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

Feb 20

Strikeouts Do Matter For Mets

After writing about the high strikeout rates of Ike Davis, Chris Young and Lucas Duda, I received a question asking why my concern over strikeouts, with the reader saying, “there’s no difference between a strikeout and a soft grounder to second.’’

He couldn’t be more wrong.

First, a strikeout is a non-productive out, but much more can happen on a grounder to second, especially with less than two outs.

A grounder to second, or anywhere in the infield, or a fly ball, has the potential to create something positive while nothing can be generated from a strikeout unless the ball gets by the catcher. And, unless R.A. Dickey is pitching, how often does that happen?

A runner can score on a grounder to second. He can’t on a strikeout.

Also, with a soft grounder to second, there’s a chance the ball could get through for a hit or the fielder could muff it for an error. Either way, it leads to a base runner and potential run, or if there’s a runner on second or third, it could generate a run.

See the difference?

In addition, a grounder can advance a runner into scoring position.

When I once asked Davis about his propensity for striking out, he said, “I am a home run hitter. I like to hit home runs. Strikeouts are part of it.’’

Until he changes that attitude, he’ll never be a viable hitter.

I realize times have changed, but to me one of the most incredible statistics in history is that during his 13-year career, Joe DiMaggio hit 361 home runs, but only struck out 369 times.

Arguably, that might be more impressive than his 56-game hitting streak.

Carrying it a step further, last year the Mets struck out 1,384 times, or 8.5 times a game. Translated, they went a third of the game without making contact.

Still wonder why I think it’s a big deal?

Jan 08

Tom Glavine Gets Into Hall; Examining The Process

The baseball writers got it both right and wrong with the today’s Hall of Fame announcement, and in the process issued a strong statement on the PED issue.

The no-brainers were Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas; three dominant players that did it cleanly. Glavine played for the New York Mets, as did Mike Piazza, who fell short again.

GLAVINE: Bound for Cooperstown.

GLAVINE: Bound for Cooperstown.

Maddux, Glavine and John Smoltz – the latter will be eligible next year – were the driving force behind those Atlanta teams that dominated the National League for nearly 15 years. Their manager was Bobby Cox, who will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.

While the bulk of Glavine’s numbers were compiled with the Braves, he won his 300th game as a Met, and this afternoon reflected on his time in Queens.

“I would summarize it as a great five years of my career,’’ said Glavine, who was 61-56 with a 3.97 ERA in 164 starts as a Met. Of those starts, 56 were in games he either lost or took a no-decision while giving up three or fewer runs.

“I had a lot of fun in New York,’’ Glavine continued. “I certainly made a lot of great friends there as teammates and people within the organization. It was a fun five years, albeit a tough five years at times for my family with me being gone. But it was a fun five years for them. It was a great experience being in New York and playing in New York. It’s an experience, I think, every player should have.

“I’ll always have fond memories for the Mets organization for the opportunity, but also because I won my 300th game in their uniform. That’s something I certainly will never forget.’’

Unfortunately, many Mets fans – and some in the media – won’t forget Glavine’s last game when he didn’t make it out of the first inning in the 2007 season finale. That season the Mets lost a seven-game lead with 17 to play.

“On behalf of everyone at the Mets, we congratulate Tom Glavine on his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame,’’ Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said. “We are proud that Tom won his 300th game as a Met and were fortunate to have him on our club. His excellence as a player is equaled by his excellence as a person.’’

While Glavine’s outing that afternoon represents a black cloud in Mets’ history, Piazza’s homer against Atlanta in the first game played in New York following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, authored one the franchise’s golden moments.

Piazza gained percentage points in the balloting, rising from 57.8 percent last year to 62.2 percent. That could be an encouraging sign.

“On behalf of the organization and our fans, Mike is a true Hall of Famer,’’ Wilpon said. “We proudly display his plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame, and we’re hopeful that he’ll soon have one hanging in Cooperstown.’’

It might happen eventually for Piazza, but it should happen next year for Craig Biggio, who has over 3,000 career hits, of which 1,104 were for extra bases. That’s more than Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.

Biggio actually has only 14 fewer extra-base hits than Thomas, whom many considered a slamdunk. Thomas was an outspoken critic of PED usage as a player and reiterated his position today.

“I’ve got to take the right stance, too,’’ Thomas said. “No, they shouldn’t get in. There shouldn’t be cheating allowed to get into the Hall of Fame.

“What I did was real that’s why I’ve got this smile on my face right now because of the writers. They definitely got it right.’’

Biggio is one I believe the writers got wrong. Also, Piazza. The others are debatable. Biggio should be rectified next year as he only fell two votes shy.

It’s unlikely Piazza will make up the percentage points needed to reach the mandatory 75 percent by next year. While there is no documented link to PED use by Piazza, steroids remained a hot button issue, one not likely to go away soon.

Roger Clemens dropped from 37.6 to 35.4 percent of the vote; Barry Bonds fell from 36.2 to 34.7 percent; Sammy Sosa went from 16.9 to 11.0 percent; and Rafael Palmeiro dropped off the ballot completely, going from 8.8 to 4.4 percent.

I did not vote for any player linked to PEDs either by failing a drug test, being named on a MLB sanctioned survey, such as the Mitchell Report; or one accused on the record by another player with proof.

This did not apply to Piazza or Jeff Bagwell. It does to Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Sosa.

While there is no mandate from the Hall of Fame or Major League Baseball banning PED users, there is one regarding gambling which applies to Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

PED use is a tangled mess in large part because it had tacit approval from Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig for allowing its use after the 1994-95 strike season – which killed the World Series in 1994 – in an effort to jack up attendance.

Some writers, such as myself, won’t vote for anybody with a PED link, but will submit an honest ballot after considerable research.

What irks me most about the process are writers who make a joke of their ballot. One Los Angeles-based writer submitted one name, Jack Morris, but ignoring 300-game winners Maddux and Glavine. What about the other nine slots? If you’re going to take the effort to vote in Morris, as I also did, how come you couldn’t find another worthy candidate?

Then there is Dan Le Batard, who gave his vote to Deadspin in form of protest. The Baseball Writers Association is researching ways to improve the process, for example allowing more than ten votes.

One suggestion I have would be to suspend Le Batard’s vote. It’s a privilege to vote, one earned after ten consecutive years in the BBWAA. It’s not a joke as Le Batard made his out to be.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Jan 06

Remembering Jerry Coleman; A Baseball Player And Human Treasure

Most every organization has their own Ralph Kiner, a legendary figure who didn’t carve out his career with the New York Mets, but became to define the franchise in the broadcast booth.

The San Diego Padres’ Kiner was Jerry Coleman, who played second base for the Yankees, spanning the end of the Joe DiMaggio and beginning of the Mickey Mantle eras. He was so much more than a guy who showed up at Yankees’ Old Timers Game and prompted kids to ask their fathers, “who is that?”

COLEMAN: Good player; great person.

COLEMAN: Good player; great person.

I never saw him play, but heard him on the radio numerous times and learned of his malapropos. Ralph isn’t the only one to make you scratch your heads and wonder, “what did he just say?’’

One of the perks in covering the Yankees and Mets was getting to meet and talk to the players I grew up watching and only heard about. Coleman was one of those men.

I’m a World War II history buff and was fascinated to learn of his record as a pilot in both World War II and Korea. He flew well over 100 combined missions in those wars.

I forget the year, but was with the Mets in San Diego and wanted to meet him. I was told he would be at the park early, so I showed up well before game time, knocked on the door to the Padres’ broadcast booth, introduced my myself and asked if I could get ten minutes with him sometime during the series.

Almost an hour-and-a-half later I left the Padres’ booth with a full notebook and my head swimming.

We talked about his career and military service. We talked about playing baseball in 1940s and 1950s New York. We talked about the evolution of baseball radio play-by-play. We talked for over an hour before I got around to asking him about DiMaggio and the guy I really wanted to ask him about, which was Mantle. I was always a Mantle guy.

What I remember most was his sense of humor and his warmth. His humility and passion for the sport was evident. I was there to ask about him, but he asked about me. I got the feeling he was genuinely interested and it made me feel good. Those I later spoke with said “that’s typical of Jerry.”

Later, I talked to several Padres’ writers who weren’t short on stories. Regretfully, I didn’t do my story justice in relation to the time he so generously gave me.

Like I said, meeting Jerry Coleman and others like him is one the best perks of the job. Baseball is loaded with personalities and characters like Jerry Coleman. I’ve met many, and would like to talk to many others. Regretfully, there are many more I will never get the chance.

The Hall of Fame announcements will be Wednesday, and I am proud I have a vote. Coleman was not a Hall of Fame player, but he was a Hall of Fame person and I am so fortunate to have met him.

I was saddened to learn of his passing over the weekend. Others who knew him well will have words that would do him greater justice. I simply want to say I was glad to meet him and express my sympathies to his friends and family.

You were lucky to have such a treasure in your lives.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

May 25

Ike Davis Needs The Minor Leagues Now

The Mets said they need more time to get an understanding of what’s going on with Ike Davis in order to make a decision on what to do with him

From Sandy Alderson on down these are professional baseball people with decades of experience. How can they not know Davis isn’t giving them anything; that he’s in a horrendous slump with shattered confidence?

DAVIS: One of four walks back to the dugout.

DAVIS: One of four walks back to the dugout.

Manager Terry Collins doesn’t know how much longer the Mets can live with Davis’ non-production, especially since they are getting little elsewhere.

“I know it’s wearing on him,’’ Collins told reporters Friday night. “I talk to these guys every day. I know it’s wearing on him.’’

It’s not as Davis isn’t working hard. Perhaps too hard.

“He took batting practice when they stopped the game.’’ Collins said. “He got in the cage. So I know it’s wearing on him. These players get to the big leagues because they’re very talented guys. They haven’t had to deal with much failure in their whole lives. When you deal with what he’s going through right now, it’s pretty hard to take it, because you’ve never been there before.’’

Davis said he needs to figure it out on this level and won’t get anything out of playing in the minor leagues. This is his primary problem. Like an alcoholic won’t get better until he admits to a problem, Davis won’t improve until he admits he needs reconstructive hitting surgery.

Major League pitchers, even mediocre ones, smell a hitter’s weaknesses and Davis has plenty. He’s vulnerable to fastballs high and breaking pitches low and away, meaning unless Davis gets a grooved fastball down the middle he’s not going to do anything. He didn’t get anything Friday night, striking out all four times. It was his third four-strikeout game this season, and has fallen to .143 in a 1-for-42 slide.

Slumps such Davis’ can make or break a player. Mickey Mantle slumped early in his career and considered quitting before his father lectured him. Mantle figured it out in the minor leagues and developed into one of the game’s greatest players.

Davis is on pace to strike out 195 times, but give the Mets only 15 homers, and worse, just 33 RBI. He already has 53 strikeouts compared to a combined 37 hits and walks. In just 1,318 career at-bats in 382 games, he has a staggering 363 strikeouts.

By contrast, Joe DiMaggio is known for his 56-game hitting streak, but nearly almost impressive in his 13-year career are just 369 strikeouts with 361 home runs.

Yes, the game has changed since DiMaggio’s time. There’s no longer a stigma to striking out, but it is as if Davis doesn’t care. Here is where he and other players today are simply wrong in their approach and aren’t being trained properly in developing a sound hitting plan. Despite today’s huge individual contracts, this remains a team sport. Strikeouts are a wasted at bat, where so many potential things can happen – including more hits, homers and RBI – when a ball is put into play.

I don’t care if it is Zach Lutz, or Josh Satin, who is not on the 40-man roster, or Wilmer Flores, who is no getting a start at first base at Triple-A Las Vegas, but somebody has to play first base for the Mets until Davis gets his head, and swing, straight.

This is long overdue, as the right time was over a month ago.