Jul 14

Today in Mets’ History: Bobby V. wins 1,000th game as manager.

I never covered him full time, but always recognized Bobby Valentine held a special place with Mets’ fans.

VALENTINE: A fixture in Mets lore.

Maybe it had nothing to do with the fake moustache, but perhaps that act is what endeared him to the Shea partisans. It was spontaneous, funny and above all, human. We all know ejected managers hide in the runway or somehow send messages to the dugout. Valentine was just brash in his approach.

Valentine guided the Mets to the playoffs and World Series in 2000, but his teams ran out of steam and his feud with then general manager Steve Phillips became draining.

On this date in 1971, Valentine registered his 1,000th career victory when Glendon Rusch and Armando Benitez combined to throw a one-hit shutout of the Red Sox, 2-0.

VALENTINE’s CAREER

Valentine managed Texas and the Mets, as well as two stints in Japan. He currently works for ESPN, but is constantly being mentioned when managerial openings occur.

 

May 18

Today in Mets History: Hundley has tainted career day.

Not even chemistry would make Todd Hundley the player he was supposed to be. On this date in 1996, Hundley homered from both sides of the plate and drove in a career-high seven runs in a 14-5 victory at San Francisco.

HUNDLEY: Enjoyed career day on this date.

Hundley would hit 41 homers that season, but never again had a year that approached those numbers. According to the Mitchell Report, Hundley started using steroids that season after never hitting more than 16 prior to that year.

Hundley, the son of former major league catcher Randy Hundley, hit 124 homers in nine seasons with the Mets, and after stints with the Dodgers and Cubs, finished with 202 career homers when he retired after the 2003 season.

CAREER NUMBERS

Former Mets manager Bobby Valentine and Hundley feuded after the manager suggested his catcher needed more sleep, in reference to his late-night party image.

After Mike Piazza was acquired in May of 1998, it was apparent Hundley was done with the Mets and was traded to the Dodgers after that season.

Four years after his retirement, Hundley was named in the Mitchell Report along with another Mets catcher, Paul Lo Duca, for using performance enhancing drugs.

BASEBALL STEROID ERA

 

Dec 30

Looking back at 2010

As the clock winds down on 2010, a disappointing, yet transitional season for the New York Mets, let’s take a moment to look back at the significant moments, games and issues of the season.

Spring training began with a myriad of issues and questions that never dissipated during the long and tumultuous summer.

Among the more intriguing moments and issues were:

The turnover: Sandy Alderson in for Omar Minaya as general manager and Terry Collins in for Jerry Manuel as manager. Manuel seemed in trouble from the outset with early reports Bobby Valentine would take over. That didn’t happen, but this will be the year where the Met could have turned around their culture. We shall wait and see. So far, Alderson has played it conservatively in terms of player acquisition. To date, Alderson’s plan is to hope for the physical returns of Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay and that nobody else gets injured. It doesn’t sound like much, but the goal is to build a base for 2012 when deadweight salaries are cleared off the books.

Blanking the Phillies: On the field the Mets had two spurts that pushed them into contention, but nothing stood out at Citi Field like the three-game, shutout sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, featuring R.A. Dickey, Hisanori Takahashi  and Mike Pelfrey.

Draining the Bay: The Mets’ free-agent splash of signing Jason Bay from Boston busted out. A slow start that never got started flamed out with a concussion that kept him out for most of the second half. The $66 million hire that was supposed to energize the Mets’ offense produced just six homers.

Beltran’s relationship and knees sour: Botched communications between Beltran and the Mets front office over off-season surgery led to a rift that only shows signs of thawing under the new administration. Beltran returned after the All-Star break but never showed consistent signs of being healthy and strong. In actually, this was mishandled at the end of the 2009 season when Beltran should have had surgery instead of waiting.

Reyes never settles: Jose Reyes missed the first month of the season with a thyroid illness, then returned to the lineup as the No. 3 hitter. Manuel stuck when the results were clear it wasn’t working and later conceded it was a mistake. Reyes ignited when he was returned to the top of the order, then strained an oblique muscle and was never the same. This injury was compounded when Manuel rushed him back into the lineup.

