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.

Jan 20

Baseball Mourns Losses Of Musial And Weaver

The television sound was off, but I didn’t need words to know this was sad news. Why else would there be grainy black-and-white images of Stan Musial unleashing that powerful swing out of an awkward stance?

Musial passed away last night, not long after former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver died, and the sports world was suddenly without two legends. Despite polar opposites in terms of temperament, both were unique and left an indelible mark on baseball.

MUSIAL: Stan the Man.

Weaver was the fiery manager of the Orioles who built his championship teams with superb starting pitching and the three-run homer. Musial was overshadowed by Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, but was as lethal with the bat as any of them. Others were more spectacular and played in flashier markets than St. Louis, but Musial personified baseball in his town and throughout middle America.

Having worked in Baltimore covering the Orioles, I learned quickly now woven Weaver was into the fabric of that town, and traveling numerous times to St. Louis, and saw that city embrace Musial to where two statues of him are outside Busch Stadium.

The beauty of baseball is how the sports rolls on with one generation of greatness following the other. However, there are those few who transcend their times and will be remembered through the ages.

There’s sadness in the losses of Weaver and Musial in that they are gone, but also that many of us never got a chance to witness their greatness in person. And for that, we are all the poorer.

Feb 16

Don’t get excited about ownership news

Bernie Madoff’s confession that the Wilpons “knew nothing,” about his Ponzi scheme coupled with the news Fred Wilpon talking with Donald Trump about purchasing a portion of the Mets makes for interesting copy, but don’t put too much stock into it turning the franchise around.

Translation: Still no big spending.

Madoff is in jail for fraud, lying and stealing so what is his word worth anyway? Madoff’s confession certainly won’t get the lawyers off the Wilpon’s back so the lawsuit will go on as planned.

As for Trump, well, his money would indeed help and he’s indicated a willingness to help the Wilpons. However, his reputation is not for playing second string so I don’t see him, or any other investor for that matter, spending millions and not getting a say in the way things are handled. That’s just not his style.

It is also not the Wilpons’ style to give up control. Today in Port St. Lucie, Jeff Wilpon insisted to reporters that controlling interest in the team is not for sale.

“We’re not selling controlling interest in the team. It’s not on the table,” said.

Perhaps more importantly, Major League Baseball won’t allow Trump to invest in any percentage of the team as long as he owns casinos. MLB has hard rules on gambling and there will be no allowing him to own part of a team if he’s connected with gambling. At one time, MLB banned both Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays from baseball while they were employed after their careers at casinos.