Oct 27

Today in Mets History: Pop the corks.

I was driving this morning when I heard Bob Murphy’s call: “He struck him out. He struck him out. The Mets win the World Series.”

It was a chilly Monday night. The Giants were at home to the Redskins, but the real show in town was Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. Game 7’s are usually always a gem, and this was no different, as for the second straight game the Mets rallied to beat the Red Sox.

Everybody remembers Game 6 for the Bill Buckner play, and the conventional wisdom was the Boston would be devastated and fold like a cheap tent. Not so.

A rainout Sunday gave the Red Sox another day to get over the lost and give Bruce Hurst another day of rest. What people forget was the Red Sox taking an early 3-0 lead on Rich Gedman’s homer.

But, the Mets scored three in the sixth and seventh, and two more in the eighth to put away Boston, 8-5.

It was after this game when The New York Times’ George Vecsey became the first to mention a Babe Ruth curse. He didn’t phrase it, “the curse of the Bambino,” but he was the first to associate a curse with the Red Sox.

This was a Mets’ team full of brass and it was supposed to win a string of World Series, but it never happened. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry had drug problems, Mike Scioscia’s homer off Gooden in the 1988 NLCS derailed the Mets that season, Len Dykstra was traded and the team started to unravel.

What was going to be a dynasty never happened and the Mets wouldn’t reach the World Series until 2000 when they were beaten in five games by the Yankees.

Even so, Murphy’s call was the soundtrack for Jesse Orosco striking out Marty Barrett for the game’s final out. Orosco throwing his glove in the air and falling to his knees as he was mobbed by his teammates has been one of baseball’s most enduring images since.

There was no middle-of-the-road with the 86 Mets. You either loved them or hated them. That was the year I moved to New York from Ohio and started following the Mets. They were a cocky bunch which I didn’t like at first, but they grew on me. I loved how Keith Hernandez and Lenny Dykstra played, and grew to admire Gooden’s dominance. Strawberry, I remember, was a player you couldn’t take your eyes off when he came to the plate. After hitting the scoreboard clock in St. Louis, with every at-bat you wondered how far he’d hit the ball.

Some would say this was the Mets’ last great moment, but I dispute that with their pennant run in 2000 and Mike Piazza’s homer after 9-11. The Piazza homer, Endy Chavez’s catch and Carlos Beltran taking a called third strike to end the 2006 NLCS all provided enduring images.

But, 1986 was the zenith for the Mets, and it is true that they haven’t been the same way since. Makes you wonder if the Buckner play started another curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 26

The shifting market for Reyes.

Reports out of Boston are the Red Sox are close to picking up the $6 million option on shortstop Marco Scutaro, and are content to live with him until top prospect Jose Iglesias is ready.

If the Red Sox go that route, it would preclude them from pursuing Jose Reyes.

With Iglesias at least a year away, holding on to the 35-year old Scutaro seems a prudent choice for new GM Ben Cherington.

While the Red Sox collapsed in September, Scutaro remained a productive player, hitting .387 with a .438 on-base percentage for the month. He finished the year at .299.

With the Red Sox saddled with two $100-plus million contracts in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, Cherington said they will be prudent in their off-season spending.

Boston learned yesterday it has a pitching hole to fill with John Lackey to miss the 2012 season after he undergoes Tommy John surgery.

These are all variables which would make Reyes not a fit for Boston.

The Red Sox have been speculated as a potential landing spot for Reyes, and there were reports they might be interested at the trade deadline, but that was before he went on the disabled list.

The Yankees and Chicago Cubs are two big-market teams that can afford a $100-million plus contract, but they already have shortstops, and the latter is expected to make a big play for Prince Fielder.

The Angels and Giants have the resources, but San Francisco is also expected to talk with Jimmy Rollins. Should Rollins leave, that would leave the Phillies open as they have declined the options on Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge and have an offensive need with Ryan Howard’s Achilles injury.

 

 

 

 

Oct 25

Mets have precious few pieces to trade. Plus poll on dealing Wright.

There are three ways for a team to build: free agency, drafting and trading.

