Jul 10

Five Ways To Fix The All-Star Game

When I was growing up I used to love the All-Star Game. The game meant something to me because it was clear it meant something to the players. When two of my favorite players – Pete Rose and Ray Fosse – met at the plate during the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, it was clear it was not just another game. At least to those two.

FOSSE/ROSE: When the stars played with passion.

At one time they played two All-Star Games. These days there’s not too much of a game at all. It stopped being special when the vote was returned to the fans – ironically, in 1970 – because that’s when it became a popularity contest. Any election where a person can cast an indefinite amount of times is a farce by definition.

As far as I’m concerned, the game officially jumped the shark with interleague play. Soon after, MLB did away with the league offices and merged the umpires. And, of course, let’s not forget the farce of having the two leagues play with different rules regarding the DH.

Baseball’s All-Star Game is by far superior to other sports, but that doesn’t mean changes aren’t necessary. It doesn’t need tinkering, but an overhaul of serious proportions.

Here’s what I would do:

1. It is a pipe dream, I know, but the first thing would be to eliminate interleague play, thereby creating a distinction between the leagues. The leagues will always be blurred to some extent because of free agency and movement of players. Interleague play is a gimmick that has taken luster from the All-Star Game and World Series.

2. Knowing MLB will keep interleague play as long as Bud Selig is around, the next step would be to cut the nonsense about the winning league having home field in the World Series. As long as the fans vote and it is a popularity contest, having it have such an impact in the postseason is a contradiction. The notion of a fan vote, having each team represented and trying to play everybody is the opposite in essence of having the winner determine the Game 7 site of the World Series.

3. Take away the fan vote. Another pipe dream, but I’d rather eliminate the popularity contest angle. Maybe the managers and coaches, or players, or scouts, or media. The stipulation being you can’t vote for your own players.

4. Why should every team be represented? It’s like everybody getting a trophy in the second grade. The only caveat being the host city having a player on the team. Assuring each team being represented often ends up having a deserving player being snubbed.

5. Expand the rosters to include a lifetime achievement participant. If a player is at the end of his career and has been a perennial All-Star but is having a sub-par year, include him on the team. For example, had Chipper Jones had not made it as a late entry, then a spot should have been reserved for him. Give the public a chance to say good-bye.

May 09

Mets Go For The Throat; Dillon Gee Gets Crack

The Mets have won 17 games this young season, ten of the come-from-behind variety and seven by one run. They have won six series, sweeping two. They go for the sweep today in Philadelphia.

Doing so will represent another step in their development. Contending teams close out games and close out series. Winning a series winning two of three is great, but sweeping is better.

Sweeping represents a sense of dominance and reinforces confidence. I know what you’re thinking; I’m being greedy. Maybe so, but doesn’t that signify a new attitude about this team?

Today it’s Dillon Gee going, and twice now Terry Collins let him pitch out of trouble when he was on the ropes. That demonstrates confidence, something you rarely saw Jerry Manuel give his pitchers.

I mention that not to rip Manuel as that would be piling on. I do say it to show the difference in attitude and culture between Manuel and Collins.

Manuel came on strong at first, taking out Jose Reyes in his first game. He then regressed, taking an unequal approach in dealing with players and afraid to be forceful with the deadwood. Then again, in all fairness, that message – in dealing with Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo – came from up top.

Things are different now. The Mets are infusing themselves with young, homegrown talent. You don’t often see guys not running out ground balls. There are occasional fundamental lapses, but they aren’t as frequent. That explains in part the winning.

The Mets haven’t hit this well with two outs in as long as I can remember. The defense from early questions – Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda and Josh Thole – is better than anticipated, as is the starting pitching.

Something else the Mets have done, and this is another mark of a contender, is winning within the division and beating teams when they are done. They’ve won two series from the struggling Phillies, swept the Braves when they limped out of spring training without Chipper Jones, and swept the Marlins during their slow start.

Things have changed with the 2012, and that includes the expectations. Have yours changed?

 

Apr 16

Pelfrey Much Better; Mets To Atlanta

MiA;ke Pelfrey was right when he said if you were told on Friday the Mets would take two of three in Philly that you’d take it. In a heart beat. But, after winning the first two  one tends to get greedy.

Pelfrey was much better, giving up a run in six innings.  Yesterday, the bullpen that had been so good imploded after a Ruben Tejada error. These things happen, but when a team holds a lead late in the game for a chance to sweep it must go for the throat. That’s what winning teams do.

We’re ten games into the season, way too soon to draw any conclusions, but the first impression has been a good one. April is a brutal schedule and quite honestly, I didn’t think the Mets would win more than 10 games. They are almost there now so maybe this won’t be the Titanic of a season most people thought.

