Jul 04

Collins Gets Confidence Vote; Pressure Squarely On Alderson Now

Mets GM Sandy Alderson gave beleaguered manager Terry Collins a “vote of confidence,’’ which traditionally is rarely a good sign. If the clock hadn’t been ticking on Collins yet, it is now.

Traditionally, that’s how these things go.

ALDERSON: Spares Collins for now. (AP)

ALDERSON: Spares Collins for now. (AP)

What winning Friday accomplished was give the Mets a winning record (41-40) at the halfway point, and for one night at least alleviated some of the pressure Collins spoke about Thursday.

The Mets flew into Los Angeles with speculation – on this site, also – they would lose to Clayton Kershaw Friday and Zack Greinke Saturday. At least, that’s how smart money had it.

The Mets have had an unprecedented number of injuries this season, beginning in spring training with the loss of Zack Wheeler and as now nobody knows when David Wright will return. Currently nine Mets are on the disabled list.

The injuries, coupled with absolutely little offensive production – they’ve scored one or fewer runs 21 times and have been shut out nine times – have put a tremendous strain on the young pitching staff.

“I think to put all of this on Terry would be grossly unfair,’’ Alderson said. “We’re a .500 team. We haven’t been moving in the right direction. I understand that. We’ve had a lot of people hurt for long periods of time.

“We’ve got some young guys in particular that are not hitting. We’ve got some older players that have had to try to carry the load. I think to put all of this on Terry would be grossly unfair. So from that standpoint, there’s absolutely no consideration of that.

“This is not a Terry Collins watch. … As I said, I think it’s very unfair to put a lot of the way we’ve played over the last few weeks on Terry.’’

We all know Collins can’t hit or field for his players. The pressure shifts to Alderson to give the Mets’ impotent offense a new bat or two.

It would have been good for Alderson to say: “The pressure is on me to give this team some offensive help. It’s up to me to give Terry and our pitchers some help.’’

But, Alderson didn’t say that … he didn’t need to because that’s what everybody is thinking.

 

Jul 03

Alderson’s Strategy To Improve Offense Is Hope

The Mets are falling fast in the NL East as management, led by Sandy Alderson – the game’s smartest general manager, as his biographer proclaims – sits idly by utilizing his favorite strategy, which is to cross his fingers and hope.

Nobody likes the chances of the Mets, once ten games over .500, to get past Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the first two games of their series at Los Angeles. With a brutal July schedule, it isn’t a reach to think the Mets could be cooked by the All-Star break.

Alderson, who gave manager Terry Collins a “vote of confidence,’’ prior to Friday’s game, has three options to snap the Mets from their offensive funk.

The first is hope, which means to stand pat and hope one or two players snap out of it. Notably, the Mets need Lucas Duda, who is hitting .172 with one homer over the past 27 games. They also need the return of David Wright, but nobody can say with any degree of certainty when that could be.

The second is to trade one of their four young stud pitchers for a bat, but Alderson has shown no inclination to deal from the group of Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom or Steven Matz. Instead, Alderson prefers to trade either Jon Niese or Bartolo Colon. Niese and Colon have pitched well lately, but not to where they are drawing substantial interest.

Ideally, I would prefer Alderson hold onto that group and stack their rotation with Zack Wheeler next season. But, how often have the Mets had a chance to compete for the playoffs since 2006, the last year they saw October? It’s not unrealistic to think this could be their best chance for awhile. After all, Harvey missed last year with Tommy John surgery. Wheeler had it and won’t be back until next July. Matz and deGrom also had it. Nobody knows when the next injury will occur.

Finally, the Mets could bring up prospects Matt Reynolds or Michael Conforto, which he also is reluctant to do.

Frankly, Reynolds isn’t burning it up down below to warrant a promotion. The Mets’ thinking on Conforto is to keep him down because they are concerned about his psyche. But, if his psyche is so fragile to where he could be damaged by not producing then maybe he’s not as good as the Mets are talking him up to be, and perhaps they should learn that now.

Other teams, such as the Nationals with Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the Giants with Matt Cain, the Dodgers with Kershaw and the Cubs with Kris Bryant have done. These organizations are considerably more proactive than the Mets.

However, keeping Conforto down has more to do with economics than it does psychology. As they did with their young pitchers, the Mets want to delay starting the clock on their major league service time.

So, not knowing the economic landscape of the game or their budget five years down the road, the Mets are making a financial decision for the future over a possible chance to improve themselves now, a year in which they pledged to compete.

Just not smart, but nobody said hope was a brilliant strategy. So, Sandy break out the rabbit’s foot.

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 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.

Feb 17

Today In Mets History: Roger Craig Born

One of original Mets, pitcher Roger Craig, was born in Durham, N.C., on this date in 1930.

CRAIG: Happy Birthday to an original Met.

CRAIG: Happy Birthday to an original Met.

Craig was signed by Brooklyn in 1950 and broke in with the Dodgers five years later. He accompanied the team to Los Angeles and spent four years there before being selected in the expansion draft by the Mets prior to the 1962 season and pitched two years in the Polo Grounds and compiled a 15-46 record with a 4.14 ERA.

He became the answer to a trivia question when he started and lost the first game in Mets’ history.

Craig left the Mets following the 1963 season and went on to pitch with St. Louis, Cincinnati and Philadelphia and retired after 1966 with a 74-98 record, .430 ERA and 1.334 WHIP.

After he retired, Craig went on to manage San Francisco from 1986-1990, however his real niche was as a pitching coach where he taught the split-finger fastball.

Box Score: Craig’s first game as a Met.