Oct 27

Today in Mets History: Pop the corks.

I was driving this morning when I heard Bob Murphy’s call: “He struck him out. He struck him out. The Mets win the World Series.”

It was a chilly Monday night. The Giants were at home to the Redskins, but the real show in town was Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. Game 7′s are usually always a gem, and this was no different, as for the second straight game the Mets rallied to beat the Red Sox.

Everybody remembers Game 6 for the Bill Buckner play, and the conventional wisdom was the Boston would be devastated and fold like a cheap tent. Not so.

A rainout Sunday gave the Red Sox another day to get over the lost and give Bruce Hurst another day of rest. What people forget was the Red Sox taking an early 3-0 lead on Rich Gedman’s homer.

But, the Mets scored three in the sixth and seventh, and two more in the eighth to put away Boston, 8-5.

It was after this game when The New York Times’ George Vecsey became the first to mention a Babe Ruth curse. He didn’t phrase it, “the curse of the Bambino,” but he was the first to associate a curse with the Red Sox.

This was a Mets’ team full of brass and it was supposed to win a string of World Series, but it never happened. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry had drug problems, Mike Scioscia’s homer off Gooden in the 1988 NLCS derailed the Mets that season, Len Dykstra was traded and the team started to unravel.

What was going to be a dynasty never happened and the Mets wouldn’t reach the World Series until 2000 when they were beaten in five games by the Yankees.

Even so, Murphy’s call was the soundtrack for Jesse Orosco striking out Marty Barrett for the game’s final out. Orosco throwing his glove in the air and falling to his knees as he was mobbed by his teammates has been one of baseball’s most enduring images since.

There was no middle-of-the-road with the 86 Mets. You either loved them or hated them. That was the year I moved to New York from Ohio and started following the Mets. They were a cocky bunch which I didn’t like at first, but they grew on me. I loved how Keith Hernandez and Lenny Dykstra played, and grew to admire Gooden’s dominance. Strawberry, I remember, was a player you couldn’t take your eyes off when he came to the plate. After hitting the scoreboard clock in St. Louis, with every at-bat you wondered how far he’d hit the ball.

Some would say this was the Mets’ last great moment, but I dispute that with their pennant run in 2000 and Mike Piazza’s homer after 9-11. The Piazza homer, Endy Chavez’s catch and Carlos Beltran taking a called third strike to end the 2006 NLCS all provided enduring images.

But, 1986 was the zenith for the Mets, and it is true that they haven’t been the same way since. Makes you wonder if the Buckner play started another curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 24

Real baseball fans are watching … just not enough of them.

The ratings for this World Series, which has been compelling, are down but should pick up by Game 6, which is a certainty. I’m betting on a Game 7, the game’s ultimate gem.

But, that’s not enough for Maj0r League Baseball because the East Coast giants aren’t involved. With MLB’s penchant for panic and knee jerk reaction, I am beginning to wonder what the response will be.

Tinkering has already done damage to the credibility of the regular season. With interleague play and the unbalanced schedule, not every team runs the same race to October, which had been a constant for nearly a century. I guess 100 years of a good thing is not enough.

Major League Baseball is seriously considering expanding the playoffs to create interest in more cities and to add extra gates. Another round in the postseason turns baseball into the NFL, the NBA and NHL, which rewards mediocrity.

What had been unique to baseball – and valuable to the sport’s identity – was the difficulty in getting to the postseason. Every team facing the same obstacles gave value and integrity to the regular season. That has  been diluted.

It’s now a crapshoot where just about anybody can get in, and this year we have two teams that play the sport correctly, but don’t attract a national audience. What MLB wants is for the playoffs to be expanded, but in the end have the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Dodgers somehow involved.

It doesn’t work that way.

Ratings are down for a variety of reasons, beginning with conflicts from the NFL and college football, and so many other viewer options on cable and satellite. At one time, even when the Series started being played at night, baseball was the popular choice.

It’s not that way anymore.

For years, MLB operated in a fashion to discourage growth from a young fan base by scheduling the playoffs later in primetime and its regular season pricing for tickets. It is more inconvenient for a young fan base – and also for the older fans who long supported the sport – to follow baseball. Those in their 70s and 80s who watched games in Ebbets Field and in dozens of parks that no longer exist, can’t afford tickets and don’t stay up as late. They have been shut out, just like the youth who are choosing other convenient options.

MLB needs to re-evaluate its marketing strategy to get back the fans who long supported the sport and attract its future fan base. Its not enough to get cities to build new stadiums and ride that enthusiasm, because eventually the thrill fades.

