Jul 23

What I Will Always Remember About Piazza


                                         PIAZZA AND SEAVER

In thinking of my favorite Mike Piazza memory, I always go back that one swing against the Braves, Sept. 21, 2001, in the first professional sports event in New York City following the terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center.

I was in Baltimore at the time, covering the Yankees and Orioles, and in the back of the press box was a television tuned to the Mets and Braves. The pregame ceremonies were moving, and like most of the Yankees writers, my eyes kept darting back to the game at Shea Stadium.

After all, this was our city, and history was being made at the stadium whose parking lot a few days before was used as a staging ground to shuttle food and other supplies to the hundreds in need in lower Manhattan.

During such times it is cliché to say sports are insignificant, but they also have a way of diverting our attention and making us feel good when things are black. Piazza’s dramatic home run off the Braves’ Steve Karsay didn’t heal New York’s pain, but for one moment it made things seem normal.

It wasn’t the greatest moment in franchise history, but it definitely was one of the most significant. For that reason, it is my favorite Piazza memory.

The following are my other most memorable Piazza moments:

Piazza vs. Clemens: This was more a soap opera than a singular event and the first domino was a grand slam the one-time 62nd-round draft pick Piazza clubbed off Roger Clemens in June of 2000.

A month later, in one of the classic punk moves of all time, Clemens hit Piazza in the head with a fastball in a night game at Yankee Stadium.

Then, in Game 2 of that year’s World Series, Clemens’ broke off Piazza’s bat, and grabbed the barrel end and disgustedly threw it at the Mets’ catcher.

A few days ago, former Yankees manager Joe Torre said he doesn’t believe Clemens threw the bat at Piazza intentionally.

I covered that game and couldn’t believe not only what I saw, but that Clemens wasn’t ejected. Knowing what I know now, a case can be made for steroid rage.

Of course, Torre wouldn’t throw a former player of his under the bus. However, as somebody who oversees disciplinary cases for Major League Baseball, what Torre would do if faced with a similar incident?

In the end, Piazza’s career numbers off Clemens were 8-for-22 (.364) with four homers.

A footnote to all this was Shawn Estes’ lame attempt at payback when he lobbed a ball behind Clemens’ back. To this day when I think of that pitch, I just shake my head.

Mauling Mendoza: The year before Clemens, on July 10, 1999, Piazza hit a three-run homer off Yankees’ reliever Ramiro Mendoza that measured 482 feet and hit a party tent behind the visitor’s bullpen at Shea Stadium.

Piazza’s swing uncoiled into a ferocious crack when bat met ball. This might have been one of the hardest hit, if not longest, of the 427 homers Piazza hit during his career.

Letting go – twice: Funny, considering the debate as to which cap Piazza would have on his plaque – Dodgers or Mets – is both teams let him go.

Piazza was in the prime of his career, and there was already talk of him being the best hitting catcher of all-time, when the Dodgers foolishly traded him to the Marlins in May of 1998.

The Dodgers and Piazza were in negotiations to keep him from leaving after the season as a free agent. That a contender such as the Dodgers would trade a marquee player like Piazza was beyond stupid. However, in hindsight, it must be remembered Piazza was traded not by the O’Malley family, but News Corp., which helped run the team into the ground.

A week later, the Marlins, in a salary dump, traded Piazza to the Mets for Preston Wilson and Ed Yarnall.

Piazza’s good-bye at Shea: On Oct. 2, 2005, it was clear Piazza’s eight-year run with the Mets would not be extended. As it usually is with the Mets, it was about money.

He went 0-for-3 in his final game with the Mets, but we all knew he wasn’t going to return and finish his career in New York. The crowd would not let him go and gave him standing ovations throughout the game.

Really saying good-bye at Shea: On Aug. 9, 2006, the Mets were on their way to the playoffs, but the sellout crowd couldn’t resist showing its love for Piazza one more time.

In a 4-3 victory over San Diego, the crowd roared the way it used to for Piazza when he hit a pair of solo home runs off Pedro Martinez. It was fun to see Piazza unload off Martinez in the fourth, but to see him do it again in the sixth was surreal.

Setting the HR record for catchers: Piazza set the record for most home runs by a catcher with 396. The former record was 351 by Carlton Fisk, which Piazza passed on May 5, with a blast by San Francisco’s Jerome Williams, at Shea.

Saying good-bye with Seaver: The Mets know how to throw a party. There was that sensational night against the Braves, and there was also the final Sunday afternoon of the 2008 season when they closed the doors at Shea forever.

All the greats were trotted out, but watching Piazza walk through the center field gate with his arm wrapped around Tom Seaver is something I will never forget.

Treated unfairly by the press: I covered Major League Baseball for over 20 years, and usually support that profession.

However, two things made me ashamed.

The first was the crass and obnoxious articles questioning Piazza’s sexuality, which is nobody’s business.

The second were the persistent, unfair attacks and insinuations of PED’s.

My basis in voting for the Hall of Fame is: 1) Has he ever failed a drug test administered by Major League Baseball? 2) Was he ever named in an official document such as the Mitchell Report? 3) Did a player, manager or coach ever accuse him on the record?

The answer to those questions have always been NO.

Piazza was again asked that question by long-time New York baseball writer who has an unreasonable vendetta against Piazza based on a few pimples. It was embarrassing to hear the issue raised again, but Piazza answered with class, as he usually did.

That he would be treated so shabbily by the New York press, and yet still want to be inducted representing the Mets is a testament to how you treated him for eight wonderful years.

I only wish it could have been longer.

I hope you’ll share your favorite memories and thoughts about Piazza.

Jun 21

What Do You Think, Should The Mets Go After Reyes?

Losing has a way of changing one’s perception. For the Mets in means dramatically softening their “you gotta be kidding me,” stance on bringing back Jose Reyes to `let’s think about it.” Losing third baseman David Wright and a team-wide offensive drought gave GM Sandy Alderson second thoughts.

He’s kicking the tires on the idea of a reunion.

Reyes has been on the radar of Mets’ fans almost from the moment he bolted for the Miami Marlins. It wasn’t long before he was traded to Toronto, and Colorado, before he was designated for assignment. The Rockies have until Saturday to trade him, or put him on release waivers where he’d become a free agent and they would have to eat his salary.

REYES: Reunion would be a good idea now. (AP)

REYES: Reunion would be a good idea now. (AP)

Compared to the $106 million Reyes got when he signed with Miami, the Mets would be on the hook for a prorated portion of the major-league minimum. That’s chump change for a temporary fix to their offensive problems.

We’re still four to five weeks from the trade deadline, but teams like the White Sox, who have Todd Frazier, and the Rays, who have Evan Longoria, will decide whether or not they want to trade. When you look at the standings, there are about ten teams you would be pretty confident saying won’t make the playoffs. Minnesota, the Angels and Oakland in the American League; the Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Rockies, Arizona, San Diego and Reds in the National League.

However, with the wild card, playoff scenarios can be fluid. That means Reyes could be a Band-Aid until the Mets can trade for a tourniquet.

Manager Terry Collins didn’t seem to object to the idea when he spoke to reporters: “When we lost Jose, I thought, ‘Boy, this is a major piece gone.’  His energy to play the game, his love to play the game, his love to play the game in New York City, it’s hard to find. It’s hard to find those guys. We missed him. I don’t know what’s going to happen down the road. Certainly, I always root for him.”

Even so, bringing back Reyes doesn’t come without baggage and issues:

* Most recently, there was a domestic-violence incident last Oct. 31 in Hawaii. He was arrested, but charges were dropped when his wife would not cooperate with authorities. The State of Hawaii couldn’t come up with a case and he served his suspension from Major League Baseball. In the eyes of the law, Reyes paid his debt and merits a second chance.

Today on talk-radio, a point was raised that Mets’ fans, if unhappy about Reyes based on the domestic issue, can influence the team’s decision. Don’t bet on that, because the thinking is if Reyes can help he’ll be signed. By now, I hope you realize the Mets will ignore the media – I’m used to that – and fans when it comes to building their team.

Word is Reyes wants to return, but it will be as a third baseman. If |the Mets want him to make public appearances against domestic violence, that’s part of the plan. Reyes would not push Asdrubal Cabrera off shortstop.

* It must also be noted the 2016 version of Reyes is greatly different than the player who beat out a bunt and walked off the field to preserve his batting title. I never liked that about Reyes and neither did the Mets. Apparently, their dire offensive situation gave them pause to move on.

I was against keeping Reyes at first, then bringing him back, because he’s a speed player who didn’t run his last year with the team and had two stints on the disabled list with hamstring pulls. If you’re thinking Reyes will come here and steal 30 bases for the Mets, well, can I interest you in some ocean front property in Arizona?

If Reyes returns he’ll still have the same issues of a mediocre on-base percentage and a lot of strikeouts. But, he would hit leadoff which would enable the Mets to drop Curtis Granderson to the middle of the order where he and Yoenis Cespedes would be back-to-back.

The way the Mets are presently constructed, having a healthy Reyes back, even though his skills might be diminished, would be an improvement.

Go for it.

May 22

Here’s Your Chance To Meet Dwight Gooden

Every time Matt Harvey goes to the mound for the Mets, he does so with Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver-sized expectations. However, he has a long way to go to match the buzz Doc Gooden brought to the Mets, and New York City, during the 1980s.

GOODEN: Meet Doc next week.

GOODEN: Meet Doc next week.

With an electric, sizzling fastball and biting breaking ball, posting a “K’’ after each Gooden strikeout became a ritual at Shea Stadium. It was a must-see event at Shea Stadium whenever Gooden started, and a Mets’ victory became expected and he usually delivered.

We knew Gooden was different when he struck out 276 hitters in just 218 innings while posting a 17-9 record with a 2.60 ERA in his 1984 rookie season. However, the following year different morphed into special when he posted the unreal numbers of 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 16 complete games spanning 276.2 innings. He struck out 268 that year and walked only 69.

In 1986, he was 17-6, but made the National League All-Star team for the third straight season (he made it four times), but helped deliver a World Series title to the Mets.

Those were exciting times in New York, and you can relive them with Gooden next Thursday, May 28, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., at Resorts World Casino. General admission is $40 for the event, which includes a Q & A session. A VIP ticket for $100 will entitle you to a meet-and-greet with Gooden where you can obtain autographs.

Regardless of your ticket purchase, you will have a chance to win Mets memorabilia.

New York Mets Report will be feature Gooden next week in an exclusive interview.


Apr 24

What It Would Take For The Mets To Own New York

Here we are again, interleague play for the Mets as they are in the Bronx tonight to face the Yankees, Of course, the papers and Internet are flooded with columns about this is “the time for the Mets to take New York City from the Yankees.”

Time to step up/

Time to step up/

I checked the calendar and didn’t notice such a date; I mean it wasn’t circled like Thanksgiving and Christmas. When you come to think about it, why is this the time? Just because the first-place Mets have ridden an 11-game winning streak into this series?

Using the essence from the phrase, “time to take New York,” no team can ever own this city completely. Mets fans root for the Mets and Yankees fans root for the Yankees. Owning New York isn’t about drawing those straddling the fence, but from winning.

This year shouldn’t be like any other. Both teams are hot, which is fun, but the proof could come in July at the trade deadline. The Mets have stockpiled young pitching which puts them in good position, but recent history tells us they are reluctant to make a big splash after clearing the debts from Johan Santana and Jason Bay.

The Mets could have “owned” New York had it responded differently following the defeat to the Cardinals in the 2006 NLCS, but more importantly, in rebounding from the late season collapses in 2007 and 2008.

The Mets panicked then and unlike the Yankees, couldn’t spend their way out of trouble. That’s the real difference in the two franchises – if it doesn’t work, the Yankees will throw good money after bad. For example, the Mets were handcuffed after Santana was injured.

The Yankees will always be viable because their mission statement is to win. Nothing but a championship satisfies that franchise, and that’s because of George Steinbrenner and now his sons. They currently “own” New York because they’ve won more recently. Not all of their moves have been smart, but they have been bold. When a move must be made the Yankees do something. They will spend the money, because that’s what they do.

The Mets are sizzling. Most of their moves have been successful and they’ve been remarkably resilient in overcoming injuries. The Mets did little last offseason – the acquisitions of Michael Cuddyer and John Mayberry Jr. have been positive – but I want to see how they respond when there’s pressure to do something at the deadline.

When they are at the top, or near the top, of the NL East standings, will they prove to us they want to win as much as they say they do? They haven’t in the past.

Terry Collins said rough times will come as they always do in a baseball season, but this team will show no panic. However, when the hours start dwindling at the trade deadline, what will the Mets do? Will they spend? Will they be bold? Will they make a move?

What they do to claim the back pages of the tabloids will determine owning the town.

If they can do those things and continue to win, this could be their summer for being New York’s primary baseball story. The issue of owning the town will be made by ownership and Sandy Alderson.

That’s when we can say the Mets “own” New York City, not from what happens this weekend.



Mar 25

Yankees In Better Position Than Mets To Make Playoffs Sooner

The Mets beat the Yankees again Wednesday, which undoubtedly will lead to a myriad of columns in tomorrow’s papers stating New York City is up for grabs and the Mets are in better position to win sooner.

Easy does it folks.

METS: Wishing and hoping.

METS: Wishing and hoping.

The Mets’ two victories this spring over their crosstown rivals – in light of many bookmakers having the teams ranked even heading into the season – have people thinking the Yankees are ripe for the taking. While each team has issues – starting with pitching as is always the case – which team is better equipped to overcome their flaws?

Operating under the assumption the Mets are potentially deeper with prospects Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, plus the potential of Rafael Montero, the edge would seem to be in Flushing. This is even with the Mets losing Zack Wheeler for the season. As of now, the Mets have their rotation set, while the Yankees are piecing together their back end.

Closer Bobby Parnell will open the season on the disabled list for the Mets, who have Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia. Conversely, Yankees manager Joe Girardi isn’t ready to name his closer. The Mets have a closing edge, but their bridge to the end isn’t good, especially lacking a lefty specialist.

The Mets have the greater potential to overcome their pitching issues, but the Yankees have the edge at catcher, the outfield and infield.

I give the Yankees the edge in the outfield because the Mets are weaker in the corners. The Yankees have the greater offensive potential in the outfield, especially if Carlos Beltran is healthy. As good a glove as Juan Lagares is, offensively he’s no match for Jacoby Ellsbury.

I’d give David Wright the edge over Chase Headley at third, but first baseman Lucas Duda needs to do it again to consider putting him on a par with Mark Teixeira, even if he is coming off an injury. At second, Daniel Murphy has a better bat than the Yankees’ Stephen Drew, but the latter is better defensively. However, Didi Gregorius is better on both ends than shortstop Wilmer Flores.

However, despite the Mets’ supposed pitching edge, the Yankees are in overall better position to reach the playoffs sooner based on their division and pedigree.

There’s no power in the AL East comparable to what the Mets face in their division with the Nationals. However, how the Yankees are dealing with the Alex Rodriguez scenario shows the different mentality of the two franchises.

With a salary of $21 million earmarked for Rodriguez in 2015, most teams would not sink another $52 million in a package for Headley, including $13 million this season. However, coming off a one-year suspension for PED usage and multiple hip surgeries, the Yankees weren’t willing to take a “wait-and-see’’ stance with Rodriguez.

Conversely, could you see the Mets taking the same approach if they were undecided about adding a replacement for an injured player? We are all familiar with the questions the Mets faced in the offseason, but all they did was add Michael Cuddyer. Excuse me while I catch my breath.

Alderson entered the offseason with concerns at catcher, shortstop, in the bullpen and in the outfield. They still have them.

There’s no comparison in the team’s spending habits, but if you need another reminder, consider the Mets will delay bringing up Matz and Syndergaard to push back their free-agent eligibility a year – and that’s five years away.

That is the difference between Yankees GM Brian Cashman and his Mets’ counterpart in Sandy Alderson, and by extension, the respective ownership groups.

The AL East is more balanced than the NL East, and if the Yankees are in position in the middle of the season to make a move there’s no doubt Cashman won’t be afraid to pull the trigger. Meanwhile, if the Mets were in a similar situation, I have little confidence in Alderson to make a move, even if the Wilpons gave him the green light.

The Yankees finished out of the money last year, but were 84-78. The Mets had their sixth straight losing season in 2014.

The Mets might have the slight pitching edge now, but the Yankees would be more aggressive in overcoming it and filling any other voids.

I would bet on them playing in October before the Mets.