Jan 26

Small-Market Brewers Shame Mets

The Milwaukee Brewers have long been regarded as a small-market franchise while the Mets play in the country’s largest market. Yet, events over the past 24 hours paint the two franchises with different brushes: The Brewers as a team that wants to win while the Mets continue to take the cheap way out and give their fans no reason to come out this summer.

In a span of less than two hours last night the Brewers engineered a trade for outfielder Christian Yelich, a budding superstar, and then signed outfielder Lorenzo Cain to the largest free-agent contract of the winter.

Either of those moves separately would have improved the Mets, who yesterday signed Jose Reyes for $2 million to play a utility infield role if they sign either Todd Frazier or Neil Walker or Eduardo Nunez.  Any of those three combined with Reyes won’t substantially elevate the Mets to contending status.

As of now, the Mets can only be projected to finish ahead of Derek Jeter’s dumpster fire in Miami, who had scuttled their team to save money. In addition to the revenue the Marlins will make from the television networks, they will get another $50 million from the sale of MLB Advanced Media.

So, what Jeter is doing is what George Steinbrenner always hated – and something he always accused the Mets of doing – which is pocket the money derived from the networks and revenue sharing and not put it back into improving the team.

The Brewers ponied up four prospects for Yelich and $80 million over five years for Cain, prices that would force GM Sandy Alderson hang up the phone.

 

 

Dec 22

Wilpon Has No Reason To Resent Yankees

I admit, I laughed out loud when I read The Post’s article on how Mets owner Fred Wilpon was “irate’’ after hearing about the Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton in a trade with Miami.

Anything the Yankees do money wise paints the Mets in a bad, if not embarrassing light, because it highlights their penny-pinching ways and reluctance to make any high-profile moves.

WILPON: No reason to be angry at Yanks. (Getty)

WILPON: No reason to be angry at Yanks. (Getty)

Wilpon doesn’t believe the Yankees can sustain their spending, which is what envious owners have said since George Steinbrenner purchased the team from CBS in the early 1970s.

It’s a foolish belief.

I don’t buy the Wilpons are afraid to spend, because after all, their Opening Day payroll last season was $154 million. That’s post-Ponzi spending, mind you. But, now there appears a reluctance

The problem is the Mets don’t spend wisely and they’ve been stung by their last three $100-million plus contracts – Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright and Johan Santana – were injured, as is their vaunted rotation.

Even though the Mets are two years removed from the World Series – and the Yankees were last there in 2009 – the latter is a lot closer to returning than the former. And, that was even before the Stanton trade, and even if they don’t get Gerit Cole from the Pirates.

Instead, the news this offseason about the dysfunctional Mets have made a franchise icon – Ed Kranepool – unwelcome, but have re-hired former GM Omar Minaya back to act as a special assistant to GM Sandy Alderson.

Both are head-scratching moves, but what isn’t was hearing of Fred Wilpon’s ire directed at the Yankees.

That’s something he has control over.

Mar 10

Let’s See More Of Fred Wilpon

One figured Mets owner Fred Wilpon would be around Tradition Field Monday afternoon considering commissioner Rob Manfred was in Port St. Lucie.

What you didn’t expect was for Wilpon to talk with manager Terry Collins in his office for about 20 minutes after the game. Collins said Wilpon would be a regular presence during spring training.

WILPON: Let's see his fire.

WILPON: Let’s see his fire.

Let’s hope so. And, let’s hope he doesn’t fade once the season starts.

“He expects it to be a much better team. There’s no doubt about that,’’ Collins told reporters Monday. “He told me two weeks ago, ‘Look, I’m going to be here a lot – a lot,’ where, in the past, he’d come in and he’d be gone for a week or 10 days.’’

I really want to see that, and deep down, I believe Mets fans want to see more of the owner.

Collins said he and Wilpon discussed the rising number of walks (36 over the last 61 innings); the left-handed hole in the bullpen; and the roster composition. Normal stuff, but things you’re also wondering about, right?

