Oct 18

Playoff Scheduling Needs Fixing

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the experience of coming from two games down to beat Cleveland in the Division Series helped them in coming back from two games down to take a three-games-to-two series lead over the Astros with the ALCS heading back to Houston.

While it could have a contributing factor, I think it is secondary to Major League Baseball’s inane playoff scheduling of 2-3-2, which in this case rewards the wild-card team of having three straight games at home.

Such a format neutralizes the home field advantage the Astros earned by winning 101 games during the regular season compared to the Yankees winning 91 games.

Isn’t having the best record supposed to stand for something?

The fairest playoff format in all sports for a seven-game playoff series is 2-2-1-1-1. Baseball doesn’t do it that way, saying it wants to cut down on cross-country travel. Seriously? In October it wants to cut down on the travel?

Beginning with the wild-card games, why do they have to be played on different dates? That’s because MLB cares more about playing as many games as possible in primetime.

Normally, that would carry some weight if we were talking about the major networks broadcasting the games. But, instead there were games telecast on four networks: FOX, FX1, TBS and MLB Network.

I wonder how much of the country missed out on some games?

For the ALCS and NLCS rounds, only four times was each league scheduled on the same date. That’s ridiculous scheduling.

It’s bad enough that if the World Series goes seven games, Game 7 will be played Nov. 1.  I know things will never go back to the way it was, and I know MLB – like all sports – cares more about placating television than the fans in the stands, but c’mon, you have to do better than this.

With some creative scheduling during the regular season, MLB could easily cut a week off the calendar and start the playoffs earlier.

For example, since we have the unbalanced schedule thanks to interleague play, have at least once a month have teams play day-night doubleheaders within the division. Three home; three away.

That would cut six days off the schedule, it would make for more off days during the season, and enable the playoffs to start a week earlier.

C’mon Manfred, be a commissioner for the game and not just the owners.

 

Oct 07

Mets’ Dismal Managerial Search

A show of hands please, who is exactly blown away by the Mets’ managerial search?

“Right now, we have a very long list,’’ GM Sandy Alderson said this week. “We will have it shortened after we have had internal discussions, and then talks with people outside the organization to make sure we have a list that is all inclusive and go from there.’’

GIRARDI: Mets should be so lucky. (AP)

GIRARDI: Mets should be so lucky. (AP)

The Mets’ current list stands at seven, which really means there’s no top candidate. Seriously, if you have seven choices you really have none. The list includes Robin Ventura, Kevin Long, Alex Cora, Joe McEwing, Sandy Alomar Jr.,, Bob Geren and Chip Hale.

From that group, who blows you away?

When Alderson said after the season those minor leaguers promoted at the end of the season – notably Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith – had holes in their game, had to make one wonder why they won’t consider Wally Backman.

Alderson’s first managerial search after the 2010 season which resulted in the hiring of Terry Collins lasted three weeks and there’s no reason to believe this one will last any shorter.

From that above group, only Ventura has had any success, and it was minimal at best, going 375-435 (.463) in five seasons with the Chicago White Sox (2012-2016). He had only one winning year, going 85-77 in his first season.

Of course, things can change, but there’s nothing on Ventura’s resume that suggests that will happen.

YANKEES FANS BACK TO NORMAL: By all accounts, the Yankees exceeded all expectations this season to reach the AL playoffs as a wild-card.

It’s premature to say the Yankees are back, but their fan base was in championship entitlement form this morning after listening to the radio call-in shows this morning, many calling for the manager’s head.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi was roasted for several decisions, beginning with pulling C.C. Sabathia after 77 pitches, but most notably for not using a challenge in the bottom of the sixth when plate umpire Dan Iassogna ruled Chad Green’s pitch clipped hitter Lonnie Chisenhall’s hand and not the bat knob as television replays did.

Chisenhall went to first to load the bases and set up Francisco Lindor’s grandslam, which pulled the Indians within 8-7.

After the game, Girardi said he didn’t challenge because he didn’t want to disrupt Green’s rhythm. It was clearly a panic response, one Girardi retracted today at Yankee Stadium.

“I screwed up,’’ Girardi told reporters today. “It’s a hard day for me, but I’ve got to move forward. … I feel horrible. Does it change the complexion of the game? Sure, it could have. … It’s a tough loss, a tough situation.’’

