Dec 08

Hodges Falls Short Of Hall Again

What you and I both expected came to fruition when Gil Hodges was not inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veterans committee; in fact, no players from the Golden Era were elected.

An eight-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, Hodges was instrumental in leading the Dodgers to seven NL pennants and two World Series titles.

To Mets’ fans, he’ll always be the recalled as the manager who guided the team to the 1969 World Series championship.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough for the voters. Damn.

Nov 06

Hodges Belongs In The Hall

It’s time Gil Hodges went to Cooperstown.

It’s that time of year when the Hall of Fame ballots come out, and recently the Hall of Fame released ten candidates from the Golden Era (1947-72). Joining Hodges, who is in the running for consideration for the ninth year are: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, executive Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.

HODGES: Hall worthy.

HODGES: Hall worthy.

Unfortunately, I only vote in the annual balloting and not on this committee. Otherwise, I would vote for Hodges and Kaat.

I’m not a big believer of comparing eras because the conditions differ from era to era. I look at it as how that player fared in his time, and The Boys Of Summer aren’t the same without Hodges. Very few players transcend eras, such as Babe Ruth.

He hit 370 homers with 1,274 RBI despite missing two years serving in World War II. Using today’s stats, he also had a .359 on-base percentage and .846 OPS. Hodges averaged 29 homers and 100 during his 18-year career – which included the Mets in 1962 and 1963 – but never once struck out 100 times. He also won three Gold Gloves.

Of all the great Hodges stories, the one that stands out most was when fans in Brooklyn went to church to pray for him during the 1952 World Series.

Hodges was known for his quiet dignity, best exemplified when he walked out to left field to remove Cleon Jones from a July game in 1969 for not hustling.

There was no argument from Jones and neither hashed it out in the papers, either. Can you imagine that today, in any sport? Many Mets followers said the incident sparked their pennant run.

To this day, Tom Seaver chokes up when he talks about Hodges, calling him the key behind the 1969 Miracle Mets’ championship run.

Here’s hoping Seaver chokes up again when Hodges’ name is finally called.

Jun 06

Piersall Touches Them All… Backwards

Jim Piersall is one of dozens of major leaguers who played with the Mets at the tail end of his career. And, what a memorable career it was. He wasn’t always spectacular, but he was entertaining, such as on this date in 1963 while with the Mets he celebrated his 100th career homer by rounding the bases backwards.

PIERSALL: Magical Mystery Tour

While there are some pretty creative prop bets created for the MLB, even sportsbooks in modern times could not have predicted what happened next. Two days later he was released by manager Casey Stengel, who said of him: “He’s great, but you have to play him in a cage.’’

He wasn’t a Hall of Fame player, but definitely a Hall of Fame personality and character, who suffered from bipolar disorder was committed to a mental hospital in 1952. His experience led to his autobiography, “Fear Strikes Out,’’ which became a movie.

In his book, Piersall wrote: “Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Whoever heard of Jimmy Piersall until that happened?”

Piersall’s mother, Mary, suffered from mental illness and was committed to a sanitarium, and it wasn’t too deep in his career that her son began showing bizarre, uncontrollable behavior.

Piersall would take a bow after catches in the outfield. He brawled with Billy Martin – then again, who didn’t? – then fought with his teammate Mickey McDermott. He snorted like a pig at Satchel Paige.

Piersall’s best years were with the Red Sox, when he made two All-Star teams, including in 1956 when he hit .293 with 14 homers and 87 RBI. He hit 19 homers the following year, but after his average dropped to .237 in 1958 he was traded to Cleveland.

While with the Indians, he threw a ball at the Comiskey Park scoreboard in Chicago, and after being dusted by Yankees pitcher Jim Coates, threw his bat at him.

Piersall was eventually traded to Washington, and the Senators dealt him to the Mets for Gil Hodges.

Stengel, who managed Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, said of Piersall: “I thought Joe DiMaggio was the greatest defensive outfielder I ever saw, but I have to rate Piersall better.’’

Following his release from the Mets, Piersall signed with the Angels. After three seasons with the Angels, he was released in 1967 and eventually retired.

After he retired, Piersall bounced around baseball in several capacities, including being hired by Martin in Texas as an outfield instructor, and later as a broadcaster with the White Sox teamed with Harry Caray.

PIERSALL’s CAREER

Apr 11

Mets No Longer Lovable Losers

Well, you didn’t expect perfection, did you?

POLO GROUNDS: Where it began for the Mets.