As those of us who are watching can see, it is still a remarkable, attractive sport that when played well is a joy to watch. We should savor what we are seeing and not regret those teams that aren’t here.

MLB could start by starting the games an hour earlier as to not shut out the East Coast in the late innings. Start the telecast at 7:00 p.m., with first pitch a half hour later. I’d rather have a small West Coast following in the first two innings than lose the East at the end of the game where memories are made.

In doing so, MLB would sacrifice money in its TV deals now, but it will pay off in the future, and that’s what’s best for the game.

 

Sep 03

Today in Mets’ History: Remembering Bob Ojeda.

Much of the greatness of the Mets’ 1986 rotation was in its depth, personified by Bob Ojeda. One first thinks of Doc Gooden and Ron Darling, then Sid Fernandez, but some would stumble on Ojeda.

OJEDA: Underrated straight shooter.

Ojeda, originally signed by Boston, was more than just the stereotypical “crafty lefthander.’’ He knew how to set up hitters, spot his pitches and climb the latter with them.

On this date in 1986, Ojeda gave up two runs on three hits in a complete-game 4-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium to increase his record to 16-4 at the time. He finished the season at 18-5 with a 2.57 ERA.

The Mets acquired Ojeda from the Red Sox after the 1985 season for reliever Calvin Schiraldi, and both would end up playing key roles the following season and in the 1986 World Series when New York beat Boston in seven games.

Ojeda had a critical, yet often forgotten part in the Mets’ 1986 postseason run when he won Game 2 of the NLCS against Houston after the Astros won the first game, and Game 3 of the World Series at Boston after the Mets lost the first two games.

Ojeda started Game 6 in both the NLCS and World Series, each won by the Mets in dramatic fashion, although he didn’t earn a decision.

Ojeda later pitched for Los Angeles, Cleveland and the Yankees before retiring early in the 1994 season.

Tragically, Ojeda was remembered for being the sole survivor in a 1993 spring training boating accident that killed fellow Cleveland teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews.

Ojeda is currently a studio analyst on SNY and has proven to be a remarkable straight shooter, perceptive and not afraid to call somebody out.

Ojeda saw things clearly as a player, too, with this quote about raucous fans: “The fans throw different things. Rock stars have stuff like flowers and underwear. We get batteries and knives.’’

BOX SCORE

OJEDA CAREER

 

Jun 23

Wright cleared; Capuano injured; notebook.

David Wright was cleared today to resume baseball activities and will head tomorrow to Port St. Lucie to begin his rehab.

The Mets are talking about two weeks, but we’ve heard that song before. There’s a lot of torque to a baseball swing and we don’t know how his back will respond to that stress.

It is premature to discuss where Wright will hit in the order when he returns, just as it is too soon to assume he’ll be back in two weeks and step right in.

This should come under the category of: No surprises here.

Chris Capuano pitched a strong six innings, but left today’s 4-1 victory over the Athletics with pain in his right abdomen.

There was no word from the Mets after the game whether Capuano would miss his next start.

NOTEBOOK: Pitching prospect Matt Harvey and third baseman Jefry Marte will participate in the Future’s Game as part of the All-Star festivities in Phoenix. … Mets starters have a 2.62 ERA over the last 27 games. … Second baseman Ruben Tejada is in a 2-for-29 slump. … Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee will pitch against Texas this weekend. None have faced the Rangers.

 

Jun 01

Today in Mets History: Sign of things to come in 1969.

SWOBODA: One of the Amazins.

There were signs prior to their showdown series against the Cubs that 1969 had the potential to be a breakout, if not special season.

The Mets always had their troubles against the Giants, and finding little ways to win was never their forte. However, on this day in 1969 the Mets completed a three-game sweep of San Francisco at Shea Stadium, winning 5-4 on Ron Swoboda’s bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning.

BOX SCORE

Swoboda signed with the Mets after playing one year at the University of Maryland, and debuted with the team in 1965. Swoboda hit 15 homers by the All-Star break, but finished the season with 19, then a Mets’ rookie record (broken by Darryl Strawberry in 1983).

For all his strength, Swoboda never became a big time home run hitter and finished his career with 73. He will always be remembered for hitting a pair of two-run homers off Steve Carlton, Sept. 15, 1969, and robbing Brooks Robinson of extra bases with a diving catch in right field in Game 4 of the World Series.

SWOBODA CAREER STATS