Feb 14

Jim Fregosi Dies; Always Part Of Mets’ Lore

It was sad to hear the passing of Jim Fregosi, 71, Friday in a Miami hospital. Fregosi, a long-time All-Star shortstop with the Angels and 1,000-game winner as a manager, will always be a part of New York Mets lore.

When the Mets’ worst trades are revisited, the trade to acquire Fregosi for Nolan Ryan goes down as one of the two worst, with the dealing of Tom Seaver to the Reds as the other.

Fregosi (c) with Ken Boswell (l) and Wayne Garrett (r).

Fregosi (c) with Ken Boswell (l) and Wayne Garrett (r).

When Fregosi’s 146 games played with the Mets in 1972-73 are compared to Ryan’s combined 324 victories and 5,714 strikeouts, it understandably goes down as one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, but in fairness, a trade must be examined with the circumstances of the time.

It is never black and white.

After the 1971 season, they were two years removed from their Miracle Mets season and trying to regain their spot among baseball’s elite. They already had the foundation with a solid rotation of Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Jon Matlack and Jim McAndrew.

What the Mets didn’t have was right-handed power and a third baseman, of which they used six different from 1969. Fregosi, 30 at the time, was supposed to fill those voids, and all it would cost the Mets was Ryan, who owned a combined 19-24 record and was coming off 10-14 season in 1971.

Off the field, Ryan also had a dislike of New York City, and on the mound a propensity for wildness and a lingering blister problem. With their rotation, Fregosi’s background and Ryan’s baggage and disappointing numbers, it was easy to see why the Mets made the deal.

The Mets reached the World Series in 1973, but by that time Fregosi’s skills had deteriorated and he had become a role player. He played in 31 games that year before his contract was purchased by Texas in July.

Nobody could foresee the career paths of Fregosi and Ryan, but at the time, it was good and necessary gamble for the Mets to take. Who would have thought Ryan would go on to win 305 games?

After leaving the Mets, Fregosi played five more seasons with Texas and Pittsburgh but never approached his All-Star status, and then embarked on an 18-year managerial career with the Angels, White Sox, Philadelphia and Blue Jays, compiling a 1,028-1,094 record that included taking the 1993 Phillies to the World Series.

“Everyone in the Phillies organization is deeply saddened about the news of Jim’s passing. We, and so many others in the game, have lost a dear friend,’’ club president David Montgomery said in a statement. “He’ll be remembered for his vibrant personality, wisdom and love of the game.’’

That personality and wisdom was evident during spring training, as he became a fixture in ballparks throughout Florida as a scout. Fregosi, who suffered a stroke during a Major League Baseball alumni cruise Thursday, was preparing for another spring training as an assistant with the Braves.

Spring training, which begins this week, was Fregosi’s time as he entertained fellow scouts and club executives with his stories, and informed writers from his 50-year career.

Whether it was in the stadium lunchroom, press box or on the field, if you wanted to laugh or know something, you sought out Fregosi.

 

Feb 02

Mets Vs. Jets: Which 1969 Championship Had The Most Impact?

Regardless of the outcome of today’s Super Bowl, it won’t be a defining upset in the way the New York Jets’ stunner over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Of course, that was the Joe Namath Super Bowl, the one in which unfortunately Johnny Unitas didn’t make an appearance until it was too late. Namath played a brilliant game that eventually carried him to the Hall of Fame. Without that victory, I don’t know if Namath makes it to Canton.

NAMATH: Led Jets to historic upset.

NAMATH: Led Jets to historic upset.

The Jets’ victory over the Colts is arguably one of sports’ greatest upsets. Several months later there was another, courtesy of another New York team, when the Mets stunned the Orioles in five games in the 1969 World Series.

As the Colts were overwhelming favorites, so too were the Orioles. Both, were stuffed.

So, which was the more surprising? Which was the most significant?

The Mets’ championship was harder to attain because they had to overcome a supposed superior opponent four times instead of once.

In one game, anything can happen, like the Colts throwing four interceptions and Earl Morrall not seeing a wide-open Jimmy Orr at the end of the first half. If one or two plays had been different, the Colts might have prevailed.

Given a football game can change on one or two plays, in retrospect the Jets’ victory is more easily comprehendible than it was in the hours after final gun in the Orange Bowl.

Sure, the odds were long, but throughout history – in all sports – teams have played the perfect game to orchestrate upsets in all sports.

However, in looking at the Mets, they won 100 games that season, so while their first trip to the playoffs was surprising, they were not a fluke team. By the time they overtook the Chicago Cubs, there was an inkling this was going to be a special team.

The 1969 Mets had one of history’s greatest pitching staffs, won their division going away and crushed Atlanta in the playoffs. Then, they dismissed the Orioles in five games, shutting down a crushing offense with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, and an array of clutch offensive performers – Donn Clendenon for one – and defensive gems – Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda.

Clearly, the Jets’ victory was the most significant as it drove the merger between the established NFL and the AFL. The Jets’ victory might also have been the most stunning because they needed to catch lightning in a bottle to upset a superior opponent.

But, the Mets, while their title was an upset, in hindsight they were a lot better than history might remember them.

Apr 23

John Buck: From Trade Bait To Indispensable?

Several times this season John Buck’s fast start fueled speculation that with Travis d’Arnaud’s promotion the Mets might deal him at the trade deadline.

After all, who doesn’t want a hot-hitting catcher who calls a crisp game behind the plate? Most every team would and that includes the Mets, who, along with Buck exceeded early expectations.

BUCK: Proving very valuable.

BUCK: Proving very valuable.

It’s not as if Buck has gone from trade bait to indispensable, but he isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And, that has more to do than with d’Arnaud’s broken foot that will keep him out for two months. Buck is simply the Mets’ best offensive weapon and has been solid behind the plate, drawing raves from Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.