The Mets gained the reputation as “Lovable Losers” in their infancy, which began 50 years ago today with a decisive loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Last night was also decisive, but there was nothing lovable about it as the Mets started the night with news their often-injured third baseman, David Wright, had a fractured right pinkie and is expected to be placed on the disabled list.

Then, I suppose in a page taken from the original Mets, Dillon Gee gave up a game-opening home run to Ian Desmond. We knew the Mets would eventually lose, but defeat was certain and ugly, containing butchered plays by Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda, two defensive liabilities to begin with, but not with the Marvelous Marv flair.

Gee was roughed up and the offense disappeared and their first defeat of the season was in the books. There will be others, but defeat in 2012 will be different than defeat in 1962.

Back then, New York was happy to have National League baseball back in the city and embraced the rag-tag group of veteran rejects managed by circus barker Casey Stengel. Defeat was often and came in various forms and with the Stengel proclamation: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Well, at one time, they did. At one time, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and Richie Ashburn could really play. However, 50 years ago, they represented memories in flannels.

Today’s Mets, while undermanned, have a core of young and talented players, with more on the way up. Had the original Mets taken to start with youth before veterans, who knows how the history of the franchise would have changed?

Perhaps, we might have had the Miracle Mets before 1969. Then again, the karma would have been altered. Like much about baseball, there’s fun and beauty in speculation.

The Mets celebrate 50 years this season, and we all have our memories and special moments. Mine is different than yours, but they are all special. I don’t know how this year will wind up, but it will be special in its own right because it will contain a new set of memories.

It began with a sprint out of the gate with four exciting and well-played victories, but sputtered last night with bad pitching, spotty defense and no hitting, just like it was 50 years ago.

But, it’s not 1962 anymore. The Mets have a new stadium and aren’t playing in the rundown Polo Grounds. Those Mets weren’t expected to be good, or even compete. Today’s Mets must compete, and in New York, that means winning.

 

Feb 13

Had a rough weekend.

Good afternoon folks. I was away for the weekend, but not by design as I was hospitalized.

I was in Westchester for an appointment when I fainted and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. I was crouching at the time on my cell phone, and when I stood up I got lightheaded and collapsed. When I came to, somebody had stolen my phone. There’s got to be a special section in hell for that guy.

Tests came back negative and I was released after staying overnight, but it was a wake-up call nonetheless. They couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Maybe just a freak thing, but it scared the hell out of me. When you wake up in a hallway and not know where you are, it is scary. I’m lucky they didn’t find anything serious, or it happened when I was driving.

I think about all the traveling I’ve done and how may nights I’ve been in a strange hotel. Lucky I wasn’t in some city halfway across the country.

When you’re in a hospital bed, you have time for a lot of thinking. You can’t sleep because they wake you up every two hours to take blood or test your blood pressure. And, the lights are always on and the nurses’ station is always noisy.

I thought about a lot of things, with the upcoming baseball season among them. I am working on a book I hope will be completed by the end of the season. I plan to be out at Citi Field a lot this summer working on several writing projects.  I also hope to do a lot of game stories for an Internet outlet. Looking forward to it.

Would rather be traveling full time, but I’m happy covering baseball nonetheless. It has been in my blood for a long time.

I’m also looking forward to the season with curiosity and interest. I’m trying to look past the dismal won-loss forecast and into the future. This is a tenuous period in Mets’ history with all the swirling economic and legal issues laying the groundwork for the next decade or so.

If the Wilpons fare poorly in court they could be forced to sell. Maybe they won’t be worth the $2 billion the Dodgers are reportedly valued, but the team, coupled with SNY and Citi Field will come at a high price.

If the Wilpons keep the franchise, it will be interesting to see how they dig themselves out of this hole and when will see them be viable again.

In this, the 50th anniversary of the Mets’ birth, some are writing this team could be a hapless as the 1962 team. It won’t happen.

As an expansion team, Casey Stengel’s group was a collection of veteran castoffs and lowly ranked prospects. There wasn’t a player on that team with the talent of David Wright, or the potential of Ike Davis and Jon Niese.

Today’s Mets aren’t deep in talent at the major league level and throughout the farm system, but there is talent and potential. There’s also an expanded playoff system not around in 1962, so if they catch fire, well, who knows?

People have said and written to me saying the 1969 team had low expectations and look what happened to them. True enough, and while the offensive potential of this team is greater than the 1969 team, that unit had potential based on its superior pitching. Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman gave Gil Hodges reason to believe the 1969 team would be competitive and exceed expectations.

We’re a week away from the start of spring training and over the coming days I’ll look at some of the questions and issues surrounding the Mets.

I’m anxious for another season to begin, as I am every spring and I hope you’ll share it with me.

Thanks. JD