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 23

Could Matt Harvey Become A HIgh Maintenance Super Nova?

Could the New York Mets have a potential problem with Matt Harvey?

There are already signs of him being high maintenance … signs he enjoys the trappings of New York too much … signs he doesn’t handle injuries well … signs of being too sensitive … signs he knows he’s good and isn’t afraid to let you know.

HARVEY: No hiding there are questions (ESPN)

HARVEY: No hiding there are questions (ESPN)

Harvey has never pitched a complete season and is 12-10 lifetime. While we’re not talking about the second coming of Tom Seaver, Harvey seems to be caring himself with a sense of entitlement and a “you can’t touch me’’ aura.

The latest is his reported reluctance to want to undergo his rehab in Port St. Lucie, which the Mets prefer, and desire to work out in New York.

After Harvey threw for the first time Saturday, general manager Sandy Alderson backed off saying where the 24-year-old 2010 will rehab, but made clear his preference.

“As a general rule, our players rehab in Florida,’’ Alderson said Saturday. “But that’s not a decision we’re going to make or mandate [now]. When we get to the end of spring training we’ll see where he is, and I’m sure there will be discussion between now and then.’’

For somebody with 36 career starts, why should there even be discussion? If Port St. Lucie was good enough for David Wright and Pedro Martinez to rehab, it should be good enough for Harvey.

In fairness, we haven’t heard Harvey’s reasoning for his preference of New York, which leads to speculation, with little of it showing him in a good light.

Making this more touchy is this could go before the Players Association, as the collective bargaining agreement mandates a player can refuse his rehab in a spring training locale during the season for longer than 20 days.

“The CBA imposes limitations. Yeah,’’ Alderson said. “But in the past, for the most part, our players have been here and it’s been a good situation.’’

We know New York is Harvey’s home, has superior Italian food and a better nightlife than Port St. Lucie.

But, what’s the purpose here?

New York’s nightlife makes one wonder, as Harvey clearly enjoys the perks of being a star – even though that might be a premature characterization of his professional status. Harvey likes the clubs and openly spoke about his drinking in a Men’s Journal magazine piece.

“I’m young, I’m single,’’ he was quoted as saying. “I want to be in the mix. … I have a 48-hour rule. No drinking two days before a start. But, those other days? Yes, I’m gonna go out.’’

The bottom line: If you’re 24 and a high-profile figure, you shouldn’t need a rule about drinking. If he finds it necessary to have a rule, he shouldn’t be drinking in the first place.

Everybody these days has a phone with a camera. Harvey has already been caught several times in incidents of public displays of affection with his former supermodel girlfriend, Anne Vyalitsyna at Rangers and Knicks games, where he is gifted the tickets. More trappings.

He’s now seeing another model, Ashley Haas, which has his comments of wanting to be like Derek Jeter resurface. Of course, It is doubtful Harvey would have ever posed nude.

“That guy is the model,’’ he said. “I mean, first off, let’s just look at the women he’s dated. Obviously, he goes out – he’s meeting these girls somewhere – but you never hear about it. That’s where I want to be.’’

New York’s nightlife has burned out dozens of athletes. Look what it did for Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Imagine what Mickey Mantle would have been able to accomplish with a little less drinking and womanizing.

And, as for Jeter, he’s not the Teflon he’s made out to be. Stories of sending his conquests home with a gift basket of memorabilia and forcing houseguests to surrender their cell phones don’t portray him in a flattering light. Mom must be so proud.

Shortly after the magazine piece came out, Harvey complained about being misquoted and taken out of context. A reporter for a magazine profile records everything, so it is doubtful the quotes were manufactured. Backing off his comments shows a lack of accountability.

Harvey also got into it with WFAN talk-show host Joe Beningo, ripping him on Twitter and then deleting the post.

When it comes to fighting with a radio personality or the media in general, it is futile as it comes off as petty and unprofessional, plus, he’ll never have the last word.

