Aug 03

Pet Peeve: Out Of Control Umpires

NOTE:  I’d like to introduce something new – Pet Peeve – where I respond to something in baseball, not necessarily pertaining to the Mets.

An umpire’s position merits respect much like a cop on the beat, but at the same time, shouldn’t they have to earn it?

They earn it by being consistent. By being fair. By keeping their emotions in check. By having patience. By not losing control.

The episode the other night in Philadelphia with plate umpire Bob Davidson is the perfect example of what the players complain about, and that is being a bully. Upset over a fan reportedly yelling at him – over and over –  “you suck,” Davidson walked over the stands next to the dugout and had the fan ejected from the stadium.

It wasn’t the first time he had a fan tossed. He did it several years ago at a Cardinals-Brewers game in Milwaukee. He had a field day that afternoon, bouncing players, managers and a fan.

What happened In Philly was arrogance to the highest degree. Not only did he act outside his jurisdiction, but what he did underscored one of the things players hate about umpires: That they have rabbit ears.

Heckling is part of the game, and if Davidson is that sensitive to where he can’t take it he should retire.

Were the fans sitting next to this guy angry enough to where they called security? Not to anything I’ve read. Davidson said the Philadelphia fans cheered him, but that’s hard to believe.

It is up to the Phillies to maintain their crowds. They should monitor the crowd to ensure things are under control; nobody is threatened or uncomfortable; and that everybody is having a good time.

Apparently, Davidson wasn’t, and that’s just too bad.

Davidson’s actions could have provoked something ugly. What if this guy broke free as he was being escorted and charged the field? What if he was part of a group?

What if? What if?

What Davidson should have done if he was so concerned about the women who might be offended – that was his claim – was to have security tell the guy to tone it down. Davidson didn’t do this. Nor did he tell the fan himself to shut up.

Davidson exceeded his authority and should be reprimanded. I don’t care how. Fine him. Suspend him. Do both.

It’s bad enough many of these umpires fly solo and insist on their own strike zones, but to police the crowd, to be cop, judge and jury goes over the line.

Get Davidson out of here.

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Aug 02

Sad Anniversary For NY Baseball Fans

NOTE: This is a Mets-oriented blog, but I sometimes venture into New York baseball and baseball in general. Today is the sad anniversary of the tragic death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson. A long time ago, I interviewed Munson’s widow, Diana, about that day a long time ago, It’s not about the Mets, but of a New York baseball icon. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Thanks. John

****

It was one of those bitter cold days. The kind where the wind whips your face, where your fingers ache and even your eyelashes hurt.

Diana Munson doesn’t remember the year but recalls the afternoon when she and her husband, Thurman Munson, the captain catcher of the New York Yankees, were running errands in Manhattan and drove into a gas station.

alg-munson-action-jpg“The guy wouldn’t come out, so Thurman got out and started pumping the gas,” Diana said. “He was wearing jeans and a flannel jacket and boots – kind of a typical Ohio guy out of place in New York at the time.”

Diana sat in the car as her husband pumped the gas and a car pulled in behind theirs.

“I remember, the guy said, `Hey buddy, when you’re done with that fill this one up,’ ” Diana said. “If he only knew who he was talking to – he never would have believed it. The cutest thing about this story is he filled it up for him.”

Diana Munson’s voice paused, it softened, it became reflective.

“Those are the things about him that I just loved,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite stories about him. I think about that a lot.”

Her memories are more frequent now as she is reminded of the cruelest day of her life – on August 2, 1979, her husband was killed in a plane accident near their offseason Canton, Ohio, home. It was a Thursday, an off day for the Yankees, and Munson was practicing take-offs and landings in his twin-engine Cessna Citation.

Later that day, he was to meet her at an office to sign papers dedicating “Munson Street” in a nearby housing development. However, Munson was always busy and for him to be running late wasn’t unusual. Diana dismissed it and went to the grocery store and continued home.

“I was unloading the groceries and the people from the airport came to my house,” Diana said, her voice trailing to a whisper.

“Nothing has ever compared to it in my life,” she said of the chill – far more numbing than the one she experienced that day in New York – that ran down her spine.

“I’ve lost lots of people in my life, but it was the way that it happened. You’re not supposed to lose someone who is that young. You’re not supposed to lose someone on a beautiful day … not in the middle of baseball season. Thurman was the best father that I had ever watched. Looking at those little kids and knowing what they were about to go through just about killed me.”

Within minutes, the news was on the wire.

Yankees reliever Goose Gossage was getting dressed for a night on the town when he got the call from owner George Steinbrenner. Bobby Murcer was “stunned when I heard the news … I cried a lot at that time.” Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss was driving with his wife when he heard the news on the radio.

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, then the manager of the Mets, was in the dugout when the message flashed on the scoreboard.

“It was up on the board,” Torre said. “Just shock. Lee Mazzilli was in the batter’s box. He got out of the box and looked at me, `What do I do?’ It was such an eerie sensation.”

