Apr 24

How Will You Remember Jose Reyes?

We all glanced at the schedule when it came out to see when Jose Reyes would return to New York with the Marlins. David Wright says he misses his friend, but remembers the dynamic Reyes from a different perspective than we do.

REYES: Sitting alone after leaving his last Mets game (AP).

I’ll always remember Reyes as a dynamic player with an electric smile, but also prone to moodiness, injuries and taking plays off. Such as not covering second base in a late-season game against Washington which led to a big inning and another loss during the Mets’ historic 2007 collapse.

Reyes returns tonight and I wonder what the reaction will be. I doubt it will be as warm as the one Shea Stadium gave Mike Piazza when he returned as a San Diego Padre in 2006. There will be cheers, but I can’t see there being overwhelming affection.

While Wright says he wants to remain and retire with the Mets, Reyes never said anything like that last summer. I always got the feeling Reyes already had one foot out the door. Of course, the Mets never did, or said, anything to indicate they wanted to keep him.

Maybe that’s the feeling Reyes had when he bunted for a base hit and took himself out of the game to preserve his batting title in the season finale. That’s his last moment with the Mets, and not a classy way to say goodbye. It reminded me how LeBron James left the court in his last game with the Cavaliers. Both looked like they couldn’t get out of town fast enough.

I don’t like that it is, but taking himself out to preserve his title will be my enduring image of Reyes as a Met. That, and hardly running in the second half. Clearly, the injury prone Reyes wanted to protect his fragile hamstrings and not damage his stock in the free-agent market. That was selfish and disrespectful to his teammates and fans. Your remembrances might be different.

Anybody who understood what was going on with the Mets last year knew Reyes was gone. The team was in financial distress – still is – and wasn’t about to give Reyes a $100-plus million contract. With his recent injury history to his legs and declining base stealing totals, the Mets couldn’t afford to go six or seven years with him. As a rebuilding team, they couldn’t risk sinking that much money or years into a player who already had shown signs of breaking down.

That wouldn’t  be good business.

The Mets always treated Reyes well and gave him a long-term deal early in his career (2006) when they weren’t obligated. They could have played the system and lowballed him. Reyes grew up poor, was a new father, and insecure about his money. The Mets helped him; it was an investment in the future.

Years later, Reyes had no intention of leaving money on the table. He knew the Mets wouldn’t be the highest bidder. He was probably checking the real estate listings in Miami last August.

“It’s sad what has happened there.” Reyes said. “I loved New York. I loved playing for the Mets and I loved the fans, but there was no way it was going to work our for me to stay.”

Well, there was. He never told the Mets what it would have taken to keep him and had no intention of giving a home team discount.

It was a business decision – by both parties.

Reyes is a sensitive guy. Always has been. When he said he couldn’t wait to come back, you can take that a number of ways. And, you wouldn’t be wrong to think it is to stick it to the Mets.

 

Apr 13

Do The Mets Have A Rivalry With Any Team?

With the Mets in Philadelphia over the weekend, I can’t help but wonder if they have a rivalry with any team. I mean a serious, hate-their-guts rivalry. They definitely don’t have anything with the spice of Yankees-Red Sox.

For two seasons, at least, they had something with the Phillies, and in 2007 and 2008 they kicked away the NL East on the final weekend. Jimmy Rollins was right when he said the Phillies were the team to beat.

But, for 50 years, Mets-Phillies was mostly ho-hum, despite the closeness of the two cities. Geography is only a small factor for it, but it can’t be the sole essence of an intense rivalry. That’s why Mets-Yankees, to me, doesn’t make it, either. So what that they play in the same city. The bottom line is the two teams aren’t competing for the same thing. That, in large part is why interleague play doesn’t cut it.

The Mets and Phillies are competing for the same prize, but the teams are rarely good at the same time. Rollins and Carlos Beltran traded jabs a couple of times and Cole Hamels suggested the Mets choked (actually, the words were put in his mouth by WFAN talk-show hosts), which was simply a statement of fact.

Early in their history, for obvious reasons, there was a rivalry with the Dodgers and Giants. In 1969, it was the Cubs. Then at various times the rivals became the Pirates, the Cardinals, and then the Braves.

Of all of them, the Braves might have been the most intense over the longest period.

When you look at the great rivalries in sports, the competition for the same goal is usually the basis. Then other factors, such as geography and certain players spice the rivalry.

From the Philadelphia perspective, much of their scorn for the Mets was personified in Jose Reyes, but he’s gone. There’s no real Met for Phillies fans to hate. Where’s Billy Wagner when you need him.

There’s really no team the Mets face that gets the blood boiling. The Yankees, because of interleague play, is more made-for-TV posturing. I covered it from both clubhouses and the responses where mostly clipped and cliche.

The only time I felt a genuine contempt by the clubs for each other was after 9-11, when several Yankees said they thought the Mets were getting more publicity for doing more than they were. Hard to understand that thinking considering the then major was at Yankee Stadium as much as City Hall.

Both teams were sincere about the community, but circumstances dictated more cameras were on the Mets at key times. The Shea Stadium parking lot was a staging area and Mets players loaded trucks while in uniform. Both teams visited local police and fire units. But, it was the Mets who had the first game back in New York.

And, the Mets threw quite a party that night.

That was the only time I thought seriously about the Mets and Yankees playing each other. The first game back? Oh, that would have been a special night.

But, when you’ve disappointed since 2006, and had limited spurts of greatness and then mediocrity for the better part of 50 years, it makes it hard to find a real rival.

I would say the Mets’ most intense rivalry for five decades has been with themselves.

 

 

Apr 13

It Would Be The Right Thing To Honor Chipper Jones

When Chipper Jones announced he would retire after the season my immediate thought was in how the Mets would do to acknowledge him. Now, when I hear some in the media and other bloggers are against it, I just scratch my head.

