Aug 26

My brush with greatness ….

The year was 1998, the season of the great home run race and when the Yankees steamrolled through Major League Baseball. It was also the year Cal Ripken’s streak came to an end.

KENNEDY: My brush with greatness.

KENNEDY: My brush with greatness.


That was also my first year on the Yankees beat and I’ll always remember a flight I took from Boston to Washington. I was sitting in the exit row by a window reading a magazine when this man plopped down in the aisle seat. I recognized him immediately, and a few minutes later he extended his hand and said, “I’m Ted Kennedy.”

I said, “I know,” and introduced myself. A few minutes later, I told him, “in all fairness, I should tell you I’m a newspaper reporter.” I didn’t think it would be right for him to be ambushed the next day in the papers by something he might have said or done.

He appreciated the gesture and we began to chat. When I told him I covered baseball, he responded with stories of how his father, Joseph, took him and his brothers to games in Fenway Park. He then spoke of the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race and Ripken.

I told him I once wrote a term paper my freshman year in college about him. I was a big liberal at the time.

Not once did we talk of politics or social issues. I figured he gets that all the time. I did want to tell him how touched I was about the eulogy he gave for his brother, Robert, but wasn’t sure if it would strike a sad nerve. I always wonder what he might have said had I brought it up.

It was a pleasant conversation. After awhile, he started reading some files and I returned to my magazine. We started talking again before the end of the flight, and when we landed we shook hands and went our separate ways.

I was surprised nobody bothered him during the flight and nobody approached him at the gate when we left the plane. A few days later, I sent him a note telling him how I enjoyed our conversation.

I told my editor of the meeting, and his response was a curt, “What in the hell were you doing in first class?”

Aug 25

METS CHAT ROOM: Game #126; Santana, Wagner edition.

Big news day for the Mets, with the trade of Billy Wagner to Boston and announcement Johan Santana will require elbow surgery to remove bone chips and will be done for the season. Nelson Figueroa takes Santana’s spot on the mound tonight at Florida.

The Mets will have in the line-up Jeff Francoeur, who tore a ligament in his left thumb diving for a ball Sunday afternoon.

CHAT ROOM

CHAT ROOM

“The right thing now is to let the swelling go down. It’s kind of big,” Francoeur said. “I’m going to try to play through it to the end of the season. If I can rest it for two or three days and then play, I’m going to do it. You might say, ‘Why bother? We only have 38 games left.’ But I came here to play and I want to play.”

Since joining the Mets for right Ryan Church, July 11, Francoeur is batting .305 with six homers and 24 RBI in 39 games.

Figueroa has given up nine runs on 15 hits over 7 2/3 innings in two starts this season.

This is the line-up that will face Marlins rookie Sean West (4-5, 4.70):

Angel Pagan, CF
Luis Castillo, 2B
Gary Sheffield, LF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Fernando Tatis, 3B
Daniel Murphy, 1B
Omir Santos, C
Anderson Hernandez, SS
Nelson Figueroa, RP

NOTEBOOK: Oliver Perez returned to New York to have his right knee examined. … Nick Evans and Pat Misch were recalled to replace Santana and Wagner on the roster. … Reliever J.J. Putz, who was supposed to start a rehab assignment in Brooklyn, was scratched, and here’s a surprise, could be lost for the remainder of the season.

Aug 25

Wagner deal complete ….

Billy Wagner gave in on one of his two demands and accepted a deal this afternoon to the Boston Red Sox for two lower-tier minor league players to be named later. In addition, the Mets save $3.2 million, which includes a $1 million buyout for next season.

WAGNER: In tears after learning he'd need surgery.

WAGNER: In tears after learning he'd need surgery.

Wagner was claimed off waivers last week by the Red Sox, but wanted assurances Boston would not pick up his $8 million option for 2010 – so he could test the free agent market to be a closer elsewhere – or offer him salary arbitration. With arbitration, the signing team would be required to offer a compensation draft pick and Wagner thought that would hurt his chances in the market.