I covered the Yankees for over eight years and tracking down George Steinbrenner was a daily chore. It was often fruitless, but there were times, such as when he ripped Hideki Irabu and forced the team to wait in the clubhouse for over three hours to delay a flight to Los Angeles, that it made for an interesting day.

A Steinbrenner explosion kept the Yankees on the back pages for three or four days. There was no owner like Steinbrenner, who not only left his mark on the Yankees, but baseball as well.

I don’t expect Wilpon to be that visible, or vocal … or cantankerous, for that matter. However, this is his team and I want to see fire from him. I know he as other financial interests, but the Mets are his most high profile venture by far. I want him to show Mets fans he’s really into his team. I want to see him sit in the stands and mingle with the fans.

People say Wilpon is passionate about baseball and the Mets. I want to see that feistiness. If the Mets lose three straight to the Nationals this summer, I want Wilpon to make a headline. When Wilpon speaks, people will listen and I want him to be a presence at Citi Field.

Several weeks ago I wrote a piece on what Wilpon could say to make people want to care about the Mets. Well, I want to see his passion about the Mets. If he does that, well, then maybe that’s his message to the fans that he cares.

Feb 20

Mets Should Cherish Own History And Forget Yankees

I keep reading how this is the time for the New York Mets to “take control of the city and make this their town.’’

That’s an impossible venture based on history as the Yankees have a huge head start. I’ve been told this was once a National League town, but how can this be if the Yankees usually won?

METS: Their own history is pretty good. (MLB)

METS: Their own history is pretty good. (MLB)

Math says the Yankees have 27 World Series titles while the New York Mets, Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers won a combined eight. I was never good at math in school, but understand those numbers.

Only the 1921, 1922 Giants and 1955 Dodgers beat the Yankees head-to-head in a World Series.

The Mets will never take permanent control of the city. Just as the Jets won’t take it from the Giants; the Nets from the Knicks; and Islanders from the Rangers.

Those teams will always be the younger brother.

But, that doesn’t mean for one glorious summer, or two, or three, the Mets can’t be New York’s darlings. It happened in 1969 and 1986. But, temper that because from then to the present the Yankees won seven titles.

The Yankees’ mission statement always has been to win the World Series. That hasn’t changed since George Steinbrenner’s passing and won’t as long as long as the team remains in that family. The Mets want to win, but that’s not their mission statement. And, for readers of this blog who have long complained about their spending, you understand that concept. Worry about the perception of who owns the city once the Mets change their philosophy.

I’m not interested in the Mets catching the Yankees. That’s beating their head against a brick wall. What I am interested in is seeing the Mets catch the Washington Nationals, St. Louis and whoever comes out of the West.

You can also throw in the Braves and Marlins in that group. Those are their real rivals. The Mets and Mets’ fans should keep their eyes on the real prize, which is winning their corner of the world.

I didn’t grow up here, but can’t count the number of times I’ve walked through the concourses at Shea Stadium and Citi Field after a Mets’ victory and heard fans chant, “Yankees suck.’’ And this wasn’t after an interleague game with them. Why couldn’t they enjoy what they had just seen? Somebody please explain that to me.

Boston fans did the same for years. Even at a Patriots’ Super Bowl rally Bostonians chanted “Yankees suck.’’ I also heard it when the Red Sox finally won as I walked from Busch Stadium back to my St. Louis hotel.

The Mets – and I include Mets’ fans in this – should ignore what the Yankees are doing and take care of their own business. If they do that, they’ll own the damned back pages of the tabloids. It’s the hot team, the one that makes the most noise, that grab the back pages.

Growing up in Cleveland, Indians’ fans had that same fascination with the Yankees. I always thought it was acknowledging an inferiority complex. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Yankees’ Joneses and take care of your own house and you’ll get the attention.

The Mets will never convert a true Yankees’ fan just as the opposite is true. But, for one summer they can get those straddling the fence to find their way to Queens instead of the Bronx.

The Mets have their own history and it is worth cherishing. Never forget that.