JONES: The Mets have been on the opposite end of that swing many times.

Yes, Jones has been a Mets Killer. All the more reason. Jones embraced the rivalry with the Mets – at a time when the Mets had real rivalries – and was passionate about playing here. So much so, that he named one of his children after Shea Stadium. He even bought Shea Stadium seats. And, on the night Mike Piazza hit that homer after 9-11, it was Chipper’s face we sought out from among the Braves. He was genuinely moved that night.

If he doesn’t want a rocking chair tour, fine, but something simple and genuine. Perhaps a weekend in New York with Broadway tickets, or a painting of Shea Stadium, or something to acknowledge how important he was to baseball summers in New York for years.

It’s petty to ignore him. So what if he was a nemesis. Boo hoo. Get over it.

Teams have long acknowledged and respected celebrated opponents for years. The Boston Celtics always had the right idea, giving a piece of the parquet to Julius Erving, to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, to Magic Johnson. And, Celtics-Lakers is more intense at any time than Mets-Braves.

Yes, they should acknowledge Chipper. It would be the classy thing to do. It would be the right thing to do.

Apr 11

Mets No Longer Lovable Losers

Well, you didn’t expect perfection, did you?

POLO GROUNDS: Where it began for the Mets.

The Mets gained the reputation as “Lovable Losers” in their infancy, which began 50 years ago today with a decisive loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Last night was also decisive, but there was nothing lovable about it as the Mets started the night with news their often-injured third baseman, David Wright, had a fractured right pinkie and is expected to be placed on the disabled list.

Then, I suppose in a page taken from the original Mets, Dillon Gee gave up a game-opening home run to Ian Desmond. We knew the Mets would eventually lose, but defeat was certain and ugly, containing butchered plays by Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda, two defensive liabilities to begin with, but not with the Marvelous Marv flair.

Gee was roughed up and the offense disappeared and their first defeat of the season was in the books. There will be others, but defeat in 2012 will be different than defeat in 1962.

Back then, New York was happy to have National League baseball back in the city and embraced the rag-tag group of veteran rejects managed by circus barker Casey Stengel. Defeat was often and came in various forms and with the Stengel proclamation: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Well, at one time, they did. At one time, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and Richie Ashburn could really play. However, 50 years ago, they represented memories in flannels.

Today’s Mets, while undermanned, have a core of young and talented players, with more on the way up. Had the original Mets taken to start with youth before veterans, who knows how the history of the franchise would have changed?

Perhaps, we might have had the Miracle Mets before 1969. Then again, the karma would have been altered. Like much about baseball, there’s fun and beauty in speculation.

The Mets celebrate 50 years this season, and we all have our memories and special moments. Mine is different than yours, but they are all special. I don’t know how this year will wind up, but it will be special in its own right because it will contain a new set of memories.

It began with a sprint out of the gate with four exciting and well-played victories, but sputtered last night with bad pitching, spotty defense and no hitting, just like it was 50 years ago.

But, it’s not 1962 anymore. The Mets have a new stadium and aren’t playing in the rundown Polo Grounds. Those Mets weren’t expected to be good, or even compete. Today’s Mets must compete, and in New York, that means winning.

 

Apr 07

Collins Does A Complete 180 On Tejada

It looks like the injury to Andres Torres has not only led to what will be the major league debut of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, but has also prompted manager Terry Collins to do a complete 180 on how he intended to treat shortstop Ruben Tejada this season.

Going all the way back to a conference call Collins did with bloggers back on February 28th, the Mets manager was very firm on his stance that we would not use Ruben Tejada as the team’s leadoff hitter in 2012.

In response to a question by New York Baseball Digest’s Mike Silva, Collins told us:

“As far as leading off, the one thing this kid is facing right now is replacing Jose Reyes. That’s a huge thing to put on the shoulders of a 21-year-old baseball player. He’s got enough on his mind to replace Jose defensively, let alone to say, ‘you’ve got to get on, you’ve got to get into scoring position because you’re replacing Jose Reyes.’ That’s an awful lot to ask of that young man.”

Terry Collins echoed those exact sentiments later on when he was a guest of Mike Francesa on WFAN:

“No. I won’t put that king of pressure on that kid. He has more than enough on his plate as it is replacing Reyes at short. We need him to go out there and focus on being the best shortstop he can be. That’s his main focus this season and I won’t add to that.”

So here we are, just one game into the season, and Terry Collins has already scrapped the plan to let Tejada play the 2012 season without the added pressure of batting leadoff.

Tejada will now have the dual role of replacing Jose Reyes defensively in the field, and now offensively as the leadoff hitter of the New York Mets as well. Wow. He’ll be doing this under the gaze of tens of thousands of Mets fans who still resent the fact that Jose Reyes is no longer here, and under glaring spotlight of the New York media who will hound him at his locker at the first hint of trouble.

Ironically, I can’t really blame Collins here because Sandy Alderson gave him little choice. The depth on this team is going to be a huge problem all season long. One day in and already our sixth ranked prospect in the system will be debuting in center field today regardless of whether he is ready or not.

The choices at leadoff hitter beyond Andres Torres were who exactly?

David Wright? Daniel Murphy? Jason Bay?

There was no thought given to this situation after Reyes packed his bags for Miami, and even less thought was given when they traded another likely leadoff hitter in Angel Pagan. Torres was a terrible option to bat leadoff right from jump-street, and everybody knew it.

Anyway, the deed is done, the course has been charted and it’s full steam ahead with Nieuwenhuis in center field and Tejada batting leadoff.

All we can do now is hope for a successful outcome, but make no mistake that so far this season, Collins and Alderson are flying by the seats of their pants.