That sensation has never left Diana Munson, but, “it took me a long time to come to peace with this.” Her memories of Munson and the life they shared have softened. Some – like the one at the gas station – have aged like a fine wine.

She remembers a thoughtful husband and loving father to Tracy, Kelly and Michael. Sometimes, she remembers that Munson considered quitting flying. That’s not so pleasant … it gnaws at her. She remembers when she first knew she was going to marry him: “I was 10 years old at the time and I wrote Mrs. Thurman Munson on my notebook.”

Murcer and Gossage recalled Munson’s work ethic, and Diana remembered him getting up at 6 in the morning to caddy at a golf course, then cut lawns before going to baseball practice. She recalls the three-sport star at Canton’s Lehman High School, and that he loved real estate and listening to Neil Diamond.

“My poor children knew every Neil Diamond song before they knew their nursery rhymes,” she said.

She remembers his laugh – “always the loudest one in the room,” she said – and the time he drove to a Brooklyn church from Canton in a snowstorm for a Christmas party to distribute toys to underprivileged children. Munson brought with him the Yankees’ fine money for that season, nearly $5,000.

She remembers for months after his death receiving letters from charities, thanking her for Munson’s generosity. “Believe it or not, there were many that I had never heard of,” she said. “But, that was like him. He never did it for the recognition, he did it for right reasons.”

Sometimes, her memories, like at Old Timer’s Games, drift to the days when Munson was a special baseball player.

The public memories of Munson are of a gruff, grouchy, squat catcher. They are of his feuds with Reggie Jackson – “The straw that stirs the drink” – and Carlton Fisk, the taller, thinner, chiseled catcher for the Boston Red Sox.

The Yankee championship teams of 1977 and 1978 were loaded with stars – Jackson, Chambliss, Graig Nettles and Lou Piniella – but Munson was captain. He was a six-time All-Star and the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1976. He hit .512, .320 and .320 again in his three World Series appearances. He was the 1970 Rookie of the Year and hit over .300 five times.

Nothing meant more to him than being a Yankee captain.

“He loved the Yankees. His heart was a true Yankee heart,” Diana said. “He didn’t want to be captain because whenever you single yourself out like that you feel like you’re not as much a part of the team. He was uncomfortable with that, but at the same time he was so proud of that.”

Munson was the real straw in the drink.

“He was the leader on those teams and everybody knew it,” Murcer said. “We all looked up to him because of his toughness and his ability to produce in the clutch. He had such an uncanny ability to come through when the pressure was on.”

Twenty years later, Yankees catcher Joe Girardi – now the team’s manager – saw for himself when he was channel surfing when on his screen popped the unmistakable image of Yankee Stadium.

“It was Classic Sports, and they were showing the Kansas City game,” Girardi said of the pivotal Game 3 of the 1978 American League Championship Series.

“I’ve heard a lot about that game and what he did. I wanted to see how he played so I kept watching.”

The series was tied 1-1 and the Yankees trailed 5-4 in the eighth inning when Munson – not normally known as a power hitter – crushed a line-drive, two-run homer off Royals reliever Doug Bird to give the Yankees a 6-5 victory.

Munson was named Most Valuable Player in the series and the Yankees went on to beat Los Angeles in six games in the World Series.

Hall of Famer George Brett played in that game. His Royals and the Yankees were one of baseball’s hottest rivalries in the 1970s.

“We hated the Yankees,” Brett said. “But we also respected them – and we all respected Thurman. He was so tough in the clutch and we feared him because he usually came through. However, the thing I’ll remember most about Thurman wasn’t that home run, but of something that happened in a fight we had against them.

“I slid hard into third base and Nettles and I started shoving each other. The benches cleared and it got real ugly. I remember being on the ground and Thurman was on top of me. I thought, `Uh, oh, he’s going to crush me,’ but all he did was whisper in my ear, `Don’t worry George, I won’t let anything happen to you.’ ”

Diana Munson said she gets sad when she returns to Yankee Stadium because it’s a reminder of what was and what could have been. It will be emotional for her tomorrow when she returns as the Yankees honor Munson on the anniversary of his death. The feelings will be a mix of pain and pride when she goes into the clubhouse and sees Munson’s locker that remains intact in his honor.

When the fans cheer her, they will be cheering their memories of her husband as a Yankee. But, if she hears it, she’ll love the Brett story, because it’s an appreciation of the man she loved – and always will.

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May 17

Murphy Didn’t Leave; He Was Pushed Away

Regardless of what happens this week, you should cheer Washington’s Daniel Murphy every chance you get, just the way he was honored tonight. Make no mistake, although the Mets honored Murphy before the game with this video tribute, he is Washington’s now because he was pushed away. (NOTE:  You must scroll down to load the video).