Mike Pelfrey’s development: Pelfrey took a major step forward, regressed at midseason then showed recovery signs to win 15 games. With a little bit of luck he could have won 18 or 19. With Johan Santana out at the beginning of the season Pelfrey will have to pick it up again to assume the ace role. The pessimistic feelings about Pelfrey at the beginning of the season were replaced by confidence and optimism.

Oliver Perez and John Maine implode: The Mets had questions entering the season about their rotation that were answered in the negative with Perez and Maine. If one player personified the troubles of the Minaya regime it would have to be Perez, who lost his spot in the rotation, and then refused an assignment to the minor leagues to work on his mechanics. Perez forced himself back on the 25-man roster after a stay on the disabled list, then languished untouched in the bullpen until the last game of the season when Manuel pitched him as a parting gift.

The rise of RA Dickey and development of Jon Niese: Out of adversity, Dickey, Niese and Takahashi stepped up and filled the voids left by Maine and Perez. They kept the Mets competitive until the All-Star break. Dickey was rewarded with a new contract and he and Niese will enter spring training with rotation spots. Takahashi left as a free agent.

Johan Santana injured: The Mets were cooked by the time Santana’ shoulder was injured late in the second half. Santana didn’t pitch with his usual brilliance on a consistent basis and undergoing surgery for the third straight off-season must raise concerns of his durability during the remainder of the contract. If not Pelfrey, the Mets need to start thinking about a No. 1 in their rotation for the future.

The emergence of Angel Pagan: With Beltran out Pagan emerged as a budding star in centerfield and will win a spot in the 2011 outfield. Pagan improved dramatically in his outfield and base running decisions and developed into one of the team’s clutch hitters.

The young kids come through: The Mets’ long-maligned farm system bore signs of progress with first baseman Ike Davis and catcher Josh Thole, both of whom enter spring training penciled in the lineup. Both showed rawness, but enough glimpses to warrant optimism. Ruben Tejada also saw time but will open the season in the minors. As far as young pitchers go, Bobby Parnell improved over 2009 and will compete for the closer’s role.

David Wright goes deep: After hitting ten homers with 72 RBI in 2009 and sustaining a concussion, there were concerns about Wright’s ability to hit the long ball. Those questions were answered with 29 homers and over 100 RBI, production that could have been higher with a healthy Beltran and Bay. There aren’t any questions now about Wright’s power.

Twenty-inning marathon: In a thrilling display of endurance the Mets won at St. Louis, 2-1, in 20 innings. Santana started and was superb with seven scoreless, but the Mets’ bullpen was clutch in extra innings, leaving the bases loaded in the 10th, 12th and 14th innings, and 22 runners overall. Pitching on his throw day, Pelfrey earned the save.

K-Rod explodes: Maybe the ugliest moment of the season came when Francisco Rodriguez punched out his father-in-law outside the family room at Citi Field. Rodriguez was arrested and the Mets sought to void his contract. The two reached an agreement, but the relationship remains tenuous. If Rodriguez finishes 55 games this season his option for $17.5 million will kick in.

Oct 29

Alderson makes good first impression

Sandy Alderson concluded his introductory press conference less than an hour ago at Citi Field and made a positive first impression in laying out the groundwork for the first year of his four-year contract with the Mets.

Among the topics he addressed:

FRONT OFFICE: As suggested here yesterday, Alderson said a priority would be in piecing together his staff. He stressed the word “collaborative,’’ meaning he’ll bring in some quality people and delegate responsibility. It figures to be a staff that encourages the free flow of information and ideas, but Alderson didn’t leave any doubt that wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a decision. The farm system, he said, produced players last season, which could be interpreted as a plus for Terry Collins.

MANAGER: The impression is Alderson isn’t keen on bringing in a celebrity manager, which isn’t good news for those stumping for Bobby Valentine. Alderson did say he wasn’t averse to hiring a fiery personality, which leaves the door open to Wally Backman. The new manager should reflect the organization’s philosophy, and should have an intellectual and analytical side to him. Alderson mentioned no candidate by name, but speculation is Bob Melvin has emerged as a favorite. The interview process is expected to begin next week.

THE FUTURE: Alderson said he’s not focused beyond 2011. He admitted he doesn’t expect to be a big player in this winter’s free agent market, but that the Mets expect to be players in the future. Alderson acknowledged the team has financial constraints with up to $130 million earmarked in salary for next season. He also said the team should be competitive in 2011, and with increased production from Jason Bay and others (Carlos Beltran for one, but he didn’t mention him by name) the Mets could be better.