 

Feb 19

My Favorite Spring Training Memories

For a baseball writer spring training can be a magical time. My first was in 1991, when I covered the Orioles. There was also time in Florida with the Yankees and Mets. All produced keeper memories, which flooded back this morning.

Things weren’t as stressful with the Orioles, mostly because there was only three or four writers. We showed up early, got our stories, wrote and played basketball. Larry Lucchino, then the Orioles president, played and chewed me out when I didn’t pass him the ball.

After that, it was usually seafood, a movie or the dog track. One night, Jim Henneman from the Baltimore Sun and his friend, nicknamed “Smoothie,’’ hosted us. We pooled our money and gave it to Smoothie to wager. Just as Smoothie was leaving the table, Rick Vaughn, the PR director of the Orioles, deadpanned: “I can’t believe we just gave all our money to a guy named Smoothie.’’

Another time Mark Maske of the Washington Post and Peter Schmuck of the Sun and I were talking with reliever Arthur Rhodes, who could hit triple digits. Maske asked Rhodes if he were to throw 100 fastballs how many times do you think we’d make contact?

He said, “Maybe 10 to 15. … What about you?’’

I was thinking maybe a foul tip.

But, it isn’t always smooth. Once a delicate story broke in the morning, but worked itself out during the game. Later, the Orioles manager, the late Johnny Oates, told us of the changing development. We were circled around him and he asked if we had a problem changing the story.

Nobody had an issue. When Oates got to me, I simply said, “I guess I have some rewriting to do.’’

What followed was a loud crash when Oates kicked a chair and screamed, “I knew it. I knew you’d be the one to write it.’’

He didn’t get I wasn’t going to print the original version. I simply turned and walked away as there was no purpose getting into it with him in public. As I was leaving the clubhouse, Brady Anderson said, “don’t worry about it, you’ve arrived when the manager rips into you.’’

Another Orioles favorite was Mike Mussina, who passed time with a six-by-three foot crossword puzzle in the corner.

Maybe my most memorable spring was spending nine straight weeks at the Tampa Westshore Marriott during the strike in 1995. It was like being Norm from Cheers, as everybody at the front desk greeted me by name. A supervisor even tried to get me my own parking spot.

The Yankees and Mets are different animals.

You arrive with a plan that often never materializes. In the spring of 1999, I had a plan every morning, but followed through maybe five or six times. That was when Joe DiMaggio died. Then, one day we were writing about Darryl Strawberry’s cancer when a Yankee staffer gave us a release that Joe Torre left the team to be treated for prostate cancer.

That day didn’t end until close to midnight.

That was the spring George Steinbrenner called Hideki Irabu “a fat pussy toad.’’ The Yankees were to fly to Los Angeles that day for an exhibition series with the Dodgers. Steinbrenner huddled with GM Brian Cashman, interim manager Don Zimmer and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre for hours on what to do with Irabu, who triggered it all by failing to cover first base for the second time in as many starts.

The meeting lasted so long the Yankees had pizza delivered to the clubhouse.

I should have known what kind of spring it was going to be when on the first day the Yankees traded David Wells for Roger Clemens.

The Yankees beat was always competitive, made more so by the daily Steinbrenner watch. It was by luck one day I caught him coming in from the parking lot. He answered a couple of questions and then spent ten minutes talking college basketball.

Say what you will about Steinbrenner, but he was colorful and brought something to the table. He could be infuriating, but you had to wait him out. The worst words a Yankees writer could hear on his voice mail was, “John, George Steinbrenner returning your call.’’

You knew you weren’t going to get him a second time.

Meanwhile, Jeff Wilpon, for his part is accessible. Fred Wilpon usually holds court once a spring, and once uttered the words “playing meaningful baseball in September.”

With the Mets, many stories are gathered on the backfields. That was when I met Sandy Koufax. I knew I wasn’t going to get questions answered, but told him of when my dad took me to Shea Stadium and said to me, “you need to see this guy pitch.’’

He asked what I remembered and I sheepishly told him Wes Covington homered and the Mets won. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Yeah, I remember that, too.’’

I will always love Koufax for that.

And, I’ll always love the promise of spring training.