Oct 25

Not On Cubs’ Bandwagon; I Want Indians To Win

While most of the free world wants the Cubs to win the World Series, my feeling is I hope they keep waiting. Maybe not for another 100 years or so, but at least until the Indians win this year.

The essence of the Cubs’ story of frustration is the angst doesn’t seem to end. What will happen if it does? You can make the case Cubs’ fans are identified by all those years of losing. Sometimes their season was over by May. Other times they lost in excruciating fashion. Mets’ fans cheered the collapse in 1969.

Chief Wahoo hasn't smiled since 1948.

Chief Wahoo hasn’t smiled since 1948.

The Steve Bartman game was simply cruel, but after learning of the viciousness of Cubs fans, my sympathy for them faded quickly. ESPN did a wonderful documentary of that incident, that included somebody from their public relations department smuggling him out of Wrigley Field in disguise. For you into trivia: Future Met Moises Alou had a play on the ball hit by another future Met, Luis Castillo.

My heart in this World Series goes to another frustrated franchise – the Indians. They were the team of my youth – Chief Wahoo and all – and their failures weren’t gut wrenching but quite simply they were victims of bad baseball.

When I was 10, I didn’t know anything about political correctness. I only cared about Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Larry Brown and Sonny Siebert. A half-century later, I still wish I didn’t know about political correctness. As if we don’t have other things to be interested in, The New York Times sprawled the tired issue of team nicknames across its sports pages today. Leave it to The Times to take a political stance on the day of the World Series.

My first Indians’ memory was watching them in April of 1965 on a black-and-white Motorola with the rabbit ears placed just right so I could see them beat the Angels on a Leon Wagner homer. “Daddy Wags” they called him. He always had a chaw of chewing tobacco in his cheek. Another thing not politically correct.

My mother saw how thrilled I was and told my dad, “Jim, you need to take John to a game.” He did later that summer, taking me to cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which was originally built to host an Olympics than never came.

It was July 19, when Lee Stange beat the Orioles, 5-0, and Chuck Hinton homered. Years later, when I was covering the Orioles, I got a photocopy of the box score and gave it to my father.

One of my overriding memories was sitting next to my dad in the middle of a long row. Back then the vendors didn’t throw their food, but simply passed it down the aisle and the money was sent back the same way. When my dad handed me the hot dog I had no idea I was supposed to pass it along, so I started eating it.

Look, I was nine years old at the time. How was I supposed to know?

And, how was I supposed to know the Indians would always lose? They won their first ten games to start the 1966 season, then went to Baltimore and lost a doubleheader, 8-2, 8-3. I listened to both games on the radio – the Indians weren’t on local TV often – and I started crying after the second game.

In an effort to console me, my father said, “you know, some boy your age in Baltimore is very happy.’’

That didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense all these years later.

They played a lot of doubleheaders back then, including twi-nighters that started at 5 and usually ended at 11.

On July 25, 1967, they played two in Chicago. I listened to both games and kept score at the kitchen table. The Indians lost the first game, 3-1, when future Met J.C. Martin hit a two-run homer off McDowell, scoring another future Met, Tommie Agee, ahead of him.

I wasn’t happy but decided to stick it out for the second game – all 16 innings.

I thought my patience was going to be rewarded with Duke Sims’ RBI double in the top of the inning. When Ken Berry hit a two-run homer to win, 6-5, in the bottom of the inning off Steve Bailey, whom I completely forgot about until now, I threw my pencil across the room to the background sound of fireworks going off at Comiskey Park.

If I gave it any thought, I wouldn’t have cared about some kid in Chicago being happy. And, sometime next week, I will be very happy if some kid in Chicago cries into his deep-dish pizza.

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Oct 18

Dilemma In Rooting For Cubs

The Mets were a feel-good story when then finally reached the playoffs last season. The Cubs, because of their long Word Series drought, were also a feel good story. But, feel good is now past tense for the Cubs.

1024x768_wallpaper_08Frankly, I’m tired of having the Cubs jammed down my throat. They haven’t won since 1908, but they eventually will. Since 1945, their last World Series appearance, they’ve had several heart-wrenching near misses – including their collapse in 1969 – but mostly Chicago’s ownership insisted on selling the Wrigley Field experience over quality baseball.

Chicago’s current ownership has gone all out to produce a winner, which is something Mets’ ownership hasn’t always done. That’s to be applauded.

However, as with the Red Sox, I’m not a believer in curses. I’m just not a big supporter of their fan base that expects to win. There’s an undeserving sense of entitlement there that’s hard to understand. It’s almost cliché to root for the Cubs, just as it was to pull for Cleveland in last year’s NBA finals. The Cubs are the darlings of the networks, which is reason enough not to root for them.

Sooner or later the Cubs will get to – and even win – a World Series. When they do, I’m afraid Cubs’ fans will become like Red Sox fans. For years they wallowed in misery in Fenway Park; crushing defeat became a badge of honor. When the Red Sox finally won, their fan base became insufferable.

