Feb 14

Jim Fregosi Dies; Always Part Of Mets’ Lore

It was sad to hear the passing of Jim Fregosi, 71, Friday in a Miami hospital. Fregosi, a long-time All-Star shortstop with the Angels and 1,000-game winner as a manager, will always be a part of New York Mets lore.

When the Mets’ worst trades are revisited, the trade to acquire Fregosi for Nolan Ryan goes down as one of the two worst, with the dealing of Tom Seaver to the Reds as the other.

Fregosi (c) with Ken Boswell (l) and Wayne Garrett (r).

Fregosi (c) with Ken Boswell (l) and Wayne Garrett (r).

When Fregosi’s 146 games played with the Mets in 1972-73 are compared to Ryan’s combined 324 victories and 5,714 strikeouts, it understandably goes down as one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, but in fairness, a trade must be examined with the circumstances of the time.

It is never black and white.

After the 1971 season, they were two years removed from their Miracle Mets season and trying to regain their spot among baseball’s elite. They already had the foundation with a solid rotation of Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Jon Matlack and Jim McAndrew.

What the Mets didn’t have was right-handed power and a third baseman, of which they used six different from 1969. Fregosi, 30 at the time, was supposed to fill those voids, and all it would cost the Mets was Ryan, who owned a combined 19-24 record and was coming off 10-14 season in 1971.

Off the field, Ryan also had a dislike of New York City, and on the mound a propensity for wildness and a lingering blister problem. With their rotation, Fregosi’s background and Ryan’s baggage and disappointing numbers, it was easy to see why the Mets made the deal.

The Mets reached the World Series in 1973, but by that time Fregosi’s skills had deteriorated and he had become a role player. He played in 31 games that year before his contract was purchased by Texas in July.

Nobody could foresee the career paths of Fregosi and Ryan, but at the time, it was good and necessary gamble for the Mets to take. Who would have thought Ryan would go on to win 305 games?

After leaving the Mets, Fregosi played five more seasons with Texas and Pittsburgh but never approached his All-Star status, and then embarked on an 18-year managerial career with the Angels, White Sox, Philadelphia and Blue Jays, compiling a 1,028-1,094 record that included taking the 1993 Phillies to the World Series.

“Everyone in the Phillies organization is deeply saddened about the news of Jim’s passing. We, and so many others in the game, have lost a dear friend,’’ club president David Montgomery said in a statement. “He’ll be remembered for his vibrant personality, wisdom and love of the game.’’

That personality and wisdom was evident during spring training, as he became a fixture in ballparks throughout Florida as a scout. Fregosi, who suffered a stroke during a Major League Baseball alumni cruise Thursday, was preparing for another spring training as an assistant with the Braves.

Spring training, which begins this week, was Fregosi’s time as he entertained fellow scouts and club executives with his stories, and informed writers from his 50-year career.

Whether it was in the stadium lunchroom, press box or on the field, if you wanted to laugh or know something, you sought out Fregosi.

 

Aug 25

Decision Time For Mets On How To Limit Matt Harvey

i-1

HOW WILL METS LIMIT MATT HARVEY? (Getty)

How the New York Mets handle Matt Harvey the rest of the season we should know this week. Harvey admitted the effects of his workload this season are wearing him down, and with the concession Terry Collins knows there’s no more procrastinating with this issue.

Previously, Harvey said he wasn’t happy being limited, but following the loss, admitted being tired. He also said dealing with fatigue is part of the learning process. Eventually, the Mets will play meaningful games in September and October, and they will need Harvey.

“It’s a long season and you’ve got to push through it,’’ Harvey said. “Right now I’m not doing a good job of doing that, and we’ve got to figure something out.’’

Currently, Collins has three options, including: 1) pushing next Thursday’s start against Philadelphia back one day, 2) skipping his turn in the rotation completely and start him in the next turn, Sept. 3, and/or 3) stopping him at six innings period.

The problem with a strict innings cap of six is it doesn’t take into account the strain of the pitches thrown. Harvey threw 6.2 innings Saturday, but they were all grueling because of the tenacity of the pitches.

To his credit, Harvey is not using his lack of run support as an excuse. Clearly, with no runs, Harvey must bear down as he can’t risk a mistake. Saying such a thing, as true as it might be, takes a swipe at his offense, and Harvey won’t travel that road.

An extra 24 hours of rest helps minimally, but if he pitches the next day those innings still count. The best solution is to skin a turn, which takes away the opportunity at six or seven more innings.

From there, just cap his innings at five or six, and perhaps skip one more start. That should get him through the season at the prescribed innings count.

Then do the same with Zack Wheeler.

The problem with this preventative measure is it hinders developing his endurance, and it prevents nothing. Regardless of what steps take, a pitcher’s arm is a fragile thing not meant to throw a baseball with such torque and violence.

Something can always happen to a pitcher, with no guarantees of them not.

Face it, Nolan Ryan was a freak, and gone are the days when Juan Marichal threw 30 complete games in 1968. He threw 325.2 innings that season. He came back with 27 complete games the following year.

Clearly, it was a different era. Then rotations were four deep and complete games were the expected norm and not the exception. That was a mentality developed in the minor leagues and earlier.

From when Harvey first started pitching, complete games were a novelty. It’s too late to start him thinking otherwise.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

May 07

Robin Ventura Returns To Face Mets

One of the players I most enjoyed covering was Robin Ventura for those two years he played for the Yankees. In that clubhouse full of stars and egos, Ventura was a voice of calm, reason and humorous relief.

VENTURA: In town tonight.

VENTURA: In town tonight.

I enjoyed stopping by his locker to shoot the breeze for a minute or two, talking about things other than baseball. Very smart, clever and possessing an insight on numerous issues. When there was the inevitable blow up or moment of absurdity, Ventura was always there to put it into perspective with a quip as short and hard-hitting as his swing.

Once I asked him about his fight with Nolan Ryan, and his response was he knew he had made a mistake halfway out to the mound, but couldn’t turn around. You’ll even notice in the video he slowed down.

Was it an embarrassing moment? Yes, but years later he handled it with humor. He even joined with Ryan to autograph photos of the brawl.

When I covered the Orioles and he was with the White Sox, I’d make time to go over to his clubhouse for a few moments. He was accessible to anybody who would take the time to ask a question.

I am sure there will be a lot of questions for Ventura pre-game tonight when he brings his White Sox into town. There will be rehashing about his time with the Mets and Yankees, about being in New York during September 11 and what he remembers about Mike Piazza’s homer the first game back in the city.

He’ll also get a question or four about his grand-slam single against the Braves in the 1999 playoffs.

That night is one of the greatest team displays of enthusiasm outside of winning a championship I have ever seen. That, and I suppose, the Piazza post 9-11 homer. Both were amazing to watch.

Ventura wasn’t a five-tool player, but was consistent and clutch. With a runner in scoring position you wanted him at the plate because he’d usually make contact.

Ventura was a .267 lifetime hitter and only once hit over .300, that being .301 in 1999, his first season with the Mets. Considering his 66-game hitting streak in college, I always wondered if he thought he should have hit for a higher average. He also hit 32 homers with a career-high 120 RBI in his first year with the Mets.

What the Mets wouldn’t give for a player with that production now.

Ventura had three solid years with the Mets, who, during that span had arguably one of the best defensive infields in history. Few balls got by Ventura, Rey Ordonez, Edgardo Alfonzo and John Olerud.

Both Olerud and Ventura would later play for the Yankees. When they left the Yankees, I believed I’d see both again managing in a major league dugout. I’m still waiting on Olerud.

Apr 26

Summer of ’73 Series: Matlack Takes One On The Head

My series on the “Summer of ’73: The Lost Year,” continues today with a book excerpt from talented author Matthew Silverman, whose work should be familiar to all Mets fans.

Silverman joins us today with a piece on Jon Matlack from his newest book, “Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season. You can purchase his works at www.amazon.com

“When the 1973 season is referenced by Mets fans, it is usually only the miraculous finish that comes to mind, how the team that began the last day of August in last place wound up clinching a division title on the first day of October. But how did the Mets, three years removed from the 1969 world championship, get themselves into the kind of jam that required a miracle to rescue them? There was a lot of bad luck, a lack of foresight, and too much forehead in the case of a second-year southpaw named Jon Matlack.” - Matt Silverman

 

After dropping the May 7 series opener to the Mets, 7–2, the Braves stood at 9?17, last in their division and second only to the 5?19 Cardinals for the worst start in baseball. The next night looked to be a rerun, with the Mets holding a 3–1 lead in the seventh with Jon Matlack, one of the game’s top young lefties, on the mound. Atlanta’s lineup had firepower, but Marty Perez wasn’t one of the big guns. In 310 career games to that point, he was a .230 hitter with a slugging percentage of just .294. Batting in front of the legendary Aaron in manager Eddie Mathews’s lineup, no one was going to pitch around Perez, especially with the bases full, two outs, and Matlack holding that two-run lead with a light rain falling. Perez worked the count to two balls, two strikes, and Matlack threw a curve that he thought the batter went around on. The umpires said no. Here comes the payoff pitch . . .

51m8pXGhKWL“I’m trying to nail down this game,” Matlack recalls. “I overthrew the next pitch. It was a fastball, and I landed really hard when I threw it. I lost sight of the ball to the plate. I could see him swing and hear the bat crack, but I don’t pick up the baseball until it’s right on top of me. I barely got the fingers of my left hand in front of my face. It hit my fingers [on the mitt], hit my cap, and it hit me just over the left eye. They tell me—I don’t know because I couldn’t see it—but it went from my forehead into the dugout. It cost me two runs and ultimately cost me the ballgame.”

The sudden tie fell to secondary importance during this frightening moment at Shea Stadium. Right fielder Rusty Staub, shaking his head at the memory of it years later, summed up his teammates’ reaction: “We were just all thrilled that he wasn’t dead.” Dee Matlack wasn’t even sure of that as the trainer came out and pulled a tarp over her prone husband’s body as the rain fell.

“They’re messing with me, and it’s raining,” he thought as catcher Jerry Grote and his teammates gathered around him. “My wife thinks I’m dead because they cover me up with a tarp.” Still conscious and bleeding from his head, the dazed pitcher thought he’d been struck in the mouth until things came into sharp, painful focus. “I can see my forehead at this point. I can see it literally swollen up to where I can see it. I had a whale of a headache and felt very weak.”

First baseman Ed Kranepool stood over Matlack as he was attended to at Shea. “You think about Herb Score,” he said, recalling the sensational Indians southpaw hit in the face with a line drive against the Yankees in 1957. “It changed his whole career. Matlack was very fortunate.”

Like Score at the time of the injury, Matlack was a 23-year-old southpaw and recent Rookie of the Year winner with seemingly unlimited potential. Matlack had been the lone ray of sunshine to emerge in the wake of the Nolan Ryan trade. As a rookie taking Ryan’s place in the rotation in 1972, he won 15 games, threw 4 shutouts, and compiled an ERA (2.32) more than half a run per game better than ace Tom Seaver’s. Matlack also had better luck than Score, who came back a year after being hit but left baseball by age 28.

“That’s the first I hear his name,” says Matlack of Score. “I was reading the paper the next day in the hospital—there’s my picture and this guy I don’t recognize. It tells me about how Herb Score got hit and never came back and all this kind of stuff. I can’t say I wasn’t apprehensive about the whole thing, but I was of the belief that the only reason I got hit was because I was unable to track the ball. Had I been able to see the ball, one of two things would have happened—I would have defended myself, caught it or otherwise would have been able to get out of the way. Through lack of seeing it was what caused me to get hit. That’s what kept me moving forward, thinking that when I got back everything would be fine because I was going to see the ball. I wasn’t going to overthrow fastballs, so I was going to be OK.”

Matlack was going to be OK, but he sustained a fractured skull—and that was how it went for most of 1973 for the Mets: peculiar bounces, painful injuries, bad luck. With Matlack on his way to the hospital, the Braves scored five more runs in the inning, saddling the southpaw with a 10–6 loss as well as a throbbing, swollen head. The Mets found all kinds of ways to lose both games and players for most of 1973.

Though the Mets won four straight immediately after Matlack went down, the team stumbled to a 34?51 mark over the next three months that saw the manager nearly lose his job while players continued to go down with bizarre injuries. Eight different Mets hit the disabled list in 1973—the most in franchise history to that point—and that figure didn’t even include Matlack, who didn’t go on the DL after getting hit. He missed just two starts, fractured skull and all.

Matthew Silverman is author of 10 books on baseball. He blogs regularly at metsilverman.com and tweets @metsilverman.

Apr 14

Harvey Proving To Be “The Real Deal”

It is a misnomer to say Matt Harvey is the first Mets’ pitcher worth anticipating watching since Dwight Gooden.

The Mets have had several pitchers who made you wonder in anticipation before their starts over the years, but it was what they might do that day or for that season.

HARVEY: How good can he become? (AP)

HARVEY: How good can he become? (AP)

However, they have had three in their five-decade history that by the magic in their arms and icy cold demeanor forced you to wonder if you weren’t watching one of the great ones.

And, when you knew you were, you considered yourself lucky.

There’s Tom Seaver and Gooden, of course, now it is Harvey making you wonder.

Yesterday Harvey lost a no-hitter with two outs in the seventh inning in what turned out to be a 4-2 victory in frigid Minnesota. In that game, Harvey not only lowered his ERA to a microscopic 0.82, but became just the third pitcher since 1945 to start the season with three consecutive starts of three or fewer hits allowed in seven-plus innings.

The others were Nolan Ryan, who threw seven no-hitters, and trivia-question answer Jim Rooker.

So far, Harvey has given up six hits and six walks with 25 strikeouts in 22 innings. We could spend all day discussing some of Harvey’s early-season numbers, not to mention what he could finish with in 15 years.

Harvey didn’t throw a no-hitter in the minors or at North Carolina, but had a couple in high school in Connecticut.

Pitchers will frequently say they weren’t aware they were pitching a no-hitter, but Harvey knew. He has a unique sense of awareness for someone with only 13 major league starts.

“No, I knew. I knew,’’ Harvey said. “I peeked a couple of times, but I really didn’t know until the fourth or fifth inning or so.’’

He just seems to know, and that’s what makes him special.

In a tweet, Gooden called Harvey, “the real deal.’’

It sure looks that way.