pitch to the level of his stuff. While I'm all for giving Parnell the closer role going forward, I can't say it inspires a ton of confidence. With the back end of the bullpen mostly rotting away and guys like Pedro Beato and Jenrry Mejia sitting in the Minors, I don't think the closer of the future exists on the Mets roster right now.

Jason Bay. Not entirely his fault, but he needs to get out of New York. The sooner the better.

Mike Pelfrey's injury. Not that Pelfrey was going to light anyone ablaze, but he was at least a dependable commodity who could eat innings. His injury resulted in several weeks of the Chris Schwinden Pu-Pu Platter until Chris Young arrived.

Offensive production from Catcher: Though Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas have proven perfectly capable defensively (particularly having to deal with a knuckleball every 5 days), they have been mostly non existent offensively. Thole can handle the bat reasonably well, but he has no power and drives in no runs. Nickeas is even worse and yet mysteriously has driven home 12 runs this season to Thole's 10.

The Back end of the Bullpen: Batista isn't an 8th inning man. He's a mop up man. Ramon Ramirez is woefully inconsistent. I've already mentioned Rauch and Parnell and though they're not the total dregs, they're only a slight step up. Other guys like Robert Carson, Elvin Ramirez and that Egbert fellow, and whoever this Justin Hampson is either aren't ready, aren't capable, or possibly both, otherwise they might have gotten a little more use. Better depth is out there, even though finding a dependable relief pitcher is sort of like throwing horse manure at a wall and hoping it sticks.

The Mets have managed to overachieve this year without anybody really overachieving (I wouldn't call Dickey overachieving since his numbers were pretty damn good to begin with the last couple of seasons, I think he's learned more consistency which is why he's getting these results). One thing that's helped is that the rest of the NL East, and, in fact, the NL in general, hasn't had any real breakaway great team. The Phillies have come back to earth with a thud and now that they're talking about dealing away Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino who knows what will happen to them. The Marlins, like any "superteam" are having trouble gelling. Washington has won with outstanding pitching. Atlanta is a complete mystery. I don't know how this will play out ultimately, but the Mets are, in reality, a good reliever and probably a right-handed Left Fielder with power away from throwing a major wrench into everyone's plans.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1979

Part 18 of our 50-Year vote for the All Star Team...
What is it: 1979 Topps #428, Bobby Valentine

What makes it interesting: The '79s are another rather bland effort from Topps, although their classic "Giant T" logo is in full display. The Mets team set from this season doesn't feature any especially notable cards, although it does include Jerry Koosman's final card with the Mets.

As a player, Bobby Valentine was supposed to be great. Unfortunately, his career was derailed by a gruesome leg injury in 1973 that sapped him of his speed, but not of his heart and thirst for the game. His days as a player were spent mostly as a journeyman and his contributions to the Mets were minimal. In his season and a half with the Mets, he barely hit, and was released in Spring Training of 1979 (and given how thin the Mets were in '79, this should speak for itself).

Bobby's greater contributions to the Mets would, obviously, come after his playing days were done. He returned as a coach in the early 1980s, before being hired to manage the Texas Rangers in May, 1985. At just 35, he was one of the youngest managers in the game. He lasted 7 seasons with the Rangers, and although he did improve a moribund franchise, the Rangers never tasted much in the way of success. He would return to the Mets as a Minor League Manager, sandwiching two seasons in AAA ball around a year in Japan. But, with the Mets floundering late in the 1996 season, Bobby was given the call to replace Dallas Green as Manager, and this would usher in one of the most exciting eras in Mets History.

During his 6+ seasons as Mets Manager, the Mets would go from nobodies to Championship contenders, almost overnight. In 1997, a team with no breakaway stars rose from the doledrums to 88 wins, contending for the Wildcard up until the final week of the season. 1998 saw the arrival of Mike Piazza, but although the '98 Mets appeared ready to build on the progress of '97, a final week collapse sunk them. It wasn't until 1999 that Valentine and the Mets finally broke through. In a year that the Mets put forth what was probably their finest offensive team, Valentine finally got a taste of the Playoffs. Despite a slow start and another late swoon that nearly sunk them, the Mets would embark on a wild ride that took them all the way to the NLCS against the Braves. A year later, the Mets broke through that barrier, as Valentine and the Mets made it to the World Series. Along the way, Valentine provided numerous entertaining moments and endless controversy, but he always got the best effort out of his players. Players such as Benny Agbayani, Butch Huskey, Jay Payton, Timo Perez, Pat Mahomes, Roger Cedeno and numerous others would flourish under Valentine, and each would find their own niche on his teams.

Valentine would also prove a leader off the field. He spearheaded relief efforts in the Shea Stadium parking lot in the aftermath of September 11th. As a restaurateur, he claims to have invented the wrap sandwich in 1980. Although his tenure with the Mets ended badly, he would eventually return to Japan to manage the Chiba Lotte Marines, and in 2005 led them to their first Japan Series Championship in 31 years. His success there made him a national celebrity, and endorsements such as his own Hamburger and Beer would follow. Currently, Valentine manages the Boston Red Sox, where we all wish him well. He seems as prickly as ever. I'm sure he would have it no other way.

Card Back: