Oct 18

Dilemma In Rooting For Cubs

The Mets were a feel-good story when then finally reached the playoffs last season. The Cubs, because of their long Word Series drought, were also a feel good story. But, feel good is now past tense for the Cubs.

1024x768_wallpaper_08Frankly, I’m tired of having the Cubs jammed down my throat. They haven’t won since 1908, but they eventually will. Since 1945, their last World Series appearance, they’ve had several heart-wrenching near misses – including their collapse in 1969 – but mostly Chicago’s ownership insisted on selling the Wrigley Field experience over quality baseball.

Chicago’s current ownership has gone all out to produce a winner, which is something Mets’ ownership hasn’t always done. That’s to be applauded.

However, as with the Red Sox, I’m not a believer in curses. I’m just not a big supporter of their fan base that expects to win. There’s an undeserving sense of entitlement there that’s hard to understand. It’s almost cliché to root for the Cubs, just as it was to pull for Cleveland in last year’s NBA finals. The Cubs are the darlings of the networks, which is reason enough not to root for them.

Sooner or later the Cubs will get to – and even win – a World Series. When they do, I’m afraid Cubs’ fans will become like Red Sox fans. For years they wallowed in misery in Fenway Park; crushing defeat became a badge of honor. When the Red Sox finally won, their fan base became insufferable.

If the Cubs do win, what will their fan base identify themselves with?

What will make me feel empathy for the Cubs again is to do what the Red Sox did. Long personified as part of the curse, the Red Sox invited Bill Buckner back and all the angst seemed washed away. If the Cubs get to the World Series, Steve Bartman should be invited back to throw out the first pitch.

If he accepts and is booed, may the Cubs forever be cursed.

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Oct 10

Revamping The Playoff System

The Mets are gone, but I’m still watching the playoffs. I can’t help it as I am a baseball team first and foremost. The Division Round hasn’t been pretty with one series over and possibly another two ending today.

Only Dodgers-Nationals is assured of lasting beyond today. I have no animosity towards the Nationals and Daniel Murphy. The Nationals are a rival now, but what about in two years? The Mets’ rival changes from year to year. Next season it could be the Braves again … they are a lot better than people think and almost knocked the Mets in the end.

I’m sure MLB is already thinking of ways to liven up the wild-card game and Division Series. It’s only natural to assume something is wrong, but in what ways? Can you really say the wild-card drains the teams? The Blue Jays swept the Rangers, and if Madison Bumgarner does it again tonight, the Giants could tie the Cubs tomorrow.

Here’s what I would change:

Wild-Card Game: I’m not crazy about the wild-card game, but since it is a money-maker, it will continue. My objective would be to shorten the playoff format to avoid playing in November. We don’t need one with a month that has baseball in the beginning and Thanksgiving at the end.

Some want the wild-card to be a best two-out-of-three, but that practically guarantees November. If you go there, with possible rainouts you are assured of playing baseball in November.

One thing I would change about the wild-card game is the way it is telecast. With the networks having sub-networks, have a national feed and one using the announcers of each team. I would have liked to have heard Gary-Keith-Ron do a playoff game. I would have also liked to have listened to the San Francisco feed of Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper.

When NBC had the broadcast rights years ago it sometimes used the team’s announcers for an inning each.

Division Series:  I loved the first Friday of the Division Series when there was baseball from noon to midnight. It reminded me of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I understand the networks want a game every day and don’t want the games to conflict, but MLB needs to do away with the present format.

Let all the games of the Division Series be played the same day. Play both wild-card games on the Tuesday after the end of the season (Monday left open for tie-breaker games). Wednesday would be a travel day for the NLDS, with all four series starting Friday. Games 1 and 2 would be Friday and Saturday, with Sunday off as not to conflict with football. (MLB shudders at the idea of competing with the NFL). Sunday is a travel day, with Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday would be travel with Game 5 on Thursday.

Championship Series and World Series formats: Both go with a 2-3-2 format, which I don’t like. It gives the lower seed a distinct advantage and neutralizes the benefits of having a better regular season record. If there’s going to be a home field advantage, then make it a real one.This year’s World Series gives the American League the added advantage of not only having the extra game at home but getting the three middle games.

This year’s World Series gives the American League the added advantage of not only having the extra game at home, but the three straight middle games on the road. One more time: Get rid of the All-Star Game gimmick of the winner having the home field advantage in the World Series.

MLB tried to emphasize the element of fairness when it had all of Sunday’s games start at the same time. So, why not carry the premise the whole way?

Go 2-2-1-1-1. This year there are two California teams that could make for up to four cross-country flights in both series. It would mean extra travel days for both series, but do it in the interest of putting the best product on the field. Players always play tired and injured, but doesn’t the public deserve to have rested players whenever possible?

This year, if the World Series goes seven games, it could end – barring rainouts through – November 2. Either do away with the wild-card round or shorten the season, but playing into November is ridiculous. I understood it in 2001 as the playoffs started later because of the September 11 terrorist attacks. I knew then that when the World Series touched Novermber that was no turning back.

Here’s how MLB can shorten the season by one week and move up the playoffs: The system is out of whack because of interleague and the unbalanced schedule. Since that won’t change, I would schedule one doubleheader a month for each team.

But, John, the owners don’t want to give up the extra gate, so what then?

Glad you asked. Schedule one day-night doubleheader a month with a division opponent. Since you’re playing your division 19 games each year – also backwards because of the uneven number of home games against that opponent – there’s plenty of wiggle room.

With six months in a season, that’s six extra days. If done correctly, that would mean for extra off days during the season. The players I spoke to don’t like day-night doubleheaders,  but would go with this plan because of the extra off days during the season.

That’ not the only tweaking I would do.

Umpiring: There are six umpires during the playoffs but only four in the regular season. Playing under different conditions than in the playoffs make no sense. MLB has plenty of money to afford six-man crews during the regular season. MLB wants to do it, as they say, to get it right? But, isn’t getting it right important during the season, also?

Can you imagine there being two additional refs for the NFL or NBA playoffs? I’m against inconsistency.

Instant replay: There are still flaws that need to be worked out. I’d rather have an umpire in the press box who can signal down he is reviewing a call. In could save some time. Along those lines, the reviewing umpire has 90 seconds to either confirm or overrule a play. If he can’t decide after 90 seconds, the original call stands. It’s not all that hard.

Rules: Tell me, does it make sense for the leagues to play by different rules? Of course, that brings us to the designated hitter. Play with it, play without it, I don’t care. Just make it the same for both. Again, it’s not all that hard, especially with the DH being used in high school. Does anybody know it they have the DH in Tee Ball?

I spoke with an American League general manager who hates interleague. He said the fastest and surest way for change is to have an American League manager in a National League park say he’ll use the designated hitter, and if the umpires don’t like it he’ll forfeit the game.

Sure, it is drastic, but pushing the issue is the only way it will be solved. When it comes to talking about it, we’ll have the same conversation in ten years. We’ve had the DH since the 1970s – take a bow, Ron Blomberg – but it was supposed to be a three-year experiment. I think interleague was supposed to be an experiment, too.

One edict Commissioner Rob Manfred could issue is to tell both teams in an interleague game that the American League team play by whatever rules it is comfortable with.

Of course, the AL team would opt for the DH, but can you imagine the NL team – that doesn’t have a Noah Syndergaard or Bumgarner – letting their pitchers hit just for the sake of the rule? I surely wouldn’t put a weaker team on the field if I didn’t have to.

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Apr 15

Major League List: First African American Players By Franchise

On this date in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. All players will wear Robinson’s No. 42 in today’s games.

The following are the first black players for each Major League team. Note: The list does not include those expansion teams (such as the Mets) formed after 1961 when baseball had become fully integrated.

The Mets are in Cleveland today to play the Indians, whose first African-American player was Larry Doby, who followed Robinson by less than three months, but faced the same obstacles. After his retirement, Doby became an executive for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in 1979.

The List

Dodgers: Robinson, April 15, 1947

Indians: Doby, July 5, 1947

Browns (became Orioles): Hank Thompson, July 17, 1947

Giants: Monte Irvin and Thompson, July 8, 1949 B

Braves: Sam Jethroe, Braves: April 18, 1950

White Sox: Minnie Minoso, May 1, 1951

Athletics: Bob Trice, September 13, 1953

Cubs: Ernie Banks, September 17, 1953

Pirates: Curt Roberts, April 13, 1954

Cardinals: Tom Alston, April 13, 1954

Reds: Nino Escalera and Chuck Harmon, April 17, 1954

Senators (became Twins): Carlos Paula, September 6, 1954

Yankees: Elston Howard, April 14, 1955

Phillies: John Kennedy, April 22, 1957

Tigers: Ozzie Virgil, Sr., June 6, 1958

Red Sox: Pumpsie Green, July 21, 1959

ON DECK: Mets Need To DH Wright In Cleveland

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Jan 31

Time To Evaluate All All-Star Games

Good morning. On this bright and sunny – but cold – Sunday morning. Plenty of snow despite the sun. On this last day of January, with the Super Bowl a week away, what better time to talk about the All-Star Games, in all sports?

With the NHL and NFL All-Star Games today it got me to thinking – as I usually do – about the nature of the All-Star Games. They have become obsolete with no compelling reason to watch any of them. All of the sports, with the exception of football, feature some kind of skills competition the day prior to the game.

The hockey skills are the most interesting, mostly because I don’t see that much hockey. The NBA’s three-point demonstration is far more challenging than the slam dunk competition. Jumping over a car or running the length of the court does nothing for me. The slam dunk show does symbolize what the sport has become, which is a “look at me,” exhibition.

The NBA game itself is a playground game of one-on-one duels broken up by an occasional demonstrations of trick passing, which is to remind us these exceptional athletes can pass when the mood strikes them. Of course, the NBA game wouldn’t be complete without some bitching and moaning from LeBron James, who despite the limited rosters complains because there aren’t three Cavaliers on the team. He especially notes the absence of Kyrie Irving, who had played in all but 18 games when the teams were announced.

Then again, this is James, who earlier this week boasted of his “high basketball IQ.” For somebody supposedly so smart, how come he can’t figure out such basic things as roster size, not to mention something so basic as to get along with his coach?

There is no designated skills competition in the NFL game, primarily because there isn’t a headhunting exhibition. The NFL game is the one that should first be abandoned. A player gets fined for skipping the NHL game even with a legitimate injury, which shows the importance the league places on the game. Conversely, seven New England Patriots will skip today’s game in a hissy fit for losing to Denver. Not a peep from the NFL office or the supposedly sophisticated Boston media which goes mostly spineless when it come to the Patriots.

This brings us to the baseball All-Star Game, whose highlight, unfortunately, is the Home Run Derby. Not only do some players bring a malaise to the game, but the idea of making an exhibition game determine something as important as home field advantage in the World Series is beyond stupid.

I hate to be someone who says, “the way things used to be,” but in this case that’s the way it is. From the stuffing of the ballot box (there’s some degree of checks and balances when they limit the voting to only 35 votes, but you can log on under a different screen name and vote again) to the Derby to the home field, the baseball game has lost its meaning.

And, that’s too bad because the All-Star games used to mean something. Part of the reason is the mystery of the other league is gone. Growing up in Cleveland, I rarely got to see the Dodgers or Giants. I used to drive to Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, or watch the Mets when my family visited New York. But, that curiosity is gone with the gimmick of interleague play and cable television. These days you can see all the San Diego Padres games you want, whether you live in Cleveland, Alaska or the Congo. The mystery is gone.

This year the Padres will host the game. Last year it was Cincinnati. Next year it will be the Marlins. That’s three National League parks in a row. The game is no longer rotated by leagues, but as a reward for building a new stadium. That’s why the Mets got their game, and Minnesota. Actually, it will be more accurate to say in most cases it is a reward for coaxing the taxpayers to pay for the new buildings (this was not the case with the Mets).

Yet, MLB, like the other sports, puts make-up on their games to hide the ugliness that their All-Star Games have become. But, as the saying does, “if you put lipstick on a pig it’s still a pig.”

But, if I want pig, I’ll eat BBQ ribs. There’s no need to watch any of the All-Star games because there’s nothing compelling about any of them. Too bad, because they used to have value and I used to love watching.

Spring training is 18 days away, so I thought I’d get a head start on my bitching and moaning.

Mar 07

Mets Must Earn Right To Have Swagger

About this swagger thing Mets manager Terry Collins wants his team to have, well, it just doesn’t happen. It is something a team grows into having, something the Mets haven’t had since 2006. They lost it with their September collapse in 2007, and haven’t come close to regaining it with the possible exception of every fifth game in 2013 when Matt Harvey pitched.

“You know, for years and years, you used to watch those teams that won all of the time, they had an air about them,’’ Collins said this week. “You used to play the Braves and they’d walk out there and, they weren’t cocky, but they were confident.They weren’t overbearing, they knew how to play, they knew what they had to do to win games.’’

The Braves earned the right to have swagger by getting into the playoffs for a decade straight. Jose Reyes used to dance in the dugout after scoring and thought that was swagger.

It wasn’t.

LeBron James and other NBA players flatter themselves into thinking they have swagger, but most really don’t. If you have to carry yourself in such a way where you want people to get the impression you’re tough, then you really aren’t. If you’re really tough you don’t have to pound your chest as if to say “look at me,’’ which seems the standard in the NBA and NFL these days.

I know what Collins is getting at, but it just doesn’t happen overnight. True swagger isn’t forced. For your opponents to fear and respect you, that must be earned and the Mets aren’t there, yet.

After six straight losing seasons you just don’t snap your fingers and say you have swagger. The Mets need to be tougher, and that includes winning close games; winning within the division; taking the other team’s second baseman out on a double play; and when your hitters get plunked, then plunk one of their batters.

Swagger needs to first come from the top. It’s having a general manager not afraid to roll the dice at the trade deadline. It’s about being decisive on a player who doesn’t have it and not being afraid to cut ties with past disasters like the Mets had in guys like Ike Davis and Jordany Valdespin.

The bottom line is if you’re good you don’t need to tell anybody because they will know. And, nobody knows that about the Mets. Not yet, anyway.

ON DECK: Mets Matters: Today’s notes.