The Mets are in Atlanta tonight to start a three-game series, and the Braves are much better now than the team that limped out of Citi Field. Chipper Jones is back for one thing.

This is the beauty of a baseball season. There are highs and lows. The Phillies have struggled, but they’ll get hot. The Dodgers are sizzling, but will eventually cool.

So far, what I wanted most for the Mets has happened, which is to pitch well and play consistently. A winning season is about taking small steps. Win two off three. Stay over .500. Get to five games over. Then ten.

Then who knows what could happen?

 

Apr 07

Dickey Hopes To Get Off To Fast Start

Every team has its hard luck pitchers and last year R.A. Dickey fell into that category in several respect with the Mets.

DICKEY: Needs to get off to fast start.

Today’s starter against the Braves held them to a .190 average in four starts last season, but only managed to win of them. Dickey also pitched to a 3.51 ERA in the vast confines of Citi Field, but was only 2-9. He deserved better.

Dickey got off to a slow start last year, but finished strong with a 2.69 ERA over his final 24 starts. He will start this afternoon against Atlanta.

“I’ve been looking forward to it,’’ Dickey told reporters on Opening Day. “I’ve felt like I had a good spring, really gotten better, and you’re always excited to get it in there when it counts for real. We’ve certainly put in a lot of hard work, so we’ll see where that hard work takes us.’’

Once he gets into his groove, and it takes some time because his knuckler has trouble in the cold and flattens out, Dickey has proven to be one of the Mets most reliable starters.

The expectations for this year’s Mets are low and April represents an unusually difficult schedule that includes two series against their traditional nemesis in the Braves. However, the Braves are without Chipper Jones at the start and did not play well during spring training. They are vulnerable now and this Mets have an opportunity to capitalize.

 

Mar 22

Chipper Jones – Mets Killer – to retire.

Some opponents you loathe. You watch with venom in your heart for how they destroy your team. Or you despise their arrogance and swagger.

Other opponents you respect and admire, and salute for their longevity and talent. Such is the case with the Braves’ Chipper Jones.

JONES: His Topps' Rookie Card.

You figured it was coming soon, but it became official this morning when Jones announced this would be his final season playing third base for Atlanta and tormenting the Mets.

Jones will be one of the rare players, something I hoped would be the case with David Wright and Jose Reyes, to play his entire career with one team.

I covered Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter through the prime of their careers, and respected what they accomplished. Both had opportunities to leave for more money, but recognized the importance they represented to their team and cities. They are special players.

Don Mattingly and Kirby Puckett were that way, too. It was a shame it wasn’t the case with Tom Seaver and Reyes. I hope it isn’t that way with Wright.

Jones thought about retirement two years ago, but changed his mind. Now, after 18 years and a string of injuries the past two seasons, there’s no longer fighting time.

Early in camp, Jones told reporters: “Never in my mid-20s would I have given myself a snowball’s chance to be in camp and have a job at 40 years old.  But I like to think I’ve kept myself in pretty good shape over the years. The skills are still there to go out and get it done. I don’t know for how much longer, but we’re gonna ride it as long as we can.’’

I wish for him a full and healthy season, one with numbers that will have him leaving with pride and not frustration.

It was obvious watching Jones the past two years that he slowed. You could tell his range was declining and he wasn’t the same on the bases. Still, when he came to the plate in the late innings, he was showed respect from the Mets’ pitchers.

Since 2004, Jones underwent two knee operations and dealt with several other nagging issues that deprived him of 500 homers – he would have been the third Brave to reach the milestone, joining Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews – which has been an automatic ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Jones, the 1999 NL MVP, joins Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray as among the games’ greatest switch hitter, which is an unappreciated skill. Jones takes a .304 career average, 454 homers and 1,561 RBI into this season.

Of his 454 homers, 91 came in August and 74 in September, during the heat of the pennant race; 213 were hit in the seventh inning with the Braves tied, ahead by one, or had the tying run on deck.

And, against the Mets, Jones’ numbers would represent a MVP season: He hit 48 homers, with 154 RBI and a .318 career average.

He hit 19 homers at Shea, which is what he named his son. Any player who would name his child after Shea Stadium is worthy of a salute.

I’ve covered well over a two thousand baseball games, and as a reporter found Jones to be accommodating and thoughtful. His appreciation for the fundamentals and ability to perform under pressure made him a privilege to watch.

Some day, I’ll get to say I saw Chipper Jones, Hall of Famer. He’ll get my vote.