With a stated budget of just over $100 million, Sandy Alderson’s free-agent options are limited, especially if he dives into the deep end of the Jose Reyes pool. He’ll be looking to plug holes in the bullpen and rotation with middle-tier talent. Cheap bench players are always available.

WRIGHT: Most tradeable Met?

There is potential in the minor league system, but it is the lower minors, which the Mets want to avoid delving into. Solid drafting is the best way to lay the foundation and the Mets are making progress in that direction and figure to keep their young talent.

 

That leads us to trading, and things aren’t rosy in that department, either.

David Wright, who has been in decline the past two seasons, has the biggest upside and a manageable contract. He’s a cornerstone, especially if Reyes leaves, and the player who intrigues other teams, believing a change of scenery would benefit him. A Wright trade would mean serious re-building for the Mets, but he’s the player who would bring the most in return.

Trading him is a franchise-defining decision.

Other than Wright, what is the market value for some of the others?

Josh Thole: Young, inexpensive with more potential than production. Thole did not perform to expectations and wouldn’t draw attention from a team wanting a starting catcher. Teams needing a catcher have more experienced options in the free-agent market. It’s hard to believe anybody would trade for him to be a starter.

Ike Davis: Could be attractive, but after missing much of the season with an ankle injury he represents a risk. Young, inexpensive and loaded with potential – if healthy – he’s the ideal piece for the Mets to keep and build around.

Ruben Tejada: Impressed a lot of scouts and would draw interest, but the Mets will need him at shortstop if Reyes goes or at second if he stays. He’s not going anywhere.

Jason Bay: You must be joking. People are saying all the time that the Mets should trade Bay. What planet are they on? Bay has not played well since signing as a Met; he’s been injured and has a hefty contract. Can you see the line forming now? The Mets have two hopes for him: 1) he stays healthy and meets expectations to salvage the final two years, or 2) if that doesn’t happen, then he doesn’t get the necessary at-bats and games for his option to kick in. Two more years.

Angel Pagan: Regressed this year to the point where the Mets might not tender him. He’d sign somewhere as a bench player, but nobody will trade for him.

Lucas Duda: Scouts love his power potential and he played decent defense in right field. He would be part of a larger package, but wouldn’t be someone teams would want to trade for to build around. Besides, the Mets’ outfield forecasts as weak, so he’s getting the full time shot in right.

Fernando Martinez: Had been sought after in previous years, but is a fragile, injury risk whose value has declined. Too bad they can’t turn back the clock two years. If the Mets can swing something with him, they should do it, but his real value to them would be to stay healthy and reach his potential, which is becoming less and less likely.

Johan Santana: Nobody knows how healthy he is, which means he’s staying put for now. Should Santana come back and be solid and healthy in the first half, you could see the Mets trying to deal him if they aren’t in contention. Even if they were, they might pull the trigger on a trade to free up salary. This bears watching, but not until June and July.

Mike Pelfrey: Has a manageable contract and is young. He regressed this season, but there’s still potential for the right pitching coach. But, if they trade him, he would thin out an already spotty rotation. The Mets will keep him and hope he improves. If not, then it might be time to cut him loose. There could be takers at the trade deadline.

Jon Niese: Coming off an injury and who knows if he’d pass the physical? Mets love his potential, so he’s not going anywhere.

R.A. Dickey: Teams don’t trade for journeyman knuckleball pitchers in the off-season. They wait for the trade deadline. He’s been arguably the Mets most consistent starter, but he’s a No. 4 according to most scouts, maybe a No. 5. He’s somebody a contender might covet in July, but he’s not going to bring back a lot of talent.

Dillon Gee: Surprised a lot of people this season. But, the pitching deficient Mets won’t move him. After a great start, Gee had a rocky second half, which makes him a question to the Mets, not to mention any team with interest.

Bobby Parnell: Young and a power arm is always attractive. Not so much is his command and thought process on the mound. There are no assurances the Mets will make him their closer as there are numerous reports saying that is their greatest need. If Parnell can’t convince the Mets he’s closer worthy, then what must other teams be thinking? Right, he’s a bullpen piece who needs a lot of work. Not a long line here.

 

So, if you look at the Mets’ trade options, dealing Wright would net the most, but you have to wonder what considering he’s several years removed from his best season. There are limited other options to deal and they are most suited for moving at the trading deadline.