Girardi, of course, was ripped on social media, which was to be expected because Twitter and Instagram are the wild, wild west. However, what Girardi shouldn’t have had to endure was to get roasted by one of his own players.

Aroldis Chapman, who last year criticized how Cubs manager Joe Maddon used him in the World Series, liked an Instagram post that read: “Let’s hope Joe Girardi’s contract is not renewed after this season. He is a complete imbecile.’’

Chapman, of course, is blessed with the million-dollar arm but a 10-cent head. Here’s hoping the Yankees have the guts to fine him. The Yankees will bring back Girardi, who is a Manager of the Year candidate, but if they don’t the Mets should jump on him.

Chapman reportedly apologized, but what does it matter if it is already out there?

Reportedly, lost in all this is had Girardi challenged, it wouldn’t have been a called third strike, but the pitch would have to be replayed.

 

Aug 02

Sad Anniversary For NY Baseball Fans

NOTE: This is a Mets-oriented blog, but I sometimes venture into New York baseball and baseball in general. Today is the sad anniversary of the tragic death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson. A long time ago, I interviewed Munson’s widow, Diana, about that day a long time ago, It’s not about the Mets, but of a New York baseball icon. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Thanks. John

****

It was one of those bitter cold days. The kind where the wind whips your face, where your fingers ache and even your eyelashes hurt.

Diana Munson doesn’t remember the year but recalls the afternoon when she and her husband, Thurman Munson, the captain catcher of the New York Yankees, were running errands in Manhattan and drove into a gas station.

alg-munson-action-jpg“The guy wouldn’t come out, so Thurman got out and started pumping the gas,” Diana said. “He was wearing jeans and a flannel jacket and boots – kind of a typical Ohio guy out of place in New York at the time.”

Diana sat in the car as her husband pumped the gas and a car pulled in behind theirs.

“I remember, the guy said, `Hey buddy, when you’re done with that fill this one up,’ ” Diana said. “If he only knew who he was talking to – he never would have believed it. The cutest thing about this story is he filled it up for him.”

Diana Munson’s voice paused, it softened, it became reflective.

“Those are the things about him that I just loved,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite stories about him. I think about that a lot.”

Her memories are more frequent now as she is reminded of the cruelest day of her life – on August 2, 1979, her husband was killed in a plane accident near their offseason Canton, Ohio, home. It was a Thursday, an off day for the Yankees, and Munson was practicing take-offs and landings in his twin-engine Cessna Citation.

Later that day, he was to meet her at an office to sign papers dedicating “Munson Street” in a nearby housing development. However, Munson was always busy and for him to be running late wasn’t unusual. Diana dismissed it and went to the grocery store and continued home.

“I was unloading the groceries and the people from the airport came to my house,” Diana said, her voice trailing to a whisper.

“Nothing has ever compared to it in my life,” she said of the chill – far more numbing than the one she experienced that day in New York – that ran down her spine.

“I’ve lost lots of people in my life, but it was the way that it happened. You’re not supposed to lose someone who is that young. You’re not supposed to lose someone on a beautiful day … not in the middle of baseball season. Thurman was the best father that I had ever watched. Looking at those little kids and knowing what they were about to go through just about killed me.”

Within minutes, the news was on the wire.

Yankees reliever Goose Gossage was getting dressed for a night on the town when he got the call from owner George Steinbrenner. Bobby Murcer was “stunned when I heard the news … I cried a lot at that time.” Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss was driving with his wife when he heard the news on the radio.

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, then the manager of the Mets, was in the dugout when the message flashed on the scoreboard.

“It was up on the board,” Torre said. “Just shock. Lee Mazzilli was in the batter’s box. He got out of the box and looked at me, `What do I do?’ It was such an eerie sensation.”

That sensation has never left Diana Munson, but, “it took me a long time to come to peace with this.” Her memories of Munson and the life they shared have softened. Some – like the one at the gas station – have aged like a fine wine.

She remembers a thoughtful husband and loving father to Tracy, Kelly and Michael. Sometimes, she remembers that Munson considered quitting flying. That’s not so pleasant … it gnaws at her. She remembers when she first knew she was going to marry him: “I was 10 years old at the time and I wrote Mrs. Thurman Munson on my notebook.”

Murcer and Gossage recalled Munson’s work ethic, and Diana remembered him getting up at 6 in the morning to caddy at a golf course, then cut lawns before going to baseball practice. She recalls the three-sport star at Canton’s Lehman High School, and that he loved real estate and listening to Neil Diamond.

“My poor children knew every Neil Diamond song before they knew their nursery rhymes,” she said.

She remembers his laugh – “always the loudest one in the room,” she said – and the time he drove to a Brooklyn church from Canton in a snowstorm for a Christmas party to distribute toys to underprivileged children. Munson brought with him the Yankees’ fine money for that season, nearly $5,000.

She remembers for months after his death receiving letters from charities, thanking her for Munson’s generosity. “Believe it or not, there were many that I had never heard of,” she said. “But, that was like him. He never did it for the recognition, he did it for right reasons.”

Sometimes, her memories, like at Old Timer’s Games, drift to the days when Munson was a special baseball player.

The public memories of Munson are of a gruff, grouchy, squat catcher. They are of his feuds with Reggie Jackson – “The straw that stirs the drink” – and Carlton Fisk, the taller, thinner, chiseled catcher for the Boston Red Sox.

The Yankee championship teams of 1977 and 1978 were loaded with stars – Jackson, Chambliss, Graig Nettles and Lou Piniella – but Munson was captain. He was a six-time All-Star and the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1976. He hit .512, .320 and .320 again in his three World Series appearances. He was the 1970 Rookie of the Year and hit over .300 five times.

Nothing meant more to him than being a Yankee captain.

“He loved the Yankees. His heart was a true Yankee heart,” Diana said. “He didn’t want to be captain because whenever you single yourself out like that you feel like you’re not as much a part of the team. He was uncomfortable with that, but at the same time he was so proud of that.”

Munson was the real straw in the drink.

“He was the leader on those teams and everybody knew it,” Murcer said. “We all looked up to him because of his toughness and his ability to produce in the clutch. He had such an uncanny ability to come through when the pressure was on.”

Twenty years later, Yankees catcher Joe Girardi – now the team’s manager – saw for himself when he was channel surfing when on his screen popped the unmistakable image of Yankee Stadium.

“It was Classic Sports, and they were showing the Kansas City game,” Girardi said of the pivotal Game 3 of the 1978 American League Championship Series.

“I’ve heard a lot about that game and what he did. I wanted to see how he played so I kept watching.”

The series was tied 1-1 and the Yankees trailed 5-4 in the eighth inning when Munson – not normally known as a power hitter – crushed a line-drive, two-run homer off Royals reliever Doug Bird to give the Yankees a 6-5 victory.

Munson was named Most Valuable Player in the series and the Yankees went on to beat Los Angeles in six games in the World Series.

Hall of Famer George Brett played in that game. His Royals and the Yankees were one of baseball’s hottest rivalries in the 1970s.

“We hated the Yankees,” Brett said. “But we also respected them – and we all respected Thurman. He was so tough in the clutch and we feared him because he usually came through. However, the thing I’ll remember most about Thurman wasn’t that home run, but of something that happened in a fight we had against them.

“I slid hard into third base and Nettles and I started shoving each other. The benches cleared and it got real ugly. I remember being on the ground and Thurman was on top of me. I thought, `Uh, oh, he’s going to crush me,’ but all he did was whisper in my ear, `Don’t worry George, I won’t let anything happen to you.’ ”

Diana Munson said she gets sad when she returns to Yankee Stadium because it’s a reminder of what was and what could have been. It will be emotional for her tomorrow when she returns as the Yankees honor Munson on the anniversary of his death. The feelings will be a mix of pain and pride when she goes into the clubhouse and sees Munson’s locker that remains intact in his honor.

When the fans cheer her, they will be cheering their memories of her husband as a Yankee. But, if she hears it, she’ll love the Brett story, because it’s an appreciation of the man she loved – and always will.

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Nov 06

Mets Should Consider Yankees’ Phil Hughes And Joba Chamberlain; Both Could Be Bargains

The New York Mets don’t have to look far if they want to plug one of the holes in the back end of their rotation.

The Yankees have no interest in bringing back either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, and for those believing in the “change of scenery,’’ theory, they might be able additions to the Mets’ staff as they are 27 and 28, respectively.

HUGHES: Should be on Mets' radar.

HUGHES: Should be on Mets’ radar.

Although both have been injured during their short careers, they are healthy now, but largely ineffective.

Hughes was a miserable 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA last season in 30 starts and lost his spot in the rotation. However, he won 16 games in 2012 and 18 games in 2010. He was 8-3 when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009.

“This year has been a struggle for him,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said in a classic understatement after the season.

Considering Hughes has experienced major league success, and has made at least 30 starts in three of the last four seasons, and twice in that span worked at least 175 innings.

Hughes made $7.15 million last season, not unreasonable for a starter with a recent history of durability.

It shouldn’t be underestimated that a significant explanation in part for Hughes’ trouble is that he’s a fly ball pitcher working in a phone booth. That’s a major contributor to his career 4.54 ERA and an average of 24 homers given up per season.

Citi Field, the lack of a designated hitter, and being away from the Yankee Stadium boo-birds could be the change he needs.

His salary isn’t unreasonable, and his age is a plus. This isn’t like signing Bronson Arroyo, who’ll be 37 in February, and wouldn’t be able to give the Mets more than a year or two.

As for Chamberlain, he’s been treated similar to Jenrry Mejia in that he was bounced around from the rotation to the bullpen earlier in his career before being a strict reliever the last four years.

Once considered the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera, Chamberlain sustained a shoulder injury in 2008 and eventually had Tommy John surgery in 2011. The following spring he mangled his ankle when he fell off a trampoline.

Chamberlain has lost something off his fastball, but still throws hard enough to get the job done.

Chamberlain earned just $1.8 million last season while going 2-1 with a 4.93 ERA in 45 appearances. He worked only 42 innings in 45 games. Overall, he’s worked only 444.2 innings during his career so there’s a lot of mileage left.

Considering their needs, the ages and salary history of Hughes and Chamberlain, both could become steals for the Mets.

LATER TODAY: I will take a look at Curtis Granderson as a possible fit into the Mets’ outfield.

Jul 21

Looking At The Pennant Races Heading Into Second Half

By rights the most intriguing storyline of the second half should be the pennant races, as that is the essence of the sport. No matter how hard Major League Baseball tries to screw up the integrity of the regular season schedule, we’re still there watching at the end to see who is left standing.

The New York Mets are one of nine teams at least ten games out of first place in their respective divisions. That puts 21 teams within reach, if you define that reach as the ability to pick up one game a week.

Mathematically, the  “best’’ race is the National League West, where nobody is more than 7.5 games out. Trouble is, three of the five are under .500, including the defending champion Giants. Do you remember when they wanted to get rid of Don Mattingly in Los Angeles? Well, the Dodgers are a mere half-game out.

Another compelling race is the National League Central, where the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds are bunched up under a four-game tent. Considering the mediocrity of the rest of the league, all three should qualify, as nobody else is close to becoming a wild-card contender. That would mean the first winning season in Pittsburgh in two decades, or since before Barry Bonds juiced himself out of the Hall of Fame running.

The Washington Nationals, the team supposed to get a pass into the World Series, is floundering and Stephen Strasburg is just 5-7. Not disappointed here, as the arrogance the Nationals showed last year by saving Strasburg under the assumption they will be a playoff fixture might not come to pass.

Once again, that leaves us with the American League East with the most compelling race. Boston, a team given no chance at the start, is in first followed by Tampa Bay, Baltimore and the Yankees, who are some how six games back without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and mediocre years from C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. Joe Girardi, to me, is the AL Manager of the Year.

There’s the chance for a compelling race in five of the six divisions. The worst? That would be the NL East.

A lot of things play off the pennant races, including the trade deadline. Every year it is the same, but with each team gearing up for a run there seems another about to unravel and call it a season. The manufactured excitement of the wild card in some cities is often off-set by the resignation summer is over by the first of August in others.

The Phillies are in town this weekend playing the Mets. Take a close look at them as they might break up that group. They are claiming they won’t trade Cliff Lee, but it’s another July and who wouldn’t be surprised to see him check out of one city and into another? It isn’t also hard to see Chase Utley traded.

Minnesota, both Chicago teams, Milwaukee, Miami with the Giancarlo Stanton Watch and perhaps the Angels all could undergo personnel facelifts in early preparation for spring training. The Angels won’t say it, but they’d love to be out from under Albert Pujols‘s contract. Probably the same goes with Josh Hamilton.

Meanwhile, the Mets are saying they won’t be sellers, but we’ve heard that before.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos