Feb 21

Collins Says Mets Capable Of Playoffs

Is it genuine optimism for the New York Mets or simply unfounded wishful thinking? In the past two days, both GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins alluded to the playoffs. No guarantees, and with the qualifier, “capable of” if they execute. Hell, anybody could have told you that.

“Now we’ve just got to go play,’’ Collins told reporters Saturday in Port St. Lucie. “It’s all about execution. As we’ve seen in the past, there are teams that were world champs and the next year they’re in last place. And there are teams that were in last place that the next year they’re in the playoffs.

“If we play up to expectations and what we think are the caliber of players we have, we’ll be playing in October.’’

Collins’ thinking is based on the potential of the Mets’ pitching; the additions of Michael Cuddyer in right field and John Mayberry for the bench; and healthy returns of David Wright and Matt Harvey.

There are other issues: Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler must progress; the bullpen is seemingly sound, even without Bobby Parnell available at the start of the season; the leadoff spot is unsettled between Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson; Wilmer Flores is an unproven commodity at shortstop.

Harvey is a huge key, and Alderson acknowledged there’s nothing concrete about his innings ceiling. It was initially reported Harvey would probably miss the start of the season, but likely pitch the home opener. Collins said today Harvey would start one of the season’s first five games.

I prefer something more definitive, but it is early. Things change.

“We’ve been sitting around for four years asking everybody to be patient and even the players,” Collins said. “Well, it’s time.’’

A lot has to happen if the Mets are to reach the playoffs, let alone have their first winning season after six straight losing summers.

Sure, there’s reason to be hopeful, but the playoffs? Well, I’ve heard this before from the Mets so I’m not swallowing this hook, line and sinker.

October baseball? I’ll believe it when I see it.

Feb 20

Mets Should Cherish Own History And Forget Yankees

I keep reading how this is the time for the New York Mets to “take control of the city and make this their town.’’

That’s an impossible venture based on history as the Yankees have a huge head start. I’ve been told this was once a National League town, but how can this be if the Yankees usually won?

METS: Their own history is pretty good. (MLB)

METS: Their own history is pretty good. (MLB)

Math says the Yankees have 27 World Series titles while the New York Mets, Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers won a combined eight. I was never good at math in school, but understand those numbers.

Only the 1921, 1922 Giants and 1955 Dodgers beat the Yankees head-to-head in a World Series.

The Mets will never take permanent control of the city. Just as the Jets won’t take it from the Giants; the Nets from the Knicks; and Islanders from the Rangers.

Those teams will always be the younger brother.

But, that doesn’t mean for one glorious summer, or two, or three, the Mets can’t be New York’s darlings. It happened in 1969 and 1986. But, temper that because from then to the present the Yankees won seven titles.

The Yankees’ mission statement always has been to win the World Series. That hasn’t changed since George Steinbrenner’s passing and won’t as long as long as the team remains in that family. The Mets want to win, but that’s not their mission statement. And, for readers of this blog who have long complained about their spending, you understand that concept. Worry about the perception of who owns the city once the Mets change their philosophy.

I’m not interested in the Mets catching the Yankees. That’s beating their head against a brick wall. What I am interested in is seeing the Mets catch the Washington Nationals, St. Louis and whoever comes out of the West.

You can also throw in the Braves and Marlins in that group. Those are their real rivals. The Mets and Mets’ fans should keep their eyes on the real prize, which is winning their corner of the world.

I didn’t grow up here, but can’t count the number of times I’ve walked through the concourses at Shea Stadium and Citi Field after a Mets’ victory and heard fans chant, “Yankees suck.’’ And this wasn’t after an interleague game with them. Why couldn’t they enjoy what they had just seen? Somebody please explain that to me.

Boston fans did the same for years. Even at a Patriots’ Super Bowl rally Bostonians chanted “Yankees suck.’’ I also heard it when the Red Sox finally won as I walked from Busch Stadium back to my St. Louis hotel.

The Mets – and I include Mets’ fans in this – should ignore what the Yankees are doing and take care of their own business. If they do that, they’ll own the damned back pages of the tabloids. It’s the hot team, the one that makes the most noise, that grab the back pages.

Growing up in Cleveland, Indians’ fans had that same fascination with the Yankees. I always thought it was acknowledging an inferiority complex. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Yankees’ Joneses and take care of your own house and you’ll get the attention.

The Mets will never convert a true Yankees’ fan just as the opposite is true. But, for one summer they can get those straddling the fence to find their way to Queens instead of the Bronx.

The Mets have their own history and it is worth cherishing. Never forget that.

 

Feb 19

My Favorite Spring Training Memories

For a baseball writer spring training can be a magical time. My first was in 1991, when I covered the Orioles. There was also time in Florida with the Yankees and Mets. All produced keeper memories, which flooded back this morning.

Things weren’t as stressful with the Orioles, mostly because there was only three or four writers. We showed up early, got our stories, wrote and played basketball. Larry Lucchino, then the Orioles president, played and chewed me out when I didn’t pass him the ball.

After that, it was usually seafood, a movie or the dog track. One night, Jim Henneman from the Baltimore Sun and his friend, nicknamed “Smoothie,’’ hosted us. We pooled our money and gave it to Smoothie to wager. Just as Smoothie was leaving the table, Rick Vaughn, the PR director of the Orioles, deadpanned: “I can’t believe we just gave all our money to a guy named Smoothie.’’

Another time Mark Maske of the Washington Post and Peter Schmuck of the Sun and I were talking with reliever Arthur Rhodes, who could hit triple digits. Maske asked Rhodes if he were to throw 100 fastballs how many times do you think we’d make contact?