If the Cubs do win, what will their fan base identify themselves with?

What will make me feel empathy for the Cubs again is to do what the Red Sox did. Long personified as part of the curse, the Red Sox invited Bill Buckner back and all the angst seemed washed away. If the Cubs get to the World Series, Steve Bartman should be invited back to throw out the first pitch.

If he accepts and is booed, may the Cubs forever be cursed.

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Oct 11

With Mets Out, Who Do You Root For?

With the Mets hibernating for the winter, who do you root for in the playoffs? When covering a game or team, I try to be very analytical. But when watching a game where I don’t have a reporting interest, I find myself taking sides. I’ll find a storyline, or a player, or something that makes me pull for one team over another.

What about these playoffs?

Well, two teams – Boston and Texas – are done. Just as well. There’s nothing really compelling about the Rangers, and the Red Sox, frankly, have are boring at times. When they were losing every year, they were the frustrated losers you felt sorry for. However, after winning three World Series, their fans have become insufferable, like they have a sense of entitlement. What other teams does that remind you of?

Let’s look at the field and find that nugget:

Giants: Yes, they’ve won three World Series since 2010, more than most teams have won in a lifetime. The Mets have won only two. But, it is how they play that is attractive. If you were up to 3 in the morning watching Game 3 of their NLDS with the Cubs. They aren’t star based – outside of workhorse Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey – but play as a collective unit. They play baseball the right way, with an attention to fundamentals and hustle. My best friend is a Giants’ fan and I like watching the games with him. They have won ten straight elimination games which is truly amazing. I would like them to send the Series back to Chicago, if for nothing else, to see the panic from Cubs fans.

Cubs: I know their story; they haven’t won the World Series since 1908. I get it, but it isn’t as if this group has been playing for nearly a century. After Steve Bartman, if is hard to empathize with their fan base. On the flip side, I do admire their organization for giving David Wright the third base bag last year after the NLCS. Very classy. But, it’s almost like a badge of honor in how their fan base takes defeat. Outside of Wrigley Field, where is their identity outside of losing. Actually, I think it would be a very cool thing for them not to win until 2018, which would be 110 years between titles.

Dodgers: I’m pulling for a Giants-Dodgers NLCS. That would be historic. That would be run. One of the greatest rivalries in sport highlighted in a Championship series. I’ve met Vin Scully, but he’s not calling the games anymore. Their arrive late-leave early fan base in annoying, but it’s Southern California. What can you do? The Dodgers have some great players to watch, like Clayton Kershaw. Would like to see him break his postseason funk. He’s going today. Of course, you could always root for Chase Utley.

Nationals: You can always root for Daniel Murphy, and I see nothing wrong with that. The Mets have had so many rivals through the years and the Nationals are the current team on their dislike radar. To me, there’s nothing compelling either way that would make me want to either cheer or boo them. Not even Bryce Harper.

Indians: I grew up an Indians fan and watched them struggle for years. This truly is a frustrated fan base. I have a good friend who works for the Indians, plus I have all those years going to that big, empty stadium. I still have the boxscore from the first game my dad took me to, plus that memory of he taking me and my brother out of school for Opening Day. I used to take a tape recorder and sit in the upper deck and do play-by-play.  Often I had an entire section to myself. Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Ray Fosse, Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant. Those were my guys. Plus, Cleveland Stadium had the world’s greatest mustard. Like the Giants, they also have a lot of players under the radar who play the right way. Credit Terry Francona. It’s good to see him back in the playoffs after he was unfairly run out of Boston.

Blue Jays: When I covered the Orioles and Yankees, Toronto was one of my favorite spots on the tour. Love that city. And, they are the only franchise I know that has their own song that they play during the seventh-inning stretch. The Canadian version of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”  Nice fans, except for the moron who threw the beer can. How can any team sell beer in cans these days with the high jackass factor? The Blue Jays are a fun team to watch. Their World Series teams in 1992 and 1993 were underrated on the all-time greatness meter. This is a very good team with a lot of great players. Could either Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista be future Mets if Yoenis Cespedes leaves?

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Oct 06

Bumgarner Wins Classic Duel

For the second straight season, the interlocking “NY’’ on the Mets’ caps stood for “next year.’’ After an improbable run to overcome lengthy offensive droughts and numerous injuries to reach the postseason, the Mets received a sterling performance from Noah Syndergaard.

BUMGARNER: A classic ace. (AP)

BUMGARNER: A classic ace. (AP)

However, it wasn’t enough to beat Madison Bumgarner, who again came up with a game for the ages in October, who spun a four-hitter to beat the Mets, 3-0, to send the San Francisco Giants to the NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Syndergaard throws heat all the time and showed he doesn’t just have ace potential, but that he’s already there. However, Bumgarner will go down as one of the game’s greatest playoff pitchers in history.

In three postseason win-or-go-home games, Bumgarner has thrown 23 scoreless innings. He has reached a level few could ever imagine.

In 2014, Bumgarner won Games 1 and 5 in the World Series, then came back after two days of rest to throw five scoreless innings in relief. When asked what he hoped his legacy would be, Bumgarner simply said: “A winner. That’s all anybody wants to be regarded as.”

Syndergaard outpitched Bumgarner in the early part of the game, but as his strikeouts mounted – he finished with ten – so did his pitch count. Syndergaard threw 108 in seven innings while Bumgarner threw 119 for the complete game.

“Bumgarner, he never gives in,” said Jose Reyes. “We had some chances and couldn’t do anything with them.”

Bumgarner vs. Syndergaard had baseball junkies salivating and weren’t disappointed. The Mets had their best going, but unfortunately, the Giants had one of the best of all time going for them.

The starters were the storyline of the night, with the others being Jeurys Familia and Yoenis Cespedes spitting the bit.

FAMILIA LOSES IN THE NINTH: Familia saved 51 games this season and the Mets weren’t in the playoffs without him.

Last year, Familia blew three save opportunities. Tonight wasn’t a save chance, but it hurt just the same.

The fall began with a double by Brandon Crawford. After Angel Pagan failed to get a bunt down, Joe Panik walked then Conor Gillaspie crushed a three-run homer to bring on winter.

“It was a sinker. That’s my best pitch,” said a stand-up Familia. “Every time I try to go out and do the best I can. I missed with the location. I have to move on.`I know these things are going to happen. It’s a game.”

CESPEDES SILENT: For all his talking about living for these moments, for the second straight postseason Cespedes came up empty.

As far as I’m concerned, Cespedes gave away his four at-bats by swinging from the heels at pitches out of his reach. Bumgarner toyed with him getting him to strike out twice and pop up.

Cespedes saw only 18 pitches.

True to form, Cespedes opted not to talk after the game.

Perhaps he had an early tee time.

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Sep 25

Three Mets’ Storylines: Marlins’ Fernandez Honored In Rare Tribute

When we first heard the shocking news Sunday morning of the tragic death of Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, a moment of silence was the inevitable expectation. However, the Mets did more to show their respect to Fernandez, who was scheduled to start Monday.

METS SHOW RESPECT

     METS SHOW RESPECT

Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon had a Mets’ jersey designed with Fernandez’s name and No. 16 designed and suggested Yoenis Cespedes – a fellow Cuban – hang it in the dugout during the game.

The Mets will hang it in their dugout for their three-game series with the Marlins. It was an uncommon gesture of compassion.

In a blistering sense of irony, Fernandez was originally scheduled to start for the Marlins Sunday against Atlanta. Had he not been pushed back a day, he wouldn’t have been on that boat.

While Sunday was highly emotional, it will pale in comparison to Monday when the Marlins play their first game at home (their game Sunday against Atlanta was scheduled). With six games remaining, the Mets hold a one-game lead over St. Louis and San Francisco for the wild-card, while the Marlins trail by 4.5 games. So, there is a lot to play for by both teams.

While the Mets have shown, and will undoubtedly display this week the proper respect, they still have a job to complete.

Manager Terry Collins understands the delicate balance of respect and competitiveness.

“Obviously, when we get down there, we will have a meeting – we will get together – so that we keep things in perspective,” Collins said. “It’s going to be really a tough night for a lot of people. Certainly, we lost a great player, but the respect for the game itself – and he had it – it’s got to be played, and it’s got to be played right.

“Because I know that’s how Jose would want to do it. That’s how he would want it played. And so we’ve got to keep that in our minds also.”

Fernandez’s tragic death was the unfortunate storyline on this day. The others were Robert Gsellman’s start and Jay Bruce’s possible revival were the others.

GSELLMAN’S BEST START: The Mets used 27 pitchers in the first three games of their series against Philadelphia and desperately needed a strong start from Gsellman. They certainly didn’t expect seven scoreless innings, which on a normal day would have headlined the 17-0 rout.

“Our bullpen was shot,” Collins said. “When you run 27 pitchers out in three games, you’re out of gas. It was nice to be able to have comfortable innings at the end of the game.”

Assuming the Mets reach the NL Division Series against the Cubs, they’ll go with a four-man rotation with Gsellman fourth in line. That’s one of the reasons why Collins extended him to 107 pitches.

“Hopefully, we get to the postseason. He’s got to be a part of it,” Collins said. “I thought it was really, really important to build him up to the 100 pitches, so whether he throws 70 or 75 pitches in a playoff game, it’s easier for him.”

BRUCE DELIVERS: Bruce, who hit a pinch-homer the previous night, started for the second time in eight games, went 2-for-4 and scored two runs.

He got the Mets going when he doubled and scored in the second inning. You have to figure that to keep Bruce going he’ll start Monday in Miami.

The Mets’ offense also included the Curtis Granderson’s 30th homer and a grand slam from Asdrubal Cabrera.

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