The media isn’t as easy to bully as was former teammate Jon Rauch, whom Harvey forced out of town after challenging the former Mets reliever to a fight because he didn’t appreciate the rookie hazing, which included getting doused with water while sleeping on the trainer’s table.

If Harvey had a problem he could have confronted Rauch in private rather than making an uncomfortable clubhouse scene. That’s something somebody with a professional grasp on things would have done. Instead, he came off as behaving like Jordany Valdespin.

That’s not the only thing Harvey hasn’t handled well. Twice he wasn’t immediately forthcoming in disclosing injuries to the training staff, and arguably it led to his elbow surgery.

I want the best for Harvey. I want him to have a long and brilliant career. However, he has a long way to go, on and off the field. He hasn’t always shown good judgment and a case can be made it cost him this season.

He needs to reign himself in off the field, and that includes not making a big deal about where he rehabs. If reflects poorly on him and makes one wonder if this isn’t about carousing the bars with Haas and watching the Rangers.

If he maintains this course, instead of a franchise pitcher, he could end being a high maintenance super nova.

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.

 

Mar 04

Will Dwight Gooden Ever Turn His Life Around?

It usually is not a good sign when a name not recently in the news shows up on the “What’s Trending Now,’’ list when one logs onto the Internet.

Dwight Gooden was there this morning and we can expect to see future postings as his latest issue with the law unravels.

GOODEN: Once upon a time. (AP)

Gooden, long out of baseball but not forgotten by Mets fans, allegedly threatened his estranged wife, Monique, on Friday, when he should have been on a back field in Port St. Lucie tutoring what he once was – a hot, young prospect.

It would have been nice if Gooden had a second career in the sun, literally and figuratively. It’s not like he hasn’t had chances. The Yankees gave him several when George Steinbrenner was alive and he would have been welcomed by the Mets had he not struggled with drug, alcohol and law issues.

Monique Gooden called police and filed a restraining order. He was forced to move out of the house he and his wife are living in until their divorce becomes final.

Reportedly, Gooden threatened his wife, saying: “All bets are off and I will hurt you and your family. You’ll see, just wait.’’

A DUI, well, a team can live with that on a player’s record. Not pleasant, but doable. It is especially possible if the player had a remarkable career and once was a face of that franchise, as Gooden was with the Mets.

However, such a threat, especially if carried out, is not the image a team wants to project. There has to be considerable damage control if Gooden is to ever again represent the Mets.

Or, any other major league team for that matter.

That is, of course, unless something bad happens to him, such as jail, or worse.

Gooden will no longer have visitation rights with his two children until a hearing, March 11. In the interim, Gooden can contemplate where it all went wrong.

The drug problems began shortly after the 1985 and 1986 seasons, which were his early days with the Mets, and unfortunately, the highlight of his career. There once was a night a decade later, when nearing the end with the Yankees, he threw the no-hitter one expected of him whenever he took the mound at Shea Stadium.

Throwing what Kevin Costner said in “Bull Durham’’ was “ungodly stuff in the show,’’ Gooden was the inspiration of the “Ks’’ banners fans hung over the stadium railings. Gooden was electric in those days when he owned the summer nights at Shea.

We knew it wouldn’t last forever as it never does, but were shocked and angered and saddened knowing Gooden was throwing away his career with drugs and booze. We once were enthralled with the hard- partying Mets of 1986 and even glorified them, but also knew at the same time knew life on the ledge couldn’t end happily.

For different reasons, but ultimately the same one – a lack of self-control – it didn’t well for Gooden. For Darryl Strawberry. For Lenny Dykstra. Wally Backman is still paying the price.

Nearing the end of his life, Mickey Mantle talked of role models and said, “don’t be like me.’’ At one time, there wasn’t a kid around who didn’t want to be like Gooden, standing alone on the mound awash in the cheers and adulation that comes with greatest.

Gooden is again alone as he faces another life crisis, but there’s nobody who wants to be like him.

And, that’s just sad.