THE DEADWOOD: Alderson said: “I think we want to be thoughtful about everything we do.  I’m mindful of public opinion, but I think we have to be circumspect here. I think we need to be careful about writing off any player or any asset we have without thinking about it carefully.’’ Alderson left the impression he would speak with Oliver Perez about 2010. Alderson didn’t say Perez had a role for next season, but he also didn’t say he didn’t, either. Unloading Perez in a deal will be next to impossible, so he’s not about to hurt himself in trade talks by trashing Perez now. Alderson is simply keeping his options open, which is the smart thing to do.

It was a good first impression, but considering where the Mets have been, it would’ve been hard for Alderson to not have impressed this afternoon.

I, like a lot of others, want Alderson to turn around this franchise. A competitive Mets team is good for the city and for baseball and today was a positive.

Sep 28

Reflections of Willie

With the Milwaukee Brewers in town, and Jerry Manuel presumably in his last week as Mets manager, it is not surprising the attention being placed on Willie Randolph and the inevitable comparisons to his successor.

RANDOLPH: Looking back.

I covered Randolph in 2006 until 2008 when he was unceremoniously fired, and found him to be knowledgeable but sometimes too thin skinned. I won’t use the word paranoid because I’m not a psychiatrist and believe that’s too harsh and unfair an assessment.

I attributed Randolph’s demeanor to it being his first job and his inability to let go of being passed by for other opportunities.

And, to be fair, Randolph had reason to be cautious as the Mets presented him with several untenable obstacles. Willie spoke highly of Omar Minaya the other day, but part of that was being a gentleman. Fact is, there was an uneasy tension between Randolph and the front office caused in large part by the constant undermining presence of Tony Bernazard, who literally was a management spy and who fed information to players that caused a gap in the clubhouse.

Minaya was at fault for letting that situation develop and not pulling in the reigns on Bernazard. Eventually, Bernazard did himself in and his reputation has kept him from landing another baseball job.

That Carlos Delgado sabotaged Randolph’s relationship with the Latin players, and it was allowed to happen by the front office, was distasteful and really despicable. Delgado’s presence undoubtedly hampered Randolph’s relationship with Jose Reyes to name one. It was information fed by Bernazard to Delgado that damaged whatever relationship the player could have with his manager.

The Mets came within one hit of reaching the World Series in 2006, then collapsed in 2007. The collapse that summer was historic, but traceable to the front office not addressing the needs of starting pitching and not bringing back the bullpen that was a strength of the 2006 team. The collapse would have happened sooner, and perhaps not been as dramatic, if not for the strong start that spring.

The bullpen was again a problem in 2008, but the Mets hung around until the final weekend. There was another collapse that year, but not as dramatic. The team hung around long enough for the interim tag to be removed from Manuel.

The Mets have addressed needs piecemeal, from Johan Santana to Francisco Rodriguez to Jason Bay, but never gave Randolph a full deck after 2006. The feeling was that they came close and to take the next step with essentially the same team. Hoping for improvement is not the same as adding the proper pieces to improve.

Gradually, by sticking with Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez too long, by not rebuilding the bullpen after Duaner Sanchez’s injury described in his EMR (electronic medical record) as a  fractured coracoid bone in the shoulder, by misjudging the progress made by Oliver Perez and John Maine after 2007, by hamstringing the bench with the likes of Julio Franco, poor contracts given Perez, Franco and Moises Alou, and numerous injuries, the window has slammed shut on the Mets and it doesn?t matter who is manager.

Had Randolph stayed, he couldn’t navigate through this mess, and Manuel has proven to be less capable. Let’s face it, today’s Mets are a house of cards. Their record will be better this year, but in some respects the team overachieved because of RA Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi, and Mike Pelfrey’s step forward.

With the payroll as it is, the injury to Santana and questions in the pitching staff, and the health issues of Carlos Beltran and Bay, this team could go south again next year.

Randolph deserves another chance to manage in the major leagues, but bringing him back isn’t the best idea. Been there, done that. Just like with Bobby Valentine.

Randolph has his faults as does Manuel, but the fact is this front office will be going on its fifth manager in ten years next season, a sure sign that the instability that comes from up top.