Feb 25

Gotta Love Buck Showalter

The New York Mets were roasted during their first year at Citi Field because the new stadium showed more a Brooklyn Dodgers feel than that of the Mets.

That never would have happened had Buck Showalter been running the show. Showalter, who is cut from the original old school cloth, gets it when honoring the game’s past.

Frank Robinson was in Orioles’ camp Monday and Showalter casually asked 19-year-old prospect Josh Hart if he knew about the Hall of Famer, a member of the 500-homer club and one of the three greatest players in club history along with Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken.

Incidentally, Robinson was also the first African-American manager in major league history, and as a black man, you would think that’s something Hart would want to know.

When Hart said he didn’t know, Showalter assigned the rookie to write a one-page report on Robinson. Kind of like “I will not talk in class,’’ 100 times on the blackboard.

Hart not knowing Robinson ranks just below on the ignorance scale of LeBron James – who prides himself as a basketball historian – leaving Bill Russell off his NBA Mt. Rushmore.

The Robinson-Hart reminds me of something that happened in spring training several years ago, and also involved Robinson.

Then Mets-GM Omar Minaya asked former prospect Lastings Milledge to follow him across the field to the Washington dugout to introduce him to then-Nationals manager Robinson.

Milledge could not have been less interested and showed Robinson zero respect. And, in doing so showed the same amount to Minaya.

It was a precursor of things to come for Milledge, who was chastised by manager Willie Randolph for not honoring the game’s unspoken traditions, and later by his teammates, who posted a sign on his locker saying, “Know your place, Rook. Signed, your teammates.’’

Milledge never did get it and his career fell into “what might have been,’’ status. Here’s hoping Hart gets the message.

Feb 18

Wilmer Flores Could Be Viable Shortstop Option

The New York Mets have long touted Wilmer Flores as one of their future stars. To some degree, having Flores and Ruben Tejada made it easier to let Jose Reyes walk.

FLORES: Could get shortstop time.

FLORES: Could get shortstop time.

With Tejada coming off a bad year and striking out in the free-agent shortstop market, the Mets are considering giving Flores another chance at shortstop.

And, it’s a good idea.

The Mets drafted Flores as a shortstop, but moved him to other positions because he lacked the quickness in making the first step.

Even so, manager Terry Collins suggested at the Winter Meetings Flores might get a look at shortstop in spring training. Collins reiterated that intent after Flores’ success at a Michigan fitness camp, where he dramatically improved his quickness and speed.

With his quickness and speed improved, it makes sense to experiment with Flores. Shortstops don’t need speed. Cal Ripken wasn’t fast, but relied on quickness and positioning.

It could be the same for Flores, who suffered with ankle injuries last year.

“We did a lot of ankle exercises,’’ Flores told reporters about his work at the fitness camp. “We worked on things that we needed to work on, like speed, agility and getting stronger. I’d be happy to go again.’’

Flores played shortstop for four years in the minors, and is willing to try again.

“It’s not going to be a new position,’’ Flores said. “I’m sure I can play.’’

That confidence and Collins’ willingness to experiment are no guarantees Flores can play shortstop on the major league level.

Because the Mets are giving Tejada every chance to redeem himself, he’ll get most of the time at shortstop during spring training. The remaining time Flores gets won’t be nearly enough to show he can play the position.

However, Flores has greater offensive potential than Tejada, thereby giving the Mets a dilemma. Because the Mets need offense, it’s possible Flores could make the Opening Day roster as a role player off the bench.

Assuming Flores makes the team, he probably won’t play enough, certainly at shortstop, to make a substantial impact.

What then, is the best option?

The Mets’ options are to carry Flores as a bench player or to send him back to Triple-A. If it is the latter, it must be under the provision he only plays shortstop, and not second, third or first.

Collins suggested as much today.

“I think with what we have on the infield – you know what? – if he’s not going to get a lot of a playing time, he’s got to go play at his age,” Collins said. “Because the ceiling on his bat is too high. He’s got to go get at-bats.”

Flores needs to learn to play shortstop, and that takes repetitions. Lots of them.

Jan 07

Mike Piazza Likely To Fall Short Of Hall Of Fame; My Case For Putting Him In

Speculation has one former New York Met getting into the Hall of Fame tomorrow with another falling short.

Tom Glavine, a 300-game winner who played the bulk of his career in Atlanta, should get in on the first ballot. Mike Piazza is likely to be denied for a second straight year.

PIAZZA: Hall worthy for sure.

PIAZZA: Hall worthy for sure.

On the web site, Baseball Think Factory, its poll has Greg Maddux (100 percent), Tom Glavine (97.7), Frank Thomas (91.7) and Craig Biggio (81.2) getting in, with Piazza (72.2) looking in from the outside. To be voted in, a player must be on 75 percent of the ballots. To date, the poll results are from 134 ballots published, which is less than 25 percent of the votes submitted last year.

While all the votes have been submitted, the above is only a small sampling and things could change between now and tomorrow afternoon when the announcements are made.

Piazza was named on 57.8 percent of the ballots last winter and it is doubtful he can make up that ground in one year. Remember, it took several cracks for Gary Carter to get in.

“It’s a process,’’ Piazza said this summer after his induction into the Mets Hall of Fame. “I’m very proud of my career. Obviously I put my body of work up against anybody, I’ve said before. But, you know what? I truly feel that the process is a beautiful thing as well. It is what it is. I mean, looking back, Yogi [Berra] had three ballots. And, Joe DiMaggio three ballots.’’

That’s something I don’t get. Three ballots for DiMaggio? Babe Ruth got in on his first year, but wasn’t named on 100 percent of the ballots. That’s absurdity at the highest level. The player receiving the highest percentage is Tom Seaver. That could be challenged when it is Mariano Rivera’s turn, but there are some writers, amazingly so, who won’t vote for a player the first time on the ballot.

I know one writer who didn’t vote for Cal Ripken when he first appeared on the ballot.

Piazza was retrospective that day in Citi Field.

“You think of things in the bigger picture,’’ he continued. “And so if I’m so blessed and honored to get to that point someday, I will enjoy it and be proud and wear the honor that is so important. Up until that point, I can only do like an artist – here’s my work, my canvas -and it’s out of my hands.’’

And, it is an impressive picture with him being a 12-time All-Star and the career leader in home runs (427) by a player whose primary position was catcher.

Piazza had a lifetime .308 average, .377 on-base percentage and six years with at least 30 homers and 100 RBI. He’s among ten players in history with a .300 average and at least 400 homers.

Based on numbers alone, Piazza is deserving. But, keeping him out is speculation he was a PED user, something he continually, and vehemently denies.

No writer can say for sure Piazza was a PED user as he: never failed a drug test administered by Major League Baseball; never been charged or linked to PED in the courts such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens; never appeared in the Mitchell Report or any study subsidized by MLB; and never has been accused on the record by another player, coach, trainer or manager of using.

His supposed connection to steroids is based on speculation and because a few writers saw some pimples on his back.

This is proof?

ON DECK: Looking at Tom Glavine.

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Aug 06

Legacies Of Alex Rodriguez And Bud Selig Permanently Linked

As we sift through the rubble of Major League Baseball’s Biogenesis scandal, we will find many things, including the tortured legacies of the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez and Commissioner Bud Selig.

Supremely gifted and talented, Rodriguez garnered three of the sport’s biggest contracts. The first was from the Texas Rangers, which was supposed to raise that franchise to prominence, but instead choked them to the point of having to trade him to the Yankees.

SELIG: Not smiling before Congress.

SELIG: Not smiling before Congress.

Rodriguez received two lucrative deals from the Yankees – the latter against the wishes of general manager Brian Cashman – for the intent of driving the club’s network YES with a record home run assault that could have shown us 800.

But, that was George Steinbrenner, whose high-rolling actions to get Rodriguez simply defined his place in baseball lore.

By his own admission, Rodriguez said he used steroids, but was accused of much more by Selig. Of what, we’ll know exactly in the coming months.

One thing he was accused of was attempting to purchase Biogenesis’ records. A despicable act if he had, but seemingly not so when done by MLB.

Rodriguez won’t get his 700 or 800 home runs. He will not break the career mark held by Hank Aaron. Barry Bonds does not hold the record for home runs, but for hitting balls over the fence. Real baseball fans know the difference.

Rodriguez’s memorabilia might see Cooperstown, but there won’t be a plaque of him, just as there won’t be one of Bonds, of Mark McGwire, of Rafael Palmeiro, of Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens. We will see their bats and gloves, just not their faces in bronze.

RODRIGUEZ: Not smiling either.