Wagner has 385 career saves and it is his goal to reach 400.

The Red Sox didn’t plan on picking up the option, but with reports Jonathan Papelbon might be available in a trade after this season, they wanted to hedge their bets. Papelbon has been vocal in saying he doesn’t believe the Red Sox needed Wagner, but he has idiot tendencies.

The Red Sox do need a set-up guy for the remainder of this season, and if they didn’t claim him, the Yankees most definitely would have.

While the Mets aren’t getting blue chippers, something is better than nothing for a player they had no interest in bringing back. Wagner, who has spent the last 11 months recovering from Tommy John surgery, has pitched two quality innings since his return with four strikeouts and a fastball topping out at 96 mph.

In explaining the trade, GM Omar Minaya said: “Billy, basically, had an opportunity to pitch in the pennant race and we were able to get two prospects for him, and we felt it was the right thing to do.”

Wagner performed for the Mets; he was a positive signing for Minaya. However, he was a squeaky wheel which didn’t always endear him to his teammates. Notably, he called out the veteran position players – of which Carlos Delgado was one – for not talking to the media.

They were offended, but Wagner was right. Wagner was also correct in his pointed criticism of Oliver Perez not concentrating and living up to his potential.

Personally, I always liked Wagner. He was stand-up whenever he blew a save and never failed to answer the tough questions.

Aug 25

Santana done for year ….

The news wasn’t good for Johan Santana. He was examined today by Dr. David Altchek at the Hospital For Special Surgery and will undergo minor elbow surgery that will end his season. Santana will have bone chips removed from his left elbow. The Mets said he is expected to be ready for spring training.

Several of Santana’s teammates said Monday they expected him to undergo surgery, and manager Jerry Manuel said he was “terribly concerned.” When Santana went to be examined today they weren’t expecting good news.

SANTANA: Done for season.

SANTANA: Done for season.


In fact, Mike Pelfrey said, “I don’t think anyone expects good news.”

Santana is as tough as they come. In the final weekend of the season last year, Santana pitched a three-hit shutout on a left knee that required surgery. For him to opt out of a start, he had to be really hurting.

Once again, the injury raised questions of how the Mets handle injuries. Manuel said: “He has not been throwing between starts for quite awhile. I would say since before the All-Star break. He has been pitching with this problem, but not with the level of discomfort he has now.”

A tip off was his decline in velocity, but the Mets, based on Santana saying he could pitch, kept sending him out there. Maybe they should have said no, scratched him earlier and done a MRI a month ago. It is a question that will be asked.

In response, GM Omar Minaya said in a conference call: “Up until his last start, it was something that he was able to pitch with. After his last start, he said this to us, and we are, as you say, wisely shutting him down.”

Santana had a 7-2 record and 1.77 ERA in his first 10 starts, averaging 6 2/3 innings start and 11.73 strikeouts and 7.09 hits per nine innings. Santana, who historically is a dominant second-half pitcher, still lasted as long in his subsequent starts, but was 6-7 with a 4.02 ERA. He averaged 5.36 strikeouts and 9.30 hits per nine innings.

Santana, 30, is in the second year of a six-year, $137.5 million contract.

Aug 24

Santana out tomorrow

The Mets have scratched Johan Santana from tomorrow’s start at Florida with discomfort in his left elbow. He’ll undergo a MRI and the Mets will have to consider shutting him down for the remainder of the season. With the Mets 16.5 games behind the Phillies, what’s the point?

Jerry Manuel said he didn’t whether Santana could pitch again this season.

“That wouldn’t be my decision, that’s a medical decision,” Manuel said.

The Mets certainly don’t want to risk further injury, but in shutting him down they won’t know the severity of the injury until spring training.

Santana, in his second season with the Mets, is 13-9 with a 3.13 ERA. He has pitched 166 2/3 innings in 25 starts.
For those of you who are asking, what else could go wrong? Well, here’s your answer.