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

Jun 17

Where Does Jordany Valdespin Fit In With Mets?

Should the New York Mets pull the plug on the Jordany Valdespin experiment, manager Terry Collins and management will be able to look in the mirror and say they tried.

They would be fooling themselves.

VALDESPIN: What is his future? (Getty)

VALDESPIN: What is his future? (Getty)

A week is clearly not enough for most players to come off the bench to make a solid statement at second base, or any other position for that matter. They might give Valdespin more time, but it won’t be a significant chance because the Mets don’t even know if they want him to play second base.

Valdespin is 3-for-23 at the plate and hasn’t been effective in the field. If second is his natural position, he’s in trouble. Then again, Daniel Murphy didn’t have a natural position and it has taken him nearly two years to get a feel for the position.

The Mets are going out of order in the Valdespin experiment. The first issue isn’t whether they think he can play second, but whether they want him in the organization in the first place. Next, is where do they envision Valdespin playing? And, who is his competition in the organization?

In the short term, it is Murphy, but if he’s their “real second baseman of the future” they never should have been playing him at first this past week. The time should have gone to first baseman Josh Satin to get an idea what they have in him.

On the minor league level, the Mets’ seventh-ranked prospect is Wilmer Flores, who is a natural third baseman. However, with David Wright signed long-term, the Mets are playing Flores at second base. Finding a place for him is a higher priority than finding a place for Valdespin.

If Flores is the second baseman of the future, it stands to reason neither is Valdespin nor Murphy – so they must be showcasing the latter. Flores could be tested at shortstop, but Cal Ripken, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were all tall, lanky and strong shortstops, so that’s not a real argument if they want to look at Flores over Ruben Tejada.

The Mets seem to have two second base options – three if they consider moving Tejada back – ahead of Valdespin, so what exactly are they trying to find out?

They definitely can’t learn much in a week enough to showcase him in a trade, especially with his previous baggage. They have a better chance of building Valdespin’s value it they play him in the minor leagues every day for the next mont than if he played part time on the major league level.

There’s clearly room for Valdespin in the outfield; there’s room for a lot of options in the outfield.

If the Mets decide they want Valdespin a part of their future, they will eventually find him a spot if he can hit. And, save a handful of pinch-hit homers, what do they know about this guy offensively?

They know he has pop and can occasionally drive a ball.  However, from his limited 116-at-bats window the first impression is he’s undisciplined, which makes one wonder outside of his speed what are his attributes as a leadoff hitter.

Overall, Valdespin is hitting .207, but more concerning is .a 264 on-base percentage. Valdespin swings from his heels and often at breaking stuff away in the dirt. His 24 strikeouts-to-six walks ratio is alarming, and for all his speed, four steals to three times being caught is barely a wash.

I don’t know if, or where, Valdespin will fit in with the Mets two or three years from now. I don’t think the Mets know, either. Fact is, I’m not sure the Mets know where Valdespin will fit in a month from now.

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

Mar 12

Chipper Jones Rejects Yankees

I was very glad to see Chipper Jones reject the Yankees’ overtures for a comeback. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to see Jones have a change of heart, but not with the Yankees … not with anybody else but the Braves.

CHIPPER: Turns down Yankees

CHIPPER: Turns down Yankees

I’ve always admired players to begin and end it with the same team. That ‘s what I want to see for David Wright. It’s one of the things I liked about Cal Ripken, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter.

It’s rare these days for a player to retire with the same team he began his career with. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that way with Pete Rose, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

The Yankees’ stream of injuries prompted WFAN to run a poll of retired players fans wanted to come back with the Yankees. Ripken was on the list. I wonder if it is more a sign of respect or just not being realistic.

Incidentally, Wright is enjoying his time at the WBC, but I can’t but wonder if his time would have been better off had he stayed in Port St. Lucie.

Think of it for a moment, he’s going to be the captain of this team, so it stands to reason his presence would be beneficial to the younger players in camp.



Nov 10

Have resigned myself to Reyes leaving.