MURPHY: Gets cheered in return. (Getty)

MURPHY: Gets cheered in return. (Getty)

The Mets made Murphy a $15.8-million qualifying offer which he crushed much like all those home runs during last year’s playoffs. Murphy was a lifelong Met and wanted to stay here, but the Mets made it clear they didn’t want him. That’s why he’ll be coming out of the third base dugout.

A qualifying offer is much like getting a sympathy kiss on a date. Hell, if your heart isn’t in it, then why bother? The Mets extended that offer just to cover all their bases.

While their open flirtation with Ben Zobrist after the playoffs was obvious they wanted to move on, the Mets also made clear their intentions when they shopped him the previous winter. They also made it clear they preferred another when they squawked about his defense in left field and when he first started playing second, and that he didn’t have the power to play first.

The Mets stuck with Murphy simply because they didn’t want to spend the money in the free-agent market. Not insignificantly, money might have played a part in the Mets letting him walk away because it enabled them to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes. But, it is an oversimplification to say it was Murphy or Cespedes because the latter was close to signing with the Nationals.

Frankly, the Mets were lucky they were able to trade for Neil Walker. They were further lucky in that it only cost Jon Niese.

Murphy wasn’t great on defense – especially in the outfield – but worked hard and made himself into a decent second baseman. Yes, he had his lapses in the field and on the bases, although his first-to-third sprint in the playoffs was as heads-up a play the Mets have had in years. And, yes, he’s not a power hitter in the classical sense.

However, I liked watching him play because he always hustled and played hard. I liked watching him because unlike a lot of players who passed through Flushing, he loved being a Met and he wanted to be here.

Murphy was unfairly criticized in the press for how he played and even his political views, but he loved playing for you folks.

If nothing else, no matter if he rakes or not this week, he deserves your cheers and appreciation. The crowd got it right tonight.

 

May 17

May 17, Mets-Nats Lineups (Updated)

NOTE: Tonight’s Mets’ lineup has been updated to reflect David Wright being scratched. He was originally scheduled to bat second.

Well, it’s here. What we’ve all been waiting for this spring is a few hours away at Citi Field when the Mets host the Nationals. It is the first of 19 games between the teams, which figure to battle for NL East supremacy this summer unless the Phillies prove to be no fluke.

Tonight we’ll see a classic pitching duel between the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard and Washington’s Max Scherzer, the latter who is coming off a 20-strikeout performance in his last start. Of course, Syndergaard has the stuff to reach that plateau some day.

The game will also feature the return of Mets’ 2015 postseason hero Daniel Murphy back to New York and the inevitable question of whether New York will pitch to Nationals’ MVP outfielder Bryce Harper.

Lucas Duda is not playing for the Mets because of a sore lower back.

Here are the lineups for both teams:

Mets

Curtis Granderson, RF

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS

Michael Conforto, LF

Yoenis Cespedes, CF

Neil Walker, 2B

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS

Kevin Plawecki, C

Eric Campbell, 1B

Syndergaard, RP

Matt Reynolds, 3B

Nationals

Ben Revere,  CF

Jayson Werth, LF

Harper, RF

Murphy, 2B

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B

Anthony Rendon, 3B

Wilson Ramos, C

Danny Espinosa, SS

Scherzer, RP

ON DECK: Murphy deserves your cheers this week.

Mar 06

Harvey Gets The Ball

While it is cold and snowy in New York, but today marks the real start of baseball season because Matt Harvey will make his first appearance in a game since Aug. 24, 2013.

He walked off that game against Detroit with pain in is right elbow that two months later required Tommy John surgery. By coincidence, he’s facing the Tigers again Friday.

HARVEY: All eyes on him today. (AP)

HARVEY: All eyes on him today. (AP)

Harvey blew a lot of smoke leading up to this start, telling reporters: “I’m looking at it as getting ready for a season. I’m not really putting any extra pressure on that there isn’t anyway. I’m looking at it as getting work done and preparing for a season like nothing has ever happened.’’

LOL. That’s rich. A quick show of hands please. How many actually believe that? Thought so …

Harvey isn’t fooling anybody. He literally begged the Mets to pitch last season, but GM Sandy Alderson held the course, which was the right thing to do.

Harvey is scheduled to throw 35 pitches over two innings – 40 tops – and it wouldn’t be natural if the adrenalin weren’t flowing full course. He’s as anxious as anybody to find out about his elbow.

Even pitching coach Dan Warthen anticipates Harvey’s competitive nature – which makes him a special prospect – to surface. It’s unavoidable, he said: “There’s no way you’re ever going to dial Matt down. It’s competition. He’s going to do everything he can to get that person out. So he’s not going to dial it down.’’

While the Mets have been pointing to Harvey’s return as the driving force for their drive to the playoffs, let’s be sure about one thing, and that is he is still a prospect with only 36 career starts, 178.1 innings and just 12 victories.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s not even one full season.

But, there’s a lot of pressure and angst tied into this start.

It’s only natural.