Oct 24

Real baseball fans are watching … just not enough of them.

The ratings for this World Series, which has been compelling, are down but should pick up by Game 6, which is a certainty. I’m betting on a Game 7, the game’s ultimate gem.

But, that’s not enough for Maj0r League Baseball because the East Coast giants aren’t involved. With MLB’s penchant for panic and knee jerk reaction, I am beginning to wonder what the response will be.

Tinkering has already done damage to the credibility of the regular season. With interleague play and the unbalanced schedule, not every team runs the same race to October, which had been a constant for nearly a century. I guess 100 years of a good thing is not enough.

Major League Baseball is seriously considering expanding the playoffs to create interest in more cities and to add extra gates. Another round in the postseason turns baseball into the NFL, the NBA and NHL, which rewards mediocrity.

What had been unique to baseball – and valuable to the sport’s identity – was the difficulty in getting to the postseason. Every team facing the same obstacles gave value and integrity to the regular season. That has  been diluted.

It’s now a crapshoot where just about anybody can get in, and this year we have two teams that play the sport correctly, but don’t attract a national audience. What MLB wants is for the playoffs to be expanded, but in the end have the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Dodgers somehow involved.

It doesn’t work that way.

Ratings are down for a variety of reasons, beginning with conflicts from the NFL and college football, and so many other viewer options on cable and satellite. At one time, even when the Series started being played at night, baseball was the popular choice.

It’s not that way anymore.

For years, MLB operated in a fashion to discourage growth from a young fan base by scheduling the playoffs later in primetime and its regular season pricing for tickets. It is more inconvenient for a young fan base – and also for the older fans who long supported the sport – to follow baseball. Those in their 70s and 80s who watched games in Ebbets Field and in dozens of parks that no longer exist, can’t afford tickets and don’t stay up as late. They have been shut out, just like the youth who are choosing other convenient options.

MLB needs to re-evaluate its marketing strategy to get back the fans who long supported the sport and attract its future fan base. Its not enough to get cities to build new stadiums and ride that enthusiasm, because eventually the thrill fades.

As those of us who are watching can see, it is still a remarkable, attractive sport that when played well is a joy to watch. We should savor what we are seeing and not regret those teams that aren’t here.

MLB could start by starting the games an hour earlier as to not shut out the East Coast in the late innings. Start the telecast at 7:00 p.m., with first pitch a half hour later. I’d rather have a small West Coast following in the first two innings than lose the East at the end of the game where memories are made.

In doing so, MLB would sacrifice money in its TV deals now, but it will pay off in the future, and that’s what’s best for the game.

 

Oct 21

The makings of a great World Series.

Two games in and I have the feeling this could be the makings of a great World Series. Could it be because we have two teams playing and we’re not caught up in a traveling circus of the Red Sox or Yankees?

Even without them playing, the Red Sox are always in the news. The Yankees have been pretty quiet, but there is the underlying assumption – perhaps coming from their fans’ sense of entitlement – CJ Wilson will come running to them.

He’s a No. 2 starter, but being the premier arm on the market he will make his money. However, he won’t be cashing any checks bearing Fred Wilpon’s signature.

If the Rangers go on to win, it could come down to a defensive misplay by by Albert Pujols in the ninth inning when he failed to field a cutoff throw which enabled Elvis Andrus to take to second and eventually scored what proved to be the winning run on back-to-back sacrifice flies by Josh Hamilton and Michael Young.

Had Pujols cut off the ball, the Cardinals could be up 2-0.

The first two games have been a study in pitching and fundamentals, and that’s what it takes to win. We should see more scoring when the Series moves to Arlington, where the weather will be warmer.

Close, tense games are only part of what makes a great World Series. There are the compelling story lines of the Rangers trying to win for the first time and the Cardinals attempting to come all the way back from a 10 1/2-game deficit on Aug. 25. It would be one of the greatest comebacks of all time.

Of course, the definitive great World Series has to go seven games. Really, outside of the 69 Mets, whose rise was one of the great baseball stories of the ages, there aren’t many Series considered great that run short.

Football season is in full swing, but I’m not ready to let go of the summer. Here’s hoping this one goes seven.