Let’s face it, Ruben Tejada isn’t as good as Jose Reyes. Then again, Reyes is far from a lot of the great shortstops who have played this game. Replacing Reyes isn’t like Mike Bordick replacing Cal Ripken.

Reyes is a very good player, but there have always been obstacles that prevented him from being great. He gets injured, he loses focus, there are times he loafs, his on-base percentage could be better.

Reyes, who makes his living with his legs, was a non-entity on the bases after coming off the disabled list. He was playing to protect himself so he could win his precious batting title and preserve himself for the free-agent market.

There’s always been a twinge of selfishness about Reyes that gets ignored by his endearing smile. The feeling projected is he’ll take the best offer because this is about money. Sure, he wants to stay in New York, but that’s only if the Mets pony up the most.

While Reyes wants the most possible, the Mets will lowball him. There will be some team out there willing to give Reyes the years and a contract north of $100 million. If he can get that, more power to him.

But, it won’t be the Mets. And, considering their position it shouldn’t be the Mets. Sometimes cutting ties is difficult, but it needs to be done. I’m at peace with Reyes wearing another uniform.

Jun 25

I’m glad Davey is back

Of all the managers I’ve covered, Davey Johnson might be the most intriguing. He heard, and marched to one drum, that being his own. He might be the only person to be named manager of the year and fired on the same day.

JOHNSON: He's back.

Many of the memories I carry from covering Major League Baseball for over 20 years happened off the field and not during a game, such as the afternoon in Baltimore when I was sitting next to Johnson during his pre-game press briefing.

Johnson was winding things down, when unprompted, threw out this nugget. Maybe it was to mess with our upcoming off day.

“You know,’’ he began in that slow drawl of his, “I’ve been thinking of moving Cal Ripken to third base.’’

Nugget? For an Orioles’ writer then, it was a bombshell. And, to make it more interesting is he floated the idea without talking to Ripken. He knew we’d all flock to Ripken like ants at a picnic, and this might have been his way of testing the waters.

Another time, Bobby Bonilla – the ultimate team player – didn’t want to play as the DH, this coming several weeks after saying he’d do anything to help the Orioles.

When he name wasn’t in the lineup, Johnson told us Bonilla had a sore ankle and underwent treatment. When asked about his ankle, Bonilla let loose the following obscenity: “Why don’t you ask the (bleeping) manager how it is?’’

Johnson was shaming Bonilla to DH.

Any team Johnson manages is his team, and he takes crap from nobody. Not an iconic figure like

Ripken, not a faux star such as Bonilla, and not a prima donna rookie.

Johnson had his way of dealing with players, and one was to utilize the press, and we were all willing to scoop up what he said.

The Orioles were in Milwaukee one year and going through a miserable stretch, and on this day they blew a game to the Brewers in the late innings. The clubhouse at old County Stadium didn’t have a manager’s office. Instead, there was a desk adjacent to the trainer’s room and players passed by us throughout the interview.

Speaking loud enough where everybody could hear, Johnson took apart his team, basically holding a team meeting in front of the press. No cursing, no yelling, no name calling. But, it was clear he was angry and not in a tolerant mood.

Johnson, of course, as he did with the Mets, got his point across.

Later in that series, Johnson made a decision I didn’t understand.

“Davey,’’ I asked. “I’m not being a wise guy. But, I don’t know as much baseball as you and don’t understand that decision. Could you explain?’’

As Johnson stared at me for a couple of seconds, I felt his glare go through me, but I never released eye contact. He realized I wasn’t kidding, that I didn’t understand, so he laid it all out for me.

So sarcasm, just teaching. Johnson loves to talk about the intricacies of the game. He’s a great teacher, and he’s going to a team in the Washington Nationals that could learn from him.

When it comes to strategy and analyzing a game, few can do it like Johnson and the Nationals are lucky to have him in their dugout. He will make that team smarter and concentrate on the fundamentals.

The Nationals still don’t have the overall talent to compete this year or next, but they will be better.

I’m glad Davey is back in the game and can’t wait until the Nationals are in town.