RODRIGUEZ: Not smiling either.

The Baseball Writers Association of America has taken some heat for its awards decisions, but should be proud of its current stand on players in the Steroids Era, the one ushered in by Selig.

Selig should be having mixed feelings today. He has to be happy with nailing 13 of 14 players, but privately must fear what will come down with Rodriguez’s appeal.

Then, he should feel angst because much of this was brought on by Selig, who as commissioner represents the owners more than he does the game.

It was Selig’s decision to play hardball with the Players Association in 1994 by demanding a salary cap and revenue sharing that forced the strike, and with it the cancellation of the World Series and advent of replacement players the following spring.

It must be remembered during this period the owners were found guilty of dealing in bad faith in court.

The sport took a severe financial hit, which it attempted to heal with the entry fees of the Tampa Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks in 1997. Attendance was down, but revived in 1998 with Cal Ripken’s honest pursuit of Lou Gehrig’s record; a dominating year by the Yankees; and, of course, the pursuit of McGwire and Sosa on Roger Maris’ honest record.

After nearly 40 years, both broke 61. Sosa did it three times. McGwire hit 70, but Bonds had 73. None of those numbers were achieved honestly, but with the tacit approval of Selig and the owners who looked the other way because the stands and their coffers were being filled again.

Selig is taking bows because baseball has sports’ toughest drug policy, but it was forced on him by Congress and the shame of the dishonest home run.

It is too much for me to expect Selig and the owners to admit their involvement, but if nothing else, I want to see a damn asterisk designating the Steroid Era.

Do that, and then take a bow.

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Jul 17

Mariano Rivera’s Light Burns Bright In All-Star Game

For the New York Mets it might have been “Matt Harvey Day,’’ but Mariano Rivera stole the night. It isn’t often you can orchestrate things in Major League Baseball, but that’s what happened. While no player is bigger than the game, there are some who define it by their presence and their greatness transcends the moment.

There was Ted Williams in 1999, surrounded by both teams in the Fenway Park infield. The Team of the Century Game, you might recall. They didn’t even need the game, they would have cheered Williams all night.

RIVERA: Stands alone.

RIVERA: Stands alone.

It was that way when Cal Ripken’s streak was broken and Joe Torre’s Yankees stood at the top step of their Camden Yards dugout in a long ovation. And, how about Ripken’s last All-Star Game, when he homered in Seattle?

Great theatre and it was such when Rivera ran out for the eighth inning and took his bows with nobody else on the diamond. That was symbolic as there is nobody like Rivera. For nearly two minutes they cheered the greatest closer in history. It didn’t matter he was a Yankee; all of baseball honored him.

“I didn’t know how to act,’’ Rivera said. “At that moment, I didn’t know what to do. It almost made me cry. It was close. It was amazing. I will never forget that.’’

As he often has, Rivera set the side down in order 1-2-3, and as he jogged off the field, Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder – whose father, Cecil, won a World Series ring with Rivera – pressed the ball in the modest closer’s glove.

Justin Verlander greeted Rivera first after the eighth with a long embrace. I couldn’t help but wonder if Verlander whispered in his ear, “I wish you had been on my team all these years.’’

Then again, there’s probably not a starter in the game who hasn’t wondered the same.

American League manager Jim Leyland is as old school as they come, but did a marvelous job planning the moment. Ideally, it should have been the ninth inning, but if the National League had taken the lead Rivera wouldn’t have gotten in the game.

“I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive,’’ Leyland said.

It was interesting to see Rivera’s peers – the opponents he has tormented over the years – respond to him. The Orioles Chris Davis could be seen shooting a video of Rivera on his cell phone. David Wright would tell Rivera how proud he was of how he handled himself.

“Things like that, that come from young boys like that, it is good,’’ Rivera said. “They know why you do it. That’s great.’’

While others had a bigger role in the game’s outcome, Rivera was voted the Most Valuable Player in a gesture of appreciation and respect.

With Rivera working the eighth, it was Joe Nathan who pitched the ninth to earn his first All-Star save. The ball will never make Nathan’s mantle as he gave it to Rivera.

“It showed respect to me,’’ Rivera would say. “It was a classy thing to do.’’

Classy and respect. That’s what Rivera has always been about.

NOTE: Please accept my apologies for the erratic posting lately. My server has been down and it was unavoidable. Hopefully, the problem has been resolved.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos