Dec 31

Saying Good-bye To 2012; Saluting The Giants And Dickey And Farewell To Carter

With 2012 in the ninth inning, let’s take a look at some of the more interesting and important baseball stories of the year.

There were many to choose from, ranging from the feel-good, to the sad, to the historic, to the inane. There are dozens that will fall into the category of being a trivia question answer, but let’s settle on ten:

1) GIANTS WIN THE SERIES:  This might be my favorite because I like the way they play the game. Their blueprint is pitching and defense, which is always the best way to build a winner. The Giants simply play the game the right way. And, when they lost their best hitter, Melky Cabrera, to a suspension for using performance enhancing drugs, they declined to bring him back for the playoffs when it would be tempting to do so. And, when ace Tim Lincecum struggled and was taken out of the rotation, instead of crying he shut his mouth and went to the bullpen.

2) SELIG STRONGARMS DODGER SALE: There’s no denying Frank McCourt wasn’t a terrible owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it was still his team and he was on the verge of negotiating a contract with FOX that would ease the team of its financial problems. For some reason, this wasn’t good enough for Commissioner Bud Selig, and certainly not an exercise in fair play when other ownership groups have been as miserable, or worse. The sale was to a group headed by Magic Johnson, and one of their first moves was the horrible acquisition of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. Meanwhile, the baseball team in Flushing …

3) THE YEAR OF THE PITCHER: There were three perfect games thrown in 2012, by former Mets prospect Phil Humber, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez. There were four other no-hitters last summer, including the first by a Met in Johan Santana. It took a blown call to change a hit into a foul ball. Perhaps the best performance by a pitcher was the yearlong mastery of Mets knuckleballer R. A. Dickey who won 20 games and the Cy Young Award and for his efforts was traded to Toronto.

4) THE BIRDS FLY AGAIN: After 14 straight losing seasons, including the previous four in last place in the AL East, the Orioles flipped their record from 69-93 to 93-69, with 29 of those victories coming by one run. The Orioles also won 16 straight extra-inning games, and took the Yankees to the limit in the AL Division Series. They did all this with a patchwork rotation and losing their best player, Nick Markakis, for most of the last month of the season.

5) COMEBACKS IN ALL FORMS:  The Oakland Athletics came from 13 games behind to overtake Texas to win the AL West. They closed the season with a six-game winning streak, including a three-game sweep of the Rangers to win the division. St. Louis also rallied to beat Washington in the playoffs, and San Francisco came from behind to beat Cincinnati and the Cardinals.

6) MIGUEL CABRERA WINS THE TRIPLE CROWN: For the first time since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski did it for Boston, there was a Triple Crown winner in Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, who hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBI.

7) WASHINGTON SPITS ON BASEBALL:  For the first time in over six decades, there was a playoff team in Washington. The Nationals played inspired, team baseball for much of the season and were led by young ace Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals,  trying to protect their investment, opted to shut him down after 159.1 innings, which gave the arrogant impression they believed they’d be back again. More than a few baseball executives were pleased when the Nationals’ pitching collapsed in the playoffs against the Cardinals.

8) THE MARLINS BLOW IT UP: Speaking of bad ownership groups, the Dodgers had nothing on the Marlins, another example that pennants aren’t won in the winter. The Marlins moved into a monstrosity of a new stadium with Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and new manager Ozzie Guillen. It all fell apart in June and the Marlins finished in last place. Guillen was fired and Reyes, Buehrle and Josh Johnson were traded to Toronto. The Blue Jays also added Dickey and Melky Cabrera to raise the question: Are they the 2013 version of the Marlins.

9) THE LOCALS FALL:  The Mets collapsed in the second half to finish with their fourth straight losing season. The Mets have done nothing this offseason – save signing David Wright – to indicate things will change. Meanwhile, the Yankees got a brilliant season from Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle in the playoffs. Also, while their season was sliding away, Alex Rodriguez was trying to pick up women from the dugout.

10) SAD LOSSES:  I Googled the list of baseball deaths in 2012 and was staggered by the names I recognized from my youth. The most important name was Marvin Miller, the former head of the Players Association who, more than anybody, was largely responsible for today’s economic structure in the game. Then, there was Gary Carter, whom Mets fans will always remember.

Dec 30

Ignore Pavano Rumors To Mets

One of the most ridiculous things I’ve read over the past few days was the idea of the Mets being interested in signing FA pitcher and Alyssa Milano reject Carl Pavano as their fifth starter. Let’s be realistic about this, the penny-pinching Mets have no chance of signing Pavano, even if they wanted him.

Pavano made $8.5 million last year with Minnesota, and although he could take a pay cut, even that will be too pricey for Sandy Alderson. If anything, of all the veteran FA starters on the market, the one they have the best chance of signing would be to bring back Chris Young.

The Mets are also searching for relief help, and Francisco Rodriguez – been there, done that – Matt Capps and Jose Valverde are also too rich for the Mets’ blood.

 

Dec 28

Top Ten Mets Stories For 2012: Dickey, Wright, Santana And Others

The clock is winding down on 2013, which, if you’re a Mets fan is a good thing because it was another fruitless season at Citi Field.

Before we kiss the year good-bye, or as Gary Cohen would say, “It’s outta here!’’ let’s go back and look at the top ten Mets stories of this very forgettable season:

1. TRADING R.A. DICKEY: My argument for it being the top Mets story is it defines and underscores what is going on with this franchise.

Dickey had arguably one of the most remarkable seasons for a Mets pitcher in winning 20 games and the Cy Young Award with a knuckleball, and as it would turn out, pitching hurt.

Dickey was a feel-good and inspirational story, and despite roughly a $5 million difference, the Mets dealt him for prospects – the key one coming off an injury – that are two or three years away.

The message sent wasn’t Happy New Year, but this team is still not ready for prime time.

2. RESIGNING DAVID WRIGHT: They were supposed to sign both Wright and Dickey to tell its disgruntled fan base that the Mets were building for the future.

Wright was imperative because he’s the most popular Met and the face of the franchise. We shall see how the Mets will build on extending Wright. The first move was to deal Dickey.

3. DICKEY’S INCREDIBLE SUMMER: Once thought of as a stop-gap fifth starter, Dickey pitched to elite status this summer in winning the Cy Young Award.

However, Dickey was more than a pitcher, but a symbol of persistence who could identify with the common fan. More than any other Met, Dickey is us and showed his guile and grit every fifth day.

4. JOHAN SANTANA’S NO-HITTER: Perhaps in other seasons it would rank higher, but it came with several asterisks.

First, it was tainted, preserved by a blown umpire’s call that ironically robbed former Met Carlos Beltran. Then, there were the 134 pitches as the game was extended by the bad call.

Santana followed the no-hitter with a career-high six straight losses and again ended the season on the disabled list.

Santana has pitched well in spots, but it will always be remembered that for the $134 million contract he never pitched in a playoff game for the Mets and frequently was injured.

The last three years was a matter of merely counting down to the end of his contract.

5. JASON BAY BOMBS OUT: Santana’s contract might be arguably the worst FA deal doled out by the Mets. If not him, then definitely Bay, who between injuries gave the Mets no production.

The Mets were eventually able to buy out Bay on a differed basis, which considering what he gave the team, really doesn’t leave them in a hole for 2013.

As with Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, it was best to move on.

6. ALDERSON SITS AT THE BREAK: After letting Jose Reyes leave without an offer, GM Sandy Alderson vowed the team would have the resources to add pieces at the trade deadline if it were competitive.

Before the break the Mets once were eight games over .500 and 46-40 at the break. However, cracks in the bullpen were forming and Alderson did nothing. By the time he was inclined to make a trade, the second half-collapse had begun and it was too late.

7. SECOND-HALF COLLAPSE: At one point the Mets went 15 games at home in which it scored three or fewer runs. Hard to fathom, but true.

Dickey and Ike Davis’ strong second half is what the Mets needed to struggle to finish 14 games under .500.

The second-half collapse included Santana’s six-game losing streak, Dillon Gee’s season-ending injury and the bullpen’s implosion.

8. IKE DAVIS HITS 32 HOMERS: It was frequently written Davis has 30-homer potential. Now, it is true and he’s the singular most power threat in the line-up as Wright’s homer production has dropped and Lucas Duda is still a question.

There were trade rumors of Boston having interest, but with the Mets basically void of power, Davis isn’t going anywhere.

9. METS SURVIVE REYES’ DEPARTURE: One of the more overriding issues with the Mets entering the season was how it would adjust to losing Jose Reyes.

Ruben Tejada more than ably filled the role as the Mets proved they could lose with or without Reyes. Tejada won’t become an offensive match to Reyes, but he was more than adequate and definitely was on a par defensively.

10. TEAM DOES NOTHING AT WINTER MEETINGS: The Mets didn’t counter losing Dickey with anything productive.

In fact, the Mets end 2012 in worse shape than it started the season. In addition to the normal injury-related questions to their pitching, the Mets now need to add a starter to replace Dickey.

The Mets aren’t likely to bring back Scott Hairston, who was a role player for them in the first place and have three questions in the outfield. There’s also concerns in the bullpen and at catcher.

So, the biggest story for the 2012 Mets is they’ve gotten worse.

Dec 24

Honoring A Personal Tradition: It’s A Wonderful Life

Good evening. It is not a time to rip the Mets for not spending. Not a time to clash and argue. One of the things I love most about baseball are its traditions. They act as a foundation for the sport. I will write about the traditions I like and miss about baseball later this week, but for now I will honor a personal tradition, one I follow every Christmas season and that is to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Things haven’t been easy lately, which is all the more reason to watch this movie. It is from a simpler time and is a powerful reminder of what is important. I won’t preach to you what is important, because you all know, and all have your own personal views.

This movie gives me a good feeling not only about Christmas, but about myself. I only hope as I grow older that I will get the same emotional feeling at the end of the movie.

Merry Christmas to you all and your families.

Best, John

 

 

Dec 23

R. A. Dickey Says Farewell

R.A. DICKEY THANKS METS FANS

The thing I admired most about R.A. Dickey, and what the Mets apparently forgot, is his connection to the fans. He is every man whoever was faced with an uphill battle and persevered and won.

In today’s edition of The Daily News is said farewell to the fans who cheered him.

Here are his words:

A little over a year ago I was knocking around book titles with my publisher when we finally found a keeper. The minute I heard the words, “Wherever I Wind Up,” I liked the cadence of them. I liked the mystery of them.

Most of all, I liked the way they captured the essence of my nomadic pitching life — which has now taken another completely unforeseen turn.

I never expected to be writing a farewell “holiday card” to Mets fans. I never expected to be doing anything but celebrating the joy of the season with my wife and kids and looking toward the spring, and the start of my fourth season with an organization that gave me maybe the greatest gift an athlete can get:

A chance.

A chance for a fresh start. A chance to prove that maybe I could be somebody on a big league mound, an authentic and trustworthy pitcher, not just a retread with a weird name and an even weirder pitch — a man who was so in need of financial stability that he had to get talked out of taking a guaranteed contract to go pitch in Korea.

The Mets gave me that chance almost exactly three years ago, and I will always be grateful to them for that. Only God could’ve written the narrative that has played out in the three years since. That is what I want to focus on, and what I want to hold in my heart.

I am not going to lie to you, though. The trade was hard for me at first. This is where my heart was, where I wanted to be, where I lived out a story of redemption and felt that every one of you shared it with me in some form or fashion. I loved pitching for you. I loved your passion, the way you embraced me from the start, and the way you seemed to appreciate the effort I was putting forth. Every time I’d walk off the mound after an outing, I’d look in your faces, the people behind the dugout, and felt as if all your energy and support was pouring right into me — even when I was lousy. It gives me chill bumps thinking about it even now.

Every organization has to do what it feels is in its best interest, and I have no doubt that that’s what the Mets did by trading Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas and me for two young players who, by all accounts, are terrific prospects. It doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

From the beginning of last season to the end — when you cheered with all you had that Thursday afternoon when I won my 20th game — I felt that this was a shared journey, that we were all in it together. What a great way for an athlete to feel.

There were so many special relationships I formed that made my time with the Mets so much richer. Not just in the clubhouse, either. I enjoyed talking with Bill Deacon, the head groundskeeper, about his craft, and all that went into it. The security people who helped my wife and kids get in and out of the family lounge, the policemen who helped me get out of the parking lot, the folks at the Hodges Gate — so many people went out of their way to be kind to me, and they should know how much it was, and is, appreciated.

I was going to take out an advertisement to express these thank yous, but decided in the end that there was too much I wanted to say. So I am writing this instead.

As I move beyond the sadness over leaving here, I know I have a tremendous amount to look forward to. The Blue Jays may need name tags on the first day of spring training, but once we get acquainted, well, this team could be something. I appreciate the welcome I’ve already gotten from them, and what they’re trying to build. We’ll see how it all unfolds.

God has blessed me in so many ways. His grace and mercy are at the center of my life. I may not pitch for the home team anymore (a friend told me I now have to start calling myself a

Canuckleball pitcher ) but wherever I go from here — wherever I might wind up in the future — I hope you know that I will never forget my three years in New York, and never be able to adequately thank you for everything you’ve given me.