Jan 24

Missing Ernie Banks

This one hurts. Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,’’ passed away last night at 83.

Unquestionably, one of the highlights about covering baseball was meeting the game’s greats from when I first started following the sport. Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Al Kaline, Tom Seaver and, of course, Banks.

Mets’ fans, of course, should remember Banks from the 1969 season when he was one of the few likable members of the Cubs. Some might actually have felt sympathy for Banks as he missed the playoffs for yet, another year.

Banks was the longtime face and persona of the Cubs. He was a Wrigley Field fixture who was a pleasant and kind visitor to opposing dugouts. Players loved to shake his hand and listen to his stories.

And, Banks loved to hold court, whether for a group or an individual. If you had a question, or just wanted to say hello, he would greet you and make one feel welcomed.

We’re in an age where too many of today’s athletes prefer to distance themselves from the public that adores them. That was never Banks. People liked him because he genuinely liked people.

The baseball world is a little poorer today without him.

Jan 23

Gee Emblematic Of Difference Between Mets And Giants

It is more than talented players that separate the San Francisco Giants from the Mets. There is also an organizational philosophy. The Giants’ is about winning; the Mets is about pinching pennies.

It was simply a single line item in the transactions, that the Giants opted to re-sign pitcher Ryan Vogelsong. Here is a team with three World Series titles in the past five years that is loaded with pitching. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Jake Peavey. That’s five starters. Vogelsong makes six, and don’t forget Yusmeiro Petit.

They all have substantial major league track records.

Meanwhile, the Mets are optimistic about their young rotation, and despite legitimate questions about every pitcher, they are determined to deal Dillon Gee, who’ll make just $5.3 million in 2015.

What the Giants realize, that although they have a glut of pitching, you can never have enough pitching. And, this is a perennial winner.

Meanwhile, the Mets, who haven’t had a winning season since 2008, are gambling they will have no pitching issues this summer and are willing to deal Gee to prove their point.

It’s not a gamble they should make.

Jan 22

Mets Who Could Be Gone After This Year

As a team trying to reach the next level, the New York Mets have several players entering make-or-break seasons. If they don’t produce in 2015 they could find themselves gone next year.

The reasons for their potential departure range from age, to finances, to performance. Here’s who I am thinking needs to put up or shut up:

Bartolo Colon: At 41, Colon is entering the second season of a two-year contract. Despite working 200 innings last season, the Mets are trying to trade him. They certainly won’t bring him back for another $10 million. The best scenario is to find a taker at the trade deadline.

Jon Niese: All the reasons why Niese was attractive in the past – age, left-handed, reasonable contract – don’t matter much anymore because of his recent injury history and poor performance. Their best bet is for him to pitch well in the first half and draw trade interest.

Bobby Parnell: He’s coming off an injury and has never pitched to expectations. With Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia showing promise, it could be time to cut the cord and move on. This guy had a million-dollar arm, but only recently showed an understanding about pitching. If he’s a bust this year, why would they bring him back?

Curtis Granderson: He has two more years after 2015, which could make him easier to trade. But, if he doesn’t show glimpses of substantial power who would take him? This much we know about the Mets – they will try to get something and won’t eat his contract.

Travis d’Arnaud: He showed some promise in 2014, but the Mets want more offensive production. I can see them moving on if he doesn’t hit this summer.

Daniel Murphy: Like I said when Murphy agreed to a 2015 contract, this year will be his last. Had the Mets wanted to keep him they would have signed him a while ago. Ideally, they’d like to get something in return, but if they don’t, they will let him walk.

Wilmer Flores: This is his chance. The Mets have been looking for a shortstop for a few years, but Flores goes in as the starter by default. They considered a few names this winter, but none seriously. If Flores doesn’t pan out, but their young pitching does, the Mets might be forced to pay up next winter.

 

Jan 21

Cheating Isn’t Trying, It Is Cheating

They say if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. That’s garbage.

The New England Patriots are in the news for cheating and it stinks. It reminds me of how the balls were stored at Coors Field. My thinking is the balls had little to do with it and was mostly the altitude and Rockies’ lousy pitching.

But, it created doubt.

The intrinsic beauty of sports is for the fan, the paying customer, to watch the game with the knowledge what they are seeing is true. That’s why I am against PED use, and why, although I was a big Pete Rose fan growing up, I understand his banishment from baseball for gambling.

The common argument from Patriots’ fans, who have the same entitlement as Yankees’ fans, is for them to point to the scoreboard and say the deflated balls had no bearing on the outcome of the game. But, that’s wrong. By definition, it is cheating. It is bending the rules and that violates the essence of sports.

As far as PED’s are concerned, yes, you still have to hit the ball and you still have to pitch it, but that’s an overly simplistic approach.

I keep hearing of Barry Bonds’ work ethic and Roger Clemens’ work ethic. I saw Clemens work out and I watched Alex Rodriguez train at 8 in the morning during spring training. I was taken in by their effort. I was fooled.

What steroids do for a hitter is it enables him to work and train harder in August when he’d normally wilt in the heat and be tired. That ability to work gives him more strength and energy, and consequently lets him generate more bat speed, which is the key to power. That comes into play not with the 450-foot homer, but when the ball just clears the fence.

That’s why I don’t use the words “home run” with Bonds. I call him “balls hit over the fence,” because they aren’t legitimate home runs. That’s just me.

Aaron Rodgers likes the ball firm and perhaps over inflated. Apparently, Tom Brady likes the ball when it is easier to grip. Obviously, this had to be conveyed to whoever pumps up the balls where the Patriots play. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? And, how can a control freak like Bill Belichick not know what’s going on? Just like with SpyGate he had to know.

Because he cheated, how can we be sure he didn’t cheat other times? How can we be sure everything the Patriots achieved was on the level? The argument Bonds and Clemens had Hall of Fame numbers before they cheated must also be discounted, because we don’t know exactly when they cheated.

We can’t and this puts everything they’ve done into question. It goes beyond gamesmanship. It’s cheating, and it’s wrong. Who is to say the Patriots didn’t film illegally before they were caught? And, the NFL destroying the tape is reprehensible. You realize they haven’t won a Super Bowl since.

The NFL suspended Sean Payton for a year because BountyGate damaged the integrity of the sport. Considering this is the second cheating charge against Belichick, a year suspension wouldn’t be out of line.

Just like what Bonds and Clemens did was wrong and will likely keep them out of the Hall of Fame forever. But, what about Brady and Belichick? I wonder if the football voters will hold this against them.

If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. But before you dismiss me, ask yourself this question: How would you feel if your doctor cheated his way through med school?

 

Jan 20

Baseball Screwing Around With Game Times Again

I love baseball. I just don’t like the people running the sport, simply because their motivation isn’t in the best interest of the game.

Major League Baseball, in its indefinite lack of wisdom, continues in its running-in-the-mud desire to shorten the time of games. Yes, the sport with no clock wants to speed things up.

Baseball now wants to require pitchers to finish their warm-up tosses and be ready to make their first pitch 30 seconds before the end of all between-innings commercial breaks. Also, hitters have to be in the batter’s box 20 seconds before the end of each commercial break.

If these rules are implemented, baseball officials think they can trim games by 10 to 15 minutes. What will happen in those 10 to 15 minutes, they couldn’t say.

What these geniuses also wouldn’t say are the penalties for breaking these rules.

What has long been romanticized about baseball is the leisurely pace of the game allowing fans to talk with each other between pitches and innings to share memories and thoughts on strategy.

It is how the game is passed on from one generation to the next.

Unfortunately, those running the sport ignore one thing that made the game so precious to many of us –the leisurely pace.

Just for once, I want the keepers of the game to care about it as much as we do.