However, manager Terry Collins said it best: “John Buck seems to be in the middle of everything that’s good right now.’’

Buck homered in the Mets’ 2-0 victory over Washington Sunday, a comprehensive display of the fastest start of his career. There was the homer, giving him seven and a league-high 22 RBI, but also his defense and the game he called for Dillon Gee.

The Mets’ pride is their young pitchers, and Buck could be the same steading influence Jerry Grote once was to Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack.

Harvey has been the darling at 4-0 and a sub-1.00 ERA, swears by Buck. There’s no way the Mets break up that duo.

Harvey said he’s shaken off Buck maybe five or six times this year ins describing the same instinctual chemistry a quarterback would have with his best receiver.

“He already knows what’s coming,’’ Harvey said. “It’s really fun every time I take the mound and see him back there. It’s just positive energy. It’s more fuel.’’

It’s not luck or coincidence that has Buck putting down the correct fingers. It’s the culmination of hard work spent in the first nine years of his career. He keeps copious notes on his pitchers and opposing hitters, and they complement the game plan drawn up by pitching coach Dan Warthen.

On the day of the game Buck meets early with Warthen and the pitcher to go over the scouting reports and film. Later, he’ll meet with the pitcher privately. However, he talks to all the pitchers throughout the week, not just on the days they start. The communication is constantly flowing.

Harvey said Buck’s preparation is inspirational to the point where he’ll incorporate what he’s learned throughout his career.

“He knows what the hitters are going to do,’’ said Harvey. “The studying that he does and the video that he watches and the plan that he comes up with for each individual pitcher, it’s something that I’m learning still. And it’s awesome.’’

Buck and d’Arnaud’s lockers were side-by-side in spring training, and it wasn’t by accident, either.

“I like to pick his brain,’’ d’Arnaud said this spring. “He’s very easy to talk with and I’ve learned a lot from being around him.’’

Buck said in spring training he understood he was brought here to help d’Arnaud and that attitude hasn’t changed despite the latter’s injury. It’s not as if when he heard the news he moved out of his apartment and bought a house.

“My stance is still the same,’’ Buck said. “I truly feel if I do good, then he does good. I’ve been around too much to take positive thoughts out of something bad happening to someone else. … Until someone tells me otherwise, I’ll just keep going about my business.’’

Nobody will be telling Buck otherwise any time soon.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Mar 07

Harvey And d’Arnaud Could Be A Long Time Team

Matt Harvey in PSL (Photo credit: Larry Marano, NY Post)There’s a twinge of anticipation this morning as Matt Harvey gets the ball today against the Miami Marlins. Stephen Strasburg is an exceptional talent in Washington, but in Harvey the Mets also have a young arm this franchise can build around.

If there’s one thing the Mets are noted for it is the development of young pitchers. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden and now Harvey.

How long, or now successful he will become is one of baseball’s delightful mysteries because this could be the start of something special.

“I am excited about getting the chance to work and grow with him,’’ said catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, who isn’t in the lineup today against the Marlins “It has been fun so far.’’

Harvey is coming off a start in which he and d’Arnaud were crossed up, but there was a show of poise on both parts as they met at the mound to get their signs correct.

“It’s a matter of trust,’’ d’Arnaud said. “He has to trust what I put down, and he has to trust himself that it is the right pitch.’’

Continue reading

Nov 12

Mets Rookie Of The Year Winners: Seaver, Matlack, Strawberry And Gooden

SEAVER: When it all started (TOPPS)

In explaining part of the Mets’ problems over the years, consider they haven’t produced a Rookie of the Year in nearly three decades, which is a substantial drought.

(Sorry, but I can’t resist: Jason Bay won it while with Pittsburgh in 2004.)

The Mets have produced four Rookies of the Year: Dwight Gooden (1984), Darryl Strawberry (1983), Jon Matlack (1972) and Tom Seaver (1967).

All four played in a World Series for the Mets.

Seaver, of course, is the Crown Jewel of Mets rookies. After winning in 1967, Seaver went on to be a 12-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner.

Seaver is the lone Mets’ Hall of Famer and the only player to have his number retired by the team. In the karma that can only be the Mets, Seaver’s no-hitter and 300th career victory were achieved with other teams, Cincinnati and the Chicago White Sox.

Seaver remains an ambassador to the Mets and the most beloved player.

Seaver averaged 16 victories a season from 1967-1986. He ended his career with the Red Sox, but fate wasn’t too cruel to have him pitch against the Mets in the 1986 World Series.

Seaver won at least 20 games five times, three times led the National League in ERA, and finished his career at 311-205 with a 2.86 ERA.

Matlack was an underrated lefty, perhaps best known as the answer to the trivia question: Which pitcher gave up Roberto Clemente’s 3000th and final hit?

Matlack is one of those players who didn’t live up to the expectations, finishing his career at 125-126, but with a 3.18 ERA that indicates a general lack of support. He never became “the next Jerry Koosman.’’

Strawberry and Gooden personified the Mets in the 1980’s, a widely talented team that, like the two players, underperformed. Strawberry and Gooden were to dominate for years, win multiple World Series and individual awards and ride off into the Hall of Fame together.

Gooden finished at 194-11 and a 3.51 ERA, but after the 1986 World Series title, he spun out of control and tested positive for cocaine. He later developed shoulder problems, which some attribute to a heavy workload early in his career.

Labeled, “the next Ted Williams,’’ early in his career, Strawberry was one of the few players you had to stop and watch when he came to the plate. An eight-time All-Star, Strawberry was a lifetime .259 hitter with 335 homers and 1,000 RBI.

In addition to playing with the Mets and Yankees, Strawberry also played with the Dodgers and Giants, the other two teams with New York roots.