He said, “Maybe 10 to 15. … What about you?’’

I was thinking maybe a foul tip.

But, it isn’t always smooth. Once a delicate story broke in the morning, but worked itself out during the game. Later, the Orioles manager, the late Johnny Oates, told us of the changing development. We were circled around him and he asked if we had a problem changing the story.

Nobody had an issue. When Oates got to me, I simply said, “I guess I have some rewriting to do.’’

What followed was a loud crash when Oates kicked a chair and screamed, “I knew it. I knew you’d be the one to write it.’’

He didn’t get I wasn’t going to print the original version. I simply turned and walked away as there was no purpose getting into it with him in public. As I was leaving the clubhouse, Brady Anderson said, “don’t worry about it, you’ve arrived when the manager rips into you.’’

Another Orioles favorite was Mike Mussina, who passed time with a six-by-three foot crossword puzzle in the corner.

Maybe my most memorable spring was spending nine straight weeks at the Tampa Westshore Marriott during the strike in 1995. It was like being Norm from Cheers, as everybody at the front desk greeted me by name. A supervisor even tried to get me my own parking spot.

The Yankees and Mets are different animals.

You arrive with a plan that often never materializes. In the spring of 1999, I had a plan every morning, but followed through maybe five or six times. That was when Joe DiMaggio died. Then, one day we were writing about Darryl Strawberry’s cancer when a Yankee staffer gave us a release that Joe Torre left the team to be treated for prostate cancer.

That day didn’t end until close to midnight.

That was the spring George Steinbrenner called Hideki Irabu “a fat pussy toad.’’ The Yankees were to fly to Los Angeles that day for an exhibition series with the Dodgers. Steinbrenner huddled with GM Brian Cashman, interim manager Don Zimmer and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre for hours on what to do with Irabu, who triggered it all by failing to cover first base for the second time in as many starts.

The meeting lasted so long the Yankees had pizza delivered to the clubhouse.

I should have known what kind of spring it was going to be when on the first day the Yankees traded David Wells for Roger Clemens.

The Yankees beat was always competitive, made more so by the daily Steinbrenner watch. It was by luck one day I caught him coming in from the parking lot. He answered a couple of questions and then spent ten minutes talking college basketball.

Say what you will about Steinbrenner, but he was colorful and brought something to the table. He could be infuriating, but you had to wait him out. The worst words a Yankees writer could hear on his voice mail was, “John, George Steinbrenner returning your call.’’

You knew you weren’t going to get him a second time.

Meanwhile, Jeff Wilpon, for his part is accessible. Fred Wilpon usually holds court once a spring, and once uttered the words “playing meaningful baseball in September.”

With the Mets, many stories are gathered on the backfields. That was when I met Sandy Koufax. I knew I wasn’t going to get questions answered, but told him of when my dad took me to Shea Stadium and said to me, “you need to see this guy pitch.’’

He asked what I remembered and I sheepishly told him Wes Covington homered and the Mets won. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Yeah, I remember that, too.’’

I will always love Koufax for that.

And, I’ll always love the promise of spring training.

Feb 18

No Reason For Mets To Rush Parnell

There have been reports Bobby Parnell will regain his closer role when he’s activated from the disabled list roughly a month into the season. Parnell told reporters today in Port St. Lucie, “the ultimate goal when I go up there is to close.’’

PARNELL:  Treat with kid gloves. (AP)

PARNELL: Treat with kid gloves. (AP)

Although manager Terry Collins previously indicated that possibility, Parnell said he’s been promised nothing, which is the right way to go because there are too many unanswered questions.

What if Jenrry Mejia is pitching lights out at the time and the Mets are playing well? It would be foolish for Collins to disrupt the chemistry his team is building. It’s counter-productive for Collins to promise something he’d later reverse track on.

Many managers don’t like to commit to anything unless they absolutely must and there’s no reason for Collins to play his hand now. Collins has fallen into that trap before and must avoid it this time.

Parnell demonstrated promise at closing in 2013 with 22 saves, a 2.16 ERA and 1.000 WHIP. Mejia converted 28 save opportunities last year, but with a 3.65 ERA and less than impressive 1.484 WHIP. What was promising was his 98-41 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

If Mejia stumbles in April, the Mets can go with Jeurys Familia or Vic Black. The Mets enter spring training with potentially their best bullpen in three years, especially if all four are on their games.

And, if Mejia, Familia and Black pitch well in April, there’s no point to rush back Parnell, especially when we don’t know how long it will take for him to work himself into pitching shape. Parnell wanting to be out there is not a good enough reason. Neither is his $3.7-million salary.

“Obviously I want to be there at the beginning of the year, but more importantly, I want to be there at the end of the year,’’ Parnell said. “If they feel like missing the beginning of the year is going to help me be there at the end, and be solid at the end, and help with the playoff push, then I’m all aboard on that.’’

This is something that doesn’t need to be decided until late April or early May. Anything before that is premature.

Feb 18

Today In Mets History: Mets, Jets Sign Contract

Gone are the days when baseball and football teams shared the same venue. Once the Athletics get their own stadium, or the Raiders bolt Oakland again, an era in American sports will be over.

For a long time the Mets and Jets shared Shea Stadium, and who can forget 1969-1970 when the Mets won the World Series and Jets won the Super Bowl. And, the Knicks won the NBA title in the spring of 1970.

On this date in 1977, the Jets signed on to stay at Shea Stadium. However, it wouldn’t be long before they would bolt for the Meadowlands.